Winter is a very fickle season. It is especially fickle in regions with a more temperate climate that have changing seasons. Seasons can seem to change overnight. Seasons may seem to change well before it is time according to the calendar. Seasons may even change and then revert to the prior season. Sometimes it can seem like we skip entire seasons all together, with transformation straight from winter to summer and then from summer back to winter. Wait, where did spring and fall go?
A lot of people complain about winter. I enjoy winter. I even enjoy winter photographically. It can often seem like winter offers fewer options for photography, which may be true, but it offers an opportunity to hone ones craft around what remains. The most challenging part of photographing winter is that very variable that makes winter definitively winter and not any other season. That is the snow. Photographing winter without snow is just not the same. So the biggest challenge in a climate where snow may or may not be present or may or may not last even an entire day is being able to get out there and get those photos of the beautiful white stuff.
This is especially difficult as someone who is a pat time photographer who is growing their business. I do as much photography as I can but I still have a day job I have to report to every weekday. There are many days I wake up, look out my windows, and see the white frosting of snow draped over the trees and I just fall in love with my environment all over again. Then I am snapped out of my revelry because I realize I have to go into the office, which for me requires a one hour commute each way, and I will not likely get a chance to photograph that dreamy landscape. It is dark when I get up in the morning and often dark when I get back home during the winter months.
The best time in my opinion to photograph a winter scene is just after the storm when the snow is soft, clinging to the trees and fresh, and undisturbed on the ground. As a photographer that is chasing the dream of a perfect photo in every spare moment I am not in the office it is not very often when I am able to go out right after a storm to take advantage of this scenario. Even worse, in my region the temperatures can fluctuate so much that you can wake up in the morning to nice powdery snow and then arrive home to try to photograph it for thereto only be puddles remaining.
The other photograph I often chase in winter is a snow-filled landscape with a bright sunny sky overhead. This is not something that I am often able to realize with my time crunch and fluctuating temperatures. Either I am not available for photography on the days and times it is sunny or it gets sunny and the snow quickly melts away. I have been able to capture this scenario at times but it is one of my goals to capture this scene in different locations more frequently.
When you have limitations, you have to be able to adapt. I have adapted for my winter photography. While I still chase these other goals, I incorporate other different types of winter photography into my portfolio. Photography of shadows shown against the white background of snow can be interesting. I take close up photographs of smaller parts of a big scene in the snow. Braving the cold and photographing frozen bodies of water can result in some excellent shots. Another option is instead of waiting for the snow to settle and photographing the peaceful aftermath of the storm, go out into the storm and photograph the weather as it is happening. This can create a sense of drama.
No matter how you are able to do it just get out there and create photographs.
My friend said that since I couldn’t run the Green Monster 15k in 2016 that I should commit to running the Green Monster 25k in 2017. (Thanks Shannon) I decided that was exactly what I would do. Green Monster 25k would be my goal race for 2017. Everything I would do in 2017 would be focused on getting me ready to run the Green Monster 25k in October. The Green Monster 25k would be the longest distance I had ever run period race or not. The race would be the most challenging race I’ve run from the perspective of elevation gain and technicality of the trail as well. I wasn’t even that experienced in trail running at the end of 2016. I just knew that I enjoyed the few races that I had run and I enjoyed the occasional times I had run on trails in the past.
2017 would be a year focused on trail running for me. I only ran in two races that were road races. I spent more time than ever on trails. I ran longer and longer runs. I talked to people that were experienced in trail running, seeking advice and counsel.
This year was the most fun and interesting year of running I have had to date. I experienced all kinds of new things. Since I would be running my first ever 25k mile trail run and the longest trail run I had ever run prior to that was a 10k (I had completed multiple road half marathons by that point.) I thought it would be wise to target a 25k trail run that might be at least a little less challenging early in the year so that I could at least get some experience with running that distance. I targeted the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k. Then I forgot to register on the day the race opened and I ended up on the waiting list. I spent the whole first half of the year waiting to find out if I would even get into this race. Turns out I did get in and the race went pretty well despite the monsoon that occurred during the race. Nothing like a soggy trail run in the Fingerlakes.
Even though I didn’t know if I would be able to run the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k I spent the first part of the year training like I definitely was running it. That meant building up my trail running legs over ever increasing distances. Almost every race I ran in the first half of the year was a new first for me. I ran a 10k race. I ran my first ever 8 mile trail run on a tough loop course, in the early summer heat, in the evening where I had the option of just stopping at 4 miles and bow was that tempting in the heat. That race was a new experience for me in many ways. That race was a new experience to me in so many ways. The distance was new. Running an evening race was new. And even running in the heat was different for me. I usually try to avoid running in the heat. I’ve also never run a loop course before where you could just stop, and the mental challenge of not stopping was so tough.
After the 8 mile race I went on to run my first 20K trail run. This race also included some substantial elevation changes which would present another new challenge for me. This was my second go on a loop course. Having to pass by the finish line after completing a steep climb that was the end of the 10k race was not fun but I was committed. Despite getting off course along with a substantial number of runners and missing some mileage and some climbing I was exhausted by the end, but I got it done and it was on to the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k for the next race.
The Fingerlakes 50’s 25k was a great experience. Prior to the race I was worried about it being too hot as the forecast was for temps in the 80’s around race time. The actual race conditions were a muddy mess of a slog that for substantial portions of the race featured torrential downpours. Every trail you ran on had water running on it in some direction, towards you, with you, or across the path. There were even portions of standing water. Near the end it was a mental struggle to just fight the urge to just walk the rest of the way. I was beaten down by the distance and the rain and mud, bt I got to the finish line. This was not just a race it was an experience.
In August I ran my first every trail half marathon. It was on a relatively flat course that I actually had a little bit of experience with part of the trail from a trail relay I had run earlier in the year. Due to the lack of elevation change this race did not have a lot in common with my goal race other than getting me to close to that amount of distance. I still wanted to simulate how I would feel on my goal race during this race. I knew that long before the end of my goal race I would be exhausted, so my plan for this race was to run myself to exhaustion before the end. I ran out much harder than someone of my ability level proably should at the beginning of the race. And by not too far after the half way point I was feeling quite fatigued and slowing. But that was the plan I wanted to experience running tired and pushing myself to keep going. The plan worked well. I was exhausted and I finished.
I had run a race every month since spring to get prepared for my goal race and to help maintain my motivation to train. After my August race I didn’t have another race lined up for September. My friend Shannon once again stepped up and suggested I run the race she was going to run. An 8 mile loop course up and down a nearby ski resort mountain. Knowing I both needed to work on my climbing and have incentive to continue working on my climbing until my goal race, I was in. That was a challenging run for me. I am normally the kind of person that likes to stop for a second to get a photo of the nice scenery I am privileged to be out in. Not during this race. You were always going up or down. There were no convenient places to stop for a photo.
Ascents have been and continue to be my biggest challenge in trail running. The race starts off flat but quickly turns into the longest climb of the day. My strategy was to go out slow and try to conserve my energy for the climb. Climbs just take the wind out of my sails and I did not want to start off the race too tired already. I got through the first climb and I got to the top where it levels out tired but not too bad off. I apparently let my guard down a little too much after the climb and tripped and fell at one of the least technical (Read easy and no reason to fall) parts of the trail. But If I was going to fall there it may have been one of the best spots to fall. It was one of the least rocky areas. If I had fell a few minutes later I probably would have been pretty busted up.
After a little flat running came my favorite part of the entire race. A nice long descent. Not too steep as to be technical but steep enough that you could pick up some momentum. I even caught up to and passed some people. Descents are basically the only place that happens for me in a trail race. I spent the next portion of the race picking and choosing when to run and when to walk as distance was covered over a long gradual incline. The whole time I know a steep ascent is looming and I am trying to arrive at the ascent without being too out of breath already.
The ascent up Bark Slide Trail was steep and a considerable challenge for me. I took my time getting up it so I would have legs left for the rest of the race. At the top you loop around and go back down a more gradual descent and return to the path where you went up Bark Slide. A bit farther along was the third big climb of the race. This trail is steep and rocky and even has large trees growing in the middle of the trail. One of which I leant against and rested on during my previous attempt. This time I was tired but I did not need to stop. I slowly struggled on up the trail. These climbs were so steep it is difficult to even stop to rest if you wanted to because there is no level footing to stop on and it is pretty easy to lose your balance or simply slide on the slope.
This is a photograph of the stream that runs through park of Ravensburg State Park in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of trees both standing, falling, and from the looks of it in the process of falling.
One of our friends decided we should take on the Mt. Tom Challenge instead of our regularly scheduled local trail run. So at the last minute the night before the event we decided that was just what we would do.
The Mt. Tom Challenge consists of going straight up a mountain. Then going around and down the other side. And you do this as many times as you can in two hours. There is no warm up to the incline. You immediately start going up the mountain as soon as the race starts.
You quickly discover that most likely this is nothing like anything you have done before. Well, at least thats what I discovered. The incline is a climb of 1100 feet over a distance of .8 miles. Someone good at math figure out what the angle of that ascent would be.
Once you get to the top you head down this very brief but flat trail. It was so nice to be on flat ground again. No more climbing. Each lat is about 2.5 miles. So once you get to the top you still have over a mile to go to get back to the bottom and start again.
As you leave the flat land you come to this nice depression that was filled with snow. I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photograph here. It was such a nice spot.
The uphill climb was snow-less. Thankfully for me as my trail shoes are virtually bald. I never would have been able to get up a slick snowy slope. On the way down it was a different story. It was muddy in spots and there was varying amounts of snow. The snow could be just a dusting, to half frozen/half melted ice, to ankle deep or more amounts of snow. It was pretty tricky for me picking a route down the mountain and watching my footing. Trying to figure out where I would have the best traction. I was constantly varying my speed and stride to maintain control on the way down. And it almost worked too. At one point on my way down I over stridded and my front foot slide out in front of me and I went down. I basically sat down on my back leg bent right under my butt. I slid down the slop a little on a frozen hard snow that felt more like gravel and cut up my knee a little bit. But I was able to bounce back up and continue running. No real injury, thankfully. As I was getting close to completing my race I stepped in a thick mud hole and lost my show. As I was going downhill I ended up taking about three shoe-less steps downhill in the mud and then I had to walk back through the mud to retrieve it. (Check out my Instagram for that photo.)
When I looked at what the incline was like I was nervous I wouldn’t even be able to complete one lap. So I was very happy with the two laps I was able to complete. I completed my first lap in around 45 minutes and my second lap in about an hour and a half. I could have went for a third lap but I just didn’t have it in me mentally to go back up that hill a third time. Plus I was battling a cold, so that didn’t help. Maybe if I do this event again my goal will be three laps. It was a great but challenging event. Check out the Tyoga Running Club and the Mt. Tom Challenge.
Last night I set a running challenge for myself to complete this morning. I had no specific goals in mind regarding pace or anything. I had one simple target. Finish the run and, spoiler alert, I did. I finished one of my most challenging runs to date.
I have been wanting to start running more trail runs and run distances of half marathon or a little more. My biggest challenge has been figuring out runs that would allow me to stay in shape for those type of events. A friend suggested I run from my house to a nearby nature preserve, Plymouth Woods.
For some people that might not sound too bad, but for me it is a little different. I live nearly at the top of a 1500+ ft high hill. I am not good at hills and have relatively little experience running them. Earlier this year for the first time I ran down my hill and then right back up. But on that run I did not add any more mileage than just down the hill and back up, plus that run was on the less steep side of the hill.
Today I ran down the steepest side of the hill. I ran down the hill and out along the highway and reached the nature preserve at just short of 5 miles. I felt pretty tired on this first part. Surprisingly so. But once I started on those trails I felt so much better. There is just something about getting out in nature. Those leaves crunching under your feet. Alone except the mammoth trees towering over head. These are the things that propel me.
I used that energy to hit all the trails available at Plymouth Woods. The Red Trail, The Blue Trail, The Orange Trail, and Another loop on Red. It was a tough hilly run but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn’t fast, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to get out for a run and enjoy myself and just see what I could do. While I was at Plymouth the weather started to turn against me. I am pretty sure I was being pelted with ice pellets at one point.
I left Plymouth woods and headed back down the highway towards home and the hill that lie ahead. The way back was a little down hill so I actually achieved a decent pace for me. But the whole way back I was consumed of thoughts of the hill that loomed ahead of me.
I got to the bottom of Combs Hill Rd felling pretty good, but I knew I could never run up that slope. So I didn’t and I didn’t feel bad about it. I did the best I could so that I could cover the rest of the distance to get back home once I got to the top. If I had tried to run I would likely have ended up just slowly walking the last mile or two back home and I was not having that. I wanted to have something left in the tank to get me home. It did not help that the weather was turning or it was just getting colder due to the increased elevation, but it was getting windy and cold. But I pushed on. It actually helped to motivate me to run. It was too cold to walk.
When I got back home I wasn’t quite to 12 miles so I actually ran past my house and then back to it so I could get to 12. I was hoping the run would be closer to 13 miles but it wasn’t quite as long as I thought it would be. Maybe I will add another loop in the woods next time.
I got back and I was exhausted. My legs were wobbly and sore. I walked more than I would have liked, particularly after surmounting Combs hill on the way back, but I made it. I achieved my goal. I challenged myself and I pushed myself and I did it. This is why I love running. I can challenge myself. I can test my limits and I can learn about myself and I can adapt and get stronger. Now, what is the next challenge…..
Check out the profile of this run on Garmin Connect.