Category Archives: Trail Running

2019 Hyner Training Run

In 2018 a group of my friends were all registered for the Hyner Trail Challenge in PA. I was not registered for the race, but had heard my friends talk about it. I was interested in the event and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. So I joined them for a group training run at Hyner to run 14 miles of the 16 mile course. It was really not the best day for a long hard run and certainly not the best day to be encountering the challenges of Hyner for the first time.

Now this year I am registered for the Hyner Trail Challenge. Once again myself and a couple of friends are making the trip down to PA for a training rung on 14 miles of the Hyner Course. It was a fairly typical cold winter day for our region, but it was made to feel even more frigid after enjoying multiple days of warmer weather including two days of 60 degree weather the previous two days. Then the floor dropped out of those temps and 24 hours later we were back to subzero temps in the morning with a high of mid 30’s. Luckily at least we had sunshine today.

Climbing up Humble Hill is no joke. The exertion level is high no matter what pace you are going. Despite the exertion raising body temps and the nice sun shining above the wind combined with the chilling temps to make it feel quite cold especially on the last quarter of the climb. It is cold and difficult but the view from the top makes it all worth it. It was still pretty windy and cold at the lookout point so it is not easy to stick around too long, but I hung out long enough to capture a few photos.

After that climb you switchback down the side of the mountain into the valley and you encounter the first of what will be many stream crossings. We stopped here to eat something quickly and drink some water. It was also a great spot to take some photos. I had brought my small Nikon camera with me and decided to get that out again and immediately proceeded to drop it on the rocks damaging the lens. Now that camera was out of commission for the rest of the trip after only about 3 miles. Not what I had in mind.

The next section is relatively flat but littered with so many stream crossings that you cannot really keep track. The freezing cold water from the snow melt doesn’t help either. Being that it was  a training run and not a race we decided to pick out way across the streams and try to keep our feet dry-ish as much as possible, but this is simply is not possible in places. You have to take on that freezing cold water. By the end of the stream crossings your feet are numb.

After the stream crossings you start another ascent. If you thought climbing meant no more water, you’d be wrong. On this climb you essentially climb up a stream bed as the water pours down the hillside and over your feet. After another descent you climb again and eventually reach SOB and whose name is well deserved. Then you reach the most moderate section of the entire course. There is some times spent at a relatively flat section on top of the mountain and then you have a long not too steep decent back into the valley. 

The most interesting aspect of this training run was the snow. Last year we ran in February. No snow. This year we are running in mid-march, nearing spring and there was quite a significant amount of snow especially on the second half of the course. I was hoping the snow would be melted. I am really hoping that the snow is melted by race day. It made the course interesting and was great for photos, but it did make for some slower going if for no other reason that just to be careful and make sure you had good footing.

Like many runners I use Strava to track my runs. One of the features I do really enjoy on Strava is the segments. When you run in an area where there are a lot of segments that have been created it allows you to pretty easily see how your performance has changed, hopefully for the better from run to run. There are a lot of segments that have been created for Hyner. I was happy to see that Strava had notified me of 12 achievements. Many of these achievements were 2nd best times on a segment which in this case doesn’t mean anything since it was only the second time I have run here. But there were several segments where I had PRs meaning that I ran better than last year. This was really good news to me because we really felt like we were taking it easier and not pushing too hard on this training run. So the fact that our perceived effort level was lower but we were actually faster on a lot of segments indicates to me that our physical conditioning has improved from our training over the past year. Hopefully this will translate to a nice strong run at the race in just over a month. 

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The Run I needed

Today I got in the run that I really needed. I love running and I really do enjoy it most of the time, but sometimes when I am training for a race the monotony just bums me out. This is especially the case here in upstate, NY during the winter when the weather can really limit the running options.

Today my training plan called for seven miles which is fine. That usually means that I will be running the seven mile loop I have worked out in my neighborhood and run countless times. Also, today it snowed all day long. So that means running the same old route, which most days I like, but is just boring upon continuous repetition on the snowy slushy roads trying to keep my footing and also being extra wary of cars driving in the snow. Not really the recipe for a fun and enjoyable run. I realize that every run won’t be fun and enjoyable, but I really felt like I needed on today.

I started to think about running somewhere on the trails. I thought it would be run to run through the fresh snow before it gets packed down and becomes too slick to really run on at all. It was the perfect amount of snowfall to run in just a few inches. It would add a little extra challenge but still be manageable. I started to think of places I could go where no one else would have gone yet and I thought Steege Hill Nature Preserve would be the perfect place.

I was a little nervous going into this run. I haven’t had much experience running on trails in the winter in the snow. I also hadn’t had much experience running on trails at night which it likely would be by the time I was done. I had all the proper gear including ahead lamp for when it got dark. I knew I could handle it and get it done. But it was that nervous excitement of doing something a little bit new and different.

And that is exactly what I needed to do. I needed to remember what it is that made me fall in love with running. It’s the challenge and the adventure that I love, especially as it applies to trail running. I like to be out there doing something new and connecting with nature. I like to challenge myself and do things that I enjoy just because I enjoy them, it’s not all about the training plan. Doing something a little bit different that isn’t exactly what the training plan called for is not just ok sometimes it is necessary. It is not going to ruin my training and it might just save it by keeping me from burning out. I have a long way to go with this training so I will feel free to mix it up from time to time and go off plan to get a little extra joy and you should too.

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Race With a View

Since it is becoming much more wintry here in Upstate, NY I thought I would share some photos from a nice small trail 5k I ran back in June. The course was nice and scenic at Mt Pisgah County Park in Troy, PA. It wasn’t a technical course but was still quite hilly with lots of ups and downs. The race field was small with 50 runners but it was just the kind of run I like.

 

Water Gap 50K

When I decided that along with some of my friends we were going to try to run our first 50k this year we initially only planned to do one. Then during the process of training one of my friends training for our first 50k with me mentioned that there was another 50k later in the year that she was considering doing. That sounded potentially fun and something we could possibly do if we felt like it after our first 50k and we still had any interest in running that distance. Over time the idea of running a second 50k this year just kinda fell by the wayside. After our first 50k we never really discussed it.

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Then my other friend who ran our first 50k together this year mentioned to me about one and a half months ago that she was thinking about running the other 50k we had talked about previously. And that is all it took. I was in for a second 50k. And that is how I ended up running the Water Gap 50k from Red Newt Racing. All it takes is that one friend who is a bad influence and you get sucked right into another race.

I did not have a particularly good summer of running leading into training for this race. I had no idea what to expect for this training cycle or race. I had battled a lot of soreness over the summer, but I was ready to add in some miles and see how things went. I basically just ran normally during the week and added one long run in at the end of the week. Because of our condensed training time, we only decided to commit to this about a month and a half out from the race we added two miles to our long run each week with no decreases in mileage along the way, just a constant increase in miles. The only week where there was a decrease in miles was the week before the race where most people would taper and for the taper I rested most of the week and then another tough trail race, the Green Monster Trail Challenge 25k which has over 3000 ft of elevation gain. So not really a restful taper. We don’t really do things by the book around here.

Our goal for this race was to finish the 50k in under six hours. I really had no idea what to expect from this race particularly with the condensed training, but after all our long run results we felt pretty confident that we would be in good shape.

I prefer to run in cooler weather, so I was pretty happy as the race approached and the forecast was showing that it would be cooler than the week before. What I was not prepared for was sleeping in a tent overnight in the nearly freezing cold temperatures and then starting only my second 50k race at those same nearly freezing cold temps. That was a little bit of overkill on the, I hope it is colder than last race, wish-fulfillment. But it was still better than being too hot.

This was a very different type of race for me. The course was relatively flat and relatively straight. I have never run a road marathon before (However it looks like that will change next year.) so running 31 miles on flat straight terrain was new to me. I always feel like the constantly changing course of most trail runs benefit my legs by constantly changing my stride and that keeps my muscles from tightening up, but with this course my stride was mostly the same the whole way. I think the combination of that factor and the cold made my hips especially very tight and uncomfortable for most of the race. Even in the beginning when I should have felt good. There were points during the race where we were wishing we could just do a little climbing, something that anyone who knows me knows I never say. We just wanted to break stride and activate some other muscles. I usually love downhill running and there were some very nice little downhills in the beginning of the course that I enjoyed, but by the second half of the race what downhills there were I couldn’t really enjoy because I was too stiff and tight.

Despite all the challenges of training for and then running this race we were at the half way point and pretty sure that unless something catastrophic happened we would be able to make our time goal. During the second half of the race we spent a lot of time doing mental calculations and figuring out how much time we could afford to give back as we got more tired and the wheels started to come off. We would have to run about seven miles farther than our longest training run so one never really knows how it will go. I also spent our training runs trying to work out a new fuel strategy which I never really figured out and then made some unwise choices for pre-race meals the night before that lead me to completely abandon what I was planning to do for fuel that had worked on my previous 50k. Instead I ran the whole race on gels and tailwind until the last aid station where a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was calling my name. It was the first time I felt like eating any solid food other than M&M’s.

We slowed down significantly in the second half of the race but did succeed in finishing under our time goal at 5 hrs and 47 min.

The course was a really nice course and had the opportunity to be gorgeous, but the freezing temperatures and cloud cover most of the day made it hard to enjoy the scenery.  There were a few burst of sunlight peaking through the clouds to brighten things up, however when you are in the middle of a 50k those only serve to heat you up more than you would like. A lot of the course is run on a nice wide gravel trail with trees on one side and an open field on the other side. Those sections are primarily flat. I really loved the sections of the course when you are running through the woods. Some of those sections were more technical and had more elevation changes to them. The woods, the technical trail, and the elevation changes are all thing s I love in the sport of trail running. There were some nice sections where you run pretty close to the river, which again would have been a little nicer if there wasn’t complete cloud cover. My favorite part of the race was a section where you are in the woods and you drop down across a short but relatively steep decent that is narrow and drops off to both sides and then when you get to the bottom you pull a U-turn and go back the way you came at a completely different elevation level and you enter this section of the woods that is like a small twisty canyon for a second. Its kind of narrow and wooded. When I got to that spot I was just like, wow this is why I do this.

Another aspect of this race that I could not possibly oversell is the fact that myself and two of my friends ran the race and then two more friends crewed us at the race the whole time. I ran the entire race with my friend who talked me into running the race. I have never before run an entire race with someone before, that was a nice experience and if nothing else it makes the concept of a race less stressful. Its more like just another long training run with your friend. I highly recommend that if you are going to run an ultra and can make a weekend with your friends out of it, do it. You will not regret it.

At this race I again tried something a little bit different. I only shot video with my GoPro’s and no photos. I then used my software to extract photos from the video. I am not happy with the results of those photos. The photos did not turn out as well as I would have hoped. After these last two races I will go back to some of my methods I have used in the past. This is what happens when you are always pushing the limits and trying new things. Sometimes things don’t go as well as you would like.

Green Monster 25k, 2018

I recently ran the Green Monster 25k for the second time. Let’s just say it did not go as I had hoped. I don’ run a ton of races each year and there are only a handful of races that I have run more than once. But so far in my experience every time I have run a race a second time I have run better. I don’t always have specific goals going into a race but I generally run a faster time at a race on the second go around. That just makes sense to me if you are always working harder and training more and that has been my experience every year that I have been running. Each year I work a little harder, run a little more, run harder races and then the races I repeat I perform better at.

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I didn’t have any specific goals leading into Green Monster 25k. This was a race I was running because I love the trails there and I wanted to have a good time on the trails with my friends. As the race approached I began to think more and more about the race and how I wanted to approach it and how I wanted to perform. I knew I wanted to do better than last year, which I felt confident I would do because I have been training a lot more than I had in the previous year. I had actually been training for a 50k the week after Green Monster leading up to this. I had thought that my previous time at Green Monster 25k was around the 4 hour 30 minute mark and I was pretty sure that I could perform better than that this year.

The more I thought about it the more I felt like I really just wanted to see how good I could do if I just threw everything I had at it pretty much from the beginning. I am not a fast runner. I am pretty much mid pack, but I really wanted to give this my best effort the whole way. I really wanted to go sub 4 hour. I wasn’t sure if I could actually do that though. But I figured I would start out as hard as I thought I could and then if I blew up I blew up.

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Race day arrived and the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than I would have liked at the start, around 65, with a forecast for it to be at least 10 degrees warmer still by the time I expected to finish. It also was quite humid. These are not ideal conditions for me. I run best in cool weather. I sweat a lot so heat of any kind is not my friend.

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I started the race at a relatively fast pace for me and I pushed up the first long climb well. I was only passed by 3 people on a long climb which is really good for me as climbing is my weakness. I ran hard down the subsequent long decent, my favorite part of the race. I felt pretty good all the way down that long descent. At the bottom of that descent was the first aide station. I stopped to grab some food, as I wasn’t carrying much at this race. As I stopped one of my friends cruised by and I started back up to try to keep up and I just never recovered after that. My friend pulled away and I never saw her after that as we got to the next big climb.

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I felt good at the start of the race but by just over 4 miles in I was spent. I had no strength in my legs for any of the climbs. Any elevation at all wore me right out. I was only able to run in fits and starts on flats or anything with even the most modest degree of incline. I did ok on some of the remaining descents but I was not able to run them the way I would have liked.

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I was tired. I had no strength in my legs. I just felt wore out and week. I rode the struggle bus for 12 miles. I just did not feel good. At times I was a little nauseous. I ate and I drank but I could never fully recover. I drank every ounce of the 2 liters of water I carried with me before the finish, which even had Nuun hydration tabs dissolved in it, but that didn’t help. The food at times would help me push through the lowest points but I never got back to where I felt good.

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At the half way point I was at a little over 2 hours, so in theory 4 hours was within reach, but I knew I was only getting slower at this point. I decided I needed to just try to push on en enjoy the race as much as I could and make sure I finished. I still wanted to at least beat my time from last year, which I believed to be 4:30 ish, but I had never actually checked. So I felt good at least that I should be able to beat that if only by a small margin. That helped me push a little harder down the last stretch of stream crossings, at which I stopped to pour water on myself at each crossing, and gravel road to the finish. Upon finishing I believed I had beaten my time from last year.

I say I believed I had, because as it turns out when I checked my stats from last year I had actually run around a 4:15. It turns out I was around 8 minutes slower this year. I am not sure how that would have made me feel during the race. I think this delusion that I was still going to beat my time from last year helped me to push a little hard and still perform with what little I had left. If I had known I had not been able to beat my time, maybe I would have taken it easier and walked and not pushed myself harder. So maybe being a little delusional can be a good thing.

Despite knowing I did not run the race I had wanted I had a great time post race with friends and fellow trail runners. This race has killed me 2 years in a row and has taken it out of me on every practice run I have done of the course. I still love the trails, but I am not sure I will be back to it any time soon. When I checked my statistics from the race according to Strava I still managed to PR the Frankenstein’s Forehead segment, which if you are not familiar with it is this wicked steep and technical section of the trail. I have no idea how I PR’d it. I didn’t even feel like I ran it well in the moment and I was exhausted by the time I got done with it. Also, according to Strava I somehow managed to PR one of the climbs but not Deer Trail which was what I really wanted, but one just before that it looks like that isn’t really steep. That makes sense because the whole plan was to run out harder at the start and this is the very beginning of the race.

Despite this race not going as I had planned I had a good time overall and love the experience.

At this race I did something a little bit different. I only shot video with my GoPro’s and no photos. I then used my software to extract photos from the video. I am not happy with the results of those photos. The photos did not turn out as well as I would have hoped. After these last two races I will go back to some of my methods I have used in the past. This is what happens when you are always pushing the limits and trying new things. Sometimes things don’t go as well as you would like.

FLT Danby State Forest

I have been writing a lot about my trail running experiences. I hope you aren’t getting sick of it because it seems to be a growing trend, especially as I explore new trails. I’ve written about how trail running has allowed me to and encouraged me to explore so much more of the natural world that I love so much. Today was no different.

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Without running, but hiking instead the amount of distance one can cover on a trail in a reasonable amount of time is limited. If I was going to go for a hike would I choose to drive an hour to hike a few miles on some random trails in the woods or would I go to a well known state park where I knew that at least in those few miles I will be able to enjoy nice scenic views. I think I would probably choose a park. Nothing against state parks, I love them and go there frequently but that’s the point. I don’t see something new by doing that. There is less exploration.

Thanks to running I can cover 8 miles in a couple hours.   So that is 8 miles of state forest land I can explore and discover for myself for the first time. Being able to explore that much nature in a relatively short amount of time is worth it to me even if there aren’t any majestic views. That all lead me to choose to go explore the Finger Lakes Trail through Danby State Forest.

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I am not going to try to oversell Danby State Forest. I really enjoyed my time there, but I am sure it’s not for everyone. It is beautiful without being scenic, if that makes any sense. There are no grand waterfalls, or even small waterfalls that I saw along the FLT. There are no lookouts with wide open scenic vistas. You are in a forest just about all the time. There are trees of all sorts. There are roots. There are streams. There are flowers.  And there are countless little spotted newts that I did not stop to take photos of but had I been out on a hike I surely would have. Being in Danby State Forest means enjoying the simple little things about nature. I didn’t even see any people until I had gone about 12 miles of my 16 mile run.

The run itself was very fun and interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t look at the map other than to confirm I could get a total of 16 miles in and stay in Danby State Forest. I didn’t look at contour lines or anything like that. Maybe I should have, but I am glad I did not. If I had maybe I would not have done it. My first thought when I began running on the trail was “oh nice this is rather runnable, not very rocky, no big climbs looming.” Then I started to go down and down and down. This was in the moment fine by me because I love downhill running and the trails were very runnable and I really enjoyed it. But it was one downhill after another without much climbing back up in between. I was loving all the runnable downhills but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “This is going to be a lot of climbing on the way back.” And it was. The first climb I came to I felt like it wasn’t so bad, but then climb after climb just wore me down. By the end I felt like I was barely able to move. I ended up with over 3,000 ft of vertical gain which wasn’t shocking but I was really thinking it would be more in the 2,000 ft range. I really loved the first half of the run with all the open downhill running. I just need someone to pick me up after eight so I don’t have to go back up next time.

I am looking forward to continuing to explore the Finger Lakes Trail, but as I explore it more and more I will need to drive farther and farther from home to reach new trail sections so that might make further exploration a continually growing challenge, but I will find ways to get out there and keep exploring. Maybe at Twisted Branch 100k next year.

Running on the Appalachian Trail

If you are someone who loves the outdoors you have probably heard of the Appalachian Trail. The trail runs from Maine to Georgia. I had heard of the trail and read about the trail, but I had never stepped foot on the trail. That was about to change.

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I was so excited when we planned a trip and we were able to find a place to camp that was located right along the Appalachian Trail I was so excited to get a chance to explore this legendary trail. As it turned out our campsite was literally on the Appalachian Trail. There was a blaze on a tree at the entrance to our site.

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There was a time when I would have hiked on the trail and loved every second of it. But now as my outdoorsiness has evolved to include trail running I was super excited to have an opportunity to run on this trail. I did do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail especially to get some initial exploring in before I set out for any running and that was a great experience in its own right. But still going for a run on the AT was the one must do on my list of activities while we were camping.

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Trail running is in some ways a double edge sword for me. No matter what pace you are moving at during a run you are going faster than you would be if you were hiking so you inevitably cannot soak it in for every mile that is spent on the trail quite like you can if you are on a hike. I think your senses just can’t process all that amazing nature quite the same as you move through it at a running pace. It’s a slightly different experience. The other side of the coin is that when I am running I can explore at least twice as much as I could if I were hiking because of the faster pace. So I get to see and experience more but maybe perhaps not experience it at quite as deep a level. This is especially true for me as a photographer as I am constantly seeking ways to incorporate my photography and increasingly videography into my trail running. But I also se and photograph things I would never see without the running.

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Before I went for a run I scouted out a little part of it as it left our campground in either direction. I determined to first run the trail leaving our campsite from near the entrance. I chose that direction because what I had seen was relatively flat if not slightly downhill. My goal was to run 10 miles, 5 out 5 back. As I started out the trail was just as I had anticipated it was flat or downhill for the first two miles. It was the start of a perfect run. Near the end of the first two miles you run down a very nice boardwalk that is a part of a trail that leads to a waterfall just a short ways away. (We would later return to that waterfall during our trip. Part of the discovery during running I mention.)

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After crossing a road and then entering the woods the trail began to go up. The AT went up and up and up. I am not a strong climber and I do not like climbing, but I would not relent and I continued to climb. That section of climbing went on for at least one and a half miles. Nothing but going up. That climb so completely drained me that when I reached what seemed to be the top, as the other side started to appear to go down, I decided I would call it good enough here at just 3.5 of my 5 mile goal. I wasn’t too disappointed as I know climbs wreck me and it was a tough climb. Not just steep but twists and turns and rocks and roots.

I turned around and descended the mountain I had just climbed. I recorded the decent with my GoPro. I love descents. I like to run them fast if at all possible. This descent took a lot longer than I expected. That is because it was a lot more difficult than I realized it would be even though I had just climbed it. For me climbing is more about strength and exertion and just powering through it. However on the decent it is about being as agile as I can as I watch the terrain ahead of me and try to place my feet accordingly. The unforgiving Appalachian Trail was making that very difficult for me. I was trying to go fast but there were so many rocks and roots and trees and twists and turns and edges to watch. It was above my skill level to run down that trail as fast as I would have liked. AS I reached the bottom I took a moment to appreciate how difficult that section of trail was. How it repelled me and turned me away and sent me back home and taught me a thing or two even on the parts of my running that I felt are my strong suit.

My next adventure on the AT I left the campground in the opposite direction on a trail that I expected would begin with a bit of climbing and I was not wrong about that. There was a significant amount of climbing to start off. One reason I wanted to explore this section of trail is because I knew that I could use this part of the Appalachian Trail to check out another area we planned to hike later, Dear Leap. I wanted to see how difficult it would be to get to Dear Leap from our campsite. The answer, very difficult.

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Once again I started out with a goal of 10 miles. I powered up the climbing in the beginning. Eventually I arrived at the intersection of the AT and the Dear Leap trail. I turned on my GoPro thinking this will be cool to record the run out to Dear Leap and show what the view is like. I started running up the trail. Up being the operative word. There was much more up than I had anticipated. I was very quickly hiking at a relatively slow pace up that climb because it was longer and steeper than I had anticipated and in my excitement I had started out to fast.

I ran out to the scenic view at Dear Leap took a panoramic video of it that hopefully turned out ok. Then I headed back the way I had come. I expected to rejoin the AT where I had left it but instead ended up staying on the Dear Leap Mountain Path and reconnecting with the AT farther along. I eventually came to this nice long gradual downhill. I think it was one of the most runnable sections I experienced on the AT and it came at the perfect time for me. I was getting tired and this section lifted my spirits and helped me recover physically as well. Eventually I crossed a road and ended up getting on the Long Trail and going out on the part of the long trail we should have hiked if we wanted to hike Pico Peak instead of doing it accidently earlier in the weak.

As it turns out time was moving faster than I was and as it got to be the time I would have expected I would run for to get to the half way point in a 10 mile run I was at mile 4 instead of mile 5. I decided that I should turn around anyway. I didn’t want to be gone to long and make my wife worry. Also, I was tired. The way back was not too bad. Going up that nice long descending runnable part wasn’t too much fun, but at least the path was relatively smooth. Instead of going on the Dear Leap Mountain Path I stayed on the AT to hopefully same time and energy. As I got close to camp I began descending the climb that began this adventure I was exhausted. The rocky outcroppings and boulders sticking out of the ground were tormenting me. I couldn’t go at much of a decent pace at all. It was one of the least fun descents I had ever had. But I powered through it and got back to camp all in one piece.

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I have done a fair amount of trail running and run on a variety of different types of trails. So far in my experience the Appalachian Trail is the toughest trail I have ever run on. I am impressed by all the through hikers that take it on. I am even more amazed by those that have attempted and those who have succeeded at Fastest Known Time attempts on the Appalachian Trail. It has to be brutal. I cannot even imagine. I ran a total of 15 miles on two different days at it kicked my ass. But I would go back and run it some more in a heart beat.