Last year the Southern Tier Running Club launched its first trail running event. I was so excited for this and I had to participate by running in the first ever STRC trail race. This year the STRC is launched its second brand new Trail Running event: Trail Fest at Pinnacle. I was equally excited for this event as well. I love seeing our running club grow and provide more events for our members and the rest of the running community. I did not run this event. I was able to be part of it in a different way.
I started off the day volunteering and helping with race day set up. We had a great crew of volunteers out there making this event happen many of whom put in countless hours before race day. The Trail Fest at Pinnacle consisted of two races. The event kicked off with a 3.5 mile race and then that would be followed by a 7 mile race. Runners had the option of running one or both races.
As start time for the 3.5 mile race began I took on a different roll. I would be providing race photography for the event. I was able to secure a ride out onto the race course to where I was ensured by our club member who designed the course that I would be able to capture some great images. He was right. It was a great spot. I was able to capture great still photos as well as time lapse footage and long video of the entire race. The best part for me as a photographer was that this location was where the 3.5 and 7 mile courses converged. So I could photograph the 3.5 mile race and then only readjust my set up a little bit and reposition and be able to photograph the 7 mile race without really even having to move much at all. I appreciated this aspect even more as the temperature rose to over 80 degrees.
Although I loved this location for photographs I am not sure the runners appreciated me being there. For each race I was at the top of a tough climb. I am pretty sure some of the runners wanted to curse at me. No one really wants there photo taken as they struggle up a climb, but for me as a photographer it allows me to show what trail running is really about. It is about the grit and determination it takes to climb those elevation gains that others would avoid. It’s not always fast or fun but grinding out those miles with effort is what makes trail running the sport I love and other people love as well. Photographs might not be traditionally “good” photographs (My thoughts on that here: What IS a “good” Race Photo) but they show the amount of effort runners are putting into the course.
This year has really been about trying to add new dimensions to my race photography and many of the races I’ve photographed this year have allowed me to do that because of the way they were structured. This one was no different. Never before have I shot such long segments of video and time lapse footage at the same time as photographing a race. Never before have I secured a camera to a tree in order to record video from a different angle. I love being able to do different things for race coverage. I hope other people enjoy the variety of things I provide from races as well. As I am still processing the photographs from the race this post includes some of my favorites so far. Enjoy. I’d love to hear any feedback you have.
I have written often about how running has really been this synergy for me that has allowed me to combine many of the things I enjoy together in new ways. I have always loved getting out into nature, but previously I did not know very many people that loved getting out into nature the same way I did. Now that I have connected with and made friends with so many runners who enjoy nature the way I do it has opened up a whole new world of experiences for me. I can now spend hours and hours outside moving through nature with friends.
Previously I decided I wanted to challenge myself to go out on the trails for a long trail run that ended up being 31 miles (For that story you can link here Finger Lakes Trail Run/Hike). I went alone, because I didn’t know anyone else who I thought would enjoy that. After spending more time getting to know other runners. I decided I wanted to go out and try it again and invited some friends for a 26-mile adventure. It went from a solo adventure to a party of three.
This year I was already planning to run a trail marathon and a 50k so I hadn’t really thought about planning any independent adventures. Then my friends who accompanied me on the last suggested that I should plan another long run for us. I want to make this very clear for the record. I was asked to plan a long run for us to adventure on. It was Not my idea. Somehow, I always get the “blame” for these crazy running things that people in my orbit tend to be sucked into. So, I undertook the task of developing a plan for a run.
We wanted to run about 26miles. No Further. I was warned. I also wanted this to be a new adventure. We are fortunate to live near the Finger Lakes Trail that traverses most of the southern area of NY. We wanted to explore a new section of the FLT since we had explored one section last time. Part of the challenge of planning this run was the distance and the way the maps are laid out. I am not great at using maps and measuring distances and orienteering etc. On the FLT website, each map section shows its total distance. We knew where we wanted to end so we only had to plot the distance back to where we would start. The problem arose from the fact that the end point was just off of one map section and in the beginning of another map section and not right along the trail. So I had to estimate the distance we would travel on that new map section. Then subtract that from the beginning. If we had been able to stay only on one map section, we would have been able to know exactly how much we would run. Therefore, I subtracted the amount I thought we would run over onto the new map section from the beginning of the map section where we planned most of the run to be. I figured it would be a safe bet if we stated at Birdseye Hollow Park, It was right on the FLT, and we would end in the Sugar Hill State Forest area. Turns out my map skills were off a little bit, about 4 miles, and I would never hear the end of it.
I asked some more of our friends that we knew liked to do some trail running if they would be interested in an adventure that would be part run, part hike and likely take all day traversing 26 miles of the FLT. It turns out there are more people out there that want to explore 26 miles on the Finger Lakes Trail. Our number grew from 3 people last year to 5 people this year.
I am the kind of person who enjoys time alone on the trails be it running, hiking, or photographing nature, but there is something to be said for spending an extended period of time out in nature with friends. My wife and I have always enjoyed camping and hiking together, but now I was becoming part of an expanding group of friends that I can explore the wonders of nature with.
The beginning heading out of Birds Eye Hollow Park was a nice long relatively flat runnable section. We loved finding a really nice lean-to and camping spot during the early portion of the run. We were all anxious to reach the “Food Truck” at the halfway point. Then the never ending climbing started. When we reached the Sugar Hill area, we started to be ready to be done, some of us more than others. Then we eventually found the road and called it the finish line.
Combine running; nature, laughing, talking, and friendship with time, physical challenge, and exhaustion and you are in for a good time. Running, talking, and laughing with your friends while passing through great natural scenery is really a part of life everyone should experience. We weren’t out there to race; we were out there to just have fun and enjoy nature and enjoy each other’s company. I think that this is an aspect that gets lost sometimes in our overly competitive society. Have fun, enjoy the things you enjoy, and find some friends to share it with. I have been very fortunate to meet these friends.
Some of us have a tendency to have some sort of new unfortunate incident on every trail. Some of us get mad at the never-ending trails. Some of us we learned have never-ending song lyrics and dance moves that they let out on the trails. Some of us carry around a camera and photograph it all. Some of us are perfect steady companionship and put up with all the nonsense.
Earlier this year a friend of mine and fellow runner posted online that he wanted to go run up Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks. He wanted to know if anyone would want to go with him. At the time I really knew nothing about what the rout up Mount Marcy was like. But it did sound like an interesting idea.
I went to the Adirondacks with the idea in the back of my mind that I would possibly try to run up a mountain and that I would maybe even attempt it at Mount Marcy while I was there. I did get an opportunity to run up a mountain while I was in the Adirondacks, but I did not run up Mount Marcy. After doing a little reading about what the climb up Mount Marcy entailed and some realistic evaluation of my fitness level and running ability I decided it might be rash to just decide I was going to go run up this mountain sight unseen.
I think that was probably a wise decision. I love trail running, but my weakness is definitely in climbing and Mount Marcy would require significant climbing. I did venture out to Mount Marcy and hike up to the summit. A journey that I highly recommend to anyone. While I was out on the trail Multiple groups of people ran past me on the trails. They passed me on their way up while I was working my way up to the top. I was hoping that they would take long enough to reach the top and then hang out at the summit long enough that I would get a chance to talk to them when I arrived at teh summit myself.
However, I would have no such luck. Before I was even clear of the forest and above the tree line the runners came back down. I wish I had been ready and was able to get more photos. Two groups completely passed by me before I could get my camera out and ready to get a few shots as they passed out of view. Luckily I was prepared for at least one of the groups and captured some nice images of a group of women running down Mount Marcy.
When I arrived at the summit I overheard some of the other hikers saying that the runners were part of the Olympic ski team out here training. They were really kicking ass on the trails, both on the way up and on the way down. Granted I did not see them on the steepest rockiest terrain but they were making it look pretty easy running up the trail to the mountain summit.
After hiking it and getting a little experience on that trail and learning the layout of the trail I think running it may not be out of reach. I think I know many runners that could put on a pretty good run up and down that mountain. I don’t know how much actual running I would do after the first several miles on the ascent, but the descent could be pretty fun. I have been known to organize groups of friends to do some fun (crazy) stuff. Maybe I will have to see if I can find some friends who want to go for a day trip to the Adirondacks and give this running up Mount Marcy thing a try. I am always looking for new experiences and that sure would be one.
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I picked the location where I camped for two reasons. One it was close to most of the other things I wanted to do while I was on vacation. Two it had a trail leaving directly from the campground to a nearby mountain, Scar Face Mountain. I wanted to have a place I could go without having to really travel anywhere. That way I could hike or run a trail whenever.
I scouted out the trail and asked for information regarding it from the staff at the campground on the day I arrived. I wanted to go check it out early the next morning. I was determined to go for my first mountain run. I woke up early grabbed my GoPro and headed for the trail. After getting a little confused finding the trail head I was on my way.
The beginning of the trail was perfect for a run. According to the park staff it was 3.5 to 4 miles to the summit. So I knew approximately the distance I would be running but I did not know how high the mountain was. I knew it wasn’t exceptionally high because it was not one of the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. So I would just have to find out what the elevation of my run would be the hard way, by first hand experience. Turns out the mountain was 3062 feet tall. I had 1621 feet of elevation gain and it was all essentially packed into the last 2 miles or less.
The climbing was tough. Tougher than I expected. Despite my experience with trail running. I had never done anything quite like this. Running up a mountain. I have had lots of runs with more elevation gain over this distance but it usually consists of multiple ups and downs. This was 2 miles of lat followed by 2 miles of up up up. Climbing is not my strong suit as it is. It is even worse when there is no relief. My heart was pounding with the exertion.
I was spent when I finally reached the summit. I rested for a few moments taking in my surroundings at the summit, which wasn’t much. It was completely forested. No spectacular views to be had as a reward for my climb. I headed back down. The decent at the top was almost as slow going as it was going up. By the time I got to the flat I was getting tired. That last mile back to the camp was tough. I was drenched in sweat. I probably looked like a crazy person to my fellow campers.
I did not utilize that trail as much as I thought I would. This was my only time on it. The views were not what I had hoped for on a mountain climb and there were so many other options to explore, so I didn’t want to commit any more time to a mountain that didn’t really fulfill me.
This run taught me two things. First I am not yet a mountain runner. Second maybe it is best to save an 8 mile mountain run for more than 1 day after you take on 27 trail miles.
Check out my Relive video from my run here: Relive Scar Face Mountain
Check out my Strava account of this run here: Strava Kyle Reynolds Scar Face Mountain
It is always exciting to get out and try something new. The best new thing to try is running a section of trail you have never been on. I have been running on the Finger Lakes trail a bit the past couple years, but I have not gotten out to explore it as much as I would have liked to.
On the 4th of July holiday several friends and I decided to go run a section of the trail near Hammondsport, NY. This section of trail is also the ending of the Twisted Branch 100k, a race that I would like to run some someday I think.
One of the best ways to celebrate a holiday is to spend some time out on the trails with friends. I think it is especially fitting that on Independence Day we were out on the trails celebrating freedom to run and enjoying the freedom that I feel nowhere else than out on the trails.
I woke up in the morning the day before the race and just could not get out of bed. I was so anxious. I couldn’t get out of bed and get the day underway. I just lay in bed thinking and trying to get a little more rest. There wasn’t anything much to be done. Finish packing the car and drop off our dogs at the kennel, then drive down to Pennsylvania to camp for the weekend and run a race. This was supposed to be a fun weekend. Then why was I so anxious in the morning?
I think that was exactly why I was so anxious. This was supposed to be a big weekend for me, a fun weekend camping trip with friends and running a race. Not just any race though. This was my goal race for the year. It was something new to me. I didn’t know what to expect for the weekend, so I tried to hide in bed I guess. Eventually I got myself up got packed and we got under way.
My wife and I arrived at camp the day before the race and had plenty of time to relax and unwind a little. Later that evening we met our friends at bib pick up for the race. Then we had dinner at a great local place, The Forksville General Store. The food was amazing. Just the thing you need the day before a big race. Then we went back to camp and spent the night hanging out by the fire and enjoying each other’s company. One by one we turned in to get some sleep before the race.
We all rose bright and early and headed over to the starting grounds for the race. We were there with plenty of time before the start of the race, which is fine and probably preferred by many, but for me standing around just waiting for something to happen makes me anxious. I prefer to be right on time and just start whatever it is I’m doing. So I was relieved when all the waiting and race director talking as over and the race started. The Worlds End 50k was under way. Finally my feet could start moving and my brain could stop.
I started the race out nice and easy as we ran down the road to get to where the trails started for this race. I was in no big hurry. I knew I’d be out here for plenty of time. When we got to the trails we started to climb. The first ascent is a pretty steep one. I am fine with going relatively slow up any climbs and that is really my strategy. Go slow up and conserve energy. But when there are spots that level out and there is room to run some I quickly got anxious and a little frustrated with the continued slow pace that was basically a walk. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. It was early on and I would have plenty of time to run, but I quickly found myself squeezing by people to pass o that I could go the pace that was comfortable for me. I didn’t want to go fast. I just wanted to go my own pace and I wanted space. I am sure some of the people I passed in the beginning because of my impatience passed me back later on.
After that came a nice descent. It is fairly steep but it is also fairly wide trail and open in many places. It was a great spot for me to be able to just open things up and run down the hill at whatever pace my legs would take me. When I have a nice open descent like that my preferred way to run them is to just go with gravity. I don’t necessarily try to run hard down the hill by pushing my legs fast but I try to allow my legs to move at whatever pace gravity is pulling me down the hill. When you are my size gravity does a lot of work and provides a good amount of momentum to propel you down the slope. It really doesn’t even seem like work. It’s more like just trying to coordinate your legs to keep up.
When you get to the bottom of that fast descent you start right back up the hill again. You climb right back up a mountain for about another mile. Then once you arrive at the top one of my favorite feature of this race was a nice relatively flat section at the top where I could just run whatever pace was comfortable for me. I didn’t have to push. I didn’t have to really fight with gravity. It was like a nice casual trail run compared to the first several miles. Then after a nice gradual descent there is another quick climb going into mile eight.
After mile eight there are several miles that are probably what I would call for this course most closely described as rolling hills would be on a road course except all the while you are navigating rocks, and roots, and plenty of mud. During this section you reach the second aid station, which is the first aide station that is crew accessible. There my wife awaits me with anything that I might need. Fortunately I still feel ok and don’t really need anything. I am plenty tired though despite it only being mile 10 of a 30+ mile run. I stop to eat some food at the aide station and talk to my wife for a little bit. My one remark was that “This is not Sehgahunda”, which is the race I ran two weeks prior and was my first ever trail marathon. That race was plenty challenging in its own right, but this was a whole new level. There I felt pretty good through 15 miles. Here I was tired by mile 10.
The next crew accessible aid station would not be until around mile 19. There was plenty of varied terrain to cover between mile 10 and 19 when I would be able to see my wife gain and I would stop and talk for a minute. From mile 11 to 19 I got to run just about every kind of terrain one could imagine. There were relatively flat sections. There were hills. And there were downhills. There were roots. There were rocks. There were boulders. There were plenty of wet areas as well. The water took many forms on this course: mud and muck, puddles, full on bogs and marshy areas, streams and even waterfalls. My favorite part of this section was the steep technical descent that takes you into the aide station at mile 19. We had previewed this section a few weeks before the race so I knew what was to come. But when we ran it then we had much fewer miles on our legs. I was not sure what I was going to be able to do after around 17 miles had already worn down my legs. My plan was to run down it as fast as I could. I was wearing my GoPro on its chest harness and I knew this was either going to be epic or an epic fail and either way I wanted video evidence of this experience. I paused for a second at the top of the section to start the video recording and then down I went. I ran down as fast as I could while maintaining control. I stepped from rock to rock. Over and around boulders. Dodging roots and outcroppings. Many of my strides were more like leaps from side to side over and around obstacles. Watching my footing and making sure to find safe purchase. I plummeted down the descent. One fellow runner heard my thundering strides down the slope and moved aside and called out to me “Good Luck” as I careened by. He sounded sarcastic but I took it in stride, said “Thanks” and flew by. I think he seemed dubious that I should be taking this approach to the downhill. I caught up to another fellow runner who had passed me a while ago and he quickly moved aside so I could bound past him as well. I loved that section because it was a true test not only of my stamina but of my ability on a difficult technical section and I gave it my all and went for it. It was a fun and exciting section of trail to run during a race that had plenty of sections that were grinding.
At the mile 19 aid station I stopped to change my socks to prevent blisters. I also refilled my water bladder and added two more Nuun hydration tablets for electrolytes. I also ate some food that was provided by the aid station. I took my time and rested some as I changed my socks and ate and drank. I talked with my wife for a minute and gave her a kiss and then I was on the move again.
The three miles from the aid station at mile 19 to the aid station at mile 22 were the most difficult miles of the entire race for me. It was three miles of virtually all vertical climbing. Climbing is what I am weakest at. I really felt the fatigue set in as I made this climb. More than two-thirds the way up I really started to lose my energy and my motivation. I was felt like the climb had defeated me mentally. I just felt like I had nothing left in the tank. I had two vanilla bean GU’s with me and I really was hoping not to use them but they had caffeine in them and I felt like I needed any energy boost I could get at the moment. I really did not enjoy eating that GU. I basically choked it down. But eating it accomplished the goal. It gave me enough energy to get to the aid station at the top of the climb. I was very happy to get to that aid station where I could once again see my wife and eat some real food. It definitely helped to boost my mood. I took my time at this aid station talking to my wife, gathering my strength, and getting my mind right for the rest of the journey. Initially I thought it as odd to have two crew accessible aide stations so close together, one at mile 19 and another one at mile 22, but I was very happy that it was planned that way after I went through it.
After mile 22 there was a good deal of varied terrain. There were downhill sections and uphill sections, but nothing too long or too steep in either direction. There was a combination of all the things that made this course great. Single track trails, trees, rocks, roots, mud, and water. To be perfectly honest after running for such a long time on such a tough course at this point everything kind of blurs together in the aftermath trying to remember it. All I know is that in the moment I was enjoying being out in the woods. I went over 8 hours without touching my cell phone. When was the last time I did that when I wasn’t asleep? This is what trail running is about. Getting out in nature and connecting with it. Enjoying the connection our body makes with nature as you traverse the course.
Finally I arrived at the final aid station. I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat any actual food, but I knew it still could be an hour before I finished so I did have some tailwind to top off my fuel for the finish. As I rested for a minute one of the many friendly volunteers at the aide station jokingly asked “What are you still doing here?” I said “I’m enjoying all the hard work you all have put into this aide station.” And he responded “Then you should have a beer.” I normally don’t drink beer at a race. I actually don’t know if I have ever had a beer at a race. So I stopped and considered for a second. Then I agreed. I should have a beer. I am almost done. What harm could it do at this point? I will almost certainly finish. I am here to enjoy myself and have fun. So I did have half a beer at the aide station before I left. Maybe it was just what I needed to get me to the finish.
After leaving the final aid station there is a long relatively flat section that looks like an old logging road or something. It is probably the most open and flat section of the whole course. I was so tired at that point. I could not keep up a steady pace to run, so I adopted a run walk strategy. Just pushing myself to run at all was a sheer force of will at that point so; I ran for as long as I could then I would walk some to recover and then pick up the run again and repeat over and over.
As I ran through this flatter section of trail I began to think. I thought about all the long hard hours of training I put into this. I thought about all the commitment and determination it took to arrive exactly at this point. I started to think about how this was the culmination of everything I have worked towards for the past six months. I began to get a little emotional as I ran along thinking all the deep thoughts one does when they finally realize that they are about to accomplish a huge goal that they have fully committed to. I felt the full weight of what this experience meant to me. It was fun and it was exciting and it was something I really wanted and I set my heart to it and I got it done. When I say I set my heart to it that is what I truly mean it took my heart and my will in order to get to this point. It is an achievement of a physical accomplishment, but it is not one you come to if your heart isn’t in it and if you don’t have the will to put in the work.
I knew from the course map and elevation profile that I would eventually come to a steep decent before getting to the finish. I was a little concerned about how that part would go for me. I usually like to go as fast as I can on downhills. I feel like it’s the best strategy for me for many reasons. But when I got to this particular decent I was spent. There was no way I could run down this. This was no strait open flat hill. This was a steep twisty turvy and rocky vertical decent. If I tried to go fast my legs would crumble underneath the pressure of my momentum building up. I decided my best course of action was to pick my way down through the rocks, going as fast as I could but far from a run. Going slow down a step decent was no picnic. My toes were smashed in the front of my shoes, but I finally made it down. I felt like I literally dragged myself for that last little bit to get to the finish line. I felt like I was barely moving as I crossed the finish line and I think the video my wife recorded of my finish verifies that fact.
I crossed the line and hugged my wife. I was finally done. I see my friends who were there, cheering. It was a great feeling.
Afterwards I was starving. The food was great. There was plenty of it and it tasted good. The beer was also the perfect thing after finishing a long race like that. It was a great post race experience to sit around and talk with your friends and cheer on runners you didn’t know as well as our other friends who finished. I told my friends I would do this race again just for the food.
I have run a fair amount of trails in our area and I have been out hiking even more trails and this area definitely ranks right up there as one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I loved all the scenery. It was amazing. I ran the race with two GoPro cameras to try to capture some of the experience. I had one GoPro on a chest harness and another GoPro that could be hand-held. I could have just stood and taken photographs forever. Every twist and turn revealed something new and unexpected. I would take a video or some photos of a section and then turn my GoPro off and then around the next bend would be another section just as beautiful and I would think I should turn my camera back on. If I did that I would probably still be there taking photographs. When we came for a preview run of some of the course I told my friends that if I don’t finish it’s because I am still out on the course taking pictures. It is that beautiful.
If you are a nature lover like I am you need to get yourself out to the Worlds End State Park area in Pennsylvania. This area has just about everything one could ask for in nature scenery. You can hike up a trail to a scenic overlook and look out over the valley and across to another mountain that you can also hike up and be at the location you were just looking at from across the valley. There are endless scenic forest lands to wander through with all types of majestic trees. Throughout the entire landscape there are scattered rocks and outcroppings ranging from pebbles to giant boulders that you need to be on all fours to climb over. There are also many streams flowing through the woods and down the mountains. These streams create countless waterfalls that are just truly mesmerizing as they cross the green scape. There are sections of trail where you will cross the streams and waterfalls and you can get a real up close and personal look at them. There are so many I could not imagine how long it would take me to photograph them all, but I might go back and try some day. At the top of one mountain there is even a lake. Like really on top of all that amazing nature you get to run up to a mountain top lake. I’m telling you there is no shortage of beautiful sites in this area. The race course also has multiple sections where you run along a body of water that I am not sure if it is officially a creek or a river but it is big enough that you can dive right in and swim if you want. I know because I’ve done it.
How can you beat all this? I experienced all this amazing nature all in one day. This is the type of adventure that might take weeks to experience on a normal trip. But thanks to the gift of running and how fortunate I am to be able to do the things that I do I got to do all this in a bit over eight hours. Not weeks. I saw all those sights in a third of a day. I love how much running has added to my ability to explore nature and enjoy the other things that make life worth living and that is really why I love running.
It is just a unique experience to be out in that type of landscape. World’s End is such a varied place of unique treasures with something new around every turn. I don’t know if I will ever top this experience.
I know these photos don’t do the scenery I have described justice, so I will try to link to some photos taken by others at the event. Check out these photos by Brian: Worlds End Photos. There are also these photos from Rusty: Worlds End Photos.