Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jacksonville Marathon

Capped off a fantastic year of racing by flying to Florida to run a flat, late season marathon. Ran the first half in 8-minute miles on the dot. Lost some steam around mile 18 or so as it warmed up to almost 70 degrees, and slowed up a bit. I never really hit the wall, and never actually cramped, but I felt that old familiar feeling in the hamstrings right at mile 20. Slight twitches warning of possible (hopefully not imminent) cramps on the way. Time to take another salt tablet or two... shoot, where are they?? Must've dropped 'em the last time I reached into my short pockets for a Gu. Ah well. I knew the drill. Slow up enough to stave off any debilitating power cramps, but not so much that I get dispirited. It worked; I was able to jog steadily right on through to the finish, coming in six minutes slower than I'd hoped for.

Still, I prepared well overall and had a pretty solid race, resulting in my third fastest marathon out of eleven (3:36:11). The course wasn't particularly interesting, though there's a nice long, shady, sort of scenic section in the middle where you run through quiet neighborhoods beneath big scraggly live oaks dripping with Spanish moss). I didn't have any issues with traffic or motorcycles or anything, which I'd been mildly concerned about based on some of the reviews I'd read on before signing up. And I actually quite liked finishing with a jog across a field, followed by half a lap on the track. Both surfaces I'm intimate and comfortable with. My final 0.2 split was definitely well under an 8-minute mile pace.


Anyway, just the usual few days of soreness afterwards; otherwise, recovered well and feel good about the event overall. Bonus: got to explore the coast a bit more and visit my friends Tim and Alice in Brunswick, GA afterwards.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cider Donut Run 10K road race

Despite botching my warm-up (didn't get more than about a 30 second jog in, and making more than one trip to the porta-pot line), and there being a pretty big hill through the UMASS campus at mile 3, I managed to race my 10K PR (42:29, which is a 6:50 pace) by a good 30 seconds. Weather was perfect and the course was fair and familiar (mile 4-5 goes down past Puffers Pond, where I do open-water lap swims in the summer months). It was especially nice to have that final mile feel smooth and strong. This was the second race in a row where I've felt really good for the long surge in to the finish.

full results here

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mt. Toby Trail Run 2012

This was a really nice trail race on an excellent mix of terrain types, with many minor hills and one really big (~2 mile) climb. And it starts only about 25 minutes up the road from me. I felt fantastic almost the whole way, and it was absolutely ideal weather for a fall trail race. There were fewer competitors than I'd have expected, but there was a flat 5K just down the road that drew hundreds of runners, so it's not too surprising.

The start is at a small pavilion area in a wooded town park in Sunderland. It's all nicely low-key. Everyone gathers together and before you know it you're off, flying down the dirt access road. After a short stint (maybe half a mile) on a paved road, you head back into the woods on a well-shaded jeep road and just keep steadily climbing.

Some sections were rather muddy, but in general the course was pretty dry and easy to navigate. All the turns are well marked, which is a good thing because (much like in the Holyoke Range just to the south) there are quite a few unsigned intersections along the way. As you cruise along, the bulk of Mt. Toby looms off to your right and occasionally pops into view through the trees.

Several miles into the race, the route transitions onto a narrower, single-track hiking trail, and soon you go up and over "Cranberry Ridge," a low northern spur of Mt. Toby. On the other side, you pop out onto a wide dirt road and abruptly turn south (it's probably easier if you just look at the course map). You stay on this dirt road all the way to the summit (it's the access road for the fire tower there). It stays mostly flat for about a mile, with a few gentle rollers, but then you start to climb the mountain. I slowed to a fast hike on the two steepest grades, but only for about a minute each. I tagged the summit fence somewhere around 59 minutes in.

After chugging several very welcome cups of water offered by a volunteer, I started back down. Initially, I passed a pulse of people on the final part of their climb and nodded to each and said "good run" and such. I was surprised how quickly that crowd thinned out, though. I guess this race really doesn't seem to attract that many slower runners. Anyway, the descent: it's very easy to get going really fast here, and the steepest parts put you in slight danger of falling off the planet. I trusted in the training, though, and thankfully my quads caught me every time (it's so easy to imagine a face-plant happening here, though). One girl passed me at lightning speed just before the bottom, but I caught her again on the flats. After that, I passed a few more people and then fell in line behind an older guy who was going almost exactly the pace I wanted to be going. I ended up being right behind him for over a mile. I felt like I should pass, but I couldn't quite muster the energy at first. When finally I did, I think it was more because he slowed slightly than anything else. I apologized to him at the finish. Weird little etiquette quirks we runners feel.

The best part was realizing I felt good in the final miles and just opening it up some more and flying along trails through the woods. I remember smiling and thinking "this really is what it's all about." I caught a few more runners before the end and finished feeling really strong at 1:56:51.

One minor quibble with the race direction: the website said FIVE water stations but there were only three (at miles 2, 7, and 12), and they didn't tell us that at the start. Not having those waters at miles 5 and 9 was a fairly big oversight, especially since they would have helped with prep and recovery from the big hill climb portion. Oh, also, the website said that restrooms would be available at the Town Park where the start/finish is. Guess what what wasn't available at the Town Park? Hello, woods...

the official website

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race 2012

I loved this race. Tucked away up in a scenic, relatively remote corner of northwestern Massachusetts, the Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race is 10.5 miles of very hard trail running, with around 2,000 feet of climbing in the first five miles. I had to slow to a hike on plenty of the steeper sections. There was also some very tricky footwork on part of the descent (especially the mile or two just after the summit of Spruce Peak where it's steep and there's lots of leaf-covered roots and mossy rocks). But overall it was a total blast. Plenty of places to open up and race, two bridgeless stream crossings (one ankle-deep and one knee-deep), and beautiful fall weather. My finishing time was 1:47:34. Excellent peeps, too. At the finish was a fire and a keg, along with a fantastic assortment of treats and grilled stuff. Jen came and ran the 2-mile short course; it was her first running race ever and she won a prize -- pretty freakin' sweet!

I'd highly recommend this race to anyone who loves trail running, as long as you're mentally prepared for what you're getting into. It's no walk in the park.

Here's a pretty good map of the course.

Dunbar Brook

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pisgah 23K Trail Race 2012

Drove up to Chesterfield, NH for the Pisgah Trail Races. There's a 50K and a 23K; both are pretty hard. Perhaps someday soon I'll attempt the 50K (I'm lookin' at you, 2013...), but for this year I was really excited to run the "short" course. 

Given my fitness level at the time (not bad, but not stellar either), this ended up being a near-perfect race. I took 13 minutes off my time from the same race in 2005 (almost a full minute per mile!). Excellent weather, dry trails, and good camaraderie. Always fun to run with Jason Lane, who came down from Concord to do this one. I think knowing the course also made a big difference (I'm sure it helped some to have created a natural history trail guide and map to part of this route in 2009). I felt like I had a sense for where to conserve, where to spend, and where to totally let loose, and that must have shaved plenty of seconds here and there. In particular, knowing that the final four miles contain two significant climbs, one descent with tricky footing, and one steep descent on which you can open up was a big help mentally, and eventually physically. Finished in 2:15:43 (a 9:29 pace). Good stuff. 

Jason and me on the dirt road section around mile 9 
(photo by Jen Garrett)

happy munching at the finish (photo by Jen Garrett)

L: singletrack trail near the north shore of Pisgah Reservoir (~mile 7-ish)  
R: view of Monadnock from Mt. Pisgah

cairn on the open ledges of Mt. Pisgah (~mile 7.5)

trail bridge near the north shore of Kilburn Pond (~mile 8.5)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Round-the-Quabbin Ride

Today I finally got to do a workout I'd been looking forward to for over a year: a road bike ride around Quabbin Reservoir, the largest lake in Massachusetts (~65 miles). I met up with my friends Maura and Brian (from NH) in Belchertown around 10AM. They had already started their loop about 30 miles ago, back at a friend's place in Barre, MA. It was fairly hilly for the first 20 miles or so as we headed north on Rte. 202 towards New Salem, not just on the initial climb up from town but along the whole way. But it was also scenic and fun. The road was constructed around the time the reservoir was built, so it doesn't feel quite like others in the area and there are long stretches with no houses or development in sight. At one point (in Pelham) you're way up on a hillside above the lake and there's a nice wayside pullover to enjoy the view from. The traverse across the north side of the reservoir into Petersham was also quite scenic, passing by a number of ponds and beaver wetlands, though the last few miles of that leg seemed to be ALL climb. It was pretty humid and warm out, so we stopped at the village green in Petersham for some drinks from the general store there.

We parted ways here. Brian and Maura finished their loop with a ride back into Barre while I headed due south towards Hardwick. Much of this leg was downhill, though there were a few climbs mixed in. I could see some pretty significant thunderclouds building in the sky to the south and west. From Hardwick I chose to jig northwest towards the reservoir for a bit. After a climb up out of town, I wound through some scenic wooded roads and eventually cycled past a cool-looking winery. Right around here the rain began. By the time I was trying to navigate around Ware it was really pouring down hard. The long climbs up out of Barre were crazy hard as the insane downpour smacked me with everything it had. My brakes were useless on the downhills after the climbs, and the traffic on Rte. 9 was really scary in the rain too. I was so glad to finally veer off onto the quieter (and nicely-paved) roads of Quabbin State Park.

The rain finally let up some at this point, and I really enjoyed my scenic tour through the park. The final miles back into Belchertown were fairly uneventful, though again traffic on Rte. 9 was a bit hairy. I was so ready to stop by the time I got back to my car.

(all photos taken with either Nikon AW100 waterproof point-and-shoot or cell phone)

the route

Maura after more than 60 miles in the saddle

on the village green in Petersham w/Brian and Maura

Hardwick Vineyard and Winery

unsettled skies over Quabbin

near the dam at the south end of the Quabbin

"even the jungle wanted him dead..."

glad to be done (photo by Jen)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Litchfield Hills Olympic triathlon

A quick race report for the 2012 Litchfield Hills Olympic triathlon on 6/24.

GORGEOUS day! Perfect swimming conditions, shady, not too hot, and a nice breeze even kicked up just after the race.

Got up at 3:30AM to make the drive down there (treated to a beautiful misty sunrise over Barkhamsted Reservoir along the way) and managed to get thru registration and set-up with no hitches, just in time for the 7:30 start.

I was in the first wave. The swim was full of furious, thrashing crazy maniacs all trying to drown me, as usual, but I forgave them since I was unintentionally kind of doing the same to them. I don't know if it was an unusually large wave or what, but there really was a lot of bashing and veering around and it never really did seem to thin out much, which is saying a lot for .9 miles. Anyway, about 20 minutes in I accidentally took in a lungful of lake. This was only the second time that's ever happened to me (the first was during an easy solo swim at Echo Lake on MDI last year; it's just as scary each time!). So I rolled over on my back and floated and coughed like a madman until I could breathe again. A heartfelt "thanks!" to the guy in the kayak who swiftly paddled over and asked if I sas OK. I told him I just took a little sip was all. Anyway, I lost maybe a minute or two to that, but otherwise escaped unscathed.

The uphill, dirt road run to T1 was probably a quarter of a mile. I'd heard enough about it ahead of time to know to have shoes waiting down below, and to take the wetsuit off BEFORE running up. Also took a little port-a-pot pee break in there (you didn't need to know that but I needed to defend my T1 time).

The race's name tells you what you need to know about the bike course (and the run, for that matter). You scream downhill at first, then roll for a bit, then glide down alongside the Farmington River, down down down, for maybe 10 miles. And then you finally start back up. After one notably steady grueling ascent it flattens out for a bit, but there's a final 2-mile climb back up to the lake with at least 3 grades that force you up out of the saddle. The final one in particular was very much a lung-buster.

So T2 and the start of the run were pretty much carried out in total oxygen debt. But, as always, you recover. As mentioned earlier, the run was plenty well shaded, and it wasn't particularly hot out (though it did get toasty later in the day), so there were no overheating problems. Just a slow-and-steady 10K to finish in 2:47. Not my finest effort, but about right for the limited number of long swims and lack of hard cranking rides in my training of late. I was plenty pleased, considering.

All-around a well run, very fun, and sometimes quite scenic race. Best part? Being handed a cold draft beer right after the finish. Awesome...

(some photos I bought from the race photographer)
(my hair always looks like I just got electrocuted or something)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

like a lighthouse

at Pemaquid Point on the Maine coast

This shot was really a stroke of luck. On my way back to western Massachusetts from a visit to family on Mount Desert Island, I decide to take the slow road -- U.S. Rte. 1 from Belfast to Brunswick. On a whim, I veered south on rough and curvy Rte. 32 at Waldoboro, heading down towards Pemaquid Point and one of the most photographed lighthouses pretty much ever. Despite growing up on the coast of Maine, I'd never been here before because you really need to set aside a good chunk of time to turn off and explore any of the mid-coast peninsulas, and that just never happened.

When I arrived, it was about 5PM and the sky was mostly overcast with some hazy clouds. The seabreeze and the land breeze were duking it out, though, and the sun occasionally poked through. Once I found this reflection, I waited for that one moment where the sun was out, the wind abated, and no kids were playing in the field of view. It was cloudy and windy and there were a lot of kids, but patience finally paid off (briefly). All three of those factors occurred simultaneously for a total of about one second and I got this shot. I was pretty psyched at the time, and I'm so happy with the result now.

the smartphone version (not bad for a beat-up old Droid!):

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

the magic spot

When I was a senior in high school I finished a quest to hike every mapped trail in Acadia National Park. One of the final links involved a loop on Bernard Mountain (a.k.a. Western Mtn.). I climbed up on the Sluiceway Trail to Little Notch, then took a left and headed to the top. After enjoying the limited views from the summit, I started looping back down via the South Face Trail. About a quarter mile along, I suddenly found myself briefly walking through a forest unlike any other I'd ever seen on the island. I remember there being a staggering greenness, with an incredibly lush understory of mosses on the forest floor. I wasn't expecting it at all, and it instantly etched into my memory as the magic spot, a place I felt incredibly lucky and honored to have discovered for myself.

Last week I finally went back. And it was just as spectacular as I'd remembered. I waited until a drizzly, overcast afternoon so the light would be diffuse (curse the dapple!) and good for longer exposure photos. Ultimately, I got even better weather than I'd wished for. The sun had started to break out down below, but the upper few hundred feet or so of the mountain was totally socked in the clouds, which produced this hushed, almost ethereal feel at the magic spot. Anyway, this is the conifer needle covered trail as it passes through.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Around Mountain

The carriage trails in Acadia National Park make for some of the sweetest running terrain you'll ever find anywhere. Got sore knees? Body feeling pummeled by pavement? Like gentle grades, soft surfaces, natural scenery, incredible stone bridges, and impressively crafted wooden trail signs? If yes, a run in Acadia's the thing for you.

I love the whole network, but the Around Mountain Trail is particularly special. The upper route traces a 12-mile loop around a bunch of the island's interior mountains. Much of it passes through forest, though there are frequent views out over lakes. The really neat part, I think, is the section that pokes partially above treeline on the north side of Sargent Mountain. The climb is exhausting, but the scenery is always sweeping and dramatic, and the smell of spruce, fir, birch, blueberries, and granite... so fine.  

This curve is where the trail swoops towards Sargent around the north side of Parkman Mountain, 
just past a long, scenic stretch overlooking Somes Sound.

the view to the west

on the side of Parkman Mountain

over on the Jordan Pond side

Sunday, May 20, 2012

live treasure

My first ever personal encounter with Arethusa bulbosa. This tiny plant is uncommon to rare across its entire range in northeastern North America, and I feel very lucky to have finally been able to see one.

Moment of earnestness: I love this stuff. Rare wildflower hunting. I swear, every time I have an experience like this, down on the ground amongst the ticks, sweating in the mid-day heat, futzing with my lens trying to get the focus just right while being as careful and respectful as I can be of the surrounding habitat, I'm that much more certain that I like this world better with these treasures in it. And I get that much more passionate about biodiversity conservation. Anyway, yeah... this is me at my most evangelistic. Please get involved!

Friday, May 18, 2012

WMA Mother's Day Half-Marathon 2012

Just a quick race report from the WMA Mother's Day half-marathon in Whately last weekend. It's hard to imagine better weather conditions and a nicer course.

After a too-fast start (sub-7's up the hill in that first mile... fool!) and getting passed by some smarter racers in the second mile (I'll get you someday, Sri...), I settled into 15th place and stayed there for the whole race, except for a brief loss due to an entirely necessary mile-4 pee break (I may never learn) and some back-and-forth with Sue Dean in the middle there. After hearing several tales of headwinds past, it was a pleasure to head north up River Road into no-wind-whatsoever. There was great water station help, more crowd support in the rural areas than I'd have expected, and a fun finish-area atmosphere. Despite my slightly disappointing finish time (1:37:21), I loved this run. 

Ultimately, this was one of those races. Mentally I had been treating it as an "A race," but I just didn't do that well. I'm not sure what the variable was (sleep? nutrition? training? beer?), but I ended up doing worse than the Westfield half back in February, which I think was technically hillier. The course here was extremely fair (see map) and the weather was great and I don't think I went out TOO too fast, but I just didn't have enough gas in the tank to do it.

hey, my legs at the starting line! (photos from the race website)

pre-race clown fail (you get what I was going for here)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Seven Sisters Trail Race

Photo shoot: After taking pictures of the pack as it headed up the rocky talus slope near the start of the 2012 Seven Sisters Trail Race, I drove around and parked at the turnaround point and hiked about half a mile up the ridge to catch the lead runners. It was a good spot, especially looking downwards, and I stayed there until those same lead runners came back up. After a good pulse had come through, I started back down and caught shots of people in various settings along the way, including dense woods, scenic ledges, and the open powerline corridor. Then I drove back around to the finish and took shots along the very last downhill stretch, just below the talus section. I didn't make any attempt to photograph everyone, but still ended up catching most, I think. Anyway, I stopped when my D300's batteries ran out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon 2012

The first annual Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon was held this past weekend over near Rte. 2 in Charlemont, MA. The 5 legs of the race are a hilly 4.5-mile trail run, a hilly 3-mile road bike ride, 5 miles of river kayaking, a 1-mile hill climb (from the kayak transition to the top of the ski slope, carrying your gear), and a ski run. Due to the very warm spring, the ski run was reduced to a short stretch of remaining snow and the hill climb most definitely did not involve snowshoes, but otherwise the event seemed to go off without a hitch. About 20 people completed all five legs themselves, and the rest did it as relay teams of varying numbers of teammates.

This was supposed to be a "rest day" for me, as I did a half marathon in Westfield the next day, but I ended up running around all over the place trying to catch decent shots of each event (I still ended up with my fastest 1/2 marathon time by 2 minutes!). I never saw everyone in each leg, except maybe the opening run, but there was one guy I ended up with photos of from each event. To the guy in green, I promise I wasn't stalking you, man! =)