Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Fresh Tracks

On a chilly afternoon in late February, I set out on snowshoes at Northfield Mountain (in the northern part of the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts) with the goal of just seeing how the conditions were and getting a little exercise for the day. The trails weren’t groomed this year due to the pandemic so there’s been no charge and very few other people around most times I’ve gone. This time there were only six cars parked in the spacious lot. After following others’ tracks up the Hidden Quarry and Porcupine trails, the signs of fellow people out there diminished until all I saw were a few sets of Nordic ski tracks along the access road. I tromped through light powder alongside the tracks to the top of the mountain where the snow-covered reservoir gave me that vaguely sinister feeling that it sometimes does (somehow it just feels… unnatural up there). The sun felt good, though, and the exertion from climbing kept me just warm enough. With sunset approaching, I looked for a good return route, and found one. Descending the Bobcat and West Slope trails, gravity did its thing and tugged me into a run. Boisterous puffs of snow kicked up around me as I leap-jogged down numerous fun little drops and flung myself around twisty turns. Late-light sun filtered through the tree trunks, but the day felt fresh... and I looked forward to the future. 





Friday, January 1, 2021

Reckoning Time 2: The Lost Year

Well, it’s time to try writing a 2020 year-in-review for my blog. Huh. Umm, doesn’t my sock drawer need re-arranging again? Maybe I could head to the DMV to renew my license? Or scrub the toilet, keep my heart rate below 140 for more than a mile on a trail run, wash the back window of my car without ruining the defroster coils... try to fold some fitted sheets? I mean, jeez.

Back on May 1st the cover story for the issue of my local running club’s newsletter that covered March and April was “The Lost Season,” which in hindsight reflected a way overly optimistic hope that we’d passed the worst of it by then. Now, many exhausting months later, we’re still stuck in the mess, and in too many measurable ways things have actually gotten worse. The lost season became the lost year. Compare the sarcasm of this post you're reading to my optimism of just one exact year ago

2020 was a year when all social groups and activities essentially had to go “on hold.” Bottom line: this year sucked socially. That said, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were shipped and administered a few weeks ago. Even though it’s certain that the next few weeks and months will be the worst yet, there’s still very much hope on the near horizon. No one knows for sure, of course, and a lot will depend on how much we collectively are able to adhere to strict social distancing and masking guidelines, but it seems like a safe bet to predict that we will be able to gather in groups again, for races and other events, by sometime in mid-2021 (though that’s still just a guess).

New Year’s Day has rarely felt so legitimately symbolic to me. I’m generally not an observer of anniversaries of things. I find the arbitrariness too off-putting. The Earth keeps circling around its star, and it takes 365 days to get back to the same spot in the orbit, but there’s no real start or finish line. Not to numbered years, especially. That’s just stuff that we invent. But this year it’s hard to ignore the metaphor. For real we are starting fresh, starting anew, starting again. Today we start 2021 with eyes on building back after a brutal 2020, restarting and hopefully coming back even better than before. We’re not quite out of the woods yet, but you can see the light. 


And so we beat on, shoes against the pavement (or dirt), borne forward hopefully into the future. Fingers crossed for the promise of better times to come that will be at least as good as past times gone by, and hopefully even better. Miles logged not just for our current health and fitness but also for the lure of all those starting line guns still to come. I’m looking across the bay for that burning green light, in this case indicating that fateful word: “GO!” 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Coronavirus Chronicles

Volume 1?


see the May 1 issue here (opens in a new window)

When the time came to start pulling together the latest issue of the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club's newsletter, The Sugarloaf Sun, we had just started to shut everything down due to COVID-19 (is that officially all caps? I haven't been able to tell for sure). Races were cancelled and all group gatherings were called off, and I wasn't sure that there was actually going to be enough material to fill out an issue. Well, aren't I a fool. The SMAC members came through, as they always do. This new issue features all sorts of terrific articles and artwork about the crazy times we're in, all from the perspective of local runners. I'm so pleased with how it turned out; enjoy some good reading!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Happy Leap Day

Hard to believe that it’s been a full four years since my last leaper post, but it’s true!

For your leapin’ amusement, here's my full 2020 Leap Year photo gallery: https://northeastracephoto.smugmug.com/2020-Races/Leapers-2

“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
— Cynthia Heimel







  


the joy of the leap

“Enthusiasm is the leaping lightning, not to be measured by the horse-power of the understanding.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Athletes have studied how to leap and how to survive the leap some of the time and return to the ground. They don't always do it well. But they are our philosophers of actual moments and the body and soul in them, and of our maneuvers in our emergencies and longings.”
— Harold Brodkey

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Reckoning Time: Closing Out the Past Decade / Beginning Anew

Ten years ago this month the world wasn’t so different. The first iPads appeared; they’re a dime a dozen today. In Dubai, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper opened and became the tallest building in the world; it still is. Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga were really popular; same. I was living in Concord, NH, pretty deep into a triathlon training phase; now I run, bike, and swim as often as I can (though admittedly there are fewer Half-Ironmans and such on my schedule these days). 

As a member of a local multisport club back then (Capital Multisport), I raced a fun winter triathlon at Gunstock Mountain. In a pleasant surprise, I won the short course race! True, my young-punk friend Ryan Kelly won the long course in about the same amount of time, but still... I hadn’t come in first in a long, long time, and it felt pretty darn good :o) The course was a hilly, 4K trail run on snow, a very tough 3.5K mountain bike route (also on snow), and a 3K XC ski loop (on snow, obviously). With fairly soft snow conditions, the bike part was terrifically hard, and I took one fall on the first hill where my front tire sunk in a deep drift; I pitched over the handlebars and the bike landed ON me. It was hard for everyone though, and while it all sounds pretty absurd (which it was) it really was absurdly fun! Just remembering and writing about it here makes me want to pop on my running snowshoes and hit a race in the Dion series soon. Or dust off the ol’ Nordic planks for some kickgliding miles at Northfield Mountain or Notchview. 

I came into triathlons by accident when a stress fracture at the 2007 Clarence Demar Marathon forced me to drop at mile 19 and pushed me into the pool for a few months. A friend gave me an old bike and by mid-2008 I’d completed my first sprint tri; the injury was such a gift in disguise. The multisport training left me better balanced, and all-around stronger. Since that time, I moved to the Valley and shifted my then very regular hiking jaunts in the White Mountains to more local exploratory trail runs, and you probably know what that led to (this). Today I find myself running about half roads and half trails, with plenty of other activities mixed in. I’m happy with the variety, and hope to keep going strong in 2020. 

There’s certainly plenty enough to do; there's lots of upcoming local snowshoe races and Winter Wild type events on deck for the next few months. Winter won’t slow me down and I plan to start the new decade off right today with runs like the annual Sawmill River 10K in Montague. 

The past few months have been busy too. Smaller events like the 9K for K9 and Gorge Apres Gorge races, and a Hoka demo day on the icy trails at Mt. Warner, were heartwarmingly very well attended despite unseasonably frigid temps for November/December. Girls on the Run hosted a successful event in November. And our local claim to trail running infamy, the Seven Sisters Trail Race, sold out for 2020 in just under 24 hours a few weeks ago; that’s 500 spots snatched up for a race that’s still over four months away! 

While my local running club (SMAC) doesn’t have any regular planned group runs lined up for this winter, hill workouts are scheduled return in the spring. In the meantime, Marathon Sports in Northampton offers weekly social runs every Thursday evening at 6:30. Led by Jeff Hansen, around 20 people or so start at the store and run a 4 to 5 mile route around downtown. Camaraderie generally ensues. Neither speed nor experience are required; the runs will often break up by paces into small groups and no one gets left behind. Bonus: no purchase necessary! 

As we say sayonara to the 2010s (with their Westeros, Thanos, and Skywalkers; their Hokas, Pipers, Pelotons, goops, reboots, serials, snaps, and tweets; their culture bubbles, Boston Bombings, sub-2-hour marathons, and Flanagan and Linden victories), let’s all aim to be as awesome and strong as we wanna be in the New Roaring Twenties to come. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Evolution of Ultra

Every two months my local running club, the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, puts out a sweet newsletter: The Sugarloaf Sun. For the past four years, I've been lucky enough to have the role of editor, helping shepherd each issue to publication. We've got a deep well of talented and generous writers and artists who contribute regularly, and honestly, although it takes a bit out of me each time, it's very rewarding.

The latest issue adhered (loosely) to the theme of running ultramarathons, and specifically the evolution of ultras over the years from simply being "any footrace longer than a marathon" to all sorts of crazy events that big-mile runners can think up to play with. A pdf copy of the issue can be read here on the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club's website, and links to other past issues can be found here.



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Toby

Dark clouds hunkered down and settled in over the Pioneer Valley of western MA on October 27. Rain fell steadily throughout the morning, and a chilly wind whipped the steel struts of the fire tower at the summit of Mt. Toby in Sunderland. Nevertheless, a sizable field of 65 apparently impervious runners turned out to line up at the start of the annual 14-mile Mt. Toby Trail Race.

Goofy smiles and stubborn good cheer remained evident on racers faces as they neared the aid station at mile 4. Some even leaped for the camera or remarked on how much fun they found themselves having despite being soaked to the bone already. By the time they re-passed the same spot around mile 10, after having climbed to and descended from the top of the mountain most seemed notably more tired, yet everyone still seemed to retain positive attitudes and spirit. I'll remember this race when I want to remember how tough runners can be when the going gets rough. Inspiration fuel!










Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Lithia

The trail network around Lithia Springs Reservoir on the south side of the western part of the Holyoke Range is a bit dense and complex, but once you get the general lay of it all you can craft a pretty sweet mid-distance trail run there. Here are some photos from a good one I took this fall.

Lithia Springs Reservoir

Holyoke Range trails

Lithia Springs Reservoir

Titan's Piazza

NET Trail / Dry Brook Trail junction

the view from Black Rock


Lithia Springs Reservoir