Monday, September 18, 2017

recovery day

Everyone should be so lucky to get a recovery day as sweet as this one. Despite Trump's best efforts to gross it all up with a misogynistic and juvenile-no-matter-how-you-look-at-it re-tweet of the golf ball "joke" video ("SO presidential"), Jen and I had a really good day.

I slept late after a night that thankfully didn't include any witching-hour post-marathon charleyhorses, enjoyed my coffee and late-morning Fareed Zakaria political analysis on TV, and wrote a short article on the couch with the cat at my side. Then I joined Jen outside for some watering of the garden and lawn, and realized just how hot and humid it still was out. After abandoning us for a bit around Labor Day, summer came back to play the past few days. We decided to head up into the hills for some chill beach time at Pelham Lake in Rowe, followed by some easy and very slow walking along the lower trails of the Pelham Hills network. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we capped it all off with an especially fine evening of dinner and drinks at the West End Pub in Shelburne Falls. THIS is how late summer in New England should always feel.

The trails at this site are featured in site #7 of my guidebook Trail Running Western Massachusetts

sylvan swamp off to the side of a very cool esker on the Meadow Trail

beach girl

me in my element

2 miles of super-scenic easy walking

Beach Trail

Beach Trail bridge; this trail network is really something

L: jct of the Babbling Brook Trail and Meadow Trail, up on an esker between two ferny forested swamps
R: testing the filter.

Babbling Brook Trail

Babbling Brook Trail

botany girl


a particularly good night at the West End Pub

Saturday, September 16, 2017

my hardest marathon

Today I ran the marathon course (2 laps) at the Free to Run Trail Races in Pittsfield State Forest. Hosted by BURCS, this awesome annual event uses some of the toughest, funnest trails in the region, a bunch of which are profiled in site #11 of my guidebook Trail Running Western Massachusetts. I've photographed this race several times in the past (2016, 2015, etc.), but this year I decided I really wanted to step out from behind the lens and get to experience it firsthand, the runner's way.

It was easily the hardest marathon I've ever done. After several weeks of below-average temps, the mercury soared this weekend and the humidity was through the roof. I drove out from Greenfield around 7 a.m., and as I zipped across the hilltowns of the Berkshires to get there I had to use my windshield wipers almost the whole time despite the fact that IT WAS NOT RAINING. The mugginess never let up, and I sweat so many gallons during the course of the very long run.

I shouldn't complain, though. A super-hardy group of ultrarunners, including two incredible women wearing hijab headwear, set off into the pre-dawn fog at 5 a.m. and did a four-lap 50-miler. Those guys were so amazing.

Our race started at 9 a.m. and began with a mile out-and-back along the park road, where most people probably set their fastest pace of the day. Then we climbed about 1,000 feet up the scenic (it's all scenic, so I'll stop saying that) Lulu Brook Trail. Near the top we veered onto the less-steep Wendell Berry Way Trail, then left on the Taconic Crest Trail up to the amazing vista where my friend Jake's family staffed an aid station. Several more miles up and down along the Taconic Crest, past another aid station staffed by another friend, Jen, and then on to the best part of the course. This year the course changed to include the new switchbacks on the Turner Trail, which I LOVE running down. It was so fun to scream down around the tight, well-graded curves. At the bottom of the ridge, we reached an aid station staffed by my friend Ana and then went right back up again, this time via the relentless Parker Brook Trail. At the beaver pond near the top, we turned left on the Pine Hill Trail for one more ambling climb (with one steep pitch just before the end). Then the course dropped down a series of trails (Pine Mtn., Hawthorne, etc.) to the bottom, where we passed one more aid station staffed by friends (Ginger and Christopher) and set out for two final rolling miles of singletrack before the halfway point. Before setting out for lap 2, I changed into a dry top, which stayed not-soaked for almost 20 whole seconds.

Without any warning, I got an agonizing charleyhorse on the inside of my lower right thigh near the top of the Turner Trail switchbacks on the second lap. It forced me to come to a full stop and try to work it out as I watched the angry snakes squirm beneath the skin. It was excruciating. The cramping let up after a few minutes (you can see the short stall on my pace profile just before mile 18) and I was able to descend the mile or so down to the next station. When I got to the bottom I sat in Ana's chair and assessed my situation. I was really afraid of another debilitating and painful muscle seizure way out in the woods up on top of Pine Hill or something. With a mix of realism and subtle encouragement, Ana laid it out for me: You can DNF and that really is fine if that's what your body needs, but of course there's a subset of people who would say do what you need to do and get back out there and try and DO NOT DNF no matter what the cost. She asked me how much salt I'd taken in and I said 6 tabs and she said that seemed sensible given the conditions. But maybe I could stuff some more in? Something clicked and I decided to do it. I scarfed as much salty stuff and sport drink as I could, then dipped a big peeled orange slice in salt and gagged it down. WAY too salty, but apparently what I needed. I set off up the hill and didn't cramp again the whole way. 

Despite the crushing mugginess and supercharleyhorse near the top of the Turner Trail switchbacks, I did alright. My pace slowed a lot on the second lap, but I was able to finish in 6:12:37, which was actually faster than the pace that ultrasignup predicted for me, and just a few minutes off my goal pace. 

My GPS watch only recorded 24 miles, which seems alarmingly short until you remember that the kind of tight switchbacks that this course follows are notoriously hard to measure when you're zipping along them any faster than a slow walk (never mind that I felt like I was moving that slow a fair bit of this race!).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

my smallest marathon

A local guy wanted to put on a marathon and have it be a real-deal, certified BQ course, but without all the trappings of having to host a big race. So he did.

This past weekend I was one of five starters/finishers in the (official) Green River Marathon. Yep... five. The course started where the pavement ends on Green River Road here in Greenfield, MA then runs north along the river into Vermont. Around mile 11 in the village of Green River you pass through the covered bridge and then keep going north. At the junction with Hinesburg Rd you go left and run about a mile to the start of the pavement by the Deer Park Rd bridge near the Halifax town line (mile 14). Then you reverse course and head back to about 2 miles north of the start. It's very gradual uphill most of the way out and the reverse on the way back, with easy rolling hills the whole way. There were no water stations so you needed to either plan ahead or have a support person helping you out (I'm VERY lucky to have Jen).

I didn't train for it specifically, and only agreed to run it about a week beforehand. I had the bare minimum of training, but also the experience of twelve previous marathons and a handful of ultras under my belt. And the weather was PERFECT for running. The five of us lined up at 6:30 a.m. and set out in fairly brisk temperatures given the weather lately (NOT complaining; though it did mean I needed to stop and take off my windpants and extra shirt about 2 miles in, which equals a few minutes of lost time).

ready to go (I look like I had just woken up;
in fairness, though, I had just woken up)

Imagining that I might drop out around mile 20 or so, I held myself to 9-ish minute miles, hoping to get a good long training run out of it. Well. I just kept feeling good. By the time I got back to the covered bridge on the return (~ mile 17?) I had a pretty good notion that I'd be able to finish, maybe even under 4 hours. I did slow down some after mile 20, not surprisingly, but not a lot. No cramps (took 4 salt tabs overall), and no real wall to speak of. To my great pleasure, I crossed the finish line in 3:57:53.

~mile 3

mile 10

through the bridge

back through the bridge

across the finishing line

Now, several days later, I'm happy to say that it's been one of the easiest, quickest marathon recoveries I've ever had. I took two full days off, as everyone recommends. Then I biked easy for 15 miles the third day, Then the fourth day off. Then today I did 4 miles at 8:30 pace. I tried to go slower but it really didn't seem necessary. That's a great feeling just 5 days after a marathon! There've been some where I was still having trouble with STAIRS on the fifth day after. I am probably gonna lose a toenail, though.

So. Lucky thirteen, I guess. I decided to sign up for the marathon at the Free to Run Trail Races over in Pittsfield State Forest in a week and a half. Very much looking forward to that.