Posts Tagged ‘north country trail’

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#48 – Understand the Value of Snowshoes

28 January 2008
Haven waiting on the NCT

Haven impatiently waits for me as I struggle in the deep snow on the North Country Trail 

Even though I’ve lived in Michigan for almost 30 years of my life, I’ve never owned or even tried out a pair of snowshoes.  During my last run I really wished I was wearing some!

My plan for Sunday morning was to run 8 miles on the North Country Trail with Haven, trying to extend my long run from last weekend’s 5.6 miles in the snow.  We’ve been getting snow all week so it was no surprise that the trails were now coated in 7″ of fluffy snow on top of a 1″ layer of uneven crusty snow.

What did surprise me, however, was the difficulty of running on such a surface!  It’s been a long time since I ran in such deep stuff and boy does it ever suck away a lot of energy.   At first I was feeling frustrated by my apparent lack of fitness, being forced to walk several times to catch my breath.  Building back up after an injury is bad enough but I was starting to wonder if I was back to square one.

Haven, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so encumbered by two clunky feet; her four paws slipped through the snow with ease.  You can see in the photo above one of the countless occasions where she would stop and wait for me, looking back as if to say “Aren’t you coming?”

Reaching a crossroad (2.8 miles) in 37 minutes, I realized that there was no point in stubbornly pushing on for 8 miles when I’m still trying to baby my hamstring somewhat.   Haven and I turned around and settled for a 5.6 mile run that took us 1:13, so at least my pace was consistent.

I bypassed the last 0.7 of trails in favor of a dirt road (i.e. packed snow) and oh my gosh did that feel great!   No wonder I was so frustrated – deep snow is tough.  I was feeling pretty good mentally knowing that my 5.6 miles was probably near equivalent to 8 miles of effort.

That mood was tempered a bit when I spotted a bright blue koosh pillow on the side of the road.  Marks in the snow made it clear that it had been tossed from a moving car, and it hadn’t been there when I ran by less than an hour earlier.  How annoying.

Not wanting to end my run on a sour note, I picked up the pillow and carried it home.  If I can clean it up, then Haven and Beacon will have another cushion for their frequent naps (as dogs can do so well!) and if it’s too dirty, then at least the road is free of one big piece of litter.

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#47 – Making Tracks

20 January 2008
Snowy Trail

Making Tracks in the Snow on the North Country Trail

Two weeks ago I was running  in 55 degree weather; today when I stepped outside it was a frigid 12 degrees!  There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.  Heeding those words I dressed in three layers – a wicking base layer, a fleece middle layer, and a windbreaking nylon outer layer – and tackled the subzero wind chills head on.

It worked – I felt toasty warm for the entire hour that I was out on the North Country Trail and was glad I made the effort to get out for a run.  Although the wind was strong out in the open, the heavily wooded trails provided cover from the icy blast.  However, it was still cold enough for the eyelashes on the outer corners of my eyes to freeze together!

One fun aspect to running in the snow is seeing the tracks of those who traveled before me.  Early on I spied some paw prints from a large dog accompanied by small human boots.  Crossing a road into a more remote section of trail the human presence disappeared but my footprints had the company of a set of deer tracks.

Later on the deer veered off trail and I smiled – the trail ahead of me was untouched by the feet of any animal.  I was making the first tracks!  For about half a mile I enjoyed this “solitude” when a new set of tracks joined the trail.  I first I thought it was the paws of a medium sized dog but as I continued along the trail there were no human tracks to be seen.  Those weren’t dog tracks, they were the tracks of a coyote!

They were somewhat fresh, too – at least within the last 12 hours – but they were headed in the opposite direction so I wouldn’t get the chance to meet this wild canine.   On the way back home I did spook a trio of deer that spooked me as well – I never saw them until they started running away.

All told I ran for over an hour, the first time I’d done that since 08 October 2007!  Boy did that feel good, and my hamstring didn’t complain at all.

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#46 – Running Goals

19 January 2008
Start Running

Start line of the 2007 Healthy Paws Healthy Cause fun run.

We all have to start somewhere. On January 1st, 2004 I went running for the first time in years. I made it just over a mile before I had to stop, gasping for breath and wondering if this former high school track and cross country guy could still call himself a runner! I set a few goals for myself and now here I am in 2008 with over a dozen running races and a few thousand miles underfoot since that humbling one-miler four years ago.

What initially set me down this path wasn’t even running – it was softball. In the fall of 2003 I played on my company’s co-ed softball team and was embarrassed to find myself out of breath just by jogging out to center field! Back in my college intramural days I could run all over the outfield without feeling winded, so I decided to get back in shape and I chose running as the means.

Running soon became the end, not just the means. I think a lot of runners can tell a similar tale of how just wanting to get in shape resulted in the discovery of a new passion for running. Ever since I have made sure to set many goals for myself, both for my running and for the rest of my life. These aren’t “resolutions”, mind you, but simply challenges to myself to remain focused in life.

The new year is a convenient time to review last year’s results and set new goals for the coming year. As early as last October I thought I had my running goals for 2008 all figured out – my plan was simple:

However, a deceptively severe hamstring strain has altered my plans. I don’t want to push myself to be ready for a spring marathon in case my hamstring doesn’t respond accordingly; plus, I haven’t been able to maintain an aerobic base over the winter like I’d been planning. So what do I do now?

No problem. Adapt my goals – after all, goals are challenges, not “assignments”. My 2008 racing goal is simply to finish the Wild West 100K, which will be my second ultramarathon and the first at that distance. My previous ultra was in 2006 when I ran the North Country Trail 50M as my primary running goal for that year. If all goes well, I’ll parlay that training into a sub-4:00 marathon, perhaps the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Clearly my time goals show that I’m not a competitive runner and my goals go beyond performance at races. In 2007 I ran 30% of my runs with a dog and I’m aiming to improve on that in 2008 with a goal of including a dog on at least a full one-third of my running sorties.

Along those lines I want to increase my trail running totals by logging at least 25% of my miles on trails. In 2007 I managed 22% of my distance with dirt underfoot. I toyed with the idea of bumping this goal up to 33% but I didn’t want to force myself onto the trails. I enjoy exploring (both the countryside and the neighborhood) during my long runs and that usually leads me out onto the roads.

It also leads me to my next goal: run a race purely for fun and photograph the experience. When aiming for specific finish times I don’t want to be distracted by a camera in hand, but seeing how much fun Scott Dunlap can have as a first-person race “journalist” has motivated me to try it out. While Scott is fast enough to document the front of the pack, my subjects will be from the middle of the field on back. 🙂

Lastly, I have the goal of running 2008 without injury. Realistically that’s near impossible – there are always aches and pains to varying degrees – but towards that end I plan to be much more proactive in preventing injury via cross-training, stretching, and responding more urgently to any tweaks. I probably could’ve cut a couple weeks from my hamstring recovery time had I actively sought treatment right away rather than waiting a month, hoping for it to heal.

Live and learn, which is another good reason for setting goals – it gives us a benchmark to measure our progress and allows for some instructive retrospective feedback for the next time we toe the line at the start of a new challenge in life.

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#29 – Fallsburg Trail Marathon

19 August 2007

Although I’ve been focusing on shorter races this year, I couldn’t pass up the chance to run a trail marathon in my backyard! The Fallsburg Marathon uses the same roads and trails that I train on, including the two covered bridges of my “explore the countryside” trek in April. In fact that countryside 16-miler was my longest run of the year until two weeks ago when I decided I better gauge my fitness for the marathon by doing another 16 mile run. I decided I was fit enough to finish a trail marathon, but definitely not with a fast time – I estimated a finish time of between 5 and 6 hours.

Runners feeling fresh and having fun at the start of the Fallsburg Marathon.

The weather couldn’t have been better! It was sunny and 55 degrees at the start, warming to an overcast 70 degrees later in the afternoon. The Fallsburg Marathon started and finished at Fallasburg Park (yes, they’re spelled differently and no, I don’t know why!) It was a rather small event despite offering three race distances – marathon, half-marathon, and an 8K with about 20-40 runners in each event – but nobody was complaining about the low turnout. In fact, I thought it was more enjoyable with its laid-back and extra-friendly atmosphere. Most runners were local and I was probably the most local of them all, but a few runners were from out of state – I met representatives of Wisconsin, Kansas, and even California!

 

Crossing the Flat River – the field in the background was the home stretch before the finish.

The SWAG was pretty sweet, too – as a full marathon runner I received a t-shirt, a hooded pullover sweatshirt, and instead of a traditional finisher’s medal I was handed a bath towel printed with the words “Fallsburg Marathon Finisher” – very cool! The 8K race was dubbed the “Wimpy” to poke fun at the runners who declined to go 13.1 or 26.2 but the 8K’ers got the coolest t-shirt, featuring Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge – this was the second loop, thus no other runners nearby.

Within the first 1/4 mile all racers found themselves crossing the Fallasburg Covered Bridge and then staring at a long climb on the paved road. At mile 2.5 was the first aid station which also served as the turn-around for the 8K runners – for them it was almost all uphill for the first half and then downhill on the return. It wasn’t until mile 4 that pavement gave way to dirt road for the next three miles.

Descending a long hill enroute to crossing the Flat River.

This dirt road section was quite flat until just after crossing White’s Covered Bridge, where a towering hill loomed in front of us. I chose to walk up it and was able to keep pace with most of those were maintained a running stride.

Crossing the White’s Covered Bridge just before tackling a major climb.

Once at the top the hills didn’t stop – the surface switched to pavement again for a little over a mile but there were two large hills to tackle during that stretch. Lots of runners were surprised by the terrain; I kept hearing comments such as “I thought Michigan was flat!”

The unusually large rolling hills of rural west Michigan!

Finally after 8+ miles of running we finally turned off-road onto the trails! I had maintained a very constant 10:00 pace over the first 7 miles and it started slipping to an 11:00 pace by mile 10, which I held through the trail section and into the start/finish where I crossed the 13.1 mile mark in 2:19, good for a 10:37 first half pace. That was about what I expected; however what I hadn’t expected was that my heart rate was about 150-160 during that time. I should’ve been at 150 or below, ideally 140, at such a slow pace; in fact I’ve done some training runs at a 9:00 pace where I maintained a 150 HR, so I was a bit concerned.

An example of the beautiful trails that were part of the marathon course.

The concern was apparent at mile 14 when Amanda did a video interview of me running while she drove alongside in the car. I can be heard saying “I’m kinda tired” after warning Amanda to watch out for the mailbox that she almost hit! Filming and driving simultaneously can be difficult! Amanda had a busy day herself as she met me on the course at least a dozen times to snap some photos and even serve as my support crew when necessary.

Cruising along the North Country Trail about three hours into the race.

Just before mile 15 I hit the trails again, this time the section North Country Trail that I’ve run dozens of times in the past, especially with my dogs. It would’ve been fun to have had the dogs to keep me company but as it was, the next three miles went by rather quickly thanks to my familiarity with the trail. I was definitely slower, keeping an 11:00-12:00 pace (by running a 10:00 pace and taking occasional walking breaks) through mile 18.

Walking for a bit to recover some energy for the stomach and the legs.

However, I was feeling very fatigued so I decided to walk the entire mile between 18 and 19 – it helped, but not as much as I’d hoped and I was beginning to really struggle. I ran a bit after mile 19 but my stomach felt nauseous and my legs were extremely painful, probably due to the swelling of being on my feet for so long. I staggered for a couple miles and saw my hopes of a sub-5:00 marathon disappear, and soon again a 5:15 finish became unrealistic. Miles 21-23 were the worst as I was unable to drink much and my legs began to stiffen up.

Feeling pretty crappy as I shuffle along.

Around mile 24 I decided on another extended recovery walk and this time it did wonders for me! I jogged down that very first hill I’d climbed some five hours earlier and before embarking on the last 1.2 miles of trail, I was greeted by some barking – Haven and Beacon! During our earlier rendez-vous Amanda and I arranged for her to pick up the dogs and when I met Amanda at mile 25 I traded my water bottle for a leash that had Haven attached to it!

The volunteers did a great job marking the trail with chalk dust.

Excitedly she dragged me down the trail and her “assistance” felt pretty good! As soon as we were far enough from the road I let her off leash to go sprint the trails and wade in the river. I’d recovered enough to maintain a 10:00 pace over the last 1.2 miles and even managed to pass a runner in the last half mile. I put Haven back on the leash – she may have towed me the first time, but I had to do the pulling across the finish line as Haven tried to socialize with spectators, Amanda and Beacon among them. We crossed the line in 5:31, “good” for 19th out of 22 marathon runners. At least I wasn’t last!

Crossing the finish line with Haven in tow!

Boy was I worn out but there was still plenty of food left – it reminded me of a picnic, with hot dogs, grilled chicken, watermelon, pop, water, popsicles and even a cake! I chilled for a while with Amanda and the dogs, snacking on some of the grub and thanking the race director and the volunteers. What a fun day! I was really looking forward to spending the rest of the evening on the sofa!

It felt great to get an epic long run under my belt for this year. Clearly I was under-trained but I knew that going in; however, I was surprised at the effect. I’m not sure why my heart rate was so high, but my stomach and legs weren’t used to having to function for so long under so much stress, and that’s just what a long run is supposed to prepare you for.

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#5 – Discover New Trails

9 April 2007

Sometimes a sour turn of events can result in something unexpectedly sweet. Today I was forced to miss my group run during lunch at work due to an “important” teleconference with our customer at which we concluded that the issue that required my presence was in fact a non-issue.

While waiting for that meeting to start I was surfing the local North Country Trail website (when I ran the NCT yesterday I noticed some new signposts with updated maps and I was searching for those maps). As can happen with the web I stumbled upon the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and discovered that they have preserved some land just a few miles from my house! I decided to leave work a bit early and explore its trails.

The Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve is a 45-acre patch of wooded lowland with a marked trail and a parking lot big enough for just four cars. Based on the preserve’s size I figured the trail wouldn’t be very long but it sure beats running alone on the sidewalks!

I set off at a medium pace and immediately had to start hurdling logs across the trail – nothing difficult to clear and in fact it made the run much more fun. While lifting my feet I also had to be mindful of my head, frequently ducking low-hanging branches. Along with these enjoyable obstacles the trail surface was in great condition – soft, leaf-covered ground with many slopes, twists and turns. Some of the turns were so sharp and narrow that I rubbed shoulders with a few trees!

Impressively this trail is roughly half a mile long, resulting in a quick and exciting one-mile round trip that covers a lot of features in its short span. Trees ranged from 50-foot red pines down to whip-like saplings of birch and maple. The trail crosses a sandy stream at the beginning, climbs a good sized hill then descends to follow the stream before gradually ending near a major road.

To get my miles in I ran the trail once, then ran and out-and-back along a nearby dirt road (where ironically, I passed a crew cutting down some trees), then ran the trail one last time. Fittingly during my final trip along the trail it began to snow! Yes, it’s April but it’s still snowing here in west Michigan.