Posts Tagged ‘trails’

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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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#39 – Come Full Circle

14 November 2007

Andrew Skurka hiking during April in the southwest

For the past seven months Andrew Skurka has been hiking in circles, or rather, in one big circle. Andrew recently completed his 6,875-mile trek of the Great Western Loop! Back in April Andrew was the subject of my 9th article as he embarked on his trip. I was amazed then and I’m amazed now just thinking about how much has gone on in my life since then – seven months is a long time – during which time Andrew was simply hiking.

Of course, there’s not much simple about it. He planned his trip with such meticulousness that it borders on obsessive, such as using a spreadsheet to plan the components of his meals to ensure he’s getting his optimal carb/fat/protein ratio. He’s a stickler for packing lightly and goes so far as to cut the handle off his plastic spoon to save weight. He coordinated with his parents to have them ship re-supply packages to post offices along his route. If you’re going to spend two-thirds of a year hiking in the wilderness, it pays to be diligent in your planning.

Andrew Skurka‘s pack laid out before the trip

For me, the most impressive thing about Andrew is that he’s made a career out of this; basically he’s a professional hiker! It’s proof that if you throw yourself 100% into what you love, you can make a living at it. Congratulations Andrew!

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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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#14 – Try New Running Socks

16 May 2007

Four months ago I wrote the “Ultimate Running Sock Review” on my personal blog, hoping to share some of the knowledge I had acquired from running in 10 models of running socks (no, not all at once!) Every time I saw a new sock in a running store I wondered if it would be more comfortable than the last. Yeah, sometimes I have trouble making up my mind!
Two days after writing that review I received a curious email, stating: “I’d love to get you some of Bridgedale’s newest socks to try! Interested?” Heck yeah! The mysterious messenger turned out to be a representative of Bridgedale – one of the brands of socks I reviewed – who had stumbled across my blog thanks to Google Alerts. (This rep also promotes nuun, an electrolyte product popular among adventure racers. Someday I hope to try some and maybe I’ll review them, too!) I replied with my shoe size and soon I received a package in the mail… three pairs of new socks!

What you see are the X-Hale Trailhead (bottom pair) and the X-Hale Multisport (upper two pairs). The X-Hale series are made from a mix of merino wool, nylon, polypropylene and lycra. My first impression when putting them on was that they feel just like brand new Smartwool socks – amazingly soft!

The Trailhead is a heavy sock with the orange parts being thickly padded. They are marketed as their “fastest and lightest hiking sock” so they aren’t truly a running sock, but they do fine in that role. The Trailhead is rather warm and I wouldn’t recommend it for above-freezing temperatures, but my feet really appreciated its warmth when I went for a run in subzero temps this winter.

Bridgedale pitches the Multisport as “ideal for speed hiking, cycling, running & cross training” and they really should add “adventure racing” to that list. While much more breathable than the Trailhead, the Multisport is still a very warm sock and probably not suited to summer running in Michigan. I did wear a pair on today’s 5-mile run and my feet felt fine – it was 50 degrees outside. This sock does have some padding but much less than the Trailhead and has a lightweight feel on my feet.

Both types of Bridgedale’s socks are great in wet conditions, even when my feet were completely soaked from running through deep streams on the trails. They don’t seem to be the best at evaporating sweat off my feet, but they did evaporate quickly enough to remain lightweight soon after giving them a good soaking. Not all socks can do this; in fact, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS Ped – one of my favorite socks from my first review – I subsequently discovered became quite soggy in a heavy downpour. This, despite the Brooks sock being very good at wicking away sweat in hot weather.

One downside of both Bridgedale socks was that they exquisite softness I felt when I first put them on wore off rather quickly – the interior became a bit coarser after just a couple weeks. I’ve had the same problem with all of my Smartwool socks… except for my most recent pair, the red and black Smartwool Running Light Mini-Crew. I’d assumed in my last review that they would also roughen up, but they’ve actually held their softness very well and still feel great. Apparently Smartwool improved their construction? Along with losing some softness, the Bridgedales have a lot of long, loose-end threads on the inside of the sock which frequently caught my toenails when putting them on. They are the only runnings socks I have with this problem.

On the bright side, a big plus of the Trailhead and Multisport socks is that they have a high ankle cuff. Typical running socks are low cut, which is fine when I’m running on paved roads. Off road on the trails, low-cut socks can sometimes allow trail debris (little pebbles, sticks, etc.) to get inside the sock because the low cut doesn’t snug to my ankle very tightly. The Bridgedale socks with their high cuff never let anything get into the sock; as a result of this and their ability to handle a good soaking and the Multisports are one of my favorite trail running socks unless it’s hot outside. For similar reasons I believe they would make a great adventure racing sock, too.

Overall my current favorite running sock is the Smartwool Running Light Mini-Crew – it’s very breathable and keeps my feet cool even in warm weather, the inside is super soft, and they also insulate well in cold weather. I’ve worn these socks in temps ranging from 20 to 80 degrees F and my feet didn’t complain. They also dry out quickly when soaked. An excellent all-around running sock and it’s the sock I’ve used for all of my races this year.

In my last review I had a letter-grade summary of my socks; below is the revised rankings with the new Bridgedale socks plus a photo of the original 10 models that I reviewed:

1. Smartwool Running Light Mini-Crew: A+
2. Defeet Aireator: A
3. Brooks Adrenaline GTS Ped: A-
4. Smartwool Adrenaline Light Mini-Crew: B+
5. Bridgedale X-Hale Multisport: B+
6. Bridgedale Active: B
7. Unknown Basic Liner: B
8. Smartwool Running Light Micro: B-
9. Bridgedale X-Hale Trailhead: B-
10. Injinji Tetratsok Mini: C-
11. Smartwool Hiking Medium Mini-Crew: D+
12. Wright Double Layer Coolmesh: D

In summary, Bridgedale’s X-Hale Trailhead and Multisport socks are good but not great running socks. They could use some improvement in fabric quality and breathability in order to attract pure runners, but to be fair, Bridgedale is known for their hiking socks, not running socks. The Trailhead truly is an excellent hiker (I’ve done some hikes with it, too) and as I said, the lighter-weight Multisport would make a nice sock for adventure racers. They compare quite well with the Smartwool Adrenaline, which is also touted as a multi-sport and adventure racing sock. If you want to run in deep snow and/or cold air you will really like the Bridgedale socks, which are warmer than their Smartwool counterparts.

Last, but not least… A big thanks to the Bridgedale representative who found my first review and was kind enough to provide three pairs of new socks at no cost or obligation!

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#6 – Photographing New Trails

10 April 2007

Yesterday I explored a new trail but forgot the camera. Today I went back to the Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve with both a camera and my wife Amanda. If you ever need a good reason to run a scenic trail, here’s two: 1) bring a camera, 2) bring your wife. 🙂

First we ran an out-and-back so that Amanda could experience the trail while on the move, then we walked around and took some photos. The sun was out today, giving us much better light than yesterday’s overcast with snow. Amanda took all the pictures – you can see the more artistic ones on her blog. Here I’ve posted a few photos to give you a glimpse of that little trail I’ve been talking about!


Log hopping as soon as you leave the parking lot.


Crossing a stream via a wooden bridge.


Looking down at the bridge after climbing a hill.


Rubbing shoulders with trees of all ages.

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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.