Bad(?) Runs

Right now, my tendency is to run a handful of different runs over the course of the week, mostly based around a ~11 mile trail run that seems to be about half technical trails/elevation changes, and 1/2 rail-trails, which are well groomed, relatively fast, and moderately scenic, but overall very flat, think of old trains, and the kind of terrain they would prefer.. you get the jist of it. Running the same routes on a regular basis has its advantages, namely the knowledge of roughly how long it’s going to take, how bad the after-run bonk is likely to be, which shoes will be best, etc etc. The downside to these repeated runs is of course, knowing your splits, which can make recover runs, and other such slower endeavors troublesome, and since I do have an inner competitor, I find myself trying to PR on these courses, or getting bummed out/excited when I look at my watch and realize where I am.

What does this have to do with bad runs? In my experience, I find myself challenging these regular splits, constantly monitoring myself against previous times, which sometimes gets me out of listening to what my body is telling me. For example, today I left my car, and immediately began running rather quickly ~7min/mile which I knew was unsustainable for the duration of the run, but it felt good, and I beat my best splits to the turn from the rail trail to the mountain. This was listening to my body, I felt strong, and ran strong, but beginning up the mountain my legs began to weaken, likely a result of substantial mileage following my longest run to date (31 miles last week) which has left me feeling a bit sluggish in the legs. Normally I would have backed off here, but instead, I continued pacing up the hills, a pulled through the low.

So far, so good, and pushing through the periods of softer legs has its upsides, mostly harnessing gumption, and building strength both physically and mentally. I made it through the two loops of mountain running and back to the rail-trail a few minutes ahead of schedule, even taking a few minutes to enjoy the view from the top. This is where everything started to fall apart. It’s been my plan to run on a rather low fuel supply, usually soon after I wake up, I’ll consume a GU or something similar (clifshot, powerbar gel) and begin my run, with no additional nourishment. This usually works out well, teaching my body to burn fat, and lessening the effects of sugar-depleted bonking. Today, I took the time for a cup of coffee first, then began my run.

With the three (easy) miles to go back to my car, all of my minor discomforts became exacerbated. The typical aches in my legs were tolerable, and a slight tinge in my left achilles tendon felt tight, but not painful, certainly not stop-the-run painful. I was minutes ahead of schedule, and posited to best my time for this particular run by a substantial amount when, heartburn strikes. This, to me, is the biggest offender, and takes the award for most likely to halt my run. Leg pain, no problem, foot pain, fine, tiredness, meh, whatever, heartburn…. let’s talk.

Now it’s likely that this is a result of the coffee/empty stomach/low calorie combination, and then running hard for 90 minutes, in fact, I can think of few other calculations that would explain it. This, however, turned what was a great run, into something miserable, with no choice but to keep moving (~3 miles to the car).

What do I learn? First and foremost, I’ll avoid coffee immediately prior to runs, especially if I’m on an empty stomach. Beyond that, hitting my splits every day on my regular courses is something I’m going to try to de-emphasize, while beating a PR is always nice, it’s best to listen to the body, and run your run, especially as a trail runner, where the point of the run is the run, and the environment it takes place in.

So the bad run, or in this case, a failure run is always for me, a learning experience, and helps me to fine tune my approach to mileage, and pacing. It’s always a discouraging blow, especially when things go from swimmingly to miserable, but I get to do it again tomorrow, and the the next day…

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Turkey Swamp

I’ve spoken some about the Turkey Swamp race i had been preparing for over the course of the summer, expecting to run a 50k through NJ heat and humidity over a ~2.5 mile trail loop at the Turkey Swamp park in Freehold NJ. From all reports regarding this race, it’s been brutal in the best of years, and anyone familiar with the weather in NJ during the month of August can imagine what it would be like running 31 miles through this. This year however, this was not the case, instead, we had torrential downpours, so much so, that upon arriving at the race, we were told that the race had been cancelled, the plug pulled by the overseeing park ranger. Anyone who has every trained for a race of substantial duration can imagine the combination of surprise, frustration, and overall disbelief that this news would cause… it was, devastating.

Fortunately, I have the pleasure of running regularly with a club, which means that more often than not we race together, or at the very least, crew for each other at races, and Turkey Swamp was no exception, 2 of us had committed to the 50k, and 4 more to the ten miler, plus an additional 2 on board for crewing purposes, so we promptly found a diner to vent our frustrations over the race, especially concerning the lack of a refund, or even an attempt at a sincere apology (no refund, no rescheduling, you could have your finishers medal if you so desired… but seriously, who takes that?).

I had prepared diligently for this race, logging 225.09 miles in the month of June, 204.9 in the month of July, with an additional ~60 miles logged in the mountains with 30 lb pack on, ran my long runs, all of which deliberately under-hydrated, underfed, and worn out from the previous days long run. PLUS I had tapered, tapered I tell you! This, last part was a big deal, as the week leading up to the race it was stunning outside, and all I wanted to do was hit the trails and run hard, but I needed to save my legs. So, what is a runner to do when his race is cancelled? Run his own race of course!

I took the day of Turkey Swamp to stew in my own frustration, and drink beer, then woke up early the next day, and laid out a harder 50k, this one involving technical trails elevation, no crew, no crowd support, and no one making me run. I ran it in 4:58:30, with little hangups, excepting someone stealing my cooler with my water in it around mile 27, which made for a pretty tremendous low, oh, and did I mention that it was STILL downpouring in torrents? Yea, I think this qualifies as an ultramarathon, no finishers medal, no celebration, only a burning desire to see what happens at mile 40, 50,… and 100. High mileage runs, here we come.

Aftermath

After finishing Old Speck with Rock Monkey, I had a good amount of time to kill while I waited for my ride. Fortunately the famed “Soda Mike” was there, and offered me a cold root beer and some crackers with peanut butter. Apparently he typically reserves his trail magic for thru-hikers, but will occasionally extend his generosity to section hikers, and I was very grateful, there’s nothing like something sweet and cold after a week in the woods.

My ride finally showed up (30 mins late) and took me back to my car so I could drive myself up to my parents’ vacation rental in Rangeley. After walking with all of your things, it’s unbelievable to think about how terrifically efficient an internal combustion engine is, and how little energy (of mine) it requires to move! Naturally, being starving for hot, awful food, I diverted from my usually wholesome diet of whole foods/fresh foods and stopped at Burger King for a hippie puck, fries, and a coke. I also stopped at the grocery store for a case of beer, and wholly committed myself to going to town on a pizza that evening.

Even though I had swam in a pond the day before, I was incapable of refraining from immediately diving into the lake, and running to the shower. We often take bathing for granted, and while there was nothing particularly uncomfortable about going without for a week, it is awkward to smell your own funk, and the luxury of a swim and a shower is very humanizing.

Throughout my week in Rangeley, I spent a lot of time trail running, which put me within access of thru-hikers, especially since the southbound bubble was fundamentally passing through town, and the northbounders were arriving as well. Having gained a new respect for the individuals who undertake this adventure, I tried my best to offer rides to whoever I had the time to shuttle. I also met up with Kites and Cakes, helping them get into town for a night, and sharing a cone of ice cream, as well as Rock Monkey for a breakfast, and lift back to the trail. All in all, good times were had

AT Section Hike Pt. 5

Final Day

After the attack of the phantom shitter, Rock Monkey and I awoke to some spritzing rain, enough to don hard shells, and pack covers… for a bit. You see, if you put on your rain gear, it will stop raining, if you do not, it will rain harder, this is a fact of life, test it as you like.

Rock Monkey and I (at this point referring to myself as Moses, thanks camp girls!) decided that with the wet terrain, a ~4000 foot mountain in our way, it would be best to walk together, at least until Rt. 26, where I would wait for my ride. Companionship is always nice, and a (mutual) helping hand on slick rocks can often be the difference between moving safely, and taking dumb risks… so, we began hiking.

Moving up Old Speck with some sense of haste, I managed to snap this:

So Rock Monkey and I continued towards Rt 26, making it there by about 10:30 am, 90 minutes to spare before my ride came. We ran into the usual array of Southbounders, day hikers (it was a Saturday) but nothing too extraordinary, except for the nice man who took our picture.





He was getting ready to start a trip with his son, Who has autism, and as a result find it very challenging to communicate. The two of them had been section hiking for the past several years, and were planning on taking a trip of roughly two weeks through the mountains in Maine! I don’t know about you, but I found it amazing that a father would take his autistic son backpacking with the frequency that he and his son had been moving, very inspiring, on both individuals parts, and truly warming for my soul.

AT Section Hike Pt. 4.5

It’s a Pond!! And you can SWIM!!!!!!!

Yes, it’s that effing exciting, After not bathing for the better part of a week, living in a pair of now well-beyond-grungy split shorts, which smell more than faintly of human, a water source you’re encouraged to enter, is like a gift from the gods.

So I made it to Speck Pond at roughly 3pm, plenty of time to make it to the next shelter, if I so chose, which would require me to pass my end destination by about a mile and a half, and then backtrack the following morning, but after talking to Eli the Caretaker, he told me that i would be fucking nuts to not stay and swim all day, and that the next days 6 miles could be finished in a matter of ~2-3 hours, plenty of time to make my ride.

I hesitantly decided to stay, and after about 40 minutes, decided it was the best decision I could have made, and here’s some photographic proof:

Speck Pond

Six-String (foreground) and Bean taking a swim (Bean washed his shirt in the pond… and you could see the oils coming off of it… groosssss)

And the sun setting on the pond

That night I slept in the shelter, figuring that setting up/tearing down my tent in the morning would add too much time to my day, and my deadline was fast approaching, and as I was getting settled, along comes Rock Monkey. Rock Monkey and I originally met at the Imp Shelter, and had run across each other a few times over the course of the week, but hadn’t exchanged much more than pleasantries, but since we were the only people in the shelter that night(camping platforms were booked), we got to talking, and realized that we both were classically trained musicians, which led to her singing a few arias as a sing-for-stay (Eli the caretaker is still the man!) Compound this with some night-swimming, and an anonymous idiot spreading his own poo all over the toilet seat in the privy, and you’ve got a pretty good final night!

Oh, and this for a view:

AT Section Hike Pt. 4

So by this point I’ve reduced my overall trip length from ~80 miles to a more manageable ~52 miles, however, since I’ve now arranged for a shuttle, I have a very precise time deadline, which if I intend on getting out of the woods, I absolutely must make, so time goes from being something that simply passes, to something that matters tremendously.

I hiked out of the Carlo Col shelter with Kites and Cakes at the tremendously early time of 6am, bent on making it at least to Speck Pond, a ~10 mile day involving both the Mahoosuc Notch, and the Mahoosuc Arm.

Somewhere about a half of a mile in, I chose to leave my new friends Kites and Cakes behind, feeling rather strong in the leg, and having many miles to go that day, it seemed like a good decision, I did, however, make sure to give them my contact information, and promise them a ride and a shower when they got to Rangeley Maine, which they did capitalize on! Moving through the mountains as the sun gradually rises is really something i recommend for everyone, there’s some sort of purity in the early morning that’s really incomparable to any other part of the day, and to summit in the early AM (before 9?) is something that it seems only the backpacking community, with a handful of trail-runners and really ambitious day hikers get to enjoy, if you haven’t been on a mountain as the early morning clouds are blowing off, you’re missing out!



Not to mention the complete and total solitude that you can enjoy in these early mornings, of course being miles away from any roads doesn’t hurt either… Of course it had rained the night prior, which made for super-slick trails, leading to me falling a record number of times in an hour (something like 7) I don’t think I’ve hit the dirt that much since i was about 3 years old… but, c’est la vie, if you don’t fall a few times, you’re not trying hard enough.

So I made it to, and through the Mahoosuc Notch, which essentially turned out to be ~1 mile of bouldering, with full pack, and having to stow my trekking poles (which I ended up bending! lucky Leki has a lifetime guarantee on aluminum poles) only to be followed by a wicked ascent up the Mahoosuc Arm, still slick from the night before, but after that, you get to see this:

Which is pretty cool… and worth the effort.

AT Section Hike Pt. 3

All good plans eventually go to hell, and my haphazard planning of this trip is a perfect example. I had originally planned on moving ~80ish miles in 6 days, through the White Mountains and the Mahoosucs, which isn’t outrageous for the thru-hiker with ~1800 miles underfoot already, but myself, not being used to carrying a pack found that day 3 was going to be unlike the previous 2, riddled with soreness, and desperately wanting to enjoy my hike (hike your own hike!). So i started off with Kites and Cakes having enjoyed their company for the past day and night, it seemed like a good idea.
We ran into blueberries:
and were elated, but the terrain was tough, it was very hot outside, and we were moving rather sluggishly (I had just finished a 20 mile day! and them ~12 after a zero!) In spite of the weather, we continued onward, eventually finding ourselves at the Maine/NH State line
The excitement of reaching the northernmost state on our collective trek however did not triumph the collective soreness, and struggles with the outrageous heat, so we made it to Carlo Col shelter in the early afternoon to refill our water from the source there, and collect ourselves to move onward.

After eating lunch, and finally packing up our bags, we began hiking back to the AT, after climbing the hill, realizing that no one really wanted to continue hiking, we decided that if the girls from the previous night were to roll into camp this very moment (this being their intended destination) we should just turn around, and hang out with them for the night… and with that in mind, the girls nowhere in sight, we decided that it would be best to shelter there, and not push ourselves into a grumpy hike.

It was at this point that I decided to cut my trip short, rather than continuing for the 80ish miles I required to get to my destination, which would require me to continue hiking ~15 miles a day through rocky unforgiving terrain, I arranged for a ride to pick me up at the 52 mile mark, making my next few days much easier, and allowing me to “hike my own hike.”

So, we made camp, ate, and started waiting for the girls to arrive, and after hearing from a NorthBounder that they weren’t too far away, but seemed low in spirit, the three of us decided to spread some cheer, and wait for them at the bridge leading to the shelter so that we could congratulate the girls on completing their day, and hopefully brighten the mood, so we high-fived them all as they crossed the bridge, which seemed to make quite a difference to these kids, hey you have to do what you have to do. You can see a video of it here as well as Kites and cakes view of the day.

AT Section Hike Pt. 2.5

GIRLS!

Okay, we’re talking about a gaggle of underage girls, which is why I’m not going to repeat that 3 times and risk an amber alert… But, I digress.. while the 3 of us moped into camp, within about 35 seconds we found our spirits lifted tremendously. So immediately Kites Cakes, and myself set up our camp on the only available platform:and then decided to be social, and show these kiddos a good time. So, we took our dinner plans down towards the shelter and hung out with the kids for the evening, answering their torrents of questions, dodging requests to become “facebook” friends, and playing the guess my name game… before I knew it, I’d acquired a trail-name… Moses, so in less than 30 hours I’d been named by a gaggle of 14 year old girls. you can see Kites and Cakes take on it here: Kites and Cakes.

While they were a little bit rambunctious, it was very nice to see kids out backpacking, enjoying themselves, there voluntarily, and overall taking in nature, developing self-worth, and everything great that comes out of this hobby. Little did we know however, that we’d be seeing them again on this trip!

AT Section Hike Pt. 2

Part 2! A 20 mile day through the tail end of the whites and into the Mahoosucs. So while i was hanging out at the shelter, the caretaker, a fine gent named Matt suggested that I try to go to Gentian pond for the next day, since my original goal was ~70 miles over the course of the trip… this he said, would be an easy day, relatively pedestrian terrain, so pulling 20 miles with pack should be no problem… so i thought. Now it’s no secret that I started “streaking” meaning I have a minimum requirement of 1 mile per day, no breaks, no matter what, so, naturally I put this on at the beginning of the backpacking day, before packing up (oh the joys of moving unburdened!) and then proceeded to boogie for my 20 mile backpacking day.

It’s worth mentioning here, that the average section hiker seems to be much less ambitious than I was in the planning of their trip, in fact, typically the section hiker averages >10 miles a day… nevermind attempting to pull 20’s… but, figuring that I’m training for an ULTRAMARATHON, this seemed reasonable. So, with that in mind… let’s go 20!
Initially, the day seemed to meet Matt’s description, mostly downhill, a few nice summits (we were already at ~3500ft) and by mid-morning I was nearly halfway there! What I didn’t expect, however, was the terrific lows throughout the rest of the day. As most runners know, hitting the wall/bonking/whatever you want to call it is usually associated with low blood sugar relative to activity level. So, not realizing how little I had eaten, i quickly found my mood deteriorating… quickly!

Fortunately, on my ascent of Mt. Hayes, I met “Kites” and “Cakes” a 20-something couple from Minnesota who had been hiking since Bear Mtn, NY and were hiking to Katahdin. It’s amazing how much some company can help your mental health, since when I met Kites and Cakes I was bonking pretty hard, had already hiked ~10 miles, rather quickly, and still had ~10mi of increasingly rough terrain to cover before I reached my sleeping destination (I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep…).

Kites:
Cakes:
So the three of us continued on Toward Gentian Pond as the afternoon slowly disappeared. What we didn’t expect, is that Gentian pond was far from the first pond we’d pass over the course of the day, in fact, it was the 3rd pond in the final 5 miles… with both “false” ponds being increasingly depressing. As the hours ticked away, the three of us found ourselves getting hungrier (how much GORP can you eat in a day..) and increasingly desirous of making camp, enough so that by the time we spotted Gentian Pond, instead of celebrating our destination, we rolled into camp like three very weary travelers… until, we noticed… Youth, and Exuberance!

Yes, Youth and exuberance, it turns out that the campsite we had elected to sleep at was occupied by 12 fourteen-ish year old girls on their first backpacking trip, with two 20-something trip leaders. The girls had hiked in 3 or 4 miles, and this was their first night, and first exposure to the AT “thru-hiker” (or over-ambitious sectioner) let the entertainment ensue.