Gunks Fat-Ass Fallback 50K

The Shawangunk ridge, known as Kittatinny Mountain (or Kittatinny Ridge) in New Jersey, and Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania is the continuation of the long easternmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The Gunks as they are locally known extend from the NY/NJ border to the Catskill mountains, and are arguably best known as a climbing destination.

While arguably find-able on the internet there is a fast-growing fat-ass running community led by Mike Cat Skill* (This is not Mike’s actual surname).Those of us lucky enough to know Mike are aware that he spends countless hours doing trail work, runs and scrambles like a certified boss, and then in his spare time comes up with courses in his backyard to satisfy whatever distance he’s currently dreaming of, then posts them online and persuades people to run them on the same day.

On Nov 19, Mike laid the groundwork for the Fallback 50K, a nearly perfect (distance-wise) point to point run through the Gunks that hit all of the iconic landmarks, several scrambles, and a fair mix of single track and carriage road. Our group of 9 managed to stay together for the entire day, hitting 31 miles with 4488′ of gain several scrambling routes, one minor medical emergency (that we came upon, not within our group) in a casual 6h41m. Here are the photos

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Len braves the early morning cold
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Scott getting ready
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Jayson Stretches off the drive
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Can’t begin without coffee

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Scott finishes our first scramble
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Seems like a reasonable place to hang
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Guiseppe has the reverse
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Mike was grinning the whole day as he admired his handiwork
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Happy James
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Laura Drops the downhill
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Final Crossing

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Summary Oct 14-20

Sunday Oct 14, 7 Miles 220′ :58 Early morning run with Gene and Dave. Both Gene and Dave are “getting back into shape” which translates to training extremely cautiously after having some bouts with injuries. Part of their plan it seems, is to run a lot of rail trails, for while I’m more than happy to tag along, after all, they’re great company, and even when they’re “getting into shape” they’re pretty quick (trust me, even though this time doesn’t reflect speed… it also started before dawn)

Monday Oct 15, 7 Miles 410′ :49 Solid feelings through the back-roads. The sunrises over fall foliage have been great, I really should start bringing the camera on my road runs as well.

Tuesday Oct 16, 7 Miles, 410′ 46:48 Quick repeat of Mondays course, time would be near a personal best on course, but I had to make a pit stop at mile 5 or so, which required stopping the watch, and finding some leaves (fortunately it’s autumn) which functionally invalidates the time as a continuous effort. The stopwatch does however reflect total time spent running.

Wed Oct 17 AM, 4 Miles, 175′ 29:56 Feeling lazy, short run. I’m still grappling with the whole running in the morning thing, and the requirements of…. getting out of my bed.
PM 2 Miles, 16:18 Guilt miles, I couldn’t let myself get away with a light morning when my legs felt good.

Thurs Oct 18 AM 3 Miles 21:45 Light loosening up before the day starts. I’m finding that I really prefer not to leave the house for “life” until I get in something at least resembling a run.
PM 5 Miles 360′ 38:47 Highlands Hashers “Ace of Pace” night. Basically, state the finish time you expect, and then try to get as close as possible without using a watch. I finished +27 from my estimated total of 38:20. John won overall, with +7 (or was it -7) Bob got the broken clock award, being off by several minutes (although he was admittedly racing Luis, and ignoring the prediction part)

Fri Oct 19 1 Mile, 8:54 Tired/beat up/lazy/no real good excuse. I suppose since I’m not “really” training for anything I’m allowing this day to be a mulligan… plus it’s probably good to rest a bit while I have the chance.

Sat Oct 20 11.6 Miles 1500′ 1:48 Allamuchy in the late morning/early afternoon. Yea, that’s more like it. This is what running is really about for me, single-track, trees, vert, rocks, mud… Really positive on the first couple of splits, with a 15:57 ascent, 7:19 from peak to the scout parking lot, and back up to the peak in another 8:30 or so. Unfortunately, my over-zealous first hour came to wreak havoc on my energy levels on the final 5k or so, proving that I’ve lost all sense of pacing on trails. It does seem, however, that babying my right knee for the summer, especially while hitting major vert in ME, has made me incredibly more confident in my left leg, which made for some snappy and exciting descents, as well as adding to an overall cavalier attitude on the most technical portions.

Totals: 47.6 Miles, 3078′ Vert

Me Gene and Dave Sunday morning

Back in my natural state

Review: Merrell Road Glove

The efficient road shoe is elusive. How do you find the right combination of lightness, ground-feel, and protection from pebbles whilst not interfering with the natural motion of the foot, and subsequently the remainder of the kinetic chain up the leg? When looking for a road shoe, I often find myself making compromises, some are too squishy, others too stiff, do I want a Zero-Drop shoe? or would I be better off with a bit of a heel?

The Merrell Road Glove is Merrell’s answer to the minimalist road running shoe dilemma. Based on the same last as their incredibly popular Trail Glove, the Road Glove is really a result of some minor alterations to its trail-oriented brother. Here are the Stats:

Weight: 6.6 oz (men’s size 9)
Cushioning: 4mm EVA foam
Vibram Outsole
ZERO drop

Okay, so that’s the boring part, and precisely what one would expect from the Merrell “Barefoot” line of shoes, so I’m really not telling you anything new right now. The fit on the Road Glove is exactly what any barefoot/minimalist runner would be looking for, snug in the heel, wide in the toe box. This allows the foot to feel attached to the shoe (in fact, it eventually feels like the shoe is molded onto your foot) while giving the runner enough toebox room for the toes to splay naturally. There is a piece of foam that touches the arch directly, much like the Trail glove. This is NOT an arch support, it’s foam, and is there to lock the foot into place within the shoe. This foam has no rigidity, and collapses easily when your foot flattens out, so it is in no way taking any load off of your arches.

The ground feel on these shoes is fantastic. Merrell has taken an approach that concentrates more on the outsole than the midsole of the shoe, so there’s only a small layer of EVA (4mm) between your foot and the outsole, but the outsole is present for the entirety of the sole of the shoe. While this makes for a very consistent ground feel, and prevents any squishiness in the shoe, it does feel a little stiff when compared to the outsole designs using pods (like the NB MR00). However, this is such a minor complaint, it’s barely worth noting. In fact, the Vibram outsole combined with the modest amount of cushioning seems to take the edge off of any pebbles you may encounter, while not sacrificing the overall ground-feel (a major upgrade from my VFF’s which leave my feet sore on any run <5miles)

How are they different from the Trail Glove? Simply stated, they have a different (less aggressive) outsole, and have eliminated the rock-plate. There have also been some changes to the upper, since a trail shoe really needs to be more connected to the foot than a road shoe requires. These handful of changes makes for a lighter shoe that will hopefully last longer on roads (the trail glove is reported to wear out very quickly on the roads… although it was never intended for road use).

Conclusions? I like them… a lot. While I don’t run exclusively in Zero-Drop shoes (I’ve found that I prefer a 4mm drop in my trail shoes) These have found themselves used heavily in my rotations. I would definitely consider racing in these, and am looking forward to putting some 20+ mile runs on them in the near future.

Note: These shoes were provided to me as part of my Merrell Sponsorship to Participate in the Outdoor Nation Summit.

Pursuing direct lines

Spending some time in the Pine Tree State running the local mountains… I’d forgotten how much fun, and how challenging running directly up a big mountain can be. For the sake of brevity, and my (still) lack of trust in my right leg, I’ve been choosing the most direct lines to the summit, to reduce the amount of actual mileage, while still getting myself above treeline, which has amounted to pretty short trips (~45 mins) but with maximal effort throughout the entirety of the trip.

Only a few short months ago, I would be frustrated going for a run where the overwhelming majority of my time would be spent hiking. In fact, it seems that hiking, despite its inherent necessity in mountain running, (especially at the ultra-distance) hiking is often under-appreciated. The reality of the situation is that these more direct lines, while shorter in mileage, more than make up for their brevity by requiring a backbreaking effort throughout. Nothing can compare to an extended incline session with your nose to the ground, hands on your knees, and breathing heavily with every planting of the foot. Sure, it’s not a run, but it’s still the most efficient way to move quickly through the mountains.

 This past weeks worth of serious vertical abuse has helped me to successfully regain a lot of the lost trust in my right leg. In spite of the brevity of my sessions (the longest being ~1h46m) I managed to really attack some vertical gains and losses, and contrary to my expectations, my knee/ITB feel great, even after bombing down scree, leaping over boulders, and generally being reckless. Perhaps more importantly to me is the fact that I was able to consistently get above treeline almost every day this past week (I did take a day off for prudence, and one for travel). and if the sunburn on my shoulders is any indication of summertime mountain-efforts, I’m doing pretty well.

Saddleback in the fog, Photo courtesy of Snake-Girl

Wearing the ITB strap… for prudence

Summit Proper

Return from the Horn

Finding the groove

Finally. It’s now been long enough since I’ve had any knee pain worth mentioning that I actually can’t remember the last time things flared up. (note: I have a short memory) I’ve managed some modest trail running (~5 miles at a time) hiked in the White Mountains (with poles/small pack) carried a full load through the Kittatinnies, gone barefootin’ barrelled down techy trails at full speed, and even got 3 (small) runs in today on a variety of terrain… and…. no pain. If I’m not actually out of the woods right now, then I can definitely hear the cars on the road.
While my running times are terrifically inconsistent right now, in the past several days I caught glimpses of the runner I was before the injury. I’m not making any promises about upcoming race plans, not at least until I can string together a couple of serious training weeks. But honestly, I don’t care, all I know is that right now, it looks like I’ll be able to actually run through August, and try to make up for some lost trail time in June/July.

Oh trails I miss you
Dirty feet and muddy legs
My shoes look too new

Little Haystack, Weather kept me from traversing the pass

Weather…
Setting up Camp
Camp

Schooley’s Mtn this morning

 

Outdoor Nation Recap

This past weekend, courtesy of the folks at Merrell I attended the Outdoor Nation Summit in New York. In addition to camping out in Central Park (literally creating a tent village) the 50 or so attendees (the other ON summits have ~200 people) spent the majority of the weekend learning about non-profits (as in, how to start/run one) grant money,  and creating plans to encourage young (which ON defines as ~16-28) people to get outside.

The attendee’s were broken down into 5 separate groups, based primarily on location (although my Jersey-centric group had a few locational outliers) with the intention of creating projects designed specifically to encourage people to GTFO through whatever means possible. The projects ranged from urban farming, to social-networking, databases, to literally creating space.

The project I was directly involved in should be launched in ~3 weeks, and primarily focuses on using social networking (facebook, blogger twitter etc) to incentivise people to bring their friends out. Focusing the lack of mentorship amongst outsiders, we’re hoping to motivated the experienced to share the wealth of information, using a combination of prizes, and competitions, the plan is to mobilize those of us who are regularly outdoors to take those among us who aren’t along on our adventures.  More on this later as the project fully-develops (we’re in the process of determining the official name, branding, and creating a logo before the official launch).

The most inspiring part of the summit was hands-down, the diversity. Usually when you think of the “great outdoors” in the parks and recreational sense of the word, you’re thinking of a bunch of crusty old white dudes hiking slowly through our national parks (and getting aggravated when they’re passed by a half-naked tarzan in split-shorts). But, this collection of people was as American as could be. Every demographic was well-represented, socially, economically, racially, and I think that’s arguably the most encouraging part of the whole thing. Getting out has no barriers, and with some luck, ON will succeed in their mission.

OH, and Merrell gave everyone a free pair of Mix Master 2’s!

Yoon was very excited about his free Merrell Mix Master 2’s

VERY excited


Carlos, the Jester

Brandon

Enjoy the Mountains

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. — Jack Kerouac

I understand that it’s unbelievably clichè to begin any posting by quoting an author, and even more trite to do so by quoting Jack Kerouac, but he makes a very valid point in this quip from Lonesome Traveler. Kerouac is emphasizing the grand importance of not only self-reliance, but the joy of the wilderness, and this was in 1960. If Kerouac had to emphasize the importance of the outdoors then, well before iPads, iPhones, Wireless internet, HDTV, Xbox, and the litany of other technological distractions we’re privy to in the current generation, how are we to encourage the importance of life outside?

Next weekend I’m attending the Outdoor Nation summit in NYC, courtesy of Merrell, who have chosen me to be among a small handful of delegates attending these summits across the nation. So myself, annd approximately 70 other 20-somethings will find ourselves camping in Central Park, getting to know each other, and brainstorming. Fundamentally, the purpose of these regional summits is to gather young people to generate ideas and projects to encourage our peers to spend more time in the outdoors, reaping the benefits of the woods and mountains, and helping to preserve what is left of our great unadulterated forests.

John Muir once said “Climb the mountains and enjoy their good tidings.” In going outside, and participating in true outdoor distraction-free travel, we can as individuals, discover our strengths, our weaknesses, and more importantly, come closer to the realization of what it truly means to be human.  About a year ago, I decided to backpack through the White Mountains, into the Mahoosuc’s via the Appalachian trail. Compared to the folks who hike the entirety of the footpath, this was a miniscule trip, but by dumb luck, I found myself placed inside of the “bubble” where the Northbound Hikers (who typically start in Georgia in March) and the Southbound Hikers (who start in Maine in June) cross paths. This, by default gave me the opportunity to converse with a wide variety of hikers, all there for their own personal reasons. While the hikers were as individual as could be, they all had a handful of things in common: their love of the woods/mountains, a huge amount of pure guts, and that joie de vivre that you can only get by spending the vast majority of your time outside.

In running, I’ve found similar traits to be prevalent. Trail runners, when they come across each other on trail, seem to always acknowledge each others presence, often stopping to chat for a bit (something I’ve never experienced on the pavement…) and moreso, even within a race, the sense of comraderie is a huge contributing factor to the overall vibe. Outdoor people seem to all know that we’re part of some sort of club, while our activities may vary, the intention is the same, a pursuit of peace, both inner and outer, and the overwhelming desire to embrace our humanity by submitting to nature.

“In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” (John Muir) So go out, run, walk, hike, kayak, climb, do whatever you can to get yourself outside, and reap the benefits, they’re free, and will always give you more than you’re seeking. In fact, do one better, and take a friend with you, preferably someone who’s unfamiliar with whatever activity you chose, be it hiking, running, kayaking, or climbing, they’ll thank you for it.

Take a Buddy!

First day back on the hill in 6 weeks…