Monday, October 24, 2011

Hikes in the 'Dacks

I met my parents and their dog Renee up in the Adirondack Mountains this weekend. We managed to fit in a little exploration of that area (first time for me) before we have to start thinking about winter and stuff. But we did catch the tail end of fall color, and some of it was spectacular (just not so easy to photograph while I was driving).

Renee waiting patiently to get moving:

I started with a warm-up hike up Round Mountain. Some of the trail was wet and muddy, but the section to the top was rocky and interesting instead:

Nice views from the top, even with a mostly-cloudy day:

We did a drive-through of Lake Placid and made plans to go back and explore all the fun Olympic sites like the ski jumps:

The next day we tackled a steep trail up Hurricane Mountain. It started so nicely in a pine forest:

Partway up we ran into a large swamp that was a challenge to cross. But we eventually made it without getting our feet too entirely soaked.

Renee waiting for a treat:

The start of the steep half mile to the top:

We made it! Beautiful views of Lake Champlain, Vermont, the Green Mountains...

...and much of the Adirondacks in the other direction, including Mount Marcy (NY high point) somewhere in the clouds.

Couldn't climb this fire tower, oh well:

Another treat for the patient puppy:

Beaver activity!

There used to be a trail here, pre-beaver:

A fun boardwalk over a marsh:

Renee leading the way back to the car:

A fun weekend, delicious dinner at the Deer's Head restaurant in Elizabethtown, excellent company, and a wonderful introduction to the ADK's. I'll be back with John in tow!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

TARC Fall Classic 50K

Yesterday I drove to the Burlington Landlocked Forest near Boston to run in the TARC Fall Classic 50K race. It's a relatively small park, packed with fun trails and enough room for a 10K loop that we ran 5 times. I was surprised how quickly the time passed even doing multiple loops - there was plenty of variety, whoop-de-doos and corners (would be fun on a bike), and it was interesting learning each section and getting a better feel for the course each time around.

I started a bit more conservatively than my last 50K at Pisgah, but still let my legs move at their own speed, and the first lap went quickly at just a hair over an hour. There were 3 other races going on at the same time - 10K, half-marathon, and a marathon. The last 2 had 1 or 2 tiny loops to complete at the start before following us onto the big loop, so plenty of fast folks passed me in the first loop. Later in the 50K I started lapping some other folks, but it wasn't ever certain who was doing which race. That made it easy to focus on only myself and not worry about competing with anyone.

Basically I had a time goal of 5:30 - surely I could beat my first-lap time from Bandera? The second and third loops went well, only a couple minutes slower each time and I still felt great. I drank my nutrition each time through TA and my stomach digested it by about the same point in each lap. Then I would feel great at about the same place on the course and be able to run well back to the start.

The woods and trails reminded me a lot of Rocky Hill Ranch and Huntsville SP. One section in the middle had us running back and forth and around and around, seeing other runners going in all directions. I was so relieved to come out of that the first lap still going in the right direction.

I was still running fine during the fourth lap, excited that I would see each section only once more and then I'd be done. I focused on drinking most of a full bottle of Gatorade/water mix each lap, especially as the day got warmer (maybe up to 80 degrees). It was beautiful and cool in the woods, but I knew I was working up a pretty good sweat.

As soon as I started the last lap, my right thigh started twitching. I immediately stopped and took an S-cap salt tablet. I wasn't messing around this time. It was curious that it was my thighs that were twinging this time instead of my calves. Maybe because the course was mostly flat compared to the longer hills we climbed at Pisgah, and I was working different leg muscles harder.

I still had to take it easy on the short (sometimes a bit steep) uphills to keep my legs from cramping. I did some deep breathing and tried to relax. I was happy that I could still run but disappointed that I have not yet figured out the cramping problem. The best I can guess at this point is some combination of lack of heat acclimation and not being ready to push hard for 5+ hours (i.e. need some faster running in my long runs to combine endurance and speed). This race I took in plenty of liquid and electrolytes, and it felt like my stomach was processing it all just fine.

I kept an eye on my watch, managed to keep a pace that was only slightly slower than lap 4, and actually passed a couple people along the way. One woman, I found out later, had been the lead female the first 4 laps. I had been running in 2nd place but never asked (I didn't want to know, truthfully). I passed her in the last lap, and while running to try to break 5:30 I managed to hang onto the lead.

Coming in at 5:27 and change, I was just happy to finally hit a 50K time that seemed reasonable. When they told me I was the first 50K female finisher, I was quite surprised. 2nd place came running in a couple minutes later. Wow!

A neat award!

Another fun race on another beautiful day! And the leaves are starting to change up here, a wonderful combination with the multiple days of sunshine :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Philly GUR / DC Solar Decathlon

Urban racing fun! In a city we had not even been to before (well, except the airport). We weren't sure how this was going to go, but we were excited to find out.

We got our clue sheets and decided to start with the charity drop-off for Ronald McDonald House. This was at a CVS on Fairmount Avenue, and the subway seemed like a good option for getting us part of the way there. We ran over the Spring Garden station and shared the platform with a few other teams and a bunch of noise from the expressway. At least we could kind of talk with Sheila there - once the train came and we went underground, we were cut off for a few minutes.

We scanned the clue sheet for other ideas, and I just happened to be looking at the tic-tac-toe board when a couple ladies boarded the subway. "Take one picture of all teammates with two strangers holding four visible shopping bags" Hey John, get out the camera!

We got off the subway and headed up the stairs to reconnect with Sheila. We had also spotted a checkpoint at Logan Square, so we ran there since it was on the way north. We had to find the flag for Cameroon and act out the sport that their team "Les Lions Indomptables" play. There weren't any obvious flags flying, but John found the country's sign and we got this pose (bonus points for figuring out the sport):

We briefly tried to find the Franklin Institute on 20th Street, but couldn't quite figure out the address on the run, so we returned to 19th Street to the Rose Tattoo Cafe for CP 6. Another team was already there, but apparently the race volunteer was not (oops!). The guy in the cafe explained this to us, handed us a menu, and we took turns with the other team taking each other's photo to prove we had been there:

We decided to leave the Franklin Institute for the way back, and instead ran north to Fairmount and a little west to Philly Flavors. Inside we found volunteers holding up giant posters with 2 similar photographs. We had to find the 3 differences between the pictures. After a couple minutes we had them all and a race stamp on our clue sheet.

A couple short blocks away was CP 10 - Mugshots Coffeehouse. They had a "Wanted" poster posted that we had to pose in front of. A GUR volunteer volunteered to take our picture, so we handed the camera over for this shot (John's better - much better - at the spur-of-the-moment poses):

As we continued down Fairmount, a team ahead of us was taking an unexpected picture at Zorba's... what is that? We try not to ignore potentially useful information, and luckily John figured out that they were getting a photo with 2 guys with mustaches - part of the tic-tac-toe checkpoint. John asked if that would help us, so I checked the grid - heck yeah!

The two men were happy (well, at least one appears to be happy) to have another intrusion on their break, and someone else offered to take our picture:

We continued a short distance to the CVS for the charity drop-off and collected a flyer in return.

While John tried a couple places for "a piece of fruit that is not a banana" (the final square that would give us a completed row on the tic-tac-toe), I chatted with Sheila about our next checkpoints and the map. We were psyched to have the tic-tac-toe done so we could skip a different checkpoint, and she had one already in mind for that.

John ran out of a market with a plum - nice one! - and we started running south and east back toward the Franklin Institute. This time we needed to find it. Eventually we spotted a huge building across the street, and just to be sure I asked the cop who was directing traffic. Yes, silly tourist, that's the Franklin Institute. With the hugest statue of Ben himself:

Our next set of checkpoints was located a few blocks southeast, far enough that Sheila was checking on bus options for us. She suggested if we ran south to Market, we might find a bus going east. So we ran south, and HEY there's a bus! Good call, Sheila. John was still trying to find Locust Street on his map, so I had to ask the bus driver if he would wait for John to dash across the street and jump on board. The driver didn't seem to mind. Although John's enthusiastic "jump on board" resulted in him sliding and falling over, so the driver probably had second thoughts about that decision to wait.

John was fine, and we made our way to the back of the bus to work on checkpoint locations with Sheila. A few minutes later we looked up to see that we hadn't passed City Hall yet, and the bus was stopped in a long line of traffic. It was an easy decision to jump off and run. At least we had gotten a brief break out of the deal.

We ran several blocks to "More Than Just Ice Cream", where we picked up some sweet, sweet apple pie (I think? Well, whatever it was, it was good!) We got a shot of one teammate feeding it to the other (required), then I got to eat part of it (optional) and I also dropped the other third on the floor (drat!).

We exited the ice cream place and John started down an alley. We popped out on 12th Street immediately across from the yoga place that was checkpoint 11, although it took a minute to see that we had done so. Our back-and-forth searching probably looked pretty funny to the ladies watching from inside.

Once we found the place, we went inside to learn that we needed to take our shoes off for a yoga lesson. Awesome, I have always wanted to do yoga as part of an urban race! Now if we could just score a free Chipotle burrito someday, my urban race goal list will be complete...

The yoga lesson consisted of one sun salutation, which was quick and fun, especially with socks on a slippery floor, and I enjoyed it so much I managed to mess it up, but the instructor didn't seem to mind. We got a flyer with a free yoga class coupon - if anyone from Philly wants it, I'll send it to you.

We headed east a short distance towards CP 7. We had a slight communication snafu where Sheila suggested one street and John took a different one, then we thought we were supposed to turn left on 10th Street when we were actually supposed to go right... my info-relaying skills weren't working too well. But we eventually found the fitness place.

The cluesheet didn't mention a challenge here, but it didn't surprise us that we needed to go through a workout routine. We did some jumping jacks and some kind of "tall, small, flat, small, tall" thing that is really impossible to explain without pictures, then a hula-hoop twirl. That didn't work with a waist pack, but they let me twirl it around my arm, cool. For our last trick, we had the choice between a plank for 30 seconds or a handstand against a wall. A handstand, yeah right! Even John knew better than to try that.

Then we were outta there with a bottle of Fuze (John drank it) and our coupons for a free class. You can have those coupons too, although I'd do the yoga instead, personally.

One more checkpoint! We made our way toward 3rd Street just north of Market, dodging cars and pedestrians. We even made opposing decisions about which direction to head at one intersection and ran smack into each other. That's a first!

We also hit the Independence Hall area square-on, which John realized was a mistake since there were so many people. But we were there, so we took advantage of a cross-country diagonal across the lawn. That almost turned into a disaster, as we passed a family and I swerved to avoid a kid. Suddenly a second child swung around a pole right into my path! I managed to get by with only a slight bump, but I apologized as profusely as I could to the parents. The idea of knocking a kid over scares me.

We made it to the vintage clothing store without further child-collision incidences. There we found 3 outfits in the window, and we had to determine which decade each one belonged to. Oooh, this just got interesting. I told Sheila we might need her help - if you know me at all, if you've even met me once, you know that fashion and looks are the last thing I worry about.

We picked out the 70's outfit immediately, and it was so obvious that I can't even remember what it was. Maybe watching all three Austin Powers movies recently helped. The next one had a skirt that looked like it should have a poodle on it, and Sheila confirmed that the 50's would be the right decade for that.

This left a rather ambiguous (to us) pink dress with lace over (maybe) satin, plus a skinny, straight, shiny purple tie. Ugh. We were stuck trying to fit it into the 20's or 30's, which didn't match anything Sheila was coming up with back in the early 1900's.

Well, we decided to try "20's" and that was not correct (although the 70's and 50's were right). We had one more chance, and if we didn't get it, that was it - yikes!

Slightly desperate, we headed inside the store to look around. John had an amazing idea to ask some women who were shopping in the store if they wouldn't mind helping us? Sure, they would love to! After a brief conversation with the woman working there about how actually it was OK to get help (she wasn't going to help us, but that didn't mean strangers couldn't), John took the women outside for a look at the dress. Immediately one of them declared it was from the 80's. Wow, she sounded really certain.

I went to look again, while Sheila mentioned that skinny ties had made a comeback in the 80's. Suddenly I could picture Molly Ringwald wearing this outfit. It finally made sense. It still took me a moment of hesitation before writing it down - what if we were wrong?? - but I finally did. We were right! We were so excited!

Wow, that was CRAZY.

Time to book it to the finish. Sheila had been talking about the subway, but John was already on his way out to Columbus Street. Let's get there!

We ran it in, surprising the race folks with our arrival. That's usually a good sign. Sure enough, we were the first ones back. We piled all of our various pamphlets and papers onto the table and showed our photos - they were good - good enough for 1st place :)

What a collection:

What an awesome race! GUR is so much fun. Top local racers Ed and Nick finished not long after, and team Holy Cow came in third - in costume! Wow! Kudos to these ladies:

Messing around before the awards ceremony:

We had a couple hours so we used our spare subway tokens to go back to town to look around a little more. The Liberty Bell (the original one) behind glass:

An amazing display at the Reading Market (awesome place):

After the GUR awards and costume contest, we drove down to DC to see our friends Kathy and Bob (yay!). It was a quick visit but always a joy to see them.

We spent Sunday wandering around the Solar Decathlon near the Jefferson Memorial:

Fun and interesting houses! It's a competition among college teams, and the entries were amazing and varied. We really liked this one from California:

Also the Canadian house with a native American theme:

This one uses recycled shipping containers:

The New Zealand tour was great fun - always enjoy listening to Kiwi accents. They also had a great light fixture over the dining room table:

I got back home via car, bus, train (transfer in NYC - grab a slice of pizza!), and car. Phew! What a great weekend! I needed a couple days to recuperate after that... and now I'm caught up on the blog posts! Catch ya later!

Pisgah 50k

I went into this race a couple weeks ago hoping to learn how to pronounce the name of it, but the race director didn't have a megaphone for the pre-race announcements. By the time I had worked my way forward to try to hear him, I caught "so watch out for that" and basically "Go!" It turned out there was a huge bee's nest somewhere on the course, but we would be rerouted and hopefully no one would get stung. Great, now I had 2 things to think about.

I started running like I did at the Bull Run Run - thinking about what I was capable of at Bandera (twice) and deciding I should be able to do that again. I did ease into the uphill on the nice road at the start, speed-walking and loosening up. At the top the road was lined with beautiful trees with beautiful sunshine pouring through. Very pretty!

Yeah, I've got no photos for this post, I suppose I should tell you that now in case you want to skip to the next one (assuming I have that written up soon)... for a couple shots of the area, you could check out the race blog:

Although it doesn't do justice to the awesome trails we ran. Maybe it was a fluke with the weather, but I experienced an amazing 30 miles of trail running, winding back and forth through the park without ever (well, except a tiny bit) repeating itself. Yep, I need to bring John to this one.

Anyway, back to the details. We hit the trail at the end of the road which also corresponded to a nice long downhill. Never one to shy away from fun descents, I bombed by a few folks and by the time the course split into 50k/23k there weren't many runners around me.

The run going south was slightly technical here and there, mostly flat, and I was feeling good. I passed a few more people, eventually coming slowly upon a man and woman who were chatting as they ran. I wasn't in any condition to "chat" so I figured if they stopped talking and focused on running they would likely be faster than me. Sure enough, as soon I went by, they went silent.

Not a surprise, the woman caught up to me now that I had turned her attention in a different direction. What did surprise me was that she didn't pass me, she just stayed right on my butt as I motored along. I wasn't keen on slowing down nor speeding up, and I figured something would happen eventually to change the situation so I should just be patient and deal. It was way early in the race, after all.

We zoomed through a couple gates, passed up the first water drop, and thankfully found the next section with several decent uphills. I changed to speed-walking and the woman took off. I figured I would not see her again - and that was true. She was obviously talented - and fine with running up steep hills.

I worked the uphills and enjoyed the downhills, and I really enjoyed the gorgeous trail which alternated between single track and double track. What a beautiful day!

At the first manned aid station I refilled my bottle and filled a Spiz baggie. This was a great place to fill/shake a Spiz, as the course goes up a really steep, old paved pothole-filled road. Weird. It seemed the guys around me were moving well and working hard. I drank the Spiz and let them go on ahead. By the time I got to the top I was alone. Works for me.

The trail was again loads of fun, even the next big climb didn't bother me at all. The downhills were short and fast, then I was just running through the woods for a while. I passed through the next aid station and waved at the man taking numbers. I was on a good pace and happy to still be pushing fairly hard.

The next dirt road may be the straightest line of the whole course. I was a little confused at the direction/location of the sun in the sky, but there were a couple other runners and plenty of ribbons so I just kept running (it makes sense looking at the map after the fact). Two men who may have started early (I think they were wearing race numbers?) were hiking this section. When I passed and greeted them, they told me I was the 4th woman. Well then, that's neat. I guess top 10 was a reasonable goal after all.

I went back and forth with one guy a few times in the middle miles. He had good uphill speed, and I was making good time on the downhills and reasonable time on the flatter stuff. He got ahead when I stopped to make a Spiz at a water drop, but I eventually caught him as he was eating right before the next aid station.

Apparently I snuck up on the guys running aid station 3, because I was at the table before they even saw me. They said they could hear some folks coming from half a mile away. I also figured since they had zoned out, there probably wasn't anyone to chase down anywhere ahead of me. But I still wanted to keep up a good pace.

Well, this next section isn't conducive to any kind of "good pace". Forget whatever minutes-per-mile you may have been maintaining, it all goes out the window here. Uphill Man came by as I hiked up a huge climb. He suggested we might be climbing Pisgah Mountain. Sure hope so, I'd hate to do this again later in the race!

Not only that, but I knew the course would overlap slightly before the next aid station. I was just really, really hoping we would be going back DOWN this mountain before that happened...

The view at the top was very nice, from the quick glance that I got when the trail detoured to the one open spot on the whole hill. And there were hikers with dogs, so I guess this was the mountain for sure. Awesome.

The trail took another little odd detour, which I guessed was for the bee's nest. I didn't see any bees, nor a nest for that matter, but I was happy to forget about that worry. Downhill, yay! Back down, down, down to swamp level, so that was good.

This section took forever. 2.9 miles, really?

I finally found the spot where the trail converged from the left, or at least I guessed that's where it was. They did a great job of not putting any ribbons on the 2 trails coming in, only a bunch in the direction you needed to go both times. So it wasn't an obvious merge, but I made a note for the next time I came around. I started a timer and got to the aid station in something like 6 or 8 minutes from there (the hazards of not writing a race report immediately - I forget little details that might come in handy next time; well, that's assuming I think to re-read my previous race reports, which stupidly I almost never do).

Where was I? Oh yes, an aid station. I filled a Spiz, even though it was a little quick since the previous one and a few long miles until the end with no Spiz remaining in my waist pack. I carried it for a mile+, which was a good decision since the trail went directly downhill to the south. Eventually I stopped to drink, and then the trail went downhill some more but my stomach handled it OK.

I knew this was the quick "half" of the Kilburn Loop. Obviously we were going uphill to get back, and with extra distance too, perhaps 3-3.5 miles vs. the 2 mile downhill run. I was ready to be patient with this section and figured it could take a while.

And it did, but I was. One guy passed me, but for the most part I was completely alone and completely fine with that. Speed-walking uphill was still working well. I tried to figure out where I was and how close to Kilburn Pond, but it was all fruitless. Just follow the pretty trail, you'll get there eventually.

Sure enough, (eventually) I found the same merge, and again it wasn't obvious that the course also came in from the right. Excellent course marking, I couldn't imagine anyone making a wrong turn there. I checked my watch and started running since I knew I was finally close to the aid station again.

It was odd passing a few runners who were coming into the aid station for the first time. They didn't look particularly back-of-the-pack-ish, so I figured my pace was pretty solid.

I filled my bottle and got a cup of Coke for a few calories. I gambled that I would not need many calories to finish this thing out. Only 5.5 miles or so to go, I should be able to do that...

Right out of the aid station there's a nice downhill on a road. My right calf started twinging like it might cramp. Hmm, that could be bad. Or maybe it will go away. I don't normally (hardly ever, really) have leg cramp problems, but ever since the REgaine my calves seem to be more susceptible. Or maybe it's the humid air, I don't think to drink as much here as I do in dry climates. I downed some more Gatorade from my bottle.

From a parking lot the course starts up a nice trail uphill through the woods. More talk of cramping from my calves. I debated stopping to fish out an electrolyte tablet from my little med kit. Instead I went with drinking more liquid. I had a very clear conversation with myself - if I ended up with cramping issues, it was obviously this decision that could have changed the outcome but didn't.

I was fine with keeping a reasonable pace, even passing a couple guys who were struggling up the hill. Then I looked back - gah! - there's a woman! That does it. I have to run.

Yeah, great combination. Pushing hard and cramping calves. Not! I tried my darndest, and my legs occasionally relaxed and let me run for a while. The steeper downhills and uphills were hard. My right thigh got into the act with the little cramp twinges. I looked back and saw that I had gained some ground. Now if I could just... keep... running.

That, sadly, was not to be. The more I tried, the worse the cramping got. My legs were finally like "HEY! What ARE you doing?" and in order to really get my attention they seized up altogether. I was sitting on the ground when the lady went by. She nicely asked if I was OK and I told her yes, just cramps. Within a minute, as my muscles were slowly (come ON already) releasing back to normal, another woman zoomed by. Wow, she looked pretty fast. So much for 4th place. But I sure wish I could have been there for that shoot-out at the end! Apparently the 2nd woman passed up with 1st to come in 4th. The math made sense when I wrote it.

I got up and ran/walked along, taking my time and letting my legs dictate the pace. I was ready to try a salt tablet but I was out of water and I have a hard enough time swallowing them as it is. Eventually I found the last water drop, where I sat and finally got one out to down with a cup of water. Might as well try to help my legs recover enough to drive home after this end-of-the-race fiasco.

So I had a leisurely run down the road, wishing I could push but deciding to take what I could get and be thankful that I was almost to the end. I looked back a couple times, but didn't see anyone. One last climb up a paved road, there's a stop sign, around the corner to the finish. Yay! Another woman ran in a couple minutes later, so I can be thankful I didn't have to deal with that while on the course. Yep, top 10 was a good goal.

OK - another race, another (different) issue to fix.

Final time = 5:42:28, 6th woman, and room to improve

Summary = Awesome trails, excellent race, I highly recommend it!