Tuesday, March 27, 2012

5 Things I Learned From My First Ultra

1) There's a Whole Lot of Chaffing Going On...

Never ever forget the Body Glide. Unless of course your the kind of person who enjoys the feeling of fire ants devouring your groin and inner thighs.

2) Don't Try to Fix What Ain't Broke

Change is never good! Never use untested equipment or clothing. This should go without saying but come race day there always seems to be some last minute change that seems like a good idea at the time... It never is!

3) You are Not the Baddest Ass in the Land 

No matter what your couch-potato friends think. Unless you can finish the 100 miles in under 24hrs there's someone out there who's badder than you are. It's a humble community, embrace it!

4) I will never look good in the official race photos

Simple enough... I need to lose weight! It also wouldn't hurt if I didn't have to carry all those extra pounds around all day.

5) I will never do this again!

Lies! All Lies! No matter how much it hurts and whatever you say within a few hours of finishing, the sense of accomplishment and pride will push away all those thoughts and have you looking forward to the next challenge.

Monday, March 26, 2012

NJ Ultra Festival 50K

My original intent was to register for the marathon at the NJ Ultra Festival hosted by the folks who put on The NJ Trail Series. I wanted to learn a little from the Ultra community before the 50k I'm already registered for in May.

The mild winter provided decent opportunity to train throughout and I felt I had put in enough trail mileage to move my registration from the marathon to the 50k.

I had done two twenty mile trail runs, one of which was a reconnaissance run in Harriman State Park (in preparation for the North Face Endurance Challenge) and the second was just last weekend 20 miles in the  Buffer. After those two runs I was feeling confident, knowing the NJ Ultra Festival was going to be on a reasonably flat route.

But as the event got closer my nerves started firing with greater and greater intensity. All the thoughts of unworthiness began to circulate through my head. I realized that I had done two twenty mile runs which is fine for a marathon prep, but a 50k was another 5 miles beyond the marathon distance. I was feeling the anxiety that I can only suspect I had gone through prior to my first marathon back in 1999. I was definitely going to be running into the unknown.

Race day finally rolled around and I left my house for The Sussex County Fairgrounds at about 5:30 AM, even then I was feeling the effect of my anxiety as I had a mild nausea as I drove  to NJ.

Pre-Race NJ Ultra Fest
I arrived in sufficient time to change into my gear, watch the sunrise and use the facilities (twice), yet somehow time escaped me and I found my self overdressed at the pre-race talk so I decided that I would need to run back to my car and drop off my arm warmers before the the end of the talk and the start of the run.

I ran back to the car, dropped off the unnecessary gear and headed back to the chat. I was careful not to pass through the building, since the clock for "the day" had already started and that's where the timing mats were.

NJ Ultra Fest 50k start
Back of the 50k start
As I rounded the corner the 50k had just started. I slipped into the back of the pack and was on my way thinking that was an interesting way to start

Since the course is a 10 mile loop and a 50k is 31 miles we were instructed to do an additional one mile before we entered the 10 mile trail loop. The loop consisted of some extra road mileage in the fairgrounds before heading onto the trail.

NJ Ultra Fest on the trail
Onto the trail
Like lemmings the group made an error and started back towards  the fair grounds before being sent back toward the trail.

We turned around and headed back to the intersection taking a hard right onto the trail we would become very familiar with today.

It wasn't long before there were runners from earlier starts heading towards us as we proceeded down to a fence that was our turn-around. We were instructed to touch the fence and double back.

We were a fairly tight knit group and after the first turnaround we doubled our way back and crossed Northrop Road where we originally entered the trail.

We passed through the Northrop Road water stop (that was run from out of the back of an ATV) and continued on the longer northern section of the route.
NJ Ultra Fest bridge crossing
Railroad bridge crossing

There were several "mushy" portions that required some navigational skills. In most cases runners stayed to the right unless the preferred path was to the left and there was nobody approaching from the other direction.

On the first loop, at about the five mile mark, I took a nose-dive at the first really mushy portion. My face hit the wet turf. The young woman behind me asked if I was OK. I responded that I was fine and that I suspected there was no better place on the course to fall considering how extremely soft the landing was.

We continued along and a bit further and found ourselves crossing the first of several old rail bridge crossings.

The race director had placed strips of plywood for us to cross these somewhat precarious crossings.

NJ Ultra Fest water crossing
Water Crossing
Continuing northbound we came upon the one significant water crossing. There was really only way across and it was a balancing act. Holding on to the underbrush we placed our feet on a series of rocks that just cleared the surface
The first time through it was a bit of a wait as we were all still a pretty close together and the delay was an instant re-set.

We passed through the water crossing and several more bridges all of similar condition to eventually reach the far aid station/turn-around.

After fueling up on a Hammer Gel and some Heed we doubled back on the same path, experiencing everything again, but from the opposite direction.

NJ Ultra Fest at Sussex County FAirgrounds
Sussex County Fair Grounds
When we reached Northrop Road we turned right and did a grueling up hill loop across the grasses of the Sussex County Fair Grounds that eventually led to "The Big Blue Building".

The Big Blue Building was the Holly Grail of the weekend. It was the official timing checkpoint and the marker for the completion of a 10 mile loop. My time for the 1st loop was 1:46:30

The course went through the building (where the timing mats were) and out past the main aid station and back out along the fairgrounds roads.

NJ Ultra Fest
The Big Blue Building
I proceeded through he 2nd loop much like the first but with a significantly more conservative pace.

Rounding out of the Fairgrounds for the second time the temperatures were considerably warmer than it was for the first loop.

I attempted to calm myself down and run more conservatively. I found it difficult to run at my own pace with runners of so many abilities.

Soon enough the excitement abated and fatigue took over as the main driver of my pace. The soft path seemed to be absorbing significant effort and I watched my footing so as not to roll an ankle in the soft double track.

I had been experiencing minor shoulder tightness from what I attributed to carrying a hand-held water bottle. So as we approached the blue building for the second time I swung by my car and quickly swapped out the hand-held for a hydration belt that I was fortunate enough to have brought along.

I passed through the blue building for the second time (at 21 miles) knowing everything from here on would be for the last time today. My time for the 2nd loop was 1:57:53

NJ Ultra Fest Final Loop
My final loop
I emerged from the blue building and turned right onto the fairgrounds roads. Progress seemed to be dipped in molasses, the road back to the trail seemed to be an endless marathon in itself.

I made my way back and headed down the southern portion of the trail for the last time today. I'd swear some the grasses along the wetlands were greener now than they were on our first pass through.

I shuffled along determine to touch the fence of the "out and back" as my feet began to moan for relief.

I shared the course with runners of all the ultra disciplines. I wasn't entirely sure if runners were doing the marathon or the 50k or if they were running into the night by doing 50 or 100 miles.

NJ Ultra Fest trail
Occasional Solitude
By this time cloud cover worked it's way into the forecast to prevent any additional suffering.

Amazingly the packs had thinned out to relative solitude allowing me to move at the pace I was comfortable with.

The final aid station and last turn around was at the 26 mile mark. All I had to do to complete my first 50k was to get back to the Big Blue Building, just 5 miles away.

But those 5 miles were the unknown. I had never run more than a marathon distance and I was about to find out what was beyond 26.2.

NJ Ultra Fest at the Sussex County Fairgrounds
Home stretch across the fairgrounds
I mentally divided the remainder of the course into easily digestible sections. I would shuffle to the bridge and walk across it. Then I would resume running until the water crossing where I could walk across the rocks.

My feet and back were screaming but when my GPS chirped at miles 27 and 28 I knew I was going to finish and the pain seemed to fade.

I emerged from the trail onto Northrop for the very last time today. One last loop of the fairgrounds and I would be home.

The loop across the grass is deceptively long, you can see the finish and yet you are not taking the shortest route to get there.

NJ Ultra Fest Medals and SWAG
NJ Ultra Festival Medal and SWAG
I heard a long chiming from my GPS as it signaled that the battery died.

I wound my way through the fairgrounds and onto the final stretch of pavement leading to the finish line. My final lap time was 2:17:53

I finished my first 50k in 6:02:16 (and outlasted my Garmin's battery).

At the finish the race director, Rick McNulty, told me my time shook my hand and congratulated me. He gave me my finishers medal and a awesome fleece jacket with the NJ Ultra Festival logo embroidered on the front.

NJ Ultra Fest
Tired Feet
I put on the fleece which was more than appropriate since the winds were starting to pick up and the temperature was beginning to drop.

I hobbled back to the warmth of my car realizing just how much my feet were aching.

I learned a lot at the NJ Ultra Festival and it's evident to me that there's so much much more to be learned when going beyond 26.2.

I now have mad respect for the Ultra Running Community, you guys are super Bad-Ass!

Thanks to Rick and Jennifer McNulty, the NJ Trail Series volunteers and the ultra community as a whole for putting on events like this and being such a wonderfully welcoming and supportive group. I intend to return for more.

NJ Ultra Fest 50k Course
The Course

NJ Ultra Fest 50k Elevation Profile
The Elevation Profile

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

You Can Replace the Garmin 405 Wristband

A little over a year ago I received a Garmin 405CX as a gift. I was impressed with the functionality and amazed with the accuracy of the GPS.

However, I wasn't thrilled about was the way the watch felt on my wrist and the strap was so difficult to adjust while on a run.

I did a little research and found there are wristband conversion kits that can be found online for around $25.00. The kit includes the Velcro strap(s), a conversion piece that fits into the watch housing, new pins as well as a specialized tool to work the pins.

The process of replacing the wristband was literally a snap and took only a few minutes.

The video below will help anyone (like me) who have trouble following instructions.

After swapping out the wristband it took just a couple of runs to get accustomed to the new Velcro strap, but since then, I've been completely satisfied. No more ill-fitting plastic wristband and I can easily adjust the fit while on the run.

If you have a Garmin 405 and don't like the way it fits, consider the replacement wristbands kit.

Monday, March 19, 2012

20 Miles in The Buffer

A week away from the NJ Ultra Festival and my first 50k.

Needless to say the anxious nerves have begun to fire. If I'm going to be an Ultra runner I should be comfortable doing long runs. That includes the weekend before the event,a  completely different mentality than traditional marathon training where I would be tapering in preparation for the big event.

The NJ Ultra Festival is scheduled to take place on a 10 mile loop on a reasonably flat rail trail at the NJ State Fairgrounds.

Many of my recent runs have been scramble/trail runs with thousands of feet of elevation gain. Early in the work week I had decided that I wanted to do 20 miles. But the question was where. The weather report for the upcoming weekend was suppose to be splendid and I had been fearing that my regular set of runs would be populated with folks shedding their cloches of cabin fever and heading for the outdoors.

So where should I go? Where can I get in 20 miles without the population that one would normally find on the bike paths on the weekend that the trees are budding and the peepers are out cheering on the warming days?
Weed Road Trail Head

Then it struck me that I could go to Stewart State Forest. Often referred to as The Buffer because it's the surrounding wetlands of Stewart International Airport. I had visited The Buffer back in December when I was still dipping my toes into the world of trail running. I had run for nearly 8 miles without seeing anyone. Granted it was December and The Buffer is known for it's seasonal hunting and as a mecca for mountain bikers.

I figured this was as good a place as any to be far from the maddening crowd and run 20 miles where I wouldn't be cresting any peaks and the terrain would likely be fairly close to the rail-bed of the NJ Ultra Festival.

When I arrived, I was the only car in the parking lot. I started my run from The Weed Road parking lot at Stewart State Forrest at 8:30AM. The morning was foggy and moist with a slow start, promising to burn off to a nice morning. It was quiet and there was a smile on my face.

For the first several miles I followed the route that I had taken back in December.
Whalenberg Pond

I meandered along a now thawed path, often spotted with puddles and patches of mud. I proceed through a series fields and meadows divided by patches of woodlands to Buchanan Hill, the highest point in the park.

The route turned north and descended amongst a grove of the fragile white birch and down to the peaceful Whalenberg Pond.

The Great Swamp
The single-track  trail emerged on Maple Avenue, a gravel road that runs north/south. I turned right and headed north.

After about a mile of gradual incline the road begins an easy down and turn to pavement as it approaches Interstate Route 84 and rounds The Great Swamp.

The paved road continues to to a northern parking lot/Trail-head. Here there were a few parked cars and the most recent arrivals were still checking the trail map.

I turned onto the Scofield Trail heading south along some gently undulating single-track. The thawed path was softer than last time I was here and the recent horse and mountain bike traffic had created soupy conditions in the moister depressions. The length of the trail runs just 2 miles but runs through a wide variety of surroundings.
Bench on Ridge Road

Emerging on Ridge Road, another gravel road, I headed north, deviating from my December route to extend the miles for today.

I was feeling fine and in a kind of mental zone, probably brought on by the peaceful morning when the first mountain biker of the day approached from the rear. "On your right" he called and I nearly jumped out of my shoes.

He normally wouldn't have scared me so, but I was nearly 8 miles into this morning's run and this was the first person I had seen.

Another half mile or so down the road I turned west and rounded another stunning and yet incredibly serene morning view of the wetlands.

My course changed from a gravel road to a meadow path. It turned south on what appeared to be a little used pathway. It led me to a very swampy area with a rather tricky crossing. I climbed a rock wall and hugged old trees as I tried not to sink into the soupy mix below.

After a slow crossing I emerged on the other side. The temperature seemed to have dropped a few degrees and the lesser used path was still covered in leaves from last fall.

I rolled my sleeves down and continued, anxious to reach another point that I could find on the map. The last mile or so (and that last crossing) were kind of a leap of faith. As I stopped to check my bearings against the map of the buffer I had printed, a large chunky owl few from left to right crossing just ahead of me.

At this point, the map didn't tell me much. I would have to continue till I reached a landmark or intersection and relate those to the map.

I plodded along without too much worry and after several interesting changes in terrain I emerged from the isolated trail onto Barron Road. I would follow this south for a short distance before heading west around a short loop that would add a little more distance to the run.

The intersection that I was turn turn at was the home of an old dilapidated factory building that kind of gave me the creeps. I had no interest in investigating it and proceed past it.

I started one way and then another not sure where the path was suppose to be. The choice I made led me into the woods on a path winding it's way along and old stone wall, till the wall turned and crossed the path and yellow signs posted on the other side read no trespassing and violators would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, blah, blah, blah.

The trail seemed to continue, but it didn't seem like it was worth risking, so I turned around and traced my path back to the factory.

I decided to continue across back to Barron Road and to head south. I eventually saw the path I was hoping to emerge, but that was not to be, at least not today.

South Barron Road
At the intersection of Barron Road and Lindsay Road I stopped for few minutes to check the map. After the last couple of experiences I was starting to doubt the accuracy of the map.

I decided to continue southwest on Barron Road (rather than take the shorter route). The road followed a gentle down grade and along corn fields and duck ponds that I would never have imagined were back here.

The morning haze was staring to burn off and blue skies were showing through, the signs of the new day were helping me regain my confidence and encouraged me to continue.

Lost Markers
Several more miles passed and I negotiated the map without incident when I emerged from a smaller trail at the edge of an enormous filed.

I recognized the field. I've ridden past here many time on my road bike, but I've never been on this side of it.

Again I assumed I had done something wrong and traced my steps back and had noticed an intersection with another small trail.

I followed that and found myself winding around the woods on banked turns in semi-concentric rings only to find myself right back where I started.

From the looks of things my guess was to bear left and follow the edge of the field. As I proceeded I saw trail markers back in the woods, I scrambled my way back into the woods to realize this was a complete bushwhack. There was no path in the woods and I was just following red markers on the trees with no path beneath. I retreated back to the relative comfort of the field and followed the perimeter.

I reached an intersection of what appeared to be a couple of paths and a gate on one. From a distance I was relieved to see a small red trail marker on the post beside the gate.

Swan on Kelly's Pond
As the sun began to come out for what seemed like a permanent arrival I skirted the closed gate and proceed around  the picturesque Kelly's Pond with a white swan in the distance.

As I rounded the waters edge, I noted the ponds beauty and the activity of the birds darting to and fro in playful climbs and spiraling descents.

More Wetlands
Proceeding eastward I was relieved to find what felt like the proper path. I relaxed and enjoyed the run. The day was now significantly warmer as I shuffled my way along a hard dirt packed farm road, unprotected from the shade of the trees I had emerged from earlier.

I was astounded by the tranquility and the beauty of the numerous wetlands. At the far end of one of these small bodies was another intersection. I had hi-lighted a route that went south and wrapped around again accumulating mileage before I ran out of real-estate. The larger trail and probably the more obvious choice went left, I went right.

The yellow trail markings swept south and wound it's way through the woods that would make for good fun if I were on a bike and hadn't already run 16 miles. The meandering and doubling back and forth was frustrating but not nearly as frustrating as when I came out of the woods at the 150 foot wide utility right of way.

The trail markers just disappeared. I searched 3 possible directions to no avail. Why wouldn't there be a visible marker for where the trails went? I was wasting time and energy on this search. I had spent about a half hour looking for a single trail marker when I decided I should stop and call my wife and let her know I would be later than I had anticipated.

The frustration was boiling over, I knew where I was but I was lost. I knew at the top of the hill I cold exit the park on Forrester and I could hear the voices from the residents enjoying the early spring sunshine.

No visible markers
I got off the phone and started down again thinking I should just double back when i saw a possibility. Yes, it was a red trail marker. I was so excited to pass under the power lines and over an old stone wall.

I entered a field happy to have found my way, when once more I was presented with the same challenge I had just overcome.

A wide open field with no sign of trail markers. I couldn't believe it! I trotted out to the middle of the field in complete frustration looking for any sign of a path. Nothing, nada, zilch... This was just ridiculous!

Last Red Marker
Based on my earlier lost markings/field experience I decided I would back track to where I entered the field and circumnavigate the edges of the field in the hopes of picking up the markings along the boundaries of the field. I stopped once more to check my map without much luck when I just happened to see marking about 15 feet into the woods.

With another round of excitement I started into the woods and once again found myself bushwhacking a non-existent path. There were markings on the trees (for awhile) but they were not aligned with any sort of ground trail. I went as far as I could and when I couldn't see/find the next marking I decided to double back and follow the Utility right of way back.

I started along the right of way westward in the direction of the parking lot and I was halted by an in-passable swamp.

Trapped One Way
Again I decided that maybe I should double back and just follow that winding trail back out of here, so I turned around to make my way back to where I first lost the red trail and I was again stopped by swamp water.

Trapped the Other Way
My only choice was to head into the woods and find the original path I came in on, but to do so I had to work my way through the water that had seemingly surrounded me. I found a straight stick and used it to steady myself as I did a balancing act on two old logs lying in murky water that was about a foot deep.

I found a path and knowingly followed it about 100 yards in the wrong direction so that I could confirm that this was in fact the trail I had come in on.

A Great White Oak
I reached the point that I knew and turned around and headed back the way I had come, winding my way through the woods and back to the spot I had made my decision to go right instead of left.

After more than an hour of lost time and seemingly junk miles I was heading back on New Road which turns into Weed Road.

I followed Weed Road past the ranger station and up a relentless hill back to the start of today's journey.

Today I ran/meandered a total of 19.83 miles in 5hrs and 46 minutes, much of which was wasted trying to find the red and yellow trails on the DEC map.

You can see the double back at the private property sign at the top left of the map and my inefficient mileage in the lower left hand corner of the map below.

The Route
Elevation Profile

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Just a Half Size Can Make All the Difference

Two years ago, during my fall marathon training I was having issues with blackened toes. An affliction that most marathon runners are familiar with (whether we like it or not).

At one point, both of my big toes and a several others were looking pretty gnarly and in various stages of the loss and regeneration process, so I decided I might need go to get some shoes fitted and potentially get sized up for a pair of fitted insoles (since I've also suffered from Plantar fasciitis in the past).

I went to a small local shop famous famous for specializing in custom fit shoes. I arrived early on a weekend morning and went through the complete process. We discussed my running history and any issues or injuries I've had over the years. He measured both my feet by length and width, inspected my arch and the wear on my current pair of shoes.

We discussed the various options and I decided to take the plunge and let him fit me for a set of custom insoles and a new set of shoes that he liked for me.

After about an hour of sitting up on a  platform raised halfway to the ceiling so he could work and breathing in the air made acrid by the smell of cork being heated to the point of flexibility, I was ready to try on my new shoes with the custom insoles.

He gave me a pair of shoes that were a half size larger than any shoe I've ever purchased before. Oddly this really bothered me.

I never wanted to wear a size 12 shoe. I thought, that sounds so much bigger and down-right embarrassing.

I don't know why I had such denial but it was such a strong feeling it took awhile for me to get over it.

I left the little store with my new set of custom footwear excited with the possibility that this might make me the runner I had always dreamed of being.

Not that I had any major issues with pain or injuries, but could the tweaks to my stride made by these magical inserts make me faster? Could I qualify for Boston?

Well, they didn't... Not even close! In fact it felt like I was running worse than ever.

After several runs of varying distances, trying to get comfortable in the new kicks, I determined that I wasn't a fan of the shoes themselves and the inserts felt hard and made my feet feel tired and achy.

I went back to my old ways and purchased another pair of road shoes from my favorite manufacturer, but this time a half size larger (Size 12).

I went on to run a descent marathon that fall and my toes have recovered (more or less) completely.

I'm reminded of those days because this morning I put on a pair of my old running shoes that I've retired from the roads to casual wear. These shoes are size 11.5 and they are uncomfortably tight.

I couldn't imagine wearing these for a run today. There's no wonder in my mind why I had black toe nails. But back then I would have said "But... I always wear an 11.5".

It's fascinating what you can become accustomed to and how much of a difference a half size can make.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Harriman/Bear Mountain Reconnaissance Run: Part 2

Sunday was the 1st Spring day of  Day Light Savings Time and the weather report promised a beautiful spring day. I knew I would have to get out early. Today's planned reconnaissance run was scheduled for the Bear Mountain (or eastern) side of The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k course.

Bear Mountain is far more popular with visitors than the Harriman side is. My plan was to get our early and take advantage of Day Light Savings Time and Sunday Church to beat the tourist/hikers that are sure to arrive (from NYC and elsewhere).

Ski/Bike Trail
I started this run, as I did my first reconnaissance run from the Anthony Wayne parking area. I wasn't terribly sure of today's route because of some vague directions and unmarked trails.

As result I was a little slow to get started, but I eventually managed to find my bearings and started into the woods at the far end of the southern most parking lot.

I headed South on the Ski/Bike Trail which meandered through White Pine groves. Turning right onto Beechy Bottom Rd/Ski Trail I had an easy run on on a wide fire road that mostly ran at a 1 or 2% downgrade.

View from the top of Pines Mt.
I turned right onto 1779 (blue), the trail thinned and the trees and undergrowth pulled in to encroach the path. I crossed over a small water crossing several times in search of the turn onto the yellow trail. I eventually found it, partially hidden in the thick Mountain Laurel.

The yellow path started on a gentle upgrade and grew increasingly steep until I reached a short scramble to the top of Pine Mountain.

The slight red cast of buds across the tree tops was evidence that Spring is just around the corner.

Descending Pines Mt.
I descended from the breezy mountain top to a long difficult descent. The ground was reasonably soft but littered with highlands rubble. The pitch propelled me downward as I scuffled my feet trying not to take more speed than I could safely manage.

Reaching the bottom  the yellow path turned to the right, I followed for a few meters before I had a feeling that this wasjust not right. My internal compass was telling me I was heading in the wrong direction.

The Historic Route
I stopped to check my "turn by turn" directions against my NY/NJ Trail Conference Map and determined that where the marked path turned right I should have gone left, following an unmarked (and barely existent) woods road.

The unmarked road continued for about a mile at a very pleasant downgrade on soft earth with scattered tree limbs and minor storm erosion.

I soon smelled wood smoke and saw rooftops. I was immediately thankful that the road I took was in fact the correct turn and I was approaching Queensboro Road, which will be the location of an aide station during TNFEC.

As I approached the clearing there was a placard commemorating this historic route which retraces the route of the British Army as they marched to take over Ft. Montgomery.

From Queensboro Road my directions were to follow a woods road to the red-cross trail. I found the woods road easily enough and it wandered gently into the woods. It came to a stream with a dried river bed alongside it with some massive boulders lining the edges.

The Woods Road Disappears
I climbed the rocky riverbed for a few hundred meters when I found myself unsure of where I was to go next.

The path seemed to disappear completely. I scoured the surrounding hills looking for signs of an adjoining path but could find nothing.

Then I heard voices. Someone was approaching. I could certainly ask them if the knew where the red-cross trail was.

Four runners were approaching, ...and the wind began to howl.

I started the inquiry with an assumption that they too were training for TNFEC. The lead runner confirmed my suspicion and told me that it was difficult to find the turn onto the red-cross because a number of fallen trees obscured the turn. It was just another 100 meters up the riverbed from where I had turned around.

No sooner had they set me on the path to continue when they seemingly vanished into the woods ahead of me.

Was I that tired? Were they that much faster than me? Where did they start? Could they be on fresher legs? Did I do too much yesterday?  Holy Jeeze, we're going in the same direction, how did they do that?

Either way, I had to run at my own pace or I would certainly end up in trouble, I knew there were some tough miles ahead.

Lower portion of Timp Pass
And it wasn't long before things got ugly.

I had heard about the difficulty Timp Pass, but to see it from the bottom, thinking I'm supposed to be running this was just a daunting task.

I shuffled along and kept a fairly decent pace (well at least it was before I saw those guys who disappeared ahead of me). I got as far as I could before I had to walk, huffing and puffing my way over the top of the pass.

I stopped and checked my maps at the top and started to encounter more hikers navigating the accessible park.

I continued down Tim Pass Road which was strewn with what seemed like more rocks than the entire previous 7.5 miles put together.

This run was amazingly rocky and I questioned the sanity of the event organizers and the runners for going along with such a fool-hardy plan.

Eventually Timp Pass road turns off to 1777 which winds it's way through Doodletown.

If I were to continue north on 1777 I would have headed to The Bear Mountain Lodge where TNFEC will finish. But my car was parked at Anthony Wayne, so I still had a few miles to go.

Winding up The Fawn Path
I turned left onto 1777 West and put in a couple of tired miles on gradual uphill paths. I stopped to replenish with an almond butter and jelly wrap and some fluids before taking on the last leg of today's run.

1777 West joins the white and eventually finds the Fawn path that wraps it's way up a small hill and descends on the other side.

As I'm coming down, I can sense that I'm close to finishing. My internal compass is telling me I'm just about there and I probably have less than half a mile before the parking lot is visible.

I encounter a couple more groups of hikers and I know I'm just about done.

I emerge from the woods to the Ski Trail and have but a few hundred yards till turning parking lot.

I turn right through a gate and down a steep paved path which makes my quads burn and run the last few meters across the parking lot to my car.

I had some challenges on this run, most of which would have been alleviated had I been more familiar with the route, but I can be proud of completing another difficult run in The Hudson Highlands.

One thing I can be sure of is that The North Face Endurance Challenge is going to be a very tough event.

Today I covered 11.86 miles with a total elevation gain of  1,743 feet in 3 hours and 49 minutes.

The Route
Elevation Profile

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where Eagles Dare

Saturday morning I set out for a local and moderate trail run. My wife and I had agreed I would take the dog (Milo) out on a run on Saturday and she would be available for a hike with him on Sunday while I did another reconnaissance run for The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Moutain on Sunday.

Baby Brook
Milo and I set out on what was one of our local routes early in the morning. I was feeling a little less than good.

I thought that I might have been a little anxious from my morning coffee and maybe I just needed to slow down and enjoy the ride,

I settled into a decent enough pace and we worked our way through our familiar stomping grounds just under the north-eastern ridge of Schunemunk Mountain.

When I planned the run I had given myself an option to extend the run by climbing up the Jessup Trail (yellow) to the the top of Schunemunk and crossing over to the Trestle Trail (white) and down to the point where we started.

Lower Vistas
Somewhat out of character, we descended into the fields via the lower portion of the Jessup trail and were presented with an unseasonably warm March morning with gorgeous clear blue skies and amazing views of the local highlands.

We crossed the fields under an amazingly clear sky as the temperatures began to climb.

We rounded the far end of our regular loop and decided we would continue upward, crossing the train tracks and joining the Otterkill Trail (red). This option still provided the ability to return to our original trajectory if I wasn't feeling like attempting the Jessup climb.

Trail Junction
Milo and I proceed, now on the western side of the tracks. Turkey Vultures were circling above and I realized that I had to distract Milo from the carcass of a deer that had been hit by a passing train.

I started to feel a somewhat stronger and had decided that I would add some distance to today's run by heading up The Jessup Trail.

Jessup Trail Climb
We continued along, occasionally losing the trail amongst the fallen trees (from the aftermath of hurricane Irene).

We came to the intersection of the red and yellow, a small stream crossing and started the climb.

The trail ascends along the southern side of Baby Brook, which we crossed as we began the trek.

We climbed and my heart rate began to soar, we continues along as the path rummaged its way through the Mountain Laurel and and increasingly steep rocky stair-steps.

Eventually, it was steep enough to bring me to a mere scramble, just trying to keep a somewhat respectable pace. I found myself grabbing at trees on the side of the path and pushing off my knees with my gloved hands, forcing some sort of upward inertia.

Views of Storm King and Breakneck
Eventually we crest the climb and qualified for a short rest as we cross Baby Brook before we approached a short scramble up a craggy and beautiful climb with tremendous views of Storm King and Breakneck (on the other side of the Hudson).

At the top, we turn south for a few meters and I acknowledge that I have to fight my natural instinct and go south when I know our eventual destination is to the north.

We cross some conglomerate out cropping and duck under the low branches of the pitch pine before the trail finally intersects with the Trestle Trail (white).

We take a hard right and start our journey northbound. The run is soft with rolling undulations through scrub brush and young saplings.

Pitch Pines and Beaver Dam Lake
In a a moment where I was thinking that this wasn't my greatest run but certainly not my worst, I suddenly saw a huge shadow moving from right to left just above the saplings.

My response was verbal... "Holly Sh*t".  At that very moment I realized the shadow was a bald Eagle. My heart jumped and the excitement ran through my body. I tried to get my camera out to capture the majestic beauty, but by the time it had powered up, the eagle was gone.

Bench looking North
We continued along the trail to a small side trip to an outcropping of pitch pines and conglomerate with north western views of Beaver Dam Lake. I had hoped I might get one more chance to spot the eagle but it was gone.

We continues along the white trail, through some difficult descending terrain to reach what I call "the nose".

As I've mentioned in a previous post,  there's a gorgeous bench here looking north. It's a favorite spot to take in the northern exposure (and my house can be seen from here) before the aggressive descent.

My Buddy Milo
After I give Milo a handful of treats and made him pose on the bench for a photograph we began to work our way downward.

We managed our way the down to road level where we do a short wrap-around under the trestle and back to the start.

We did 6.45 miles with 1,235 feet of elevation gain in 1:50 minutes.


The Route
Elevation Profile