Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shepherd Lake/Ringwood State Park Trail Run

Last weekend I completed my first trail run since my injury without incident. Now I felt it was time to begin to focus on my next event. The Mountain Madness 50k hosted by the organizers of the New Jersey Trail Series.

My road runs have been going well but I've had only one recent trail run under my belt so this weekend I decided I would scout out some of the Mountain Madness course.

On Friday night I gathered my gear, and highlighted my NY/NJ Trail Map of the area. I had outlined a route that followed the beginning of the course (which starts at Shepherd Lake) heading south for several miles before returning to the Shepherd Lake parking area.

I had never been to this park before, so I was surprised when I got to the lake and there was a $10.00 fee to park. The attendant said I could go back to the NJ Botanical Gardens and park there. Since I had the cash I decided it would be easier to just fork over the $10.00 and follow my hi-lighted route rather than plane anew route starting from the Gardens.
AM at Shepherd Lake

Even before 9:00Am the parking lot was filling up with picnickers. Families were claiming tables and BBQ pits while others were busy setting up tents and moving coolers in for the day's festivities.

I gathered my gear and made one last stop at the areas facilities and headed towards the trail-head which was at the the southern corner of the lake (just past the now empty swimming area).

I started my Garmin and proceed along a gentle lake-side trail as I adjusted my backpack and settled into a comfortable stride.

No sooner than the moment I began to feel comfortable, the red trail markers indicated a right-hand turn that began the first climb of the morning.

Red Trail Climb
I did my best to manage my heart rate and ran where I could and walked where necessary. But before long I had beads of sweat gathering in my brow and my shirt was damp.

I later learned I was climbing Mount Defiance (which sounds so intimidating).

After successfully cresting the big climb so early in the day, I trotted along gathering my breath and wrestling my heart-rate back to within the limits of my rib-cage.

I soon found gentler terrain that meandered along the crest of the ridge with gentle down hills spotted with inhospitable roots and rocks common in the hills of the Hudson Highlands.

I followed the red trail (part of the Mountain Madness route) south before I decided I would abandon the route I highlighted last night in favor of an alternate route.

Gatun Pond
I checked my map and decide to turn left onto the Crossover trail (white). At an intersection with an unmarked fire road I checked my bearings by referring to the map and from across the intersection emerged a couple of trail runners I recognized.

They don't know me, but I've seen photos and videos of their accomplishments on mountainpeakfitness.com. We exchanged brief  trail pleasantries and continued in opposite directions.

The trail switched back and forth crossing unmarked fire roads before arriving at Gatun Pond. The pond was low on water but a good place for me to take a break. I drank from one of my water bottles and checked the map again to determine where my next trail change was going to be. After a moment of swatting mosquito and map checking I resumed the run.

The white trail wrapped around the perimeter of the pond and climbed an agonizing fire road strewn with loose softball sized rocks and gulleys cut from storm run off.

The grade increased as the road climbed 1.3 miles and through several switch-backs to Pierson Ridge.

Pierson Ridge Trail
The trail-markers indicated a right-hand turn off the fire road and up a a steep final climb.

I planted my feet through shin-high grasses and ferns, that obscured the trail obstacles that lie beneath, just out of sight.

Reaching the the top of the climb (1,095 feet) I again wrestled with my pounding heart  and turned left (north) onto the Pierson Ridge Trail (Blue).

The ridge trail was a pleasant straightaway along the crest of Pierson Ridge, often padded with soft pine needles. In addition it offered a gentle downgrade, a much needed opportunity for recovery from the previous ascent.

The next trail change was to the Halifax Trail (green). I turned left and after a very brief upward scramble the trail was a predominantly a downhill run back to the foot of Mount Deffiance.

At the bottom of the Halifax Trail I passed Glasmere Ponds and moved on with little hesitation due to the hungry mosquitos who had found me to be irresistible. One in particular buzzed my left ear repeatedly, even after my repeated swipes and swats.

The Skylands Trail
The only way to avaid the attack was to keep moving, which was yet another encounter with a climb. This time single-track up the easternside of Mount Defiance. I climbed as the trail negotiated several switchbacks providing a semi-negotiable grade for my weary legs and lungs.

Approaching the summit the trail prematurely intersected with my next trail change. I turned right onto the The Skylands Trail (Blue).

The trail traversed the side of Mount defiance in undulating fashion. I followed the tracks of mountain bike tires and noticed the rocks scrapped by collisions with their undercarriages.

I realized I was nearing the finish because I could now hear seemingly endless rounds being fired at the appropriately named Thunder Mounatin Shooting Range.

After several senselessly frustrating switchbacks designed for mountain bikers the Skyland trail merged with the (red) Ringwood/Ramapo trail which would follow a long descent back to Shepherd Lake.

Surisingly there were very few people on the trail and yet the parking lot was nearing capacity. I trotted along the lakeside path back through the parking lot to my car.

I completed my second trail run since my injury. It's clear I have some training to do before I feel I'm ready for Mountain Madness, but it feels good to have two successful (yet challenging) trail runs in.

I'm looking forward to more weekday road training and pushing the trail envelope a bit further next weekend.

Distance: 7.9 Miles
Time: 2hr 09 min
Elevation Gain: 1,469 ft

The Route

The Elevation


Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Return to the Trail is Oh So Sweet

Knowing my calf has healed and the conditions were prime (temps were expected be in the 70s),  I decided it was time to return to the trails.

I went so far as to plan the run to where I had suffered the injury. Only this time I would reverse my tracks and pass through the spot I felt the snake-bite of my calf strain and the two brutal miles I had hobbled home.

I arrived at the trail head relatively early for a Sunday morning. There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot (I knew it would be full by the time I returned).

I headed out in the opposite direction that most of the weekend hikers would start their adventures.
First Ascent

My lower-back was barking early, reminding me that I spent a few hours yesterday doing yard-work. I continued along the reasonably flat Stahahe trail waiting for the endorphins to kick-in to silence the nagging.

I warmed up on the trail and crossed over Stahahe Brook remembering the difficulty I experienced just three and a half months ago.

After the crossing I had some trouble remembering whether I came down the narrow path directly a head or the fire-road that winds gently to the right. I opted for the fire-road and quickly realized that was an incorrect assumption and I would have to double-back to the climb.

Here we go... back to the trails and my first climb.

I slowed my place as I climbed to the modest gradient and found the familiar soft grasses I relished during my injured hobble.

Valley of the Boulders
 I turned left and followed the yellow trail into the depths of Harriman. Very soon I would be in The Valley of the Boulders.

The last time I entered The Vally of the Boulders it was an absolute nightmare. It was as if I was lost in the Evil Forrest from Sid & Marty Kroft's H.R. Pufnstuf.

But this time, although I was climbing rather than painfully descending on one good leg. I (kind of) new where the trail was and managed my way through the monster boulders and remnant rock fields without incident.

I was impressed by my ability to navigate the potentially ankle-crunching terrain with just one good leg.

I emerged from "The Valley" and barely noticed as I passed the small incline where I strained my calf.

View from Ramapo-Duderberg trai
I was emotionally pleased and felt I had conquered a long standing nemesis.

I was pleased to be in the woods again. I was happy and suddenly I realized that I was now a vegan and a trail runner. The combination felt so right as my feet passed along the damp trail.

I had planed to go a bit further, but remembering the times I had pushed it too hard in the woods, I decided I would take today a little easy. I would build on the success rather than potentially suffer a defeat.

I followed the Ramapo-Duderberg trail (Red on White) to the Lichen Trail (Blue). Admiring the views and the cool temperatures I traversed the crest of Surebridge Mountain.

I descended through some tight brush emerging at the Long Trail (Aqua). I turned to the left and began to circle back to the start.

I recognized the trails and managed to negotiate the trail intersections without referring to my map. I encountered a couple who I had said hello to in the parking lot and helped them negotiate their hike (they were working from an iPhone) with my map and previous experience.

Entrance to The Lemon Squeezer
I passed the entrance to the Lemon Squeezer resisting the temptation to pass through the pinched climb through the encroaching rock structure.

I followed the Appalachian Trail (white) past Island Pond and on to the first of a series of climbs that would take me back to the trail-head.

 I passed by a couple of campers chatting in their campsite. I wanted to take a break to catch my breath and moderate my now racing heart, but I didn't want to show my need for rest to the onlookers. I wanted the image of a trail runner to be one of inspiration.

Two more climbs and I was at the top of a long descent to the parking lot. I passed several groups of hikers heading out for their day in the woods.

After a seemingly endless down hill I returned to the parking lot with exactly 7 miles registered on my Garmin so much more than that accomplished. I returned to the trails and controlled the terrain that had once inflicted such pain and frustration.

The return to the trail  is oh so sweet and I look forward to building on the success from today


Distance: 7 Miles
Time: 2hr 37min
Elevation Gain: 1,537 ft

The Route

The Elevation Profile