Monday, October 31, 2005

Eight Strenuous Weekends, Part 7
Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon
Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005

2005 Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon results
Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon info

2005 Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon photo slideshow

A week of feeling fairly lousy (tired, achy, low energy), combined with the race being moved to Thacher Park where I’ve run 9 miles of trails multiple times for the Indian Ladder Trail Run, and the race director pushing this as a costume-fest complete with costumed animals attacking the runners, left me less than enthused about this one. On the plus side, it was only half an hour away, so I was able to get up at 6:45 and still have plenty of time to get ready. But my expectations for this run were pretty low – I wasn’t even convinced I would be able to finish, given the two short runs I did this week.

So I’ll get the “bad” parts out of the way right at the beginning (1) Some dummy installed new insoles in his shoes this week and then ran 13.1 wet, muddy miles on them – so I have a nice blister on my left arch. (2) Some dummy wore a new fleece vest to stay warm during the breezy conditions of the run, which probably contributed to his first ever blister on the small of his back due to his waist-pack rubbing. (3) Some dummy left his film at the local Wal-mart despite the fact that every other time he’s been there, the 1 hr machine has been broken – and surprise, when he went back the machine was broken and if he’s lucky he’ll get his race photos tomorrow. (4) We didn’t get to run along the cliffs… what can I say, I like running along cliffs.

Now for some big “good” parts – I ran 13.1 wet, muddy miles (I think I’m paying some kind of karmic debt for calling myself a turtle so often), the furthest I’ve done since getting back on a steady training schedule, and I finished in 2:28, or about an 11:18 mile pace. AND I ran in some cool parts of Thacher Park I’ve never seen before, on a nice sunny October day. And despite previous warnings, no animals attacked and thus had to be harmed during the running of this race.

By now you’re familiar with the basics – got there, strapped up all my busted bits, picked up my stuff and dropped off my bananas, and hung around waiting for it all to start. It was sunny but COLD – the wind was whipping over the mountaintop! After a fairly strange song sung by someone who definitely should not quit his day job, we set off along a start section littered with cardboard “tombstones” – fun dodging THOSE seconds into the race. When we got to the trail, we quickly hit the first of many, many “mud-and-water” sections… and things ground to a halt as people carefully tiptoed past the mud. I resisted the temptation to make a sarcastic comment and settled for a slight shake of my head as I just blasted through the mud – I did hear someone mutter “That’s one way to do it, I guess.”

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Much of the first 6 miles was on trails we run at Indian Ladder, though there was one section I hadn’t seen since they changed the IL course back in 2000. That was cool. Had a few chatterers… why is it people who are running in the woods feel the need to yell conversation at each other? Anyway, before I knew it (OK, about 70 minutes later) we were at the point where the 6-milers peeled away for their finish and the crazy half marathoners headed into a different section of the park. I had run about ½ of those trails, but in the opposite direction – so that was cool. And the course went into a section I had never been to – also cool.

As we were running along I was “treated” to another conversation that had me shaking my head. I was picking my way down a wet, muddy hill and two gals came slipping and sliding down behind me, with one of them grumbling the whole way about how she had run a marathon in 4 ½ hours, so she expected to finish this in 2 to 2 ¼ hours, and with all this mud and hills, THAT wasn’t going to happen NOW. (Gotta love trail newbies. I was really hoping to beat her to the finish, but she and her friend stayed close enough behind me that when we got to the last half mile, which is fairly flat and clear, they were able to make some speed and passed me. Darn it.)

So I finished, WITHOUT doing a gorilla imitation (they gave an award to the best “gorilla” finish) and without picking up any bananas (they scattered bananas on the ground half a mile from the finish, and gave an award to the finisher holding the most bananas – no packs, etc, allowed.) Managed to snag a couple of burgers and headed off for my futile trip to Wal-mart to get my film developed. (With luck they’ll have my pictures by tomorrow evening…) And up until the Wal-mart part, had fun (in a torturous kind of way) in the process.

Would I do the race again? Maybe. Have to see what else is on the agenda for next year. If this one grows like their Dodge the Deer race (75 runner last year, 300 this year!) it may just get too crowded (they probably had around 250 runners today, between both races.) As penance for my pre-race negative attitude, I’ve already sent the race director an e-mail thanking both him and all the volunteers, and congratulating them on putting together such a good event.

Next up – the After the Leaves Have Fallen 20 K (12.4 miles) next Sunday down at Lake Minnewaska State Park, one of my absolute favorite places to go! I’m REALLY looking forward to that one (and keeping my fingers crossed for a sunny day!)

After that – there is the possibility of a NINTH Strenuous Weekend on Sunday, Nov. 20 – depending on what I hear from a friend of my who lives near there, I may run an 8 mile trail run in a park in Rhode Island. And I haven’t ruled out my crazy Pine Bush run as big finale for the 2005 “events” – but I need to get some decent distance estimates for the PB trails to see if it’s doable with my current level of training (ie. under 15 miles.)

(somewhere under all the mud)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Eight Strenuous Weekends, Part 6
Black Diamond Off-Road Duathlon
Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005

2005 Black Diamond Offroad Duathlon results
Black Diamond Offroad Duathlon info

2005 Black Diamond Duathlon photo slideshow

If nothing else, these weekends should be teaching me to be flexible in my planning, since things have rarely gone off the way I expected them to.

This weekend I set a new record for earliest rising to get to a race - 2 AM Saturday morning with a departure (from Albany) time of 4 AM to reach Victor (just east of Rochester) by 8 AM. The original plan was to drive out to Rochester Friday night. Unfortunately, this has been the week from you-know-where, sleep-wise, and Friday it became very clear that I WAS NOT driving out that night... I would have fallen asleep while driving. So instead I went to sleep at 7 PM and got up at 2 AM.

(FYI there's very little traffic on the Thruway at 4 AM on a Saturday morning.)

About 45 minutes out from Victor, the rain started. And stayed. I believe the announcer said it was 42 degrees while we were waiting to start. Cold and wet. What fun. I went with the "freeze my butt off" approach and took off my sweatpants and windbreaker before the start. Needless to say the bike leg was a little chilly.

For once no one said anything about my knee braces! BUT I did get a new comment - twice I heard variations on "You came all the way from Albany to do this race?" I guess it was mostly locals at this one.

So after the usual pre-race stuff (some of which involved the really nice race director talking way too much about the course - I kept wanting to holler out "We're freezing our butts off! Just start this thing so we can run!"), off we went on a 2 mile run through Fishers park. First on muddy trails through the woods and then on a loop around a field. Halfway around the field there was a cub scout pack manning the water station... boy were they enthusiastic. And apparently I made their day by stopping to take their picture. (They thanked me on the 2nd running leg.)

Anyway, back into the woods and back the way we came... finished the run without popping the ol' knee, and hopped on my bike. I then spent a while cursing out the race director, who had said the bike sections were almost entirely flat, because the Auburn trail sure seemed like it was a long gradual uphill heading in that direction. (But then again, on the way back it ALSO seemed uphill, so my "up/down" sensors may have been waterlogged or frozen. Maybe it was just that my legs didn't want to push my heavy ATB after the run.) After a few miles on the Auburn trail (an old railbed turned rec trail) we headed off into another park, this time for a muddy ride on a dirt road and around a field.

(Maybe I should change my alias from "jedi_turtle" to "muddy_turtle"... hopefully the next two races will be dry!)

Then it was back out the Auburn trail to the Lehigh trail (another converted railbed) and a short road stretch. I don't know who ordered the headwind for the last mile - that made the last bit of biking really tough!

After that it was back for another round of the trails in the park, except that they hurt more 2nd time around and it was raining harder, so things were getting pretty slippery. But I pushed through to the end, finishing in a pretty decent 1 hr 22 min. (I was expecting more like 90-100 minutes, but apparently I made good time on the bike.) All the volunteers were really nice - they had an amazing number of people out on the course (and that wasn't including all the police, firemen, and EMTs they had out there.) Afterwards I found someone to snap a picture of me - wet but done!

AND since I was already wet, I rode part of the bike course again to take pictures of it... I'll post them on webshots later this week (as well as the pictures I took during my first loop through the running course.)

Now I just have to see if I can stay awake until Ann gets back from Utica...

Next week - the Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon in (grumble) Thacher Park. Apparently, the volunteers will be in costume (since Halloween is the next day) and the finish area will be set up to look like a graveyard (that would be much more appropriate if it was an ultramarathon... or that killer race I did two weeks ago... or the Greylock Half Century ride!) The director's e-mail also said something to the effect that runners should keep their eyes open, because there might be animals in the woods attacking them - of course, if anyone in an animal costume attacks me, THEY might be the ones in for a surprise... (I won't wear the AMAI logo at this one... but I am considering running with an escrima stick strapped to my back. Or maybe my cane... that could always come in handy if I pop my knee, too!)


P.S. As I was riding my bike in the Pine Bush Thursday night, I had a wacky idea for a ninth strenuous weekend which would get me my long run through the Pine Bush... I have to calculate some distances though and see if it's doable (ie. could I do it in under 3 1/2 hours.)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Eight Strenuous Weekends, Part -
wait a minute! this was the weekend off!
Sunday, October 15, 2005

Other than, of course, covering karate classes at Rochester, riding the bike course for next week's duathlon, checking out the trails for the running segments of the same, and getting in a 9 mile run today...

But I DID get to sleep in this morning... that was pleasant after being up by 5:30 AM for the last three or four Sundays!

Checking out the bike course confirmed that I definitely want my ATB rather than the road bike... there's nothing all that extreme about the bike route, but part is along the edge of a field, and the freshly graded rail trail is still pretty deep in stone dust. Had a brief adventure when I took the wrong trail at one point, wondered how they were going to do an out-and-back along a rugged singletrack through the woods, and came to the end at a stream. (At least, I'm HOPING that's the wrong trail... if you cross the stream, hike through some swamp, and cross another stream you DO end up on a trail that goes to the field loop. But an out-and-back
on singletrack is dangerously insane... I doubt that's the plan.)

The run through Fishers Park should be pretty standard, trails aren't anything awful... though at only 2 miles, I'll be finishing each running loop right around when I'm getting warmed up.

Ann thought I was nuts (she thinks it's cold), but today was a good day for the 9 mile run along the Genessee Valley Greenway (another old rail bed converted to trail.) The trees kept the wind down, and I even had some sunshine for the last part of the run. And it was nice and cool! Great running weather!

Next week is the off-road duathlon, then a half marathon and a 20K the following two weekends. I toyed with the idea of entering the Stone Cat Ale Trail Marathon/50 Mile Race out near Boston the weekend after that, but (1) it's bloody expensive, and (2) it starts at 6 AM (YIKES!) and (3) I could probably finish a marathon at this point, but the last 10 miles or so would be really ugly, and I'd pay for it physically for a good long time. Maybe next year...


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Eight Strenuous Weekends - Part 5
Monroe Dunbar Brook 10.5 mile trail run
Sunday, Oct. 9, 2005

2005 Monroe Dunbar Brook race results
Monroe Dunbar Brook trail races info

2005 Monroe Dunbar Brook trail race photo slideshow

Most. Insane. Trail Run. Ever.

(Or at least, one of the most insane. I've been on a couple of runs that only the sanity-challenged would do...)

Two disclaimers up front - it was actually more like 11 miles, and "trail run" is a misnomer... I spent about 5 miles running and the other 6 speed-hiking.

So the day started with me turning on the news at 6 AM and hearing that northern Berkshire County had been hit with the heaviest rain yesterday and was badly flooded, with lots of roads closed and people generally advised to not go out if they didn't have to. Three guesses where I was heading to do this race...

On the way over, came to one road which was closed due to flooding... fortunately, it was the same road that was closed back in August because of bridge work, so I didn't have to look up a detour. Once again my tired old car made its way over the Taconic Range on the road that just goes up and up and up. As an added feature, this time the cloud layer started halfway up the mountains, so visibility dropped to about 10 feet.

After driving up more mountains (and seeing some very nice waterfalls next to the road) I found myself at the Dunbar Brook Picnic Area in Monroe State Forest in NW Mass. Yes, the race was still on (after a 2 hour drive, it darn well better have been!) Did all the usual pre-race stuff and found out we were starting half an hour late to give people time to arrive over the flooded roads. No biggie. 15 minutes before the start we got the briefing, which was another clue that this was going to be an interesting run. Keep in mind that the speaker is Bob Dion, a gifted but psycho trail runner who blasts up and down the Greylock trail half marathon in record time.
BD - "Yesterday we marked the trails in the rain - THAT was scary. They're usually very slick and there's some very tricky sections - those are even worse this year."
(Oh goodie.)
BD - "Today we went out on the course at 7 AM and it's even scarier. Most of the trails are under water - they're streams. Be careful!"
BD - "Now about the stream crossing - we noticed yesterday that the river was getting pretty deep and pretty fast. So we thought about how we could do this and decided to use the bridge instead."
(That's not so bad...)
BD - "So we tried going over the bridge and it's VERY slippery - if anyone falls off into the river they're dead. It's currently chest deep and 50 mph whitewater."
(That doesn't sound good.)
BD - "So this morning we put a strip of indoor/outdoor carpetting across the bridge - the footing is great now, lots of traction."
(Let's back up to that part about if you fall in the river, you're dead...)
BD - "Unfortunately, as we worked on the bridge we found out that some of the beams are cracked and there are boards missing. It's a bit unstable. I'm OK walking across it, and most of you might be, but I'm sure there are some of you who would have problems with the bridge. Thing is, you probably wouldn't realize it until you're halfway across, and then it's too late. And if anyone falls in that river, they're dead. All we could do is watch them get washed away."
(OK, guess I'm crawling across that bridge on my hand and knees. After 9.5 miles of running. Great...)
BD - "So as much as I hate doing this, we've re-routed the course so we don't end up on the other side of the river. We just can't risk someone dying in that crossing."
(Well, I was looking forward to having to cross the knee-deep stream, but I can handle not having to crawl over a rickety bridge over 50 mph whitewater. OK.)

After that he gave us directions for the re-routing and then did his best to get everyone to line up for a head count, "so they could make sure everyone who went in made it back out." And then a little bit later - off we went.

The first mile was along the River of Death (don't slip!) and was mostly runnable. It became clear very quickly that there was no point in trying to go around the water and mud, because 30 seconds later you'd hit a spot where there was no room to go around it. So my feet were wet five minutes in and stayed that way until I got in the car to go home. At the end of the first mile we started up the mountain - literally. The trail was a muddy, wet single track that went right up the mountain. The first stretch of speed hiking, and an ominous preview (thanks to the re-routing, we had to come back down the same trail, after 85 runners had gone up it and most of that number had come back down it.)

Hit on ORV trail which was runnable, and a nice downhill stretch (where I watched some of the people around me take off at full throttle so that they missed the turnoff. Sadly, they passed me later in the race despite the extra they ran.) Then it was back to more steep uphill single track. That was the pattern for the first six miles... run a bit, then speed-hike up a steep and gnarly trail. Ran a bit at the top, then we started the steep downhills, and I slowed to a crawl (bad knees + running steep downhills = POP! *#%#*&**!! OW OW OW!!!) That's when I was passed by a bunch of people who I never saw again (guess they're good at running steep downhills.)

Anyway, between short stretches (a mile or so) or running and crawling down steep muddy trails, I eventually made it back to the runnable first mile and ran pretty consistently to the finish, at 3 hrs 11 minutes (compared to the 2 1/4 hours it took me to run 11 miles down at Mohonk, popped knee and all.)

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

At various times had people around. One fellow was with me for some long stretches... unfortunately, he mostly complained, until I was almost ready to stop at one of the deeper trail/streams and see if he could complain underwater. Luckily he hit a point where he was sure he knew the way back (I think one reason he was shadowing me was he was afraid he'd get lost) and he disappeared. I clearly wasn't the only one who struggled with this crazy course... I'm curious to see how the "fast" people did on it.

I may or may not have pictures from this one... dropped my disposable camera in one of the "ponds" so the film may be ruined. I know tomorrow after Wal-mart tries to develop it. I hope some of the shots survived... there should be some good ones illustrating the insanity of this run.
After finishing I changed shirts and hiked back to the bridge over the River of Death... if they leave that carpet there someone in the future is going to be wondering why anyone whould carpet an old footbridge out in the woods. Took some pictures with my good camera, so I know those will come out.

So it was an interesting experience. Frustrating because I wasn't able to run more of it, but a good lesson for prepping for Escarpment next summer - I definitely need to get in mountain work (like hill work only worse) so that I can run up some of these steep trails, because I don't have a prayer of running the steep downhills (which is where most people make up the time they lost on the uphill.)


Next week - no race! (though if I can get my ATB back in working condition, I'm planning to ride the bike course for the duathlon the following week, to see if I need my ATB or if I could do it with my heavier road bike, which would be faster.)

Two weeks - the Black Diamond OffRoad Duathlon! (the name's a misnomer... the running is offroad, but only some of the riding is...)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Eight Strenuous Weekends - Part 4
The Rochester Autumn Classic Duathlon
Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005

Autumn Classic Duathlon 2005 results
Autumn Classic Duathlon 2005 info

Autumn Classic Duathlon 2005 Photo slideshow

A couple of observations, after having done this sort of thing for four weekends in a row…

(1) Getting up at 4 or 5 AM on a weekend morning to go to a race is truly insane. Basically it means that you are not only getting up at a ridiculous hour on a day when normal people sleep in a bit, but you’re paying someone else for the privilege to do so. Races that are an hour or more away double the insanity.
(2) In the spring and early summer I was finishing in the back half of the race field. Now I’m finishing at the very end or close to the very end. So either the other slow people have given up races by autumn, or they’ve gotten much faster during the summer. (I don't think I've slowed down significantly...)
(3) Run with two knee braces on and people will tell you that you’re doing something incredible, even if you tell them your knees have been like this for years and you do this all the time. At least they're not trying to give me an award for it...
(4) Running the same loop again and again drives me freakin' crazy. By the third running leg I was REALLY tired of the two hills on the course. (There’s a 50 K trail run in the same park in November, consisting of five 10 K loops. While I would like to do a trail 50 K someday, I suspect that one would push me over the edge. Of course, now I've jinxed myself and will probably end up doing it next year or something.)

Moving onward…

One of the pluses to racing in the fall is the temperature change during the morning… Mendon Park was very pretty as the dew evaporated and the mist drifted up through the sunlight. A great feature of being a trail runner - the races I go to are in wonderful wild places. The October ones should be great as the leaves start changing. It’s also nice to start out a bit chilly and warm up as things proceed, instead of dripping with sweat from the moment you get out of bed.

Got to Mendon, checked in, and unloaded my 1970’s Yugo of a bike so that it could take its place on the racks with all the bike versions of Corvettes and Camaros. Geared up, strapped my knees into place, and walked around in my 1970’s Yugo of a body taking pictures while not looking too much at all the human versions of Corvettes and Camaros. Waited for things to begin and then off we went. 2 mile run, started out at the back and stayed there. Hopped on the bike and zipped off, demon biker that I am.

One of the rules of racing is don’t use equipment you haven’t trained with before the race. So I of course rode a bike that I’d only gotten back on the road three weeks ago. It’s much lighter than my other bike, which is a plus. But something wasn’t adjusted quite right, and I had never done any sprinting on this bike (dumb, dumb, dumb) so I found myself with muscles cramping that I don’t typically notice while riding. But I made good time and even passed a couple of people. Hit close to 30 mph going down one hill (actually hit 31.4 mph going down the same hill on the 2nd loop. Wahoo!) Of course it was interesting as I came to the finish of that leg – runners were completing the 2nd running leg as I came in. The same thing happened in reverse as I was completing the 2nd running leg, as riders finishing their 2nd riding leg flew by me. Dang those guys are fast.

Probably the toughest thing about a race like this is the constant transition from running to biking to running… I’m just getting warmed up after 2 miles, and then it’s time to ride! The ride-to-run transition was definitely the toughest for me… it took almost half a mile before my legs really felt like they were working again.

Anyway, I plugged away at it and after 2 hrs and 34 minutes crossed the finish line. There were a few people clapping and cheering, I think because that meant they could finally wrap up and do the awards. (The race organizers get points in my book for not doing awards until everyone had finished… I’ve been in some races where that wasn’t the case, and I find it annoying to finish and find out that the awards have already been done – seems to be making a statement about the relative importance of fast and slow people.) Ann showed up somewhat before the end of the 2nd bike leg and took some pictures of me finishing the last two parts (2nd bike, 3rd run) – I was also photographed by the “official” race photographer several times, so I may have some pics to post of this one at some point.

Of course, one of the reasons I did this race was to see if I’d improved since spring… a tough comparison, since I’m no longer running all out (don’t feel like getting hurt!), I switched bikes, and there’s an extra mile in this race. But, crunching the numbers, I found that my running time in the spring averaged out to 11.7 minute miles, and this time to… 11.7 min miles. An improvement of sorts, since in the spring I was pushing as hard as I possibly could and here I wasn’t. My riding averaged at 14.1 mph in the spring, and 14.7 mph here. Again, not a bad improvement, especially considering I concentrated on distance riding this summer, not speed. So I’m fairly pleased with the results overall, even if I’m becoming the champion of the back-of-the-pack. I guess somebody has to stop and thank the volunteers and cross the finish line with a smile on their face.


Next up: the Monroe Dunbar Brook 10.5 mile trail run in Monroe, MA – if the weather predictions are at all reliable, we may be freezing our backsides off (especially during the knee-deep stream crossing at mile 9!) Then I get a week “off” (no races) to gear up for the final three – an offroad duathlon, a trail half marathon, and a trail 20K.

Halfway there, race-wise... next weekend marks the half-way point, time wise. Hopefully the best is yet to come!