Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Weekend in the Woods

In my rear-view mirror I watched the cop on the motorcycle make a U-turn. I swallowed hard and felt my stomach flutter. I might have been going a little fast, but surely I was still under the speed limit? Right? The motorcycle began to tail me and, not knowing the exact speed limit on the stretch of road I was on, I debated whether I should maintain my speed or slow down to an annoying crawl. I decided to split the difference. The flashing lights began to flicker and pulsate, so I slowly wheeled into a mostly vacant shopping center to await my fate. The cop told me I was, in fact, speeding. I apologized.

“Where are you heading?” the officer asked.

“Into the woods,” I replied.
After a verbal warning, Katie and I were on our way, again, to Shenandoah National Park. Our destination: The Overall Run/Beecher Ridge trailhead. Despite the stop, we made great time and found ourselves at the parking lot at a quarter to 10.

The sun was still low in the sky, but the air was warm. Even this mountain air. We began the eight-and-a-half-mile hike on a gravel road, but soon found ourselves in the cool, sticky forest. The shade. After a mile and a half of hiking, I realized we had gone the wrong way. It didn’t matter, because we were doing a loop, but I cursed my map for providing incorrect information. Naturally, it was the map’s fault. After walking alongside pleasant Overall Run, we crossed the stream and began a nearly four mile climb up Beecher Ridge. It certainly wasn’t the hardest hill I’d ever hiked, but the sweat was flowing and I continuously sucked down water and Gatorade. We crossed paths with a couple of groups, but it was fairly quiet in the woods. At noon, we reached an intersection and thought it’d be a good place to eat lunch. I tossed my sweat-soaked shirt on a bush to dry then lathered up a piece of Pita bread with peanut butter while Katie snacked on, well, snacks. A pair of hikers approached and, after some small talk, they asked whether or not we’d seen the bear. I quickly explained that we had come from the opposite end of the trail, then began to fire off questions about the bear:
“How far away was it?” “How many minutes?” “What side of the trail was it on?”

After receiving the answers, I grabbed Katie, my shirt, and quickly stowed the remaining items of food into my backpack. In my hand, I still fingered half of my peanut butter sandwich. As we race-walked down the trail, passersby warned us there was a bear along the trail. I peppered them for information while continuing to walk. They suggested he was moving away, so my pace towards the bear intensified. Ahead, about 50 feet above a 90-degree bend in the path, was a bruin slowly ambling its way over a rock field. My first impression was how large it looked, and I was amazed at how such a big black creature was still very difficult to see in the woods. One really had to look to see it. It was also as quiet as a mouse. We were at a safe distance, and the bear was doing its own thing so we walked along the trail and tried to get a better view. Eventually it slipped above the ridgeline and disappeared. Had we arrived a minute later than we had, we likely wouldn’t have seen it. We continue our march down the trail until we came to a spur which angled back in the direction of where the bear was heading. We decided to walk down the path to see if we could see the bear again. Other hikers began to walk towards us.
“There’s a bear up the path. It’s a cub, I think. Its mom might be around, so watch out!”

Hmm, I thought, was this the same bear we had just seen? It couldn’t be a second bear, or could it? The one we’d seen was much bigger than a cub, but one’s perception can be misleading when among the trees. We arrived at a clearing and saw a few other hikers staring into the woods. We followed their eyes and saw a bear walking slowly with its nose to the ground. Grubbing? The bear looked like the same one we had just seen, but Katie thought it was smaller; like a cub. I continued to glance left and right looking for other bears, but none materialized so I took some (terrible) photos and a video. The bear began to walk towards us on the trail, so we backed up and gave it plenty of space. I realized I was still holding the remnants of my peanut butter sandwich, so I quickly shoved it in my mouth and began licking my peanut butter-stained fingers. Eventually it walked across the path and slowly made its way into the woods, pawing small trees and rocks as it meandered. We debated whether or not it was the same bear, but I’m confident it had to be.
On the four-mile descent we happened upon numerous overlooks, including the impressive 96-foot Overall Run Waterfall, but the views weren’t as cool as seeing the bear. At least, that was my opinion. We eventually returned to the path along the creek and hiked until it emptied into a large pool atop a small waterfall. I was quite warm so decided to slide into the cold mountain water. My body temperature plummeted, or so it seemed. As I stood there, small trout pinged off my toes. A dozen other hot, sweaty hikers paraded into the site, so I decided to leap frog downstream to another cold pool. However, I couldn’t stay long, we had more exploring to do.
We arrived at the Old Rag parking lot shortly after 4:00 p.m. and frantically began fashioning our packs, because we’d taken nearly everything out of the packs to day hike the Overall Run loop. The sun was beating down mercilessly in the parking lot and I found it strangely hard to concentrate while packing, insomuch that I almost moved my car to shadier spot. I’ve done a lot of hiking in the Shenandoah during the past 10 years, but for some reason I had never done the most popular one, Old Rag. Perhaps that was why, but I think it largely had to do with the fact that it was typically done as a long day hike and I’d have to wake up, and get there, very early. In any case, here we were and I was excited to get started. As we walked the nearly mile up the road it takes to get to the trailhead, we passed throngs of red flushed faces parading down the road back to their respective cars. Some gave a smug look that suggested, “I already DID the hike.” Although the climb to our campsite was only three miles, the going was slow, because the Ridge Trail is entirely uphill and contains nine switchbacks. I was waiting for the contour lines on the topo map I had to widen; a sure sign that there was flat ground ahead, but we continue to march up and up and up. Eventually, we stumbled upon flat ground and began to set up camp for the night. Once the tent was built we made our way over to a large, whale-sized rock, which overlooked the trail, and prepared our dinner. There were no streams on the mountain, so I had lugged up three liters of water (in addition to the two large Nalgene bottles I’d carried) for cooking dehydrated meals and resupply. But it wasn’t water I wanted right now. I cracked open a PBR. Then I cracked open another and began to take in the evening air. Coming up the trail below me was old Petey Towpath and his girlfriend, Veronica. Before he even got to the campsite, Petey was bragging about the two bears he’d seen a mile or so back down the trail, plus a third bear he’d seen earlier in the day. I cursed his name under my breath, jealous – enraged – he’d seen more bears today than I had. I thought about lying, and telling him I’d seen four bears, but what would be the point? After they got settled, Towpath and his lady joined Katie on the whale rock as we ate our meals. We were surrounded by giant maple tree trunks that resembled brontosaurus legs. I sipped whiskey and waited for the sun to set; we’d been up early and on our feet for most of the day, so my eyelids were heavy.
When I woke the next morning, shortly after 6 o’clock, I was pleasantly surprised to see two does traipsing through our site. I was even more surprised that I slept through the night, as I never sleep well when I camp. The wind was howling way above our heads, as we crept from our bags, and we thought the maple trees, that appeared be a thousand feet high, would come crashing down on around our tents. But, they didn’t. I indulged in some hot coffee and began to slowly strike camp. By 7:37, Katie and I had our packs on our backs and were pressing onward – up to the summit of Old Rag. Petey and company would follow a short while later. Within 10 minutes Katie and I had reached the infamous Rock Scramble. It’s a challenging set of obstacles on a normal day, but carrying packs with sleeping bags and pads made negotiating the scramble all the more difficult. Our center of balance was completely off and I feared we’d tumble off the rocks into the dark forest a million feet below.


At times, we had to hand carry our packs up some ledges, but, ever so slowly, we grinded up and ahead. All told, the scramble took about an hour and a half. The views at the top were predictable awesome, but a cool wind was icing on the cake. During the five plus mile descent to the parking lot, we stumbled into additional deer as well as two eastern rat snakes, black as ink -- one of which was about four feet long and gave us a show by climbing out on a branch. Aside from the aforementioned encounters, the walk was fairly uneventful and I dreamed of coming back here sometime to run the fire road, because its grade is quite manageable.



By weekend’s end, we’d hiked about 18 miles -- much of it either up or down. I was quite content, because I’d done a couple lackluster hikes earlier in the year, so it was great to get in a hike with bears, snakes, views, waterfalls and cold mountain pools


.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Trip Report: The Everglades


Because I'd never been there, and because the winter months are apparently the most opportune time to visit, I decided to explore the Everglades last week. I am in between jobs, and had a few days off of work, so it was a chance to decompress and re-charge the batteries. The plan was somewhat simple - fly to Miami, rent a car, drive south to the Everglades, spend two nights in the bush, then head northwest and visit my 'rents, who snowbird in Venice, for a couple of nights.

Due to the inclement winter weather in Maryland, my plane arrived in Miami about 90-minutes late. My schedule was already fairly tight, but it became even more crunched when I wasn't able to find a fuel canister (for my stove) at Walmart. I took my chances, and drove into the park without one, hoping I'd find one at the marina store near Flamingo Visitor Center on the southeastern edge of the park. Unfortunately, the small shop also didn't have the type of fuel canister I needed (frustratingly they had others). It was getting late and, much to my chagrin, many of the trails I was going to trek down were buried under a soupy black muck. Backcountry camping seemed to be a lost cause. In addition, mosquitos were everywhere, so I decided it would be best to grab a sandwich from the only restaurant within 100 miles and car camp for the night. Before doing so, I found a path to Bear Lake that wasn't muddy and decided to embark on a 1-hour hike just prior to dust. Big mistake. The mosquitos were absolutely relentless. I had to keep up a brisk sub-12-15:00 per mile cadence or I would be eaten alive. Stopping to re-tie my boot nearly cost me my life. Dejected, after just 3 miles of walking, I limped back to my tent, which was being guarded by a half dozen vultures. Nearby, an owl hooty-hooed. I crawled into my bag, to escape the bugs, but it was far too warm. Despite my best efforts, the 'squitos continued to invade my mesh tent. I spent hours unapologetically swatting them down, only to need to leave the tent for some reason or another and invite another dozen back in. This vicious cycle continued and, unfortunately, I would continue to be bitten throughout the night. Thoughts of the Zika virus danced through my head.

On Tuesday, I awoke well before dawn, struck camp, and was on the road by 6:30. I was happy to get away from the bugs, which were STILL out; I was bitten another dozen, or so, times before I got into my car. I made a few stops along the way (thankfully, K-Mart had the fuel canister I needed!) and was at the western entrance to the park (Everglades City/Gulf Coast Visitor's Center) by 11:00. I inquired with the Park Ranger which backcountry camp spots were still available. The good-natured man on the other side of the table informed me that Tiger Key, some 9 miles away by boat, was open. Without thinking much about it, I told him I'd take it. I paid the fee, then walked to the neighboring concessionaire and rented a kayak for two days (about $85). After a brief lunch, I stashed away my supplies and goods in dry bags and slipped my kayak into the sea. It took me about 30 minutes to negotiate the chop in Chokoloskee Bay, but eventually I found my way to the channel markers (see dashed lines in chart below) in the mangroves that make up the Ten Thousand Islands.


It was fun to silently slip past the various birds and critters that makes this place home - at one point either a sea turtle, manatee or possibly gator, poked its nose off my starboard side (those I asked on shore had conflicting ideas as to what I saw). Amazingly, the waters here are incredibly shallow. Although it's hard to see the bottom, I doubt I was ever over my head. After about 2 hours of non-stop paddling, I stopped off at one of these small islands (or keys) to get my bearing and ensure I was in fact heading in the right direction. I confirmed that I was on course, slurped down some Gatorade and proceeded southwest towards the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, after another 30-45 minutes of paddling, my kayak pointed out towards the open ocean. I was free of the mangroves...at least for now. I pivoted the kayak northwest and slowly inched through the chop towards Tiger Key, about 2-3 miles away. The "open ocean" surf beat on the kayak and soaked me through, but after another 30 minutes I spied what I surmised was my personal desert isle ahead. The waves continue to pummel my small ship and my arms were understandable sore when I finally made landfall, after nearly 3 hours of nonstop paddling.


Aside from neighbors on a neighboring island, it appeared as if I had the entire Ten Thousands Islands to myself - I was my very own "Castaway" (sans Wilson). The views were pretty fantastic and, much to my delight, there were few bugs. I quickly set up my tent on a small patch of sand protected by mangroves (in case the wind picked up), then began gathering up dry wood for an eventual fire.


For the rest of the evening, I relaxed, read and tended to the fire, all while nursing a flask of Jack Daniels. Life was good.


The next morning, I was kayaking back to civilization even before the sun rose on the eastern horizon. Paddling had definitely "worked" my hands and arms the day before and my body ached and shivered when I resumed the position and began doing more of the same. Still, I was able to make the 9-mile trek back to shore in about 2 hours. En route "home" I spied a dolphin and another gator/manatee/sea turtle nose as well as the usual menagerie of birds.

All and all, the kayak camp trip into the 'glades was definitely a "top 5" backcountry experience for me (rim to rim Grand Canyon, The Bob, The Subway in Zion are a few others that come to mind), because it was something I wouldn't normally do (i.e. - it was outside my comfort zone). If I ever go back, I'd try and do a multi-night kayak trek on the east side, assuming there is a month to tackle such a trip without fear of mosquito-induced diseases.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hanging up the flats & spikes


This decision is long in coming, as I have essentially have been tapering off for the past 12-18 months, or so, but I’ve decided to officially hang up the spikes and the flats and end my competitive running career. I say “competitive running career” with a bit of a chuckle, because it’s been over 2 years since I last set a personal best. In addition, I don’t think I’ve had a very good race in well over a year. I've had some fine efforts, but nothing to really write home about. However, PRs and performances aside, I just don’t seem to have that fire anymore and this is the main reason for my decision. I get the fact that I am getting older, and slower, and I’m fine with that (not really, but you get what I mean), but what I can’t force is that fire. It’s funny, because I’ve been healthy, and running consistently all summer long, but I have had trouble attempting to nail down a race schedule. I guess “trouble” isn’t the right word, because the harder I tried to think about a schedule, the more I decided I didn’t even want a schedule. A schedule meant getting back into serious shape, hammering workouts, doing the hard training and waking up early on the weekends to race. For some reason, for the first time since I was 14 years old, I simply wasn’t interested in going through those motions. Admittedly, it was a little strange. At first I thought there might be something wrong with me, and that this could be a passing phase. Someone even suggested that as we get older our hormones adjust and it’s natural for one to lose that “fire” that’s omnipresent during our youth. I’m not sure whether there is any truth to that, but it seems somewhat logical.

In any case, what this all means is that I’ll continue to run, just not nearly as much, but I won’t workout (unless I’m helping someone else during a long run) nor will I race, aside from the occasional Turkey Trot or Fun Run. I’ll aim to run 3 times during the work week and then on both Saturday and Sunday, because it gives me a chance to run in different places (i.e. – not outside my front door). I’ll also continue to run a weekly long run, when desirable, because it will keep me in shape, and because I've always enjoyed the long run. However, I can easily see myself not running during the weekend if there is something else that comes up. Perhaps, I will give it another go when I turn 40, in 4.5 years, but the fire will dictate whether I go that route or not. Until then, I will run for fun, because, truthfully, I do enjoy it.

Without trying to sound dramatic, I believe I’ve had a good run (pun intended), which is why this decision is easy for me. I graduated college in 2002 with PRs of 15:30, 32:45 and 25:30 (xc 8k). From 2002 to 2006, I continued to run, and race occasionally, but I rarely did workouts and, as a result, my race times were dismal (16:00 5ks, 27:00 8ks etc). In 2006, I decided to run the Army Ten Miler; a challenge, which required me to do some hard training. During that time, I began to run more with a number of similarly-minded post-collegiate runners who had coagulated on the towpath in Georgetown and in the trails of Rock Creek. Army went far better than I expected (53:20) and, shortly thereafter, I began to train with the Georgetown Running Company in earnest. The following spring, I shaved another 30 seconds off of my 10-mile time, and began to set PRs in races as short at 3k. It was basically rinse and repeat for the next 3 years. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to improve like that, and it was actually a lot of fun, because I had some great people to train with. I credit the team 100% with my improvement. Overall, I’m content with my career, though I do lament that I never ran a very good marathon (I started 3, finished 2). I also wish I had raced a fast half marathon while I was in top shape, but, for some reason, the timing never worked out. Aside from that, my personal bests seem to line up fairly evenly. Silly times over various distances aside, I made great friends (on the team), had great rivalries (off the team), and, at the end of the day, that’s what made racing (and training) so enjoyable for me. The team has grown, almost exponentially, over the past (nearly!) 10 years and I’ve had a chance to run and race with some incredibly talented and dedicated athletes. I won’t name everyone here, but I’d be careless to not give a shout out to the following folks who have positively influenced my competitive running over the past decade:

Patrick Reaves – one of the grittiest runners, and hardest workers, I know. Nary did he make me work in workouts and long runs.

Jason Dwyer – along with Reaves, Jason helped me get back into the weekly workout routine and was a constant during weekly long runs and fun runs.

Patrick Murphy - Boston in 2008 would have been a lot different had Patrick not been there. A friend, and another constant during weekend runs, he took the reins in 2010 and shepherded GRC from a local running team to an “official” club, now known on a national level.

Chris Bain – I thank Chris for teaching me about the marathon (sometimes without ever speaking!). Specifically, he taught me that strength and experience always wins the day. The marathon ain’t over until it’s over. 

Dirk de Heer – the "Beastman" and one of the greatest racers I’ve ever trained with. He might not have always been in top shape when he went to the line for GRC, but he was always able to give 100% when he raced. He was also great at working out – once dragging me to a 4-mile PR during a tempo run on cold, icy Beach Drive in the middle of Snowpacalypse. It’s impossible not to improve when you have talent like that around you.

Karl Dusen – while we were both training, because of his close proximity to where he lived, I probably ran more miles with Karl than anyone on the team. On paper, he was one of the best runners on the team and, as a result, a wealth of information. And, he was a hell of a training partner.

Dickson Mercer – similarly minded, I’m thankful Dix drove out to Middle of Nowhere, Maryland on numerous occasions to get in the hard training. Never a bad long run with Dickson and a great buddy off the roads as well. I believe he still owes me a Guinness, though.

Jerry Greenlaw – because of our mutual love for the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, Outlaw and I found ourselves on similar training plans each spring. We humbled each other on numerous occasions, at numerous workouts, but he always had a knack to make Hains Point hurt.

Sam Luff – in a way, Luff helped fill the vacuum, both in talent and daily training, left by Karl. Although we were never in great shape at the same time, we did have a bit of overlap. Chasing Sam around the track and course pulled me out of my post-injury rut back in 2011.

Bert Rodriguez – a rival runner, on a rival team, Bert eventually became a good friend, but, he was a rival first, and a hell of a competitor at that. It was great to have someone to race against (but also race with) so often and having that someone was a driving force behind my improvement each year.

Coach Jerry Alexander – there are, and always have been, far more talented people on the team than me, but Jerry always gave me his full attention, which leads me to believe he gives EVERYONE his full attention. My one regret is that he didn’t get involved with the team sooner, or that I stayed competitive longer, because I never felt as if I truly absorbed all of the tutelage from him that I could have.

There are countless others who positively influenced my running during the past 10 years, too. Too many.

I realize this post is sounding a bit too emo, and admittedly maybe it is, but this blog, The Red Fox, was started to chronicle my training and report on racing, and I’d be remiss to not post about this decision here. And, I can’t post about this decision without thanking those who helped me get here. I’ll still post on the blog, from time to time, about new places I’ve run, overnight hikes, and perhaps the occasional fun run, but I won’t do weekly updates anymore (to be honest, my updates haven’t been interesting in some time). 

See you on the roads and trails…

*Sidenote - after writing this post, I ran the Parks Half Marathon, essentially as a hard long run. Katie had signed up for it months ago, so I decided to run it, too. Remarkably, she ran 1:58:11 in her first race, let alone the fact it was a half.  I am very proud of her. Though, I hope she doesn't catch the racing bug...
 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Backcountry Report: Potomac State Forest

Until last weekend, I had forgotten that Labor Day weekend was looming; it just kind of crept up on me. Last year at this time, I ventured out West to conquer Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. This year, without a big trip planned, and without and races on my schedule, I decided to head out to western Maryland to explore Potomac State Forest. Most times I venture out for a local overnight, I end up traveling to Shenandoah National Park or George Washington National Forest (2-3 hours southwest of the Beltway). On Saturday, however, I decided to trek (3+ hours northwest) to Garrett County on the border of West Virginia. The destination - The Lostland Run Trail in the Potomac State Forest.

I left Montgomery County shortly before noon on Saturday. With windows rolled down and sunroof open, I blasted music from the '60s and the '80s (literally going back and forth between 60s on 6 and 80s on 8 -- two different Serius XM channels). The drive was gorgeous and it felt as if autumn was about to pounce. I stopped just twice; once to grab a double cheeseburger, fries and coke from Burger King, and the other to drive aimlessly around the town of Cumberland for no particular reason other than to check out this particular dot on the map. After I left, I realized I should have looked for the end of the C&O Canal Towpath, just for fun. Later, I drove past Deep Creek Lake. I shuddered as I recalled running 3 x repeats up Wisp, the local ski resort's monster hill, which I did as a freshman at UMBC, 17 years ago this week (good god). I also recalled running 10 miles around the lake in 57- or 58-minutes. We raced every run and workout back in college...

I arrived at Potomac State Forest shortly after 3pm. The ranger station was closed and I didn't see a fee box, so I quietly locked up my car, heaved my pack over my shoulder and proceeded into the cool, dark woods. I felt a bit silly driving all the way out here alone to hike 8-9 miles round trip, but Katie was busy getting accustomed to the new school year and I figured there is really never a bad day/night of hiking/camping and I didn't mind a long drive on a nice day.The trail was very rocky, at times, but it was mostly easy going. The forest was oozing with moisture and the moss and vegetation reminded me somewhat of New Hampshire and Maine.


Although it was cool, it was also humid, but the thick tree cover sheltered me from the sun. Still, I found myself constantly mopping my brow. At times, the trail wandered too close to the dirt road and I caught glimpses of folks car camping in gravel parking lots. I felt foolish for not researching the trail better; I certainly didn't want to hear cars, let alone see them, on my overnight hike. I passed a couple of shallow swimming holes and a redneck, at least a 6-pack in, who had lost his kids somewhere along the creek (don't worry, they were safely seen down stream frolicking in the water). The trail ended at the North Branch (of the) Potomac River 4 miles from where I parked my car. I proceeded past the end of the trail and conversed with a middle-aged couple in the parking lot. I inquired about a camping spot, but they didn't know much about that. I looked at the ground and saw a mud-splattered Trojan wrapper. I decided I'd move on.


After taking in the views, I pivoted my body to the north and proceeded back the way I came. It occurred to me that there were no overnight camping spots. Hmmm. The options were to head to the road, make some friends and car camp, or hike back to my car...and drive back home. Or, I could simply hike off trail and make my own camp spot. I wasn't sure if this was permitted, so I wanted to find a spot where I couldn't be seen from the trail. About a mile later, I happened upon such a spot. I tucked myself behind a natural rock wall. Then I grabbed a long stick and "raked" away the smaller sticks and rocks all the while being mindful of copperheads and timber rattlers. The campsite wasn't ideal, but it wasn't bad either; I had a gin-clear gurgling stream at my feet and forest to my back.


I quickly set up my tent and moved my food and stove down to the creek. I wasn't hungry, yet, but I was thirsty. Inside my pack were two ice cold pale ales (I'd wrapped them in fleece). I quickly polished off one of the suds then took it all in.

Suddenly, upstream, a black bear sauntered down to the creek for a drink. Normally, I would have heard him (this bear expert believed it to be a 1-2 year old male, approx. 100-125lbs) approach, but the sound of the creek made that impossible. It's perhaps why he didn't hear me, too. I huddled down behind a rock and proceeded to film it with my phone. He left the creek then headed uphill. I shut off my phone. Moments later, I realized he wasn't walking away from the creek, he was walking along the creek...right towards me. I began to film again. He had no idea I was there, but it looked as if he was following his nose. Perhaps he smelled my food. I felt perfectly safe, but I didn't want to surprise him if he got too close. Then, the bruin turned to its left and it looked as if it was going to either take another drink or cross the stream, about 30-feet away, directly across from where I was crouching. I immediately jumped up from behind the rock and shouted at the bear. It, in turn, hauled ass up a hill on the other side of the crick (sic). I started on my bear bag, which comically took about 30 minutes to rig; because the woods were so thick, it was damn near impossible to find enough room to throw a rope above a tree limb. Eventually, after pulling a muscle in my stomach, I did it. Then I made dinner - dehydrated chicken and noodles and a chunk of French bread I'd hauled in from Giant - and sipped on cognac. Before it got too dark, I ventured across the creek to see if I could spy the black bear. He was long gone, but I did see signs - rocks and logs flipped over in search of grubs, and the like. I decided it was getting late, and before I got lost in the inky blackness that is night in the middle of the woods, I retired to my tent -- early. I read a chapter or two, sipping spirits as I turned each page.

I woke up numerous times that night - something that often happens when I camp - but jolted awake a quarter after 6 when I large branch came crashing down on to my tent. At first, I assumed someone had thrown something at me, but I began to realize how ridiculous that would have been -- way out here, early on a Sunday morning. Still, the commotion got my heart racing and I was up. It was still dark when I struck camp. I brewed some delicious black gold, but opted to not boil up any breakfast (oatmeal) and instead got started on the hike out. The hike out was eerily quiet, or the way a hike is supposed to be. I didn't see a soul, but I did see a barred owl placed peculiarly on a perch.

I returned to my car, applied some deodorant then doused myself in some warm water, and got in my car. It was time to go home.

On nearly every VA/MD area trek I do, I utilize Leonard D. Adkins hiking books. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TRIP REPORT - Part II: Evening of the Grizzlies…

We arrived at Glacier National Park late Thursday morning. Specifically, we had arrived at the Two Medicine Lake area of the park. Unlike Yellowstone, or Grand Teton, many of Glacier’s major entries aren’t connected by some internal highway system, instead they require a “drive in” and a “drive out”. Two Medicine Lake was simply gorgeous, but before wasting too much time staring around, we found a car camp spot, with view a view of the lake and mountains, then proceeded into the Ranger station to talk business. Like the loop I wanted to do at Grand Teton, many of the trails at Glacier were still covered in snow. Also, like Grand Teton, the camp site I had my eye on was free of snow and available to reserve, which we promptly did for the next evening. After ironing out logistics, we wandered over to the camp store, which had a little bit of everything inside…including some delicious elk sausage. I hungrily downed one of these sausages and polished it off with a raspberry soda pop. With nothing really planned for the rest of the day, we spent the afternoon canoeing around Two Medicine Lake and taking in the awesome sights.


Then we sauntered back to our campsite and brewed up some dinner. I sauntered through some of the other unused campsites and scavenged up some discarded firewood then proceeded to build the only fire of the trip. After sucking down more than my fair share of Good Medicine Imperial Red Ale (which, by the way, was ice cold), I promptly fell asleep.

We did our best to sleep in on Friday morning, because we only had 6.5 miles to hike to our campsite. I decided we should leave at 10:00am, after I’d secured another elk sausage from the store to eat for lunch somewhere along the hike. The hike to the campsite was pretty darn easy, but it was also pretty darn warm out. About 2 miles in, I noticed a flutter to my right. I quickly determined it was a grouse (more specifically, a ptarmigan), but before I could say anything the bird was up off the ground and in the air next to my chest. I stumbled backward then fell to the ground. I began to laugh, but the ptarmigan wasn’t through with me yet. I quickly got back on my feet and began to stumble backwards again on the trail, all while the small game bird hissed and cooed. I know that ptarmigans, partridge and grouse will look wounded in an attempt to draw the attention of predators away from their young, but I never knew they would go on the offensive! Dusting myself off, I watched as the mad hen disappeared into the woods. We never did see her chicks. I felt a bit foolish getting pushed around by a ptarmigan, but better a bird than a bear.

video

The next 4 miles of the hike was absolutely breathtaking, though it looked like prime grizzly country; my eyes were constantly scanning from left to right in search of bruins.


The last mile of the hike climbs a steep hill. We planned to push through and eat at our campsite, but the heat and the hills had become taxing, so we plopped down on the trail and devoured our bagged lunches. Almost immediately, bees and flies descended on us, but I think we were too hungry and hot to care. I was mad at myself for only bring one elk sausage…they were so good. Eventually, we heaved our packs back on and continued our ascent into the wilderness above. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Oldman Lake, our campground for the night. We were the first to arrive (at 1pm) so we had our pick of the 4 different campsites. We picked what we thought was the best one, then hiked a short distance to the lake to fill up on water. Interestingly, there was a common food preparation/eating area; eating at campsites was forbidden due to heavy bear activity. There was also a pit toilet. The lake was extremely cold, but I was determined to go in. Though, I ended up wussing out. While we were cooling our heals and filling up our water bottles, a trio of friends sauntered over. They said they were doing the full loop, though they didn’t look very prepared to take it on. That said, one of the young men had an “Ironman” hat on, so I didn’t want to make any unnecessary assumptions. The girl in the group cracked open a can of beer and looked across the lake. “Hey, what’s that,” she said. Immediately, I knew it must be a bear. Turning quickly to confirm for myself, I spotted a large grizzly ambling down the side of the mountain and heading towards the lake. Behind her, in tow, were two adorable cubs. It was a pretty awesome sight, to say the least. We watched from a safe distance as they swam through the cold lake water. After about 10 minutes, the trio emerged from the water and began to make their way back up the side of the mountain, though they didn’t appear to be in any rush. The cubs, which were born earlier this year, were quite small, but very active. They wrestled and played with each other in snow all while mom flipped over giant rocks looking for food - ants and stuff, I imagine. We watched the bears for about 3 hours all while bees and flies buzzed around our bodies. What was their deal! New hikers would come and go and I’d proudly point the bears out to them as if I had been the first to discover them. “If you look CLOSELY enough,” I would boast, “you can see 3 bears over there…” By now, Katie had had enough of me and my obsession with the bears and we hiked back up to our campsite and began to make dinner. Two other groups of campers had reached the campground, so I walked over to them, smiled, and told them about the bears, too. After dinner, we went back to the lake to watch the bears again. Hey, why not. One of the guys who had recently arrived at the campground had made a cooler out of rocks in the lake. Inside, were no fewer than 6 cans of beer. I licked my lips. Soon, the beer baron returned to his cache and offered me and the other couple camping at our sites some suds. Of course, I couldn’t refuse. As we watched the bears, and drank cold beer, my eyes caught something else roaming down the hill. Another bear! Actually, two more bears. It was presumably a sow with a year old bear in tow, because the “cub” was nearly as large as the adult. “That bear is enormous,” one of the onlookers said. By now, Katie was terrified. I, too, was a little nervous to be in the company of 5 grizzly bears, but thought we were safe since they were about 300-400 yards away. After documenting their interactions, I chugged the rest of my pale ale and then decided it was time to head to bed.

video

The next morning, Saturday, we woke up early and hit the trail. Luckily we weren’t harassed by any bears (or ptarmigans) along the way back. Once we arrived at the start of the trailhead, I devoured another elk sausage before we exited the Two Medicine area. Glacier, like most national parks, is enormous, but we did our best to see as much of it as we could. While traversing the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, we stopped at Logan Pass and hiked along a touristy trail complete with mountain goats and shin-deep snow. We had a late lunch – beer and a big, thick burger for me - in one of the park’s chalets. We spent the evening in Kalispell before flying out the next morning at dawn.


What an amazing trip; 3 national parks and 8 bears in 8 days. The sights we saw on the trails we hiked rivaled anything I had ever seen before.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TRIP REPORT - Part I: Into the Jaws of the Wild West

After the end of my season, nearly two months ago, I took about 5 days off from running, but have since returned, averaging about 55 to 65 miles per week. Nothing fantastic, but going through the motions all the same. I will return to “normal” blog posting shortly, but wanted to type out a trip report, of sorts, which details me and Katie’s recent trip out west – to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. There is too much to blog about in one post, so I am doing it in two parts – Grand Teton/Yellowstone and Glacier.

The adventure began like most – in a plane. After arriving in Denver last Saturday, June 20, Katie and I drove to the town of Lander, Wyoming, about 5.5 hours away. We stopped a few times, most notably at the Vedauwoo Campground, just across the border. We ambled around the giant boulders for about an hour, but soon got back on the road. We drove down long, endless highways that cut through long, endless prairies. Pronghorn antelopes abound. Once in Lander, we dined on pizza and ice cold beer at an old saloon, which once, reportedly, doubled as a brothel. After a couple of local brews, we walked back to the motel and fell fast asleep.

On Sunday, we drove 3 hours to the chic town of Jackson, just south of Grand Teton National Park. Along the way we passed a herd of buffalo and countless elk. We car camped at the Gros Ventre Campground in the southeast corner of the park. It was hot and I nearly combusted trying to catch a few Zs in the tent in the afternoon. Behind our tent a busy beaver worked continuously on his stick house. I sipped scotch out of my flask and watched…for about an hour. Later in the evening, we wandered over to a pavilion and listened to an interpretive ranger give a talk about alpine wildlife. A small, toad-like woman, who happened to be camping next to us, nagged me about leaving my alcohol stove out. She was worried about bears.

On Monday, we woke up at dawn and proceeded into Grand Teton proper. On the way, we passed two large bull moose that were casually strolling between the Gros Ventre River and the road.

video

It was a magnificent sight to see in the early morning light. About 10 minutes later, a sandy-colored red fox greeted us near the official entrance of the park. I knew it would be a good day. At 7:59am, I walked into the Backcountry Permit Office and inquired about the trail conditions. Unfortunately, the 18.5 mile loop (12 miles one day, 6.5 miles the next day) I wanted us to hike was still partly covered in snow. “You’ll need ice axes,” one of the rangers told me. “Or, at least, spikes”. We had none of that, nor did I want to make it that type of hike. Instead, we decided to trek 6.5 miles into the park, stay at the campsite next to Holly Lake that I had previously reserved, then hike the same 6.5 miles out the next day. The rangers printed out our permit and told us to mind the snowpack – it would still be thick on sections of our hike. In fact, only 1 out of the 3 backcountry campgrounds was clear of snow, he said. Knowing 6.5 miles wouldn’t take us long to hike, I decided we should start later in the day and instead spend the morning exploring the park by car. Katie obliged. During our drive, we ran into a number of cars parked along the side of the road. I immediately assumed we had hit a “bear jam” and was pleasantly surprised to see a small black bear (about 100lbs) wandering along a swamp next to the road. We watched the bear for some time, before returning to our vehicle and continuing the safari.

video

By 11am, we had already seen a beaver, 2 moose, a red fox, pronghorns, elk and a black bear. But, now it was time to climb. As we got our overnight packs in order, a couple, who had returned the previous night from Holly Lake, declared it would take us “at least 5 hours” to make the 6.5 mile trek. I looked at my watch – 1:00pm – then gulped. I assumed it would take 3.5 hours. Not long after, Katie and I, with bear spray on my hip, were on our way into the backcountry. The scenery was beautiful and the climb was manageable. About two thirds of the way up, we came face-to-face with a young bull moose.


He was casually making his way down the trail, eating along the way. I was surprised to see a moose so high up the mountain, but, then again, I’m not a moose and don’t know what they like and what they don’t. We contemplated moving off the trail and around him, but, because we were already downhill, moving around him, would actually be moving towards him in a way. Eventually, the moose went one way and we went the other. This was a good thing, because moose, arguably, can be more dangerous than bear in the backcountry. With about a mile to go, we ran into the snow.


Although it was quite warm outside, the snow was still deep and the footsteps on top of it were encrusted with a thin layer of ice. I cautiously inched forward and kicked away new footholds for Katie. This went on, off and on, for quite some time. During the ascent, we spied a number of marmots – part squirrel, part groundhog, part raccoon. I also got a quick glimpse of a pika, a small mammal that relies, and thrives, in higher elevation. In fact, they can die if they’re exposed to temperatures above 78 degrees. Just before 5pm, we finally reached the campground.


The trek up had taken us about 4 hours. Indeed, only 1 of the 3 campsites on the summit wasn’t covered in snow, but the views were amazing - we had our own glacial lake, which was being fed by melting snow and a magnificent ice cold waterfall.


I filtered some freshwater and then boiled up some Mountain House on the stove. By now, marmots were everywhere; at one point they were circling the campsite and threatening to overrun our Alamo. Before the sun dipped below the mountains, I deposited the trash and extra food in the bear box (the NPS had hauled one up years ago) and proceeded into the tent. The winds were howling something fierce and I thought it might be a cold night. I woke up just a few times to the wind, thinking it would lift the tent right out of the ground and toss it into the heavens, kinda like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz.

We woke early on Tuesday and proceeded down the mountain. Making our way down the snow bridge was far more perilous than going up it. Still, we made it down in about 3 hours then we got in our car and bombed our way north into Yellowstone National Park. Before receiving our next permit, we were forced to watch a safety video in one of the backcountry permit offices. That, plus a long line of patrons, threw us off schedule to a degree. By the time we arrived at Old Faithful, we were starving. However, there were billions of tourists, mouths agape, wandering about. Pushing through them as best we could, we finally found a parking spot (it was like the mall on Christmas Eve) then ordered a few simply items from the grill. We hurriedly ate them then waddled over to the hot springs and pools, watched Old Faithful erupt, then hurried back to our cars to begin the long drive to Hellroaring Creek, located in the northern section of the park. Having made this trip through the park before, I was determined to not rush it, because the sites and vistas, namely Hayden Valley, are truly awe-inspiring. Along the way, we passed dozens of bison, herds of elk and another black bear. Although I didn’t want to rush, we agreed we should get to the trailhead by 5:00pm, which soon became 5:30pm, which eventually became 7:30pm. A red fox greeted us at the trailhead, but there wasn’t much time for formalities, and we were soon on our way. As we departed, a group of young adults emerged and they were covered in mosquito bites. “We forgot bug spray,” the woman lamented. I doused myself in 1000% deet then powered ahead.


It was truly an amazing hike, more so, because we trekked through the golden prairie at dusk. It’s one thing to drive past bison and antelope, but it’s another thing to hike alongside them in the waning light of day. Unfortunately, my mileage was off and our assigned campsite was, in fact, a couple extra miles down the trail…and this was after we had already hiked an extra mile or so. It was getting dark and the mosquitos were relentless (despite the dope and deet). We backtracked to another campsite, which was assigned to another group of campers. We tip-toed past them and set up camp across the meadow. Then I tip-toed back to the bear hang and, using a piece of elk antler I found in the grass, tossed my rope around the cable and hoisted our bags (filled with foodstuffs). We collapsed in our tents too tired (and not really hungry) to eat. Despite bathing in bug spray, I still had about 2 dozen bite marks on my back.
 
 
On Wednesday, we woke up around 5:30am and, shortly thereafter, backtracked to our car. The other campers never even knew we were there. We cleaned ourselves up at one of the many general stores they seem to have here and proceeded to explore more of the park, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. On our way north, we came across yet another black bear, the third of the trip. Soon, Yellowstone was behind us and we were on our way to Glacier.

Next post: TRIP REPORT - Part II: Evening of the Grizzlies...

DEVELOPING...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Race Report: Broad Street Run (10 Miler)


I took Monday off and ran an easy 9 on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday, I hit the track for some 3 x mile action (3:00 rest). The plan was to run 5:05, 4:55, 4:45, but I ended up running a tad faster than that - 5:00, 4:53, 4:43. My stomach felt fine and I went into the weekend with a bit more confidence. 8 miles.

On Thursday, I ran an easy 8 miles in the morning.

On Friday, I turned 35 years old. Also, I took the day off.

On Saturday, I ran a very easy 4.5 miles in North Bethesda. At noon, Katie and I drove to Philly, scooped up my race packet, then  headed off to North Whales, which is where we spent the night.

I didn't have a great night's sleep, but I woke up without issue at 5:15am then proceeded to down coffee and oatmeal. Katie dropped me off near the starting line around 6:35 and then I wandered over to the elite/seeded runner tent. After a 2-mile warm, which consisted of jumping over dead rats, broken glass bottles and an assortment of other trash, I found my way back to the tent and started shedding the layers.

I started on the left-hand side of the road, and had one of the lanes entirely to myself as the throngs of people began to make their way down Broad Street. The pace didn't feel quick, but I knew it was and I did my best to reel things back. There was about 2-3 runners vying for the lead and then a huge pack of what looked like two dozen runners in their wake. I found myself drifting off this pack knowing that the chase pack would hit the mile in 5:00. I teamed up with a taller runner from New Jersey. In fact, we ran so close to one another that our arms clipped each other a few times. He apologized and quipped that he had the entire road to run on, but instead was running into me. Never one to talk very much, I offered a "no worries" and a "half laugh" of sorts as a response. We hit the first mile in a tick under 5:10 (5:07 on my GPS, which is what I'll use throughout this post) and I felt quite good. The sun was blazing, but the temperature was cool. There was little, if any, wind. Together, the tall boy from Jersey and I ever so slowly crept up on the chase pack. Our second mile was noticeably faster (5:02), but, truthfully, I was trying to run by feel and simply stay competitive. Also, I wasn't looking at splits. By mile 3 (5:08), Jersey and I were in about 22nd or 24th place. We had passed a couple guys since the start, but no one had come up on us. Jersey would occasionally "raise the roof" with his arms when we passed a band playing the "Rocky" theme. Then he would surge. Like Apollo Creed, I slowly came back on him. He and I traded the lead a handful of times, which was great, because it really keeping me motivated and on my toes.

City Hall, which marks the symbolic halfway point, loomed ahead. I hit mile 5 (4th in 5:12, then a 5:10) a tick below 25:40, which was about 10-seconds faster than my pre-race plan. Jersey and I had caught another, shorter, runner, but this guy was much harder to shake. In the past, I'd expended too much energy running around City Hall, so this time I let Jersey and Shorty do the work. I took a quick glance at my GPS and it indicated I was running 5:04 pace, but, for some reason, I slowed down considerably before I hit mile 6 (5:28).  Jersey and Shorty slowly pulled away, but I quickly caught another runner so I knew I wasn't entirely caving to the pressure. I'd be lying if I said that the next couple of miles weren't rough, but unlike Cherry Blossom, in which I essentially capitulated to the pain, and much more so than Pikes Peek, I dug down deep and grinded ahead determined to not wuss out. Looking at my splits after the race, it was obviously I was slowing down, considerably, but I was still pressing ahead and gaining ground on my competition and, despite the pain and suffering I was experiencing, I still felt like I was making good time. By mile 7 (5:20), I had convinced myself that I only 15:00 left to race. I continued to gain ground, but I gained it ever...ever...ever so slowly. Someone at mile 8 (5:22) barked out that I was in 20th place. Just a stride or two ahead of me was 19th, which I soon caught. Mile 9 was just awful (5:25), but I set my sights on two more targets. I caught one of them at 9.5 miles and then made an all out assault on Shorty, the runner who stubbornly refused to fold 4 miles earlier. Enraged, like a wild fox with mange, I grinded after him. With 600m, or so, to go, Shorty took a look back. That's all I needed. I caught the young man with about 150m to go, but then he passed me back. We were both spent, but I saw him slack in his cadence, so I took one last lunge and passed him with only inched to spare. My time was a dismal 52:25 (5:16), but, as the aforementioned race report might suggest, I never gave up, which is something I've been trying to work on in races as of late, and I felt like I ran tough and competitive throughout. My time was also my fast 10-mile time in two years. Yes, I went out a little too fast, but I was really hoping to run sub-52 and thought I even had a 51:40, or so, in me. And, although I died, I wasn't passed by anyone all race, save for Jersey who I ran with early on. He later went on to record a sub-52:00 effort.

I shuffled a short cool down in the Phillies' parking lot, then beat feet for Maryland, my spring 2015 race season was over.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Race Report: Pike's Peek 10k (31:51) & the Weekly Wrap-up

 
 
PHOTO C/O CHERYL YOUNG

On Monday, I ran a very easy 7 on the Rachel Carson Greenway/Northwest Branch Trail in Silver Spring. It was pretty muddy and, in turn, slick, and I collected about 349 gnats and other small bugs on my sternum, in my eyes and up my nose. But, hey, at least the scenery was nice. 

I ran a very easy 8 miles on Tuesday morning. Starting to feel good again.

On Wednesday, I decided to not run in the morning, but met the team at B-CC for a workout that evening: 4 x 800m (3:00 rest) - 2:23, 2:22, 2:20, 2:18; 4 x 400m (2:00 rest) - 66, 65, 64, 63. The 63 might have been the fastest 400m split I've run in a couple years. It was the perfect workout for me and I felt very happy with this effort, though my stomach was killing me after the race as it does often after hard/fast workouts. In fact, it still hurt well into the next morning so I decided to take Thursday off (was going to take Friday off already). 9 miles for the day.
 
On Friday, I ran a moderately paced 9 miles in Cabin John/Cell Phone Field. I felt very good.

On Saturday, I ran a very easy 45 minutes with Tex, Luff and Blur from Old Angler's Inn. It was flat, slow, soft and easy...just the way I like it (when running a day prior to a race). I did 4 x strides then ate an egg sandwich.

On Sunday, I awoke at 5:40, took a quick hot shower, downed some oatmeal and slurped down some black gold. Less than an hour later, Blur was at my doorstep with his automobile. From there we proceeded to chug up Rockville Pike for the always-fast Pike's Peek 10k. The starting line (and staging ground) was shifted about a 1/2 mile further away than it had been from past years, which, admittedly, threw a little bit of a wrench in our warm-up, bag drop and bathroom plans. As a result, I ran a 4 mile warm-up, but never had time for strides. Naturally, this was my own fault.

 
The word "Go" was barked into the microphone and the 3,000, or so, runners in the race began to lean forward. I was tucked away on the far left side of the line and had a great start, but didn't want to get too carried away so I eased up a bit. As we ascended the large hill (really, the only hill in the race), our paced seemed to crawl. I took a quick glance at the GPS, which read 5:33, so I realized I wasn't running too hard. Still, no one really wanted to take the lead. There were dozens of us bunched up, but by the time we crested the hill, and then made the left onto Rockville Pike, runners seemed to be dialing into their respective paces. I found myself in about 10th, which surprised me since I think 18th (or maybe even low 20s) was the best I'd ever placed here before. I kept thinking a huge pack would come and swallow me up. I took another quick glance at the GPS to get a sense of the pace and this time it read 5:22, so, again, we weren't really rolling. I settled in and found company, once again for the 3rd time this racing season, with Carlos Renjifo. I edged Carlos at Shamrock in mid-March, but he crushed me at Cherry Blossom. A 10k, it seemed, would be good middle ground. We hit the first mile in 5:06 (These are my GPS splits, which I looked at after the race. The clock times were, in fact, a few ticks faster than my GPS splits, for what it's worth). I felt very good and the pace seemed to feel "right". Together we caught Conrad Laskowski and continued to run a similar pace for the next 2 miles (5:05 then 5:04). Ahead of us, I could see Luke Meyer battling a trio or runners in the lead pack. There was a straggler trying to hold onto to the pack, but he was clearly coming back to the masses. Chris Sloane was well off the lead pack battling no one in particular in no-man's-land. Carlos and I kept trading the lead, but I could tell we were slowing down, so I made something of a surge right after mile marker 3. I felt very good and started to focus on the runner who was coming back to us. The long uphill before mile marker 4 slowed my pace a little (5:14) and, to make matters worse, I was starting to develop a side stitch. I kind of lingered in my own no-man's-land for awhile, which is strange because usually there are plenty of people to race with here. I definitely fell asleep a few times, much to my disappointment. Ahead of me, one of the runners from the lead pack was falling back...quickly. As soon as I hit mile 5 (5:11) I started to drive after him. He took a couple of quick glances behind him, but when I passed him it was decisive as we were running two very different paces. I felt like I was rolling, but really I was only running 5:10 pace, which I continued to the end. I crossed the finish line in 6th with a time of 31:51. This is without a doubt the slowest time I've run here, but it's clearly a different course - instead of a downhill last 1/4 mile there is an uphill 1/3rd mile at the start. My thinking was that it was 20-25 seconds slower than the old course, but it's still super fast and a great race all around. I'm definitely pleased with the race and think I competed well amongst my running peers. Most importantly my legs don't feel very beat up at all (after Cherry Blossom, they were a mess), which, hopefully, bodes well going into Broad Street next Sunday.

13.5 for the day. Just 53.5 for the week. The taper is in full effect.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bluebells


My legs felt like hamburger on Monday; just beat up all the way around. That evening, I jogged and limped my way around Rock Creek Park. Downhills were especially painful. Not wanting to be a hero, I stopped short of my goal and only ran 7.5 miles. The only thing pleasant about the run was the fact that the smells, sounds and sights this time of year are just amazing. It's so nice to simply be outside.

On Tuesday morning, my legs, once again, felt heavy. I grinded out an easy 8.5 miles. It wasn't pretty. I picked up a box turtle that was crossing the trail in front of me. It must be that time of year...

By Wednesday, I was feeling better. I ran 9.5 miles around Cabin John. Although I wasn't as sore, I'm starting to get this stale feeling in my legs. I gotta to get in something quick soon, but first I got get back to feeling good.

I ran 8.5 miles on both Thursday and Friday never really feeling very hot. Again, just getting it in and trying to get through the sluggishness.

On Saturday, I ran an easy 10 miles, most of which was with Scott Koonce. A 50 year old woman tried to pick me up as she apparently had a thing for scrawny, shirtless red-heads. The weather was essentially perfect.

On Sunday, I met old Karl Dusen at Difficult Run. We ran to Great Falls, which was packed with people on yet another gorgeous day. The bluebells were out, to boot. After 10+ miles, I "dropped off" Karl back at the parking lot, then I proceeded to get in another out-and-back 5 miles going the other way. I rarely run this way, but hadn't rained in awhile and I knew the usually pockmarked trail would be dry. It was quite pleasant.

67.5 for the week, but no workouts. I am hoping to get something confidence-boosting and fast in on Wednesday. This coming weekend is the Pike's Peek 10k.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Walloped


PHOTO - Yuchen Nie

A few days ago, I received a text message from Bert Rodriguez, my once arch nemesis in all things life, but especially in running (in the DC-area). He asked if I was ready for Cherry Blossom. It was a simple question, which normally would have required a straightforward answer, but his inquiry made me think - was I ready? Yes, most certainly, I thought. In thinking about it more, I felt as if I was in my best 10-mile race shape since 2010. I'd put in some miles, not a ton, but more than I had in the last 2 years, I was running well in workouts, I was healthy and, because of all of that, I was feeling confident. But, there is always an act of randomness in racing - will you run well on race day? Will the stars align? Will you be tough enough to run through the pain? Time would tell.

On Monday, I ran an easy 9+ around Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA. Apparently this 3.3-mile loop is a go-to for those who live in the area. I randomly bumped into Tim, who I had raced on Saturday. He was running the opposite direction, but I joined him for a few miles of slow running.

On Tuesday, I ran an easy 7 in Arcadia. I did my best to avoid hills, but hills here are unavoidable. Later in the day, I flew back to DC.

On Wednesday, now in taper mode, I ran an easy 7 in North Bethesda.

On Thursday morning I ran my standard pre-10 mile workout: 2 (or 2.5 miles) at race pace. Unfortunately, my GPS died and I was forced to run by feel on the Rock Creek Trail. In the end, I am confident I ran much slower than my intended pace (5:10s), but the effort was there, I suppose, as I had to negotiate around muddy puddles. 8.5 miles total.

I took Friday off in an effort to get extra rest.

On Saturday I ran an easy 30 minutes in preparation for the big race.

My goal going into Cherry Blossom was to run 5:10s, or 51:40, but possibly a little faster. Of course, if there was a pack of dudes running 5:07s, or whatever, I was going to go with them. I thought I could handle this pace for 8 miles, but holding it for 10 might be a different story.

The 2015 edition of the race would be my 7th Cherry Blossom:

2013 10M Klim Jake M 32 0:52:25 5:15 17/7215 M3034 3/1455 North Bethesda, MD
2012 10M Klim Jake M 31 0:52:32 5:16 24/7195 M3034 6/1490 North Bethesda, MD
2010 10M Klim Jake M 29 0:50:56 5:06 22/6910 M2529 9/1475 North Bethesda, MD
2011 Did not run - recovery from injury
2009 10M Klim Jake M 28 0:51:29 5:09 26/6652 M2529 14/1420 North Bethesda, MD
2008 10M Klim Jake M 27 0:52:37 5:16 23/5904 M2529 13/1150 North Bethesda, MD
2007 10M Klim Jake M 26 0:52:53 5:17 34/5217 M2529 11/919 North Bethesda, MD

At the end of my warm-up on race day, just before 7:00am, I heard an announcement over the PA system, which gave me pause: race officials were altering the course due to a "crime scene" that had occurred early in the morning near the Tidal Basin. The new course, which would be 9.5 miles, or so, meant times today were out the window. Although this news was unfortunate, I must say that the event organizers did an amazing job rolling with the punches.


PHOTO - Cheryl Hendry Young

 
I got a good start and found myself in Jerry Outlaw's wake. The pace felt quick, so I dialed it back a bit. By the time I hit mile 1 (5:08 on the GPS), packs were beginning to form. I found myself dueling, once again, with Howard County's Carlos Renjifo and Andrew Madison (see photo immediately above). Madison asked what my goal was. I told him. It seemed like we would all be working together. Charlie Ban was there, too. We hit mile 2 in 5:19, which was right on pace. As our pack worked its way towards the Watergate it was clear that I was hurting more than I should so early in the race. Although we weren't running too fast, I was laboring and my right glute was burning (like it did in last weekend's 5k). It was distracting, but hey, it's Cherry Blossom, so I suppressed it as best I could. I ran 5:11 and 5:12 for the next 2 miles, but I wasn't paying attention to splits at the time; I was just trying to hang on. Paul Balmer, Renjifo and a runner from CAR took command of the pack as we looped over to Hains Point. I heard Coach Jerry and Sam yelling at me to stay with the pack.  By now, my legs were achy and negative thoughts were running through my head. I was doing my best to hold on to their coattails, but they pulled away ever so slowly. To add to the disaster unfolding before me, I now had a side stitch. A quick glance at the GPS indicated I was running mid-5:20 pace. I was dying a slow death on the Point. Part of me wanted to give up, but part of me wanted to keep fighting as team money was on the line. Madison came storming past me at mile 8 and a duo of PR guys, including masters superstar Philippe Rolly (photo below), came up on me at mile marker 9. I ran with them until we caught back up to Madison, but then the race was in its final strides and I was completely beat (see photo at top).

I finished 26th. Although as of Monday morning the actual race distance is still in question, it's clear I ran downright terrible. But, sometimes it takes a bad race to put things in perspective and sometimes you need a bad race to run a good race (I think? Or, at least, I hope). I still have two more races planned for the spring season, but, man, I really love Cherry Blossom and it pains me to no end to not race well here.

Later in the day I drank cold beers in the warm sun and did my best to forget about the race. Then I slept 10 hours. Onward.

 
PHOTO - Cheryl Hendry Young