Current Training Status: not blogging... running.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wapack Trail Race

That's right, yet another race on the Wapack Trail. Sunday, we start at the Windblown X-C Ski Area and do an out and back to the Ashburnham trailhead. This is the tougher section of the trail, over New Ipswich's steep hills. As last tempo run before Pisgah, it is a quite a bit hillier but a very good workout. I feel I should run this fast, as the distance is well within my range. On this course, fast would be 3:30:00 and a decent run through bonk or other issues in 4 hours. Knowing the terrain now, the hills are very steep, but there is a nice section to stretch your legs on past Binney Pond, at mile 4, and a long downhill making for a faster return to Binney from mile 11. 
I am psyched to return to this trail after the first pass in May. There is quite a season of running in between which includes some of the toughest races shorter than a marathon in this area. Ed and I covered a longer distance with almost as much climbing last weekend on the M+M, at about an 11:00 pace.  That involved slower terrain than Wapack offers, so maybe I can surprise myself and break 12:00 per mile.  He and I also ran Ecarpment, which is only a little longer but twice the climbing, and that took 4:30:00.  It is very hard to gauge these things analytically, but I feel breaking 4 should be easy.  I'll be wearing my new 30 lap Timex, maybe some exact split times might aid my judgement.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

M+M athon Trail Report

In 2006 with a camera in my pocket, I set out to hunt the aftermath of a forest fire in hills behind Ashley Reservoir. Expecting to get some exciting pictures and video, I also discovered trailrunning. I'd return again and again to document re-growth after the fire and map my way along longer and longer trail runs. I soon discovered the white blazed M+M trail. Learning that it followed the Ridgelines from Connecticut to Grand Monadnock Mountain in NH, I was fascinated. Not only did it pass within a few miles of my home and work, but it began in Southwick just a mile from the house I grew up in. My running and mapping activities gradually covered the distance between my childhood home and present address in Easthampton. As my mileage goals increased I began to do the math to map longer runs and made the fateful discovery. The distance between that trailhead near my childhood home and the natural barrier of the Connecticut river was just over 26 miles. 
I had found a marathon. This run would not be possible though, without support to drive end to end. This year I began casting about for people to join me. Fielding the idea around the post-race crowd at the Elks, I found others who had hiked it or ran it for various reasons of their own. My training load seemed to be able to support it this summer, and about mid-August I was ready and able to do it. Ed Buckley was interested and had run this length of trail before with another group of runners. He was familiar with the various challenges of the course, the river crossing, certain challenging and hard to access sections. He would be the only one to answer the call this time around with a definite date. The morning of August 22nd would be the day. With this established, other's interest peaked for a possible repeat later this season. It was exciting to finally have a marathon on my calendar, I almost even tapered for it.
Both Ed and I cross this course on our commutes to work and dropped water at a couple points. We met at the finish end around 9:15 and drove to the start, dropping water off at a couple more points. In hindsight we missed on opportunity to drive water in, down Cherry St. in the WMA, and it would have avoided some dehydration. With the other 4 points covered, we arrived and started shortly after 10 AM. This was a little late, and beginning earlier on this scorcher of a day would again have avoided some dehydration. The course is mostly deep in the woods, but tends to pop out on rocky escarpments after its most difficult terrain and bake you in the sun. Dehydration would figure heavily into the last stage of the run.
The first leg went smoothly. The trails were pretty simple to follow with rolling climbs up to Provin Mtn. I was treated to some recaps of past runs of the trail by Ed. Both of us managed to stay upright while crossing the Westfield river. My split coming into the parking lot at Route 20 was 1:08, which is just under 11:00 pace. Ed remarked after the River that it was just what he needed, after the stinging nettles. I didn't notice the nettles until they were burning a half mile past the river. We were soon climbing steadily on the trail again, headed toward some of the slower terrain of the M+M.
I call the bogs below Bear Hole Reservoir, 'Dagobah', they are a test of character. Luckily the water from our stormy summer has long since run off, this would have been an entirely different run 2 weeks earlier. There was a sort of jungle atmosphere, with bird calls in the stillness and moss covered forest ruin choking the ravines. Across the swamp is a daycamp, and voices of children at play would occasionally drift over. This is one of those sections of the M+M where the terrain and trail condition is very tough, and is criss-crossed by much nicer ATV trails. The whole section around Bear Hole is very overgrown and interrupted by brief briar patches. These absurd demands end abruptly at the Mass Turnpike, and the trail follows right beside the major highway traffic for a quarter mile. We came to Old Holyoke Road at Bush Notch, the next water stop, at 2:02 where we took about 10 mintues to refuel and fill up our bottles. Accounting for time refilling water, etc. we'd kept our pace below 11:00 for the first 11 miles of rolling terrain, now the hills would begin.
The trail climbs to the ridgeline from Bush Notch immediately, dips and climbs again. After two little powerhike, we were running along the rolling ridgeline. The fighters at from Barnes were in the air at a distance from us. This leg of the trail would be the most runnable terrain remaining, and we kept up a steady pace past the half-way mark towards 202. My 47:09 split for this 4 mile section includes the 5-10 minutes at the water stop, so just over 3 hours into the run we were moving at a good clip. The next section is about 5 miles and took well over an hour. Here the trail winds through the broken ridgeline across a slope of boulders, down a ravine choked with blow-downs, and up an exposed escarpment with incredible views. The rocks here reminded Ed of Massanutten. One of the blazed trees had blown down, which was enough to get me disoriented. We searched for an alternate route when I felt lost. Ed wound up heading off where I had turned back, which actually was the 'trail' after all. "The one thing Escarpment is lacking is a section like this", he says. All of that accounts for half the distance to route 141, and brings us to the Holyoke Revolver Club in the Cherry St. Wildlife Management Area (WMA). 
For future reference, a jug of water where Cherry St. dead ends at the gun club would avoid dehydration crossing that tough terrain. After all the pace changes that the terrain had forced upon us, we cambe back to a decent pace through the WMA and over the last hills of the East Mountain range. With a bone-dry bottle in hand, I hauled out the Water Jug I'd stashed behind the stone gates opposite the Whiting Reservoir entrance. We'd reached Route 141 in 1:07, about 13:30 pace. Ed took a seat and caught his breath for a while which gave me too much time to catch up on my hydration. Here I actually ran out of endurolytes, the electrolyte capsules I use. After about 20 minutes I went to top off my bottle before leaving and it was almost empty again. I'd drank about 20 oz. of water. Ed, just 20 minutes ago admitting he was getting his butt kicked, proceeded to leave me behind as we ran up 141 and kept up a very brisk pace toward Mt. Tom. I could not keep up with him at all, but gave it my best effort. About 20 feet into the more serious slope of Mt. Tom, I was brought up short by my stomach. It was evidently time to water the trail, as I puked everything I'd just drank.
The weather was really hot and it was very tough to see all that fluid just drain into the dirt. I felt better than I had, but any attempt to exert myself beyond a brisk walk left me nauseous and dizzy for the next 45 minutes or so. I was determined to get moving again though and try to finish. At the top of Mt. Tom, another call of nature left me glad I carried some TP. Ed really tried to talk me down the road. He was patient as I stubbornly refused to take that route and shuffled along. Before the water stop I had felt a bit dehydrated, and my right ear was popping when I tried to breath through my nose. This are my warning signs of trouble. At our last opportunity on the run to rest and refuel I had done more harm than good.
Sipping and Hiking across the escarpment of Mt. Tom, I felt very wiped out. The problem with my ear and nasal passage was completely obnoxious. Breathing was quite a chore and it was awhile before I could do anything resembling a 'powerhike'. At this pace we were just roasting out on the open rock of Mt. Tom's escarpment. It wasn't until we passed the cell towers on the Deadtop peak that I could run at all. I could drink again, but we faced another problem. We were taking a long time with a short water supply. I remembered the water fountain at the Notch, and this became something to focus on. I was running again, but slowly and with rests atop each major climb. About 23 miles into a tough trail run on a hot day, I had my legs under me again. There wasn't such a need to rest atop Goat Peak and Dry Knoll, but I was obviously holding Ed back. He stayed close by the entire way, until the last downhill. All told, this disastrous last 7.5 mile leg took 2:37, that's almost a 21:00 pace. Reaching Underwood Ave, I was glad it was done. I ran the sunlit areas and walked in the shade to the car.
After re-mapping this, I've logged 27 miles in 7:09. That is my longest run yet by an hour, and first Marathon distance. We climbed at least 4250' and kept up a great pace until Mt. Tom and my stomach problems. I am completely satisfied having finished the course, keeping to the M+M the whole way. A few others expressed an interest in doing this sometime in the future, and despite the tough break I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to run this course. Ed assured me that the Pisgah 50k would be a piece of cake after this run. He's done a bunch of 100's over the years, the toughest, so this comment says a lot about the difficulty of the M+M. The terrain was actually easier to cover than ever any time I've run it, and despite all the walking on Mt. Tom, I am confident in the training benefit. This run cannot be done solo, and Ed gets my sincere thanks for taking it on and having patience with me. A couple days later I'm confident that more water and drinking slowly but steadily would have completely avoided my problems. The whole thing could be done in 6 hours with no stomach issues and quicker water stops. This weekend I'll return to the Wapack Trail and expect to be able to crank up the pace a notch from my effort in May, over the 17.5 mile course, last tempo run before Pisgah on the 14th of September.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The M+M-athon is ON!

Before 9 AM we will rendevous at the finish area, the Oxbow's boat launch, and drive down to the start, dropping what supplies are necessary.  The temps will most likely start climbing soon after we start, into the 80's, from a humid but cool morning.  The skies are foercast to be clear, but we'll be well shaded for 90% of the run so that should not be an issue.  I will be looking at a possible 6 -7 hour experience here.  Late in the run, the terrain will become very slow and wear on the feet. These will be feet that crossed a river, early in the race.  This should present the major challenge, all the fueling and hydration issues should be well supplied by what we drop along the route. 
The one person who answered the call for this run with me is a seasoned ultra runner in my running club.  Everyone has their story about running with Ed.  Our last excursion together was to Escarpment, lightning and hail in the Catskills of NY.  He has run this trail before with friends of his, training for 50 - 100 mile races.  I've run each section multiple times, and will be following the white blazes of the M+M exclusively.  That should prevent a repeat of the other club member's stories, such as  20 mile runs that became 25 ...etc.  Of course, I did wind up with a serious puncture wound the last time I ran one section of this trail, so anything is possible.  Ed and I are well matched for pace and fitness right now, and we should have a great time.  The Metacomet ridgeline's views and unique geology are often breathtaking, regardless of the miles underfoot.
This is still an open event for anyone lurking out there, I have a hit counter and know there are visitors.  I was attracted to this particular run for the opportunity to accomplish a marathon distance trail run and to experience a distinct section of this historic trail in a single effort.  The M+M trial is now a national scenic trail, it has its own rich history.  This is evident when you first put your feet into that 12-18 inch singletrack trench on the ridgeline.  It has given many a runner a unique training opportuntiy to bring to other courses and competitions, the real draw is to be a part of that history.  Anyone who can meet at the Oxbow on Route 5 around 9 AM is welcome to join us.

Monday, August 11, 2008

M+M Trail Marathon, Aug 22

This is an open invitation to run a marathon distance point-to-point run on the M+M Trail. The run is mapped below on 3925' of climbing over 26.25 miles. It is most likely a bit longer and taller than that, there is the Westfield River to cross, and lots and lots of rocks. We'll run across the river at mile 6. My time expectations are to take it slow on the climbs and try to finish in 6 1/2 - 7 hours.

Rising Corner to Westfield River via Provin Mtn.
The M+M begins on the CT/MA state line, midway along Rising Corner Road in Southwick, MA. It crosses a field on a farm road, crosses a marsh on a raised walkway, and follows mixed singletrack / ATV up the ridgeline. Cross a cleared utility corridor at mile 1. Appoaching Route 57, watch the white blazes closely. There is an archery range with many cross trails, and the M+M will actually cross a residential backyard and driveway before reaching the road.
Bear left toward the main road, boulders line the entrance to a quarry where the M+M continues. The quarry gate marks mile 2. After a long rolling climb, the trail emerges on an esposed ridge before the summit and Channel 22 transmitter towers. The trail briefly follows the access road before leaving to the left, for rocky singletrack. The trail emerges from the woods on an ATV trail into a field below the Kelly Hill Reservoir. Follow the worn path and sparse blazes, keeping the retaining wall of loose rocks on your right. After re-entering the woods, a brief uphill on a stone stairway marks mile 5. The trail emerges into a junction of various cleared utility corridors and ATV trails. Follow the utility corridor to the left briefly, white blazes will take you back into the woods after 50 yards or so. Soon the trail crosses Feeding Hills Road.
Blazes along the ridgelline will lead down to the banks of the Westfield River. There is an old wooden box for a hiker's log, mounted on a tree before the river crossing. A tree with a white blaze is visible across the river. Still waters run deep.

Westfield River to Bush Notch, between the Lane Quarry and Bear Hole Reservoir
The possibilities for trail description are amazing. The Google 'Street View' function of their map service actually makes it possilble to see all the trailheads, where they leave the road. So, I've described the last section in detail. This section is riddled with details. Basically, the M+M trail here is an overgrown rabbit run through a briar patch reached by a stretch I like to call 'Dagobah'. It is blazed well, and you will stagger along from blaze to blaze as you bypass several much more runnable ATV trails. Do not run where you can't see the footing, sharp sticks can penetrate amazingly deep into your calf.

Bush Notch to Route 202 via East Mtn. Ridgeline
Spectacular views.

Route 202 to 141 via East Mountain Ridgeline and Cherry Street WMA
Sharp rocks, and lots and lots of blow-downs. 

Route 141 to Oxbow via Mt. Tom Escarpment
September 14th, I'm plannig to run the Pisgah Mtn. 50k. This M+M run would be my only marathon distance run before that Ultra. The terrain gets very slow and challenging, so there is no pressure to run fast. 15:00 average pace is reasonable, 13:00 with inspiration on the downhills. Current plans are to head out early Friday morning, August 22nd. Please post a comment or e.mail if interested or if you have any questions!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ashley Reservoir, Holyoke

I used to call this my home turf. My workplace was just around the corner and I started running here, after discovering it as a good place for a long walk. Now, I no longer work nearby and just show up on Thursdays, for the weekly 5k. That's not entirely true, I show up weekly to run both the 5k and the summit run mapped above. I miss being close by, but the reservoir is only 30 seconds from route 91 and thereby accessible from anyplace. My current part-time work is in Chicopee, at FedEx, by the Westover Air Force Base. At the end of the month, I'll be a student again at STCC, in Springfield. Maybe there is new territory to stake out in that area. I am slowly becoming used to the workload, loading FedEx trucks, and the 4AM start time. Running after work is far, far from my mind these days. 
Almost time to head out for the weekly race. I haven't run since Monday, the long run. I bonked pretty hard, but dealt with it well instead of totally crashing. Experience seems to benefit both physically and mentally in this situation. The PB&J didn't work all too well. The terrain I chose to run was much too tough, too broken up with impossible footing. Running the M+M reversed from normal was really cool, better views. Worse than the bonk and the footing was the spiders, crashing into a dozen enormous nasty webs full of dead bugs and spiders. I freaked out for the first 5-7 of them. I need a long run with sustained RUNNING now, so I'll try to get in another long one next week.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Long Mount Tom & Rock Valley M+M Loop

Long run on my day off, from the Oxbow to Rt. 202 and back, for about 22 miles and approx. 4000' of climbing. Unfortunately, the USGS isn't serving up elevations for my new routes, so no exact elevation data. I have to go buy fuel, lame. An ultra-event is officially on my schedule, Pisgah 50K, and I'm going to modify my fueling during training. Instead of this Perpetuem mix I've been using, my fuel will include FOOD! I'm stashing gels and a PB+J on the route today, possibly a banana. Escarpment went well with the perpetuem, but I also used a couple gels and appreciated how easy they were to simply slurp and go. Perpetuem, carried as a dry powder, has to be mixed and drank over a period of time. When I need calories, I want them in my belly immediately.
Also, I'm not convinced anymore by the arguments for protein on the run. What is needed by the body is a complete amino acid supply to build protein from. I was recently reminded of this by one of Tim VanOrden's videos, and plan to incorporate more these ideas into my fueling/eating strategies on long runs. He's run all the Mountain races and there are great posts detailing the courses at that youtube link. For about 6 years, I was vegetarian/vegan. The motivations were purely nutritional and based on my needs as a student getting little sleep and working long sedentary hours. These approaches benefit mostly by keeping digestion simple and efficient, a major issue in distance running.

Incidentally, Escarpment was awesome. Toughest terrain I have encountered, no contest. Half way through the 30k, we had a sudden Thunderstorm, complete with 1/4 inch hailstones, high winds, and flash flooding from the torrential downpour. Lighning struck continuously, and near enough to split your eardrums. A tree was struck yards from an aid station, the volunteers were nearly scared to death. I've been saying, it was a blast. The lightning was so close and so frightening, I just started hooting a sort of 'Yee-haw!' each time it struck to counter-act the fear. This got my adrenaline pumping and I passed several people in the last few miles. Managing my fuel well, I had plenty of energy for a darn good race in some of the worst possible circumstances.