18 February 2015

Snowshoe Races - Feb 2015

Camp Saratoga 8K - 15 Feb 2015

Today's race was a shock. First, and foremost, it was cold. Normally when you start any winter activity, a hike, a run, whatever, you want to start off a bit cold, because your body will warm up. Today, through, I found myself wishing I had worn my balaclava, and a thicker pair of socks. My toes were so cold as we waited around for the race to start that I was clenching and releasing them just to keep blood circulating. I was punching my fists together, too, for the same reason. (Sometimes being an armchair mountaineer pays off.)

The race HQ, set up inside the old International Paper Winter Lodge, was toasty, but I had already checked in and gotten my bib, and I was eager to race. So, I wandered around outside, clenching toes, punching fists, chatting a bit here and there. I ran into one of the guys I had talked with at the Coles Woods races last year, and said hello, and that I needed to keep moving to stay warm.  Then the crowd started to move down the trail, and I figured I should follow. The starting line at these smaller events isn't always obvious, so it's good to wander when the crowd does. We all wandered back to a piece of tape stretched across the trail, turned around, and danced a bit as 100-200 of our closest running buddies (by proximity) filled in the trail ahead of us. I think the race director said something, but I honestly couldn't hear anything over the people talking nearby.  Then we were off.

Despite my decision to keep it slow, I found myself penned in after a few hundred yards, and started pushing and maneuvering for position. Eventually I found myself with other runners who were keeping a similar pace, and I settled in. The first leg of the run kept fairly close to the Stryder's 5K course (aside from our makeshift starting corral), so within the first mile we had two steep fins to climb up and then drop down off of. (They feel like eskers but they're not; they're probably remnants from the lake that once sat here.) They aren't particularly high, maybe 30', but they're high enough that everyone in my cluster of runners switched to hiking on the climb.

After that I slowly lost position as we continued along the 5K course. When we got to the turnoff for the Opdahl Farm, we took it, and immediately plunged into unsteady singletrack snow. At least a hundred pairs of snowshoes had gone through ahead of me, but every step had some lateral rock in it. Normally, after a few people have broken a trail, it's solid, but here it was like it was overbroken, if such a thing is even possible.  Out on the 5K course, we were on woods roads that had been groomed for XC skiing, so I could move to the side a few inches and avoid the sloppy mess. Here, the snow on either side was deep, and would have been too taxing to break at a running pace. I kept moving as best I could.  It reminded me of running in snowshoes over boot-broken ground.  Clearly, it pays to be up front.

We looped through the Opdahl Farm, past the church and eventually made our way back towards the trails of Camp Saratoga.  We cut through a small, pretty, open area, one of my favorites along the 5K course, which I think used to be an open sandy area back in the Scout camp days.  Instead of the normal 5K route, though, we took a different turn, and plunged into what looked like a trail cut by a snowblower: the walls were fairly straight, and about 18" tall.  This lead up and up to what appears to be the high point of the course, at 342', right around the 5K mark.

I was an hour in by this point, and had just been passed by a guy who appeared to only be walking.  I knew that I was going to be moving slowly due to the fact that I was still recovering from a stomach bug, but this was ridiculous.  On top of all of that, my knee started acting up.  It's an old injury, but I tread gently around it, since it has the ability to ruin many successive days of training.

I decided to just walk.

We (that is: I, and a few of the other back-of-the-packers,) worked our way back over to the 5K course just in time to cross Scout Road.  I found myself getting cold, and ran a few times to warm up, but couldn't muster enough energy to keep it up for very long.  So onward I crept.  The hills on this side are steeper, and on a few I found myself sliding down, despite the crampons on my snowshoes.  I did my best to go with it, and to keep a hand out in case a tree rose up to meet me.

Finally, eventually, I found myself running along the edge of the marshy area, and then across the bridge over Delegan Pond.  Alas, this was not the end of the course.  To ensure that we got our money's worth, we got to trudge past the finish line, past where the snack hut used to be, past the barbeque pits, past the old mess hall, then climb up a hill, cut through what was clearly a bushwhack, and then, finally, drop back down the hill and cross the finish line.

It was a bit anticlimactic, but all in all, it was a fun race.  I crossed the old parade ground, stopping at my car to take off my snowshoes, then headed over to the old IP Lodge again to get something hot to eat, drink, bathe in, whatever.  It didn't really matter.  I warmed up, chatted with the two people whom I knew, and then headed out.  I didn't stick around for the raffle because I had, once again, mysteriously, lost my raffle ticket.  This time I hadn't bothered to memorize the number, so there was no point in lingering.  I had promised to take my kids out after the race, and I needed to get home to fulfill that promise.

Saratoga Spa State Park 5K - 1 Feb 2015

Two weeks earlier, I had wandered across the mall (large, open area) of Saratoga Spa State Park, attempting to locate the starting line for a race that was about to start.  I found a banner that clearly stated it was the Start / Finish for the race, and figured that I had found it.

I was wrong.

Another runner, who had done the race in a previous year, directed us to the actual, unmarked starting line, which was along the carriage path in front of the unnamed building that sits across the mall from the Roosevelt Baths.  We lined up, the race director said a few words, and we were off.  We ran around the perimeter of the mall, then crossed the road and ducked in to the woods, not far from where I had seen the finish line.  We followed this path through the woods and then ran down to the Geyser picnic area along a gravel road.  There wasn't much snow on the ground, but it was enough that I didn't hear my crampons scraping very much on the gravel.

Once down in the picnic area, we cut across the first pedestrian bridge over Geyser Creek, and then ran through the woods back over to the gravel road, making our way up, over to, and then around the Peerless Pool, before plunging back down the way we had come.  This time, though, we followed the creek along the old carriage road, crossed the creek again, crossed the picnic area road again, and then climbed up a rather steep climb toward Columbia Pavillion.  Here I expected us to link up with the Five Mile Trail, but wisely the route avoided it, since the FMT in this section dances along a cliff.  Instead we cut straight through the woods and then linked up with the FMT once it was past the potentially dangerous section.  We found North South Road, ran along it for a minute, past the ticket booths, and then ducked back in to the woods near Ferndell Pavillion.  We were on the final kilometer of trail, so I started pushing hard.  From here, it was all carriage roads to the finish line, and mostly level.  I managed to hold the pace for most of the last stretch, enough so that when I crossed the finish line I was ready to hurl.

We warmed up in a room inside the Administration Building, enjoying a spread as wonderful as the one shared at the race today.  The Stryders definitely know how to warm up after a snowshoe run.  I look forward to running in future snowshoe races.

Savoy Mountain Trail Race - 17 Aug 2014

(This was originally posted on a test blog hosted on svbtle.)

When I look back on this race, 3 months later, the only word that comes to mind is: broken.

I felt myself burning out in the run-up to this race, and I scaled back my training to try and compensate. It didn’t help; I felt undertrained in the race, and broken afterwards. It was somewhere around 15.2 miles in length, and the only flat parts were on the last mile or so. Everything else was rolling, so that coming down off of the mountain was as brutal as going up. Not that any portion of it was truly brutal, but it was way more than I was expecting. There was a touch of technical stuff near the summit, but nothing terrible. There was a guy running with what appeared to be running crutches, and he managed to get through the technical stuff, and beat me by at least an hour.

I don’t know what else to say about it. It took 2.5 months for me to enjoy running again after this race. It broke me, badly. It took another race to rebuild me. I’ll get to that in about 5 more posts.

Putting aside my personal difficulties, this was a very cool race. The people were pretty laid back, and they had a big picnic waiting for runners as they finished. The view from the summit of Spruce Hill was pretty, as was the view from the drive in: my route took me over the Petersburg Pass and along the hairpin turn on Route 2. Just past thexperience hairpin turn, I saw the BNRC trailhead for the Hoosac Range Trail, and the tables for water stop #3 set up in the parking lot.

A few other thoughts stand out in my mind…

  1. The Hoosac Range is moody. For the first several hours the threat of rain dominated the course, but nothing fell aside from some mist in the air. After that, the sun came out and stayed out.
  2. The course crossed over two power line cuttings on the way up to the summit of Spruce Hill, and then again on the way back. On the way back, as I was running toward one of the cuttings, I heard a cacophony off to the left (downslope). I thought, nay hoped, briefly, that the finish line had been moved up to here, and there was a magical shortcut to bring me back to my car. No such luck; it was a hoard of 4x4s and their drivers, who had come up the service road to have a party, apparently.
  3. The out-and-back format meant that I got to see every other runner on the course; I had just cleared the photo area coming off of the summit nub when the leaders came tearing past from the opposite direction. I did my best to encourage everyone.
  4. I need to so a lot more training before I tackle anything this hard again.
  5. Topos never give the full picture. The terrain looked fairly simple. It wasn’t.
  6. I don’t want to race anything I haven’t already seen for a long time. I had thought about reviewing the course ahead of time but never actually got around to doing that. When I was recovering at the end, I joked with one of the other runners that I was glad I hadn’t run this course in advance, because there’s no way I would have come to the race. In hindsight, I would have known it was too much, and I would have saved myself a lot of trouble. Live and learn.
  7. My salt strategy for this race was insufficient, and that contributed to my pain. On the last third of the race, I felt my energy draining, so I kept taking in fuel, but I never recovered. As it turns out, I had switched fuels a week or so before the race, due to some intestinal issues, but I hadn’t noticed that the fuel I was now using didn’t have salt in it. By the time I realized my mistake, it was to late to correct it.

Well, that’s about it. I will be back to this race, and I will do better. Since I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve decided is time to push myself harder in training, and to start winning my age division in racing.

Until next time, be excellent to each other.

11 January 2015

Garmin Woes

I've had this problem a few times now: I'll record an activity on my 310XT, go to upload it later, and the sync agent fails to pull the activity.  My suspicion is that there is a bad block in the flash memory on the watch, and the watch hardware is old enough where it can't work around it.  I had this problem with the old Garmin ANT+ Agent under OS/X, and I just experienced it under Linux, with Garmin Forerunner 610 Extractor, a Python script that does a similar job to the ANT+ Agent.  What's interesting is that the new script always downloads all of the activity data, so I've been keeping the old activities around, and I now know that the error occurs somewhere between 540k-584k of memory usage, and that the value equates to 24% of the watch's memory, based on whah the watch says.  So it's a good guess that the watch has about 2 megs of memory on board.

(The sizes above are the byte count and the filesystem size of the downloaded activities.)

The solution here is to wipe out the old activities (and occasionally reset the watch), but it's still frustrating.  Luckily I only lost one run; there are times when I'll go for a few weeks without downloading any run data.

25 August 2014

Appliance Frustrations

I have spent far too much time staring at this view, trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with our dishwasher. In a nutshell: the door switch is malfunctioning. It registers that the door is open when it isn't, sometimes in the middle of a cycle.  Last week I replaced the plunger, the spring, and the case cover, and tried to replace the relays, but ended up getting foiled by the wire connectors.

I finally got some proof tonight that the relays were a likely suspect: I was able to repeatedly trip the relays with the power on, and the machine never beeped. (In hindsight, I could have just tested them.)

I had been working on releasing the clasp portion of the relay connector, which is shown as a circle on each of the connectors above. What I actually needed to do was use a pair of needle nose pliers to loosen the teeth below, and then pop the clasp. I didn't think that they could exert that much tension on the terminal, but I was mistaken. I was about to just make up new connectors when I finally figured that out. That would have been interesting: I had 3 suitable connectors in my electrical repair toolbox, so the 4th would have ended up being a hack or an alligator clip until I could replace it with something better.

The machine is running now, as I write this. I really hope I've got it worked out, but I refuse to celebrate yet. This problem tends to resolve temporarily after opening the machine up. All of our major appliances have needed attention over the past month or so. The washing machine is still on the blink, though I might try to tackle that next. Our attempt at purchasing a replacement failed miserably, and the quote for repair was nearly half the cost of the machine itself.

In today's economical climate, with companies cutting back as much as they can, I offer this advice: buy the longest warranty that you can afford. Chances are good that it'll be cheaper than a single repair call.

Anyway, that's it for now. I've got a race report to write up, tentatively titled "Ouch", and I still need to finish the cleaning. Until next time, be excellent to each other.

19 July 2014

Pharaoh Mountain - 28 Jun 2014

I went for a run up Pharaoh Mountain a few weeks ago, to work on my ability to run up and down steep terrain, and also to get some elevation.  The views were fantastic, but the mosquitoes were vicious.

I parked at the end of Crane Pond Road, and started getting ready to run.  The mosquitoes were already out and looking for a meal, so I went for the picaridin right from the bat.  While I was getting my stuff together, I chatted briefly with another runner, who said he was going up to the trailhead and then running back.  He and his dog set out fairly quickly, and I thought about how great it would be to live close enough to this system that a 4 mile run would be worth the drive.

I set out, along a wide woods road, trying to take in as much as I could while still moving quickly.  I heard and then saw a small waterfall off to my left, running strong from the recent rains.  The other runner passed by on his way back, moving at a quick pace.  There was one car parked at the trailhead for Goose Pond, which was all I expected to see, but then there was another at a small bend in the road.

Then the road dipped down, all the way down until we were in the drainage plain of Alder Pond.  I had been able to avoid the puddles until now, but a road-sized muddy puddle stood before me.  It was impossible to see the bottom, but I knew what to do.  I plunged bravely in, trying to avoid widening the ... road ... and immediately stumbled.  I expected it to be 6-8", but it was much, much deeper.  At least 18", though it wouldn't have surprised me if it was 24".  Down I went, and my left knee smashed into what must have been gravel in a shallower section of the puddle.  I had gone to the puddle near the right edge of it, and it only occurred to me after I had shredded my knee to pieces that the edges of the puddle would be the deepest, due to vehicular traffic.  Where my knee had hit was where I should have been running.

It looked like I had a small gash on my knee.  Nothing too bad.  I could fix it up when I got home.  I pushed on, and found myself standing in a large, pine needle covered parking area.  There were at least ten trucks and SUVs there, though I didn't stop to count.  The moment I stopped running I was swarmed by mosquitoes.  The trailhead was off to the right, and I pushed on, stopping for a moment to clean the mud off of my hands in the outlet of Crane Pond.

The road had been fairly level, never flat, but very runnable.  The trail was fairly runnable, too, and in some places it was as wide as a road, an indication that it might have been one, at some point.  The trail register wasn't too far beyond the bridge over the Crane Pond outlet.  I stopped to register, and then pushed on, still hounded by the mosquitoes.  After a few more strides I stopped, put my pack on a rock, and applied another round of picaridin.  It stung on my knee, but it worked.  The mosquitos backed off once again.

Again I pushed on, taking a left at the next junction, heading south now, toward the mountain.  Whenever I stopped, I was swarmed, so I did my best to just keep pushing.  I reapplied the picaridin a few times, and the effect was the same.  As long as I was hiking, I was generally ok.  Once I hit the steeper portion of the trail, I decided to just keep hiking, to see if the mosquitoes would stay away.  It worked, for the most part.

The trail guide describes the hike as exposed ridge, and that's technically correct, though inaccurate.  The portion where the trail is has been eroded away down to the bedrock in many places, but this is not, in any way, shape, or form, an exposed ridge.  There is a small, 15' section that is exposed (about 10' of exposure) on a herd path paralleling the trail.  That's it.

Exposure has three meanings here, so, in case that wasn't clear:
1) You are hiking on bedrock that has been exposed through erosion.
2) You are not very likely to fall.  (There are cliffs near the summit area that you could fall off of if you REALLY tried.  Keep your kids on their leashes.)
3) You are never above the treeline.  (There are a few large tree-less areas on the summit, and that helps with the view.)

Despite never actually getting above the treeline, there are *fantastic* views from the summit.  After getting up to the summit area, I headed left, scrambled up some rocks and soaked in the view.  I could see Schroon Lake, Desolate Swamp, and the High Peaks off to the northeast.  It wasn't immediately obvious which peaks I was looking at, though I could make out some of the Great Range, which helped with orientation.  The PeakFinder app helped fill in the pieces: the three most prominent peaks I was seeing were Marcy, Dix (the Beckhorn), and Giant.  That struck me: I was standing on the highpoint of one wilderness area and looking at the highpoints of three others.

After a snack and a few glorious bug-free moments in the sun, I went to explore the rest of the summit area.  Just beyond the turn off for the summit proper is a trail leading to a designated camping area.  (I didn't realize there were any designated camping areas on summits, especially prominent summits like this, but it makes sense to keep people in an area that can take it.)  I found the remnants of a fire there, but the flies buzzing about kept me moving on.  Beyond the camping area was another massive open slab, which I explored a bit.  Eventually I was driven away by flies, and I started heading back.  Just before I left the summit area, I found a small wooden structure, like a stash box, a few feet off of the trail, and further down the trail, a small cave that didn't seem to go anywhere.

I wasn't able to run on the steeper section due to the water on the bedrock, which kept the rocks slick.  Once I was past the exposed bedrock, I was able to run some, and that's when I started to run into a steady stream of hikers: one miserable looking guy with a bug net, an older couple resting on a rock, who warned me about the troop coming up the trail, followed by several other smaller couples and even a few small dogs.  When I got down to the water there were canoes out on Crane Pond, and as I ran the road back toward my car, I had to step off several times to make room for the vehicles coming through.  I also saw what I had missed the first time through: a small herd path through the weeds right next to the road where the puddle-trap was.

I made it back to the car more or less intact, and stopped at the Stewart's in Schroon for a snack before making my way back home.

I think I'm more or less done with running on trails in May, June and July.  I can keep the mosquitoes at bay fairly well with long sleeves and picaridin, but it fails utterly and miserably when I'm wearing short sleeves and sweat enters into the equation.  The other non-DEET sprays I've tried, using citronella or oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, follow the same pattern.  So I think it makes more sense to stick to double track when the bugs are at their worst, where I can move more quickly and not bother with bug spray.

01 June 2014

Moreau Lake State Park - 1 Jun 2014

I went for a run today at Moreau Lake State Park, to explore the 15k route some, and to continue my mileage build-up for Savoy.  I parked at the Baker/Western Ridge trailhead again, off of Spier Falls Road, with the intention of running down the Western Ridge Trail, over to Mud Pond, then up and over the ridge to pick up the Western Ridge Trail on the other side.  My goal was 6 miles, and I hadn't spent a whole lot of time plotting it out, figuring I'd adjust my route as I went.

As I was getting sunscreen and bug spray on, I chatted with a couple who had driven up shortly after me.  They said they were heading up the Western Ridge (the other way), and I chuckled a bit, saying that it was a bit steep.  They asked how steep and I said that it climbed a couple hundred feet, and they shrugged it off and said it would be fine.  I haven't actually walked up that trail, but running down it was steep and intense.  I said I'd see them out there, and headed off.

I started out way too fast, and it took a while for me to slow myself down.  It's mostly downhill from the parking lot to Mud Pond, and my body was screaming "let's go fast!".  I managed to rein myself in after the second stream crossing, where the trail heads up for a little bit, and settled in to a more reasonable pace.  The trails get nicer around there: fewer rocks and a lot more stable footing, but it was hard to enjoy.  There was what looked like bear scat along the trail, and I'd find more of it every few minutes.  (It was large; the smallest animal it could have come out of was a coyote, but it looked like the animal had been eating mostly berries.  I looked around for the source of the berries that the animal had been eating, but couldn't find them.)

Once I got down by Mud Pond, I started seeing other people quite a bit.  I ran around what I thought was the pond, and did my best to pick out the trail based on my memory of the race course map from last year.  In actuality, I ran around the northern portion of Moreau Lake, and then over an isthmus with a small break to allow boat traffic to travel between the two portions of the lake.  After that point, I was at the beach area proper, with several hundred (possibly a thousand) other people, from the look of the parking lot and the crowds gathered on the beach and at the various picnic areas.  It was *crowded*.

I made my way along the beach, and breathed a sigh of relief as I got away from the crowds.  I ran in front of the cabin along the white trail, which was occupied, and eventually came to a portion of white trail that was too overgrown to use.  There was a blaze right before the overgrown area, so I was certain that I hadn't stumbled upon a herd path.  My choice was to either run through the water next to the trail, or switch over to the road.  I crossed the road, looking to see if the Red Oak Ridge trail connector I was looking for was there, but it wasn't, so I ran through the water, which was shallow.  I'm not quite sure how that trail will look in September.

From there, I got to a boat launch area across from the Warming Hut.  I stopped to use the restroom (between the crowds and the mosquitoes, a wise choice), walked right past the trailhead for the ROR trail, and continued along the white trail.  I got to the point where the white trail hits the road, and started scouting around for a connector that I had seen during the winter.  The sign or marking was gone, as far as I could tell, but I could see the ROR trail, so I walked over to it and started running along it.  Not long after that, I came to a point that I remembered from my winter run through here.  Now, seeing it in summer, it looked like a herd path, and the real path appeared to run down to the Warming Hut.  I ran down, hoping to get some insight, but the trail ended right at the hut.  Frustrated, I turned around, and made my way back to the herd path I had just seen.  Sure enough, there was a blaze, and it seemed to indicate that the way I had just gone, down to the Warming Hut, was correct.  Stubbornly, I took the herd path.

I wasn't very far along when I came to the eroded portion I remembered from the winter, where it felt like I was going to fall down the hill at any moment.  Eventually I came back to the trail, and turned right to see where it went.  Sure enough, I found myself back at the Warming Hut, on the other side of the parking lot from the trail that I had decided was wrong.  I stopped to take a picture of the sign that I had walked right past almost a mile ago, and then headed up.  The mosquitoes got worse as I headed up.  I did my best to run, but the heat and the terrain left me walking a lot.  I made it up to the Moreau Overlook trail, passed by a gaggle of beach-goers having a walk in the woods, and pushed up to the top.  I chatted with a few other people admiring the view, which was fairly clear today, and then headed off again.  I had intended on running along the Ridge Run as far as the Cottage Path trail, but my unintended diversion had eaten up distance and time.  Not long after starting out on the Ridge Run, I turned around, and headed the other way on it, with the intention of picking up the Baker Trail back to the parking lot.  As I ran past the Moreau Overlook again, I saw that the party I had passed were just now pulling in to the overlook.  I smiled as they gawked over the view, and pushed on.

I kept rolling my ankle on the descent, nothing serious, but I think I was a bit tired.  I made it back to my car in one piece, and dove in to avoid the mosquitoes that were starting to swarm around me.  The drive back home was uneventful.  I had seen a couple dozen Tour de Cure participants on the way in, and I saw what appeared to be a few more finishing up on the way home.  That must have been a long day for them!

Anyway, I think that's it.  I'm getting excited about Savoy, and doing the Moreau 15k, if they hold it this year.

Oh, one more note: I read Jake Stookey's report on the 2012 race, and I can't believe he ran it barefoot in 2 hours!  He went on to win the 2013 edition of the race in huaraches, which seems like a more logical choice.  He even set a new course record in 2013, coming in at 1:27:11.  I love being out and about barefoot, and while I can imagine hiking this course barefoot, I cannot imagine running it barefoot under race conditions.  I'd be hobbling by the end.

Anyway, be excellent to each other, carry plenty of bug spray, watch out for ticks, call your mother, and tip your waiter.  Until next time...