The musings of a middle-aged, back of the pack, often injured, semi-retired ultra runner. Running, biking, camping or hiking, I do whatever I can to live an outdoor life. "The older I get, the better I was."
After spending a week indoors with a sinus infection and a 101 degree temperature I was itching to get out of the house for some fresh air. Although still very congested and feeling worn out I decided to do a short recon of the trails in the Manchester - Essex Wilderness Conservation Area, also known as Millstone Hill. I was surprised to find an extensive trail system through mixed forest with an abundance of glacial rock and three large swamps. It was difficult to find any online information about the area but I estimate there is likely 12-15 miles of trails. You can also gain access to Chebacco Woods to the west and the Wyman and Great Hill Conservation Areas to the south for a total of 25 to 30 miles of trails.
I'll certainly be back for a longer hike or maybe a trail run. Happy New Year!
Ultimate Direction's Jurek Essential is a lightweight, minimalist, durable waist belt designed to meet your basic needs on shorter runs. Take a hand-held water bottle along with you and you're good to go on long runs as well. It weighs a mere 2.1 ounces on my scale so I'm not surprised I don't even notice the Essential when I'm wearing it. And it stays put, no bouncing. As an added bonus the belt is very breathable and will not absorb moisture.
So light you'll forget you're wearing it.
The waterproof, silicone impregnated nylon pocket is perfect for storing your cell phone, ipod or any other electronic device that needs to stay dry. The expandable mesh pocket is large enough to hold an assortment of gels, bars, electrolytes or other nutritional item within easy reach. The tiny belt pocket can hold your ID, car keys, and chap stick. Hey, you're only going for a training run not running from a zombie apocalypse! What more do you need?
Plenty of storage for your basic needs.
I wear this belt on most of my runs and can't think of anything I dislike about it. OK, maybe the wild colors, but it also comes in a gray/black style that may be more to your liking.
Disclosure: Ultimate Direction provided Breakheart Trail Running with a sample product for testing but the author was under no obligation to post a review.
To be honest, I had no business entering this race. The chronic musculoskeletal condition that kept me from running for 42 months has limited my training to 1 - 2 days per week over the past two and a half months. Averaging just 13 miles a week and having run between 2 -3 hours only 3 times does not prepare the body to run for 6 hours. But the Ultra goddess is a temptress and I found her siren call impossible to resist. I stood at the start line of The Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Ultra determined to go the distance, or in this case, do the time.
The race consisted of three miles (1.5 miles out and back) on the New Boston Rail Trail along the south branch of the Piscataquog River, and one mile of dirt roads around the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, creating a lollipop loop course. The rail trail section was basically flat, although it dipped in the center creating a very slight incline/decline in both directions. The fairground section had the only hill, which was short but sort of steep, taking you to the high point on the loop before dropping back down the the start/finish line in the center of the fairgrounds.
That's a sad looking lollipop but you get the idea.
Elevation profile or my EKG during the race?
I'm usually not a fan of out and back, multi-loop races but I actually enjoyed this course quite a bit. It was interesting to see the race leaders (making it look easy) and other runners lap after lap, offering encouragement, a smile or a just slight nod of the head as the hours wore on. The views and sounds of the rushing river offered a distraction along the rail trail and the hill in the fairground provided an opportunity to work the leg muscles in a different manner. Plus, it's comforting knowing what to expect lap after lap when you are out of shape and in over your head!
My friend Wendy cruising to a 28 mile finish.
The rail trail section parallels the Piscataquog River.
Looking upstream from the rail trail.
I knew I would have to use a run/walk system in order to go the full 6 hours so I settled on a 0.7 mile run/0.3 mile walk ratio. I thought if I could keep moving for 6 hours I would have a shot at completing marathon distance. Once the race started I began my 0.3 mile walking segment through the fairgrounds and was dead last in no time flat! When I got to the rail trail section I was disappointed to see the trail surface was crushed stone. Ugh! Not having seen the course I made the incorrect assumption that the rail trail was an unimproved dirt rail bed. I had to quit a run on a crushed stone rail trail a few weeks ago when it caused considerable plantar fascia pain so I felt like my race was over before it even started.
What evil lurks beyond this sign?
Leaf covered rail trail concealed my nemesis.
Damn you crushed stone!
After running the first 0.7 mile segment I knew my feet wouldn't survive for long if I stuck to the 0.7/0.3 run/walk plan. I would have to walk the entire three mile section of rail trail and run the one mile loop on dirt roads around the fairgrounds. I felt discouraged knowing it would be impossible to reach marathon distance running only 25% of the course. It was better than quitting though so I pressed on. I completed the first loop in 54 minutes despite walking more than planned. As I started my second loop I thought why not flip the run/walk split and go with 0.3 run and 0.7 walk on the rail trail section? Although not ideal, it was far better than walking all of it. From this point on I ran approximately 50% of the distance covered in the remaining 5+ hours. This run/walk ratio proved very effective as I ran very consistent splits for the next four loops. Loop 2: 52 mins Loop 3: 52 mins Loop 4: 50 mins Loop 5: 52 mins
Energy conservation was on my mind. It was the only way I would survive.
As I was nearing the end of my 5th loop I started getting severe pain in my right knee. I knew immediately it was caused by my tightening IT band, a chronic problem that hampered my running throughout 2010 and 2011. With 20 miles down and another hour and forty minutes remaining in the race, I had no thoughts of quitting. After refilling my water bottle I headed out for my 6th, and possibly last loop. The pain in my knee seemed to affect my stride and I felt like I was running with a slight limp. At least I was still running, albeit even slower than usual. I needed to do some running no matter how painful if I wanted to have enough time on the clock to go back out for a partial 7th loop so I could reach my goal of 26.2 miles. Although slowing to 58 minutes on loop six, I had about 42 minutes left to run or walk the 2.2 miles needed to complete a marathon.
My knee pain worsened and I was forced to walk most of the final miles. The weather conditions, which were pretty brutal all day, had not bothered me at all earlier in the race. Now that I was walking, a wind chill temperature in the thirties and occasional snow had me questioning my decision to run in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. It did made me walk with a purpose! I caught up to a woman using trekking poles who was doing her first ultra. (Sorry I didn't get your name.) She was having a great time and we talked the remaining mile(s) away. As we approached the end, I could see many runners who already completed the race standing at the finish and cheering us on. It was an awesome sight to see. My new found friend convinced me to "run it in" and we crossing the finish line together in 5 hours, 58 minutes. I'd say we got our money's worth. Oh, and I "ran" 27ish miles and received congratulatory hugs from three young ladies to boot! Not too shabby for the oldest person in the race.
I can't thank RD Bill and his enthusiastic volunteers enough for making this a great experience for me. I highly recommend The Hamsterwheel to newbies looking to run their first ultra and to experienced ultra runners looking to lay down some serious miles. OK, time to rest.
Even if half my brain cells were operational my plan for the Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Run would be to skip it entirely. Looking at my last four weeks of training, and I use the word loosely, shows that I have only run seven times in the past 28 days for a total of 60 miles. So what makes me think I can survive a six hour run? The reality is I don't think I can. But why try doing something if the outcome is certain? Where's the adventure in that?
I was looking to get in one last training run before The Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Run next weekend. The race is on The New Boston Rail Trail so I wanted to mimic race conditions by doing a run on flat terrain. After spending a little time on Google Maps I was able to find an ideal location close to home. A place I have passed several times but never knew existed. The Salem-Beverly Waterway Canal, also known as the Grand Wenham Canal was constructed in 1917 to divert water from the Ipswich River to augment the dwindling water supplies in the cites of Salem and Beverly. Although I like learning the history of the places I visit, I was more interested in the two mile long dirt path along the canal that passes through the Wenham Swamp. You may think running for three hours on a two mile out-and-back, pancake flat dirt path would be boring. Hell yeah it's boring but that's the point! If I couldn't manage the monotony of a three hour training run, I probably couldn't handle it for six hours on race day. Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm and humid day did me in after two hours. OK, maybe I was bored out of my mind too.
Starting out on the Wenham end of the canal.
A beacon of color reflected in the calm water of the canal.
Three spillways allow the canal to drain into the Wenham Swamp when water levels are high.
Pumping station in Wenham.
It was obvious to me that at least one dog owner didn't get the memo. I'll spare you the evidence.
I haven't been feeling good since I started running more than 5-6 mile training runs. My body has been rebelling ever since and I have been ignoring it for too long. Once I get through the Hamsterwheel, I plan to stop running for a month or more to see if my symptoms improve. It will be a good opportunity to focus on hiking and completing the final 53(?) miles of the Bay Circuit Trail before the snow arrives.
Who doesn't like Halloween with it's ghosts, goblins, pumpkins and treats? Perhaps this explains the explosive grown of this unique race that travels between the towns of Brookline and Milford New Hampshire. More likely it's because Race Director Steve Latour and his band of cheerful and supportive volunteers will do just about anything to help runners reach their race goal, whether it's completing their first 15 mile trail race, or 100 mile ultra marathon. I woke up this morning looking for an excuse NOT to run this race because of the rain and 40 degree temperature. I'm glad I decided not to wimp out. It's a super cool race!
Second race in two weeks. This is becoming a bad habit.
I didn't have much of a race strategy for running the 15 mile version of Ghost Train. Based on my results at the Groton Town Forest Race last weekend I knew I could break three hours at GT. That is if I didn't crash and burn in the final miles. A likely possibility given my 4-6 mile training runs once or twice a week. I considered some sort of run/walk scheme but ruled it out given the lack of any significant change in elevation along the race route. The course was basically flat with one hill a mile from the start/finish line so running the entire distance was the best option. And my legs hated me for it.
My legs didn't listen.
Just like last weekend's race I didn't start until all the other runners began. I took my rightful place at the back of the pack but within a short time I was passing people. Not a lot, but still passing. I was running faster than my planned three hour pace but I decided to just go with it and see how long I could sustain it. I reached the turnaround point at Camp Tevya in 1:22, well ahead of my 1:30 pace goal. I stopped to fill my water bottle and eat a couple of cookies, said hello to my friend Karen who was working the aid station and off I went.
Even I couldn't get lost on this course.
After the turnaround my legs started to feel tired and heavy. I was still maintaining pace but it was getting harder to do so with every step. Somewhere between mile 11 and 12 I stopped at the last aid station maned by my friend and Race Director Steve. We chatted for a minute or two (thanks Steve, that was my slowest mile of the race) while I downed two small chocolate bars. The sugar seemed to give me an instant boost and I felt much stronger over the final thee miles.
I felt dead-like between miles 10 - 12 but made a miraculous comeback with the help of some Halloween treats.
After the final aid station I caught up with Andrew from Rhode Island, He and I had been running close to one another for 2 - 3 miles but this was the first time we came side by side. The company seemed to give both of us a boost as we picked up the pace over the final three miles. Passing more runners made me forget how tired I was. Well, not really but I'd rather be doing the passing than being passed in the latter stages of a race. I was relieved to cross the finish line in Milford and surprised with my 2:43 finishing time. You can't get splits more even than that and I crushed my time goal by 17 minutes.
While running in the 2015 Groton Town Forest Trail Race last weekend my mind began to wander. You have plenty on time to think when you run as slowly as I do. I thought back to the first time I stepped foot on these tranquil trails in Groton. It was in the fall of 2009, a year I consider almost magical. A time when all the stars and planets aligned. A time never to be repeated. It was the year I competed in 23 trail, mountain, ultra and snowshoe races throughout New England and New York. It was the year I finished first male (50-59 age group) in the Eastern New England Trail Race Series. It was the year I ran my first 50 kilometer and 50 mile trail races and qualified for the Western States 100 mile run. But none of these accomplishments are what made the year so special to me. It was a small, quirky, good-natured, tight-knit group of trail runners that made 2009 a year I will never forget. I'm not even sure how it began, but somehow we all became very close friends. Maybe it was because we all ran the same races together or went on long training runs every weekend when we were not racing. Or maybe it was because our personalities just clicked. You know, sisters and brothers from another mother. Some things can not be explained. They just happen.
Some members of TUG running in the 2009 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race.
During 2009, we were spending so much time together that one person in our group suggested we come up with a name for ourselves. You know, sort of like a secret society but not nearly as sinister or mysterious. The name we agreed on was simple and fitting. Our group would be known as "The Ultra Gang" (TUG) and we were all "Tuggers". We were inseparable. Or so we thought. Running for hours in the woods and covering great distances with my fellow Tuggers made me feel as though I was invincible. In fact, I remember thinking, "I will live to be 100 years old and I will be running ultras when I am in my eighties"! I no longer feel this way. I'm not sure if the others felt like me, if they ever thought they were invincible. I never asked any of them. I suspect in some ways they may have. But no matter what we thought at the time, we weren't invincible. We were, and are, merely human beings easily broken. Several years have passed, and through a series of misfortunes, injuries, accidents, medical issues, and relocations The Ultra Gang is no longer together on the trails. Although we keep in touch and remain friends, the comradery we once shared is not lost, but certainly tempered. At times this saddens me, but mostly I'm happy and thankful for that special moment in time, that magical year never to be repeated. And as the 2015 Groton Town Forest Trail Race continues, my feet move slowly over the red, yellow and green tapestry of fallen birch and maple leaves covering the trail. My mind again begins to wander. My pace quickens. Running seems effortless. Time is obscured. For a brief moment, I am transported back in time....It is 2009....
What a difference a day can make. Saturday,I destroyed my feet running on a hard-packed, crushed stone rail trail. After returning home from that run I performed some Graston on my planter fascia with a large metal spoon and iced my feet for HOURS. I woke up Sunday morning feeling 75% better. Good enough to motivate me to drive one hour north-west to the rural town of Groton to run in the 18th Annual Groton Town Forest Trail Race.
Second race in three weeks.
The temperature was hovering around 40 degrees as I made my to the starting line but the strong wind and lack of sunshine made it feel much colder. I was foolishly wearing only shorts and a short-sleeved tee so my teeth were clattering uncontrollably as I awaited the 12:30 start. When the command to Go was given I let all the other runners pass before I crossed the starting line. I wanted to start out very conservatively in the early miles and didn't want to get in anyone's way. Yea, I'm dead last again! I ran the first mile behind three women, two of whom were chatting it up quite a bit. The old me would have gotten annoyed with their constant banter but the trail was tight single-track with little room for passing so I just hung back and chilled. Just over a mile, we hit the first hill, one of many STEEP climbs in the first three miles of the race, and I made a move to pass them. I never did see, or hear from them again. Three down, 86 to go (I'm guessing on the size of the field since the results have not been posted at this time). I ran the next 2.5 miles of constant up and down, twisting, turning single-track alone in quiet solitude. The tail was so twisty that I could see runners through the trees but it was impossible to determine how far ahead they were. I assumed I would run the remaining miles this way and finish as the last male runner. After turning a corner and beginning a long uphill climb, I saw a male runner about 100 yards ahead. I now had a target in sight! I slowly closed the gap and noticed the guy was running barefoot! I didn't think that was best footwear choice considering the fallen autumn leaves were concealing the rocks and tree roots on the trail. As I passed the barefoot wonder he complained to me that he could not see what he was stepping on and it was killing his feet. You think? I was no long the last place male but I was the last place male wearing shoes! Miles 4-6 were relatively easy with some flat trail along the Dead and Nashua Rivers. I cruised along feeling very comfortable with my easy pace. The next three miles were the most difficult with 4-6 VERY steep climbs and descents. I'm sure the steepest had to be at a 45-50 degree angle. As least it felt like it to me. I passed a number of people in those final miles but never really turned up the pace. I guess they must have gone out too fast and were fading near the end. It's always fun to be picking off runners as you near the finish line.
Left, right, up, down and all around.
Not a lot of elevation change but plenty of short and steep ascents and descents.
I'm sure I finished in the back of the pack but that doesn't matter to me. I was back in the woods, running my first Grand Tree Series Trail Race in nearly fours years. The Grand Tree is where I fell in love with trail running, and where I met some great people and became friends. It felt good to come home after a long absence. It won't be another four years before I run my next.
I woke up this morning looking forward to running the Groton Town Forest Trail Race. I had a quick breakfast and a few cups of coffee before packing up my gear bag. I'm not sure what prompted this, but right before heading out the door I thought to check the race website to see if I had the correct race date. Lucky I did. The Groton race is on Sunday not Saturday. Doh!! With my race plans out the window I needed to come up with a plan B. The Ghost Train Race isjust one week away so I decided to go for a training run on the Topsfield Linear Common/Danvers Rail Trail. All of my training to date has been in very hilly Lynn Woods. Getting at least one training run on terrain similar to the Ghost Train course made sense so plan B was settled. As soon as I began running in Danvers, I knew I had make a mistake. Although I was aware the trail surface was finely crushed stone, I didn't realize how hard it would be. It almost felt like running on pavement. For someone with healthy feet that wouldn't be an issue, but I do not have healthy feet. Some would say I don't have pleasant smelling ones either but I digress. Anyway, at exactly three miles and if on cue, my plantar fasciitis, Morton's neuromas and shin splits began playing, "Hell No You Don't" from their hit album, "Symphony Of Pain". I did my best to lower the volume on this wicked little tune but when my heel pain starting feeling like I stepped on a rusty nail I decided to surrender and stop running. That meant a three-plus mile walk of shame back to my car.
I planned to run to the Boxford Line. My feet had other plans.
Don't let the smooth surface fool you. It's as hard as, well, stone you dummy.
I tried to save my feet by taking a spur trail through Moore Woods to a vista overlooking a reservoir. These blow-downs turned me back. Damn you trees!
Calm waters offer the best moments for reflection. Sort of like people.
A vast marshland borders some of the trail.
I tried to save my feet for a second time by taking the swamp walk through the Choate Farm area. But ....
.... I was turned back yet again, this time by a submerged boardwalk. Coincidence or conspiracy? Hmm.
+ At least it was only a three mile walk of shame.
The Joe English Twilight Challenge consists of a 6 hour ultra, 1/2 marathon, full marathon and 1/2 and full marathon relays starting at one hour intervals beginning at 5PM. The 2.6 mile loop course on the equestrian trails of Freestyle Farm was more difficult than I expected with enough ups and downs to fatigue my under-trained quads. I was drawn to this race because much of it would be run under the cover of darkness, which is something I like, but don't get an opportunity to do very often. Paying little regard to my 10 mile per week training average, I entered the 6 hour race. Hey, I'm a Tugger (member of The Ultra Gang) at heart and this is what we do. Of course, I had no intention of running for 6 hours. My goal was to cover 6 loops or 15.8 miles in 3 to 3.5 hours. This was a super fun race, great venue, well marked course and stocked aid station, small old-school feel. I hope it stays that way. Some thoughts from the trail. Loop #1 - Legs feel like lead weights. I'm working way too hard. I should have trained more. DFL again! Loop #2 - Legs coming to life. This isn't so bad. Is that a runner up ahead? You're going down sucker! Loop #3 - I'm feeling pretty good. Whoa, an 11 minute split! Damn it's getting dark. I knew I should have taken a headlamp. Go slow, don't fall. Loop #4 - Why did I bring this headlamp? It sucks. Don't step in a hole and twist an ankle like that limping guy you passed. F@&K!! what did I just tell you?! Loop # 5 - Are these hills getting steeper? I can't see shit out here. Don't step in that hole AGAIN! Loop # 6 - Is it getting cold or am I just going THAT slow? OK, my legs are toast, last loop for me. Whoo Hoo there's the barn!
My first race bib since the 2011 Stone Cat Marathon.
Select group of elite endurance athletes about to start on a 6 hour journey. Or 3 hours, 19 minutes in my case. But I'm old and injured and don't train.
Off they go. I'm dead, f'ing last from the start.
Nice view of Fearon Farm Pond.
Sun piercing through the trees on a long, gradual uphill.
Follow the yellow-flagged trail......If you can see it.
The full moon didn't help much with illuminating the trail.
This is what night running looks like. The bonfires along the course were a nice touch.
The girl in the pink pants was an enthusiastic cheerleader. The others, not so much.
Approaching the finish line in the horse barn for the last time. Alleluia!
Can't wait to do it again next year.
Oh, I almost forgot. After being dead last after the first loop, I managed to finish the race in the middle of the pack. Not that it makes any difference. I was just out there to have a good time, and at that, I succeeded. I'm back...sort of.
I spent a few days exploring lower and outer Cape Cod by bicycle using Nickerson State Park as my base camp. Discovering the many salt marshes, quiet coves and beaches as I traveled along coastal roads only increased my desire to do an extended bike tour in the future. Here are a few images from my trip.
Chatham Lighthouse Beach, Chatham
Flax Pond, Brewster
Rock Harbor, Orleans
Tower at The Church of the Transfiguration
Boat Meadow Cove, Orleans(?)
A coastal inlet in Eastham
First Encounter Beach, Eastham
Boardwalk on Nauset Light Trail
Nauset Bay, Eastham
Nauset Light Beach
Old rail station scene on the side of a brick building.
PJ Boulangerie Bistro in Wellfleet. Best stop for french pastry!