Friday, March 28, 2008

Countdown to Northern Nipmuck

In seven days the first race of the very popular Grand Tree Series will kick off in Union CT with the Northern Nipmuck 16 mile trail race. The race is an 8 mile out and back, constantly rolling course starting in Bigelow Hollow State Park. It is beautiful country giving the runner the feeling of being deep in the forest. Race Director Jim Campiformio describes the course as follows: “The terrain is constantly rolling, and although there are no monster hills, there are enough steep sections to test your anaerobic capacity. The total gain over the 16 miles is approximately 3,200 feet. The footing is usually decent, but there are some steep, rocky sections that demand caution. If it has rained recently, expect to get your feet wet in several of the low-lying areas. Snow and ice may be present on the course at this time of year.” His description is very accurate.
I ran this race for the first time in 2007. I thought I was well prepared for the race having done many long runs on the roads. I soon realized that the roads had not prepared me well for the nearly constant climbing and descending, often on some very steep single-track trails of up to a 20% grade. In fact, only 3 miles of this race is flat. The remaining 13 miles is split evenly between uphill and downhill. The total elevation gain measured by my Garmin Forerunner 205 was 2700 feet. If you plan on running this race I hope you have trained on some serious hills.

Like many other trail races I have run in the past, this race starts to climb almost immediately from the start. I found myself walking in single-file almost before I knew it. Even though the winter had been very dry there was still a great deal of mud and water near the start. I did my best to avoid it but it was impossible since it covered the entire width of the trail. I can only image how much worse it will be this year considering how snowy and wet the winter was in 2008. I can guarantee you will be running through several small brooks for sure. The most unexpected thing I saw last year was a very large, thick icy section in a low-lying hollow. It even had a deep crevasse running through the middle of the ice field. It was very cool ice-skating across it and then hopping the fault.

Overall I ran well but the unrelenting hills finally wore me down. I was reduced to walking most of the up hills the last 2-3 miles. I was not thrilled that I had to run through the thick shoe-sucking mud again near the finish either. Even though I complained to my friend Mary about the hills, the water and the mud for most of the race, I truly enjoyed every minute of it. I think you will too.

Happy Trails!

Northern Nipmuck Elevation Profile

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Essex County Greenbelt Association - Area Events

Ok, so these are exactly running related events but I think if you are an avid trail runner you may also have an interest in some of these programs. Please support them if you can. Thanks

Carter Reservation Walk Carter Reservation, Gloucester Sunday, March 30, 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.Led by Seania McCarthy and Dee McManus Join Seania and Dee for a walk through this lovely historic property. Look for centuries-old house foundations and enjoy the wintry peace of this dense woodland property.
Directions: From Route 128 North, take the third exit off Grant Circle, the first Gloucester rotary, onto Washington Street (Route 127). Drive 2.2 miles. Just after the causeway that crosses the outlet for Goose Cove, turn right onto Dennison Street. Drive to the end of Dennison Street and park at the Greenbelt sign.

Great Marsh Symposium: A Coastal Treasure in Our Backyard Saturday, April 12, 8:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. (optional field trips from 3 - 4 p.m.) Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, Newburyport
Announcing the 2nd annual Great Marsh Symposium! Experts will speak about the history of the Plum Island Airport, striped bass research, photography of the Great Marsh, archeology, seasons on a salt marsh farm, ecological mysteries and much more!Registration is $12. Pre-registration is required. Register early as space is limited! Call Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center at (978) 462-9998, or download the registration form at Questions? Contact Kathy Leahy at (978) 927-1122 x.2700 or
Save the Date Sunday, April 27, 1 -3 p.m., Nature Walk, New England Biolabs, Ipswich Sunday, May 18, Noon - 3 p.m., Greenbelt's Annual Meeting, Cox Reservation,Essex Friday, June 13 - Sunday, June 15, Art in the Barn, Cox Reservation, Essex

Other Area Events of Interest
Owls of Essex County Tuesday, March 25, 7:30 p.m. Essex Shipbuilding Museum, 66 Main Street, Essex Presented by Jim Berry
Ever wonder about the lives of birds in your backyard? Join Jim Berry, ornithologist, for a fascinating look into the lives and habits of regional owls. Tickets are $6 for Shipbuilding Museum members, $8 for nonmembers. Call (978) 768-7541 or for more information.

Going Green So You Can Save Green Wednesday, March 26, 7 - 9 p.m. West End Theatre, 1 Washington Street, Gloucester Co-sponsored by Cape Ann Energy Network and Sustainable Cape Ann
Want to know how relatively small investments in 'greening' your home or apartment can save major 'green' for your wallet, while at the same time helping create a sustainable future? Join Cape Ann Energy Network and Sustainable Cape Ann for an informative gathering to learn about improving the energy efficiency of your home. Guest speakers Mike Salmon and John Moskal will present information on home energy solutions, and financial issues (costs, federal and state incentives, tax issues) associated with the purchase of renewable energy systems. The brief presentations will be followed by a question-answer period when the audience can ask questions specific to their own home and living situation. Email for more information.

Hamilton Wenham Trail Day Saturday, April 12, 9a.m. - 12 p.m. Sponsored by Hamilton Wenham Green
Join Hamilton Wenham Green for one of five walks in the forested landscape on Trail Day and learn what natural treasures are in your backyards. The events will be held on the Discover Hamilton Trail which is part of the larger Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway. The Discover Hamilton Trail is a 10 mile loop that travels through Bradley Palmer State Park, the Appleton Farms Grass Rides, the Harvard Woods, and the Pingree Reservation. These events are being held to bring more awareness about our natural resources and promote recreational use of already existing trails. For more information on the various walks and events being held please go to the website of Hamilton Wenham Green at Pre-registration is required for the walks. Please sign up at the Hamilton Wenham Library or call the library at (978) 468-5577.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Uphill Running Tips

Top trail runners Karl Melzer, 2006 Ultra Distance Runner-of-the-Year and Scott Mason, Montrail/Nathan Ultrarunning Team member offer some helpful hints on becoming a faster more efficient uphill runner. Hey, sometimes it's ok to walk! Watch Video

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Massachusetts Snowshoe Championships

The Second annual Massachusetts Snowshoe Championships were held at Northfield Mountain on March 15, 2008. Ethan Nedeau of Amherst, MA was the overall winner in a time of 38:04. Steve Peterson (CMS) was second and Rob Smith (CMS) finished third. CMS won the Men's team championship despite their 3rd place team member Ben Nephew starting the race 12 minutes late! WMAC won all other team divisions including Women's overall. Complete results here.

Peterson, Nedeau, Smith - moments after finishing

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fells Trail Race

The Skyline trail in the Middlesex Fells Reservation has not been the site of a trail race since 1999 when Ben Nephew won the one loop event in a time of 52:08. Long-time local runner Sal Genovese finished in the top 20 running a strong 1:05:43. This year the MorFun and Wapack trail races colorful RD (Bogie D) has bigger plans for the Skyline trail. On Saturday March 29th, he is hosting the Fells Trail Race which will start at 8AM. This race will consist of three distances run at the same time. You can choose to run three loops for a total of 24 miles, four loops or 32 miles and for the truly hard-core ultra-runner, 5 loops or 40 miles!

For those unfamiliar with The Middlesex Fells Reservation, it is a 2,575 acre retreat with suitable terrain for hikers, horseback riders, rock climbers, cross-country skiers and mud-loving, rock-jumping trail runners. "Fells" is the Saxon word for rocky, hilly tracts of land - an apt name for this scenic land which is rich in local history. This picturesque area was once favored for timber, granite quarrying, ice industry, and water power for the many mills that operated here.

The Skyline trail has plenty of loose rocks, gnarly roots and enough steep climbs and descents to challenge the most seasoned runner. If you’re looking for a change from your usual weekend run come and support this race. I’m sure you will have a great time if you survive! Skyline Trail Elevation Profile - Gain is 800' per loop.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Breakheart Revisited

As I approached the parking lot there was a buzz of activity as a group of young children were being led by their teachers to the ranger’s station. Yellow schools buses filled the parking lot. There were several park rangers in sight. Some speaking to groups of children while others were being interviewed in front of a video camera. This was surprising considering it was a Friday morning in March. As I readied myself for my run I noticed the maple trees were tapped and steam was coming from the maple sugar shed. The unexpected activity all made sense now. The maple sap is running. A sure sign of spring is maple sugaring at Breakheart. So long old man winter!

Today will be my second trail run in a week. I have been avoiding the trails out of concern the terrain would aggravate my
cervical spinal stenosis and the plantar fasciitis in my feet. Nearly all of my runs in the past 7 weeks have been done on a synthetic track or on flat roads around town. With spring fast approaching and the start of the Grand Tree trail race series in sight, I really want to test myself on the trails.

My last run took me on some steep sections of the Ridge trail up to Ash Hill. This time I decided to avoid any major climbs. I exited the parking lot on a short stretch of pavement and headed for the woods. With the sounds of excited children fading behind me I turned right onto the Saugus River trail. I haven’t run this trail in nearly nine months but I immediately notice something different about it. The trail was much wider than before, wide enough for a vehicle. The surface was smooth. Gone were the rocks and ruts so familiar to me from past runs. I continued up the wide, smooth incline, thankful for the easy start but curious as to the reason. As I crested the hill my question was answered. I was shocked to see a white and orange warning marker of Tennessee Gas Pipeline. My eye caught one marker after another, clearly showing the path the underground gas main has cut through the forest. I was sickened by the sight and the thought of it. How could our public officials allow such an abuse of this beautiful and marvelous natural resource? 

I moved on, descending to the lowest section of the trail. Efforts to redirect the winter run off were not successful and the entire trail on the descent was a washed-out mess of rocks, roots and ruts. The trail flattens and the bottom and I got to enjoy running in the soft, moist dirt. The Saugus River trail as you may have guessed runs along the banks of the Saugus River. It’s a low-lying area and I wondered if the trail would be partially submerged under the high water level of the river. The water was deep and moving slowly but spared most of the trail. It amazes me that I am less than one mile from busy Route 1 yet my breathing and footsteps are the only sounds I hear. I slowly pick my way through the trail covered with tangled tree roots and slippery moss covered rocks. I’m cautious of my foot placement and wonder if the constant downward tilt of my head will strain my neck.

Finally the trail opens up and I pick up the pace a bit. I cross over the river on a wooden footbridge. I encounter a walker coming from the opposite direction. I say hello but get no response. I wonder what motives a person who can not even exchange a simple greeting. I continue moving towards Camp Nihan. The trail is wide with good footing so I move quickly, well relatively speaking. Much of the trail is covered with a layer of pine needles muffling my footsteps are as I run under the tall pines. This is one of my favorite locations in Breakheart.

I cut across the Marsh Trail and head back to the river. My path is blocked by a large pine tree that has fallen across the trail. It’s too large to go around and too tall to go over. The only way to pass is to go through it. I scramble thought the branches and make it to the other side. I notice the laces of my
Merrell Overdrive trail shoes are loose so I make a brief stop to tighten them. I had the same problem last time I wore these shoes. The claps definitely do not work well. I recommend wearing conventional laces.

I’m off again picking up the remainder of the Saugus River trail. The trail is rolling single track here. I begin to feel some pain in my arches. I’m sure it is due to the undulating terrain. I try not to get onto the balls of my feet when going uphill by this is difficult. I have kept my plantar fasciitis in check for the past month by running strictly on level ground. It seems I’m not yet ready to tackle hills no matter how insignificant. With the pain increasing I figure it’s best to cut the run short and head back to the ranger station. I cut over to the Fox Run trail, a rocky stretch of single track that will take me back to the parking lot. My feet are beginning to feel the effects of all the ups and downs and I am happy to see the trail coming to an end.

There is a campfire next to the station and I relax on the bench for a few moments. I stare into the orange flames and contemplate the run. I’m disappointed to learn that after all these many months of rest my body is still unable to handle trail running. I sit by the fire sipping on a Gatorade. Had I known my neck pain would return later in the day and remain with me until now, I would have drunk a beer or two instead. Oh well, it looks like I'm heading back to the track for my next workout.

Just shoot me!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Breakheart Test Run

I took a short run at Breakheart Reservation last week. The purpose of the run was three-fold. First, I wanted to see how my body would react to climbing and descending hills as well as running on uneven surfaces encountered on trails. Up until now I had only been running on a local track and on some flat roads around town due to a long-term injury. Second, I wanted to test a new pair of Merrell Overdrive trail running shoes. Lastly, I wanted to see what the trail conditions were like after the snowy, wet conditions we had this winter.

I started from the Ranger's station parking lot and headed uphill on a paved section of road. I wasn't on the road for long but feel the Merrells have a decent amount of cushioning for a trail shoe. They should be able to handle short sections of pavement very well. I took a quick left onto the Ridge Trail which immediately drops down from the road. It felt great to feel my feet sinking into the soft earth and to hear the crinkle of dried leaves underfoot. It's been a very long, painful time since I have experienced the freedom and solitude of the forest. It didn't take long for me to realize this was going to be a messy run. I could hear the sound of running water and I as I approached the first climb I could see the flow of a small brook cutting across the trail. It was moving quickly, churning up white foam as it pasted over semi-submerged rocks. I carefully plodded my way across, stepping from stone to stone, doing my best to avoid getting wet so early in the run. On a warm summer's day running through the brook would have been my first choice. But on a cold, windy, March morning I took the prudent way out. Looking ahead to the rocky single track leading up to Ash Hill (elevation 233') I decided to walk. I felt sort of foolish walking just minutes into my run but I decided before the start to run only the flat sections and the slightest inclines and declines. I would walk everything else not wanting to risk aggravating my chronic neck and back problems or my ongoing plantar fasciitis.

I continued to walk/run until I reached the summit. The bright, clear sky offered a beautiful view of the Boston skyline. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo due to my oxygen deprived state. I descended the Ridge trail down to Ash Path. Where the trails meet is a tricky section of jagged rock that I took slowly. At the base of the trail is a low lying area often wet after a good rain storm. It was very muddy here but Merrells handled it well. The tread on the Vibram soles gave me ample traction in the deep, thick muck. Ash Path is a narrow, winding fire road lined with tall pines and dotted with small pools of water on both sides. Like many trails I have run, Ash Path has a surprise in store around every corner. One minute your stride is cushioned with a layer of thick pine needles. The next moment you are picking your way through a loose rock-strewn section. I ran all the flat portions and walked the steeper ones. Almost all of the rolling hills on this path are covered with loose rock so watch your footing here. At the end of Ash Path I crossed the paved road and headed to Silver Lake.

The Silver Lake trail is mostly flat with a mix of single and double track. Not many roots or rocks here to reach up and grab you so I took my time and enjoyed the views of the lake. Still covered with a thick layer of ice, there were no ducks or geese in sight. The ice had a silver like sheen to it. I wondered if this is how the lake got it's name? It was here on the Silver Lake trail when I first noticed what was to become a real annoyance. The laces on the Merrills were loose less than twenty minutes into the run. They continued to need an adjustment every 10 minutes or so after that. Even though it took just a few seconds to tighten the laces up again, it was a real nuisance. I can't imagine doing that every 10-20 minutes on a long run. I wanted to test the laces with the quick release claps to see how they performed. I'm glad I tried them out on a short run. Next time I'll use conventional laces. After circling the lake I headed back to the parking lot running in the trails in reverse direction. It's funny how different a trail can look when changing the direction you run it.

On the return trip I noticed a small waterfall that I had missed before. Awesome sight! I probably didn't notice it on the my way out because I was looking at my feet! I made it back to the parking lot in one piece. I had taken it very slow and felt pretty good at the finish. I did have some minor back pain but nothing that should be long lasting. Overall, I was pleased with the Merrill Overdrives. They had good traction in the mud, plenty of protection from sharp rocks underfoot with excellent comfort and support. Now that I got a taste of the trails it will be hard going back to my mindless ovals on the track!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hamster Run

Much like a hamster running on an exercise wheel I was off to the local jr. high school track to do a 35 minute workout. It’s not that I enjoy running mindless ovals but my chronic injuries are preventing me from running hills (up or down) and trails at this time. You would think running at a track would be uneventful, but hundreds of Canadian geese have make the town’s athletic field their winter home. Some of them are very territorial and have not learned the concept of sharing. On every lap I passed an angry goose trying to get a piece of me. That was not the worst of it though. The track was a minefield, littered with hundreds if not thousands of goose dropping in various stages of “freshness”. Dodging the do-do kept me alert and the time passed much quicker than I had anticipated. I completed 3.8 miles in 35 minutes. This is my best run since returning from a 7 month layoff about 5 weeks ago. Yes, it’s going to be a long road back.

My training partners. Fat and slow like me.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Product Review - First Impression

Merrell Overdrive
Suspecting the Inov 8 Flyroc 310s I wore last summer contributed to the development of plantar fasciitis in both of my feet, this year I decided to try a shoe with more support. After much searching I decided to go with the Merrell Overdrive. My first impression when trying it on is that the shoe seems to run small. I suggest buying a pair 1/2 size larger than you normally wear. The shoe also feels a bit narrow so it's not a good choice for someone with wide feet. Arch support is adequate and the heel counter fits snug which should prevent heel slippage. The Overdrive has a duel lacing system. The shoe can be laced conventionally or laced using the laces with a quick release/tightening clasp. The Vibram® Ultra-Traction sole should provide good traction in deep mud and on wet rocks. One area of concern I have with the shoe is the toe box. It's not wide enough nor high enough in my opinion. This could contribute to blisters on long runs or black toenails if descending many long, steep downhills. Well, I'm off for a short test run. I'll update you on the shoe's performance when I return.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Downhill Running Tips

Top trail runners Karl Melzer, Ultra Distance Runner-of-the-Year and Scott Mason, Montrail/Nathan Ultrarunning Team member offer some helpful hints on becoming a faster more efficient downhill runner. Hey, no one likes to face plant! Watch Video

(Photo - Decending Jay Mountain - Jay, VT)


Breakheart Trail Running was created to meet the growing interest in trail running on the North Shore. Check here for news about upcoming races and results in the New England area, as well as training and nutritional information and product reviews. If there is a topic you would like to cover, please feel free to post it here. Click on the link to learn more about Breakheart Reservation. (Photo - Camp Nihan Trail crossing the Saugus River)

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