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Downtown Temple,NH

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Uncanoonuc Mt....times two

My friend Dan and I have been talking about doing a trail run on and around Uncanoonuc Mt in Goffstown. Actually there are two mountains, North Mt and South Mt and both are nearly identical in elevation (approximately 1320 ft) and about a mile apart as a crow flies. The plan was to cover as many of the surrounding summit routes and hit both summits in a single run. Unfortunately we never really found any decent trail maps of the area, just an old map from the 1930's when they used to have a snow train to the summit. The others were mountain bike GPS maps from various riders. We printed out what we had, packed our GPS watches along with a compass and headed to the Base Rd parking area below South Mt.

We headed up South Mt. first via the Summit Trail (or U.S.C. Trail on the old map). Very steep climb but it didn't last too long. We didn't follow it to the summit though, opting for a side trail labeled 'Walker' as we approached the summit. The trail gently traveled around the NE side of the mountain before hooking up with the Incline trail just short of the summit. It did offer nice views to the NE of downtown Manchester however.

View of Downtown Manchester from Walker Trail.

Incline Trail on South Mt.

We then turned right and headed up the last bit of the Incline Trail. Once at the summit we looped around once looking for the Eastside Trail. Not sure if we found it or not but after a VERY steep decent, we did find an awesome single track around the south side of the mountain, eventually hooking up with Summit Rd. A quick trek down the road to the powerlines and we were off on our next trail, following the lines for nearly 2 miles.

Powerline Trail

At this point we went on a several mile detour (aka lost), eventually coming out on a residential road. We were looking for a cross trail from South to North Mountains. After stopping and asking a neighbor for directions, we headed up Mountain Road and eventually found the trail we were looking for: Dorsey Ravine Trail. We followed this trail all the way to the summit. Stopped for a quick snack, snapped a couple of pictures and off we went down the other side of the mountain, hoping to find the infamous cross trail back to South Mountain.

Dorsey Ravine Trail on North Mt.

Near the summit of North Mt.

View of South Mt. from the summit of North Mt.

Shortly after passing a beaver dam and pond we can across a familiar sign: Bickford Lookout. Actually just Bickford was familiar since we saw a sign for Bickford Trail back at the start of our run earlier this morning. We must have finally found the cross trail. After taking a short detour to the lookout and taking the picture below we headed back to South Mountain.

Bickford Lookout

In all we traveled just over 10 miles, with nearly 3,000 ft of elevation gain (and 3,000 ft of elevation loss). All in all a pretty good workout for a couple of hours.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Am I a Trail Runner?

I started this blog a few months ago mostly to chronicle my introduction into trail running. I wasn't exactly sure what the heck I would write about (or why) but I figured what the heck. Maybe it would be a modified training log, maybe it would end up being a repository of useless information. I really didn't think that far ahead. If nothing else it was a place I could post or link all the things I found interesting to me, whether links to races, products or even other blogs.

Over the last couple of months I've rambled on about various races and I think I have an idea what I'd like to do with this blog. I'm not sure I'll inspire anyone but I would like to provide some useful info on various races and events. This could be via links, stories, race reports and hopefully pictures. I'm always looking for info on new races (especially trail races) and constantly search for stories or race reports, course descriptions or pictures to help me decide if I want to attempt it or not. If I could provide some useful information for 'someone' out there I'd be happy.
The trail running circuit and the snowshoeing circuit have a lot in common. From my limited involvement in each so far, I'd say they are one in the same. In other words, it seems a lot of the people are the same or at the very least, a lot of the personalities are the same. They're members of "Friends of this, that or the other Forest", they have AMC stickers on their cars, they're vegetarians, they buy organic products but mostly...they're not from around here. I suppose they might be a product of their environment, living and working in some beautiful parts of the Northeast. They have access to some incredible parks and forests. They have access to dozens of trail races a year. I am jealous, I admit it.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but positive things to say about the races and the people involved in each. Very nice, very down to earth. It seems these folks are indeed obsessed though. They ONLY do trail races, and the longer the better. As a side note: why is every trail race longer than the last? Does anyone put on a 5 mile trail race?

I'm trying to figure out if I really have anything in common with these folks or if I run these events for the same reason. I mostly run races to challenge myself, to do something the average person would not do. I always want to test what I'm capable of (physically) but I want to do this in the realm of having fun as well. Maybe the difference is I'm not obsessed with trail running. I started trail running mostly to give my wounded knees a break (having had surgery on BOTH knees in 2007). I still enjoy running on the roads though. I like small town races. The 1/2 marathon is my favorite distance. I also enjoy triathlons (as long as they are less than a 1/2 Ironman distance).

I am not suffering though. Southern New Hampshire has access to more road races than any place I've seen or heard about. From April until October it is impossible NOT to find a race somewhere within 30 minutes of home. I do wish there were a few trail races sprinkled in now and then, however.

I guess I'm probably not a trail runner as defined by what I've seen so far. I'm more of a runner who enjoys running on trails. Yes, there is a difference.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Soapstone Mountain 24k Trail Race

I headed down to Stafford, CT this weekend to run the Soapstone Mountain 14.5m trail race. This would be my longest run all year (actually, it would be my longest run since 2006). It would also be my 3rd weekend in a row doing races over 12m (Seven Sisters, Big Lake and now Soapstone).
I knew little about the course except there was a monster climb early in the race but overall a fairly runnable race (unlike Seven Sisters).
Beautiful weather for a trail race. Sunny with a nice breeze with temps probably in the low 60's. Registration was busy but I wasn't entirely sure how many were doing the long race. There was also a 4 mile 'sampler' trail race that started right after the 14.5m race. Although I didn't see anyone I actually knew (probably not many New Hampshire runners down here in Connecticut), I did see quite a few familiar faces from previous races. I took a spot near the front, trying to size up the various runners and their abilities.
The 1st mile runs along a mostly flat dirt road before turning sharply onto a more 'traditional' hiking trail. From there it starts a slow accent towards Soapstone Mountain (I think). I was in a fairly large pack but we had a good pace going. After crossing our first road the trail makes another sharp right and WHAM, what a view! I near vertical 1/4 to 1/2 mile climb straight up a slope. I wish I had a camera though. What a picture, a stream of runners climbing single file up this monster. I think we could see the entire field in front of us all on the same trail.
Once at the top we ran by the observation tower of Soapstone Mt (again...I think) and then headed down steeply but not as steep as the accent. It was then a roller coaster trail of ups and downs through the woods, but nice enough to run at a fairly decent pace. At the 3.6m mark we came to the first (or was that the second) checkpoint, grabbed some water and continued on. At times the course was hard to follow. We were instructed to follow the White Dot trail unless we saw pink ribbons hanging from the branches. The ribbons were an indication of a change in direction. Although the White Dot trail was generally well marked, there were lots of side trails, openings, etc.. that sometimes got you a little confused as to which way to go. More than once I had to backtrack because I missed a turn (usually marked with the ribbons).
Around the 5 mile point I found myself running with a group of 6-8 runners, including the race director. She was very helpful, letting the rest of us know which way the trail went when it was not so apparent. At one point we came across a pink ribbon, turned and followed the ribbons through the woods. It was a total bushwhack, no trail, just ribbons. Interesting, I thought, nice change of pace. We continued on switchbacking back and forth following the ribbons and eventually hooked back up with the main White Dot trail. I took a Stinger Gold gel (honey, actually), felt an instant energy boost and decided to take the lead in our little chase pack. Then a strange thing happened: I started passing people I either passed previously OR started behind me at the start. I immediately assumed they must of cut the corner and skipped the bushwhack section. It never occurred to me that maybe WE made a mistake, especially since our group had the RD with us. Either we lost or they gained a bunch of time and I was not happy. Runners should NEVER get lost on a course. No excuse. The race course must be clearly marked and never should a mistake gain you an advantage. For the next 8 miles I managed to stay ahead of my group (thankfully) and continued to pick off additional runners...runners for the most part I'd already passed once today.
This course had a little of everything though and was not lacking in the mud department. There was some serious mud in sections and most was hard to avoid. It also followed a mountain stream bed down one section of a mountain. When I say followed, I mean the stream bed WAS the trail, and it wasn't dry. Amazingly I managed to get through it without a slip or fall.
I reached the last checkpoint (mile 11.6) around 1:30 into the race. "2.9 miles to go" yelled the volunteer. I was exhausted by this point and I could feel the blisters forming on my wet feet. The trail turned mostly to a single track by this point. I passed a few more runners and then the trail looped back on itself so you could see the runners coming up the hill as you were going down. I saw the group I ran with earlier...but I couldn't tell if they were catching me.
I think we came up over Soapstone Mountain again, at least it looked familiar. We descended steeply and eventually joined up with a paved road and followed it for a 1/2 mile or so, eventually joining up with a dirt road again. I think we ran on part of this at the beginning of the race. The race then left the dirt road, and followed a single track nearly all the way back to the finish line, crossing a short pasture and then finishing at some out buildings of the riding club (same place we registered at).

FINISH TIME: 2:07:23, 21st overall out of 149 finishers

After finishing and grabbing a bit to eat (nice picnic feast!) I chatted with some fellow runners and the RD (there were two actually). Turns out WE took the wrong trail with the bushwhack side track. The RD figures we probably lost 5-7 minutes with our adventure. Not sure how the RD can get lost on her own course but I don't think it was her fault. Someone clearly marked a trail, using the same color ribbons as the actual course. Thankfully it brought us back to the original trail. I heard some other runners say they went nearly 3 miles off track somewhere out there. I think I also heard the eventual winner was fooled by this bushwhack trail as well. I wasn't really mad about it though. I had a great time. This was an awesome race, a beautiful course and my favorite trail race so far. It was definitely worth the trip down from New Hampshire.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why do we run the races we do?

I was having a discussion with some friends the other day about what race we were all doing next...and it got me thinking: What the heck drives me to pick the races I do? I'd like to think I have some logic to it all, whether it's cost, location, size of field, etc... but honestly, I'm not sure if I actually use logic. In fact, I bet if I thought about all the races I've done and why I'd come up with different reasons for running almost every time. I think there's two ways to look at it though.

How do I select a NEW (to me) race?
This one has a lot of variables. It also depends on the season and what I'm looking for. Some of the criteria that comes to mind are as follows:
  • I can't think of a lot of races I've done that were in their 1st year of existence. There are soooo many choices out there that I rarely take chances on 'start up' races. With everything, there are exceptions though. I'll run a new race if it's for a cause I want to support or if it offers something 'new' or challenging. A new 5k in the city? Highly unlikely. A new 1/2 marathon in a scenic area? Probably.
  • I prefer Saturday races to Sunday races.
  • I like a race that provides a lot of information. I like races with dedicated websites, course maps and descriptions, elevation profiles, past results, pictures, etc..
  • Word of mouth helps. If friends of mine have positive things to say about a race then I'm more likely to run it.
  • Location is sometimes a factor. I've driven 2-3 hrs for a race before but it has to be something that isn't offered locally. In other words, I won't drive 2 hrs for a 5k but I would for a 14 mile trail race. I also prefer to run in New Hampshire if possible. More because it's familiar territory. I prefer not to run races in major cities or even minor cities for that matter. It's easy to avoid cities when you limit your racing to New Hampshire.
  • Sometimes I just 'feel' like racing or just want to test my current fitness. Like my training, my racing sometimes is based on how I feel at the moment. I generally do not sign up for too many races in advance. If I'm feeling good and just want to race I'll search Coolrunning for whatever is available.
Why do I do a race more than once?
This one is a bit easier to answer and has more logic applied to it.
  • I had a good race experience the first time. Kind of general but enough said.
  • I like the course. I typically do not like pancake flat courses...any distance. Some rolling hills and I'm good. Too many turns or 'out and backs' are not for me either.
  • A scenic course is sometimes nice but rarely enjoyed. However, if I do have time to look around I might as well look around at some nice scenery.
  • Near the top is a well organized race. This includes registration, starting on time, well marked course, traffic control and friendly volunteers. This would also include posting of race results in a timely fashion, both at the finish and online.
  • Post race food and drink can be a factor but not that important in the grand scheme of things. Some races do have some incredible eats and this does play a small part in me coming back. Others are not so good but I like the course so I'll do it anyways. The only time I'll complain about food is either there is very little compared to the cost of the race OR there is not enough for all competitors. Sometimes I do get the sense the RD is only looking to make money and doesn't care enough about the actual runners doing the race. It's definitely a fine line though. If the RD crosses it, I'm done and won't come back.
  • Sometimes I run races just because I've run it before. I love data, I time everything and I always want to improve. I race against myself. I want to constantly improve so it's nice to be able to measure performance with a known distance and course.
I rarely run 'because' of the t-shirt but I have to admit there are some that I like more than others. I would love two things to happen though. I'd like to see race directors provide an option of running the race without a t-shirt (at a reduced cost). Even I have to admit I have a t-shirt collection that is totally out of control. I really do not need anymore. The other thing I'd like to see is a switch from cotton t-shirts to tech shirts. I rarely wear t-shirts anymore and LOVE tech shirts. Some races have done this (both provide a t-shirt as on option and/or supply tech shirts). Lets keep this trend going (although I'm not sure how much of a trend it actually is...).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Big Lake Race Report

It's been a couple of years since I last ran Big Lake (due to injuries) and it's still one of the best run races in NH. They do a fabulous job with organization and it keeps me coming back. We also had a decent break on the weather as well. It seems this race has quite a history of lousy weather. Not so this year, no rain to speak of, partly sunny (or is it partly cloudy?) skies, temps in the high 40's, low 50's at the start. The only weather negative was the pretty strong headwinds for most of the first 6-7 miles heading up Rt11. It definitely slowed you down and took more energy than it should have but overall it was a fine day for racing. I parked my car across from the finish area and then walked the 1.5 miles back to the start. Welcome to my warm up.
There were a number of GCS runners at the start, pretty much the same crew I run with at track on Wednesdays. Joe, Kevin, Brian , Raelyn , Trent . Joe and Kevin are in a different league but Brian, Rae and Trent are all about my speed so I was hoping for a nice race (on my part).
I also ran into Michelle from my Steamed Muscles team and Scott Graham from the snowshoeing series. Good to see everyone out racing again!
Most of us ran together through the 1st mile or so but then Brian, Rae and Trent started opening up a lead and by mile 3 were probably 20-30 seconds ahead of me. Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone to run with (or draft) for the entire time on Rt11. I was running alone the whole way, not what I had hoped. Although I recorded my splits on my watch, I never really checked them or paid attention the overall time. I wanted to run based on how I felt and not be pressured into running a particular pace or time.
Miles 4 and 5 saw the GCS pack open up an even bigger lead and they were still all running together. Hmm, maybe they are faster then me...
Finally, as we neared the top of the long climb up Rt11 around mile 6, I felt like the gap was closing on the GCS pack. This gave me a boost and I started to pick up the pace (thanks to the downhill for the next couple of miles). By miles 7 and 8 I was probably 10 seconds back. I felt good but I wanted to pass at the right time. I did not want anyone hanging on my heals when I went by. After a couple of tough little hills we hit a relatively flat section near mile 9. I picked up my pace and went by Brian, then Raelyn and finally Trent and kept the pace going, never looking back.
For the final 3-4 miles to the finish I pushed as hard as I could, catching a couple additional runners along the way. I had no idea where Brian, Raelyn and Trent were but I could hear the spectators cheering and had a rough idea 'someone' was back there but it didn't seem that close. I continued to record my splits and still had no idea what kind of pace I was running and never looked at the clocks at the mile markers. As I came across the finish line I finally saw the clock, 10 seconds off my 1/2 marathon PR! Not bad on a 'not really a PR course'.... It was my best Big Lake time to date as well.

Finished in 1:24:33, 20th overall out of about 1200.

Raelyn was next, maybe a minute back, followed by Trent around a 1 1/2 minutes back with Brian right behind him. Nice racing by everyone. I was very pleased with the results and it's good to be back racing again.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Big Lake 1/2 Marathon Up Next

I'll be heading up to Alton Bay tomorrow morning for the 7th Big Lake 1/2 Marathon, one of my favorite races of the year. This should have been one of my 'goal' races for the year but I ran the Seven Sisters Trail Race last Sunday and STILL haven't recovered. What a brutal race that was. I've been struggling with 'dead' legs all week.
Although I wouldn't consider Big Lake a PR course, I don't believe it's as hard as some make it out to be. It does have some hills, including a long gradual one in the early miles but it also has a gradual down hill finish for the last 3 miles. A bigger concern this year might be the forecast for high winds from the north (the direction of the first 1/2 of the race). Nearly all of the first 6-7 miles are along RT11 which is HIGHLY exposed. I"ll have to find one of those big fat fast guys and draft I guess :-)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Seven Sisters Race Report

Although I had been warned not to run this race in wet conditions (risk of injury HIGH), as usual I ignored the recommendation and did the race anyways (in wet conditions). Plenty of rain fell the night before and probably the morning of the race but by race time the rains had subsided, leaving only nice wet rocks and muddy trails.
No warm up required for this one. Unfortunately no course review or checkout either. The trail starts right on RT116 and then heads immediately up a very steep hill, climbing something like 500+ feet in about 1/4 mile or so. No need to verify, I can visualize that one in my head. Too bad the RD didn't have a course map with elevation profile posted: that would be really handy, or at least it would be a topic of discussion. In the grand scheme of things, probably doesn't change much but I like information and I had no idea what this course was like. Zero, zip, zilch, nada.

The start was kind of like speed hiking with 200 of your closest friends...on a single track...with rocks...up a steep slope....in wet conditions....all trying to be the first one to the top. It took quite a while to thin out the crowd (hard to do when it's a single track). On the way out it never really thinned, and I always had runners in front and behind me along the trail. I just followed the guy/girl in front of me. This race is either climbing or descending, and most of the time doing both steeply. When we did come to a 'flat' section, it was quite a relief and felt nice to actually run. Most of the climbing required walking or fast hiking. A good portion just wasn't runnable...by anybody. The descents were another story. I am a lousy downhill runner on good conditions, with these conditions I am even worse. I generally 'ran' very conservative on the downhills. I have a number of races coming up and didn't want to risk injury. I was amazed how fast some runners actually run down these hills. I have no idea how they do it.

As mentioned to some friends earlier, I think basalt rock is geologist-speak for 'sharp pointy rocks'. If the trail didn't have rocks everywhere, it had slippery mud or both. Mental concentration was in full operation on this one, at least on the way out. There was a bit of a break around the 4 mile mark when we ran up the stairs,around the wrap-around porch of the Summit House and back down the stairs on the other side, heading back out onto the trail.
The turn around point was after a toe-jamming descent that I read was about 850ft in about 1 1/2 miles. It was kind of non-eventful, come racing down the hill and see a table of Gatorade along with some volunteers and a tent. At first I thought it was an aid station but then someone said 'you're all set', race slang for 'we got your number now turn around and head back'. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade, topped off my water bottle and headed back up the trail. I hit the turn at about 1:14 and was happy with my time so far. Up until this point I hadn't eaten a single thing on the trail. Heck, I barely had time to drink since you're always so focused on where to put your next foot. On the way back up to the Summit House I grabbed a Powerbar from my carrier and managed to have about 1-2 bites. It was just too hard to eat (hard and cold). I probably should have packed a couple of Gu's looking back now. The lack of fuel really hurt on the return trip. I was definitely slowing down and losing energy. Some guy was following me closely for the last 2-3 miles and actually kept me going. I HATE being passed so I kept pushing the pace just to stay in front. He did eventually pass and then mistakenly kept saying 'this is the last hill'...about 3-4 times in a row. I finally gave up listening to him. Heck, by that time I could hear the traffic on Rt116 so I knew I was close. Now I was trying to fend off someone gaining behind me. I picked up the pace as best as I could on the final downhill to the finish. He was gaining but I managed to hold him off and finished strong (easy to do on a downhill finish!).

Official Results: 2 hrs 38 min 52 sec, 71st overall out of 241.

I felt awful though. Actually, I was nauseous. I had a cup of orange juice and a cookie but that was about it. I just wanted to lie down. I walked around for a while to make sure nothing was going to cramp up and then I got in my car for the nearly 2 1/2hr drive home.

I'm glad I did this one, although it was a brutally tough race. I'd prefer a race that I could actually run more though but who knows, I might do this one again.