Monday, February 8, 2016

midwinter runs

Winter has been fairly gentle on us in the greater Boston area. On Friday several inches of heavy, clinging snow fell, the sort that coats trees, leaves evergreens laden down with their branches drooping, and bars the hardwoods white to their twigs. It was an awfully pretty long run with the club on Saturday, temps in the 30s and the sun shining. We had yet more snow today, and the sidewalks are likely to be pretty messy tomorrow. Funny to think that Saturday before last I had a glorious "spring" run into the local park, temps in the upper 50s, one of those days when the trails are still snow-bound, but running in shorts and t-shirt feels perfectly natural. I do love mud season, but there is another month and a half of winter-proper before we get there.

I was running until recently in a pair of Saucony Kineta Relays, a pretty light shoe, but I managed to almost completely destroy them after 400 miles. Gaping holes on the lateral edge of the shoe, right by my pinky toe (both sides), and the non-removable foam insoles chewed to pieces. Well, I guess that was a reasonable lifetime for them.

I just signed up for the OFTM, so that's the next race on the agenda! I am not getting much quality work in, but nothing new there. Winter!

My ankle is still doing OK. It was sore after running on icy sidewalks last week (in my blown out old shoes), but is doing better now.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Well, I'm back

Well, I'm back (more or less). 2015 didn't see much competitive racing, as I nursed some tendinosis in my left Achilles and explored some other interests. I ran New Bedford Half in the Spring (terrible--but considering the winter, I couldn't have done much better than mediocre, even if everything had gone perfectly), the Needham Great Bear 5K in the spring (mediocre, but it sure felt fun to race), then nothing, then a Tough Mudder in November (alright, not actually a race, but still fun), then lastly the old GNRC Ho-Ho-Ho 5K in early December, where a 17:44 was good enough for a win. 

'Round about August I intentionally dropped my mileage to no more than 4 miles / day, and focused on trying to rehab my ankle. With the help of Dr. Google I settled on a new protocol of 3x 75 toe drops on my weak ankle, and 2x 50 toe drops on my good ankle, every morning, with a 20 lb backpack. Then I added one set of 75 "flutters" on each leg (bouncing up and down on that foot). These sets were enough to leave my calves and ankles feeling like they were on fire, but what I found on the internet suggested that this was actually desirable. 

It took months, but eventually this payed off. I noticed a lot less pain in my ankle during the day when getting up from a sitting position, and eventually no pain at all. Very slowly, with many bumps and reverses, I started raising mileage, and then even adding a little bit of quality back into my routine. I'm now back up to everything but hill repeats. I've kept the toe drops, and I don't have any time horizon for when I can stop that protocol, as they still feel pretty essential. 

Anyway, new year, new hopes, new plans! I started off with the local New Years Day 5K. This race is very flat, with only a couple of mild rollers in the last mile. The conditions were also about perfect, with low wind and temps in the upper 30s. I have my 5K pr on this course, at 16:39, but that didn't fret me today. One good thing about coming back from injury, I guess--I felt most content to measure myself against my recent performance, or lack thereof. 

There's a bit of prize money for this race, so it usually gets some hot-shots. It would have taken 16:19 to crack the top 3 (winner went through in 15:20). I ran a 5:20, 11:13 (goddamn it), and took it home in 17:31, almost exactly what I had predicted. If I had paced better, I could have imagined running ~17:15, but still a long ways from the sub-17 shape I was in in 2011. 

Maybe we will have a mild winter this year, and I'll be able to keep doing track workouts. Hope springs eternal. 

My next race is probably going to be the OFTM. I'm not feeling quite self-flagellating enough to do Derry this year.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Grafton Loop Trail Overnight

I've been up in Maine, hiking and swimming and only running intermittently. I had a goal to explore some new mountains this trip, and settled on Grafton Notch in the Mahoosucs. Despite only being an hour from our summer home, we never went here on family hiking outings, heading instead for slightly bigger and slightly closer peaks. It's too bad because Grafton is beautiful! I had quite a wonderful adventure doing a solo overnight on the Grafton Loop Trail, which climbs over three and a half peaks on the East side of the notch, then crosses ME 26 (following a section of the AT), and goes over another 2.5 on a southerly trajectory that leaves you a short half-mile's walk back along the road to your car.

Here's how it went, in pictures.

I started from the trail-head around 6:50. It was still early when I got to the first overlook on the flank of Puzzle Mt, with dramatic clouds (remnants from yesterday's heavy rains) still hanging low in the notch.

The summit of Puzzle Mt was completely locked in cloud. I'm sure it would have had lovely views. The summit was slightly confusing, with two cairns seemingly heading in different directions, but no trail sign. I thought one way might be the Woodsum Spur Trail leading back down Puzzle Mt, but I found that meeting up with the trail further on. Anyway, it was useful to take a compass bearing to ensure I left the summit heading north.

The trail down Puzzle Mt. was wet from rain, and I soon came to the first of many gushing stream crossings.

As I approached Long Mt. I moved through an old timber cut, filled with verdant undergrowth and some late raspberries.

Long Mt's summit is forested and not interesting (distinguished only by a sign along a fairly flat ridge trail), but it did present this gorgeous view via a short spur trail.

Coming down from Long Mt. I got lost for pretty much the only time on the whole route (the way is excellently blazed, with only a few exceptions). Where the trail makes a hard left turn off an old timber road, I somehow walked right past a sign and a makeshift barrier of birch branches into this meadow. There was just enough of a treadway through the undergrowth to make me think I was still going somewhere. Lining the way were hordes of delicious raspberries, to which I helped myself. After exploring down past this meadow in a couple different directions I eventually realized my mistake.

In the valley between Long Mt and Baldpate, the trail parallels a stream (Wight Brook, I think) for the better part of a mile. It would be hard to pick just one scene of sylvan beauty that was particularly memorable over the course of the hike, but the laughing companionship of this stream as it rushed white and frothing down from the high peaks of the notch's East wall was particularly magical. I lunched at the Knoll Campsite turnoff, overlooking the stream, and was very happy.

Another shot of Wight Brook.

By the time I reached the main ascent of East Baldpate, I was feeling both drowsy and physically tired (having only got 4.5 hours of sleep in my eagerness to make an early start). I puffed my way up the flank of the mountain, determined not to rest until I got to the summit. I had planned my route with a "fast and light" mentality, but when putting my pack together I failed to deliver on the "light" part. Some rookie mistakes that I remember doing better on my last overnight, plus the fact that overnight temperatures in the 40s had encouraged me to bring my sleeping bag (which is huge and heavy, and has "Base Camp" stitched into the outer lining).

Anyway, I needed to shake off my doze for a few steep bits, such as the Via Ferrata stretch above. But for the most part there were no views to excite or inspire on the way up Baldpate from the East. Given the name I felt a wee bit cheated...

until I got to the summit! Amazing views to the N, S, and W. In the distance you can see a line of windmills turning in the breeze. I laid down and snoozed for a quarter hour in the sun, trying to replenish my energy reserves.

This whole time, about 17 miles worth of hiking, I had seen exactly two groups, a troop of boys way out in the forest between Long Mt and Puzzle Mt, and another female hiking troop just leaving the Baldpate summit as I arrived. Once on Baldpate however, the situation changed, as there were many people hiking this stretch of the AT.

Looking toward West Baldpate.

Hikers can be seen in the distance, navigating the trail up to W. Baldpate. I caught this group later on my way down to the Notch.

A look back up-trail on the dramatic, ledgy descent down from East Baldpate.

And a look down-slope. Baldpate lives up to its name after all.

In a dell between East and West Baldpate I replenished my water for the first time, filling up from a little stream running through a hemlock grove. The water was cold and not murky with particulates, but a slightly funny burnt orange color (from the tannins in the hemlocks, I assume). At around 3400 feet it was "high water" --by Maine standards anyway--but I treated it anyway with my a new electronic gadget (steripen).

Above is the beautiful scramble up West Baldpate.

I was pretty fagged out at this point and stopped taking pictures. I even bypassed the Table Rock overlook, which is supposed to be beautiful. The next shot is of ME 26 in the north end of Grafton Notch, as I finally made it down off Baldpate.

I hiked a quarter mile up the other side of the notch, stopping as the way became steep and moving off trail to find a bivouac site. Camping is not allowed in Grafton Notch State Park (sorry!) I felt what I was doing--essentially pulling up a tree--was so low impact that it would be difficult to complain about it, though.

Getting my contacts out, and then back in the next morning, was quite a trick. I washed off my hands with sterilized water from my bottle, and then licked them clear of FOD. It wasn't perfect, but I managed it.

You can't really see from the bivouac site above, but I was perched on the edge of a sharp declivity that flanked the South side of the Eyebrow, which is a great cliff on the shoulder of Old Speck. I could just see it through the trees, looming above me as I settled in. A cascade spilled down the side closest to me, and I drifted off to sleep with its sound murmuring in my ears.

I slept pretty well, waking occasionally, but otherwise unmolested by wildlife or anything else--even mosquitoes were scarce in the cool evening. There's no real dawn under the dense forest canopy that rose above me, but I blinked awake early enough to see the tenebrous murk slowly lift, the cracks of light between the leaves brightening until the whole scene became morning.

I dragged myself out of bed around 6, moderately sore, my achilles (both of them!) hurting, but not badly enough to make me want to abort. After I stretched out, they felt better. The trail food I had brought--mainly GORP, PB&J sandwiches, and candy bars, had long since lost its appeal, but I made myself eat what seemed an adequate amount of calories, and then got my stuff together to head out.

I was heartened by the knowledge that I would get the main ascent of the day done early, up to the summit of Old Speck, one of the highest mountains in Maine. In addition, my mileage would only be around 17, down from 21 the previous day.

As I got started, I could see glimpses of the cascade that had serenaded my to sleep the previous night.

When I at last made it to the crest at the top of the Eyebrow, I could see the actual summit of Old Speck, still quite far away.

When I finally made it to the summit around 8:30 in the morning, I was treated to a beautiful sight: lakes of low clouds lapping the peaks in every direction.

Above is the viewing tower at the top of Old Speck. The ladder up is not for the afraid of heights, but the views in every direction are well worth it. Hats off to the people who soldered this thing together up here!

Descending from Old Speck, I stopped at the Bull Run campsite turnoff to replenish my water supplies. It was another mountain stream of rare beauty (which I totally failed to capture with my camera), but the water it provided was perfectly clear, sweet-tasting and icy cold--elixir that bouyed me up for the rest of the trip.

After a long walk through wild woodlands, I began to ascend Sunday River Whitecap. Above, a view back toward Old Speck.

...and down into the Notch.

The trail up to the summit was almost bizarrely well constructed, given the comparative rarity with which this mountain must get climbed. The peak can only be approached via the Grafton Loop Trail, with a long journey from either end to reach it. Moreover, I didn't see a living soul the entire time I was on the West section of the trail.

Still, I'm not going to complain about such handy climbing aids.

The approach up to the summit was bare of trees and crowded with blueberries. The views were stupendous (above, looking toward Mt. Washington), and the peak wild and very isolated-feeling, despite the meticulously constructed boardwalks put in by the AMC crews. I ended up feeling like this summit was my special treat for doing the loop trail, as there is virtually no other way to climb it except by thru-hiking the western section of the loop. If this mountain were closer to a trailhead it would be getting thousands of hikers every season!

Another view back from Sunday River Whitecap toward Old Speck.

In hiking the Loop, you will spend a lot of time off the ridges and peaks, moving through wild Maine forest. There were many scenes of great beauty, like the one above--more subtle and difficult to capture with a lens, but just as affecting in their way as the majestic views from higher elevations.

I saw virtually no wildlife--not even insects bothered me, particularly--but check out this dead bird!

I continued on from Sunday River Whitecap, entertaining myself with the time-honored hiking game of imagining all the delicious hot meals I would eat when back off the mountain. The way continued quite pretty, although the descent down into the Notch was strenuous. I miscalculated my position and came to expect to see ME 26 at any second, until I ran into the Bald Mt Campsite turnoff, informing me in no uncertain terms that I still had two miles to go! It was just as well, as I was better able to enjoy the final descent off Bald Mt (a largely insignificant prominence, with no views despite its name) which parallels another mountain stream as it rushes down to join the Bear River.

The homestretch takes you through private land and is bit confusing--the blue blazes of the Grafton Loop Trail cease, and you must be on the lookout for yellow plastic signs, not all of which are obvious coming from the CCW direction.

To get back to the road you cross this beautiful meadow.

And this awesome suspension bridge.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Started the intervals @ 6am, but it was already pretty warm. Done in trainers. Wanted 75s.

10x 400 in

with 200 jog recovery. I was hurting--feeling the lack of quality over the last few weeks while I waited for my ankle to feel better. On the bright side, I'm light years ahead of where I was this time last year.

Monday, July 7, 2014

4 on the 4th in Bridgton, ME

Back to racing! Not much to say about this one--felt good to be on the line again. I had some pain in my left achilles that I was letting improve with light mileage--but what really ended up helping it was a 15 mile hike in the White Mountains the day after the race (not to a mention a very therapeutic soak in a very cold stream afterwards). I hiked up Baldface as far as the top of the ledges, but the wind was so powerful I had to turn back (a westerly from the direction of Mt. Washington--can only imagine what it was like up on the presidentials' ridgeline). On the way back down I stopped by Chandler Gorge--heavy rain from Hurricane Arthur had it going like a mill-race! Quite a sight. 

As a consolation, I hiked deeper into Evan's Notch and went up the blueberry/speckled mountain ridgeline, which was in the wind-shadow of the westerly ridge defining the notch, and thus hikable above tree-line. Tons and tons of green blueberries--I was just a bit too early for them, alas. 

Anyway, my officially measured time for the race was 23:42, for 13th overall (I clocked 23:40 for myself, not sure of the discrepancy).