Tag Archives: trail

Race Report: Blues Cruise 50k – My First Ultra

Six weeks ago I had this compulsive idea to sign up for the Blues Cruise 50k Ultra Trail run. I found out about the race through a friend who had done it a few years ago and it has always been floating around in my mind. I really didn’t have any real intentions to do another race after finishing the Steelman Olympic Tri in August. I always wanted to try doing an ultra-running  event and something finally jarred me to sign up for this one. I had already fallen pretty deeply into off-season mode at this point and had already gained about 13 lbs, so getting into greater-than-marathon shape would be a bit of a stretch. I changed my goal to basically building up some longer than marathon endurance and not really focus on speed. Instead, I would just enjoy the being out on the trail for the day.

Training?

My weekly training for the race consisted of more difficult hour trail run, a bit slower less technical run, then one longer LSD run on Saturday, followed by another hour run the Sunday to shake out the previous days run. Rest days would be sprinkled in between. The long Saturday runs started out at 2.5 hours and worked up to around 4.5 hours before tapering a week out from the event. I have to say I really enjoyed getting off the road and into the woods for my training runs. I am fortunate to have a ski area a couple miles from my home that has some pretty technical mountain biking trails that make for serious trail running. Along with a few face plants and turned ankles. Trail running will quickly teach you to lift your feet.

I also had a week of vacation in Asheville, NC thrown in there which was a help. If you are not familiar with Asheville, it is a very outdoorsy and active place. There are vast amount excellent mountain biking trails in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just outside of the city which make for fabulous trail running. So I was able to log some good miles down there trail running and mountain biking. We had planned this trip before I signed up for the race, but it could not have worked out better. I would also recommend picking up Trish Browns’ book “Asheville Trail Running: Taking Bent Creek and the Mountains-to-sea Stride” which is a great resource for the trails down there.

The Pre-Race

On Sunday, October 4th I headed down to Blue Marsh Lake near Reading, PA for my first trail ultramarathon. I hadn’t overly advertised that I was doing this event since I didn’t have any great expectations about my performance. I just wanted to complete it in whatever time it took. It is the off-season and this was to just be something fun and different to do. I heard that the ultra running scene is a bit more laid back and fun compared to the typical road running scene where people are obsessed with times and pace. That sounded a bit more my style and I was looking forward to it. Also, the thought of running in the woods all day sounded like a lot of fun. Wow…running just for the fun of it? What a concept?!

When I arrived at the lake, I followed another car into the Dry Brooks Day Use area where the race start was located. I followed him down to a parking lot where people were setting up some tables and tents. I was surprised to see that we were the first runners there. This was really odd given I was only an hour earlier than the start of the race. I thought “Wow…this really is laid back!” After I made a trip to the port-O-john, the guy from the other car asked if I was running in the race. I said “Yes.” He said, “I don’t think this is for the race.” Just after the words left his mouth a lady below yelled “Are you guys here for the race?” She then followed up with “it is down below closer to the lake.” Doh! So we drove around the other parking lots and finally found the one with the race start on the other side of the hill. There was a race sign down the road with an arrow on it, but it was past the point where we had made a left turn. Not a great placement.

Congregating at the Race Start

Congregating at the Race Start

Despite being a little later now, there still was not a large amount of racers in the parking lot. I headed over to the bib pickup table to get my race number(#295) and some swag. We got a really nice, soft long-sleeved tech shirt and a running hat plus some race flyers and RoadId coupons in the bag. We would also get a long sleeve 3/4-zip pullover for finishing the event. A pretty good deal considering it was only a $70 race. I have done tri’s costing double that and got much less.

It was a relatively cool & cloudy morning ranging in the low 50’s(F) which was perfect for a run. We had recently gotten a ton of rain in the last week, so I had no idea how muddy the trails were going to be. Fortunately, it stopped the day before and was holding off for the day. The forecast actually showed a high of 60 and partly cloudy with a bit of wind. I hung out in the car and just chilled while more people rolled into the venue. I told my wife Denise not to come because I didn’t want her to have to sit around there for what would probably be about 6 hours or so and it was silly to drive two cars there. I told her I would post updates on my Instagram and also turn on the Live Tracking feature on my Garmin 920xt so she could watch my progress in real time. That is if it worked this time and I had cell coverage.

At 8:10 I started getting ready. I was carrying my running Camelbak which was stocked with a few Amrita Bars and some Osmos Hydration mix packets which I was trying out. I also had a drop bag that I would pickup at the 18-mile aid station. I packed a PB&J, some rice chips, Skratch hydration mix and a fresh pair of socks. I had purchased a pair of CEP compression socks a couple days before the race, which I got more for the protection from the elements than the compression. I packed the other pair of socks in case I didn’t like the high compression socks.

And We’re Off…

I headed over to the race start, dropped off my drop-bag along the way, and lined up at the back of the start line. I snapped a quick selfie to let my wife know it was starting. It wasn’t long before they were calling out the last few seconds countdown to the start and then we were off.

Start line selfie

Start line selfie

The herd of around 400 runners gently ambled up the road and then broke off onto the trail. We then were down on “all fours” as we maneuvered under a gate that kept motor vehicles off the trail. It was starting to feel more like a steeplechase run than an ultra. I quickly regretted lining up so far back in the pack as I got stuck in a long line of slower runners as we made our way through the singletrack trails. I kept trying to spot some passing area ahead while still maintaining some view of the immediate trail coming underfoot. In hindsight, getting behind some slower runners may have been a good thing since it kept me from going out too fast.

Trail running is a whole different animal compared to road running. Not only do you have to pay attention to the typical personal things while running but you also have roots, rocks and hills to deal with. Not to mention other runners in front of you, which only gives you a split second to make decisions or else you are doing a face plant in the dirt. If you are not focused and in-the-moment while trail running, you will be done pretty quickly. And not in a good way. In addition, you most likely have a few pounds of water strapped to you and anything else you need to carry along. The aid stations are usually a bit more spread out due to the inaccessibility to the trails.

The First 10 Miles

The first 10 miles were pretty easy. The terrain was fairly flat and once I got past the slower folks I was able to pick up my pace a bit. My mile splits decreased down to a 10min/mi pace by my 10th mile. I did get slowed down by a bee sting on the back of my right calf and I turned my ankle about 3 times. I thought my new socks had a tag or pin poking in the leg, but I eventually realized I had been stung. The socks did a good job of protecting me from the weeds hanging over the trail, but they don’t do much against bees.

I also have a bad left ankle that frequently rolls on my for no apparent reason. This usually happens on flat terrain too, so I can never blame it on something when it happens and I just have to look stupid. Well, it didn’t fail to happen 3 times on the flattest part of the race. The last one really hurt too and I wasn’t sure if I would recover from it. Of course, it happened when I was in the middle of a long line of runners and everyone was asking if I was ok. It did eventually shake out and I continued on.

Photos at 7-mile point compliments of funwithphotos.smugmug.com

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

I took in extra water at each aid station along with some pieces of boiled potatoes with salt on them. In between aid stops I would nibble on an Amrita Bar that I neatly stashed into the little pocket on my Camelbak strap. I would slurp some water from the hydration pack routinely as I ran along. I was eager to drain it to get some weight off my hips, but I guess that would require taking a pee which I only did once.

Things Start to Get More Difficult

So much for the easy stuff. At mile 10 I finally encountered the much-anticipated hill known by mountain bikers as “The Judge.” On Strava it is known as the Stump Ln Climb. I have ridden it, or should I say walked my bike up it before, so I knew what I was in for. It averages a 14% grade of 3/10’s of a mile but has sections that are almost up to 30% grade. Going down the other side was no treat either. It was a little more of a switchback trail which helped level out the steepness.

The start of "The Judge"

The start of “The Judge”

Things started to get a bit tougher from the “The Judge” on. We climbed about 1000 feet in elevation gain over the next 6 miles, where we only about 800 in the first 10 miles. My pace started to creep back into the 11-12 min/mile range. My plan was to walk fast up the hills, bomb the downhills and steady on the flats. I started getting some tightness in my hip flexors which was fighting for my attention. I tried to ignore it and figured it would go away eventually or just be replaced by something else that hurt more.

I hit the mile 18 aid station and they retrieved my drop bag for me. I was really that hungry for my PB&J but could feel some hydration setting in. I was starting to accumulate some salt which was quite visible on my black Amrita tech shirt. I poured a Skratch Labs Lemon-Lime Matcha pack into my hydration bladder and topped it off with some water. I crushed my bag of rice chips and funneled it down my throat. I also snagged some more potatoes which taste so good during an endurance event. The mile 18 aid station is the one with the ladies in the German Lederhosen outfits, so I was in no rush to leave.

Another climb!

Another climb!

Eventually, I left mile 18 aid station and pushed on. After mile 20, things started really tightening up and hurt a bit. The 1300 additional feet of climbing we did over the next 10 miles surely didn’t help at all. I was also starting to cramp up in my inner thigh/groin area which I thought was odd for running. This would be more expected playing hockey or something with a skating motion, but not running. I finally had to give in and stop to stretch it out. I watched a handful of people that I had passed earlier trot by me. One guy who I had been running with most of the day went by and held his hands up saying “what’s going on?” That was a bit heart-breaking.

Only 4.6 miles to go!

Only 4.6 miles to go!

In Familiar Territory

I finally reached the dam spillway that feeds the Tulpehocken Creek which is familiar territory. I knew I was only a couple miles from the finish at that point and I was relieved. I also realized that the sun had come out and it was a particularly nice day. The nice breeze kept the temperature in the perfect running temperature zone. We spilled out onto the road that leads into the parking lot for the dam but it was mostly uphill. Everyone in front of me was walking and I succumbed to the peer pressure and joined them. The pavement just hurt. My feet hurt with every step. I could have really used a pair of Hoka’s right now. I was now looking forward to getting back on the trail again. Never happy!

We came to a sign that marked the entry back to the trail and made a sharp left which led to another steep climb up a grassy hill. Ugh! I started to run again as I reached the top of the hill. It was a good thing too. As I made my way around the hill I saw a trucker hat with the Wyoming bucking horse symbol on it. My foggy mind even recognized that hat! Under it emerged my wife Denise who decided to surprise me by driving out and meeting me on the trail. It was the push I needed to get me through the last mile or two. We ran together back to the parking lot that she parked at and then I continued on.

Happy to only have a few more miles to go!

Happy to only have a few more miles to go!

As I crossed the driveway a few equestrians were coming up the drive as well. One tried to shortcut me to the trail but I managed to beat them to it. I pushed on and back into a more wooded section again. The equestrians caught up to me again and were running up my back. I decided to let them pass since it seemed like they were going faster than I. They were not very friendly when they passed me and they slowed down again after they passed me. I was coming right up the back of them and it was looking as if I would have to pass them. At the last minute, they sped up and then I never had to deal with them again.

We crossed another driveway and Denise was standing there snapping a couple more pictures as I slowly ambled by. I knew this was the drive that I rode in on the morning to get to the race start so I knew I was almost there. We ran along a farm field and I saw a couple guys standing along the trail with finishers shirts on cheering us on. We made a quick left after that and then I recognized the start/finsh line area. I passed one other guy before the finish who looked like he was struggling a bit.

Home Stretch

I finally reached the grassy area before the finish line and there quite a few people there cheering the finishers on. Right before I got to the finish line, a little girl came running across in front of me(see her in pic below) oblivious that I was coming. I had to slow down and grab her by the shoulder so she didn’t run into me. Everyone got a laugh out of it though. I crossed the line in 6:29:25, which was a tad bit slower than I had hoped, but I can’t ask for much since I only started training for it 6 weeks before. I was happy just to have completed the distance and was able to enjoy the day. I am hoping my legs will keep that endurance in their muscle memory so the next time I do an Ironman Marathon it will seem short.

Coming into the finish after almost running over the little girl behind me

Coming into the finish after almost running over the little girl behind me

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

Finish Photos compliments of funwithphotos.smugmug.com

Reflecting…

Given this was my first “ultra” distance running event, one of the first questions I thought to myself and my wife asked was “Will you do another one?” I think probably will. I already started searching on UltraSignup.com. I don’t know if I will do the same race or even the same distance, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. I like being off-road and in the woods and I like the more laid back culture of the people that participate in these events. I would like to do something in a place that is a bit more rugged and deeper forest. I would probably want to try a little longer distance such as a 40 or 50 miler. Even a 100k may not be out of the question.

 

Finish Photos compliments of funwithphotos.smugmug.com

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

2015 Blues Cruise 50k Trail Ultra

 

 

Training and More Training

This week was a bit more hectic than usual. I had the opportunity to attend some training classes down at the regional Microsoft office in Malvern, PA. While it nice to get out of the office for a change, the hour and fifteen to thirty minute commute put a bit of a crunch on my training time. Fortunately 2 of the 3 days fell on bike trainer days which I was able to knock out in the evening. The Wednesday day was a bit crazier but I was able to make it work out by doing an early swim at 5:30AM Sad smile and then hitting the nearby Chester Valley Trail for my run.

The Chester Valley Trail was pretty sweet. It is very flat and, after getting past the office buildings and road crossings, opened up to some open land. I had started off at the end of the trail in the Target parking lot and headed west. Crossing Morehall Road(PA29) was a bit of a pain, but after that it was cool. I had a 4x:45 interval session to do so the flatness of the trail was well received, although my quads were pretty tanked and I could barely get into the 6:?? min/mi territory. Regardless it was a nice run and there was ample parking in the Target parking lot to get changed without getting busted for indecent exposure.

One other bonus with the long commute was I was able to listen to Chrissie Wellingtons’ book “A Life Without Limits.” Although I am not quite finished yet, it was a pretty entertaining book and I had no idea what her background was. It is amazing how she was never really into sports that much until later on and she was not in triathlon very long and totally dominated it when she did. Her prior experiences definitely attributed to her work ethnic and success. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, not just triathletes.

One other issue with going offsite for training is finding decent food. I always have to research the area for healthy choices beforehand. There were a few colleagues from work in my class which I unfortunately had to blow off since I didn’t want to subject them to my dietetic restrictions. I also didn’t want to get stuck going somewhere that had nothing healthy to eat. I did find a local vegan Chinese restaurant called SuTao Café. They offered a buffet which consisted of mostly typical Chinese food with meat substitutes like Seitan. I try to limit my consumption of these pseudo-meats because really they are processed food which I am trying to avoid. The seitan is also made of wheat gluten which is very inflammatory, another thing I try to avoid. The buffet was ok, but I was not tally thrilled with it.

After getting back to class I learned that my fellow workmates had gone to Wegmans’ and said it was very good. I perused their menu online and was stoked to find they had a grilled veggie platter and a vegetarian burger on the Pub menu. On Wednesday I headed over there and had the vegetarian burger and sweet potato fries which rocked. I enjoyed it so much I stopped at the Wegman’s in Collegeville for dinner on the way home. Grilled Veggie Platter and Indian Carrot soup rocked. I cannot wait for the Wegmans’ Pub in Allentown to open now. Oh and the best part about eating Wegman’s is NO TIPPING! Love it!

Well I made it through the week and fulfilled all my training. The bike on Thursday night was a bit tough and I am reading for some nice long, slow workouts this weekend. Weather is looking promising to get the bike outside on Saturday too.

It’s Mountain Biking Season!

[singlepic id=179 w=240 h=180 float=left]The tri bike is in for maintenance and re-fitting upgrades. The running shoes have moved to the back of the closet while I heal my IT Band. So now it is time to get out the old mountain bike which has not seen the light of day probably at least a year. My wife and I checked out some new trails(to us) that we had never ridden before too. It is a great time of year for mountain biking with the cooler temps and we have hit two gorgeous weekends in a row.

Last Saturday I decided to check out the condition of my bike and my MTB skills and run up the road to Bear Creek Ski Area’s mountain bike trails. Bear Creek has always been pretty technical, rocky and it seems like you are either climbing or descending. It is usually a very humbling experience for me. I was really surprised at some of the improvements they had made to the left side of the mountain. It was actually rideable for the majority of that side of the hill. The right side is a different story though. If you are not a hardcore mountain biker, I would not suggest venturing this way unless you stay on the lower part to the right of the lodge. It took me an hour to ride about 3 miles here if that is any indication of the terrain. Regardless, I was fairly happy with where I was and my bike seemed rideable too. I didn’t suffer any major trauma which is always a good thing.

On Sunday, the wife and I headed down to the mountain bike trails at Lake Nockamixon. Commonly referred to as “The NOX”. These trails are relatively new and a mountain biking friend of mine had highly recommended them.The Valley Mountain Bikers group and the park officials appear to have worked together on this effort and have done a standup job. Trails were well marked and maintained. They were very fun, with lots of singletrack, and also allow riders of different levels to enjoy them equally. I was really impressed how the trails had already been cleared of downed trees from Hurricane Sandy which was only a couple weeks before. There is around 10 miles of trails here, but we only ended up doing around 6 or so. I am saving the South Park section for another day.

This past Sunday we decided to check out the trails at Wissahickon Park since we were planning on making a trip to Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting anyway. MountainBikeBill’s website seems to have the best information that I could find about the park. He does mention the Philly Mountain Biking Association’s website as being a good source of information, but all I could find there was a couple dead map links. When we reached the recommended starting point, we were a bit taken back by the amount of cars and people. It was apparent that we were in the city. We fortunately got a good parking spot, popped the bikes off the rack and headed to the trailhead. There were two possible directions to go. One was a very flat, wide rails to trails lane were most of the runners and walkers were. The other was a narrower doubletrack road to the right and up a hill. My intuition naturally directed me the right, but my intuition was wrong. This was a nature area that is closed to bikes. There was a bypass road that took you out of the park altogether. It was a good warm-up ride up the hill.

We headed down to the starting point again and made our way down the recreation superhighway.  I then consulted the map from MountainBikeBill’s website and immediately realized our mistake. The MTB trail did not start until after the next crossroad down the main path. We immediately spotted the marked MTB trail which lead to another nice climb up. This one a little longer and more technical than our first. Once up on top we enjoyed some nice and winding singletrack. It eventually made its way down to the main trail again. It seemed to follow this pattern of up, across and down again most of the way down the west side of the river. The singletrack made the few climbs well worth the effort.

When we reached what we figured was the south end of the trails, we decided to make our way back the recreation superhighway. My wife was getting tired and had taken a pretty good spill up one of the more technical climbs. As we road back were were amazed at how far it was back to the car. We really really didn’t realize the terrain we had covered. The sweet singletrack had distracted us from the distance. As we road back we noticed some nice looking trails on the eastern side of the river too. You could really spend a good day here. Again we left something new for another time. This will definitely be a regular stop on our Whole Foods runs.
[nggtags gallery=wissahickon]

Long, Hot Run On The D&L Trail

On Sunday I decided to check out the D&L Rail Trail for my long run of the week. I am registered to do the marathon there this fall, so I thought it would be good to get acquainted with it. The race starts where the Nor-Bath trail ends(see map) so I decided to start there to look for the trail. There was no D&L Trailhead there so I headed in the direction of the river and eventually found the Northampton Canal Park. I put my running shoes on and loaded up my Fuel Belt and Nathan hand-held water bottles and headed up the path. I needed to run for 1:30hrs today and it was very hot and humid. I also didn’t get on the trail until around 11:00AM which didn’t help either.

Map picture

It didn’t take too long until I came to the end of the path in Canal Park. I saw the bridge over the Lehigh River just at the end of the road, so headed there and crossed the river. Immediately on the other side was the official trailhead for the D&L trail and a small parking area. Next time I will park there as the Canal Park didn’t really do much for me. Once on the trail I got into my normal cruising pace. The trail is extremely flat and has a crushed stone surface. Firm but yet still has some give for those with bad knees. I was testing out my new pair of New Balance Minimus Zero’s so having a more forgiving surface is probably a good thing. It didn’t take long before I was drenched in sweat. The trail is partially shaded, but there are a couple sections where it is pretty wide open. The middle of the day doesn’t help either.

I passed a few other people on the trail, mostly bikers, but I would not call it crowded by any means. I eventually reached the Laury’s Station trailhead which is another good option to get on the trail, especially if you want to head more north. My only two complaints about this trail is there is no toilets/porta-potties or sources of water. So if you are going to do a long run here, make sure you are fueled up and emptied out before you go. Smile  The trail is opened for quite a ways up river so you could probably go all the way to White Haven if you wanted to.

I continued on to the overpass at the Cove Road trailhead. There were quite a few cars there and it looks like it is a popular put-in site for tubers and kayakers. There was also a little mound there that was the only real uphill I encountered. After a few chugs of water, I turned and headed back to the start. I went through 32 ounces of water before I go to the end. My shoes and shorts were totally soaked. It looked like I was swimming. I increased my pace a little on the way back just to do some negative splitting, but still kept my heart rate down in Zone 2. The trail was really nice but it would be a lot nicer if it was 70 degrees and low humidity. Should be prime for the D&L Marathon in the Fall!

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History of the Lehigh Parkway

One of my favorite places to run in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania is the Lehigh Parkway. It is a beautiful stretch land that follows the banks of the Little Lehigh Creek. It provides a great crushed stone path for running and walking as well as large fields for many other activities. It is a utopia plopped right in Allentown and is home to many local races. The link below is a great article by Frank Whelan that describes the history of how the park came to be.

History’s headlines: Little Lehigh Parkway: Man and nature working together