Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Saranac Lake 6ers

While trail running is certainly the outdoor activity I favor beyond all others, hiking, the close cousin of trail running, is one of the most rewarding activities one can partake in. Mountain trails leading to a nice view of valleys, forests, and open sky can provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with a job well done. Sometimes it just seems more appropriate to move slower, forget about pacing, and stop to smell the roses, pines, and singletrack.

Last year, some friends and I began the Saranac Lake 6er challenge, which consists of hiking the six mountains surrounding Saranac Lake in the upper east side of the Adirondack Park Preserve. The challenge kicked off on May 25, 2013, as an attempt by the village to draw more people to the trails and mountains in the immediate locale of Saranac Lake, rather than to the more popular High Peaks region surrounding the village. The 6er program requires hikers to reach the summit of all six mountains on or after the kickoff date, even if it means taking many years to bag them all. The program also offers an Ultra 6er challenge, which requires hikers to complete all six peaks in a 24 hour period, while beginning and ending at the 6er bell in the center of town. Additionally, the Winter 6er and Ultra Winter 6er challenges have the same requirements listed above but the peaks must be completed during the winter months.

On Memorial Day weekend 2013, a few friends and I spent the weekend in the town of Saranac Lake hoping to finish the 6ers in two or three days.  Unfortunately, torrential downpours made for slow going, and we were only able to complete Ampersand Mountain and St. Regis Mountain. The muddy and waterlogged trails, cold air, and lack of views made for a miserable hiking experience.

While the 2014 edition of Memorial Day weekend saw some rain in the northeastern Adirondacks, it wasn't enough to cause any real misery. A group of us rented a cabin in Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and only about 10 miles from the trailheads to the 6er peaks we hadn't previously completed.

 Our Lake Placid Cabin

On Friday, my friend Adam and I decided to run/hike Scarface Mtn. That is, run as much as possible, mainly just the relatively flat and non-technical sections, while hiking the steep and rocky pieces of terrain. The rain  predicted for this day came to a halt early on before we left the cabin, and for the most part, it held out until the hiking was finished. However, the fog prevented us from seeing much of anything from the top, and I declined to take any pictures from the viewpoint near Scarface's summit.

 At the top of Scarface

Afterward, Adam and I ran/hiked up Mt Baker, the shortest and lowest of the 6ers.  Despite the small stature of the mountain, it was quite steep near the peak and took a little longer than expected. I did not take my phone/camera with me on this run, but returned two days later for some pictures of Baker's spectacular scenery. Running the two mountains also gave me the chance to try out my new Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest. (Which works great, by the way. More on that in a future post.)

Mt. Baker, from ground level

Mt. Baker's summit


The following day, I returned to the trails to complete the 6er challenge. Haystack Mountain sits on a side trail on the route to the peak of McKenzie Mountain, about a mile off McKenzie's main trail. Several of us ascended Haystack and the downpour held out until we returned to the trail junction. From this point, my cousin and I split off to bag McKenzie ourselves while the others returned to the car. At 3,822 feet and unimpeded by fog or rain, the top of McKenzie offered the best summit view among the 6ers. The vast expanse of green forest and distant ADK high peaks, as well as the view of Lake Placid in the valley, provided a breathtaking view. With McKenzie in the books I was done with the challenge. The round trip for both McKenzie and Haystack took about six hours. 

Obligatory mountaintop selfie

One gets a nice view of Lake Placid when Facing east on McKenzie

Six of six in the bag
The following afternoon, we made our way to the 6er bell in the center of town and rang the bell six supposedly times. The sweet sound of the Saranac Lake 6er bell is said to bring good luck to those who ring it after completing the challenge. However, caveat emptor to those who sound the bell falsely, for they will suffer the Kiwassa Curse.

In the end, the Saranac Lake 6ers is another mini challenge for peak baggers, day hikers, or even families spending a week in the Adirondacks. (I did see a handful of children and dogs along the 6er trails.) It does offer some solid scenery and experience on the trails. Anyone craving something tangible can send their information to the village to receive a 6er patch and sticker recognizing his or her achievement. There's something there for hikers of all levels and abilities. For me, it was a nice way to spend time outside with some friends during my final weekend of tapering for the Cayuga Trails 50.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Thom B 52K Race Report

The morning of Saturday, May 10, saw the inaugural running of the Thom B Trail Runs 52K.  The event itself has taken place for the past 14 years as a 13K and 26K that are part of the Finger Lakes Runners Club Trail Circuit, but this was the first time the four lap, 52K race was held. The plan was to shoot for a five hour finish, while using the race as a long training run to test gear and fueling strategies for the upcoming Cayuga Trails 50 three weeks later. I did not intend to race hard today, and aimed 5:00, or 1:15 per loop.

At 7:00, fourteen trail enthusiasts took the starting line for the four loops through Hammond Hill State Forest in Dryden, NY. Consisting of dirt roads, single track, ski trails and snowmobile trails, I was expecting a muddy slogfest due in no small part to the heavy rain of the previous two days. After a few words of caution and a few more of thanks, the early morning din of chirping birds and rustling leaves was suddenly disrupted by the RD's shout of "Thom B says go!" followed by the shouts and cheers of the fourteen of us runners.

The course started off uphill on a dirt road. The leader took off and (spoiler alert!) I never saw him again until the finish line. Another runner and I settled into a "chase" pack at a comfortable pace and chatted for most of the first 13K / 7.8 mile loop.  To the delight of my shoes and socks, the mud was minimal and the trails were entirely runnable. Towards the end of the loop, I took a short walking break and dropped back into third while keeping the second place runner in my sights. A short time later, as I came into the aid table at the end of loop one in 1:12, I glanced second place rounding the corner on the dirt road incline.  After quickly refilling my water bottle I was off again, but the other runner was already well out of sight.

I began walking more of the inclines on the second loop, as I realized the 1:12 opening lap was way too fast. I needed to conserve energy and water. I slowed down enough for a 1:18 second loop, hitting 2:30 at the halfway mark, right on pace. It was around the 3:00 mark, midway through loop three, where the wheels fell off and I crashed hard. At mile 18, I felt as if my energy was quickly depleting and by mile 20 I was all but finished.  Up to that point, I had been fueling solely with the homemade Xocolatl Energy Balls from Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run. I felt unable to stomach another ball and downed half a PBJ at the next aid station I came to, then proceeded to slog through the rest of loop three in 1:24. My fiancee Hayley met me here for some encouragement, and I gained a short-lived resurgence of energy. Less than a minute later, I was once again walking up that damn dirt road.

With a 5:00 finish all but impossible and second place nowhere in sight, I decide to push on through loop four and simply try to maintain a third place finish. I hadn't seen another runner since the end of loop one, and had it in my weary mind that third was pretty much wrapped up.  This still seemed the case until mile 29, when I was promptly dropped by a 52K runner who was running along with a 26K runner at a pretty decent clip. I struggled to keep them in view but decided it wasn't worth an all-out effort at this point.  Soon after they pulled away, I was passed again and fell to fifth. I walked for a bit and finally made one last push during the final mile, all downhill, finishing in 5:36.

Coming down the final stretch I definitely looked better than I felt.
(Photo: Dan Lopata)

Although the race was tougher than expected and I finished much slower than what I thought was manageable, it was a positive experience none-the-less. As a "B race," the 52K was a solid final long run before officially tapering for the CT50, and allowed me to test my new Ultimate Direction handheld bottle. Even better was the sense of camaraderie on the trail with the other runners, volunteers and spectators. It felt as if everyone was there to simply enjoy the outdoors while keeping the competitiveness to a minimum. Walking slowly back up the trail to the parking lot with a fellow trail runner, I took one last look around to appreciate what a spring morning in the woods had to offer.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Trailhead

Well if I ever see the morning
just like a lizard in the Spring
I'm gonna run out in the meadow
to catch the silence where it sings.

I'm gonna force the Serengeti
to disappear into my eyes
and when I hear your voices calling
I'm gonna turn just inside out.

"I Won't Be Found"
 - The Tallest Man On Earth

Ah, the allure of the outdoors in the springtime. After the longest and roughest upstate New York winter in recent memory, the feeling of summer-like weather is simply indescribable. The area trails are clear of ice and snow, and for the most part, mud-free and very runnable.

Like some runners, I view the sport of running not as exercise and not as a hobby, but as a lifestyle. That is, I don't view it as a chore that must be done to complete some arbitrary goal like training for a specific race or burning X number of calories. Rather, I reward my self by obtaining the sense of accomplishment that comes with a job well done, not to mention the positive physical aspect of chemical reactions in the brain that makes running pleasurable. Lacing up and heading out the door is something I generally look forward to, and as one of my favorite pastimes, I've decided to begin writing about my running experiences.

I've started this blog with the purpose of not only documenting my experiences as a trail runner, but also to provide readers with tips and resources about roaming the trails, pounding the pavement, and just running in general. I hope to see this blog grow and will aim to provide something for runners of all levels, even those that are exclusively "roadies", and to non-runners who are simply trail-curious. I'll make every attempt to update this blog a few times per week, for as long as writing remains enjoyable and doesn't begin to fell like a chore.

Thank you for taking the time to read this initial post. Please feel free to share with a friend or three. Happy trails!