Sunday, November 29, 2015

Staying Motivated With #RunChatHunt

Now that the fall season is winding down and the ideal weather for runners has nearly passed, it can be tough to stay motivated to get outdoors. Add to that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and all the treats and goodies that come with it and it's easy to lose that last bit of leftover base fitness you've been clinging to since the conclusion of the fall marathon season. Sure, there are plenty of local holiday-themed 5Ks worthy of your morning mileage, but it's easy to fall out of a regular running routine.

Enter social media and scavenger hunts. A scavenger hunt run such as #RunChatHunt is a fun way to get in some easy mileage without growing bored or skipping your planned exercise altogether. #RunChatHunt is free to play and the rules are simple - download a list of holiday and running related things find. Then take your phone on a run and snap pictures of the items on the list, finish your run, and post the pictures to Twitter. You can find all the items in a single run or split them between multiple activities over the course of the month. When the scavenger hunt closes on New Years Day, you are entered into a drawing for a boatload of prizes, with one entry per item you've found.

With the increase in popularity of Twitter and Instagram, scavenger hunt runs are becoming more common. The holiday #RunChatHunt has been around for a few years now, and organizer #RunChat also hosts a hunt annually in June. Last December The Ginger Runner held a similar contest, and Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co, our local running store, has hosted one during the summertime. 

So grab your camera, go hit the trails or roads, and have some fun. Because isn't that what running is all about? Happy hunting!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks

As a trail runner who's as involved with work, family, and social life as the next person, it's easy to take the little things for granted. To have the physical capacity to be out there on a run, surrounded by nature, fresh air, and beautiful scenery - this is a gift. I know it sounds cliche, but it's important to remain thankful for this gift that could suddenly be taken away without a moment's notice.

This realization hit me hard this past weekend. I had quite the scare during a routine trail run in a park I've traversed dozens of times. Running down a moderate grade slope, seemingly in the zone, I suddenly clipped a toe on a rock. Before I knew what hit me I was on the ground, face first in the dirt. On impact I banged my patella on an upturned root and began to panic that there may be some serious damage. After a quick systems check I was able to walk it off and then finish the run. (A few days later the knee feels okay, albeit a little tender when palpated.)

I spent the last half hour of that run thinking of how that day could have ended badly. A broken kneecap is no joke, so I've heard, and one of the most painful fractures one can sustain. The solution to a patella fracture would likely have been surgery, followed by months of rehab and, of course, a slow return to running regularly. All that work of maintaining base fitness gone, simply because I lost focus for a split second. As I ran slowly along, I took a mental timeout to recognize and appreciate my good health and how lucky I am to be able to go out and run on any given day, around Ithaca's waterfalls and gorges no less. 

There is of course a similar risk with athletes of all levels and abilities. Take Dave Mackey, for example. Earlier this year, the former Ultrarunning Magazine Ultrarunner of the Year went out on an easy trail run near his home. He took one misstep that led to a horrific fall, resulting in a mangled leg. The accident may have ended his athletic career and nearly cost him his life.  

The caveat is of course not limited to just sports. It's easy to point out the risks and consequences associated with sports injuries, but the recent attacks in Beirut and Paris are proof that no one is immune to tragedy and loss. The victims of the attacks had their lives forever changed, or in some cases ended, in the blink of an eye. For these victims, their losses are obviously much greater than a sports injury, but the principle is the same. Our only nationally recognized day of giving thanks upon us. However, it remains important to appreciate all that we have, not just annually on a Thursday in late November, but daily throughout the entire year. 

So when you're out there on your next run - be it trails, treadmill, or Turkey Trot - take a few moments to appreciate your ability to breathe the fresh air while moving forward unimpeded. We all have some time alone with our thoughts during  a run. Even when running with friends, a few seconds of solitude is always possible. If you have no plans to step outside for a run, spend a moment in gratitude during your morning commute, before drifting off to sleep at night, or whenever else suits you best. Keep a mental inventory of everything you have, like your loved ones, your health, and your happiness, and remember how fortunate we are to have these things in our lives. 

Happy Turkey Trot Day!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ultra Reading

What better way to relax after a run than to grab a snack and kick back with a good book. Anyone who knows me or regularly reads my blog knows that next to running, reading is my favorite pasttime. I enjoy polishing off pages by the dozen and will pick up pretty much anything that looks to be entertaining, interesting, or thought provoking. Reading helps me relax and open my mind to various viewpoints and different ways to express oneself through the medium of paper and pen (or keyboard and monitor.)

So what does any of this have to do with trail running? Well, there are three books in particular that I read a few years back that first got me interested in the sport. It was through these books that I first discovered ultramarathons even exist, let alone that I (and many other non-elite athletes) are more than capable of running beyond 26.2. These three books are a must-read for any current or aspiring ultrarunner, and the first two are both entertaining and educational for the general population, including non-runners. (I am in no way affiliated with any of the books or their authors, and all opinions are my own.) 

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Since its release in 2009, Christopher McDougall's autobiographical tale of an eccentric group of American ultrarunners racing against the Tarahumara in Mexico's Copper Canyons has become something of a pop culture staple. Over the last six years, pretty much anyone who's ever purchased a pair of running shoes has read Born to Run. Even my non-runner brother found the book interesting and highly entertaining. On its way to selling millions of copies, Born to Run introduced ultrarunning and barefoot running to the mainstream. Although opinions on barefoot running have reached a broad spectrum, there is no debate that Born to Run helped turn the running shoe industry upside-down. Additionally, the book is frequently cited as one of the major reasons ultramarathon participation has increased significantly over the past five years.

Shortly after the publication of Born to Run, a friend recommended I read it, telling me that it would give me a completely different perspective on the sport. At the time I was running exclusively on roads. I had only run one race - a 10K - and never ran more than about 12 miles at once. I couldn't even comprehend running 26.2 miles continuously, and figured that a marathon was the ultimate test of human endurance - a distance which no human being could ever run beyond.

I found Born to Run so encapsulating that I read the whole thing in a few days. There is something so enchanting about McDougall's conglomerate of human evolution and biology, his history of long distance running, the Tarahumara tales of incredible feats, and his picture of America's ultrarunning scene as we know it today. Add to that the author's witty commentary and knack for suspenseful storytelling, and you have yourself a best seller that will be talked about for years to come.

My friend was right about the book shining a new light on the sport of distance running. Previously, marathoners alone seemed crazy enough. Now I was reading about a third world tribe running in sandals through the scorching desert for 50 miles at a time, 100 mile races at 13,000 feet through the Rocky Mountains, Western States, Badwater, and so on. I had no idea that any of these events even existed, and at first even doubted that I was of the same species as the people who competed in these freak shows.

As I began to poke around the internet, I realized ultramarathons were even more commonplace than the book made them out to be. There were even a few within an hour's drive of my house. I thought it was neat to hear anecdotes about people running ultras, but figured it must take some kind of superhuman athlete to successfully complete one. In Born to Run, McDougall chronicles his own journey from an overweight, oft injured road runner to a fit ultrarunner. But McDougall was working with a professional coach and hanging out with some of the best ultrarunners on the planet, so clearly he had the means to become an endurance sports outlier. An average Joe like you or I would never have a shot at surviving a run of 26.3 miles, nevermind running 100 miles off road. Right?

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

About a year or two after reading Born to Run, another friend told me about some guy who had run a marathon in every U.S. state in 50 consecutive days, all while traveling from place to place, making media appearances, mingling with fans, and sleeping only 3-4 hours a night. I was deep in my phase of reading ultramarathon stories for recreation, so I googled the name Karnazes to see what would pop up. As I quickly found out, Dean Karnazes was arguably the most recognized name in ultrarunning in the entire world.

To my surprise, I learned that Dean had in fact run 50 marathons in all 50 states in 50 days. He also had completed dozens of other superhuman feats, such as running a 200 mile relay race by himself, running a marathon at the North Pole, and several finishes at the infamous Badwater 135. He had also written a few books about his ultra endurance exploits. I picked up a copy of his first book, Ultramarathon Man, since it had overwhelmingly positive reviews online.

In his autobiography Ultramarathon Man, Karnazes dedicates a different chapter to each of his most notable endurance challenges. I found it entertaining to read about his preparation and execution at each of his biggest ultramarathons and adventure runs. What I enjoyed even more, though, was Dean's account of how he first got involved with the sport. His backstory is pretty well known. An average cross country runner in high school, he hung up his spikes at age 15 and didn't run another step for 15 years. Despite earning an MBA and working a very lucrative office job, Dean became disenfranchised with the corporate lifestyle. On the night of his 30th birthday, and a little drunk, he decided on the spot to run 30 miles around his hometown of San Francisco. Dean was bit by the ultra bug, and before long he was signing up for races and eventually made ultrarunning into a full-time career.

Upon completing Ultramarathon Man, I realized an average guy like me or Dean, with no endurance sports background, no coach, and no elite training tools at our disposal, could not only survive ultra distance events, but could excel at them. Knowing that I was capable of running for that long and that far gave me the drive I needed to sign up for an ultra. However, one important question remained. How does one train for a race like this?

Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons 

I went ahead and signed up for my first ultra in January of 2013, with six months to prepare for the 50 mile trail race. I found all kinds of free training plans online for anything from 50K to 100 miles and beyond, but didn't really trust any of them to get me to the starting line prepared and uninjured. Enter Bryon Powell and iRunFar.

By chance I came across Relentless Forward Progress online and decided to purchase it not only for the training plans, but for the advice given by the author and numerous elite ultrarunners regarding all things ultra. Powell's book covers many of the training topics discussed in the posts on, the ultra conglomerate that started off as his personal blog and has evolved into the go-to source for all things ultra. The site features well written training and nutrition discussions, runner profiles, gear reviews, video interviews, race previews and recaps, live race coverage, and more. The training columns are all written by some of the biggest names in American ultrarunning.

Relentless Forward Progress sums up the best of iRunFar's training and race execution articles in a single book. Reading chapters on pacing, power hiking, fueling, managing aid stations, and gear choices gave me a good idea of what to expect mid-race. This allowed me to practice and experiment with different tactics throughout the months of training leading up to the 50 miler. Additionally, Powell provides various 24 week training plans for distances of 50K, 50M/100K, and 100M, based on peaking at either 50 or 70 miles per week. He also explains how one can tweak the plans to better accommodate his or her weekly schedule. For my ultra debut, I followed the 50M/100K plan for 70 miles per week, and modified it a bit to make the most of the plan without the training taking over my life. The training plans and execution provided in Relentless Forward Progress worked well and I got through the 50 miles in one piece. I think that any beginning or seasoned ultra runner could benefit from the advice found in Relentless Forward Progress, regardless of background, abilities, or aspirations.


There are hundreds of books out there covering any and all running related topics one can dream up. Many of them are good reads, and some not so much. The ones I've discussed above are the three that helped me get involved with the sport I am most passionate about, and I've read each one cover to cover multiple times. If you are considering getting into trail and ultra running, or just looking to expand your reading list with some new topics, you should definitely pick up these books at your library, or better yet, support you local bookstore. Books of course make a great gift for the holidays too!

Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? What are some of your favorite books or authors, running related or otherwise?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Letchworth State Park: The Grand Canyon of the East

While Upstate New York is home to many beautiful parks, forests, and wilderness areas, there are none quite as popular as Letchworth State Park. Nicknamed "The Grand Canon of the East," and rightly so, it is the most visited of New York's 180 state parks.

On the western edge of New York's Finger Lakes region, the Genesee River cuts through many miles of bedrock to create a gorge that exceeds 600 feet in depth within the park boundaries. The river snakes and winds through the gorge, forming three major waterfalls along the way before reaching the Mount Morris Dam near the northeast end of the park. In a 2015 USA Today reader's poll, Letchworth was voted the best state park in the entire country. (Watkins glen State Park, also in the Finger Lakes, took the bronze in the same poll.)

Since this blog focuses primarily on off-road running, you may be asking yourself impatiently "Sure, but what about the trails?" Well, Letchworth boasts over 60 miles of trails inside the park proper while connecting to a few other major trail systems outside of Letchworth's borders. The Finger Lakes Trail crosses the river near the park's south entrance with an official FLT branch trail splitting off into the park. The FLT Letchworth Branch Trail extends for 25 miles along the Genesee River's east side, and as part of the FLT system it is maintained by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. In fact, the conference is headquarted near Letchworth Park's north end, near the northern terminus of the Letchworth Branch Trail. Additionally, the 80+ mile Genesee Valley Greenway rail trail connects to the park trails and FLT branch trail, opening up the trail network even further.

One sunny day in mid July I decided to take a drive out to Letchworth and explore as much of the park as possible on foot. Being a Friday, I was hoping the tourist count would be lower than typically seen on a summertime weekend. After some fumbling around trying to find a good parking area and then locating the gorge trail, I settled into a steady pace and was able to see all of the most popular parts of the park in one run. I figured it would be a solid day of training for Virgil Crest. Unconcerned about pace, I took dozens of pictures along the way. Finally, after four months, I've found the time to create a blog post to show off the pictures.

Most of the pictures are from the seven mile Gorge Trail on the northwest side of the river. I didn't have time to explore the FLT section on the southeast side of the gorge, but hope to go back someday to check out the rest of the park.

There's only one foot bridge to cross the river inside the park.

Lower Falls

The area around what is present day Letchworth State Park was once known as Sehgahunda, a Seneca native word meaning The Vale of the Three Falls. The aptly titled Sehgahunda Trail Marathon follows the FLT from the north end of Letchworth to the south end.


At about 107 feet, Middle Falls is the highest of the three major waterfalls in the park. The trestle seen in the background, just above Upper Falls, was built by the Erie Railroad Company in 1875 and remains active to this day.

The Gorge Trail gets so up close and personal with the water than one can almost walk right into the mist as it permeates the air along the trailside.

Upper Falls is located near the southern end of the park, with the trestle just upstream from the falls. The trestle crosses the river more than 200 vertical feet above the water.  

Upper Falls

The next several shots are from other points along the gorge trail, which parallels the main road running the length of the entire park. Although I traversed the park on foot, one can drive his or her car to many scenic overlook spots and see all of these same views from the parking areas.

Gardeau Lookout

By the time I finished my run, I was still interested in checking out the Mount Morris Damn at the far north end of the park. It was too far away to reach by foot. After a cooldown dip in the park's pool, I drove up to the same for a little bonus sight seeing.

The Mt. Morris Dam near Letchworth's north end.

Who else has been to The Grand Canyon of the East and what did you think of it? As I mentioned earlier, the park is huge and offers a lot to see. I was hoping to someday run around the entire park fatass style. That is, up one side of the gorge and down the other without backtracking - roughly 40-45 miles. Anyone interested in possibly doing this sometime in the summer of 2016 please contact me.