Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Latergram: A Retrospective Look at the 2016 Breakneck Point Trail Runs

Looking back toward early 2016, I realized I never wrote any kind of a race report about the Breakneck Point Trail Runs back in April. By now, seven months later, my foggy memory will have distorted the experience more than a heavily filtered Instagram post. When registration went for Breakneck 2017 went live a few weeks ago, it was a stark reminder of just how incredible that course is and how enjoyable the marathon was this year. It was by far the "longest" marathon I've done, and the only one that crams 10,000 feet of vertical into 26.2 miles. (There's also a half marathon option.) Rather than write an

Friday, October 28, 2016

When Eyes Collide Head-On With Graveyards: A Short Story

His confidence grew as he moved further and further along in his training plan. He felt the years of accumulated base-fitness and six months of race specific training were finally about to pay off. Still, he was wholly aware that his fitness goal was a difficult one. Sure, he'd finished a few ultra-distance trail races before, but the Oil Creek 100 in October would be a true test of endurance and perseverance, and his goal was to simply complete a 100-mile race for the first time.

With a promising weekend weather forecast, Lee Henry made the four hour drive

Monday, October 17, 2016

Strike Oil or Move On: The Oil Creek 100

Prologue


"Strike oil or move on." In those five short words, the race slogan sums up nicely what the Oil Creek 100 is all about. Just like the region's oil barons of the 1860's, you either make it happen now or keep going forward until you do. No excuses. No whining.

The 100 mile route is three laps around Oil Creek State Park on the Gerard Hiking Trail. Each loop is 50k. After the third loop, runners complete the Boughton Acid Works Going Home Loop to make it 100.6 miles. A single loop 50k race and a two loop 100k race take place concurrently, with each starting time separated by an hour. The 100-miler is a Western States qualifier and serves as the RRCA 100 Mile Championship for the state of Pennsylvania. Runners have 32 hours to cover the 100 miles, with intermediary cutoff times at specified checkpoints throughout.

The 5:00 a.m. start for the 100 mile race felt like anything but a 5:00 a.m. start. An all around jovial mood and lack of nervous air kept the atmosphere light. I figured I was suffering from either a severe case of hyperconfidence or hypopreparation.1 Whatever the reason, the starting line felt more like a turkey trot with 170 of my best friends than the beginning of 100 off-road miles over the next 20 to 30 hours.

LED strobe lights lined the street behind Titusville Middle School. Any unsuspecting, low flying helicopter pilot would have spotted a hoard of headlamps bouncing down an illuminated runway just after 5:00 on that Saturday morning. There's no oil here, so let's get moving. And just like that, the first few physical steps toward a second belt buckle were now behind me.


I.


The first mile and a half of each loop runs through a residential neighborhood on paved roads and a bike path, before hitting the rocky, narrow singletrack of the Gerard Hiking Trail. Having learned the course a month prior to race day really helped with my pacing. I ran the asphalt section comfortably and reached the singletrack with only a few dozen runners ahead

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Oil Creek 100 Course Scouting

With the Oil Creek 100 on the horizon, I decided to hunker down and get serious about preparing for the race in order to set myself up for a sub-24 hour finish. Two weekends ago, with t-minus four weeks until game time, I drove out to the course to get familiar with it. I'd never been to Oil Creek State Park in Western Pennsylvania, and only knew the course as it is presented on the race website. With Hayley out of town and me with no other commitments, it seemed like an opportune moment to get a few long runs in on the course during the peak of my training.

The Oil Creek 100 consists of three 50K loops around the park. Each loop starts and ends at Titusville Middle School. Runners follow a mile and a half of paved roads and bike paths to the trailhead, traverse the park loop comprised of mostly rolling singletrack, then finish the loop following the bike path and roads back to the school. Three such loops total only 93 miles, so runners then must complete the seven mile "Going Home Loop" to finish the distance. This mini loop follows the same bike path as before, plus five new miles of singletrack. The event also boasts a single loop 50K race and a two-loop 100K. The 100 mile race is a Western States qualifier, and serves as the RRCA 100 Mile Championship race for the state

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Belt Buckle

It sits alone, one of its kind, longing for the companionship of others of its ilk. Yes, since taking up residence on a desk in a spare room last September, the Virgil Crest 100 Mile Belt Buckle has spent many a night alone, no other buckle in the vicinity. This buckle has many cousins in the form of finishers medals, pins, plates, and pint glasses. But the twelve ounces of solid pewter that is the embodiment of a hundred mile journey remains the first and only of its species in this abode.

Many months ago, I got to thinking of what I could do to provide a more nurturing environment for this treasured inanimate object, and so turned to Maslow's third level of human needs. With the beloved Virgil Crest recently departed from this world (see obituary below), it is impossible to bring home a brother or sister to the buckle, so a friend of similar nature will have to suffice. Something that represents hard labor, struggle, and sacrafice, at a level comparable with the Virgil buckle. Something that must be earned and is far from guaranteed. Something that, when looked at and held, will provide a catalyst for a great flood of memories—some good, some bad, and some ugly—that will make for spectacular campfire storytelling

Monday, September 5, 2016

On Monsters and Devils

The Monster 

 

You really can't find a better marathon for $35. No fancy swag, shiny medals, or chip timing. Just 4,000 feet of gain over singletrack and some park roads with some good people and good food at the finish. Welcome to The Monster Marathon.

The original Monster course was a double out-and-back on the Finger Lakes Trail at Kennedy State Forest in Virgil. For logistical reasons, including some trail rerouting and the closing of Gatherings Restaurant and Event Center where the race was staged, the race was relocated in 2015 to Robert Treman State Park in Ithaca. Despite the new location, the original race format remains the same - a double out-and-back, (or single out-and-back for the accompanying half marathon), low entry fees, and handicap start times. These attributes are what gives the Finger Lakes Runners Club's only marathon a unique flavor, setting The Monster apart from most other trail races.

With the age and gender-graded start times, runners start off in waves. Older athletes start earlier and the ladies go before the men. Some sort of mathematical formula is used to calculate each runner's head start over the "open field," with start times calculated down to the minute. This creates competition between older and younger runners. Final standings are

Friday, July 1, 2016

Nec Plus Ultra: Manitou's Revenge 2016

[Update, 9/5/16: Ultrarunning Magazine opted to publish a shorter version of this blog post on their website as a race report for Manitou. At the magazine's request, I shorted and edited this post to meet their space constraints. My submission didn't appear in Ultrarunning Magazine's print edition, but was published on their website here.

Manitou's Revenge can be accurately described as a series of firsts. Time and time again I would routinely find myself out of my comfort zone. But with a high number of uncertainties comes an overwhelming sense of adventure that can make the entire experience worthwhile. The path to self discovery is out there, but the challenge is knowing which way to turn. Where will the wilderness trail take me? What, if anything, lies beyond?

 

"Get your affairs in order..." Thanks for the reminder, Charlie.

The 54 mile trail run begins in Windham, New York, and goes up and over ten mountains en route to the finish in downtown Phoenicia. Five of those are Catskill High Peaks - wilderness mountains over 3,500 feet. Runners follow the Escarpment

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Prepping For A Long Walk In The Mountains

Looking for a different type of challenge and the chance to run something new, I'll be embarking on the 54 mile Manitou's Revenge Ultramarathon this weekend. I can hardly wait to hit the rocky, rugged Catskill mountain trails in the predawn light this Saturday. 

It will be interesting to see how my body holds up after running another 50 miler only two weeks after a hard effort at Cayuga Trails. Unlike Cayuga, the Manitou's Revenge course is barely runnable at all. Even on a good day with a proper taper, I'd likely be walking a good portion of this beast. To add to the adventure, I'll be camping out near the finish line in Phoenicia, also a first, then taking a bus (provided by the race) at 3:30 AM to the starting line in Windham.

Per the race website, Manitou's Revenge ascends about 15,000 over the point-to-point 54 miles through the Catakills High Peaks region. I've hiked extensively in the Catskills over the past few years, including a good portion of the race route, and I know first hand how "rocky and precipitous" those trails are - super technical, typical east coast stuff. Needless to say,

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ain't No Easy Way Out: 2016 Cayuga Trails

sodium


noun \so·di·um\

1.  a silver-white soft waxy ductile element of the alkali metal group that occurs abundantly in nature in combined form and is very active chemically.

2. one of several electrolytes required by the human body during an ultramarathon, the mismanagement of which may cause a long and painful day.


sleep


noun \ˈslēp\ 
1. the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.

2.  a condition required by the human body in the days prior to an ultramarathon in order to replenish energy, the mismanagement of which may cause a long and painful day.


That's now three finishes at the Cayuga Trails 50 and that elusive sub 10 hour time still escapes my grasp. Going into the race, I thought - no, I knew - that my fitness was there, and that breaking 10 hours was all but given. Unfortunately, this is

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

2016 Cayuga Trails Pre-Race Info

Ah, late May in Ithaca. The grass has greened up, flowers are in full bloom, watermelon is at its juiciest, and of course Cayuga Trails is only a few days away.


The Cayuga Trails 50 is once again the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship. This is the first year the race has sold out, and it seems the front end is the most competitive it's ever been for both the men and women. (Must Love Jogs previews the elite field here.) This is also the first year the event will host a marathon - one loop of the 50 mile course with a little extra thrown in to make it 26.2. It appears that race day temps will reach the mid-70s with no chance of rain - a bit warmer than ideal, but at least the course will be mud-free and not scorching hot like it was in 2014.

This year I feel much more confident about my chances of breaking 10:00 at the Cayuga Trails 50. My run at the Breakneck Point Trail Marathon in April has shown that I can continue to run strong and efficiently after several hours of gnarly terrain,

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Slide Mountain Wilderness

Another Friday off from work, so that meant time for another adventure run. My drug of choice this week was the Catskills High Peaks Region - a return trip after a long absence to one of my favorite hiking regions in New York State. I had mapped out a route for the Slide Mountain Wilderness loop, similar to a run I'd done a few years ago. I'd start and finish at the Denning Road Parking Area while traversing Slide, Cornell and Wittenberg Mountains in a counterclockwise direction. The route would include an brief out-and-back to the Terrace Mountain lean-to, (just to see what's there), and an out-and-back up Giant Ledge to the summit of Panther Mountain. From there, I'd return to the car via Oliverea Road and the Phoenicia East Branch Trail. The weather outlook was mostly sunny with a high of 70, so everything was good to go. Coincidentially, this was the same day that I mailed my waiver and entry fee for Manitou's Revenge, which would be my first trail race in the Catskills. The proposed route also covered most of Red Newt Racing's Cat's Tail Marathon - a point to point trail race around the Slide Mountain Wilderness.

Panoramic view from atop Cornell Mountain
The trail climbs gradually up into the wilderness from the Denning Road Parking Area. The first few miles aren't very technical, and I made a mental note that I'd have a blast later on when running down this stretch to the car. At about 1.2 miles the trail reaches a junction where one can take a right to climb Table and Peakamoose Mountains, two of the Catskills High Peaks. My course split to the left though, following the Long Path, and I continued on to another junction

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Point 2 Point

Something can be said about the merit of a long, point-to-point trail run. A few weeks ago I decided to create my own adventure run on the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), with a route mapped out that would take me from Brooktondale to my house in the City of Ithaca. The run was to be self supported, so I stashed a jug a water just off the road at what would be the 10 mile point of the route. The mindset was markedly different from a typical long run, since I would be getting further and further from my car and eventually it would be easier to continue on ahead, rather than turn back, if anything went majorly awry. Additionally, I would be following trail blazes and a paper map through some forest areas I'm only vaguely familiar with.

Planning for a long day on my feet with an element of adventure, I parked at the trailhead on the east side of Shindagin Hollow State Forest. From there, I'd follow the FLT west through Shindagin Hollow and Danby State Forest, then north to Lick Brook. At the Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook, I'd leave the main FLT and follow the Buttermilk Falls Spur Trail east

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 Symplocarpus Foetidus Half Marathon

The 35th annual Skunk Cabbage Classic 10K and Half Marathon is one of the biggest and oldest races in the Ithaca area. Held this past weekend over open roads and rolling hills, it seemed like a good opportunity to help build some speed and maybe nab a half marathon PR.

Shortly before the start I found myself torn between what to wear during the run. At 9:45 am, the sun was out and the temperature was something in the low twenties after windchill. Not exactly traditional weather fare for mid-April around here. After some internal debate I opted for warmer clothing - an Under Armour long sleeve compression shirt with another long sleeve tech tee over it, some compression tights over my lightweight running shorts, some light gloves, and my FLRTC beanie. The shirt and pants were skin tight and did a solid job of keeping my core and appendages comfortably warm.

The air horn sounded and runners took off.  I hoped to maintain a 6:50-7:00 pace for the first half, then pick it up in the second half if I felt up to the challenge. I'd been running track repeats and tempo runs once or twice a week to work on building some speed and improving leg turnover. (One of the advantages of an unusually warm Upstate winter is the ability

Friday, February 26, 2016

Of Mules and Men: Beast of Burden Winter 50 Race Report

"...You talk of making a canal 350 miles through the wilderness! It is a little short of madness to think of it this day." - President Jefferson to Joshua Forman in 1809, upon Forman's request for federal funds to build the Erie Canal.

For decades, various New York State lawmakers had been meeting with engineers to discuss plans for a major transportation project. The Empire State's leaders were looking for ways to connect some of New York's lakes and waterways to allow for easier navigation across the state from east to west. As early as 1785, the argument was heard that a man-made waterway from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes would be feasible. After several plans, proposals, and subsequent rejections for funding from Washington, the state legislature finally passed a bill to approve construction of a massive canal. New York Governor DeWitt Clinton played the primary role in engineering and commissioning the project. On July 4, 1817, Gov. Clinton ceremoniously shoveled the first patch of dirt in Rome, NY, and construction of the Erie Canal was officially underway.

***

"How many first timers do we have at The Beast today?" the race director asked through his megaphone, making himself heard over the din of the nervous, frozen crowd. Roughly half the field raised a hand, myself included. I looked around at the assortment of runners surrounding me at the starting line. Many had brightly colored clothing, allowing them to stand out

Friday, February 12, 2016

One Year In Ithaca

[The following post is something I wrote a year ago, in February 2015, as a guest writer for the Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co. Blog. I'd say that another year spent in Ithaca has only reinforced the opinions I've written about below. My wife and I continue to meet friendly, like-minded people in the area and we still hope to live here long-term.]

I think we can all agree, moving from one house or apartment to another can be exciting. It opens up a world of possibilities, from additional living space and some new decor, to an excuse for upgrading appliances and purging closets full of useless and forgotten stuff. On the other hand, it can be stressful in a variety of ways. Aside from the physical effort that goes into moving carloads of more things than you'd ever remembered owning, it brings a new daily routine and change of pace. In some cases, it results in a whole new city with changes in scenery and people, complete with all the lingering doubts about whether or not you made the right decision. "What if I hate this place? What if I stick out like a sore thumb?" Unfortunately, many of us have to deal with this at one time or another, and the end result isn't always desirable.

I happen to be writing this one year to the day that my wife and I moved to the City of Ithaca. Hayley landed a job here nearly two years ago, and for a year she had been commuting back and forth from Binghamton. We made somewhat

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Where Are the Self-Lacing Running Shoes?: 2015 Year in Review

2015 brought many a mile on trails and roads. Despite the absence of flying cars, self lacing Salomons, and hover boards that actually work like they do in the movies, it was indeed a very good year. I accomplished some pretty big personal goals and learned quite a bit in the process. Rather than type up a long recap, I've decided to share an assortment of pictures I've taken on while on hikes and runs throughout the year. Many of these I've posted to my Instagram account over the past 12 months. Follow along at @UltraRunnerPete. All photos were taken by me with an iPhone 5S, unless otherwise noted. 
The Electrical Box, the Rumble of the Century, can be found on a telephone pole on North Cayuga Street in Ithaca. (In round two, the AC vs. DC smackdown leaves the boxing ring and goes freestyle in a rap battle of epic proportions.)



A frozen overlook above Fall Creek, just off the west side of the Cornell campus. This is along a loop I commonly run in the morning and was also part of the 2015 Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon course. 



Last winter, Ithaca Falls was so frozen you could walk right up to the falls and sit on the ice. There's also been talk of allowing ice climbing in Tompkins County as a way to boost tourism to the area.



This novelty sign was spotted on a snowy rural road in the Town of Enfield and is something we could use at our house. 



Late March still saw plenty of snow up in the hills. After a failed trail run at Connecticut Hill, in which I was repeatedly post-holing through a foot of snow, I took to the roads and met some bovine buddies.



The ol' swimming hole in Enfield Creek, home to some of my favorite trails at Robert Treman State Park. 



Lower falls at Lick Brook, at the Finger Lakes Land Trust's Sweedler Preserve. The preserve is part of the Cayuga Trails 50 course. 



Lick Brook's upper falls. 



The eight mile, orange blazed Cayuga Trail traverses the Cornell Campus and one of the Cornell Plantations Natural Areas as it follows Fall Creek east to Dryden.




Hiking the Gorge Trail at Robert Treman State Park.



The sun sets over Cayuga Lake at Stewart Park in late May. 



On May 31, I ran the Cayuga Trails 50 as my first of two focus races for the year. The race went well and I wrote a report on it, complete with a bunch more pictures and lots of Oasis lyrics.  Four week later, I dabbled in SkyRunning at the Whiteface Vertical Weekend and wrote a separate post about that experience.

Tons of these red efts were spotted littering the FLT at Connecticut Hill. Apparently these little dudes were the inspiration for the name Red Newt Racing



On July 3rd, the evening before the Finger Lakes 50s, I did a training run around the Finger Lakes National Forest to cover part of the course and explore the north end of the forest where I'd never been before. 






Here's a good taste of the Finger Lakes 50s course, 12 hours prior to the start time. Steady rain overnight would make things even worse by the morning and give way for an astronomical drop rate in a race known for its perennial mud. Happy Fourth of July indeed. At least I wasn't running the race this year! (For more info, check out my race report from 2014.)



Green Lakes State Park, home of the Green Lakes Endurance Runs.



The next two shots are from the rim trails at the upper end of Taughannock Falls State Park. Now that the Black Diamond Trail is nearly complete, one can run continuously from Cass Park in Ithaca to Taughannock Falls and back, entirely off-road. (Black Diamond 50K Fatass, anyone?). Side note: Taughannock Falls recently was named one of The World's 15 Most Amazing Waterfalls by The Thrilllist. 




This giant mushroom had all summer to grow, found along the main Finger Lakes Trail, part of the Forest Frolic course, in Kennedy State Forest. My size 13 Lone Peaks pale in comparison. Adam says it's a hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa), AKA ram's head or sheep's head.



In July a storm wrecked havoc on many of the area's trails. Here's what was left of lower Lick Brook a few weeks after the storm. It might not be recognizable, but this is where the Cayuga Trails course crosses the Cayuga Inlet, adjacent to the trestle. Upper Treman got wrecked pretty bad too, and some of the trails have since been rerouted.



Virgil Crest recon in the heart of summer, looking down at Hope Lake Park in the Town of Virgil. 



One hot day in early August, I drove out to Watkins Glen, NY, to take in as much of the scenery as I could in a single long run. The next few pictures are from Watkins Glen State Park. Pro tip: If you want to run the trails at this park in the summertime and see everything there is to see, I suggest you arrive around 7:00-8:00 AM, right as the Gorge Trail is opened, to avoid wall to wall crowds of tourists. 






After traversing all of the Watkins Glen State Park trails, I then set out around the towns of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls to check out some more of the towns' natural beauty. By late morning the state park was packed, so I was glad to have gotten that part of the run over with early. The remainder of the run was a mix of roads and trails...

Aunt Sarah's Falls, just off NYS Route 14. It hadn't rained in awhile so the falls was merely a drip. 



Eagle Cliff Falls in Havana Glen Park.



Deckertown Falls.



Pre-run group shot from one of the Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co Tuesday evening group runs. (The social runs are still happening throughout the winter, every Tuesday at 6:00 PM in The Ithaca Commons.)



Part of the Virgil Crest 100 training consisted of nighttime headlamp running on singletrack. 



I ran my longest run at the time, the Green Lakes Endurance Run 100K on August 29, in preparation for Virgil Crest, and recapped that race separately. The next weekend, I took a break to rest and begin tapering for Virgil. Hayley and I took a mini-vacation to the Salem, MA, area that weekend to celebrate our anniversary.

 In these pictures, the sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean shoreline in Rockport, MA. I got in a brief early morning run along the coast on ou rlast morning in MA.





The Old Mill at the west side of Robert Treman State Park was once a functioning mill and is now a mini museum. 



After nine months of training an preparations, I started and completed the Virgil Crest 100 on September 19-20. I wrote about all those details here and a more experimental narrative of it here. It took well over a month for my body to start feeling normal again after than amount of time on my feet. Of course it was worth every minute of it!

Early fall foliage along the Susquehanna River in Binghamton during a lunch time walk. 



October brought peak foliage season to Robert Treman State Park. It's no wonder the park is such a huge tourist stop throughout the summer AND fall seasons. I feel truly lucky to have this park in my own town.






We went to a FLRTC costumed-themed pub run on the night before Halloween. The store hosts pub runs once a month, even in the winter! (Hayley and I are the Google Maps in back row.)



The Chili Challenge 5K was a family-oriented, cross country run/walk in early November. Historically the temperatures have been near-freezing and sometimes snowy, but not this year. I always forget how painful a fast 5K is and how stupid my facial expressions must look when the finish line is in sight.



In mid-November the area trails were still snow and ice free. The cairn on the FLT at Shindagin Hollow State Forest is bigger than I am.



Shindagin Hollow lean-to.




This stone car is in the woods, just off the edge of Ringwood Road in Ithaca. I think it belongs to the Rock Biter from The NeverEnding Story.




On the morning of Black Friday I did a long out and back on the Erie Canal Towpath, starting and ending in Fayettevile NY. On the same day in 2014, the morning saw sleet and a sheet of ice covering the path. This year brought a clear 7:00 AM sunrise and 50 degree temperatures. 



I made one more visit to Lucifer Falls in December, and still no snow or ice.



Another FLRTC pub run. This time it was festive for the Holiday Season.



 
While training primarily on roads and rail trails for the Beast of Burden 50, I decided a 5K PR was in the cards at the It's a Wonderful Run in Seneca Falls, NY. After the suspense of waiting to learn my official time I discovered I'd earned a PR by two seconds.



And how about an Ugly Sweater and Cookie Swap Fun Run to close out the year?


Last but not least, some 2015 Strava stats.
https://www.strava.com/athletes/3428055


That about covers it for the highlights of 2015. More to come on some plans for the new year in a future post. I know this was a lengthy post, and if you've made it this far I commend you! Please let me know in the comments below how YOUR 2015 went and share some stories or highlights. And last of all, have a happy and healthy New Year and best of luck in your 2016 endeavors. Thanks for reading!