Adventure running is where you find it

Adventure starts here

Today’s run (treadmill): 26 minutes

I used to be an adventurous runner. By that I mean I didn’t do 90% of my runs within two miles of my house. I’m far less adventurous nowadays, because I have far less time and fewer opportunities to try new experiences.

My job used to be located in mid-town Manhattan and that opened the door to my love of city running. At least once a week I’d run in Central Park, across the Brooklyn or GW Bridge or up and down the West Side Highway. I’d often run around cities that I would visit on business trips. I ran wooded trails whenever I could find them, and I found a lot of them. I even did a marathon relay race on Cape Cod as part of a family vacation.

My frequent running partner (Adventure Girl) introduced me to a lot of different running venues. After she moved to Montana (where she does trail running in the woods with real live bears) I was left on my own to run in the city. Although I found other running buddies, I pretty much stuck to Central Park. On weekends I’d venture out to Belmont Lake to run the Dirty Sock race course or to other local but interesting places. Now it’s mostly just Stillwell Woods or the Bethpage Bike trail.

This morning I was able to fit in a short, humid treadmill run before I started my day. As I was taking out my heart rate monitor, my long dormant running headlamp fell to the floor. I picked it up and thought about my daily adventures running the streets of my neighborhood at 4:00 AM. Not an exotic locale, but in the 300 or so runs I did in the dark, I saw a lot of very interesting (and occasionally scary) things on those runs.

This past weekend, my Runsketeer buddies had a Facebook discussion about an adventure marathon that takes place in Utah, with a course that starts at 4,000 feet above sea level. Before I knew it, they were talking about flights, rental cars and accommodations. I think they are serious about doing this race. While that race is not for me, it made me think about broadening my horizons. I think I’ll check the batteries in the headlamp and see where that takes me.

I’m bound for the Brooklyn Half

Got my ticket

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.25 miles

I love the idea of running adventures, but nowadays I rarely venture more than a few miles from my house for a run. This is mostly due to time constraints and schedules. I’m fortunate that I live in an area that offers numerous nearby options, especially for trail running. But over the 5+ years since I’ve become a serious runner, I’ve only run two races outside of Long Island (NYC and Cape Cod, MA).

Last year was not my best in terms of racing. I only ran eight competitive events and I wasn’t particularly competitive in most of them. Unlike the prior two years, I didn’t run a half marathon, just three 5Ks, three 10Ks and a 4 mile race. Looking back, I wonder if the half marathon base training I missed last year correlated to my mediocre race times throughout the rest of 2013.

Well that won’t be an issue this year because I have registered for the NYRR Brooklyn Half. This is new ground for me and I’m really excited to participate. I tried to get into this race the first time I was ready to run a half, but I was locked out. Subsequent to that, I’ve run the uninspiring Long Island Half a couple of times. Runner’s World called the LI Marathon & Half a “Golden Oldie” that has aged well. I now have to question everything I read in that magazine.

The things that excite me about the Brooklyn Half:

1. It’s in Brooklyn.
2. I get to run past the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Grand Army Plaza.
3. I’ll finally get to run in Prospect Park.
4. Five miles of the race is a straightaway down Ocean Parkway through the heart of Brooklyn.
5. It finishes on the Coney Island boardwalk.

Both my Runsketeer buddies are running this race along with 20,000+ others. This will be the biggest race I’ve ever run and my first NYRR event. I’m also excited that I’ll have motivation to do those 10+ mile runs on weekend mornings at Bethpage to prepare for the distance. The race is in May so that training will start before spring.

Another Trailview adventure

This must be the place

Today’s run (treadmill): 3.6 miles

This morning was very busy, especially for a Sunday. My wife and daughter went to an early cooking class and my son and I had planned to go to the high school to run intervals at the track. Instead, he completed his weekend homework and I ended up doing a treadmill run. We finished our tasks, only to discover that our freezer was failing. So our morning time together involved salvaging food and trying to (unsuccessfully) restart the refrigeration process.

Ripped from the ground

Yesterday afternoon, my son and I returned to nearby Trailview State Park for another hike. I had run close to five miles in the morning, but I still had lots of energy. My son was also anxious to go. We took a different trail than we had last time, and we saw some new tree damage. One tree, measuring over 30 feet, had been pulled up from its roots. Another had broken off near the four foot point. Other than those trees, the trail was mostly clear of obstructions. We went off trail once, just to see where it led, but the thorny brush discouraged us from traveling too far into the woods.

You’ve learned well, grasshopper

It was a hike, not a run, but my son attacked the steep sections like an ultrarunner. He said he prefers hiking to trail running, and I’m good with that. With the rate he’s growing and the speed he already possesses, I know I’d have trouble keeping up with him. We’ll probably head to Stillwell Woods next time so he can get a bigger challenge. There are some sections on Stillwell’s trails that make Trailview’s tough climbs look mighty easy.

Adventurous running can also be local

Today’s workout: Rest day

The first day of summer has brought a welcome reduction in humidity. I looked at the early morning runners that I passed on my way to the train and regretted that I wasn’t one of them. I could have run this morning but I need to make sure I consistently take at least one day off to rest each week. I don’t go out for long weekday runs and could probably get away with running seven days a week, but I believe that a marginal rest day is more valuable than a marginal run day.

Yesterday’s run on the trails was a nice way to cap off three days of 4+ mile runs. Trail running has become my preferred style and I always consider those runs special. I love the constantly changing terrain, elevations, scenery and the mystery of the experience. I’m often accompanied by animals in the woods, I can hear them rustling as I run by and I never know what I’ll encounter around the next bend. Unless I stick to a familiar route I can count on getting lost. That’s fun for me because I know I’ll eventually find my way back. The biggest challenges I face are fast moving mountain bikers and steeply carved pathways that are almost as hard to descend as they are to climb. The hidden danger is roots along the trail that can bring you down hard, often before you know you’ve tripped. I had a near stumble yesterday and the adrenalin rush provided sufficient energy to scale a sudden steep embankment. Stillwell is only five minutes away from home but it always provides some great adventure.

Great adventure on the Muttontown Mystery Trail

 Warning: Long post!

It was truly an adventure on the trails this morning. In a little more than an hour I managed to take a header into frozen rutted mud, lose the trail at least a half dozen times, get trapped multiple times in thorny brush and trees and scale a barbed wire topped fence. It was great fun except where it was no fun at all.  I’ll start from the beginning.

It was 17 degrees early in the day but Weather.com showed that the temperature would begin to rise by mid-morning. I decided that I’d wait until after 9:00 AM, when the Muttontown Preserve opens, and go for an easy trail run. I eagerly anticipated this run because I was zero-for-two in terms of successfully getting into the place. The first time I simply couldn’t find the entrance and the second time I was there too early. Today it was easy getting in. The gates were up and the parking lot was empty.

The trail head is inviting and the trail out looked perfect for a scenic and pleasant run. I took off along this wide path and rounded a few lefts and rights. The elevation was slowly rising but I was fresh and I figured I may out-and-back the trail so I’d have some nice downhills to enjoy on my way back. Soon the track narrowed and I encountered some icy snow covered patches. I had on my NB trail shoes which can handle some technical terrain but the trail had frozen and rutted making it hard to find many flat spots to land on.

I was worrying about turning an ankle when, at around the 1 mile mark, I caught a root and flew forward, landing on my left knee and wrist. I decided to double back to a section of the trail that branched off about a quarter mile before this point. The branching trail seemed better groomed and I was looking to avoid a repeat of my fall.

As I made my way there I stopped to take a couple of pictures some fallen trees that had caught my eye.  One was covered with whorling branches that gave it a view from the front like a wheel hub and spoke.

There were two other trees that had fallen in opposite directions, their roots and trunks prominently displayed, that opened enough room for the path. I wondered if the trees were felled to allow passage along the trail (unlikely) but I’m curious what it looked like when those trees were still standing.

I eventually made my way to the southern end and though there was lots to see and very different terrain to explore I did not see the relics of old mansions that made this the “Mystery Trail.” I used my iPhone compass to help reorient me north but I found so many switchbacks I didn’t know what to follow. Worse than that, some trails seemed to close up until they disappeared so I needed to bushwhack my way over to new trails when I could find them. Eventually, with further help from my compass and the direction of the sun I was able to head north on a clear trail. I even passed by the remains of an old mansion but didn’t stop to explore because it was getting late and I wanted to finish the run by 11:00 AM.

The north trail terminated at a point where I needed to take a perpendicular trail either east or west. I guessed west and was rewarded to see it bend north so I stayed on course. This happened two more times. I eventually reached the most northern point in the Preserve but I needed to make my way west to the exit point. Easier said than done. There were chain link fences with barbed wire tops that obstructed me from getting out in any easy way. I bushwhacked my way west until I got trapped between a fence and a shallow frozen river but at that point I could see the building that sits next to the trail head.

I tried to find my way past the fence but the tree growth was becoming more dense. There were lots of branches on the ground and thorny branches snagging my clothes as I attempted to find a break along the fence. I was standing twenty feet from my car that I could see through the chain link fence but I had no easy way to get there. I decided to make my way south instead. I figured the fence would eventually end or I’d come to an open gate (after all, how did I end up on the other side?). Before I found that I saw a section of the fence that was bent down at the top with the barbs facing frontwards instead of straight up. Helping that were some logs and branches piled along the fence and I decided to climb up and jump off to get back inside the Preserve. The drop was about four feet and I was careful to avoid landing hard on my recently bruised knee. I landed well but my running mitten got snagged on the top of the fence and came off. I was able to reach up and snag it back. I was very happy to run the last quarter mile back to my car.

It was quite an adventure and now I know some of the mysteries of the Muttontown Trails. I’d like to run it again but I think I’ll do it with a more user friendly compass and perhaps a running companion to give me a boost over the fence because I know I’ll eventually get us lost.

The industrial park odyssey

Everything is gray and wet and it all looks the same to me. The buildings and the roads through the industrial park wind around in a pattern that probably makes sense when viewed from above but on the street it’s hard to determine which way leads north or south. The rain, which began as a welcome sprinkle through the late afternoon haze has increased in force and the sun is gone. I pick a direction that I think will lead me out and back to my neighborhood only to discover that I’m 180 degrees off and dead ending at a point where cars are whizzing off the expressway onto a busy four lane road. As the skies open up and the rain gets harder I turn and run toward an office building to take cover under the overhang from a bank. Two bank employees step outside, look at me and giggle for good reason. In my bright yellow jersey, running shorts and lime green accented running shoes I’m the last thing they expected to see on this dark rainy day.

I see that the rain has slowed down and I head off in the other direction, the parking lot has filled with puddles and I step in one so my running shoes and socks are soaked to match the rest of me. I reach a crossroads and realize that choosing the wrong direction will put me even farther away from where I need to go. It’s cold and getting darker and the rain starts again, harder. I decide to go right and quickly encounter dozens of cars rushing to get out of the park, leaving me little room to run, save the slick, downward sloping, landscaped grass that runs beside the road. I ask a young woman leaving work if she knows how to get to the service road. She points me in the direction I just left so I ignore her and soldier on hoping to recognize something familiar from the path I took to get where I ended up.

It’s getting late and I’m expected home but I have no phone and no money for a payphone (if they still existed) to call and say that I’m stranded. My glasses are foggy and my vision is distorted by the rain. I’m amazed to have found myself in this situation. I feel like I’m headed in the wrong direction until I see two people at a bus stop and I ask them if they know how to get to the service road. They do! They turn me around and point out a road that bears right in the distance and they tell me to follow that. I take off at what I’ll guess was an 8:00 pace and as I round the corner I see the familiar entrance to the service road that will lead me to the Middle School and then home.

I run with everything I have and make my way home in less than ten minutes. My wife opens the door and as I brace for the “Where have you been!? We’ve been so worried about you!!” all she says is “Hi! How was your run? Your shoes are all muddy!” It was a disorienting experience and a frustrating one too. I knew the whole time that I was half a mile from my front door yet I couldn’t figure out a way to get there safely. I think I should start running with a compass.

So much for my attempt to break my distance record. I started well by picking up some miles in a previously unexplored neighborhood but the industrial park and the rain did me in. I’m taking today as a rest day and I’ll go out again tomorrow morning. I never thought being 1,500 yards away could feel so far from home.