Snowy, icy Bethpage run

Stretching the definition of “great shape”

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 3.75 miles

This morning I looked out the window and determined that the roads were too messy for running. With the temperature stuck below zero since last Thursday’s snowfall, there was still ice along the curb and snow on the sidewalks. I’d heard a tip that the dirt trails at Bethpage were in “great shape.” That got me out early for a run in the park.

It was very cold so I wore numerous layers, more than I needed as it turned out. When I arrived at Bethpage, I encountered a group of runners making their way downhill along the main driveway. Seeing people running off the trail was my first sign that the paths were in pretty bad shape.

The lot was barely plowed but I parked in one of the few open spots. I decided to run up to the north path extension and then cut over onto the dirt paths at the first trail head. There were a surprising number of runners braving the thick coating of icy snow on the paved trail, but no one followed me into the woods when I turned in.

Off the snowy beaten path

From what I was told, I’d expected the paths in the woods to be in better shape than the main trail. In fact, they were a mess, with thick snow along the edges and rutted ice at the center. Neither easy nor safe to run. I followed the route back to the main trail and then headed south on the snowy paved path. My plan was to head back toward the lot and run on the road as that group was doing when I arrived.

No chukkers in the snow

Before I made it all the way there, I noticed that a path leading into the soccer and polo fields was clear. With nothing to lose, I followed it around and saw that it looked clear all the way to the golf course. I’d been chased out of this area in the summer because no running is allowed during the season, but I had little concern about that this morning.

View from the 12th hole

The path continued southeast and I followed it all the way to its termination point on Round Swamp Road. There were a few steep downhills that became noticeable hills on the way back. When I reached the south side of the polo field, I saw that I could continue on the clear path southwest. I stayed on that until I reached a wider snowier road that took me back to the north trail head and ultimately back to the lot.

Looking north from Round Swamp Road

I crossed paths with the same group of men and women at different points during my run. They were moving along well despite the snowy surface. I last saw them entering the woods as I was getting into my car. Based on all the places I spotted them, I’m guessing they were covering close to ten miles. All my layers contributed to overheating, except for my face that was freezing for most of the run. I had hoped to cover at least four miles today, but conditions were ultimately difficult.

Later, when I got back to my neighborhood, I spotted a few people running on the road. The streets looked clearer than when I looked in the early morning (probably due to the sun) and I realized, if I’d waited, it probably would have been safe to run them. No matter, I got to run some new parts of Bethpage Park on a combination of trails, pavement and golf cart paths. I may not have covered my targeted distance, but I had a great workout. When I got home I did ten push ups. Just because I could.

Runsketeer reunion on the Bethpage trail

Left to right: ER, SIOR, TPP, JC

Today’s run (Bethpage bike trail): 6.8 miles
Yesterday’s run (treadmill): 5.1 miles

Yesterday morning was a washout that left me with no choice but to spend close to an hour on the treadmill. It was humid to be sure, but I needed the miles. It wasn’t all that bad, but today’s conditions were FAR better. All the Runsketeers ran together this morning for the first time since Brooklyn, (is that possible?) and we had a special guest on today’s run.

Our guest runner, JC, is a friend of TPP‘s. He’s an accomplished triathlete and avid cyclist. SIOR and I arrived at Bethpage State Park at the same time, and I was disappointed to see that they were still collecting admission to the park. My friend who mans the booth gave me a pass, but he gave SIOR a hard time. SIOR’s SUV has dark tinted windows that make her Empire Passport hard to see, causing some disagreement in terms of its veracity. He ultimately relented and let her through.

TPP and JC didn’t bring their fake Empire Passports, so they ended up parking close to Haypath instead. They ran south on the bike trail to meet up with me and SIOR who were heading north to intercept them. We connected along the path just above the Bethpage woods. SIOR suggested that we go south for a change (we usually end up going the other way). We kept a moderate pace and I was able to stay with everyone. Soon we were back on the older south trail where we continued down the big hill and had an interesting talk about gender equality.

When we run together, the distance seems to go by much faster. About two miles in, JC and SIOR took the lead while TPP and I followed. It was nice to catch up with TPP and every once in a while SIOR and JC would stop and wait for us so we could run together. I wish I could improve another 30 seconds per mile in my pace, but I’m not there yet. After mapping the route based on my GPS output I calculated that I ran 10:17 overall. Not bad for for almost 7 miles.

As tradition dictates, we headed over to Starbucks for our post-run coffee. That was great — as usual — and it gave us a chance to get to know JC better and catch up among ourselves. Before we knew it, it was almost noon and we all needed to head out for our day’s non-running related activities.

One of Stillwell’s steep drops
The old junker 

Later in the afternoon my son and I headed to Stillwell where we followed some very technical terrain and even went off trail a few times. Lots of fun, and not so easy on my legs that had already run a mile past my base this morning. Along the way, we visited the junked car that is inexplicably positioned on one of the cross trails in Stillwell. I don’t know why this thing has remained for years in the otherwise pristine woods. I’ll admit that I used this car more than once as a landmark when I was learning the trails. Maybe that’s its purpose.

It has been a very good week of running and today was fantastic. At one point in the run SIOR turned around and asked, “Isn’t this the most perfect day for a run?” I couldn’t have said it better.

Race Report: 2014 GLIRC Runner’s Edge Trail Relay

First leg off and running (TPP is third from left)

Today’s run (GLIRC Bethpage 2×3 Trail Relay) 2 mile leg (Team finish time 56:05)

The weather finally cooperated enough to allow GLIRC to run the Runner’s Edge Relay this morning. This race was originally scheduled for February, but the unrelenting snow had made the trails at Bethpage State Park unrunnable. A little rain and a few days of 40 degree temperatures cleared out most of the snow, although there were still a number of icy and muddy sections along the path.

As the name implies, this race is a team effort with each member running one 2 mile leg. I haven’t been running well this year, but I did a few speed oriented treadmill runs earlier in the week and figured two miles wouldn’t be much to worry about. I was wrong about that. Today’s two miles didn’t feel endless, but I had much more difficulty that I’d expected. It was too late to help my teammates, but I discovered a large gap in my conditioning that I hope to address as I begin my half marathon training.

Runsketeers pre-race

Our team was called the Runsketeers, consisting of me and friends the Petite Pacer (TPP) and She Is Out Running (SIOR). SIOR had little prior trail experience, but she’s lightning on the road. She qualified for Boston this year and almost always wins or places in her age group. TPP is also very fast (she has racked up her share of podium spots) and takes performance training very seriously. Then there’s me. I used to be competitive in my age group and I’ve done a lot of trail running. These days I struggle to break 28 minutes in a 5K.

With that lineup, we decided to have TPP run the first leg, me the second and have SIOR bring it home. The idea was that TPP would put us in a competitive position, I would do my best to hold that and SIOR’s speed would help gain back minutes and position. We didn’t really discuss it, but that was my reasoning.

TPP has been feeling under the weather this week and is still fighting a fever. She’s a tough competitor but decided to run despite feeling sub-optimal. Our backup plan was either to have Mrs. ER run TPP’s leg or have me or SIOR run two legs. We ended up with the original lineup intact. SIOR’s marathon schedule had her running 10 miles this morning prior to the race. She anchored our team after doing that long run on the hilly Bethpage bike trail. These women are amazing.

Me and Mrs. ER after number pickup

Team ER arrived at Bethpage around 9:00 AM and I collected our bibs and t-shirts. SIOR and TPP arrived about 20 minutes later. It was nice bringing together my running friends and my family. Our talking kept our minds off the fact that it was very cold and we didn’t have any place to keep warm. There didn’t seem to be that many participants, but the crowd grew as we got closer to start time.

We headed over to the starting area a little before 10:00 AM and the race began on time. Each leg started on the open field and led to a path into the woods that eventually connected to the main trail. TPP and the others disappeared into the distance and I was still thinking this would be relatively easy as races go.

First hand-off, from TPP

It wasn’t that long before we spotted TPP exiting out of the woods from the opposite side and soon enough we slapped hands and I took off for the second leg. I made the mistake of starting too fast and I paid for that later in the run. The trail conditions were (at best) wet and stable, and (at worse) muddy, icy, snowy, sandy and slippery. There were plenty of race volunteers along the course to keep us on track and warn us of trail dangers. I was disappointed to feel overtaxed midway through the leg and I slowed considerably when running in areas of deep mud and sand. Bethpage doesn’t have hills like Stillwell, but this course did have its uphill challenges.

SIOR ready to fly
Seconds after the hand-off

I was not in great shape by the time I reached the field. My family described my “sprint” to the relay hand-off as “slow motion.” SIOR took off quickly and gained back some minutes. We all gathered near the finish line chute and saw her come through after covering her leg in about 16 minutes. There are no results posted, but her effort undoubtedly helped our race position.

SIOR brings it in

PHOTOS COURTESY OF EMERGING RUNNER JR.

The reward for our hard work was found at the food table where they served muffins and cupcakes as big as softballs. They also offered hot chocolate and noodle soup that was described by my wife and kids as “fantastic.” I had a great time although I am disappointed with the way I ran. I’m determined to get back to my prior level and I have a training plan that I think will help. My Runsketeer teammates both put in impressive runs and I’m honored to be part of that group.

I may return to Bethpage tomorrow to do my first Half training run. It’s just five miles, but today was only two and that was no picnic.

Black ice and snowy running at Bethpage

One of the clearer spots on the trail

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 4.3 miles

Enough was enough after two weeks of nothing but indoor running. I felt the need to get outside and reacquaint myself with the road. My neighborhood streets have pretty much cleared and yesterday’s “warmer” temperatures exposed a lot more of the sidewalks. Safer for running, but not ideal. Assuming the Bethpage bike trails would be similarly clear, I figured that would be a better bet. This is why I don’t gamble.

I’d traded Facebook notes this morning with The Petite Pacer (TPP) and She Is Out Running (SIOR) and mentioned my plan to run at Bethpage Park. TPP expressed some interest in running there as well. I wasn’t sure I would be heading there, but I hoped I’d see her if I did. When I arrived I was disappointed to see that the trails were covered in white. The only views of the pavement came from the narrow tire-tracked sections.

View of the southern trail head

I parked in the lot and was delighted to see TPP’s very distinctive car pull in a minute later. I think I surprised her when I walked over while she prepared her gear. We noted the poor condition of the trails and started our run at the northern trail head along the 4″ of exposed asphalt. Soon enough, we reached sections consisting only of ice over snow. This forced us to the edges, that were a more stable crusty snow.

Most of our running required side stepping between tire exposed asphalt, packed (but not icy) snow and compressed leaves flattened by vehicle traffic. I followed TPP for the most part, and she did a great job of guiding us through the more treacherous segments. Every once in a while she’d point to black ice. I did have a couple of missteps along the way, but thankfully nothing that caused a fall.

Can you believe we just ran that?

My plan, after seeing the poor trail conditions, was to cover four miles rather than my original target of five. My reasoning was that every step I took was a potential chance for a spill. That, along with the additional work that was required to avoid hazards, made four miles a great workout. We returned to our starting point where I finished my run and TPP headed off to do another couple of miles.

I would have liked to cover a little more distance today, but perhaps I will tomorrow. The temperatures are supposed to remain above freezing through the weekend, so I may try a neighborhood run on Sunday. With most people staying home to watch Superbowl pre-game shows, the roads may be fairly free of traffic. At the very least, I won’t be dealing with the hazardous conditions I saw at Bethpage this morning.

Running views and visualizations

Sure looked like fall along the trail

Today’s run (Bethpage): 6.25 miles

The Hope for Warriors 10K next weekend prompted me to head to Bethpage this morning for a base run. I’ve plateaued on distance since Cow Harbor, having completed only a handful of 5+ mile runs since that race. After a week of rainy and windy conditions, today’s clear, dry 57° weather made a run at Bethpage very appealing.

More scenes from today’s run

When I arrived I saw that the right side of the lot was fairly full. There were lots of people with bikes and I wondered if there was a cycling event planned. I don’t think it was anything that formal, although there were a lot more bikers on the trail than I usually see. Considering the density of cyclists on the path, along with many runners and a good number of walkers, I encountered few reckless riders.

With my headache and sinus pressure gone, I felt good energy along the trail and felt less intimidated than usual by the big hills. That isn’t to say that I particularly enjoyed them. My plan was run 5K south and turn around at the 3.1 mile mark. It works for me to break a middle or long distance run into parts. For that same reason, I like to familiarize myself with a race course before running it for the first time. It’s always valuable to understand the challenges of the course before you face them for real.

New Garmin Connect cadence graph

I didn’t dog the pace but I wasn’t looking to simulate race conditions either. The purpose of this run was to get a 10K distance under my belt close to the real thing a week from Sunday. When I downloaded my Garmin after the run, I saw that they’d changed the data visualization on Connect and added a new metric: average stride length. Better still, the site has a pop-up that helps explain SPM and running dynamics. I felt good when I read this in the explanation: “The data values in the green, blue, or purple zones are typical for more experienced or faster runners.”

Good context on cadence

Ideally, I’ll see less green and more blue data points as I work to increase my cadence. Races tend to bring out our best performances (my recent history excepted) so I might even get myself into purple territory next week.

Knee problems? Don’t blame running!

 

If you think walking is a better way to exercise than running because it’s easier on your knees, you would be incorrect. That is according to a Canadian study that tested both the force and frequency of steps for runners and walkers. The New York Times published an article about this study on Wednesday. The conclusion stated, “Measured over a particular distance, ‘running and walking are essentially indistinguishable,’ in terms of the wear and tear they may inflict on knees.”

I know a few people who claim that they used to run, but can’t anymore, “because it hurt their knees.” I have no doubt that they think that’s true. I’ve always thought that knee problems are predetermined and would surface regardless of any sport that these people practiced. The article also quoted a doctor and kinesiology professor who said, “the study’s results intimate that running potentially could be beneficial against arthritis.” I thought so!

Today my wife and I repeated last Friday’s Bethpage experience with a 70 minute walk, primarily on the wooded trails. We alternated our walking with a few minutes of running. My wife runs 45 minutes a day on the treadmill, but she has never done a trail run. She loved the the spongy feel of the main trail and I took her on some of the less groomed paths within the interior sections. We walked the last couple of miles on the bike trail. I’m not sure how much ground we covered because I forget to bring my Fitbit.

Tomorrow I may return to Bethpage to run, using the metronome to try to further increase my cadence. It will also be an opportunity to run a few hills as I prepare for the long uphill climb on my upcoming 5K.

Arduous base run and an impromptu trail

Lots of cross country teams on the trails today

Today’s run (Bethpage bike and dirt trail): 6.1 miles

Tough run today. I went to Bethpage to get in some base miles and a little hill practice. From the start, my level of energy told me that this would not be a high performance workout. My intention was to make it a variable run: 20 minute easy warm up, 20 minute tempo and a moderate pace to the finish. I even intended to cap the workout with a couple of runs up the big long hill at the start of the older bike trail.

As I made my way the hill leading to the north trail entrance, I knew that I’d be hard pressed to manage the planned tempo. I felt a buildup of excessive lactic acid in my leg muscles and I tried to keep my form correct. I hoped that my stride would soon loosen up. I picked up the pace around mile one, where the biggest downhill section starts. I gained more speed down the hill, but soon encountered the two uphill sections that come just before the Haypath crossing.

Once I got to the other side, I made a split second decision to duck into the woods and follow the dirt trail that runs roughly parallel to the paved trail. I was surprised by the number of twists I encountered along this path. It went on much longer than I thought it might. As expected, the dirt trail terminated at a point on the paved trail, just south of Old Bethpage Rd.

The run in the shady woods invigorated me, and I ran the last of my northern route to Old Country Road. Instead of crossing the street to continue on the bike trail, I followed the sidewalk south about a few tenths of a mile before turning back toward the paved path. At the point, my energy level had dropped to the point where I struggled to maintain speed. I decided to dismiss the plan to do hill repeats at the end of the run.

Th only thing left to deal with were the three consecutive hills that come a mile north of the trail head. I locked in a cadence, shortened my steps and made it through the first one, and was grateful for the slight slope that comes before the next one came. I knew I was less than a mile from the end, so I maintained the fastest pace I could until I reached the end.

Today’s run felt far harder than the 7+ miler I did last weekend or yesterday’s hilly workout. I suspect that today’s difficulty was driven by too much hard effort over the prior six days. I’ve decided to take both Monday and Tuesday off from running this week to help me recover a little. I’ll probably do another core session on one of those days and/or some upper body exercises. I didn’t love the run today, but I’m glad I put in the miles.

Full contact running on the Bethpage bike trail

Today’s run had its ups and downs

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 7.25 
1,600th Emerging Runner Post!

Speed is one thing and endurance is another. I’ve made progress on my pacing over the past week, but that was with distances ranging from 3.1 to 3.4 miles. Doubling that distance reveals opportunities for improvement. This morning’s workout confirmed my need to focus on base mileage. The good news is that I’m not as far off from my target as I thought.

Bethpage at 7:30 AM is usually a quiet place, but when I arrived, the parking lot was 3/4 full. Judging from the streams of people with stadium chairs and kids walking with soccer balls, I assumed there was a tournament or clinic happening at the athletic fields. It didn’t look like they were charging for parking, so I was lucky to get there before the whole lot filled up.

According to News 12 Long Island, the temperature was 64 degrees and, at that hour, the bike trail was mostly in shadow. I wore my new Virratas for the first time on pavement (yesterday’s run was on the track), and they felt very good. I had none of the problems I’d experienced with the Kinvara 3’s (when new) during my half marathon training. Then again, those issues could have been with my feet, not with the shoes.

My first half mile was a little rough, and I wondered if I was pushing myself too much following three consecutive hard workouts. I decided to ignore the discomfort because the transition from anaerobic to aerobic breathing is sometimes difficult. Once I hit the first mile, I knew I would be able to manage the planned distance.

Bethpage’s bike trail is rolling, and the north trail is predominantly uphill, all the way to the end. Me and my friend KWL ran it all the way to Woodbury a couple of months ago, and that was brutal. Today, I viewed the hills differently, because I knew all the elevation I was experiencing on the way up would come back as downhills on my return. Yet there were times when the trail seemed to run uphill in both directions. While that was true, I had few troubles along the route.

My plan was to run as far as Washington Ave, turn around and come back, a distance of about 7.25 miles. I had the path more or less to myself on the way north, except there were some reckless riders zooming along without helmets. That’s a dangerous decision when you’re exceeding 20 MPH on downhills. By the time I changed direction for the return leg, there were numerous other runners, walkers and even more cyclists.

At around the five mile point, where the path is only wide enough for three people, I saw a man and two women running in my direction. They were running three across. As they came closer, I decided we had a math problem. I kept expecting the woman on the left (who was lined up with me) to drop back or move up to her right. But fifteen feet away, they were still spread out across the trail.

I moved as far to the right as I could go without spilling onto the shoulder, so I stood my ground. The woman tried to squeeze by, but she miscalculated the space and her arm caught the point of my elbow. I have very hard bones so I’m sure that hurt, although I didn’t feel a thing except contact. It was too bad that we’d bumped, but she saw me coming for at least 30 seconds.

The remainder of the run was contact-free and I felt like I was moving well throughout every section. I focused on shorter strides on the two final hills, and tried to maintain my normal cadence. In the end, It was my longest run of the year. I barely squeaked in under 10 min/mile but this run wasn’t done for performance. This week has been about speed, distance and a few hills. I’ll need to keep it up this coming week. After all, you’re only as good as your last run.

Father, son and the Bethpage trails

Take a hike!

Today’s workout (Bethpage State Park): Hike – 60 minutes

Without a daily run to start my morning, I had little excuse but to get directly to work. I can’t say that I used my time very productively, but I appreciated having a guilt-free break. The weather has been decent, so my son and I decided to go for an early afternoon hike.

We typically go to Trailview State Park or Stillwell Woods for our hikes, because these parks are located very close to our home. Just for a change, we headed over Bethpage to hike the dirt trails. It was fun seeing my friend who mans the entrance booth at Bethpage. We usually have a brief, but highly spirited conversation when I show up early on weekend mornings. He was surprised to see me there on a weekday.

Our hike went by surprisingly fast and, before we knew it, an hour had passed. I thought we’d stay on the main paths and circumnavigate the woods, but my son was having none of that. At each trail intersection he insisted that we follow the more challenging route. That was fine with me, and though we took a number of different paths, we somehow avoided the sand trap.

I had some business calls scheduled for the afternoon, so we steadily worked our way back to the trail head. Overall, today was more play than work. That’s okay. There’s only so many Fridays left before summer ends.

Bethpage rudely corrects an assumption

Scenes from today’s Bethpage run

Yesterday’s run (treadmill): 3.1 miles
Today’s run (Bethpage State Park trails): 3.4 miles

At the exact moment that I was thinking how Bethpage’s wooded trails are less tricky and technical than Stillwell’s, my foot caught a root and I came very close to tumbling down a very steep hill. That moment captured the dichotomous nature of Bethpage’s dirt trails. The main paths through these woods are beautifully groomed, but watch out for the network of challenging side-trails that connect throughout the preserve. Along a given mile, you can find cushioned (almost too cushioned) loam, followed by sand, gravel, packed dirt, rocky ledges, knotty roots, sharp rises and deep drops.

Thankfully, I didn’t hit the ground after connecting with that root. It was a good reminder that complacency during a trail run can easily lead to injury. I continued with caution and made my way up a twisty rise that led to what I call the “sand trap.” I don’t care to run on sand, and when you reach this section you really have no choice – unless you turn around and head back the other way. My ego wouldn’t let me do that, so I toughed it out for the next quarter mile, when I was able to switch to another path.

I had lots of company on the trails today. There were numerous groups of cross country teams doing summer conditioning. I saw a group of boys practicing drills across the field adjacent to the trail head and groups of high school age girls at various times running on the paths. I was very glad that I didn’t have to keep up with anyone today, because I was still recovering from a late workout on Friday.

Yesterday’s schedule made a morning run impossible, so I aimed for a mid-afternoon neighborhood run. Things got unexpectedly busy and I ended up pushing my run to 5:00 PM. By that time, the humidity was unbearable, so I opted for an indoor treadmill session with the AC on and the fan set to high. It was still hot and humid, but far better than outdoors. I set a fast pace and got through the run, although I’ll admit I watched the clock like I was in high school math class.

Tomorrow I plan to go out for a base run that will kick off my taper for the Dirty Sock. I expect to go for 6 to 7 miles and hope to get an early start to minimize the heat and sun. I had originally planned to run the Dirty Sock course today, but I’ll need to wait another week to see that course again on race day. And when I do, I’ll be sure to scan the path for roots.