Caleb Smith trails: bad conditions for both run and runner

Hazards abound on the Caleb Smith trails

Yesterday’s workout (Caleb Smith State Park): 3.4 miles (run), 1 mile (hike)

It was a busy Saturday for us, and I didn’t get a chance to post about yesterday’s activity until this morning. Yesterday afternoon we headed over to Caleb Smith State Park where my wife and kids participated a candle making workshop while I hit the trails. Hurricane Sandy had done a lot of damage to the park, but they’d just re-opened the yellow trail. The blue, green and red trails still remain closed.

Prior to leaving for Caleb Smith, we’d stopped for lunch at Moe’s. That was a mistake on my part. Lunch was fine, but I didn’t give myself enough time for proper digestion. I thought I felt fine when we arrived, but soon after I’d started toward the trail I could tell that’s the going would be tough. I pressed on hoping that I’d begin to feel better as time went on.

After a mile I couldn’t ignore the discomfort. It wasn’t a stomach issue, but I felt lethargic and my legs felt heavy and unresponsive. I decided to walk it off and covered a half mile before resuming my run. The trail was in poor condition, with branches strewn along the path by the storm and thick mud from the morning rain. The parts of the trail that were covered by leaves were the most run-able.

I felt marginally better after a half mile hike and resumed my run for the next mile. I had looked forward  to this trail time, but I wasn’t enjoying it much. The trail markings were a little inconsistent and I found myself on the closed paths once or twice. In most cases I could keep going until I reconnected to the yellow trail but once or twice I had to double back.

At one point I thought I saw another runner through the trees, but couldn’t really see much, except that it clearly wasn’t a squirrel or a fox. I thought it was odd that someone would run off-trail, especially with the current conditions. During my next loop around, I detected the same movement and saw that the “runner” was actually a deer. I noticed two or three others soon after. They kept their distance but didn’t run away when our paths came together at a clearing.

I ended up running over 3 miles, though not continuously. I was happy to be finished and vowed not to repeat my mistake of having a big lunch prior to an effort of that scale. After my run, I spoke for a while with a ranger whose team maintained the park. He told me it would be some months before the cleanup was completed. There’s a lot of tree damage that they can’t get to with heavy equipment so it comes down to a two man crew that uses old fashioned methods to precision cut and remove damaged trees.

I’m planning to do a neighborhood run later this morning and really hope that yesterday’s running difficulties don’t carry forward to today. I’d rather have yesterday’s lunch to blame than to be dealing with a bigger issue related to being ill.

Dressing for cold when the running gets hot

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

It’s often difficult to determine the right amount of layers to wear in cooler weather. On hot summer days we wear as little as possible (I stop at running shirtless in public, though many don’t). When the temperature begins to drop, I find myself reaching for long sleeves and running pants but often regret those decisions some time into my run.

A check of the weather last night prompted me to go with short sleeves and running shorts this morning. I did lay out my calf sleeves that would provide more leg warmth, but I’d already put on my running shoes by the time I noticed them. I also put out some lightweight running gloves in case I felt they were necessary. I decided to forgo the calf sleeves and gloves and just ran with what I had.

The temperature was in the low 40’s at 4:00 AM, and though it felt nippy, I was satisfied with my gear. As I waited for my Garmin to acquire a signal, I concluded that I was no more uncomfortable than I’d typically be lining up for a race on a cold fall morning. I hoped that the chill would prompt me to get to speed quickly but I had some trouble pushing my pace.

I ended up running the first half of my route fairly slowly but made up for that on the second half. Although I was sweating when I walked back into the house I wasn’t soaking wet. I think I guessed correctly in terms of layers. Once the temperatures drop into the 30’s and 20’s it will be more obvious what to wear on a run. One thing I know for sure: it’s far better to error on the side of cold at the start than risk overheating later.

Running relief from my vacation

View of the Capital from the Newseum building

Today’s run (street): 4.8 miles

The idea of needing a vacation from your vacation held true this week. After three days of visiting the sights of DC, including Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian, the Spy Museum, the Newseum, Ford’s Theater, the Senate and Capital buildings and Chinatown, I was exhausted. Following that was a day at Williamsburg Revolutionary City and then a day at Busch Gardens. After all that, we still had the long ride back to Long Island. I’m happy to have the weekend to recover!

In the past, I’ve tried to incorporate a little running tourism into my vacations. However, I didn’t feel comfortable being alone on the streets of DC at dawn, so my only choice was to use the hotel’s treadmill. Williamsburg offered a safer venue, but the streets didn’t have sidewalks so, once again, I chose the treadmill. I didn’t run every day but with all the ground we covered walking, I got a good week’s workout.

This morning was my first opportunity to run outside since last Sunday, when I covered three miles before we left on our trip. It was no surprise that the humidity was high this morning, but I thought the low cloud cover would keep conditions tolerable. I think the miles of walking this week paid off, because I felt good from the start and covered my distance with little trouble.

Although it will be a low mileage week for running, it was great for conditioning and fitness. With the Dirty Sock 10K coming up in a couple of weeks, I may head to the Bethpage trails tomorrow morning to kick off my race training. That is, unless it rains. In that case, it will be back on the treadmill…

I ran a great race, wish I knew why

I haven’t quite figured out why I ran as well as I did in yesterday’s race. The weather surely helped and the course was flat and fast. I’d been having trouble keeping my daily runs within my targeted range, so I expected my pace to suffer with yesterday’s longer distance.

Besides taking two days rest prior to the race, I ran through my set of core exercises on Saturday morning. That small workout can yield good results and I really should do it more often. I believe that my good experience on Sunday came from a combination of environment, prep and being back to full strength after some weeks battling colds and injuries.

Even after good runs I think about what I could have done differently to achieve better performance. I’m not sure there’s much more I could have done yesterday. Had I run just 10 seconds faster, I would have paced in the 8:00 range instead of 9:00. A year ago that would have been important to me, but this year I feel differently. I did my best and I’m very happy with the results. That is until next Sunday’s race.

Running through the clouds

Still foggy two hours later

Today’s run (street): 2.6 miles

For me, the appeal of running correlates directly to the conditions at hand. 40° on a bright Saturday morning with no time restrictions is very appealing. Running in the dark at 4:00 AM just minutes after waking from a sound sleep is far less appealing. In some cases, after I’ve begrudgingly prepared for my run, something happens to change my outlook. That was the case today.

It seemed a little humid as I dressed for my run and I left off a top layer thinking it would be warmer than yesterday. Again, I had trouble getting my Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp to work. The batteries get easily unseated within their housing and this prevents the lamp from switching on. As well as it has served me, I think the Tikka is due for replacement because these problems are costing me precious time.

I stepped out and watched the garage door rise, revealing my neighborhood shrouded in heavy fog. The street lights projected ethereally and the density of the fog kept visibility to about 30 feet. I thought it looked amazing and suddenly looked forward to starting off on my run.

The run itself was unremarkable. I’m still working through some mechanical issues but it was fun to see the world through this haze of distorted light. Running is a physical activity, but so much about it is enhanced by the experience itself. A four mile run in the woods, where your view and conditions change constantly, is far more interesting than a four mile run on treadmill. Today’s route was similar to the course I run every day. But what I experienced this morning was much more interesting and different than normal.

Encountering a broken path

Today’s run (street & mixed terrain): 5.6 miles

Today’s run took me to places where I haven’t run in months. It was a nice change of scenery. I didn’t go far from home but I covered a few different neighborhoods and enjoyed the minor thrill of knowing that I ran from one town to another (and back again).

I started my run by the middle school and then cut over to the business park loop that provides a decent hill challenge that’s steep or gradual, depending on which direction you run it. I cut into a local neighborhood from there and saw the landscaping teams out working hard to erase any evidence that we were hit by a hurricane five days ago.

I targeted 5 miles in an attempt to grow my base for the Cow Harbor race but ended up covering more distance. Part of the reason for that was a miscalculation I’d made when I followed a main road that I knew would connect me to the neighborhood that sits directly south of mine.

Along the way my pathway degraded to the point where I was negotiating broken sidewalk, overgrown weeds and branches that had been dislodged by last weekend’s storm. That section added distance and cost me speed, as I needed to be especially careful where I stepped with my Hattori’s that provide very limited protection. Once I made my way out of that mess I circled the southern neighborhood and completed my route home. I won’t be revisiting that route anytime soon.

It was a tough and tiring run but I was glad to have moved up my distance closer to the 6.2 miles that I’ll be racing in just a few weeks. I’m not sure what workouts I’ll do over the coming long weekend but the weather promises to be good. I need to work on speed so perhaps I’ll visit the track tomorrow.

The good and bad of late summer running

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

I had mixed emotions when I began this morning’s run. The air was cool, almost cold, and so different from the humid conditions over the past weekend. I appreciated the energizing weather as I made my way along the route but felt a little sad that the cool conditions and low humidity were signaling the close of summer.

After Sunday’s treadmill intervals I found it easier to run with some speed. I knew that I was pacing better than I had in a while. I followed my usual route and moved along at faster than conversational pace. I was trying to imagine if I could sustain that rate over the length of Sunday’s race. I pushed hard over the half mile and finished close to 9:00/mile.

One year ago I was averaging about an 8:45 pace on my morning runs but my speed has slipped over the last six months. I’m happy with today’s run because (at least) it’s an improvement from what is now the status quo.

Return to the Muttontown trails

Circuitous run on the Mystery Trail

Today’s run (Muttontown Preserve): 3 miles

I took advantage of the weather today and headed over to Muttontown Preserve at noon for a run. Our morning was very busy so I didn’t get out as early as I would have liked. Even with that late start the parking lot was less than a quarter full and I was glad to know that the trails probably wouldn’t be crowded. The snow is all gone but some of the effects of all that water remain. The dirt roads around the entrance were rutted and the trails have a lot of muddy sections. With the noon day sun, I started my run wondering if I should have picked shorts instead of running pants. As it turned out I made the right choice.

Rough road leading to some rough trails

I followed the same path I originally tracked on my previous run and held my breath as I passed by the place where I fell head first into frozen mud. No such issue today but the condition of the trails was marginal and several times I encountered fallen trees along my path. Some places were completely blocked and that forced me to bushwhack through thorny brush to reconnect with trail on the other side. It was then that I really appreciated having long pants and long sleeves. I’d hoped to make my way south, then west and come back north to the trail-head but my poor navigation kept me contained in the northwest part of the preserve. I actually ended up running part of one loop three times. By the third time, I finally recognized the terrain!

I had MotionX running on my iPhone and even with the real-time mapping and compass I managed to get lost. I could see where I went wrong but I couldn’t find an alternative path to correct my vector. Instead of mountain bikers, like I often see at Stillwell, I encountered people riding horses on the trail. Between the mud and horses I needed to do a lot of careful stepping. My Garmin, with its auto-pause set too low, kept stopping and restarting and occasionally not restarting. Of my approximately 35 minutes running, the Garmin recorded only about 25 minutes. MotionX did a better job although I’m not confident in the iPhone’s GPS accuracy. At least, by the map,  I have a good idea where I ran.

Altogether it wasn’t a very far run but the elevation changes were frequent with a total gain of 220 feet. I came away from the Muttontown Preserve feeling a little ambivalent about the place. I know that MP provides potential for a good fulfilling run but I’m zero for 2 so far. I really wish the trails were better marked so I could spend more time appreciating the experience and less time worrying about direction. Still, it was great to be back on dirt and though my distance was only about three miles they were three hard miles. I’m hoping to cover more distance on the road tomorrow and I’m glad to know that I probably won’t get lost when I do it.

Snowy conditions — I’m just not Inuit

All of the above

 Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.2 miles

It’s probably an urban legend that the Inuit’s Aleut language has dozens of words for snow. If they do then I think I’ve run in every kind today.  I’ve been on vacation for the last week and have either run or cross-trained every day since Friday the 18th. I had every excuse to rest today, my last day of vacation, but I thought that another run at Stillwell might be a better way to close things out. The rains and warm weather have done a great job clearing the roads where I live and I’d hoped that would also be the case when I arrived at Stillwell this morning. 

Despite the ubiquity of green across the lawns in my neighborhood, Stillwell’s athletic fields were still covered by a thick blanket of white snow. I didn’t know the conditions of the interior trails but I suspected (correctly) that the big field past the trail head would be runnable. Once I’d parked I made my way over sheet ice onto the main trail that was covered a foot deep in grainy-icy snow rutted by footprints and tire marks. I began to run on that, taking pains to maintain balance. It was like snowshoeing without snowshoes. After a few hundred feet I took a right onto a trail that looked partially clear and followed it, doing the best I could to avoid the slippery patches of packed snow and ice.

I took the trail to a point where I reached a steep hill that I managed to scale with the momentum from my approach. I knew that I was just south of the big field and followed a snow covered trail until I reached the opening. Once I broke free from the snow (and about 20 feet of sheet ice) I followed the trail around the field. The wind from the north was stiff which somewhat offset the easier effort from running on hard-packed dirt. As I rounded a corner I encountered a couple of mountain bikers who told me that the eastern side trails were still pretty rough. I elected to stay on the field loop and finished after completing a few more circuits. The toughest part of the run was at the end when I took a wooded trail back to the start that had snow, ice, slush, rocks, roots and mud and I finished by gingerly stepping over a sheet of ice formed by runoff from the trail head’s snowbanks.

I’ll take a rest day tomorrow and will appreciate it fully. Over the last seven days I’ve run 20 miles and elliptical’d another 6. I would have liked to have done a few longer runs during my time off but it was a trade-off between frequency and distance. I’m hoping next weekend’s conditions will be more favorable for a higher mileage effort or two. As for today, I like variety but not when it comes to running in snow.