Icy trails at Stillwell and a talking robot at my side

Treacherous going on the trails

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.2 miles

I had high hopes that the recent warm temperatures had melted the snow on the trails at Stillwell Woods. After days of 40, 50 (and briefly, 60) degree temps I thought that was a reasonable expectation. I was very surprised to see that the local temperature was 19 degrees this morning and when I arrived at Stillwell I saw that the melted snow had refrozen into ice and hard icy snow. I wore my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards in anticipation of rough terrain and set off over the packed but rutted ice and snow. I was still hoping that the interior trails would be bare and more runnable, perhaps protected from the canopy above.

I wore my Garmin and also brought along my iPhone to capture my route using MotionX. It had been a long time since I carried the iPhone on a run and used that app. The app has been updated numerous times since then and after the first minute a robotic female voice said “You have run for one minute and have traveled zero-point-one-0 miles. Your pace is ten minutes per mile.” That spooked me but then I realized that my robot friend would be “updating”me on progress every minute going forward. I considered switching off the MotionX app but decided that I’d just let it go as I didn’t want to play with my iPhone while I ran on these tricky trails.

The trails were covered by hard snow rutted with impressions from hikers, runners, animals and mountain bikers. I didn’t sink into the snow but the ruts that were formed when the temperatures were higher were a few inches deep and a misstep would easily result in a sprain or fall. There were small exposed dirt channels at the edge here and there and I ran on those when I could. The progress reports from MotionX kept coming and I couldn’t believe each time that another minute had passed. I enjoy a hard challenge, especially on the trails, but I was growing concerned that I’d trip on a rut and get hurt. I followed the path back to the open field and finished my run with two laps around the perimeter. The field was mostly devoid of snow because the sun had gotten to it so my last mile was on muddy dirt and grass.

I was happy to be back to the woods for the first time in 2011 and it was a different kind of workout than I’d expected to get. I was so happy to have chosen the Helly’s for the job today. I’m going to head to Bethpage State Park this week and get an Empire Passport so I can get free access into the NY State Parks where I normally have to pay admission. It will be nice if Bethpage’s bike trail is clear when I go there. The 14 mile out-and-back route (or 10 or so miles of it) would be a good kick start to my half marathon training.

Hooray! Another excuse for being a slow runner

Today’s run (street): 4.4 miles at 9:47

The morning runner’s lament

I was reading the current issue of Men’s Journal and saw an item saying that the ideal window for working out is between 4PM and 8PM. I’d read that before and assumed that it didn’t apply to “morning people” like myself who may have their ideal performance band earlier in the day. This item dismissed that notion saying that it’s 4-8PM, case closed. The item also stated that early mornings were the worst time to achieve high performance during exercise or competition. That makes some sense to me because I generally run slower at 4 AM than I do at 10 AM. I’m sure it has something to do with body chemistry, oxygen levels or the activation of slow and fast twitch muscles. I’ll admit it made me feel better for the string of 9:30 to 9:54 runs I’ve been doing over that last few weeks. Prior to reading that I’d blamed the oppressive heat and humidity. Now I just have to point to Men’s Journal to excuse myself for being so slow.

After realizing that I train during a sub-optimizing time I started thinking about what that really means. What if I run 4 miles at 9:47 at 7:00 AM on Saturday and the next day run at 4:00 PM averaging 9:15 per mile? Am I a better runner on Sunday? Is there a physical benefit to running faster with (conceivably) the same level of effort? I’m not so sure and I’m thinking that it doesn’t matter except on race day. To that, if all competitors start at 8:00 AM don’t we all share the same advantages and disadvantages? I’m thinking the 4-8 PM performance window is definitely more about competition than conditioning.

I knew before I started that this morning’s run would be arduous. The temperature should peak at 97 today and while it was only 88 degrees when I went out at 7:00 the sun was baking and the air was soupy. I was pleased with my Brooks Rev T shirt that manages sweat so well (along with my Adidas shorts). Eventually everything became soaked but I was happy to get 4+ miles out of the way without succumbing to the brutal heat. I called it a run when my heart rate started to climb past 80% of max and I really wanted to shower and grab a quick nap. Instead I guzzled some low sugar Gatorade that I’d picked up on sale last week and I chased that with a quart of water. I think I’ll need to go out even earlier tomorrow if I want to avoid those conditions. Perhaps the weather will be better than today’s. I wasn’t worried too much about performance today and that’s good because it wasn’t great. I don’t care — now I can blame a poor showing on the time of day.

Anticipating altitude adjustment

Today’s workout (elliptical): 24 minutes

Despite the heat of the last few days my running comfort has been fine. The old cliche “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” actually makes great sense. While it has been relatively dry this week, this morning’s dew point of 70 and temperatures heading to the 90’s makes it feel darn uncomfortable. I forgot to set up my running gear last night and when I got up I thought it would be easier and more time-efficient to do an elliptical session. That was a good decision and although the indoor air was plenty humid I had little trouble getting through my workout.

I’m thinking about running in Colorado next week and wondering  how that will go. With altitudes of 6,000 feet and higher I know I won’t be running very long. AG wrote about her acclimation to high elevations in Oregon where she’s doing a research project this summer. I know she has adapted well — in fact he’ll be running a half marathon there next month, but I won’t be on vacation long enough to build much capacity. There is a trail very near where we’re staying and I plan to run that first. The main trail is only about a couple of miles but even a four mile out-and-back may be far too much to take on without proper altitude conditioning. I may end up doing most of my workouts in the fitness center and focus my outdoor efforts on hiking. I’ll have to see how it goes.

16 hours to a cold, wet, muddy mess

Snow and ice covers the main open trail

It’s less than a day until my first race of 2010, the XTERRA trail run at Stillwell Woods. This will be the seventh time I’ve raced competitively since returning to running in 2008. I’m looking at tomorrow’s event from a few different perspectives. First, it’s a race and that in itself creates excitement. Second, the action of participating in a rigorous 5 mile trail race less than two months after a week’s stay in the hospital validates my recovery from severe pneumonia. Third, this race promises to be the single most challenging running experience I’ve ever faced due to the course and the conditions we’ll be facing.

This morning my son and I stopped by the race site to see how the trails were looking. They hadn’t marked the course but the website says we’ll be running the “black trail.” I’m not too familiar with Stillwell’s trail markings (which explains why I always get lost when I run in the interior of the preserve) but I’ll try to pay closer attention tomorrow. Once we arrived at Stillwell I realized that there’s still quite a lot of snow on the ground. As we walked to the trail head we saw that the first 300 yards of the course are covered by a few inches of well-trod icy snow. We followed the main open trail until we came to path that broke to the right and led into the woods to the south. The path was less snow covered due to the trees but there was still enough to warrant careful footing, especially when the trails twisted and dropped.

Interior trail
Muddy singletrack


We continued our hike in the woods and as our trail rose we encountered lots of mud from the melted snow. I was imagining 100+ runners packed together, racing on a narrow trail and kicking up lots of muddy water. My friend KWL suggested that I wear goggles to protect my eyes from the spray but I’m going to have to tough it out with just a pair of glasses. Although we didn’t travel too far on our hike I managed to get a little lost, but my 10 year old son navigated us successfully back to the main trail. I wish I could bring him tomorrow. The weather at 10 AM was still chilly and it’s made me rethink my plan to wear only one or two light layers. I’ll bring some extra clothes to the race which I can leave behind with my “crew” if I decide I don’t need them. It’s now exactly 16 hours to the start. I hope I can sleep tonight!

Wet + warm = muddy racing on Sunday

Last weekend they were predicting snow by mid-week and here we are on Wednesday with the snow coming down light and wet. This, combined with increasingly warmer temperatures that are predicted for the coming days, could make for some interesting conditions at Stillwell Woods on Sunday. Yesterday I was speaking to my friend FS who recently ran a 10 mile NYRR race in Prospect Park. She predicted that Sunday’s course will be very muddy. I hadn’t thought about that because I was focusing on conditions related to snow. But mud is much more likely. I’m not really sure how I should handle the run in that case since my experiences with mud are limited to navigating around large puddles on the paths. I’ve always run around, rather than through those areas, because I don’t have waterproof trail shoes. I’m hoping that my HH Trail Lizards will hold up under extremely muddy conditions and I’m slightly worried that running in mud will make a tough course even tougher. Then again, if it was easy why would we do it?

I’m getting to the end of my race training and this morning I ran 2.4 miles and felt great throughout the run. However, I’m realizing that those Old Navy RECTECH shirts are cheap for a reason. While they are lighter and provide less friction than cotton they collect sweat like cotton. After today’s session I’ve decided to relegate them to outer layer status and use them for their bright color rather than their wicking performance.