Post-Thanksgiving Stillwell trail run

Taking the “More Difficult” path

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.7 miles

Unless you work in retail, the day after Thanksgiving is like an unofficial holiday. Much of the world went shopping for bargains today but I chose to go out in the freezing cold for a trail run at Stillwell Woods. I’m not sure why runners choose to be uncomfortable, but it’s a factor in every run. You know you’re going to sweat, feel the burn in your legs and (if you did it right) end up both exhausted and depleted.

I thought about that after the first of many close calls at Stillwell this morning. I was running on a muddy trail in 33° weather when my toe caught a root and I nearly lost my footing. I somehow kept upright through that and promised myself I’d pay closer attention to obstructions on the path. Besides the slippery mud, the trails had long sections covered with leaves that hid potential hazards. My Brooks Cascadias provided great protection and traction – far better than any other trail shoes I’ve owned.

Stillwell was almost empty. I didn’t see any mountain bikers until I was taking my last steps leaving the trail head. There was a young couple running briskly toward the woods when I arrived. We crossed paths twice and they gave me big hellos both times. If there were any other runners today, I didn’t see them.

Just for fun, I deviated from my normal route a couple of times and encountered some steep terrain. Due to the grade, I actually did better on the uphills than the downhills. One trail had lots of packed sand and many sharp rocks the size of softballs. Once again I was grateful to have the Cascadias that have both a rock plate and a beefy toe guard.

Today’s route

I tried to be careful but my toe would occasionally catch something on the path, forcing me to prepare to hit the ground. I was fortunate that I didn’t fall once. It would have been a muddy mess. I wasn’t aiming for a long workout today and made my way back after I’d covered about three and a half miles. I finished feeling like I’d worked off some of yesterday’s calories and the ever changing (but forgiving) surface of the single-track made my legs feel energized.

I’m probably going back to the road tomorrow, but I haven’t decided where. Rob’s Run is happening at Stillwell on Sunday. I’m sure that would be fun, but I’ve had my fill of those trails for now.

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.

Persaid at Stillwell and six miles on the road

 

Today’s run (street): 6.1 miles

Last night we went out late to Stillwell Woods to watch the Persaid meteor shower. Unlike last year, when it was too cloudy to see much of anything at Sunken Meadow, the skies were clear on Saturday. Stillwell is a lot closer to our house, and its relatively light-free location would normally provide an optimal viewing experience. As luck would have it, the “super moon” lit up the southern sky last night, making it difficult to see any stars. However, facing north, we were able to view some exciting celestial fireworks.

My wife and son saw one that looked like this

SOURCE: NASA

Staying up late to watch shooting stars is fun, but getting up early the next morning to run is far less enjoyable. I downed my coffee, ingested a small amount of carbs, and took off before I could fully realize what I was doing. I didn’t suffer from heavy legs or feel particularly tired as I ran, but a short night’s sleep undercut my interest in pushing my pace.

Along the way, I thought about next weekend’s Dirty Sock run and my decision not to participate this year. My interest in competing is still low and I was glad not to be preparing for that race. I know I could run it for fun and not worry about my time, but that doesn’t work for me. If I’m going to take it easy, I’ll do an easy run on my own. Besides that, my narcissistic side doesn’t want a slow time added to my Athlinks racing stats.

I’d considered driving over to Bethpage this morning, but instead chose to stay local. My route wound all around the neighborhood and I kept my speed moderate. About four miles in, the run began to feel easier and I stepped it up to take advantage of my increased energy. The last two miles were easier than the prior miles and I was happy to get through my sixth feeling energized.

It’s not the first time that I’ve ended up having a good run (or a good race) after less than a full night’s sleep. I read recently that you don’t really pay for sleep debt the next day, it’s more often the day after. That’s good because I’m resting tomorrow. If I can get a good night’s sleep tonight, I should rebound well. There’s supposed to be more of the Persaid shower this evening, but I don’t think I’ll be staying up for it. If you are able to do it, I recommend the experience.

Stillwell Woods and wildlife, but not together

Long view of Stillwell, the woods lie beyond

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4.4 miles

This morning I went for an invigorating trail run at Stillwell Woods. It was cool and comfortable at 7:15 AM and the trails were empty. I’m always concerned about getting mowed down by a maniac mountain biker, so it was nice to have the woods to myself. While I was happy for the lack of humans on the trail, I had hoped to see some of the local fauna.

Rocky raccoon just passing by
Fired up

In the past, I’ve run into deer, foxes, snakes, rabbits, possums, chipmunks and birds of all types. With the exception of a little gray bunny that hopped across my path, there wasn’t much wildlife today. That wasn’t the case last night when we made s’mores by the fire pit. Once it got dark, the whole backyard filled with fireflies and we were visited by a raccoon that lazily passed by atop our back fence. We were sitting by the pool and a bird kept swooping down to the water. When I saw it in contrast to the twilight sky, I could see it was a bat.

I followed my usual route at Stillwell, but took a few side paths along the way. The cool, relatively dry air prevented the gnat cloud that I usually endure on hot and humid summer days. My Cascadias easily handled the challenge of steep, scree covered hills, and I’m always grateful for the protection they give from sharp rocks and high roots.

Near the end of my run, the bikers began to show up. I couldn’t see them through the trees, but I could hear them. I knew that we would be contending for the same trails in a matter of minutes, so I increased my speed to put additional distance between us. As I approached the trail head, a group of high school-aged boys were coming in. I was glad to be exiting at that point.

I ran by time, not distance this morning, and had hoped to cover five miles in the woods. I didn’t quite get there, but I got a great workout. I’d like to cover six miles tomorrow – at least that’s the plan.

Soggy and buggy on the Stillwell trails

Just me and the mountain bikers today

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.75 miles

The summer sun, heat and humidity can really wear out a runner. Friday afternoon I ran in extremely hot weather and dragged my way through four tough miles. Yesterday was a little better, because I ran in the morning and the temperature was still moderate. Besides my lethargy that was probably caused by caffeine deprivation, I also had a sinus headache. I’m sure that was related to Saturday’s high pollen count.

I had a tough night’s sleep last night and at 2:00 AM I was wide awake with a pounding headache. I took two Excedrin, the only analgesic that helps with these sinus-related migraines. The Excedrin did the trick and I slept until 6:15. I was hoping I’d feel refreshed and invigorated, but I had to settle for being headache-free.

I couldn’t deal with any more sun and heat this morning, so I headed over to Stillwell Woods for my run. It was a cloudy day, 75° and already humid. I counted on Stillwell’s tree cover to block the sun, were it to make its way past the low cloud cover. I arrived at 8:00 AM and was concerned that the parking lot would be packed due to soccer or Little League games. Happily, I only saw a handful of SUVs, most with bike carriers on the back.

I followed my usual route and cut into the woods after a minute on the main trail. I listened for bikers who commonly use the same entry point. Despite the SUVs in the lot, the trails were empty, save for a black snake that slithered across the path as I made my way east. My Cascadias did a great job of handling the terrain, especially in areas with loose gravel or rutted and root-covered paths.

I did encounter bikers a couple of times. They gave fair warning when approaching from behind and I moved over accordingly. The tree canopy gave good shade, but the humidity made it extremely uncomfortable. In addition, gnats buzzed constantly around my face, causing me to swat as I ran. That’s the downside of summer trail running.

Usual route with a modified loop

I departed from my standard loop and went south a bit, where the trails are rougher. Again the Cascadia’s rock plates provided good protection as I made my way over grapefruit-sized stones and other trail hazards. I would have covered more distance had I stayed on my original path, but the shorter route required a lot more effort.

After I finished, I realized how humid it really was. Sweat was pouring off me as if I’d just been soaked with a hose. I didn’t manage a 6+ mile run this week, which is a goal I have with my current, limited, workout schedule. Still, it was almost four miles in tough conditions over difficult terrain. I’ll consider this a good running week.

Low flying planes at Stillwell Woods

Glider club at Stillwell

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4.1 miles

I naively thought I’d avoid the soccer crowd at Stillwell by going on Sunday instead of Saturday. Nope. When I arrived this morning, Stillwell’s lots were overrun with cars and I could see people streaming in from the high school parking lot across the street. I considered turning around and finding another place to run, but I decided to try parking at the far end near the trail head. I was in luck and found a spot next to some people who were staging their bikes for a ride.

I was feeling a little run down so I stayed on my usual loop and took it easy. There were many mountain bikers on the single track but no close calls. I almost tripped on a high root exactly where I’d almost tripped the last time I ran there. I’ll have to pay better attention next time I’m at that point on the path.

There were a bunch of cars gathered on the large field. As I got closer, I saw that they were flying large model gliders. One flew across the path that runs around the field and just barely cleared the tree line. It freaked me out to see a plane with a ten foot wingspan pass overhead without making a sound. I began to feel tired by then, so I capped my run after four miles.

The rest of the day was spent celebrating my daughter’s 16th birthday. She’s having a Sweet 16 next week, but today it was family-only. It was a great long day and a good weekend of running. I really want to add another day to my weekly running schedule, but so far it’s been hard to make that work.

Cascadia 8’s take on Stillwell Woods

A happy sight

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4.1 miles 

Although I bought my Brooks Cascadia 8‘s with the intention of using them as casual shoes, I couldn’t resist taking them to Stillwell this morning. I have a perfectly nice pair of Helly Hansen Trail Lizards that have been my primary trail shoe over the past few years. Even so, I was curious to see how the Cascadias performed on Stillwell’s tough trails.

The Cascadia 8

It’s been over a month since I’ve done any type of trail running, so I was excited to hit the trail head leading into Stillwell Woods. The Cascadia’s fit is generous for my shoe size, and I was concerned that it might create some lateral instability. Within a minute of my start, I could tell that would not be an issue.

The first thing I noticed about the shoes was the rock plate that provided less flexibility than the lighter weight Trail Lizards. On the positive side, I was able to plant my foot anywhere on the trail without concern for the jarring impact of roots and rocks. I normally need to step gingerly along certain areas at Stillwell, but the Cascadias absorbed everything in their path.

I didn’t get adventurous enough to test vertical ascents out of the Viper Pit today, but I had no problems with the steep, scree covered sections that I encounter along my usual loop. Once I became confident that the Cascadias could handle any terrain, I shifted focus from watching the trail to enjoying the sights. That nearly cost me a face plant when my toe caught a high root and I almost went down. I was glad to have quickly restored my balance and suddenly grateful for the substantial toe guard.

The temperature was a few degrees higher than yesterday, but the tree cover kept me cool throughout the run. The Stillwell caretakers had recently trimmed the high grass adjacent to the single track that runs around the open field. That was great. When that grass gets high, it presents a real tick concern.

Overall, I ran easy and kept my heart rate between 81-84% of max. It was nice to be back in the woods and I appreciated the way the Cascadias performed. I’m thinking about adding more trail runs to my schedule while the weather remains cool. It’s been a long time since I ran the Dirty Sock course in Babylon, so that might be a nice change of venue for my next outing.

I got my signed release form in the mail from my doctor yesterday and I’m now able to use my company’s fitness center. Not that I love treadmills, but they have very nice equipment. Best of all, they have showers, so no more post-workout towel downs with Wet Ones, like I used to have to do at my old office.

Short and steep running at Trailview

Trailview welcomes you

Today’s run (Trailview State Park): 2 miles

Today is my birthday and it’s been a good one so far. I’m not much for big celebrations and my family and friends respect that. I did enjoy a nice lunch at the Lemonleaf Grill (spicy Panang curry), the great cards, thoughtful and fun gifts, calls and emails. And there’s still more to come!

I had looked forward to today’s run which I planned to do at Stillwell Woods this morning. I haven’t been on a wooded trail since March’s relay race in Bethpage and I thought a change would be nice. When I arrived at Stillwell, I saw that the enormous set of athletic fields were packed with tents and people who were there for some lacrosse-related event. I drove into the lot despite the hundreds of cars, many double parked along the drive. In the past I’ve been able to find spots way down near the trail entrance, but today there wasn’t a space to be found.

If I wasn’t wearing my H/H Trail Lizards, I would have driven to the nearby high school and run on the track. Instead, I decided to head home and take a birthday rest day. When I reached Jericho Turnpike, it occurred to me that I could run the trails south of Stillwell (i.e., Trailview) that probably had plenty of parking. I was there in two minutes and, while the lot was crowded, there were still plenty of spaces.

I wasn’t looking to run long today, so Trailview was a good choice. The loop is an out and back measuring about two miles, but with its steep, gnarly, rocky climbs and precipitous drops, you can get quite a workout. As soon as my Garmin captured a signal, I was (literally) off and running, mostly because I wanted to get to the starting point ahead of a large group of hikers.

The short run seemed to go by quickly and I was very happy with my response to the hills. I actually liked going up more than going down, because I feared catching a root and tumbling down 20 feet of rocky trail. I maintained a fairly high heart rate which has been my goal for my current training. I always forget how challenging Trailview can be.

Later in the day, the family headed over to Syosset-Woodbury Park for some other activities. There are some great hills and I took on the biggest a couple of times. I got outside a couple of times today but didn’t overdo it either time. I’m planning to cover 9 or 10 miles tomorrow and need to reserve a little energy for that.

At Stillwell, tie goes to the runner

Lots of time spent in the zone today

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 4 miles

Back in the days when running Stillwell Woods meant seeking out the most technical and challenging trails, I would measure my performance in terms of who got the best of whom (me versus Stillwell). Prior to my bout of pneumonia in early 2010, I was dedicated to hard running on trails and I looked for the most difficult terrain wherever I ran. Two months after being hospitalized for pneumonia, I ran the Xterra race at Stillwell as a way to prove that I still had it.

While my performance in the Xterra race was very good, I found myself less inclined to take on Stillwell’s steeper inclines and treacherous drops. I still ran there frequently, but I’d usually follow a loop that presented far fewer obstacles. Sort of a bunny trail, compared to sections of the black, yellow and white trails that have signs saying, “Most Difficult.” I told myself that my loop was better, because I never lost my way on it. Deep down I knew I was avoiding the unrelenting challenge of Stillwell’s inner paths, which I had nicknamed the “The Zone of Intensity.”

Trail conditions were rough at first, due to the deep grooves left by mountain bikers that had frozen as hard as stone. This always makes for tricky footing and the lack of a rock plate in my Helly Hansen Trail Lizards made for some uncomfortable landings. As I moved deeper into the woods, the trail conditions improved greatly. This is probably because the trails I was taking on would have been too hard for bikers to manage during yesterday’s rain, hail and snow.

Instead of my standard loop, I made a point of turning onto paths marked as more or most difficult. Yesterday’s hard running and today’s frigid cold had an energizing effect on me and I wanted to take advantage of that as long as I could.

On the tougher trails, very little time is spent on level terrain. You are either facing a series of climbing switchbacks or you’re looking down at them. Some descents are scary and slowing down or stopping could cause you to tumble down backward. It was just like old times! I was glad to maintain so much energy throughout these sections. By two miles I felt like I’d run more than double that distance.

The only way out is up
Perspective showing steepness

At one point I found myself at the bottom of a section where all trails out looked like 20% grades or more. I took a few seconds to assess which hill to climb. I didn’t want to pick the wrong one and find myself on the wrong side where I’d need to go through that exercise again. It turned out I chose wisely (I used the direction of the sun as a guide) and soon was on my way. A few minutes later I found myself in familiar territory outside the “Zone of Intensity.”

The rest of the run was far easier and I encountered many more people hiking and running on the flatter trails. Looking at my data on Garmin Connect, I can see that my pace outside the the “zone” was two minutes faster than when I was running through the tough sections. It was hard to believe that whole run took me less than 50 minutes.

Today and yesterday were great workouts that tested me in very different ways. I’m happy with my conditioning, but I’m not quite at target in terms of speed. I’ll continue to focus on that in the coming weeks and will continue to get trail runs in when practical. In the old days, I would usually report that Stillwell got the best of me on runs like this. Today, I’d call it a tie. And a tie at Stillwell is basically a win.

Conditions not ideal at Stillwell Woods

Tough going along the big muddy

Today’s run (Stillwell Woods): 3.25

After a string of indoor workouts, I was ready for an outside run today. The news stations were predicting heavy rains starting mid to late morning and that helped get me out the door early. I quickly dismissed a run around the neighborhood (too dull of a route on an already gray day) and decided to visit the trails at Stillwell instead.

Stillwell’s lot was fairly empty when I arrived, and I thought that people might be avoiding the woods and the fields due to the imminent rainstorm. I’m always happy to have the trails to myself and felt excitement as I headed toward my favorite route. Once I took a left off the initial trail that leads to the black trail, I saw that my usually well-groomed paths were frozen and muddy. The packed single track was scored and deeply rutted by mountain bikes.

Due to these conditions, I needed to constantly switch from one trail edge to another because the thawed sections of mud were too unstable. I’m always concerned about tripping on a trail, but in this case it could have resulted in a face full of mud or an injury from the frozen terrain. As I made my way north, I started to think about which section might be free of mud and followed a trail that is usually covered in leaves.

That trail was much more stable, and while it gives way to a sandy section, that was preferable to mud. I was surprised to see some hikers on the trail, as well well as mountain bikers. I was the only runner as far as I could see. I didn’t do my usual two loops because the thought of repeating that first muddy mile was unappealing. That gave me the opportunity to follow some different trails that I’ve somehow avoided over the past year.

Even the better trails had mud and ruts, so after three miles I decided to head back. I’d originally planned another loop around the open field that would have added another mile. When I got close to the trail head, I saw a group of ten mountain bikers coming into the woods. One of them told me that I was very visible (I was wearing my bright orange long sleeve jersey) and I called back, “That’s the idea!” As peaceful as it is to run in Stillwell, the danger of being mowed down by a biker is always there.