I've now been "back at it" for eight weeks I believe, but the last two weekends were important milestones on the way back to ultra health from the stress fracture that kept me off the trails for two months this summer. Last weekend it was my first race since Bighorn in June, "MoMa" in the 25K edition, and then yesterday I did my longest training run, at a little over 6 hours and about 23.6 miles at the Palisades.
It was fun doing this event again, with pals Garth, Lesley and Jeff, and with Mat who drove out with us but did the 50K which started an hour earlier. It's one of my favorite race courses in the area, as it's rugged, mountainous (yes, northern NJ actually has some low mountains, these being the Ramapos and it's not far from where the A.T. goes through the NJ/NY border area), almost all single or double track, and a real test of your trail and navigational (i.e., ribbon- and blaze-following) skills. On the latter, I "fell down" a bit--fortunately not literally, though. That is, I made one short detour on a steep uphill that I quickly corrected when the couple behind me noted what I was starting to suspect (we'd gone straight on an unmarked side trail). And later on I again went straight through a pretty clearly marked turn, though in this case on a still blazed trail and for at least a half mile before I decided to turn around.
Altogether, if the "new" 25K course is about 17 miles per what R.D. Rick says (25K technically being 15.5), then I probably added about 1.4, as my Garmin came up with 18.4 in the end. In the end, I was quite happy with the bonus miles and didn't really have a time goal, though had hoped till the missed turns to maybe sneak back up on Lesley and Jeff. I had been "stuck" in the 3-4 hour range and 10-14 miles on our group long runs in Harriman and the Palisades in previous weeks (probably all I could handle in what was actually great "base-rebuilding"), so it was good to get a "nudge upward!" Especially with a 50K looming in (then) only three weeks!
The course conditions were better than last year, with little mud or standing water to deal with at what can be deeper stream crossings in other times. I kind of liked the reverse course, as psychologically you got through the tough ending section of the old course first. However, it felt like many twists and turns from one trail to another--which left you quite disoriented so I found myself looking behind to see if runners were following me. The last few miles in particular felt like they were taking forever though I was moving well.
I moved pretty well and stayed within range of a rough guide pace of 15 minutes per mile the whole way, coming in just under that for my actual miles run. I had a lull for a while between two and three hours (approx) but some caffeine helped and I got my second wind. I was happy to keep any cramping at bay though I had a few phantom hip, calf, and lower back pains in last hour or so that dissipated quickly as I popped extra Endurolytes.
My new Hoka's (Mafate 2) worked well and I continue to adjust pretty well to their feel on technical trails, finding ways to lace tighter and compensate for extra room in heel (thicker mountaineering socks and moleskin helped). I do get some sensitive area under and over toes, which I attribute in part to the fact that I lost all my callouses from my layoff and in part to the fact that (happily) the Hoka's get me up more on mid and forefeet so there is more pressure on toes but less on heels. It was the desire to get off the heels and turn over better on the runable stuff that helped push me to try the Hoka's. I haven't worn anything else now on the trails in the month or so I've had them, and they've been "baptized under fire" now at Ringwood and Harriman and come through well. They're keepers!
Interesting anecdotes: The couple running near me for first 2/3 or so of race, who announced at first aid station it was "their first race as a married couple." She said to volunteer he "normally is my pacer," and it was clear he had to work hard to keep up with her! One guy asked me about how I liked the Hokas, and noted (as he passed me and I think he was in the 50K) that he had tried various of their models and settled on one of their other ones (Bondi or Stinson) because of fit. "Love them" was how he summed up his review!
We came in under a light rain, so the timing was exquisite. It was great that they had the grill going and a good spread of post-race treats, and I got a hot dog quickly from Charles, who was tending the grill. Unfortunately, it may have been too quick, as it didn't sit great to eat something that heavy a few minutes after the race. But a certain vague nausea passed quickly.
It was nice to hang out in the grassy field by pretty Shepherd Lake, the nice start/finish area for the race. This was another well-staged event by Rick and Jennifer of the NJ Trail Series. The course was probably better marked than ever, so if anyone went off trail it was because of lack of attention (me!) or being distracted or being a novice on trails. It *is* a maze of trails if you look at the Trails Conference map that I actually carried (main trials, unmarked ones, ones for mountain biking, etc.), so it can't help but be tricky to mark. My only minor suggestion might be to mark with a flour X or little "wrong way" sign just past areas where it was possible to "bust by" a turn and continue forward (blocking with sticks wouldn't work as they are active trails and many hikers are out).
Palisades Training Run Yesterday
I don't normally blog much about training runs, but when you're on the comeback trail.....! This one proved to be a huge confidence booster. We started out at a few minutes before 8:00AM--Garth, Chip, Lesley, and I--on a humid Indian summer day, heading north from Police Station toward State Line Lookout area via the Shore Trail and then the XC trails and down to Peanut Falls and back up. We split up into pairs on the way back, Lesley and Chip heading back on the "high road" via the Long Path (passing by Women's Federation Monument), while I tried to chase "Energizer bunny" Garth on the "low road" back via the Shore Trail and then up the hill back to the police station. Garth was motoring, to say the least, and then he took the lower trail while I took the upper on one section where it splits. Surprisingly, I beat him to the car, mainly because he had encountered downed trees along the river and then waited in vain for me, but I had continued past where the trails re-joined as I was sure he was way ahead of me!
We got back to the car at about the 2:50 mark having put in a little over 11 miles. Garth decided to head back with Lesley (who'd gone out to add a few extra trail miles in her NYCM preparation) in her car along with Chip. I said I was fine with continuing on solo for our planned original total of 5-6 hours, the two of us. So I headed south on the Long Path, did a down and up repeat of the Huyler Landing (red) trail that drops down to river's edge, and then did a six mile out and back on the LP as it runs between Palisade's edge on one side and the parkway on the another (turning around at Rockefeller Lookout). From there I headed back down to river level on the 460' descent of the red trail, and headed back along the Shore Trail and up on the rocky dirt road from Alpine Boat Basin and finished back at the police station.
There was what appeared to be a wedding party going on at the Basin (tuxes, dresses, drinks, music), and it was a little weird to be "running through" a wedding reception. But hey, THEY were on the marked path (as it cuts through the parking lot there)! No one seemed to notice me, though I got glances from a bunch of boy scout-type hikers getting out of a car right in that area. Thought I heard them say "he barely even picks up his legs," to which I felt like replying, "How high do *you* pick up your legs after running nearly six hours?" In general, there were copious hikers out enjoying the fall day, and did see two pairs of very serious looking and fast trail runners going opposite way during my three-hour solo jaunt (what were THEY training for, I wondered?!).
In general, I felt quite good, and the Hoka's really seemed to allow me to move pretty well along the runable sections of the LP and to navigate the technical terrain ably. The thing they advertise about "less muscle soreness" is something I can actually feel in the latter miles and also the day after my runs lately. And didn't get any unusual pains or cramps or anything, and the osteitis (chronic issue) didn't really flare up at all. I kept negotiating with myself how far to keep going before turning around, doing calculations of what I'd need to reach either 6 hour or 24 miles as a target, and also wanting to turn around at a landmark and on some "even number", silly as that sounds! If I started out thinking 5 hours total might be ok, I quickly got into a "6 hours or bust" mentality as I got into a groove.
While I was alone a lot during MoMa, this was my longest stretch of solo trail running in a long time. It felt good, really good in fact, and like I got into a mental groove, and could minimize my stoppage time, keeping up forward momentum. In the end, I clocked 23.55 miles and 6:05 (counting a decent amount of clock-running stoppage time in the first three hours of the group outing), so I was happy to keep my effective pace pretty close to 15 minutes. I had re-filled my still half-full two-liter bladder at the car, and ended up having just enough for the last few miles on the second half, rationing water a bit. That means I got my hydration up to a better level the second half.
Suddenly, running 31 miles in two weeks sounds just a bit less daunting! And the memories of running a bit fearful of an injury flaring up or returning are growing more distant. I feel like I'm starting to re-connect with that guy who ran 100 miles twice, not so many months ago. I thought he'd gone away to hide for a long time! Nice to become re-acquainted! And, finally, I'm increasingly excited about challenges lying ahead, like Bimblers (50K), then Stone Mill (50m) in November, and I'm pretty sure now Bandera (100K) in January. Nothing like racking up hours on the trail to improve the mood!