2017 Race Mania & Pursuit Athletic Performance Trail Running Camp

Yesterday and today were filled with events meant to inspire and prepare for the endurance sports season ahead. On Saturday, Debbie, and her coach, Al Lyman, hosted a day-long trail running workshop at Camp Hazen in Chester, Connecticut, known as the Cedar Lake Trail Running Camp.

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I swung by after work to check in and participation in the late afternoon activities. I picked up some new strengthening and stretching techniques, got to do a loop of Cedar Lake, and took Debbie’s yoga class. It was fun to hear what the other runners have on tap for 2017. Knowing what Debbie and Coach Al know, I’m sure that the runners benefitted from the seminar.

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Today, we returned to Race Mania Summit & Expo at Boston University. We were there in 2016 when it was Tri Mania. Since participation in traditional triathlon has peaked, it was wise of the organizers to broaden the scope of the event to include trail running, other cycling discipline, and obstacle course racing.

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Last year, we brought our children, but this year, they spent the weekend with Debbie’s parents, so we were free to check out the expo on our own. Debbie and Coach Al did a short workshop in the afternoon. The focus was on technical trail running and some techniques, including proprioception. They gave a teaser on how to minimize ankle injuries through the proper training of your feet, which requires a stronger mind/body connection. This starts with specific stretching and strengthening techniques. I’m going to do more of the “Small Foot” technique that they prescribed.

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Today, we saw a ton of friends from a variety of endurance communities. I saw my old Team Horst Sports cycling teammate, Will Kirousis. He is a top endurance sports coach, and introduced Debbie and me to Al back in 2010. We also got to catch up with Lisbeth Olsen Kenyon, another one of Coach Al’s athletes. Lisbeth and Debbie have done workshops together and she has won her age group at the Ironman World Championships on multiple occasions, including 2016. Lisbeth and her husband, Todd, are the proprietors of TTBikeFit. They developed a patented system for ideal bike fit and had it on display.

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We had lunch with two ultrarunning friends, Spencer Farrar, and Michael Wardian. Spencer is headed to the Comrades Marathon, for the 7th time. The 87 kilometer road race is in South Africa, and is one of the legendary ultras. After Comrades in June, Spencer is running the Vermont 100 in July.

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Michael is a certified running celebrity. We have seen him at a variety of running events, and got to spend time with him at the 2015 Speedgoat Mountain Races. He has been on an absolute tear. I won’t recount his incredible running resume. If you aren’t that familiar with him, just search his name on Google. Yesterday, he ran a 2:29:46 to finish 4th at the Armory NYC Indoor Marathon World Record Challenge. The race was won by Christopher Zablocki, a Connecticut native, who I last wrote about in 2011 when he won the Chester 4 on the 4th Road Race. I’ve enjoyed following his running exploits since then. He broke the world record by running 2:21:48 for the 211 lap race.

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Back to Wardian: Michael is super talented and known for his prolific racing. The three days at Speedgoat were just a teaser. His most recent “major” accomplishment was setting the record for the World Marathon Challenge. In January, he ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. This garnered him some serious press. He is just getting going with his 2017 season, which sounds crazy. Still on tap are dozens of races, including the Barkley Marathons, the Western States Endurance Run, and the Hardrock Endurance Run. Getting into those three races takes skill AND luck.

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Like I said, Google him. He spoke at Race Mania, and was part of a panel moderated by Dave McGillivray, the Race Director of the Boston Marathon. Also on the panel were Becca Pizzi and Ryan Hall, who are both World Marathon Challenge finishers. Pizzi did it in 2016 and Hall just did it this year. Hall is one of the greatest American marathoners. Now retired, his 59:43 half marathon is an American record. His 2:04:53 is the Boston Marathon record, and unofficially, the fastest ever marathon by an American. It was enjoyable to hear Dave interview him.

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Dave is a running (and triathlon) legend in his own right. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave for a YPO Run-Bike-Swim Network Global Conference Call. Again, I could write a ton about him, but you are better off doing an Internet search, or better yet, read his book. He is a true inspiration, and I love his story because like me, he is a man of small stature!

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As if those runners weren’t inspiring enough, Debbie and I met Mark Allen in the hallway after her talk. He was one of Race Mania’s keynote speakers. We first met Mark back in 2010 at the Ironman World Championships. I’ve heard Mark’s story many times. I’ve been following him since the mid-1980’s when I first became interested in triathlon and before he won his first (of six) Ironman World Championship title at the epic 1989 race. I’ve heard his account of the 1989 Iron War many times, as recently as two weeks ago on the Rich Roll Podcast, but I heard it again today (live), and loved it.

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I read the Iron War book, I read Mark’s book Fit Soul Fit Body, and I’ve read a lot of other books and articles about his amazing triathlon career. There is some good You Tube footage of the 1989 race. If you have never seen coverage of his battle with Dave Scott, then do some searching. He is one of the most decorated endurance athletes of all time, and he did most of it in a bygone era when the popularity of triathlon was much smaller than it is today. So, it is great that he is still contributing to the sport through his writing, coaching, and teaching. Next month, he is teaching at Kripalu in Lenox, Massachusetts. Debbie is a Kripalu Yoga Teacher. If we didn’t have a conflict, I would go hear him speak again.

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Walking the expo, we saw many other friends from the trail running, cycling, and triathlon communities. Each community has its unique flavor, so it was neat to see them blended together for a day. After this weekend, I’m super-motivated to improve my own health and fitness. I’m ready to ramp it up for another year full of endurance sports adventures.

2017 Bolton Road Race

I think today was the coldest Bolton Road Race on record. I don’t know who keeps those records! Our hometown has been gripped by a cold snap as winter refuses to let go. Snow is in the forecast for next week, so we aren’t clear of the cold yet.

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Yesterday was actually colder than today. Both days, we had brilliant sunshine, but the stiff breeze made it feel even cooler. The five-mile Bolton course is a classic and ever since Dani Kennedy revived the race, it has grown in popularity. I saw a lot of Shenipsit Striders and Silk City Striders.

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There are other bigger local races, but they are driven by a huge marketing budget and the support of a strong following. Bolton is different. It is a true grassroots local road race, and the distance, one that used to be a classic length, intimidates people in a world full of 5K’s. The other thing that intimidates people about running in our town, is the hills. A big deal is made about “the Hill” on the BRR course, but that’s our attempt at marketing.

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Heck, if you advertised a big hill in a trail running race, it would create more demand, not less. The fact that the biggest hill on the course comes in the last mile, makes the course even more fun. I don’t want to hear any complaints about hills. OK, for a road race, it’s a pretty big hill, but as trail races go, the Bolton hills are mere bumps. Three weeks ago, Debbie and I ran the St. John Trail Race. That was hilly.

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The BRR is a family affair, and not just our family, but lots of running families. We saw many friends today. They all braved the cold with us. Last year, Debbie got her name on the Bruce Ralston trophy, which honors the first female Bolton finisher. I’ve tried many times to be the first male, and I’ve been second on a few occasions, but today, my consolation for missing out on the 40-49 age group win, was that I was the first Bolton finisher for the first time. I saw Thomas Paquette, the fastest Bolton runner around, but he was “jogging” the race.

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I had a race long battle with Melissa Stellato, who is one of the fastest runners in the state. She was so smooth. I started out rather conservatively, but moved up on the fist hill. I was five seconds behind her at the top and we were close to ether other for the next four miles.

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She would pick up a few seconds on the downhills and I would make them back when we went up. Around the three-mile mark, I actually thought she might pull away, but pulled even with her at the four mile mark. She chatted me up, but I was hurting and just wanted to push the hill to the finish. The first two guys were gone, so it was just the two of us with a few chasers another 20-30 seconds behind us. She said, “You are a beast,” which for me, is high praise! I thanked her and told her she was doing a great job.

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The last pitch hit hard and I slowed considerably, but everyone does. Some neighbors were cheering at the top, which was encouraging. It flattens out and then drops a bit and then there is a false flat to the line. I was able to hold off a charging Melissa and took third overall behind Brett Stoeffler and Kevin Vallez. Brett turned 50 this week, so I’m darn proud of him. He and I have battled many times over the years, but he is in a different class on the roads. On the trails, I’m usually a little closer to him, but he is just stronger.

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Last fall, Kevin had an incredible Manchester Road Race, and at 49, he has five years on me. It seems that with these two, the older you get, the faster you go. My time was 30:54. I’ve always wanted to break 30, and came within eight seconds in 2013, so I still have a shot at the goal. Following Melissa were Greta Broneill and Michelle Corrigan, though they were more than four minutes back. Melissa is amazing. She finished fourth overall, only nine seconds behind me.

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Debbie was third in her age group, but by her standards, today was an off day. Team Horst Sports were also represented by the Ricardi Family. Cole won his age group and Tom wasn’t far behind. I’m sure he was saving his legs for cyclocross season!

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Race Director Dani got great support from a cadre of volunteers including Brian Miller, who seemed to be everywhere. He was the race starter, he was at the finish line, and he did the race award announcements. Nothing is better than a hometown race. This event is an important community gathering for us and a great tradition.

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Race Results

 

 

 

 

Today, we were joined by our son, who did his third Bolton.

Patagonia & The Worn Wear College Tour

There are few businesses that I admire more than Patagonia. I’ve been a fan since I purchased my first Synchilla jacket at their Boston store in 1991. In the early 2000’s, Debbie was on the Montrail Patagonia Ultrarunning team, and we have maintained a 15 year affiliation with the company. We have friends who work for the company, and we have provided feedback on clothing and gear. For years (back in my days of shooting slides) I sent images of “Patagoniacs” to them with the hope that one would be published in a catalog. We consider ourselves to be customers and ambassadors for the brand.

My admiration isn’t just for the gear, but for the business. Like Horst Engineering, they are privately held, family owned, driven by their mission, and focused on their core values. Even though they are much larger (around $700 million in annual revenue), they have maintained the long view. I have heard others scoff at the cost of Patagonia’s products. There is no question that they command a premium, but when you learn more about them, you realize that there is value in that price. Like L.L. Bean, another business I admire, they guarantee their products for life, and have invested profits wisely, leading to decades of amazing growth. They focus on durabilty and their products have a long life. Last year, I brought back 15 years and 20 pounds of worn out Patagonia Capilene (much of it smelly!) under garments/base layers. They have partners who recycle the polyester, and turn it back into new fabrics.

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Yesterday afternoon, I visited Yale University in New Haven to check out Patagonia’s 2017 Worn Wear College Tour. It was part of Yale Sustainability’s full-day extravaganza focused on extending the life of products to keep items out of the waste stream. I hadn’t heard about this event until Debbie sent a link that came from our friend Richard Treat, a Bolton neighbor, and one of Debbie’s fellow Bolton Land Trust board members.

The Patagonia Worn Wear repair team brought their truck, Delia. It was reported that 1,000 people showed up and the Patagonia team helped attendees make more than 500 “do it yourself” repairs on clothing (not just Patagonia’s). Patagonia has made an effort to repurpose and resell used gear as an alternative to the cost (and impact) of buying new. eBay has a thriving Patagonia pre-owned category. The company previously made a splash when in a full-page New York Times advertisement on Black Friday, they told people to “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

I wasn’t able to make the Repair, Reuse, Repurpose Fair, but I did make it to the Yale School of Management (Evans Hall) in time for an evening panel discussion featuring Rick Ridgeway Patagonia’s Vice President of Environmental Initiatives, Adam Werbach from Yerdle, a business that helps leading brands develop re-use programs; and Scott Briscoe from the National Outdoor Leadership School. There were about 30 attendees, so we had a nice intimate discussion.
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Ridgeway is someone I’ve read a lot about, so it was nice to see him in person. Years ago, I read his books: Seven Summits (1985), The Shadow of Kilimanjaro (1997), Below Another Sky (2002), and The Big Open (2006). He is a legendary mountaineer and a fantastic adventure writer. He is also pretty good behind a camera. In 1978, with John Roskelley, he summited K2, the world’s second highest mountain (8,611 m/28,251 ft). K2 is one of the most dangerous and most difficult mountains to climb. He did the climb without supplemental oxygen, which is an amazing accomplishment. Their teammates, Jim Wickwire and Louis Reichardt reached the summit the day before. This four-man expedition was the first conquest of K2 by an American team. He was also part of the original Seven Summits expedition with Dick Bass and Frank Wells. Both were successful businessmen, and Dick founded Snowbird.
Another great adventure that Ridgeway was part of was in 2002 when he teamed up with three other famous explorers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and the late Galen Rowell, to cross the Chang Tang in Tibet. I read about that adventure in National Geographic Magazine and heard about it on NPR. The Connecticut Forest & Park Association hosted Chin (also at Yale), back in 2010, and I had the chance to meet him. Many of them have been featured in films that were part of past Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tours. Last month, we saw the 2017 tour in Hartford.  They have all done great work on behalf of Mother Earth. I have several of Rowell’s books. He, his wife, Barbara, and two friends perished in a small plane crash in 2002, shortly after the Chang Tang expedition. He was a great photographer. I could go on and on about these adventurers and their exploits.
When you have a love of the outdoors like I do, it’s all connected! Mountains, writing, and photography are three of my passions, but so is responsible business, which brings us back to Patagonia and their mission:
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Patagonia’s founder is Yvon Chouinard. I’ve read his books, Let My People Go Surfing, and The Responsible Company. The recently ordered the latter for Horst Engineering’s Green Team and it is soon to become required reading. Chouinard is also the co-founder of 1% For The Planet, of which we are also a member. Like Patagonia, our family and our businesses supports many not-for-profit environmental organizations.
Manufacturing creates waste and our goal is to minimize that waste. That is why Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, his Responsible Company co-author, suggest that no business is “sustainable,” but every business can strive to be more “responsible.” Last night, Ridgeway walked us through an overview of Patagonia’s history, highlighting many of their business practices. He explained how their mantra has shifted from:
  • Reduce
  • Repair
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

to:

  • Repair

  • Resell

  • Recycle

  • Reduce

He spoke about “downcycling,” Life Cycle Assesments (LCA), and “dematerialization.” The fashion industry generates a tremendous amount of waste. He spoke about the 2011 advertisement that caused caught the attention of many. I read a good New Yorker story  about Patagonia’s post-Great Recession approach to consumerism. Last year, I listened to the Rich Roll Podcast with Andrew Morgan on the True Cost of Fast Fashion, and it was enlightening. We all have to pay attention where our products, including clothing, comes from.

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I didn’t know much about Patagonia’s new venture, Patagonia Provisions, but Ridgeway explained that the next frontier was food. Food waste is the greatest kind of waste and much bigger than clothing, hence Patagonia’s desire to make an impact. I could relay so many of Patagonia’s accomplishments. Ridgeway covered many, including their 1% contributions, their organic cotton strategy, their work with Wal-Mart on sustainable sourcing, their climate change efforts, and their direct land conservation. The company is often viewed as radical. They make no bones about their advocacy. It is part of their mission. Much has been written about the company, so you can do your own research.

After Ridgeway spoke, we heard from Briscoe, who was part of Expedition Denali, which was organized by the National Outdoor Leadership School. Debbie is a NOLS graduate. She did an outdoor educator course in 2001, the year we were married. In the summer of 2013 brought together a group of climbers who made history as the first team of African-Americans to scale America’s highest mountain. It turns out that Briscoe and I have some connections. Back in January, one of the key organizers at NOLS, Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin (now up The Avarna Group), and her partner Ava Holliday, did Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion training for the Appalachian Mountain Club Board of Directors at our retreat. Some of the statistics that they shared about the lack of diversity in the outdoor community, were startling. Briscoe spoke of breaking down barriers and the need to get more minorities outdoors and enjoying nature. He mentioned that three out of NOLS 600 instructors are black. I found that to be telling. AMC, NOLS, and many conservation oriented .org’s have struggled to recruit a more diverse membership, but we keep trying. The movie, An American Ascent, showcases the Denali expedition, and will be screened by Yale Outdoors on Friday.

Look for the Worn Wear Tour as it continues. Later this week, they will be at UMASS in Amherst, Massachusetts, and then they are headed to MIT in Cambridge.

Patagonia is an inspiration for me ,and when I make decisions on behalf of Horst Engineering, and I think about how they would respond. Aerospace manufacturing and precision machining are different from clothing manufacturing, but as a locally owned family business, we already have a leg up on the competition. Debbie and I often speak with our young children about making good consumer choices and they are already learning how to “vote with their wallets.” Long term thinking is already part of our company culture. Our investments in energy efficiency and our ongoing success contributes to the success of many other organizations, and we strive to do our business the right way, with the least impact possible. We have much work left to do.

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands Trip

It was 17 years in the making, but Debbie and I made it to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. We were so happy to be joined by our children and Debbie’s mother, Barbara. Many years ago, Debbie noticed an advertisement at the back of AMC Outdoors magazine. It was for an AMC adventure travel trip to Maho Bay Camps in St. John U.S. Virgin Islands. She was most interested in the fact that 70% of St. John is part of Virgin Island National Park.

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Maho Bay Camps shut down before we ever got there, and it took 17 years, but to make this trip better, she got to run the St. John Trail Race! As a bonus, we brought our children with us…and a mother-in-law (Barbara) too. None of that would have been possible in 2001!

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Her research led us to Concordia Eco-Resort, where we spent five excellent nights. We stayed in one of their eco-tents. It was a neat experience that I would definitely do again. The location on the southeast corner of St. John was spectacular. We overlooked Drunk Bay and Salt Pond Bay. The tent platforms were literally built into the hillside, so there were lots of steps to negotiate.

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Staying at Concordia was an effort, but it was well worth that effort. We flew into St. Thomas and rented a Jeep there because all of the rentals on St. John were sold out. It cost us $50 for a round-trip ferry ride from Red Hook to Cruz Bay (and back) and we all rode along with the Jeep. The vehicle, and particularly a rugged off-road vehicle, is a big advantage when staying on St. John. The roads were nuts.

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Most of our time was spent on Centerline Road, North Shore Road, and the route from Coral Bay to the Concordia. All of these roads were insanely steep, windy, and potholed. Factor in the donkeys, goats, chickens, roosters, lizards, deer, cows, and other critters that wander St. John; and you have wild driving conditions. We saw all of these animals in the road at one time or another. The local drivers who know these roads well are another factor. If one gets behind you, they will ride your bumper mercilessly until they have even a slight window of opportunity.

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The double line means nothing. They will come zooming past you and then dart in front of you at the last moment in an attempt to avoid their own head on collision. The numerous hairpin turns add to the excitement. Did I mention that St. Johnians drive on the left side of the road, but with American cars? The last time I had a driving experience like this, I was in Japan, and while Debbie was running UTMF, I ended up having  our car towed away on a flat-bed truck. Thankfully, we survived the driving conditions, which I actually enjoyed, but they did cause some white knuckle moments.

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We had a great time in St. John. In addition to the race, which was the main event, we spent some time at the beaches at  Maho Bay and Salt Pond Bay. We saw a bit of Cruz Bay and Mongoose Junction. A real highlight was our sailing trip on the Poet’s Lounge. We visited desolate Newfound Bay for some snorkeling and got to see the eastern tip of the island from a totally different vantage point. We sort of stumbled into this opportunity. It was a last-minute decision to seek out a charter, but the folks at the Concordia came through. They called a few of their “go to” captains and none had availability. I’m glad they finally checked with Poet’s Lounge captain, Darin Keech and his first mate, Dawn, who had the time to take us out.

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We spent an enjoyable half-day with them. The kids loved the adventure. It was a little “out of comfort zone” experience for us, which is great. I did quite a bit of sailing when I was a kid, with most of that with the Boy Scouts. I sailed at camp and also did a few high adventure trips where we sailed and slept on the boat. This trip brought back some fond memories from those trips.

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It turns out that Darin is from Mystic, Connecticut and that the original Poet’s Lounge is moored on Long Island Sound. He has been doing charters in Connecticut for more than 10 years and recently bought this new boat, a Beneteau 41′ Carib, in Grenada. He brought the new boat to the Virgin Islands and has been chartering out of Coral Bay, offering trips around St. John and throughout the Virgin Islands. We weren’t far from Tortola. I hope to get there next time. I read about an ultra that they are hosting in April called the Tortola Torture. Like everywhere else in the world, trail running and ultrarunning are growing with new events coming all of the time. The Torture has been run twice and has quite a sponsor list.

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Anyway, the sailing trip was cool. We will have to look up Poet’s Lounge this summer when we are in Old Lyme on the Connecticut shoreline. It would be fun to meet up with Derin and Dawn again and sail with them on their other boat. I’m kind of in a sailing mood. Last weekend after returning from the islands, we attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Bushnell in Hartford. One of the featured films was Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World, a fantastic documentary about a sailing adventure from New Zealand to Chile with a stop in Antarctica. I’m in a bit of a sailing mood and could see myself doing that. I’ll probably start with another charter in the warm waters of the Caribbean before I sign on to sail to Antarctica!

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Staying at the Concordia Eco-Resort was fun and educational. The tent was like a mini cabin and felt like a treehouse. There were two twin beds that we were able to “combine” for Debbie and me. There were two mattresses in a loft. There was a couch that you could sleep on. So, the five of us all had a bed. It was nothing special, but it was functional. We had a little kitchenette with a dorm room sized fridge, a two burner propane range, and a small sink (that couldn’t even fit a plate). There were a few pots, pans, utensils, and dishes. It was nothing special, but we got by. There were no outlets. There were a handful of solar-powered lights. The three solar panels also powered the fridge and the water pump located below the tent platform.

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The “bathroom” had a Clivus Multrum composting toilet, which is the same brand that we have at many of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s facilities, including the White Mountain Huts. Our family has a lot of Clivus experience, including this adventure at AMC’s Noble View Outdoor Center. The shower was a single stall with a garden hose and sprayer nozzle. The water was pumped up to a passive solar rain barrel that was mounted on the roof. The black barrel absorbed the sun’s rays throughout the day and provided a warm shower at the end of the day.

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We had a little deck and the views of the ocean, of the East End (of the island), and neighboring islands, were spectacular. At night, the views of the stars were also phenomenal, and the sound of the waves crashing in Drunk Bay was beautiful. Salt Pond Bay, and its wonderful beach, was a mile from our tent. We went there several times. Past the bay was the Ram Head, which we hiked once with the kids and ran a few times on our own. Our tent also overlooked Nanny Point, which we explored. All of these trails were within the boundaries of the national park.

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We did quite a bit of cooking at the tent. We used some provisions brought from home, and did groceries at a few of the small island stores. Other times, we dined out. It wasn’t easy to get vegan food, but Morgan’s Mango, in Mongoose Junction, was a good spot. That was our best meal, other than the ones we cooked ourselves.

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The weather was spectacular. During the day, it warmed up to the high 80’s Fahrenheit and never dipped below 70 degrees, even in the middle of the night. It rained every night, and sometimes, heavily. The rainwater drained into a large cistern located below the tent platform. Most days, the rain had cleared by mid-morning. A few days, it lingered a bit longer, but we never wore a jacket.

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The central facilities at Concordia included a bar, restaurant, store, pool, laundry, and a pavilion. In the evening, they showed movies at the pavilion, and the kids watched a few times. One night, the bar/restaurant hosted a fantastic open mic and talented musicians from all over the island came to play. It was very entertaining. That was the only time we ate at the “hotel” restaurant.

2017 St. John Trail Race

About 17 years ago, Debbie noticed an advertisement at the back of AMC Outdoors magazine. It was for an AMC adventure travel trip to Maho Bay Camps in St. John U.S. Virgin Islands. She was most interested in the fact that 70% of St. John is part of Virgin Island National Park, and she was enthralled with the prospect of sleeping in a tent overlooking the Caribbean. I ended up buying the National Geographic map of Virgin Islands National Park and giving it to her for Christmas. That was probably 2001, the year we got married. She so badly wanted to go to St. John… and happy to have made good on my promise to take her there!

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Maho Bay Camps shut down before we ever got there, and it took 17 years, but to make this trip better, she got to run a trail race! As a bonus, we brought our children with us…and a mother-in-law too. None of that would have been possible in 2001!

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Monday’s St. John Trail Race was a fantastic event and in many ways, it was like the tough trail races that we run in New England. The fact that I didn’t fall once is a race highlight. It’s been six weeks since cyclocross season ended with a bang at the USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships. I raced three times that week and since then, haven’t ridden any of my bicycles once. I’ve done some skiing and a little bit of running. I used this race to get moving again.

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Another highlight was Debbie’s win. The course was tailor made for her, with wicked ups and downs, lots of rough singletrack, and nice transitions in between the hard parts. Who am I kidding! It was all hard. The only flat spots in St. John are ON the water. The win wasn’t a huge deal, but it was a nice way to kick off the 2017 trail running season. I’ll write a separate post about the trip and our other St. John adventures, but this story will focus on the race.

Monday (President’s Day) races are extra special, and who wouldn’t want to run in the Caribbean? Last year, Race Director, Kyle Hart, and his team of volunteers, hosted the inaugural trail race. We were fortunate to stumble across this event when planning this winter family getaway, that coincided with our kids February break. Debbie built the trip itinerary around the race.

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From prior research, we knew about St. John’s other famous running race, the 21-year-old 8 Tuff Miles, which is all on the “road.” That race is Saturday, and I gather that some of the local runners from the Virgin Islands and maybe a few others who stuck around, will do it too. If you plan a one week trip, running the double is possible. Sadly, we returned mid-week so the kids could get back to school and so Debbie and I could get back to work. Now that I’ve seen Centerline Road (Rt. 10), I want to come back and run 8 Tuff Miles. It may be on road, but the steep ups and downs, numerous switchbacks, and rough pavement make it more like a mountain running race.

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Debbie located the trail race registration on Ultrasignup.com. At first, only she registered, but I wanted to do it too, so we convinced (it didn’t take long) my mother-in-law, Barbara, to join us on the trip. She is happy to spend time with our kids, which gives us the time to both run. The course was fantastic and we got to see several parts of the island that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The race was open to 50 people, 43 registered, 41 started, and 40 finished within the cutoff time. By permit, the National Park Service limited the registration to 50, and mandated a four-hour window of time that we could be on the park roads/trails.

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This was a low-key event, which we like. In many ways it was like three of our favorite events, the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race, the 7 Sisters Trail Race, and the Mt. Greylock Trail Race, though Sisters isn’t low-key anymore. If you are from New England, then you know these rugged courses. If Debbie and I added up the number of times we have done these three New England classics, it would be more than more than 50!

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Half marathon +/- is a perfect trail race distance, especially in February. Debbie mentioned afterward that she would have liked to do it out and back, for a total of 27.4 miles. That sounds like an adventure to me, but the park service would have to lengthen the cutoff time. Also, I wouldn’t want to be deprived of the finishing venue, so you would have to start at Coral Bay, run to Cruz Bay, and then run back. Who is going to be the first one to do the double? After all, I know many runners who have doubled Soapstone, Sisters, and Greylock.

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The exact distance of this point to point course from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay, was 13.8 miles, and my GPS reported that there was 3,238 feet of elevation gain which is substantial for a race of this distance. The pre-race info said it was +2,772, but regardless of the exact number, it was hilly. My Strava profile shows that. The trails themselves were gnarly; they were strewn with rocks and roots, and there was a lot of off camber descending.

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Part of the race director’s simple ethic was to use limited markings, so you had to study and know the course. Green ribbons signified the correct route. Yellow ribbons indicated a trail junction. Red ribbons signified the wrong way. A few spots had arrows. The course was posted on the Trail Run Project website/iPhone/Android app, and many of us carried our phones. Kyle also promoted a self-supported category, and he gave awards to the top female and male finishers who took no outside aid. The unofficial definition of self-supported in an ultra is that you have no crew or pacers and use the aid stations and your own drop bags. In a short race like this, it isn’t that hard to go on your own, and the only real requirement is that you carry everything you need, including food and water.

There were several water stops, but Debbie and I skipped them for the added challenge. We used our UltrAspire packs (Debbie used her Spry and I used my Alpha) that each carry 40 ounces of water, and have room for a flask (of Tailwind), food (gels), and other gear. I also carried an UltrAspire handheld bottle with another 16 ounces of water. I ran out of water on the last descent, so I timed it well. Judging by how much water I drank at the finish line, I could have used more, but I got by with what I had. By the finish, the temperature was already well into the 80’s (Fahrenheit) and the sun was baking hot.

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With the limited markings, and many trail intersections, navigation was tricky. I paused at several trail junctions to think through my next step; often reviewing the map and trail names that I committed to memory. Normally, you could easily tell which trail was the main trail, and the likely trail to take, but with your heart rate jacked up to 165 in the middle of a race, it isn’t easy to figure out. I didn’t make any “wrong turns” per se, but after several intersections, I ran tentatively until I confirmed that I made the right choice. On the final descent to the historic Emmaus Moravian Church in Coral Bay, I stopped at a three-trail fork. I was descending the Jeep road when it split; I saw that the middle trail had red tape across it. I was thinking that I should just continue via the trail I was on, but the far-left trail also seemed inviting. Suddenly, I was confused. I didn’t recall this junction, so I decided to pull out my iPhone and check the Trail Project app.

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That proved to be difficult. I was so sweaty that I couldn’t get my Touch ID to work. Then, I couldn’t input my password. After a frustrating couple of minutes standing in the middle of the trail, worried that I would get caught by a chasing runner, and frantically trying to dry my hands (with little success), I got my password in. Then, I couldn’t open the app. Every iPhone function was a struggle as I sweated profusely in the hot sun. I started to shuffle down the trail I was on, though lacking confidence in the direction I was headed. Finally, I was able to open the app, click the “To Do” menu, find the St. John Trail Race, and click the location arrow to find my position. Fortunately, all the struggle was for naught because I was on the right trail and darn close to the finish.

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I broke into a sprint again, as the grade steepened sharply. In a ¼ mile, the dirt changed to concrete and I could see the church. After crossing the road, running through an overgrown ball field, hugging the bay, and winding through a maze of old boats, cars, trucks, and other stuff, I finished through the back entrance of the Skinny Legs Bar and Grill. It was one of the most interesting trail race finish lines that I’ve crossed… but I loved it! It was unique and if there ever was a “double” St. John Trail Race, I insist that the finish still be at Skinny Legs. When I got there, the post-race party had already started and soon enough, the beers were being passed around. This was all good fun at 9:30 A.M. on a Monday!

Race Director Kyle Hart got tremendous help from his father and mother, and a host of other island volunteers. The race proceeds benefitted St. John Rescue. Prior to the race, he kept everyone informed via Ultrasignup.com emails and Facebook updates. The afternoon before the race, he held a mandatory pre-race meeting next to the Cruz Bay dock at the National Park Visitors Center. Kyle and his Dad handled registration and talked through the details of the course.

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They warned us about the rugged trail conditions, which varied wildly. We started on the dock at the visitor center and then ascended a series of trails that took us to Caneel Hill. The Cruz Bay trails get much traffic, so they were in good shape. They also get the attention of the NPS. We eventually descended to Centerline Road, which is the main feature in 8 Tuff Miles.

A quote from the Trail Bandit’s 2014 St. John Hiking Map says it all, “When walking along the sides of the roads, face oncoming traffic and be ready to jump in the bushes. The roads are narrow and at times there is a lot of traffic. Centerline Road has a lot of heavy trucks and can be unpleasant and dangerous. Remember, we drive on the left.”

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Well, most of that was true. The only difference was that we were running, not walking. You could face oncoming traffic some of the time, but there were many switchbacks, which made alternating from side to side the safest technique. We were on Centerline for just under two miles. Unlike 8 Tuff Miles, which draws more than a thousand runners, the road was open to Monday morning traffic. It wasn’t too bad, but the admonition to “be ready” was honored.

I hammered the road stretch, running the 4th mile in 7:40, but was still happy to return to the trail that ended up being my favorite: L’Esperance. It descended from Centerline all the way to Reef Bay. The requirement was to then take the short spur trail to the beach, before turning back. This was the only part of the course that overlapped, and it was only a few hundred feet. No one was there to check, but who wouldn’t want to check out a beach like that in the middle of a trail race?!

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The L’Esperance descent was followed by the long climb back to Centerline. This was done on the iconic and historic Reef Trail, which was the best maintained trail that we ran on. This is likely because the NPS guides hikes down this trail to the beach. Guests are shuttled by vehicle to the trailhead, and then after their hike down, they are shuttled by boat back to the NPS dock in Cruz Bay. That sounds fun, but I’m still glad we got to run the trail. The trail work was high quality and there were gorgeous stone steps on several sections. I even saw the tools of a trail crew worker (axe and pack) on the side of the trail. However, there was no sign of said trail worker. It must have been a stealth trail crew.

At the top of the Reef Trail, you crossed Centerline, ran 50 feet, and then hooked a sharp left into the woods. The trail was so grown over that I wouldn’t have found it if there wasn’t a volunteer nearby. If Reef was the best maintained trail we were on, then Maria Hope was the worst, but that made it tremendously fun. It was a wicked descent (much of it off camber) down to Maho Bay on North Shore Road (Rt. 20). I was really happy with my new shoes. For more than three years, I’ve been struggling with plantar fasciitis. This stems from calf and ankle tightness, which I’ve been working on, but with only limited success. Debbie is on the Altra Endurance Elite Endurance Team, so she got me to try the Lone Peak 3.0 shoes that she has had so much success with. They are zero drop, have a wide toe box, and have a nice lugged sole; which is what I need to stay in contact with the ground. The trail was so rough, that at the bottom, it looked more like a drainage. It could definitely use some work, but I didn’t twist my ankle, so in my story, I’m glad it was as rough as described. Debbie loved it. She only finished 10 minutes behind me, and I’m certain she was gobbling up time and closing the gap on every descent.

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We turned right onto the road and wound our way past lovely Maho Bay. Despite the early hour, there were a few folks on the beach, and they offered cheers. The course wound along the road, rising and falling before meeting back up with the water again on the Old Danish Road. At the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins, it turned to dirt, and eventually the trail narrowed again and became the Leinster Bay Trail, which hugged Waterlemon Bay. The Danish Road/Leinster Bay Trail stretch was the “flattest” on the course. It’s too bad my legs were hurting at this point, otherwise, I might have pushed harder. Of course, those fast “road miles” only offset the numerous slow miles I ran on the tougher trails.

The last part of the course just might be the toughest. The Johnny Horn Trail was wicked hard. It climbed sharply from the beach, and continued to climb, stepping several times, before cresting with sweet views of the eastern part of the island. The views of St. John are reason enough to suffer through 13.8 miles. I don’t think I’ve done another race that has better views (mile for mile) than this one. It was beautiful. If you had taken the time to take the numerous short spur trails, the views would have been even better. I met a few runners who did just that. I had Debbie chasing me, so I opted to stick to the main trails.

The Johnny Horn descent was steep and had a lot of loose footing. It was an old Jeep road. I already described my near wrong turn and sweatfest, and I explained the Skinny Legs finish line. Race Director Kyle Hart and the volunteers deserve a big “thank you.” So do Nathan and Jessica DaSilva, “trail friends” from Connecticut, who graciously offered space in their Jeep. They picked us up (with the help of another friend) in Coral Bay and drove us to the start, so we didn’t have to fetch our car after the race.

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We arranged for a taxi to pick up Mrs. Schieffer and our kids at the Concordia Eco-Resort, so they were at the finish when I got there. I think they arrived just in time. Skinny Legs was only a 10-minute drive from where we were staying.

It was great to meet people from all over, including others from New England. The post-race mood was festive. Debbie scored first overall woman (2:37:38), first Master woman, and first self-supported woman. They shouldn’t have allowed her to “triple-dip,” but the awards came so fast, that she was a little surprised.  I was first Master male.We have a plaque for every room in our house! The race was scorched by Derik Harrison, a 24-year-old Coloradoan working in Cruz Bay. After the start, I never saw him again…until the finish, which is OK, since I have 20 years on him. When I got to Maho Bay, one of the volunteers cheered for me and yelled out that he was happy to see gray in my beard. That was my favorite moment of the day!

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Derik ran 2:07:44, which is fantastic, and 15 minutes faster than the 2016 winner’s time. It would be interesting to see how he would stack against some of the top New England talent on our terrain. He was followed by T.J. Hindes, a native Indianan, in 2:19:18.  I followed T.J. and was chased by Michael Cote-Wurzler, who was followed by Debbie. She bested the 2016 female winner’s time. Second woman was Hannah Allen of Vermont, and third was Sarah Swan, a native St. Johnian.

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Lookout for Derik at the 8 Tuff Miles later in the week. If he recovers well, and he should be in contention for the win.

Debbie and I already discussed a return. It may not be in 2018, but if this race keeps running, we will keep it on the list of races that we would love to do again.

Race Results

#outdoorcitizen & Appalachian Mountain Club Summit

This past Saturday, the Appalachian Mountain Club Summit was held in Norwood, Massachusetts. The event coincided with the 141st annual meeting. At the end of 2016, AMC had 91,404 members across our 12 chapters.

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I’m a member of the AMC Board of Directors, and both Debbie and I are longtime members of the Board of Advisors.  AMC had a fabulous 2016. Highlights included the opening of the Harriman Outdoor Center in New York, great progress with the club’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) program, the sale of our longtime Boston headquarters, and the purchase of a new headquarters building in Charlestown. An additional 4,358 acres were conserved in Maine as part of the Silver Lake project. This increases AMC’s land in Maine to more than 70,000 acres.

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The list of achievements is amazing. Those were just some of the highlights. 2017 promises to be even more momentous. The move from Boston to the expanded and modernized space in Charlestown will take place in the second half of the year. The new Medawisla Lodge will open in June. This is the third Maine lodge to be renovated/built.

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Debbie, my brother-in-law Tom, and our kids attended the Summit with me. We participated in some really cool workshop, including:

  • Primitive Navigation: The Lost Art of Finding Our Way
  • Secrets to Successful Kid-Friendly Adventures
  • Griphoist and Highline: Rocks, Ropes, Pulleys and More
  • All About Axes
  • Show & Tell: What’s in a Leader’s Pack?

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During the Summit, AMC launched #outdoorcitizen

I won’t explain it in any more detail than I have. Click through to learn more or search the hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.

2017 will be a big year for AMC. If you aren’t one of our 91,404 members, and you enjoy recreation, education, and conservation; then join! You won’t be disappointed.

Vail, Colorado

It’s no secret that I love mountains. The Appalachians are my favorite mountain range. Within the Appalachians, I love the White Mountains and the Berkshires. When it comes to mountains, especially those in the eastern United States, I don’t discriminate.

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Out west, I’ve spent time in various mountain ranges, including the Sierra’s, Santa Monica’s, Cascades, Wasatch, and Santa Rita’s, but until last week, I had never been to the Rockies. I had seen the Rocky Mountains on flights across the country, and I even viewed them from a hotel room in Denver, on my one and only trip to Colorado in 2011, but, I had never explored them.

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Given their scale, five days of skiing at Vail could barely be described as “exploring the Rockies,” but at least I can now say I’ve been there. There is so much more to see in Colorado, and then of course, there are other states like Wyoming and Montana that I’ve never seen. This trip wet my appetite for more.

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I always thought I would take a few of my bicycles to Colorado and explore the mountain roads and trails that make it a Mecca for cyclists. I never thought that the first significant time spent outdoors would be on a ski slope. I don’t come from a skiing family. My parents don’t ski or snowboard, so I didn’t get exposed to the sport at a young age. I dabbled a bit with both when I was in high school. I skied a bit in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, but never pursued it. In college, I skied one day in Park City, Utah on a dare, and then didn’t pick it up again for 10 years until I returned to Park City with a group of friends.

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I had consciously avoided skiing out of fear of injury. My summer sports are so important to me that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize them through the risk of injury. When I met Debbie in 1999, she was a snowboarding instructor at Killington, but she too had been away from Alpine sports for some time.

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I have some strong skier friends, and since that trip to Utah, we have been on subsequent trips to Stowe and Jay Peak in Vermont. Despite skiing in terrible conditions, I learned to love the sport. I realized that despite the expense, it can be a fantastic family pastime. Debbie and I talked about doing more of it by introducing our kids to snowboarding. I decided to stick with skiing, and two years ago, I even bought my own downhill gear.

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As a family, we have been to Stowe, Jiminy Peak, and Mt. Southington (in Connecticut). Debbie is proficient and the goal was for the kids and I to become good enough to justify a family trip out west in the coming years. So, when this group of guys decided on a ski trip to Vail for our 2017 retreat, I was pumped.

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I knew I needed an intense and focused trip a real mountain if I was ever going to make a leap forward with my skills. The unforgiving snow conditions and short trails on New England mountains helped were limiting me.So, the trip to Vail exceeded my expectations in every way possible. I’m 10 times better after three days. We skied for 16 hours (counting our ascent and descent) and covered 58 miles with more than 70,000 feet of descent. It was a crash course in Alpine skiing. I followed my buddies all over Vail. We explored the Front Side, the Back Bowls, and Blue Sky Basin.

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We had spectacular conditions. One of my buddies, who has been skiing for 48 years, and just returned from a heli-skiing trip in British Columbia, said that they were three of the best days of skiing he has ever had. We arrived on Saturday. It snowed overnight, and on Sunday, high on the mountain, we had up to 18 inches of fresh powder. Sunday’s weather was great. It was partly sunny with occasional snow shower at the higher elevations. The visibility was fantastic and the snow was light and fluffy. We skied from 8:30 A.M. when the lifts opened, until the last lift at 3:30 P.M. We explored the Back Bowls and laid fresh tracks all over the mountain. People were letting out whoops from all directions. Even the locals reveled in the conditions.

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I had one scary moment. I was following our group through a wide-open snow field when I hit something under the snow. The collision was abrupt and I ejected from both skis. I tucked and rolled, slamming the back of my head on the ground. The depth of the snow was a blessing and a disguise. It had completely covered a felled tree. The only evidence of the tree was a small dead branch protruding from the snow, but it was more than 15 feet to the left of the section I hit, and I never saw it.

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My left ski was wedged under the log, and out of view. My right ski bounced off the log and was buried in the snow. Thankfully I hit the log straight on with my boots, and I released from the bindings. My neck and back were sore, but I was thrilled to be alive. No one saw the incident, but one of my buddies hiked back up to help me out. I had no idea what I hit until we dug out my skis and uncovered the log so that others would see it. I was shaken, and learned a vital lesson. Skiing can be very dangerous. I shook it off and continued on, though even more aware of my surroundings.

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By evening, it had started to snow again, and pretty much never stopped. The valley saw on and off snow, and from Sunday night through this morning, it snowed steadily higher up on the mountain, and at times, it came down heavy. The snow just kept coming. Monday’s conditions were just as good as Sunday’s, and there were far fewer people on the mountain. The snow wasn’t as light, so pushing through the powder presented a new challenge, but by the end of the day, I had progressed even more.

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Tuesday was our final day, so we stayed on the front side and explored more new trails. Vail is huge. You pay  a premium to ski there, but the level of service was very high. The lifts and other facilities were top-notch. The customer service was fantastic.

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I’m interested in an Alpine touring set-up so I can combine hiking with skiing. That would suit my style. I’m also looking forward to a Vail return trip and the idea of exploring other western resorts is appealing too.


Horst Engineering

Thread Rolling Inc.

Sterling Machine

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@trailrunningmom at the counter @veggiegalaxy where they serve breakfast all day long! #vegetarian #vegan #cambridge Great seeing fellow ultra-runners @spencer.farrar @mikewardian and @trailrunningmom @racemaniaexpo in #boston #trailrunning #ultrarunning "Looking back, 2:04 does sound better than 2:05."-- @ryanhall3 (Being interviewed by Dave McGillivray @racemaniaexpo in #boston ) #running Even though I've heard @markallengrip tell his 1989 @ironmantri World Championship story many times, I never tire of it. He presented @racemaniaexpo @bostonu this morning. #markallen #ironman #triathlon Coach Al and @trailrunningmom demonstrate a proper front #plank and illustrate true #functionalstrength at their #trailrunning camp at @camphazenymca Campers had a day packed full of learning, exploring many other topics: descending technique, pacing, mental strength, nutrition, essential oils, and injury prevention. They even did pre-dinner #yoga and I joined them!  #fitinspiration #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders #ultrarunning #pursuitstrong Our version of the Poggio...after 10 years of waiting, I think we found a new training partner in the household to join @trailrunningmom and me...at least on the easy days. I'll take advantage now since in another 10 years, I'll be the one getting dropped. #horstspikes #cycling @islabikesusa #islabikes #teamhorstsports #boltonheritagefarm #bolton #Connecticut L to R: Places 2, 4, and 3 at the frigid  #BoltonRoadRace We had lots of fun. The best part is that I tower over the crew in this photo! #shenipsitstriders #silkcitystriders #teamhorstsports #railtrail #vernon #Connecticut @seven_cycles #sevencycles #teamhorstsports

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