Archive for the 'Environment' Category

2021 Northampton International Cyclocross

Yesterday was the 30th annual Northampton International Cyclocross at beautiful Look Park in Florence, Massachusetts. Next week’s West Hill Shop Cyclocross in Putney, Vermont is also turning 30. These are two of the longest standing CX races in New England. They are also two of the oldest in the country.

NoHo CX took a year off in 2020 because of pandemic, but it was back for 2021 and we had a blast. Kudos to Adam Myerson, the folks at Cycle-Smart, and the Northampton Cycling Club. This year, Shepard and I only raced on Sunday. The event has been two days for many years and we often do the double, but yesterday was the CT Middle School Cross Country Championships, and we were there to support Dahlia (who ran), Debbie (who coached), and the rest of the Bolton Center School team.

That meant I was fresh for today’s race and I’m glad I was because it was competitive and super fast. I’ve done 17 NoHo’s (or predecessor races including the UMASS Cyclocross at Orchard Hill). My first one was in 1995 and it was my third ever cyclocross race. West Hill Shop ended up being my fourth. So, both of these races are special to me. In the last 26 years, I’ve done more than 230 cyclocross races. Now I get to do them with my family. That’s pretty cool. I guess you could say I like cyclocross.

The 50+ field in today’s race was stellar. I think it may have even been stronger than the Gran Prix of Beverly back in September. That was my previous best result in a long time, not counting last week’s win at Cheshire Cross. Winning was fun, but the quality of the riders in today’s race was better, so my fifth place finish is notable.

When crunching the numbers, I can see that I was ranked ninth coming into today’s race and that was confirmed with my call-up. I was the first rider to get a spot on the second row behind the eight riders on the front row. That worked out for me because I was able to choose my lane and opted for second from left close to the barriers. I ended up having a good start and making it around the first big hairpin in sixth place after picking up a few spots in the long straightaway before the first big turn.

I rode a smooth first lap and held my position. It was on lap two that the front group started to breakaway and the field fractured. We also started to hit lapped traffic, which was a factor throughout the race. We were the third field to start in our race. The Category 3 Men (55 of them) started at 10:45 A.M. The 40+ Masters (39 of them) started a minute later, and the 50+ Masters (51 of us) started a minute after that. So, there were nearly 150 guys flying on this course all at once.

I mostly raced with my group, but occasionally we were blocked by slower traffic and had to settle into the paceline while waiting for a good spot to pass. The lower section of the course was faster than ever while the upper section was a bit more technical. The entire race was done at blazing speed. I averaged 14 miles per hour, which is pretty quick for a 46 minute CX race. Contrast that with last week’s hilly, technical, and muddy course in Cheshire where I averaged less than 12 miles per hour.

I think I’ve already said it a few times, but today was fast, really fast! Enough about the speed. I had a blast and I’m happy with the result. The weather was fantastic. It was cold in the morning, but I ended up going with shorts and short sleeves which is great for early November. The sunshine was as good as yesterday. It was brilliant and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Two years ago, it was in the teens (Fahrenheit) at NoHo, so a temperature in the low-50’s is balmy compared to that.

I rode a clean race. I only had to get off and run one twisty and slippery section when I came up on lapped traffic and someone dismounted in front of me. A few guys around me had crashes and that hurt their chances at a top finish as they had to chase back on. Our race was won by Jean-Francois Blais. He also won yesterday. He was pretty far out front. Roger Aspholm was second, Andy August was third, and Vincent Bolt was fourth. I was with Vincent with 1.5 laps to go, but he pulled away. He may have had an incident earlier in the race that set him back, but he flew by me. We encountered a long train of more than 10 lapped riders. He did a better job at working his way past them. By the time I got to the front of the group after nearly a full lap of riding, he was gone.

I was in a strong group that included Bart Lipinski and Christopher Curven, but I pushed incredibly hard on the last lap going through the upper section so I could maintain my position in front before we hit the pavement and the final four winding turns before the finish. I knew I had to be in the front in case we encountered more lapped traffic (which we did). I sprinted against a Category 3 rider in order to keep my speed high and avoid getting passed in the final stretch. I knew I was in the top 10, but was pleased to see the actual result, fifth.

I did a nice cool down on the bike path with teammate Andris Skulte, and then had a lot of fun cheering on Shepard and his CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad mates. This was Shepard’s first cyclocross race since August. His focus over the last 2.5 months has been cross country running, but that wrapped up with the state championships last week. It’s great to have him racing cross with me again, at least for a few more weekends. He had a good race for his first one in a while. His shifting (chain skipping) was acting up, but he hung in there and finished strong and in good spirits.

Team HORST Sports had a great turnout this weekend, with riders in all of the Masters age groups and all of the Junior age groups. There were several other notable performances. The 30th Northampton International Cyclocross was awesome. Debbie, the kids, and I celebrated at Pulse Cafe where we enjoyed another great meal.

Race Results

2021 Cross Country Championship Season

The 2021 Cross Country season has come to a close and we are going to miss it. Yes, there are still some runners competing, but for the Livingston Family, we wrapped things up today at the Connecticut Middle School XC Championships at Wickham Park in Manchester. 

Our household has been totally absorbed in XC since late August. Debbie is the coach of the Bolton Center School (BCS) Girls and Boys teams. Dahlia is a 7th grade member of that middle school team. Shepard is a freshman member of the Bolton High School (BHS) team. I’m a super-fan.

Before this state championship run, we had the NCCC conference championship. For BHS, those were held on the home course back on 21 October. For the BCS crew, their league meet was the NEMSAC conference championships at Lebanon Middle School on 27 October. 

Wickham Park has been the location of the latest stretch of awesome state championship races. Over the past week, more than 4,000 people have run at Wickham, Connecticut’s premier XC destination. Today alone, there were more than 2,500 kids running in the park. 

The first big championship event at the park was the CIAC XC Divisional Championship on Monday 01 November (postponed from Saturday 30 October). BHS coach Paul Smith refers to the “class meet” as his “Christmas.” After season of training his runners all season, building towards a peak, this is the race where he gets to “open his presents.” 

For BHS, this is the the big one and the girls team did awesome in the Class S race. S is the smallest school category, but it is still competitive. The high school championship races are all held on the same 5,000 meter (5K) course. The Bolton girls finished second to Somers, qualifying for the State Open Championship. They were led by Meghan Minicucci, who finished second behind Rachel St. Germain of Somers. All of the Bolton girls ran strongly. They will lose a few seniors to graduation, but should be strong again in 2022. As for Rachel, we’ve seen a lot of her this season because Somers and Bolton are both in the NCCC, and she has dominated every race. This was a good race for the BHS girls and they should be proud of their State Open qualification. 

The BHS boys finished 4th. They didn’t qualify for the State Open, but without any graduating seniors in their top seven runners, there is room for improvement in 2022. Silas Gourley led the team with an 11th place finish. This gained him All-State honors and an individual State Open qualification. 

Shepard finished 19th, falling short of the top-12 goal that would also have qualified him for the State Open. He was disappointed with his time, running a bit slower than the Wickham Park Invitational last month, but less than 10 freshman ran faster than him across all classes, so he has to be pleased with this race and his entire XC season. He and the Bolton boys have a lot to look forward to in the future. 

Yesterday, Debbie picked up Shepard at school so they could meet me at the park to cheer on the Bolton girls and Silas. HORST Engineering is only 1.7 miles from the park, so its easy for me to get there by bike. I love the place and pass through at least four days a week on my bicycle commutes to/from work. 

I always get pumped for the State Open. I’ve been attending most every year for the last 10 years. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. A few years ago I wrote about the 1989 East Catholic Boys XC Team that won the Class MM Championship and finished third in the State Open. That is one of my favorite high school memories as I was a member of the team. I hope that both of my kids experience the State Open during their high school careers. If they keep progressing, they just might. 

Yesterday’s races were amazing. The boys went first. We knew many of the runners, including Silas. He ran his best race of the year in a very competitive field. The battle for the top spot was thrilling with Conard’s Gavin Sherry and Callum Sherry besting Manchester’s Aidan Puffer. They all had fast times. Notable finishers that we know were Luke Anthony (East Lyme) in 6th and Luke Stoeffler (Tolland) in 17th. Both qualified for the New England Championships with their top 25 finishes. That meet is next week in Vermont. 

In the girls race, Bolton hung tough with the big schools that typically shine at the State Open. They finished 16th, which when you think about how many high schools are in Connecticut, is pretty darn good. Again, they were led by Meghan, who set her personal best. The weather was gorgeous, which made for fast running. The course was a bit soft from all the recent rain, but yesterday we had brilliant sunshine and a deep blue sky. She was 9th and was Bolton’s lone qualifier for the New England meet. This result makes her one of BHS’s best ever runners. 

Worth noting is that once again, Rachel St. Germain dominated. She won by more than 40 seconds. This was the performance of the day. Shepard was very inspired after watching the State Open. He joined me last year too. He said his goal is to qualify both with the team and on his own. It will be fun to watch him pour the effort into getting better. 

We were back at Wickham today for the CT Middle School State XC Championships. Debbie took the bus with Dahlia and the rest of the team. I rode to work and then rode back to the park to meet them. Shepard rode over with our friend Chris Duffy, whose kids also attend Bolton schools. 

Right after I arrived at the park, I jumped in the “Mom & Pop” race which is hosted by the Silk City Striders. I jogged it while Shepard raced it. Debbie ran it too along with several friends. Bolton finished second to Fairfield in the competition for most participants. Our goal was to win, but we were close and are hungry for next year! The race was held on the shorter 1.7 mile course. 

This is the biggest race of the year based on total participants. They split the state in two (East and West) and hold A races for each half for boys and girls. The A race is held on a 2.3 mile course. Then they held four more B races on the 1.7 mile course. Some of these races had 400 kids in the field. It was amazing to watch.

Dahlia joined her team in the East A race and they did well. Her friend Clara Toomey was the top BCS finisher. Dahlia followed her. Both were in the top 100, which is actually quite an achievement. They are 7th graders and will get another crack at it next year. Bolton was 11th in the East team results. 

The BCS boys also did well. They were led by Christopher Allinson, who was 54th, a good result. This is the same place Shepard finished in two years ago. Unfortunately, with the Covid-19 cancellation, Shepard didn’t get to beat that result as an 8th grader. Chris will be on the BHS team next year and he has a lot of potential. 

All of Coach Debbie’s runners did well and she has taught them how to love running while become better people. She has given them a lot of confidence and life skills related to exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, strength, and balance. I’m biased, but I’ve observed her methods and they are effective. I know the parents are very appreciative of her coaching and the kids love being on the team. 

In about nine months we will start gearing up for the 2022 season. I’m already getting pumped! 

Race Results

NCCC XC Conference Championship

NEMSAC XC Conference Championship

CIAC XC Divisional Championship

CIAC XC State Open Championship

CT Middle School State XC Championships

2021 Keene Pumpkin Cross

Today I returned to the Pumpkin Cross in Surry, New Hampshire. Surry is just outside Keene, where I have fond memories of past bike races. I was last at the Keene Pumpkin Cross in 2015. Prior to that, the last time I raced cyclocross in the Keene area was when Team HORST Sports joined forces with Team Frank to host the Frank-N-Horst Cross at Jonathan Daniels Elementary School. I raced Frank-N-Horst in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2004.

We had a lot of cycling friends in the Keene area, which is a lovely community. On the road, I did the Keene Road Race/Optical Ave. Criterium (race weekend) in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2000. Today, we drove by the road race finish line and the Frank-N-Horst course and that brought a smile to my face.

I remember when the road race finished in front of Peerless Insurance. It was a crazy final kilometer as you screamed north on Route 12 after more than 50 miles of racing. You took the Maple Ave. exit on the right, and then at the bottom of the ramp, made a hard 90 degree left turn, went under the overpass for 12, and sprinted 150 meters to the line. When I did the Cat 3 race in 1998, I came through the final corner banging bars with Keith Berger. He accelerated from the scrum to win the bunch sprint in brilliant fashion. I finished 8th.

So, it was good to be back in the Keene area today. Pumpkin Cross was a fantastic race. After an overnight storm with heavy rain, the course was heavy, wet, and gnarly with several mud bogs. I used my mud tires and they came in handy. I did the Men’s 50+ race. We started 30 seconds behind the 40+ men, and the 60+ riders started behind us. I finished 4th, but was hoping for more. If I had one more lap, I would have had a shot at the podium because the third placed rider appeared to be fading and I was closing in.

The race was short and slow at just over 40 minutes and just under 7.5 miles. The conditions were not ideal for speed. I tend to do better on the power courses that are also technical. This race was a slog. There were a few fast sections, but they weren’t sustained. The course was well-designed with a tough asphalt climb, a technical turny section, several challenging off-camber hills that you had to traverse, two sand sections, a set of tall barriers, two logs to dismount and run over, and a gnarly woods section that forced me off the bike twice/lap. That’s a run-on sentence, but that’s what this course felt like!

Some guys rode the woods section, but I didn’t take a chance. I got off twice. Once for the steep downhill onto the wood bridge over the muddy stream, and once again to get around a deepish mud bog at the exit from the woods. So, I was getting off five times per lap. Mike Rowell won our race and he rode all the tough stuff, which was an advantage. I was a bit nervous, so I got off.

Surry Mountain Lake Beach is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers day use facility located on the Ashuelot River and it is beautiful. The leaves were colorful. Debbie and I drove up this morning. Our kids spent a chill weekend with Debbie’s parents. The only other Team HORST rider at the race was Alexandra Miller-Davey. She did the women’s race and did very well. It was fun to watch her ride.

We got to see our old friends, Chris and Kate Northcott and their children. They were on Team Frank back in the day. We had fun catching up with them. It wa also fun to see old teammate Kathryn Kothe. Kudos to the race organizers and volunteers for putting on an awesome grassroots events. After a cool down, we made the drive home, and stopped at India House in Northampton. It was neat to learn from one of the owners that they are a 38 year-old family business. Earlier this week, HORST Engineering celebrated 75 years in business.

When I got home, I cleaned my bikes so that they are ready for next week’s Belltown Cross in East Haddam, Connecticut.

Race Results (2021 Pumpkin Cross)

Race Results (1999 Frank-N-Horst Cyclocross)

Photo Credits: Debbie Livingston took the shots of Alex and me.

2021 Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race

Today’s Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race brought back amazing memories for Debbie and me. The schedule worked out that we were able to make the drive to the Berkshires for this classic Western Massachusetts Athletic Club (WMAC) event.

I was a little sad to see how few people participated. The WMAC trail races have shrunk considerably over the last 10 years. The club doesn’t do much marketing, hasn’t embraced social media, and has struggled to develop a new generation of volunteers/members. We hadn’t been at the race since 2017 and we were happy to return. I remain appreciated of all the work of the WMAC volunteers and their passion for trail running is unmatched. They have been hosting races for a long time. Back in the early 2000’s, the Grand Tree Trail Running Series was hugely popular and the runners were fast. Take a look at some of those early results. The fields were stacked with talent.

Debbie and I have been affiliated with WMAC for more than 20 year. She ran her first Monroe Trail Race on 10 October 1999. Thats’s 22 years ago to the day. My first time at Monroe was a year later on 08 October 2000. It must have been a Leap Year.

This event used to be part of the WMAC Trilogy, which was made of the Greylock Trail Race (June), the now defunct Savoy Trail Race (August), and Monroe Dunbar Book (October). 1999 was Debbie’s first year of trail running. Of course, we met a week earlier at the 1999 Vermont 50 and hadn’t had our first date, so I didn’t know about Monroe. However, a year later, in 2000, I made the trip as her boyfriend and ran the 2-mile “sampler,” while she was out running the 10.5-mile race.

I’ve done both the short and long courses for a total of seven times. I bet she has done the race between 10 and 15 times. We would have to go through all of the records to find out. In 1999, the VT50 was the first Sunday in October. The race eventually shifted to the last Sunday in September, so there is now a two week gap between the VT50 and Monroe. After that first trip to Dunbar Brook and the Deerfield River, I fell in love with the area. The roads, dirt roads, trails, and views are amazing. In a normal year, the foliage is spectacular. This year, it was even better.

The original plan was for today to be a family trip. Well, it was still family trip, but minus one. Shepard remained home after being out all day yesterday and running the Wickham Park Invitational. Even though tomorrow is a holiday (no school), Bolton House School Coach Paul Smith traditionally holds the hardest workout of the year on the Monday following Wickham as he builds his athletes towards a peak. Shepard has a bit of dread coming off a big block of training and racing, so we let him chill today rather than dragging him along to join me on a bike ride while Debbie and Dahlia ran.

We got up around 7:00 A.M. and made the two-hour drive which included the section of Route 2 from Greenfield to Monroe. This is known as the Mohawk Trail. You pass by Zoar Gap on River Rd. and make your way along the Deerfield River until you get to the race start near Dunbar Brook. The Deerfield is very popular with paddlers (kayakers and rafters).

Even though it was a small turnout, it was great to see some old friends. Of course, Todd Brown was there. He is running the Boston Marathon tomorrow, so he only did the three-miler. That was nice because Dahlia was able to ride with him. Runners in the the short race carpool to the start by getting rides with race volunteers because it is a point-to-point course. It’s actually the last three miles of the 10.5 mile race. Many of the WMAC volunteers that we saw this morning were there when Debbie ran her first Monroe in 1999.

Debbie said her goal was to run under 1 hour and 45 minutes and she met her goal, coming in just under that target. Her best time is around 1 hour and 33 minutes. It’s the third fastest female time behind Kehr Davis and Nikki Kimball. Come to think of it, Kelsey Allen has also smashed that course and could have the fastest time. I’ll have to check. Debbie set that time when she was 28 years-old. She was 24 when she ran her first Monroe and will be 47 in January. She ran 1 hour and 35 minutes in 1999, so to lose only 10 minutes in 22 years isn’t bad.

Dahlia was the first “woman” in her race (4th overall) and got a pint glass to commemorate the achievement. She said there was some “shoe sucking” mud on the course. She also said the trail along Dunbar Brook was very pretty. She had fun and was rewarded with snacks and a Coca-Cola, which isn’t her normal fare.

While they were running, I did the River Road/Zoar Gap loop on mixed surface. I first did a version of this loop with Debbie in May 2016. It includes the vicious road climb up from the dam in Monroe. The descent back towards River Rd. is on dirt and it is super-sketchy. Back when we first did it, I used an old cyclocross bike with cantilever brakes. Today, I had my Seven Evergreen XX with disc brakes. I used my 650B wheels with 42c file tread tires. It was a great ride and the foliage was awesome. The loop was about 18 miles and it took me 90 minutes. I was back in time to hang out with Dahlia and then we both saw Debbie finish.

On our way home, we stopped for a late lunch at Pulse Cafe in Hadley. It was quality time in the Berkshire and quality time spent with Little D.

1999 Race Results

2000 Race Results

2021 Race Results (will be posted when available)

2021 Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross & Wickham Park Invitational

Today was my 14th Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross Race. The event dates back to 1983, but I only started racing cross in 1995, so I wasn’t at the early editions. I think the race keeps getting better. It looked like there were a record number of junior riders there today. The CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad was out in force and did great. The group included Luke Wilson, Alexandra Miller-Davey, Boden Chenail, Lars Roti, Brohm Citroen, Ethan Lezon, and Owen Lezon. Eli Skulte led the way in the kids race.

Our Masters riders were also strong. Andris Skulte did the Men’s Cat 4 race. I was in the 50+ age group along with Wade Summers and John Meyerle. We started a minute behind the 40+ group which included Brett Chenail after his recent upgrade. He is racing with the fast Masters now! Following my age group were the 60+ and we were represented by Dave Geissert, Paul Nyberg, and Keith Enderle.

Both of those guys also helped Race Director Ron Manizza with course set up. I think their input was helpful because the track was fast and flowy after some nice tweaks. I probably could have done better with a bit more climbing, a bit more sprinting, and a bit more sand running, but alas, it is what it is. It was also nice to see Coach Art Roti and Coach Laura Becker. Laura rode there from Manchester but that didn’t stop her from being the loudest spectator on the course. She cheered like mad and it was appreciated. It was also great to see Eric Wyzga, a dear friend from both the trail running community and the cyclocross community. Over the years, he and I have banged bars numerous times and I look forward to doing more singlespeed events with him as the season progresses.

I still rode a decent race though I didn’t quite fulfill my first row second spot call up. I had a good start and went into the woods in third or fourth, but eventually faded to sixth where I battled for a while. I ended up seventh and some of my technical mistakes were costly. I biffed the sand on lap one and I had to get off my bike on the steep “ride up” with two laps to go. I had a few other clunky corners, but in the end, was happy with the result.

A month ago, I was absolutely flying and riding out of my mind, even feeling “the zone” in a few races, but the past few weeks have been a struggle as I have suffered a “cycle down” period which is natural. I would like to be closer to the fastest 50 year-olds, but I’ll keep trying. Work has been a bit more rough, I haven’t slept as well, and a pesky sore ankle/foot (after twisting it) have held me back a bit.

I also rode the Vermont 50 at a fairly intense pace and that may help in the long run, but it tired me out for a week or so. Needless to say, cyclocross season is long. I just started thinking about (and planning) the national championships in Chicago in December. It seems like a long way off, but it will be here quicker than I probably realize. There is still some fun local racing to do between now and then.

After the race, I had to get out of there rather quickly. I would have loved to hang out, but Shepard and the rest of the Bolton High School Cross Country Team were running at the Wickham Park Invitational. Wickham is a magical place and I pass through nearly every day. Heck, I was there yesterday. It’s on my normal commuting route to work.

I parked about a mile from the back side of the park at the local school and then rode one of my CX bikes over the course. It was a great way to spectate and was much faster gettin around with two wheels compared with running/hobbling. Debbie was already there. She rode from home via the rail trail and East Coast Greenway which is the route I like to take.

One highlight was the BHS girls winning the small school division with Meghan Minicucci taking first with a very strong run. The rest of the girls ran well too and that bodes well as we approach championship season towards the end of the month.

The boys also did well. Silas Gourley led them in fifteenth and Shepard was twenty-fifth. He was very happy, got a trophy, and was the second fastest freshman in the small school race. He ran 18:22, his fastest 5K yet. That’s great for the demanding Wickham course, which was wet (and slow) in spots. The weather could get worse by the time they return here on 10/30, so this was good practice.

After the race, I headed to work for a few hours. It’s only a mile from the park and thanks to my nice shower at work, I didn’t have to remain dirty from all of the morning activities.

Mansfield Hollow Race Results

Wickham Park Invitational Results

2021 Winding Trails Triathlon Series

The 2021 Winding Trails Summer Triathlon Series wrapped up on Tuesday night. I know this race and venue quite well. I’ve now done the triathlon 57 times since 2009, however prior to the 2021 seriesI had only done one night of racing there since 2017. 2020 was a lost year as non-members weren’t permitted to race due to the pandemic.

My Winding Trails (WT) races tend to come in waves. When I’ve been committed to the full series, I’ve been “all in.” This year was one of those years as I completed nine of the 10 races, only missing once, the week we were on vacation in Montana. In addition to the triathlons, I’ve done many other races at the venue including cyclocross races, adventure races, and mountain biking races. Debbie and I even hosted our Jack & Jill there 20 years ago this summer, so the place holds a special place in my heart.

The race is now a family affair. Debbie repeated her series win from 2019 by completing eight of the 10 races. She missed the week we were in Montana and one other. Shepard did six races squeezed in around camp and our family travel. He is getting stronger and stronger and I would imagine that in the next few years, he will be beating me without too much effort. Dahlia has been a loyal cheerleader, coming along to enjoy the wonderful facility that Winding Trails is.

The racing is fun, but the community is the real reason why we love WT so much. The Schulz Family (Ken, Aubrey, Kai, and Rayna) are dear friends we met years ago through WT. We were racing with Ken and Aubrey before they had kids and now when the eight of us are together, we enjoy WT even more. Most weeks, after the race, we tailgate in the parking lot or under the pavilion. I can’t recall which kid coined the term “Grand Feast” but that is how we refer to our post-race meal. It’s become a tradition and we missed it in 2020. By the end of 10 weeks, I’m usually tired of the racing, but I’ll never tire of the Grand Feast.

I had a strong series, finishing 2nd overall to Mick Hains. He is also a defending champ, and at 23 years-old, could be my kid. However, he isn’t my kid, but rather my “rival.” I was only “close” one week and that was because he was playing with me. When he decided to pull away on the run, he did it on command. He and I have a fun connection as we both attended Boston College. He ran track and cross-country at BC. He graduated in May 2021…and I graduated in May 1995. That tells the story.

I’ve got stats on most of my 1,200+ career races and the Winding Trails info makes up a rich dataset. I’ve been able to see over a 13 year period how my performance has evolved related to my age, training, stress level, and other factors. The course has changed several times, but I’ve been able to extrapolate and adjust for those changes.

The current course is about .9 shorter than the course was in past years and my times are consistent, which means I have gotten a bit slower, but that is to be expected as I approach my 49th birthday this fall. This year, when you eliminate week five when the race was run as a duathlon due to a thunderstorm, my range of finishes was within 2 minutes and 05 seconds. However, when you eliminate this week’s race (race 10), my worst one due to fatigue following last weekend’s REV 3 New England “half iron-distance triathlon” then that range from fastest to slowest was only 1 minute and 17 seconds.

That’s pretty good considering that these are training races and I don’t do any special preparation or resting in advance of them. Some Tuesday’s at work were long and hard. Some Tuesday commutes to WT had horrible traffic on I-84 and Route 4. The conditions for a great race aren’t optimal when you are rushing to get there for a 6:15 P.M. start. This year we had a lot of bad weather. There were multiple nights with oppressive heat and humidity and we competed in the rain at least five times. Typically, my only warmup is riding my bike the 1/4 mile to the transition area and then jogging the 1/4 mile to the waterfront. None of that is optimal, but I’m used to the rhythm.

Getting whooped by Mick was assumed and the two weeks that he was on vacation visiting his girlfriend in Colorado were a gift as I won both races, harkening back to the years when I was legitimately battling for the top spot at this race. My other main rival was fellow master athlete John Hirsch. John and I are evenly matched when it comes to overall time, but we rarely see each other during the race. We sort of do our own race and occasionally one of us will pass the other. He had a bad mechanical one week, and missed a turn another week. Without those mishaps, our points would have been even tighter. Given our differing strengths, we weren’t really going head to head.

He is routinely the fastest swimmer and I’m terribly slow in the water, so, I am always at a deficit heading into T1. Most weeks, I had the fastest bike leg, so I would claw back time on him and Mick. Normally I would pass everyone but Mick. A few weeks John was able to stay in front. Then, I would just try to hang on for the run. My run times are trending slower by about a minute, which is disheartening and I haven’t put my finger on the problem, other than age and fatigue.

If I’m in front of John, I can usually outrun him, but there are some other young guns who smoked the run on various nights. This week’s race was an anomaly for me with a finish outside of the top three, but I had already solidified my 2nd place overall, so when I started to get passed after the bike, I had to check my ego and just get to the finish. After the trip to Montana, some extra intensity at work, and REV 3, I was toast headed into week 10. My fitness had waned considerably.

I’m taking a forced “break” over the next few weeks as I use some active rest to transition to cyclocross season which is a primary objective for 2021 as my racing age will be 50+ for the first time. That’s a big deal as I’ll be the youngest in my age group. It has given me renewed motivation to compete hard for some results. The good thing about WT is that the 49 to 51 minute race is nearly identical to a masters cyclocross race and the intensity (measured by average heart rate) is comparable. WT is great training for cyclocross season.

So, the final overall podium was Mick followed by me and then John. On the women’s side, Debbie was first, followed by Darcy Foley in second and Laura Stanley in third. There were some strong age group finishes as well, but you will have to consult the results to see who took honors.

The Winding Trails staff and volunteers do a fantastic job. This year, they were challenged with the Covid-19 related stuff and the wild weather. Our family appreciates the work they do to put this on. I think this was the 17th year for the series. They have some nice sponsors and I came to appreciate the bucket of ice-cold beer (including my preferred non-alcoholic brand) that Trek Newington brought each week. The timing guys do a great job and the results are always prompt. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the event.

Following the storms, we had some great sunsets and that is the memory I’ll hold on to as I contemplate 2022. There is no rush to decide if we compete again, but odds are we will be there for at least part of the series. After all, the Grand Feast tradition must continue.

Race Results (Full Season Search)

Race Results (Series Standings)

Past Year’s Winding Trails Posts

Coda: I’ve got one revision to the original post. I recalled that I do have one “criticism” of the race series. The bike leg is too short! Yep, I nearly forgot to mention it, but it is advertised as “5 miles” but it is barely 4.2. In past years, it was longer. I know that I’m a bad swimmer and that a longer bike and run (especially bike) would help me, but that isn’t the reason for requesting a course change. A “proper” triathlon should NOT have a bike leg that is shorter (in time) than the run. I’m curious what others think. I’m not advocating for a 10 mile loop, but I would settle for 5.5. It should be longer. It should push my average overall time to 55 minutes. That would be fair. Plus I might have a better shot of winning!

REV 3 New England

Yesterday’s REV 3 New England was my first “half iron-distance” triathlon since REV 3 Quassy in 2013. I did a fair number of “half’s” in the 2009-2013 timeframe, which was also the era when I did four full IRONMAN races. I’ve done other ultra-distance endurance events since 2013, including multisport races, but this was my first “true” 70.3 distance event (1.2 miles swim/56 mile bike/13.1 mile run) in a while.

What’s even more remarkable than my comeback is that this was Debbie’s first long distance triathlon ever. Her triathlon history consists of sprint events only, and most of those off-road. The XTERRA French River event in 2006 may have been her longest prior triathlon. Her only road triathlon in the past 22 years was the Lake Terramuggus Sprint (training race),and that was only two weeks ago.

Of course, going long isn’t a problem for her considering her adventure racing and trail running exploits. However, I think the uniqueness of a pure triathlon, the intensity, and this distance is what made her finish noteworthy. She and I are very proud of her accomplishment, and that was the highlight of the day for me.

The main reason for doing this race was to establish a qualifier for the SOS Triathlon (New Paltz edition) which I am planning to return to after finishing in 2012 and 2013, and which she wants to do for the first time. SOS is a story unto itself and I’ll save it, but I linked to my prior posts. On top of that, this was the 2020 REV 3 New England…but in 2021…sort of like the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo last week. We planned to do SOS last year, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, the race was cancelled. Then we planned to do the race this year (next month), but again have postponed entry, this time to 2022. REV 3 remained on the schedule and since Memorial Beach (start/finish) in Webster, Massachusetts is only an hour away, we stuck with it.

Our training and preparation was not optimal. We sort of “got it done.” The day after the race, I’m admitting that approach wasn’t ideal and is more suited to a 29 year-old than a 49 year-old. I paid the price for my lackadaisical planning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fit, and I put in a 100% effort, but there was no specific preparation leading up to this race. I still had fun.

Both of us have gotten fit over the course of the summer by commuting to work, racing the Winding Trails Summer Tri Series (seven Tuesday night’s since early June for Debbie, and eight for me), and mixing in a few other events including the aforementioned Lake T. Last week we had a family trip to Montana and squeezed in a failed FKT attempt (trail running) up and down Saddleback Mountain, but that did more damage to my legs than good. She wasn’t impacted by the attempt but the five mile descent of that 9,000+ foot mountain trashed my quadriceps.

We both battled colds before and during the trip as illness made its way through our family. Again, if I was 29, I would have bounced back from a little adversity, but lately I’ve been feeling my “age” as it relates to sports. I draw inspiration from friends like Janit Romayko, who are racing triathlons in their late-70’s which is very much a goal of mine, and they would be the first to admit that you have to adjust your expectations. Even still, I want to push hard and can’t help comparing my times with the the 2010 era when I could laid down a 4:37 at Timberman 70.3.

Now, I wasn’t expecting to break 4:40, but I would have loved to break 4:50 and would have settled for breaking 5:00 hours, which I’ve done nearly every time regardless of the course and conditions. As for yesterday’s conditions, it was mild and muggy early in the morning and then warm and muggy by mid-day. I finished in 5:10:19 and know exactly where 15 minutes were lost. Alas, there is no getting that time back now.

Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg was calm and fun to swim in. You read that Native American name correctly. Some folks call it Lake Webster or use the shorter name Lake Chaubunagungamaug, but either way, it’s iconic and lovely. The lake is just north of the Connecticut border. That part of our state is called the “Quiet Corner” and it is fantastic, especially for cycling.

The bike course was a tri-state loop (done twice) that went clockwise through Douglas State Forest in Massachusetts, across the Rhode Island border, up the flank of Badger Mountain and near the top of Buck Hill. These are Rhode Island mountains…not Montana mountains. From there, the course headed west into Connecticut, then north into Thompson, where it veered onto the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The first big loop of the course included two laps of the speedway track, which was fun and unique. I’m familiar with the track (and turns) from racing KMC CrossFest on a few occasions. From Thompson, the course headed north back across the Massachusetts border into Webster.

Without the speedway laps, the loop was about 26 miles. Last month, on a Sunday afternoon, Debbie and I were joined by our son Shepard for a preview ride, so we were familiar with the roads. The asphalt surface was in decent shape. There were a lot of cracks and small holes, but nothing too treacherous. Since we did the practice lap, the roads were swept, which was nice to see. There were a handful of tight turns, which made for some fun riding. The course was moderately hilly, which means there were challenging uphills and fast downhills. I was able to stay in my aero tuck for most of the descents, but I opted to go into my cowhorn bars and feather my brakes for the steepest downhills and tightest turns. I liked the route and I didn’t mind the double lap because it gave me a chance to improve my lines and pacing on the second time around.

The run course was interesting. In the pre-race (virtual) meeting, we were warned that it would be different. It stayed close to the lake and had multiple out-and-back sections in the neighborhoods bordering the lake. Like the bike loop, it included a few sections of busy Route 16 which parallels the even busier Interstate 395. There was good police and volunteer coverage on the main road, but you had to be cautiously aware of the traffic on both the ride and the run.

The out-and-backs were tolerable, but by the last half of the second “loop,” I had enough of the run course and wanted to finish ASAP. Thankfully, there was only one set of cones to run around. The other out-and-backs, which we did five times in total, had lollipops which didn’t kill your momentum as much as that cone section did. As I said, it was tolerable. One highlight was seeing the other 138 or so “half” finishers, the 112 or so “Olympic” finishers, and a dozen or so relay finishers. I even think a dozen folks did the Aquabike. It’s worth noting that on Saturday, another 110+ folks did the Sprint version of this race. All in all, more than 350 people competed at REV 3 New England, which is probably less than hoped for, but being a first time race that was postponed a year due to a pandemic, it’s better than nothing.

I’ll give credit to the organizers and volunteers for being cheerful, inventive, and supportive. Events like this are complicated whenever you promote them. Open road bike courses of any distance are harder and harder to come by. A 26 mile loop with a diversion onto a race track for extra mileage is a treat, especially when it is in the middle of a race. Aside from a few sketchy moments on Rt. 16, the course was safe (in my opinion). My only complaint is that with the two bike loops on the speedway and the multiple out and backs on the run, it would have been easy to cheat or “inadvertently” miss a section of the course. Now, I never expect this of a competitor, but race organizers and officials (I didn’t see anyone from USAT) have the responsibility with fair sport to ensure that everyone completes the course. I know that there were people that missed or skipped sections of the course. I just hope they weren’t in front of me. Additional timing mats would help, but then someone has to review the results and scour it for discrepancies. Luckily, this was not a huge race (participant wise) as it could have been chaos out there. It was already confusing. I made one short wrong turn on the bike when a volunteer was waving a flag but I couldn’t tell which direction she was pointing. There was a pink arrow on the ground pointing right, but I didn’t notice it was for the run. I studied the course closely and visualized it in my mind repeatedly and that was my one small error. I hope others put as much effort into completing the course.

Part of Debbie and my sub-optimal preparation was getting up at 4:10 A.M. to drive out to the course so we could get our race packets, bib numbers, body marking, and transition logistics sorted out by the 7:00 A.M. wave start. Seeding was a self-selection and the race timing relied on our ankle chips. I worked every day since returning from Montana, including Saturday, the day before the race. We got help with childcare as Shepard had to catch a bus to camp around the time we were finishing loop one of the bike ride. Dahlia participated in the Coventry Farmer’s Market “Kids’ Market” so Mrs. Schieffer pitched in to supervise that activity. All of this was complicated by the postponement from 2020, but even if we had the race a year ago, we would have had family logistics to deal with. That’s life.

The swim was straightforward aside from a nasty left calf cramp with about 200 yards to go (out of 2,000). That sucked and I still have a golf ball sized knot to work out. That dogged me for the subsequent ride and run. As for “training,” last week, in Glacier National Park, I swam across Lake McDonald and back. That was about 4,000 yards and was my longest swim in years. I guess you can call that preparation. The weekly swim at Winding Trails is about 300 yards, so if you do it seven times, it will add up to a half IRONMAN type swim. Anyway, we haven’t been swimming much and it showed. We were both slow. It was my slowest ever swim of this distance and truthfully, it wasn’t all that bad…aside from that painful cramp.

The bike is usually my strength, and given the hilly nature of this course, I was satisfied with the result. I’m sure the left leg pain limited my potential but this wasn’t my slowest ride of this distance. I lost the one gel I was carrying and the only other calories I had were in a 24 ounce water bottle of Skratch electrolyte drink. That proved to be a bad mistake as I was under-nourished and ended up bonking with about 10 miles to go. I hung on gamely, but it hurt and I was depleted going into the run.

For most of the ride, I was on my own. Once I passed a bunch of folks in the first half of the first lap, there were huge gaps until I started catching riders from the Olympic distance race that started an hour later. Thankfully, I had one contestant to battle with for a good chunk of the race. The eventual female winner was Allison Gadaleta from Brooklyn, New York. On the bike we were evenly matched. She caught up to me on the Buck Hill climb the second time around and we kept each other in sight, while swapping positions a few times. After the series of climbs before and after Buck Hill, I was able to blast the descents, but she clawed her way back up to me as we approached the speedway for the second time. Then it was her turn to put the pressure on me, which was also around the time that I was fading. I should have stopped at an aid station for some energy food, but I wanted to keep her in view, so I pressed on.

She dropped me hard on the climb past the speedway and then put further distance into me on Rt. 16 so by the time we got back to T2 (transition to run), she had a good gap and I couldn’t see her any more. I had to dig deep on the long stretch of road that led back to Webster and I was hurting.

I’ve never been more happy to eat gel, which is actually a rare thing for me. I avoid them, but thankfully, I left a few in transition “just in case.” As I started the run, I stuffed a flask of UnTapped Mapleaid in my pocket. Considering that I was low on fuel throughout the bike, this wasn’t enough for the run either, but it’s what I had. I described the run course with the exception of the first mile, which was mostly on trail with some undulating sections. This was not part of the plan and wasn’t on the race map or .gpx file. I had the courses loaded on my Garmin Fenix, but using them for navigation would have been a waste of time. We learned after that for “safety reasons” the section of course going in and out of Memorial Beach was changed to include the woods and fields along the lake. It was my favorite section and I would have gladly done another 12 miles on trail, but it would have made for an even slower half marathon.

Somewhere around the three mile mark, I spotted Allison, and reeled her in. She kept pace, which was motivational, and then I put some distance into her. With all of the out and backs, I saw her several more times, which was fun. I cheered for her knowing it would bring good vibes to me. I had five pretty good miles and then I slowed dramatically. After that, I basically fell apart, aside from a small rally in the last two miles when I could “smell the barn.”

I went out at an enthusiast pace in the mid-7 minute mile range, but stunk it up after that as my legs refused to move any quicker. I could also chalk up the issues to my poor nutrition plan as my energy flagged. With about four miles to go, I slowed but didn’t walk, and decided to totally stop at an aid station. Looking back, mile 9 was terrible. Strava says it was 9:24, a full 50 seconds slower than mile 8. I cracked. I needed more fluids than I was getting by running through the stations. So, I stopped and drank five cups of water. I poured three more over my head, and then chased it all with two cups of Coke. I never drink soda, so if it comes down to that tactic, I’m toast. I was overheating as the day warmed, I was low on energy, and I needed a sugar/caffeine boost to get my to the finish. This is not my preferred approach, but it was better than being forced to walk. It worked. I banged out a few more miles below the 9 minute barrier, which is nothing special, but I reversed my slowing trend. At mile 11, I repeated the entire sequence, pausing for a minute to take in copious amounts of water and Coke with the goal of kickstarting my push to the line. That also worked as I was able to speed up marginally. Only a few people passed me in that bit, so in the end, I held it together, but not without a lot of suffering.

Stopping to regroup on both occasions turned out to be a good approach. It was a coincidence, but my race number was 49, which is also my racing age. I’m the “old guy” in my age group now and look forward to joining 50+ for the first time in 2022. I have no desire to do another “half” and certainly not a “full.” My last IRONMAN was also back in 2013 and I’m pretty much done with that. Back in 2010, I told my son that we would do one together when he was 20, which you can translate as “some day.” The good news (for me) is that is at least five years away.

SOS will be an adventure, assuming we do it in 2022. Debbie now has her qualifier. She had no real expectations and came close to breaking six hours. That’s awesome, especially because she was riding a gravel bike with traditional drop bars. She has almost zero long distance swimming experience and has done almost no training in the water other than the weekly Winding Trails Series. She rides a little, but not nearly as much as me. Of course, her strength is running, and it showed, as she was just getting warmed up around the five hour mark. She finished strongly.

With this crazy run course, I was able to see her twice. She was on her first loop when I was finishing up. I was excited to intercept her and we cheered for each other. When I finished, I was knackered. I sat in a folding chair, for what seemed like an eternity. Allison finished a few minutes after me. I got to watch her “break the tape” and I congratulated her. A volunteer gave me a couple of bottles of ice-cold water. I drank half and poured the other half on my head. Eventually, I made my way back to the lake, took a dip, washed off, and changed into some drier clothes. I rode my bike back onto the course hoping to see Debbie, but I mis-timed it and we didn’t connect. She ended up behind me and finished before I spotted her. I made my way back to the line and she was already done. I was a bit dazed.

After the race, there was no awards ceremony and the expo area was small. There were some post-race snacks, an awards table, and some people hanging out. I did score third in my age group (and 10th overall), which landed me a commemorative towel. I would have preferred $10,000 but thankfully I don’t do this for a living and the towel is nice. I mostly compete against myself, hence the reference to 70.3 race times from 13 years ago. I’m intent on defying the aging athlete process, but realize that the fact that I can do what I do is an achievement worth honoring.

Debbie and I chatted with some friends before packing up and heading home. So, REV 3 New England wasn’t an “A race” for us, but it was definitely a “B” or “B+.” We are both glad we competed and it got Debbie the qualifier she needed while giving her experience with a longer open water swim with race conditions.

My cramped left leg is still stiff as a board. My back, neck, and shoulders are also tight from riding in an aero tuck for 56 miles. I guess it could be worse. I have to pull it together because the finale of the Winding Trails Series is tomorrow night and I have to hold on to my position in the rankings. You can call this REV 3 race a success, but with an asterix, or two.

Race Results

2021 Bighorn Trail Run

I officially declare that big time trail running events are back. It was the big time last weekend at the Bighorn Wild and Scenic Trail Run in Dayton, Wyoming. By my count, more than 1,100 runners started one of the four events, which makes this a large race. It looks like there were 174 finishers in the marquis 100 mile distance, out of about 274 starters. There were 101 finishers in the 52 miler, 231 finishers in the 32 miler, and 357 finishers in the 18 milers.

This was Debbie’s first 100 since the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run in August 2017. That was the same year that she ran the Hardrock Endurance Run. 2017 was a big year for her running exploits. Those two races were the toppers, but she also ran Traprock 50K, Manitou’s Revenge Ultra, several shorter races, and some non-race mountain adventures. In 2018, she ran six ultras including Vermont 100K and Ultra-Trail Hurricana (125K) but no hundreds. In 2019, she repeated Traprock 50K and Manitou’s Revenge, and then ran Never Summer 100K for the first time.

She was supposed to run Bighorn in 2020, but everyone reading this should know that the race was cancelled. Some ultras were held last year, but she only did one. That was the Blue2Blue Ultra, a rugged 50K. In addition to that race, she put all of her endurance sports energy into FKT’s, which was a welcome diversion. I joined her on many of these adventures. There were several notable ones, but our New England Trail Adventure was the toughest and best. So, she has certainly been active, but she hadn’t attempted a 100. In the end, Bighorn became her 11th one attempted and 9th one finished.

In her build up to this big 2021 event, once again, she ran Traprock 50K. She followed that with 71 miles at Run Ragged three weeks prior to Bighorn. In addition to these races, her preparation included some solid training in the first half of 2021 including several more FKT’s. There were even some shorter events as things started to open up.

Speaking of “opening up,” prior to our Wyoming trip, our last flight was in February 2020 when we took a trip to Utah with the kids. From the time that we returned from that trip, it’s been a wild ride for us and most everyone in the world. So, as we approached June of this year, we were excited to do something both difficult and fun with a group of people.

The Bighorn website is a great resource. Check it out for the race’s mission, the history, the sponsors, and specific details about the course. However, this summary is worth sharing as an introduction to this year’s race: 

The Bighorn Mountain Trail 100 is an epic mountain endurance adventure crossing through Little Bighorn and Tongue River areas of the Bighorn National Forest. Participants have 34 hours to navigate this remote, technical out-and-back course (average 2.94 mph). Mother Nature provides over 20,500 feet of ascent and 20,750 feet of descent testing the most seasoned ultra-runners with 76 miles of technical single-track trail, 16 miles of rugged 2-track jeep trail road, and 8 miles of gravel road. The Bighorn 100 is one of the classics, demanding you to reach deep down to your core of mental and physical fortitude.

Our event is truly remote. Stretches of 18-mile technical trail will serve as your only way in and out of the backcountry. Have no fear; we have a family of trail crew volunteers that are crazier than you. They’ve been on the trail for weeks leading up to this event preparing the trails for the adversity you are about to experience. 

On Thursday we did a short run on the outskirts of town and got a look at the bigger mountains where we were headed for the race. Thursday also included a welcome reception at a local coffee shop, race registration, and a pre-race meeting. Sheridan also hosted its first Thursday night street festival and farmers’ market. 

On Friday morning we drove to Dayton for the start of the race. Runners and spectators took school buses from the finish line at Scott Bicentennial Park to the start four miles away. The course is an out (48 miles) and back (52 miles). 

Bighorn is a very difficult race to crew. We were warned about the challenges. I ended up driving about 450 miles while Debbie ran 100 miles. With the mountainous terrain and road layout, you had to drive back to Dayton when going from aid station to aid station. This is an odd quirk of the race, but that’s how it goes.

In addition to the start and finish, you can only get to three aid stations and see your runner up to five times. For the average runner, this means there are large gaps between seeing their crews. Debbie didn’t use any drop bags as she counted on me making it to the aid stations and opted to be self-sufficient in between. 

I made it to these aid stations:

Mile 13.5, Dry Fork Ridge Aid Station: early in the race, I saw Debbie at this lovely spot around noon. It was a lively gathering and I got to see a lot of runners come in.

Mile 30, Sally’s Footbridge Aid Station: I actually didn’t see her. I missed her at this one because I got there 10 minutes after she departed a little after 3:00 P.M. I was too slow to leave Dry Fork, I stopped to take pictures of a moose, I stopped to post on social media (where I had a good signal), and I made a wrong turn. Those factors cause me to blow it and miss her. That was a bad mistake that should never have happened. I was warned making it there was hard, but I made it even harder with my errors. It had taken me nearly three hours to drive there. This aid station had the worst roads with the last 2.5 miles extremely rough. That section included three shallow creek crossings (no bridges).

Mile 48, Jaws Trailhead Aid Station: this was the high point on the course (8,800 feet) and the turn around. It was also the start of the 52 miler on Saturday. I saw saw more moose on the drive. I waited quite a while for her to arrive a little before 9:00 P.M. I enjoyed the photography here and had great light in the golden hour. When Debbie arrived, she was hurting. She took about 20 minutes to recover in the aid tent. I helped her by refilling her pack, rubbing her legs, and getting her food. She tried to take an amino acid capsule, but it caused her to vomit all of her food. That kind of sucked and she was at a low point. She rallied, got moving, and I ran with her for 1/2 mile or so until the trail went back into the woods.

Mile 66, Sally’s Footbridge Aid Station: she didn’t want me to return to Footbridge, but I wanted to go. Since darkness had fallen, it took her a while to cover the 18 miles even though it was all downhill. I decided to park the car a few miles from the aid station and run the last bit to avoid any risk with the rough roads. I couldn’t afford to get stuck or get a flat. I ran it almost as fast as I could drive it. I didn’t carry any of her gear, but I packed some energy food in case she wanted any.

She planned to rely on the aid station and wasn’t expecting me anyway. Thankfully, I packed gloves, a hat, and a warm jacket. It was freezing as I was there for several hours between midnight and 3:15 A.M. when she arrived, she was in decent spirits and was happy to see me. I had spent several hours trying to stay warm by a fire. The temperature had dipped to the low 40’s Fahrenheit. That made a 35+ degree swing from the afternoon highs. That can make for challenging running conditions. I saw a skunk on the drive.

Mile 82, Dry Fork Ridge Aid Station: I returned to Dry Fork and also waited for several hours for her to arrive around 9:15 A.M. I saw a spectacular sunrise on the drive back up the mountain and then another moose on the way back down. Her quadriceps were sore after a wicked climb that lasted a long time, but she was lively, and motivated to finish. I helped her freshen up, change her socks, and change up her pack.

Throughout the race, she used her UltrAspire Zygos and her UltraSpire Spry. She used her UltrAspire lights on her waist and head. She used Altra Olympus shoes with both Injinji and Darn Tough socks. She wore a Patagonia Capilene shirt and running shorts. For part of the race she used XO Skin calf sleeves. She alternated between her Patagonia hat and a Buff. Her jacket was a Patagonia Houdini, her sunglasses from Julbo, and her poles from Black Diamond. She tracked the race with her Garmin Fenix 6s. Her only “sponsor” is UltrAspire (we have a fondness for the company and more importantly the people behind it/associated with it), but its always worth mentioning the other gear when it works well.

All of the dirt roads were rough and very dusty. They were so rough that my rearview mirror kept falling off of the windshield. I had to stop several times to reattach it. It would hold for a while and then fall off again. I’m glad I was driving a rental (Nissan Rogue). Dust was a challenge for the runners too as it made for poor air quality. They were covered head to toe in dust and were forced to breathe it in.

We didn’t know too many people at the race, but met some new friends. One old friend who was there was Bogie Dumitrescu. Debbie and Bogie got to run many miles together and he had a strong run in preparation for Hardrock next month. Bogie is an accomplished ultra runner. He has one Hardrock finish from 2015 and it was epic.  Several years ago, Bogie was in Connecticut, so he came to visit us.

I can’t recall if he came for a race, but he took the bus to Hartford. He felt bad about calling for a ride from the station (we didn’t know this), so he walked the 14 miles to Bolton. I was running an errand while we were waiting for him to arrive and drove by him a few miles from my house. He had a backpack and was walking on the side of the road. I took a double take as I went past and then told my son who was in the back seat that we had just gone by Bogie. We turned back and sure enough, it was him. We loaded him in the car and took him the rest of the way home.

So, it was great to see Bogie at Bighorn. We last crossed paths at Never Summer in 2019.

After Debbie left Dry Fork for the second time, I drove back to Dayton for the 8th time in 24 hours. That’s crazy. The parking lot at Bicentennial Park was full, so I left the car at the post office. I’ve used that technique many times over the years. It’s federal property and my thinking is they won’t tow you or bother you. This was even used to great effect during Spring Break 1994 when I drove from Boston to Key West and had nowhere to stay. We just “camped” at the post office.

Anyway, I parked the car, donned a pack full of water, and ran backwards on the course until I ran into Debbie. This allowed me to see lots of finishers. By this point around mid-day on Saturday, the 50K and 18 milers were mixed in with the 100 mile finishers. This made for an interesting and joyous combination with an eclectic mix of runners. It was blazing hot again and the five miles of dirt road leading back into Tongue River Canyon was a harsh surface to run.

The whole race has incredible views and the canyon is no exception. On my hour-long run towards Debbie, I passed all of the leading women. When I reached her, I had just passed the 5th place women and knew that Debbie would be able to run her down. She was already pushing hard by the time I reached her and it didn’t take much to get her to pick the pace up even more. That last section of trail along the river was very rocky and steep (downhill headed towards the finish).

We hooked up and I paced her the final five and half miles back to the finish. She was really strong on the dirt road. It was mostly flat, but there were a few ups and she had to walk a little. Even with that, she averaged a 10 minute mile, which is fantastic after 95 miles.

The sun was beating down and she picked up some ice at the last aid station with two miles to go. She savored the final stretch and was excited to enter the park. The finish line was at the back of the park along the river. She crossed to loud cheers and within minutes, was soaking her legs in the cool creek.

I fetched our stuff from the car, we rinsed off in the water, and we lounged all afternoon in the park as other finishers arrived. It was an awesome party and the biggest and best event we had attended since the pandemic started. That’s why I said this was a big time race.

There were some amazing performances. In recent years, wet weather and slippery trails slowed some runners, but this year’s event was dry. The heat was a factor and the altitude is always a factor, but generally folks ran fast. The top three men were Tyler Fox, David Ayala, and Seth Wealing. The top three women were Maria Sylte, Sarah Riordan, and Kristina Pattison. They had a great battle. With 18 miles to go, the top two were together and third was less than 15 minutes behind. At the finish, the three of them were all within 23 minutes and it was Maria who came out on top. In addition to the overall women and men, there were many age group athletes who had fantastic runs.

This race has some amazing volunteers. It’s rare that I criticize anything at an ultra of this magnitude because we have so much appreciation for the effort it takes to produce and event like this. Also, the trail running community is caring and supportive so the odds of having an issue are low. There was nothing of the sort as this was a true community race with support from many local sponsors. With such a long history, Bighorn is part of the fabric of Wyoming. Even the wait staff at our hotel were wearing Bighorn t-shirts. All of the interactions were thoughtfully scheduled. If you love trail running and appreciate stunning beauty, this is a race to attend. You have the shorter mileage options, or you can go for the 100.

Debbie was pleased with her race. She finished in 27 hours and 54 minutes. She put 11 minutes into the woman competitor who she passed with five miles to go, and finished 6th overall (2nd in the 40+ age group).

We lingered at the park late into the afternoon before driving back to Dayton where we rented a hotel room for the night. On Sunday morning, we returned to Dayton to a local coffee shop for breakfast and to mingle with some other (sore) runners. That was our final Bighorn event and it was a fitting end to a fantastic event.

Race Results

Race Photos (Mile 90 Photography)

Race Photos (my SmugMug Gallery)

2021 Run Ragged Last Person Standing Race

It’s not often that I write about one of Debbie’s races while it is still going on, but that is the case this morning. She started the Run Ragged Last Person Standing Race at 8:00 A.M. yesterday and stopped just shy of 7:00 A.M. today after completing 23 five kilometer laps for a total of 71 miles.

When she stopped, there were still five runners headed out for a 24th loop/hour. It’s almost noon, and I know that there are three runners still on course and in contention to be the last woman or man standing. This was Debbie’s first time running an event with this format and it was a good experience.

I won’t describe all of the rules of this event, but you can read about it at the race signup page and in the runner guide. The gist of it is that the race was held on a rugged (lots of rocks and roots) hilly (500 feet of vertical gain) five kilometer loop. The goal was to complete one loop every hour until only one person was left. The race will not stop until one person completes a final lap inside the 60 minute time limit. The win will not go to the fastest runner but rather to the runner who has the most endurance (physical and mental). That runner would arguably run the “smartest race” conserving energy, fueling properly, pacing consistently, and using the best strategy. Mental toughness is a hallmark of this format because you have to have serious grit to keep going.

The Ragged loop could be completed in 40 minutes or less, but on average, runners completed it in 45 to 55 minutes. As the race went on, the remaining runners came closer and closer to the 60 minute limit leaving themselves very little time to rest or prepare for the next loop. Some runners didn’t complete their laps in time and were automatically DNF’d.

Debbie had her own little aid station set up at the start/finish. She brought a big blue tarp to cover all of her gear. On Saturday, it rained most of the day. Overnight, the rain stopped, but the temperature remained in the low to mid 40’s Fahrenheit. It was raw and uncomfortable and unseasonably cold for Memorial Day Weekend. I would imagine that most New Englanders stayed in side yesterday and today. After a few weeks of warmth and very dry conditions, this weekend’s weather is just plain awful, unless you adore trail running (like us). By the time we got home, it was pouring again, which will make it even harder for the hearty runners still on the course.

The Connecticut Trail Mixers did a fantastic job hosting the race. Their volunteers were numerous and helpful. Race Director Stacey Clark barely slept. She got extra help from Karen Prado. The two of them were tracking all of the 42 runners who started when the left for a lap and returned from a lap.

Debbie started the race on her own, but Laura Becker spent the afternoon crewing for her while I was at work. I also spent time shuttling our son to a birthday party and then to Debbie’s parents house where our daughter was spending part of the weekend. I left the Schieffer’s by 6:00 P.M. and was at the venue in time to see her start her 7:00 P.M. lap.

Parking at the trailhead was limited, so I parked at the assigned grocery store parking lot a mile away. I brought my commuter bike and shuttled gear, food, and water to the trailhead with three bike trips. Eventually, I was able to move my car to the trailhead around midnight after there were fewer runners remaining, less volunteers hanging around, and no day hikers at the Ragged Mountain Memorial Preserve.

Debbie and I were in this area last month when we ran the Metacomet – Timberlin Loop, but we hadn’t been on this segment of the Metacomet Trail since our thru-run on last year’s New England Trail E2E Adventure. The Metacomet is likely the toughest trail in Connecticut and is known for numerous rocks and roots.

Debbie felt good about her race. Up until 2:00 A.M., her laps were very consistent. She frequently left herself five to eight minutes to rest, fuel up, and swap gear. Runners were given three minute and one minute warnings. They had to be back in the start corral prior to the start of the next lap. Otherwise, they were disqualified. Most of the runners who dropped out, did so voluntarily or they missed an hourly time cut.

Her roughest lap was the one between 2:00 and 3:00. That’s when she first talked about stopping. Her rnext lap was a little better, and then the 4:00 A.M. lap was better than that. She rallied a bit and decided to keep going. In between laps, I hung out and chatted with volunteers. Several times, I returned to the car to don more clothes, drape myself in a sleeping bag, eat, and rest. I didn’t really sleep at all.

After her 6:00 A.M. lap, I ran a loop in the reverse direction so that I could experience it and take some photos. I cheered for all of the remaining six runners on the course and thanked the volunteers who I encountered. The trails were muddy and challenging. This was a true test for any runner and these were strong runners.

Debbie was very happy with her race. She has been running strong all year and is building towards her “A race” the Bighorn Trail Run, next month in Wyoming. With the race less than four weeks out, it didn’t make sense to thrash her body this weekend. She completed 71 miles, which sets her up nicely to run a mountainous 100+ miles at Bighorn.

Justin Kousky, Lance Reed, and Julie Melanson Fraysier are the last three on course. When the results are posted, check back to see which one of them was the last standing. They are all amazing runners with incredible perseverance. Kudos to them.

Check out the CT Trail Mixers Facebook page for live results/posts.

Race Results (will be posted when available)

2021 Soapstone Mountain Trail Race

About half way through today’s Soapstone Mountain Trail Race, as the heat was rising and the hills were taking their toll, I grew worried about Shepard’s first attempt at running the 15.5 mile long course. This was his longest ever run of any type. A few years ago, he did one lap of the 11 mile Traprock course. He was running on tired legs after yesterday’s Bush Hill MTB Race and Friday’s one-mile time trial (at school). I feared this might be a little too much activity. I was concerned he didn’t carry enough water. I didn’t want him to struggle and have a bad experience.

What I really should have been worried about, was getting caught by him!

I eked out a 24 second advantage, a slim margin over the course of 2.5 hours of hard trail running on the second “hot” day of 2021. Saturday was even warmer. The heat caused problems for yesterday’s mountain bikers and today’s trail runners. I saw a lot of cramping and even some vomiting. Some people suffered, but he had an incredible run. After crossing the line, he grimaced for a moment and then broke into a smile. He wildly exceeded his own expectations and I was even more thrilled than he was, despite the fact that he he nearly caught me.

Debbie was only eight minutes behind him, so the three of us got to share in the excitement at the finish line where Dahlia, who ran the short course (3.8 mile Soapstone Sampler), was waiting for us.

he 2020 Soapstone Mountain Trail Race was cancelled at the start of the pandemic, so today’s race was a fantastic comeback for New England’s second oldest trail race. Only the NipMuck Trail Marathon is older, and only by one year.

The 2019 edition was the 35th anniversary and it also was Debbie’s final one as the Race Director. She was in that role for 15 years, including the first few as co-director with the late (and legendary) Jerry Stage. There are a few old-time Shenipsit Striders still going strong, and we saw two of them at today’s race. Willi Frederich and Tom Curtiss were both there and though time has taken its toll, their indomitable spirit and pride in our “club” has helped keep both them and the club going.

This year’s Soapstone felt very different, and I’m not referring to all of the adjustments and precautions because of COVID-19. I’m referring to the fact that all four of us were just participants. Debbie did a small amount of work in the background, but she had no race-day responsibilities.

Dan Tourtellotte is the new Race Director. He mentored with Debbie in 2019 and got support from other club members to pull of this year’s modified version of the race. I won’t get into all the particulars, but it was a simpler affair with no food, no awards, no kids race, etc. The focus was on the race and the course, and that was fine.

Our kids did miss the days when we had to pack the van full on race morning and you could barely see them behind the piles. They missed Rein’s Deli vegetarian chili. We actually stopped there on the way home to get some takeout, but the line was out the door and we couldn’t stay. Debbie had a good run as Race Director (pun intended), but it was time for her to hand the race off to another steward.

One thing Debbie did organize in 2021 was the Shenipsit Striders supported Bolton Run Club. She coached more than 20 children for a spring running series on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They met each time at the commuter lot in Bolton Notch and did training runs as a group. The culmination of the program was entry into today’s race, and many of them participated in the Sampler. Debbie is justifiably proud of all her kids as many have developed a love of running and fitness. That’s all you can ask for.

We saw a lot of friends at the race, some whom we had not seen since before the pandemic started. Notably, it was fantastic to see Randall Dutton, Tom Ricardi, Joanne Ricardi, and Cole Ricardi. We also saw Bruce Giguere, Paul Funch, and Brett Stoeffler. Carly Eisley came to race. So did Rich Fargo, all the way from northern New Hampshire.

We saw a lot of other friends from the club and the local running community. There are too many to name and thankfully, over the last year, we have seen them on one occasion or another. 62 runners finished the Sampler and 132 runners finished the long course.

As usual, the Shenipsit Striders put on a great event. There was strong volunteer support. The aid stations were simple affairs, primarily with water and chips (in a bag). Shepard said he saw OREO cookies. I can’t confirm that. I didn’t stop once. I ran straight through them because I wore a hydration pack and carried what I needed.

I probably should have stopped at the third and final aid station for some water because I got a 1/4 mile past it, took a sip from my hose, and realized I was empty. That made for a tough final four miles as I was parched. I was hoping there would be a jug of water at the top of the Quarry Trail after the last big climb up Soapstone Mountain, and before the final descent, but there wasn’t. I was thirsty, but I pressed on.

I ran a chunk of the race with Michael Minopoli and Jeremy Beebe. We were joined at one point or another by other runners, but for most of the time, the three of us were within sight of each other. I met them for the first time today and enjoyed their company. I saw Brett early on, but only because he made a wrong turn.

I also saw Neal Leibowitz. He went flying past me, but sadly I caught up to him after he sprained his ankle. He was hobbling and I figured he would call it quits at an aid station, but he pressed on and finished. Kudos to him, but I warned him to ice his ankle. I made a similar mistake 20 years ago, finishing the Savoy Trail Race Sampler (in wicked heat) after spraining my ankle, and it has never been right since then.

The race was won by Benjamin Hearon. He was followed by Adrian Massie, and then Brett was third. Caitlin Roston was the first female. She was followed by Debbie, and Elizabeth Bove was third. I think the standout performance of the day was by Rich. He was sixth overall and about 4.5 minutes in front of me. I couldn’t keep up with him when he passed me. He is 61 and a real inspiration.

You can’t compare this year’s course with past years. It was similar to 2019, but even longer. The start and finish were in the same spot in the field at Reddington Rock Riding Club. That was so each runner could cross the timing mat at start and finish. The race was done on net time so that we could start people in small groups that were spread out. Whether it was necessary or not, it worked. However, the race is now more than 15 miles long. In past years when the times were scorching fast, the race was as short as 13.6 miles with a different mix of trails.

After our finish, we stayed for a short while and watched some of our friends finish. We got to see a few of them cramp, which caused some chuckles. We didn’t stay too long because runners were asked not to linger. Normally, we would have stayed until the last runner finished and everything was packed back into the van. In prior years, that was usually 3:00 P.M. It felt weird to be home by 1:00 P.M. while runners were still on the course. Another issue was the thunderstorm that rolled through just after we departed. I know some runners were caught in this. The temperature dropped quickly which may have helped some, but I’m glad that we finished before the rain started to fall.

This was a different Soapstone, but it still had the best feature…the course. Soapstone will always be a classic. The race is tough and hilly like most Connecticut trail races. That’s how we like them!

Race Results (Long Course)

Race Results (Sampler)

2021 Bush Hill MTB Race

Today’s inaugural Bush Hill MTB Race in Manchester, Connecticut nearly felt like a pre-pandemic event. The vibe was awesome, the weather was awesome, and the competition was awesome. The only thing that sucked was the pollen, which was made worse by the dry conditions and persistent dust. However, my complaints and sneezing are acceptable given how much fun we had.

Team HORST and the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad were out in force for the second week in a row. It seemed like there were more than 150 kids in the morning junior races, which included beginners and Category 3 racers between the ages of 9 and 17. I’m sure there were some younger ones too.

Dahlia had a great race, completing three laps of the technical and fast course. She was all smiles, which made Debbie and me smile. After her race, we rushed to her soccer game back in Bolton and she had a great game. Eventually we returned to Bush Hill Farm Preserve for the afternoon races.

Joining her in the morning races was Lars Roti and Tanner Pierce, plus many friends from other teams. Both boys had fantastic races and they hung around the rest of the day to cheer on their teammates and to play in the dirt pile/jump.

Shepard and I started at 1:00 P.M. with the Category 2 and Category 1 racers. I was in the last wave, with the singlespeed competitors. Shepard was in the Category 2 Junior 12-17 field. He and his three teammates, Owen Wilson, Boden Chenail, Sean Rourke, and Alexandra Miller-Davey did well. Sean was third in the Category 1 Juniors. Alexandra was also third amongst Category 2 Juniors. Owen, Boden, and Shepard did battle between each other and finished in that order, taking 4th, 5th, and 6th amongst the boys.

Arthur Roti and Brett Chenail were in the Masters field, but Brett’s race ended shortly after the start because of a broken derailleur. I had a decent race, but the steep climbs were hard on my legs. Thankfully after the first lap of congestion, things spread out. I went out with the singlspeed pack (seven of us), but decided to settle into a tempo after the first hard lap. I didn’t want to blow up and fade like last week, but rather wanted to ride consistent laps and ideally pick it up at the end.

My plan worked perfectly. I was happy with my steady heart rate and rode within my limits. I didn’t have to get off on the toughest climb and was pleased to ride it every lap. I ended up in a battle with Sam Veggeberg. I caught up to him with two laps to go and we raced each other all the way to the finish. With one to go, I had about 10 seconds on him, but he surprised me and closed down the gap on the big climb on the last lap. He charged over the top and railed the descent, but I stayed within five seconds of him through the fields and then caught back up on the doubletrack climb before we went into the woods for the last time.

He hammered through the singletrack, but I clung to his wheel. I got in his draft as we weaved our way through the last section of field as we approached the finish. There were several turns before the final right hander on to the gravel straightaway that led to the finish. I passed him before the final turn, flew through the corner, and opened up my sprint immediately hoping to get a gap. I could have drifted right and shut the door on him, but I wanted to play fair and held my line. He started to gain on me and pulled even as we approached the line. It was hard to discern where the exact finish was but I threw my bike at the moment that I though we hit the line and wasn’t sure who got it.

It turned out that the official gave me 5th spot relegating him to 6th, which pleases me, especially because he is half my age. I was toast after the finish and never got to thank him for the battle, so if he reads this, kudos to him for pushing me all the way to the finish.

I was well off of Anthony Vecca’s pace. He won our category for the second week in a row, but I felt better about today’s race and am looking forward to more clashes over the summer and into cyclocross season.

This event hosted by CCAP was a massive success and the Bush Hill Farm Preserve is a great venue with some fun trails. I can’t wait to race here again. The short track (1.8 miles) would make for a great weekly training race course. I’m biased because it is only 15 minutes from home.

2021 Traprock 50K

New England trail running came back in a big way today with the Traprock 50K at Penwood State Park. COVID-19 rules were in place and the start list was mostly Connecticut residents with a few Massachusetts and Rhode Island folks mixed in for good measure. Maybe there was someone from New York too.

Most of the runners were on deferred entry from the cancelled 2020 edition. Also, the 17K is being run separately tomorrow. We had wave starts in small groups starting at 7:00 A.M. The race directors and volunteers did a fabulous job with this whole modified affair.

It was awesome to pin on a bib number and run hard. I’m not exactly sure how many starters there were, but as of this post, there were 108 finishers. The fastest time was set by race winner Dan Grip. He was followed by Justin Kousky and Byron Critchfield. The fastest female was Rachael Whitbeck. Notably, she was 7th overall. She was followed by Debbie and then Liz Allen.

After two days of heavy rain and wet snow, we were worried about the trail conditions. Thankfully, much of the course is on the spine of a traprock ridge (Metacomet Trail) so it drains well. There were a lot of soft spots and some mud and standing water in the hollows and other low lying areas. You could skirt it if you wanted to. Some of the stream crossings required rock and log hopping if you wanted to keep your feet somewhat dry.

The weather was good. It was in the high 30’s (Fahrenheit) when we started in the first wave, but warmed up to the high 40’s by late morning. It was overcast and grey most of the time. There were a few moments when the sun broke through the clouds, but they were rare. There was a light breeze and it was definitely cooler on the eastern side of the ridge.

Traprock is run in a narrow envelope. This year, they change the course so that there were no overlapping sections, no out and back, and for the first time ever it was a complete loop. There were points where you could see runners heading back towards the start/finish on the other side of the course because it was so narrow and in a few places, the trails nearly touched. It is worth noting that the course was very well marked. I had loaded the course .gpx file on my Garmin Fenix, but only had to refer to it a few times to reinforce that I had made the right turn. Along with the rocks and roots, there were many turns. Thankfully, I had ZERO falls. There were a few close calls, but I stayed on my feet!

I liked this year’s course. I much preferred the last mile compared with previous years when you finished on the rocky and steep descent of the Metacomet. As noted, the volunteers were awesome, even though I didn’t need much from them. There was one aid station that was at a point on the course where they could serve both outbound and inbound runners as both sides of the course went by this point. I stopped exactly once to fill a water bottle on the last lap. Other than that brief interlude, I used some food and hydration that I stashed at the start/finish and carried everything else.

Once again, I used my UltrAspire Momentum vest. I ate 2.5 Go Macro bars, ingested one Untapped maple syrup packet and used their Mapleaid powdered drink in a flask. I could have used some salt capsule but we were all out. On lap three, I was cramping badly in both calves.

After the race, I had to sit for 45 minutes and work the cramps out of my legs. Every time I tried to untie my laces, my legs (adductors and calves) were pulsating violently. Each runner was given a designated “stall” to set up their own mini aid station. Mine was next to Brian Vanderheiden. He only finished two minutes behind me, so we were hanging out after the race. He loaned me his Hypervolt percussive massage device with me and it worked wonders. after about 10 minutes I was able to get my shoes and socks off, but it wasn’t easy. He even helped me gather some stray items that had rolled away from me, saving me the agony of getting up. Brian gets the hero of the day award. I’m going to have to invest in one of those percussive devices. It really worked!

Liz Allen was sitting on the other side of me. After she and Debbie finished, we had some good laughs.

I didn’t have as strong a race as I wanted, but I’m still happy with the outcome. I just wish that my legs didn’t hurt so bad in the second half. I slowed considerably after going out a bit two hard on the first of three 10.5 mile loops. There were moments during the race, especially early on, where I didn’t see another runner for more than an hour. I was lonely, so it was nice when I started to lap the runners who had started in waves up to 90 minutes after us.

Our kids spent the day with my parents. Their help is appreciated. So, we had a little extra time after the race. We went to Flora in West Hartford for the first time in a very long time. It was fantastic.

The best part of the race was seeing the other runners. There were no spectators allowed, which was sad, but seeing real runners at a race was very cool. Every time I finish Traprock (this was my fourth finish in five tries and it was Debbie’s sixth finish), I swear I will never do it again. I’m swearing this time too, but I doubt I stick to my plan.

Race Results

Metacomet – Timberlin Loop

Today, Debbie and I did our final Traprock 50K tune-up by running the Metacomet – Timberlin Loop. Traprock is next Saturday and we both feel ready. Metacomet – Timberlin is a cool route that includes some of the most gnarly sections of the Metacomet Trail. The loop ends up being 15.3 miles with about 2,400 feet of elevation gain.

We were last on this section in June 2020 for our New England Trail End-to-End Adventure. Today’s conditions were warm and dry, but not as dry as last summer. There were a few muddy spots, but we were able to navigate them without soaking our feet. When we covered this section of trail last year, we were three days into the trip and exhausted.

I remember how awful I felt going up Castle Craig in Hubbard Park. Last year we recovered a bit, eating some dinner near the top of East Peak. After dinner, we called our kids to catch up. Then, things got worse as we descended to the Merimere Reservoir. It wasn’t long before I had successive meltdowns. Anyway, this story is about today’s run. You can refer back to the NET link above if you want to read about all of last year’s drama.

Today, we were running on fresh legs, and it made a world of difference. This is a route first laid out by Stefan Rodriguez, who came out to see us on our NET Adventure. This is one of his “neighborhood” trails. We decided to start the loop on Edgewood Road in Berlin.

That way, we started with the bulk of the climbing. That also allowed us to get the section of the Metacomet with the worst footing (traprock) behind us in the first half of the loop. The second half of the route was much faster. Once we got to Orchard Road in Meriden, we were able to pick up the pace.

Most of the Metacomet Loop Trail (Red/Blue) was winding but fast with good footing. We blasted the last 1.5 miles when we got back to Edgewood Road. This route was a lot of fun and we accomplished our goal of getting in a fast trail run without destroying our legs.

I stayed on my feet the entire time, but Debbie had one hard fall just before getting to the reservoir. She said she caught her foot on a rock and she smashed both knees into the ground. Other than some close calls, that was the only mishap.

We made a few wrong turns, but that’s normal. We noticed one section of the Metacomet around the 7th mile had been rerouted since we were on it last year. Instead of doubletrack, that section was now all single track. It had fresh markings and was easier to follow, so I liked it better.

We stuck together today, but given that this route is a good distance for me, I would like to try it again and see how much faster I could go solo. The challenge with redo’s is that I always prefer to try a new trail that I’ve never done before. That’s the beauty of trail running in Connecticut. We have so many options. After the run, we went back to Debbie’s parents house for a wonderful early supper. Thumbs up for this run.

2021 Hoppin’ Hodges 5K

The Hoppin’ Hodges 5K was back after a one year layoff during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Easter Sunday tradition is a family favorite in our household. This year’s edition had a new venue…well sort of.

The race was still held on the Hop River Linear Park (rail trail) but instead of being on the Vernon section, it was on the Andover section farther to the east.

I’m not exactly sure why the venue was moved, but all the normal rules are changed in coronavirus times. The new start/finish did provide for increased parking, and at a private business (Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Andover). The start/finish line was in their parking lot. From the start, the race went up Lake Road for 100 feet and then onto the rail trail. We ran west, through the covered bridge to a halfway turnaround point, and then back.

Once again Plattsys Timing donated their timing services. They do the same on Christmas Day at the Scrooge Scramble, another event race directed by the remarkable duo of Janit Romayko and Mary Lou White. They get help from a dedicated group of volunteers and we love doing their down-home events that benefit local organizations. .

There were 123 finishers in today’s race and there was no cost, other than a recommended donation to benefit the Friends of Valley Falls, a worthy nonprofit. Valley Falls Park is my hometown park (I grew up in Vernon) and is one of our favorite places to visit. Valley Falls also borders the rail trail and in normal years, the race goes from Vernon Depot to Valley Falls and back.

This was my fifth Hoppin’ since 2011. We live on the rail trail, so it is also a tradition to ride to/from the race. Today it was chilly, but we enjoyed the ride and it doubled as our warmup. They literally waited for us to arrive before starting just past 8:30 A.M. Chip timing makes it simple while mass start events are on hold. We lined up, socially distanced, around the building and then started at 10 second intervals.

Dahlia was our family standout. She beat her 5K personal best goal of 26 minutes. Shepard also had a good run and I kept him in site. he finished third overall (19:10) behind a couple of speedsters. The winner was William Sanders (15:45) who may own every Strava segment on the rail trail. Last year I think he laid down a sub-three hour 50K on this same track. Will is very fast. He was followed by Nicholas Migani (16:52).

Among the women, Sybil Sanders (part of the dynamically fast duo) was first (19:30) just a smidge behind Shepard. She was followed by Jaclyn Sullivan (21:41) and then Hunter Ralston (22:32). Debbie five seconds behind Hunter. A special shout out to Art Byram who did his third Hoppin’ Hodges 50K. You read that right. He started at 1:59 A.M. and finished his 31 mile effort with the 3.1 mile race. That’s cool.

One of the best parts of this holiday race is that we saw a lot of other friends too. After a cool down on our feet, we rode back home as the sun was starting to warm up the day. I had some Divine Treasures Chocolates waiting for me, which was a nice treat.

Happy Easter!

Race Results

Taconic Rim Run

Yesterday’s Taconic Rim Run was truly spectacular. Debbie and I were both in need of a big adventure and as she put it (regarding me) to “exorcise the demons.” To use a computer analogy, a big day in the mountains is my preferred method of hard drive (brain) defragmentation.

The Taconic’s did the job. We hadn’t been up that way since Thanksgiving Weekend 2020 when we took our kids on a trip up Mt. Frissell. Debbie was last on Bear Mt. in July of 2020 when she ran the Appalachian Trail (AT) from the New York/Connecticut border to the Connecticut/Massachusetts border. I crewed her on that adventure.

Amazingly, neither of us had been on the section of the AT just north of the Massachusetts border. So yesterday we trekked to the southwestern Berkshires for a little run. Shepard had his first Scouts overnight campout (much needed) since the start of the pandemic, so we dropped him off at Camp Johnson in Bolton early on Saturday morning. Then we drove Dahlia to Mémère  and Papa’s (my parents) for an overnight visit, also the first since the start of the pandemic.

After the morning logistics, we made it to Catamount Ski Area in Hillsdale, New York, by 11:30 A.M. The South Taconic Trail descends from the ski hill and crosses Route 23 just over the state-line on the Massachusetts side. That was the end of this particular FKT (Fastest Known Time) Route. We locked our bicycles to a tree. Then we drove the 3.5 miles to the the Appalachian Trail trailhead on Jug End Road/Guilder Hollow Road in South Egremont.

The Taconic Rim route makes a big “U” and we chose to run it counter-clockwise starting in Massachusetts, looping south into Connecticut, then back north through New York and then returning to Massachusetts. In the past it has also been referred to as the “Tri-State U.” It crests some amazing peaks and has miles of rugged ridge running. You ascend Mt. Bushnell, Mt. Everett, Mt. Brace, Bear Mt., Mt. Frissell, Alander Mt., and Catamount (Ski Area). There are additional descriptions of the route on the FKT site.

Ben Nephew has the fastest time, set in 2017. At a little more than five hours, the mark is scorching fast. The beauty of an FKT attempt is you choose the day and the conditions. There is no perfect time, especially when running something at the ultra distance. You simply have to deal with the conditions on that day. For us, we had awesome running weather with the air temperature in the high 40’s and low 50’s (Fahrenheit). The challenge for us was the remaining ice and snow. It was worse on the north facing slopes and in the deep hollow of Sage’s Ravine. The descent off of Catamount was also marked by snow (the deep man-made base layer remained). Other rocks were just wet. Mercifully, neither of us fell during the run. We had several close calls, and a fall would have been bloody horribly. I’m glad we stayed on our feet.

The trails were generally in good shape with some loose sticks and dead leaves adding to the challenge. However the biggest challenge was the rocks, of which there were many. I got over 63,000 steps, which was about 3,000 more than Debbie. I have a longer strider, but not when descending. My studder-steps pounded my legs, and particularly my quadriceps. I was strong running south on the AT. The views from the ridge were unbelievably good and we can’t wait to take the kids there for a hike. There were sheer drops to the east side that had to have been 1,000 feet down.

I hung tough through Sage’s Ravine, where there was no way to keep your feet dry. We had to ford the stream, which was rushing with cold water. The falls were lovely. I stayed strong going up Bear Mt., but coming down the southern rocky side was rough, and Debbie ripped that section. I did all I could to keep up. We stayed on Old Bear Mountain Road until we reached Mt. Washington Road as the Bog Trail through the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Northwest Camp was blocked off. The trails were really wet in this section. They were also very wet at the start of the climb up Mt. Frissell. That’s where Debbie was hurting a bit. It is no secret that I’m stronger on the ups and she is better on the downs.

I really started to struggle around the 18 mile mark, on the big descent down from the summit of Brace Mt. That was the most “runable” portion of the route and the hard downhill beat me up. Debbie was cruising. My stomach wasn’t great and the jostling made it feel worse. Things improved on the brutal climb up Alander, but in a cruel sort of way. It was only a mile but it took more than 23 minutes. It stepped a bit at the top with a few false summits and a lot of granite slab scrambling.

It was the long rocky descent off Alander where I really cracked. At the 18 mile mark near the summit, you hit 2,300 feet and then gradually descend and climb intermittently for a mile before a massive plunge downward to the 21 mile mark where you hit the low point on the route at 800 feet. My legs were toast. This marked the start of the Cedar Brook Trail, which was beautiful. Over the next two miles, we gradually climbed back up to 2,000 feet as we made our way towards Catamount.

I’m sure that Debbie could have run 20 minutes faster, but I slowed us down. Over the final three miles of undulation, I did OK, but then suffered again on the huge final descent down the ski hill. The footing was awful and my stride was about six inches long. It kind of sucked. She encouraged me and we stopped the clock at 7 hours, 3 minutes, and 11 seconds. I really wanted to break the seven hour mark, but we came up short. A few wrong turns, the snow/ice, and wet trails slowed us, but as noted, there are no excuses when running an FKT.

All our gear worked great. We both ran in Altra Lone Peak 4.5’s shoes and Injinji socks. I’m disappointed in the durability of my pair, but they felt good. Debbie used her UltrAspire Zygos 3.0 pack and I used an UltraSpire Momentum. My lungs were strong, but my breathing was labored throughout the day. We covered 27 miles and more than 7,800 feet of elevation gain. Though it was the elevation loss that killed me! Quad pain aside, the route and trails were challenging and amazing. We were thankful for the blue sky and bright sunshine. The wind was light. The trails were filled with smiling hikers. We didn’t see any other runners, and everyone we came across was courteous. There were some tight spots and the trampers always yielded for us.

Our timing was perfect. We finished just before sunset at 7:00 P.M. We unlocked our bikes, swapped shoes, added a layer, and rode the mostly downhill 3.5 miles back to the car at the AT trailhead as the full moon was rising. The ride was chilly but felt like a victory lap.It took about two hours to drive home with a 9:00 P.M. pit stop at Chipotle in Canton to refuel. This was a good adventure.

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