Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jungle Run + Highland Lake

After the 21 mile run on Saturday I needed a day off. I usually like to get out for some sort of recovery run the day after a long run, but I was feeling pretty beat up all over. It wasn't just my legs, in fact my legs weren't even the worst part, it was mostly in my back and core muscles that I felt it. But by Monday I was feeling fine and since I had the day off from work I decided to go out for an "easy" run on the local snowmobile trails. Easy means I wasn't pushing the pace, but the terrain was anything but easy.

Emma has been running Jimmy's Jungle Run (9 mile loop from home) a lot lately and I thought I'd see if I could remember the route having only run it once or twice before, and without any snow on the ground. The first 1.7 miles is on road, that was easy, then the route turns onto snowmobile trail along a power line and then onto singletrack in the woods. The snowmobiles had gone one way and I was pretty sure that the correct way to run this loop went the other way so I turned off onto a snowshoe trail. Big mistake. Postholing hell for 1/4 mile until I rejoined the snowmobile tracks on a gas line trail. Once on the gas line it was a good fast downhill for almost a mile before turning into the trails of the Blackstrap Preserve. Then began the incredibly long climb up Blackstrap Hill, about 300' in 1 mile. Midway through the climb I made the mistake of branching off onto a smaller trail and again had at least 1/4 mile of postholing hell.

Once I reached the top of the hill I ran along Blackstrap Rd, then Mast Rd for a short distance until I got back onto snomo trails under the power lines. Conditions were perfect here and it was a nice gradual descent for over a mile. Before heading back up hill I decided to take a quick detour out to Highland Lake. Once again I considered running out onto the middle of the lake, but I already had over 7 miles done at this point and didn't want to make this run too long. So I headed back via Bitch 1 of the 3 Bitches to the top of Leighton Hill, down the Tricycle Trail and back home along about 1.7 miles of road.

I'm quite sure I made a few mistakes that varied from how Emma has been running this route, along with a few deliberate diversions. Still a great run despite a few nasty sections and I was really pleased that there were no significant lingering effects from Saturdays long run.

time: 1:52:49
distance: 11.4 miles
pace: 9:54

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hills and Highland Lake

Spring races are starting to creep into my consciousness, big hilly ones like 7 Sisters so I'm trying to get plenty of decent hill running in. I got out of work a little early on Thursday afternoon and headed over to Blackstrap Hill to run the snowmobile trails and see if I could find the one that goes out to Highland Lake.

From Hardy Rd I took the Tricycle Trail up to the top of Leighton hill (Bitch 1 of the 3 Bitches), along the ridge and then down through the Skillin's Tree Farm. Up 180' and down 210' in the first 2 miles. I wasn't sure where the snomo trail to Highland Lake started but I knew it was somewhere along the power line trail that runs along the bottom of the tree farm. I headed north until I hit Mast Rd, no sign of the trail I was looking for so I cut over to the gas line trail that parallels the power lines and headed back to the south. 

Just before the gas line rejoined the power lines I found the trail I was looking for that turned west into the woods. This narrow snowmobile trail ran through a few backyards, crossed Mast Rd and shortly thereafter came out at the southern tip of Highland Lake. I was tempted to run out onto the middle of the lake, but I didn't have a lot of time so I turned back. This brought me out at the base of the 3 Bitches, 215' up over 1/2 mile, then 160' down on the Tricycle Trail back to the car.

Excellent trail conditions for a relatively quick pace considering the hilly terrain.

time: 1:01:08
distance: 7.09 miles
pace: 8:38

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bradbury White Out - Race Report

In my 4th consecutive week of snowshoe racing I returned to home turf for the second installment of the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series: Bradbury White Out. After helping Ryan mark the course on Saturday I went out and ran the whole thing, partly to check up on the marking but mostly to think through my race strategy. I wanted to remind myself how it felt to run up the Terrace Trail which makes up most of the first mile of this race, and to figure out just how fast I could go down the South Ridge. 

On race day I went out on the course early to help Ryan put out the final course marking and then get things set up at the picnic shelter for registration and post race activities. With a plethora of volunteers we got things set up quickly and there was plenty of time to sit back and chat with the other runners. Before I knew it it was time to get ready to race and I barely had enough time to get a warm up in, not quite as long as I would have liked but enough to get the blood flowing.

 photo by Don Penta

There were a few more people in attendance than there were at the Squall, despite a handful of people not making return appearances. Based on my performance at the last two races I thought that I had good reason to start in the front row, I even thought I might be able to hang onto Ryan for a while... I had asked Ryan before the race if he planned to take off crazy fast, he said he didn't have a plan, but he did end up taking off crazy fast and that's how he ran the whole race. I lost sight of him after 1/4 mile and never saw him again until I got to the finish and I think he had already changed his clothes and had a cup of soup by the time I got there.

 photo by Don Penta
I tried to set off at a sensible pace, since I didn't get much of a warm-up in I thought I'd take it easy for the first 1/3 mile so I didn't hit the Terrace Trail too out of breath. I figured that if I started the long climb gasping for air I'd be dead before I reached the top. I was a little surprised to find myself back in 8th place going up the hill, but it was still early in the race and I had hopes of picking up the pace. There was someone right on my heels going up the Terrace Trail so it was good to have a little incentive to work hard. As soon as we reached the top and turned towards the Northern Bluff I caught a glimpse of Blaine up ahead and set my sights on catching him. Unfortunately Blaine wasn't feeling his best so he stepped off the trail to let me pass.

For nearly a mile I was on my own, no one in front of me was in sight to chase down and no one was right behind me applying any pressure. I thought I did a good job of picking up the pace on the gradual downhill of the Tote Road but it wasn't long before Chuck and Jeremy caught up to me. Chuck had been complaining about feeling tired before the race, following the previous days long run, but he certainly wasn't running like he was tired today. I was supposedly relatively fresh since I had done my long run on Friday but I had all I could do to keep ahead of Chuck and Jeremy. 

Chuck is an incredible downhill runner, and knowing that the last 1/2 mile is all downhill (with one tiny exception) I wanted to try and put some distance between us before we got there, but it just wasn't happening. My only hope was that my knowledge of the course would give me some advantage. I'd been up and down the South Ridge Trail at least half a dozen times in the few days leading up to the race so this was bound to count for something. Shortly after starting down the South Ridge we ran into Andy coming up the hill after having made a wrong turn. He fell in place behind Jeremy and now there were 3 people right behind me and any one of them was capable of catching me.  

Running the South Ridge in these conditions required the perfect balance of speed and control. The descent is steep enough to allow you to build up incredible speed, but there are enough sharp turns along the single track trail that force you to reign in your speed or else go off trail and punch through the crusty top layer of snow into the deep powder beneath. My knowledge of this trail seemed to pay off a little bit, but not much as you can see in the photo:

photo by Don Penta

The finish of this race is one of the cruelest out there. In any other context this tiny uphill wouldn't seem so bad, but after nearly half a mile of super-fast downhill your legs just don't want to transition back into uphill running. And the soft snow just makes it so much worse. Not much of a sprint finish, but luckily everyone seemed to be struggling just as much as me and I was able to hold on to my position to finish in 6th place.

time: 37:55
distance: 4.25 miles
pace: 8:55
place: 6/35 

weather: mid 20's, overcast

conditions: firm packed snowshoe trails, crust over deep powder off trail

gear: Atlas Run snowshoes, Saucony Grid Sinister, sock liners, wool socks, tights, long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, gloves, hat

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beautiful Loop - Week 6

A little retrospective report on this weeks run of the Beautiful Loop since I'm falling behind on blogging:


With virtually no new snow over the past week the local snowmobile club was able to get out and groom almost the entire loop. Anything that wasn't groomed was at least ridden over enough to be well packed. Conditions were the epitome of snowmobile trail perfection.

Emma and I ran the loop in the clockwise direction, setting off at a pretty easy pace and keeping it consistent throughout. The perfect conditions allowed for pretty quick time, my fastest of the year by more than 10 minutes.

time: 2:21:29
distance: 15.17 miles
pace: 9:20

weather: mid 20's, sunny

conditions: nirvana

gear: Inov-8 Oroc 280 with screws, wool socks, tights, 2x long sleeve top, buff, gloves, mittens, Nathan HPL #020

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Beautiful Loop - Week 5

I was going to run the Mid-Winter Classic road race this Sunday, but it was postponed due to mid-winter-like weather the night before. I totally get it, you can't have 800 runners on the road when the town's plow trucks need to be out there clearing snow. I'll just add this to my list of reasons why trail racing is better than road racing. Road races get canceled because of the weather, trail races get better because of it.

I was actually quite relieved that the race got postponed, because that meant that I'd be able to go out and run the Beautiful Loop this weekend. And it turned out to be the most beautiful spring-like day with temperatures pushing 40 degrees, bright sun and no wind. The other nice thing about not doing the race and doing this run instead is that it meant I was able to run with Emma, this would be her first time doing this loop and her longest run in about a year and a half. She picked a good day and a good route to make a return to running long.

Since we had received a few inches of snow the night before we decided to wait until the afternoon to set off for our run to be sure the snowmobiles had a chance to get out and pack the trails for us. We set off at an easy pace, with some uncertainly about whether or not Emma's knee would be up for the distance. Conditions were pretty sloppy in general, pretty awful in some places, but the warm sunny weather seemed to make up for deficiencies of the conditions. Although postholing always sucks and there was plenty of that.

Emma kept wondering of this was the worse conditions I'd seen on these snowmobile trails. Hard to say because the the good weather was such a positive influence on the overall experience, but it was definitely sluggish out there. We just kept the place slow and steady and the miles ticked by.We saw a handful of snowmobilers out there, all seemed intrigued by what we were doing. We tried not to be too obvious in sticking up our noses as the stink of their machines, after all, we are grateful for the trails they create.

We chose to run the loop on the clockwise direction today (opposite from the usual way) meaning we got the roller coaster hills out of the way early, and had a long gradual uphill at the end of the run. That approach seemed to work well for Emma's knee which fairs better on the ups. Not sure if it makes sense to beat the knee up early in the run or after it's tired, but the good news was that it wasn't a problem. If a recovering knee can cope with nearly 3 hours of hilly, slushy, snowmobile trail running then I think it's doing pretty well.

I think we were both a little surprised at how well this run went, especially considering the effort we put into the yesterday's snowshoe race. My only complaint was a tight right calf, which didn't seem to slow me down but never fully loosened up during the run.

time: 2:50:40
distance: 15.24 miles
pace: 11:11

weather: upper 30's, sunny, calm

conditions: super soft, squishy snowmobile trails

gear: Inov-8 Oroc 280, wool socks, capris, singlet, long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves, Nathan HPL #020

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Exeter Snowshoe Hullabaloo - Race Report

The Exeter Snowshoe Hullabaloo is exactly what a snowshoe race should be like. No snowmobile trails, no groomed ski trails, just sweet single track packed by a handful of snowshoers before the race. 

Since I'm new to the snowshoe racing scene I didn't know what to expect from this race, turns out that no one really did since this was it's first year, but I was surprised to see such a big field of almost 100 runners show up. With the number of runners and the fact that I knew nothing about the course, except that is was all single track, I was cautious about starting too close to the front. I took a place behind acidotic's Chris Dunn, and he quickly called me out as a sandbagger, but I really wasn't feeling very confident about this race. Of course, the downside of taking a conservative start on a singletrack race is that you really have to work to pass people. The other downside is that there are a lot of people who seed themselves too far up the field for fear that they'll get stuck behind slower runners, but it turns out that they are the ones slowing people down.

The first 1/4 mile (or less) was packed out wider than the rest of the course to alleviate some of the pressure at the start, but it was still pretty chaotic when the "Go" call was given and at least one runner went down while jockeying for position. By the time the trail narrowed to true singletrack I found myself somewhere in the back of the top 20, a few places behind Chris Dunn and Steve Wolfe, moving along at what felt like a very comfortable pace. Not a race pace. 

photo by Daniel Budak


It wasn't long before we came along one of many "passing lanes" that were created by one person walking a parallel track for about 10-15 paces alongside the course. This was a helpful way of giving runners an opportunity to pass without going fully into the deep untrodden powder, but it wasn't a lot better and still required significantly more effort than the regular course. Since the leader of our snowshoe train was going slower than I wanted to it meant that I had the energy to put in a good burst of speed and work my way up the field when the opportunity came.

At the second or third of these passing lanes the runner ahead of me made a move and I followed. Unfortunately his speed petered out before merging and in an effort to keep a few of the places I was attempting to take I lunged through the powder and back onto the course picking off a few runners, and nearly taking out a couple others as I struggled to keep my balance. The result of this got me in between acidotic's Chris and Amber, a little bit further up the field than I wanted to go in one move, but the pace of our train was still quite reasonable so I was able to recover quickly and settle back into pace without feeling like I was going to be the one slowing the train. Moments later Chris made a move to pass the runner ahead by veering off into the powder, big mistake. All his momentum was instantly stopped and this gave me the chance to surge ahead and take the place where he had been.

Eventually the guy in front realized that he had indeed set off in a place he couldn't hold so he graciously stepped aside and let a few of us pass. Better to admit your mistake than get yourself run over. I was now pulling a train with Amber Ferreira right on my heels, Chris Dunn on hers and a few others right behind. I picked up the pace to the upper limit of what I thought I could sustain on this terrain and wasn't surprised to find that Amber and Chris didn't have any trouble matching me. I wasn't confident that my place here was safe, but I wasn't going to give it up without a fight. Each time we got to another passing lane I'd put in a surge of speed to fend off any possible attempt by anyone to pass, and then ease off the pace to catch my breath.

Eventually we caught up to another runner who obviously went out a little too fast and was now slowing down, but this kid wasn't about to step off the trail just to let me pass, if I wanted his place he was going to make me work for it. No easy opportunities to pass presented themselves and the now somewhat slower pace allowed Amber and Chris to get right onto my heels. I was worried that one of them might make a bold move and take both me and the kid in front, or that if I stepped off trail to pass that I'd end up stuck in the powder and lose my place to both of them. Finally I saw my chance to make a move, a tight corner with a small tree on the inside. I grabbed hold of the tree and pulled myself around the inside of the turn, just barely making it past the kid. I then kicked it up a notch to try and put some distance between us.

Amber and Chris didn't take long to get past the kid, before I knew it they were right back behind me and the pressure was on again. I continued to surge each time we got to a passing lane and I began to wonder how much longer this race was going to go on. The course description said "The Snowshoe Hullabaloo is run over almost 4 miles of tight and twisted, packed single track" which I took to mean less than 4 miles. Apparently "almost 4 miles" can also mean more than 4 miles. When my Garmin said we'd covered 3.75 miles I decided it was time to try to put some distance between myself and the acidotic runners behind me. At 4 miles I began to wonder where the finish line was, but I didn't let up. Finally the finish line came into sight and I still had enough in the tank to put in a good sprint to the line. 45:57 was good enough to get me a 10th place finish.

photos courtesy of Tim Lindsey

Emma came in "almost" 10 minutes later which was good enough for a 5th place female finish. No prizes for the Trail Monsters this week, but we were both happy with solid performances in a good sized race. Post race festivities featured plenty of fire, hot soup, chili and hot drinks. Definitely a fun race on a great course.

time: 45:57
distance: 4.23 miles
pace: 10:51
place: 10/97

weather: low 30's, cloudy, calm

conditions: barely packed snowshoe singletrack

gear: Atlas Run snowshoes, Inov-8 F-lite 301 PK, Inov-8 Debris Gaiters, sock liners, wool socks, tights, long sleeve shirt, singlet, hat, gloves

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blizzard Running

Since I'm planning to run 2 races this upcoming weekend I knew I wouldn't have the opportunity to run the Beautiful Loop, but since I'm trying to run it every week this winter I decided to give it a shot mid-week. Of course, the only day I had time to run it in the middle of the week was during the massive snow storm that caused my office to close for the day. I knew that running this 15 mile loop with snowshoes, during a blizzard was a bit ambitious so I brought along another ambitious Trail Monster, Red Meat, who's training for The Barkley Marathons

I knew the trail conditions were going to be tough, that didn't bother me, but I did decided to head out in the opposite direction from how I normally do this route to get the steep hills out of the way before too much snow fell. I also decided to mix things up a bit at the beginning by heading up the Terrace Trail and tagging the summit. When we arrived at the park there was about 5" of fresh powder in the ground and the snow was falling fast. The running was slow, and we had to walk at times on some of the steeper climbs, but it really wasn't too bad.

Everything was going fine until we hit an open field at about 2.75 miles and we were faced with a chilling cross-wind. The temperature really wasn't that cold, but with the exposure of the field we started to feel the wind chill. After a another half mile we were into the woods again and out of the wind, but then just a quarter mile later we came out onto the power line trail and turned north. Directly into the wind. This is when I realized that I really hadn't come prepared to deal with these blizzard conditions. It wasn't the amount of fresh snow covering the trail that was the problem, it was the 20+ MPH wind directly in our faces. Snow and ice quickly built up on my face and started to encase my eyes. A balaclava and goggles were what I really needed, but they were at home.

After a half mile on the power lines we reached the Elmwood Rd crossing and paused for moment. I knew that we still had 5.5 miles of power line running to do, there would be no escaping this wind, and given the rate that the snow was falling I knew that our pace was going to continue to slow. The first 4 miles took us about 55 minutes, I figured the next 5.5 could take us an hour and a half in these conditions. That was just too long to be out there dealing with the wind. Facial frostbite was not something I wanted.

So the decision was made to turn back. The quickest and easiest way back to the park would have been to take off our snowshoes and run down Elmwood Road, but we didn't head out for a hilly 15 mile snowshoe run in a blizzard because we were looking for an easy run. So we headed back on the trail exactly the way we came. With the wind on our backs the running was actually quite enjoyable again. Even the massive climb back up the west side of Bradbury was fun, about 350 vertical feet in just over a mile. Unfortunately when we hit the summit we were faced with the same unpleasant headwind again which made the usually fun run down the Terrace Trail a lot less enjoyable. Ice cream headache.

I was disappointed not to get in a 15 mile run this week, but I still got in a solid 2 hour workout, and was grateful to come out of the woods alive and without any frostbite.

time: 1:57:29
distance: 8.0 miles
pace: 14:41

weather: low 20's, heavy snow, strong wind

conditions: 5" of fresh powder at start, heavy snow throughout adding up

gear: Atlas Run snowshoes, Inov-8 F-lite 301 PK, OR gaiters, sock liners, wool socks, tights, 2x long sleeve shirts, 2x buffs, gloves, mittens, Nathan HPL #020