The big 5-0

So let’s get this straight. Over 10,000 feet of elevation change, never more than three steps without being interrupted by a rock, root or mud pit, humidity level of 80% at race time, and you just end up right back where you started? Hmmm, sounds like an exercise in futility to me.

But wait, people pay good money for all of this and more: free potatoes, pretzels, candy, pb&j’s and all the sports drink you can consume at not one but six different aid stations. OK, I’m listening. Cool T-shirt, a pair of arm sleeves, post-race meal and a free beer!! Wait, did someone say free….hey, count me in. Now, what do I need to do? What?? 31 miles???

The North Face Challenge had its Northeast regional event last weekend at scenic Bear Mountain, NY, and for the second year I participated in the 50K event on Saturday morning. In addition to everything mentioned above, I got to run on one of the most scenic courses around, with challenging terrain (rated 5 out of 5 for difficulty) and a rugged band of crazies crashing the trails. Although nearly 60 would not finish, (some due to injuries but I suspect most due to the humidity) we had around 220 finishers in total for the 50K.

With my training partner Ron leading the way, we managed to average a 12:26 pace for the course, which was good for us, and we were able to shave nearly an hour off last year’s effort, finishing in 6:25:00. We even made it into the top 10 of our age group! Of course it is a bit disconcerting to see one of the 50-milers breeze by you along the way, but those folks are nuts anyway!

North Face does a great job with this event, very well-organized and structured. If you’re of a mind to get into trail running, do some training first then look to one of their events. I believe there are six different locations around the US, with distances range from 5K up to the 50-miler.

This 50K finish was the culmination of several months of training, and serves as a great base from which to work through the rest of the year. Rumor has it Ron wants to join the nutters on a 50-miler later in the year. For that, I put my foot down. At least two free beers or I’m not going!

Happy Hoofing,

Michael

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Leatherman’s Loop

OK gang, the first trail event of the season is in the books. This one is a classic, been around 25 years or so, long before the recent mud runs and obstacle course craze. It has a very interesting story line based on an actual character from history. Check it out at http://www.leathermansloop.org.

Cool dampness was in store as 1200 runners stepped off at 9am this past Sunday, after hearing the traditional Leatherman’s Loop poem and being guided by a runner on a white horse. We quickly left the open fields for a single-track adventure which involves two full stream crossings and lots of rocks, roots and hills through the 4,700-acre Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.

True to form, my first face plant occurred within the first mile of the race. I hit my right hand so hard the screwed-on top of the water bottle I was holding blew off and all the liquid blasted out like a water balloon dropped from twenty stories. After getting up and realizing everything was intact, I continued running only to be tracked down 100 yards later by a fellow runner tapping me on the shoulder and saying ‘did you lose this?’ He of course handed me the top, which I thanked him for, re-attached to the water bottle and proceeded to carry an empty bottle for the next five miles. Nothing gets past me….

Surprisingly no more falls the remainder of the race, but a few signature stumbles as the technical terrain and close quarters forced a constant level of attention to the task at hand. The first stream crossing was around twelve feet from bank to bank, about waist deep, and once up the slippery slope the trail continued on into the woods and more single track.

When you put together 1,200 runners, a relatively short (10K) course and mostly single track trails, it was a trick indeed to make a pass along the way. This to me was the most difficult detail of the event, and although I’m not by any means the fastest runner out there, I do like to keep a pace going. Ducking around trees and going off trail were definitely par for this course.

The final half mile starts in a field and funnels down to the second stream crossing with loads of spectators around flashing pictures and taking videos. All I’m thinking about is ‘Please God, don’t let me land the second face plant in the middle of the stream’! Somehow I made it across without incident and without making everyone’s top YouTube moment, and cruised to the finish line. After nearly an hour in the woods it was nice to take a break.

We left before the award ceremonies, which include the tradition awarding of a freshly-baked pie to the various winners. Nice touch for a real down-to-earth event that takes place in a beautiful setting just twenty minutes from my home. May I always recognize that and be fortunate enough to share in the experience.

Happy Hoofing

Michael

Shoes part II

Greetings: Following on my daughter’s post on minimalist shoes, I want to share information on the pair I am currently using. Having gone to a mid-foot stride two years ago, and progressively moving into minimalist shoes, I have gained some valuable experience along the way.

One of my all-time favorite shoes is the New Balance 101 (http://www.shopnewbalance.com/men/shoes/running/trail-running/MT101GH). I found this by accident at a triathlon event two years ago, began running in them and was immediately hooked. This was my first minimalist shoe and I have gone through three pairs so far. Unlike models like the Vibram 5-finger this shoe has some good support and padding throughout the sole, which works very well for my feet.

I did venture to a thinner minimalist shoe, the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove model, but for my feet they were just too thin on the bottom. I really like the feel of the shoe as well as the weight, but needed a bit more padding. So I went back to the New Balance 101.

At the Expo for last fall’s Marine Corps Marathon I stumbled across the folks from Altra ZeroDrop. This is a young shoe company with a unique design which was intriguing. Of course I ordered a pair an am currently wearing the Lone Peak model in my training, and must say it is a great shoe (http://www.altrazerodrop.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Category_-1_15151_18952_69005_Y?S=iconEmail&K=NT_02_16_12AL). For those of you considering the move to more minimalist shoes, these are a great transition shoe as they have a fair amount of padding in the sole but still provide a more complete foot feel on the pavement or trails. The nice thing about these shoes is the toe box is designed to fit your foot, as opposed to the other way around. I also like the ‘zero drop’ aspect, whereby the heel is at the same level as the ball of the foot.

As my good friend and running buddy Ron always says, the right shoe is the cheapest form of insurance you will ever buy. So for those of you moving to a mid-foot stride, do yourself a favor and go with a more minimalist style. It will help you develop your form more completely and enhance the overall running experience.

Michael

House Calls in the news

Greetings. My ‘House Calls’ run was again profiled in an article which ran yesterday. Here is the link:

http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Ridgefield-s-Byl-runs-to-help-charities-2676835.php

Always good to do good, and use your talents for others. Anyone else out there with philanthropy on the mind? Running is a great way to give back using one of your passions. I’m happy to share my experience in this solo venture, perhaps it will inspire others to do the same in their communities.

Michael

The Call of the Trail

For avid runners the road does call, and off you go to conquer all                                            

But those whose detour into the woods, find something rare, something good

Trail running is a great compliment to regular road running, and many consider it preferable to time on the pavement.  I have certainly become a convert as it provides many advantages, and I now balance out my running with time in each realm.  Here are a few of the benefits of trail running:

– improves balance:  because footing is variable, one moment soft pine needles, another a boulder field or ‘boney’ root patch, you are forced to focus on and maintain balance at all times.

– strengthens feet:  each step is unique because of the different landing positions, requiring you to use all the muscles in the foot.  In particular it forces your foot to ‘hug’ the rocks and roots, a very natural motion which helps strengthen all the muscles of the foot.

– firms up core:  the body is constantly adjusting to balance and uneven landing surfaces, and this translates directly to a strengthening of the core muscles.

– softer landing:  As compared to pavement running, trail running provides a much softer overall landing experience, reducing stress on muscles and joints.

– great scenery:  It is not uncommon to see a wide variety of wildlife while on the trails, making it very interesting and enjoyable.

This type of running certainly promotes a more mid-foot style of running, as you are on your toes in many instances.  Also, it is important to take shorter steps on the trails, so no one stride puts you in danger of losing footing or balance.  One article I read quoted a veteran of the trails who said that when coming upon a particularly rough section of trail, where you are unsure whether to take one step or two, take three.

As with beginning a road running program, take it slow on the trails and gradually increase your distances.  Perhaps start by running off the side of the road on your pavement runs, or find a rail trail or similar surface.  Be aware that occasionally stumbling and falling are part of the landscape, so to speak, so don’t be discouraged if you trip.  Keep to a mid-foot style, pick up your feet more than usual, and you will soon be hooked on all the enjoyment the trails provide.

-Michael