Sandy Hook Surf Fishing

J and I try to get out once a year to step into the ring for the "fairest fight in all of fishing": surf casting for striped bass during their fall migration. What makes this challenge so addicting is doing the research, coming up with a plan, targeting a spot, exploring the area, piecing together clues, and searching desperately against all odds to find the Big Kahuna of fishing: a feeding frenzy within casting range of the shore.

What is a feeding frenzy? Let me explain by telling the story of my first ever cast into the surf. I was with friends trying to surf the Jersey Shore. We were enjoying some downtime on the beach when suddenly mayhem ensued on the beach. Life guards blew their whistles and mothers screamed for their swimming children to get out of the water. Just off the shore of the beach a flock of a hundred seagulls dive-bombed water's surface, grabbing a fish with every attempt. Underneath them, a gigantic circle of water frothed with skipping schools of minnows, arcing fins, and shredding fish teeth. As the bathers ran to safety, another group of people started appearing from all directions, running against the current of normal people toward the fray. Fishermen.

There was so much excitement in the air. I had no idea what was happening. What I did know is that I had put a crappy little freshwater fishing pole in the car in case we got bored of trying to surf flatwater. I ran to the car and fetched it and put on the only thing I had: a lame little piece of rubber on a metal jighead for a lure. I ran to shore and cast into the tornado. Before the lure had a chance to touch water, a fish gulped it down and swam away, bending my flabbergasted fishing rod in half. I reeled in like mad and pulled the fish towards shore. Just as a big wave receded, the fish popped off the hook and flopped around on the sand. I moved quickly, because the next wave was on deck to crash over the fish and pull it back to the sea. I ran over and carelessly scooped up the fish and ran to dry sand. I held the fish in both hands and watched in horror as it vomited up hundreds of shredded minnows. Giant piranha teeth threatened to bite off my fingers.

What was going on? Simple. The entire food chain was all together at one time. Something attracted minnows, which attracted bait fish. Bluefish (the nasty ones with teeth like I had just caught) viciously tear everything to shreds. They'll cut fish in half just because they can. Meanwhile, big striped bass hang around nearby to collect scraps and stragglers.

Sadly after many many fishing trips I have yet to splash a lure into such a scene.

This weekend we headed to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Sandy Hook is a 7-mile pile of sand that reaches out into the ocean towards New York City, dividing the bay from the sea. We arrived on Friday afternoon and geared up with waders, lure bags, and rods, and immediately headed out to start fishing. We drove to the northernmost parking lot and took a few casts as we worked our way to the northern tip of Sandy Hook. J recalled catching lots of fish as he casted towards a green bouy at the northern tip of the hook on a previous outing.

As we walked along, an excited fisherman walked by and said, "you'd better get up there, they're biting like crazy!". J and I looked at each other and hustled. The walk from the car to the tip takes 30 minutes. When we got there, we were greeted by 15 or so fisherman casting shoulder-to-shoulder, with a few bait fishermen on the sidelines. One of the fisherman had two giant striped bass up on shore. A striped bass over 28 inches is a "keeper". Anything else is a "short".

J and I started fishing to the far left next to some fly fishermen. Birds attacked the water. At any given moment, a rod or two to our right bent as people reeled in fish. Conditions were perfect for a couple of the lucky ones. On our side, the water was flat and calm. On the far side was a screaming current. In between was a line, perfectly visible, where you just knew the big fish were hunting. Unfortunately, we were well out of reach. Fishermen generally keep 10-15 feet or so between them. Not enough room to squeeze in without crossing lines with the salty dogs and turning them all against you. However, a fisherman left his spot and J moved in. Now J was one of the lucky ones in the hot seat, casting into the fast current then reeling into the quiet pool! Jealous, I yearned to join him. I walked over and J kindly agreed to share the spot. We would fish back-to-back. Yes, it meant he and I would cross lines a few times, but we could forgive each other. And to be fair, I crossed lines with one of the strangers next to me and he was super chill about it. I apologized and he just shot me a look as if to say, "What are you apologizing for? We're fishing shoulder to shoulder, it's gonna happen".

Millions of small minnows swam at our feet. Right in front of us, bigger fish chased schools of baitfish to the surface. We fished aggressively and were getting bites on nearly every cast. However, it was all bluefish and hickory shad. Not the elusive striped bass we were hoping for. Eventually the bite died down, and we checked into the hotel and grabbed dinner at The Dive in Sea Bright.

The next morning, J had to leave for several hours leaving me to my own devices. I slept in a bit, and took a gander and the beach in front of the hotel. I crossed the busy Ocean Ave., and climbed the stairs over the dune. The low tide on the other side had left behind huge piles of small clam shells everywhere.

I got excited about the idea of bait fishing and working my way up the food chain. It's a technique that has worked very well elsewhere. I grabbed a small pole casted into the surf with small bits of clam on several tiny hooks, hoping to catch some kind of bait fish that I could liveline or cut up and put on a big hook on the surf rod. All I got was a couple of crabs, which I put on the big rod but to no avail. Also I was surprised to catch a nice fluke on my clam rig.

I looked down the shore and saw a thousand birds, many of them raiding the water! Was it a blitz? I gathered up my things and ran down the beach. Along the shore I saw 7 skates (little sting-rays with out stingers) with their wings removed.

Skate wings are really tough. I could not imagine what sea creature could possibly do such a thing. Malicious bluefish maybe? (It turns out the wings were likely harvested by an unusual breed of fishermen with a taste for cartilage). It was enough to get my hopes up. But of course once I got to the birds, they looked to be just killing time.

No excitement here. But what I could see was a perfect sand bar, which could yield some good opportunities during higher tides.

From this point on, we continued to find promising conditions: birds feeding on bait in the water, but the big fish just weren't there. My guess is we showed up to early. We should have visited further north, maybe along the south shore of Long Island somewhere. One huge problem we ran into was that the tide chart for Sandy Hook is for the bay side. Which was 3 hours or so different from the ocean side we were fishing. We kept arriving late to the part, after the tide had slackened, when we wanted to arrive when the tide was high. We quickly realized something was amiss, but it took a while to figure out why.

With each passing fishless year the excitement builds. One of these years we're going to fish an all-day blitz, reeling in monster fish until our arms fall off. This was the year of mystery. What happened to those skates? Why are the tides several hours different from the tide charts? Where are the freakin fish?

Great Range Traverse

I'm not sure what it is. But my natural cycle has always been to be at some kind of low point from which I slowly build myself up to feeling a little bit good. From there I escalate that feeling until I feel great. I continue to escalate until I feel awesome, then invincible. The escalation doesn't stop until I completely overdo something in an over-the-top fashion and eventually I find myself back at the start again, a low point. With my running I've managed to keep myself in a nice long cycle with only a few minor speed bumps along the way.

Running the Wakely Dam Ultra was a climax for my current cycle of running. I was running invincibly for a while before and during the race, and now I need to find myself again as a regular runner person, but it's been a struggle. 10 days after the race, just as I tried to start getting back into my normal running routine, I was feeling the return of left knee soreness that had been at bay during training. I tried: rest, light runs, runs with hiking poles, short fast races, ice, stretching, not stretching, strength exercises. Pretty much everything. Pretty much all at once. Yet nothing seemed to be the magic bullet that cured me in an instant like I hoped. Certainly my feelings of invincibility still haven't entirely worn off. I keep thinking there's just a minor hump I need to get over then it will be smooth sailing again. The problem is that all-out rest hurts more than running does. So I end up on the fence: my knee either needs a serious break, or it needs me to get back in the game. I realize the answer is obvious to anyone but me but yet here I remain on the fence.

One thing I do know is I feel the strong need to get out there. I keep running on flat roads which is definitely not what my legs want. They need a strength building workout. They need rough terrain to stretch them this way and that. Ups, downs, roots, rocks, and I'm not getting that out my front door.

Meanwhile, I've been reading up on super runners who seek FKT's (fastest known times) on the most difficult hikes in the northeast. Hikes like the Presidential Traverse or the Pemi Loop in New Hampshire or the Great Range in the Adirondacks. I have always loved the Great Range. When I first started exploring the Adirondack High Peaks, Mount Marcy was the first target, and after that the Great Range. I ended up hiking the Great Range 3-4 times in a row before starting to check out other places to hike. Then, when friends and I started the ADK 46er mission, I took a good long break from the Great Range in order to complete all the other peaks.

So I took a random day off from work, a Thursday, and hopped in my car to the trailhead for the Great Range FKT route. The route follows a ridgeline spanning many peaks, with regular options to bail out and descend to the relatively easy John's Brook trail to the exit. This made it a great spot for my mountain hiking experiment for my knee. If I felt bad I could easily quit at any time. If it felt good... Well... I hadn't really thought that far ahead.

I signed in at the trailhead leaving a vague indication of where I was headed. After a short hike I could hear lots of noise. It turns out a pack of 10 wild 3-year-olds were busy yelling, running, and exploring stuff in the woods. One looked up at my hiking poles and pointed out, "he's got poles like daddy!". I scooted through the group and worked my way slowly towards the first low peak: Rooster Comb. The FKT guys make a point of going out of their way to visit this peak. I'm not sure why to be honest. I would have gladly skipped it in favor of getting into the Range quicker. The way I see it, the meat of the hike for the Great Range begins at the top of Lower Wolf Jaw, the first high peak. Once there, most of the elevation gain has been climbed and you can begin the exciting process of banging out peaks one after the other. However here I am going out of my way to hit a minor little peak along the way.

I must say the view from Rooster Comb is awesome. I stood atop a giant cliff with the Range extending out before me, peeing into the wind as I enjoyed the view when suddenly I heard voices behind me. Hikers! Doh! I quickly put myself together and head back towards the trail and enjoy a nice conversation with the hikers. Apparently the day before was really rainy, so they had avoided the trails. Today is supposed to be much better. I hike out and along the way I encounter another group of hikers. At an intersection I need a moment to figure out which direction to go. As I wait, the hikers go by me. When I get my bearings I realize I need to go past all the hikers I just let go by. Instead of dealing with that socially awkward sitation, I instead hike an extra section of trail to check out a view and by the time I return they are long gone.

I proceed to Hedgehog, and after 6 miles and 2.5 hours I reach the top of Lower Wolf's Jaw. At last! I have arrived. I'm feeling good and can begin the Traverse. As soon as I start descending LWJ, I am shocked at how difficult the trail is. Not difficult to hike exactly, but imagining the FKT guys *racing* this route is just unthinkable. Steep precarious cascading slabs of rock are the norm on the way down. I feel quite content to take my time and before long I arrive at Upper Wolf's Jaw followed by Armstrong and Gothics.

My most vivid memory of the Great Range from past hikes is the Gothics descent. It is the only place I can think of on the Adirondack trails where cables are run to assist with the descent. For some reason it has always been wet, drizzly, and cold in this area and today is no exception. The way is steep and smooth. I recall slipping and falling on my butt on a previous trip many years ago. I slid and was lucky to eventually stop when I crashed into a bush. Today I'm wearing sandals which are really bad for steep, smooth descents because my feet can't quite stick to the sandal. For the descent I avoid the use of the cables (just my own stubbornness I suppose). The sandals won't work so I take them off. Amazingly hiking down barefoot is perfect. The feet are like grippy little hands and there is no chance of slipping. My knees can definitely feel the stress, but I take fast little steps and work my way quickly to the col at the bottom.

Next is Saddleback, the one peak in the Range that I hiked recently. After which the trail to Basin has perhaps the toughest little section I have seen in the Adirondacks. The trail seemed to almost fizzle out, so I found myself questioning whether or not I was on the right trail. I look down at a sheer drop of 10 feet or so with nothing at all to safely hold onto. I'm no rock climber, but in general I am really good at negotiating difficult climbs. But I admit that when I hoisted myself over the ledge I felt off-balance for a moment and thought, "holy S this is difficult!". I hung from the ledge by my arms and reached my leg out for one little rock sticking up just to be within reach. I paused here to look up, flabbergasted to think of the hikes through here in my youth. Rag-tag bunches of kids with full packs. I don't know how we all made it through in one piece.

At one point through all this was a steep ladder climb. I laughed out loud thinking back to this spot where my friend J had discovered at the bottom of the ladder that the top half of his fishing pole had gone missing somewhere behind us on the trail. Here I am carrying next to nothing so that I can survive this arduous trek, and back then we were carrying fishing poles for days of impossible hiking in a place there could never be a fish. God knows what other unnecessities we were lugging back in those days.

As I start to come down off of Basin, I can see Little Haystack and Haystack in the distance. It looks *far*. And difficult. It's a bit rainy, windy, and my hands are freezing! I think that the trekking poles are sucking all the warmth out of my poor hands. I stop to bundle up and eat one of the burritos I packed. This is crazy. I'm done. I should bail out here and work my way back to the exit. There are lots of miles to go and it's going to be a long day as it is. I get to the next intersection. The sign here says Haystack is in 1 mile and Marcy is in 2 miles! That's not far at all! I can do that no problem! So off I go. To the top of Haystack. Easy peasy. And from there I just keep on going. And going. And going. Wow, by now I've gone way further than 2 miles from that sign and I'm nowhere near Mount Marcy! I pull out the map. Oh no! I was supposed to turn around at Haystack and head back to the intersection to get to mount Marcy! How could this happen, just a short while ago I was on the fast track to complete the hike and now I'm suddenly DEEP in the wilderness, heading into Panther Gorge. Immediately I realize that I'm not going to get back to the car (where my cell phone is) until REALLY LATE. It's now 5PM, I've been hiking for 7 hours and I have an ungodly number of hours still to hike to get out of here. M doesn't worry easily, but she's going to worry about this one. She would not expect me to be reaching the trailhead at 1am *on a work night*. Damnitall. There's not much I can do about it now except get to hiking.

I've never been here before. I make a fast pace up Panther Gorge. As I make quick work of the trail I realize that a long time ago I had mapped out a Great Range Traverse that included Haystack, Marcy, and threw in Skylight. Just because. And here I find myself within easy reach of that bucket list goal. It just means adding 30 minutes to todays trip by scooting up the half mile to Skylight and back. On the way up the trail I tell myself a hundred times not to do it. I need to get home asap. However, I reach the four corners intersection with Skylight 45 minutes before I expect to, and as wrong as it is, I can't resist the compulsion to bang out that one extra peak with all the spare time I suddenly found myself with.

After Skylight I work my way up Marcy. It's freaking cold. I didn't see snow but it wouldn't have been a surprise if I did. My hands were going numb. On the ascent I had to use every unmentionable trick in the book to warm them up. This is not the first time I have found myself on the wrong side of Marcy when the sun is on it's way down. It is not a good place to be. It's terrifying knowing that pretty much the only way home involves climbing over the tallest peak in New York. Where it's super cold, rainy, and windy. But what can you do except get 'er done. One of the chapters in the book, "At the Mercy of the Mountain" describes a person who was attempting to hike all 46 peaks in 6 days in the 70's whose dead body was found on this very ascent during a hurricane. I hadn't read the chapter at the time, but it really isn't much of a surprise. It's a treacherous area. The entire area on from the Feldspar Lean-To to Panther Gorge to Slant Rock gives me the willies.

As dusk approaches I think about the fact that I have just the one headlamp. It's an amazing headlamp. 100% trustworthy. However I realize that if it chooses today to fail on me I'm going to be in big trouble, wandering down Marcy in the dark would not be a good situation. Fortunately the headlamp works fine but it reminds me of a list of things I should never be without while hiking in the mountains:

- map
- compass
- 2 headlamps
- a *good* rain jacket
- gloves of some kind
- a winter hat
- light wool sweater
- light wool pants
- socks
- cell phone in a zip lock bag, you never know, you might get service

Ever since realizing how late I'm going to be getting back to the car, I am miserable. I hike down Marcy which is running steadily with water like a stream, as is most of the trail for the rest of the hike out. As I get towards Slant Rock at the base of Marcy, it gets dark. I have to hike not only to the Garden, but must continue on to the Rooster Comb trailhead where my car is parked. I won't be back at the car for another 10 miles. I trudge along. My knees are stiff and sore. My morale is low. I want to cry. I curse myself the whole way. I wonder, "what is wrong with me?". "Why do I get myself into these situations?" I keep walking like this for many brutal hours, just putting one foot in front of the other. After an eternity I reach the Garden, and luckily the hike to the car after that is short and swift. I text M and let her know I'm ok and on my way home. She texts back: she had decided she would start making emergency calls at 1:01am. I look back at my first text and I had texted her at exactly 1:01am. I drive home, exhausted, shower, and go to sleep. I wake up early and go to work for a classic Fight Club type of work day. Really. Why do I do this to myself?

Wakely Dam Ultra

About the Race

The Wakely Dam Ultra is a (roughly) 33 mile running race along a very remote section of the Northville Placid Trail from the Wakely Dam to Piseco lake. There are no crossroads or aid stations. The event is self-supported, so runners are expected to carry all needed food and equipment, and either carry water or fill up at streams or lakes along the way. The trail is reasonably straight and narrow, with a variety of different technical terrain including hills, rocks, roots, and mud, but is generally runnable. Here is a picture of the runners before starting:

Before the Race

Last year I barely managed to squeeze in enough runs to survive the race, constantly recovering from aches and pains, and overcoming mental obstacles to make the impossible possible. Learning how to stay fueled and hydrated for a 7+ hour run was a giant leap into new territory for me. Luckily I had lots of encouragement from two friends, B and H who had also signed up and were going through all the same things I was.

This year has been very different, things have gone incredibly well despite pushing dangerously hard. I started with a relatively easy early-season marathon while pacing B and worked my way up to the Boston Marathon which ended well, but not without significant suffering along the way. All the while I had Wakely sitting at the top of my priority list. I knew there would be really tough competition at Wakely this year, and because I was feeling strong, I felt an intense determination to become part of that competition. By the time the Lake Placid Marathon came around, I had gotten aggressive with my running. For the first time I abandoned all the running safety rules like tapering, recovering, etc. I ran hard during the week leading up to the marathon, ran a good race, then ran hard afterwards. H got me running a 30 mile run along the Robert Frost Trail a week later. Then a week after that, on a 17-hour day hike over 9 or so high peaks on the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. With lots of tough races and training runs in between including several pre-work Tongue Mountain loops and Moreau 15k runs. As a final preparation for Wakely, B and I ran a 26-mile run around the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, at the last minute tossing in Pharaoh Mountain for good measure.

Then of course, 6 days before Wakely came the Boilermaker. Having grown up in the area, the Boilermaker is the biggest holiday of the year in my family. In order to be sensible and save my strength for Wakely, I chose to not run at 100% effort, and kept it down to more like 99.9%.

By Wednesday after the Boilermaker, my leg muscles were terribly tight showing no signs of loosening up. With only 3 days to go before my most important race of the season, I needed to dive into the accelerated recovery program. That could only mean one thing: a 15k loop around Moreau Lake State Park, which I have completed 10 times or more this season. I was in a bad mental and physical state for this run, and tweaked my ankle and nearly broke my pinkie toe taking two of the nastiest falls of the year. Halfway through the run I wanted to cry and be safe in my car but had no choice to keep moving. From this point until the start of the Wakely Dam race I carried with me the sickening belief that this sequence of runs meant I was never going to be able to run 33 miles on Saturday.

I always experience major race anxiety and phantom pains before a race I care about. And this was the worst. Laying awake in my tent the night before Wakely, I reached a very low point where I gave up all hope of doing well, that my ankle would never survive even a few miles. I was miserable. But part of me knows it's all just nerves.

The Race

We woke up super early to catch the 4:30am bus from Piseco Lake to the Wakely Dam. The drive takes well over an hour, during which time I wolfed down a big breakfast of cold oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and of course Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

The morning of the race, I was mentally exhausted, it had been an extremely busy couple of weeks. Physically I felt great. Mentally I was a wreck. Knowing that I was in no state of mind to stick to any kind of racing plan I didn't try to make one. I knew this race could only go one way: run way too fast at the beginning and fall apart, with no hope in the world of holding it together for 33 miles. I was just too excited to go about it any other way, to suggest otherwise would be kidding myself.

At the start of the race, I ran off ahead with N and another runner behind me and A leading the way. We chatted and ran comfortably until A stopped in the woods for a rest room break 6 miles in, leaving me in the lead. I immediately came across an intersection. I blazed straight through, glancing at the sign, misreading it horribly. We descended into an area of lean-to's with no familiar blue markers in sight. Trails shot off in 4 different directions. We probed down each trail, quickly determining that none of them was the right way. Finally N suggested we head back to the intersection. We did, and rejoined the steady stream of runners making the correct turn.

At this point I abandoned what little sensibility I had started with. I took off determined to quickly catch up to the lead pack. First I came upon B, who was chatting with J at the time. Boy was B surprised to see me. They informed me that H and several runners were not far ahead, so I ran by to catch them. I ran hard and eventually regained my spot in the lead. I repeatedly got spooked that I was going the wrong way and reversed my direction until a fellow runner assured me I was on the right track.

I crossed a wooden footbridge where a DEC officer was standing. I gave him a wave and a smile, asked him how it's going. His response, looking at the sandals on my feet was a disapproving, "Interesting choice of footwear". Then I think he put a hex on me because no sooner had I left his site when I disappeared down another wrong trail. The false trail was very convincing until it hit a stream where it completely disappeared. Must have been a water-fetching trail. I stood there stammering for a while but eventually turned tail to find the real trail again. Along the way I could hear fellow runners in the distance leading the way without me.

Once I reached the trail, the correct direction was obvious. A hanging tree limb led me astray. Now I was back to spastically chasing down the lead group. It took a while but eventually I caught up to a group of 4 runners including H. I wanted to stay with them for a bit, but as soon as they said J and another runner were not far ahead I panicked and took them up on their offer to let me scoot ahead. I was looking forward to running with the lead runners for a while. However, J and the other leader were crouched at a stream filling up on water when I caught up to them. The second runner was shocked saying, "you got lost AGAIN!?!". I wasn't going to stop and wait, so I continued on solo.

Not a thought crossed my mind about anything but running like a freak into the blue yonder until the halfway point. With 16.5 miles to go I assessed my situation. I have been running full steam ahead for the first half. J, my most worrisome competitor can't be far behind, and he's been running a conservative pace with the intention of running very strong during the second half, picking off runners who, lacking discipline, went out too fast at the beginning. That would be me. If I ever see J again, he will speed past me smiling from ear to ear, making easy work of crossing the finish line first. My only hope is to keep my berzerker pace going and don't ever give in to temptations of any kind. Never stop. Any kind of stopping quickly turns to fixing things that weren't broken a minute ago, which leads to more fussing, and eventually it's hard to get the engine started again. Particularly as exhausted as I feel. I need to continue to put distance between us with every possible footstep and just pray not to bonk too badly.

My simple hydration strategy for the Wakely resulted from very recent experimental discoveries about myself and not overhydrating. After running Boston, I had a feeling there was something wrong with my old hydration strategy. I had drank loads of water all day the day before the race. I pounded a tall glass of water several hours before the race. All this hydro loading felt wrong somehow, like maybe it would throw my electrolytes into an imbalance instead of storing up hydration like it was supposed to do. I started searching the internet for information on how to properly hydrate, and came across Waterlogged, a 600-page bible debunking the Gatorade research and marketing that has pushed us to drink way more water than we need for a race. On our 7-hour training run at Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, I drank sparingly, I don't think I drank more than a liter and a half, and rehydrating afterwards went more easily than usual. This could have been partially attributed to the fact that it wasn't super hot and that I am conditioned, but the fact remains that drinking sparingly was surprisingly pleasant. So for Wakely, I put 2.5 liters of lightly salted water in my Camelback, and had no plans to refill. The result was that I never stopped to pee or refill. I finished the race with more than a liter in the reservoir. I will admit that I was unable to comfortably eat a Clif bar because my mouth was too parched. I would have consumed more water had I realized I had so much to spare. However I didn't feel any hydration issues at all apart from that, and rehydrated very easily after the race.

So I continued my ridiculous pace, and at this point forward it felt clear I was desperately carrying out a doomed mission. But, I reasoned, my choices are to give up before I've given it my best shot, or keep going. And without ever stopping at any point in the race for any reason, momentum carried me along. My legs got really sloppy, it felt like a Kamikaze run over rocks and mud. The sandals depend heavily on the foot gripping the sandal. A few times I got a case of mudfoot which means my foot is sliding all over the place, cramming my toes into the toe strap and my heel into the heel strap, threatening to break me, my sandal, and making it really difficult to run fast. Persevere, and eventually it will dry off or a much-needed foot washing station will appear.

At one point the trail creeped to the left of a really horrible disease-filled swamp. I didn't see the trail and leaped and stumbled into the waist-deep nasty water, green slime splashing all over me and my food. I was concerned that by eating goo packets or putting the Camelback pull tube in my mouth I would catch something unspeakable. On another occasion my momentum stumbled my upper body into the forest, ending with a dive between the trees like I was sliding into home plate.

The first half of the race is largely uphill, but it feels great on fresh legs. This is followed by a few miles of descending. After that is a section of four miles or so that look flat on an elevation map but for some reason are devastatingly brutal. I believe everybody slows down dramatically during this section, and I'm not sure why. Mentally its the low point of the race where all seems hopeless. It culminates in a final climb after which it crests and is wonderfully downhill from there. Except for a few tough sections, the trail gradually gets better and better with each passing mile. Despite feeling exhausted, exhilaration builds as the smooth, soft, and wide downhills just keep coming. I'm not bonking, I'm running! Just try and catch me now! A major stream crossing lets you know the end is coming. If you made it this far, there's no stopping now.

The night before we had explored the last mile or so of the race. It includes a turn I *never* would have made, I was really happy to know before-hand what was coming. The last section of trail was a deep grassy swamp which meant slow going. After that it opens up Piseco air strip, finishing with a long run through a grassy field with Race Director D leading runners to the finish on a bicycle. It felt great to see the finish line in the distance, and to be able to look back and not see the Goliath who had been chasing me this whole time. This meant I could run at a sane pace to the finish.

J crossed the finish line just 3 minutes later. Both of us had beaten the previous course record. For me this was the culmination of an absurd amount of obsessed running: 30 mile bonk runs, all out races from marathons to 5k's, I still can't believe it's over.


* Photographs taken by Ken Piarulli
* Wakely Dam Ultra

Lake Placid Marathon

As soon as this year started, I had already committed to more running races than I could possibly imagine. With the Boston Marathon kicking off the season, I fully expected to be broken and battered for a month or so afterwards, leaving me a step behind my training for the rest of the season, and creating an awful downward spiral. I imagined I'd be digging myself out of a deep hole before spring ever started. I was happily surprised to get through Boston unscathed, back to relatively normal running after little more than a week of recovery despite some major tightness after my calves cramped up on me during the marathon.

I had plans to run the Seven Sisters Trail Run 2 weeks after Boston. After 6 days of recovery from Boston, I headed out for a Moreau Lake 15k trail loop and faked my way through, pretending to be ok despite running on unforgiving steel legs well beyond the stiff and sore stage. However, I had to do something to ease my way back into tough trail runs. Either suffer now, or suffer a week from now. Better to take my lumps as early before the race as possible and give myself a full week to feel somewhat regular again. As the week wore on I went for more cautious, sensible recovery runs. But then, the day before the race, B suggests a 12 mile run. I try to wrap my head around the thought. Between 3 weeks of tapering then recovering, I've been holding back for well over a month with nothing to show for it except a few hours of marathoning. You know what? Screw it. Not just it though. Screw it all. Screw tapering, screw recovering. Not just tomorrow, but ever. 12 miles? Let's do it. Fast.

Somehow the name Dean Karnazes got into my head. Just the name alone was enough to make me realize that there is so much more my body can do, and the only way to get there is to let go of limitations. I've been carrying this attitude with me for the last 5 weeks or so. After 7 Sisters, I just exploded. I starting commuting to multi-hour mountainy trail runs, day after day. For the first time, I ran a few 75+ mile weeks, including many tough days (Moreau, Grafton, Tongue, local trails). I threw in a 28 mile run for good measure. Followed by 16 hard trail miles the next day. Two weeks before the Lake Placid Marathon.

There are books and books filled with rules. Good books. Running like this breaks those rules, all the rules I know of anyway: Never run more than 20 miles or so before a marathon. Never follow up a hard day of running with another hard day of running. Taper before a marathon.

I justified all of this by saying I'd run Lake Placid as a training run. I'd run barefoot, and take it easy and just run it for fun. But then a day or two before the race, I was looking over previous results, thinking "holy smokes, if I go all out, I could stand a chance of doing pretty well at this race!". I made the last minute decision to wear sandals and run my face off.

The night before the race, I felt my usual pains, nausea, etc. this time with a headache as an added bonus. I know enough now that I can ignore the phantom pains because once I start running I will feel 110%.

At the starting line I stand near the front, where half marathoners and full marathoners are all waiting to begin. I see some familiar faces, lots of Capital Region runners are here today. In fact I see some runners who I know can kick my butt, but they are wearing half marathon bibs. The gun goes off, and we take off up the first of many small hills. Everyone will be going too fast at the start, so I need to totally back off more than I feel like is necessary and I will *still* be going too fast. So I hold back and stay at a very comfortable pace and watch as 2 or 3 really fast guys run off way ahead, leaving pack of 10 or so runners a short distance ahead of me. I keep a comfortable pace. I look back and see random scattered runners behind me. I look forward at the pack. Dangit, there's a bit of a headwind, and if I join the pack I can go for a free ride for a while, but I'll have to speed up to catch up. Ugh. After a few minutes I catch up to the pack. There are a bunch of ironman shirts, and everyone is conversational and friendly. A few hundred feet up ahead is a guy in an orange shirt and just ahead of him are two dudes on bicycles in reflective vests. Orange shirt must be the leader for the full marathon, and the bicycles are keeping him on course. The pack slowly starts to break apart a little, a few guys run off ahead. I'm towards the back. A few miles into the race, we come to a nice comfortable downhill. When running barefoot or in sandals, it's really difficult to put on the breaks while going downhill. Barefoot Kenbob has a nice quote where he basically simply says, "why are you putting on the brakes"? I've been practicing the art of quickfeet down hills. It's so much easier than trying to slow down. And so much faster! With no effort, I find myself blazing past everyone in the group. 2 runners stay with me, and we stick together for the next several miles, overtaking the marathon leader.

Both runners are super friendly. One is from Quebec and has a real way with words. He gets everyone talking and having a great time. The other is from the Utica area. He was the second place finisher during last year's thanksgiving run in the snow, so he and I had met before. Everyone was totally upfront about their race plans, nobody seemed to be playing any kind of competitive mind games. Both kept reiterating we were running too fast. Me? I forgot my watch so I was dying to know what they were talking about. What is our pace? I refused to ask. If I wanted to know our pace all I needed to do was to NOT FORGET MY WATCH. Not hound all the other runners around me. We stuck together for a while, but I around mile 7 or so I started creeping slowly ahead.

I hit the first turnaround at mile 9. From this point onward, huge masses of other runners are running in the opposite direction. And I can't begin to tell how much energy everyone shared! Being the first marathon runner, people were clapping, cheering, and encouraging me the whole way. It was all I could do to try and return the favor. So I found myself in the unique position to be clapping and cheering, hooting, smiling, pointing, waving, and hollering for the next 17 miles or so.

And I felt great. Around mile 10 I felt a calf that wanted to cramp up followed by the slightest warning of soreness in my ankle. But I recognized those signs clear as day: low blood sugar. My brain is getting tired and it's way of letting me know is to point to different parts of my body and say "ow! see? We need to stop!". That just means it's time to suck down my first honey goo packet which I have safety pinned to my shorts. I eat one, drink a little water, and all is back to normal.

The course is great with plenty of hills to keep it interesting. The dude on the bike stayed with me to the end, always looking back to make sure he was a perfect distance ahead. It was great being in the lead because I could run at a comfortable pace. During any other race, there are people ahead that I constantly want to catch up to. But now, I'm better off keeping some extra energy in reserve so that if somebody catches up to me I have enough energy to feel fresh after he's been pushing hard to catch up. At the same time, I keep some pressure on myself, realizing that complacency will mean losing the lead I have.

I get to cheer on lots of people along the way, sometimes with high fives at the double yellow lines in the middle of the road: B and R who are running the marathon. M and her friend P running the half marathon. I could go on and on about the inspirational events in the race, like this guy.

Hoards of runners and spectators cheered, but one thing really stands out that I'm having difficulty coming to terms with. I really hope I didn't just imagine it or make it up or worse, mistake one thing for something else. As I was approaching the final mile or two, a small group of people got on their knees and were bowing to me! On the pavement! What the...?!? I want to erase this so bad. I can't believe I'm writing it, I feel like just by saying it it makes me the most absurdly narcissistic person on the planet. I'll tell you this: it's a strange feeling to have an effect on people and get this kind of reaction by just running. As I was sitting at my desk the next day, struggling with day-to-day computer I.T. problems it's crazy to think back to yesterday when people were voluntarily bowing in front of me. Absolutely ridiculous. Just when I thought I'd heard and seen it all.

When I mentioned it to R, he simply said, "take it". As in "take it while you can.".

The final section of the race is a super steep hill climb with a pre-victory lap around a high school track before crossing the finish line. I got to break the tape, what an awesome feeling.


* A nice race writeup
* Photo Finish
* Photo posted to Twitter

Trail: Moreau to Saratoga

There is a new proposed trail connecting Moreau Lake State Park to Saratoga Springs. The trail doesn't exist yet. Here is the proposed trail overlaid on top of google maps and satellite imagery to show where the planned trails will go:

The trail starts at Moreau Lake State Park on the Palmertown Ridge Trail. From there it passes by Lake Ann, Lake Bonita, and cuts through the Lincoln Mountain State Forest. The trail goes through the Daniels Road/Skidmore College Mountain Bike Trails, ending up in Saratoga Springs.

To add to the excitement, the Zim Smith Trail is planned to extend from Mechanicville to Saratoga Springs, thereby linking Moreau to Mechanicville.

Links to maps

* Saratoga PLAN Proposed Trail Network
* Saratoga PLAN website
* Daniels Road/Skidmore Mountain Bike Trail Map
* Saratoga Mountain Bike Association

Fibularis Longus

Running helps me to learn my own anatomy one sore muscle at a time. When a particular muscle gets sore, it's exact shape and location become readily apparent. It's as if the entire body is transparent except that one muscle, but instead of seeing it, I can feel it. It feels like a big bruised piece of meat inside my leg. Today that muscle is the fibularis longus. The fibularis longus plantar-flexes the foot. Plantar flexion is movement of the foot that flexes the foot or toes downward toward the sole. This is a muscle that I never knew existed until the non-stop steep ups and downs of the seven sisters trail race the other day. There it is, running down the front side of the leg.

It's nice to know that the soreness matches the obvious cause perfectly. I would imagine that plantar flexion occurs while pushing off when going uphill, and also to catch your fall with each downhill step (assuming a minimalist forefoot landing). The fibularis longus is also the most conveniently located muscle for massaging with a rolling massager. But ouch!

I hope you enjoyed your anatomy lesson for the day!

7 Sisters Trail Race

I've been dying to run the Seven Sisters Trail Run in Amherst, MA since I heard stories after my friend H ran it 4 years ago, back in 2010. He said it was brutal, and that pretty much everybody did a lot of walking. The 7 sisters are mountain peaks. Not giant mountains, but steep ones. And high enough. The race is an out-and-back over the 7 peaks so completing the race means summitting 14 times. Before experiencing the course I was skeptical that we would really cross 14 peaks, but now after completing it I'm a believer. Every year the race has fallen on an inopportune date so despite being high up on the list for things I *wanted* to do other events came up that meant I had to put it off another year. This year I had a pretty good excuse not to do it. Boston was 2 weeks ago, and technically I should be in recovery mode. But I *really* wanted to run the race, so I put sensibility aside for a few hours and signed up. As did B and H.

The course has been historically notorious for being a hard run to do your best in because it's steep, tight single-track the entire way making passing difficult. This has lead to long trains of people all stuck moving at someone else's pace. This year runners were released in waves to alleviate the problem. I lied my way into the first wave (they requested runners' previous finishing times and I have no history).

I was wearing my New Balance Minimus MT00 shoes. They were in pretty rough shape to begin with. A tear across the top of both shoes a few inches behind my toes allows the front of the shoe to flop down when it catches on a rock leaving the front half of my foot completely exposed, with the bottom of the shoe flopping around underfoot. The solution has been to bend down and fix it when it happens. This method didn't work so well for this race, which I'll get into more later.

Everyone waited calmly until the race started. When the start was announced, we funneled into the narrow trail. The only flat part of the course occurs during the first few hundred yards where one runner tripped on a root and hit the ground hard. Everyone leaped over and around her and started the long first ascent. At this point most people around me were running as best they could (as opposed to walking, which would soon become the norm for a lot of the uphills). For the first few miles, we were all huffing and puffing and pushing hard. Too hard. I was passing people, foolishly working my way closer to the front.

The trail is absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine a more wonderful place for a *hike*. For a run on the other hand, the word wonderful doesn't quite fit. The trail is made of giant jagged rocks. Basalt so they claim. Most of the footfalls dance from sharp rock to sharp rock. On the gravelly sections in between, big gnarly rocks are everywhere, pointing ominously at your teeth. Tripping anywhere could be disastrous. And yet we're all running as fast as we can, scrambling up little cliff faces and bombing down hills.

As I'm galloping down one hill, the front of my sneaker touches a rock and my toes flop out. I bend down and flop it back on. It happens again. And again. I start to worry that this is going to ruin the race. The bottom of the shoe flopping around might catch on something and cause a major face plant. But I'm getting sick of fixing it every couple of minutes. So for a while I leave it hanging, but that plan doesn't last long. RIP! RIP! RIP! The problem gets worse and worse, it turns out that without my toe in the shoe holding it all together, the shoe tears away more and more from the sole until there is next to nothing holding the sole to my foot. Now I'm committed to bending over every time it comes loose. And it's coming loose more often because the shoes are both in tatters. Here is what I ran in for most of the race:

I'm on a slick descent and a shoe comes loose. I bend over and fix it quickly, but two steps later I lose my footing and take a scary sliding header down the cliffy trail, but recover quickly with nothing more than some desperate cries outloud. Luckily nobody is close enough to take much notice, saving me from an embarrasing "I'm ok just took a little spill that's all!".

The run continues like this. Steep long up, steep long down, repeat 14 times. Food and drinks await at the turnaround at the halfway point. I grab a quick Gatorade and head back up the hill. Within 2 minutes of leaving the food behind I think to myself, "boy am I hungry. I could sure use some food right now". Doh! Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so hasty at the turnaround point. Before long my stomach starts actively growling in hunger, while my legs exhaust the last of their dwindling energy on the uphills. here's nothing I can do about it now. The quickest cure for all of my problems is to keep running.

The runner who finished directly ahead of me said at one point the runner in front of him slipped and went flying off a cliff. He stopped to find the runner hanging from a sapling, so he held out a hand and pulled the guy up. Everyone was fine and kept on running.

Another runner was limping along using a stick as a crutch after having broken or sprained his ankle. This could have been any one of us at any second of the race. Yet that's what makes it so exhilarating to run. Intense focus is needed with every footstep, nothing comes easy.

Peak after peak after peak I think to myself, "is this the last one and it's all downhill from here?". Eventually the final peak comes. I'm feeling quite content to mosey down to the finish. But someone comes up from behind and hauls ass down the steep hill. I watch in awe. "Wow he's going fast. Why... Don't... I?" Screw it, I speed up significantly, enough to maintain the distance that separates us. It's incredibly energizing to amputate the blerch in my head and just go.

We dash along the last few hundred yards of flat to the finish. We made it! As soon as I stop, a shivering chill hits the air. I desperately need food (first) and some warm clothes. I grab a nutella-covered bagel, some peanut butter-covered pretzels, warm clothes and return to the finish to cheer on my friends.

Anthony Kill Kayak Video

I headed out today for a morning kayak of the Anthony Kill and took some video of the course:

Boston Marathon


As soon as we were allowed to approach our corrals, I started jogging along, afraid I was going to miss my spot. At first I was one of the few joggers, but eventually we caught up to the masses where everyone was hurrying along. Or warming up. I'm not quite sure which.

Just before reaching the corrals I came across a huge port-a-potty lot with hundreds of stalls and NO PEOPLE. My heart lifted with excitement. Hundreds of port-a-potties and they're ALL MINE! I ran up to the first one, but the red indicator on the front told me it was occupied. So was the next. And the next. I jogged past 50 of these things and they were all occupied. For a minute I thought I was in a pre-race anxiety nightmare. But eventually I reached an available one.

After taking care of business I headed to my corral. I looked around at the people I was competing with, and oh, my god did they look like serious runners, every last one of them. Traveling light, none of them had anything but shoes, socks, shorts, and a tank top. I felt out of place with my fanny pack (it carried my phone so I could find people at the finish line). I decided at that point that whatever everyone else did, I was going to do. Nobody warmed up. Nobody stretched. Everybody sat down on the pavement. And so did I. But my bony butt can't handle sitting on the pavement so I stood up. And I stretched and jogged in place a little. Then the elite runners paraded past the corrals. First the women, then the men. Everyone jumped up and ran over to check 'em out and cheer.

I ran through my race plan in my head. I wore my Timex IronMan watch on my left hand, and a pace bracelet on my right. The pace bracelet displays my planned pace, and my expected time at every mile split. While researching the course, I read recommendations to run slower early in the race, faster later in the race, faster on the downhills, and faster during the long middle flat section. As complicated as it sounds, it all seemed to add up to roughly running a steady pace throughout. My planned pace was 6:15.

The Race

The starting gun went off, and my corral quickly worked it's way to the starting line then ran as a mass at a good clip. For the first mile, we ran along at 6:15, my target pace. Once I had some freedom to move, I started passing people slowly. I was feeling really good, it felt like a pace I could keep up for a while so I stuck with it. However, at around mile 6, something unexpected happened. I had been running along confident that I was banking 15 seconds at every mile. A fellow minimalist runner in Vibram Five Fingers hovered next to me and told me he was shooting to finish the race in 2:48 or so. We were on pace to run 2:40 or less! I chuckled to myself thinking, "he's going way too fast". However a short bit later I looked down at my watch and compared it to my pace bracelet to find that *I* was behind by several minutes! Maybe he was exactly on target, and I'm falling behind! Agh! What is happening?!? When I'm running a race I completely lose the ability to do any kind of simple math, and finally I concluded that I was, in fact, way behind schedule. So I sped up. For 3 miles I averaged a 5:50 pace before correcting my situation. It turns out I had done something goofy like maybe hit my lap timer after seeing a kilometer sign instead of a mile sign. My watch was screwy, I had been going too fast, and now I'm going even faster. After realizing my mistake, I returned to my still-too-fast 6:00 pace.

Why am I going 15 seconds faster than my goal pace? You know what? I just felt awesome. I believed in the impossible. I was running along comfortably, so why slow down? When I reached the halfway point at 13.1 miles, I noticed my time was 1:18:50. My fastest half marathon is 1:18:01, so I was going pretty darned close to my fastest half marathon pace. That's when I realized I was going way too fast and was going to pay for my mistake. But I held on, and continued my 6-minute pace all the way to the famed Newton Hills at which point I slowed to a 6:30 pace, which seems pretty reasonable for the uphills. However, my physical state was steadily declining. My calves occasionally cramped. My hands started going numb. I worried I was going to pass out. I had banked several minutes during the first 16 miles. Not a good idea mind you, but I knew that slowing down a little was going to be way better at this point than bombing out completely. By the time I was really suffering, I only had six miles left to go. Surely I could hang on for that long.

Just then, I spotted M and her crew cheering me on. I turned to M and opened my mouth to announce my limitless love and joy at seeing her, run over and give her a huge hug! What came out of my mouth was a miserable-sounding, "BLEEEAAAARGHHHHH!" while my legs just kept instinctively moving forward as if a small change in direction would lead to complete collapse. So no hug.

The uphills were not bad at all. In fact it felt refreshing to slow down and chug up them. The last 6 miles are all downhill. I had it in my head that once I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill it was all going to be smooth sailing. It was anything but. My pace was slower on the final descent than during the uphills. With each mile I lost a little speed. My final mile was the slowest at 7 minutes. Not bad at all under the circumstances.

The last mile or two of the race take you through downtown Boston. Grandstands were set up along either side of the course filled will screaming people. It felt like entering a huge arena, a national stage, where I am part of the main event. At mile 26, amongst a deafening roar of cheering, I clearly heard a yell of "STOOOOOOKEEEEEY!!!" and looked to my right where my eyes landed squarely on my friend J with his hand cupped around his mouth, mid-"STOOOOOOOKEEEEEEY!!!!". I flapped my arms and gave him my best look of excitement, and felt a renewed spirit for the final .2 miles.

I stopped my watch as I crossed the finish line. With blurred vision I checked out my time: 2:43:45. I blinked once or twice. That number sounds familiar. I looked at my target finishing time on my other hand: 2:43:45. I couldn't believe it. By sheer coincidence, or twist of fate, through the fast miles and the slow miles, it all evened itself out so that I hit my goal to the exact second. I did it!!!


I was in rough shape after crossing the finish line. Barely able to hobble, unable to lift my legs more than an inch or two. Fortunately, a lot of walking was necessary which helps to keep from tightening up too much. I wandered around eating bananas and chugging water. After a half hour or so I actually felt reasonably ok. Sore and tired of course, but able to walk. M, J, M, and I met up for lunch where I had a veggie burger, beer, and water. We sat at a tall table with bar stools which allowed me to stand up some of the time and stretch. My leg muscles didn't tighten up, instead they were a soggy mess and sore, with an almost bruised feeling. Particularly my quads, calves and more than anything else my lower calves. Over the next two days they tightened up while I did occasional light walking, stretching, and spinning on a stationary bike. On the third day I went for a 4 mile jog. For the jog I was a little tight, sore, and gingerly, but it made me very optimistic that I would not have much longer to recover. As of day 4, I have not experienced any kind of joint pain or pulled muscles (knock on wood) which were my main concerns. I had a sore knee that put me somewhat out of commission for a couple of months after the last marathon where I really pushed it. So far this has been a really successful recovery.

Yesterday I did an hour+ of yoga with some massage. Oh, and maybe got a little ahead of myself and made plans for a tough 15k trail run for today at Moreau Lake State Park. Yesterday evening, my left calf felt really sore. Not sure if it's from anxiety for the upcoming run, or if I stretched a little too far yesterday. Perhaps the massage brought something to the surface that had been lying in wait. Or it could be just a delayed reaction to the whole marathon thing. Today's run will definitely let me know where things stand based on whether I loosen up during the run or not.