Trail Running the Conestoga

As the Frozen Snot lingers in the distance, my good friend and I headed out for some much needed training with an 8-mile point-to-point trail run. Our initial plan was to hit up a familiar trail, but decided to work on better elevation challenges with a more difficult trail (as suggested by his wife and fellow runner). We dropped off my friend’s brown truck at the finish and made the drive to the start.

Difficult is a bit of an understatement. The fact that we couldn’t find the trail start should have been a sign of things to come. After driving around for a bit and doubling back a time or two, we located the trail head.

The weather was cold with rain in the forecast. At 40°F I decided to wear shorts, along with a tech shirt and light running jacket. The plan was to cover 8-miles of fairly difficult terrain with lots and lots of hills. I decided to tote my Ultimate Direction running vest, with a hydration pack full of Tailwind nutrition.

Since the weather was cold, gloves were a must. However I must say, in the end it didn’t matter, it was cold, it was wet, we finished soaked to the bone and freezing. But, I digress.

Mile 1 was quick and easy, and it was swiftly followed by 2 miles of the complete opposite; slowly climbing and punishing terrain. The climbing must have jostled my hydration pack, because (I don’t know how) the top came loose and I ended up dumping half its contents all down my back. Sweet sweet Tailwind Nutrition, just wasted. I cried. I cried inside. It was painful and bitterly cold.

I nursed what little Tailwind I had for the remainder of the run. Thankfully, I had a Honey Stinger gel in my front vest pocket, which came in clutch later on.

The creek crossings in the beginning felt refreshing and were a welcome treat. Given the weather was a steady light rain, everything was wet and slippery so I felt very much in-tune to what and how I was navigating the trails. By mile 4, I was relishing in the fact that we were half-way done and felt strong.

At some point I remember mile 5 having a decent downhill cruise, which was somewhat pleasant. Pleasant as you can be while watching your footing and avoiding slipping on leaf covered dangers.

At mile 6, we stopped for a quick break. We were soaked to the bone, creek crossings were less enjoyable and I mentioned 2 miles was all I had left in me. Everything was wet, and my phone managed to call home 15 times within 15 minutes. My wife left me a lovely voicemail. We were having fun.

Mile 8 came and went and we realized we were no where close to our finish as the brown truck was no where to be seen. We called and got some much needed guidance on how to get back to the truck, a “short” trip down a lone service road was all we needed. I got to thinking we weren’t too far off, but as we rounded corner after corner, the brown truck was no where in sight. Either we were wrong, or just not listening, but that darn truck wasn’t even close. The truck was another 2 miles from where we were.

Miles 9 and 10 were brutal and angry miles. I don’t remember much, the sight of the brown truck was an instant relief. I never thought I’d be see happy to see that truck in all my life, but there it was just beckoning us with its dry interior.

All-in-all, it was 10 miles of perfect training. The weather was garbage, the terrain was tough and technical, but in the end we made it and learned a little bit more along the way.

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Hex Hollow Half

It was oddly warm for a rainy and dreary December Sunday, but a bunch of us felt it necessary to run in the woods along some of the gnarliest, muddy, hilly, soggy, soul crushing trails in York, Pennsylvania in a 6.66 mile race known as the Hex Hollow Half. The race is held at Spring Valley County Park, in Glen Rock, PA.

Now it’s called a half since it is a 13.1 mile race if you decide to run the 6.66 mile loop twice. But let’s be honest, only the crazies attempt that. Since this was my first year, 6.66 miles was just enough for me to handle. So I guess I technically ran the Hex Hollow Half-Half.

Did I mention it was muddy?

The race begins on a downward trail that run along the border of the park’s woods. You feel great, the air is cool and damp, your footing is strong and the slight drop in elevation teases you into thinking Hex Hollow is a nice and easy quick race. I saw my 9:30 pace and chuckled as I jumped over some course obstacles. I left my Ultimate Direction hydration pack in the car, I mean it’s only a little over 6 miles, did I really need it?

The answer was yes. I’m an idiot. And it’s not because I needed hydration per se- it’s the fact that I started the race wearing too many layers. The pack would have been ideal for toting all my junk versus me awkwardly carrying everything the entire race.

Mile 1 was a freaking tease. The course never got any easier after that. What’s the saying? “What goes up, must come down.” Yeah, we went up alright and some sections we came down, but it never was easy either way. Going uphill seemed to be the theme of the day, and my heart rate was at maximum threshold the entire time. I would walk when the incline was just too much, but it didn’t seem to help the mental games the course played. I doubted myself in some spots, stopping was never an option because if I did I was calling it quits.

Miles 2-3 were tough. Coming down to the aid station at mile 3 was tricky. The trail was wide and looking inviting, it was a downhill section that was asking for trouble. The leaf covered ground hid rocks, twigs, and ankle twisting moss covered roots just salivating at the sight of runners. My quads burned as my internal Jake-brakes kicked in and I jarred and jolted my way down the hill. I’m not sure if I drank the water or just poured it all over my face, either way it was ice cold.

Most of the race was single track, sopping wet and muddy with no room for mistakes. The mud did everything it could to suck the shoes off your feet.

Miles 4, 5, and 6 weren’t any better. The stream crossings were refreshing and fording the knee deep water at one point was the highlight of the race. The air was cold, damp, and foggy, but as soon as your heart rate increased you could feel the humidity and weight on your chest. At mile 6 in a sharp incline an older woman passed me and grumbled something to God that there were no more hills. She hexed us, as we rounded a corner the hill only kept rising and if I had a rock I would have thrown it at her.

This race was a humbling experience. Beyond humbling if that. As I ran up to the finish line at 1:30:05 the race director asked if I had fun as he put his arm around me and matched my weak jog. I looked him in the eyes and said, “how do I politely tell you that I hate you guys? I’ll see you next year, I’ve got unfinished business.” He laughed and told me that is what he loves to hear, so many people have a love hate relationship with the race that it draws them back for more. He’s right. I’ll be back, it was an awesome race and a great experience I’ll remember until next time.

https://www.bibrave.com/races/hex-hollow-half-reviews/11306

Book Review: North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott and Jenny Jurek is a wonderfully spellbinding book that brings you alongside the Jurek’s as they tackle the Appalachian Trail.

Because I’m generally impatient, I ordered the audiobook with Audible and immediately started tuning in.  I was captivated as I listened in as Scott and Jenny narrated their adventures along the AT.  Hearing the story in their voice, from each of their different perspectives was a delightful treat.

A real surprise for me was hearing the story from Jenny’s perspective. Jenny’s role is nothing short of a miracle worker. She describes the logistics behind being Scott’s support and lifeline along the AT. She shines a light on both the ups and downs of the AT, and brings a level of reality to the book. While Scott is grabbing a runner’s high in the wilderness Jenny is the real record holder for keeping a tight schedule and always being just a little ahead of Scott, ready and waiting. Her entries in the book are real, emotional, and fiercely truthful; it’s not all rainbows and sunshine on the trail.

Scott leaves nothing out as he describes the high highs and even the low lows. His journal-like storytelling puts you right on his heels as he tackles the AT with such detail that you can hear his feet hit the ground. Scott paints a vivid picture of his travels and all that he encounters. From the scariest tales of the AT (think banjos, fish hooks, booby traps, and tripwires set to injure “trespassers and hippies”) to the most beautiful stories of human kindness (trail angels that leave care packages for weary travelers), Scott and Jenny’s inspirational followers and Scott’s ultimate use of willpower to overcome the daunting challenges that await.

A truly awesome read, “North” is at the top of my list.

Confessions of a Sock Aficionado

Hold up, before you go any further, this post is not sponsored, endorsed, or paid by Feetures!  This review is my own experience purchasing and using these wonderfully awesome socks.  Also, I know I’m getting older when the thought of a brand new pair of socks excites me, and these bad boys take the cake! Psst, Feetures! Call me, let’s get hooked up.

When it comes to socks, I have an obsession. I’m a stickler for comfort, and will destroy a laundry basket of perfectly clean wash in search for my go-to pairs. I become a sock archaeologist and will remove layer after layer in search of perfect pair. And when I discover my match, a sigh of relief from my feets and cry of joy from my heart.

You may all know of my love for Mojo Compression socks (and I still hold them in high regard), but I found out quickly that while they were great for recovery and road running activities, trail running proved to be a different beast.  Keep in mind, I used and swear by the Mojo Coolmax socks for recovery and for extended runs.  They are light, breathable, and offer full support, but this isn’t about Mojo socks.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk Feetures!  I was getting discouraged after being introduced to trail running when my Merrell shoes were giving me blisters after about 5 miles of activity.  I tried various socks, and combinations of socks, to no avail – I was starting to think I struck out and picked a bum trail running shoe.  I even doubled-up on socks and found they kind of helped, but my feet were still a little sore afterward – and who wants to have to double-up on socks? It just feels like a waste.

I was in my favorite local running store grabbing some supplies, when I spotted a wall of Feetures! socks and noticed they boasted a money-back-satisfaction-guarantee.  Insert my face, with a dark smirk, I knew the perfect test.  Enter the 7 miles of trails with my local running club aka HELL on shoes and socks, a true battleground for proving equipment claims and effectiveness.

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I grabbed the first pair of socks, sized to my foot (L), and decided it was on.  The next morning I woke up excited to hit the trails and slipped on my Feetures! socks.  It’s crazy to think that something like socks can be a game-changer, but you’d be surprised.  The trails were wet and flooded out following a recent rainfall, so I knew this would be a true test of quality.  After the first 3 miles, I was feeling good, and the socks were holding up well.  I was doing my best to avoid the puddles, when after hopping over a log lead me to a full on mud bath splash down.  I was soaked and started to get worried that maybe this wasn’t the proper way to break-in a fresh pair of socks – but I pressed onward.

By the end of the 7 miles, I was re-charged, I spent so much time focusing on where I was landing that I completely forgot about my feet and my socks.  In fact, it wasn’t until I got home and took off my socks did I realize there wasn’t a blister or soreness to complain about.  Feetures! YOU ROCK!

Since purchasing these bad boys, I’ve logged about 20+ miles on them and have no complaints – these are my go to brand now for all distance running activities.

 

Trail Running Part II

 

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I might be slowly converting into a trail runner… crazy, right?  First, let me just say that meeting up and joining a local running club is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. As outgoing of a person that I am, I’m generally pretty shy and it takes a lot for me to “bite the bullet” and take the plunge.  I’ve been following a local running club for months now on Facebook, and after a push from a friend, I decided to join them on a weekly meetup about a month ago.  I’ve been running with them ever since and the experience has been nothing but rewarding.  So do yourself a favor and find a local running club and JOIN!

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Death March – Trail Running, an Experience

Yes, you read that right. Death March is a Half-Marathon(ish) trail run through some dense woods along some gnarly hills and yet contains some of the most awesome views.  I was lured out to this adventure by my close friend and his girlfriend (now fiance) – two amazingly talented runners that for some reason enjoy this punishing trail of death.

Actually, I think they love bringing newbs like myself out to the trail and take sheer pleasure in watching us beginners try to navigate the obstacles a the while trying to keep a modest pace.

Regardless, I hated my life, but somehow enjoyed every minute of it.

The trail system is a unique trek along the Susquehanna River, that yields some pretty impressive views that require an equal amount of effort (if not more) to obtain.  The first 5 miles is a winding wooded trail system that has you traversing narrow passing, hoping over little creeks and crossing the same road a few times to screw up your internal compass.  I’ll admit the beginning was fast paced, if you would consider an average 14 min/mile fast, and my heart rate was elevated to match my level of excitement, fear, and wonder.

The views from mile 5 or 6 or something near there- give me a break I was experiencing Runner’s High

After the wooded trails you enter the thick of the woods that run parallel to the river.  It was here that I truly experienced some hardcore trails – consider this more of a spirited walk with extra pep. My heart rate at this point leveled off a little, mostly because the small snack break we took helped me calm down, and the sights we took in reminded me to enjoy the moment. It was also in this moment that I really felt like we were alone – the trail system runs along elevations that no one dare to domesticate.

I met the three sisters, the “mountains” we would spend the bulk of our mileage trying to conquer. First off, these sisters are jerks, it was at this point where I really started to hate my life and my choice to tag along.  We stopped at one of the sisters where I filled out a log book, cursing my friend and everyone on the trail that day for coning my into coming along.  During the stop, I paused my Garmin – only to forget to restart it about 3/4 of a mile from our brief resting post.

Hot Dog Hallow- a questionable Duck Blind in the middle of God-knows-where

It wasn’t until we crested the final hill and saw our escort vehicle that I immediately felt 10,000 times better. Just the sheer thought of having completed our journey sent a burst of adrenaline through my system, and it was at that very moment that I knew I was hooked.

I’ll be back, with more GU Energy Gels, a full Camelback Hydration Pak, Honey Stinger Waffles, and CLIFs bars!

Handful of Gu Energy Gels and Magical Sport Beans to help power me through the hills. And yes, those are Street Running shoes- not trial shoes.