Trail Racing: The Ugly Mudder

Eight hundred and eighty is a pretty big number.  Not only is it (in pounds) the record size of an American Black Bear, and the size (in sq miles) of Bee County, Texas, there are also 880 people named Michael Smith currently living in the State of Virginia.  It also happens to be the number of hill-loving, ankle-twisting, beer-drinking runners that descended upon the Reading Liederkranz for the 9th annual Ugly Mudder 7ish-mile Trail Run.

The Ugly Mudder is a no-limit race, and the unseasonably warm February weather brought people out in droves.  The course was pretty typical for a Pretzel City affair, with plenty of mud, single-track, and grueling hills which make trail running such a fantastic sport.  As folks began wandering down from the Liederkranz (some  intrepid runners carb-loading with Franziskaner) and lining up at the start, speculation began flying in regards to the size of the race.  After brief remarks from the race director (with the help of his beautiful assistant), we were off.  The course starts with a short straight-away on a wide macadam road.  I should have been sprinting during this portion to get ahead of the pack, but alas found myself in a herd of runners when the course veered right and up a hill into the woods.  With a pack about 20-30 runners wide pushing themselves up through the woods, most managed to keep in good spirits by moooing and making the best of the situation.  It was tough to get moving past runners on the single track for the first few miles, but as the crowd thinned out, I was able to let loose and make up some time.  After downing two refreshing alternative beverages at mile 6, I really picked up the pace for the last mile.  Rounding the last turn towards Mt Whadafug, I realized with dismay that the guy in the grass skirt and plastic leis was still ahead of me.  Talk about demoralizing!  Luckily I was able to maneuver past him on Whadafug and finished strong, to be greeted by an ice cold Franziskaner Dark.

This is a great race for a beginner, or someone who is a bit nervous about breaking into the world of trail running.  Unless you want to push it very hard in the beginning to jockey for position, it’s important to enter into the race with a positive attitude focused on enjoying the experience and camaraderie, not pushing for speed at all times.  During a single-track race with that many participants, the average runner will definitely encounter bottlenecks that require slowing down or walking.  Keep that in mind from the beginning, and will you will still have a blast!

After a few hours celebrating at the Liederkranz, we headed home and stopped by Stoudts Brewery for dinner.  The brewpub is decorated with Victorian-era furniture and campaign propaganda from the 1800-1900s. There is an interesting planned community next door called Stoudtburg, which is loosely designed after Rottenburg, Germany.  If you get a chance to visit, it is well worth it!  Your best bet?  Run the 12K Stoudt’s Distance Classic in Oct!

Miles: 7

Total Miles: 207

One Month Down – Status Update

With a rip of the the “word-of-the-day” calendar on my desk (munificent), the first month of the 2,012 challenge is over.  Unfortunately, I am way behind.  The one-two punch of injuries late last year and early this year threw a wrench in my otherwise ambitious plans, but I am almost fully healed, and ready to double my efforts to keep ticking away those miles!

As of last night, I have logged a total of 80 miles.  In order to be on track, I should have ran, walked, and biked 171 miles by this point in the year. Fear not, my dear friends, as I’ve got two aces up my sleeve! Inspired by the good folks over at The Run Commuter, I’m going to start plugging in some more running miles during my commute (more on that later).  Also, I am going to sign up for an ultra.  This will force me to fit in longer and more frequent training runs, and get me back on the bike for longer conditioning rides.

Some quick reflections on the 2,012 challenge:

1. Hardest Part: The most difficult part of this challenge is going to be having the discipline to calculate and record all the miles.  I have been making great strides in embracing technology (iphone w/ runmeter) to help automatically track miles and send them to Dailymile.  I’m still not listening to music outside though, keep those earbuds on the treadmill!

2. Running/Biking: I had high hopes for this challenge to knock off most of the miles running.  I am coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be ready for a few months.  I need to build up strength and ease into high-mile weeks so I don’t injure myself.  I need get the bike tuned up for longer rides, and start hitting that Greenbelt (and not feel guilty about it)

3. Best Part: Motivation to get out there and hit the trails.  It was a beautiful day yesterday, and the need to clock miles gave me the motivation to throw running clothes, shoes, and a waterbottle into the truck while traveling for work.  I had time to go for an amazing sunset run at Gifford Pinchot.  It was quiet, beautiful, and serene.

Pinchot Lake at Sunset

I may be behind the 8-ball right now, but I’m coming back strong! See you on the trails!

Trail Runs – Boyd Big Tree Preserve

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One of the finest characteristics of our capital city is its proximity to a host of natural amenities.  While there are ample opportunities for biking, running, and walking within city limits, you are limited to relatively flat, paved trails.   Drive just a few minutes north of the city, however, and there is a grand network of public land and trails to keep your feet happy for years.   One of my favorite spots in Fishing Creek Valley (the first valley north of Harrisburg) is Boyd Big Tree Preserve.

This 800-acre conservation area is owned and managed by the PA DCNR for multiple uses, including hunting, so be sure to wear your orange during hunting season!  With over 12 miles of well-marked trails (plus a bonus trail that shoots over to Blue Mountain Parkway through Central PA Conservancy land), there is enough to keep you busy for your spring training runs.  This area is particularly well suited to folks like myself who, during a momentary lapse in judgement, signed up for April 21st quad-burning monster, Hyner View 25/50k.

Need hill training? This is the place to go.  There are enough trails that you can tailor the run to your degree of difficulty, and the loop below is my favorite for easing into hill training.  Once you have a strong base built up, take the yellow trail straight up the west side of the property, or if you prefer, chug up the powerline.

It was a beautiful morning to be out in the woods, and I was lucky enough to run with a few deer that made it through the hunting season.  Despite a few folks hiking with their four-legged friends, I had the park to myself.

The Dreadmill Workout – Indoor Winter Running

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The treadmill and I have never gotten along.  The same can be said for stationary bikes, ellipticals, rowers, and all manner of cardiovascular indoor equipment. Despite my complete lack of coordination on these torture devices, on some base level it bothers me to be exerting so much effort and movement, but never really getting anywhere.  It’s hard not to feel like a hamster on a wheel when surrounded by the hum of a line of treadmills, staring out the window (or at the television).   I’ve always reveled in foul-weather challenges, and can generally get my myself motivated to head outdoors in the rain, snow, sleet, or hail. I probably would have made a great postal worker.

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Don't make me go!

That being said, the weather on Monday was nasty.  The fog was so thick I couldn’t see city island  and riverfront park was still icy and slushy.  I didn’t have time to make it to the woods, and I didn’t want to risk slipping and twisting on the ice and aggravating my almost-healed injuries.  It was so bad even the dog didn’t want to come out and play.  But I needed to run.  Not just for the mileage challenge, but for my own sanity.  I had to face the treadmill.

I sucked it up and pushed through a 45-minute workout – a new treadmill record for me.  I rarely listen to music while running, but with the help of the Big Damn Band and some quality day-dreaming, I got through.  I also learned to appreciate the value of a treadmill workout to the mental challenge of running.

From a 5k to an ultra-marathon, there is a mental/emotional challenge in addition to the physical requirements of training and racing.  Sometimes you might just be having a bad day, sore from an earlier workout, or realizing that biscuits and gravy washed down with a beer are not a great breakfast before a 13-mile training run (I know this from experience). For me, it is tougher to keep myself moving on a treadmill than in almost any other running situation.  A few long treadmill workouts help develop and practice the mantras and interior dialogue that can you through a tough race.

Total Miles: 56

Why I run – Pennsylvania Farm Show Food

It’s that time of year again – the 96th Annual Pennsylvania Farm Show is in town!  If you live in the Harrisburg area, you are most certainly already acquainted with this week-long celebration of the rich agricultural heritage of Penn’s Woods.  There is plenty going on to keep you occupied – tractor pulls, rodeos, sheep-to-shawl, poultry the likes of which you have never encountered, and of course the 1,000 pound butter sculpture.

The shining star in this agri-carnival is without question the food court.  To give you an idea of how popular the food is, in 2011  visitors wolfed down about 100,000 milkshakes, 20,000 dozen potato doughnuts, 7,000 apple dumplings, 11,000 whoopie pies, nearly 9,000 Strawberry Surprise drinks and 4,500 bags of maple cotton candy during last year’s show.  We joined this glorious fest of indulgence on Friday, and constantly overheard things like “this is going to ruin my diet” and “I don’t even WANT to know what’s in these”.    Unfortunately, the ignorance is bliss mindset is why many diets/resolutions fail.  There is no shame on indulging in some calorie-laden treats once in awhile, but you should be comfortable in the knowledge that an overall healthy lifestyle will negate those extra calories, and be aware of what you are putting in your body.  Or better yet, use those extra indulgences as motivation to plug in some extra miles!    So, what is all that delicious Farm Show food going to cost you in time pounding pavement*?  See some of my favorites below:

First, the most popular of all: the venerable Milkshake.  Seriously, people talk about this shake all year.  This beauty weighs in at about 550 calories, or about 30 min of running for an average male at roughly an 8:00 min pace. Worth It.

Next up are the ever popular fried cheese cubes.  These little cubes of goodness are worth the roller-coaster like lines.  Calorie wise they come in a little less than the milkshakes at about 450 calories.   So eat up and plug in a quick 5k the next morning.  Done!

The newest addition to the Farm Show (and my personal favorite this year) is the smoked trout chowder. At only 200 calories, this is one of the lowest-caloric options.  Heck, you can burn 200 calories walking to the duck slide from the food court (briskly).  It’s also darn tasty and made with PA farmed trout, so check it out.

Still hungry?  Me too.  After some potato donuts, it’s time for some more fried goodness.  I’m a big fan of fresh vegetables, but I certainly won’t turn my nose up at battered, deep fried greens with a side of horseradish dipping sauce.  Choose from onions, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, or heck: mix ’em all together!  These veggies are deceiving, though.  With the dipping sauce they come in at about 650 calories, or almost 45 minutes of running.

In addition to the treats above, we had some maple cotton candy, lamb stew, turkey chili, and potato donuts.  Did I feel like a pig afterwards?  Heck yeah, but I clocked an 11-mile run the next day and didn’t feel the least bit guilty!

*All calories are estimated as I couldn’t find nutritional facts from the Farm Show.  Let me know if you can find the accurate numbers!

Keep that Resolution! – Winter Race Calendar

At this time of year, most people are still doggedly determined and motivated to chase down their 11th hour New Year’s Resolutions.  Resolutions are usually focused on taking the initiative to better ourselves – save money, learn more, lose weight, get into shape.  But as the early morning gym crowd wanes and you start missing the pizza delivery guy, how do you keep focused on your goals?

When it comes to running, I am a terrible self-motivator (hence the 2012 challenge).  One of the best ways to focus on training is to register for upcoming races.  There are a plethora of upcoming races in the Harrisburg area, to suit every running style and fitness level.  Here is a quick list of upcoming events:

Shiver by the River Series

Run on the second Sunday of each month (Dec-March) this popular winter race series offers a 5k or 10k option, and plenty of camaraderie to thaw the winter chill.  I will hopefully be at the February 10k

Frosty 5k

February 4 – A nice, easy 5k in the town of Lewisburg.  Be sure to check out the ice festival while you’re there!

Squirelly Twail Wun 

February 12 – Can’t wait to try out this trail half-marathon at nearby Gifford Pinchot State Park.  Great training area.  I haven’t heard of this race before, so I will be sure to write up a review.

Hyner View

April 21 – This race is a bit farther out, but it’s supposed to be a BEAST.  I’m signed up and ready to start hitting the hills at Boyd Big Tree Preserve to prepare.

If you are looking for some of the best trail races on the east coast, check out Pretzel City Sports.  I’ll be at most of their trail races this year!

Happy Training!

First Miles of 2012 – Mummer’s Day Edition (Philadelphia, PA)

Just don't end like this poor monkey in front of City Hall...

I kicked off this athletic 2012 challenge with an intentionally non-competitive event – the Philly H3 Mummer’s Day Hash!  This was my first exposure to the Bacchanalian glory of the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.  We were lucky enough to spend NYE celebrating the nuptials of dear friends, and were ready to shake off the revelry of the previous evening with some physical activity, and more revelry!  If you haven’t had the opportunity to make it to Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, I highly recommend penciling it in for January 1st, 2013.    It is truly a day of celebration with traditions unique to the City of Brotherly Love.  Open container laws are wisely ignored by the police, and the entire city is alive with a celebratory air and carnival-like costumes.

Our run on this exceptionally warm New Year’s Day started at the Triangle Tavern, and quickly worked it’s way to the parade route.  The running trail we were following (marked in flour and chalk, as is tradition with the Hash House Harriers) criss-crossed the parade route.  Instead of being admonished by police or parade participants, we received enthusiastic cheers and high-fives from the throngs of colorfully clad inebriated Mummers working their way down the street.    All told, the trail was roughly 3 miles, with 2  “hair-of-the-dog” refreshment stops.   After a few beers at the Triangle, we headed off in search of the obligatory Philadelphia Cheesesteak, and logged four miles of walking before reclaiming our vehicle and heading west.

Miles: 7

Total Miles: 7