Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trip Report: Tioughnioga River by kayak and tube

Cortland happens to have a nice little river, the Tioughnioga, flowing past it, and I've been meaning to check it out by kayak ever since I've lived here. With the temperatures pushing into the upper 90's and my brother, Johnny, in town with his kayak, this seemed like a good day for a relaxing trip down the river. We wanted my wife, Lindsay, to come also but were one boat short. We decided to fix this by renting a tube and taking turns lazily kayaking and even more lazily floating, with the main goal of cooling off in the river.

Our route
I planned to put in at the Rte. 392 bridge in Messengerville and take out at Lighthouse Landing, a private campground south of Marathon where we could rent a tube. I figured the distance would be a leisurely 7 miles, but this turned out to be an underestimate; the people at Lighthouse Landing, shocked when they heard our plan, told us the distance was more like 11-12 miles and it would take at least 8 hours to cover by tube. After some deliberation, we decided to go for it anyway, figuring that by towing the tube behind the kayaks we could make decent time.

Soon I was effortlessly gliding through the water in the tube, my wife providing the propulsion. After a bit of experimenting with attaching the tube to the kayaks, we found that tying it close behind one kayak was generally best. Pulling the tube was easier than expected for the most part, as long as there was some current to help, and it was even a fun challenge to navigate the kayak/tube combo through the riffles and sharp bends. Of course, hauling my brother through long, flat pools was not so fun, but these were relatively few and far between.

This section of river flows through an area that is far from wilderness, but it still had a nice, natural feel most of the time. I liked the stretch from Messengerville to Marathon best. With Route 11 staying far from the river, the shorelines were populated by big sycamore trees and lots of wildflowers, and the river alternated between short pools and fun little rapids where the water curved around a series of small islands. Once we came to Marathon, roads and buildings started to approach the river more, and the ratio of pools to riffles increased, but it was still a very nice paddle.

Though it was hot in the kayaks, especially when on pulling duty, we made sure to spend lots of time in the water. I even got out of the tube and swam downriver for several hundred yards at one point. It was very refreshing. Within site of the takeout, we found an excellent place to stop, on an island beside a narrow, swift chute in the river, and we took turns floating down briskly on our backs. Thoroughly cooled off, we paddled the last bit to Lighthouse Landing, finishing in just 4 1/2 hours.

This was a really fun trip, and it makes me wonder why it took me so long to get out on the river. I definitely would like to paddle more sections of the Tioughnioga before this winter, and I may even try to eventually cover the whole thing, from Cuyler to Chenango Forks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weekly Summary: July 18-24

Mon: rest 

Tues: 2-mile run on track (4 mi total)
The most terrifying part of  the General McLane High School soccer tryouts was the 2-mile run, which prospective players were supposed to complete in under 12 minutes. I never quite made it (though it wasn't a hard cutoff, so I did always make the team), but I decided to give it another shot almost 9 years after my last attempt. I jogged down to the track at SUNY Cortland, ran hard for 2 miles in finished in 11:48. Sweet redemption.

Wed: Trail Run at Green Lakes State Park (1:10)
Green Lakes is a very popular park just outside of Syracuse with trails that come in three flavors: flat, often crowded paths around the lakes, shady dirt trails through mature forest, and rolling grass trails through a large area of fields. This run sampled all three.

Green Lakes trail map with my route highlighted

I parked at the end of Aladdin Drive, which is in a residential neighborhood just outside the southwest corner of the park, and ran on unmarked but well-defined paths to the Farmers Hill Trail, which runs around a very large, open field. Next I turned right on the Hernia Hill Bypass, which drops steeply into the woods, and ran through an impressive stand of old growth forest on the way to Round Lake.

Round and Green Lakes are the highlights of the park; in addition to being very scenic, they are extremely interesting in terms of their biology, geology, and chemistry. I ran a full loop around both lakes, giving me a chance to enjoy their calm, clear, and green-tinted waters. After the circuit of the lakes, I headed back up the hill, through the forests and fields, and down to my car, completing a very nice run before the day's sweltering heat set it. 

Thurs and Fri: rest
Tweaked left foot + 100 degree heat = first two day break in a very long time.

Sat-AM: Trail run in Tuller Hill State Forest (11.7 mi, ~2100 ft gain, 2:10)
Unlike the convoluted routes I have been putting together for my recent long trail runs, this run was pretty straightforward: an out-and-back on the Tuller Hill section of the Finger Lakes Trail.

Parking at the intersection of Stafford and West River Roads, I started with a short run down the latter before turning into the woods and beginning the climb up Snyder Hill. This is one of the bigger climbs in the area (almost 800 ft), but it is rarely steep and is interspersed with level and even slightly downhill portions. The first segment runs along the edge of a fairly deep ravine, including an interesting promontory that drops away steeply on three sides. After topping out, the trail drops down a little and traverses the side of the hill for a while before descending to Woodchuck Hollow.

The Woodchuck Hollow section is a great piece of trail, paralleling a nice creek and dipping in and out of numerous side gullies. The footing is very tricky in places, with lots of large roots, rocks, steep drops, and sharp turns. After a little over a mile of this, the trail climbs gradually out of the hollow, then makes a short descent to Carson Road, at which point I turned around and did the whole thing in reverse.

Although I kept a decent pace throughout, this was far from my best run, primarily due to some pain in my left foot, especially on climbs and sections with uneven footing. Unfortunately, that describes pretty much all of the Escarpment Trail Run, which I'm doing next weekend. Hopefully, with some rest this week the foot issue will resolve and I'll be able to run the race at full strength.

Sat-PM: Kayaking/tubing on Tioughnioga River (~11 mi, 4:30)
Though I can't recommend pulling an inner tube behind a kayak for this distance, this was still a very fun trip. Check out my trip report.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trail Mileage Calculator for Kennedy State Forest

I put together a convenient Excel spreadsheet that lets me calculate the mileage of trail running routes in Kennedy State Forest, and I thought I might share it in case anyone is interested.

It's basically a topological (not to be confused with topographical) map that shows different waypoints along the trails and the distances between them. To calculate the mileage for a route, find the start and end points and add up the distances of all the segments between them (you can do this by hand or in Excel using the "sum" function).

I've included pretty much all the principle hiking trails in Kennedy S.F., but not forest roads or ski trails. The main branch of the Finger Lakes Trail is shown in white, and side loops are shown in the color of their blazes. Main trailheads are indicated in bold. The distances are taken from the official FLT maps and cnyhiking.com, but I can't guarantee 100% accuracy.

The link below will take you to the file as a Google document, but if you want to save it as an Excel file, just click "File -> Download as -> Excel". I hope someone out there finds this useful.

Kennedy S.F. trail mileage calculator

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Weekly Summary: July 11-17

Mon: rest

Tues: Beaudry Park hills (50 min)
Cranked it up to 3 hill sets (18 hills) at Beaudry Park this week.

Wed: Tower Road (9.6 mi)
The standard route: Pendleton St. to Tower Rd. and up to the tower, then down Page Green Rd.

Thurs: Beaudry Park hills and high school trails (1 hr)
One hill set (6 hills) at the park, 15 minutes on the high school trails, and another hill set. I timed myself on the hills for the first time- just under 10 min per set with some fairly hard running.

Fri: rest

Sat: Trail run in Kennedy S.F. (16.2 mi, 3:10)
This was a pretty satisfying route I put together using the Finger Lakes Trail and some side loops. Parking on Bleck Road, I ran an out-and-back on the FLT to Bud Brook (between Daisy Hollow and Lake Roads), with a detour on the Swedish Loop on the way out and Spanish Loop on the way back.

This run filled in one of my only small gaps on the FLT in Cortland County, and now the only piece missing is a tiny segment in the middle of Cuyler Hill S.F. – not my favorite area, but maybe I’ll try to knock it off this fall when the trail is less overgrown.

The run was unspectacular but nice, and the trail was in fine condition (i.e. dry) the entire way. The descent to Daisy Hollow from the west featured some great downhill running on narrow, winding single track through open forest. The first portion of the Spanish Loop Trail, climbing out of Daisy Hollow, was also enjoyable, but the segment that follows Owego Hill Road back to the FLT was very hot as it passed through some open fields.

 I passed a huge group of hikers between Daisy Hollow and Babcock Hollow on the way back and found that they had set up a very well-stocked aid station, manned by a friendly woman, at Babcock Hollow Rd. This was lucky for me, because I was running low on fluids at this point, and I gratefully accepted her offer to let me fill up my bottle. Not having to worry about hydration, I ran hard back to the car, almost sprinting the last little uphills.

Sun: Lake Erie beach run (~1 hr)
I headed out to Portland Bay, NY to visit my family at our cottage on Lake Erie and took advantage of the location by going for a morning run on the beach. This ended up being a very cool run, and I only wish I could so this type of thing more often.

From the cottage, which sits on a bluff above the lake, I took a path and stairs down to the beach, then ran west until I hit some cliffs that come right down to the water. The beach is always changing, and on this day it was a mix of sand and pebbles, with the best footing being found right at the water’s edge.

I turned around and ran as far as I could in the other direction until the beach again ended and cliffs began. Because the water at the base of the cliffs was only knee deep in most places, I continued, mostly wading but also running along cliff ledges where possible then launching back into the water. This was a really fun and interesting way to run, and the lakes and rocks were absolutely beautiful.

After about 15 minutes of this, I came to a large cove where Corell Creek flows out of a little gorge and into the lake, and right at the mouth stands the Pirate Rock. This is a 20-foot tall chunk of cliff that was separated by erosion from the main bluff and now stands alone in the lake- the most prominent feature of this section of Lake Erie shoreline. After admiring the rock, I turned and ran up the creek to the bridge where Route 5 crosses it. The flat shale creek bed made for some nice running. 

Bird's eye view of mouth of Corell Creek and the pirate rock (from bing.com)

I retraced my steps down the creek and past the cliffs, and then wrapped things up with an extremely refreshing swim. I do a lot of running and enjoy almost all of it, but it was fantastic to go on such a unique run and get a reminder of how special the Lake Erie shoreline is. 

My route along the shore.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weekly Summary: July 4-10

Back at it after the Finger Lakes 50s. With the Escarpment Trail Run four weeks away, the goal is to get in a couple good weeks with lots of hills, then a couple weeks of taper.

Mon: Forest roads in Tuller Hill S.F. (6 mi, 1:00)
Still feeling pretty tired and sore from the 50k, I ran at a leisurely pace and checked out some new terrain on the west side of Tuller Hill State Forest, including some segments of the Virgil Crest Ultras course. Starting at the big parking lot on Clute Road, I headed west on Vinnedge Road then took a right on another forest road that climbs a fairly big hill to a radio tower. A dense system of equestrian trails intersects the roads in many places- something to check out in the future, though I'm generally no fan of horse trails.

My route
These are pretty nice as far as forest roads go- shaded, rocky, and passing through some nice woods. There are decent views south to Greek Peak ski area and north to the Tioughnioga River valley at a power line cut near the top of the hill, though they are obscured by the power lines.

Tues: rest

Wed: Wilderness-Bog Loop at Lime Hollow (~6 mi)
This was my first real run at Lime Hollow since my quad-loop run a few weeks ago. The trails were totally dry for the first time all year, but the bugs were insanely bad. One of my favorite things about running, rather than hiking, on trails is that the bugs barely ever bother me. Today they were inescapable, and they encouraged me to keep a fast pace to avoid being totally swarmed.

Thurs: Hill and speed work
1 mile at SUNY Cortland track (5:28) and two hill sets at Beaudry Park.

Fri: rest

Sat: Greek Peak hills and Finger Lakes Trail (16 mi, 4000 ft gain, 3:15)
This run satisfied two of my trail running needs: 1) climb the biggest hills possible in preparation for the Escarpment Trail run, and 2) get to know the Virgil Crest Ultras course, which I volunteered to help mark this fall.

Maps of Section 3- Lift House 5 loop (top) and Section 4- Lift House 5 to Rockpile (bottom) of the Virgil Crest Ultras course (courtesy of the race website)

The route covered sections 3 and 4 of the Virgil Crest Ultras course, beginning with a loop on ski trails at Greek Peak and then following the Finger Lakes Trail from Tone Road to the Rockpile and back. I'm very familiar with this portion of the FLT, but I knew it would be tricky following the correct ski trails without any markings. I did my best to study the description on the Virgil Crest website and the Greek Peak trail map, but I still got off course, treating myself to some extra climbing on overgrown black diamond ski slopes.

While it offered everything I wished for in terms of vertical relief, the Greek Peak section was otherwise disappointing. The trails were overgrown in most places, and in some sections the vegetation was more than waist high. I did the plants a service by assisting in their seed dispersal, as thousands of tiny seeds and other bits of plant tissue stuck to my sweaty body. I would definitely not run these trails again in this condition, though I imagine they get cleared for the race.

The 900 ft climb from Tone Road to Virgil Mountain on the FLT was much more enjoyable, though the forest on top of the hill has been thoroughly decimated by very recent logging. This was just another reminder that state forests are anything but nature preserves, and that the aesthetic quality of hiking trails is not a high priority.

The rest of the run out to the Rockpile was pleasant and uneventful. I stopped to enjoy the view on this sunny day, then retraced my steps back to the car. The climb back up Virgil Mountain was a bit of a beast, but I managed to run it all, and I let loose on the final descent to Tone Road to give my quads a good beating. Another hard trail run in the bag.

Sun: Lime Hollow (~45 min)
An easy trail run to wrap up the week. I put together a nice loop mostly on trails left out of my usual Lime Hollow route. Lehigh Valley - Phillips Memorial - Gracie Road - Bog Spur - Mill Pond - Mill Pond Connector - Hermit's Way - Fenway - ski trail - Lehigh Valley - Hawthorn - High Vista - Lookout Connector - Fenway - Lehigh Valley.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Finger Lakes 50s Race Report

As I shuffled along about half way through the second loop of the Finger Lakes 50s course, my left groin cramping every few steps, my stomach unwilling to accept food, and my energy sapped by the heat and humidity, I imagined how I would describe my experience to family and friends. One sentence seemed like it would capture it well: "It was so hard."

Waiting at the starting line, I wasn't thinking about how hard the race would be. I was just excited, after many months of training, to start my first ultra. Finally the cowbells rang out and I charged with the rest of the field down Potomac Road and into the woods, happy to be running.

The Finger Lakes 50s course is a 16.5 mi loop in Finger Lakes National Forest on the high ridge separating Cayuga and Seneca Lakes (the 50k, which I was running, consists of two loops). The loop runs through forests and meadows on top of the ridge, occasionally dropping down one of the many gorges created by streams that flow down to the lakes. The most famous and unique features, of course, are the cows that make their home in several of the fields and the gates keeping them in, which runners must open and close along the way.

Map of Finger Lakes Fifties course (may not be 100% accurate)

I felt very fresh and ran at a fairly fast pace along the Burnt Hill Trail and through the first field, which was bathed in golden light by the rising sun shining through the morning haze. Next the trail swung onto dirt Mark Smith Road, where I found myself at the front of a handful of runners for the long descent to the first aid station.

Here we took a sharp right and climbed back up the ridge on the Gorge Trail. This was one of my favorite sections of the course- a rocky, rooted singletrack trail through deep shade on the edge of a narrow ravine. I ran the climb except for a couple short, steep sections, exchanging positions with a couple runners along the way.

Back on top of the ridge, we passed by a couple ponds and the second aid station, then began my favorite part of the entire race, dropping down the south end of the ridge on the Interloken and Finger Lakes Trails. This was a long roller coaster descent on singletrack trails with a perfect pitch for fast downhill running, and I bombed down with local runner Scott J. and Colorado law student Zach on my tail, knowing they must be having as much fun as me.

At the bottom of the hill I changed gears and the three of us made the gradual climb on trails and dirt roads back to the second aid station, near the halfway point of the loop. From there, the trail ran north along the ridge on the Interloken Trail to the second open field, which provided vast views to the west across Seneca Lake (though the lake itself, tucked in its steep glacial valley, wasn't visible). At this point, I was alone and tried to settle into a steady pace.

After passing the third aid station, the trail made another detour off the ridge, dropping down and back up the Ravine Trail. This section was very nice, similar to the Gorge Trail, and a welcome change from the flat, ridge-top running. Next came a short segment of paved road and a left turn onto the Backbone Trail- easily my least favorite part of the course.

This horse trail was perfectly straight, mostly flat, exposed to the sun, and frequently interrupted by unavoidable patches of thick, heavy mud. As I hate running with wet feet, I tried overly hard to avoid the mud, and Zach from Colorado caught me again. He decided to run with me for a while, and the opportunity to chat with someone made this long section go by somewhat more quickly. We ran together through the last aid station, through another field, and finally back onto real singletrack on the Interloken Trail.

Excited to be back on a nice trail in the woods and close to the end of the first loop, I maintained a good pace through this section, which included some very large roots, long wooden boardwalks, and several more ponds. I even spotted a turtle sunny itself next to the trail, and I made sure to keep my eye out for more, not wanting to stomp on any wildlife.

We finally cruised into the Potomac Campsite and the end of the first loop in 2:23. My conservative goal was to finish in 5:30, but in the back of my mind I thought I had a slight chance at 5:00. Now, halfway through, I was well under even that more ambitious pace and feeling pretty good. I quickly grabbed some gels and my mp3 player from my drop bag and headed back out, determined to keep a strong pace that would get me a sub 5 hour finish.

This illusion lasted several miles into the second loop. I took it relatively easy on the downhill on Mark Smith Road, not wanting to trash my quads. I managed the climb up the Gorge Trail fairly well, though I did a lot more walking than the first time around. This is also when I started having trouble taking in food- it took me at least 15 minutes to force down a single GU. At the top of the hill, the first hints of cramping started in my left groin, and I was forced to drastically slow my pace. Several runners passed me, and I began reevaluating my goals. Sub 5 hours was out of the question- I now just wanted a respectable finish.

My low point occurred at the bottom of the hill that had been such a blast to run on the first loop. I stopped at a bridge to stretch my right quad, but before I had brought my foot all the way up, bam! - huge cramp. Everything was feeling horrible at this point, the weather was getting really hot, I was low on fluids because I stupidly forgot to refill my bottle at the last aid station, and I started to doubt my ability to make it past the upcoming hill and remaining 10 miles of the course in anything but a pathetic, miserable walk.

This being my first ultra, I had never found myself in this position, but I thought of the story of ultra hero Geoff Roes in last year's Western States 100. He had hit a real low point midway through that race but had the mental strength to slow down, regroup, and recover, and ended up smoking the last portion of the race en route to a course record. Maybe my low point was also temporary, and I would start feeling better. I resolved to keep moving as best I could and keep hoping that I could turn things around.

I plugged away up the hill, through an aid station, and along the ridge on the Interloken Trail, though the cramping continued and I still felt generally lousy. A runner whose name I didn't catch caught me soon after the second field and passed me on the Ravine Trail, but I at least I had found a pace- somewhere between a jog and a slow run- that I could manage. At the beginning of the Backbone Trail, I pulled even with the runner again, and we ran together and chatted for a while.

Suddenly, at the top of a little rise, I found that I could pick up my pace considerably, and I burst ahead. Maybe now things were turning around! I kept this up for several minutes, but the cramping started to come back, and I slowed down again on the long, hot slog the rest of the way up the Backbone Trail. I was caught coming into the last aid station, but the knowledge that I was almost through the exposed sections and near the finish lifted my spirits a bit. I downed some soda and started power hiking up the last field, telling myself that I would run strong once back in the woods.

This final section went as well as could be expected under the circumstances. My pace was jointly limited by general fatigue and pain and my ability to move my legs without my left groin cramping, but it was at least a steady run. I passed many 25k runners as I chugged through the woods, past the ponds, and into the campground, reaching the finish in 5:23:17, utterly worn out and mentally dazed.

I had wondered how I would feel upon finishing my first ultra, but there was no rush of euphoria or even relief. I was in pretty bad shape- not running felt only slightly better than running, and neither food nor drink held any appeal for me. Feelings of satisfaction and pride eventually came but had to wait for my body to start feeling okay (this required taking a nap).

It is rewarding to be able to say to myself "I ran an ultra," but as a reason for running, this sense of accomplishment takes a back seat to the pure enjoyment of actually being out on the trails. Though what I felt during the last couple hours of this race couldn't be described as "enjoyment" in the typical sense, running 50 km gave me a chance to challenge myself in a way I've never experienced, and I'm proud of the way I handled it.