Creeping up Halcott

Everything was going swimmingly — until the third 400-meter interval at the track, and then a twinge on the left edge of the left foot.  I cut things short and took an easy day (frustrating), returned to the track the following day and had a fine workout with five timed miles (couldn’t be more pleased) and the next day six miles around the park – all good, until the next morning, walking home along the river, and now the left foot is hurting for real.  At 4.25 miles I wave down a taxi.  This aborted walk gets recorded in the training log as code red:  injury.  It might be a stress fracture.  I might soon be thumping around in boot or wheeling about on a knee scooter.  The Grid for June and July is threatened, and not to mention a trip out west I’d just started planning.

I take five days off, during which time I sink into a funk:  sleep late, mope around, watch bad movies, find myself driving below the speed limit.  Perhaps I should scrap all my plans to run and hike and go back to the corporate world and get a job, as I’m bored out of my mind.  But then I come up with some contingency plans:  renew gym membership and swim in the pool, sign up to go bird watching, get back to work on the job hunt, see the Doctor and get an x-ray…

Then an even better idea occurs:  Try the foot out on a short bushwhack in the Catskills where the forest floor is covered in leaves and dirt, a soft and forgiving surface, not the relentless cement which made the foot hurt walking home in the city.  And since force is proportional to speed, I can limit impact by moving very slowly, which would not be hard to do since bushwhacks in the Catskills are always slow — suppose I target a 0.5 MPH pace:  how much damage could that do?

Halcott Mountain comes to mind: it’s just a little over a mile to the summit.  An interesting strategy to clarify my situation.  In one scenario, the bushwhack goes fine, the X-ray comes back negative, and we’re off to the races again with another June peak scratched off the list.  In the other scenario, things don’t go so well – in which case, the summer’s screwed anyhow, so what’s the difference.

“Now bid me run,” says Ligarius in Julius Caesar, “and I will strive with things impossible, yea get the better of them.”

And so with a shout for my loyal page Odysseus the Labradoodle, I lower my visor, level my lance, and ride into battle, to strive with things impossible and perhaps pointless and possibly even ridiculous, but so be it, this is my war, and I shall not give up quite yet….

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Creeping up Halcott

Balsam and Eagle (for the last time!)

The mission was to climb Balsam and Eagle as part of the Catskills Grid, which is a project that entails ascending each of the thirty-five High Peaks in each month of the year.  I didn’t realize it until I returned and checked the spreadsheet, but this was the 12th time I’ve climbed these two mountains, which means that with respect to the Grid, they’re done.  (Although I will surely return in the future just for fun.)  In terms of overall progress, I’ve now completed 350 out of the required 420 peak-month ascents, leaving 70 to go.  And while there’s no time limit to complete the Grid, for such an important project I feel a sense of urgency to finish it this year.

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Balsam and Eagle (for the last time!)

Return to Kaaterskill High Peak

The plan was to run intervals at the track, but it rained during the night, and the morning was cool, damp, misty, cloudy…in a word, uninspiring.  A day crying out to be spent indoors, with plenty of coffee, at work on important tasks.  But of these I had none.  I sat on the sofa, looked out the window, and struggled to come up with a plan to make the day productive.

The irony is, having taken time off from the corporate world….here I am sitting around with time on my hands.  Perhaps I’m suffering from a touch of “Griditis,” a state of fatigue associated with excessive peak-bagging activities.

Further weighing on my state of mind:  a pair of young ultra-runners is out on the Long Path attempting to thru-run the 358-mile trail in 7 days, which would soundly break the current record — which is my record.

I pull up their SPOT track on my laptop and see they are on the move in the Catskills, heading down from North-South Lake Campground toward Kaaterskill High Peak.  Now an idea occurs to me:  I could drive up there, meet them on the trail and cheer them on — and then climb Kaaterskill, scratching it off the list for the June Grid.

The only question, can I face such a grim mountain on such a glum day?

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Return to Kaaterskill High Peak

Ashokan High Point

With all the peaks for May complete, the Catskill Grid is on pause until the 1st of June.  With some time on my hands, I was thinking the other day about the Catskills All Trails Hiking Challenge, also known as Redlining the Catskills, a project where you keep track of all your hikes and runs until you’ve covered every step of the 345 miles of official trail.  On a whim, I downloaded the list and started checking off the trails I’d completed as part of the Grid and other adventures, and perhaps that was a mistake, or put differently, these projects are slippery slopes and even if they don’t sound compelling at first, once the spreadsheet is created, then you feel the force of gravity starting to tug.

With respect to the Redlining project, my calculations showed around 40% of the 345 miles complete.  There are a number of connector trails and side-loops I’ve never explored, particularly out west.

With the forecast calling for a beautiful spring day, a glance at the map identified Ashokan High Point as a place I’d never been with a trail that wasn’t too long and a trailhead that was only an hour’s drive away.  So Odie and I piled into the car and off we went….

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Ashokan High Point

Tramping along the Shawangunk Ridge Trail

In years gone by, I’d think nothing of thru-running the entire 70-mile Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT), most recently in 2015, when it took me around 24 hours.  This year, however, still recovering from a sore ankle tendon, it would have to be a slower execution, and accordingly I drew up plans to thru-hike 40 miles of the trail over a two-day period.  This is the stretch of trail I’m responsible for as a volunteer supervisor with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, where I work with a crew of twelve other volunteers to keep the trail marked and passable.  This hike would be an opportunity to inspect conditions and see what work was needed.

The exotic beauty of the Shawangunk mountains never fails to amaze  me — the gritty white conglomerate and dreamy pine barrens so different from other New York landscapes.  Each trip brings fresh discoveries, and familiar sights are revealed in new ways.  Here are some photos and observations.  I hope they inspire you to come experience the trail for yourself….

(The Shawangunk Ridge trail connects the Appalachian Trail in High Point State Park, New Jersey, with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in Rosendale, New York.  For thirty miles, the SRT is co-aligned with the Long Path, New York’s signature long distance trail.)

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Tramping along the Shawangunk Ridge Trail

What I think about when I think about running

Sometimes writers raise the question, what is it that runners think about?  Often the writers are looking for something beyond the inner dialogue of effort and discomfort, they’re hoping for clues to deeper meaning in the runners’ lives or even hints of spirituality.

That’s fine, but why shouldn’t runners think about the act of running?  Call it being “mindful,” or just paying attention to what you’re doing.

In fact, there’s enormous interest among coaches, journalists, and psychologists in the best kind of “inner dialogue” for athletes.  Often this advice focuses on confidence, determination, motivation, visualizing peak performance, or getting into the “flow.”

I was thinking about this the other day when I heard about an emergency landing of a passenger jet which had lost an engine:  the pilot was lauded for keeping her cool.  A former fighter pilot, she had been taught to “exude confidence,” a practice that some attribute to legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager, who once commented that as situations became more dangerous, he would speak more slowly.

This line of thought led me to conduct an experiment:  I’d take some notes on my own thoughts while completing a high-intensity speed workout at the local track — an exercise that doesn’t carry the same risk as piloting a jet fighter, but which subjects the runner to high levels of discomfort and exposes him or her to heightened risk of injury.  The goal of the experiment:  observe how I talk to myself while running.

After the first try at this experiment, however, it became clear that what was going on in my head wasn’t a monologue, but rather a conversation among several speakers — all different parts of myself, admittedly — but with specific roles.  This segregation of duties, based on my military and corporate experience, seemed to help the decision-making process during the run.  Perhaps others will find it useful to organize their thoughts this way.

I’m a little nervous that this transcript may strike people as somewhat nerdy — but why shouldn’t I try to be as calm and collected as a fighter pilot?

See what you think…

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What I think about when I think about running