Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Pilgrim Trail, and Doing As I Please

This past holiday weekend was full of fun meeting old friends in the place I grew up in. I probably indulged in a little too much good food and good beer, but along with both came some good conversation. Life has it's way with each of us, no matter how in control we feel we actually are. This weekend I realized that even though life is always in the driver's seat, taking us from Birth onward to an eventual death, we have the ability to choose the places we visit along the way. It really is these side trips and brief stops that define who we are.

Filled with appreciation for enjoying as much as possible, instead of bagging my long run for the weekend, I arrived back at my Mom's place after one visit with my college roommate, which included a trip to the Olive Garden for a feed of soup, salad, and breadsticks. Sure, there are worse things to precede a run, like the banana ice cream with crushed oreos I also throw into the mix a half hour before the run, but when in Rome. I figured I'd go running and let my body expel whatever it couldn't handle. :-)

I know I owed my legs about 2 hours and 15 minutes of running, per my new training schedule, and thought it was a great time amount to go exploring some of the back roads and trails that were my bread and butter as a college runner home for the summer or between semesters. Now knowing what I know about the challenges and inherent strength build running uneven surfaces, I find it amazing how I willed myself to run fast back in those days. I knew nothing about how trails add time to a typical distance, and often would get home from a run upset that I had only run 6:30 pace for a 5 to 7 mile run on these same fire roads and trails. What I wouldn't give to be back there!

In any event, One of my favorite runs was on what I called 'Town Brook Trail" essentially it begins running along the Waterfront of Plymouth, passing the Mayflower and the Rock, and entering into Brewster Gardens, one of the first places the Pilgrims set foot when embarking on their quest for a new Utopia in a New World. Town Brook flows through Brewster Gardens, and empties into the Harbor, but before it arrives at the ocean, it meanders from its source some three miles inland. Along the brook is a trail that I imagine has been there for at least 400 years, and perhaps even longer than that based on the Native population that first called this area home. In any event, this trail is paved up through most of the first mile, and then quickly yields to some single track trail. This trail extends to Morton Park, a large town forest with two ponds and numerous beaches. It was in these ponds where I learned to swim and often went fishing with my Dad.

Upon entering Morton Park I noticed the following trail marker, which I honestly had never seen on any journey over the trail. Then again, it has been years!

The adequately named Pilgrim Trail is actually a hiking/trekking trail that the Boy Scouts use for wilderness hikes and training. I found very little about the trail online, but there is, indeed a merit badge awaiting all scouts who complete the trail.

I followed the fire roads inside Morton Park, as some of the single track I once ran was really overgrown, but the fire roads are rife with pot holes, making a 'smooth' run nearly impossible. For those enjoying the beaches and ponds, I am positive the shocks on their cars paid the price!

(Some of the scenes cruising down the fire roads of Morton Park.)

The park was extremely crowded with it being the holiday weekend, and I couldn't help but notice the amount of Latin and Salsa music eminating from each beach area. It seemed more like an amusement park than a town forest, and it partially took away from the experience, but I was able to find a few corners of the park that were still quiet and pristine as I had always remembered. One being the picture above from a section of fire road that passes through a stand of very old white pines, and the photo below from a section of trail that literally drops off into the waters of 'Little Pond'.

I was using the Gallowalking method for the entire run, inserting 2 minutes of walking every 8 minutes of running. Additionally, it was uncharacteristically warm and sunny, great for a summer that hasn't exactly been true to itself weatherwise. Ironically, it was one of the first times I have had to use my HPL in earnest, and found that the 50 ounces of fluid I had didn't last for more than 1 hour and 45 minutes. I knew I was getting low and tried rationing the drinks during walking breaks, but probably only added 15 or 20 minutes of hydration. I still finished the run dreadfully thirsty. Even before the hydration issues, I was beginning to feel tightness and soreness in my groin and hip at 90 minutes. It was bearable to about 110 minutes, but those last 3 to 5 miles were a little unsettlingly painful.

(Enjoying the Old Stomping Grounds with Little Pond in the background)

Amid the soreness, I enjoyed plodding by some of the old familiar sights. Below is a photo of Billington Sea, one of the crucial bodies of water that saved and sustained the Purtian settlement back in the early half of the 1600's. It tells a great deal of the fear and caution they had for the wilds beyond their settlement. To a runner like me, it seems like such a short trip from Brewster Gardens, close to the site of the original settlement, to Billington Sea, but back in those days the distance was almost as great as that of the Atlantic Ocean based on the unknown. Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his wonderful book Mayflower of how the somewhat mischievious Francis Billington, who had claimed to see a "Great Sea" to the west of the settlement, much to the disbelief of the settlement leaders. Philbrick explains:

Given the boy's past history, no one seemed to take his claim about a large inland sea
seriously. Eventually, however, someone agreed to accompany the teenager on an
exploratory trip into the woods. About two miles in, they came upon a huge lake that was
of fish and fowl'. Even (William) Bradford, who had no great love of the Billington
family, had
to admit that the lake would be 'an excellent help to us in time,' particularly
since it was the
source of Town Brook. To this day, the lake, which is close to five miles in
circumference, is
known as Billington Sea. (110)

Now Billington Sea appears to be teeming with Jet Skis, not exactly what William Bradford imagined!

Eventually I made my way back to the connecting trails along Town Brook:

Eventually arriving back at the harbor:

And, of course, the Mayflower (currently sharing it's mooring with one of the visiting tall ships headed to Boston later on in the week.
From the Mayflower it was a thirsty half mile home.

Overall, it was a decent run. 14 miles in 2:15 which was about 9:40 pace. Great that all was accomplished still using the Gallowalking method, and I am sure I would have been in much better shape had I been carrying S-Caps, which I forgot to bring down with me to Plymouth, probably a habit of this dreadfully rainy and cool weather, more fluid, and had my body cooperated. All in all, it was a good training run to just keep moving to the end no matter what.

Aside from this run I have really just been doing my own thing for the last three weeks or so. I have been doing more speed work, and last week's long run doubled as a hill workout, where I ran repeats on Prospect Hill in Rowley for about an hour, gain close to 1800 ft. of gain in the process. I certainly don't have the volume, but I have been putting together a few of the puzzle pieces.

We'll see if it all fits together, and I can revisit some of my own history as a runner in the months and years to come.

Happy Trails Everyone!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Way Out from Western States...

I have been going through various race reports from trail runners that took on the Western States 100 this past weekend and I have concluded that I have some experience and improvement to gain before even thinking about taking on the training for the gold standard of 100 milers.

This probably isn't such a bad thing.

I am only 30 years old. Local trail superstar Kevin Sullivan is in his later 30's, as is Scott Dunlap, whose blog I read quite often. I'd like to think that in the span of 5 to 10 years I can keep improving my fitness to regain the fitness I enjoyed as a college runner, before making the worst decision of my life - giving up on running entirely.

On a smaller level, I have trail friends, who I also consider superstars, that are going on to earn the "Mountain Goat" award for running all 6 USATF-NE Mountain Running Series races. Even this series is something I'd love to take on, but I know I just don't have the fitness to do it. I am working on it, but the fact remains that my body composition is still in flux, and I need to be careful what I do.

Just last week I threw in a hill workout on a beast of a hill in the area. It really is a great hill. Long, steep, and uneven, which is perfect for training all those muscle groups in the legs that are needed. I am also throwing in a little more raw speed work. Yes, I would get faster by running more miles, but as a coach I know that the way to get faster is to challenge the body on a weekly basis with speed work. There is more 'coach speak' about this principle, but I really don't think it matters too much. A couple years ago when I started running again I was hoping to one day get back into being able to do a long run. I think I have aptly accomplished that with last year's marathon training, and this year's dipping of toes into the land of Ultra Running. Now the goal shifts to increasing the long runs to challenge 50k and 50 miles this Fall, but also to get stronger and faster with speed and hills.

I think 2010 will be my Mountain Goat attempt, and after that I can start thinking about Western States (or any 100), perhaps in 2011 and 2012.

Of course this is all just thinking out loud. I definitely want to make an attempt at 50 miles soon, but I also have some unfinished business with 50k. All this thinking really makes me appreciate the encouragement of friends, and the discussion of how with the right plan, anything is possible. One day in the future I'll look at my GAC 6 Hour time and distance, and it will seem silly, but the real memory should be how much I learned on that run about having a good pacer with a great plan. Not unlike my "First 5k" walkers and runners, I just shows the possibility of pushing the limits of one's potential.

Happy Trails!