One of the great developments for trail runners over the last year has been the emergence of a running group, organized through the Meetup site, called the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts. This group of runners of which I am an active member gets together with member-organized runs a few times per week in the summer. We even got a little free publicity earlier in the spring with a great article in the Addison Independent. The centerpiece of this group has been the weekly Tuesday evening runs, leaving from Waterfront Park in front of Noonie’s in the Marble Works, at 6 pm. While the group is encouraging runners of all abilities to organize and lead runs, this particular run typically covers 6-7 miles in around an hour, with most runners proceeding at a pace which encourages conversation. One of the other really cool things about these runs has been the tremendous age diversity among the runners – it is not at all uncommon to have a 40 year age difference between the youngest and oldest runner (and no, I am an not the oldest regular participant), with a pretty uniform distribution of the generations in between. How many other organizations in town can boast diversity of this sort? And yes, there are both men and women among the participants.
For this run, we had a great turnout – about 10 runners. I have the sneaky suspicion that the great turnout was influenced in part by the fact that one of the organizers mentioned the possibility of heading out for a beer afterwards. So, for this run we decided to head north through Wright Park to the northernmost loop of the TAM. For the start of this run, we headed out the back of the Marble Works, up Seymour St., past the Pulp Mill Bridge, until we reached Wright Park, and underused gem overlooking the east bank of Otter Creek just north of the village.
Some beginning trail enthusiasts can be overwhelmed by the complexity of trail systems, out of concerns about getting lost. The easy way to overcome this is to follow the “out and back” rule – take note of your surroundings and come back the way you headed out. Then, with time, you will learn the trails, and be able to be a little more adventurous in your trail selection. I am saying this because the trails between Wright Park and Belden Dam, about 2 miles to the north can be pretty complex, but there are two pretty straightforward ways to go – the high trail, which is very broad and suitable for mountain bikes as well as runners, and the low trail, which hugs the shore of Otter Creek. We chose to head north on the high trail, until we reached the hydroelectric plant at Belden Dam.
At this point, we knew that if we returned, it would be about a 6 mile round trip, but a member of the group suggested a short loop on the opposite side of the river, which would supposedly add about a mile, and even though I (and at least one other member of the group!) had just run the Middlebury Maple Run Half Marathon just two days previously, I voted enthusiastically for this little loop, so off the group went. The loop on the west side goes a little bit further to the north than what most people include in the TAM when they are just attempting to circle the village, but it is a lovely section, especially when it dips down to the shores of the Otter Creek in its gorge. BUT, it ended up being a little more than a mile- more like 2 and a quarter miles, making this a marginally longer run than planned.
Returning to the Belden dam, and crossing back to the east side, we chose to return by the lower trail, which is well marked by a trail sign near to the eastern terminus of the suspension bridges. My favorite part of this section is the unexpected bluff, christened “The Cliffs of Insanity” by Josh, one of the regulars. This rather substantial outcropping is pretty much invisible until all of a sudden, you are directly below it, adding to its drama.
From here, our path quickly rejoined the more civilized sections of Wright Park, and we retraced out steps back to the Marble Works. And yeah, a few of us decided to go visit our favorite bartender, Kim, at American Flatbread for a round before calling it a night. Now if I could just get them to have Shed Mountain Ale on tap…..
By the time we had finished, this ended up being a longer than planned, but still manageable 8.25 miler. I don’t want to scare away newcomers, so I promise this one was longer than we usually do, at least early in the summer as people get their legs back! While there aren’t any true “hill climbs” at least by Vermont standards, this run is far from flat, with a lot of interesting, and in places, rather beautiful terrain.
I have resisted turning this blog into a training log, or a simple recounting of races, but from time to time I have the pleasure of participating in a road race worthy of mention, even if it isn’t on the trails, or even in Addison County. I think the Boston Marathon is worthy of mention, as it is an aspiration for so many runners, and one which I recently had the pleasure of running for the first time in my life, deep into my middle age. The first challenge of the Boston Marathon is simply getting in. Unlike most marathons where if you pay your money on time, you are in, or some popular marathons, like New York, which have a lottery system for entry, Boston has strict qualifying times by age group and sex. While these qualifying times do not require superhuman performance, they are challenging enough that many life long runners are never quite fast enough to run the most famous race in the world. I had assumed that I was one of those.
I competed in the Clarence Demar Marathon in Keene NH in the fall of 2013, literally on the spur of the moment, as it was a nearby and inexpensive race, and accepted last minute entries. I had no delusions of grandeur for that race, as I had barely run for the month or so preceding it with a minor, but nagging injury. Much to my surprise, and aided by generous downhill portions, I had my best marathon since my early 30’s and headed home very happy with my performance. Later in that evening, I was chatting online with my nephew, also a distance runner, and he suggested that my time might be a Boston qualifying time for an old guy like me. So, I went to the web page, and discovered that I indeed had qualified for this famous race that I had always assumed was totally out of reach! I guess the moral to this story is that you don’t have to get fast – you just have to grow old gracefully.
So last fall rolled around, and I registered online, and felt like Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket when I got my notification that I was accepted to run!
Then the hard part hit – training for an early season marathon in the cold of a Vermont winter. And it was a tough one. A lot of time on the treadmill, supplemented with some cross country skiing, and the occasional run outside, which became a little bit easier when the howling cold of January and February subsided for the more typical winter weather of March.
On the day before the race, myself, Ben, a fellow Addison County trailrunner, and the ever patient Mrs. Trailrunner drove down to Boston, and we went into the city proper to check out the race exposition and pick up our race numbers. It seemed that most of the wares offered for free tastes were concoctions of chia seeds and stuff that looked like it came out of my chemistry lab. And tasted like it. One the funniest of these offerings was, I kid you not, pizza in a tube!
No thank you – bananas and bagels are fine, supplemented by the vile but oddly sustaining goo called “Gu“. There was also a huge poster at the entrance to the exposition for all the runners to sign, and I had to leave my trailrunner moniker.
Finally, the long anticipated day, April 20 arrived. The race itself has an uncommon course for a major city marathon. Unlike the New York and Philadelphia marathons which I have done in the past, which weave through as many neighborhoods as they can, the Boston Marathon is a straight shot into the city from the western suburb of Hopkinton. Now, to put it in perspective, Hopkinton is all the way out by Interstate 495. This is what Bostonians call “a long commute”. And we were going to run it. Arriving by bus at the runners’ village, about all I had time to do was spend the mandatory minute or so in one of the thousands of porta-potties filling the Hopkinton High School football field, before joining the throngs for the long walk to the actual start line.
The numbering system at Boston is also unique in my experience. The bib that you wore reflected the time that you submitted for qualification, so the fastest qualifiers had lower numbers, while those of us benefiting from the relaxed standards for old folks necessarily had higher numbers. At the start line, these numbers were used to ensure that you were surrounded by runners of more or less your same speed. The roughly 32,000 runners were split into four “waves” of about 8000 runners, starting 25 minutes apart, and each wave was broken down into 1000 person “corrals”. My number, in the 16,000’s put me right at the start of the race – for the third wave. As we were waiting in the slow drizzle for the race to start, I amused my fellow competitors with the observation that “We should be proud of ourselves – we are the best of the slightly below average entrants”.
When the gun went off for us, my prerace strategy of starting off slowly was dashed by the energy of the crowd behind me, as well as the fact that the first four miles were pretty relentlessly downhill. Another challenge for me is the fact that all the hydration that had been part of my life for the previous 24 hours inevitably make it so that one prerace porta-potty stop is not enough. Mid race is when this becomes more of an issue. While there are porta-potties along the course, it is an unwritten rule that men who merely need to perform “task 1” shouldn’t use these, leaving them for the women runners. Fortunately, the early miles of the Boston Marathon have ample forests alongside the road for minimal privacy. Another curiosity about this is that nobody wants to be “the first” to turn a section of pristine forest into a giant urinal, but once one man decides that a place is appropriate for an on-the-run pit stop, the rest become emboldened. So, feeling nature’s call, I dashed into a lightly wooded section alongside the road, and found myself almost immediately accompanied by about 10 other older gentlemen who seemed relieved that I had chosen this special place for us. After uttering something about how this might make a good advertisement for Flomax, I was back on the road, needing no further stops of this sort.
As luck would have it, the early morning drizzle turned into a downright foul weather day, with intermittent downpours and headwinds. The funny thing about this was that I barely noticed it, and in fact actually welcomed the cooling rain. I was also glad I was wearing a polypro t-shirt under my race shirt. One of the next high points for the race was the run through Wellesley, MA, home of the all women’s college of the same name. The section going through town, roughly at the half way point, is nicknamed “The Scream Tunnel” due to the vociferous enthusiasm of the college students.
I had been warned that from mile 16-20 was the hilliest part of the course, culminating in Heartbreak Hill would be challenging. I found Vermont training more than sufficient to overcome the challenges of what we would call a rise in the road. Admittedly, I dropped by pace by about a minute per mile on them, but was surprised to see so many competitors walking. Finally, the last 6 miles into the city is almost entirely downhill or flat, making for a fun, fast finish. With maybe 5 miles to go at the top of a small rise, I caught my first glimpse of the Prudential Tower near the finish line! I also knew that my nephew – the same nephew who I was chatting with online when I realized I had qualified – would be looking out for me at around mile 23, and I was able to see him, and ran over and gave him a big hug before continuing to the finish line. The last two miles of the race are finally in Boston, proper, and includes a run by Fenway Park before a short zig zag up to the long straightaway and finish on Boylston St.
Of course after the elation of crossing the finish line comes the dreaded “march of the zombies” as all of the runners, now suddenly realize that they have to walk for many city blocks to actually get OUT of the race area. People keep giving you stuff. A medal over your head Bottles of water, capes to keep warm with, and funny energy food supplements. One in particular, a chocolately looking protein drink which looked curiously tasty was thrust into my hands, but I found that I was tortured by the fact that my frozen hands couldn’t actually open the bottle. Fortunately, one of the staff took care of this for me when I mumbled something which was correctly translated as “can’t open.” Noting the odd lurching walk off all of the finished competitors, I started mumbling “brains….Brains…” and a few people laughed and joined me before we all realized that talking hurt at the moment. Finally, I met up with my friend Ben, and we managed to hobble our way to a warm bus to get us out of the cold and back to Hopkinton where we could clean up and prep for the drive back to Middlebury that evening.
The only disappointment with the race? I had to go through a short tunnel at around mile 25, and my GPS watch apparently lost connection with the satellites needed, and so the last mile didn’t register on my Google Earth projection. Trust me, I did it. I don’t have any pictures taken during the race, as my hands were too cold to manipulate the camera feature on my cell phone!
Once again, it is a beautiful Saturday, so I thought it would be a great day for a ski or trail run. A few days ago, I was talking to my colleague Joe the Geographer, and he mentioned how nice the running up to Silver Lake had been recently, and I realized then that despite the fact that I run there during most of the year (and blog about routes near the lake regularly), I had never been there before in the winter! I also knew that my spiked shoes probably wouldn’t provide quite enough traction, so I went to the Middlebury Mountaineer and picked up a set of “Microspikes” which are basically slip on mini-crampons designed to be worn over running shoes or lighter hiking boots.
I started this run, in the usual place, the Falls of Lana trailhead, and started up the steeper early sections of trail, which had been well groomed by and for snowmobiles, making for easy running with my spikes on. While the beaten down section of trail proved to be easy running, if I stepped off the trail, I quickly sank in, close to up to my knees, so there would be no trailbreaking for me today! Chugging up towards Silver Lake, I noticed that some snowshoers had beaten a trail to Lenny’s Lookout, the high point of the powerline clearing overlooking Lake Dunmore, so I headed up that way to enjoy the view after a short climb. I could see lots of ice fisherman down below, and it was curious that they were mostly clustered in one small part of the lake. Was the fishing better there? Or did someone bring the beer?
Returning to the main snowmobile trail, I continued up to the lake shore. I must confess, I was kind of hoping that some ambitious snowshoer had traipsed around the lake, making for easy passage in running shoes, but I could find no such tracks, so I had to content myself with a short slog through the snow, out on the ice, to get the sort of perspective that requires swimming in the summer. In addition to shoreline views, I also saw a few snowmobilers, off of their sleds and walking along the shore. With those big helmets on their heads, I kind of thought they looked like popular music artists “Daft Punk“, a duo reknowned for wearing face-obscuring helmets as they play.
Continuing on, I thought it might be nice to head down the Leicester Hollow trail, but was disappointed to see that trail had barely been broken on this, so I continued up the main route above Silver Lake. When I reached the trail split, half going right towards Goshen, the other half going straight towards Moosalamoo, I though I would head straight for a little while to check out the rarely-visited Sucker Brook Reservoir. Somewhat surprisingly, when I split off of the snowmobile trail to go to this small body of water, there was one set 4WD tire tracks heading down the steep road for me to run in. Somebody whose job it is to inspect the dam in the winter has one heck of a big set of snow tires, and a vehicle which does really well in deep snow! When I got to the reservoir, it was……empty. Apparently they drain it in the fall, probably to leave room for spring snowmelt?
Heading back up the hill to the trail junction, and not quite ready to return down to my car, I headed up the road further to the Goshen/Silver Lake trailhead parking lot, which was empty due to the fact that the road it lied at the end of was not plowed in the winter. I did notice that the snowmobile continued on however, and was surprised to learn that it followed the course of the Ridge Trail, up on the hillside above Leicester Hollow. I previously described the Ridge Trail in a summer running post, and found that there was nothing particularly remarkable about it, and had never run it again since. It took on a whole different look in the winter, so I am now eager to-re-explore it in the upcoming weeks while everything is still under deep snow. This time, however, I was not prepared for a longer run (no food or water), so after going a short distance on the well-packed Ridge Trail, I returned to the Goshen parking lot. From this point on, it was about 2.5 miles all downhill, and my Microspikes made it so that I could run fast, and confident in my footing for the duration of the descent.
Returning to my car, this made for a slightly longer than 7 mile run, with about 900 feet of climbing and descent. The day was so nice, that after I got home and had a light lunch, I managed to get out for an hour of cross-country skiing as well!
Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”
The Blerch is a character, created by the author and cartoonist known as “The Oatmeal”, who has described The Blerch in the following words:
“Marathon runners often describe a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall.” They refer to ‘the wall” as the point in a race when they feel physically and emotionally defeated.
I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch. The Blerch is a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.
“Blerch” is the sound food makes when it is squeezed from a tube. “Blerch” is the shape of my tummy after a huge meal. If I am sedentary at a time when I have zero excuse for being sedentary, I call this “blerching.” The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life.
The Blerch always seems to appear in my life over the holidays – too much good food, too much good wine, and too much time on the road or in the homes of my extended family can make for a relaxing holiday, but not one in which I get much running in. “Its too cold outside Jeff – you don’t want to go out there”, or “Gee that football game, the Dingleberry Bowl between Okoboji State and Turkey Tech sure sounds good”, or “I shouldn’t run right after eating – where are the Christmas cookies?”. Yup – that’s the Blerch talking!
A few days ago, one of my running friends in Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts announced a run up, over and back on my old favorite, Snake Mountain, for this Saturday morning, and this sounded like a great way to jump start my running legs after the lethargy of the holidays. So, when my alarm went off at 7 am on a Saturday morning…..I hit the snooze button. Damn that Blerch! 10 minutes later, as the alarm resumed its insistent buzz, I realized that it was time to silence The Blerch along with the alarm, so I got up and poured a cup of coffee. Then, I looked at the thermometer, and it read “9 degrees”. Ugh – its too cold out there, but as the sun rises it will warm up, right? So I had my breakfast, and drank a few more cups of coffee, and when the time came at 8:30 am to drive off to the Snake Mt. trailhead on the west side of the mountain, I looked at the thermo-tormentor, and it let me know that the meager rays of sun had raised the temperature all the way up to 11 degrees. At least at this point, I realized I had drunk too much coffee to go back to bed, so off to the trailhead I went, donning about seven layers of clothing.
My mood improved considerably upon seeing four other runners ready to go at the start of the run. We had been forewarned to wear some sort of spikes on our shoes given the icing on the trails, so I brought my Asics Gel Arctic shoes – basically a normal running shoes with short spikes in the soles, for the winter ascent. The rest of the group had slip on spikes, known as MICROspikes, which they wore over their running shoes, and looked like they might offer even better grip. Sure enough, as we set off up the trail, while my shoes did well on the old styrofoam snow, frozen mud, and hard packed trail snow, they offered no grip whatsoever on the brief but challenging sections where the trail was essentially a frozen waterfall. My running partners with their MICROspikes seemed to be handling these sections much more adeptly.
As a result, my pace was much slower than usual, but nobody else was running much faster. Achieving the summit on this bitter cold morning, which seemed much more bearable after climbing for over two miles, we were treated to some amazing Adirondack views. I have always felt that if you squint your eyes just a little while looking west, you can almost convince yourself that our winter views of the ‘Dacks look an awful lot like views of the Front Range from Denver. Funny how squinting can keep an illusion completely clear!
After ascending from the more heavily hiked west side trail, we decided to descend down the east side. To get to this trail, you have to pretty much know where it is, as it is an unmarked trail. About one third of the way down the mountain, the west side trail takes a sharp, steeply descending right hand turn, and the east side trail is achieved if you go straight at this point. If you have never hiked this trail before, I would recommend ascending from the east side parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, so you can see where the trails meet. Given the lighter use of the east side trail, the snow was not as compacted as it was on the much icier west side, making for an easier descent, passing by some nicely terraced beaver ponds.
When we reached the east side parking lot, we had a decision to make: I was not looking forward to the climb back on the trails, and back down the west side, as my footing was much poorer than the others’ and I was not enthused about sliding down the mountain on a frozen incline. I knew there was a way to circle back to our parked cars by taking the Forest Road, a road which ran over the southern shoulder of Snake Mountain, but I did not have a clear idea what the mileage of this route would be. Some members of the group suspected that my mileage estimates might be a bit on the short side, and were not up for the potential of a significantly longer run. So, we ended up splitting the group- after all, this is supposed to be fun – and some went back up the mountain, while a few of us chose the road return, heading south on Snake Mt. Road, west on the climb over Forest Road, and then taking the right turn onto Mountain St. extension to return to our vehicles. Other than occasionally choking on the dust churned up by passing cars, this was actually a nice road run with views to the east and to the west at various points along the way. Although my initial conservative estimate of the distance was indeed shy of the actual mileage by about a mile and a half, I had not missed by as much as some of my running partners feared. The two groups met back at the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, and our version of the run worked out to almost exactly 10 miles, with the about 1000 ft climb up the mountain.
Happy New Year, and Death to the Blerch! (although he is kind of cute…..)
One of the challenges of running deep into the autumn is the dreaded clock resetting, away from daylight savings time, and back to “normal” time. The days are short enough to begin with this time of the year, and the loss of an additional hour of daylight at the end of the work day can complicate scheduling runs into my busy day. There is one solution to this problem however – the headlamp! Now, I have rarely run with a headlamp in the past, but when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday a month or so ago, I responded that I wanted a headlamp so that I could continue to run after work, at least as long as the weather allowed. I, of course, had never shopped for a headlamp before, and the previous headlamp I owned was “pre-LED”, was dependent on heavy D cell batteries to run, and provided the light of a decent flashlight. This was fine for it’s purpose at the time – those hiking days which required a start before the sun rises, but was a lot of weight to be carried on a strap around my head while running. Now, I can see what my parents were thinking – “Our trailrunning son runs a lot, so he needs the brightest, safest light out there!” So, I was a little bit chagrined to see the superdeluxe ultra high power headlamp my parents had purchased for me. Let me tell you – this lamp could work for spelunking. Nevertheless, I put it on, and it really wasn’t that heavy. The first time I ran after dark with some friends in the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, I received a modest ration of grief for my rather elaborate headgear – but – when it got dark outside they were more than happy to run in my headlight! This thing is really bright – at the end of one evening run, I pointed it at the Middlebury Falls from the Marble works – it lit up the falls from quite a distance! Curiously, when I ran alongside the road wearing it, I would have cars flick their brights at me if I allowed my headlamp to stray into the eyes of oncoming drivers. So yes, this lamp is a keeper!
The recent spate of unseasonably warm weather, combined with a full moon, inspired me to go out and several nights in the last two weeks, so I thought I would describe an old favorite run on the TAM from a very different perspective. So, one evening after work I set out onto the Red Kelly Trail segment of the TAM, heading out the back door of the College Fitness Center to start this run circling the golf course. One of the first things I noticed was that I barely needed my ultraluminous headlamp at all out in the fields, but as the trail entered the woods, it provided extra security, helping me avoid roots and slippery rocks. Some people are scared of the dark, and while I don’t have any issues in that regard, this was kind of like leaving the TV on, or the door to the bathroom open, letting in just enough light for security.
As I progressed around the golf course, I wondered what sort of wildlife I might awaken – perhaps there were bears out and about? A random skunk sauntering in the trail? As it turns out the only animals I saw were numerous rabbits out for their evening nibbles, and I only saw them as their little white butts scampered away as I upset their dining. Approaching Rt 30 out in the open, many of the older trees took on far creepier shapes than they usually appear to have during the daylight, and I was kind of surprised to see that my point and shoot camera was actually able to catch their mood in the light of the full moon.
Continuing across Rt 30, I joined the segment of the trail where my headlamp was most needed – the narrow, twisting second of the Class of 97 trail which connects the road crossing with the open fields to the west of the college. This was somewhat slow going, as even with the headlamp, the trail was difficult to follow due to the fact that it was covered in fallen leaves. Just as I was wondering if anyone else in their right mind would be running here in the darkness, I saw the headlamp of another lone running heading towards me. After our extended greetings, we passed each other by and continued in our respective loops – mine, clockwise, hers, apparently counterclockwise. Once I reached the open fields, I actually no longer needed my headlamp at all, except for one short jog through a thin strip of forest land – the moon was that bright – bright enough to leave moon shadows behind every tree. Crossing Rt 125, I reached the top of the modest glacial drumlin which makes up the college organic garden. From this vantage I had a great view of my workplace, Bicentennial Hall, and its glowing windows against the night sky.
At this point, I left the TAM, and took the footpath back to campus, crossing over Rt 125 by the “Mods”, the small cluster of homes which were set up at the outskirts of campus for temporary housing 15 years ago, and up the service road which connects them with the rest of campus. Of course, given that it was only a few days after Halloween, I had to complete the course with a shortcut through the graveyard, and since this run was not a filming for a horror movie, I reckoned I was safe enough. The monuments do make for an eerie sight in the low light – I almost felt like I was running through some sort of ancient ruin.
Since this run precisely follows a route I have previously blogged, I am going to link to the Google Earth image, which currently resides elsewhere in this blog. Overall, this is about a 5 mile run, with numerous ups and downs, but no serious climbs or descents, and yes, it is fun to run in the daytime as well.
On a cool mid-October day, I realized that it had been a few weeks since my last blog posting, so I thought about some good possible runs, and went online to perform a little cleanup to this blog. Then I realized that this was going to be my 100th posting! Should I come up with something particularly epic, or maybe even a little bit dangerous? Nahhhhh…. Instead, I decided to retrace the steps of the same run that I did for my very first posting, way back in June 2009. So, here goes – my inaugural run for “The Middlebury Trailrunner”, the run from the Falls of Lana/Silver Lake trailhead, up past Silver Lake to the Goshen Trailhead on the hillside above the lake, and back. I have done more runs from this trailhead than from any other starting point, but had not written up a new posting on this identical route, although I have run it countless times. Whilethis is probably not a recommended for for running neophytes, it is an appropriate, adventurous run for folks for whom road 10K’s are “about right”, but want to start exploring more adventurous terrain. This particular route has some significant hill climbing, but is primarily on double track forest service roads (only open to maintenance vehicles), so it is a great place for decent runners to start exploring trails. Kind of like me, 5 years ago.
A lot has changed in the last 5 years, at least as far as my running goes. When I first blogged this run, I thought of this as a pretty adventurous route, between the significant climbing, and its backcountry feel in a very scenic part of Addison County. Regular readers will note that while I do continue to weave in runs of moderate length, my longer runs have gotten…well….longer! I have also become more adventurous in my choice of new routes, with my attitude to new routes evolving from “Gee, I would like to know where that trail goes, so I can give it a try”, to “I bet that trail goes somewhere new, let me check my map”, to “OK – there is a path I have never noticed before, here goes!”. Adventure follows! Trailrunning has also rejuvenated my running, as I have found that I can go out on longer runs with greatly diminished frequency of injuries. This is key for middle-aged athletes, as every ache and pain becomes an excuse to not run, and a gradual acquiescence to the inevitability of old age – prematurely. Trail running puts one in the situation where every footfall is unique, and that fact, combined with its slower pace, minimizes the repetitive use injuries so common in distance runners. The other wonderful discovery I have made is that a steady diet of trail running on challenging terrain, with a longer runs every few weeks, is great preparation for marathon running, an empowering aspect of running which I had given up on for close to 20 years due to frequent annoying injuries.
Now – on to the run! When I first blogged this run 5 years ago, it was an early summer run in June of 2009, and the run reflected that season. This time? Mid-October, while still lovely, at least this year, is the very end of fall foliage, and the summer resort around Lake Dunmore is mostly shut down for the season. The Kampersville Squirrel? Still there, but she somehow looks a little creepier on a grey day. As I drove around the shoreline towards Branbury State Park, I also noticed a lot of “For Sale” signs in front of lakeside homes. I suppose their owners wanted one last summer on its shores before starting the process of turning over their summer haven to new owners? I also noticed that, at least on this blustery Sunday afternoon, that there were no cars or beachgoers along the shoreline of the state park. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury, was pretty close to full. I guess trailrunners and hikers are a hardier sort than beach folks? Apparently, although I suspect some Maine coast beachcombers would beg to differ, or even those who brave the Atlantic coasts further south in the off-season.
I am not going to spend a lot of time describing the details of the route – it is pretty easy to follow. Run up the forest service road departing from the Lake Road a hundred yards or so south of the parking lot, and follow its switchbacks all the way to Silver Lake, at about a mile and a half, and continue up the hill above Silver Lake on this road until you reach the Goshen trailhead , at which point you follow the trail descending back to Silver Lake, reaching the lakeside Leicester Hollow Trail, where you take a right turn. After slightly less than a half mile on this trail, take the left turn, following the campground sign pointing to the picnic area, which will bring you to the Silver Lake “beach” and then back to the original road on which you initially climbed, where you complete your descent back to your waiting car, for about a 5.6 mile run, with about 800 feet of climbing and descent.
That said, since I have run this trail countless times, but never at this specific time of the year (past-peak foliage, segueing into stick season), I made a point to look for things I had never noted before. So, for the rest of this posting, I will share these bits of minutiae. So – here goes!
1. A little over a mile into the run, if you look to your left through the trees, you will notice what looks like a small body of water to your left. I had always called this “Moose Pond” in my mind, but had never done the very short bushwack to actually stand at its shores. I associated it with moose, as I had envisioned it as a great place to see a moose someday. I finally took a few moments to actually step onto its shore, and while moose sightings continue to evade me when I am running, I realized that my name was a moosenomer: This is a rather substantial beaver pond! If you look at the picture carefully, you will see the beaver hut in the middle of the pond. There is also a rather substantial beaver dam, just to the right of the frame of this photo.
2. When you get to the shores of Silver Lake, you will notice a campsite for a campground host to your left. Over the last few years, there was an elderly gentleman who filled this role, and while I stopped to chat with him a few times, I never inquired as to his name. He was not there this summer, and for most of the summer, the campground host camp site was empty. I hope he is in good health? That said, I had always romanticized he notion of spending a summer in the forest, away from the comforts of home. On this run, I took the time to look around the empty site, and found its dirty little secret – it has electrical power. Set me up in the campground, and let me rock tunes on my portable electronic devices!
3. Much of the road ascent during the summer has a tunnel-like feel. The overhanging foliage blocks most views, and keeps the road more or less permanently in the shade. On this run, with most of the trees bereft of leaves at the higher elevations, rather expansive views opened up!
4. As I approached the Goshen parking lot at the end of my ascent, I noticed an old wooden sign, with the number 9 painted on it. Does anyone have any idea what this means? It was not one of the blue signs with yellow numbers, which the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Center uses to mark its trails. Nor was it one of the far more polished numerical signs which grace the shores of Silver Lake, which I assume accompany a pamphlet which I have never seen, probably with a name like “Groovy Trees of Silver Lake”. Maybe the Number 9 was referring to one of my favorite summer microbrews? I doubt it!
5. There are a few well placed marble blocks on the shoreline of Silver Lake. I have never noticed these before, and I can only assume that these remain from the old Silver Lake Hotel. If you would like to learn more about this long gone hotel, you should purchase “Leicester Vermont’s Silver Lake — Beyond the Myths” By William Powers. You can find it on Amazon, or at the Sheldon Museum!
I am going to finish with a few observations I have made associated with management of this blog, as I have learned a few interesting things about how the internet really works through the use of WordPress (the software I use for this blog) analytics.
1. About 90% of the information transferred on the web is total spam. We are all familiar with the junk mail that fills our inboxes, but the amount that assaults this blog, in an attempt to post links leading to god knows where when clicked, blows my mind. I probably see 10,000 spam messages for every real reader response. Fortunately, the brilliant software which the WordPress programmers have added to the blogging software is ruthlessly efficient at blocking this, so it only takes me a few moments each week to delete, and it never clogs up the blog comments. For some reason, spam touting the wonders of Luis Vuitton handbags, and Adam and Eve sex toys seem to be the worst offenders. I have also noticed that every time I mention my Garmin GPS watch, I get inundated with Garmin spam for a week or two. Yes, the web is dominated by spam bots!
2. One of my very first posts, describing a run I did in Bristol entitled “Things to do in Bristol when you are bored” seems to get a lot of hits due to people Googling the terms “bored in Bristol”. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why almost every day, one or two people somewhere in the world google “bored in Bristol” and end up on my blog. I have googled these terms, and seen nothing of note. I wondered at one point if my mischievous teenage daughter was messing with me, but she claims innocence.
When I first posted this run, I also mentioned the ready availability of creemees and other frozen treats at the Kampersville Deli. Alas, this summer attraction is also closed for the season, but its whiteboard price list is still inviting. I wonder if the price list will still be there in the spring?
So now, I have to ask my readers (both of you?)- Do you know of any good treasure troves for trail traversing which I (we) might explore at some point? I have a few good ideas of new places in the vicinity to explore, but am always looking for some new suggestions. Feel free to respond with any of your inspirations!
Cheers, and hope to see you at post #200
I was in the Upper Valley for a few days over last weekend, and had some time to run, so decided to come up with another “run on the road”. While this blog does focus on Addison County runs, the Upper Valley, roughly centered around the Hanover, NH, Lebanon, NH, and Norwich, VT is only an hour and a half away, so might provide opportunities for other locals on the road! Running in this area holds special meaning to me: Many years ago, as a graduate student at that moderately known institution of higher learning in Hanover, I got my first taste of trail running, running on the trails tucked into the forest between the Hanover Country Club and the Connecticut River. When I lived in the area, I was vaguely aware of some little-used trails in the undeveloped forest, just south of the Hanover Village, bounded by Rt. 10 alongside the Connecticut River to the west, Lebanon Rd, aka Rt 120 to the east, and I-89 to the south. But, at that point in my life, my trail time was focused on bagging the highest peaks in NH, so I rarely explored the trails in my own backyard! Although I don’t usually do this, I have included a map of this area courtesy of Google Maps. This most important thing to note is that there are no roads going into the interior of this accessible semi-wilderness. While it is not apparent at this scale, if you zoom in on this area in Google Maps, the trails are shown, many of them with their names! More on that later…….
Looking over the maps of the region a little more closely, I realized that I had been to one location in this region numerous times in the past. The small lake, about a half mile uphill from the Wilder Dam Parking lot, just south of Hanover, was the location of many weekend afternoons with grad school friends, swimming, cooking burgers, and yes, drinking beer. So, I chose this lake, known as Boston Lot Lake, as my destination from a trailhead along Lahaye Drive, the road which runs along the southern boundary of the Dartmouth Medical Center access road.
So, I set off on my run a little later than usual, planning on a 4-5 mile run to Boston Lot Lake from this trailhead. The first complication here was that my cell phone, which I was counting on for access to Google Maps for navigation in a area which I was not familiar with, was down to the end of its battery life. The second complication was that since it was rather late in the afternoon, I had to be concerned about darkness. Arriving at the trailhead, I spoke with a mountain biker who was loading up his car, who warned me that there were a lot of trails back there which were not actually on the map which I was using. OOOOOOKKKKKKKKKK…….
Setting off from the trailhead, I indeed found many of the aforementioned unmarked trails, and found myself constantly checking my phone for bearings. The trail network in this section was complex, but traveled through a lush, dark, hemlock forest with plenty of tree roots to keep the running “interesting”.
The trail at this point went by the not surprising name of “The Hemlock Loop”, and it eventually connected to the Northside trail, which in turn brought me to the shores of Boston Lot Lake, which I had not visited in more years than I care to admit. It was a very cloudy early evening, but for some reason the Lake didn’t look quite as big as I remembered it. Isn’t it funny how time does that? Running around the lake, the vegetation seemed to transition from hemlock to oak, with the associated danger – it seems that the oak forest was infested with super squirrels who were knocking down and collecting acorns left and right – I heard these rodent-sized projectiles crashing all around me, but fortunately none knocked my noggin!
After the mile or so jaunt around the lake, I realized that I had to get back to my parked car….soon. There wasn’t a lot of light left in the day, and frankly, the woods were pretty dark. Finally, my cell phone, which I was counting on for actually finding my way home, was warning me that it was down to the last gasps of its charge. So, consulting the map with the notion of finding the straightest possible route back to a real road, I picked a trail called “The Indian Ridge Trail”, which appeared to be more or less straight and easy to navigate on weak sunlight. The challenge to this trail was that it left me a little farther from my car than I would have preferred. The Indian Ridge was probably the prettiest part of the run – as the trail name implied, the route was along a ridge, and I suspect that after the leaves fall, it might actually offer a few limited views of the surroundings. I also passed by an intact stone wall from a hill farm which probably bad not been in existence for at least a hundred years, judging from the girth of the surrounding trees.
And of course, a few moments after I took this last picture, my cell phone went black with a dead battery, but fortunately my on-the-fly route planning proved correct, and I reconnected with the roads surrounding the medical center, and was able to follow this in the fading light to my returning car.
My four-five mile run ended up being more like a six and a half miler, and while there were no serious hill climbs in this route, it was hardly flat. Also, a perfunctory look at the maps of the region indicate that there are a myriad of trailheads which offer access to this extensively forested area. Good running!
As the summer draws to a close and the days get cooler, my runs tend to get longer and longer in anticipation of a few Fall marathons, or other longer races which depend on a full summer’s training. I have been wanting to knock off a big chunk of the Oak Ridge Trail for some time this summer, and I found some good running partners for this endeavor through a new Meetup, called “Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts“. For those of you are not familiar with this group of runners and trail seekers, it began just this summer. For the time being, most of the group runs have been in town, after work (5:45), leaving from the Marble Works on Tuesdays, and some Thursdays. While I have been a regular participant on these after work runs, which usually proceed at a pace amenable to conversation, this was the first time I had joined in one of the longer group runs. So, at 8 am on a beautiful Saturday morning, I joined up with Heather, the group founder, and John, the organizer of the local race, the “Moosalamoo Ultra” for a run up the ridge. We started at the parking lot on Rt 125, between East Middlebury and Ripton, and headed up the trail. One sign of good conversation is that you miss trail signs, so I guess we got off to a good start by missing a well marked right turn, where the Oak Ridge Trail veered off of the Old Town Road, an abandoned road which serves as the northern terminus of the nearly 20 mile long Oak Ridge Trail. After about a quarter of a mile of running in increasingly higher grass, we realized our error, and backtracked to the incredibly obvious correct turn, and from this point we had no further routefinding difficulties!
I had done this section of trail once before, as a point to point run, after being dropped off at a significantly higher altitude, the turnoff for the Voter Brook Overlook on the Goshen-Ripton Road. Running the same trail in the opposite direction added an additional 500 ft or so of climbing! The trail angles up the north side of Mount Moosalamoo, rarely becoming steep, over the course of over 6 miles. At one point, pretty high up, I grabbed a shot of my running partners as they attempted to escape me.
Shortly after this point, I parted company with my running friends, as they were looking for a longer run than I today – they continued along the ridge toward the now near Moosalamoo summit, and I chose to descend on the Moosalamoo Trail to the Moosalamoo Campground, and return to my car by country roads. The descent was much easier than the ascent to this point – the Moosalamoo Trail gets much heavier foot travel than the longer Oak Ridge Trail. Some recent local new articles had alluded to trail maintenance on this trails, to make them more accessible to mountain bikers as well, but other than a few cut up trees which had fallen over the trail, it looked like this plan was not fully underway yet!
I reached to Moosalamoo Campground, at around mile 9 in the run, and was surprised to see that, even on Labor Day weekend, this primitive campground only had two groups of campers staked out for the last holiday of summer. At this point, I knew my return would be by road, but the Goshen-Ripton Road is about as quiet as a road can get- in my 4 miles or so on this road, returning to 125, I saw only 3 cars. I also made mental notes of other trailheads to be explored in future postings, most notably the Wilkinson Trails across the road and to the west of the Widow’s Clearing parking lot. In one sunny section, I also noted some of the last daisies of summer, clinging to the side of the road.
Rejoining Rt 125, I passed through Ripton, and realized that while I had passed through the village countless times by car, and by bicycle, the only time I had actually been on foot in the village was racing in the Ripton Ridge Run back in the 80s when it started and finished at the old Ripton School! I also took a moment to enjoy the whimsy of the reproduction of the old sign for road tolls on this route, posted in the yard of the Chipman Inn. Do you think they accepted Easy Pass?
The last mile of the run was the most unnerving – the run through the twisty turny section of 125 below Ripton. The shoulders here were less than ample, and I took care not to run on the side of the road on the inside of the many blind corners where cars tended to cut it a little close! I did indeed survive this short section without a scratch, to return to my car in time to get home for lunch. Overall, this was a pretty long run for me, covering almost 16 miles, with about 1500 ft of climbing on the trail sections.
Finally – it would be great to see some new faces at Middlebury Trail Enthusiast events – check it out!
On a recent west coast swing for a few conferences, I had a few days in Orange County, just south of LA, followed by a few days in downtown San Francisco. While both of these are very urban areas, I looked for elements of trail running at each of the locales. How can one do true trail running in the cities? I always look for parks, or parkways alongside water, or hills. Even though this is not QUITE the same as a good Vermont Trail, as long as one can put up with the stop and go of frequent traffic signals at road crossings, this is a great way of shaking off the lethargy of long sedentary hours in conference lectures, on airplanes, or in airports.
My first stop, in Orange County, held less promise for a memorable run. While “The OC” is well known for its excellent beaches, I was stranded about 10 miles inland, in an area which seemed to be mostly made up of featureless modern office buildings, 6 lane wide city streets, manicured corporate lawns, and generous sidewalks which seemed curiously devoid of walkers or runners. Looking at the map more carefully, I noticed that I was only a mile and a half away from the “Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve“, which held promise as a site for finding actual trails in this otherwise concrete jungle. As expected, the early part of the run involved running on the sidewalks, while sucking in the exhaust of rush hour traffic, and stopping at numerous traffic lights. As I turned one corner, however, I saw the oasis which I sought, and realized I had found a runners’ gem. Apparently, as this area of California underwent rapid development in the 1970’s they had the wisdom to save this estuary from development, and while the pressure of encroaching homes, roads, and even a major airport (John Wayne Airport) was always evident, other than the roar of a jet every few minutes, it was a great place to run. I suspect that at times other than 5 pm, the hottest time of the day, I would have seen more wildlife, but on this run I had to be satisfied with a few skittish rabbits and iguanas.
There were many more miles of pleasant waterfront running to be explored, but I had to return to my sterile business hotel for a planned dinner, so I turned back to the open road for my return. This route brought me alongside the airport, and the wealth of Orange County was obvious from the extraordinarily high concentration of private jets moored there, and the Rolls Royce dealership I came across at exactly 4.78 miles into my run. Apparently, only 19 of the 50 states are prestigious enough to harbor one of these dealerships, and not surprisingly, Vermont is not one of them.
Completing this run after about 5.5 miles, I was offered a bottle of water by the kind bellmen who must have thought that the sweaty middle aged fellow coming in their front door was ready to die – apparently Californians don’t sweat?
The second half of my west coast swing brought me to San Francisco – one of the most glorious cities in the US. It too, has large parks, such as the Presidio, for the avid trail runner, but my location in a downtown hotel sandwiched between the Financial District and Chinatown put those locales out of reach with the limited time I had available for runs. So, I built my run around the aspect of trail running which downtown San Fran has in abundance – HILLS!
Setting off from my hotel and passing briefly through the bustle of Chinatown, I came to the first of my hill climbing challenges – a steep incline which necessitated steps on the sidewalks for pedestrians, “The Macchiarini Steps“. At first, I thought that it must be some sort of sick joke on the tourists, calling this paved wall a road, but when I noticed the garage doors flanking it, I realized that people really do drive up and down this precipitous incline!
Once past this challenge, I continued uphill to my first summit, the top of Telegraph Hill, which is occupied by the Coit Tower, and offers some of the best views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. My descent brought me back to the lower elevations of the city, and uphill to the base of what is arguably San Francisco’s most notorious climb, the twisting gardens of Lombard Street. Again, the steepness of this road demanded steps on the sidewalk, and my passage was slowed by countless other tourists doing more traditional vacation activities on this scenic climb.
The high point of Lombard Street is very close to the summit of Russian Hill, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that the top of this hill, which has to be some of the most valuable real estate in the US, was capped with a public playground with tennis courts and a basketball court! All directions from here were downhill, so I headed towards my final summit of the afternoon, that of Nob Hill. This hilltop was the high point of the run, and is crowned by a cathedral and several rather posh looking hotels and apartment houses. The long steep descent, entailing just as much “shuffling” as most trail descents brought me back to my hotel. While the distance of this run was not a big deal, only about 3.5 miles, it did entail over 1000 ft of climbing and descent. To put it in perspective, I can’t think of any trails I have done in Vermont which pack this much altitude change in this short a distance. So, while this run was entirely on concrete, it had the feeling of accomplishment comparable to a run up Snake Mountain, with the views just as good as mountain top views.
The Mad River Valley is where some of my extended family lives, and while not quite part of Addison County,it is another great place for trail running. Even for those without lodging in the area, it is only an hour away, and a worthwhile place to go for a run for a nice change of pace. I was visiting “over the mountains” this weekend, and had the time and energy for a more challenging run, so considered some of the local options for true mountain running. I know from past experience that all ski areas have service roads leading to their summits, and if these roads proceed up novice, aka “green circle” trails, while they may be relentless, they are usually at a low enough incline for extended runs without breaking into a walk too often. If the service road proceeds up an intermediate, or “blue square” trail, you are probably going to be doing a fair amount of power hiking rather than running, no matter how easy the trail seems to be when descending in the winter. A few years ago, I described the relatively short run up the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, as well as the much more challenging ascent to just below the summit of Mt. Mansfield in “The Race to the Top of Vermont”.
Remembering how much fun I had a few years ago, in the locally run Race to the Top of Vermont, I was initially enthused to see that a new race, involving an ascent of Mt. Ellen, one of the highest peaks in the state, and the northernmost summit of the Sugarbush Ski Area, was happening this September. Reading the details of the race, however, my interest plummeted like an out of control runner on a steep downhill. Unlike most of the races in VT, this was part of a larger, national series of races, and is part of, what to me at least, is a disturbing trend in competitive athletics. Most races in VT are locally run, and a modest cost to competitors, and profits are usually turned over to charity. These national race series are almost always “for profit”, very expensive, and only turn over a tiny percentage of their profits to charities. Some of these series, like the Ragnar Relay running series have developed a reputation for rapaciously supplanting previously existing races. Others, like the now famous “Tough Mudder” races have arisen from the business plans of Harvard MBA’s rather than any innate love of sport or charity. In any case, this “O2X” race series, which includes a run up Mt Ellen in its race series wants 120 bucks to race! I don’t mind paying more for a race if I can see where the money has to go – marathons take a ton of support over the course of 7 hours or more, and often include the closure of many city streets. The obstacle course races of the Tough Mudder genre, while not my cup of tea, at least have a lot of setup to do before each race. This O2X series brags that mother nature is providing all the obstacles, which is of course a brilliant business plan, which combined with their commitment to give a whopping 1% to charity sounds like it will result in some happy young millionaire race organizers! To put this entry fee in perspective, the Race to the Top of Vermont, which raises funds for the Catamount Trail, charges $30-$70 for its entry fees, and another mountain ascent race just up the road at Mad River Glen charges $25! Even the Jay Peak 50K Ultramarathon, with two ascents of Jay Peak, and which has far more organizational challenges due to its length and terrain, charges only $85!
After reading of this attempt to charge an exorbitant fee to run up a mountain, which due to its status as national forest is actually free to access, I thought I would describe a fun running route up the mountain. I parked my car at the nearly empty Mt. Ellen parking lot and took a look up the mountain, and realized that I had a fair bit of challenge ahead of me. The service road under the Green Mountain Express chairlift, just to the left of the base lodge looking uphill was where I began my ascent. For the first half mile of so, the road follows what is the easiest ski trail on the mountain, making it a merely “tough” ascent, and after it reached the base of the North Ridge chair ascended more steeply to the right. I still found this section runnable, but at a very slow, stutter-step stride. While this section of running was labelled as novice terrain in the ski trail map, it was certainly much steeper than a typical bunny slope. Part way up this section, the service road split, half bearing left up comparably steep terrain which I suspected would blow out my quads pretty quickly, or a more gentle ascent to the right, which in the ski season would be thought of as a crossover trail. I took the path of least resistance, as I really did want to run. All along this section, I was accompanied by a retinue of lovely orange butterflies, and with a little patience I coaxed one into sitting still long enough to get her picture taken.
This segment brought me the the far north (uphill runner’s right) of the ski area at the top of the Inverness Chair, about 1000 vertical feet above the parking lot already, but with a long way still to go. Another crossover trail was found with a sharp left turn, crisscrossing me back under the “Exterminator” trail, the North Ridge Chair, and brought me to what is usually thought of by skiers as the point about halfway up the mountain, the small restaurant at the end of the Green Mountain Chair called “The Glen House”.
I felt pretty accomplished at this point, but looking straight up, I realized the biggest challenges were still ahead of me. Going into this run, I had hoped that the service road to the summit would follow the gentle “Rim Run” trail to my left, but instead followed the much steeper, truly intermediate trail directly under the Summit Chair. I guess it makes sense in retrospect that the service road would actually follow the chairlift it aims to service? This next segment, from here, to the top of the North Ridge Chair, was the steepest part of the ascent, and such, I was only able to maintain a running stride about half of the time. Upon reaching the top of the North Ridge chair, I turned to the left for the last ascent to the summit along the north ridge of Mt Ellen, and at first thought that I was in for a tough crawl up what looked like a too-steep-to-to run segment.
So, I did what I had to do, I took a break, and took some pictures of the wildflowers, mostly daisies and another yellow flower akin to dandelions. Resuming my run after this brief break, I found the running easier than expected, and only slowed down for a few short scrambles over ledgy rock sections. Reaching the summit, I chatted for a few minutes with a gentleman who had hiked up and had been following my progress from his perch at the top of the mountain.
After a few minutes of enjoying the summit scenery, I retraced my run back to my car waiting below, once again being careful to moderate my speed so that I would still have fully operational quads the next day, and I can say now, writing this up on Sunday, that I was successful in that! Also, the footing can be a little bit more difficult with loose rocks on the descent, so this gave me another good reason to check my speed.
Overall, this was some pretty cool terrain, and a good challenge for mountain runners – this route took about two hours round trip, and covered 7 miles, with 2500+ ft of climbing and descent. The lesson to today’s run? You would have to be crazy to pay all that money ($120) to access terrain and scenery which is free, and if you want to enjoy the challenges of a hill climb race, there are plenty of other options which are convenient, charitable, keep your money in VT, and leave you with plenty of money for beers – heck for a steak dinner – with your running friends.