Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tully Lake Triathlon

A little throwback to one of my favorite western ma races, the Tully Lake Triathlon. I will miss this years event (2014) as I will be expecting my first daughter, Rose, to be born.

The Tully Lake Tri is a 5 mile paddle, 4.5 mile trail run, and 7.5 mile mountain bike. The paddle is scenic and the single track flowy.  The entire course is situated in the Trustees of Reservation Tully Lake in the peak of fall season. In technicality, I would rate the run as easy to moderate and the mountain bike intermediate with a few more technical stretches.

The race begins at Tully Lake Campground which makes for a super fun weekend getaway, Earlier, I raced the Peaked Mountain Birthday Trail run, another great Trustees race located in Monson, Ma and took home a 2 night stay at the Tully Lake campground (Peaked Mountain Birthday Run Race Report).  I am looking to using that prize to bring Rose to her first camping trip so she and mommy can ring some cowbell while daddy races the 2015 race.

Here is the 2013 video put together by Kevin Murphy. Thanks Kevin for the great footage!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fun on the Mountain: The 2014 Great River Challenge

What is an "Off Road Triathlon"?

Well, start off by twisting, pushing, and pulling yourself as you propel a kayak or canoe through fog, current, and or wind as you gaze along mountains, woodlands, and farms . Then take your run and bike, turn the pavement into single track trails and add some rocks, roots, steep climbs and fast and technical descents. String it all this together and you have the Great River Challenge!

You will be working your heart and lungs just as much as any  'traditional tri', but now you have to add concentration, balance, and agility.  The endorphin you will get from this 'non traditional' race will only be heightened with the adrenaline of playing in the woods.

The Great River Challenge is situated in beautiful Northfield Mountain. Athletes of all abilities came to tackle the 5 mile paddle, 4 mile trail run, and 7 mile mt bike in teams and individuals.

For this race report,  I focused on the solo division as this was the division I was competing in. With that said, many athletes came to Northfield to just play and engage in the outdoors with other like minded people. Everyone I talked with could not have been happier with the atmosphere and community that a race like this creates.In one racers words, it was an "A+".

 Let's break down the segments.

The Paddle

The organization of this race was truly impressive. The paddle took us up the CT river around an island and back down to a dock. Volunteers supported paddlers into and out of their boats. (no boats had to be dragged!) Volunteers then took the boats and placed them into a holding area so racers could continue along with their race. The launch area itself was situated on a large picnic area with pavilion and bathrooms. The race did get started a bit late, but given this is their first year, I am not bothered by the delayed start.

As for weather this year, a calm, quiet fog hung over the waters at the start of the race creating a dreamy-like start  but then the sun broke through as boaters finished their leg.

Me in my Westside Exceed. 
Racers used an assortment of boats, kayaks, canoes, surf skis, k1s etc. Like other gear dependent sports, the right equipment will provide an advantage. In this case, surf skis and k1s will typically dominate. They are tippier than recreational boats, but the thrill and push of paddling at 6-7 mph adds to at least my enjoyment. Think of a high end mountain bike over a hybrid bike. Once in one of these boats, a whole new world of paddling technique and balance enters into the equation.  Much like swimming, there is much speed to be gained from good technique.

Here is a strava link to the course

On Left. Fastest female kayaker and third fastest overall, Kari Crowe, She is paddling an Epic V14. Notice her form..pulling with the torso, entering the recovery, preparing for the catch.

Below LeftFastest kayaker and race organizer, David Thomas in a Stellar SEI.  Stellar is an amazing kayak and surf ski company that produces some of the fastest, most comfortable boats in the world (No, I am not sponsored by Stellar, nor did get paid for that comment) and David is the Brains behind the operation. Located in our backyard in Norhfield. If you are going to buy, buy local!
Below Right:  I finished 1 minute behind Dave and 2nd overall.

The Trail Run

I finished with the 3rd fasted run time...but who had the 1st ?
Pic would be nice too.

On Left: 

The run was essentially 1 hill, 678 feet up and then back down, all in 4 miles. Racers ran from the kayak transition up a short stretch of paved road, across a grassy field, and then into the Northfield Mountain trail system. The trails are just about all single track, very well marked, with the occasionally log to jump over and rocky/rooty section to negotiate.  I would rate the technicality of the trail as easy to moderate ( Advanced  for me is Seven Sisters). With that said, the hills were surprisingly challenging. I pre-ran the course 2 weeks prior with not too much difficulty. On race day though, I was having a hard time lowering my heart rate and breathing after the kayak segment. I ended up walking some of the steeper sections.

I was able to move into first place overall I knew there were some fast runners behind and pushed when I could to build a lead before entering the mountain bike section.

Link to trail run course

The Mountain Bike

Matt Pomeroy destroyed the course in blazing time making him the fastest mountain biker of the day.
It's looking like he may be catching some air on this move!
The mountain bike course blended single track hiking trails and double track ski trails. The course, though only 7 miles, was indeed challenging. The climb to the top of Northfield Mountain was unrelentless, though not technical. Being in the front of the pack, I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to overtake me.  Later, I heard a cyclist pulled this off in a single speed. Wow.

After making it to the top, the descent was pure single track fun. Not technical, but indeed a mountain bike decent. After what felt like a slog for the last hour, the ride down the mountain was pure bliss. At this point I forgot I was racing and just having fun. This was a GREAT way to finish!

Link to mountain bike course

Above Left: Mark Trahan with the money shot! Mark finished 3rd soloist and 4th overall! 
Above Right: Me coming down the final stretch to win soloist and overall!


I finished first place overall and first place soloist!
Racing should not be about the awards, but I would be lying if I was to say if I have not enjoyed receiving recognition for a race performance. The Great River Challenge had some SWEET prizes for awards. Very unexpected especially given that it was their first year. With that said, if you are racing for prizes, my tip to you is to go for the "fastest" time per event. The fastest kayaker won themselves a high end fiberglass paddle from Stellar. Fastest runner grabbed a certificate for a new pair of running sneakers. The fastest biker took home a sweet pair of high end sunglasses (sorry..i forgot the brand).  There were also some nice raffle prizes that all were entered in including a really nice (and expensive) watch from Suunto (Suunto Ambit2) and a white water rafting trip and zip-lining from Zoar Outdoor.  
Bellow are some of the sponsors that came out to support their races and share their love of the outdoors.  I really enjoyed talking with all of them and hope they come back next year.

Suunto!! Raffled an Ambit 2. A super generous
gift...I just wished i won it!
Stellar Kayaks! I love these boats!

EMS Donated water bottles, gear, and raffled
a backpack. Thanks for coming out!
Friends of Schell Brdge
Read their story! Great Folk! Loved  talking with them!

Great racing again with my buddy Mark Trahan.  By this time next year we may have some infants with us!  Any thoughts of including a day care tent?

I loved this race and love the potential this race has. Please consider it for your next fall event. I would love to see the Great River Challenge become a staple racing race in western MA for years to come!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Peaked Mountain 10k Birthday Run, Monson

Peaked Mountain 10k

Monson, Ma

pronounced "peak-ed"
The Peaked Mountain 10k, or Peaked Mountain Birthday run is a hidden trail race gem. After running the race I am surprised there are not more runners coming down to Monson. Meandering along Monson's back roads to get to the nature reserve in itself is a selling point. While you are in the area, consider checking out my favorite brewery Tree House. This years race date was Sept 20 (2014).

The course is not very technical but still provides some challenges and is extremely well marked. There is a big climb with a short rocky scramble to  to the top of Peaked Mt, including a scenic view northward up to Quabbin.  The downhill from peaked mountain is fast and serious fun. There are 2 stretches of pavement connecting 2 of the Trustee reservation, Peaked Mountain and Miller Forrest, but the stretch is not too long and gave spectators a chance to cheer on racers. The pavement finish also allowed some runners to push hard at the end. 


                                                 photo credit: Ted Ruegsegger 
Both trail sections are great! I loved the view from Peaked Mountain, the flowy single and double track, fast downhills, the climbs, and the views around Lunden Pond.

I especially loved the laid back, grassroots feel to the race. The post race had 2 varieties of delicious homemade birthday, chocolate zucchini and I forgot the second. to celebrate \Peaked's birthday of being incorporated by the Trustees and now has its land protected. 

       Zucchini Cake


There was also a guitarist playing and signing some great music. The music added to the small town country style feel. Crystal and I hung out for awhile sitting in the sun, cheering on racers, listening to the music, and ringing some cowbell.

I ended up winning this years race and scored 2 free nights at Tully Lake Campground. Pretty sweet deal!  I had a great time and hope to make back it next year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

North Country Endurance Challenge

Accident's (didn't) Happen

North Country Endurance Challenge

The idea started Memorial Day Weekend with a few beers on a beach. I was told of a new race in New Hampshire that consisted of a 40 mile mountain bike, 13 mile trail run, and 9 mile paddle; a true mountain, adventure race spread out in 9 stages. Since Crystal, my ace support person, would   
be 8 months pregnant on race day, attempting a solo race would be way too much. In comes my racing and outdoor buddy Mark Trahan. We were sipping some beers on that sunny day when I suggested racing the NCEC as a duo. Before I knew it, he had a mapped out game plan. I suppose he was in.

That night, sipping some more beers, our name 'Accidents Happen' came to be. Mark was also expecting his first child and, similar to Crystal, Marks support, Astrid, would be 7 months pregnant. Yet, and even though we had some good laughs, our future bundles of joy were no accidents!  Our name referred more to our accident prone nature.

As such, accidents did happen, Three weeks prior to race day, I took a fall off my mountain bike cracking 3 ribs. Then on the week of the race, Mark's wheelset got damaged and with no available fixes, he was forced to use Astrid's mountain bike.  All we could hope for now is that we could finish the race in 1 piece.

So then our adventure began, Mark, Astrid and kid to be, and John, Crystal, and girl to be made a plan to head out to the far North Country of New Hampshire to race in the wild North Woods.

The Drive

 Getting to Pittsburg and Colebrook from western and central mass is no quick chore, but the drive is beautiful. I would recommend taking the Friday off and  enjoy the scenic back roads and small towns. For the mountain biker, consider stopping in West Burke for some warm up laps in the Kingdom trails followed with an ice cream carbo load. We all agree that next year we would like to make the voyage to Colebrook a weekend getaway.

The Relay Breakdown

After given new information from the race meeting, specifically a lengthening of the second run leg, we decided to alter our initial strategy. Our plan was as follows

Leg 1  kayak 4 miles -Mark,                       Leg 5-Run 10.5 miles -John
Leg 2- Run 3 miles -John,                           Leg 6- Bike 9 miles- Mark
Leg 3- Kayak 5 miles-John,                        Leg 7- run/hike 3 miles- Mark
Leg 4- Bike 7 miles-Mark,                          Leg 8- bike 14 mile -John
                                                                     Leg 9  bike 10 miles-Mark

Mark got to have more legs, but I got the longest version of all the legs. We will forever continue to argue who worked harder.

Race day is not for a late sleeper. We were up at 4:30 in the morning to make a 6:00 race start. Given that we didn't actually get to bed by 11:00 this is a good time to say how awesome  our (pregnant) support crew is!

Earlier Morning Start 
Our drive out to First Connecticut Lake was picturesque. There was something special and significant about racing in the headwaters of a river I live right next to, but 300 miles south. Most of the roads between transitions points were on wooded dirt roads adding to the lure of the Great North Country

The Race

Stage 1. Kayak 4 miles: Mark

The race sets off with a grand start under the "Untammed New England" arch with a cannon launch. I always appreciate the theatrics of a race start and North Country didn't disappoint. Mark was giving the paddle a go in my West Side Exceed. The boat is old with plenty of dents, scratches and leaks but she stays afloat and can still keep up with the surf skis. Mark, coming from a strong whitewater background did fantastic edging out the competition given us a short lead heading into the 2nd leg.

Stage 2: Run 3.1 miles: John

Stage 2 is generally flat with only some technically and slippery single track at the beginning. The hardest part for me was my shoe coming untied 1 mile in. I was thinking to myself "this is exactly how we get our name" but still didn't bother to stop and tie it.  Solo racer James Kovac passed me about mile 2.5 but I choose to stay back saving energy for the much anticipated 2nd run leg.

Stage 3: Paddle 5 miles: John

I transitioned from the run right into the kayak. James Kovac was just in front, paddling a West Side Thunderbolt. As I came up on James I realized that I forgot where is was going. Note to self, look at the map a bit more before racing. Calling at James for directions, he told me where to go. Francis Lake is a long finger-shape lake with views of the surrounding Great North Woods . We paddled the full length of this pristine lake. Very beautiful. 

Stage 4: Mnt Bike 7 miles: Mark

The first bike stage was the shorter, less technical, but with a challenging steep climb. Some riders used cross bikes, some mountain bikes. Mark used his wife's bike. That didn't slow him down though as he was able to hang on to the lead. For future support crew, don't dawdle too long between transitions. We just where able to beat Mark to the next transition with just 5 minutes to spare.


Stage 5 Trail Run 10.5 miles: John

Wow! This run was intense. One of the most rugged 10.5 mile runs I have done.  The course was a mix of dirt roads and what seemed like abandon jeep roads with knee high grass, shrubs and ankle deep mud. The course at times felt more like bushwacking then trail running. If the difficult footing was not enough, the trail was covered in moose tracks and I counted at least 3 piles of bear scat

My GPS Data

Assessing the hurt

Stage 6 Mnt Bike 9 miles: Mark

After the 10.5 mile run, Mark took the next two events given me a chance to recover before the 14 mile ride. Mark would start with a 9 mile mnt bike followed by a 3 mile run over the Table Top mountain. To be honest I don't know much about the bike except it was mostly jeep roads. Mark will have to fill me in later.

Stage 7 Mountain Run 3 miles: Mark

Truth is, I might have been a little jealous that Mark got to run this leg. I heard the climb had a great view from the top and a sweet, fast single track downhill. With that said, even though Mark is a self proclaimed "non runner", when it comes scrambling up and down mountain tops, he performs with the best of them.

Mark needs all the directional support he can get

Stage 8 Mnt Bike 14 miles:  John

The website course description described this leg as the most challenging and technical of the mountain bike legs. I actually thought it wasn't too bad. The leg does climb 1500 feet in 8 miles, but all the climbing was on non technical jeep roads. True, I did walk, but that was because I realized I could hike faster than spin/ The descent was more technical via a rocky atv trail. It wasn't single track, but I still yelped a few woots. One the biggest challenges was all the mud to contend with, My bike got a full mud bath, as well as my face. Once over the climb, this was a fun bike leg!

GPS Course:

Stage 9 Mnt Bike

Last stage went back to Mark. This was an easier mountain bike stage finishing in downtown Colebrook. Colebrook is a quaint town center with some restaurants and a few shops. The finish had a band and a few vendors. Unfortunately the rain came down hard just as we finished and the band and vendors had to pack it up. Given better weather,  I could imagine the finish to be a great place to hang out while cheering on other racers. We sat in the rain and  the car until our friend Josh Flanagan (winner of the solo division), finished up. After that, we both felt a bit of hypothermia kicking in, so off to the motel we went. 

Later that night all the racers gathered at the Dancing Bear Restaurant for a tasty dinner of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato and macaroni salad, cookies, etc. The ceremony part was short and I think the organization could work on adding some more excitement when announcing the winners, or at least give out some times. I have always enjoyed the 1st/2nd/3rd boxes used in many bike races.

Overall Review

I Loved this race and look forward to competing again.  This is my favorite type of adventure race, mountain biking, paddling and trail running! A few highlights
  • Superb course, scenic, challenging, and fun
  • Great Support throughout. Well marked trails,
  • For the price of the race, you get your moneys worth and then some
  • Good post race at the Dancing Bear.

My 2 cents in how to make the race even better!

  • Since organizers require jerseys, they should provide at least 2 per team. Having to take off a teammates sweaty shirt and put it on your own back takes away from the excitement of the transition and seems unnecessary 
  • Provide at least 2 bike numbers. Again, removing from one bike to another is a waste of team and is just annoying. In addition, I could see someone in a rush accidentally taking out a hydraulic cable.
  • Finish the meeting a bit earlier...Its a real early start, we need our sleep
  • We saw some moving class 1-2 water. Any chance to incorporate a downriver segment?

Team Accidents Happen are looking to coming back next year, but we may have to change our name to Team No Sleep with our toddlers. 

Crystal, John and our little Speedster

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Inov-8 312 GTX Review

Inov-8 312 GTX Review

I found these shoes, along with other Inov-8 models on clearance at a "dog show" company. Apparently, trail runners are not the only ones that love the grippy-ness of Inov-8 shoes. The 312 gtxs will be my 3rd pair of Inov-8s, the others being the X-Talon 190 and Trailroc 245. I love my other Inov-8s so why not give the 312s a try (especially when on clearance).

The 312 gtx is much bulkier than the more minimalist Talons and Trailrocs. Yet they are still lightweight and comfortable, in spite of the 9mm heel to toe drop (I would prefer 3 mm). I have a wide, hobbit shaped foot and the shoes were able to fit me well enough. I would also prefer a bit more width in the toes, but I was able to adjust the lacing so it works.  The sole has a very pronounced lug grip much like the X-Talons and the material is Gore-Tex, excellent for keeping water out, but also keeping water in. The 312s have more toe protection too for those times you smack a rock with the front of the shoe, something the Trailroc and Talons lack. 

My vision for these shoes were for those colder winter snow shoe and trail runs that would grip into the snow and keep my feet warmer and drier. In the past I have used the Talons but would have inserted a bag in them to keep my feet drier in the snow.  Also, since they do provide more protection and Gore-Tex, I could see using them as a ultra lightweight shoe for hiking and backpacking trips. 

I was able to test them out recently on a Northern Presidential Traverse. We covered 15 miles with 7500 feet elevation gain.  The terrain is covered with sharp, unstable rocks. My friend  seemed doubtful that these 'sneakers' would provide enough protection on the trail. 

Mt Madison in the clouds wearing the 312 GTX
Rocky Terrain of the Presedentials

After 15 miles, the bottom of my feet felt 'ok'. I definitely hit a few rocks that sent some nerves up my foot, but generally not too bad and no worse than anything else I have used outside of a heavy duty hiking boot. I feel like the lugs in the shoe provided a protection barrier between the rocks and my foot. I also did hit my toe on a few rocks, and the toe protection on the shoe was excellent. The Gore-Tex worked exactly as it was suppose to, my feet were dry but not sweaty. I did not get water 'in' the shoes so I cant testify how well they drain. 
I did though feel that the shoes felt wobbly at times. This could be a combination of the lugs and the narrower sole. (apparently, the 312s's sole is not as wide as others). It could have been because i was getting tired, but I was feeling less confident in my foot placement down the Lions Head trail 13 miles in.  With that said, we ended up running the last 2.5 downhill miles and the 312 gtx felt awesome.

Overall, the 312s worked out great and I am excited to use them again on the trail and especially on the snow. If you want a lightweight trail runner that provides fair protection, these may be a great choice.