Saturday, May 20, 2017

Berryman Trail Marathon

Today was the Berryman Trail Marathon near Potosi, Missouri.  The course is a multi-use loop in the Mark Twain National Forest.  All week the forecast predicted thunderstorms during the morning.  For the most part, the rain had quit before the race started.  The trails were still wet, muddy, and often flowing.  The numerous small creek crossing were wet.  Sometimes you could step on rocks to get across, sometimes you didn’t bother.  There was one big creek crossing, but that was just fun.  It was probably only a foot deep.  Although the course was located along the Ozark Trail, it didn’t have too much elevation change.  Only approximately 2500’ of climb and 2500’ of descent.  Nothing too crazy. There were some longer, gradual climbs and descents, but nothing steep.  The trail was extremely rocky, and not with flat rocks, but with pointy and knobby rocks.  I caught one and took a spill, cutting my knee, but nothing too bad.  The morning started out cooler than predicted, with a starting temperature of 58.  It eventually got up into the mid-70’s.  I felt decent starting out.  I carried my camelbak and my trekking poles.  If I was more serious about time, I might have left both behind, but the camelbak really helps me stay hydrated and the poles are nice on the climbs.  I think both ended up helping me in the long run.  I settled in with some folks that were doing a nice pace.  The course had six aid stations, and I just focused on the up-coming aid station.  I ran all of the first leg, to the aid station at mile 5.5.  I was shocked when I looked at the time, and I was over eleven and a half minutes a mile by the time I left the aid station.  That was the first clue that today wasn’t going to be fast.  I also knew I wasn’t going to significantly get faster.  The funny thing was, I felt like I was doing well.  I was really stretching out my stride on the down hills.  I was powerwalking up the hills.  I wasn’t delaying too much at the aid stations.  I ended up with a time just over 6:16 (unofficial).  That was just over a fourteen minute mile pace, including aid station stops.  Other than being slow, I did everything else right.  I did not get chafing, muscle cramping, or gut issues.  I took my salt tablets, in addition to dipping boil potatoes in salt at the aid stations.  I drank constantly.  I was mostly alone after the first half hour.  I saw an occasional person for the rest of the race.  But then, somewhere between aid stations four and five, I caught up with another runner.  I would catch up to him on the down hills, and then let him pull away on the climbs.  We didn’t talk too much, but it was nice to see another person.  I eventually passed him before aid station six, then he caught me at the aid station, then I repassed him on the last leg.  I finished the race strong.  It was fun to see Joy, Laney, and Gloria at the finish line. I don’t know why my time was slow.  It was humid and warm, but not that bad.  The trail was very rocky and muddy, but that doesn’t affect me that much.  The hills were really pretty gradual.  I never hit the wall.  I suppose the most logical explanation is that I am just slow.  ;)  I had a fun time, enjoyed the course, and felt strong, so I’ll take it.  Stay posted for video.
The guy in the center with the green hat and blue pack was the guy I  finished with

Sunday, April 09, 2017

South Mountains Trail Marathon

The rescheduled race was held March 4 at South Mountain State Park, North Carolina, just south of Morganton.  The original race date in January was snowed out.  Since I was going to the race by myself, I decided to camp at the park.  The temperature for the lows were fore-casted to be in the upper 20’s, but the weather was looking dry.  The campgrounds were very nice, with good facilities, nice tree cover, and were not very full.  I decided to buy firewood and have a campfire.  I enjoyed sitting by the fire under the stars.  I slept well Friday night, got up early and got ready, and walked to the start, which was about a half mile away.  It seems like I have accumulated a lot of accessories, and had a lot to prepare, but each race I refine what I like to have with me.  This was my first race with hiking poles.  I had not tried them out before, but thought that I might appreciate them on the climbs.  I was right.  I brought my jacket and gloves with me, but these were not necessary after the first hour.  I maybe should have left them behind to start, but I hate cold hands.  I wore my camelbak, also.  It occasionally swings some when I am running, but it is nice to not have to ration water.  I think I would rather by better hydrated and slow than faster and dehydrated.  The race start was right by a shelter that had a good fireplace.  They were keeping a great fire going, so I stayed by that and chatted with the runners.  I do not have a problem enjoying warmth on cold days, like many other runners seem to.  I hear statements such as “I don’t want to get too used to it.”  But maybe other runners are somewhat masochistic. 

After some instructions, the race director played the banjo to start the race.  (Right on time, which is nice.)  I dropped to the back of the pack.  I realized that I didn’t want the jacket on after the first incline, and stopped to take it off.  That put me last.  I caught up with a pair of runners, and stayed with them for a mile or so, until they dropped back to heed nature’s call.  The first 5 or so miles of the race were essentially all up hill.  I gave myself complete permission to walk whenever I wanted, and especially on the uphills.  The poles were great, but due to unfamiliarity, I didn’t manage to lock them in place.  This would result in them coming apart occasionally.  That was annoying, but not enough to offset how great it was to have poles.  I was with the same group of people, and we would pass each other back and forth.  Some were faster up hills or through aid stations.  I was faster downhills and slow through aid stations.  The first aid station was supposed to be water only, but they had a full spread.  I ate a bit and headed off down the trail.  I was happy that even though I had been slow, I had still added buffer time above the cutoff. 

From the first aid station, the course went steadily downhill to mile nine.  I like running downhill, and took advantage, passing most in my group.  Four miles is a long time to go down a steep grade, though.  The aid station at mile nine (AS2) was near the start finish.  I dropped off my jacket with one of the volunteers.  I should have dropped off my gloves, too, but I didn’t think about it.  They just stayed tucked in my belt for the rest of the run.  I refilled my water, ate, and headed out.

The trail out of AS2 went through the most popular section of the park, going up the cove to High Shoals Falls.  I was looking forward to seeing the falls.  Even though it was still pretty early in the morning, there were a number of day hikers on this stretch.  When I got my first look at the falls, I was surprised at how high up it was.  I knew the falls were 80’ high, but the cascades below the falls went down much further.  The trail up to the falls became steep stairs.  I stopped at the overlook to see the falls better before moving on.  Topping out over the falls, I knew I still had a bit to climb, so I ate my tuna from a pouch.  This was a new test.  I wanted to get more protein, and this seemed to go down easier than jerky.  The next aid station (AS3) was around mile 15.  The trail did a couple “small” drops and climbs.  From mile 12 it went down for about two miles, and then climbed steeply up for three.  I kept thinking that surely I was getting to the top, but each bend would reveal more climbing.  AS3 was at the top of the climb.  I was feeling pretty good.  I hadn’t cramped or hit a wall.  I had been taking salt tablets at the hour, and that was going well.  I walked for a bit to digest food.  The trail dipped and then peaked at mile 16.  This started a steady four mile descent of about twelve hundred feet.  I like down hills in general.  The trails weren’t that technical, and we started seeing groups of horseback riders.  (We would stop and step aside for them, of course.)  But after about three miles of downhill, I was looking for a break.  I walked to the last aid station (AS4) at mile 20.  I was well ahead of cutoff pace, so I wasn’t stressed about getting cutoff.  I knew that there were some big climbs before the end, so I didn’t want to use up any extra energy before tackling those.  I ate a bit at the aid station and headed out, psyching myself up for the last 10K.

I only had a vague idea that there were two big hills between me and the finish line.  I started climbing, and kept on climbing.  The first hill was a 500 foot climb.  It seemed to go on forever, and I used my poles to pull myself up.  I wasn’t able to run too much coming down the 500 feet as I would have liked.  The biggest challenge lay ahead of me.  The trail went steadily up from mile 23, climbing 800 feet of elevation.  I never stopped moving forward, but I was walking slowly.  Two of the racers passed me walking up the trail, putting me last.  My focus was on getting to the top.  The final two miles were downhill, very steeply so.  I ran occasionally, and walked more.  With about a mile to go, a fresh runner caught up to me.  It was the sweeper, who was friendly and stopped to talk to me.  (His name was Johnny.)  He was more than an hour ahead of the cutoff time, but he was just getting a jump on sweeping the trail and pulling flags.  We talked for a bit and he stayed with me to the end.  It was nice to have someone to talk to in this final stretch.  I didn’t push too much harder with his company, but I probably ran faster than I would have alone.

I finished under 6:45. I was happy with my race strategy, and happy to finish.  Six thousand feet of climb and six thousand feet of descent are nothing to dismiss.  The cutoff time was eight hours, so I was glad to be very safely under that.  They took down the finish line right behind me.  I sat there in the grass, happy to be not moving.  I didn’t see the recovery area or other runners, and I was half expecting everything to be gone.  Luckily, there was food in the shelter across the parking lot.  The race director gave me a prize for being last.  It was made out to “DFL”.  I knew it meant the last place finisher, but I wasn’t aware of the acronym at the time.  Some people seemed worried that I would be offended by being “DFL”, but I told them that I didn’t mind being last.  As several of the race staff pointed out, it was a fairly fast group.  I went over to the shelter and ate some pizza and talked with other runners.  I hadn’t been too far behind a couple of the folks I was running with, although not close enough that I could have caught them.  The only area that I felt that I need to improve was being stronger going up hills.  After looking up the acronym, and laughing heartily, I decided that DFL for me stood for “Da Flat-Lander”.  I was the only one not from the Appalachian states, and it showed.  Well, I still don’t have a great plan for getting stronger up hills, but the more I face, the better I will get.  The race was well-run, the trails were mostly pretty non-technical, and the scenery was good.  I’d recommend the race to anyone looking for a solid run in the mountains.

I managed to get a ride back to the campground from a couple of runners heading out.  The race staff were packing up, and gave me all of the open food, like bags of chips, and fig newtons that I wanted.  Since I didn’t really want to drive the 40 minutes into town, this served as my supper.  I stopped by the nature center to get more wood and to chat with the naturalist.  She had worked on the fire crew for the November fire, and had a lot of stories.  I went back to the camp and relaxed by the fire, enjoying the time to myself.  As a comic end to the night, a spark from my campfire landed on the hammock, starting a small hole, which resulted in the hammock splitting in half at 3 am.  There is nothing like dropping more than a foot onto the ground when you are dead asleep.  I just recomposed myself, made a mental note to hang my next hammock further from the campfire, and fell back asleep until morning.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Bird Feeder Summary

Each month, we keep track of visitors to our bird feeders (or the crab apple that holds the feeders and the ground below).  While not as in depth as individual counts, it is still interesting to see trends and totals.  We have been keeping this data since the start of 2013, which gives us some fun numbers to watch.

  • A total of 48 bird species have visited our feeder in the four years of observation.  Many of these birds are not seed eaters, but birds that have just happened to forage in our crab apple, such as the six warbler species.
  • This year we had a total of 39 species visit our feeder.  The first time visitors were Brown Creeper, Golden-winged Warbler, Harris's Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, Pine Siskin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-winged Blackbird, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
  • The average birds at the feeder per month has gone up each year, with 2016 averaging over 18 birds per month.  (2013 = 12.8, 2014, = 14.6, 2015 = 15.5, and 2016 = 18.2)
  • Some birds have been less common at our feeder this year.  American Crow, American Tree Sparrow, Blackpoll Warbler, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, Mallard, Northern Flicker, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow Warbler had a lower frequency this year than overall.
  • Here are our 19 most frequent birds for 2016 in descending order: House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Mourning Dove, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and House Wren.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Deadman Peaks Trail Marathon

I didn’t take time (make time) to write about the Deadman Peaks Trail Marathon (DPTM) right away, but sometimes that helps to clarify thoughts. Overall, I was very proud of my performance during the race. Such a large part of racing a trail marathon is managing your mind and body and getting the most out of yourself on a given day on a given trail. The biggest changes about this race was the use of salt tablets and taking my camelback. After my experience of blacking out during the Rugged Red in Kentucky on a ninety degree day and then reviving with salt tablets, I bought some and took one an hour during Deadman Peaks. This seemed to make a difference, as I didn’t cramp up at all during the race, which was warm and very dry, very sunny, very windy, at a relatively high altitude, and with a respectable vertical gain and loss. The camelback worked out well, too. Granted, I would never say I was running fast, but I didn’t have any issues with it shifting or bouncing on rugged descents, or any abdominal cramping from carrying it. I felt like I drank constantly, having a sip of water at least once every five minutes. I refilled it at each aid station.

Right after the start, heading into the sun.
Race day, I woke up at five am to see the 53ers off at six am and to get ready. (The ultra runners started at our finish line on the north end, ran to the south end, and back to the start finish. We were driven to the south side, and just ran north to the finish line.) I almost underestimated how long I would take to get ready, with all my gear. (I took a hat, bandana, sunglasses, compression sleeves, shirt, running underwear, shorts, compression tights, socks, shoes, belt with camera and food bag, and camelback. Pretty high maintenance.) The shuttle busses left at 6:45 (there were only two). I had a nice talk with my bus mates on the 45 minute drive. The sunrise was very pretty driving out. The temperature was something under 40 degrees (some reports said 39, or 37, and the bus thermometers said 32), but I decided not to bring anything warm. (I didn’t want to have to drop any gear, plus I knew I would be fine once I started running.) I stayed on the bus until five minutes until the start to stay warm. Most people did not.
Cholla, juniper, and an old windmill
The race start was pretty low-key. I waited until almost everyone was past, and then fell in line. I counted 17 people, but I think I heard that about 20 started. I really wanted to run my own race and not get caught up in anyone else’s adrenaline. That wasn’t too hard with only 20 people. I just let people go on by if they wanted to. I wasn’t sure how the altitude would affect me. The race elevation varied from about 6300’ to 7400’ above sea level. The only thing I noticed was that it took a little more energy on the ascents. From the start, I was in love with the trail and scenery. The trail didn’t just skirt interesting terrain, it dove right in, crossing gullies, climbing through draws, up onto promontories, and along ledges. I took hundreds of pictures, and over 15 minutes of video. The trail was rugged and remote. There were signs of abandoned ranching operations, and some old dirt ‘roads’, but no real signs of civilization. Occasionally, we would catch sight of the big highway far across the Rio Puerco valley to the east, but that was it. I ran with a guy named Bill from Kalamazoo for a while at the start, and then with a guy named Glen and a lady named Stacy. I was generally with someone until the first aid station (AS1), but afterwards, it was rare to see someone. I wanted to make sure I took advantage of the aid stations. I timed myself at one and had a stop of three minutes. I tried to eat and drink as much as my body would allow, especially salty snacks. The temperature from the start to the first aid station was very comfortably cool with a bright sun. I was happy for the sunglasses then, and all day.
Working my way up Deadman Peaks
From the first aid station, the trail climbed up the Deadman Peaks. (I didn’t realize that was what they were at the time). It was a good climb, but it had a nice view. It was completely open here, and must have been quite different in the intense afternoon sun. It wasn’t too long into the second leg (AS1 to AS2) when the first south-bound 53er passed me. He was looking awesome, and had only had a two hour head start on us marathoners. A second guy was only two minutes behind him. After leaving the Deadman Peaks, the trail followed the west side of a canyon north. In general, I could usually see Bill from Kalamazoo up ahead, and sometimes Stacy. I even passed them once, with them repassing me eventually. (There is absolutely no competitive nature to this at this point of a race. In general, you keep track of where everyone is, in case of emergencies.) I felt like I was in a good groove on the second leg, running a bit of level and the down hills.
The view off of the side of Deadman Peaks
The second aid station came up quickly. The first two were pretty close together and close to the start, with a big gap between AS2 and AS3. Again I really refueled here. I had passed most of the south-bound 53ers by this time. (Only 20 or so started, and only 13 finished.) The super-friendly aid station volunteers told me that the most scenic section was up-coming, up on La Ventana Mesa. Most of them seemed like pretty avid hikers, which was essentially what I was. (I felt like a hiker who occasionally ran.) The volunteers were right, this second section was spectacular. Dramatic overlooks, slick rock, the trail twisting around hoodoos, and through ravines. The trail was very well marked. (Too well marked according to Stacy, who knocked down some cairns that seemed extraneous to her.) Cairns (piles of rocks) marked the trail wherever it was rocky enough to make them. Fence posts with white tops marked them in the few miles on the northern half where it wasn’t rocky enough. I didn’t have much trouble seeing the trail. I did have to stop and look a couple times, when the rock piles blended in, or when the trail made a sudden bend on bare rock. The day started heating up on section three. There were times when the rocks sheltered from the breeze that it was positively warm. Up on the mesa tops, there was a wonderful breeze that kept it from getting too hot. (Drying out was a different matter. I had to drink frequently.) Coming down from the mesa, I caught sight of tents and cars in the distance. Not sure how far I was seeing, I thought it might be the finish line. It wasn’t. It was AS3. Aid Station 3 was in the center and bottom of a wide, dusty, sagebrush-filled valley, very different than the rocky mesa. In general, the trail ran straight as an arrow here, following fence posts, and with little of interest.
Scenic canyons
Aid Station 3 was the last ‘full’ aid station. There was one more aid station, but that was only a water container on the mesa. Cuba, the name we gave to the little stray dog who hung around the camp, was there to greet me. He had run to the aid station with the 30k racers, and then stayed at the tent, getting himself into mischief. (He stole some ham from a sandwich while I was there. The night before, he had shredded my handkerchief and ran off with my sandal.) Again, I ate a bit, hitting the pickles and oranges hard. The next mesa, Mesa Portales, loomed over the aid station. Feeling good, I headed off up the trail. I had heard that the climb up onto Mesa Portales was the biggest and most impressive climb. Indeed, I could believe it, as I watched it grow as I approached. About 24 minutes out from the aid station, I passed a marathoner heading back to the aid station. He was not feeling good, and was heading back to be safe. I understood how he felt, from previous races. The trail didn’t immediately climb the mesa, but started bending around it to the east and gradually climbing. Then it made the steep ascent. It wasn’t that bad, though. Or at least, it wasn’t too me, since I was feeling decent. I passed one 30k racer, and caught sight of Stacy in the distance, briefly. The mesa top was a wonderful place. It was breezy, with the wonderful scent of pinon pine, juniper, and sage. It was an island in the sun that felt somehow very cozy. The trail on the top was comfortably sandy, and mostly sloped downhill very gently, perfect for a loping jog. I filled up at the water stop, and started on the last leg. It was not long after the water stop that the 53 mile winner passed me. I congratulated him. He looked amazing, running with energy. He ended up finishing with a course record 8:35 for 53 miles. (The next finisher was more than an hour and a half behind him! 8:35 comes out to about 9:43 minutes per mile.) The trail started to descend more rapidly from the mesa. I caught up with Stacy and we chatted for a while. We knew that after the trail came off the mesa, it hit a dirt road for the last two miles. I left Stacy shortly before the dirt road, and tried to keep up a decent pace. I could see another runner far in the distance, and tried to reel him in. Those last two miles took a while, but I kept running in spurts, which is one of my gauges of a good marathon. I never caught the other runner, but I did manage to get in under seven hours, and never hit a wall.
Heading north along a canyon edge towards AS2 with Bill in the distance.
Mom and Dad were waiting for me at the finish line. I had been able to see their trailer parked there for a good while. They congratulated me, and then headed out. I was looking forward to sitting, eating, and drinking. Stacy finished right after me. I love hearing everyone’s stories and seeing people finish. The second 53er finished a little after me. 6:57:56 sounds pretty slow, and it is. That is roughly a 15:45 minute per mile. But I was happy with how I handled the altitude, trail, my muscles, my energy, and mental attitude. I walked whenever I wanted to, and I stopped to take pictures or video whenever I wanted to. I made sure not to pressure myself with any time expectations early. At least until the end, I didn’t even have any stomach issues, and those were minor. It was also very encouraging to get the monkey of Breakneck Ridge off my back. It was also fun to camp in the desert with everyone before and after the race. I might have been able to push a little more, but often pushing a little bit can cost you more than you gain in the long run. Plus, I had a good time.
Looking east off La Ventana Mesa
Looking northeast off La Ventana Mesa
Looking southeast off La Ventana Mesa
Running on the slickrock
One of the little draws on section 3
More slickrock
Everywhere looked like the set of a western
A cool hoodoo
Looking down from Mesa Portales
Nice fall color on the scrub oaks
More fall color along the sandy road
I liked the bands on the hillside

Here is the compilation of the videos I took during the race.  It is over 15 minutes.  Sometimes it is shaky, so be forewarned.

Here are the results.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Morgan Monroe Ecoblitz

Last Saturday I joined the botany team for their monthly foray into the backcountry area of Morgan Monroe. It is fun to learn new plants, refresh old ones, and spend time with other botanists.

Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana)
Great Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum muehlenbergii)
Long-awned Woodgrass (Brachyelytrum erectum)
Starry Catchfly (Silene stellata)
Pretty Sedge (Carex woodii) is rhizomatous with a purple base.
Bosc's Panicgrass (Dichanthelium bosci) had a downward pointing beard at the nodes.
Dittany (Cunila oreganoides)
Broad-leafed Sedge (Carex platyphylla) was a glaucous blue-green on the slopes.
Carex virescens had fuzzy perigynia and a long spike.
Carex virescens had a fuzzy sheath.
Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys)
Heart-leaf Hedgenettle (Stachys cordata)
Sanicula trifoliata (Large-fruited Blacksnakeroot) was trifoliate, with large, bristly fruit.
Swan's Sedge (Carex swanii) has fuzzy perigynia and short spikes.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) had bright red berries.
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Sundew Prairie III

Xyris torta - Slender Yellow-eyed Grass 
The yellow-eyed grass was very common in the open sand.

Rhexia virginica - Virginia Meadow Beauty
I found the leaves before I found the flowers. I knew they were familiar, but I couldn't place them until I saw the bloom.

Lythrum alatum - Winged Loosestrife
There was much more of the native loosestrife present, which was a nice change from many places.

Juncus brachycarpus - Short-fruited Rush
The JUNBRR seemed to be getting the galls pretty frequently.

Polygala polygama - Purple Milkwort
The purple milkwort was a little past blooming. The two types of flowers are evident in the picture, with the small, cleistogamous ones down near the ground level. It took me a bit before I identified this flower, including the hint "the family starts with P".

Campanula aparinoides - Marsh Bellflower
I hadn't seen this little flower in a while. Sure feels like Galium aparine, very rough and catchy.

Oenothera pilosella - Prairie Sundrops
This was a new flower for me. I thought it was quite good looking.

Athyrium filix-femina - Lady Fern

Drosera intermedia - Spatulate-leaved Sundew
The sundews have really taken off and spread. It is hard to walk in places without stepping on them.

Veronica scutellata - Marsh Speedwell
I enjoyed seeing this little speedwell.