Category Archives: Hills

Fast Tracks New Year Day Run

Happy New Year everyone.

The club’s traditional New Year’s Day run at Valley Forge Park was this morning. It starts at General Knox car park and heads out on the rolling hills of Yellow Springs Road, then takes a sharp right up the vertical challenge of Diamond Rock Road. There were around thirty people at the start point consisting of Fast Tracks members and other from various running groups in the area that we meet with for regular runs.

This run is certainly a challenge as the hill of Diamond Rock is a constant climb and just seems to get worse as you progress; ending with a section that is around a 20% incline (if my cycling memory serves me well).

There were a few of us at the front and we stopped to take a picture at the bottom of the hill (I wasn’t in it; I took it). 

As we started up the main part of the hill there were four of us. Three of us made it to the top within a couple of seconds of each other, although I was there first. 😉

One of the club members lives near the top and had kindly left a few drinks out for us (much appreciated). We all waited a while for the bulk of the group to catch up and then decided on routes back down.

Most went back along the road, but a small group of us decided to do the Horseshoe Trail that connects onto the op of Mount Misery and takes you back to the start point. This is a nice route that runs along the ridge at the top of the hill and is (again) rolling hills.

Parts of the trail get quite technical and it comes at you quite fast too. I missed a couple of turns due to my unfamiliarity with the route, but the people I was with spotted it within a hundred feet or so.

There was a log book partway down the trail and a few people stopped to sign it and some chose to take longer route down the mountain and around the Creek Trail. I stuck to the plan and did the Mount Misery Trail, getting back first out of the group. I rarely run with the groups so I’ll take whatever I can get but will add that it is not a race. I just finished first. Some people were running up the hill with a child in a jogging chair; now that’s dedication.

After hanging back in the parking lot for a while waiting for people to come in and to say a few ‘happy new year’ greetings, I headed back to the car and home.

Here I am in my new Fast Tracks running shirt that I picked up just yesterday in anticipation of the run.
In total the run was 6.9 miles, but, oh those hills! Nike+ Run Club doesn’t seem to give elevation details in the app or in the site.

The Apple Watch worked well today with the distance announcements coming out of the speaker on the watch rather than my iPhone. That made them much easier to hear rather than having them muffled by the case on my arm. Nice touch.

I wish you all a happy new year and hope you enjoy your running in 2017.


Boxing Day Marathon: Summary

On Monday I returned to Valley Forge National Historical Park for my sixth Boxing DayMarathon attempt.

The first few years I did it by doing two half marathons in a day; one early in the morning and another late in the afternoon. I soon realized that this is actually harder than just running the total distance in one go. If you split the distance you’ll find your legs start to lock up during the day and it is really hard to get back out again.

This year, despite being very under trained, I went with the all-out straight-up marathon approach.

And it was very, very difficult!

Last year I took around 3 hours and 45 for this run. This year it was closer to 4:45.

So, what went wrong this time:

  1. Valley Forge Park is hilly. This shouldn’t be news to people that have been there before, but including circuits of the park in a long run is not such a great idea when you are under trained. I chose to start in the park, with a five mile loop, spin out for a run along the Schuykyll River Trail, and then come back for the seven mile outer loop around Valley Forge. The seven mile loop is even hillier than the main loop.
  2. Not enough training. Over the previous couple of months I had barely run. Perhaps ten miles per week in many cases, and in others less. Normally I would be up at 30 to 40 miles per week in preparation for the run.
  3. Not enough snacks. I didn’t have quite the right combination of snacks for the run and tried to put something together, but it wasn’t really quite right.
  4. Carrying extra weight. The reduced mileage and increased seasonal snacking left me carrying about 5-7 extra pounds for the run this year.

The first five miles went by quite smoothly and it was at 5.5 that I met up with my friend Ed. He joined me for 9.5 non-stop miles along the Schuykyll River Trail and the Betzwood Trail. This is the longest distance he has run without doing a walk-run combo and it was great to have the company along the route.

Mile 16 was where I started to have issues. My legs just stopped wanting to move. I tried fueling a little more and kept walking to give my legs a chance to recover. This is quite early in the run to be having issues. Once the food kicked in I was able to run again and kept going to about mile 19 where I took a bathroom break and refilled my water bottles (no, just no).

Crossing the new Sullivan’s Bridge I stopped to take a picture for someone who was half way through their first long ride since having some shoulder surgery.

The last seven miles were around the outer loop of the Park and it has many hills and is mostly non-tarmac trails. It starts with a long and steady climb. At mile 21 it started to hurt again, so I decided to switch to a walk/run strategy. This got me through to about mile 24…

At that point I had to just walk. I had nothing left in the tank at all. I felt like a bit of a sham walking around the park in my running gear but I had no choice.

At mile 25.5 I started running again and tried to keep going to the end… my car was waiting for me at 26.7, half a mile past the marathon mark.

I was sooooo glad to make it to the car. I got my thermal blanket out of the back of the car and wrapped myself up as all the walking had made me much colder than running would have done. It was done for another year. 

Next year I will prepare more. My thanks to Ed for the company during the marathon as that really helped early on.

Unusually Good Weather

While my friends are all suffering the stifling heat of a Philadelphia summertime, our trip to England has us enjoying far more reasonable temperatures. 

In fact, it is quite warm for England but nowhere near as crazy as the temps at home. 

I’ve been running every other morning and just repeating the seven mile loop I found as there aren’t many roads around and the trails are all overgrown. 

This sign is on the road to the house my family have rented for the week to celebrate our parents 50th Wedding Anniversary. 

The house has some rather nice views too. 

For variation I ran the loop in the opposite direction. I’m not sure if it was easier that way as the hills seem bad both ways, to be honest. The profile looks like this:

The trip is still providing much needed time with my family and running around after my energetic two year old. He’s having a blast with so many people to play with. 

Fitting running into any vacation can be a challenge but if you are lucky and don’t mind running on roads, you can generally do it quite easily. 

You Know You’re in England When…

Another summer, another trip to the UK.

I’ve not managed to do many runs yet, but they have all been in very pretty areas of the country.

I thought I’d compile a short list of things that stand out when compared to running in the US. So, you know you’re in England when:

  1. You have to run on the other side of the road.
  2. The drivers let you pass and give a jolly wave of acknowledgement.
  3. The town you are exploring is at least five times older than the country you live in (Wells vs America).
  4. If you ask for directions when you are running in the middle of nowhere, you have to concentrate really hard to decipher the accent.
  5. When you look up the road and see views like this tiny church:
  6. And this… A bloody great big cathedral…
  7. And this… From another view point…
  8. And this…
  9. Go on then… One more and this… The last remaining fully medieval street in England…

There are some very old and scenic places in the UK. These pictures are mainly from Wells’the smallest city in England’ a where they filmed a number of the outdoor scenes from the Simon Pegg/Edward Wright cult classic Hot Fuzz.

I’m now out in the hills of Devon and trying to work out routes that don’t involve too many hill climbs, but that is proving to be a bit of a challenge!

Having a blast and having a break. It’s all good.

Fast Start

This week I finally gave in and started on a more general fitness regime to supplement my running. 

After researching a number of apps that tie into the Apple Watch, I decided upon the Seven fitness application. 

The aim: seven minutes a day for seven months. 

Simple, huh? The app is quite game-based and gives you three ‘lives’ each month to allow you to miss an occasional day. As you complete sessions it unlocks more feature and rewards. 

The app is full of ads that can be removed for a $2 purchase but I’ll wait until I’ve used it for a while to see if it sticks. 

I’m on day two (not much) and I can certainly feel some extra aches and pains from the workout. I already know that the Apple Watch integration is terrible and crashes/hangs often. However, the app itself seems robust. 

It has lots of configuration settings for voices so you can customise for the type of voice you respond best to. It gives clear instruction and has animations to show what you are expected to be doing in each exercise. 

It would have been good if they had tied the app into the Apple Watch sensors to measure the various activities (jumping jacks, running on the spot, etc.). Clearly it would not work for all activities (push-ups, dips) but tying in for the others would have been cool. 

After doing the seven minute session, I then went out on a ten mile run. 

Boy, was I fast!

I’m not sure whether it was the abundance of Saturday morning runners on the trail or that I was already ‘jacked up’ from the earlier workout, but I flew along for the first mile getting 6:30 at the one mile mark. I suspect the GPS may have been off, but I was still shifting. 

The other miles were around 7:20 and slowed once I hit some hills. 

There were plenty of ‘rabbits’ on the trail for me to run down and overtake. Groups from local running clubs, casual runners, and slow bike riders (one of whom was singing at full volume and happy as Larry as she was passing me by; hilarious). 

By the end of my eleven miles I finished with an average 7:37 pace. I’m quite happy with that given the temps were close to 80F. 

My Lumo Run hasn’t turned up yet. 😦  I was hoping to be able to write about it this week and start improving my running deportment. 

Dialling it Back

Happy Fourth of July holiday to my friends in the States. 

This is the first time this year in taking some time off work and extending the weekend a little, so i’m trying not to tire myself out entirely today. 

Therefore, I chose to run only ten hilly miles today rather than the twenty-something I was due for. 

I can’t believe how lovely the weather has been this year. It’s July and the temps are in the sixties with no humidity. Crazy but really nice. 

I was also being careful as I tweaked something in my knee running in the garden with my daughter yesterday evening. Playing tag can be quite risky with constantly switching directions. 

Tomorrow is the fourth and I will be taking part in our annual Tour d’Omlette bike ride into Philly for breakfast at the Famous Fourth Street Deli. It will be around a sixty mile ride and I haven’t done more than ten miles at a time this year, so that will be ‘interesting’. Or should I say, a cracking good time. Egg-puns abound, as you’d expect. 

I am looking forward to catching up with old friends though. 🙂

Take care out there and don’t lose any fingers to fireworks. 

Work 5K: SEI Cares Rush Hour Run

It is once again that time of year when the SEI Cares Rush Hour Run happens in Oaks, PA. 

For the first time in many years the temperatures were a lovely favourable 75F. Generally they are in the high 80s with high humidity, so this was a rare treat. 

After a Monday morning run and cycling to work Tuesday, I took Wednesday off running to save something up for the 5K. Now, I’ll admit that this feels a little pathetic as it is only a 5k but the field is very competitive. What do you expect from an Investment Banking company?

And also, this:

There were 500 people at the race at $40 a head, so we successfully raised $20k for charity. 

The race always sells out in a matter of days as there is so much free food and beer after the race. It is quite the party on our riverside/lakeside campus! 

Lots of local vendors give free food away and some raffle prizes, too. 

With the temps so perfect, I had no excuse for under performing… Or so I thought. Then I realised I’d left my phone strap at home and so wouldn’t have pace info. What the hell, I decided to run tech naked. 

As we set off past the Chik-Fil-a cow, the pace at the front was aggressive. Some people can’t pace themselves and I knew I’d soon be passing many of them. 

The course is a very fast route. It starts at the top of a hill and runs down into a riverside park (Lower Providence Valley Park) and along the Perkiomen Trail, then turns around near a dam, but ends before the hill climb! So, you get all the benefits of the downhill with no hard work later. Hurrah! 

Most of the route is in the shade, too, except for a brief portion running directly onto the sun. 

At the half way point I was flagging somewhat. I had no idea how hard I was running but the effort was starting to bite. I slowed a little and a couple of people slid past me, then it got easier.

My wife and kids were waiting about a 1/4 of a mile from the finish so I high-fived all of them and accelerated towards to line. There was no way I was going to catch the people that had overtaken me as they were too far ahead. 

At the end I finished 31st over all and 7th in my age group… With a 20:47 time! That just shows how fast the people in this race are. This time is my second fastest 5k ever and my record was set quite a few years ago when I was more sprightly. 

The guy that won it (for the 8th year in succession) ran 16:3x or something like that. He was two minutes ahead of the next person! 

After a recovery down at the finish line and cheering a few people across the line, I headed up for the after-party. The food and drink were excellent again this year with Dia Dolce cupcakes, Frank and Jenny’s Gelato, pizzas, chik-fil-a sandwiches, pasta, etc… Oh, and a plentiful supply of beer. 

My legs were a bit tight the next day, but not too bad really. It was a good family outing. 

Global Running Day, 2016. 

Did yo get out and run for global running day?

I’m not sure why I only heard about it once I got to work and not beforehand, but there you go. 

The Runner’s World website has some nice downloads featuring things like excuse notes for work and signs to hang on your door. They are also pushing ‘Out to Runch’ as their message for the day and encouraging us to get coworkers out running. 

Luckily, I managed to get out at 5:15 this morning for a quick 6.5 miler before the heat of the day arrived. 

As runs go it was entirely uneventful. Very little traffic. No animals. No rain. No aches. No pains. 

Just a simple out and back in the countryside near my home. 

Perhaps it is good to write about the uneventful runs as well as the others so that there’s a record of the fact that nothing fantastic, Earth-shattering or stupid happens each time a runner steps out of the door. 

You have to put in the miles to be a runner and that means that some days you just have to run and, perhaps, bask the fact that it’s all good. 🙂

Next week I have my company’s 5k so I’m trying to up my one and will also try running back a few evenings to adjust to the ridiculous temperatures that we will inevitably have on the evening of the run. 

There’s far more competition from my team at work this year as at least four more runners joined in the last year. Some of them look fast…

Units Matter

I’d love to pretend that this is my ancestral home and spin you all a story about my entitled life. 

However, that is not the case. I’m in the UK as an elected official in the British Computer Society’s Council and we are at Heythrop House in Oxfordshire for a planning away-day. 

I do not want to give the opinion that this was a frivolous use of charitable funds as it was far from that. This was the first away-day that council has had in over ten years, and having the opportunity to step back and plan the direction of a group as influential as BCS is a real honour. 

We achieved a lot in our meeting and the outcomes will shape the group for a long time ahead. This is, however, a running blog so I shall refrain from entering into the gnarly details of our discussions. 

Of course, while I was here I had the chance to run around the extensive grounds of Heythrop House. 

Their running map shows a one and a four mile route. Clearly I chose the longer of the two. 

When I stepped out the front door it was raining; hard. And it must have been doing this for some time. Ah, England, you never fail to disappoint. 

I did not fear because there was a well-marked and establish trail laying ahead of me according to the literature. 

Yes, well. Not so much. 

The first part of the trail was on a service road and was fine. The sign for the first turn off was hidden under a tree at the side of the road and was positioned at a slight angle that didn’t really infer a direction to head. I continued straight until I found a locked gate and realised my mistake… Back to the sign and to follow the other direction. 

This trail was a grown-over dirt path with large puddles, running alongside a Man-made lake. The trail climbed a little and then dove down to the side of a stream. 

At this point the surface was very eroded and there was a significant amount of water streaming across the trail. Under foot it was still gravel, so it wasn’t too bad until the inevitable happened and the gravel gave way to mud. 

Deep. Wet. Sticky. Slippery. Mud. 

How can it be both sticky and slippery? It was the kind of mud that would try to suck the shoes off your feet, and then let you slip backwards as you attempt to escape its clasp. Suction and no friction. Fab. 

The trail got wetter and deeper. After a while it climbed and the mud gave way to deep puddles and a few more uncertain directional signs. 

Despite the tempest underfoot, the rural scenery was gorgeous, with bluebell woods, verdant trees and a rich canopy. This is, of course, all fed by the rain that was currently usurping my life from my feet up. 😉 

I eventually ended up on the main road back towards the hotel and headed off that way. 

Halfway up the hill to complete the loop the entire road and pathway were under water. 

Positive view: this allowed me to get my shoes cleaned from all the mud. 

I’m going to stick with that and say no more. 

I soon got back to the start of the loop and the lady in my phone announced: 2.5 miles. 

Eh? This was marked as a four mile route. Turns out they meant four kilometres! A rookie mistake on their part. Did they not know the stories of imperial vs metric differences causing issues for space flight and channel tunnel digging? 😉

So, I sucked it up and prepared to dance with the slimy mud beast again. To battle. For honour. For victory. 

Here are a few snapshots of the hotel and park. 

If you have reason to visit, you should as it is spectacular. If you wish to run, be forewarned of the signage and the true distance and condition of the trail. I will mention the inaccuracy to reception but doubt the map will get fixed in any short time. 

And may you have a dry trail on your lap of the grounds. 

 Did that staircase move? (Harry Potter)The view from breakfast. 
I’m still waiting for my shoes to dry 24 hours later…

Recovery Catch-up

After taking it *slightly* easy for the last couple of weeks, I decided to knuckle down and do another marathon this weekend.

I hadn’t, however, reckoned on there being ridiculously strong winds in our area and a temperature drop back down into the 20s!

The British word “Bugger” seems most appropriate.

However, once I’d mentally committed to the distance I saw no reason to bail and went ahead with the run.

Again I pointed my feet in the general direction of Skippack, PA., and just kept on trucking. The wind was terrible for the first fifteen or so miles. At times it was like leaning against a wall. I was continually buffeted hither and thither as I tried to make slow progress along the road. The temperature drop meant that the chill really bit as the wind wound up. Brrr!

I decided I would take a slightly longer route back to my home as that particular trail was more shielded from the wind. This would mean that I would have to walk a little at the end of the marathon to actually reach my front door and, perhaps most annoyingly, the last two miles would all be uphill. The uphill part is inevitable to get home, but saving it all for the last two miles rather than spreading it across the last seven was a pity – however, needs must and the wind had to be avoided.

The last 14 miles of the run were all on the Perkiomen Trail from Schwenksville down to Oaks. Very pretty and somewhat protected from the wind. 

I completed the 26.22 miles in just a shade under four hours which shows how much of an impact the wind actually had on my performance. The walk home was a just over half a mile which was actually quite a nice way to let my legs relax a little. 

For snacks I had a bottle of Gatorade cut with 50% water, a Clif chocolate mint bar and a six pack of shot blocks. Just about enough to survive the distance.

Of course, once I got home I got an email from my running buddy requesting that we increase the length of our Monday morning run to seven miles. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger so I agreed… And it wasn’t tooooooo bad. Although, I did ask that we didn’t do any fartleks as my legs just wouldn’t have managed that.

Given that March has now past I checked my numbers for the month & year… 170 miles for March (pretty darn good) and 411 for the year to date. Now to eat my body weight in mini-eggs…