Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why everyone should try at least one night trail run . . . at Mount Beacon!

One major reason why I am really loving about this whole Grand Slam of Ultrarunning training is that I have been having so much fun with my workouts.  Here is a lengthy recap of one of my favorite training runs this past year:  

So . . . 

I am a huge, huge fan of technical trails.  

I am a huge, huge fan of running at night.  
I am a huge, huge fan of climbing workouts.

Enter Mount Beacon, which features a fantastic one mile technical trail that involves a 1000' climb.  It is one of my favorite parks because it is only a little over an hour's drive away from Manhattan and you can literally park at the bottom of the mountain and go up and down the trail to your heart's content.  I love Mount Beacon so much that this is my second post about this great training ground; check out my first post here.  

Back in April, my friend Deanna emailed me, asking if I wanted to do some night time hill repeats at Mount Beacon.  Actually, we initially spoke about doing this a couple weeks back and she mentioned how it was a total game changer for her and really helped during the McNaughton 200 miler.  Now, when someone of Deanna's caliber (for those who do not know Deanna Culbreath, she came in second at Burning River 100 last year) tells me something is game changing, I listen and obey.  So I happily emailed her back and we settled on heading out to Mount Beacon on a Saturday night.  Deanna invited a few other ultrarunners, including my friend Peter Priolo, another Grand Slam of Ultrarunning aspirant.  

I had every intention to get a good night's sleep on Thursday and Friday, in preparation for Saturday night, but life happened in the form of wine tastings and late night dinnering with good friends.  And then, due to a last minute emergency, I had to get up before 6 a.m. to babysit and spent the rest of the day at the Cherry Blossom festival in Brooklyn.  By 8:30 p.m., I was yawning as Deanna and I headed up to Mount Beacon.  

In retrospect, I realize it was good that I was already tired; it's not as though I would be doing my night running at Western States at my absolute freshest, you know?  In any case, I wasn't the only person exhausted - Deanna had spent the entire day working and Peter essentially spent the entire day running.  Basically, I had no right to feel tired - while I was out playing, they were actually doing constructive things with their lives.  

What do you bring on a night trail run?  Trekking poles, water bottle, headlamp, bottles of ensure, yogurt, and bananas.

Our game plan was to make six trips up and down the one mile trail and then during our seventh and final trip, we would climb an additional mile for the final ascent to the watch tower on Mount Beacon and watch the sunrise.

I had several objectives for the evening:

(1) Practicing the use of my headlamp on a technical trail.

(2) Practicing working through exhaustion.
(3) Trying out Ensure as running nutrition.
(4) Trying out my new trekking poles.
(5) Having a lot of fun.

Loop 1 and 2:

From the get go, I was slow.  Really slow.  I felt bad for Deanna and Peter because I just could not keep up with them.  This really bothered me because I have been practicing my climbing for the past few months now and thought I was doing pretty well.  Within the first ten minutes, I realized that unless I wanted to burn myself out, I needed to climb at my own pace.  I kept telling Deanna and Peter to go on ahead, but fortunately besides being amazing athletes, they are also very much "leave no man behind" type of folks and refused to listen to me.  I was supremely grateful because as it happens, I am afraid of being in the woods in the dark.

The Black Diamond Ultradistance trekking poles were turning out to be pretty useful.  I bought them via The Clymb website for less than $60; they usually range from $99 to $150.  If you haven't joined The Clymb yet, I strongly recommend you do so.  Their sales on outdoor sports equipment and clothes are fantastic.  And if you do join, use my invitation link, pretty please!

Anyway, back to the poles.  They are really light (I barely noticed that I was carrying them), very easy to assemble and take apart (for someone who is all thumbs like myself, that's a big deal), and very sturdy.  They were a joy to use - normally, I am quite cautious when I run down rocky and steep terrain, but with the poles, I felt comfortable flying down at my normal downhill speed.  I definitely plan on using them at Leadville and Wasatch this fall.

Attempt at a self portrait

Loop 3 and 4:

At around midnight, we were joined by Zandy Mangold, his girlfriend Claudine Ko, and their pointer mix, Tasha.   

Claudine, Zandy, and Tasha.

Again, I was really slow, but my slowness was highlighted by the fact that Tasha, who is about the size of a Chihuahua, was absolutely schooling me.  With seemingly no effort, Tasha, on her teeny tiny dog legs, just bounded straight up Mount Beacon.  At one point I asked Zandy how far Tasha could run, and he said he wasn't sure - there hasn't been a time where Tasha could not keep up.  I thought about my Yorkie and how she could barely walk a quarter mile before begging to be picked up and carried in my purse.  I spent most of this loop thinking how my next furry friend MUST be a runner dog.  With visions of husky mixes and whippets in my head, I carried on.

 Loop 5  and 6

Zandy, Peter, and Dave at the Mount Beacon lookout point.

It was either Loop 4 or Loop 5, don't remember, but another friend, Dave Staley showed up some time after 1 a.m.  I met Dave at Leatherman's Loop last week, through Deanna.  He lives in the area and thought it would be fun to do a couple of loops with us.  He would have ran the entire night, but he had already made plans for Saturday evening and had to get up early the next morning to go rock climbing in New Paltz.  I don't know, but if I went out on Saturday, the last thing in my mind would be to go hiking at 1 a.m., especially if I knew I had to do something that would involve not only physical exertion, but some presence of mind.  I am not a rock climber, but I assume that it isn't easy to do when you're running on a few hours of sleep.  This is when I decided that Deanna's friends were pretty bad ass.  

This belief was further cemented when more people showed up, this time a little after 3 a.m.  This was seriously turning out to be a running party.  Helen Dole and Alex Tilmant decided to drive from the city at around 2 a.m. to see if they could do a couple of loops and then watch the sun rise.  Because, you know, why not?  I think it is so neat that Deanna has friends who would be totally fine with showing up in the middle of the night to essentially go hiking.

Loop 7: Final Loop

For our last loop, all of us donned or carried our warmest clothes in preparation for our final ascent that would take us to the watchtower at the top of Mount Beacon.  I had already experienced some of the wind at the first lookout point and it wasn't pleasant; I figured it would be much worse when we made it to the very top.  I debated between wearing my parka or my windbreaker and then decided on the latter, because even though it made me look lumpy, it was warmer.

As I zipped up my windbreaker, I felt something heavy in my left pocket.  Curious, I put my hand in and then pulled out my glasses.  MY STUPID GLASSES THAT I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR NEARLY A MONTH.  I was elated, despite having ordered a new pair of replacement glasses just the previous weekend.  And then tucked next to the glasses was a ten dollar bill.  Ooooh, breakfast money!  I was feeling absolutely pumped.

Then again, I was feeling pretty pumped in general.  My biggest fear of the night was getting too sleepy and being forced to skip a loop because I had to take a nap.  I was fairly certain that it was going to happen because I didn't sleep the past couple of days and I was forcing myself to lay off the caffeine for the past week.  But instead of getting sleepy, I felt even wider awake as the night progressed.  Now, this doesn't mean that I was actually climbing faster; I was still climbing at my solid, but relatively glacial pace.  But I was happy that my legs were feeling cheerful.  So during our last climb, I was mentally patting myself on the back for being so alert.  That is, until I asked where east was and someone pointed in the direction of where the sky was reddening.  Ohhhh, you mean where the sun is rising?  That was definitely a durrrrr moment and made me rethink whether I was truly awake.

And then we got to the top.  We still had some time to kill, so Zandy  (did I mention he is a professional photographer?) took some photos of us while we waited for the sun to rise.  

Zandy takes some fun photos.

As predicted, being exposed to the wind and sitting around made for a cold morning.  Helen wrapped herself in an orange blanket and I was slightly jealous.

Helen is coooold!
We may or may have not climbed the tower to get a spectacular 360 view of the sunrise.

The sun rises behind Deanna!

Why hello there, sun!

Hooray, it's officially morning!

Admiring the view.

Claudine tucks herself into her jacket.
And then we journeyed back.  Besides Deanna, Peter, and I, the others hadn't seen Mt. Beacon in daylight before, so it was funny to hear their reactions on climbing back down.  Everyone was thoroughly experienced in technical running, so it wasn't as though they saw anything new, but I don't think they expected to see so many rocks on our return trip.

Starting our journey back.


More rocks.

Finally, we reached the bottom and unanimously agreed that breakfast was in order.  

Nom nom nom, breakfast!

The next part was a blur.  I drove Deanna and me back into Manhattan.  I started to get a little sleepy, but Deanna was a trooper and kept me wide awake until we made back into Manhattan.  Then I parked my car and fell asleep for a few minutes.  And then I stumbled back to the apartment and fell asleep for a few hours.  

All in all, it was a great and very productive training session.  

Key notes:
(1) I am not as nervous about running on technical trails in the dark.  
(2) I am not as nervous about getting sleepy.  
(3) I discovered that I really love trekking poles.
(4) I also discovered that Ensure is an okay drink, but I'm not 100% sure whether I will use them for Western States.