Snow Run

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Every year I look forward to the forecast that calls for snow… lots of snow. Last week was already the middle of February and so I was thinking maybe we missed out this year. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to get in a snow run. I was bummed. 

The truth is I love cold weather running and I love nothing more than a nice early morning snow run. Last Monday night I was glued to the weather app on my phone and constantly checked the local TV station’s website. I was itching for lots of snow and they were calling for six to ten inches of snow, which is really quite unusual for The Eastern Shore of Maryland. My wife grew up in Montreal, Canada and has had a lot of experience in handling snow, so when she told me to get shoveling at 11pm with snow still falling and only three inches on the ground I did just that. I cleared the driveway and received a few odd looks from the neighbors… like “What the heck are you doing… it is still snowing”… 

I am glad I shoveled. Tuesday morning I woke up like a kid on Christmas and jumped to the window…. and there were an additional three or four inches on the ground. Any additional snow and I would have had some difficulty getting out of my driveway.  I could easily drive over three inches of snow and so I backed up and began driving towards the downtown park and zoo area of Salisbury. 

 The route to the zoo became an obstacle course as plows piled up snow blocking half the streets as they cleared the other half. A drive that normally takes me ten minutes took me over thirty minutes and when I finally arrived at the zoo I realized there was nowhere to park. The parking lot at the zoo was covered in six inches of snow. My friend, Brian, called and said he was stuck for a while in his driveway, but was on his way to run with me. My other friend, Melissa, was running from her house to the zoo. Brian and I agreed to meet about half a mile from the zoo in a shopping center was plowed out. 

 With watches fired up and my yaktraxs secured to my shoes we ventured off. The first part was a fairly easy run along the road toward the zoo. The snow was still fresh and fluffy and so to keep us moving along quickly we kept to the tracks made by the vehicles. When temperatures drop under around thirty degrees iPhones cease to operate, so both Brian and I left our phones in the cars… Which meant I had to message Melissa before we left. 

We passed the zoo and saw no sign of Melissa so we pass the south end of the park and made a loop around the zoo. Of course Melissa was making the same loop around the other side. Luckily for us her footprints and those of her dog Holly made them easy to track. Brain went around one end and I went along the other end and we both found her near the entrance to the zoo. 

 The three of us high stepped through the snow and kept our route nearly completely along the paths around the park. The snow was pure and untouched. We were the first to experience the beauty of the snow as it blanketed the park. The snow began to feel heavier as we logged mile after mile. Each step become a little more taxing and the cold began to make my hands cold and tingly. The snow had a very similar feel as the soft sand of the beach. As we ran, we pass several people shoveling their snow and giving us looks like…. “Are you all crazy?” We also saw a few cars braving the conditions, but luckily no accidents where we ran. The pace was slow, but the effort was intense. Towards the end of our run we decided to run the trails for about a mile. The snow on the trail was deeper and our feet sank with each step. It was awesome. Nothing beats a fresh snowfall to spice up a run.

Brian and I completed seven miles and Melissa finished with over ten miles as she helped push a few cars out of the snow on her way home. 

The snow run was a success…. But my workout was just beginning as I pulled in the driveway and stared shoveling… and shoveling…and shoveling. 

We need more snow. 

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We may never get this chance again…

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Every run should have a goal. Our goal last Monday was get a cold weather personal best (PR) for Chris. Sunday night when we pulled up our trusty weather apps we saw what we were looking for… A cold day with a windchill of -6 planned.

It was President’s Day and so Chris had the day off and I decided to take the day off since my kids had off school and the opportunity to run the trails at Pemberton in very cold conditions could not be ignored. So we decided to start a little later for two reasons…. We could and it made better sense to run in the light due to the icy conditions and the rock hard trail conditions.

Four layers of clothing everywhere, except my hands and head. My head was covered with a hat and the hood from my running jacket, but my hands were only covered by my cold weather running gloves. Bad idea. The brutally cold tempurature (for a couple of guys from Maryland) ended up stinging my hands. So cold that I had to shake the cold away. I guess it didn’t help that my gloves after years of use had a few small holes in them. I need to revisit the gloves in future cold runs. Everywhere else I was sweating like a mobster in church.

Pemberton park has a beautiful set of trails that cover between five and six miles (depending on what you count as trails). Our goal was to run a 10k to help us prepare for our spring 50k outside of Washington DC. So we need to get in as many trails miles as possible…. But we had no clue what was to happen next…

Part of the trails pass by a few lookout areas over the Wicomico River. As we ran to the end of one of the lookouts we came up with a crazy, exciting idea…

Let’s run the riverbed!

Chris went down first as I snapped a first pictures. He then yell that I couldn’t miss the view of the opportunity. All I hear is – “We may never get this chance again” – so we ran it. We ran the Wicomico River. Having grown up on Delmarva Chris and I knew how the river normally is. It is normally muddy, slimy, and a mess. It is marshland that was a frozen “tundraland” last week and we captured the opportunity. The river was iced over and the mud was solid and very runnable. We ran a mile and half on the riverbed and were able to get amazing views as the river twisted around a curve and the sun came out over the frozen water. There was one step that was a bit sketchy… I took what might have been a little too forceful of a step and my right foot went completely through the ice, but it was so cold I just ended up with an icy, frozen muddy foot. No harm. No foul.

When you have a chance to run something epic. Do it.

We completed our cold run after 6.2 miles and Chris logged his coldest run ever. My coldest run was last year in White Plains, New York in a frigid -10 windchill and of course I hope that PR drops soon, but until that happens I hope to keep my hands warm and my eyes set on more epic runs….

Like a frozen Atlantic.

Enter Sandmen… Assateague 60k

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I was kinda joking when I posted the mapmyrun route on our running club group page. I didn’t really think anyone would jump on the idea of running the island of Assateague from top to bottom. The island is a national seashore and so there are no houses, buildings (besides a few ranger stations, bath houses, and a store open in the summer), stores, or in many parts roads.

Gabe took the bait. I should have known. Gabe is always looking for the next adventure and looking back if the run is epic enough and crazy enough he will probably join in the fun. He ran The Patapsco 50k with me in October as well as a few out-of-the ordinary runs at Blackwater Refuge and around Salisbury.

This was to be no ordinary run by any means. First off is the distance. It is almost exactly 60k from the northernmost part of the island to the southernmost point of the island. Yes for all you Americans that is 37.2ish miles. It is not just the distance that can be a challenge we were also planning the run during February so the cold and the wind were factors in our planning. In fact we had to push the run back a week due to low temperatures in the teens with windchill factors between 2 and -2 degrees. The sand was also an issue. The winter causes the sand to be more packed and somewhat easier to run on, but it is still sand and there is still constant stepping in and out of sand. The distance between points of safety was also a consideration when planning our trip. We had a distance of 22 miles that were basically no-man land. Meaning you could not access the beach without The use of an Over Sand Vehicle (OSV).

3am. My alarm goes off only once. I spring out of bed. This was a morning I was looking forward to for weeks. February 7th, 2015 was the day we finally set to conquer the island. I threw on three layers of clothing knowing that the temperature would be around 28 degrees when we landed on the island. I ate a bowl of oatmeal and downed a pouch of applesauce. I also grabbed a huge bottle of water and walked out to my front porch. Gabe picked me up at 3:30 and we drove to Denny’s where we met up with Ken. Ken had a trailer on the back of his truck with a canoe. This is where the adventure really started to pick up. We jumped in the truck and headed to West Ocean City arriving at 4:30am. We lowered the canoe to the water and realized that only one of us could man the canoe until it was further out in the water. So ken paddled over to the dock and Gabe and I jumped on a random boat to get closer to the canoe. Ken brought the canoe right up to the boat and we slowly entered the canoe. Our combined weight nearly sunk the canoe. We were four or five inches from the water and if there were any movement at all in the water we would have gone under. We were blessed that the water was calm and glassy. A perfect night to cross the water and the distance was probably that of two football fields, but it was scary nonetheless. We made it safely onshore at the time was 4:45am.

We said goodbye to Ken and started up my Nike GPS watch at 4:50am. This was now officially my earliest run ever as we started around the top of Assateague under and nearly full moon. The first twenty minutes or so we eerily quiet and we began to freak ourselves out. We even mentioned how terrifying it would be to see people on the beach at this time at night. It was then that I saw what I thought was four huge guys crossing over the sand dune. “Gabe! Check out those four huge dudes!”… “Trent, those are horses” – the wild horses on Assateague are very common and often walk on the beaches especially at night. We thought it would be fun to chase them down and get a better look, but evenwith fresh legs they were able to outrun us and we were back on the edge of the water heading south. The sand was packed and the moon was light enough that we could turn off our headlamps and enjoy the beauty of the night. I enjoyed the night until Gabe told a story of a couple that drove their Hummer on the beach and flipped it over into the crashing waves. The guy in the Hummer died at the scene and the girl tried to walk to Ocean City and died of exposure. She would have never made it to Ocean City since she would have arrived at the beach we landed on and would have had to swim to Ocean City. The story made the night a little less inviting until the red glow of the sun began to rise above the oil-like darkness of the ocean. It was beautiful. The transition from night to day fueled us to run faster. It was slowing getting lighter around 6:30am and we were nearing our first aid station at mile ten. 

The few miles before the aid station were run on the trails leading from the ranger station to the start of the Over Sand Vehicle area. Grant and his young daughter were there waiting for us. Gabe had dropped off our drop bags to him the night before, so when we arrived we were greeted with Gatorade, M&M’s, Cliff bars, dried pineapples, and yes RedBulls. It was now at 40 degrees and we dropped out headlamps and hats.

There is debate on whether RedBulls should or should not be used in ultra running. I don’t drink caffeinated drinks normally, but this wasn’t a normal day. We split an 8oz can and thanked Grant. We then ran over the dunes and back to the beach. Ten miles were behind us and 27 were still ahead of us. I am not sure if we were crazy before or if the Redbull went to our heads but we ended up talking about some insane things on the run like half-man half-horse beasts. Around mile 15 or 16 we found a tennis ball on the beach and started to kick it to one another for the next mile and a half. It was a fun way to pass the miles and created a nice fartlek workout for us.

9:45 we arrived at mile 22.75 or the second aid station at the border of Maryland and Virginia. The beach actually has a fence that separates the two states and it is not to keep Marylanders from crossing into Virginia, but rather to keep the horses from cross the borders. Andy and Michael were manning this aide station and drove Gabe’s truck onto the beach to meet us. Gabe filled his truck with wood and fire starting materials along with a note asking them to start a fire and set up the beach chairs.

It was awesome. A nice halftime treat. We had the chairs set up around the campfire and were able to stretch our legs and down some more food. We had the same food and drinks as the first aid station, although this time we were a little more liberal with the RedBulls. We also took the time to charge up the watch and put IcyHot on the legs. The guys were very helpful and brought us everything we needed. We filled up the fuel belts and left aid station two and entered into Maryland.

My legs were heavy, but we relentlessly moved forward. When we hit the magical marathon number of 26.2 miles we stopped and took a picture. We then focused on trying to find even ground to run on. The beach had a greater slant to it than it did a few miles before and we could feel it in our legs. After five plus hours of talk Gabe decided we needed some tunes. So we jammed to some custom Pandora stations and tried to avoid getting our feet wet from the waves. Our feet never touched the water the entire run… Except to save the tennis ball.

As we ventured south our buddy Chris was heading north. He started about the time we left water station 2. We began to see a speck of him at mile 27 or 28. As mile 29 approached we raised our arms in excitement as we knew Chris was close. He ran up with a baseball cap on and a backpack. “What is that for?” I asked pointing to his backpack… “Water and shells. The shells are awesome. Just wait”. He was right. In the five miles we ran south with Chris we all picked up four or five big concha shells. Shells can get heavy when you are running so I looked forward to seeing my wife and kids and unloading the shells. It was so awesome to see Chris and run with him. He lives for epic runs and so to have him be a part of this was icing on the cake… Plus he brought fresh legs and an added excitement to our run.

Mile 34. I was wasted tired. My legs were numb. I felt like I was lifting my legs with blocks of concrete on them. My arms tingled from the constant lifting and lowering with the shells. We had plenty of water but we couldn’t drink because our hands were full of shells. So we kept running and it was tough. The sand seemed to get deeper although it was the same. I never disliked the run but I did look forward to the end and at the toughest moment I saw Denise, my dog, and the kids on the sand. There was another couple a few yards ahead of them and those two groups were the only people we saw on the beach all day. I hugged the family and downed a cliff bar and then told them we had a few miles to go. They were a sight for a tired, sweaty, stinky, weary man. I love my family.

The last push. Gabe said something as we started the last few miles that amazed me… “I think I want to open it up a bit to see what I have left in the tank”… Then he took off like a bat out of hell. He was flying. It was then that Chris and I knew we were running with a machine. He ran… Or rather floated over the sand.

My running became somewhat of a shuffle after leaving Denise, but when Gabe took off it gave Chris and I some life as well and we picked up the pace. We felt alive. One with nature. Born to run on the beach. Gabe drew a line in the sand and cheered us to finish… However it was not the end. Chris said, “Guys keep going. Look at the map we aren’t at the complete bottom”. Chris had the map pulled up on his phone and he was right. We would have been short by half a mile and more importantly we would not have run the entire length of Assateague.

This time Chris ran ahead and drew a line and Gabe and I joyfully crossed over the line and fell to the sand. We had conquered Assategaue. We had run 37.5 miles from one end to the other and we didn’t want to run another step.

So we collected more shells – one for each member of our family – and the hitchhiked back on the OSV road to the parking lot where my family was waiting.

It was an epic running adventure I will never forget. We could have never completed it without the support of family and friends. Sometimes in life all it takes is a crazy idea and a crazy friend to make epic happen.

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