Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day Hiking in Temescal Gateway Park

During our recent visit to SoCal we made it a point to visit the trails at Temescal Gateway Park. My two outings here offered welcomed reprieves from the bustling crowds we encountered everywhere else during our week-long stay in L.A. The spillover into early July of what the locals call "June Gloom" coincided with our visit and kept the hot sun at bay, though it did also detract from the magnificent views of the city and ocean from high atop the Santa Monica Mountains.

Trailhead at Temescal Gateway Park
With so much to see and do in Southern California, we were on a tight schedule. Hiking, though a priority for me, wasn't on my kids' radars at all. I had to squeeze it in when I could. My plan for both days was to start early, go as far as time permitted, and turn around from wherever I may be on the trail, giving myself just enough time to make it back to my aunt's condo at the appointed hour. We made an executive decision to throw precaution to the wind. Instead of wasting time in the parking lot familiarizing ourselves with a trail map, we would look for a well-worn trail and take it. Nearly two weeks later, as I sit here with a copy of the trail map by my side, I can see we were headed up the Viewpoint Trail, also shown as the Temescal Ridge Trail on Google Maps. This was hiking at its best: cool, dry air; no mud or slick surfaces, no crowds, and no mosquitos or ticks.
Cool enough for a jacket in July
My aunt had told us about a waterfall 1.3 miles away from the trailhead. As it would turn out, the waterfall was not along the path we were traversing. But we didn't know this at the time and because the hiking was so exceptional, we didn't care. Besides, in our minds, we were hiking to the waterfall. I soon began outpacing my wife so, after synchronizing our watches and agreeing on a turn around time, I trekked on ahead.
Though the gloom lingered, it was still breathtaking

Looking back at my pictures I can now ascertain that I made it to the junction of the Leacock and Temescal Ridge trails before turning back due to time constraints. Fortunately, I was able to make it back to the park two days later, and this time I explored the Temescal Canyon Trail. Still cloudy and cool, and again with one eye on my watch, I sometimes ran and sometimes hiked 1.7 miles into the park's mountain range before my allotted time elapsed, forcing me to retrace my steps back to the hustle and bustle of the city below.
Before turning around, I came upon the location of the waterfall. Not surprisingly, it was dry. I didn't even realize this was the location of the wet weather waterfall until my uncle described the area to me the following day. Now piecing things together on the map, I can see it would have been nearly as easy for me to hike the loop trail formed by the Temescal Canyon and Temescal Ridge trails in opposite directions rather than backtracking both days. Oh, well. Hindsight's 20/20.
Near the sight of the wet weather waterfall


Either way, the hiking was outstanding. On our final full day in town, under sunny skies, we walked the picturesque streets of Pacific Palisades and viewed the Pacific Ocean from Palisades Park. The next time we visit we will have to allocate more time for walking and less time for traffic jams, as there are many miles of trails connecting to Temescal Gateway Park, as well as an extensive network of city sidewalks, remaining to explore.

Views from the Temescal Canyon Trail

Sun is out at Palisades Park on our last day in town

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Palisades/Will Rogers 5k

We were in the Los Angeles area on July 4th to visit family and participate in a local 5k benefiting the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club, a volunteer organization supporting various youth charities and activities.

My anticipation for this event had been mounting from the day we booked our flights to LAX in early April. For the next three months, I decided, my training would be focused solely on this run and achieving a degree of fitness which would allow me to perform at my very best level. Amazingly, life cooperated nicely during those 90 days so that I was able to follow through on my training program pretty well as designed. By the time training was over, I actually felt like a runner.

The day before the race we walked with my aunt to the local sporting goods retailer to collect our bibs and then around the community to sort of get the lay of the land and a feel for the course itself. As workers were erecting the start and finish structures, my aunt was showing us how deep the crowd would be gathered at the starting line in the morning. It became clear to me this would be the largest race in which I had ever participated.

Setting up the day before the race
The morning of the race was cool and overcast. Thank goodness! We made our way through the field of entrants, and I settled in the 7-8 minute per mile grouping. Unfortunately, my aunt had to sit this year's race out, and the rest of my family felt more comfortable starting a little deeper in the pack. With a crowd this size, it was certainly wise not attempting to run in pairs or as a group. After a sterling rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, the starting gun sounded and the mass of people slowly began moving forward.
Participants gather before the race
The beginning of the race was a cluster, of course. Slower runners, including parents pushing strollers and some very young children who had no business up front, were causing many folks to jump the curbs and run on the sidewalks. The first half-mile or so was spent running more or less a zigzag pattern, simply trying to find space enough in which to settle into a good pace. Fortunately, this part was all downhill. Everything frustrating about running is easier to deal with when going downhill.
A walker's perspective
Somewhere around 1.2 miles, the Pacific Ocean came into view and the course transitioned from downhill to uphill. For the next 1.5 miles or so, we would climb 120 feet. This was it. This is what I had been training for months to conquer. If I could get to the top of this hill in good shape, the rest of the course would be easy peasy. As homeowners waved from their front lawns, shouting words of encouragement to all of the runners, I felt like pulling up a chair and doing the same. Instead, I kept plugging away until I somehow made it to the top. Though I wouldn't necessarily classify my condition as "good" at this point and the remainder of the course certainly wasn't easy peasy for me, I knew I had enough in the tank to see it through and finish with a respectable time.
The bulk of the climb was over by mile 2
On the ascension I eclipsed several people, many of whom had slowed to a walk. Heading down the homestretch, I gave back a few of those gains to smarter, better conditioned runners. Running harder downhill to the finish line which was now within sight, I observed a boy in front of me determined not to let me pass. As he increased his pace to a sprint, so did I, and we crossed the finish line neck and neck, though I do believe his chip time was faster than mine.
I finished with a pace of 8:05 per mile, 10th out of 74 participants in my division. Though I had entertained notions of breaking the 8-minute mile, I felt satisfied with my time, particularly given the inevitable slow start due to the sheer number of participants in this popular event. My family and I rendezvoused beyond the finish line at the Palisades Park and Recreation Center to review our times and collect our shirts. The opinion among us was unanimous: the Palisades 5k was everything we hoped it to be - a great way to celebrate the 4th and a perfect beginning to our week in California.
Rested and ready for the 4th of July parade to begin


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dartin' Downtown 5k

The first rainy day in three weeks found us in Paris, TN, for the Dartin' Downtown 5k. Runners assembled inside the nice, warm and dry First United Methodist gym for pre-race instruction before getting shooed outdoors to the starting line just prior to 8:00 a.m. Standing in the rain, we were told if we found ourselves running on a level stretch of road then we must be off course. At that point, I really began questioning every decision I had made over the course of my life which led me to this particular intersection of place and time.

A police cruiser and a young lady on a bicycle guided us through the commons of downtown Paris and downhill into a residential setting. Of course it wasn't long before I lost sight of both the police car and the bicyclist. But there were only a few runners up front and out of sight and just a few others ahead of me still within sight. The hills began to take their toll, as a couple of younger runners were forced to drop back to a walking pace. My clothes, saturated from the rain, introduced much unwelcomed additional weight, but my hat was shielding my face like a dream. Thankfully, and perhaps because of the rain, traffic was light and the handful of drivers who were on the road were most courteous.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 25:19, good enough for 6th overall and 1st in the men's 40-49 age bracket. My daughter came in 20th overall and 2nd in the 15-19 women's category. The church graciously welcomed us back into their nice, warm and dry gym with towels and snacks prior to the awards presentation. I must say I was never so grateful for a race day t-shirt in which to change as I was this morning. Access to indoor restrooms was a pleasant surprise, too! And to cap off what was truly a great event, my daughter was lucky enough to win a door prize - a beautiful handmade quilt, compliments of the Peacemakers Quilt Club of the First United Methodist Church.

 Handmade by the Peacemakers Quilt Club, Paris TN

A must-see when you're in Paris

A modern day must: selfie in front of attraction/destination

Henry County Courthouse

Confederate Soldier Memorial on the Square

We'll always have Paris

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bells Bend Park

We took advantage of a break in the cold weather and paid a visit to Bells Bend Park, situated on Nashville's west side. A large park with several miles of trails and old farm roads suitable for hiking, an outing at Bells Bend is the perfect prescription for taming the wintertime blues. Here, we walked under wide-open skies, not a canopy of trees, and fully enjoyed all the unfiltered sunshine nature could muster up this time of year.

Bells Bend Park on the prettiest day in February
For more than three hours we hiked the easy trails and roads, cutting through and around the fields, even following the contour of the Cumberland River for a time. With no maps available at the trailhead, we were on our own. Our strategy was to turn right at every intersection, figuring eventually we'd make it back to where we started. Of course we did, but not after hiking nearly every section of every trail, both marked and unmarked. I hadn't thought about simply snapping a picture of the trailhead kiosk map with my phone while we were there. But it didn't matter; we had nowhere else to go and were in no hurry to get there.
The Cumberland River
Bells Bend offers a hiking experience unlike any other I've experienced in Middle Tennessee. The open spaces and relatively flat terrain give the park a distinctive Midwestern feel. Had the wind been blowing twenty or thirty miles per hour, I might have thought I was stomping across a Kansas prairie. But on this day my hat stayed firmly in place on top of my head, so I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
Bells Bend sports a Midwestern flair
We came across a few other people in the park, as well as a raccoon, an armadillo, a cardinal, and a number of bluebirds. Back at the house, I also uncovered a tick which had hitched a ride on my leg. There is still snow and ice on the ground in places and I'm getting ticks! I reckon it will be another bad year for insects around here.
My estimation is we walked somewhere between 6-7 miles. The trails here are wide and in good shape. While there is some standing water in places, this can't be avoided right now due to the weather we've been experiencing. We discussed during our hike how the trails at Bells Bend would be good for running, too. You could just take our word for it, but we encourage you to check this unique park out for yourself and see if you agree.
Bluebird near the park property line

Wide, well-maintained trails are the rule here
Pond at Bells Bend Park



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Race on the Trace, 5-miler

Pin Oak Lodge, left, played host to race participants
Flying solo for Valentine's Day, I said bye to the wife and kids and buzzed down to Natchez Trace State Park for my fifth and final stop on the 2014-15 Tennessee State Parks Running Tour. The weather was just right for running, with a temperature of nearly fifty degrees under partly sunny skies. I had done absolutely no running in two weeks and was preparing myself mentally for the pain I fully expected would greet me somewhere in mile three.
Ordinarily, I study the online course descriptions beforehand for all state park runs. And this race was no exception, so I thought. The first two miles, an easy out-and-back, were just as I had anticipated. The terrain was mostly level, and, as I crossed the start line now in the opposite direction, I was feeling good about my run. Just a few minutes later and right on schedule, however, a nagging pain developed on the outside of my left knee. I focused on my breathing instead, hoping the pain wouldn't worsen.
Around this same time, I managed to catch up with a couple of guys running nearly neck and neck. We were three-wide on the left-hand side of the road, as I continued looking on the horizon for the race leaders, who I thought should be barreling back towards us any minute now. I was also looking for the three-mile mark which, I thought about later, was probably on the opposite side of the road. With no sign of the leaders or the mile marker, I began to doubt my ability to finish the race running. Then there was the moment of clarity when I looked at my watch, realizing I had to be in the fourth mile. Not until this point did I understand we were running a loop, not another out-and-back, and quickly gave myself an F for preparation.
There was a certain amount of relief on my part when I figured this out, but I was tiring fast. The long, gradually sloping hills on the second half of the course were taking a toll on me. I had finally pulled away from the two fellas I'd caught, and I didn't want to relinquish my hard-earned gains. But the hills, it seemed, just kept coming, and, as I ascended yet another, I slowed to a brisk walk for perhaps a minute. I could hear feet approaching from behind as I eyed mile marker number four and knew I'd better pick up the pace if I wanted to hold my position.
Running again, I struggled with the remaining uphill sections but was able to keep it going to the finish line in front of Pin Oak Lodge. My official time of 42:51 was good enough to place dead last in the 40-49 year-old men's bracket, eleventh out of eleven finishers. This is the sentence where I would normally put a positive spin on my performance, but when you're eleven out of eleven, what's the point? Instead, I took a baseball bat to the water cooler in the tunnel before heading to the showers and taking a cab back to the hotel.
One of the two individuals I'd passed somewhere along the road where mile three blurred into mile four congratulated me afterward inside the lodge. Truthfully, I could only assume this was who was shaking my hand because I really couldn't have picked this runner out of a lineup, as I was fighting to simply remain upright at that stage of the race. And if he was who I thought he was, this same individual also offered up words of encouragement to a young girl we passed as he and I ran side by side for the better part of a mile. I was impressed. Short of stopping, I knew there was no way I could possibly utter anything other than a grunt or a groan.
This is just one example of the typically well-mannered behavior I've experienced at the state park runs. Far and away, the best aspect of these events are the people. As much as I dislike running, the atmosphere at these events is always upbeat and motivating. The season is over for me now, but I have a feeling I'll be back in the fall to do it all over again. And maybe next year at Natchez Trace I'll take it up a notch and grab that tenth position.
Fishing may have been a better alternative to my finishing 11 of 11

Sunday, February 1, 2015

5-Mile Johnsonville Charge

Participants gather post-race to enjoy the famous beef stew
Yesterday I was in New Johnsonville on a typically chilly January day for my fourth stop on this year's state parks running tour. Because I had done no running since the middle of December, I had no performance-related expectations for this event. Running the length of the course without walking would be enough to make me happy, I told myself.
The perfect course for someone like me who hadn't run recently, it is a basically flat out-and-back five-miler on paved, gravel, and compacted dirt terrain. Musket fire from a man dressed as a Civil War-era soldier set the clock in motion, and 134 or more of us commenced to beat a path to the turnaround point 2.5 miles away.
I felt good early on, but what runner doesn't? Entering the second mile I focused on breathing technique more than anything else, as I hoped to ward off, as much as I possibly could, the development of a side stitch. Along with the increasing concern for calf pain as the race progressed, I believed the onset of one or both of these hindrances during the race was quite likely, the presence of either having the full potential to quickly transform me from runner to walker.
I turned down the water, as I always do, at the turnaround point. The fellow ahead of me stopped for a drink, and I never saw him again. I'm slow enough to begin with and don't need anything slowing me down further, so I shun the refreshments. Early into the return trip, I was still feeling pretty good. Now don't get me wrong, I was indeed tired and secretly wanted to quit running, but I was pain-free and passing about as many people as were eclipsing me.
Entering the last mile-and-a-half or so, the much-anticipated calf pain finally came calling. But the flat course of Johnsonville was my saving grace, reducing the pain to mere nuisance-grade. The side stitches never did materialize, and, as I crossed the finish line 42:27 after the opening musket blast, I felt both contentment and regret. Yes, I was satisfied with my performance, considering I hadn't actually been running in the weeks leading up to the race, but I also regretted having not properly trained, wondering what my time could have been had I only been more disciplined.
As runners continued to trickle across the finish line, a gathering crowd was enjoying the delicious beef stew and chili prepared by the Friends of Johnsonville State Historic Park. Much to my delight, a park ranger had gotten a fire going, and I eagerly joined those already huddled around the fire after a quick sampling of the Friends' stew. I waited until the presentation of awards was complete before determining my calf and now knee pain was too great to take a post-race hike along some of the park's wooded trails. Instead, I headed to my vehicle and thus concluded another fantastic outing in one of Tennessee's great state parks.                      

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tims Ford Deer Trail 6-Mile Run

We rolled into Winchester on Saturday to compete in our third race of the 2014-2015 Tennessee State Parks Running Tour. The rain which had pushed through during the overnight and morning hours was gone, and we were left with cool and cloudy conditions for the event. We checked in at the lodge upon our arrival to grab our bibs and use the facilities. The park's maintenance men had been beckoned because there were pools of water on the restroom floors, not enough heat in the lodge, and too much heat in the restrooms. As a fellow maintenance guy, I felt their pain. I was glad to be lacing up my running shoes instead of buckling my tool belt.

The crowd gathers in the moments leading up to the start
The race began with us heading down and to the right. I started on the left side of the road, but worked my way over to the right-hand side before turning right on a road which took us around and behind the lodge. Working my way past other runners, the road soon gave way to a paved pedestrian trail. I was a little slower here than I wanted to be, but I couldn't find a good opportunity to eclipse the runner in front of me. Fortunately, we were back on the road in short order, and I was able to pass him up and establish my pace before turning onto another pedestrian trail 0.6 mile into the race.
On the road, before turning onto the pedestrian trail
We would take the pedestrian trail to the turn-around point three miles away and retrace our steps to the start/finish line. The race was largely uneventful for me along the pedestrian trail. As I neared the three-mile mark, I decided to count the runners as they passed by me, now headed in the opposite direction toward the finish line. After concluding I was in the top 40, I made it my goal to stay there for the remaining three miles. This was a hilly and winding trail, and, as I began to feel its effects on the return trip, I contemplated the tenuousness of my position.
My daughter on the same stretch of road
Not long after reaching the five-mile mark, I could hear the commotion at the finish line. That was music to my ears. How I wished I was there now. Instead, I was fighting to maintain 38th place. A runner had overtaken my position earlier, before I passed him back as he paused at the water station. But he was now in front of me again and running good. Coming down a switchback, I took a quick glance around at the trail behind me and saw no one. My position seemed secure. Shortly after turning onto the road again for the final 0.6 mile of the race, I observed a young female runner doubled over in a coughing fit at the top of the hill. Passing on her side, a weird and inexplicable mix of sympathy and envy overtook me. I felt bad for her and yet coveted her non-running status. And similar to how yawns are oftentimes passed around among people in close proximity to one another, I felt as if I, too, could have become sick had I stuck around.
Turning onto the road for the final 0.6 mile
I was now in 37th place and noticed I was quickly gaining on two others. They were downhill from me, and I knew I had only a small window of opportunity before the road leveled and began to climb again. I pushed it downhill, afraid that perhaps I was going too hard, and eclipsed the two runners. I kept pushing, trying to put as much distance between them and me before the road turned uphill for the final time. Ascending the hill, I could not outrun the sound of feet behind me. I was running out of gas, but I didn't want to give up the position for which I'd fought so hard. Ahead of me was the fellow who had passed me twice earlier in the race. He seemed to still be moving along fine, though I had shortened the gap by a considerable distance. I couldn't believe my eyes when he suddenly stopped running with the finish line in sight. I remembered having done the exact same thing last year at the Over the River 8-mile race. I lost a position over that, but I was so exhausted, I didn't care. I imagined this was how this man was feeling now. As I passed him by, I continued running hard up the hill, determined to stay at least a step ahead of the runner behind me.
Gun time was 50:00; official chip time was 49:52
I did maintain the 34th overall position to the finish and crossed the line at just under fifty minutes, one second ahead of the runner behind me. Being 34th out of 115 finishers sounds respectable, but I was way in the back of the pack, 7th out of 8 finishers, in the men's 40-44 category (incidentally, the man nipping at my heels down the finish placed 2nd in the 30-39 year-old division). I had run hard and never let up, while giving it all I could at the finish, so I felt good about that. And my time of 49:52 was 4:19 quicker than last year, another cause for celebration. My daughter would pull in about eight minutes later and take 3rd place in her division, just as she had last year. Upon her finish, we headed into the lodge for complimentary Taco Bell burritos prior to the awards ceremony. It felt great to sit down and reflect on our day at Tims Ford. This was, as we've come to expect, another successful and well-orchestrated state parks run!
Faster than last year by 1:32
After the race, food awaits in the lodge behind us