Friday, May 27, 2016

Running in Southeast Central (Europe)

Southeast Central is my own description for this part of the planet. It includes the destinations we traveled to during this trip: Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. We also visited Slovakia, Bosnia and Montenegro, but I didn’t run in those places.

Vienna, Austria

It’s 4:45 AM. I turn left out of the Hilton Danube to run Northwest along the river. There are nice all-purpose trails adjacent to the river, as well as everywhere else around Vienna. It’s a little over a mile to the first bridge, but instead of going across the river, I turn left to go into the city center area. A couple miles later, I come back, and this time I do cross the bridge.

There’s a long, narrow island in the river. Most of the bridges pass over it to get to the other side, but I was able to exit the bridge onto the island for some further running. Actually, quite a bit further. I turn left, further away from the hotel, intending to get to the end of the island before turning back.

I never make it. It’s a very nice serene place that has almost no  development, but after going on and on and on, I finally decide that enough is enough and turn back to go home. I had determined earlier that ten miles was all I’d have time for today, and this should just about do it.

It does. I run back on the other side – the island can’t be more than a quarter-mile wide – and I head home. It was such a nice quiet run along the Danube that I don’t know whether any of my subsequent runs on this trip will be as good.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

I use the words beautiful, serene and scenic enough in my travel blog, so I’ll try not to do so as much here.

It’s around 4:30 AM, and I’m out running around the lake. It’s beautiful, serene and scenic. There. I failed already. But it’s mostly just serene in the early morning darkness; the beautiful scenery came as it began to get light.

Which it did by the end of my first time wound the lake. Slovenia, it seems, is just beginning to wake up, and it’s great. My Garmin tells me that it was 3.7 miles around, so I take off again, this time in the opposite, clockwise direction.

This time I make it back much faster – at least a minute or so. Now I’ve got to do another two and a half to make it ten for the day. What to do? Run up to the castle on the cliff, of course.

I didn’t make it all the way up; it was time to head back. But I did walk up later on, as part of an afternoon hike around the lake with Debbie.
My two laps around Lake Bled

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Not feeling too well, but wanting to get a quick run in, I venture out and am immediately hit by the crisp, ice-cold air. I can hear the falls all around (there are thousands), but I don’t see them since I am only running on the road – it’s still a little dark to wander onto the trails. I don’t get too far, but at least I can say I ran in Plitvice.

Hvar, Croatia

Hvar is an island in the Adriatic Sea, not far from the Dalmation coast. It’s still a little cool, and I am still not feeling well – now I have an earache to go along with the sore throat. But today things is a little better, so out I go. I go into Hvar town, around a few bends, and then back. At two plus miles, it’s better than the other day, and better than not running at all. And I even managed to take a few photos.

Running in HvVillage

I get out for another run on Hvar the next day. It’s another beauty of a day, but once again, I don’t get too hvar.

Hvar Marina


The exclamation was added by poetic license! I’m out the door at five. I am still (!) not feeling all that well, but at least this hotel has coffee.

Dubrovnik is a medieval walled city at the southern tip of Croatia's Dalmation Coast. It's a stunning location.

I’m not all that confident of finding my way around here. It’s a complicated place, with jumbles of streets all over the durn place. I do know that we’re a few miles away from the old walled city itself, but there’s a little bit of sprawl here. I decide to make for the old city, just to say I got there (and hopefully back).

The worst problem is that our hotel is not on the map that I have. I’m therefore not entirely sure where I’m starting out from. Once I do get moving, however, I do see some landmarks that are indeed on the charts. It turns out that it’s not so difficult – I run just to the city wall, and then back, for a total of six hilly miles. Not too bad.

In addition to that slightly sub-epic run to the city walls and back, I do get out for a couple other shorter runs in Dubrovnik.

Zagreb, Croatia

I am finally feeling a little better, and I'm ready for a decent run today. Maybe even good. But probably not epic. Epic will have to wait for another trip, or at least another day.

Out the door of the Westin Zagreb, I head south, away from the Old Town. We'd done a lot of walking there, and I thought it was a little too congested for running. South would take me to the river, and possibly some nice paths.

Zagreb is our last stop, and today is the day we will be flying back home. Our trip has been enjoyable, and we've seen many great sights.

After nearly two miles, I do reach the river, and turn west. There are indeed some nice paths, but before long I come to a 400 meter track. I turn in and do a couple laps. As expected, my pace improves. But the paths along the river are so inviting that I exit the track and continue running west.

By now it's about 6:30 AM, and other than on the main drag, I've only seen a handful of people. This seems strange, but after running in other parts of Central Europe, and many other parts of the planet, it's not unexpected; some people simply sleep longer in the morning.

As I'm beginning to think about turning back, I reach a lake, and naturally begin to circumnavigate the thing. The thing, however, turns out to be bigger than it had originally appeared, and I begin to worry about getting to far away from home.

I turn back and return mostly the way I came. It was a very nice 7.5 mile run. Yes, nice; maybe even good. But not epic. Just like my other runs on this trip.

Also, please check out my travel blog post for this trip. You will enjoy it... And that's guaranteed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

as expected

Isn't it nice when things work out the way you expect? I sure think so. In fact, predictability makes up a large part of my job responsibilities. As you undoubtedly expect, joy of fulfilled expectation applies to running as well.

All too often, I begin a morning run with certain performance related hopes, goals and expectations, only to be disappointed. A slower pace, reduced distance or sometimes some kind of pain often get in the way.

But not today. Or even yesterday. Both yesterday's speedwork and today's new subs 11 miler went just as I wanted them to. And even through the AT is still talking to me (I had a lot of pain after RTR), I am fairly well pleased with  myself, thank you.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Rock the Ridge

I’ve always loved this video of runners at the Western States 100-Mile and other mountain ultramarathons. I may never do the ones shown, but I am inspired to run in beautiful and challenging places.

Debbie and I at check-in
And I have. It’s been my good fortune to have had the opportunity to experience running in some wonderful locations, some of which are even close to home. Mohonk Preserve and adjoining Minnewaska State Park in New York, home to Rock the Ridge, would prove to be second to none in terms of spectacular beauty and overall challenge. This video shows it off well.

My friend Linda Rafalski first called my attention to the race when she told me that her son Doug had signed up for Rock the Ridge and asked if I’d be running it too. I provided my usual response to nearly all questions these days: “Huh? What’s that?” But I did look into it and quickly became fascinated.

Fast forward through months of training and anticipation to race day. Doug, who came up from Philadelphia, had an entourage of family and friends to support him, and I had wife Debbie. Debbie would spend the day with the Rafalski clan, and that would make things easier, especially if Doug and I would be running fairly close to one another.

RTR Trail Map

Back to the challenge. Here are some actual excerpts, that I am absolutely not making up, from the course description:

  • By the time you’ve finally caught your breath from the climb up Lenape Lane, you’ll meet with another one – this time up and over Guyot Hill … the route steers toward (and then past) the remarkable Bonticou Crag, a rock formation that is perhaps the most noted in the Preserve, and a veritable treat for the eyes.
  • As you leave Spring Farm, you will climb yet again, first somewhat steeply, and then more gradually. … you’re now heading south toward the lands of the Mohonk Mountain House, where you’ll ascend to the Skytop Tower, the highest point in the first half of the course, and arguably the most scenic viewpoint of anywhere along the Shawangunk Ridge.
  • As you stop to experience the beauty of the most scenic waterfall in the ‘Gunks, take a few deep breaths, as it is time to begin the most difficult climb of the entire Rock The Ridge course. From the base of the falls you will climb over 400 feet in less than one mile to the shoreline of Lake Minnewaska. Just smile and remind yourself how much you love hills.
  • And with that climb accomplished, suffice it to say that the best is yet to come, as you will spend the next four miles ascending another 500 vertical feet to Castle Point. Along the way, you will drink in another brief view of Lake Minnewaska before gradually seeing more and more of the eye-popping views of the Palmaghatt Ravine, Gertrude’s Nose, Hamilton Point, and the Lower Hudson Valley 30 miles in the distance.

None of that, the challenging climbs or the scenic beauty, was exaggerated. The entire event was very much as advertised.

Gatehouse before the start  Greg Rafalski photo

The start from the historic Gatehouse was great, as was the initial tree-lines lane. Soon the climb began. After a couple uphill miles, I began to walk the steeper sections, trying to conserve energy, as Doug ran up ahead. I knew he’d trained hard, but I didn’t know whether running hard up these initial hills would take too much out of himAnd even though I was slowing, I wasn’t so sure about my own ability to continue with this much vertacality.

The start  Greg Rafalski photo

I continued up the “carriage roads”, which are surfaced with crushed stone and are narrow for roads but wide for trails. They’re fairly soft and not technical, so they make a really great running surface. And the weather could not have been better: it was partly to mostly cloudy and seasonably cool for late April.

I saw Doug at the first aid station, but then I lingered, trying to fortify myself for more climbing. I eventually made it up to Skytop tower. Although I’d been admiring the great views all the way up, this was simply spectacular. I could see nearly the entire ridgeline, and also Mohonk Lake, the famous Mohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park in the distance. Someone later told me that several different states could also be viewed from here.

There were some gentle downhill sections before the course leveled out a bit. A little past half-way I entered Minnewaska State park, where I’d be running for the next 13 or so miles before returning to Mohonk Preserve. I looked at my watch, and determined that I was averaging a bit over ten minutes per mile.

Awosting Falls  Greg Rafalski photo

After famous Awosting Falls, there was more serious climbing. I saw Debbie and the Rafalski crew at about mile 27. That was a sight for very sore eyes. They would stay here to see us after we looped around Minnewaska and were heading back. Debbie told me that Doug looked great. I, by implication, I said, looked like crap! This thing is uphill the whole way, was all I could say.

Just after some aid  Debbie Horvath photo

There was more climbing yet to be done. This entire ascent, begun around the 22-mile mark, continued past mile 30, where I reached Castle Point. Like the Skytop Tower climb, this one was also beautiful the entire way up, but the panoramic scenery at the top was about as spectacular. And at about 2,600 feet above sea level, this was the highest point on the course. It occurred to me that I would now descend about 2,300 feet in these final 19 miles. Except, that is, for one more smaller ascent at mile 45 and the uphill final mile. No worries, thought I. The tough part is done.

Doug at Castle Point  Greg Rafalski photo

My pace improved a great deal, now that I was back back down and around this nine-mile loop. I saw Doug ahead of me for a couple miles, and we wound up at the 36-mile aid station at about the same time. There we were able to see, and get assistance from, our joint crew, for the second and final time. Debbie informed me that I looked better now.

The great scenery continued as I returned into Mohonk and ran along the rock climbing area. As I reached mile 40, my Garmin watch informed me that the battery was low. It died completely in a couple miles. Doug and I were now running together for the first time since the early miles. I was my usual talkative self, even talking about being talkative. Doug indicated that he preferred silence, so I shut up.

The ascent at mile 45 was tougher than expected. I slowed, and then walked, and watched as Doug floated away. That was okay, I thought; I would recover and pick it back up again, as I’d done time and again during this run. Those final five mostly downhill miles would be a piece of cake.

I did pick it back up, and I felt great doing it. I grew stronger and stronger and finished with a super sprint. I was thrilled with the relatively fast overall time. After the run, I was only a little sore.

Absolutely nothing that was said in those previous four sentences is remotely true. After Doug pulled away, I struggled mightily to get up that big hill at mile 45. It seemed to take forever. I was so sore and beat up that I was incapable of running smoothly again when the course did begin to take me back down. I wound up doing a painful ultramarathon shuffle for virtually all of those final five miles. It was indeed wonderful to finish, and especially to see Debbie and everyone else – Debbie even ran a little with me as I came in. But that time – 9:02 – was painfully slow. Doug (who done really great for a first ultra!) and Paul, a guy I’d run with most of the way, finished at about 8:39, a time I would have been very happy with. What a difference a strong finish makes!
The Finish!    Debbie Horvath photo

Now my Achilles Tendonitis is as bad as it’s ever been, and I think that may have been a major factor in my poor final miles, as it contributed to the shuffling. I can only hope that this latest AT setback won’t hang around too very long.

Overall, Rock the Ridge was a fantastic experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was every bit worth the effort to run in this beautiful and challenging place.

Hinckley is Back

Okay, okay. Hinckley never really left. But a lot of us did; we hadn't been meeting there for our Sunday morning runs for quite some tim...