Sunday, June 23, 2013

Industry experts come together for inaugural trail running conference

The panel discussions for the inaugural trail running conference, the Estes Trail Ascent, wrapped up Friday, June 21, in Estes Park, Colorado. The three-day conference, which started on Thursday, June 20, culminated in a 5.9-mile trail race on Saturday, June 22, featured speakers from footwear and hydration company manufacturers, as well as elite-level competitors, race directors, and physicians.

The nearly 100 participants in the conference included vendors, speakers, and attendees from as close as the Denver metro area to as far away as Tennessee, Texas, and California.

The first two days featured panel discussions and covered topics from shoe and gear developments to trail running advocacy and stewardship. Each of the ten sessions was moderated by a leader in the trail running industry who encouraged discourse among the panelists as well as a question and answer period which engaged the audience.

During the kick-off session on shoe and gear developments, a comment which was sure to please fellow panelists Scott Tucker, Pearl Izumi, Bryan Gothie, New Balance, and Henry Guzman, Boulder Running Company came from Adam Chase who said, “Everyone should have a lot of shoes.” For the trail runner, Chase suggested four different pairs of shoes for the different types of trail running one might do. “It’s like a tool box,” Chase explained, “You have to have the right tool for the right run.”

Over the past 15 years, Chase has seen an increase in the number and variety of shoes he receives from manufacturers for the trail shoe reviews he writes for Running Times magazine. New technology supports updated models, and new developments in footwear whether it results in shaving off ounces, or putting lugs with enhanced gripping power on soles. But, there always seems to be the shoe that is perfect just the way it is. For the fall review Chase says they are adding a new category of award which will be called the, “leave it (you fill in the blank) alone.”

During this first session, there was a question whether a shoe that works for an elite-level athlete ambassador would really be a shoe the average runner would be interested in purchasing. That question sparked a comment from Gothie who said, “Actually, people see the photo of Anton (Krupicka) careening down the hill bare-chested, with his hair flying freely, sporting a full beard and they say, ‘I want that shoe.’” So the answer seemed to be a resounding, “yes,” people are influenced by elite athletes in the sport when making their shoe choices and purchases.

Guzman talked about his clientele at the Boulder Running Company stating, “A lot of people come in just because they want to run. They don’t want to make it complicated. They just want to go and be in the outdoors.” He added that the footwear has to function correctly, and that through gait analysis and learning about what types of terrain and distance the person plans to be doing, his staff can suggest the best shoe.

The second panel was entitled, “Effective training and injury prevention.” Dr. Scott Taylor, a podiatrist with the Estes Park Medical Center, talked about the terrible 'toos.' Taylor said, “I see athletes that have been doing too much, too soon, too fast.”

New Balance brand ambassador Brandy Erholtz said that her only serious injury happened when she enlisted a coach and increased her mileage too quickly, “Even if you decide to get a coach, be sure to let them know what your training has been. (She hadn’t shared this information with her coach.) They need to know what your background is so they know what kind of training program to suggest so they don’t have you do more than your body can handle.”

The discussion led to cross training whereby exercise physiologist Adam St. Pierre proclaimed, “I think of all training as simply training. Whether you are cycling, running, skiing, lifting weights…it’s all part of training.” Having coached athletes in Boulder for the past 15 years, he suggests that athletes figure out how much time per week they have to train and then he helps them sort out what type of training is going to work best for them whether it is quantity, or quality. “If you have 10 hours per week, does that translate to five trips of two-hour runs in the mountains or something different,” said St. Pierre.

Erholtz talked about rest, diet, and the importance of each. She also suggested athletes chart their training and race efforts so they can look back to see what worked well on the good effort days, and what didn’t work well when there was a bad workout. “If you have a bad race effort and look back and see that you had four hours of sleep and a bad meal the night before your race, you might want to change your pre-race preparation,” said Erholtz.  Dr. Aaron Florence, an orthopedic surgeon at the Estes Park Medical Center, further discussed the importance of rest stating, “When you don’t rest you will eventually pay the piper. You need to figure out if you want to pay the piper with injury, illness, or rest. I would choose rest.”

When the session turned to nutrition and hydration, there were many stories of trial and error shared amongst the panelists and audience.

Bryce Thatcher, know for his FKTs (Fastest Known Times) and founding several hydration companies, including Ultraspire where he presently works, often gets a ‘sweet stomach,’ from too much acid after taking in gel after gel on long efforts. He’s found that he needs to keep calories in on his longer efforts (upwards of seven hours) so he uses Tums to lower the acid levels in his stomach. Thatcher said, “I take one Tums tablet every two hours and uses a combination of fat and salt to help settle my stomach. My favorite is salty cashews. I don’t start the cashews until about four hours into the effort.”  Thatcher likes to be on a schedule with his caloric intake, conversely, ultra runner and Patagonia athlete Krissy Moehl doesn’t like to be on an eating schedule at all, but both agreed that athletes have to find out what works for them.

Chase spoke about aid stations at ultra-distance events and the variety of sweet and salty offerings, “Sometimes it takes looking at the smorgasbord for your body to speak to you. Usually that is your answer as to what your body needs.”Moehl added, “Be aware of your body. Spend time on the trail and be flexible.”

On day two, one of the most compelling discussions centered on trail advocacy. Adam Feerst, race director, and founder of a Denver-based trail running club said, “We take it for granted if there is a trail, we should have access to it. We can’t take for granted that access is always going to be there.”

Katie Blackett, CEO of the Colorado Mountain Club, said there are three to four times more trail users than in the past decade and, “We are loving our land to death. Therefore, we need to create really smart trail systems that could handle 50% more users. We need to build, or improve our current trail systems.”

With this increased usage, trail race directors and runners face a myriad of issues. There are permits to be secured, rising cost of insurance, and more. And, with an increased number of users, there are concerns about the impact on the trails and sometimes this concern leads to trail closure.
Blackett shared several reasons trails might be closed to user groups, “Lack of funds for repair and maintenance, erosion, and protection of wildlife corridors.”

She suggested trail runners learn the facts surrounding trail corridors and land usage and work to gain much-needed clout. “Trail runners should go to local non-profits and community groups. They need to learn about the issues facing their trails and get involved. Figure out what all user groups agree on and focus on that. We (various user groups) may not get all we want, but we can focus together on the big prize.”

Buzz Burrell, founder of the Boulder Outdoor Coalition and long-time trail runner said, “The world is run by those who show up at the meetings. They are the ones that make things happen.”Feerst agreed and said, “We (as trail runners) need to be visible. We need to go out there as good stewards.”

The final session brought the conference full circle discussing not only the future of trail running, but also what was attractive about trail running in the first place.

Melody Fairchild, arguably the best female high school female distance runner in the history of the United States, now nearing age 40, transitioned to trail and mountain running over the past few years. She was on back-to-back gold medal winning teams for the U.S. in 2012, first at the World Mountain Running Championships, then at the World Long Distance Challenge. “I’m a mountain girl. I grew up in the mountains west of Boulder. Trail running stimulates the senses, creates community, and is also easier on the joints. The great thing about trail running is that people can have whatever they want out of the experience. What made me so happy was adding trail running to my career as a runner. It just completes my career.”

Erholtz offered, “With trail running you aren’t worried about PRs. When you race, you are racing the people, the environment, the weather.”  Chase said, “It’s fun for me to see people coming from so many sports to trail running. When people find trail running, it really opens their eyes. It’s a very simple, accepting sport.”

In wrapping up the conference, director Terry Chiplin said, “We have a job as trail runners to educate the general public to who trail runners are and what trail running is and this has been one of the goals of the conference…to start this process. We need to consider how we as trail runners become more organized with existing groups, partnering so that we have a voice and maintain access to the trails we love to run on.”

Looking toward 2014, Chiplin said, “The feedback we’ve had already, plus what has come out of the panel discussions, gives us a lot of valuable information to take away and then come back with an even better program next year.”

For more on this year’s conference, visit this link.

Story and photos by ATRA Executive Director +Nano Hobbs.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Team USA selected for WMRA Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge

Team USA will compete in the 10th WMRA Long Distance Mountain Running World Challenge to be held in Szklarska Poręba, Poland, on August 3, 2013.

Stevie Kremer (center) won the 2012 World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge

The WMRA Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge has been held every year since 2004 when Sierre-Zinal hosted the event. Since then, the event has showcased races with international prestige to include Switzerland’s Jungfrau Marathon which twice hosted the event, the first in 2007 and a return last year. There have also been two visits to Pikes Peak in Colorado. In 2006, the Pikes Peak Marathon was the host, and in 2010, the Pikes Peak Ascent was the host. It was announced in January 2013 that the Pikes Peak Ascent will again host in 2014.

Team competition began in 2009. Teams are comprised of up to five men and five women, with the top three finishers’ times from each country added together for scoring. All of the team members must be members of their respective athletic federations. In the case of Team USA, this entity is USA Track & Field.

US men's team at the 2012 event.

Slated to compete for Team USA are Jason Bryant, 40, Elkin, NC, Josh Ferenc, 30, Keene, NH, Zac Freudenburg, 35, St. Louis, MO (presently living in The Netherlands), David James, 35, Flagstaff, AZ, and Gabriel Rodriguez, 35, Baltimore, MD, on the men’s side. For the women, Alison Bryant, 34, Elkin, NC, Stevie Kremer, 29, Crested Butte, CO (presently living in Italy), Amber Reece-Young, 34, Asheville, NC, Sesalie Smathers, 43, Asheville, NC, and Michele Yates, 31, Littleton, CO.

Located in the western portion of Poland, Szalarska in the valley of the Kamienna River. It is surrounded by mountains with the highest point, 1362-meter high Mt. Szrenica.  The race course will be approximately 44 kilometers with 2150 meters of climbing and 1380 feet of descending. The route follows along the Karkonosze Mountain ridge.

Team USA athletes are looking forward to the event. Michele Yates said, “It is a life long dream to visit Poland and now that I have an opportunity to represent my country at something I love, somewhere I have always wanted to go...I truly feel on top of the world!”

US women at the 2012 event.

Teammate Amber Reece-Young replied, “We have a strong team and I am looking forward to the World Long Distance Challenge. I'm super excited and ready to push my limits. It is such a blessing to have this opportunity and I am so grateful."

Gabriel Rodriquez said, “I am very excited and honored to be a part of the 2013 Long Distance Mountain Team for Poland. We have a great mix of experience and youth. Obviously, this past weekend I had the pleasure of battling with LD Mountain Teammate, Josh Ferenc, at Mount Washington (we placed 6th and 7th, respectively in tough conditions), so I know we are fit and ready to climb and take on any course and competition. We will have great leadership once again with Jason Bryant, and Zac is our most seasoned ‘Euro.’”

Last year’s U.S. teams were on the podium, with the women’s team winning gold, and the men’s team winning silver. Results for the 2013 event will be posted at this link.  In advance, visit the organizer’s Facebook page at this link.

Story by Nancy Hobbs.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Seven Sisters Trail Race Rocks to a New Beat

Story By Laura Clark

With early morning temperatures stuck at a 32 degrees tights-only slot a bare week before 7 Sisters Trail Race, it is no wonder that the instant appearance of spring delivered an unprecedented hoard of last minute runners. Not to mention the record number of fully committed pre-registrants.

When Jeff, Jen Ferriss and I left Saratoga Springs in the unspeakably early morning, the tulips were just asserting themselves, the lilacs were invisible and the asparagus was still ostriching in the sand. When we returned, we had red and purple tulips, lilac buds and five stalks of asparagus for supper! It was that kind of a miracle day.

Fortunately, Race Director Fred Pilon, with the urging of the DCR, switched the launching pad from the Notch Visitors Center to Amherst private parking, which not only accommodated all the vehicles needed to transport 398 starters, but eliminated the cat and mouse game crossing Route 116. I am unclear if this year’s route was a bit longer or shorter since the preliminary start Apparently Google satellite had the upper hand all along. Listed for years on the WMAC Grand Tree as 12 miles, even as recently as the week before, once we crossed the finish line, the same old 12 mile course had miraculously morphed to 13. Now I know for sure I am not at all growing older and slower, it’s just that our customary routes, like runner’s flat feet, are being stretched into submission.

Firmly positioned in the porta potty line and likely to stay there for a long time, Jen and I watched in amazement as an endless line of cars waited in line to enter the parking gates. Amazingly, their line was longer than ours! When our new best friend ahead of us finally made it to the front, his wife and daughter set up the perfect photo-op by stretching an orange marking tape in front of the potty so he could break it on his way to his first place finish.

So, what is it like to tackle a single track two-way rocky, rooty lane punctuated by hand-overhand rock climbs and breathtaking views of Connecticut River’s Pioneer Valley? Rather like incoming. From my vantage at the back of the pack, it was a fun meet-and-greet opportunity, but for those in the thick of the action, it may have been different. In his blog, Scott Livingston speculates that the acknowledged rugged nature of this event has caused numbers to skyrocket. And with the exclusivity of the similarly strenuous Escarpment Trail Race, this is a valid point. Still, in spite of the difficulty, I have always felt this to be an accessible low-key affair, especially suited to a spring wakeup call. At my slower pace I have been passed more than once by hikers, and although embarrassing, I still felt joy that we were all enjoying nature on an equal footing. In truth, an expert hiker will not win the race, but mid-pack is not an impractical goal. For truth be told, the Sisters reduce most of us to extended periods of walking.

I have often thought that a fine entrepreneurial enterprise for a kid with Kool-Aid stand experience would be to set up an energy stand, charging premium prices to desperate adventurers. Even folks who should know better seem to be out of practice this early in the season. My trail friend Steve, who has done multiple Ironmans and hundred milers and really should have known better, laid out his stuff but forgot to transfer it to his car. Luckily, I had enough to spare. Along the trail, close to sweep position, my group encountered several younger, faster-looking individuals stuck on the side, pondering life in general and this race in particular. Most had stuff with them, but not the salty snacks they needed in this first warm day of spring.

My goal for this race was twofold: to beat last year’s time and not to appear to be on death’s door on the rock climb immediately following the turnaround. There were so many of us lined up on the trail, that just as in a cast of thousands road race, those toward the back could not see those in the front or even hear the signal to start. So I determined to set my watch to imaginary chip time to gain those few extra minutes that might make a difference in achieving my goal. Unfortunately, I never did figure out where the preliminary start intersected with the real start, so I never set my watch. But with a fifteen minute margin of victory it didn’t much matter.

I managed to remain chipper, even when leading my small group astray. I always get disoriented on the return to the Summit House and it doesn’t seem to matter if it is the old route or the new route. This time my companions and I took the scenic tour of the old route and discovered why we don’t go that way anymore. And at the very end, I kept searching for the turnoff to Military Road, not realizing that while we had a new preliminary lineup start, we had the old finish. I wonder how many others got confused.

I also wonder how many noticed the delightful clumps of violets on the side of the trail. Some were so huge that at first glance they reminded me of the Bull Run’s famous bluebells. And how many spotted the red columbine nestled among the basalt outcroppings of the final climb? I smiled when I saw them, for they reminded me of my Dad, who taught me that if you were in need of refreshment and broke the flowers just so, you could suck delicious nectar. Lucky for the columbine, none of the trail casualties were privy to that bit of wood lore.

I always skip the first few Grand Tree events, mostly because they require a long drive and I am still recovering from snowshoeing and its every weekend racing format. For me, the Sisters are the true harbinger of the season to come. This year, Fred did a superb job, tweaking accommodations, yet still leaving the heart and spirit of the race intact.

This article originally appeared in ATRA's Trail Times Newsletter - Volume 18, No. 64 - summer 2013