Thursday, February 20, 2014

Race Report: Cold Feat 10K

2014 is the Year of the Trail. I've signed up for several trail races, which will be my racing focus. (I will toss in a few road races for good measure.)

My first trail race of the year was the Cold Feat 10K Trail Race in the Staten Island Greenbelt on Saturday, February 15. It's part of a series of races held in the Greenbelt and organized by race director Matt LeBow of King of the Mountain Events. The start/finish are at La Tourette Golf Course.

Back in November 2013, I ran one of LeBow's other races, the Fall Flat 5K, and really enjoyed it so I decided to sign up for a few more in the series. LeBow is a bundle of enthusiasm at the races. He clearly enjoys what he does. The two races I have run have been small, fun, well-organized, and welcoming. (Note: the labeled distances of the races seem to be more like "winks" than actual precisely measured distances.)

With all the snow that has slammed the area in recent weeks, including a storm just 2 days before the race, I knew the trails would be a huge challenge -- and they were.

Here's the race video. (I shot this using a Fuji FinePix XP60 mounted on an iPole Mini.)

Yeah, it was hard. The 6-mile-ish lollipop course took us on a beautifully scenic jaunt through the woods along some pretty narrow singletrack (made even narrower from the snow). And don't let anyone tell you New York City is flat. The course had some rolling ups and downs; nothing too hard but coupled with more than a foot of snow... I noticed railroad-style ties under the snow on one of the hills. I ran over a few small wooden planks and remember at least one small bridge. A small stream alongside part of the trail was frozen in parts and was probably the source of a few easy muddy wet crossings.

I wore Montrail Fairhaven OutDry trail shoes with YakTrax. "OutDry" is a brand of waterproofing technology, analogous to GoreTex. I must say I think the shoes held up pretty well given how deep some of the snow was. Indeed, my socks did get somewhat wet -- but I blame that on snow getting inside the shoes from my ankle area when I had to step off the singletrack a few times to let runners pass.

Verdict on the YakTrax? Not sure. I know they do a great job on icy or hard-packed snow paths, but the snow on the trail was softer so I found my feet simply pushing around in the snow, and I don't think the metal coils of the YakTrax matter much in that scenario. So I may have been better off without the added weight.

Back to the race. It had one water stop at about 3.5 miles, which was fine for a cold weather race. I always carry fluid on me (Nuun), so that was not a problem for me. The table had water and snacks, including brownie bits (!) and energy bars. The volunteers, who were standing in the cold and snow for two hours, were supportive and cheerful. That was so cool, and I really appreciated it.

Photo via King of the Mountain Events

Anyway, the final few miles were tough because I was running out of steam from pushing through the snow. I will work hard to be better trained for the next race, that's for sure. For much of the race, I could see a runner ahead of me... a tall guy who seemed to be keeping a steady pace. I closed in on him, and he told me to pass him. I probably could have summoned some energy to overtake him, but I decided that he had earned the right to finish ahead of me. I had struggled to keep up, so I decided to be at peace with being last.

Soon I cleared the woods and saw the parking lot and golf house ahead, and I knew I was almost there. Yes, I finished last, with LeBow high-fiving me as I crossed the timing mat. (The race is indeed chip-timed.)

My Garmin recorded 5.62 miles, although LeBow said it was more like 6. Given the clouds and trees, I imagine he's right and my Garmin was off.

All in all, an amazing morning on the snowy trails. I would definitely love to run this race again. I imagine that it'd also be really cool to run it one year when snow isn't a factor. Now that I have run two races in the Greenbelt, I am really interested in running there much more -- both for some races and for some solo training/exploration runs. Indeed, the Greenbelt will be my go-to location for my planned "Five-Borough Staged Ultra" when the time comes... (More on that and the Greenbelt in future posts.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 5 | Stage 4: The Gorge

July 10, 2013
Location: Neversink Unique Area, Sullivan County, N.Y.
Trails: High Falls Trail (Blue Trail East), first and third Yellow Trails, very briefly Mullet Loop Trail (Red)
Elevation: ~935-1,600 feet
Surface: Crushed stone, rock, and dirt hiking trail
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 6
Special equipment: Black Diamond trekking poles
Wildlife spotted: Chipmunks, frogs, spiders, red eft
Companion: Erin

View of Mullet Brook under a very shaky wooden bridge.
Of all the stages I planned, this one made me most nervous. Why? Because this area and its trails are quite rugged and remote, I had no real trail description to go by, and only a black-and-white printout of a map.

Anyway, the 4,881-acre Neversink Unique Area is a DEC-administered public trail area providing access to the breathtaking Neversink Gorge and River. The river, which feeds the Delaware River at Port Jervis, is popular for fly fishing, although we didn't see any anglers here. It's located in southeastern Sullivan County. Although the terrain is different and lower in elevation than the cliffs and trails of Minnewaska State Park, the gorge is technically part of the Shawangunk Ridge.

We set off from the small parking area at the end of Katrina Falls Road (Rock Hill exit off SR-17) and immediately began descending. I remarked that we'd have quite an uphill walk on the way back, to which Erin smartly replied: "Well, it's a gorge." We immediately felt the presence of mosquitoes and other bugs. Thankfully, we'd sprayed a lot and brought the pump with us. However, soon I realized I had some bites on my upper arms even though I was covered. Here's why: I wore an Under Armour Heat Gear top with three-quarter length sleeves and the bugs bit me through the material, which is skin-tight. Lesson learned for both of us: the mosquitoes bit Erin's legs right through her running tights.

The trail is quite rugged. Certainly walkable, but running was tougher. A trail runner with technical trail expertise would be fine, but for us it was a tougher sell. We did run a few of the smoother parts, but found ourselves hiking a lot. Again, lesson learned: trail running on very technical hiking trails and singletrack is not easy.

Denton Falls
We passed under and over a few fallen trees and crossed a very shaky wooden bridge over Mullet Brook. After the bridge bounced noticeably as we crossed it, Erin said: "Maybe on the way back we should cross one at a time!" Agreed. Not far past the bridge, we saw the third of three Yellow Trails, which the map indicated lead down to the river. We decided to give it a shot and descended down the steep trail, walking gingerly over mossy and loose rocks. We soon found ourselves emerging from the woods to the edge of the river.


Erin poses at Denton Falls.
My family has been traveling to Sullivan County, N.Y., and Wayne County, Pa., since the late 1970s. We have driven over the Neversink River via an SR-17 causeway hundreds of times, but we never really knew what the Neversink River looks like. (You can't really see the river from the highway.) It's no Mississippi, of course, but in this area it rivals the similarly scenic Upper Delaware River. We admired the falls (Denton Falls, I believe) for a few minutes, took some photos, swigged some water, and then braced for the climb up the side of the gorge back to the Blue Trail.

I won't lie: this was hard for me, so I went slowly and stopped a few times to calm my breath and heart rate. We were in no rush and the last thing I wanted was to overdo it or slip and fall with no rangers or even other hikers in sight. (At this point we hadn't seen anyone.) The trekking poles really helped, and I was really glad that I had purchased them months earlier.

Once back on the Blue Trail we continued south because we needed more mileage (at this point we'd done about 1.75 miles including the spur down to the river). The trail rose and then fell again, narrowing somewhat forcing us to dodge some greenery (tick alert!). Then we came upon a very wet section where the trail crosses a small stream. We could have kept going, but both of us got wet and muddy and swarmed by bugs, so we decided to turn back.

On the return, we turned east and briefly walked up the Red Trail (a.k.a. Mullet Loop Trail) just to see what it was like. It seemed to be narrow, overgrown, and rugged, so we headed back to the Blue Trail.

We recrossed the bouncy bridge (one at a time), retraced our steps, and approached that final incline when we finally encountered other people (two women and a man) coming the other way. We exchanged pleasantries at the crossing of Wolf Brook and then headed down the first Yellow Trail.

Within a few minutes, the man we had met at the stream crossing was suddenly behind us, asking us where the trail led. I guess I'm a suspicious city boy because the man made me nervous. We let him pass and turned around to get back to the car. Yes, I glanced back a few times. Then... there he was. As he closed on us, my nervous imagination ran rampant. But up ahead we saw the two ladies (one was carrying a purse, Erin pointed out). So we realized they were obviously neither hardcore hikers nor murderers and were simply taking a quick stroll. The man caught up and told us they were from Wyoming and were curious about the trails. He said we should have kept going down that first Yellow Trail because just a few hundred feet away was the river. Phew.


Final notes:
  • Trekking poles are kind of awesome. I got mine on sale at REI.
  • Bugs like tight clothes and will bite you right through them.
  • The parking area at the end of Katrina Falls Road is very small, so it's possible that on a busy weekend it could fill up. But I doubt it.
  • The flat stone area next to the river at the bottom of the third Yellow Trail is a good place to take a snack break, even though we didn't. You could probably fish from there.
  • This DEC property really seems desolate, so be prepared in case of emergency and consider going with a partner. We did not seem to have a reliable wireless signal.
  • We saw signs saying that ATVs are allowed on some trails by permit to provide access to people with disabilities. 
  • The trails are very shaded because of the thick forest cover.
  • Be prepared to do at least some walking/hiking unless you're really comfortable on technical trails and steep inclines.
Erin checks on me as we climb the Yellow Trail back to the Blue Trail.
Denton Falls
Mullet Brook flows into the river.
The river as seen from the third Yellow Trail.
Purdy! I think it's mountain laurel.
An intersection of the Blue and Red Trails.
Fallen tree across the trail.
Connect with Arun on Google+

Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 4: Rest

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Location: Sullivan County, N.Y.

I designed this trip to have one full day of rest, and boy were we glad to be able to sleep in and relax a bit. After Monday's Stage 3 in Delaware County, we drove south to my family's home in Callicoon.

Then on Tuesday, we drove out to Bethel and visited the Museum at Bethel Woods, which tells the story of how music, politics, and culture of the 1960s culminated in the Woodstock music festival in 1969. (Yes, Woodstock took place in Bethel, not Woodstock. Those of us with ties to Sullivan County are pretty proud of that, thankyouverymuch.) The museum is quite simply a delight. I'd been there two years ago with my flower child mom and I was eager to show it to Erin, who also loved it. Right now, the museum has a temporary exhibit called "On Assignment: Woodstock," which showcases photos by Rolling Stone's Baron Wolman. It's really worth seeing.

Anyway, after enjoying our museum and cold-brewed iced coffee day, we chowed down on Italian food at the newly expanded Peppino's in Callicoon, tasted a new brew at the Callicoon Brewing Company, and made final preps for Stage 4, a trek to the secluded Neversink River...

Baron Wolman's photos from Woodstock.

The Woodstock Memorial.
Erin posing by the groovy Woodstock bus at Bethel Woods.

Callicoon Brewing Company inside the old firehouse.

Connect with Arun on Google+

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 3 | Stage 3: Northern Catskills

Monday, July 8, 2013
Location: Delaware County, N.Y.
Trails: Catskill Scenic Trail (Stamford to South Kortright) 
Elevation: ~1,785-1,800 feet
Surface: Crushed stone, grass, and dirt rail-trail (with some paved road crossings)
Shoes: Patagonia Fore Runner
Wildlife and other animals spotted: Chipmunks, snails, rabbits, Rottweilers, cows, horses
Companion: Erin (first mile), then solo

A few years ago, I was learning about rail-trails when I read about the Catskill Scenic Trail (CST), a public path along the right-of-way of the Delaware & Ulster Railroad, which once served a vital role in transportation to upstate New York. The railroad still exists as a seasonal tourist ride along part of the old route, but a 26-mile portion between Roxbury and Bloomville was converted into the public path open to cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians, and cross-county skiers.

My starting point in Stamford.
Anyway, I read a bit about the trail, put it in the back of my mind as "something to check out one day," and promptly forgot about it. Then when I was doing research for this staged ultra trail run, I looked into the CST again and decided it could be a perfect setting for one of my stages. Here is why: the surface of well-packed dirt, grass, and crushed stone is very runnable, the path is basically flat, and the scenery is awesome. The route I chose was from Stamford (at the old train station now serving as the information center and HQ of the trail's owner, the Catskill Revitalization Corp.) to South Kortright. (That route is actually a very slight downhill.)

I set off from Stamford with Erin, who walked and ran with me for a mile before turning around and heading back to the car. The plan was for her to drive down to Hobart and wait for me. After the mixed-bag of a stage we'd had on Sunday, I wasn't sure how I'd feel after a few miles and was prepared to end the stage at Hobart and call it a day.

West Branch Delaware River; hard to believe this dinky thing
turns into that majestic river that flows past Philly.

I crossed a few wooden bridges over streams and the West Branch Delaware River (the headwaters are near Stamford), passed some farms (said hi to a few cows and horses), and skirted some private homes (I was hoping homeowners prefer runners and cyclists passing veryclose to their houses rather than a noisy railroad and wouldn't give me any grief). I paused a few times to enjoy (and snap pics) of the countryside views of hills, river, streams, animals, trees, old D&U railroad ties on the trail's edges, corn stalks, cemetery headstones, tractor crossings, and more.

One place along the trail, I passed within a few feet of a gazebo and at another I could have high-fived a person in a hammock (luckily it was empty). The feeling of hiking or running so close to private land is a bit eerie. Indeed, one stretch of the trail just past one of several crossings of CR-18 cuts through the front lawn of a farm; here the trail surface is grass and is indistinguishable from the private farmland. Indeed, had I not just passed the octagonal blue, yellow, and white CST sign assuring me I was going the right way, I might have thought I was lost and trespassing.

Many parts of the trail are shaded.
By the way, I did meet up with Erin in Hobart. I was feeling really good so I decided to keep going to South Kortright. I was having so much fun and wanted (and needed) the mileage after having completed only 3.4 miles the day before. I got a cup of coffee from the Coffee Pot luncheonette on Main Street, put on some more bug spray and sunscreen, soaked in the beautiful view of the dam and the river, took a few pictures, made arrangements with E for a pickup point, and then got back on the trail.

Much of the trail is shaded under a canopy of trees, but many portions of the route are in the open. Luckily, the morning was mostly overcast and breezy, so sun and heat were not a problem. I passed two cyclists, another runner, and a couple of walkers between Stamford and Hobart, but encountered not a soul on the trail itself between Hobart and South Kortright. That portion of the trail is very quiet and peaceful. I'd guess (it's only a guess) that this segment is not as well-traveled.

After close to 8 miles, I concluded my stage at another spot where the trail crosses CR-18. Erin picked me up and we drove back to Hobart for lunch and bookstore browsing. (The hamlet boasts five -- yes FIVE -- bookshops on Main Street.) After the frustrations of the prior day's stage, being able to finish so many miles while also feeling strong was very welcome.


Final notes:
  • I really liked the route I chose. I have read some good reviews of the route going the other way: from Stamford to Grand Gorge. However, some users report that portions of the trail near and past Grand Gorge are a bit more rugged and still have the old railroad ties embedded in the ground.
  • Be prepared for dogs. I past a few that were inside enclosed pens, but they certainly made me notice their presence. Near South Kortright, a barking dog charged me but then slowed down and stopped. For a few seconds I was a bit nervous.
  • Be respectful of private landowners. Don't litter, for frak's sake and stay on the trail. You should have no reason to leave the trail and cross private land unless it's an emergency.
  • Be careful at the many road crossings. The roads are quiet enough that crossing is no biggie, but just keep in mind that although this is a countryside run/hike, it's not like using trails on parkland.
  • Hobart is a great place to take a break or even finish your run/hike.
  • I found the trail to be well-maintained and not overgrown. In fact, the grassy areas around the several rest benches was freshly cut.
  • Bugs were not a major problem like in some places I have hiked, but you are running along wet areas so I did get bothered a bit. Reapplying bug repellent will be necessary on longer runs.

Connect with Arun on Google+

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Day 2 | Stage 2: Catskill Park

Sunday, July 7, 2013
Location: Elm Ridge Wild Forest, Catskill Park, Greene County, N.Y.
Elevation: ~1,750-2,000 feet
Trails: Red Trails (1, 2, 3, 5)
Surface: Dirt and rock technical singletrack
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 6
Wildlife spotted: Chipmunks, toads, slug, minnows
Companions: Erin, Justin, Natasha

Day 2 was a mixed bag. (More on this in a second.)

After celebrating my birthday early the night before with our friends Justin and Natasha at their home in Cairo, N.Y., they joined us for this stage on the edge of Catskill Park, a 700,000-acre swath of protected public and private land across parts of four counties.

For this stage, I chose Elm Ridge Wild Forest, state land just off CR-23 between East Windham and Booksburg managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Trudging along a Red Trail in Elm Ridge WF.
This hiking area also has the trail head for the famous Escarpment Trail, but that is too rugged for our purposes. Instead, we hit the multiuse Red Trails, which are a relatively recent addition to the forest. These are basically mountain biking singletrack -- challenging to run but very fun. The trails (1-6) are a network of intersecting loops. Each intersection (they are labeled "junction") a map indicates your location so you can see where each fork leads. You can design a looped run or hike of varying length depending on where you chose to loop back to the trail head.

After signing in at the register, we all agreed on the general route and then we took off. J&N are much faster than us, so we let them go ahead. So here's why this run became a mixed bag: within a few minutes we felt the fatigue from Stage 1. We both felt a bit sluggish, and the technical nature of the trail made things even harder. After about a mile of mostly hiking, we were warmed up enough to run some, but neither of us felt strong. I'd say I felt a bit blah, even though the heat wasn't a problem because the trails are so well-shaded.

But after taking the widest, longest loop possible and even tacking on another small "inner" loop, we still only had only covered just more than 3 miles as we approached the register. We had intended to run 4 to 5 miles.

So we had a choice: Either loop back again for another 2 miles or head back to the trail head parking. By the way, this entire time we hadn't even seen Justin and Natasha because they were so speedy. (We did see a couple of mountain bikers at a distance.) Anyway, we decided 3+ miles was the day's realistic achievement, so we signed out and headed back to Route 23, where we found J+N waiting for us. They held up an extension cord and let me "break" it like a finish tape. Even though I wasn't exactly proud of my run, that wonderful gesture made this stage worth it.

P.S.: Just before emerging from the woods, I realized I had lost my sunglasses! Because of the shade, I had taken them off and tucked them into my visor. I must have lost them when I absentmindedly took off the visor to wipe my head. I briefly retraced my steps but didn't find them. This is the second pair of shades I have lost this year while trail running. Grrr.


Final notes:
  • The Red Trails in Elm Ridge are a good place for beginner or intermediate trail runners to get in a few miles of training on somewhat technical trails. But because even the longest loop isn't even 3 miles, be prepared for lots of criss-crossing and re-looping the trails for longer runs. The good thing about that is that you are never very far from your car or CR-23 in case you get tired or sick and need to get the frak out of the forest in a hurry.
  • You will probably encounter mountain bikers and other hikers or runners, but even on a holiday weekend the trail area did not seem that busy.
  • If you like the scenery of a shaded, quiet forest then this is a good place to run or hike. But don't expect any views of the mountains or valleys.
  • More seasoned runners and hikers who want a tougher challenge and scenic views can opt for the Escarpment Trail (blue), a very rugged, rocky and steep trail goes all the way to the North-South Lake camping and trail area. The trail, which summits Windham High Peak and Blackhead Mountain, also connects to several other rugged and steep trails that summit other Catskill peaks. The Escarpment Trail is the route of the famously grueling Escarpment Trail Run, an annual 30K race that humbles some of the best trail runners around.

More views of the multiuse trails.
Connect with Arun on Google+

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 1 | Stage 1: The Gunks

Saturday, July 6, 2013
Location: Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Ulster County, N.Y.
Trails: Sunset Carriage Road, Awosting Falls CR, Lower Awosting CR, Lake Awosting CR, Upper Awosting CR, Lake Minnewaska CR
Elevation: ~1,420-1,960 feet
Surface: Crushed stone carriage roads
Shoes: Patagonia Fore Runner
Wildlife spotted: Deer, cardinal, dragonflies, butterflies, water snake, hawk (maybe)
Companion: Erin

Day 1 unfolded pretty much as planned. We left the city at about 7am and pulled into the park just after 9am along with a line of cars. Good thing we got there just as the park opened because the main lot up by Lake Minnewaska filled up fast. 

We geared up, soaked in the view of Lake Minnewaska (one of several amazing sky lakes in the Shawangunk Ridge), and hit the first of many carriage roads. The crushed stone surface is pretty easy to run on. Some parts are a bit smoother and some rockier.

The sign for Lake Minnewaska. Duh.
Roads damaged in Irene appear to have been restored. The part of Awosting Falls CR leading from the falls to Mohonk Preserve was still chewed up when I was here in December but now appears repaired, although more damage may lie further down the path. The falls are just gorgeous. E noted that the rocks under the falls were rust-colored -- some kind of mineral in the water? (Will try to look into this.) We paused for a minute, took some photos, and headed back up the path to make our way to Lake Awosting. 

The park's website states that the Lower Awosting CR is closed because the bridge over Fly Brook is out, but that is not true; the bridge must have been rebuilt and the road is intact at the stream. The work might be recent because we saw construction equipment in the area and the gravel looks very "fresh."

Just past the bridge, we hit a sharp incline. Let's just say we're not exactly mountain runners. We walked up the hill. Slowly. With many breaks. In fact, we walked a lot during this stage in part because we didn't want to wear ourselves out and in part because of the heat. Speaking of: We were actually relieved that once we were in the shade on the carriage roads the heat wasn't so bad. In fact, we even felt a decent breeze every now and then, especially when we took a break and sat on a rock overlooking Lake Awosting.

Pointing to our destination.
After the break, we headed back along the Upper Awosting CR, which was 3-ish miles of a mostly gentle downgrade. Along the way, we passed several cyclists, hikers, and other park-users enjoying the day. Most of them were friendly and offered a "Hello" or a "Good morning" and even an "Enjoy the rest of your day"... while a few passersby had no interest in interacting.

Finally, after a solid but not over-exerted effort we made in back to Lake Minnewaska, by the swimming area. We doffed our shoes and socks and cooled off our feet and legs in the water. The "beach" area was packed with families. One kid caught a small water snake, showed it to his family, then flung it back into the water, which seemed pretty mean. Then he scooped it back out of the water -- and the snake bit him.

After our short break, we climbed the short hill back up to the parking lot at the top of the lake and sought refreshment: lime-flavored ice pops, water, and fresh iced tea from a food truck.


Final notes:
  • Running and walking along the carriage road of Minnewaska Park (and also neighboring Mohonk Preserve), is a true pleasure. It's definitely an easier kind of trail running, so a good choice for our first stage of this journey. We did pass several trail heads of rugged hiking trails (Blueberry Run Trail and Rainbow Falls Trail), which look worth trying one day. But the carriage roads are perfect for either and easy stroll or long runs (even for marathon training). 
  • On weekends, get to the park early, preferably at opening time (9am) to get a spot at the parking lot by the lake if you plan to base your activities there or prefer to hit those trails. The Lower Awosting parking lot is the closer one to Awosting Falls and Lower Awosting CR. 
  • The lakes are breathtakingly beautiful. You can walk or run all the way around Lake Minnewaska (Lake Minnewaska CR), which takes you high above the lake, offering amazing views from the overlooking cliffs, and then dips all the way down to water level. Swimming is allowed only at the designated area that has a lifeguard. This area seems to be very loud and crowded on weekends in the summer because it's close to the parking lot. If you prefer to swim in a quieter setting and have the stamina to bike or walk the distance, Lake Awosting's swimming area is more than 3 miles from the parking lot.
Lake Minnewaska

As Erin says, "Arun likes a map."
Rocks and roots of the Gunks.
Erin frees her feet for a bath in the lake.
Connect with Arun on Google+

Friday, July 5, 2013

Staged Ultra: Trails

After spending many a late night researching trails in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Shawangunks, and Delaware Valley, I settled on these trails:

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Ulster County
Lower Awosting Carriageway/Upper Awosting Carriageway

Elm Ridge Wild Forest, Greene County
Red Trail/Elm Ridge Trail

Catskill Scenic Trail, Delaware County
Stamford to South Kortright

Neversink Unique Area, Sullivan County
Blue Trail East

Bear Mountain State Park, Orange and Rockland Counties
1777E/Doodletown Bridle Path Loop

The exact routes and distances that we do may change, but this is our starting point. By "our" I am referring to me and my life partner, Erin. She is a runner, too. Back in March, my heart swelled when she bought Montrail trail-running shoes at the Columbia outlet store instead of getting some fancy fashion-y shoes.

She and I are signed up for the ING NYC Marathon this year (?!?) so we have just started the 20-week training plan. So this staged ultra, which is "in honor" of my impending 40th birthday, is a kind of interruption to that training, but it's also meant to be a vacation.