All posts by Eldon

Scouting the Gap Trestles Marathon Course

Two Saturdays ago my family and I paid a visit to the location of the Gap Trestles Marathon to scout out the course.  The race starts and ends at the Meyersdale Area Historical Society, an old train station that has been made into a museum.  If you like to walk, run or bike; or if you are a railroad enthusiast, it is definitely worth a visit!  Below are some photos and videos I took while I was there.

Here are some video clips of the course that I recorded during my bike ride:

Altra Instinct 3.0 vs One 2.5

When I first considered purchasing a pair of Altra running shoes, I was pretty confused over all of the different styles and versions available.  After some head scratching, I eventually purchased a pair of Instinct 3.0s, and a few months later, added a pair of One 2.5s.  I still do not have a complete knowledge of the entire Altra product line, but now that I have a couple hundred miles in each of these shoes, it is time to share what I know so far.

You can think of this as two reviews in one. I will take look at what both shoes have in common, what differences they have, and then share my final thoughts.

Commonalities

Zero heal-to-toe drop

Altra Instinct 3.0

There are two things that all Altra shoes have in common.  First, they no heel-to-toe drop.  Altra calls this common feature “zero-drop”.  The vast majority of shoes on the market have a heel that is quit a bit higher than the forefoot, or toe, area.  I don’t know all the reasons why shoes are made this way.  There has been a consensus for a long time amount health professionals that high-heeled shoes typically worn by women aren’t good for you.  Yet almost every shoe on the planet has a heel at least a little higher than the two. Altra’s philosophy is that the foot works best when it is in it’s natural position, which is flat.  For that reason, all of Altra’s shoe are “zero-drop”.

Wide toe box

The second feature in common amount all Altra shoes is what they call the “foot-shape toe box”.  Basically, its a wide, roomy space at the front of your foot so your toes don’t get squeezed.   It gives the shoes a boxy look that some people criticize as being kind of ugly. The shoes aren’t sleek and pointed.  They are basically shaped like feet, which is a good thing even if it means they are not pretty.

Neutral

The other thing the Instinct and the One have in common is that they are both neutral shoes.  They have cushioning, but arch support is fairly minimal, which is right for most runners out there.

Differences

Cushioning

Altra One 2.5

Altra has several cushioning levels: light, moderate, high and max. The Instinct has moderate cushioning, and the One has light cushioning.  The difference is enough that you notice it, but my legs and feet typically don’t feel any different after running with these shoes.  I’ve run a half marathon in the Ones and wouldn’t be afraid to run a full marathon in them.

Weight

The first things you’ll notice about the Ones is that they are very light.  They weigh in at 6.6 ounces, where the Instincts come in at 8.1 ounces.  The fabric on the top of Ones is also very thin – there is no insulation whatsoever, in case that matters to you.

Other differences

The One has a wider toe box than the Instinct.  My Instincts felt roomy until I starting use the Ones.  Now the Instincts feel a bit cramp.  The One is also a more flexible shoe than Instinct, giving you a better feel for the ground.  I like that feeling on the road, but if I’m on a trail where there might be some large pebbles, I’d rather be running in Instincts.  Of course, for trail running, neither of these shoes are the best choice because neither have a large amount of tread.  One of Altra’s Trail running shoes would be a better choice for that.

The One has one design flaw: the grooves in the sole pick up pebbles. This happens in almost every run I do with them.  This really doesn’t cause any issues at all when I’m running.  But I always be careful when I’m finished to make sure there are not stuck pebbles before I go indoors.  I don’t like to leave pebbles laying around in the house or scratch the floor.

Final Thoughts

I like both pairs of shoes, but if I had to chose one or the other, I would pick the Ones.  They are the most comfortable shoe I’ve every put my foot into.  They are my favorite shoe for road running and my favorite for everyday use and walking.  But I like to change things up so I don’t run in the same shoe every day.  I still wear my Instincts from time to time, especially if my feet are feeling a bit sore from the previous one.

Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll be getting Altra’s zero drop, wide toe box goodness; both of which I find it very uncomfortable to do without.

 

 

Backpacking in the Otter Creek Wilderness Area

The boys and I have been wanting to try backpacking for the last year or two, but we have been slow in getting it done.  The main reason for that was the cost of all of the necessary equipment. We had plenty of camping gear, but none of it was small and light enough for backpacking. But this year Landry’s school teacher invited all of the boys in the class and their fathers on a three day, two night backpacking trip.  So that was the motivation I needed to spend the money and get geared up.  Sometime in a future post I’ll give you a run-down of all the equipment I purchased.

A test run

Being new to backpacking, I decided to take a short one-night backpacking trip just to test my equipment in preparation for the longer trip.  I took all three of my sons on a 1.5 mile trip into the state forest near our house and we camped for one night.  My friend and his son also went along.

Everything went well, except that our 2-3 man tent was very cramped with myself and my three boys.  But that was to be expected.  Only Landry and I were going on the longer trip, so we knew tent space wouldn’t be a problem.

Day 1

About a week after our test backpacking trip, we arrived at the parking lot for Otter Creek Wilderness Area to start our three-day, two-night adventure.   The trail started by crossing Otter creek on a suspended bridge.  Then it was a rugged hike for a short distance until we got to what appeared to be an old railroad bed running along Otter creek.  The trail was relatively flat, but muddy in places and there were a few small streams to cross that flowed into Otter Creek.  When we reached the first creek crossing, I removed my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes and wore my Crocs for the remainder of the day.  They were not the most comfortable shoes to walk in, but thankfully we had only planned to go 3.2 miles on the first day.

Our campsite was a flat, dry area on the banks of Otter Creek.  We reached it around lunchtime, so we had plenty of time to hang out and explore.

As far as scenery goes, Otter Creek was the highlight of the trip. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, except perhaps in some Montana trout fishing videos.  It was one waterfall or white-water area after another, with water crashing over huge boulders.  Some deep pools in-between looked like perfect places to hold trout. Several of our group who were under 16 (no fishing licenses needed) fished for a time, but we didn’t have any success.

Day 2

We packed up camp after breakfast and resumed our trek along Otter Creek.  The trail was a slight uphill grade and followed Otter Creek for about 6 miles.  There were several large waterfalls along the way. We forded the creek a total of four times.  One crossing was a little treacherous, and I wouldn’t have wanted the water to be any higher.

Somewhere around mile nine the trail left Otter Creek and headed up the mountain.  I was glad to finally be able to put on some dry socks and shoes and be able to keep them dry for a while.

The trail flattened out when we reached the top of the mountain, and we had an easy hike through the hemlocks to our campsite beside a spring at mile 12.

We hung-out for a couple of hours and had a good supper, and then escaped to our tents at dusk just in time to escape the rain that continued into the night.

Day 3

The rain stopped sometime during the night, and day three was another great day to hike.  It started with several miles of hiking a slight downgrade on the top of the mountain, so I assumed it would be reasonably dry in spite of the rain.  I was proven wrong when we slogged through mud again and again.  The thick rhododendron was nearly overgrowing the path and was wet from the rain.  Add in a few rocks and roots to trip over, and it made for some treacherous hiking.  It was especially difficult for the two younger boys.  For them much of the rhododendron was head level, making it difficult to watch for obstacles.  Landry fell at least five times, but thankfully didn’t have any injuries.  I was relieved when the trail opened up and then headed sharply downhill.

At around mile 16, we rejoined the trail along Otter Creek that we had started on, completing a loop.  From there we retraced our steps about four more miles to get back to the vehicle by early afternoon.

Lessons learned

Here are a few things we learned on our first multi-day backpacking trip

  • Blue jeans get really heavy when they are wet.
    For this trip I wore lightweight hiking pants that I was very happy with. Landry, on the other hand, wore blue jeans. Everything was OK until we crossed the creek a few times and he got wet up to his waist. At that point the denim got heavy and began to chaff his legs. Thankfully, we had an extra pair of pants for him. Next time, denim clothes will be left at home.
  • Paracord and carabiners are very handy for all sorts of things.
    Take some of both along when you go backpacking.
  • Take extra socks.
    An couple extra pairs of socks take up very little space and you will be glad for them if the trail is wet and muddy.
  • Bacon & Cheddar Cheez-it crackers are a very tasty trail snack

All-in-all, we had a great time.  Our equipment worked well, in spite of the fact that we were pretty frugal in the products we selected. Luke and Jared did a good job of planning the trip as well.  The hike was difficult and long enough to be an adventure, but not so much to cause many aching muscles.

From Office Chair to Half Marathon

Staying in shape was not a problem in my growing up years. Between working on the farm and playing with my friends at school, I did a good job of staying on the move.  But when I reached the age of 20, things started to change.  I started a business of fixing computers, something that soon was keeping me busy for long hours. Still, I found time to play softball one or two nights a week, plus some volleyball now and then.

By the time I hit 30, there were more changes.  I was a husband and a father, and other priorities had crowded out my playing of sports. Now it was just time at work and time with the family.  I got more into hunting and fishing, but that doesn’t add up to a whole lot when it comes to building physical fitness.  Life was great, but physically some undesirable things were happening.  By the time I was approaching 40, my waistline was steadily growing.  I could not run more than 50 feet or climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.  It was time to take action.

In April of 2016, at age 39, I signed up for a local 5k, the Strawberry Stampede 5k.  I didn’t like running, but I had to do something.  And I still had enough of a competitive spirit that having the race on the calendar would keep me running even though I would hate it.  I used my vehicle to measure out a roughly 3.1 mile section of roadway, and I started to train.  At first, it was mostly walking, with a little running mixed in. It was brutal.  Before long, I started getting a variety of running aliments.  Sore calves.  Shin splints.  Runner’s diarrhea.  It seemed my whole body was unhappy with my decision to run.

Landry crosses the finish line

By the time race day arrived, I had worked through most of those ailments.  The race was brutal, like my training.  I pushed myself as hard as I could, but still had to walk much of the way.  I finished in about 30 minutes – right in the middle of the pack. I was delighted to get an award  for finishing second in my age group.  Then I realized that I was one of only two 30-39 year old males in the race, so the medal was basically a finisher’s medal.  My 9-year-old son Landry finished in around 27 minutes, good enough for first male under 12.

I still didn’t like running, but crossing that finish line was rewarding, and my competitive spirit kept me running for a few more weeks. I rewarded myself by purchasing a pair of Altra Instinct running shoes. Soon I found I could “run” the whole 3.1 mile distance.  It was quite slow, more like a jog, but nobody wants  to be a jogger, so I called it running.

And then the unthinkable happened:  I started to enjoy it. Running was still hard, but physically it started to pay off.  I had more energy. I didn’t need as much sleep. In fact, the amount of time I spent running was more than made up for by the extra time I was awake. I could actually sing in church without running out of breath or getting light-headed. Over time, running became easier and my speed increased.   In July I ran the Shippensburg Fair 5k and finished in 25:45.  In August I ran the Bremenfest 5k and finished in 24:45.

When Crystal turned 40, she and I had taken an overnight trip to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to celebrate.  With my 40th birthday looming, it was my turn to decide on a destination.  When I stumbled on the Runner’s World Half and Festival in Bethlehem, PA, I knew that was the place.

Crystal ran the 5k and I ran the 10k.  I had set a goal of finishing it in under 50, and it took everything I had to finish in 49:48. It was probably a bit too ambitious of a goal, because within a few minutes after crossing the finish line, I had a severe case of IT band syndrome that left me hobbling for a day or two and then fighting with it during my runs for several weeks.

On thanksgiving day Crystal, Landry and I all ran the Greencastle Turkey trot.

Then I took the plunge and signed up for the Chambersburg Half Marathon, which was scheduled for March 11, 2017.  My plan was to train for distance and use the Chambersburg Half as a training run to prepare for the Garden Spot Village Marathon in April.  But my plans took a turn for the worse in December when I rolled my ankle during a run and pain shot through my knee.  I suspect I had a mild LCL sprain.  I never got it diagnosed, but it made running more than a mile impossible for about a month.  It was February before I could start building mileage again.  I still wanted to run the half, but I knew it was foolish to plan for a full marathon in April.

I had to ramp up my mileage rather quickly in order to be ready for race day.  I did weekly long runs of 6, 8, and 10 miles in the weeks leading up to the half marathon in addition to my usual two 3-mile runs each of those weeks.  Somehow, I made it to race day without any further problems.  I knew better than to set an ambitious goal this time, so I decided to shoot for a 9 minute mile pace, which would put me at the finish line in just under two hours.

Race day turned out to be cold.  At the starting line, it was about 18 degrees F and 10 degrees with the wild-chill factored in.  I had never run a race in this kind of weather but somehow I ended up wearing just the right amount of clothing.  Once I started running, I was comfortable. The easier pace made it a very enjoyable race.  I felt great until about mile 12.  At that point, my legs started telling me it was time to stop.  But I kept them moving and crossed the finish line in 1:57:54.  My family was cheering me on as I approached the finish line.  By the time I had collected my finisher’s medal, they had escaped to the vehicle to warm up.  Landry collected a few video clips and put together a nice highlight reel of the race.

Running has been a life-changing experience for me. It has become a form of therapy.  My weekend long run is something I look forward to all week. Running is a time to enjoy nature, to reflect, and even to worship.  And in the process of doing something I enjoy, I’ve lost 25 pounds and feel about as good physically as anytime I can remember.

This Saturday, I plan to once again run the Strawberry Stampede 5K, the race that started it all a year ago.   My goal will be the same as it was a year ago, to cross the finish line.


Note: Because running is a bit off-topic for my Great Cove Adventures YouTube Channel, I have started separate channel for my running-related videos.  To visit and subscribe, click here

Day Trip to Seneca Rocks

Somehow on the eve of Memorial Day we still didn’t have any plans of how to spend the day, so I took to the Internet to find a good day trip. I ran across Seneca Rocks, a hiking and rock-climbing destination in West Virginia. I don’t have interest in hanging from a rock face on a rope, but we enjoy hiking. I remembered from a field trip our school had taken there years ago that there was a nice hiking trail and a lookout.

So I gave each family member a motion sickness pill and headed out immediately after breakfast on the winding 3 hour trip into the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. Upon arrival we ate a snack and then headed up the mountain. The trail to the top was about 1.5 miles with a 1000 ft elevation gain, so it was good for the cardiovascular system. At the end of the trail was nice lookout and a sign admonishing non-rock climbers not to go any further. Rock-climbers, of course, don’t bother with the hiking trail at all but scale the rock face directly from the bottom.

We finished off our picnic lunch and then hiked back to the bottom. Then we paid a visit to the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center where we watched a video about how the area was used for rock-climbing training during WWII. The building also had a large deck where those with good eyesight could spot some rock-climbers on the rock face above.

This destination is definitely worth a day trip. Be aware that there are only a few nearby places to eat, so you might want to pack a lunch. Also, you might want to pack a fly rod and enjoy the nearby trout stream.

UPDATE 06-27-2016: Landry put together some footage to create a nice video of our adventure. Take a look below.

Trout Season Begins

As usual, the boys were looking forward to the beginning of trout season. The Pennsylvania counties are separated into two regions with each of those having a separate opening day. Trout season in the southeastern counties starts two weeks prior to the season in the rest of the state. Also, in both regions there is a Mentored Youth Day as well, which is the Saturday before trout season begins. We are lucky enough to live close to the dividing line between these two regions, so we can easy participate in the mentored and opening days in both regions. Here are a few photos and videos of some of the catches and scenery we got to enjoy the last few weeks.

Return to the 1000 Steps

After a few cold weeks, Sunday we had some spring-like weather. My family and I took advantage of it by taking a trip to the 1000 steps.  As it turned out, a lot of other people had the same idea; the parking lot was nearly full.

In spite of having to pass a lot of other hikers going up and down, it was a great hike.  Upon reaching the top, we hiked out to the locomotive shed and the western overlook.

The trail-head for the thousand steps is located on route 22 about two miles west of Mount Union.  This is where the road follows the Juniata River through a narrow gorge known as Jack’s Narrows with high ridges on either side.

This was named for a trader by the name of Jack Armstrong who lived in the 1700s.  It was near this location in February of 1744 where Jack and his two servants were killed by Indians after a dispute over a horse.

1000Steps 12The steps were built in the 1930s by miners who climbed the mountain each day to work in the quarry. Sandstone mined from the quarry was taken to Mt Union where it  was made into  bricks. At one time Mt Union was the largest producer of silica bricks in the world.

1000Steps 4How long it takes to climb the steps depends on how physically fit you are but for most people will take between twenty minutes and one hour. At each 100-step interval you’ll see a number of painted on the rocks to tell you how many steps you’ve climbed.

Turn right or left at the top of the stairs to  continue exploring. Turning to the right will take you to a lookout that will allow you to catch a glimpse of the town of Mt Union.  If you turn left the path will lead you to a concrete building. This building housed the locomotive that moved the sandstone from the quarry to the bottom of the mountain.

If you still have some energy left, climb the steps beside the building that lead a little higher up the mountain. After a short climb you’ll come to trail that  leads further west along the mountainside.  After walking about half a mile you’ll come to a lookout that allows you to see the town of Mapleton along with the railroad, route 22 and the Juniata River.

If you’re in the south central region of PA and you’re looking for interesting hike, you definitely will want to visit the 1000 steps.  In fact, you might like it so well that you’ll find yourself making the trip every year.