Hit the Trail

Spring is a great time to add trail running to your training to take advantage of spring weather and enjoy nature. Here are my basic tips for getting started with trail running.

First, find a good trail. No single trail is the same. From wide, crushed rock trail like the airline, or rail trail, to single track cutting through trees, trails offer a wide variety of running surfaces and scenic options. In Connecticut, we are lucky to have an amazing trail system including the blue blazed trails, Joshua’s Trust trails, and a variety of town-maintained trails. Get to know your trail by researching online, or by asking other runners and hikers.

Trail running

Once you’ve found a good trail, prepare for the hazards you might find on the trail. If it has tall grasses or thick underbrush, consider wearing pants or tall socks to deter ticks. If your trail is sandy or has small, loose stones, tall socks or gaiters will help keep debris out of your shoes. While many trail runners use specially made trail running shoes, which have more aggressive tread and a closer to the ground feel, they aren’t always necessary. Consider how “technical” your trail is when selecting your footwear and gear. Generally, a more technical trail is one that is, more narrow, winding, steep, or has trail hazards like roots and rocks. Use good judgment in planning your trail run in order to match your trail with your ability.

Next, focus on safety. Take your dog or a buddy, or write your route out and share with a loved one. Make sure someone knows where you are going and how long you’ll be gone. Consider carrying water and a snack. Carry your cell phone and identification for emergencies. Once on the trail, keep your eyes on the trail so avoid rocks and roots. Focus on looking three to four feet ahead to create an imaginary “line” of travel, a plan for where you going to step for the next few steps. This will keep you focused and alert to potential hazards. Finding a line will become easier as you become more comfortable running on the trails. Make sure that you’re alert and be aware of landmarks and trail markings.

When trail running, it’s best to run by time, rather than distance to begin. Trail running can be exhausting at first and it can take much longer to cover the same distance on a trail than on a road. I generally add one to two minutes to my pace per mile, even on trails I know very well. Slow your pace and take time to look around and enjoy the beauty of the trails. Run by time, effort level, or heart rate and avoid comparing your trail pace to your road pace.

Finally, work to improve your trail running performance by including strength and balance exercises into your training two to three times per week. Exercises that strengthen the calves, ankles, and feet are particularly useful. Consider adding lunges on a pad or stability disk, single leg squats, bridges, dead lifts, calf raises, and other exercises using a wobble board or stability disc to develop foot and ankle strength and stability.

Once you’ve tried trail running, grow your confidence by running on the trails at least once per week. Try new trails and make friends with other trail runners. As you grow in your confidence and strength, tackle more technical trails, or sign up for a trail race. Trail running can be a great way to see new sights, meet new people, and enjoy Connecticut’s natural beauty.

Enjoy the trails!

Running Around the Beehive State

I love to travel, and, luckily, I get to do it a lot. I recently headed to Utah (the Beehive State) for a work meeting and got an opportunity to try some mountain fitness. Utah is a pretty cool state. I had been to Salt Lake City briefly (also check out my cool Temple pictures), but had only explored the city. This time, I stayed with a local friend and toured lots of Utah landmarks. Altitude training is no joke!

We got things off to a great start with a visit to a local gym for cycling. The Ultimate Peak Crossfit gym, owned by Coach Keena, is a great little spot. It offers a variety of classes and full triathlon training. My friend and I visited the cycling class, which included some drills, hill work, and even some interval running. Coach Keena was upbeat, and created a great workout.

Later that day, we went hiking near Sundance. The ground was dusty, but the sun was shining and the the breeze was soft. It was a gorgeous day for a hike. We went up to a waterfall and enjoyed the mountain views.




The Case of the Missing Cooler

Last week, I couldn’t make my usual long run, so I arranged with a friend to run mid-week. We agreed to meet at her house, then run down to a popular trail. The trail we selected is a state-run, mulit-county trail that is hugely popular with cyclists, runners, and walkers. In anticipation of our long run, I put a cooler with water, my inhaler, a few gels, and a towel at the trail head. I routinely leave a cooler as a water drop on runs longer than 10 miles. I hate to carry a ton of water and I generally have to drink so much that I can’t carry enough reasonably. I’ve left a water drop hundreds of times. I’ve left my trusty cheap cooler on the side of roads across the state. It’s been buried in bushes, left on rocks, and stuck in trees. My cooler has been a trusty companion for me and my running buddies for a long time.

We ran past my cooler on the way into the trail. Eight miles later, we passed the water drop spot. My trusty blue cooler was GONE.

No cooler

No cooler = no water. I was shocked. I just couldn’t believe the not only would someone steal my cheap, old cooler, but that someone would take a cooler that had my inhaler, water, and running supplies in it. Every time I pass a cooler on a trail, a bottle of water in the woods, or a shirt tossed in a tree, I know immediately what it is. It’s someone’s drop. Some bicyclist, runner, or walker has left those supplies. I told everyone I knew about the theft. I was shocked. My phone number was  on the cooler (along with some purple hearts and a little sketch – my theft deterrent) and when a day passed without contact, I assumed that someone had actually stolen my $8 cooler.

Imagine my shock when late the next day, someone called me. He had my cooler. This “helpful” guy told me that he “found” it and knew I would be missing it, given that it had my inhaler and cold water in it. Well, not missing it too much since it took him more than 24 hours to contact me. Sigh. As happy as I was to have my cooler returned, I was dismayed that someone would move a cooler full of supplies.

That’s when I realized – runners are weird. It was entirely possible that he had taken my cooler trying to be helpful. Maybe everyone doesn’t know what a cooler on the trail means.  Huh. I guess we are a strange bunch after all.

Race Recap: Sehgahunda Trail Marathon Relay

A few weeks ago, some running friends and I made the trek to upstate New York for the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon and Relay. Organized by Fleet Feet Sports Rochester and Yellow Jacket Racing, we made the trek to run with some friends who live in the area and are part of the Fleet Feet Endurance Team.

Our weekend started with a great trail run at a favorite local spot. Friday, we picked up packets at Fleet Feet and got to see both locations. The staff were friendly and the running gear selection was excellent. The weather wasn’t great (39 degrees and rainy – in June!), so we spend the rest of the day inside, resting up for the race. The race includes a marathon and a 2- and 4-person relay option. We were signed up for the 4-person team and were ready for a fun day.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we made our way up to the Mount Morris Dam. The Dam is on the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park. The Dam is remarkable. I had no idea that the Sehgahunda Valley was so deep and wide. The sights were simply amazing!

Mt. Morris Dam

It was a gorgeous day, cold, and bright. A small group gathered at the start and listened to some last minute instructions.

Sehgahunda start

Runners were told to mind the trail, watching for roots, rocks, and “gullies”. Having never experienced a gully, I asked some local runners. Apparently a gully is a ditch with a stream in the middle. The trail is advertised as highly technical and it didn’t disappoint. I ran the first leg, about six miles through open plain, forrest, and rocky hillside. The trail was highly technical, with roots and rocks galore. I lost count after about 10 gullies. Some were little bumps in the trail, others were deep crevasses with a mud puddle at the bottom. One was easily 5 feet deep with sheer mud sides. Crawling was required. Another had a flowing stream in the bottom, requiring a shuffle through six inches of swiftly moving water. I loved the course. It was well marked and the trail was clearly identified and well thought out. It was clear that runners organized and planned the course. It was such an enjoyable experience to run that I lost track of the miles.

I made it through my miles quickly and managed to pass a few people. I loved the scenery and enjoyed the challenge of the new terrain. I was covered in mud by the time I reached the incline up to River Road for the exchange.

Sehgahunda exchange 1

Each exchange point was staffed with helpful volunteers who filled water bottles and passed out food and drinks. A great food selection was available at each check point – chips, fruits, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a variety of commercial fuels from Honey Stinger.

Overall, I loved the course and had so much fun. Everyone I interacted with was amazing – helpful and happy. Every aspect of the race was well organized and carefully run. The Fleet Feet Endurance Team did an amazing job. I would highly recommend the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon and Relay for trail runners looking for a challenge. I hope to be running it again next year!

Found: Nemo

Connecticut found Nemo. And we’re hoping whoever lost him will claim him soon. This weather is insane! After weeks of record-setting cold and single digit temperatures, it had finally reached a suitable run-outside temperature last week. Then we had a monster wind storm. And then, the predictions of Nemo began. Nothing good comes from a storm that is predicted, days out, to be “historic”, “epic”, or “catastrophic”. As if poor New England didn’t suffer enough with Irene and Sandy, we were getting Nemo. It’s always bad news when the weather reporters name a winter storm.

In preparation, I went to the gym and did a brick workout. I washed running clothes and bought some spinach for salad. Priorities. Nemo came through with the expected record snowfall. We got about 30 inches at my house. It was so much snow that the town had to send some sort of terrifying road grader/plow and front end loader to clear the snow.

Snow plow

Yikes! It was a lot of snow. Undeterred, I went out snowshoeing. I had 13-15 miles on my schedule for the weekend and I figured a nice snowshoe hike would have to do. I made it about 10 feet before I realized – three feet of snow is a crazy amount of snow. Snowshoeing in a foot of snow is lovely. Two feet of snow is doable. Three feet is practically impossible. Clearing trail by myself, I could only make it four or five steps before I had to rest. Although I was up on top of a foot and a half of snow, I was having to move another foot and a half with my feet. It was like walking in quicksand.


I’m on top of about 4 feet of snow here. That’s my normal height lamp post, all but buried in the snow.

24 hours after the snow stopped, I was finally able to leave the house and set up a snowshoe date with some local friends. Most roads were only barely passable, so we kept it close to home. Working as a team of three, we took turns breaking trail. It was tough going! Our hard work was rewarded with great views, amazing animal tracks, and a nice workout. The snow is deep and mushy, so it will be here for a while. Looks like me and my SportsCenter treadmill workout will be spending extra time together this week.

My next big race, the Gapsarilla Distance Classic, is less than two weeks away. I’m hideously undertrained, thanks to this terrible winter weather, but I’m counting down the days. Nothing will feel better than to leave all this snow and freezing rain behind and run in gorgeous Tampa!

Happy Holidays!

Dr Rachel Runs has been on hiatus for the last several days to celebrate the holiday season. I hope that each of you have enjoyed a happy holiday time with friends and family.   I hope that you’ve squeezed in some time for fitness with friends and family. Whether it’s a run, a hike, yoga in the park, or just chasing after the little ones, the holidays are a perfect time for fitness.

It’s been a nice, but busy, end of the semester and start of the holiday season for me. For college professors, the real panic of the end of the semester starts after Thanksgiving and the work load increases until the semester ends. This year, our program had the exciting bonus of an end-of-semester visit from audits from our national accrediting body. Life was all about work for a few weeks. Horrible. Luckily, I made it through that with my sanity (at least mostly) intact. I’m so thankful for the end of the semester and the freedom that brings.

My leg has continued to heal and I’ve increased my runs accordingly.  I even managed to squeeze in a 20-mile run just in the nick of time. I’m training for the Disney Marathon (yay!) and had built into my schedule several extra weeks, just in case a winter storm thwarted my running. I was so thankful to have a few extra weeks when injury struck. Somehow, I managed to get back on track and get my 20-miler in just three days later than scheduled. It was a little slower and more painful than I had hoped, but I made it.

20 miles!

It was a huge relief to get in my 20 mile run. I am feeling much more confident about the Disney Marathon. This week, I resumed running normally. It feels amazing. Running normally meant a Sunday trail run, and wonderful runs with friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve brought sunny skies and excellent weather. Several friends and I met to run on a paved trail with lovely views of the local reservoir.


Christmas Day, I gathered with friends for a gorgeous, snowy run on a private trail. I brought Lucy, the running dog, and she was delighted to run with her doggy friends. It was a perfect run and made my holiday special.

I have been enjoying time off, time for running, and time with friends. I hope that you’ve been doing the same.

Connecticut Race Report: November 2012

It’s November in Connecticut and, as if we didn’t notice the colder temperatures and blustery weather, we got a Nor’easter last night that dumped inches of snow on the area. Yuck!


November is also the end of the busy fall racing season in Connecticut. Races will be few and far between until spring, but there are some options for the hardy few who want to get out there and race.

Monson Memorial Classic, Monson, MA, Sunday, November 11, 2012 – The Monson Memorial Classic features three events: a half marathon, a 5k, and a 2 mile fun walk. The half starts at noon, the 5k at 12:15 and the fun walk immediately after the 5k. The Monson Memorial Classic road race was started in 1996, shortly after the deaths of Kelly Waldron and Kathy Waldron Perry. These sisters died eight months apart from different types of cancer. This race is in their memory, and proceeds to Griffin’s Friends and Melanoma Education Foundation. I’ve run Monson before and it’s a fun, challenging race. Both the 5k and the half marathon have largely uphill courses. The first 7-8 miles of the half marathon have an overall uphill profile. But, the course is lovely, run on back roads and country lanes. Be forewarned that traffic is not blocked from the race course, including the final two miles of the half marathon and the finish line on Route 32. There will be cars on 32, and caution is merited. This year, there will be chip timing, free massage after the race, and prize money for individuals and teams. As an added bonus, this race has wonderful, home cooked food post-race. I thought the apple cider and chili were fantastic! I enjoy this race and recommend it if you’re looking for a challenge. Fees are $55 for the half marathon and $35 for the 5k. For reference, here’s the elevation profile for the half marathon.

Freedom RunFreedom Run, Hartford, CT, Sunday November 11, 2012 at 10:00 am – This popular 5k is a production of HYPE (a great organization) and the MetroHartford Alliance. It’s a measured 5k course that’s run on well maintained park trails. The course starts in front of The Riverfront Boathouse and runs north through the Riverside Park trail system. The course is a loop and ends back at the Boathouse. This event is run to honor the men and women who serve our country. Registration is $25 in advance, $30 race day. There is a discount for students and children. There will be professional timing and runners will get a t-shirt.
8K Cross Country Challenge8k Cross Country Challenge, West Hartford, CT, Saturday November 17, 2012 at 10:00 am – Sponsored by the Hartford Track Club, this trail race features a rolling course with gravel, trails, fields, and minor asphalt. It’s a unique distance, perfect for a PR. The race is also a bargain at $10 in advance and $15 race day. There will be few amenities, but expect a well organized event.
Finally, no race report would be complete without mention of the Manchester Road Race. This great race needs almost no introduction. It’s on Thanksgiving Day, in downtown Manchester, and is a wonderful, spirited race. Learn more about the race and its storied history on their website.

A Trip, A Race, and A Mystery Illness

It’s been a super long time since I’ve written anything – perhaps the longest time ever between posts. I swear, I’m still here and still running, but I’ve been out of my usual routine. This is the first time I’ve had my computer on in 11 days (or so my automatic backup tells me). Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been up to.

I ran the Hartford Half Marathon as a pace leader for Fleet Feet West Hartford.

Running as a pacer for the first time in a major race was so. much. fun. Earlier in the season, Fleet Feet hired me as a coach in the half marathon training program. I was lucky to be matched with an awesome training group who ran together consistently throughout training. On race day, my mom and I headed to the Fleet Feet meeting area. It was freezing cold – about 28 degrees and everyone was bundled up. We had trained in much warmer conditions, so this was new to most of the first time half marathoners. I managed to find a few of my group members before the race and offered to pace them to their goal of 2:15. We had a great time, felt amazing, and cruised in at 2:12. It was a great time and a wonderful race.

My mom was in town!

Yay! I love my mom. She’s a walker and runner and lives in Florida now so we don’t get to work out together as much as I would like. But, she was in town for 10 days. Hooray! We picked apples and made pies and apple sauce. I ate a slightly scary quantity of apple cider donuts. We walked on the trails in the area. We even completed an epic, 9 mile walk on the rail trail.

All in all, we had a great time. It was wonderful to have my mom here.

My running friend and I started a running club at University of Connecticut.

Following the success of the University of Connecticut Run@Work Day event, my running friend and I were asked to start a running club for university faculty and staff. The JM Club had its first ever group run last Friday. Sadly, only my friend and I showed up. It was about 50 degrees and pouring. We got soaked, but we got in the miles and kicked off the JM Club events.

I have a mystery illness.

It’s true. I’m sick again. Only I’m maybe not sick. I have a mystery illness. It all started with a sore throat about two weeks ago. The sore throat went away, but then I developed a stuffy nose. The stuffy nose went away, but then I developed new symptoms. Now I’m fatigued, have a headache, and my nose is running. Weird. It’s that day-before-being-super-sick feeling. I keep thinking that I will wake up in the morning super sick, but, thankfully, that hasn’t happened. I’ve been resting, sleeping lots, drinking tons of water, and taking my vitamins. I hope that I can beat this mystery illness – whatever it is.


It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me and there’s more fun around the corner. Today, I leave with my running friend for the Cape Cod Half Marathon in Falmouth, MA. I’ve lived in New England for 5 years, yet I’ve never been to Cape Cod. What better way to see the Cape than on foot, in a race? Expect a full report later.

Race Recap: Rubber Chicken 5k

On Thursday, August 16, 2012, I ran in the second annual Oddfellows Rubber Chicken Run 5k. This unique event features a cross country 5k, walk, and children’s race. Proceeds from the race benefit the Oddfellows Playhouse, a community theatre project that provides educational and social theatre programming for young people. The 5k race featured a team division, which some friends and I entered. In the team division, teams of five people averaged their times for one group time. The walk was non-competitive and open to all.

Check in was well managed. I waited only a minute or two to get my number, a pretty cool technical t-shirt (with gender-specific sizes!), and a bag. With such a small entry fee, I was surprised at the high quality of the race goodies. The shirt is really pretty fun – one I will wear with pride.

It was approximately 84 degrees and humid for the 6:30pm race start. The race course was unusual. It was a bit of a loop course, but the loops shared a central alley. Perhaps it is more aptly described as a concentric circle course, with one loop run in one direction and the second loop run in the opposite direction. The course was a true cross country course, complete with grassy fields, dirt paths, crushed stone paths, and single track with roots, rocks, and hills. Overall, the hills were mostly rolling and gradual, save for one uphill on single track fringed by poison ivy (so no passing, much to my dismay).

Helpful volunteers were on hand to point the way at tricky intersections and there were two water stops staffed with cheering volunteers. The course was easy to follow, with a helpful white spray painted track. In fact, parts of the course had a continuous spray painted line with arrows, so it would have been quite difficult to get lost. I have run lots of trail races and I must say that this on was possibly the best marked of all.

There was professional timing provided by Start Liner Race Services and a festive finish line. After the race there was great pizza, breadsticks (individually packaged!), and the best cookies EVER. Seriously. I loved the cookies.

Age group winners were announced and received rubber chickens as prizes. In the team category, the top three teams were announced. Winning teams got one rubber chicken, and five certificates for two tickets to a Oddfellows production. I’m proud to say my team, Team Rooster, won third in the coed division and two of our team members placed in their age groups.

Overall, I loved the Rubber Chicken Race. It was highly organized, well managed, fun, and fast. Times were good overall even with the heat and the course was enjoyable to run. I would highly recommend it!

Results can be found here.

Details for Rachel’s outfit, above: Lululemon Cool Racerback tank in Blazer Fossil, Janji Run for Kenya shorts, super old men’s Nike running hat.

Mini Race Recap: Bolton XC Classic

On August 11, 2012, I ran in the Bolton XC Classic 5k. This is a race of many names. You may know it as the Bolton Alumni 5k, or the BHS 5k, or even the Bolton XC Race. No matter what name you choose, the Bolton XC 5k is a great race. In its fourth year, this cross country race benefits the Bolton High School cross country teams and is directed by their coach, Paul Smith.

The Bolton XC Classic begins and ends at the Bolton High School. A small group of runners gathered at the high school at 9am. It was 82 degrees with overcast skies and 80% humidity at race start. Not ideal racing conditions, but it wasn’t raining and the sun wasn’t cooking the runners. Coach Smith got things started by explaining the 4-loop course. The race was run around the school grounds on a variety of surfaces. The majority of the trails are standard, 8 foot wide, grass cross country trails, but there was some more traditional rocks-and-roots trail in the woods. Professional timing was provided and runners of all ability levels were welcomed.

This race is about as low key as a race can get. A group of mostly local runners gathered, chatted, and set off on the run. At the conclusion of the race there was a wonderful spread of food (with plenty left over, I might add). There were cookies, bagels, fruits of all kinds, chocolate milk, and water. Once all the runners had finished and results were tabulated, Coach Smith presented the awards. The awards are what really make this race special. Age group winners are presented with a hand-painted rock. Not a tiny little rock, but a boulder, hand painted by the high school art class. This year, the rocks were painted as part of the art class’s final exams and each was painted in the style of a famous artist. The rocks are vey cool. Several friends and I were the proud recipients of our very own rocks. Note – my rock, pictured, was one of the smaller rocks.

I’m pleased to say that I won my age group. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention that I was the only one in my age group, but let’s not dwell. I’ll be back next year to defend my title, and to get a third rock for my collection.