Thursday, February 24, 2011

I'm a Runner: It's Funny 'Cause it's True

Maybe you've already seen this video. (I have a knack for finding popular things when they've already run their course on the Internet)

But, regardless of whether it's old, the dialogue in this is funny—funny because we can all relate to some degree:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shoe Photo: Inov-8 f-lite 230 and Flyroc 310

When you invest time and money into photographing with film these days, it's important to post at least one image somewhere, so others can see that you waste time and money taking pictures with a film camera.

I think this photo of shoes on the floorboard of my car from last summer is relevant here.

Pictured: Inov-8 Flyroc 310 (no longer in rotation) and the Inov-8 f-lite 230.
inov-8 flyroc 310 and inov-8 f-lite 230

Monday, February 21, 2011

This Well-Duh Moment Is Brought to You by Nathan Handhelds

Nathan Quick Draw Plus HandheldRemember the first time you looked at a handheld, wondering how much you really needed to carry a bottle with you while running? I mean, it's a 22 oz bottle full of liquid. That's gotta be annoying, right?

Then, you buy the thing. And, it's the middle of summer. And, you'r so glad you have it with you when you're on mile 6 of a long run in 80-degree morning temps.

Carrying a bottle is suddenly not so bad. The moisture-wicking, adjustable hand strap is far more comfortable than you expected. The sense of hauling extra weight goes away steadily after an hour (or your shoulder goes numb). You feel confident in the precautions you're taking to sustain adequate levels of hydration.

A couple of hot months pass. And, after numerous runs with the bottle, outside temperatures have decreased enough to warrant leaving the bottle in the car. So you do. And, then, you think to yourself with hands flailing liberally: "Oh, man, it's so nice not to be carrying that stupid bottle!"

Surely you're a few seconds faster sans handheld. You hope that you don't need it next year.

Fast forward to the perpetual darkness of winter morning runs. Develop a new appreciation for carrying a cell phone while running. Decide that you want your cell phone with you more often.

But, you don't have a secure pocket. Your hands get sweaty while holding the phone. Carrying the phone for an hour, switching from left hand to right and back, is unpleasant. So, you think about purchasing a cell phone holder of some sort. There's gotta be an accessory designed for such a purpose, right?

Then you pull out your trusty handheld bottle's moisture-wicking, adjustable hand strap. And, voila! There's no need to buy another accessory to carry something with you while running!
Nathan handheld strap sans bottle - medial view
Nathan handheld strap sans bottle - top view
'Course, if you don't use a small, flip-style cell phone, this use for the handeld's zippered pouch does not apply.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trail Review: Sycamore Trail at William B. Umstead State Park

Sycamore Trail

Trail Location:Umstead Park Map
William B. Umstead State Park | Raleigh, NC

Trail Distance:
7.2 miles (out & back)

Trail Difficulty:

Elevation profile & map >>
See the Umstead park map >>

If you only run one trail in Umstead State Park, make it the Sycamore Trail. The longer distance and slightly rockier terrain make this course one of the most enjoyable in Umstead. Sure, I love running on the Loblolly or Company Mill trails, too. But, Sycamore is special to me, more appealing when I have the time, just by a hair. I mean, don't get me wrong, all the trails in Umstead are great. Seriously. Don't run just one.

Moving along...

As you'll see on the park map, the Sycamore Trail follows a lollipop-style route from the northern section of the park, just south of the visitor's center. The trail eventually takes you past Sycamore lake and along Sycamore Creek before leading you back to the trail head.

trail head of the Sycamore Trail at UmsteadCreating your own mish-mash of a trail run by including other Umstead trails on your route is simple, because Sycamore intersects other traveling paths at a couple of great points. There's the Pott's Branch loop, which is short but nice when you want to tack on a couple more miles for the day. Or, you could hop onto the bridle trail and skip over to Company Mill for a decent long run. There are so many possibilities.

If you're like most park visitors, you'll enter Sycamore Trail from the North. From there, the trail begins with a quick descent and a couple of switchbacks before leading you to a bit of flatness along the creek. You'll cross the park road and continue along a wider, somewhat technical path with lots of pine needles under foot. The section gradually becomes more technical with roots and rocks testing your agility. And, the hills become a bit more intense, too.
Sycamore Trail at Umstead
Crossing the bridle trail, you'll keep going for a while until you reach a split. You can go left, which takes you up hill, or right, which takes you down hill. There is no wrong choice here. A sign indicates that the parking lot is to the left. But, just ignore it. You're not going to the parking lot. And, if you entered the trail from the north, it's certainly not the parking lot in which you parked your car.

starting to snow on the Sycamore Trail at UmsteadWhichever direction you choose to go, the terrain will be splendid. There are areas with plenty of rocks and roots and areas that let you take it easy for a while. There are hills. There are scenic flat pathways along the creek. There are certain spots that never seem to be free of mud. Sycamore does not disappoint.

Eventually, you'll find yourself approaching that familiar parking lot sign that marks the split in the trail. You've completed the circular portion of the course. And, now, you get to return along the same route on which you started with a different perspective. Depending on your level of expectations, you may or may not be glad to know that the toughest hills are behind you.
Apologies for the poor quality of these photos. It was starting to snow and sleet at the time.

My Favorite Features of the Sycamore Trail:running in snow on Sycamore Trail at Umstead

  • Rocky hills for ascending and descending
  • multiple switchbacks along hill sides
  • Contrast between flat, easy terrain and challenging, technical footing.
  • Most everything else

Features I Dislike:

  • 1 bridge with stairs

Getting There

You'll want to enter Umstead via the Umstead Parkway entrance off Hwy 70 (aka Glenwood Avenue). Follow the parkway to the end of the road, which will end in a parking lot. You'll pass the visitor's center and another parking lot on your way there. Don't be tempted to pull into the first parking lot you see. Go all the way to the end of the road.

Get out of your car and head east from the parking lot to the paved path that curves away, forming a circle, toward a couple of picnic buildings. Continue east for a few more meters until you reach the largest covered building. The Sycamore Trail Head will be to the left of it. Start runnin'!

This is important: If you need to use the restroom before starting your run, backtrack away from the trail head and make a right at the paved path's intersection. The restroom is between the parking lot in which you parked and the other one you saw on your way down the parkway. It's not far, just inconspicuous.

If you find yourself heading toward Umstead on Ebenezer Church Rd., it appears that you could access the Sycamore Trail by turning west onto Graylyn Dr. Follow it to a parking lot somewhere in the middle of the trail's out-and-back portion. I wouldn't want to park here, though, because I'd feel like I was starting the run in the middle. It'd feel less complete this way, don't you think?
by the creek on Sycamore Trail


If you've already perused my other reviews of Umstead trails, you might be tired of reading the same thing: This trail is great. I love it. Umstead is awesome.

Well, I approach a trail run from a conceptual perspective. And, being the positive fellow that I am, I am often hard pressed to find fault with any trail in the woods. Perhaps this is due to my lack of experience. Yet, as redundant as my Umstead review series is, you should be glad to know that it's hard to choose a bad trail there.

So, Sycamore is the longer trail. And, for that reason, I think it offers just a smidgen more of an Umstead experience to the runner than the other two major technical trails (Loblolly and Company Mill) in the park.

I mean, there's no reason you shouldn't run every trail in Umstead. But, if you're in Raleigh for a day with time for just one trail run, choose to run on the Sycamore Trail.

The Sycamore Trail elevation profile.
Check out an interactive map, too >>

check out the Sycamore Trail elevation profile

Monday, February 7, 2011

Running Ahead from MapMyRun

Being that I do not own a Garmin device for tracking my runs, I've found online mapping applications very useful. I first heard about over a year ago. And, once I saw that I could map routes, record mileage on my shoes, and see a spiffy graph or calendar summary of my running activity; I was hooked on the site.

That doesn't mean I ever liked the experience. Until the launch of their new site "two" months ago, the pages loaded slowly, the design was overly busy with superfluous links, and their reliance on advertising became bothersome very quickly.

But, as a free tool, MapMyRun worked for me.

Late last year, MapMyRun launched a beta version of their current site. It boasted an improved aesthetic design, a more intuitive user interface, and faster page loads. They also concentrated on enhancing the social aspects of the site, stuff for which I had little interest.

One of the major features that MapMyRun neglected to include on the beta site was the gear tracker. As the name suggests, the gear tracker allows users to add mileage to specific gear, like running shoes, with each logged workout. This is a convenient way to keep track of shoe ware relative to miles run. Sometimes, it's just nice to know how many miles a pair of shoes have carried you before retiring them.

Repeated questions from users about the whereabouts of the gear tracker feature were typically met with vague promises to implement the feature on the new site at a later date. MapMyRun encouraged those of us who wanted to use the gear tracker to continue using it on the "classic" site.

I won't bore you with details about the sense of loss this missing gear tracker feature evoked. If you used it on MapMyRun, you know what I mean. And, if you never used it, you don't really care.

So, after a full month of official live action, the new MapMyRun site had yet to implement the gear tracker. And, I was tired of going back to the classic site when I knew there were faster, simpler sites available to do the job.

On February 1, 2011, I logged my first run on It is a much less glitzy site compared to MapMyRun. But, simplicity is a virtue in the world of websites, I say. So, it's no wonder that I like using RunningAhead better already. The pages load quickly. The entire workout can be logged on one page. The mapping is faster. And, there's a gear tracker.

So, goodbye You've served me well. But, you want to be too much like DailyMile. And, that's not what I'm looking for in a run mapping site.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Those of you in central North Carolina would probably agree that the weather this past Sunday (January 31, 2011) was perfect for outdoor activities. So perfect, in fact, that a man decided to take his kayak out for a cruise on Falls Lake. Sadly, he hasn't been seen since then.

My wife knows this man, because his daughter is in our eldest son's preschool class. The man was usually the one dropping off and picking up his daughter from school. And, my wife says that he almost always had a kayak attached to the roof of his van.

Reports indicate that several people in the vicinity of Falls Lake called 911 around 7 PM Sunday night, because they'd heard someone shouting for help from the lake. When the man's kayak was found the next day, his life vest was inside the boat. One may assume that the man decided not to put on his life vest.

So, now there's another 4-year old girl in the world who's probably lost her father, another wife who's lost her husband. And, if the scenario we imagine turns out to be the case, this man would be enjoying more time with his family for years to come if he'd only worn his life vest on Sunday.

I'm writing about this story here, because, well, it's been weighing on my mind since seeing the news broadcast Monday morning. My heart aches for this man's family. Something about the disappearance of a father of a kid who interacts with my kid four days out of the week resonates pretty strongly. My wife is pretty troubled by it, too. And, when she's troubled, I'm troubled.

The general connection between a kayaker and a runner is pretty obvious. Both are people who enjoy potentially solitary activities. That's part of the appeal, after all, for some of us. And, when out there alone, whether miles from a trail head or simply on the sidewalk early in the morning, it's difficult to get help quickly in an emergency.

That's why we take safety precautions to keep from ending up on the news. None of us wants to be the "jogger" who's found dead or comatose on the trails of Umstead one Sunday morning, because we thought it'd be fun to go for a run without dressing properly or bringing a light and a phone just as the park was closing.

(Think: darkness. Think: tripping on a root. Think: banging your head on a sharp rock. Think about the fact that there's no one else to save your unconscious ass from the sub-freezing temperatures until the park opens 12 hours from the time you fell)

So, foregoing the safety measures that common sense tells us to abide can be tragic. And stories like the one about the missing kayaker this week are blatant reminders of a need to pause. Pause to think about whether skipping basic safety precautions for the sake of convenience is worth it.

I'm going to remind myself to pause every time I'm tempted to run across a street in front of a car that may or may not stop for me. I've got my family to consider. I've got a lot to live for.

Safe and happy running, people!


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