Acorns are Falling on my Head.

The last week or so, it seems that there are an awful lot of acorns laying on the trail.  And a lot of them falling on my head.  It almost makes me want to wear a hat…but not quite, cause I hate hats!  I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to the acorns before.  Maybe I notice this year because of running in minimalist shoes.  Running on the acorns doesn’t really hurt, but it feels different than running on dirt, rocks, or roots.

I did some reading, and it seems that the size of this year’s acorn crop has to do with last year’s weather.  Trees start planning in July or August for the following year’s crop of acorns.  Last summer we had plenty of rain, so this year there are lots of acorns.  So I guess that means that this year’s dry summer will make for a small acorn crop next year.  That will make the top of my head happier next fall 🙂

This also makes for lots of ticks. (Well, it’s actually a little more complicated than that). The fall of 2010 was a great year for acorns, so also a great year for white-footed mice.  Many mice for food, means many ticks grow.  Then in 2011, there were very few acorns, so the mice died off, leaving lots of hungry ticks.  So in spring and summer of 2012, all those hungry ticks are biting people.  Now, if I’m not imagining things, and there really are a lot of acorns this year, does that mean there may be lots of ticks again in 2014?  Because this summer was so dry and dusty that next year’s acorn crop will be small, and the mice will again die off leave predator ticks behind.   This is sort of like looking at the stars, and trying to imagine the universe…too much info!

This was supposedly a big year for ticks.  I know that Eric and Seth both came in from the woods with ticks more than once.  But Seth refuses to wear bug spray, and Eric sits in the middle of the trail to take pictures, so I’m not sure if either of them is a good indicator.  And I got no ticks,  but I’m not a good indicator either, because something about my body chemistry doesn’t invite bug bites, even when not wearing DEET.  (But I wear DEET anyway, because why take chances!!)

But that brings me back to the acorns.  Old folklore suggests that a big acorn crop means a bad winter.  I hope not.  It’s terrible  to have to run on the road if the winter is too snowy for trails. And small acorn crop in 2011, led to very mild winter last year (which was wonderful 🙂 !!!!!).  But, the scientists say the acorn crop is a product of past weather, and not a predictor of the future.  So I guess I will just keep running, and just deny that winter is coming.  Only 268 more days till it’s summer again!!!!

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First Person Gets the Spiders

Exercise gurus will tell you thats it’s good to have a training partner.  The reasoning is that being accountable to someone will make you more likely to work out.  But for trail runners, there is an even more compelling reason…the first person down the trail catches all the spider webs. YUCK.

If you are lucky, the web sticks to your arms or shoulders.  If you are not so lucky, it sticks to your face or in your hair.  Add a humid day, or lots of sticky bug spray to the mix, and the web is almost impossible to get rid of.  So there you are, running through the woods, waving your arms, trying to dislodge the web, and praying that there isn’t a big spider stuck in it.  Hmmmm, maybe it’s better to run alone.  Then there’s nobody to witness your spider dance 🙂

Actually, spiders are pretty cool, as long as they don’t get too close.  And spider webs are amazing.  I googled spider webs, and found some interesting stuff here.  Spiders weave a single thread, and throw it into the wind.  If it catches on something, they tighten the thread, and use it as the basis of a web.  I suspect a lot of the webs I catch when running are these very beginning threads.  There are lots of spiderwebs in the bridge at the dam, but unfortunately, the fine, light thread doesn’t photograph well.

The only poisonous spiders that are supposed to live in Massachusetts are Black Widows.  Somebody needs to tell that to the Brown Recluse spiders, because many local people have been bitten by them.  I guess that makes me feel a little better about spiders hitching a ride on my run (not). And my guess is that the spiders would rather be left alone in their web, than dragged along by a hysterical runner!

Another advantage of a training partner, is that 2 sets of eyes make it more likely that you will notice things along the trail.  Frogs, toads, and snakes move quickly, and they are hard to spot.  You need to walk slowly through tall grass so as not to step on them.

There are  all sorts of neat mushrooms, and it’s nice to see them before they get broken or run over.

So, Training partner pros:  Someone else to catch the spider webs, another set of eyes to spot interesting stuff, conversation, a water bottle to share when yours is empty.  And cons:  a witness to your ridiculous spider dance.  You decide.

Please and Thank You

Etiquette:  sounds like something to do with teapots,doilies, and lace tablecloths. But actually, it has a lot to do with trail running.  And with any other activity  where you have to share facilities with other people.

In college, I swam many laps in the school pool.  You learn quickly that there are unspoken rules about sharing swim lanes.  If you are getting into a lane with one swimmer already in it, it’s polite to ask if they would like to have their own side, or always stay to the right.  If there are 2 or more in the lane when you start swimming, everyone stays to the right and turns counterclockwise.  No crashes that way!

When I ran track  workouts in my early 30’s, we shared the track with other runners, and walkers.  There was a sign posted on the fence that told everyone which direction to go, counterclockwise, just like in the pool.  The fastest runner gets the inside lane, and a runner approaching from behind wanting to pass, calls out “Track”.  The slower runner moves to the outside , and makes space for passing.

The trails are an even bigger space, shared by many more people.  And those of us lucky enough to have easy access to trails, need to be courteous to other people we meet out there. I learned early in my trail racing career, that just like on the track, you yield to the faster runner.  That means that on an out and back course, someone heading back from the turn-around, or downhill in either direction, gets the right of way. If you come up behind a slower runner, and want to pass, you call out “On your left (Or right, as the case may be)” and they should pull over and make room.Usually, this is not a problem.  But I have vivid memories of being the slower (and  afraid of heights) runner, at Seven Sisters, and having to hang over a long drop to the river while the fast guys passed me.

At Hodges Village Dam, where I do most of my running, you can meet many different kinds of trail users at all different times of year:  walkers, runners, bicyclists, snowshoers, cross country skiers, snowmobilers, motorcycle guys, hunters, bird watchers, horseback riders, dog walkers, and sometimes Eric sitting in the middle of the trail taking pictures. For the most part, everyone follows the same rules of courtesy.  You generally yield to the faster person.  This means walkers move out of the way for runners, who move for bikers, who move for motorcycle guys.  And we all move aside for horses, cause who is going to argue with something that big.

Some people are easy to move for.  Motorcycle guys and snowmobilers make a lot of noise, so you can hear

them and get out of the way in plenty of time.  Cross country skiers, on the other hand, sneak up on you silently, and then try not to run you down!  And then there are the turkey hunters!!  First, why would anybody hunt in the spring, when everything is hungry and scrawny from the winter?  And you think of hunters as wearing orange, so as to be seen.  But turkey hunters hide in the brush, wearing full camouflage, and yell at everyone for scaring away the turkeys.  Sometimes, they shoot each other because they are all camouflaged.  Seems like a bad idea to me.

My least favorite people to share trails with are dog walkers.  These people seem to think that just because they dote on their animals, that we should all want to to play with them.  Wrong!!  The Army Corps of Engineers has pages of rules about use of recreation areas.  You can find them here:  USACE.  The rules state that animals brought into developed recreation areas must be penned, caged, leashed, or controlled.  And that nobody shall let their animal impede or restrict otherwise free and full use of project land by the public. So leash your d*^m dog!!  Okay, that’s my dog rant, but really, please leash your animal.

In almost 20 years of running trails, most of the people I have met have been at least courteous, often friendly and talkative.  Many dog walkers let their animals chase the rest of us down, and some bird watchers yell at groups of runners for making too much noise.  But fortunately, these are the exceptions. So, go out in the woods, run around or ride your bike, and remember to share the trails 🙂

Get the gear.

There are endless gadgets and gear that you can buy to support your running habit.  Some of them are vital, some are cool, and some are just a money drain. The single most important  piece of equipment you can own if you play outside is an Id.  For a lot of years, I just tucked a scrap of paper with my info on it into my waistpack or bike bag.  A while back, at a race, someone stuck a flyer on my windshield for Road Id. This is a great company, and they make ids in many styles to wear on your neck, wrist, ankle or shoe.  The engraved tags can be moved between multiple bands (good thing, cause my first one was pink and didn’t stay nice for very long!)  You can find them at Road Id.

Next, you need a way to carry stuff like keys, water, epi-pen or inhaler, camera or phone, energy bars (candy bars taste waayyyy better), or extra layers.  I’m partial to a waist pack.  I’ve tried a camel bak, but find it too hot and bouncy.  And a handheld water bottle doesn’t leave free hands to breakfall or to grab a tree to slow a descent. I have a couple of different models, depending on my needs for different runs.  I have a really tiny one that will hold  just a key and epi-pen.  The one on the right is a medium sized one that will hold key, epi-pen,and phone (for taking pictures, not texting while running!).  You can add other pouches to it, or little bottles for water or gel. The bag on the left carries a bigger water bottle, but less other stuff, my phone won’t fit.  If you want to carry a bigger bottle, a slanted pack is the way to go.  A big bottle carried straight up and down is uncomfortable, and one carried horizontally will eventually fall out of the belt.  You can find these bottle, and lots of accessories and add-ons at Amphipod.  Then you can just tuck a windbreaker or gloves into the belt.

One thing you can always be sure of when running trails in the summer is bugs.  I’m lucky, and rarely get bitten, even when my running companions do.  I use bug spray with 100% DEET.  My kids tell me that it’s too toxic and will kill me, but I’ll wash it off right after running, and take my chances.  I’ve seen too many people with life- altering cases of Lyme disease to take a risk.  You also have to worry about other tick-borne diseases, as well as West Nile Virus and EEE (eastern equine encephalitis). If you think too hard about what might kill you, you’ll never get out of bed, just hide under the covers and cower.  Opt for the bug spray.  I get mine at EMS.

Many runners wear a heart rate monitor.  I have tried to run with one, but the chest strap is just way too annoying.  Wrist -only monitors don’t give you a constant readout:  you have to stop and touch the buttons.  I’ve seen a strapless monitor that you wear on your upper arm, that gives a constant readout.  But so far, the reviews are bad (and how do you see it in the winter?).  I don’t wear a GPS, either for the same reason.  And much as I love all my i-gadgets, I’m not sure I want running gadgets.  Back when I was racing, my speed and milage mattered.  Now all I need to know is stuff like:  I’m gonna run for an hour or so, gonna run the waterfall trail, gonna stay on the west side of the river, gonna stop and look for snakes and frogs.  I don’t need gadgets or numbers to do any of those.

One piece of equipment that you should absolutely  not use when running is a music player.  On the road, it prevents you from hearing traffic, and dogs.  In the woods it prevents you from hearing other people coming along the trail, riding bikes, or motorcycles, or walking dogs (put the d@*m dogs on a leash please).

You need more stuff to run in the winter (I really, really hate winter!!!)  but we can wait and talk about that when it gets colder. Right now I don’t want to think about being cold. Just want to enjoy the rest of the sunshine before I’m dragged screaming into winter.  Go run!!

Don’t step on the frogs.

There is lots of time for thinking when you run.  Sometimes the thoughts are practical:  “What will I cook for dinner?”, “The oil in my car needs to be changed.”.  Sometimes they are profound:  “Why did God put this river here?  And why did He make all these damn bugs?”.  Sometimes though, the thoughts are just plain weird.

There has been a lot of rain the last couple of weeks, which seems to have produced a lot of frogs.Of course the rain did not actually produce the frogs, they must have come from somewhere, but where?   And where do they go the rest of the time?  Of course this led to more weird thoughts about toads, and snakes and the little orange salamander I saw the other day.

For some reason, this year there seem to be more toads than usual in the woods.  I’ve seen a few big ones, but many really tiny ones, some as small as a thumbnail.  As I thought about this, I realized that I hadn’t seen many snakes this summer, which is too bad cause snakes are really cool. Then I thought that maybe those things were related… less snakes eating toads, so more toads hopping around in the woods.  (Sometimes, all this thinking doesn’t really get you anywhere!)

Then I got to wondering what is the difference between frogs and toads.  I found some neat info here:  42explore.  Well, they are both  small tailless amphibians making up the order of Anura, one of three main groups of amphibians.  They both start as eggs laid in the water, and grow into tadpoles.

Frogs have smooth, moist skin, long back legs,  webbed feet, and big, bulgy eyes.  They are good swimmers, and can jump long distances.  They generally live near the water.  Toads have flatter bodies, dry, bumpy skin. and shorter back legs.  They live mostly on land.

What does all this have to do with stepping on frogs?  Well, when there is a lot of rain,  big puddles form on the trails.  As you run through or around these puddles, frogs jump from the grass near your feet into the puddles.  Lots of frogs, tons of frogs!  And the puddles are murky and muddy, so I’m always afraid that if I go stomping through them, I will step on a frog.  I rode my bike over a frog once, and it was gross and messy (even worse for the frog).  I really don’t want frog guts on my shoes.

So this brings me back to where do all these frogs come from after the rain?  Where do they go the rest of the time?   Do they live in the river and decide when it rains “Hey, I think I’ll go hangout in the puddles and commit suicide by runner?”.  Why are the frog so much bigger than the toads?  Where did all the snakes go?  And why can’t I just get my brain to shut up when I run???

What do you think about when you run?

Let’s go shoe shopping!

Running is supposed to be an easy sport to get into.  All you need is a pair of shoes, and clothes to run in, no other equipment (ya right!  but that will be another post).  But with changes in shoe technology, fashion, running science, and lots of (sometimes not so polite) opinions, shopping for running shoes can be pretty stressful.

When Roger Bannister ran his historic four minute mile, the shoes he wore were about as minimalist as you could get.  As a matter of fact, except for the spikes, they looked like ballet slippers. I ran on and off from the time I was a kid, and until I was in my mid 20’s, I always ran in whatever sneakers I had at the time.  I don’t remember ever having any running related injuries from my not-so-specialized shoes.

I bought my first pair of running specific shoes in the late 1980’s.  I bought what was advertised as the best new running technology, the Nike Air Max.  This shoe was supposed to offer all the best in cushioning and support.  At the time I had young, healthy joints, and weighed all of 115 pounds.  Why did I need such a huge, bulky shoe?  Because that’s what the experts said would prevent injury.  Over the next few years, I developed foot pain, and experimented with many different brands and styles of shoes, eventually adding arch support insoles, not only to my running shoes, but to everything I put on my feet.  I even put arch supports in the wrestling shoes I wore on the karate floor!

When I first started running trails, there were very few trail-specific shoes being offered.  After much experimentation, I settled on the addidas Terrain Lite. This was one of the lightest tail shoes offered, and the uppers were made of mesh so they drained easily.  But, you’ll notice, even though they were called “Lite”, they were still very bulky shoes. Even with my great shoes, I suffered injuries to feet, knees, and hips.  Not a great advertisement for shoe technology!!

Fast foward a few years, and I stumbled onto a website called Mark’s Daily Apple.  Here I learned about a great new idea called Minimalist Running.  Mark’s favorite shoes seem to be Vibram Five Fingers, which I thought looked really odd, but anything that reduces injury was worth a try.  The Vibrams seemed pretty expensive, so instead I tried a pair of Fila Skele-toes:  same idea, much cheaper.  My feet were much happier closer to the ground with a wide toe box.  However, I like socks, and they are hard to wear with toe shoes.  But this started my journey to less bulky shoes.  The first change was to wearing soft, Kung Fu shoes for karate, and taking the insoles out of my running shoes.

When I deided to try running in minimalist shoes, I realized that there was a lot of conflicting information out there. I found great info  from Dr. Mark Cucuzzella at  The Natural Running Center.  I decided to try the Merrell Barefoot Trail glove.  It was a great choice, light and soft, with a wide toe-box, and a snug fit around the heel (I hate it when my shoes slide around during a run!)  I like these shoes so much that I bought 2 pairs to rotate for running, and a pair for work that I use to teach karate, and cardio kickboxing.  I’ve run a little on the road with them when our demo team marches in parades, but I’m primarily a trail runner and they are great.

Seth (who loves to go barefoot) was interested in some minimalist shoes for running and parkour.  He’s always run in New Balance, and is very happy with his New Balance Minimus Trail shoes.  The most common reaction I get when people see my shoes is “Do you really run in those?  Do they have any support?”  The answers are Yes and then No.  Or people tell me they could never even walk without their insoles or prescription orthotics.  Check out the the links in my sidebar, and do some learning about how are feet were designed to run.  Then step out of your comfort zone (pun intended) and free your feet!