I pinched these excerpts from a recent post on Will Gadd’s blog, cos I wanted to save them. Will is a paraglider, kayaker, rock & ice climber, and general outdoor adventurer – yet most of these tips seem to apply to pretty much any athletic endeavour, or indeed life in general.
Attack your weaknesses. If you don’t know what your weakness is, that’s your weakness.
Be ruthless about distractions.
Avoid “performance boosters”.
Avoid any book with “Diet” on the front cover.
Hang out with people who do what you want to do, are stoked, and are better at it than you.
Go do your sport with love, intensity and meaning.
It’s well-known that even in the middle of summer, the weather can be pretty fickle up in the hills. Last Sunday, the day after I did the Great Range Traverse in the Adirondacks, I went for a little stroll up Pitchoff Mountain to stretch the legs a bit before the long drive home. Just as I got to the last, steepest section of the ascent I got caught in a wicked rain shower which seemingly appeared from nowhere.
When I got to the top (very wet and bedraggled) I took these two photos, just a few seconds apart but looking in opposite directions.
Despite the soaking, Pitchoff Mountain has got to be one of the best value hikes I’ve ever done. It’s a good, fun trail to the top with a little bit of very light scrambling near the top, capped with awesome 360 degree views from the rocky summit. The best bit is that access is right off the highway, and you can be up and down in a couple of hours.
So, as planned, I attempted to climb the entire Adirondack Great Range in a day last weekend. I’ve wanted to have a go at this for some time so I was stoked to finally get down there and have at it.
Short Version: It was rough but I got it done.
I drove down Friday afternoon, bought food, scouted out the trailhead parking situation and then went to bed earlyish in anticipation of an early start.
Saturday morning I got up at 5am and was on the trail by 5:45am. I set off at a silly-quick pace, thinking I’d get round in something ridiculous like 10 or 11 hours (bearing in mind the fastest known time is just under 6 hours, by a super-talented trailrunner, this was somewhat optimistic). The trails in the Adirondacks are generally narrow, steep, and either muddy, hideously rocky or both. Until you’ve hiked on them it’s hard to appreciate just how slow-going it can be. On a good hiking trail I’d expect to cover 5km in an hour. On this route I could only manage about 2.5km per hour.
The first third of the route is almost all in the forest, with lots of ups and downs (mostly ups) as you pass Rooster Comb, Lower Wolfjaw, Upper Wolfjaw and Armstrong. It’s fairly unrewarding, gaining 3400′ of elevation without getting to enjoy any really epic summit vistas. Getting from the trailhead to the top of Armstrong took me 4 hours 15.
The middle third is the most enjoyable. Over the next 4 or 5 hours I summited Gothics (probably the most enjoyable ascent/descent in the Adirondacks), Saddleback, Basin and both Little Haystack and Haystack. All of them have exposed, rocky summits and require at least a bit of rock-hopping or scrambling to get up or down them. Being above treeline is always a good thing, as you can generally see for miles and you get to feel the wind in your hair. However, as is common in the High Peaks, there was a LOT of wind in my hair on this occasion. So much that I almost lost my hat, and the filling literally blew out of my turkey sandwich. Consequently the strategy was generally “get up on top, get a quick photo, then scamper down off the summit for a snack”.
The final peak on the traverse is Mt Marcy. It’s also the highest peak in New York state, and consequently one of the busiest. I don’t like Marcy much. It feels too much like a tourist attraction. Hence I got up it as fast as I could (which wasn’t very fast seeing as I’d been hiking for 9 hours by this point), shot a quick video message to send to a friend who was running an Ultra marathon on Jersey the same day, then got down.
The final, and hardest, challenge of the day was getting from the summit of Mt Marcy back to The Garden trailhead. It’s all downhill, but on trails as rugged as these there’s no way to make use of that downhilliness. In some respects the loss of elevation just means you pound your knees harder and stepping down from one rock to another gives even more opportunities to fall on your face. From the top of Marcy to the trailhead took me 3 1/2 boring, painful hours for a total trip time of 13 hours 22 minutes.
Overall, it was a super tough day out. Over 30km, and somewhere approaching 10,000′ of elevation gained and lost. Long, arduous, sometimes tedious – exactly what I expected, and wanted. I was interested to see what it would be like to keep moving quickly for such a long time, and the answer was that I can handle it but the knees and feet started to get cranky after 8 or 9 hours. I was slower than I hoped but in retrospect I don’t see how a hiker can cover that route in less than 12 hours. To go faster than that you’d need to be a very lightly laden, and a very skilled trail runner.
I’m not in a hurry to do that entire route again, especially not in a day, but I’d love to go back in the fall and do Gothics with Krista, maybe incorporating an overnight camp in the valley.
As I’m not working at the moment I’m on a bit of a budget, but fortunately it was a pretty affordable trip too. I spent $150 on gas (I covered about 1200km in the car), $50 on food for the weekend, another $50 on two night’s accommodation in the bunkroom at Tmax-n-Tops Hostel (definitely a recommended place to stay if you’re a lone hiker or on a budget) and that’s about it.
Krista has new trail running shoes. Salomon Speedcross 3’s, no less. Better traction than an M1 Abrams tank, and under 300 grams per foot. Not exactly “stealth” colour scheme though. To mark the occasion we went for a run in Crother’s Woods. The Don Valley is a fantastic place to run. Although mountain bikers make most use of the trails, the mix of single- and double-track trails, steep climbs, winding downhills and the triumvirate of roots/rocks/rubble makes for good running.
The Spartan Race season is done. No more road trips to obscure ski resorts, no more scraped knees, no more AROO’ing. So how did we get on? They say “You’ll Know At The Finish Line”, and my gut feel is that it was boatload of fun, I really enjoyed it, and I feel like I was moving way faster than last year. But what do the cells of my mystical Excel sheet say? Really, I have a spreadsheet with my results in it…
I finished in the top 5% at the Sprint distance, top 13% at the Super distance (at a new and not-very-competitive event), and just sneaked into the first half of the field at the Beast in Ottawa.
Almost made it into the top 1% at the Toronto Sprint, made the top 5% at the (crazily competitive) Super in Mont Tremblant, and finished in the top 13% at the Ottawa Beast. So, according to the numbers, I moved up the field in each of the distances which can only be good news.
So am I actually any faster?
Because the course, conditions and competitors change from one season to the next it’s hard to know for sure if you’ve improved or not, but it felt to me this year like the people winning the events were better athletes than the people winning last year (and the finish times back that up), and yet I was finishing in a similar time relative to the winner as I was last year. So I reckon the other guys got quicker, but I kept up with them just as well (or badly) as last year. Typically I finished in about 135-140% of the winner’s time this season and last season (ie if the winner finished in 100 minutes, I took about 135 minutes).
What about Krista?
Any statistical analysis of Krista’s results is pointless. The single goal for her in 2013 was to finish the Beast. Every other event was treated as either practice or conditioning. The result was good. In 2012 she dropped out of the Beast after about 3 hours, knowing she wasn’t strong enough to complete the course. This year she kept going at a consistent pace for 7+ hours, completing the course in good style with a smile on her face. She crossed the line, got the medal, completed the Trifecta. It was a pass or fail test, and she passed. I couldn’t be more proud, and she couldn’t be happier.