Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finding Perfect Vermont for Trail Runners

The NETT news room recently got this report in from Crazy Dave about his recent trip to Vermont. It sounds like the kind of trip a pile of Mini Ponies will enjoy!

For years I've had a torrid love affair. It started in college, continued through my bachelor years, and yes, it even continues now even though I am very happily married. In fact, my lovely wife not only supports, but participates in this affair. 

I am in love with Vermont. And for years, I have been traveling and staying in various parts of the state looking for the perfect spot. I have run long stretches of the Long Trail solo and with friends. I've run and hiked to the state's highest peaks -- Stratton, Killington, Camel's Hump, and Mansfield. I've run the Kingdom Trails and even skied at Trapps. 

But this weekend, I think I may have found the perfect spot and here's why. 

  • A small town (population 400)
  • Plenty of lodging (a number of inns, which we'll get to later)
  • Good food available. In a spot you might not expect (don't we all love surprises)
  • Miles of hilly dirt roads leading into the Green Mountain National Forest
  • Trails. Miles of trails. For running. Biking. Hiking. 
  • A very good yoga studio 
  • A local appreciation for running and fitness. 

I'm talking about Pittfsfield, Vermont and if you're a runner, mountain biker, hiker, yoga enthusiast, or just seeking the perfect spot in Vermont to bring a group of friends, this is the spot. 

We were invited to spend the weekend in Pittsfield by the nice folks at Perfect Vermont and we packed about 60 hours' worth of activity into 24. Perfect Vermont is a unique organization -- while their goal is to attract groups to Pittsfield to visit, they're not your typical tourism office. One of the co-founders, Tom, is an experience trail and ultra runner and happily leads visitors on trail runs and hikes on the miles of trails accessible from the town. And the other co-founder Erlin is a yoga instructor who teaches classes as the studio in town. 

We started our visit by visiting the Original General Store right on Route 100 in the center of town. It has a variety of Vermont gifts you'd expect, but it also has unbelievably good food. I don't mean just the usual ham sandwiches. I mean stuffed french toast, fresh fruit smoothies, and reuben sandwiches. 

Despite the rainy weather, I decided to hit the road for a run and put in more than an hour on a soft and scenic dirt road leading me deep into the Green Mountain National Forest (Pittsfield borders the forest). The road I was on gradually turned into more of a jeep road but was easy to follow and a bit less sloppy than the trails for the day. 

We then checked into our inn, the Amee Farm Lodge, which we found to be a great mix of old and new. With about 15 rooms and some welcoming common spaces, the inn was a great place to relax, chat with the other guests, and meet up with our hosts for the weekend, Tom and Erlin. 

Our next activity (I told you we packed a LOT into this weekend) was a tour of the town, courtesy of Perfect Vermont. Pittsfield has several inns, cabins, barns and other function spaces available for retreats (like...oh..I dunno...a trail running club retreat??? Hint hint). We took a look at a few of them and I could definitely see a crew of Mini Ponies spending a few days up here doing what Mini Ponies do...run, eat, and laugh. A lot. 

After our village tour, a few of us decided to muck it up on the trails. Tom and Erlin took us on a hike up the back of a small mountain to visit "Shrek's Cabin." And while it was a rainy day, the view from the top was...mystical...I guess would be the term. It was really cool.

At this point, I should probably mention that Pittsfield is also the birthplace of the Spartan Race and hosts the annual granddaddy of them all, the Death Race. In fact, Shrek's Cabin, a stone structure on top of a mountain only reachable by jeep trail, was built by people competing in or training for the death race. And the stone steps leading up the mountain were also hand delivered by competitors in the events. I know....crazy. Pittsfield also plays hosts to the Peak ultra, snowshoe and trail races.
After our hike we were treated to a fabulous dinner cooked by the new executive chef at the Original General Store and let me tell you...it was goooooood. He and his wife recently moved up to Vermont from New York City to manage the store and cater events and they really put out a good spread. A hearty plate of food that's unique but not pretentious. (BTW, any executive chef that stops by the table and replaces your empty Long Trail beer with a fresh one before you've even asked has won me over!)

On Sunday morning, I decided to climb those illustrious stairs everyone talks about. And they certainly lived up to their reputation. It was a solid 15 minutes or so bottom to top without a letup, but the view from the top was worth the effort. And from that peak you can access miles and miles of the Green Mountain Trails in a variety of directions. Our host Tom said he's been running the trails for nearly a year now and still finds new ones here and there. 

While I was out burning my legs on the stairs, Erlin was hosting  a vinyasa flow yoga class (I decided to spare the nice folks the painful image of me trying to do yoga...I know I know, I should do it, but when given the choice of miles of sloppy trails or a painful yoga class, you know which I'll pick). However, the wife reports that the yoga class was very approachable for both beginners or experienced yoga enthusiasts (yogis? yogaites?) 

After we showered off from our morning's pursuits and enjoyed a breakfast at the Amee Farm Lodge (these nice innkeepers definitely don't rush you out in the morning), we met up with Becca and Joe, the nice couple that runs Sweet Georgia P's Organic Farm. While you might not think a guy from Boston would have much in common with a Vermont goat farmers, turns out I do. These folks started their farm in Scituate, Mass. and only recently moved up to Vermont to get a little more space. They grow a variety of  vegetables for their CSA, which actually has dropoff locations in the Boston area. They told us about how they grow even in the winter in Vermont, described the farm-to-table dinners they host, and answered questions from cityfolk who know nothing about farming (yea, me). 

And then we got to meet the gang. They took us out to mix and mingle with their goats and this...well this was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I honestly don't know if I've ever pet a goat before, but these guys and gals were so welcoming, we left there thinking we should get one for a pet (goodbye lawn mower!). 

By the time the farm tour was done, it was time for lunch (or in my case, brunch), so we headed over to the Original General Store to dig into some french toast, eggs, and (I highly recommend) the Vermonter smoothie. After some friendly chat with the folks that run the store and our weekend hosts from Perfect Vermont, we realized it was time to get on the road. 

On our way home, we took Route 4 to check out Killington (about 15 minutes from Pittsfield) where we were surprised to find the ski lifts still running strong. And we couldn't not stop and visit the Long Trail Brewery to pick up some of their good stuff. 

Overall it was a great weekend of fun and activity. I am sure it won't be long before we head up there again to explore those trails and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to convince a few fellow Mini Ponies to head up with me. 

Boston Marathon One Week Later: Karyn's Take

Now with the race a week past, the NETT news team reached out to one of the excited Mini Ponies to get their take on the race. Here's Eminem's report:

"As for my race, well...I learned that my slowest marathon could also be my best. For the first half it seemed like the planets had aligned in my favor (okay...I had visions of the Mayor placing that laurel crown on my head...). But around mile 16 I started feeling nauseous and at mile 22 my calves unexpectedly seized and cramped and I took a little tumble. In the spirit of the Boston Marathon a total stranger helped me up. He then ran on, but a few minutes later he turned around and came back to tell me he thought I needed salt (which he conveniently happened to be carrying in his belt!). It took 10 -12 minutes of walking (and attempted jogging) before my calves calmed enough to resume running...and run I did. Past BC, down Beacon, right on Hereford, left on Boylston and into the throngs of well-wishers whose signs, cheers and enthusiasm powered me through the finish. Well...I didn't get the crown (turns out it was taken a few hours earlier), but I did get a finisher's medal, an awesome mylar blanket, and a few bags of IV fluid.

How to summarize it? Best. Day. Ever.

Thank you to all those folks who helped make it meaningful for me.

P.S. For those who like numbers, I finished in 4:26:36, which gave me half an hour longer than anticipated to take in what has to be one of the most emotional and dramatic marathons since Phiddipides collapsed in Athens : )

PPS: Best post race discovery: my iPhone was zipped into a mesh pocket on the back of my shorts and unbeknownst to me, my bum was taking photos and videos of runners behind me for miles. I have the coolest avant-garde collection of photos and videos ever. See below for one of my favorites!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Congrats to NETT's Boston Marathoners!!

Big congrats to NETT's contingent in this year's Boston Marathon. Four of the most steadfast Mini Ponyettes trained hard all winter through rain, ice, cold, and injuries to successfully get to the Boylston Street finish line this year.

Mary and Amanda ran together on all of their training runs and continued that partnership stride-for-stride during the race, pacing each other to a  3:38 finish time, looking like it was a walk in the park the whole time.

Tina and Karyn both ran for the Boston Medical Center charity team, raising money for a very worth cause. Here's Tina's take on her 3:41 finish.

"The first half went quite well. However, I started feeling a cramp on the right calf around the halfway mark.  I was literally talking to my calf, yelling 'not now! I still have another half to go.'  Thus, for the next few miles, I concentrated on getting Gatorade. If you saw me try to wave yes, I was trying to wave :)  I think because I drank so much Gatorade and water, I got side stitches for the last 10K.  I had to dig in really deep to finish and when I got to the BMC meeting area, I had to deal with three blisters while changing in the bathroom.  I spent so much time taking care of the blisters, the BMC volunteers actually asked me whether I was ok, probably thinking I passed out. Big thank you to everyone for being out there cheering for us all. Especially waiting for someone like me who's at the last wave."

Despite dealing with some dehydration issues along the way, Karyn refused to quit or be brought to the medical tent on the course and finished in 4:26 getting some free table salt for her trouble from a complete stranger!

NETT had a good cheering crew out on the course, with Crazy Dave, Big Ben, Fluffy, AC, and Dr. Ron setting up shop on Comm Ave.

Big congrats to all!

Monday, April 14, 2014

NETT Braves the Mud, Hills, and...Snow? At the Rivah

Five hearty Mini Ponies made the trip to Andover this weekend to run the Merrimack River Trail Race (aka the Rivvvah) with some impressive results.

The first mile of the race featured a couple major snowpiles (from where the snow gets dumped off route 93) which made that section a unique challenge. There was some good mud and of course, the hills don't get any smaller on this course.

But it didn't deter our hearty crew. We'll start with Adrienne, who finished fifth woman overall and second in her (new) age group with a very strong run finishing the course in 1:22. "It really was a picture perfect day," she said. "We had to scale an iceberg or be careful not to fall into the river. I did manage to beat the gaggle of high school girls who were running."

Bob also managed to capture second place in his age group in the very competitive race field, finishing in 1:31. "Adrienne breezed by me about mile 2 and I never saw her again until she was coming back in," he said. "I love how the race director, Stephen, entertains us before during (he even pops up in the middle of the course), and after the race, and how he talks about how much his late friend Tom loved running so much."

Chris managed to grab fourth in the very competitive 40-49 age group cranking through the course in a very speedy 1:08.

And lastly heterolifemates Crazy Dave and Big Ben ran the first half of the race together and then picked it up in the second half to finish 1:15 and 1:17 respectively. For Crazy Dave, it was 19 years since he first ran the Rivah. "My log book shows I ran a 'tempo run' at 1:05 that year....Father Time is no friend of mine!"

As always, it was a well organized event that raised a lot of money for the Thomas Chamberas Scholarship Fund. Petey was everywhere on the course, making Monty Python references on the top of the biggest hill and turning the post-race awards into some kind of runners' game show. He puts everything he has into this race, with his trusty cohort Dave Dunham, NETT pal Tom Hildreth and many others working behind the scenes on this race.

Congrats to these folks for successfully putting this race into its third decade.