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A Fall Trail Race With Summer Temps

A Fall Trail Race With Summer Temps

There is always a week in September that feels like the middle of summer. After a relatively benign and at times even chilly end of summer and beginning of autumn (see my previous post about Labor Day weekend), the warmth and humidity struck down upon New York. Everything felt like summer except for the noticeably earlier sunsets and tints of orange and reds beginning to creep their way into the foliage.

Macricostas Preserve, September 2017

Amidst the heat, Maddie and I set out to check off an event that has been on our calendars for a while by now: the first leg of the Steep Rock Trail Series, a 10k trail race held at the Macricostas Preserve just over the Connecticut boarder from Pawling. The last race in which we both participated was the Middlebury Maple Run in the spring – a road race with over a thousand runners. The race on Sunday was the polar opposite. The field was no more than sixty people, the start of the race was in a large field a good ten-minute walk from the parking lot, and the course was about as technical as it gets. The brainchild of a local ultra-runner and running coach, the Steep Rock series has three legs spread throughout the fall, each at a different nature preserve near Washington, CT.

I cannot speak for the other two venues yet, but so far, “steep rock” is by no means an exaggeration. The trails at Macricostas turned up a mountain after the first mile, reached the pinnacle after 550 feet of elevation gain, and plummeted down the backside. Then we did it all in reverse, doubling back and looping around the ridgeline before one last rocky descent. When we emerged from the woods and into the open field for the last half-mile, the heat and humidity of the day hit like a wall even though it was only nine o’clock in the morning.

Maddie was the champion of the day, besting me by a minute or two and destroying the other female competitors. I came in fifth for men – a respectable place to finish for my first race in four months. But it was not the overall standings that made the day a success for me; rather, it was experiencing the unique feeling of focus that comes over me when I race on trails. Navigating something as technical as the 10k race course required internal and external awareness, command over my body and my mind, and a whole spectrum of creativity and athletic abilities.

Macricostas Preserve, September 2017

Trail running is so vastly different than road running, especially at venues as hilly and challenging as what I ran on Sunday. It is not a stretch to compare these activities to mountain biking versus road biking; one requires steady exertion and pacing, the other a broader athletic skillset. Trail running is better suited to my abilities and interests than road running, and that is why I jumped at the opportunity to race in the Steep Rock series.

I see the benefits and fun in both types of running. During the weeks, I have been participating in Central Park Track Club workouts, which have given me a chance to train with elite road runners. My endurance base is not quite where I want it to be, but I feel myself improving. Adding in longer runs as the weather cools down plus a more regular commitment to lifting and core will help prepare me for the half marathon at the end of the series. I have six weeks until that race, and I am sure, when I am knee deep in one of the three river crossings planned on that course, I will be wishing for the Indian Summer weather that we have now. Until then, and afterwards too of course, I will continue to seek out trails on the weekends, because nothing is better than a trail run on a crisp fall day with a blanket of colorful leaves cushioning every step.

Macricostas Preserve, September 2017
Labor Day, Home, Two Birthdays

Labor Day, Home, Two Birthdays

No transition from one month to another is as definitive as that of August to September. Besides the clarity of the summer-to-fall weather patterns in New England (whereas every other seasonal transition seems unpredictable), Labor Day always marks the end of summer and the time to head back to school. And, of course, the commencement of another soccer season.

But this year it is different. Granted, I do feel as if September is really the start for me here in New York. August was my warm up month to get comfortable in my new office, learn my way around the city, and enjoy typical summertime activities on the weekends. With the financial world ramping up after the slowest months of the year, this month has a different aura. Maddie and I are also moving into our apartment in the coming week, which, once we are settled, will feel like the real start of things. (More on the apartment to come).

Lake George, September 2017

Yet, despite these various instances of new momentum in my life, I missed the definitive end and beginning that Labor Day has always represented. I will openly admit that I feel those pangs of nostalgia as I see my friends heading back to Vermont for the start of the semester and a new soccer season. It is not immaturity or jealously, it is the simple fact that Vermont in autumn is one of the greatest things in the world.

So, Maddie and I did what felt most natural: we made the trip up to Williamstown for the long weekend and set out on adventures. By far the biggest was her final triathlon of the year in Lake George. We rose Saturday morning to temps in the thirties and wrapped ourselves in the blanket of stars above us as we made the drive north. It was awe-inspiring to step into the bustle and energy of the triathlon transition zone so early in the morning, especially with the sun beginning to rise and the steamy fog rising off the lake.

Maddie, barefooted in her wetsuit yet still wearing a puffy down jacket, prepared for her final tri of the season while I mapped out my spectating plans. I like getting out on the course, especially once the swim leg is over and the competitors go out for the bike. Being an Olympic distance race, I knew Maddie would be on her bike for over an hour, covering the 24.6 mile counterclockwise loop that rose into the Adirondack foothills surrounding Lake George before descending back down to the transition zone. So, after she finished a challenging swim due to the dense fog and glare, I made my way out. My first stop was a coffee shop where I fueled up and grabbed a maple bacon donut. Feeling content, I jogged over to a turn where I could watch bikers coming in and runners finishing their first lap. Maddie was racing on her new tri bike for the first time, and she whizzed by me a few minutes sooner than I expected. I then jogged the route for the run in reverse, catching Maddie at mile one and then again just before mile four. We both arrived at the finish around the same time, and she ended up fourth overall and the winner of the run by two minutes.

I love watching triathlons, especially when I get to do a little exploring of my own. By the end of the race, the day had warmed to seventy degrees – a perfect Saturday on the edge of summer and fall.

The tenor of the weekend shifted gears as we made the drive back to Williamstown on Saturday afternoon, from high intensity and detailed preparations to laid back time with the family. Maddie certainly deserved a rest after her efforts, and I was excited to be home for a few days. I played soccer with my brother, who just started his senior year soccer season at Mt. Greylock, and ran with Maddie and my dad, but it was the birthday celebration that topped everything else.

My family, along with both sets of grandparents and the Storey cousins from Westport, gathered to celebrate two birthdays: Maddie’s twenty-fourth and my dad’s forty-ninth. It was a blast to see everyone and to take an evening to appreciate those closest to me. We missed my sister, who was already up at Bowdoin for junior year, but the party was still a blast. I got to be the grill-master and cooked burgers over an open fire because the gas grill was not working. No complaints on my end; the little bit of extra effort made the meal all the more special.

Back in the city on Monday evening (Labor Day and Maddie’s actual birthday), we celebrated once again with a dinner at Quality Eats, a new Upper East Side favorite. I am beginning to understand how the current popularity of lower Manhattan dictates culture all over the city, and I have been pleased to find many trendy restaurants and coffee shops opening locations further uptown and closer to where I am living.

As I settle into September and prepare for the move to the new apartment, I welcome and embrace the fall vibes that are starting to creep into my life once again. It is a fantastic time of year anywhere, and though I am not in Vermont or starting up another school year, there is plenty to look forward to. This is where I will be, and this is what I will be doing. I feel as curious and excited as ever.

Pawling, August 2017
On Sports, and Things of That Nature

On Sports, and Things of That Nature

What is next? This was one of the big questions I was asking myself when I launched this blog in the December 2016 – specifically in regard to sports and fitness. I had just completed my fourth and final season as a member of the Middlebury soccer team. Everything I had worked for in high school and beforehand culminated in the opportunity I had to play college soccer. I felt so lucky that the experience was so positive, that I found teammates who will be friends forever, and that the program encouraged me to pursue all of my academic interests just as strongly as they supported me while I was on the field.

And yet, coming to the end of my college soccer career left a void. Though I am sure I will have pangs of longing when its late August rolls around and I am not stepping onto the pitch for the first day of preseason, I have tried to see filling the empty space that soccer left in my life as an exciting opportunity.

As winter and spring sped by at Middlebury, I tried to use the time that I had usually devoted to offseason soccer training to enjoy other forms of physical activity. The winter included more skiing (both alpine and nordic) than ever before as well as rock climbing and IM basketball. During the spring, I ramped up my trail running, cycling, and mountain biking – and I now consider all three of those sports to be among my favorites. And there was always time for a hike, a round of golf, and of course, pick-up soccer.

Number one training buddy!

One of the frustrating elements of my month in Germany was the lack of time and freedom I had to work out. Sure, I managed to enjoy some incredible runs, to swim in the pool, and to play plenty of knock-out and one-on-one on the Abbensen basketball court, but I missed many of the activities that I love.

Now I am living in New York City. The move felt like I could press the reset button on my athletics. There is plenty I can do in the city, but nothing will beat stepping out of my dorm and finding myself on the eighteen-mile Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), or seeing the sun set over the Adirondacks and scaling a peak the following morning. So I have entered a process of discovery: reconsidering my athletic goals, seeing what is possible (and affordable) in the city, and tinkering as much as I can to make both of those align. I am thrilled about Central Park, about yoga mats in small places, and of course, about Pawling.

Getting out of the city this weekend felt amazing. I fished and swam in Quaker Lake and went on a grueling twenty-eight-mile bike ride that featured a few Category 3 and 4 climbs. Pawling is a hilly place. I know that I have done little to deserve this fortune – for many, getting out of the city in the summer is not an option, let alone someone who has only worked for three days – so I am doing my best not to take anything for granted.

Between the city and Pawling, I will have plenty of opportunities to train and to stay in shape. I have a ten-mile trail race in the Shawangunks bookmarked on my calendar for late September, and I will go from there. My swimming and biking have improved tremendously in 2017, and I can see giving triathlons a shot down the road. And soccer will always be there. A team of mostly Midd Soccer alums plays on Sunday afternoons in New York, and I hope to get in on the action as soon as I feel settled in.

There is one thing I know for sure: New York will give me an entirely new perspective on sports and fitness, and I see that as a great benefit for my continued transition into post-Middlebury athletics.

Appreciating a ride with a view all the more these days
Cruising Over the Hump

Cruising Over the Hump

When the end is in sight, sometimes the best way to get there is with an epic effort. That’s how I felt on Sunday, for two different reasons.

First, Maddie and I teamed up to defend our title as Mixed Relay Champions of the Middlebury Maple Run. We had stiffer competition this year in the Middlebury Cross Country coach and her husband, and though the rain held off, stiff winds blew all over the course. My opening leg left a little to be desired, especially because I gave Maddie about a minute of time to make up over our competition during her leg, but I was proud of my effort and the way I ran the final mile. Fortunately, I had a talented and fast teammate who blew away her leg of the relay and ensured that we kept our title. We finished in 1 hour 30 minutes and pocketed $100 for our hard work!

I had little time to relish over the victory, though, because of a more pressing deadline. My critical thesis, the 40+ page comprehensive analysis of the fiction of Alistair MacLeod that I had been dreaming about since the Fall of junior year, was due just over twenty-four hours after the Maple Run ended. So, I set out to suspend my fatigue, compartmentalize the soreness in my legs, and complete my thesis.

At noon the next day, after forfeiting a few hours of sleep and consuming a few extra cups of coffee, I submitted a bound copy of my thesis to the English department. I felt as if there were very few works left in me, but that mattered little, because the final product was polished and coherent. The words that I had been trying to nail down since September finally fell into place in a way that was clear, presentable, and made me proud. Hopefully, I stumbled upon some profound statements about MacLeod’s work along the way.

My thesis, titled “The Heart’s Compass: Disorientation and Reorientation in the Stories of Alistair MacLeod” can be found on my Portfolio page and on the website I built that pays homage to MacLeod.

It is both rewarding and strange to complete a project that has enveloped so much of my time and thoughts over the past twelve months. I am glad that I kept a few journals going along the way, because the process is what I will remember years from now when I forget the details of my critical stance or finer points of my arguments. It was a long process, but I am glad I gave myself the time to thoroughly understand the material, to learn to love it not just for the brilliance of the storytelling but also for the layers of deeper meaning that unveiled themselves only after months of analysis. I am not quite finished, as I still have to defend my thesis, but I am glad that I have finished the biggest hurdle.

More Questions than Answers

More Questions than Answers

Vermont has transitioned from Winter to Spring since I last wrote, and with it, I feel the end accelerating towards me. I am on track, continuing to garner compliments on my thesis progress from both of my advisors and to make time for fun activities on a daily basis, and yet I find myself teetering more frequently than I would like.

Events have passed by in a blur, and I hope to capture the most meaningful snippets in this post. Below are two photos from “Winter” – the first, from my final visit to Craftsbury over Spring Break (I think that brings my total Craftsbury days to five –not bad considering the distance from Middlebury); the second, from the April Fools’ Day snowstorm that dumped eight inches of wet powder on Westport.

Two days later, I was out on my road bike for the first time, and now that it has reached 75 degrees two days in a row, it is officially Spring. When I delineate in this manner, it all sounds so easy. But the first week-and-a-half of the second half of my final semester has been anything but straightforward. My thoughts exist in multiple planes and temporalities, seemingly at all times. Between two theses and their upcoming deadlines, woodworking projects, and the temptation of springtime activities, I have enough to crowd my vision – but that is just the present and nearest future. I am also considering my bucket list items and all of my commitments before graduation, the logistics of my post-graduation plans before I leave for Germany, and finally the reality of moving to New York and beginning my job there. It is not stress that I feel, but rather a desire to not let anyone down, especially myself. Every day that is unproductive or strays from the plan that I outline feels like a blow to this goal.

But I am moving forward, even if I allow myself to relish in long lunches on the Atwater patio, spend extra hours in the wood shop, or drink a beer on a weeknight. And I am allowing three facets of my life to spur me onwards. First, my fingers continue to write. The lulls in motivation to do so are there, but every day I am able to write something, and when I sustain focus, the results are impressive, even to me. Second, I have a new pair of running shoes – The Freedom ISO from Saucony (pictured below). They are the best running shoes I have ever owned, and they will be put to the test in races this spring, beginning with two that I have signed up for at the end of April and first weekend of May. With a spring in my step, I am getting fitter and faster. Third, and most notably, Maddie and I have signed a lease for an apartment in New York. We will be on the first floor of a newly renovated building on 58th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and though the space is significantly smaller than our setup in the Townhouses on campus, it will be the first time we can call a space our own. We are particularly jazzed about the location (both of us can walk to work), the tiny-house concept applied in the design to maximize the utility of the space, and the small patio out back for sitting in the sun or grilling on the weekends. There will be many details to come about the apartment, especially as I begin to build furniture for it, but for now, I am thrilled to know that come September, Maddie and I will be settled into New York life together.

A Weekend in Maine

A Weekend in Maine

This past weekend, Maddie and I traversed across New England and found ourselves in Maine to visit my sister at Bowdoin College and to stay with my longtime family friends, the Appleyards. The weekend marked our one-quarter mark of the Spring semester, so it felt right to break up the predictable/unpredictable patterns of life in Middlebury with a big trip. We were lucky that our schedules allowed an adventure of this distance, and we were even luckier to have such wonderful people to greet us at our destination.

Ice-crusted tidal lands

The ocean breezes of the Maine coastline were particularly biting and difficult to escape, despite our best efforts to bundle up. We picked up Miranda at Bowdoin on Friday evening and the three of us joined Ruth and Jonathan Appleyard at their beautiful Woolwich home for dinner. Rekindling old friendships and in Maddie’s case making new ones was easy sitting around the wood stove; we’re all on our individual adventures, but seeing how they overlap is a joyful process of discovery, memory, and self-reflection. I think this is a process that occurs any time I return to a space that feels like home, and I want to thank the Appleyards for welcoming us into such a space. (And for letting us take their dog for a chilly but beautiful sunrise run!) I was born in Maine, and though my memories of my time living there are probably recreations of stories told to me about my two and three-year-old self, I still feel rooted in the landscapes and geography.

I was reminded throughout our stay of the last time I visited the Appleyard’s home on my way to Cape Breton in May of 2016. Then, my eagerness to explore a new corner of the world was tempered by the exhaustion I felt coming off the most grueling semester of my time at Middlebury. I was traveling alone, too, and though I have practiced and loved solo traveling since my gap year, there is something special about sharing a journey with my best friend my your side. That was the case this time around, and Maddie and I had a fantastic weekend.

Highlights included visiting Portland for some winter farmers’ markets, warming drinks at Bard Coffee, and a brief stop at the Bissell Brothers, one of Maine’s finest breweries. We also explored Freeport and the L.L.Bean flagship store, further inspiring me to make this spring and the month of June as outdoors-oriented as possible.

The crowning moment of the trip, however, was watching Maddie cross the finish line in PR time at the very cold and windy Hampton Beach half marathon. She is launching a blog with her best friend and training partner about racing, training, and cooking, and it’s nice to start the 2017 racing season off with a PR!

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