Race Report: Vegan Power 25k, Pittsfield MA

On Saturday, June 18, I ran the Vegan Power 25K in Pittsfield State Forest, Massachusetts. The Race Director is an old friend from my herbalism-shamanism days. It was wonderful to see her again, and to participate in this trailfest of an event that she's created with some other great people!

And all for a good cause! This year's record-breaking proceeds go to VINE Sanctuary in Vermont, supporting animals rescued from the meat, dairy, and egg industries among other things. VINE stands for Veganism Is the Next Evolution.

Since I'd switched over to the 25k (instead of the 50k), my start time had changed from 7am to 10am. So instead of camping out on Friday night, I could just get up early on Saturday to drive the 2ish hours from Vermont to Pittsfield. The race was set up so that 25k participants could pick up bibs after the 50k had already started (basically right up until 9:45), which I really appreciated.

I packed everything I could think of, because who knows what one may encounter! Maybe it's goofy to take so much stuff, but I had a whole car with me, so why not?? Here's my inventory:

Post race bag:
  • Complete change of clothes, including underwear
  • Flip flops
  • Wallet
  • Cookie
Hydration vest to wear during race:
  • Water
  • GU Roctane mix in handheld bottle (stashed in back of vest)
  • Toilet paper just-in-case
  • Bandana
  • Lip balm
  • Smart phone
  • GU roctane gels
  • Half eaten Lara bar (leftover from children)
Drop bag, to leave at start/finish point in case I needed anything during loops:
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Body glide (aka anti-chafe balm)
  • Picky bars (energy/recovery food)
  • Extra sneakers
  • Extra socks
  • Extra shirt
Cool bag (left in car during race):
  • Freezable ice-block
  • Recovery shake (chocolate protein powder with water)
  • Wet body wipe (towel thingy I got with my Stridebox once)
  • Extra water
I also packed some CDs for the trip, and a printout of directions that I wisely ignored in favor of my phone's talking GPS app.

OK, so I leave Brattleboro and get to Pittsfield State Park with well over an hour to spare before the 25k starts at 10am.

Race registration is at this cool Nature Center that used to be part of the CCC program (Civilian Conservation Corps).

The race start/finish is at the Lulu Brook area that seems perfect not only for picnics and grilling, but family swimming too (check out the small pond in the background).

Another view of the Lulu Brook area, showing the convenient comfort station where runners can refresh before or after their race.

The 25k is 3 loops of 5 miles, and we started 3 hours after the 50k folks--10am. So people were already on-course and doing an amazing job by the time the 15-milers started.

The race director gave a great kick-off speech, and then we started to run. Straight up a hill (I quickly started walking the hill). Here are two things I did not know about the Vegan Power course but learned quickly:
  1. There are a LOT of switchbacks. These are not the types of switchbacks à la Tour de France that indicate you are going up or down a hill. They are random switchbacks, where the trail just twists and turns through the woods. If my GPS had been able to accurately trace the route, it might have shown that I was running a twisty word such as "houyhnhnmism." The effect of the switchbacks was remarkable—before the end of the first loop I started to wonder what was wrong with me and why my heart was racing. By well into the second loop I realized that I should really, really be walking some of this stuff in order to finish well or at all.
  2. There are a LOT of roots. Not everywhere. Not always. But there are at least 1000 roots to deal with on any given loop, and that takes a lot of focus, which means a lot of energy. A side effect of so many roots is that people fall. I fell in the middle of my second loop and tried to pop up again. From what I've read on facebook, many other people also fell—some more than once. It's really hard to avoid those bazillion root snags!
Here is some race data:

Loop 1 split: 57:44. Here I was getting to know the course and being confused by the effect the switchbacks were having on my body. Drinking Roctane, no hydration vest yet. Getting out of breath!

Loop 2 time: 2:01:00. I was feeling pretty great on this loop after the Roctane (which contains caffeine). Picked up hydration vest filled with water only. Took a hard (but at least not bloody) fall about halfway through.

Loop 3 time: 3:12:51. This loop took FOREVER. I wasn't hurting from the fall much because I kept moving, but I was ready to be done by halfway around (as I'd anticipated would happen from my 11-mile trail run practice race). I was talking myself through the second half of this loop (OUT LOUD!). I finally finished after approximately one million years.

This little style of logs piled up around a longer log became my imagined halfway point on the loop. Every time, I was so happy to see it again.

The Vegan Power races have EXCELLENT vegan treats at the finish line, including this pizza from Baba Louie's that I can't stop thinking about. I've tried to replicate it at home already--olives, artichoke hearts, broccoli, roasted red pepper, tofu, vegan cheese... YUM.

I plan to run this 25k again next year. Maybe I'll bring my family to splash about in the pond while I run. Thanks Vegan Power for a great day!

All About That Wastebasket: How to Reduce Trash Production in 1 Easy Step

I am so proud of our town of Brattleboro and their forward-thinking, effective campaign to organize town waste streams. Several years ago there was a big gafuffle about a Pay as You Throw (PAYT) proposal, which would require purchasing trash bags to alleviate the cost of picking it up and hauling it each week. Even though other towns in the area do this, the idea got a lot of negative reaction. Nobody wanted to SUDDENLY switch to buying trash bags for all of the trash (and unfortunately some recycling too). Large households and low income households were predicted to be hit the hardest.

Was there some way to help townspeople actually cut down on their trash so PAYT wouldn't be so costly?

Flash forward to the curbside compost program. You purchase a container the right size for your household, and place in it all manner of degradable material, from clementine crates to meat bones to cat litter to regular kitchen scraps. Suddenly our trash bags were much lighter since much of it was now hauled away as compost. At the same time, the town started picking up recycling every week.

After a few years of this, the PAYT program started, with two sizes of bags. Given the effort to ramp up composting and recycling, the transition was fairly smooth. We use the $1 small bags, and we don't even generate enough trash for weekly pickup, so we only put it out every other week. We also diligently compost everything we can, and recycle cardboard, plastic, and cans every week. Because the compost program is working so well, having to pay fifty cents a week for a bag is a minor imposition.

Next month, Brattleboro rolls out yet another phase of the plan, reducing trash pickup to every other week. Essentially the populace has now been trained to focus on compost and recycling and reduce trash production. I'm impressed.

This is all a long introduction to my brilliant bathroom wastebasket solution.

Here's the problem: we were great at separating out compost from trash in the kitchen, but in the bathroom we still blended everything together. A wastebasket that was 90% tissues and cardboard cotton swabs would be deemed trash because there were, say, a few plastic dental flossers or adhesive bandages mixed in.

The solution? I divided our bathroom system into trash and compost, just like the kitchen. We use compostable Biobags for the larger container with all the tissues etc. We can just gather it up and put it in our compost bin. The other tiny container is for trash. I trim the handles off a plastic grocery bag to create a mini bin liner. We now have a miniscule amount of bathroom trash every week.

So now 90% of our bathroom waste is diverted from the trash stream into the compost stream, and just a dollop goes into our biweekly trash bag.

Isn't that amazing?? It's the little things, eh?

Race report: West River Trail Run

When I first moved to Vermont in the mid-90s, I encountered a book called "36 Miles of Trouble: The Story of the West River RR." Written by Victor Morse and published right here in Brattleboro in 1973, the slim volume collects the many trials and tales of the mythic railroad line that ran from Brattleboro to South Londonderry which is, you guessed it, 36 miles away.

I devoured the book in one sitting because in addition to being slim, it was also fascinating and sometimes hilarious. The railroad line opened in 1880 and was closed down for good in 1936. The train had a disturbing tendency to derail. It was notoriously slow and late. The route ran up such a steep hill near Newfane that the train had to be hauled up in two sections. The railroad was said to run "try-daily," meaning it would head to Brattleboro in the morning and try to get back to South Londonderry that night. There are tons of other stories--I just ordered myself the book so I can revisit them.

To this day, while the tracks of the West River Railroad are long gone, you can see where the railroad left its mark on this corner of Vermont. Bridge piers are still standing in a few places along the West River. And the railbed itself is, in sections, a fantastic trail for hiking, biking, skiing... or running. So when I heard about the West River Trail Run, nicknamed "11 miles of trouble," it went right onto my to-do list of races for this year. I love trails, I love running, I love the West River Railroad's twisted history: perfect!

The West River Trail Run is in its 4th year and nicely organized. Since it's a point to point event it's recommended to park at the finish, Jamaica State Park, and a bus transports runners to the start in South Londonderry.  (I'm talking about the longer 11-mile option, but there is also a 5k that starts and ends at JSP.)

South Londonderry depot has been completely restored in recent years. Race registration is in the depot, and the race starts a few feet down the road.

Nice multi-use sign.

Reproduction of the depot sign reminds us of the 36 miles of trouble.

I love that my bib number was 36. Besides a cotton tee and various other bits of swag, the goodie bag included an all-weather map of the trail's upper section, and a bumper sticker.

I had planned for this race to be training for the 50k I'm supposed to run in 2 weeks. I wanted to test out hydration and nutrition options, and just feel what it's like to actually race again. My last competitive event was back in November.

I loved it! The course is in 3 sections. First, about 4 miles of flattish railbed. Then about 4 miles of forest single-track, which includes the unusual opportunity to run up and over a dam. Finally, about 3 final miles of flattish railbed. 

The middle part of the race is the hardest, but it was also my favorite. I noticed an interesting "capillary action" with runners on the single-track. What had seemed like a well-spaced out group of people suddenly became a traffic jam when we all had to run single file. Fast runners I'd never seen before were suddenly jetting past me in any wider area. I started overtaking runners myself, and then working hard to put them behind me. There were also two women running at a similar pace, and we leapfrogged by each other multiple times as one or the other of us would put in a burst downhill (that was usually me) or uphill (NOT me). Even though I meant for this to be a training run, I got caught up in the single track game and enjoyed a fast, up and down, hiking and running experience.

By the last 3 miles though I was starting to feel beat and ready to stop. I ran out of anti-chafe balm recently, and that was starting to feel... evident. Thank goodness we were back on the rail trail at this point, and I could just go into slog mode. One of my pacer ladies passed me, but the other one never did. To keep going, I started to play a game with myself where I'd pick a tree or rock that I thought was .1 miles away, then run to it and pick the next one. I was way off, but at least it kept me running. 

And then... I was done! I ran 11 miles in 1:57. I honestly thought it would take me about 3 hours so I'm very happy with that! 

There was a race raffle. I won this Lemon Lulu cake.

Concluding thoughts:
  • I still love trail running. It's so varied and pretty.
  • 11 miles is a good distance for me. It was just long enough that it started to feel like work, but not, say, a 50k sufferfest. It felt just right. My legs are sore today, so I know I worked hard and will get stronger as a result.
  • That said... I don't really want to run 50k in only 2 weeks. I don't have enough miles under my belt this season. I could try to clench my teeth and grit it out, but that sounds SO not-fun. I love being in the woods! I want to have fun! I want to revel in what my body can do, and not feel sad or uncomfortable about forcing something I may not be ready for. 
  • So... I've decided to drop down to a 25k for my next race. Fortunately this is an option, and it feels right. It feels like a relief!

Roadside rose at the race start in South Londonderry