Sunday, March 31, 2013

Trails & Ales Tour -- Leg 1

Saturday, March 30th

Daily totals:

- 18 miles (14 trails/4 roads)
- Long Ireland Pale Ale


A beautiful day for Leg 1 of the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour. Mid 50s, bluebird skies, light breeze, and endless trails. For the inaugural outing, I chose to hit up my favorite door-to-trail route from my house in Oakdale and into the Greenbelt Trail -- my “home trail system.” The Greenbelt Trail actually stretches from the South Shore to the North Shore of the island, starting in Heckscher State Park and ending in Cold Spring Harbor.

Living on the South Shore, I’ve run in what I call the “Lower Belt” dozens of times. It takes some road crossings to link up the trailheads, but once inside Connetquot State Park you have plenty of miles of branch-out trails to enjoy. Today I ran the 1.5 miles from my door to the trailhead that picks up along Montauk Highway and carries north into CSP. Two of my favorite “homemade” routes exist on this path, which I’ve taken the liberty to name: “Home-to-Hatchery” and “Totem Point Out-and-Back.” Without veering off into any branch-out sections, these routes cover roughly 7 miles and 10 miles, respectively. With a few more days of trail miles ahead, I’ve chosen to set out each day on the “Tour” with no planned mileage. Rather, I’d go off of feel and keep in mind that I’d like to be rested and good to go for the next day. So today, upon passing the trail intersection I call Totem Point, I continued to the northernmost part of CSP and decided to link the trailheads by crossing over one of the few highways that break up the Greenbelt into sections from north-to-south. I’ve never run any of the ‘middle belt’ sections, which I now refer to as the “Belt Buckle” of the Greenbelt system, mainly because the access to them is broken up by said highways. In the past, I’d typically hit the end of a section, and instead of looking for a link-up, I’d pull a 180 and make a new route on the sections I had just covered. After all, when the trail ends just turn around and watch it start again. But this tour is about rediscovering the familiar and discovering the new, so I gladly opted to take my footfalls into some unfamiliar terrain and explore the beginning of the Belt Buckle.

The newly found trails in this section took me across creeks, through pine needle paths, over root covered single-track, and over boardwalk sections of my native Long Island that I would have otherwise never discovered if I didn’t choose to take that “Trail less traveled.” Cliche through its literary use, but many things are cliche for a reason because they hold simple, undeniable truths (just like a good beer!).

The day’s run took me all the way to Lake Hills, just north of the busy Long Island Expressway -- a far shoot from a somber nature trail with runners, hikers, and horses. This section seems to continue across a few miles of streets before one can link up with the next trailhead to continue the journey to Cold Spring Harbor, but after seeing it is indeed possible to connect the trail sections, I can see a full Greenbelt crossing attempt in my future. I’ve already run from the South Shore to the North Shore on the roads (Ocean to Sound 50 mile race), but making an out-and-back journey along the coveted Greenbelt Trail would be a fresh adventure that would likely fill an adventurers void.

I always go back to this one credo that I came up with in Ireland (where I studied abroad in Spring 2009 and ‘re-discovered’ my love for running, which has grown into what is is today) -- that credo: “There is a Beauty in the Unknown.” I think I revisit that sentiment quite often because it rings true in so many occasions in life. The Unknown is embraced when taking leaps; whether it’s a big, life-changing one, or a “small” and simple one -- like choosing to break the crossroads and leave a familiar trail for the chance of entering a new one. These decisions may not always yield a positive or awe-inspiring result, but when they do, one can truly discover a newfound level of “pure bliss” -- one of the many beautiful things that shows its face when we choose the make the Unknown “known.” Today, I did just that over several miles of once unknown trails, and to honor that in hand-held form, I’ve chosen to do the same with the day’s beer selection on the Trails & Ales Tour...


Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite beer is, I tend to fumble for a concrete answer. That is largely due to the fact that there are just so many out there, just like the trails, that I haven’t yet discovered. Sure, I do have my favorites, but I like to keep my options open and recognize the opportunity for an endless journey. So, instead of leaving others hanging without a proper answer, I almost always grab my canned response, albeit more vague, and broaden the terms to include my favorite KIND of beer. “I’m an IPA guy,” I usually tell anyone who wants to know. “I’m a huge ‘hop head.’” India Pale Ale = Lots of HOPS. I love them. That bitter goodness. The aroma that escapes as you crack the cap off that masterpiece of a bottle. The beauty of watching the amber elixir pour into the glass, knowing that there are a sizable amount of IBUs awaiting your palate. Ah, yes, what a fine pour it is -- a perfectly balanced body-to-head ratio. And before your taste buds reach an unmatched level of ecstasy, a fresh, unmistakable smell sends a soothing tingle to your nose as crosses the rim of the glass. Like a fine wine, you know there are a few ounces of goodness in the very hand that feeds. And then, the first sip -- SMACK! Right in the face, you’re hit with that wonderful hoppiness that you had set out to experience, enjoy, and, if it’s a new beer you’ve chosen to try, discover.

That all may sound like an embellishment of something as simple as drinking a micro brew, but fellow craft beer enthusiasts would likely agree about those simple complexities that come with enjoying a good bottle of something that brewmasters -- true artisans in their own right -- spend countless hours perfecting. Now, I do love varieties other than IPAs, but I bring this issue up because today, the day before Easter, is the last day I am ‘banned’ from enjoying my over-hopped treat. That’s right, forty days ago I had chosen to give up my beloved IPAs for Lent. All kinds of them, too: regular IPAs, Double/Imperial IPAs, RyePAs, Black IPAs, and every other ‘color’ IPA that may exist out there. Silly, yes. Incredibly challenging, you bet. Challenging, not because I am an ‘alcoholic’ -- not at all. Rather, when friends and family had selected a brew to enjoy from the local craft store or neighborhood bar over these past 5 weeks, the hop heads many of them are almost always chose an IPA. My options, however, were limited to other ales, stouts, and lagers as I watched a friend enjoy a finely crafted artwork known as Blue Point Hoptical Illusion -- my ‘favorite,’ as of now. Nonetheless, I’ve taken my Lenten promise as a chance to “play the field” with a few other varieties of beer. I love Pale Ales, many of them just shy of a good IPA, especially when brewers ‘dry-hop’ them. That said, on the final day of “anti-IPA,” the ‘Ale Trail’ has taken me to the local beer wholesaler where I picked up a brew from a local L.I. brewery that I for some reason never before tried: Long Ireland Beer Co.’s Pale Ale, and what a perfect choice it was.

Long Ireland Pale Ale (Riverhead, L.I.):
6.2% ABV

A well-balanced beer with a notable hop character for a standard American Pale Ale. It sipped well and left a nice amount of bitterness in the aftertaste. Though its ABV is above that of a session ale (5.0% ABV or fewer), it’s 6.2% test level blended perfectly with its other components. Easy-drinking, full of flavor -- citrus and grainy undertones. Though I only had one, I’d say its one of those great crafts one could have a few of without becoming ‘bored’ with taste or getting knocked on your butt for “accidentally” having too many of them. I’ll definitely buy this Pale Ale again and I am eager to try other varieties from this fine local L.I. Brewery. I RECOMMEND THIS BREW!

-- Lots of IPAs ahead to make up for the past few weeks! Happy Trails, Hoppy Ales... and miles to go. Stay Relentless.

Follow the Trails & Ales Tour as the journey unfolds #trailsandales

Instagram: @RunningOnBeer
Twitter: @robriccardo

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Thaw -- a look back before the steps ahead

It’s been roughly six months since my last race, six months since my last post, and six months worth of yet another lesson in running. Following my last 50 mile race back in late September I bounced back rather quickly. Within a few days I was feeling great and ready to go. No sign of injuries other than a few minor tweaks that are sure to arise after cranking out 50+ miles in less than 9 hours on a hilly course. But, sure enough, I denounced my plans to take 2 weeks completely off from any running or high impact activity to give my body the full recovery it needed, whether I was feeling any lingering pain or not. Enter the recipe for disaster. Under-recovered and overworked, I slipped slowly and quietly in an injury that would frighten me like never before. It started with a twinge in the back of the right knee. It spread to a tingle down the lower leg. And come to think of it, that tenderness in my hamstring never fully healed since I had crossed the finish line just 6 days prior. Still, I carried on and cranked out a hard 15 miles less than a week after the race -- completely disregarding the recovery plan. Moving forward, those tweaks and twinges and lingering aches turned into a problem that would soon send the notion of an electric shock down my right leg. In the first bout, I pushed through it for a mile or so, but the intensity only grew. Eventually, the pain increased to a nearly excruciating level. For weeks I’d go on battling the pain, only stopping after just a few miles simply because my right leg wouldn’t and couldn’t move without the feeling of a thousand volts shooting from my lower back, down the back of the upper leg, and finally ending in the middle of my shin. My leg was going numb each time I stepped out the door to move freely in my passion. The diagnosis: Sciatic nerve damage. The thought: Was running being taken away from me?

The worst part of the mess is that I knew I was the only one to blame. I’ve always been a huge advocate for recovery. Proper rest is a key part to any training plan. Bill Bowerman, the legendary coach of the University of Oregon track team, said it best: “Stress. Recover. Improve.” A solid 3-step mantra that has no effectiveness if you skip any of those key stepping stones along the way. Therefore, my state of pain and panic had simply come to life because I failed to welcome enough recovery. Now agitated and deflated that my stubborn self would not be logging 10 hours in the trails each weekend for awhile, I needed to find a release and a way to get myself back and ready to go for the spring racing season. The one good thing about this injury was the timing. I usually take it a bit easier in the winter to allow some downtime, but in my mind I was already prepping for longer, new ultramarathons -- Not something one can do when his leg is filling with an electrifying pain before going numb after just 1.5 miles.

After spending too much time in a state of panic for 2 months following the initial injury (with some “pitifully” low mileage weeks), I finally realized that if I didn’t take this winter to really cool off and focus on low-impact cross training and maximum rehabilitation, then there could be a chance I’d never run an ultra again. In the end, I’ve spent the last 4 months on the bike, in the pool, and limiting my running to just 30 miles per week -- a far cry from my typical 70-80 mile weeks. Less running, more cross training, skipping a spring 50 mile race, and getting plenty of acupuncture (something I swear by, ever since my first treatment back in 2011) seems to have brought me to where I am right now: BACK and ready to fly in the Long Island Greenbelt 50k (31 miles) on May 11.

To honor my successful injury rehabilitation, I’m continuing to keep my mileage relatively low each week. I’m still hovering around the low 30s on average, with sufficient time getting in plyometric/bodyweight strength workouts (another practice I’ve always strongly advised and have always enjoyed much more than hitting a weight room) -- not to mention throwing in stair climbs up to my 11th floor apartment after each run, whether it’s after a 3 mile shakeout or a 20 mile long run. The weekends have been still consisted of a good long run or two, mainly in the trails, which I can never get enough of. Weekends away from the concrete City for some trails, trails, and more trails. Some roads -- to get to the trailhead, of course.

Nothing beats a few hours and many miles of “playing” in the woods, discovering new paths in my own wild “backyard” (thanks to Connetquot State Park) and later reflecting on the day’s run with a solid micro brew in front of the bonfire (thanks to my actual, immediate backyard)...

That said, it gives me great pleasure to announce a fun and tasty new project I’ll be starting tomorrow and posting about daily here on Miles ‘til Midnight: the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour -- 5 days of pure bliss courtesy of L.I.’s endless trails and craft beer. A “stay-cation” for the sole, soul, and taste buds, the “Trails & Ales” tour will come complete with a daily writeup on the blog -- full of thoughts and ramblings from the trail, followed by a nice beer review or two (or more) highlighting the local micro brews I plan to enjoy each day, preferably fireside.

For endless reasons -- and many more unknown -- craft beer is a huge part of the trail running/ultra running community. For one, I believe it is the simple, community-driven aspect that both of these niche passions have formed close ties over the years. Many trail runners are probably just as versed in the complexity of the frothy treats as the brew masters themselves. For those of you that do run and compete in trail and ultra races, you are probably well aware of this beautiful relationship between good beer and endless miles. But for those of you that have a disconnect to the sport, I can assure you that there are countless reasons as to why some of our nations finest micro breweries sponsor our races. Both establishments, racing and brewing, thrive on the camaraderie of other runners and artisans, respectively. In that notion, I believe the two institutions have become tethered and continue to grow at a notable rate as more and more people fumble upon the discovery of an endless trail or a hoppy delight. With this next week off, I vow to embrace the freedom and ability to immerse myself in rediscovering these two American beauties -- THAT simple availability is the impetus behind the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour; a morning in the trails, an intermission consisting of whatever else the day brings, and a refreshing elixir to wrap up a day among my family and friends -- all courtesy of L.I.’s finest creations.

Long Island Trails & Ales Tour*

(*occasional Roads and Lagers welcome)

Stay tuned... the Tour kicks off TOMORROW! Check back here each night for a recap (to keep up on-the-go, follow instagram @RunningOnBeer ... #TrailsAndAles for some visual stimulation as it happens).

Happy Trails and Hoppy Ales...

...Stay Relentless.