Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Middle-Of-The-Week Run! Who knew this was even possible?

   One of the nice things about the switch to Daylight Savings Time is that it almost instantly makes it easier to squeeze in a run after work and before dinner. Today was the one day of the week I get off the earliest (4:00) and that, coupled with the fact that it's actually sunny today, gave me the urge to get out there on the trails.
Out of the park and into the forest...

   There is a park about a hundred meters down the street from us and one corner of it leads into Warbler Woods, another of London's environmentally significant areas, and that is where I headed. I never really think of this as an entranceway to Warbler and, instead, I usually run or hike over a kilometer to get to one of the other entrances. So tonight, I thought I'd just walk a hundred meters over to the park and another hundred meters later I'd be in the woods! And it almost worked out that way!
   I did find myself running along a nice little trail in the woods but this only lasted for about three minutes before I popped out again into the subdivision!
   
...until I came out of the forest!
Now if I had really been remembering the geography of where I was headed, I would have realized this would happen but, then again, I'm not really at that rememberin' age and so I found myself somewhat perplexed as to which way to go next. Fortunately, I took a few steps in the right direction and then saw another opening into the forest off of a nearby side street. From there I headed back in.

   It had been awhile since I'd run in Warbler and for some reason it seemed different. I put this down to having entered a whole new way and it took awhile for things to start to feel familiar.
   In my last blog post, I bemoaned the fact that we had had such little sun over the past month and the running gods must have heard me because today was beautiful and sunny, if somewhat nippy (0C). Things have continued to be dry and tonight presented pretty well the best running conditions I've had lately, with almost no mud at all!
Back INTO the forest....

   As I've talked about before, we had a huge windstorm here in London about three weeks ago and there was a fair bit of damage in the woods tonight. At one point near the end of the trail, a huge uprooted tree lay across it and I had to somewhat nimbly crawl my way through. This has been par for the course in London's forests the past three weeks.
   I finally made it to the far side of the forest and popped out on the Commissioners Road side. From there I ran in the grass along the sidewalks most of the way home. All in all, it was only about a 3K run but the forest part of it featured many steep climbs and descents and, for all intents and purposes, I had done a pretty intense hill repeat session. Probably even more importantly than that, I actually ran during the week! Whoop!
...only to have my way out blocked!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Another "Monday Off" trail run in Komoka!

   Okay, so today was a "Monday Off" and that meant hitting the trails once again. Before that, though, I  needed to make a little trip to the nearest Service Ontario outlet to pick up my new plate sticker for the car. If you remember from my previous post, I had run afoul of the law by driving after my birthday without a valid sticker. Not today, though!

   On Saturday, I had completed my quest of running in all seven of London's environmentally significant areas so today I opted for the tried 'n' true Komoka Provincial Park experience once more.
   It was another grey day, with a high of about 4C. I took a quick look through recent blog posts and the last time I ran in any kind of sunshine was almost three weeks ago. Hopefully, I'll be posting some sunny pics soon!
   Even if it wasn't sunny, at least it was above zero and we haven't had a ton of precipitation lately so the trails are actually beginning to dry out. Still some mud but not nearly as bad as it has been. One of the most consistent features I've run into lately is the
Had to go around this one
amount of wind damage I've encountered all over London. Komoka has been hit pretty hard and there were at least three different times trees had fallen right across the trails, plus all the visible damage in the rest of the forest. This is all the result of a massive windstorm which hit us almost three weeks ago and then went on to do major damage around other parts of the States and Canada east of here. We actually got off fairly easy.

   I had headed towards the west end of the park as this allows the longest run before you need to turn around and head back. At one point I found myself right down by the Thames River and I decided to step out onto the rocks lining it to take a pic. I turned around and saw this small ball of fur out in the open, all curled up into a circle, lying on the rocks. My first thought was that it was a beaver as they are very prevalent in the park. I also wondered if perhaps it was dead but I moved a little closer and saw that it was breathing. Just then it raised its head and looked at me and it was actually a raccoon. I instinctively took a step back but it didn't move and, in fact, curled back up into a ball. It also didn't look like a well raccoon and I was left with the feeling that it was simply waiting for the end. A little sad.
 
The "not well" raccoon.
 Shortly after this, I encountered The Steps. This is a set of wooden steps leading up the side of the river valley, and I have documented them quite a few times already. Back in the late summer, I decided to run up them one time. I almost didn't make it out of the forest on that occasion. Since then, I've only walked up. Today, though, I decided to give them another shot while running. I got to the top and...I didn't feel all that bad! This then had me wondering if maybe all this extra running might be working!

   After The Steps, I ventured on toward the very western end of the park and there I turned around. At this point, I made mistake. I let my natural curiosity get
The Steps through the trees
away with me and I took an unmarked trail on my way back. It led me nowhere and caused me to hike through a field to get back to the original trail. I then made a second mistake by taking yet again another unmarked trail. This trail took me so deep into the underbrush that I eventually had no idea where I was or where I was going. I ended up following deer trails (I could tell by the piles of poop and fur) into thickets that I couldn't possibly imagine a deer being able to get through. Brambles and thorny bushes and you name it. 

   
Matted deer fur, in the midst
of a thicket I was more or less
trapped in...
I managed to make my way to a little bit of higher ground and found that I'd been walking in the totally wrong direction. As much as possible I tried to stay on the higher ground until I made my way back to the regular trails. You're never that far away from civilization at Komoka, so you're never truly lost, per se, but it is possible to get yourself disoriented enough to waste a lot of time and energy getting back on track. This takes a lot of the enjoyment out of a run and this is kind if what happened to me today and, near the end, I just walked it back in. Ended up doing about 7K and I'd been aiming at closer to 10 but I think the same level of exertion had been attained so I was a satisfied and tired runner!
This is the same stretch of trail after
the windstorm. Two of the
beaver-damaged trees on the
right hand side have been toppled!
This is a pic I took of some
beaver damage, before the
big windstorm

Sunday, March 19, 2017

My Brush With The Law (Oh...And A New Trail...)

    Ah, the weekend again and I was off to explore Kilally Meadows, the last remaining ESA (environmentally significant area) in London whose trails I had not visited.
    Kilally is in the northeast part of London so this requires a cross-town trip for me. I took Oxford Street, one of London's main east-west thoroughfares and about half way there I realized there was a police vehicle with flashing lights right behind me. My assumption was that he was headed somewhere on an emergency so, as soon as I could safely pull over and stop, I did.
   Well, he pulled over and stopped right behind me. This is never a good sign. And right up until he got to my window, I had no idea why I'd been stopped. As it turns out, I was driving with an invalid licence plate sticker. My jaw dropped. In Ontario, you need to renew your plate sticker every year as they expire on your birthday. My birthday was last week and for the first time ever I had forgotten to get a new sticker. I have occasionally been late by a couple of days but I have never just totally forgotten. I have stuck this one on my burgeoning "Old Man" file and, needless to say, it put a bit of a damper on my run day. Not to mention the $110 hit to the bank account...
Hmm...which way to go?

   I arrived at the eastern end of Kilally Meadows shortly after and parked in the lot. Once again, I was about to be running in new territory and needed to do a little scouting first. There was a small trail headed north and a concrete path running sort of parallel to it but neither of them was really clearly marked. I vaguely remembered the map showing that the first part of the trail began along multi-use path and so I headed down the concrete path. About fifty yards down the path, there was clearly a marked trail headed off to the right and I happily took it.

   It's been above freezing for the last little while and the trails were pretty muddy in quite a few spots. New trails mean second-guessing at junctions and then the pre-requisite backtracking and a fair amount of this went on today. Eventually I made it all the way to Highbury Ave., which brings you out almost in the middle of a subdivision. The last hundred and fifty yards or so of the trail takes you what feels like right through people's backyards. There are no real fences at this point and it is clear that homeowners have done work on both sides of the trail---a little surreal, actually.
Wind damage
   It was around this point that I decided to check my Garmin. I had purposely been avoiding looking at it because the miles seem to go by faster when you just concentrate on the landscape. Well, I wish I had looked at it a little earlier because it had stopped for some reason. I could remember fooling with it near the beginning and I guess I had paused it, unknowingly. I made sure it was running on the way back and more or less followed the trail exactly and it appears as though I might have run about 5K. This was way shorter than I had originally planned but the alternative was to run back and forth, over and over and today I just didn't feel like it.
   We had one of our worst windstorms ever about a week and a half ago and there was a fair amount of damage done to the forest. This and the fact that at this time of year there is no greenery and very little sun makes the running a little depressing and I had no real urge to formulate mileage today. All I had really been trying to do was cross Kilally Meadows off my list and now I can say I have run in all seven of London's ESAs. I have done some of them the disservice of only having run them in the winter. My plan is to get back to them in the summer and see how the experience changes. Maybe then I'll rate them all! 

P.S. I had way more pictures than this to post but for some reason Blogger's not quite up to snuff today---lots of pics were fine til I uploaded them but many were then only partial pics! Annoying! 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

New Kicks and New Trails! Running in Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills

   It was my birthday this past Friday and I had been given some cash to help celebrate (Thanks, Oma!) so, having the day off, I went out hunting for trailrunning shoes. I hit most of the running stores in London and eventually ended up at Sport Chek in the southwest end of the city.
The new kicks!
 

   It's a fairly new outlet and also has an Atmosphere store attached. Atmosphere has all the "outdoorsy" stuff so I headed there first. I'd actually been looking for some Saucony Peregrines or Xodus but couldn't find them anywhere, except online, and I really wanted shoes now, if you know what I mean (and you do).
One of the many boardwalks
   I found myself staring down at a selection of Salomon shoes. My experience with reading trailrunning and ultra stories is that Salomon comes highly recommended. I did a little bit of online research there in the store and got some pretty positive reviews. I wasn't quite sure, however, so I left the store empty-handed.
   I went home and did a little more extensive research and decided that the Salomon Speedcross 4's were the ones for me. So, back to Atmosphere the next day and home I came with them!
   
I ran into the Teasdales---
Deb, Sean and Ken! I took
a picture of them....
Now, it had been my plan to add another one of the London Environmental Significant Areas (ESAs) to my list of ESAs I'd run the trails in on my birthday but this never happened. We'd had this godawful windstorm the previous day and the remnants of that were still hanging around so I decided to shoe-shop instead. Today, though, with the winds now only a breeze and with new shoes begging to be tried out, I hit the trails!

...and they took a picture of me!
   I headed to the south end of town and the Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills ESA. The singular most significant feature of this ESA are the six large ponds which fall within its boundaries. Apparently the ponds were initially parts of melting glaciers thousands of years ago and have been there since then. Pretty cool. There are trails which wend their way around them and a few viewing stations and, all in all, it's pretty scenic.
One of the viewing decks
   Very early on, the issue of the day became the footing. We've had several days of very warm temps recently and this has produced much mud. People still have been slopping through the mud, though, and leaving holes and ruts. Lately, the temps have dropped and those same holes and ruts are now frozen solid. Does not make for pleasant running!
Got a little off the trail and
ended up passing by this derelict
building. This is on what used to
be veteran's hospital land and
I think this building was part of
the complex.
   About 1.09 kilometers into my run, I stopped to take a pic, while on a short boardwalk. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a family approaching so I stepped off the boardwalk to let them pass. I took another quick look and realized it was the Teasdale family, or at least most of it! I work with Deb a couple of days a week and, in all the running I have ever done, this is the first time I have actually run into people I know, right out of the blue. We chatted, took some pics and I headed off again.
Not a good spot to look down
and check your Garmin...
   As with any brand new area, I did a little exploring. This always involves lots of running in circles and backtracking. Today, this also meant running into the same people over and over again. People and their dogs---everything from little wiener dogs to huge Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds. It always seemed like it was the tiny dogs and puppies that were on leashes and the bigger, unleashed ones were the ones that came bounding at you. The Great Danes, thank Buddha, were leashed.
Down to another viewing area
   I had been aiming to try and run 8K but the number "10" kept running through my head and by the time I was done, I was almost at the 10K mark. Woo hoo! 
   The Salomons worked just fine. They have a pretty gnarly tread and I'm not not sure this made the frozen ruts any easier but, all in all, I'm a happy camper. Or runner, I guess...
This is a "Heritage Tree" and
is actually noted on the map. A little
research afterwords tells me
that it is about 250 years old
and was used as a "meeting
place" for escaped slaves
using the underground railroad
back in the early 1800's.
London has a pretty rich history
in this regard but I had no idea
about this tree until today!
   Being able to now check off the Westminster Ponds, this leaves only one ESA in London I have not run in. It's called Kilally Meadows and it's in the northeast part of town. I have tomorrow off and normally I use my Mondays off to run but I'm a little out of sync with my schedule now so we'll need to see on that one. Next weekend , though, for sure! So far, I've done almost all the ESAs in the winter and I'm really looking forward to seeing the difference the Spring makes. I need to up the mileage quite a bit and a couple of them are close enough to each other I might even string them together for a really long run. We'll see! 
   

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hitting the Sifton Bog

   If you've been following at all, then you know I'm off on Mondays and lately when I've been off on Mondays I've used that time to hit the trails. Well, today was Monday so guess what...?
   Yep, I cancelled my chiro appointment (no fears, I'll re-schedule) and I hit the trails at the Sifton Bog, another one of
I always enjoy the unexplained
signs of man
London's environmentally significant areas (ESAs). After today, I only have two other ESAs in London to hit, Kilally Meadows and Westminster Ponds/Pond Mills.

   I've been to the bog a handful of times over the years, it's one of those areas that attracts school trips and the varied wildlife and plant species are always educational. There is a long boardwalk which takes you out to a large pond in the middle of the bog. At this point there is a thick layer of sphagnum moss surrounding the lake and most school kids visiting there have a memory of actually bouncing on the floating moss.
   In spite of its reputation, it's not really well-known as a
All sorts of little ponds
and boggy areas.
trail-running destination and I had really no idea what I was in for when I went. There are a variety of entrance points but parking seemed to be an issue at the first couple I picked so I ended up parking in the subdivision across the street and walking in from there, not too far really.

   As is my habit, I took a look at the trail map they provide online and it indicated that there were trails well south of the bog itself so that's where I headed.
   This past weekend, the temp was -4C and today it was 12C so a huge difference! It also made the trails very muddy in parts and the screwshoes were useless a lot of the time. The fact that where I was running took me through low-lying bog land didn't help things either.
   
Some paths take you
back to civilization
The worst part about new trails is that you're never quite sure where you're actually headed and what to do at junctions. Makes for a lot of "eenie meenie minee..." time, on top of a lot of backtracking. 

   I also wore too many layers. I could very easily have left the jacket at home and probably would have been fine in shorts, to boot. I rolled up the jacket and slid it through the CamelBak and just made do after that. 
   I am sick of mud. Spring and summer can't come fast enough (I know I'm not alone in this) and I'd almost rather run on snow and ice (none of which come home with you). I keep telling myself that mud means summer is coming but it's not really working.
   So I ran and I ran, taking every side trail I could find.
Found myself in the
main parking lot
Eventually I found myself on a trail in a direction that I didn't remember from the online map. It seemed to follow along the edge of new housing and it was relatively dry so I was happy to run it. Before I knew it, I had popped out onto the parking lot for the people who are just there to visit the pond in the middle of the bog. There was no indication on the map that this trail even existed. On top of that, the large map in the parking lot indicated it quite clearly, although being fairly old it didn't indicate the new housing I'd been running along.

   Seeing as how I was that close to the bog unexpectedly I decided to run on the boardwalk and go take a look at it. This is the first time I'd been to the bog in the "winter" and it was strangely beautiful in a different way than the summer. Eerier, in a way, but not threatening. It's a fairly short run through the forested part and then you pop out into the open pond area. The colours there at the moment are amazing, all sorts of purply red mixed with green and it was quite amazing.
...and out onto the pond
   
The boardwalk through
the forested area...
From there, I more or less backtracked til I got to the main road. From there I just took a walking tour til I made it back to my car. In terms of actual running, all I got in was 5K. Much of that was hill work and that is always beneficial. To have gotten in any real miles, I would have had to have done much backtracking and/or knew the trails like the back of my hand, which I didn't. This is all okay, though, because today I was just exploring and knocking another ESA off my list!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Running The Trails In Meadowlily Woods

   Well, it's the weekend again and I am on a streak of trail runs for the last few weekends so today I headed for
The main entrance to Meadowlily
Woods. I had no idea abut the
pioneer cemetery, I may need to do
a little research on that one!
Meadowlily Woods, another of London's environmentally significant areas. My plan is to eventually have run the trails in all of them---there are seven and as of today I have run in four of them. 

   Winter has returned to these parts with a bit of a vengeance but today was sunny and crisp (-4C) and really not a bad day for running.
   Getting there essentially involved driving taking Commissioners Road all the way across London as I am in the far west end and Meadowlily Woods is in the far east end. The drive was about 25 minutes but if you're on your way to run instead of on your way to work then it's a wonderful drive!
   Depending on how much the trail was shielded by the sun, the running was either on hard snow pack, moist ground or frozen earth. I was extremely happy to still be using my screwshoes as there were many hill climbs and descents that would have have been almost impossible (or at least a lot more dangerous) without them.
Makeshift creek crossing

   After taking a look at the trail map, my plan became to "just go left" whenever I came to a junction. I eventually, as I knew I would, ended up having to take a right hand turn and this took me back out to Commissioners. I ran along it until I had another opportunity to dip back into the woods. After a bit I found I was backtracking and ended up choosing to take a side trail, which wended its way down along the Thames River. At this point I basically ran right out of Meadowlilly Woods. I was running along the river, having no idea how far I could go or where it would take me. The trail was wonderful, though, and I made a mental note to come back someday and just keep going on it. Today, though, it was reaching late afternoon and getting colder so at some point I decided to just stop and go back the way I came.
   
Nice bridge! Not quite as makeshift
What I've enjoyed the most about trail running is that it's not so "performance-based" as running 5K in my own little neighbourhood. I always feel like I've failed running on streets if I don't run just a touch faster than I did the last time. There is none of this with trail running---I run as slow as I want and I rest when I want and I stop and take pics when I want. I wear my Garmin but only to keep track of mileage.

   Here is what is happening, though---I'm running faster over longer stretches. What I find is that I start out with a slow trot but then, without even really realizing it, I speed up. I sort of tell myself hey, your supposed to be running slow but then I tell myself but running fast seems right!
Once again, hard to get away
from the might Thames River!
 

   I can't even tell you how good this feels! After a holiday stretch of over-eating and then being sick for the better part of a month, part of the reason for running slow was because I had to. Choosing to and having to are two totally different things that I find are easy to confuse with one another. It feels awesome to hopefully be getting away from having to!
Kinda cool-looking but I have no
idea what purpose it serves
 
Out of the trees!

Can't even begin to tell you how
tricky it was to get down this much-
steeper-than-it-looks ravine and
back up the other side...
Kinda cool-looking but I have
no idea what purpose I serve,,,
                                             
Nice little pond

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Giving MVHF A Second Chance!

   Monday was my day off and I thought I would head out and hit the trails at the Medway Valley Heritage Forest once again.
At the top of the valley, looking down on Medway Creek.
This pic really doesn't do it justice.

   I had been there probably about a month ago and had left somewhat unimpressed, partly due to not being familiar enough with my surroundings but mainly due to the amount of multi-use path I found myself on. I made a mental note that day to maybe try a different part of the forest and this Monday was the day for that.
   Careful perusing of the map of the forest made me decide to enter near the Elsie Perrin Williams estate. There was a three-car parking lot there and I managed to squeeze in between the other two cars already there. 
   I found myself looking out over the Medway Valley and it was quite scenic. The trail, however, led straight down the side of the valley for about a hundred yards and I really felt more like a mountain goat picking my way down a sheer cliff than anything. Eventually hit bottom and off I went, a-running. In a brand-new area, it's always a bit of a crapshoot picking which way to go at junctions and I must admit I made a couple of bad choices that had me running right back up the wall of the valley long before I wanted to. At one point, I found myself looking straight up at the longest, steepest hill I had ever encountered in my brief trail running history. And those were the actual words running through my head. I took a bit of a breather and then headed up, running. Gasping, I reached about 7/8ths of the way up before I realized I had almost run myself back into the parking lot. I had just run up the same hill I had had to imitate a mountain goat to get down when I first arrived! Won't do that again!
   

At the bottom of the valley.
I then gingerly made my way back down and headed the opposite direction to what I'd done the first time. This had me running along the Medway Creek floodplain and it was actually pretty scenic being that close to the creek, which is really more like a river.
   Unfortunately, I could only go so far before running out of real estate. I actually ran out of trail before I even got that far and found myself picking my way through thickets. At one point, I found myself following tracks which could only have been made by either deer or cloven-hooved satyrs, take your pick. I was pretty sure the trail wasn't for humans and was quite glad to finally find myself back on something which was actually marked.
   At this point, I hadn't even come close to decent mileage but was exhausted by bush-whacking and steep valley walls and so decided to head for home. This, of course, meant
The Hill. Stupid pic doesn't capture its glory!
negotiating (for the fourth time) the same steep hill I told you about at the beginning. This time, I walked.

   Okay, the jury is still out on the Medway valley Heritage Forest. I know there are sections which I still have to encounter and I will simply wait til I do so before I pass any judgement. I know that when I was down by the creek I could see open runnable trails on the other side of it so I will find those and run them!