Author: zach

Super Marathon

Super Marathon

After a disappointing marathon experience at Boston this April, I was determined to run a quick marathon this year, so I signed up for the Super Fast Marathon on June 17th 2023. I previously did this race in June of 2019 and ran a 2:45:33. 

Oyster Dome 50K

Oyster Dome 50K

The Oyster Dome 50K caught my interest in late June, despite the July 8th start date. It seemed to be the perfect final tune up race before Fat Dog 120 on August 10th. The plan was for the race to act as both a long 

Squak in the Dark

Squak in the Dark

Squak in the Dark is a night race that features a 5.7 mile loop with 1500 feet of vertical gain that is repeated for 8 hours. The individual with the most laps in the 8 hour time frame wins the event and there is also a special award for the first to the highest point on the course. The race is hosted by Scott and Elizabeth Sowle of Mountain Running Races. I decided to sign up for the second running of the event on May 27th 2023. 

This race was saddled right between Sun Mountain 50 Miler (May 13th) and Super Fast Marathon (June 17th), so I knew I would be tired and stretched thin, but I felt compelled to try out a night race on one of my favorite mountains. The night run would allow me the opportunity to prepare for my inevitable night section at Fat Dog 120 on August 11th. Also I had never run an official race on Squak Mountain (Cougar Mountain 50K does a significant amount of miles in Squak Mountain SP and Chris Gregory’s unofficial Best of Squak takes place on the mountain), so this seemed to be a great opportunity. 

The race started from the secluded May Valley entrance of the park on the mountain’s south side. In true Mountain Running Races style, there was an extravagant start/finish area and a well stocked aid station at the trailhead. The race got underway at 9:00PM and the mass of runners barreled across the parking lot en route to the May Valley Loop trail.  

I took the early lead in hopes of reaching the highpoint of the course first. The trail trended gradually uphill as we followed the switchbacking trail along the ravine of McDonald Creek. The narrow dirt path passed over a few wooden bridges and the tall trees filtered what little light was remaining. However, I went without a headlamp on the first ascent. Another runner, Josh Fry, passed me briefly but I passed him back before the horse connector trail and distanced him. 

The horse connector trail was a rare descending path in the opening climb. In fact I was concerned that I made a wrong turn and actually turned back briefly until I saw Josh’s headlamp coming towards me. The Horse Connector trail emptied onto the gravel Squak Mountain Road SE. At this point the trail really pitched upward and I was very confident in my speed on the steep grade. I briefly turned back and did not see a headlamp. I reached the aid station in about 23 minutes (2.5 miles 1723 feet), topping out in first position.

I grabbed a gel and some snacks, rested briefly and then hit the narrow vegetated Phil’s Connector trail back down to May Valley. I turned on my headlamp and tried to dodge any stinging nettles surrounding me. Josh was closing the gap to me, so I began to question whether it was first to the summit or first to complete the first lap that won the “side competition”, so I pushed back to the start/finish. 

At around mile 3.2 the Phil’s Connector trail merged with the Phil’s Creek trail and the course crossed Phil’s Creek via a wooden bridge to the Equestrian Loop trail. The Equestrian Loop trail is a relatively wide groomed trail that features 5 tight switchbacks and a steep trail that parallels Phil’s Creek. As I descended, off in the distance there was an illuminated bridge that reminded me of a miniature No Hands Bridge and I appreciated the decoration. 

I reached the bridge at about 4.7 miles into the course and made my way back to the west side of Phil’s Creek. From here the trail crossed the gravel road and rejoined the May Valley Loop trail back to the start/finish area. I completed the first lap (5.7 miles) in 48:04 and refueled at the aid station. From here Josh joined me on the climb back up to the aid station and we decided to run together for a while.  

As it turns out, a while ended up being the entire race. Essentially, we paced with one another and chatted the rest of the run and Josh’s friend Mike joined for a few laps as well. Overall we kept a fairly even pace and enjoyed a peaceful Squak Mountain evening and morning. On the sixth lap we decided to call a truce and finish the race together since we paced each other for 34 miles previously.

Generally, I was surprised how well I handled the night running given that in most hundreds my mind feels very cloudy running in the dark. I suppose that is due more to the fact that in a hundred, I typically have already run 16 hours by the time darkness falls. It is interesting to learn that it really has little to do with the dark and much more to do with overall fatigue. However, I still had some disorientation and tunnel vision, which is part of the fun of night running. Sometimes I could not remember which trail I was on or even if I was climbing or descending! 

From a nutrition and hydration standpoint, I was pleased, I consumed one or two gels a loop, drank ginger ale or soda at each aid station, and consumed some real foods as well. The cumulative malaise set in on the seventh lap and I was feeling low on calories and tired, but beyond that, I felt strong the entire race. Josh and I locked arms and stopped the clock together at 7:19:09 for 7 laps and a total of 39.9 miles.

Thanks so much to Scott, Elizabeth, and all the excellent volunteers for putting on a great event. Thanks to Josh (and Mike) for sharing so many miles. Thanks to Troy for prerunning the course and trimming back Nettle. Finally, thanks to Apryle for helping me get all my race nutrition together to make the night a success.

LapOverall TimeLap Time
Sun Mountain 50 Miler

Sun Mountain 50 Miler

I departed for Lake Patterson Cabins in the late evening of May 12th and arrived before midnight (after a 4 hour 30 minute drive) and was welcomed by Aaron Long and the Cowgills. They were kind enough to let me set up my sleeping pad 

Chirico Tenpeat

Chirico Tenpeat

Since moving to the greater Issy Alps area in 2017 I wanted to complete the Chirico Tenpeat event. The race has developed quite a reputation among my circle of trail running friends and it struck me as something that I needed to do as a 

Ohio Spring Birding Part I: Bird Banding

Ohio Spring Birding Part I: Bird Banding

In May 2022 Apryle and I had the the opportunity to observe Tom and Paula Bartlett banding birds on Kelleys Island and at Springville Marsh. I was first exposed to bird banding at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado back in spring of 2013 and found it to be an interesting experience. Bird banding provides useful data for both scientific research and land management practices. According to USGS, banding individual birds allows for observation of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth. Because of the netting and handling, banding can be stressful for birds, but the overall data collected ultimately makes positive impacts in the longterm survival of many species.

Growing up in Tiffin, Ohio, my dad said for many years that I should link up with Tom Bartlett (a Tiffin resident) because he is an avid birder and master bird bander. Tom has banded a over 100,000 birds since 1971. His consistency and longevity over the years is truly a source of inspiration for me in terms of contributing to conservation. He has served as a mentor for numerous banders-in-training, as receiving your bander’s license requires coursework and an intense apprenticeship. Tom is a research associate at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and his banding data provides insight into the biodiversity of habitat and coupled with the work of other scientists, reveals migration routes of birds.

Tom has been banding on Kelleys Island since 1996 and as of 2021, he has banded 23,704 individuals of 122 species. Kelleys Island is located in Lake Erie’s western basin, four miles north of Marblehead (on the mainland). Although the island is only four square miles it is the largest American island in Lake Erie. Apryle and I reached the island by ferry and camped at the state park in order to be ready for early morning birding.

Specifically, Tom sets up his mist nets at the restricted Jones Preserve on Long Point. The Jones Point Preserve is a 21 acre parcel that was donated in the late 1970s. It is a vital stopover point for migratory birds, particularly warblers, prior to crossing Lake Erie. We accompanied the team of banders as they removed birds from the mist nets and then assisted with data entry for each bird we captured. A number of measurements help researchers ascertain the body condition, age, and species of the birds. Following the banding of the birds, we snapped a photo and released them back into the wild. Tom and his team prioritize each bird’s wellbeing and go to every measure to minimize stress on the birds.

Following our Kelleys Island birding adventure, we again accompanied Tom and team at Springville Marsh with bird banding. Springville Marsh State Nature Preserve is 201 acres making it the largest inland wetland in northwest Ohio. Despite the uniform agricultural and industrial disruption in the area, the marsh has persisted in much the same way that it has since the last ice age. There is abundant ground water consisting of calcium-rich springs which nourishes the unique plant life and bird life. Therefore, it is a great place to bird band in the springtime, which is what Tom has done since 1984. The mist nets were set up on the boardwalk with a few in an adjacent woodland. Although we saw many of the same species that we saw on Kelleys Island, there were many different species that prefer marsh habitat.

Overall it was an incredible experience and Apryle and I are very grateful to Tom for allowing us to join in on the banding experience.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Sandhill Crane
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Eastern Screech Owl
Downy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Philadelphia Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Tree Swallow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Eastern Bluebird
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainsons Thrush
American Robin
House Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Baltimore Oriole
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Canada Warbler
Wilsons Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Run Forest Run 50K

Run Forest Run 50K

The Run Forest Run 50 kilometer race took place on February 18th 2023. I arrived at the start/finish area at Lake Sylvia State Park in the early morning hours as the sun was rising and an eerie translucent fog hung in the air above the 

Mojave Desert Adventure Part V

Mojave Desert Adventure Part V

On January 13th we were scheduled to join a birding group at Las Vegas Springs Preserve, so we made our way in to the city in the early morning equipped with our 600mm zoom camera. Las Vegas Springs Preserve is a lush oasis in an 

Mojave Desert Adventure Part IV

Mojave Desert Adventure Part IV

On the fourth day in the Mojave Desert we got off to a slow start and left our hotel room rather late (8:30AM) and we decided to explore Pahrump’s own Discovery Park in earnest. Discovery Park is interesting because it is an open space that has been restored from an old golf course. Furthermore, most of the restoration has been done by adjacent land owners. The park has a ~2 mile paved loop trail around it, but there are several informal trails throughout the reclaimed golf course. 

The park lies in the middle of a residential neighborhood and offers views of Mount Charleston to the northeast. There is an odd mix of open bare earth, invasive grasses, towering cottonwood trees and pines. There is also a small stream complete with various riparian willows. The centerpiece of the space includes two unnatural looking ponds situated at the halfway point on the trail and there is a bright white fence bookending the trail. It is clear that this space was once a human designed landscape, but it is actually very interesting to watch it being reclaimed by the desert. 

The main focus of our walk was birding – we identified several species including: American Widgeon, Canada Goose, Mallard, Snow Goose, White-fronted Goose, Swan Goose, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Costa’s Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Common Raven, Phainopepla, European Starling, Common Yellowthroat, Great-tailed Grackle, and White-crowned Sparrow. Most of these birds naturally occur in the area, but the pair of Swan Geese was a unique surprise and were likely domestic escapees. In one of the backyards there was a feeding tray which the Swan Geese appeared to be utilizing along with several dozen other waterfowl. Even though this was not a natural setting, I will still count the Swan Geese in my life list of birds. 

After our morning birding, we traveled back to Red Rock Canyon for some more trail running. I was so impressed by the beauty of the area on the first day of the trip, that I thought it warranted further exploration. So we made our way entrance of the 13 mile scenic drive and Apryle dropped me at the Turtlehead Peak trailhead. Turtlehead Peak stands 6324 feet and is the highest non-technical summit of Red Rock Canyon. It was a beautiful route that started in a wide dry creek-bed and gradually ascended into a rocky gully. Route finding was a little difficult but ultimately I had my course set for a distant saddle which proceeded the final pitch to the official summit. The slanted final slope had a slight snow accumulation over the red and gray rock. The earth tones were punctuated by barrel cacti, juniper, and manzanita. I reached the summit in 31:33 and felt as though I could have gone a few minutes faster if I had not lost my way on a few occasions. The whole out and back was 4.7 miles with 2000 vertical feet.

Following my summit of Turtlehead, Apryle joined me on the second run which circumnavigated White Rock Mountain. This was in my top five favorite desert loops of all time due to its stunning scenery, vegetation, trail conditions, and historic importance. The route started with a quick jog up a gravel road to the White Rock Loop trail and we elected to go in a counterclockwise direction. The opening two miles gradually ascended from 4600 feet to 5400 feet and passed around the northeast corner of White Rock Mountain. The smooth crushed gravel path meandered through a naturally maintained garden of bitterbrush, sagebrush, cholla, and yucca with the occasional pinyon pine.

As the trail descended southwestward along the mountain the plant life changed once again and the pinyon pines were joined by dense stands of juniper. The understory was dominated by sagebrush, bitterbrush, yucca, manzanita, prickly pear and beavertail cacti. The soil turned from crushed gray gravel to red claylike earth and multicolored pebbles. The mountain slopes of the La Madre Wilderness mountains to the northwest looked like prime Bighorn Sheep habitat, but we saw none. The vermilion and beige cliffside spires towered above the pale green juniper stands creating picturesque views to our southeast. 

The loop trail dove southeastward into a gap in the rocks and turned into a much wider trail near a parking area. Here we deviated from the loop to find some petroglyphs carved into the cliff-side. The petroglyphs are estimated to be 800 years old and though Apryle is typically not a fan of art in parks, for these ancient drawings, she made an exception. We got back on the main trail and decided to add onto the White Rock loop by taking the Willow Springs loop trail. This trail passed by more wall art and then split to the Lost Creek trail. 

The Lost Creek trail was an unexpected twist to the high desert loop. The trail was under heavy tree cover and straddled a clear running stream. In this riparian ecosystem it was a greatest hits of Red Rock Canyon plant life, the manzanita poked up through bitterbrush, while prickly pear cacti occupied all the spaces in between. Desert willow, western redbud, skunkbrush sumac, and turnbinella oak hugged the rocky shore of the stream while pinyon pine and juniper reached for the sun. The vegetation created a narrow tunnel along the stream and opened up to a shallow basin at the foot of a 20 foot waterfall. We felt very fortunate to see this waterfall in the desert, and assumed that there were very few days throughout the year that water even trickles over the ledge. Water tumbled over the precipice and sprayed mist into the air creating an experience more akin to our home in western Washington.

We returned to Willow Springs loop trail and emerged onto a long wooden boardwalk that overlooked the vast desert below. From here we crossed Rocky Gap Road and got back onto the White Rock loop trail and began an ascent back to the initial trailhead. The southeast side of White Rock Mountain had a completely different look and feel from the northwest side. There were no trees; cholla cacti, yucca and bitterbrush attempted to fill the vertical void, but fell short. The crushed gravel trail snaked along, passing by reddish tan sandstone rock in various stages of decomposition strewn across the undulating landscape. Barrel Cacti emerged from the most inhospitable crags, while ghosts of sagebrush stood in memory of their former photosynthesizing selves. The sun set behind the towering mountains to the west as we completed the White Rock loop (8.5 miles 1545 vertical feet).

Mojave Desert Part III

Mojave Desert Part III

On January 11th Apryle and I emerged from our warm hotel room and shuffled out into the cold parking lot in the pre dawn hours. We cleared the frost accumulation from the windshield and loaded the car with our hydration packs and food for a