Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Massachusetts Highpoint: Mt Greylock trip report

Kim and I, at this point in our lives were just getting ready to graduate College and were out looking for a few fun hiking trips to do in the local area.  I had already done a quite a bit of hiking, but Kim was new to it so I was looking for something that would be fun but not too strenuous and I came across Mt. Greylock.  As it happened, it is the tallest mountain in Massachusetts, and, since I had already climbed Mt Washington in New Hampshire it would give me two of the 50 state highpoints.  This climb is really what got me into state Highpointing and it has followed me as a hobby for the last 8 years or so. 

With that being said, we planned for a quick weekend day trip out to Adams, MA where the highpoint is located.  We picked the Gould trail for our ascent, mainly because it was about the right distance.  This mountain is criss-crossed with a hundred different possibilities for climbing and can even be accomplished as a drive up but we were looking to make a day of it and didn't want to just drive it. 

The Gould Trail, like many others started out pretty tame with a gentle sloping ascent for the first mile or so and then gradually got more steep as it went.  It was a foggy and slightly rainy morning so the trail was a little soggy but otherwise it was a pretty climb.  The trail guide lists this trail as rising 3.4 miles to the summit and it is listed as "Strenuous"  while I would say that it got me breathing heavy from time to time it was a very easy trail with little to no areas that I would consider "Strenuous". 

There weren't many unbelievable views due to tree cover, and any that we would have been able to peak through the trees were covered by the fog. We made it to the summit in a little over two hours and took some photos but by this time the rain had started to pick up. 
There is a really cool war memorial tower at the summit which, on a clear day would make for a great photo op for this highpoint.  But by the time we got there the fog was so thick you could barely make out the tower if you were standing under it, which you can see below ... we were.

Mt Greylock summit at base of War Memorial with Fog rolling in
At the base of the War Memorial with fog rolling in
 The way down was similar to the hike up with no major issues to report.  The total trip probably took less than 4 hours with time to eat some sandwiches on the trail.

Overall it was a fun little day hike in Western Massachusetts and a definite go to hike if you want to bag a highpoint with Kids as it was pretty easy to navigate.  I would recommend forgoing the auto road and getting out to walk a little in the woods.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pittsburgh Marathon 2015- Race Recap

If you have been reading the Blog you know that my wife and I just recently made the move the Pittsburgh from Colorado Springs.  We had come off of a pretty good train up and race season in 2014 completing 3 half marathons and Kim completed Chicago, less than a year after having a baby.  Pretty impressive if you ask me.  I was supposed to run Chicago with her but alas work got in the way, again, so I did the train up and didn't get to run.  As we were making the move we started looking at local races in the area and thought that the Pittsburgh Marathon would be a great way to get acquainted with the local area.  A side benefit was to be able to train at altitude and then run near sea level.  All that extra oxygen should pay off for us.  OK, so here we go for the recap!

The train up:
Kim  had been using the FIRST training method for her last few races and we both did the Half Marathon plan for the Colfax Half last year.  It is designed to work off of "three quality runs" vs simply logging a ton of miles.  It works for us as we are both working full time and trying to fit in runs around raising a toddler who is constantly into everything and always on the go.  We worked out a pretty good rhythm while we were in Colorado with me running in the mornings right before work and Kim running after work for the sprint and tempo runs and then we would do our long runs on the weekend as a family run with me pushing the stroller.  This worked really well for a long time until life got in the way.  This train up hit us right in the middle of some major transitions, during the train up all of the following happened (though not necessarily in order).  Kim got out of the Air Force and transitioned to being a civilian again, I changed jobs twice in the Army, our son was teething, we moved halfway across the country, Kim had oral surgery, I was diagnosed with a baker's cyst in my knee, and we both started brand new jobs in a new city.  Needless to say, there were weeks that we didn't get all of our runs in.  Despite all of that though, we did our best and were both feeling really good about our fitness going into this race.  We had completed both our 18 and our 20 milers (me pushing a stroller on both) and the rest of our runs in Pittsburgh had gone really well.  That extra oxygen was really starting to feel good in the lungs.  We started our taper a few weeks before the race and we were both really excited.  That was until the very last training run, a mere three days before the big race when I went out on an easy 5 miler and about half way into the run had a sudden shooting pain through my left calf.  I stopped immediately to stretch hoping that it was just a tightness and nothing more.  After about 5 minutes of stretching and massaging I soon realized that I had actually just hurt myself.  I'm still not sure how I did it, or what really I did.  I think that somehow I managed to pull or strain a muscle in just the right way to tear something.  I was hosed, I spent the next few days foam rolling and icing and stretching and hoping that it would feel better.  By race day I had convinced myself that it wasn't that bad and that I could run on it. 

The race expo was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and was pretty well organized.  We made our way through packet pickup pretty easily though the bibs and shirts were given out right at the beginning and the bags at the very end. That was a minor inconvenience when I comes to collecting swag at the various booths but we were equipped with our stroller anyway so not a big deal for us. On the plus side they did have this really cool bridge replica in the middle of the expo, so that was cool.
The rest of the Expo wasn't anything special, but was well spread out so that it didn't get too crowded which was a nice plus.  They also had a really cool wall that had all of the participants names etched on it. That was something I had never seen before and I thought it was pretty cool.

It had your typical booths so you can taste test various types of race nutrition, and places to buy shoes etc.  One thing that I found lacking was a section for race specific clothing, I really only saw some cheesy hats and none of the jackets or shirts that you would expect, they may have been there and I just missed them but if they were there they weren't easily found.  I was also really really underwhelmed by the shirts.  They were a long sleeve tech shirt but the logo looked a lot more like something you would expect out of a 5k than a marathon.  In fact the volunteer shirts were pretty cool, if they had switched it up that would have been fine, I would have been perfectly happy with those shirts, the participant ones were just boring looking.

The race:
This was probably the easiest race morning I have ever had.  The new house that we moved into is walking distance to a T-stop (Pittsburgh light rail trolley system)  and the race corrals and bag drop are right off of a T-stop on the other end.  The trolleys got pretty crowded and it was standing room only on the way there but all things considered it was awesome to not have to fly, drive, park, and/or walk significant distances to get to the race.  It was probably only 30 minutes door to corral for us.  You can't beat that for convenience!  The bag drop was also really well organized as were the directions to get to the corrals, and surprisingly there were plenty of port-a-pottys in and around the start so there were minimal lines.  Once in the Corrals (we were in B) there was plenty of space to stretch so there wasn't that normal "packed in" feeling that you sometimes get but it did get pretty crowded.  For this race they lump all of the half marathoners, full marathoners, and marathon relays into the same starting times so until around mile 12 when the half splits off it kept the course crowded.  Not so crowded that you can't pass at all to run your pace but enough that it would make it a bit of a challenge to do so for the first few miles or so.  They also stagger the starts of the corrals which helped a bit with the congestion, that seemed like a good move to me.  At the gun Kim and I took off running and right off the bat I knew that I was going to have trouble with my calf.  I was getting a decent amount of pain through it with each step.  Our race plan was to run together until mile 12 where the hills start and then I would split off if I was feeling good.  We stuck to that plan and kept about 10 min miles or so for the first 12 although I am not sure I could have run any faster if I wanted to.  At right about 12 miles it felt as though my leg was starting to warm up and I decided to pick up the pace just a bit through some of the hills, I kept that pace for a while until the pain came back with a vengance.  By mile 18 I was in serious pain and not only walked for a little but actually stopped all together to stretch for a little.  I then decided I would run to each aid station and walk through the aid station and stretch a little.  By mile 20 this plan started to unravel and my walking sections lasted longer and longer until around mile 21 when Kim passed me.  I ran with her for a little bit and then told her good luck and let he go ahead as I stopped to stretch again.  It just wasnt going to be my day.  Around mile 23-24 on the big downhill I was having serious trouble but knowing that the end was so near I was able to keep moving forward.  Finally, and it felt like forever, I saw the 25 mile marker and I pushed myself to run the last 1.2 miles in without stopping.  I crossed the finish line at 4:40:14 significantly slower than I was hoping for but I was still proud that I finished after all that pain.  I was really proud of Kim as she came in with a marathon PR of 4:32:17 .  She continues to amaze me. 

Finally Complete!
After the finish we made our way through the chutes to get our Medals and to grab some food and water.  The Medals were HUGE, I mean you could really hurt someone with those things.  I guess I should have expected that out of the steel city but I was taken aback by just how heavy those things were, what the race organizers got wrong on the shirts they made up for in the medals for sure.  We then reunited at the family area, which they organized by last name which I thought was really cool.  It takes the guess work out of finding your loved ones in a sea of 30,000 other people.  Finally we made our way back to the T and back home for some lunch and that was that.

Overall impression:
This was a great race for a smaller city Marathon.  This will never be a race on the Magnitude of Boston or Chicago but they got a lot of things right.  The course was tough with the hills in the second half but it wasn't impossible and it was really well marked with good course and crowd support.  It is the sort of race that I am really glad I did, but not one I would be jumping up and down to do again.  For sure it is a race to check out if you are looking for a spring Marathon though

2015 Pittsburgh marathon Medal front
2015 Pittsburgh Marathon Medal Front

2015 Pittsburgh Marathon Medal reverse, obverse, back
2015 Pittsburgh Marathon Medal Obverse


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fly fishing Little Chartier's Creek

Finally made it out on the water since moving to Southwestern PA about a month ago.  After getting back into fly fishing the last few years in Colorado I decided to keep it up once I got here.  I will have to admit, I was a little worried about not knowing the water at all/ knowing what patterns to fish.  I am not the greatest at matching the hatches that are coming off so I figured that I would have a lot of trouble and would be in for a disappointing day until I fished a few more days and got in the hang of the area.

Wrong I was!  I had a real good day with 5 rainbows to the net as well as a few fingerling rainbows that were more than eager to take my midge.  After only about 30 mins on the stream I stopped in a real nice hole just to the bottom of a riffle and on my second cast I hooked up the this guy:

My first Pennsylvania Trout!

Not a great picture but I was fishing by myself and didn't want to keep him out of the water for too long.  He was about 8-9 inches so nothing incredible but it was my first Pennsylvania trout so I was happy enough to snap a photo. After that guy I hooked up to two more in that hole and then moved on.  I was fishing a two fly setup with a red juju-bee on the bottom and a beadhead pheasant tail up top.  The Juju-bee was where I had all my strikes all day and though I switched out the top fly a few times it didn't seem to make a difference.  Later in the afternoon, I think I hit a pocket of the smallest fish in the river with three of these guys coming up. 

 At this point I was ready to call it a day so I wrapped it up and headed home.  It was really nice to head to a completely foreign water and have some success.  Maybe I am actually starting to figure out this fishing thing after all.  Little Chartiers Creek was a decent waterway but even for mid week it was pretty crowded.  I must have seen at least 10-12 other people out fishing on the short section of the creek I was on.  I was the only one throwing flys, everyone else looked like they were using a spinning setup but it seemed like a nice piece of local water.  I do think I will check out some of the coldwater rivers and streams as I might have a little more luck on those.  But for early in spring before the water warms up this was a pretty nice little spot.  Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, May 1, 2015

How to edit .GPX files in Base Camp

I have several different GPS's that I use frequently for a number of different activities.  The thing I like the most though, other than the built in on the ground data that it gives you is to be able to take that data and analyze it later.  This, however is where a lot of GPS's fall short.  I will give a couple of quick examples of GPS data problems and how to fix them.  I use all Garmin devices so I will be using the Garmin Basecamp software to edit my tracks.  I have used this for my Garmin 310XT (that I use mainly for running and Biking), and on my Garmin Fortrex 401 that I use for Hiking and in the field with the Army, and on my Garmin Etrex Venture HC which is my backup GPS just in case something goes wrong.  I just recently got back from a trip hiking Mt. Elbert in Colorado and had to use a few of these different techniques to get my data to look like it needed to so I hope you will find this useful.

Problem 1:  GPS track records stuff you don't want it to (ie Starts at your house, or records after activity is over)

This is probably the most common issue with the hiking (on the trail) versions of Garmin GPS devices and stems from the fact that the GPS is basically always recording data when it is on.  So essentially if you turn your GPS on at your house to check the batteries then shut it off, drive to where you will be hiking, and then turn it back on and do your hike the GPS will "think" that all of that data was the same event and it will join it up into one track.  Something similar might also happen if you forget to turn off your GPS and/or save your track when you are complete with an activity.  For the fitness based GPS's like the forerunner series you could run into something similar with your data, if for instance, you forget to turn off your watch after a race and then wander around the expo for a half hour recording the whole time.  In my case below you can see at the top left of my track, when I turned on my GPS for the descent down Mt Elbert it popped up with two random data points that I didn't do.  So the distances traveled and elevation gained was way off.  Ok so here's how to deal with that problem.

Step 1: Import your .GPX file into Garmin BaseCamp. Once that is complete your tracks will show up under Data received from: and then the name of your Device.  In my case I have two devices on here, my Fortrex 401 and my Venture HC.  The file I am trying to edit is the Elbert Descent data 1 track from my Garmin Etrex Venture HC.  You can see where I found that track here:

Step 2: Ok so now you have your track selected and you can see the data points that you don't want.  Now is the easy part.  Just double click the track (footprints icon) in the menu on the left and a new window will pop up that looks like this:

Now you can see clearly that the first two data points just don't make any sense, there is no way I was at 6539' of elevation and then suddenly jumped to 14,425' of elevation.  As the GPS was calibrating it went bonkers for a few seconds and I got some strange data, now the rest of the 814 points on here were actually accurate so I don't want to throw out the whole thing but I was also getting "credit" for about a mile of travel and 8,000' of elevation gain that I didn't do.  So all I need to do is to go ahead and delete those incorrect points.

Step 3: Simply go ahead and select the point (or points, you can delete multiple points at a time).  Once the points are selected just right click and click delete. Viola!  Now your data looks like you want it to.

Now you can see that my track looks much cleaner and my track log is showing the correct data from my descent on the summary at the top.

Here you can see my track is now "clean" without the two pesky data points at the beginning.

...and here is the correct "clean" track log showing the correct Summary information and only 814 data points.

 I already Feel better. But... you say that was only the data from the descent! what about the ascent of this fine peak.

Problem 2:  You have two different tracks that need to be joined but the software won't cooperate.

Ok, this is the next thing that happens a lot with the "on the trail" GPS's but also can happen from time to time on a fitness model GPS.  A lot of times tracks will be split up.  This could happen if you shut off your GPS to change out batteries or if you accidentally stop the activity (for a fitness GPS) or save the track (for a hiking GPS) and then start it up again to finish the activity.  This might also happen if you use two different devices for different parts of the same activity.  There are two different ways to join your tracks, so lets get started.

First way:  use Garmin's Join Tracks option (see... Garmin thought about this one) the problem is that the software doesn't always work out perfectly so I will also show you how to manually join tracks, which I like a lot better.  Ok so for the Join Tracks Option here we go. 

Step 1:  Locate the two tracks you want to Join.  From that same climb I worked on earlier I saved the first part of the Descent as one track and then started a new track for the second half of the descent.  So now I need to join those two tracks.  I have them saved in the Folder:  Data received from Etrex Venture HC, and they are both under the list titled Elbert Descent. 


You can see that Elbert descent data 1 is the top half of the descent with Elbert Data 2 being the bottom part of the Descent and that they do not quite Join up.  This isn't really a problem as the Program will essentially just "Draw a line" between the two tracks and create a segment to fill the distance and time it would have taken you to move between the last two known points.  Here is the map of the two segments.

You can see that with both tracks selected they both appear on the screen and you can see the break between Descent Data 1on the left and Descent Data 2 on the right, what I want is for both of these to be in one track.

Step 2:  At this point all you need to do is select both tracks, and right click.  A popup will appear and you just select "Join Selected Tracks".  Go ahead and click that link.

Once you click "Join the Selected Tracks..." you will get another popup on the screen and you will notice that Garmin has drawn a helpful little line showing you where they will connect the track. If you didn't want the track to connect in that way you can select the track and then hit the little turn around arrow icon on the left side of the window and it will reverse the direction.  You can play around with that for a little bit if you need to to get it right.  They will also come up with a generic name, in this case it is "Track 001"  you can change that name later.

Once you see this popup go ahead and click "OK".  Garmin will Give you another Popup saying "A new joined track has been created.  Do you want to delete the original tracks?"

 I always click no here, and this is because you don't really know what your track is going to look like in the end so I find it better to hold onto the original data just in case I made a mistake joining the tracks. and Viola! your track is now joined.  You can see below what it will look like when it is all put together into a single track.

At this point all you need to do is rename the file to something other than Track 001 so it is easy to find.  You do this by selecting the Track and right clicking and then selecting Rename.  I renamed mine to Elbert Full Descent.

And now you are done, from here you can do a ton of different things with the file that I will cover in other blog posts.

Joining tracks Manually:
Sometimes the Join Tracks option doesn't want to cooperate so it is too easy to just bypass and join your own tracks manually.  On the same files I have been working on I used my Fortrex 401 for the ascent and my Etrex venture for the descent (due to my Fortrex running out of batteries right at the top).  I already showed you how to fix data that was skewed and how to join two tracks for the descent lets finish off this trip by combining the Ascent Data with the Descent data.  This would be useful any time you have a device run out of batteries or break and need to switch to a backup device.

Ok so this one is really easy: you are literally just copying and pasting data points from one data log to the other.  The first thing you need to do is just find your two tracks.  For me the first one is the Ascent under my Fortrex 401 folder.  The other track is the Elbert Full Descent that we just made under the ETrex folder.  You can really use either file just pick which one you want to be your "master copy" and then go from there.  I will be using my Elbert Full Descent as my "Master Copy".

Something that makes it easier as well is building a new folder for each trip, that way it keeps you organized.  I won't cover that here but it is useful.

Step 1:  Make duplicate of one of the files to become your master copy and then rename it to something that makes sense.  To duplicate a file simply select the track and right click and then click on duplicate.

Once you select Duplicate it will create a new track with a generic name, usually by adding a 001 to the end of the existing name.  I will go ahead and rename Elbert Full Descent 001 to Elbert Master Copy so I don't get confused.

Step 2:  Copy data from second source into track log of your Master Copy.  You do this by opening up the file that you want to copy from.  In my case it is Elbert Ascent from my Fortrex 401.  Once I have the track log open you just simply select all of the points and  right click and select Copy.

You can see that there are a lot of points to copy on this trip.  729 to be exact.  That is going to make a big file once we put it all together.  I will show you how to drop the file size down after this.

Ok, so now I have the data from the Ascent copied on my clipboard, all I need to do is paste it in place in the Master Copy.

So we just need to select the track for the Master Copy and Paste in the new points.  I have found that sometimes (an I don't know why) the copy option won't work and I will need to use Cut instead.  You might try that if you are having trouble.  All you need to do here is just select the first point (or the last one depending on if you are adding to the beginning or the end of a trip)  and then right click and click paste.

Great, now we are basically done.  Lets take a look at the new track log.  You can see that I now have 1655 data points and a total distance of 11.5 miles hiked with accurate elapsed and moving times for the whole trip.  At this point the data is in a useable format to start exporting it and using it.  I usually publish this stuff using Garmin Connect but you can push this new .GPX data to Google earth, post it to a website, use it to geotag photos, send it back to another device or a million other things.  I wont cover that here but the possibilities are endless if you know what to do with it.

One thing that you might run into though is that the file size can get pretty big.  So I will cover that real quick.

Problem 3: My .GPX file  is too big to do anything with

This problem is one of the easiest to fix.  You simply work on the file using the "Filter" button on the bottom of the track log window.  I will use the same file I have been working on (which has 1655 data points) I want this file to be smaller so I need to take out some of the data that doesn't matter.  For instance I don't really need to know about every second of a trip especially if I was stopped, or traveling in a straight line at a similar pace for a while.  By filtering the data we  an filter out the unnecessary points so the ones that really matter, like when we change direction or speed up or slow down will show and it will reduce the file size without reducing the quality of the data.

Step 1:  Open up the Track Log file of the track you want to reduce the size of and select "Filter"

This will open up another window with a number of options. You can choose to filter by time (ie a data point every second or every 10 seconds etc, by distance, or a number of other factors.  I usually use the max number of data points option.  Garmin is defaulted to 3000 for the max number of points (which is incredibly high, unless this is a file from a multi day trip).  I am going to use 500 points and then make sure you click "save original Track in the lower left just in case you get too carried away and take away too many points. 

And that's it.  The software will take it over from there and determine which points are unnecessary.  In my case it dropped it down to 339 points.  The really cool part is that you can see on the map where it chose points close together where there were a lot of direction changes and took a lot of points out where I was walking relatively straight. 

I hope you found this information useful.  Feel free to ask any questions you have below and get out there and do something with all that data!