Headed to B.C.

9 Dec

Sitting in the Albany airport at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m., I decided it was about time to give you all (or anyone who cares) an update. I’m headed to Spokane, Wash., today, where I’ll hop into a vehicle of some sort and drive 6-7 hrs north to Silver Star, British Columbia.

Image

Alex in the a.m., Albany airport, Dec. 9, 5:50 a.m.

I’m off to the mythical land of B.C. for work, and I’m very excited about it. I’ll be in Canada for 10 days covering NorAm races for FasterSkier. I’ll provides updates as the week progresses but I’m starting the weekend off in Silver Star and then driving south about mid-week to Rossland for the second weekend of races.

Wish me luck. I’ll be traveling alone, but it doesn’t bother me one bit. Looking forward to seeing some beautiful places and meeting new people!

Feel free to follow my Twitter account for some Twitpics: twitter.com/Active_Alex

See you on the flip side!

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Stepping it up as the season winds down

12 Oct
Strength circuit with Craftsbury GRP

No, that's not me, but I was recently in Craftsbury with a few members of its Green Racing Program, an elite cross-country ski team based out of northern Vermont. These 20-something-year-old women inspired me during a strength circuit. They did six rounds. I struggled with two.

I had an exercise epiphany earlier this month. Of course, in the average Joe’s world, that means I was feeling a little bit chubby and a whole lot of pain.

After beating myself up mentally on a slow and awkward run, I decided to do something about it. No, this time I wasn’t going to resolve not to eat for the rest of the day (I always end up scoffing down a brownie or cookie a few hours later), cut down calories, or give up anything not organic or “whole” altogether (in my world, that just doesn’t work).

I needed to set some goals and find satisfaction from my workouts rather than disappointment.

For many avid athletes, autumn is a time to wind down. After a summer full of races, they’re tired.

Not me. I had done a couple Spartan/Warrior runs, a few short-distance races, but nothing serious — or nothing I specifically trained for (with the exception of the Spartan Beast … I did plenty of trail running in nervous preparation).

I needed a longer race, something I could put on a calendar and look forward to — maybe. At least I knew it would jumpstart my training.

A few weeks later, I’m feeling much better. Enough with moral victories; I’m really not that sappy of a person. I’m feeling good because I’m fitter.

The race I’m planning on — the 15k Stockade-athon in Schenectady — is still about a month away, but that’s a good thing. I’m getting faster, runs are getting easier and less time on the bike (a sport I love) is forcing me to propel myself on my own two feet.

Running is simple. So why is it so hard? I think because many of us don’t do it enough. Even if we’re pretty active, we do many other things — biking, swimming, hiking, weight lifting — all of which can bring on sore, tired muscles. Then we hit the road on foot and it flat-out hurts.

Maybe nobody else in the world feels like I do. But if you do, consider signing up for something this fall. If you’re not into distance training, how about setting a desired time for a Turkey Trot 5k run? Something is better than nothing, and if you register now, you’ll probably get a T-shirt.

How to chase balloons

23 Sep

It’s balloon time in the Queensbury-Glens Falls region! While you may not be overly excited for the annual Adirondack Balloon Festival taking place near the Warren County Airport this weekend, here is a video and a recycled column on why and how you should get out and watch. (Bring your pet, too!)

For a schedule of events for this weekend’s balloon festival, check The Post-Star and it’s balloon-specific section.

Sportswriter Alex Matthews took her “Anything Active” column to the 38th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival, where she found out what it’s like to chase balloons.

***

Post-Star commentary by Alex Matthews | Posted: Monday, September 27, 2010; poststar.com

As I rolled into the Glens Falls YMCA parking lot in complete darkness at 6 a.m. Sunday, I wondered what I was doing.

I had committed to hot-air balloon chasing – something not entirely “active” but interesting nonetheless – and my mom agreed to meet me before the Adirondack Balloon Festival’s 6:30 a.m. launch time.

Still, it was painfully early for a night-shift sportswriter, and I have no real fascination with balloons. Riding in one seemed almost less appealing than following in my own car.

So why did I do it? The balloon festival comes once a year, and we’re lucky to have it. Besides filling the sky with beautiful hues and bubbly shapes, the balloons are weekend-fillers that create activities.

Chasing one by way of rural roads is one of them. So I filled the gas tank, grabbed my car-loving puppy and left the maps at home for a new experience.

In reality, balloon chasing isn’t high speed and a few gallons of gas on a calm day should be sufficient. My mom and I traveled about 10 miles round trip from the Warren County Airport. Each balloon is typically airborne for about an hour.

The landing site on County Road 36 in Kingsbury was actually a little farther from the airport than others ended up. After chatting with our balloon’s crew members, the local Blacksheep Squadron, we discovered they launched independently from Route 4.

Balloon-chasing lesson No. 1: Pick an unmistakably recognizable balloon. I’d go with a cupcake or a fruit shape rather than a certain color. And don’t detour for coffee.

The day was a success regardless, and we were glad to have found a balloon with local ties and a smiling landowner to greet them.

For those thinking of balloon-chasing next year, here’s an outline of how the morning might go:

6:40 a.m.: Watch some 80 balloons launch from the airport in Queensbury. We chose an outside spot on a hill off County Line Road for a quick exit.

7 a.m.: Coffee stop. Skip it. You’ll get distracted and lose track of your balloon.

7:15-7:30 a.m.: A very slow drive to your destination. We stopped once to see if the balloon was moving.

7:45 a.m.: The landing. Run into the field if you want, but stay out of the way. The crew usually helps move the hovering balloon closer to the road.

8-8:30 a.m.: Talk to the balloonists and their crew members. Feel free to offer a hand in deflating the balloon and packing it up.

***

Active Advice: Ways to actively chase balloons

— Follow on a bicycle: We drove, but the total mileage was only about 10 miles, and some balloons landed closer to the Warren County Airport launch site.

— Wear jeans or long pants and sneakers: If you’re planning on running through a field to meet the balloon.

— Ask the crew if they want help: They’re usually happy to have extra hands deflating the balloon and keeping it off the wet ground.

— Don’t expect champagne: First of all, it’s 8 a.m., and you weren’t really that involved. Bring a bottle of water instead.

— Inquire about riding in a real chase vehicle: Many balloon festivals seek local volunteers as guides to ride with crew members. Visit www.adirondackballoonfest.org to contact organizers.

Thinking about Vermont

5 Sep

A week after Irene swept the eastern coast, communities throughout the country are picking up the pieces.

While many of us remember holding our breaths as the storm touched our hometowns, it’s easy to forget about the effects once it’s long gone. Unless you’re living in Vermont.

Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irene devastated states, destroyed towns and left many without power for days. In central Vermont, and in other severely affected communities, some people are still without a way out. Roads remain closed indefinitely and the looming threat of flash floods with more rain makes it hard to be hopeful they’ll be open soon.

I read an article in yesterday’s Rutland Herald, “Life in isolated towns settling into new (ab) normal,” about the Pittsfield and Stockbridge, Vt. Pittsfield’s emergency management coordinator,Peter Borden, has three cell phones to field calls. The town clerk greeted a caller with the typical: “Hello, Town of Pittsfield,” followed by, “I’m sorry, the town is in a state of emergency. Can you call back in two weeks?”

I tried to get in touch with Spartan Race founder and Pittsfield resident Joe Desena, who runs a bed & breakfast at Riverside Farm. He was quick to get back with me with photos, but we weren’t able to catch each other by phone. On his end, it’s understandable why.

Courtesy Joe Desena -- Three children in Pittsfield, Vt., sit on road washed out by Tropical Storm Irene.

When Irene hit, Desena and his wife, Courtney, made their hilltop B&B into a rescue and relief center. One man was there with a wedding party from New Jersey and recalled the town’s collective efforts in a story on Minyanville.com:

On the first night after the storm, the US marshals came into our bed & breakfast and rounded up any males from the wedding party who felt able to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts. Town members from all walks—lawyers, doctors, the butcher the and even the shepherd quickly put everything aside to ensure the safety of those most affected.

On Thursday, Desena was assisting with cleanup, driving a backhoe with ruined carpet to an oversize trash container in town, the Rutland Herald reported.

For people in areas like this, it’s a long haul ahead. We should keep these people in our thoughts and lend a hand in any way possible.

***

The Red Cross needs monetary donations.

Vermont has a hotline: 1-800-Vermont.

Killington is another area, just a few miles south of Pittsfield, that’s also in distress. (For a comprehensive map on Vermont flooding, closures and emergency info, click here.)

***

I spoke to chat several residents for a recent FasterSkier story on the state of cross-country ski areas in the east following Irene. Most said they’ll be fine by the time winter rolls around, but more rain won’t help. We can’t control the weather, but let’s help our neighbors out.

Working out with fast skiers (a new series)

24 Aug

From FasterSkier.com:

Working out with Perianne Jones

By Alex Matthews

Note: This is the first of a new series about working out with high-performance athletes. The idea is to shed light on the daily routine of someone dedicated to training and share a regular Joe’s story of trying to keep up.

Excerpt: 

A member of Canada’s Senior World Cup Team, Perianne Jones started her classic rollerski with a smooth kick double pole up a gradual climb to the main road. With a sense of what was coming, I ambled along on my road bike.

We chatted throughout the nearly 13-mile workout while Jones and a friend of mine rollerskied at a pace I gauged as moderate. In reality, the 1-½ hour session was part of Jones’ recovery: a 10-day vacation from training full time.

***

For the full story, please visit FasterSkier.com or click here: http://fasterskier.com/2011/08/working-out-with-perianne-jones/

Take a Hike! Putnam Pond and Treadway

13 Aug

Ever been to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area near Ticonderoga, or wanted to but were unsure where to start?

Where do we start?

My dad, Dave Matthews, and his pup, Archie, recently explored an 11-mile loop from Putnam Pond, one of the main starting points into the region, and hiked Treadway Mountain.

***

Here’s his recap and some photos:

The Putnam Pond area offers a wealth of moderate hiking loops connecting several wilderness ponds: Clear, Grizzle Ocean, Lily, Putnam, Rock, and others.

Looking out to Pharaoh Lake

It feels remote, since it’s north of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness (which can also be accessed from the trail heads which begin at Putnam Pond Campground (DEC operated) off Rt. 74 between Schroon Lake and Ticonderoga.

As to the little mountain there – Treadway – it lies west of Putnam Pond and is a 7.5 mile round trip from the campground.

At around 2300′ elevation, it’s not the highest or grandest in the Adirondacks, but the top is mostly open rock and offers 360 degree views – the High Peaks, the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Looking up at Treadway's summit

This is the perfect destination hike for the beginning hiker, looking to get the feel of the vastness of NY’s High Peaks. Not many people, secluded, and also a trail runner’s paradise…gently rolling terrain. Archie loved it!

Taking a break at the top

***

For more on the Putnam Pond area, check out the DEC’s description on its website. 

Submit your own recreational recaps and photos to alex@fasterskier.com or on the Anything Active Facebook page.

Surviving the Spartan Race

8 Aug

Two days after the Spartan Beast Race, a 13-mile trail and obstacle course challenge in Killington, Vt., I think I have the brainpower to reflect on the 6 hours and 15 minutes my younger brother, Will, and I spent out on the mountain.

Before the start, we watched a couple hundred in the elite crew head out at 9 a.m. We were in the 10 a.m. wave and happy to have them go first, break the trail and show us what we were in for. Just before 10, the leaders were back near the base after scaling 1.5 miles up a ski trail and 1.5 down to what we thought was their first obstacle. In all, I think there were 26 out there, and the rock-climbing-like wall and barricade near the bottom ended up being No. 4 or 5 on the list.

As Will and I planned to run up to and over the raging fire at the start, we did a little fist pump. No idea how this is going to go, but we’re going to do it, we thought.

Alex and Will Matthews, center, embark on the beginning of the 13-mile Spartan Beast challenge at Killington Mountain on Saturday, August 6.

The first 3 miles were tough, as expected. Up and down one of Killington’s steeper trails (Superstar, I think), we caught a whiff of the beating sun and the high humidity. When we weren’t on the ski trail hiking amid chest-high grass (the first guys packed it down), we were in the woods ascending steeper routes with rocks and trees to aid us.

The numbers we had been told to write on our heads (for photography purposes) had by now sweat off, and later in the day, our paper bibs would tear off and be lost in the abyss. (Will’s fell off earlier, I think after the mud mounds — think big hills of dirt and hay with waist-high puddles of muddy/hay water between. Mine came off in the final swim — yeah, there were two.)

Either way, we were anonymous out there, like everyone else. We soon found that no matter how fast we completed an obstacle (Will and I were champions at not failing the tasks, the punishment for each was 30 burpees) or how slow we moved up each seemingly endless trail, we were usually with the same people. There was comradery among the suffering and friends that had no names, just funny outbursts or mantras. One guy said it best with each step: “Hard work, dedication. Hard work, dedication.”

There were points of soreness, acid reflux, nausea, cramping (some for me, others for Will), but we moved forward. Will hit a breaking point around mile 8 (we only knew the distance because someone asked an official). He had a severe quad cramp, but kept on keeping on. You couldn’t sit down to work it out; you’d never get back up.

He helped me over 15-foot walls, which he muscled over, and we each carried a 50-pound sandbag for a 1/2-mile hike up annoyingly technical terrain. My neck hurt with the weight bearing down on it, but I pretended the bag was something too valuable to drop: Charlie, my 50-pound bulldog. At that point, some kid looked at me and told me I was a champion. Not exactly, but at mile 9, I took the compliment.

Not knowing when the race would end was a little grueling. We were told it would be 10-12 miles, but in the end, it was longer. Why wouldn’t it be? As we neared what I thought was the finish, Will and I picked up the pace. We could hear the announcer and taste the end of the self-inflicted pain.

We emerged from the woods, and I saw my mom. She looked relieved, and we were too, for a moment, until she said, “Throw me your packs!” We had another swim.

Alex tosses her water pack before the final swim.

This one was longer than the previous pond and in about as murky water as I could stomach, but we jumped in.

Will, center, and Alex, right, keep their heads above water during the final swim of the Spartan Beast Race at Killington.

About 10 minutes later we were still in the water, treading below a bridge and dreading the cable obstacle some 25 feet above. We had to get upside down on a rope strung across the water and inch ourselves across.

One Spartan competitor hangs from the rope cable before attempting to cross the pond at Killington Mountain.

Will and I both tried (he had much more success in getting halfway there before the rope burn and cramping got the best of him), and we both dropped like boulders to the water below. We backstroked to the far side to complete our punishment on a rocky beach, a sad display of pushup-jumps that are burpees, and we walked on.

With three obstacles to go, Will almost completely ceased. The volunteers at the javelin throw told him not to throw it — they could see his muscle spasming. I knew I’d be terrible at tossing the makeshift spear into a hay bale, so I chucked it and got on with the penalty.

Finally, Will threw it. His broomstick hit the bale but didn’t stick, and he moved to the side for his 30 jumps. There was no one counting but yourself at this point, but after everything else we put ourselves through — including a low-lying barbed wire crawl over rocks and muddy water — we weren’t going to cheat ourselves.

Will finished his burpees, we hightailed it over the final wall and darted through the gladiator pit (the two stick-wielding men went after Will and accidentally hit me on the follow-through).

Will waited for me before the finish, and we crossed the line together. A storybook ending to one hell of a day.

As we reflected on the strangeness of the race, the highs and lows, and the accomplishment of it all, we left proud of ourselves and each other. If you can do one of these things (and I recommend nothing longer than the 10-12 mile race), do it with somebody else. Not only can they help you, physically and emotionally out there, but you’ll have the memory to share. No one is going to be able to picture what you went through, no matter how good the photos or videos are.

Alex smiles with her Long Trail Ale after completing Killington's Spartan Beast Race with her brother.

***

Will, a 21-year-old rugby player at UNH, called me up yesterday.

“Want to go for a hike sometime this week?” he asked.

With scraped and bruised legs and soreness just about everywhere, I didn’t think twice.

“Sure, whenever you want,” I said.

It’s pretty neat when something like that makes you want to keep going.

Three days ’til Beast Race

3 Aug

As if I hadn’t learned my lesson after struggling in the West Mountain Warrior Run, I’m about to get my you-know-what handed to me in the Spartan Beast Race on Saturday at Killington.

T.J. Hooker -- The Post-Star: Still a little spring in Alex Matthews' step as she leaps over a tiny fire at the finish of the Warrior Run at West Mountain in Queensbury in June.

For starters, it’s a 10-12 mile mountain and obstacle race. The Warrior Run was 3, maybe. There in June, my biggest problem was that I never looked at an updated course map. It was straight up hill then down, an absolute killer.

This race at Killington, the third tier of the Spartan franchise races (the fourth being the ultimate Death Race), has no definite length, no outline of obstacles and therefore, no course map. I am SCREWED.

At least I’ve been training … a little. Dehydration and poor preparation made the Warrior Run my toughest race yet (and I’ve run a marathon). I’ve never felt so sick or walked so much during a race.

For this event, I’ve recruited my brother, a burly yet fit and mentally tough rugby player. I knew I needed to do this race with someone, and I was hoping it would be someone bigger than me. Main reason: so he can help me with the heavy lifting and be there to hide behind when we run through the gladiator pit.

The gladiator pit? Yeah, that’s one thing I know is coming. Apparently, we have to run by a couple of men swinging long sticks, aiming for any and all body parts.

That sounds bad, but to me, the promised pond-swim is worse. I have a hard time getting into a lake where I know fish await. I think it’s only a 100 yards across, but still.

And then there’s the time. The fastest go-getters should finish in 3 hours. I guess Will and I will shoot for 4-4 1/2, but it’s hard to say. I’m going to get hungry out there.

So as I enjoy my “taper” over the next few days (fattening up and enjoying being pain-free), I likely won’t get much sleep. Has anyone done one of these? The stories about the Death Race were unbelievable, and from what I’ve heard about the Tough Mudder (another type of extreme race), these things are pretty intimidating.

For more info on the race, check out Killington’s Spartan Race website. And the example video on spartanrace.com is definitely worth watching.

I’ll try to get pictures, but am not sure I want this documented.

Evening ride in Gansevoort

2 Aug


Alex Matthews gives a glimpse of an evening ride in Gansevoort, N.Y., in late July with some tips for road bikers in the Moreau-Glens Falls-Queensbury area.

Take a walk in Schuylerville

31 Jul

With an 87-degree day weighing down my walking plans, I decided to take my dog to the water. We live close to the Hudson River so I headed to Schuylerville. Instead of starting at Hardy Park, I turned into the Lock 5 parking lot, crossed the bridge and parked near the garden.

What a find! If you have kids, stay here. The natural and interactive playground is a little overgrown, but could provide hours of entertainment for little ones. (Between the hillside ship, the teepee tunnel and several slides, I wanted to stay and play!)

Beyond the swings, there’s a little dock that I believe you can launch kayaks off and head north of the lock on the Hudson. We headed south toward the Canal Tow Path, which stretches for a mile and a half down into Schuylerville. While it’s tough to access the Hudson at the north end of the path, the canal is right there if your dog needs a drink (and you’re not too grossed out about stagnant water).

Either way, the trail is a great place to walk, run or explore. Just stay on the trail; the adjacent property on the north end is private.

More information and a map can be found on the Schuyler Yacht Basin’s website:

http://www.schuyleryachtbasin.com/attractions.php

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