Optional Frontiers – A Gallery of Landscape and Outback Science

Chasing some new ideas and motivation where boundaries and borders are optional. Hoping to shed some light on our amazing natural world as I travel various directions in pursuit of landscape and science.

Not sure where this will take us, but I started here: Stinson Beach, CA.

2016 Age-Group Champion at Bolder Boulder

Memorial Day ‘Bolder Boulder’ 10K results are official! Mary is this Women’s 73 Champion!
To see the photo/results check out this page below and click on 70-79 Age Group. Scroll to Women AG F73.  Mary headlines the award list of top 15 in this years race. There were actually 37 all together in AGF73. She was 3rd in this list last year (after losing 4 minutes in a fall). I’m in the list below hers at number 9 of the top 15 men in the M73 AG. There were 59 in my AG.

Continue reading 2016 Age-Group Champion at Bolder Boulder

Epson SF-810: Easy running with GPS

When Kevin at Ascent Runs provided the opportunity to try Epson’s SF-810 GPS watch, I was hesitant. How many GPS watches do I need? I have a couple Garmins and a Microsoft Band 2 (a recent purchase), did I want to go through the paces of learning a new device? After a little thought, however, I realized I had not yet found the perfect (for me) running watch, so why not give it a go…

I picked one up at the Love Can Be Cold 8M trail race (Disclosure: Epson provided the watch for this review; but I have no reason to provide anything but an honest personal review). After getting home and uploading my race stats from my Band, I unpacked the new SF-810. The packaging is simple and it comes with a small bit of paper that folds out into a helpful poster-sized instruction sheet – there’s also the usual web-page address providing the same and more.

Simplicity of the SF-810

The first thing I noticed was how light and subtle the watch felt. With a few exceptions, all GPS watches are getting smaller, looking less like wrist-computers and more like, well, watches. The SF-810 presents information on a nice screen surrounded by four simply labeled buttons. Similar to all GPS watches, the SF-810 can be a bit fiddly to set up, but it is relatively simple once the pattern of button pushes and scrolling menus becomes familiar. It becomes even simpler if you download the RUNSENSE app (why all caps?) to your Android or iOS device and establish a Bluetooth connection. At that point your phone becomes an easy interface useful for setting up screen preferences and personal info. I learned of the app after getting my watch set up using the button and scroll puzzle on the watch, and felt silly for not realizing the simplicity of the app beforehand. But once you get the watch’s four screen preferences set to your liking, there is not much else to adjust. I dropped back into the phone app to set for Daylight Savings, but other than that I have not used it much.

Each of the four screens is divided into three user-defined sections: one large central display and two smaller displays above and below. A simple heart-rate zone graph occupies the top of all screens and the bottom shows satellite lock, battery level, and heart-rate connection. I set the first screen to the three things I’m most interested in on a daily basis – distance, pace, and split time. In Espon jargon, “split” seems to be distance, which is fine because I am rarely interested in “laps” or segments within runs (That is until Strava tells me Ryan stole my CR on my front-door trail segment yet again!) Some of the jargon might be more familiar to track and field athletes, and this confused me, your basic trail runner, during initial set up.

A simple button push (lower left) changes to the next screen; here I have total ascent, altitude, and time of day. I’d be happy if those were the only two screens, maybe happier given I don’t really need more data than that. But you got it if you want it, so the user-options continue. I might simply set the third and fourth screens to repeat the first two, so I can just scroll through them (just thought of that), but if you want a live bar-graph of your pace per mile or more heart-rate detail, it’s available. Screen scrolling is easy with the push of a button or a screen-tap (user selectable) so no big deal having four screens; data hounds will love it.

So let’s go run. The watch fits great; the band is flexible, light-weight and simply works. A quick push of the Start/Stop button (upper right) and you don’t have to wait long for satellite lock. It’s impressive – easily the quickest of any device I’ve used. Sure, if you jump a good distance between your usual trail runs and some exotic trailhead, it’ll take a couple more minutes to find you, but on a daily basis it’s just a button-push, a quick wrist-vibration and beep, and you are ready to go. Hit the Start/Stop button again and you’re off. (I used to wonder why everyone at a race-start was holding their wrists; some strange ritual of the religiously running?)

It took me a few looks to get accustomed to the three-decimal places in the distance readout. The combination of an accelerometer, calculating and incorporating your stride-length, with the GPS increases the distance or split accuracy, and I agree that the device’s accuracy is very good, but precision to 1/1000 of a mile or kilometer is silly. Sub-meter-accurate GPS units are complex, expensive devices (I use them daily) and they often require post-processing with base-station comparison. This isn’t a complaint against the watch at all; to me, however, it’s simply irrelevant precision and just made me chuckle – after 9.999 miles (chuckle) the display adjusts to two decimal places. I’m used to the display now and it’s fine, but I really hope no one cares about 1/1000 of anything while on a trail run.

The central display of each screen is easy to read, even for a reading-glasses old guy. I’ve got laser-enhanced distance-vision and can see a pinecone on an oak tree several miles away (who put that there?), but without readers I can’t see my phone at arm’s length. On trail runs in new places I carry my readers, but I rarely have them on my daily trails. But, I’m usually only a Start/Stop user on a daily basis so it isn’t a big deal. I have the watch set to vibrate at each mile interval, so I get feedback when I have a certain goal besides just getting back to the trailhead. On a long outback run, I’ll carry my readers to read my maps and I’m not typically in a big hurry so pulling them out of my pack’s chest pocket is easy-enough if, say, I want to disappoint myself with the day’s elevation gain – “you gotta be kidding me, only 1,200 vertical?!” Anyway, the contrast is good, and almost everyone should find the Espon to have good readability.

SF-810 in the USB Module
SF-810 in the USB Module

As you finish your run, it’s a simple push of the Start/Stop and the measurement pauses. A second push will get you going again, or, more likely, you’ll push and hold to store the data. You can upload the data to the mobile app or connect the phone to the USB connection module (provided with the watch). At first glance, the module seems rather clunky for such an elegant watch. However, attaching the watch and making a good, working connection is super easy. Using Windows 10, the USB connection is immediate and a simple upload dialogue box gets your data into the RUNSENSE cloud-based application (of course, the mobile app via Bluetooth gets you uploaded to the same spot). Your watch gets recharged and updates can be downloaded while docked. I’ve occasionally struggled with various Garmin connectors and Bluetooth glitches; the Epson USB simply works.

The RUNSENSE View website provides an easy place to log and store your daily workouts. All the usual possibilities for tracking your progress and presenting data are here. I find it to be a little busy and overloaded with colorful, cartoonish icons, but there is wide variety in the ways to present data – by activity, by time period, by PRs, etc. It is undoubtedly difficult to provide a new and improved daily log and tracking app, adding to plethora of possibilities across innumerable run/health apps for devices and as web sites. If this is your first app, you’ll probably dig into it and really like it. The data and map (all-important to me) presentations are good and customization seems endless. Like I said, if you start here, you might just stay here and be very happy.

Given personal preferences, however, it’s great that RUNSENSE, like most other cloud-based logs, allows you to connect to several other applications. Your favorite is probably here. I’m a long-time, habitual Strava-user and prefer its data presentations and social community, so I connected the two apps and all my activities are seamlessly shared. (Oddly, Strava still seems to support only one-way auto-connections; but RUNSENSE allows you to upload GPX files measured on other devices). Social connections for showing-off and/or getting that all-important motivation – if it’s not uploaded, it didn’t happen – are available with shares to Twitter and Facebook.

Finally, all-important and happiness-limiting battery-life seems very good (note to self: don’t let this bother you so much, just enjoy the run). I haven’t found a GPS watch that’ll get me through a 100-mile day-night-day event and this is no exception. But that’s my problem, not the watch’s! Epson touts a 20-hour run-time with standard GPS and heart-rate settings. I haven’t gone that distance with it yet. More importantly, it holds a charge for days without use, pausing in sleep-mode when idle, and has always been ready to run during the week, even when I haven’t docked it for a while. It’s very functional and looks great as a day-to-day watch and in all likelihood would be ready-to-go without daily charging – something I can’t say about the Microsoft Band, a device that has great “smart/fitness watch” potential if MS could increase the battery life. However, the Epson SF-810 is now my go-to running watch and will likely be for a long time and many miles to come.

This is a four-star (out of five) device. Initial set-up is a little fiddly but a connected device really simplifies things, and once you have it as you like it across the four, reader-friendly screens, it’s flawless. Keeping the optical heartrate monitor clean is important, but not having a strap is a good reason to go with the SF-810 (other Espon models rely on the strap). The RUNSENSE website (three stars) is super-detailed, but overdone with colorful icons and crowded presentation. I expect if you like that kind of thing, it could be very helpful, and you’ll probably dig into it and get a lot out of it. The USB connection works every time.

I was pleasantly surprised, thinking of Epson as my printer/scanner company. No toner cartridges to replace here, just a very good watch (indeed, it’s a Seiko). Get one and hit the trail.



Trail Week 16-10

Week Summary (March 7 – 13)
25.8 mi (3,862 ft gain) – 5 hours 4 min on trail
Trails: V&T; Jobs Ranch; C-Hill – Longview

Ok, back at it! Joined Steve Lang for Decompression Wednesday or “Brew Run”, usually scheduled by Tahoe Mountain Milers, though this week the group moved to a different location. Still, a nice evening with a mix of road and the good loop at the V&T Hills. This was mostly a shake-out for Steve who headed to the Trail Trashed Marathon in Henderson, NV on Saturday (He would place 3rd in the 1 – 99 Age Group!, so I guess that’s just plain old 3rd overall — nice!).

As the winds were building toward there weekend climax, I ducked into the Jobs Ranch trailhead for a lasso south toward Fay Luther. It was windy, of course, but getting into the trees at the base of Jobs Peak made it bearable, fun even. I was feeling the effects of my “rest” weeks when I had one of those moments, just at dark, as you come up behind another runner and for a long time they don’t realize you’re there. I thought of ways to make my presence known without startling her, well, scaring her half-to-death really. I didn’t want to simply run right up behind. Her pace was just slightly under mine, so it wasn’t exactly easy to blast by. Soon enough, I simple said “hello” and she only jumped a little bit. We laughed about how it is easy to get jumpy when you’re running in the darkening forest, in your own little zone, and there’s a sudden voice behind you. Good to see another runner out on that great trail.

Saturday brought the final leg of the Ascent Winter Trail Series. Kevin helped this year’s series go out in style by setting up a steep, 9-mile course at C-Hill; he knows how to set up a trail run. The C-Hill Event had three distances, so you can pick your effort. There’s always a hill or two for every distance, and Saturday, the wind was there for everyone. The 9-mile trail followed the Z-trail and continued to the contour between the big flag and “C”. Then it was a long, circuitous single-track on the south-facing slopes of the hill before contouring back for a summit climb. This single-track is one of the more technical of the well-used trail in the local area. I had several trips and stumbles trying to keep pace; Darren clipped a rock and did a double barrel roll before landing on his feet in surprising stride (I wish I could have seen that). On the rocky two-track to the summit and down the south rocky chutes, the wind was a constant, chilly blast. I could look down on the leaders (maybe Brett, Tim, and Lindsey were long gone) and see them leaning into the wind, looking like they were barely moving. I dropped down to follow them. Turning downwind at the top of Longview was a relief and I was surprised by how good I was feeling. A good morning.  10th overall, 3rd Age-Group. While I was feeling good, Darren was feeling slow and not up to his usual pace. He finished 9th, about seven minutes ahead of me; strange to see his name adjacent to mine in the results. I think I improved in this year’s trail series over previous years — maybe getting just a little bit closer to the usual lead-pack who are always a good minute-per-mile ahead of me. Anyway, always a good time chasing that pack and watching Brett disappear ahead of them.

Des went out on the 4.5-mile course. The steeps aren’t her kind of course and the wind just made it a mind game. But, as always, glad to have got out there and finished the series like we started. A good time on the trail.

Many thanks to Kevin and his crew at Ascent Runs. C-Hill was a fitting end to the 2015-2016 series. Best of all, he keeps us on the trail and motivated through the winter. See you next year!


Jobs Ranch to Fay Luther Single-track


Dropping back to Fay Luther Trailhead (Carson Valley storm clouds)

Trail Week 16-08

Week Summary (February 22 – 28)
6.6 mi (610 ft gain) – 58 min on trail
Trails: Clear Creek

It’s my rest week so I got in a fast one at Clear Creek on Wednesday. I didn’t really intend on a PR-style run, but once I got going I felt really good and decided to try for under an hour. I’d been close last week and thought “Why not?”. I’d be driving and hiking over the next few days so I might as well give it a go. The gradual uphill of Clear Creek had a pretty good headwind and it almost felt cold again. Of course, it was the usual nice evening once I gained the forest; as is usual for mid-week, I turned back at the road crossing a little over three miles in.


Clear Creek Trail towards the forest

The trail has been modified in a few places to smooth out the turns and, as is most often the case, is in great condition. With two miles to go, at the “big rock”, I knew I had barely 15 minutes to get back to the trailhead. I have never been able to gauge what fast is for me personally, so seven-minute miles seem to be, well, fast. I wasn’t sure if I could be that consistent. Of course, it is a nice, gradual downhill, plus a little tailwind, so it felt really good to stay consistent and clock ~6:30 miles over those last two, including the new little segment at the very bottom. Fun stuff in 58 minutes, and now a few days of travel would be fine.


Over a few days at the end of the week, I made my way into the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park. The Racetrack is a fantastic place because of the playa phenomenon of the “sailing stones”. I’ve observed similar tracks left by rocks, plant parts, artifacts, and military equipment on other playas (dry lake beds) in the Great Basin but had never visited the famous Racetrack. That was the successful goal of this outback trip. I highly recommend a visit, but be prepared for some serious desert travel deep into the lesser visited parts of the Park.

The rocks move, most likely, during cold winter nights after brief winter rains when thin sheets of ice cover parts of the playa encasing the cobble- and boulder-sized rocks. It only takes a relatively light wind to slightly lift the ice sheet; think of air moving over a wing. The movement has been documented on breezy winter nights, when movement is aided by just enough melting to lubricate the playa beneath the thin ice sheet. The rocks can move several hundred meters in a relatively short time. It’s crazy to think about, but the reality is written in the playa.


One of many on the Racetrack Playa; the rocks originate at the outcrop at the playa’s southern end.


From the outcrop above the playa — the race is on


Heading home from Teakettle Junction north of the Racetrack, early on a Saturday morning.

Trail Week 16-07

Week Summary (February 15 – 21)
24.3 mi (2,753 ft gain) – 3 hr 53 min on trail
Trails: Clear Creek, Heartstone, Bluebird

Following on the good mileage of last week, I took a break in the great weather of the holiday Monday with some golf at the Carson Valley CC. The weather returned to snow mid-week but I surrounded that by working on pace. I didn’t go into any particular strategy of doing “speed” or “turnover” work, I simply found I felt pretty fast each day. Of course, this is all relative to me, but I my pace was 45sec/mi faster at Clear Creek and almost a minute/mile faster on Heartstone 7M trail. I “down-graded” to a smaller phone so that it would be easier to carry on the trail, and this added some music to a few of the runs — maybe that helps. I like it.

The gravity-boot mud of the Heartstone Hills above Gardnerville has pretty much dried. Only the usual and relatively small bad spots remain.

Broke through 400 miles on my La Sportiva Bushidos. This is about the mileage I start considering shoe retirement. Their tread is still the best of my bunch, but with trails drying I can slip back into my LS Helios. I love these two styles and don’t mind switching depending on conditions.



Evening down Goni Dirt


On HeartStone Trail — Saturday


Trail Week 16-06

Week Summary (February 8 – 14)
37.7 mi (4,665 ft gain) – 6 hr 35 min on trail
Trails: V&T, Nimbus (CA), Hot Springs Mountain, Genoa

Nice to have had a nice, winter-style “big” week. I took advantage of working in Davis, CA, catching some time on the American River Trail at Nimbus Dam on Lake Natoma. Nice to cruise in the warmth and heavy air for a few miles. Back home on Thursday, I again sought the sand of Hot Springs Mountain, looping farther to the north to get some extra miles. Needing the headlamp for fewer miles on each evening run, plus wearing shorts rather than tights on a consistent basis.

Darren joined me at Genoa for a set of weekend loops combining the Genoa and Eagle Ridge trails. It’s been warm so the snowline has retreated from all but a few northern slopes along the trail system (it might be interesting to head up the Genoa Peak Trail soon to see how far one gets). The Sunday trails were in great shape, just a few snow patches and no mud to speak of. The worst of it was just at the water tank at Genoa where Darren hit an ice-patch and took a hard, blood-drawing spill. It was one of those the surprises you as you hit a slope and lose everything to gravity and go down hard. Thankfully, I’m slower, and he waited and warned me as I emerged from the willows slowing at his caution at the bottom of his luge run. Ouch.

Another good week.  Mom and Dad ran the Fruita 10K after a long winter break.

Fruita Sweetheart 10K

Mary: 1st F66+ 1:13:57
Dennis: 1st M66+ 1:13:57

Our first race of the season and our training has suffered with the weather. Gym work and yoga helped stretch out the lapsed muscles through January but there has not been enough road/trail hill and speed work. Looking back that’s pretty normal but it seemed long this year. Age keeps whispering that we can’t let up like that too much. It’s too hard to get the conditioning back. Anyway… we are starting.



Pretty cool out so it was good to get past the start line and moving down the road. Our plan on this one was to stick together and pace with a five minute run/two minute walk sequence. We stuck with it pretty well for the 6.2 miles. The slow-season conditioning mentioned above played it’s role though and we gradually slowed on the runs. Those 2 minute walks worked their magic and we were able to keep a sub 16 min/mile pace in those which helped the start of each run sequence. Plan included a 10:30 pace on the run minutes and we knew that would be tough right now.

Our plan would have got us in at around a 72-minute 10K and we felt good about finishing with a 73:57. We reached hard for the line to prevent that 74 from rolling on the clock!!

The cold air and bright sun were wonderful with the Monument showing us a bright snow covering across the river. We are getting motivated for the Canyonlands Half Marathon in March. We will be ready.

Today Mary got 1st of 2 in the age group of F66+. I was 1st of 1 in M66+. (Strange age grouping in this one.) It was Mary’s 77th lifetime race and my 75th. I’m using the new Vanquish 2 Hoka’s for the first time. Light and easy on the impact. Mary ran in Hoka Huaka’s. Both wore CW-X stability compression tights. As advertised they are like warm KT tape from hip to ankle. They will continue to save our ‘structure’ as the wear and tear of the marathons descend upon us.