It’s gotta be spring eventually, right?
Despite recent flurries, the temperature does seem to be steadily rising, and any day now we should have sun and warm weather at the same time. If this winter has taught us anything, it’s that you’ve got to take advantage of the good weather while you can.
For the more adventurous among us, we look at adventure racing, which takes the concept of the road race and adds some “extreme” to it, and parkour, which turns going for a jog into an action movie. For those looking for a more mild way to enjoy the outdoors, we also take a look at bird watching (this is a high traffic season for area birds) and the search for wildflowers (April showers are supposed to bring them, right?).
It’s time put away the snow shovels (let’s hope) and find a little piece of spring to brighten your day.
Run and jump
Let parkour add spring to your step
By Adam Coughlin
Dustin Bryant ran and then launched head first over a waist-high PVC pipe fence, his body flipping over as he passed the length of a 10-foot mat before landing in a controlled tumble and roll. It was part breathtaking, part idiotic and entirely parkour.
Parkour is “the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment,” according to www.americanparkour.com, an online parkour community. To overcome these physical obstacles, traceurs (people who participate in parkour, from the Parisian slang word tracer, which means “to hurry”) use running, jumping, vaulting, climbing and balancing. Parkour is typically practiced outdoors, especially in cities, which have no shortage of obstacles.
Parkour rose out of the urban centers of France and through its visual appeal spread like wild fire on YouTube. The almost superhuman feats of parkour legends like David Belle, who is credited with inventing the non-competitive sport around 1997, inspired impressionable teens around the world. As its popularity rose, parkour began to infiltrate popular culture. It can be seen in movies like Casino Royale and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Parkour may be the only sport whose participants mostly learned about it through YouTube. When Bryant was 16, he was one of those kids. He had never been an overly athletic child but loved going outside with his brothers and goofing off in the woods. He also participated in martial arts. When he watched videos of parkour, he was hooked.
“It probably wasn’t the best idea, but I went out in my back yard with a mattress and started practicing flips,” Bryant said. “I had seen it in movies and thought the stunt men must have been using wires. But then I realized you can basically do anything.”
Now, at 18, Bryant is considered one of the top traceurs in New Hampshire. He frequently goes to Manchester and Boston to practice his skills.
Spencer “Danger” Soulard was also turned on to parkour via YouTube: “I remember being a freshman in high school when one of my buddies actually mentioned the word ‘parkour’ to me,” Soulard wrote via e-mail from Texas, where he was undergoing technical training for the United States Air Force. “He said he was browsing YouTube and just came across a few videos of people doing crazy flips. So of course I started watching them myself and just became fascinated with what these people were doing. Jumping off high ledges and rolling on the ground when they landed just looked like complete urban ninja stuff to me, it was sick!”
Soulard, who is from Litchfield, is the creator of the NH Parkour and Free Running Facebook page. To parkour purists, there is a big distinction between parkour and free running. In Belle’s assessment, the purpose of parkour is to overcome obstacles as quickly and efficiently as possible. Tricks, like flips and spins, are only for show and do not help accomplish that goal. Those flashy skills are the basis of free running but not parkour. Since the two sports share so many other similarities, however, they are often thought of as interchangeable by the general public.
The fact that Soulard is in the military should be of no surprise. To participate in parkour, a person must have an adventurous mindset. From the outside, the sport looks incredibly dangerous. For every YouTube video demonstrating successful parkour moves, there is another showing a disastrous wipeout. These falls can lead to scrapes, broken bones and, in the rarest and most unsupervised cases, death.
“As far as danger goes, yes it does appear dangerous, but if you know what you’re doing, it’s quite safe and quite exciting,” Soulard wrote.
With such risks, what are the rewards?
Bryant said there are obvious physical benefits. Before he began he was as thin as a rail. Now he is muscular and incredibly agile. Besides being physically demanding, parkour is mentally taxing.
“If you’re really apprehensive, it can help you overcome that,” Bryant said. “And if you’re overconfident it can humble you quickly.”
“Injuries are common,” Soulard wrote. “...But it’s just a risk people have to take, and if you take your skill level and the move you want to perform into consideration and weigh the two together, you’ll be fine, if you make the right decision. For example, if you’ve never done a back flip before, you shouldn’t just try to fall backwards off of a roof and hope you land it. Instead try to jump up on a trampoline and land just on your back.”
Bryant said in the brief history of the sport (and there are parkour competitions, but Bryant said no one is overly competitive and there is a tight community), there have been considerable improvements. It used to be reckless, with kids simply imitating what they saw on YouTube. Now there are tutorials and even parkour classes, like the one held twice a week at Gym-Ken Gymnastics in Windham (www.gymkengymnastics.com).
Jonathan Barbeau has taught at the facility for 12 years and leads the parkour training. At a recent class, about 20 boys and a single girl trained in the basics of parkour in a safe environment. In one move, the kids performed something called tic or tac or tic-tac or Prince of Persia (Bryant said names are unimportant; the movement is what matters). The kids got a short running start before springing off a mat-covered wall and then grabbing on to a parallel bar. The move looks really cool. With the mats underneath it is quite safe. The outside world can be less forgiving.
That’s a fact not lost on Barbeau. He said when he teaches gymnastics he tells his students never to use those moves outside the gym. Yet with parkour, he knows the kids are going to try it out on the playgrounds. True parkour is about overcoming obstacles as they come at you, and there are only so many situations a teacher can simulate. This is why Barbeau said he tries to incorporate safety — safety rolls, the proper way to fall — into the exercises the kids practice.
“Considering what these kids do, it is actually pretty injury-free,” Barbeau said.
One such kid was eight-year-old Carter Sylvester of Manchester. Barbeau typically wouldn’t have a student so young, but Sylvester has been fearless since a young age (his mohawk seems to confirm that) and has done gymnastics with Barbeau since he was 3 years old. His father, Carl, said parkour was a great activity that kept his son healthy and fit. It also taught other lessons.
“While they’re competing against each other to try and do the best move, they are also helping each other out,” Carl Sylvester said. “It also teaches them to overcome obstacles. In here it might be jumping over a mat, but in life it will be something else.”
Parkour, like jazz music, rewards spontaneous creativity. It is a sport unlike any other when it comes to self-expression.
“What I like about parkour is that it keeps me involved is the sense of physical freedom from the world around me,” Soulard wrote. “... I don’t really know how it works, but something in your brain just re-wires itself so you can think through operations quicker and figure out which is the most efficient route to take whether it be cleaning your house or walking through the city to get to work.”
‘Marathon running is simply boring’
By Tori Loubier
A 5K wouldn’t do. Nor would a 10K. A marathon or a triathlon wouldn’t cut it — even just running wasn’t enough. No, there needed to be hills, mud, fire, electric wires and walls to climb.
“The crazier the better,” described Jake St. Pierre, 33, a police officer in Bow, who is among the growing number of people participating in adventure races.
Adventure racing is defined as a contest in which teams or individuals compete in an expedition-length race that involves two or more sporting disciplines, often running, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, and elements of navigation and orienteering. They are relatively new, and the biggest ones in New England have only been around for less than five years. These include the Tough Mudder on May 7 & 8, the Renegade Playground on June 4 and the Warrior Dash on June 25 & 26.
Each adventure race has its own challenges and terrains. Most are team-based and require participants to challenge themselves physically and emotionally, running, crawling, climbing and praying for their lives.
The Warrior Dash is described as a “mud-crawling, fire-leaping, extreme run from hell” strategically placed on “the most challenging and rugged terrain across the globe.” Participants “conquer extreme obstacles [and] push their limits,” according to the website. Located at the Amesbury Sports Park in Amesbury, Mass., the course is 3.02 miles long and requires participants to sprint up a mountain, thread through ropes, dive into trenches, run through a forest and a junkyard and climb up a wooden barricade. To finish, participants must leap over a fire.
The Renegade Playground Challenge promises participants that they “will be tired, will be muddy and may bleed.” A 5K run, it challenges racers to get over, through and under various obstacles. The course includes trekking through a sandbox filled with water, traversing muddy tires, climbing through a web of ropes, climbing up bales of hay, navigating through a waterfall and monkey bars, not to mention extremely cold water and of course, jumping across fire.
Organizers of the Tough Mudder bill it as “Ironman meets burning man.” Held at Mount Snow in Vermont, Tough Mudder is three to four times longer and tougher than most mud runs. The website says that only 78 percent of participants at Tri-State 2010 finished. The Mount Snow course is approximately 10 miles long and is estimated to take about two and a half hours to complete. Mount Snow has a base elevation of 1,600 feet and a summit elevation of 3,600 feet, according to the website.
Tough Mudder’s Mount Snow course requires sprinting up a ski run, trekking through cargo nets, traveling over water using swinging ropes, crawling under wire that’s only 8 inches from the ground, carrying a log up and down the mountain, balancing across a log, jumping 15 feet into a pond, climbing up a 100-foot wall, scrambling up a steep and slippery motocross slope and surviving being pressure-hosed, plus a mystery obstacle that’s announced the day of the event. The last two obstacles of Tough Mudder include navigating through live wires that carry 10,000 volts of electricity and running through kerosene-soaked straw with flames at least four feet high.
A whole-body workout
“In preparation for one of these events the average person will go to a gym and do ‘cardio and weights’,” said Eric Marsh, personal trainer and owner of Fun Intelligent Training (FIT) in Concord. “When they hear about a [challenge] obstacle course, the tendency is to increase the amount of treadmill time in order to work up to the length of a race.”
Not so much.
“The Renegade Challenge (5K) consists of 12 obstacles and the Tough Mudder (10K) consists of 22 obstacles. This equates to an average of 0.26 mile and 0.45 mile, respectively, between obstacles, far from running a constant pace for a set distance,” Marsh said.
The ability to run the length of the course at a constant pace isn’t as helpful as one may think.
“The body has three different energy systems that it uses for different types of activities,” Marsh said.
“Adventure races utilize all three energy systems over the course of the [race], so focusing on only one or two during pre-race training will almost surely lead to frustration on race day.”
Marsh explains that adventure races predominantly tap into the aerobic energy system due to the relatively short distance between obstacles.
Though your first instinct is to increase time on the treadmill or stair master, those exercises don’t prepare your body for the stress you will encounter in this type of race, Marsh said. “If your body is used to performing in a controlled manner, the likelihood of injury is much greater when subjected to the unpredictable environment that you will encounter during a race.”
The answer is cross-training, a method primarily used by FIT. Marsh and his team at FIT utilize different endurance-based activities like hikes, road races, tire rolling and sled pushing.
“We [at FIT] don’t change our programming too much in preparation for these types of events because what we do on a daily basis lends itself very well to adventure racing. We train everyone like an athlete, no matter if it is a 64-year-old grandmother or a 22-year-old competitive grappler,” Marsh said.
You gotta be crazy to do something like this
Well, not really. Marsh and the team at FIT try to demonstrate that average people with the motivation to train correctly can compete in adventure races.
Bridget Meunier, 37, an educational assistant in Concord, had stopped going to the gym years ago before she began training at FIT last August. Meunier now goes to the FIT boot camp three times a week, attends a kick boxing class once a week and is training to participate in the Renegade Challenge.
Prior to FIT, Meunier suffered from migraines and chronic back pain and was on sleeping medication.
“Since I started going to the gym, I’ve stopped all medication and chiropractic visits. It’s been wonderful,” she said.
“We push sleds, flip tractor tires, hit them with sledgehammers ... plus doing weights and ball work. It’s so much fun because you’re not sitting there mindlessly doing whatever the machine is. It’s so much more fun when you don’t realize how hard you’re working out,” she said.
“Every single part of your body gets a workout [training at FIT]. I’m doing dead lifts now and the most I’ve been able to do is 165 pounds. I never would have been able to do something like that in a million years,” Meunier said.
Marsh suggested getting a team together to compete in the Renegade Challenge; Meunier admits she never would have considered doing such a challenge before training at FIT.
“But it seemed so fun ... we’re going to be going through mud, up hills and through hay. The fact that we’re doing it as a team is great. We can support each other. I’d rather do this than just running,” she said.
For Jake St. Pierre, who is training for the Tough Mudder, adventure racing was just another way to have a fun time working out. St. Pierre has put himself through some of the most intense training, including running marathons, doing at-home workout P90X and, most of all, climbing 21,000 feet up Mt. Everest last year.
Now in the midst of planning another trip back to summit Mt. Everest next year, St. Pierre is using adventure races like Tough Mudder to prepare himself.
Going with some other guys from FIT to compete in Tough Mudder, St. Pierre enjoys team training.
“I’m there five days a week. We do weight training, tire flips with tires as big as 600 pounds and as low as 200 … ‘head high, butt low,’ Eric always says,” said St. Pierre. “We also have a sled with ropes that we pull around the building and sometimes they will stand on it.” St. Pierre boasts being able to pull a Ford S350 around the FIT building as well. “It’s fun to work hard,” he said.
St. Pierre thinks that anyone in the right mindset can complete an adventure race like the Renegade Playground or the Tough Mudder. “I love to see when new people come into the gym and they think they can’t do something, then they do it and their confidence builds,” he said, adding that training at FIT is as simple as “breaking a sweat and getting in shape in the process.”
St. Pierre is now in the process of getting his mountain guide certificate and plans to continue training for adventure races by taking group hikes up Mount Washington.
As the weather warms, the colors appear
By Jeff Mucciarone
Having been cooped up indoors for the long New Hampshire winter, people are hungry to get out and enjoy fresh air and sun. Wildflowers, squished beneath layers of snow and ice all winter, are feeling that same vibe.
There might be more and a wider array in May and June, but there are plenty of wildflowers to hunt for in April.
“To enjoy them you need to get real close and admire them at the tip of your nose,” said David Anderson, a field naturalist with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. “They’re really intricate and beautiful. The closer you get, the more remarkable and gorgeous their structure is.”
Several species, including red trillium, painted trillium, coltsfoot and spring beauties, will be popping up all over the landscape in the coming weeks. More than 3,500 species of wildflowers grow wild in New England.
What’s up north might not be down south, at least not at the same time. “There’s a significant difference in when flowers in the southern areas of New Hampshire bloom compared to northern areas,” wrote John Cameron of New Hampshire Wildflowers (www.newhampshirewildflowers.com) in an e-mail.
Heading into the hardwood forests, wildflower hunters will spot painted trillium, which are white with pink veins. Wild oats, which are pale yellow and feature hanging pendulous blossoms, are also popping up this month. You don’t have to find wildflowers out in the wilderness either. Coltsfoot, which appears like a coarse dandelion, grows in ditches or culverts where winter road sand has accumulated. It is bright yellow — hence the likeness to dandelions, Anderson said.
The trailing arbutus, also known as New Hampshire’s mayflower, typically begins to bloom this month, though that’s dependent on whether the snow cover has melted, Cameron wrote.
“April or October, so much is happening in terms of change,” Anderson said. “There’s so much sameness all winter and summer. And then April gets going. It’s the most exciting month. Change is rapid. Things are happening so fast.”
Also in the woods, people can spot spring beauties, which are little white flowers with pink veins. The flowers can be found in solid mats that grow, bloom and die all before tree leaves unfurl, typically by May 1. “The moment the snow pack melts, it’s almost like they appear overnight,” Anderson said.
Wildflowers are adapted to grow quickly, bloom and then die back. In the hardwood forests, they take advantage of the ephemeral sunlight that reaches the forest floor. Once the flowers die, they release nutrients back to trees. The flowers create a nutrient dam that helps hold onto nutrients that otherwise would be washed away in those famous April showers.
“The deeper you get into the ecology, you see how intricately well adapted and how dependent it all is,”
Anderson said. “There’s no spare part in your car and there’s no spare part in a forest.”
But the fact that wildflowers look pretty doesn’t mean they have an aroma to match.
A type of trillium, with the common name Wake Robin, also has another name: stinking Benjamin. The flowers, which are prevalent in rich soils along stone walls and are among the earliest flowers to show up each year, give off the odor of rotting meat — and thus they attract carrion flies. The trillium is another example of how “elegantly adapted” nature is, Anderson said.
Early spring is also the season for ferns, including some edible varieties. (Health food stores will sell certain varieties of ferns when they are in season.)
As snow was expected at the end of last week, Anderson figured people’s cries about the weather would persist. Wildflower lovers need not worry, though. The plants are hardy — they just might be delayed a little bit.
“They’re pretty well adapted to cold nights,” Anderson said. “It does get below freezing in April some nights. They won’t die like tender annuals do.”
Some of the flowers have a reddish pigment that helps them begin photosynthesis even while they’re still buried beneath the snow. The limiting factor in the region is light, but native plants have adapted to get going amid the short growing season.
Anderson recommended Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. He said it’s user-friendly and doesn’t require readers to know the Latin name.
of each flower. If the flower is pink, check out the section that features pink flowers, he said.
“Timing is everything,” Anderson said. “They don’t have a calendar.”
As May and June roll around, more wildflowers will be present beneath conifers, with the pink lady slipper perhaps the most celebrated.
When hunting for wildflowers, look for non-manicured spots. Places with lots of landscaping aren’t going to have many wildflowers. Raking and bark mulch in particular eliminate the chance of wildflowers.
Look for conservation lands or town forests. The side of the road is also a possibility. Wetland areas are great as well, Anderson said. The marsh marigold comes out in late April. The bright yellow flower is found growing on the edges of wetlands. By the middle of May, it’s gone.
That’s one of the best parts about wildflowers. If you find wildflowers in one spot, a month later you can go back and find the ground laden with totally different plants and flowers, Anderson said.
Birds of spring
Now is the season of travel, fashion and amore
By Angel Roy
Bob Quinn took a quick glance through his binoculars across Horseshoe Pond in Concord as he pulled his sports utility vehicle out of the Grappone Conference Center parking lot to take me on a short birding trip.
“Oh, those are just gulls,” he said as he turned right to head toward the Sugar Bowl oxbow (an oxbow is a section of a river — in this case, the Merrimack — cut off by the river itself) near the New Hampshire Technical Institute. When we reached the NHTI boat ramp, Quinn set up his Swarovski telescope on a tripod, only to move it seconds later when he spotted fowl in the water.
“This is what birding is all about — you never know what it’s going to be like, every day is different, every hour is different. That is part of the fun, it’s so unpredictable,” Quinn said, adding that while birds are most active right after dawn because they need to find food to survive, you can often spot many ducks and geese while birding midday.
Sure enough, Quinn spotted a hooded merganser, a diving duck that eats fish, floating in the water a quarter-mile away from us. A little farther away a flock of Canadian geese, mallards and black ducks — which are actually brown — could be seen.
Quinn, of Webster, has been birding for 40 years. The draw of the activity, he said, starts with the beauty of the birds themselves. “It’s also a really good excuse to get outside and to explore the various nooks and crannies of New Hampshire,” he said.
As the spring season brings birders to Granite State forests, Quinn said birdwatching is really a year-round activity. His favorite season, he said, is fall, when the population increases with the birds that hatched in the spring and early summer. Also in the fall, birds are no longer in their spring plumage, or their “suit of feathers.”
“In the spring, birds are in their Easter finery because it’s breeding season; the males are brightly colored trying to impress the females — which is good for people that go birdwatching who like the pretty birds,” Quinn said. “In the fall, they put on their work clothes to go out and work in the garden and are not as pretty, which makes identifying them more of a challenge, and for those with a lot more birding experience, that’s fun.”
Quinn said there is a group of unique birds such as the Boreal Chickadee that can easily be spotted on Granite State mountaintops and points north. The Spruce Grouse, often seen in the mountains of Pittsburg and Errol, and Bicknell’s Thrush, which Quinn described as a “very plain brown bird,” draw in many birders from out of state. The Bicknell’s Thrush, he said, is only found on a few high-elevation mountaintops in North America and is best identified by its song, which Quinn opted not to imitate.
“It’s fairly elaborate and attractive … it’s a little bit of a flute-like song,” he said.
All you need for bird-watching is a pair of binoculars and a field guide, Quinn said. Binoculars, he said, can cost between $200 to $2,000 and average a magnification between seven and 10 power. “Buying the small lightweight variety is usually mistake because the optical quality isn’t as good as a regular-sized pair…. The bottom line is people should get the best quality they can afford. If they buy cheap, they won’t be satisfied,” Quinn said. The clarity of the binoculars can be affected by weather and temperature. “Serious amateurs,” Quinn said, should invest in a telescope (their magnification averages between 20 and 60 power) because they can last for decades.
Quinn recommends the Peterson Field Guide, which he said was revolutionary to the activity when it came out in the 1930s and has been updated regularly since the first edition. “That is the book that really made birdwatching sort of an everyday activity for everybody,” he said.
The New Hampshire Audubon Society will hold its annual Birdathon on Saturday, May 21. The day-long event originated nearly 100 years ago but has been canceled in the past, said Phil Brown, New Hampshire Audubon Society director of land management. “We’re at the point now where we’re rebuilding it, gaining new interest and some momentum to what it used to be,” Brown said. The Audubon Center in Concord promotes birding year-round by hosting school groups, running summer camp programs and offering workshops for children and adults.
On the day of the Birdathon, small teams of birding enthusiasts, some led by experts, travel the state in an attempt to spot and record the greatest number of bird species. In the past, Brown said, birders have spotted 195 different species on the day of the Birdathon in various locations throughout the state. He said this year the goal is to spot more than 200. Birdathon teams will be invited to a pot luck dinner at the Audubon Center in Concord on Sunday, May 2, to share their results and discuss their experiences.
“It’s a celebration of birds and birding, that’s how we like to bill this event,” Brown said. “It’s all about having fun and learning something new and really celebrating migration.”
As May 21 serves as the peak migration time, Brown said there is a likely chance of reaching the spotted species goal. “May is the focus month for birding because all of the colorful warblers and other species that are just returning from places south of here — Central and South America — are filling our yards with birdsong and color,” Brown said.
Quinn noted New Hampshire is a great place for birds because most of the state’s land is undeveloped. “There are so many forests, mountains, rivers and lakes that it’s a great place from a bird’s point of view,” he said.
“I still love birding in New Hampshire,” Quinn said. “I went out last night at sunset to watch the ducks come down to the Merrimack River in Boscawen — not anything I had not seen before, but it was an awesome show of 1,200 geese and ducks. For me, it doesn’t get better than that.”