Firefly Run Atlanta – My first 5K

Crossing the Finish Line at my First 5K

I took a break in my weekend hiking to take part in my first 5K, the Firefly Run Atlanta.   Now, I didn’t say I ran my first 5K… but I did complete it.  Maybe next year I’ll be able to run it.  It was a blast and I had some great friends that went along with me for the adventure.

If you’re not familiar with the Firefly Run it’s a nighttime 5K.  Everyone gets these blinking armbands and most people load up with glow sticks, glow necklaces, glow bracelets, glow sunglasses… you get the point.  I saw one couple that had LED lights on their hat, glasses, clothes and even blinking mouthpieces.  I’m not sure how many people usually participate in these races but there were thousands of people at this one, runners as far as you can see.   The race was through midtown Atlanta and the Start / Finish lines were in Piedmont Park.  The participants were awesome, the race was a lot of fun and even the spectators got into it.  People would cheer and honk their horns as we ran (errr, walked) by and one guy had the Rocky them blaring as the crowd came by.

My official time was 57:19.67 and my goal for this year was to finish under an hour – mission accomplished.  I’m already looking forward to see how much I can improve by next year’s race.  I’ve already framed and hung up my bib, this is a milestone for me and having it on the wall will remind me how far I’ve come in a relatively short time and keep me pushing on to lose weight and get in better shape.  I’ll definitely do the Firefly Run again and might even jump in a few other 5K’s.

Next weekend I’m back to hiking, weather permitting I’m heading up to the GA/NC state line to Brasstown Bald to view the fall foliage.

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Cheatham Hill Trail at Kennesaw Mountain – #16 from the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

View from the top of Kennesaw Mountain with Atlanta in the distance.

Once again I hit a trail that not only gave me a good hike (5.6 miles) but also was chock full of history.  As I mentioned before in my post about hiking #14 – Allatoona Pass, I love a hike that has historic value, especially Civil War era and there’s no shortage of that in the Atlanta area.  Cheatham Hill is inside Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park and is one of several you can choose from covering a rather large area.  This trail was 5.6 miles and is, amazingly, the first trail I’ve hiked that match up with what the book said.

First, a little history… The battle at Kennesaw Mountain lasted from June 19 to July 2, 1864 with a total of 5,350 casualties between the Union and Confederacy.  The heaviest fighting took place on June 27, 1864.   The hiking trails throughout the battlefield cross through many historic sites and the ruins of the encampments there.  The Confederate troops were camped all over the mountain with the Federal troops scattered around the base.

I met up at the visitors’ center with my friend Brian and before heading out to hike we checked  out the visitor’s center museum and took the shuttle bus up to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  You can hike to the top, that hike is The Burnt Hickory Loop #19 in the book, and the most difficult hike of the 60.   I hiked some light trails at the top of the mountain and took a few pics from the top before heading back down to hike.  If you are in the area to hike any of the trails and have not been before, the visitors’ center and mountain top are worth checking out.  We went on Labor Day and they were having artillery demonstrations so I also got to hear a presentation on the use of cannons and see them fire one a couple times.  Very cool to see but those bums wouldn’t let me shoot it.  Whatever.

After checking out the history we drove to the trailhead as it’s a few miles from the visitors’ center.  Almost immediately after hitting the trail you come to some earthworks with two cannons on display, a little further and you come to the Illinois Monument.  After the monument there are a few more historical markers but from here on it it’s mostly your basic hiking trail.  I’m assuming Mr. and Mrs. Golden (the book’s authors) are in better shape than I am as on a couple occasions they’ve ranked trails as easy that I would say are moderate difficulty.  To me an “easy” trail is going to be simple flatlands where the Cheatham Hill Trails does have a nice scattering of moderate hills.  My buddy agreed with me that he would rate this as moderate.

I really enjoyed this trail.  It had some great scenery with a mix of heavy tree cover with narrow trails, wide trails through lush fields, streams/creeks and and decent hills.  There was also a decent amount of flora and fauna to see with lots of unusual mushrooms, insects (lots of spiders, which I thought was cool), squirrels and chipmunks and I’m sure others.  One note, this trail allows horses on it and that is very obvious but the massive amounts of horse poop on the trails, I mean seriously a lot of poop.  I don’t know how many horses it would take to poop that much but my guess would be around 850.  No but seriously, there was a lot of poop on the trail.

Huge mushroom along the trail at Cheatham Hill. One Brian included for scale.

We chugged along at a pretty good pace and thankfully there was a strategically placed water fountain about 3/4 of the way through the trail.  Speaking of that, make sure to take plenty of water and maybe some GORP or energy bars and charge up your cell phone or GPS before heading out – this hike took right at 3 hours.  The pace of flatlands and hills is just enough to keep your blood pumping without overworking those that are in less than stellar shape.  At one point Brian wanted to throw a rock at a young lady who ran by us at the end of the trail and up a hill just as we were dragging ourselves up it with out last bit of energy… I just barely talked him out of it.

As I type this up I realize how much I enjoyed this trail.  It’s never boring as there’s such a variety of history and nature to check out and it gives you a good workout.  I definitely recommend this hike.  Pack a light bag with water and a camera and go enjoy a great day hiking.  This is my favorite hike of done so far.

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Big Trees Preserve Trail – #2 in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

Marker at Trailhead

This trail is #2 in the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta.  I picked this book up recently and I’ve set the goal of hiking all 60 trails in the book.  With this hike I’ve completed 4 of them, only 56 to go!

The Big Trees Preserve is off Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, the trailhead is actually in the south parking lot of the North Fulton County Annex.  The preserve has several trails that criss-cross each other, which confused the heck out of me but admittedly that’s not always hard to do when it comes to navigating.   Your hike starts off on a paved path and then splits onto a mix of packed dirt and wood mulch, certain areas of the trail had piles of mulch where they were improving the trail.  Depending on the branch of the trail you take the hike can be from 1.2 miles and up, I ended up at 1.3 miles over a 35 minute hike.  There are some steady hills on the Backcountry Trail and although the book states they are “so well done they are effortless” they gave me a pretty good workout.

You get some nice views of a rocky creek as you wind through the trails.  My dog cooled herself off in some of the clear pools that formed.  Several of the trails wind along and over the creek with small bridges to cross.  In certain areas you can walk along the creekbed on rocks and still stay dry.  There is quite a bit of wildlife as well with bird feeders scattered throughout.  I saw a variety of birds as well as squirrels, chipmunks and a couple lizards.  Some of the trees are marked to identify them, there are a lot of large white oaks in the preserve.  This is a great escape from the city that sits just outside of the area and is secluded enough to block out the traffic noise from Roswell Road.

Boo walking the trail sporting her fancy cell phone charger leash.

One complaint on this trail, and I’m not sure if it was just the people there this particular day, but even though the trail sign clearly states that dogs must be leashed at all times I came across 3 different people allowing their dogs to run free.  I forgot my leash and home and had to MacGyver one up so I used an old cell phone charger tied around my dog’s collar to “leash” her.  May have looked totally redneck but it got the job done.  One family had a little schnauzer with a bad attitude, they were holding the leash but allowing the dog to run free.  We passed each other 3 separate times and each time they’re dog ran up to my dog an started growling and barking, they would run up and grab him and say, “Sorry, sorry about that.”, but still didn’t put him on the leash.  Another couple had two large dogs running free and as I passed one of them said, “We’re good here, all of us are friendlies.”  That’s not the point though as you don’t know how my dog will react to your dog running up to her.  There are also people who are quite afraid of dogs and even if you have the friendliest dog out there they could be intimidated.  So a note for those that hike with dogs, please leash your dog at all times.  My dog is super-friendly but she will defend herself if need be, and I absolutely love dogs but if a dog runs up to me snarling and barking I’m not going to take too kindly to it.

Even with the dog problems I enjoyed this little trail.  It’s good for a quick hike and the continuous tree cover keeps it fairly cool.  It’s nice to find something like this so close to the city where you can tuck away for a little while and avoid all the hustle and bustle.

One view of the creek along the trail. The trail winds alongside the creek for most of the hike.

Map of the trail path at Big Trees Preserve

Calorie and Activity Tracking

One thing I’m doing differently this time around with my weight loss is tracking what I eat as well as my activity, it’s been a HUGE help to me.  I was always hesitant to track my food before because I thought it would be a pain to log everything that I eat, and not too long ago it would have been a pain.  But with all these internets we’ve got around us as well as iPads, iPhones and Androids it’s a lot easier to do these days.

I found out that by tracking what I eat it not only keeps me on track for the day but also educates me on what the impact is on certain foods.  You may not realize how much fat, sugar and overall calories are packed in certain foods.  With a good tracking app you can not only find out what’s bad for you but see alternatives to the “bad” foods.  By tracking my exercise I can see the benefits of being active and how many calories I burn with my activities.  Many sites now add a social aspect to your fitness goals, it’s great to have friends join you for support and encouragement… plus a little friendly competition is fun, too.

Here are the sites that I use to track my fitness goals:

reddit.com/r/loseit – If you’re not familiar with Reddit you should check it out.  There are “subreddits” for most interests.  r/loseit is a great forum where people share their successes and challenges, post progress pictures and generally just encourage each other, it’s a very friendly community.  If you head over to Reddit also check out r/fitmeal and r/fitness.

MyFitnessPal.com – Referred to simply as MFP by it’s users.  A great site to track your calorie intake and expenditure each day.  Enter your personal info (age, height, weight, sex, goals) and it will help you target a calorie plan to reach those goals over a set amount of time.  Also gives you charts to show your weight progress (gain or loss) over time.  The site has discussion forums as well.  One of the greatest features of the site is the food database, many common foods are already listed and there is a page to enter your own recipes for future use.  If you use the app on your iPhone you can also simply scan a barcode and enter the serving numbers to track calories.  MFP allows you to have a friends list on the site to share information.

Fitocracy.com – “Fito” is my latest discovery, it’s a very fun site.  Their focus is strictly on the activity side of things, not in calorie tracking.   The format is similar to Twitter with you having an activity feed on your home page but they also incorporate groups and friends to look at special interests.  When you track an activity you get points and you can “Level Up” as you reach certain goals.  Fitocracy also has quests, achievements, challenges and duels to compete with others.  The combination of encouragement from others as well as the competition and the rewards system make this site very addictive, I find myself pushing a bit harder at a workout just to get a few more points to level up or to beat a friend in a duel.

Runkeeper.com – Runkeeper allows you to use your smartphone as a GPS tracker to measure your time, speed and distance when you walk, run, hike or bike.  In addition you can manually enter exercise if you’re inside, like a stationary bike ride.  For GPS-tracked activities it will show you a map of where you traveled as well as the time you were traveling, your pace, distance and total time.  You can view charts on the site to track your progress over time.

These are the sites I use however there are many others that do have similar functions, some even more.  Garmin makes devices that link with their own site to track you much like Runkeeper with your iPhone. Nike+ also has hardware you can purchase as does Fitbit.  Endomondo is another popular fitness tracking site.  If none of these work out for you a bit of searching on Google should find one that suits your needs.

One more note, invest in a good heart rate monitor to help with your tracking.  You’ll be able to get a more true sense of your activity and calories burned per workout.  Polar makes some very highly recommended monitors in a variety of styles.

Please consult with your physician before starting any diet or exercise routine.

Chattahoochee Nature Center – #15 in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

This past Sunday I went to Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell to hike their trails.  CNC is #15 in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta.

TRAIL INFO
Location: 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell, GA  30075
Phone: (770) 992-2055
Website: http://chattnaturecenter.org/
Trail length: 2.5 miles total
Difficulty: Easy with very small hills.
Notes:  CNC is a non-profit and they do charge admission, the adult admission price is $8.00 per person.

The forecast for Sunday here was for it to be hot… very hot.  I stepped out in my yard and thought, “It’s hot, but it’s not too bad, I’m going for a hike.”  Well, I made my hike but boy was it a scorcher once I got moving around.  Highest temp my iPhone showed while I was hiking was 101F, it was actually difficult to breathe the air at that temp, I ended up cutting this hike a bit short but still got to see a good bit of the nature center.

CNC sits along the banks of the Chatthoochee River.  The trails wind around a couple lakes on the North side of the river and there is also a boardwalk trail on the river.  In addition to the trails CNC also has a small indoor education and some love displays with possums, snakes, owls, turtles and a few fish.  They do offer guided hikes as well, stopping to tell a bit about the flora and fauna as you hike the trails.  Outside the nature center is an aviary.  There are enclosures with a few types of owls, bald eagles, vultures and hawks.  There is also a beaver habitat where I found a stubbornly camera shy beaver hiding under the banks of his little lake.  In addition to the displays there is also quite a bit of natural wildlife including squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, many birds and fish.

There are a variety of trails in the park including paved trails, natural forest trails and the river boardwalk.  All of the trails are easy with the forest trail having some slight hills as you wind through the trees and along a lakeside.  Throughout all of the trails are signs noting the different animals and plants you might encounter.  All in all it was a very enjoyable, although hot hike.  There’s a lot to see at the Nature Center and I’ll definitely go again when it cools down.

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