The 2017 North Face Bear Mountain 50 Miler Race Report: Hashtag Edition

Trying really hard to step up my Twitter game lately, so please forgive all the hashtags. #sorrynotsorry

Somewhere around mile 35 it dawned on me, I was having a pretty great day out there. #joyofrunning

Silvermine Aid, mile 8.9. photo by Brian Vanderheiden #steeprockendurance

Sure, the weather was absolutely foul but I kept repeating an old mantra (don’t know who coined it), but it goes (paraphrased): there’s no such thing as shitty weather, just shitty clothing. I actually had a lot of mantras going- and never, ever will I underestimate the power of positive thinking ever again. #focusandrefocus #embracethesuck #ivehurtworse

It’s as if I had totally convinced myself I was having the race of my life today and the safety of the entire world was at stake if I happened to DNF. That would be a super sweet Hollywood movie, like the plot was that I had an atomic bomb strapped to my back and I was racing the clock to get it to some expert bomb-disarmer guys to disarm it, and the sweet plot twist was that it could only be disarmed at the finish line by Dean Karnazes, of course- played by DEAN KARNAZES OF COURSE!!! #deanbro #neverstopexplaining

So, a high of 48 degrees and several different types of rain? Probably suits me well as I am descended from the hearty and robust stock of Ireland, where it’s pretty much 48 and rainy like 300 days a year. #wikipedia

This is how poor people “buy” photos. #cheap #screenshot

My clothing was drenched straight through within a few hours and any attempt at lubrication to avoid chaffage was futile at best, it just washed right away. But my mind was so happy and engaged, even though my stomach went south around mile 16, I was determined to stay on track with my nutrition plan. That’s where a lot of these races go to die; our tummies feel funky so we stop putting calories in, we bonk, then death march in the last 15 miles for a 16-hour finish. #racethecutoffs

Not today, gut. You will take all of this god-damned sugar in and you will like it. #caffeinetoo

The aid stations were awesome as they usually are at North Face events- just rad folks trying to get us fed and hydrated and keeping us happy. All my dumb jokes were met with smiles and laughs, telling me how good I looked. I swear you people lie, I know for a fact that I looked terrible for a good four hours on Saturday. #pleasekeeplying

I stopped training with music a few months ago so when I listen to it now when I run, it’s amazing. I’m psyched I kept my iPod dry. #possibleziplocsponsorship

My tastes were eclectic; there’s my hippie stuff (Grateful Dead, Yes, Phish, Yeasayer), for locking into an extended groove and letting my mind wander just a bit. #15minuteguitarsolo

Then I had my “Girl Pop” (Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Florence + the Machine, Alicia Keys, Sia), that stuff makes me so happy and I relied heavily on it today. #nojudgment

Then my heavy nuggets (Black Sabbath, Metallica, Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Iron Maiden) for when shit is about to get very fucking serious, just put your head down and hammer. #getintouchwithyouranger

Then some techno dance stuff (Crystal Method, Mylo) because #bleepbloopblip

Then a ton of hip-hop (Kanye, TI, Run the Jewels, OutKast, Jay-Z), to give mad props to being in New York where it all started. #southbronx

There were some extended pavement/road sections that after a while I came to realize- it’s so hard to put together huge loops of interconnected trail in the Northeast United States because real estate is really at a premium here, so using roads to link them up is okay. Instead of cursing it (like Killian that one year at UROC) I started to see it as a positive- it’s a great way to stretch the legs and give them a break from the rocky trails. I saw a lot of bloody knees and shins. #ineverfallonasphalt

The only negative experience from the entire day was the sheer amount of trail trash I saw- I picked up the first 3 or 4 gel packages I encountered but gave up when I realized folks were treating this race like a damn triathlon. Not gonna lie, probably saw 50 discarded gel packages on the course and other assorted detritus. Not cool, New York, not cool at all. Whoever swept that course is my hero, though. So. Much. Trash. #litterbugs #doyouevengreenbro

Gin-Gins and Coca-Cola probably helped get my stomach back to normal. At mile 29 I stopped to use the Porta-Potty but it sounded like someone was in there wrestling with an alligator; we’ve all had poops like that, admit it- also, whoever was in there I hope you’re okay. #fishhookornah

I decided to grab an extra neck Buff from my drop bag as “insurance” (read: $15 toilet paper). Soon as I started moving the urge to deuce left me and I basically farted through the next five miles. I literally farted my stomach back to normal. I’m talking those like 10-to-12 second rippers, where you’re basically praying to not crap yourself the entire fart. Every one brought a little bit more relief, physically and mentally (possibly spiritually, too), I felt as though I was “gambling” big time, like playing Russian Roulette with a loaded cannon aimed right at my shorts. #ihopethatsmud

I rebounded hard at mile 35 and started to push it, must’ve passed 25-30 runners on my way to the finish line. I don’t take any particular joy in passing people as they suffer through the end of a long day, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t gain a serious amount of strength from it. It’s like the movie Highlander, when that guy chops off people’s heads and gets all their strength, plus the strength of who ever’s head they chopped off, that’s kind of what I’m doing, but in a “good job, nice work” sort of way. #carnage #coffeeisforclosers

Those last 2-3 miles were so much fun, probably my fastest miles of the day- I made my way to the finish line singing at the top of my lungs to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”, cranked up to full blast, belting out that line from the chorus “Let’s hear it for New Yorrrrrk…” just loving every second of it. #turnt

Run hard through the line. #myquadslookdope

So that’s it- I’ll recap with this: what a fun day I had out there in what should’ve been a miserable time. #expecttheunexpected #neverstopexpecting

I’ve had a couple of bad races this year and one of the worst injuries of my life but it all seemed to melt away at North Face Bear Mountain. I just stayed within myself, enjoyed chatting it up and sharing miles with so many different runners (Tom from NYC- you’re awesome for running that whole thing in those Tarahumara sandals! and you dudes from West Point were rad, keep at this stuff please!); kept my goals reasonable, and they were as follows: don’t fall, don’t bonk, run happy, run under 10 hours (missed that one) and try for a negative split (just missed, 5:13 and 5:18 for each half). But dammit, I had some serious joy out there last Saturday. #wewantyoutobehappy

Okay, stop running now. #feedme

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter! #shamelessplug

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Traprock 50k: Jimmy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Synopsis: the author tries to come to terms with a recent string of injuries.

I have decided to make myself a checklist in order to determine my readiness for my next race, it’s going to look something like this:

  1. Are you hurt? If yes, you should not start this race. If no, proceed to #3
  2. You answered “yes” to #1, so on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you in? Do you have a decent range of motion of all your limbs?
  3. Are you planning to race this race all out or use it as a long supported training run?
  4. What would be the worst thing about not starting this race?

Here’s my answers upon awakening Saturday morning:

  1. Yes, I am injured. I hate writing those words. I caught a toe running down a somewhat gnarly trail on Sleeping Giant and fell harder than I’ve ever fallen, right on my right shoulder eight days ago and can’t lift my arm over my head without help. Is that bad? I can still run although it’s not ideal. I mean, I can dress myself, drive a car and wipe my own ass. I’m cool. I also experienced some minor back spasms two days before this race as well as jamming a toe on our cat’s scratching post while cleaning up my kid’s toys.
  2. I’d say pain scale, hmmm- I go anywhere from 1 to 10 depending on where my arm is resting. If it doesn’t move, it’s a 1, if I try to run, it’s like a 4 or 5. if I try to run fast, it’s like a 7. Running uphill, hard: hurts a lot, like a 10. Range of motion, hmmmm: I have like 60% use of my right arm. Is that good enough?
  3. Yes, it’s just a long training run, so I can do it. I mean, miles on the legs is miles on the legs. Time on the feet is time on the feet, yadda yadda. I have some really long races coming up soon, so…
  4. I mean the absolute worst thing about not starting today would be I lose out on the $65 and for someone that’s as broke as me, that’s like really a lot of money.

Here’s basically every mistake I made from the moment I woke up on race day:

So I woke up and felt that I was about 80% okay, and decided to run the Traprock 50k (this was a mistake, I should’ve stayed in bed).

I mean, it’s just a 50k (mistake: not respecting the distance).

Looks like it’s going to be about 60 degrees today (mistake: it’s always warmer than what Weather Underground forecasts).

I’ll run with my Camelbak reservoir since I can’t really grip a hand-held in my right hand today (mistake: you really hate running with all that water sloshing around on your back).

I’ll get a drop bag to access after every lap, that will be awesome! (mistake: you put your drop bag too far from the start/finish turnaround, thus adding a good 10 minutes to your finishing time by farting around with it)

I’ll make sure to get a really good stretch before running so I’m nice and loose (mistake: you saw people you knew and chatted with them before running, you never even stretched).

If I feel like dropping during the race, it’s okay, I can just drop out (mistake: you’re ridiculously stubborn and still hate that you DNF’d a race for no good reason two years ago).

Ugh, as far as race reports go I’m not going to do that thing where I get overly pedantic and go over every gel I took and what I felt like at this mile, jokes I told at aid stations, none of that. Just going to be short and sweet about it, (not really) but here goes…

I’ll give a quick description of the course: three 11-ish mile loops with about 1600+ feet of gain on each loop; some sections very steep and rooty, some sections were like stone stairs cut into a frigging cliff, mostly jagged rocks everywhere, some sweet singletrack, some wider jeep-type fire roads, a lot up and down, totally exposed from no leaf cover and great views of a picturesque New England town (Simsbury) from the cliff top. I’ll say this is most likely Connecticut’s “spring classic” ultra race.

Okay, first loop went great- split that in 1:59:xx but spent six minutes farting around getting my water reservoir filled, then putzing with my drop bag: changing into a singlet, applying sunscreen, Body Glide, grabbing gels and then I couldn’t get the cap off my bottle of ice cold flat Coke (the EMT on staff used his rubber glove and got it for me). Was back on course by 2:05, next loop was…

Horrendous. Starting feeling like I could really run hard now, my shoulder totally hurt like hell but, what the *expletive deleted*, let’s go for it! I put the headphones on, cranked the tunes and… caught my *expletive deleted* toe on a *expletive deleted* rock and went *expletive deleted* flying.

Right onto my left shoulder. Now I have owwies on both shoulders, great. My immediate reaction was “I’m done.. race over… forget this, I’m dropping.” If it wasn’t for the runner coming up the trail behind me to check on me, I would’ve dropped. To say I was angry would be an understatement.

I cooled off, repeated to myself over and over, “just let it go, can’t do anything about it now, people fall all the time in these things…” She ran on ahead and told the aid station to expect a bloody and dirty guy to clean up, but my shoulder scrape wasn’t that bad and the dirt was basically sweated away by the time I got there.

So, loop #2 in 2:31, oof. Gonna be a long day. About a mile before the start/finish aid station, I got that slight twinge in the calf of a cramp, then a minute or two later the twinge starts in my groin, oh no. Within three minutes I’m full-on cramping all up and down the legs. Awesome. Gonna be a very long day.

In and out of the start/finish pretty quickly, start back up the climb, fighting off the cramps as best I can. I envision a shuffle-walk for the last loop. My lower back doesn’t feel great- those back spasms I had two days before the race are coming back in slight twinges as well, I think it’s because I can’t quite fully use my right arm so I’m probably over-compensating and it’s affecting my left hip/glute/lower back area. Wonderful.

Not bad for a guy who can’t move his right arm!

Up the climb again, totally cramping, stopping every five steps so they can subside. My body just does not want to cooperate today. Luckily I do not go to a dark place because everyone else around me is feeling just about the same. I tuck in behind a taller guy that’s feeling kind of rough, says he was out a bit too late last night- I can smell his sweat, it has the faint odor of vodka and cigarettes. To each his own.

He goes on and I’m joined by a local runner named Andy and we basically shuffle the last ten miles together, alternating between mild jogging, serious power hiking and teeth-gritting periods of running that unfortunately last no longer than 3 or 4 minutes.

Then just to add the slightest bit of insult to the day, I roll an ankle at about mile 27. This has just been so great.

So I did that last loop in 3:07. To put that in context, I am a 3:07 marathoner. I ran the last loop of this race in the same time it took me to run an entire 26.2 miles in Santa Rosa, California, about 20 months ago (I just ran a 3:10 four months ago).

7:47 for the whole 33.2 miles. More context: I just ran a 50-miler in November that was only 31 minutes longer. I’d say I did not have “it” today.

Takeaways from this race were:

  • I ran a bunch of early miles with a few folks I recognized from Bimbler’s Bluff 50k (Sarah and Art).
  • I really let the folks at the aid stations take care of me, and thanked them for giving up their Saturday so I could do some silly loops in a state park.
  • I pulled a tick off of me at one point, he started to burrow into my leg. I think I’m pretty safe from getting Lyme Disease, it’s more likely you get it from a tick nymph bite and they have to be attached for like 24 hours. Phew.
  • I ran a lot of the later miles with a guy named Andy and we’re already planning on getting some runs in together, he’s in Westville (about 5 minutes from me).
  • I showed a lot of (foolish) grit and determination to get finished.
  • Caught up with Art again at the finish to chat real quick- seems though everyone had a rough day except for the winner, local East Coast beast Brian Rusiecki- a 21-minute victory on the #2 finisher. Only nine runners went under six hours.
  • I cramped late into the night on Saturday; I cramped on the couch watching TV with my wife (she was a little freaked out) and I cramped some laying in bed. That’s weird.
  • I’m full of resolve now to NOT start a race when I’m not 100%. I’ll eat the entry fee instead. Trail running is freaking dangerous, it’s probably best I have full use of all limbs while racing from now on.

So it’s now Thursday, five days later, and the right shoulder is probably 90%- I can lift it over my head, can’t fully rotate it around (all signs and symptoms point to an impingement- looks like 2 more weeks of discomfort and limited range of motion), the left shoulder is totally fine, just scraped (so is my knee and elbow). My back feels pretty great, it’s been nice and loose since the race- I should probably still go see a chiropractor though. My toe really hurts and I’m losing the toenail on the toe next to that one.

Trail running is so glamorous!

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The 2016 Boston Marathon Race Report

Ambivalence. Defined as the “uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by an inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.”

That word (or the idea) has been plaguing me since getting accepted to Boston in September of 2015. At first I wasn’t going to go.

What do you mean you’re not going to run the most iconic, most recognizable foot race in the entire universe? The one marathon that everyone knows about? That’s what I’m going to attempt to explain here- bear with me.

That ambivalence would eventually give way to “well, I might not do it again for a while so maybe I should…” which gave way to “yeah, I have to do this” which then landed on “I’ll just use it as a long tempo run for Canyons 100k” to “I do not want to embarrass myself, I should train hard for this”.

This whole range of weird emotions: indifference, excitement, resignation and finally determination.

I mean, I really want to run scenic, long(-er) trail races. So for me, putting a road marathon in the middle of a 100-mile training block felt counter-intuitive. My initial hesitancy stemmed from not wanting to get hurt before attempting another Western States qualifier- that’s every trail ultrarunner’s ultimate goal.

That’s our “Boston” so to speak. I don’t want to jeopardize that.

But I also don’t want to “mail it in”, I mean people spend years, decades even, trying to get a Boston qualifier. Some folks give up on the qualifier and go the charity-runner route, which is hard in its own right. I have to respect that I got a BQ on my second attempt, and I don’t know what my chances look like in the years to come (even though I get five extra minutes to qualify for turning 40 this year).

I didn’t even want to write a race report for Boston, today is Race Day, 2017- the race was exactly a year ago.

A year to write a race report? Must’ve been some race. Seriously, though- I need to write this report, in order to come to terms with the aforementioned ambivalence.

Looking strictly at the numbers, there were 30,741 runners entered to run Boston. I can’t find an exact number of “charity runners” but it seems like 6,000-ish is the number floating around out there. So that’s about 25,000 runners that got in from qualifying times. There were 551,295 marathon finishers in 2015. So, using “math” we’re looking at 4.5% of all marathon finishers in the September 2014 to Sept. 2015 official qualifying window get into Boston.

I can’t find the age group breakdowns but I imagine it’s a similar number, maybe slightly lower. Also, running is funny in that you can be in the top 4.5% and not be considered an elite. I know, the elite ultra guys do fast road marathons all the time, run a sub-2:30 and then turn around and jam a 6:30 50-miler a few weeks later.

That ain’t me.

So in thinking about that number more in-depth I realized I’m not at the top 4.5% of anything, so I should probably take this chance to run the race. I’ve had people joke with me about “not being a real runner until I’ve done Boston” and I’m sure part of me signed up to quiet their judgments, but really- it’s Boston. Of course I had to try to run the oldest, most prestigious of all marathons in the known universe.

So ambivalence made way for excitement after a few months of ultra training and both a 50k race and a 50-miler. A few workouts here and there; a Jack Daniels’ inspired tempo-long-tempo run, then a 3 by 2-mile repeat session, throw in a six miles at marathon pace run, then a 16-miler at 20 seconds off MP, followed by a 12-miler with 20 x 1 min fartleks, a 5-miler at MP, a Brad Hudson-inspired 25k fueled progression run (five 5k’s, each one getting progressively faster until the last 5k is about 5-10 secs faster than goal MP) and finally a 5 x 1000 meter repeat session on a track, and that was enough to basically not embarrass myself.

Looking back on it now, I can see how foolish it was to try to cram all these workouts in when all I really had was a semi-decent aerobic base. I literally could not wait to get back to 100-mile training where I measure standard road marathon training with “is this good enough and was I fast enough?” with the requisite “how much time did I spend on my feet this week and how much vert did I gain?”

The folly of this thinking has been replaced by my current mode of training, i.e.- having a decent aerobic base to support more quality sessions, making every run have a purpose and getting my body as strong as possible with core work and light weights.

Yep, I’m kind of becoming a gym rat. You can do threshold runs on a treadmill just fine. It’s not great in terms of specificity, but it works.

So I flew in to Boston on Sunday afternoon, eliciting a few “no way, dude- you gotta go Thursday or Friday and get the whole weekend in…” but having grown up right down the road (I-95) in Philly and visiting Boston enough times to realize I wasn’t going to miss all that much. Maybe a selfie with Bill Rodgers or hearing Shalane Flanagan give a talk would be cool, but I could probably catch them at a local mall or diner one day and it would be way more special because of the randomness involved.

Anyway, took the T over to the expo, grabbed my bib and race swag, looked at the over-priced jackets and weird new nutrition companies yadda yadda. Honestly, I can’t stand road marathon expos. 20 minutes of that and I was exhausted. Hopped back on the T to go over to Cambridge to meet my friend MB to pick up her house key, I was staying with her and her husband Toby in Somerville (pronounced SUMMAH-VILL). They’re the raddest and sweetest people ever, we even had a taco party on Monday night after the race (spoiler: I did not go to the party at Fenway because why go to a baseball stadium when no baseball is being played?) I also don’t drink beer so Samuel Adams is as about important to me as Karl Lagerfeld.

Seriously though I was over crowds anyway. They freak me out when I’m tired, cranky and sore.

I also like to freak out about on-course nutrition. So Clif Shots and Gatorade, woo hoo! I did a little bit of training with it to see how it sat at near 7-minute pace. All systems go! As far as gels have been concerned lately, Honey Stingers have been going down and sitting really great so I went with four of them, a “Gold” (basically just honey with a B-vitamin complex) and a Vanilla and two Fruit Smoothies.

I figured I’d mix up a few hundred calories of UCan beforehand then bring 2 servings of ~150 cals in 3-oz travel size shampoo squeeze bottles, that worked great. I tried to mimic everything I did at Santa Rosa because that was my most recent best performance, so it has to be my model of consistency. Gotta stick with what works, right? I also did a Vespa about 45 mins before the start and another at the half marathon mark.

I did try something new before Boston, however, and I don’t think it worked, in hindsight it may have hindered me because after the amount of calories I took in before Canyons 100k, I probably should’ve eaten more. The new thing I tried: eating a tiny breakfast before the race. Before Boston my M.O. was to start racing on an empty stomach (or at the very least some type of easily-digestible “super starch”) and although I didn’t feel “heavy” as I am wont to after eating and then running, it was something I definitely wasn’t used to.

Watching the race day forecast starting ten days out was another thing driving me nuts. I know I can’t control the weather but I just kept thinking “ugh, I’m not at all trained for running in the heat.” Northern California has turned me into a baby, so for every degree over 60 a little part of me slowly dies.

Race Day

So I had a great night sleep, slept in a bit and took a later bus out to Hopkinton from downtown, there was no way I wanted to be hanging out at the athlete’s village for 3 or 4 hours before my wave started. Everyone I rode out with had really high numbers, up the high 20-thousands. I think these folks were all the charity runners. Part of me felt guilty for hitching a later ride, but again- I can’t understand why anyone would want to hang out in Hopkinton for 3 or 4 hours before the race. I guess that’s the trail runner in me; I show up for a local 8 am race at like 7:40 and that’s more than enough time to slap a bib on, fill a water bottle and pee in the woods.

I started to get hungry on the bus ride out so I started in on part 2 of breakfast (UCan) and just focused on breathing. This is around where I decided if I get back to Boston next year, I’m staying in Hopkinton or Framingham or somewhere close to the start. I’m already tired from being awake for almost 3 hours. I’d like to run now, actually I like to start running 45 minutes to an hour after waking up. It takes a lot of mental as well as physical energy to wake up, get on the T in Somerville, go downtown, drop off your bag, get on a bus, take an hour ride, then get in line to give someone your warm clothes, then get in another line to walk a half mile to get in line to go pee, then get in another line to walk to the start, then run a half mile before you actually start.

That’s the real race- just getting to your wave and corral. Exhausting.

It was 10:04 when I crossed the start line and I was already pretty tired- have I mentioned that yet? The excitement I had of running Boston had given way to what I call “comically exasperated frustration”. It was like the LA Marathon all over again; so much energy wasted on “other stuff” that when it came time to run, I was ready to nap.

I understand the logistics of getting 30,000 people to a small town 26 miles away from Boston (that’s why they want us first wavers out at the start at like 7 am) but damn, I was not prepared for any of that. I was told what to expect but that’s a lot of people. Next time I’ll fend for myself, thanks.

So I wanted to run around 3:10 to 3:12, which meant 7:14-7:19 pace. Funny thing is, right here after the start everyone told me these things: “don’t get swept up in the excitement… take it easy… it’s a long downhill, save your quads…” but again, I was so tired already. I knew by Ashland (mile 3) that I was in for a rough day.

I had printed out one of those Asics pace wristbands and kept my eye on it. Went through 5k in 22:41, cool. Only ten seconds off, no biggie. Went through Framingham and then 10k, 45:16, only 14 seconds slow, okay- not bad. I noticed that it was starting to get warm here, maybe it was 65? Just keep drinking water and Gatorade, keep dumping water on your head, you’ll be fine.

15 km now, 1:08:19- only 45 seconds behind, gonna have to throw in a little tiny surge here, something manageable- there’s still a lot of race to go. I also felt my bladder starting to fill a bit… First porta-potty I see after the half marathon mark I’ll use it. Gotta make my 13.1 split at 1:35:02… and what’s that noise?

The Wellesley Scream Tunnel. Deafening. Had to move over to the left side of the road because it literally hurt my ears. Holy shit, you can hear it from almost a MILE AWAY AND STILL HEAR IT A MILE LATER. Gotta be 120+ decibels.

Here comes halfway, and I glance down at my wrist again. 1:36:27. Shit. That’s a minute and twenty-five seconds off, which is an eternity. That’s a 3:13 if I can mange to run an even split. Gonna have to throw in another surge, right after I stop to pee.

Sup, brah?

The crowds started getting bigger at this point, and the mercury had to be up around 70. Non-runners be like “that’s perfect!” but we feel it probably 15 to 20 degrees warmer, and like I said before anything over 60 degrees sucks to run fast in. Passing through 25k at 1:55:36, now almost 3 mins off, and here comes the Newton Hills!

So yeah, this is where I go to die. First Newton hill: dipped to an 8:30 pace. Not good.

30 km comes and goes in 2:20:12, now five plus minutes off schedule. Next hill: oh my, slowing to mid-9 minute pace. Just… if… no.

I’d be lucky to run sub-3:20 at this point.

Does Newton like to party?

So I wasn’t going to re-qualify I realize as I make the right hand turn and see the Newton Fire House and the last of the Hills, the biggest one of them all. I’m literally running in molasses now, way up over 10 minute pace. The struggle bus pulls over, picks me up, and lets me drive it. Awesome.

Once you crest this hill it’s about 5 miles to the finish and you are greeted with a very pleasant breeze from the east, blowing some gentle, cool ocean air. Too bad I couldn’t appreciate it because I was dead on my feet.

I told myself to just have fun from here on in, just party with the crowd. I started pumping my arms, working the crowd up. Doing the Hulk Hogan hand to the ear thing, all that.

DAT CROWD DOE

My biggest take away, the thing I’ll never, ever forget is the absolute electric feeling I got from the crowd. Every time I needed their mojo, it was like getting hit with a wave of positive loving energy.

This is probably the best pic of me all day. Still not gonna spend $29.95 on it though.

Way to go, sixty-seven sixty-one! (my bib number)

NICE BEARD BRO! (my beard was big)

Hey SFRC! (I was wearing my SFRC singlet, they’re famous now)

I was doing the Hulk Hogan hand to the ear “I can’t hear you” thing and getting doused with cheers. Was pumping my arms in that “c’mon get loud” motion, more cheers. The crowd literally picked me up and carried me onto Boylston Street, the last five miles were a blur.

The Snot Rocket Heard ’round the World (I wish)

So I ran the Boston Marathon one year ago today.

The biggest reason to want to go back is to recapture that feeling, all that joy and love I felt from the crowd. After chilling out for a while in Copley Square, sitting on the grass and eating the fruit cups and bananas and whatever else they gave us, basking in the glory with all the other runners from around the world, I was struck by how awesome the entire day was, and how I almost missed out on it. I get it now. It’s more about the experience of being there than running a great time or having the race you want. It’s about sharing in something so gigantic and special that people come from Australia and Denmark and Kenya to run this thing.

So I hopped on the T with my space blanket and medal around me, and someone gave up their seat for me.

“No, man, I’m good thanks.”

NO, SIT DOWN.

“Okay.” I said. Then a mother and her daughter, decked out in full Red Sox gear sat across from me. ”

How’d it go today?”

“You know,” I said, “not great, but it was really, really awesome.” They said they do this every year, go to the 11 AM Sox game then get out and cheer people on for a bit before heading home.

“This really is Boston’s best day, nothing beats Boston on this day.”

I’ll have to agree. To borrow that quote: if you’re ever losing faith in humanity, go watch the finish line of a marathon.

You just finished the Boston Marathon, try not TO CRY LIKE A BABY NOW

STRAVA STATS (if you’re into that sort of thing)

So officially, I ran a 3:25:04, and I did not re-qualify for 2017, mssing the standard by 10 minutes and 4 seconds (actually more like 12:30 with the cutoff times, but yeah). I did “beat my bib” though, which is a big deal apparently. Here’s the official result page.

Crossing that finish line

I qualified for the 2018 edition at the hilly and frigid Roxbury Marathon last December. So I’m going back, and you better believe I’m going to take it very serious this time, take it as an absolute honor that I get to do something that people spend a lot of time and energy trying to do and come up short time and time again.

Ambivalence

Synonyms: hesitancy, indecision, inconclusiveness, irresoluteness, quandary, tentativeness.

Antonyms: certainty, sureness, decisiveness.

I’m gonna try to live in that second list of words from now on…

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The 2017 Two Rivers Marathon Race Report

For those keeping score that’s two bad races in a row to start the year; after ending 2016 on such a high note (another BQ and a 50-mile PR) I’m left wondering WTF?

Not really, I know exactly what went wrong. I’ve had the last 3 days to settle down, get over myself and really sit with the discomfort of knowing that my training has been not great. Taking an extended off-season complete with the killer flu and then another weird cold PLUS spending way too much time on the treadmill (lack of specificity) PLUS trying to cram in too much threshold work without proper recovery between workouts EQUALS recipe for disaster.

Let’s put it this way: at the Colchester Half on February 25th I ran a strong 10k before imploding, meaning I was adequately trained to run a decent 10k, but not a half. Then four days ago at the Two Rivers Marathon I ran a somewhat strong 13.1 before imploding, meaning I was adequately trained for a strong half showing but not a full 26.2. The holes in my training are there like Swiss cheese, I just didn’t want to smell it, because then I’d have to admit it was very stinky and moldy.

Lessons learned:

#1- The greatest teacher I’ve ever had is failure: this is the thing that gets me back out there every day. Setting new goals, putting old goals on hold for the time being, re-evaluating what I’m doing to get me towards my goals, failure is important. I recommend everyone try failing at least once in their life.

#2- The greatest achievement I’ve ever had is progress: this is the other thing that keeps me referring back to #1. I didn’t hit my goal but I learned something about myself out there last weekend, that when it gets unbelievably hard and I want to quit more than anything else in the world, that I can re-focus and get it done, albeit very slowly. That’s the progression, I used to just quit things that were too hard, like art school or that job that made me wake up at 9 AM. And another thing- more often than not progress is not linear. It’s kind of an arc overlapping a circle wrapped around a bent fish hook. It might not look like what I wanted it to look like, but there’s so much more value in gutting it out than getting what you want all the time. That’s how I get what I need.

So here’s the pedantic “actual race report” part: had a great night sleep, 8+ hours, woke up gently to the chill iPhone alarm. Made strong coffee (always bring your own if you’re a coffee snob, do not ever trust or rely on the hotel/motel/Holiday Inn to satisfy your fix), ate about 400 calories of what’s lately become my preferred race day breakfast; about a cup of white rice, cooked with a tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

Drove to the finish line in Lackawaxen, a sleepy little burg tucked in between the deep folds of the Pocono Mountains at the confluence of the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers. Hopped in the shuttle, tried to find the other ultra runners (sadly they’re the only folks I relate to) and sat with this guy Steve from NYC that’s done a bunch of silly long-distance races just like me; he well as doing the back-to-back marathons with the Maniacs (the Two Rivers has a Saturday & Sunday marathon, I think 30+ folks were doing both days).

Steve was funny, he tried to get me to do the NYC 100 in June, 100 miles on roads/sidewalks thru all of NYC. Told him “I’m done with roads after today… the trails have been calling me, and I must go.” He totally understood what I was saying, for he is a member of the same wacky tribe.

So about that goal for the day: I was all about trying to get that 2:58 NYC marathon qualifier, I didn’t care about “just squeaking under 3” or “improving my Boston corral seeding”, I was going totally for broke.

Having that BQ already for 2018 took the pressure off a lot so I felt that I could go out really hard, and if I blew the F up royally, then I’d just blow the F up and chalk it up to trying to do something that’s probably just outside of “reasonable” for me.

Go big or go home. No “safe” times here, no “gentle, even pacing” to just slide in under the bar, I was either going sub-2:58 or was gonna die trying. #realtalk #thuglife

The check in was in the theater at the Woodloch Resort, nice place.

Then cut to: the start, we’re off and it’s 8.5 downhill miles, they felt effortless, easy, flowy.

I went out with the leaders of both the full and the half, wanted to run somewhere around the top five until about mile 20, then start my kick.

Little climb at mile 8.5-9, pace dipped to 8:00, no big deal. Wanted to hit mile 10 at 1:08, was about a minute off right there and things started to go awry at about 11.5- wanted to hit the half at 1:27:30-ish, hit that at like 1:32.

Then things got really rough, from mile 12 to the turnaround on the out-and-back at mile 18.7 there’s a mellow, slight uphill, gains like 20 feet per mile but I just fell apart, completely. Could not generate power, I watched my pace sag, and sag, and sag.

Tried taking twice as much Gatorade at every aid station here, had my flat Coke on me, was chugging that, taking gels- body just would not cooperate. Quads felt great, too- it wasn’t an issue of taking that long downhill too hard, I love running downhill. The little specificity I did do in the build before the race was some downhill stuff, really hard.

Somewhere along that out-and-back as i started counting runners coming back to me, I started to laugh as I realized 1) that 2:58 NYCQ was gone, 2) sub-3 was also gone, 3) it would be a battle to best my 3:07 PR and 4) you better fucking enjoy, NAY– embrace this level of suck right now, because you paid money for the pleasure of this suffering.

Kept telling myself “regroup, regroup” and that I could still turn it around. At the very least this was a really great tune up for my 50k in three weeks, I mean- a 26.2 mile supported tempo run is a great workout!

Tried all my mental tricks and mantras: focus on your breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Land on your midfoot, drive the knee back, pump the arms. Nothing. Execute, dammit, execute! Nope. You’ve hurt way worse than this, this is nothing! Nada.

Turnaround at mile 18.7 to the finish was back down that slight hill, tried to start kicking, had a decent 7:30 mile in there but that just finished me. Last 10k was a nice cooldown: 8:27, 8:28, 9:06, 9:14, yeah- you see where this is going…

…then an 8:51 and a 9:32 (yuck) before the YUGE finishing kick over the bridge with a 7:52 for the final 400 meters.

3:24:35, 12th place overall, 5th in the 40-49 age group. A really solid result on paper, but I know that it wasn’t my best effort. You absolutely cannot fake the marathon distance, no matter how many times you’ve run the distance, it will chew you up and spit you out if you disrespect it. I’ve said it before- you can fake almost any distance up to about 20 miles but there’s something very difficult and inexplicable that happens around mile 20 when you’re running at your aerobic threshold.

There are changes taking place, not only physical but psychological, that just break you down. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle feeling that lousy that early in the race to overcome it. By the time I figured out what was going on, it was too late.

I tried to fake the distance, and it showed me exactly what it thought about that.

In hindsight, salivating profusely over seeing the elevation profile was the hook, definitely thought I’d cruise to mile 12 and then the real work would start- it drops like 800 feet in the first half. I was done at 12 though, should’ve just done the half. Maybe the 1:25 NYCQ was doable today. Might never know. But I gotta let that go, ain’t nobody got time for that…

…oh well, I’m ready for ultra season. Traprock 50k in less than three weeks!

Strava stats

Post script: …and about that goal of qualifying for the NYC Marathon; it’s definitely on hold right now. I might make another go at it come October at the Hartford Marathon, but for now I’m shelving it. It’s still a goal, I’m not abandoning it, just gonna move it to the back-burner for now.

I had two really great runs this week back on the trails of West Rock and I realized that I had missed this place so very much, here under the evergreens, amongst the rocks and roots, splashing in the mud and puddles and patches of leftover snow.

This is my happy place, this is the place where I don’t care about what pace I’m running, where I don’t care about having to hit a certain mileage for the day, a place where I can just be. The place where the process is so much more important than the outcome.

Thanks for reading.

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The 2016 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race Report

The Stone Cat 50 Miler is a really cool little race on Massachusetts’ North Shore, in a sleepy little burg called Ipswich. The home base for the race is the Doyon Elementary School which borders Willowdale State Forest, a 2,500 acre state park with a decent mix of single-track and fire roads. It meanders around swamps, woods and meadows.

A little Willowdale single track

A little Willowdale single track

Here’s a little story about the 2016 edition of the race.

September: so I was desperately searching for an early to mid-November 50-miler to end my ultra season and this seemed to be the only one in New England. So, easy choice. Oh, but it’s a multiple loop race, oh no. Well, these surely are true tests of one’s mental stamina- I can do four 12.5-mile loops. Wait, can I do four 12.5-mile loops? Guess I’ll have to find out. Oh and it’s about to sell out so… Ultrasignup does not issue refunds, guys. Looks like I have to do it now.

October: training is going well, autumn is awesome in New England. I still haven’t had a pumpkin spice latte. I almost bought one but the kid at Starbucks told me it tasted “perfumey”. Then he asked me what I usually drink. Black coffee. “Yeah, you definitely won’t like it.” I feel like that kid jumped in front of a bullet for me. I’ll never forget you, “Chad”.

November: fresh off of a fun 50k deep in the CT woods, I really didn’t taper much for the 50 miler. Seriously though, who tapers? I’m joking, I tapered. Kind of. Anyway, day before the race I loaded up the CRV and drove up to Ipswich. My plan was to put the seats down and inflate the air mattress and crawl into my sleeping bag and dirtbag it in the parking lot of the school. Great idea- I got it from a few guys I ran a bunch of miles with at Miwok a few years ago, they were like, “yeah we just slept in the Stinson Beach parking lot in our cars last night.” I’ve always wanted to be an ultra dirtbag.

Everything was going awesome until a cop rolled up at 1:41 AM, woke me up and shone the brightest light in my face. After figuring out that I was here for the race, and running my plates to make sure the car wasn’t stolen, and then running my ID to make sure I wasn’t a fugitive from justice, he let me be. He probably thought better than to write me a fine, I mean- if I didn’t have $70 for a motel room, I sure wasn’t going to have $200 for a vagrancy ticket.

It was cold as hell so I started up the engine and ran the heat and drifted off back to sleep. Then I woke up an hour later covered in sweat, it was probably 108 degrees in the car. It said 33 outside. So I shut her down and went back to sleep. Apparently this was not smart because people with leaky exhaust systems could give themselves carbon monoxide poisoning and die. Luckily I was in a two-month old car, and it’s a Honda, and they are reliable.

Finally I woke up to the iPhone alarm at 4:30, fresh as a daisy. I can’t believe I managed to get seven hours of sleep, albeit somewhat interrupted, but dammit I got a great night’s sleep. That never happens the night before a 50-miler. Today might be a good day!

I had my camp cook stove so I heated up some water, made coffee, ate breakfast- rice balls cooked with coconut oil and some sugar, so damn good. High carb, low fiber- makes my tummy happy. Around this time the volunteers started showing up, slowly waving in the first few cars. Damn, it was cold. I made small talk with some of my new neighbors, explaining how I dirtbagged it here last night. They thought that was cool and I was relieved they weren’t judging me (to my face) for being a cheap ass.

Yadda yadda: Bib pick up, bathroom line, 6:15 AM and we’re off.

It’s pitch black still so we make our way across the field and onto this wide fire road, my plan was to take it really conservative the first 3-5 miles then start finding a comfortable rhythm and work towards a pace that I could sustain all day.

We’re already getting kind of log-jammed here in the early going so I make a few quick little pushes to clear some room and as we funnel on to the first single-track of the day… I’m walking. And everyone is walking. I see a line of headlights stretching into the woods, and they’re all walking.

Like I said, I wanted to take it easy but not this easy.

First of all, it’s cold, so I need to move to generate body heat. Secondly, I think most of the runners this morning have maybe not-so-great headlamps, so they might be taking it easy because they literally can not see. I’ve got this bad ass 370 lumen Petzl MYO that just lights up the night, my suggestion to you if you plan on running in the dark is to get something that will stun a deer. 110 lumens is cool and all, but that sort of headlamp is for looking for stuff in your garage.

Anyway, it took about three miles to finally break into a clearing where I could actually run. This would be my biggest (and only) mistake of the day, not starting more towards the front. It cost me about 5-6 minutes.

I always second guess myself, thinking I don’t belong towards the front of the race before we start, like I haven’t earned that right by now. In my three other east coast races I’ve run I’ve finished somewhere in the top 20, I really should be right around there a mile into the race. Oh well, mental note for next time.

So my nutrition plan on the day was primarily to just sip on Coke and water all day. Hey, it worked at Bimblers, it might work here. I also had a bunch of those delicious Huma gels, they’re like real fruit puree with chia seeds, super tasty. I also made a bunch of rice balls and had a few packets of Tailwind on hand. I bought a liter of Coke and let it go flat in my fridge the days before the race, and kept it back at my drop bag.

We got freezing rain-slash-hailed on for a few minutes (I’m telling you, it was cold) somewhere in the early going, that was unexpected.

I spent a few miles running with a woman named Lauren through the first aid station, then was on my own to watch the sun rise, a little over an hour in. A really cool mist hung over the swamp, giving it an eerie effect among the pinkish glow of the sunrise. Alright, Massachusetts, you’re pretty cool.

The first loop came and went, it was still pretty cold. I wanted to do each loop in about two hours to have a reasonable shot at going under eight hours and I came through in 2:07, so I’m going to chalk up those seven minutes to being stuck in that conga line at the beginning, and I just let it go, nothing to do about it now.

I’ll just churn out loop #2 in 2:00 and see what I have for loops 3 and 4. There’s still a lot of race to go and I feel really good, so let’s not get all sucked in to racing just yet. Loop two was still pretty cold, but slowly warming up. I had on a short-sleeve tech shirt underneath a long sleeve tech shirt, a faux wool winter hat (H&M, $7, I jam econo), REI winter running gloves and a neck buff. The sun still wasn’t out and that was good.

Again, a pretty uneventful loop, finished that one in exactly two hours. 25 miles in 4:07 and feeling very, very good. I took a long time at the drop bags here, got rid of the long sleeve and hat and grabbed a trucker cap, finished the rest of the flat Coke, grazed the aid station feed table and was out. I thought I’d be able to replicate another 2-hour loop for #3, so I just tried to keep the effort as even as possible.

...and some Willowdale fire road.

…and some Willowdale fire road.

I also grabbed my iPod since the field had really thinned out by now and I had been running alone for a while. I knew that loop three was where I needed to be smart- if I ran it too hard, the 40s would be a sufferfest. Looking back at my GPS data, this loop had the most consistent splits of the day. I was both actively engaged in deep concentration AND kind of zoning out to the music. I knew the pain cave usually shows up for me somewhere around mile 35.

Luckily the pain didn’t show up until the 4th loop, somewhere around mile 41-ish. I’m going to credit my “five days per week core and stretching routine” to that, usually my hips and glutes are absolutely blasted after 50-milers, but they didn’t hurt at all. Especially on a rolling course like this, there weren’t any huge climbs or descents so I was able to have a pretty even gait. I usually don’t do well in races that have a lot of running, I like to power hike the ups, it sort of recharges my battery. I literally charged every hill in the race until the end. That was weird.

Anyway, back to loop #3- I just kept drinking Coke as my main fuel source, I can’t believe this stuff works as well as it does for me right now. Maybe because I never drink soda outside of races- I mean, one 16-oz bottle of Coke has something like 12 teaspoons of sugar in it, that’s insane. That’s about two gels per one bottle of Coke- I usually take 2 gels per hour so I was drinking about 12-16 ounces of Coke per hour supplemented with shots of Gatorade here and there.

After overloading my stomach at Bighorn on “real” food earlier this summer, I learned that I’m pretty much a liquid calorie kind of bro. I used to do Vitargo but even that stuff was too “heavy”, I even tried doing really watered-down solutions, it never really sat right. I tried Ucan, it’s okay, but same thing as Vitargo, just didn’t sit well. I think my body needs just straight up crappy junk food when I’m racing. Or watermelon. Basically, liquid calories with water.

Then that thing happened again, where I had to pee a lot. Started around mile 33 or so, right before the two “big” climbs (about 125 and 95 feet, respectively). I also was passing a ton of the marathoners here, they were close to finishing their second loop (we had a 15-minute head start on them) and a trail angel (whose name I forget, sorry!) gave me a salted caramel Gu, totally got me going strong through the end of the loop. I got that one done in 2:05, having lost maybe 3 minutes to all the extra pee stops in the last 40 minutes (maybe 4?), seriously it was like every ten minutes.

Okay, 37.5 miles done. One more loop. I knew I was probably over-hydrated and under-salted. I grabbed a bunch of salt pills from my drop bag, did 50% Coke, 25% ginger ale and 25% water in my handheld and was off.

I saw 6:12 on the clock and thought, “can I do this last loop in 1:48?” If I could stop peeing every ten minutes I’d be cutting it close, I thought that the amount of fatigue I had accumulated was adding up and that a 1:55 was totally doable- I had that feeling in my legs that’s sort of just between a dull ache and a full-blown pain cave. I was wishing I was already in the cave so I knew exactly what I’d be working with for the next 2 hours.

I felt like I was at mile 20 of a road marathon; the wheels were readying themselves to come off. I welcome this moment in every race, this is where I learn about what I’m made of. Gut check time.

So the next maybe hour or so I was stopping to pee every 10-15 minutes, maybe 5-6 times and then I was suddenly okay- I wouldn’t pee again until my drive home on the Mass Turnpike. I was just drinking too much water. I had to find the line to where I’d be just hydrated enough, so at the next aid station I again did a mix of 3-to-1 Coke to water. I think I forgot about salt and electrolytes because food, salty or otherwise, was just so unappealing to me all day. I usually can do salty potatoes or chips or even bacon but today I wanted no parts of the actual chewing of food. Gels, de-fizzed Coke, un-naturally colored Gatorade- was my jam for the duration. I had these rice balls made up but never touched them.

Anyway, last loop was carnage time. I passed a few runners that were just running out of steam. I entered that pain cave at around mile 42, had a few minutes where it was just really rough- got passed by a guy that looked as fresh as a daisy. I tried to latch on to him but that wasn’t going to happen, I just had to go it alone. I looked at my watch: 7:15. Seven hours and fifteen minutes. Probably wasn’t going to cover the last 8-ish miles in 45 minutes, but I could really make myself hurt trying.

So that’s what I did.

Almost every runner I came up on from behind would turn their heads when they heard me grunting and yelping. It wasn’t a “hey I’m coming for you” battle cry, it was more of a “oh this hurts so fucking bad right now” and “dude, sorry, I might actually die on or near you”. Yeah.

When I passed them I said “good job, bro” but probably sounded like “gahut jaharb bahrooh”. I basically felt how Richard Nixon looked. I did straight Coke (no water) at the last aid station and was basically chugging it while burping and spilling it all over myself the last 4 miles.

I hammered those last two little climbs, still passing runners, I probably looked like hell. At the top of the first climb eight hours came and went, I would not go under. I had about 2 miles to go and figured, hey- if I can go under 8:20 that’s faster than 10 minute miles. I was gonna PR by a lot so I really tried to enjoy these last two miles, fighting back tears as I usually do at the end of 50-milers and longer, because dammit- these are hard.

They just break you down physically and emotionally and sometimes the only thing that fixes that is to just finish- it’s a raw and visceral experience that is really hard to explain. It’s like eating psilocybin mushrooms, you just gotta try it to understand it. I’m not suggesting taking mind-altering drugs (or am I?) but I am suggesting finding your limit, whether it’s something that scares the shit out of you or trying something you thought you’d never do and pushing past that into unknown territory.

The greatest thing about being broken down physically and emotionally is it leaves you just vulnerable enough to get filled up spiritually. That’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to god; yes, with a little “g” for me, sorry- I’m not a believer (yet). But that’s also the reason I do these sorts of adventures. Maybe that’s what I’m searching for out there.

I also really like myself when I’m running long and I really like other people- the part-time curmudgeon and sometimes road rager we all descend into just doesn’t work out there. I’ll try to offer gels and electrolytes to other runners and always thank the volunteers. I mean, you kind of have to like yourself because that’s a long time to spend with just you. It’s also a good idea to like other people because they’re there to help- they’ve always enhanced my experience somehow. There’s been times when I’ve rolled into an aid station and have literally had all five people there attending to me. That’s gotta be what a rockstar feels like.

So we’re all out there, running, sort of orbiting around each other, passing in and out of the peripherals- but an ultra is ultimately going to be you, alone, preferably in the woods, for a very long time. I had a long time in the Massachusetts woods to think about things, to think about why I do this sort of thing.

Chances are if you’ve read this far you’re a runner of long distances as well, and you’ve had some time to ponder this.

If not, keep searching, keep trying. Hopefully I’ll meet you out there.

Strava link to race data

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2017 Racing Schedule: Beast Coast Edition

Hey everybody, hope you had a great holiday! I ate way too much cheesecake for some reason, it seemed to be everywhere I was. I also took an actual off-season, something I haven’t done since… I started running. I guess that’s the thing about living in the Bay Area- you can run right through the “winter”.

Now that I’m in Connecticut, we have actual winter. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. Seems my biggest dilemma is to either run outside or hit the gym treadmill. Hashtag “runner problems bro”. Seriously, it was 11 degrees here one morning. My eyeballs froze in between blinks.

Another big dilemma is choosing races. We don’t have the “I can run an ultra 3 out of 4 weekends a month” thing offered by companies like Inside Trail, or Coastal Trail Runs or even a PCTR. There’s no Lake Sonoma here. Or Miwok. Or Skyline 50k. There’s no thriving trail scene centered around the greatest running store in the world, San Francisco Running Company. I actually have to drive more than a half hour to the start of races now. Bay Area/Nor Cal folks: you are so spoiled and I am jealous of you.

There, I said it.

What we do have is a few dedicated, small trail and ultra running groups splintered about New England and the mid-Atlantic.

So without further ado, here’s my (tentative schedule) for 2017:

February 25th: the Colchester Half, Colchester, CT

I really want to run NYC so I’m trying to qualify automatically with a 1:25 or better, so running this hilly half marathon to start the season makes sense. I typically like to start small and build every year, and I haven’t run a half since February 2014. I also would like to capitalize on this fitness I gained last year, so blasting a fast half sounds fun. Since the roads are plowed after snows pretty quickly, I’ll be either on roads or treadmill until we thaw- the local trails are no joke, ankles-breaking rocks and such under a carpet of snow does not sound fun right now.

March 25th: the Two Rivers Marathon, Lackawaxen, PA

A big net downhill 26.2 in the northeastern corner of my home state, I just really want to beat up my quads… and (hopefully) finally go sub 3 in the marathon. Again, NYC auto qualifier would be a 2:58 so that’s something to shoot for as well. I’m not feeling that lottery, or any lotteries in general after losing out on Western States again for the 5th straight year. I’m just going to sign up for races this year and actually run them.

April 15th: the Traprock 50k, Bloomfield, CT

I have to be okay with running multiple loop courses now that I’m here on the East Coast so here’s a three loop 50k in the Connecticut woods early after the thaw. Traprock is the term given to the volcanic rock outcroppings and ridges that broke through the surface of the Earth and cooled a few hundred million years ago that all basically run south to north along the Connnecticut River Valley from Long Island Sound up into to Vermont. This is how us runners accumulate vertical, by running up and down and over these ridges. New Haven sits between two of these rock formations, West Rock Ridge (about 1.5 miles from my house) and East Rock.

May 13th: the North Face Bear Mountain 50, New York

Have I ever told you that 50 miles is my favorite distance? If not, here we go- 50 miles is by far my favorite distance. It’s the perfect amount of time to go out exploring, 8 to 12 hours (mid-packer speed). You can see a lot in that time, and I hear the views from the ridges here are pretty sweet- the Hudson, the city off in the distance, the Taconics and Berkshires to the west. Hopefully I can get over there for some training runs- the first 25 miles are really technical and the second 25 are really fast. I like the sound of that!

June 17th: Manitou’s Revenge, Maplecrest, NY

I’ve heard this is not your typical 50 (54 miles actually), and to treat it like a really hard 100k. It has a 24-hour cutoff. It has something like 14,000 feet of climbing, on insanely technical trails- there’s chains and ropes. Sounds like more of an adventure run than a race. I’m in! (registration opens Feb. 1st)

August 12th: Eastern States 100, Waterville, PA

If you can’t do Western States, do Eastern States! This race looks brutal, and after last year’s Bighorn 100 it’s becoming more and more obvious that I like to do things that are really tough. If it’s not heat and humidity, it’s wasps and thunderstorms. Something besides the race itself will most likely present some kind of challenge, so the mental aspect of training will be key here- I see a lot of mid-day July runs in bank-robber costumes for heat acclimation, more night runs and possibly learning how to use trekking poles. I had a loose goal of finishing Bighorn in 27-28 hours (it took 31) so for this race, the goal is to just finish. There’s so much that can go wrong in a 100-miler, and having only run the distance twice I am seriously under-qualified to set a time goal for myself. Here’s some goals: just finish. Just enjoy it. Just endure. Those sound like more attainable goals than say, a 27-hour finish. Also, this part of PA is insanely beautiful and wild.

September and beyond…

I think I’d like to run another road marathon, those are really hard. Maybe Hartford in October? Maybe Philly in November? I’m already back in Boston for 2018 so I’d like to improve my corral seeding, so putting a fast(er) time on blast sounds cool and painful. I also think I’d like to do JFK50– I’ve been told if you do that one right you can run a really fast time and with the amount of people both running with you in that race and spectating, it’s really fun.

So there’s some options for the latter part of ’17. I’ve said this in previous blog posts and I’ll say it again: there’s a vibrant and happening trail and ultra scene on the Beast Coast, just gotta poke around!

I look forward to running these insanely rocky and technical trails with you all, and thanks for reading.

 

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The 2016 Roxbury Marathon Race Report

I can’t stop looking at the weather leading up to this race. I should get a weather machine. Wait, are weather machines real things? I should ask a meteorologist. Did I spell that right? Do I know any meteorologists? Maybe I should get a weather station thingy on my roof and be an amateur meteorologist.

Welp, just forget about it. It’s going to be cold. Very cold.

Damn it, how do I dress for cold? I mean, it’s going to be 22 degrees at the start. It looks like it’s never going to get over 32 F all day. I’m going to have that frost beard thing going on, right?

For just a minute I’d like my brain to shut up and quit it with all the questions. That’s what the running is for, dummy. Oh right. Until the RD says “go!” I’ll have nothing but chatter between my ears.

There’s a huge clue as to why I run so much. I’ve heard people say running isn’t meditation, but they’re so very wrong. In my experience, running can be only meditation sometimes. But again, that’s just my experience. If you haven’t had some Zen-like moments during a run, keep at it.

So the drive from New Haven out to Roxbury was as picturesque as it gets- this is that sleepy part of New England, all heavily wooded and cut with streams, brooks and rivers every few miles.

Note to self: get back up this way in the summer.

So I get to Roxbury a few minutes after 8 am, race starts at 8:30. Plenty of time, so I thought. After checking in, getting my bib, getting dressed in the car, setting up my tailgate chair neat the start/finish (it’s a looped course so I would get to access my own stuff five times during the race) and peeling off all the layers of clothing over my racing kit I had literally three seconds before the race started.

Talk about timing everything perfectly down to the last possible second.

And finally, the chatter between my ears stops and I am one with the universe. Psyche, I’m freezing my ass off, holy shit my legs are so cold. I opted for shorts since I’d only done one long run in tights and felt that they’d hamper my stride. I also kind of like being a little bit cold, I’m probably one of the grossest human sweat monsters on Earth, I seriously sweat like rivers in the summer. Disgusting, really.

So I settle into a decent pace, I wanted to be around 7:10-ish on the flat sections. Oh, I forgot to mention that this race has somewhere around 1800 feet of climbing. I stalked a bunch of previous year’s runners on Strava to see the elevation profile, and it’s a doozy. “If you’re looking to BQ this course is not the one.” says one reviewer on marathonguide.com. Another says “a fellow runner cautioned me to add 30 minutes to my expected time…”

Well, this sounds just great! I love a challenge!

Seriously though, I have been obsessed with this idea of running a sub-3 marathon for almost two years now. That’s 6:52 pace for the whole thing. It’s doable, it’s just going to take a level of fitness that I’m not at yet. I think I can get there, but damn it’s going to really push me out of my comfort zone.

I figured for this race I needed to be really close to being in sub-3 shape just to run a 3:12- hills, no matter going up or down, really take their toll on your legs. You probably already knew that if you read past the first paragraph though, sorry if it sounds like I’m runsplaining.

Also, I wanted to go out with the leaders in this race- from stalking previous year’s results I saw that that average winning time was around 2:56, meaning that I wouldn’t win but I had a decent shot to finish in the top five. That goal was secondary to getting a BQ, I was aiming for a 3:12:45-ish time, figuring that in 2015 it was a minus 2:28 and last year was minus 2:09, I needed to run somewhere in the neighborhood of minus 2:15.

If I could keep the leaders in sight for the first maybe 8 miles, I’d be in for a good day (so I hoped). But as road marathons go, you could go from awesome to sucky in a matter of minutes with little to no warning, anywhere from mile .01 to 26.2

So we head out on the first stretch, we’re spotted a little downhill love all the way to the turn-around on Judds Bridge Road, which is dirt and scenic and awesome. I fall in with a runner named Rick, we chat about ultras and races and running and it makes me forget about being in a race for a little bit, which is always welcome. The first 4 miles fly by, I start counting runners coming back to me before we hit the turn around and I notice we’re in 4th and 3rd, respectively.

About a mile in, trying to find the zone.

About a mile in, trying to find the zone. (photo: B. Fidler)

Well, that escalated quickly.

Rick is strong, I’m feeling strong, so we roll. First woman is right behind us, too. We’d all leapfrog with each other for the first 16 miles- which go by pretty quickly and uneventfully. It got exciting at mile 16. You can skip the next few paragraphs if you want.

Since I was pretty focused on running a BQ, I wrote the splits I wanted to run on the inside of my left wrist. I also didn’t have a black Sharpie so I figured red was just as good. Here’s a pic of that:

splitz

Sorry, my GPS watch rubbed it off…

It says “29, 60, 125, 151, 217, 244”

Here’s the Ovaltine decoder ring to decipher exactly what you’re looking at: 29 minutes to the turn-around at mile 4.3, 60 minutes back to the start at mile 8.6, then 1:25 after the first loop (each loop was 3.52 miles), 1:51 through the second loop, 2:17 third loop, 2:44 fourth loop and (hopefully) a 3:12 fifth loop to finish. I figured I’d lose a minute or two on each subsequent loop from fatigue, so the lap splits I wanted to run were: 25, 26, 26, 27 and 28 minutes.

First section was pretty good, got back to my drop bag at 1:01:45- thinking I’ve already given away almost 2 minutes against my split chart. One thing I’ve learned in road marathons: do not make surges early to get back on pace. Just be patient. Dropped off my hand-held, grabbed a gel and a 10-oz water/Coke. Once again I drank flat, watered down Coke all day. It’s my thing now I guess. I grabbed a gel each time I hit my drop bag, was in and out in about 5 seconds every loop.

I wanted to run that 3.52 mile loop in 25 minutes, did it in 25:06. Loop #2 was 25:53. Through 15.6 miles in 1:52:44, I was still 1:44 off where I wanted to be. “It’s okay, dude, it’s okay. Still a long way to go.” I remember saying to myself.

Yes, I talk to myself while racing.

So what happened at mile 16? It was actually 16.4, on Hemlock Road just after the road crossing on that long, mellow (but windiest part of the course) uphill section before the awesome dirt road downhill, I wasn’t feeling particularly great right here but I figured I always play it so conservatively, and what is a marathon if it’s not one huge risk?

Churning out some early miles. (photo: B. Fidler)

Churning out some early miles. (photo: B. Fidler)

So I gambled right here, basically said to myself, “it’s now or never” and just went. It’s not that I wanted to shake my nearest competitors, I was locked deeply in a battle with myself. I wasn’t thinking about a podium spot (yet), I was thinking that I always play it too safe, too conservative.

Part of me wanted to force the dreaded wall on myself to just get it over with, hit it and then see what I had to work with. I blew up at the LA Marathon right around 17, and I blew up at Santa Rosa at 23. I thought it’s going to happen, might as well get it over with!

Working the downhills

Working the downhills. (photo: B. Vanderheiden)

I suddenly and inexplicably felt great, on that long down hill right around the 2-hour mark, I was ripping down at low-6 minute pace. I had this mantra going in my head, I think it’s a Molly Huddle quote from a few weeks ago after she finished 3rd at the NYC Marathon (paraphrased): “we don’t do all this training to run the first 16 miles, we do all of this to run the last 10.” My plan was to just hammer until the wall came and then figure out what to do next.

Welp, the wall never really came. I pushed it all the way back to the start/finish area, finally taking a second to look behind me. No one. Loop #3: 25 minutes and 35 seconds. Only 1:19 off pace now.

I fumbled through my drop bag for my iPod, I don’t train with music very often (I maybe listen to music once every two weeks or so on a run) and I figured it would give me a huge boost. Music is definitely a PED and I was pulling out all the stops today.

After about 10 seconds of rooting through my shit I said “F it” and left. I’ve got 2 more loops, I’ll get it on the last one. I leave with a new set of gloves, a new hat and a new neck buff. So back out into the wind and that long, mellow uphill section, I was really struggling to hit pace here. Then that long dirt road downhill- turns out that the 6:31 mile I ran here was my fastest of the race. Then a 7:17 on the uphill mile and another 7:06 on the rolling section back to the start.

Through the start/finish one last time and 2:44:02 through, last loop was 25:43.

I just had to maintain now. I have just under 29 minutes to run the last 3.5 miles. I didn’t stop at my drop bag, didn’t need to. Rick’s friend Brian told me that 2nd place was only about four minutes ahead and did not look as strong as me. The hunt is on!

I would give it everything I got here. Still haven’t hit the wall, but was quite deep in the pain cave now, but I’ve been here so many times and welcomed the familiar feeling. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Wind. Cold. Hill. Tree. Snot rocket. Everything was slowing down (except for me). I think this is what’s called “the flow state”. My brain was now on autopilot: “breathe in, breathe out, left foot, right foot, drive the knees back, swing the arms, land on the midfoot…” I put going for second place out of my mind and just stayed in this moment.

Then a 7:21 mile, still cruising. Then that downhill mile: 7:03. Still haven’t hit the wall. Still maintaining. Went through the aid station at the bottom of the hill and had my left sleeve pulled up a bit, by now it had warmed up to a balmy 29 degrees. One of the guys just past the aid station was like, “dude, your arm is bleeding” but I was moving too fast and just waved. Maybe next time I use black Sharpie.

Also I had a running (pun intended) joke with the guy at the end of the dirt road, first time I went by he was like, “man those are some short shorts!” and I was like, “I was gonna wear those triathlete panties today but they weren’t clean…” so every time I went by he was all, “yeah, panty man! You’re killing it!” I think I flashed him some leg here. I’m usually in a really shitty mood at mile 25, but not today.

I was like a marble in a groove, y’all, just rolling through the miles.

Mile 26: all uphill, all fucking guts right here. 7:29. Hardest mile of the race by far, finally was hitting that wall. Barely, but it felt like I was running sub-6 pace just to maintain that mid-seven.

Hit the turn back to the Finish, told the crossing guard there that he was the man- he was another awesome volunteer that had me smiling all day as well, just kept rocking.

Had some tears well up in my eyes as I am wont to do in the last stages of a perfectly executed race, which promptly froze on my cheeks. It’s a combination of everything below my waist hurting so acutely and the flood of emotions from the last few months of working my ass off to get to this moment.

I’m pretty sure I was groaning, grunting, making all kinds of weird dying animal noises- oh, and this whole race I’m lapping people so I’m starting to recognize them and still trying to yell “good job” and “on your left” and all that stuff. You all were awesome- what a tough day to be out there this late in the season!

Hit the finish at 3:10:27 (lap time: 26:25) for Third Place Overall, and one of the most satisfying and amazing experiences of my running life. First time on a podium, and it felt awesome. I’ve done some age group top 3’s but this was really special.

I also get to go back to Boston in 2018- that was the main goal. Stay tuned in the upcoming days/weeks for me to finally finish and post that race report. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with my terrible performance in that race from back in April.

Anyway; I came up with 1,752 feet of climbing for the race- I felt like I needed to be right around sub-3 shape (on a flat course) to run a 3:10 on this course. I can not stress enough how much stronger I felt on the uphills than I’ve ever felt before, and I’m pretty sure I owe that to a few factors: a solid block of threshold runs on hills and doing a decent core and stretching routine 5 days a week. If you’re a runner, and you’re getting older (I just turned 40 less than a month ago) then get on a core routine. Your hips and glutes will thank you.

So that wraps up a really awesome year of running and racing. I’d like to thank all of you that have read these blogs, I know they’re super pedantic and all but I enjoy writing them- wish I had more time to write- and more than just race reports.

Hopefully 2017 presents some opportunities to write more.

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