The Summer of Speed (and a Labor Day debacle to end it!)

Running fast is terrifying. Writing about it is even more terrifying.

Especially since running is such a niche sport; even though a half a million of you have finished a marathon last year literally none of you even care about running. Hence, the USATF needs to be kept alive by a subsidy from a large shoe company. But I digress; the terrifying part of writing I mentioned above is knowing that maybe 20 to 25 people are going to read this essay, and that’s probably 20 to 25 more than should, so here goes…

After Boston I had been looking to scale things down a bit- I was entered in the classic east coast ultra Manitou’s Revenge (with the idea I’d run Twisted Branch 100k in August and then Grindstone 100 in October) but decided in March to withdraw from that and go the opposite direction. In short, I didn’t feel like training massive hours in the woods this summer.

Having never raced on a track, the idea seemed both awesome and preposterous. How do 41-year old runners make their track debuts? I decided to find out.

My goal was to get fast for the short stuff. I entered the “neighborhood 5k”, the Hamden Hills 5k on Memorial day weekend in May. Spent all that month intensively training for a fast 5k, only to show up on race day to 80 degrees and 70% humidity. Ah, east coast summers.

Fifteen seconds after the start, right before it dawns on me that this will be painful.

Here’s what I said about it the next day:

5k is a tough distance- all smiles at the start, then at about 800 meters in it dawns on you: this is going to hurt.

I went out with the leaders with the intention of trying to cover their moves and stay in the race as long as I could; when I was leading after 1 km it felt too hard and too unsustainable. I decided to back off and settle in behind some bigger guys and let them set the pace. At the 2.5 km turnaround me and another runner surged into the lead.

We traded the lead back and forth for another kilometer; I was constantly checking on him, monitoring his breathing, looking for any clue in his stride that he might be getting tired. He wasn’t. I asked him if he was just messing with me, he replied “no way man, this is hard” to which I though “he’s gonna unleash a monster kick and I gotta try to stay with him”. I threw a surge in with 1000 meters to go and he stuck right on me. Not yet. “You gonna start kicking?” I wondered. “Let’s see what happens last quarter mile…” he grinned.

So with about 400 meters to go he starts kicking, I stayed with him for about 50 meters and then watched him slowly pull away… I tried to reach down and give it everything I had, but it just wasn’t enough.

19:33. Good enough for second place overall and the Master’s win. Nothing is more humbling than watching an 18-year old absolutely crush you in the last quarter mile, and nothing fuels the fire like defeat…

So that was the start of my “Summer of Speed”. Pretty good, but I needed to get better. I had actually raced a race- that was a first. Never have I been there at the start and been there at the end, so that was new. Yeah, yeah- the neighborhood 5k is not very competitive, whatever. For someone who’s name has never been used in the same sentence as “fast”, this was kind of cool.

So now I have all of June to train for the Manchester Running Company’s Thursday Night Track Series at Manchester High School. The 800, the mile, the 2-mile, a 5k and a steeplechase (gulp). Add to that the possibility that I’d run in the USATF’s Connecticut Open/Master’s meet, and I was faced with the fact that I literally have no clue how to train for those middle distance events. Let’s get to work.

First up: June 9th, the Spring Street Mile. A road mile that’s billed as Connecticut’s fastest mile, it has a slight downhill (drops 130 feet!) Workouts for middle distance are basically a lot of 200, 300 and 400 meter repeats. Some sample workouts:

2x(8×300) 300’s at 60 seconds with 30 seconds float, 5 minutes between sets

5x(4×200) 200’s at 37-38 secs with 30 secs rest, 2 min between sets

8×400 at 78-80 seconds with 2 min rests

10×400 at 75-80 seconds with 90 second rests

3x(4×400) at 77-80 secs with 1 min rests and 3 min between sets

Here’s what I said at the time:

“…oh my shit. 

First mile race and it sure was hard. The sensation of pure discomfort is so acute: the build up of lactic acid, the taste of fucking dirty pennies in your mouth, the stars at the edge of your peripheral vision from oxygen debt- holy fuck. 

Wanted to run even splits and try to sneak in right under five minutes; so 75 second quarters was the plan. Also forced myself to not look at my watch (looked at it 5 seconds in just to make sure it was recording). They call your splits out every quarter mile, came through first 400 in 71, fuck! Too fast. Try to relax. 

By this point I’m breathing in through my mouth, just taking huge gulps of air. Just tried to focus on driving my knees back and pushing my mid foot into concrete. 

Two-Twenty Five, 2:26, 2:27… fuck, I’m still too fast. Three seconds now could be disaster at the finish. Relax. Look ahead to the horizon. Wait for the last 400…

3:43, 3:44, 3:45… girl calls out. I’m right on target now. Let’s start kicking! There’s a guy that looks over 40, catch him… Actually, another grey-hair, catch him too! I can’t see what’s to my side, my peripheral vision has gone full K-Hole at this point. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror, I’m disintegrating. I can see the clock ahead… 4:55, 4:56, 4:57, and… 

…I hit the line and reach for my watch and look down at it. 5-even it says. Definitely broke five (started it early and stopped it late). I immediately go hands to knees and think “that was awful… that was so fucking terrible… why would anyone want to race that distance? I can’t wait to do it again…”

4:59.57, 41st place (winner ran 3:55-something), ladies winner did 4:24.xx It’s a massive downhill (drops 136 feet) so my time is about 15 seconds faster than what I could probably do on flat right now, but a huge confidence boost- racing two more miles on the track this summer and a 1500 in late July. Hoping to make some marginal gains before going back to marathon training.”

So now back into 800/mile training. Basically, it’s building a lot of lactic acid then running hard repeats of 200’s, 3’s, quarters, 500’s, 600’s, 800’s and kilometers. To continue what I said above, here’s some more sample workouts:

5×1 mile at lactate threshold with 2 min rests then 8×200 at 38-39 seconds with 200 floats

3x(500-300-200) at goal 800 pace w/ MP/HMP pace between sets

3×1 mile at LT plus 4×400 at 76-78 secs w/ 90 secs rest plus 4×200 at 35-36 secs with 1 min rests (2 min rest between sets)

5×1000 at 3:35 per km w/ 2:30 rests plus 400 at 81 (1 min rest) plus 3×200 at 36-39 seconds (30 secs rest)

Yeah, that kind of stuff. Ouch.

So I lined up for my first ever track meet on July 5th, 2018. I ran the mile on a hot and steamy night and basically died. Split 81, 83, 85 and tried to kick it in hard but could only manage an 80. Oof- only a 5:28.44.

Getting kicked down by Shizhong Yang

Then 40 minutes later lined up to run the 800, and that was awful, too. Split 75 and 78 and it felt as bad as expected, for a 2:33.84.

All aboard the strugglebus

Okay, more work to do. Next week I’ll run the 800 and the 2-mile.

But first, gonna hop in another neighborhood 5k, this time on trails at the West Rock Nature Center for the inaugural West Rock Super Prestige 5k, two loops on the course that a local semi-famous bike race is held. Another humid day, and another day where my plan was to just try to go out hard and stick with the leaders, and once again I found myself in second place. But, won the Master’s Division and won some sweet swag, a t-shirt, a few gift certificates and some lousy electrolyte mix. Good times!

Literally have no idea wtf I’m doing up here

Okay, next Thursday night- this time the 800 was before the 2-mile and that went even worse, split 74 and 80, just faded so incredibly hard for 2:34.72. The 2-mile went slightly better with a solid 11:42.64. All this racing and training is crushing me, I’ve gotta put it together one of these days.

I also should mention that I joined the Manchester Running Company this week, mostly because they’re a really solid and awesome group of runners- shout out to all the runners that took the time to talk to me and make me feel welcomed, as well as all the volunteers and finally Patrick for coordinating it all. The vibe there is super rad and they’re cultivating a truly amazing community of runners!

Never again! At least until next time.

Another week goes by and suddenly we get a cooler night, I’m just racing the 5k for week 3 and I feel good, legs are ready, it’s a good night. Goal was to finally break 18 minutes, so was sticking to the plan of running a 5:50 for the first mile, a 5:45 for the second and then a 5:40 for the last mile and hopefully having enough to kick it in. I hit a lap to go at 16:35 and thought, here goes…

17:59.89, literally made it by the width of my body. Probably the best I’ve ever felt while running, it just felt effortless. Floaty. Like every stride was just grabbing the ground and pawing back at the track and spitting it out behind me.

Two days later I came back to that same track to run the USATF Connecticut Open/Masters meet, basically an all-comers meet for CT region USATF members. I was hoping there’d be some really fast guys there to drag me along to fast times, and alas, there were no runners in the 40-44 age group present. So I’d have to compete basically against myself. I was entered in the 3000 meter and the 1500, and my goals for those were 10:30 and 5-even. My legs, to be honest, were pretty wrecked after Thursday night’s 5k.

The 3000 starts and I’m just sticking to my plan of 5:45 for the first mile and 4:45 for the .86 of a mile (3000 meters = 1.86 miles). I let another runner, George, go on ahead- he was building a pretty sizable lead on me but I thought with seven laps I could really take it easy (ha!) for at least three, then start turning the screws. George came back to me on that third lap, and I just settled into cruise control for the duration. 5:45 pace just felt right, it’s what I had run Thursday night, I guess it’s what my body wanted to do today.

I hit the line at 10:45.21 in first place. My first ever win. Weird, I thought it would feel different. Maybe because I had another race to run in less than an hour, maybe because the competition wasn’t what I thought, maybe because I wasn’t expecting it.

Two races, two gold medals.

Same for the 1500- just wanted to run hard. My legs did not feel great at all, but I just stayed moving after the 3k (they had to page me on the loudspeaker for the start of the 15 because I was jogging around the school, lol). Sorry to have held up the start for a few minutes, my bad. This one I led gun-to-tape though. Just wanted to break five minutes, thought I’d run 80 second laps through the first three and a 60 for the last 300 and call it a day. Split 75-81-81 and 58. Went out a tad too hard and it probably cost me a good 4-5 seconds, maybe could’ve broke 4:50 if I was smarter. 4:55.75 for the win.

Had Tom breathing down my neck, that’s why I went out too fast.

Next Thursday would mark the end of the Track Series, and I was determined to try the steeplechase.

Here we go!

Shit, I almost went down.

Laugh it off and do it again.

Okay this one went better.

Starting to get the hang of this thing!

…and that was terrifying. It was a hot late afternoon and I watched my pace go from a respectable split of 88 seconds for the first lap to 93 for the second, to 96 seconds… oof. I just died a very beautiful death out there. I just kept telling myself “don’t get lapped” as I could see Tyler Lyon coming on strong, putting almost 90 seconds on me in the seven lap race. That was probably the hardest running event I’ve ever taken part in. 12:05-flat, and every second of it was just terrible. And awesome.

Four barriers plus a water jump every lap, that’s a crazy event. It’s almost like you need to be in insane 5k shape with 10k strength AND be a solid hurdler. 36 inches high, and I’m only 67 inches tall. Math.

I opted for the step over method on the barriers for the first few laps and then had to resort to vaulting over it with my left hand, just throwing my legs over like a sad little rabbit. Oh, did I mention my legs were completely wrecked from almost 2 months of intense middle distance training and racing? Yeah.

So, because I am so smart I opted to run the 800 meter race a little while later.

300 meters in and realizing that this is not how normal people have fun.

77 seconds on that first lap.

Here we come! Matt looks strong, why am I smiling?

76 seconds on that second lap. I can’t believe it. 2:33.26 for a new 800 PR. That distance is pure evil.

Then I hopped in the 2-mile, but DNF’d it after three laps. Just had nothing left in the legs, and decided to call it a season. Took a down week then started to get after it again…

Signed up for the New Haven Road Race 20k, and had a somewhat solid month of training going in. Quick four-day taper and here we go!

Race day was a balmy 80 with 99% humidity at 8:30 am. Oof.

Things went from okay to what? to bad to worse at mile 8. Plan was to run 1:22 (splits = 6:35) and went through 10k at 42:14, already a minute plus off pace. Okay, maintain this and run 1:24-1:25, no big deal. Went through 8 at 54:08 (6:46 pace) and started to feel low on energy, I figured a gel with some caffeine would perk me up, and sugar is good. There was a water station just past mile 8, so I took the gel then and washed it down with 2 cups of water and…

…it stayed down for about 5 minutes, and then for the first time ever in my running career, it came out. Explosively. Right about mile 8.8, and I started jogging, then shuffling, then another first in a road race… I was walking. And continuing to empty the contents of my stomach, just retching and eventually dry heaving.

I would spend the next seven minutes there at the mile 9 water stop in Fairhaven (on Blatchley between Pine and Lombard) trying to drink water, having it come back out immediately, while the volunteers and spectators looked on in horror.

“White boy, you need to sit!” No, I’m good, just as soon as I can get this down and keep it down I’m gone. Baarrrrrffff. Nope, not yet.

I basically had another 3.4 miles to go and was not about to DNF this race. My legs felt fine. I finally got some water to stay down and slowly trotted away from there, trying to get back down to 6:45 pace but to no avail. It would take me another 27 minutes to finish that 3.4 miles, and it was not fun.

Yuck.

Don’t look at me, I’m HIDEOUS

y tho?

Definitely not paying for any pictures that depict me as this ugly.

1:35:23 for a terrible day but a great lesson learned.

I probably didn’t need that gel, a caffeine pill at that point would’ve been just fine, or some RunGum. Just needed a pick me up and it wasn’t nutritionally. If there’s anything I know about running in heat, my body can’t do two things at once; digest AND stay cool. I was on the thin line of blowing up anyway, the push I needed to send me over that line was trying to drop a maltodextrin bomb into a stomach that wasn’t ready for it. Live and learn.

But what an awesome summer! I got to race on the track a whole bunch! I flooded my shit with so much lactic acid again and again that I kind of miss the taste of pennies coming down the back stretch.

Nothing like the muscles in your neck tightening up for no reason except that “Oh I just wanted to run really fast”.

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Moving in a Different Direction for 2018 and Beyond

Flashback: November, 2011… 

I can distinctly remember finding out about this thing called “ultramarathon”.

I had just finished the Coastal Trail Runs’ Chabot Half Marathon, my first trail race. I had been dueling it out with this guy in an orange shirt for the last few miles on that awesome singletrack under the eucalyptus trees- every time I threw in a little surge he’d match me, staying just a few meters ahead of me the entire time.

He finished just a few seconds ahead of me and we high-fived.

“Dude, you were pushing me hard the whole last five miles, that was awesome!” he says to me.

“Man… I could not catch you… nice work!” I replied. “I just… didn’t want to get passed by the guy behind me… in the red shirt…”

Then that guy in the red shirt comes into view now, by-passes the finish chute, goes over to a bag, grabs a water bottle and some gels and heads back out on the loop we just finished.

“Oh yeah, that’s so-and-so, he’s leading the 50k race…” says orange shirt.

“What’s a 50k? That’s like kilometers? Fifty!?!?” I had not yet learned to convert metric to imperial because before I was a runner I never had a need to.

Long story short: Joe (orange shirt) tells me about ultras, 50k is 31.1 miles- today those folks are doing two half marathon loops and then a five mile loop to get to 31 miles, then you graduate up to 50-milers and 100 kilometers and then the grandaddy of them all, 100 milers (200 milers were not a thing yet, this was all the way back in 2011 after all).

He then told me about this race called Western States 100, from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California- from deep in the heart of the Sierra up and over 9000-foot mountains and through these hot-ass canyons down into the gold country and ending on the track at Placer High in Auburn.

“I’m going to do this race one day…” I thought to myself.

First ultra finish: Canyon Meadow 50k, June ’12

Flashback: December, 2017…

I am now a six-time Western States lottery loser. Six fucking times I put tickets into this damn basket and six times I got nothing. I am beyond disappointed. I start scrambling to figure out my race plans for the entire twelve months of 2018 now, because that’s what you have to do now if you’re an ultrarunner.

One more year of holding my family hostage so we can plan a vacation around which 100-miler I’m going to do. One more year of being gone all day Saturday on training runs and one more year of being tired, hungry and sore all the time. One more year of “well, maybe next year…” which isn’t that big a deal since I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan and have said that every October since I was old enough to remember until 2008. I can wait for things for a long time apparently.

Oh, and I also had two tickets in Hardrock from a Bighorn finish in 2016 and that was going to run out, so I had to pick a race that was a qualifier for both, in the slim chance that I get picked for that before 2030.

34 miles into my first 50-miler, Dick Collins, October ’12

So on January 1st I sat down and wrote down my plans for the year: okay, Boston Marathon in April. Manitou’s in June. Maybe a 100k in August? And Grindstone 100 in October. Okay, cool- I am an ultrarunner.

Then I had the crazy idea to go and finally finish my degree. I dropped out of school with 96 credits. Who does that? This asshole, that’s who. So I took a remedial math class (Intermediate Algebra) at the local community college and applied to transfer into Southern Connecticut State University. Yes, I got in. They like money and I need to give them some so I can get this degree, so it works out for everyone!

Then our wonderful, energetic two-year old got into the pre-school of our dreams, starting in September. That’s also going to cost money.

Looks like things after September this year will be busy, maybe I should switch that 100-miler to August?

Then my wife comes to me with this crazy idea: let’s see if we can buy a house! So, I won’t bore you with the details, but we just bought a house, and we move into it in less than two weeks.

This means I cut the lawn now. This means I fix all the things. I dig the garden and plant the vegetables we always wanted. This means I have to actually be around the house to do things to the house. So, in summation: I have more adulting to do than I have ever done before. Like actual adulting, not “going out to get an oil change” adulting.

Suddenly life asserted itself and made running a 100-miler not so important.

In fact, it made the idea sound silly and really selfish.

I also haven’t felt the excitement about running long like I used to. Eastern States 100 last August was a lot of fun (I’ll be back crewing and pacing this year) but afterwards I didn’t bask in the glow that I had from previous post-hundreds.

I had ambivalence, and I’ve learned that for me, ambivalence is a jumping off point.

Do I want to keep running these things and chasing this goal of Western States?

Do I even want to run Western States anymore?

Maybe it was living in the ultra-bubble of the Bay Area that magnified the intensity.

Statesmas, bro! DUDE, STATES! It’s Western time! I feel like all the cool kids were sitting at the cool table, with their cool fucking sweatpants and here I am, running Canyons 100k just to see what Cal Street was all about (it was okay). I wanted to run down Cal Street with wrecked quads while projectile vomiting, that’s what all the cool kids are doing!

Super photogenic ultra guy, Skyline 50k, August ’13

Present day: April, 2018

I e-mailed the race director for Manitou’s Revenge and told him I couldn’t make it this year. Maybe I’ll be back in ’19, maybe ’20, maybe never? I didn’t rush to sign up for Grindstone on April 1st at 7 am like I had planned.

I had a blast training through an absolute shitty winter here in New England, getting ready for the Boston Marathon, which I’d say was a huge success.

I really like that my longest run was less than three hours.

My wife really liked that when I said I was going to be back at 2 pm, I was actually back at like 2:05 pm.

I really like coaching, too. I’ve been steadily building a clientele since September of 2016, and without sounding too corny I really cherish these relationships- watching my athletes progress and really jump into this sport has been super affirming. Whether it’s putting together a plan for a half marathon, or tracking a runner at his first marathon, it’s been a lot of fun. Here I thought it was going to be all “do this workout and pay me on this date” and it’s been the exact opposite- it’s actually been a partnership. Getting a text from a one of my runners saying “did my first double digit run!” or “just ran a new 5k PR” is pretty rad. I love you guys!

So, for now I am *just* a marathoner. And an occasional 5ker. With a half marathon or two thrown in. Don’t worry, I won’t call them “half Marys”, I’m not that ridiculous. And I’ll probably run a 10k soon. Maybe I’ll join a USATF-sanctioned club. And possibly do a few shorter trail races…

…and some track events.

Because I am absolutely terrified of running an all-out 800-meter race or a mile on the track. Or a 3k steeplechase? That’s scary. What if I fall over a barrier? What if I get lapped by some high school kid? Holy shit, this is actually what keeps me awake at night.

Because that’s where the real FOMO has been lately- the fear of continuing to miss out on the things I’ve already missed out on. I didn’t run a step until I was 33 years old, so I never ran high school track, never ran XC, any of that.

They have open track meets! I can enter them and compete, and actually race against other people- that’s pretty freaking scary.

I still have a healthy fear of 100-milers, and probably always will; but I don’t get the nervous butterflies anymore when thinking about doing a tough race like Wasatch or Cascade Crest.

It feels like a chore, something I think have to do (get a qualifier) so I can do this other thing I think I have to do (run WS100). I don’t actually have to do any of those things and I can come back to it when I start to miss it. If I start to miss it.

I’m also officially over lotteries. Just done with them.

The day before running my first 100-miler, San Diego, June ’14

I got into this sport because of the freedom it provided, but I haven’t felt very free in a few years. That thing I’ve been chasing? I don’t think I want that anymore.

So this summer I still get to be a runner. I get to be a present and loving husband and father, I get to be a homeowner, I get to watch my kid go to his first day of school, I get to go back to school myself, I get to jump into the local 5k and get my ass kicked by a fast college kid; I get to do so much by not getting to do an ultra this year.

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The 2018 Boston Marathon: The Dudebro Abides

I’m gonna say something super controversial right now: I really didn’t mind the weather at Boston this year (gasp!) The real challenge for me was all the training done in my first official New England winter. But wait, you may say, you’ve been back east for two winters now! I spent most of 2016-17 winter on a treadmill. Oof. I hid from what everyone agreed was a very mild winter.

Coming from Northern California and having not done a winter in ten years, soon as the temps got down under freezing I typically opted for an indoor run. And as the law of specificity would dictate, my first two road races last February and March were terrible. Gotta run outside if you’re gonna race outside.

So this winter I decided to just do it all outside- after all, there’s no such thing as shitty weather, just shitty clothes (and shitty preparation). I got me a pair of those special underwear- no, not the Mormon kind, the special “junk-covering patch” kind that keeps you oh so warm… uh, down… there. Some better socks, better gloves (even wore my ski gloves a on a few single digit runs actually), wore my ski goggles on those mornings we got hit with flurries or sleet and just tried to prepare well for crappy weather.

I grew to love it. Those runs in 17 degrees with the windchill pushing it down to a balmy 7; I wore them as a badge of honor. Let’s see if I can do a threshold workout in 10 degrees today!

So six weeks out from Boston the thought hit me- I bet we get absolute shit weather for the race this year. I mean, winter does not want to leave, why would it change for the biggest race of the year for me?

Luckily three weeks out I did an 18-miler at MP into 20+ mph headwinds with some light scattered drizzle and low-40s. Perfect, I’ll be ready for race day now. So no surprise ten days out (when almost all runners start obsessively checking the weather for their goal race, seriously don’t lie- you know you do it) when I saw what you all saw. Shitty weather!

My training also hit a slight snag twelve days out when I woke up with a locked sacroiliac joint; if any of you are low back pain sufferers, I feel you. I had to go get a few emergency chiropractic sessions to unlock that and restore full mobility, effectively forcing me to take three days off and miss my last workout ten days out (10 miles at MP). Not a great way to start a taper.

Anyway, I had to trust that my training was good. I had never run more miles during a build than I had before this race. I’d also never been this fit or this hungry to go out and really attack a race. The mental prep was the biggest thing though, just preparing myself to stay positive through every step of the race, even the days and nights leading up to it. My mantras I had developed through positive self-talk were “stick to you plan” (as far as nutrition and strategy goes) and “this is your FUCKING day”. Also, “dudebro”.

Dudebro has become my alter-ego through this block of training. Whenever I’d be doing a run or workout at MP or faster, the positive and encouraging self-talk would start: “just hold on, dude.”

Hold on, bro. Hold pace, dude.

C’mon, you got this dude. Bro. Little surge up this hill, bro.

Dude? Gotta hang, bro. Let’s go! Bro!

Eventually it became just “Dudebro!”

So when would I need dudebro at Boston? Basically from the minute I left my house. The initial plan was for my wife to drop me off in Hopkinton at like 9:45 am but I decided she’d be better off at home with our two-and-a-half year old. No sense trying to see me at Wellesley for like five seconds while managing an energetic little guy in a cold downpour, then trying to get downtown to pick me up- sounds like that would be way harder than what I was about to do. There will be more Bostons.

Luckily I live a little less than two hours from Boston, so my plan was to get to the Alewife T stop and get downtown by 7:30 am, then board a bus for Hopkinton and be at the Athlete’s Village by about 8:30. I was in Wave 2, Corral 1 this time around, so I had an extra 20 minutes from my run in 2016, which on race morning in those conditions equaled to what felt like about 45 extra seconds.

Except route 84 between Hartford and the Mass Pike was an absolute shit show- they got about two inches of snow/ice/freezing rain overnight so the driving was very slow, I slid three or four times and was like, “okay, just get to Boston in one piece today…” So this put me back about 30-45 minutes. I finally got to Cambridge at 7:45 am, and was downtown by 8:15- I met a really nice guy on the train from Ohio named Jim that also ran JFK50 last November.

I opted to walk from the Park Street stop across Boston Common to gear check and stepped out into a torrent. Feet were soaked within three minutes. Said to myself “this is not even in the top ten of things that will go wrong today…” Had to stay positive because I wasn’t going to stay dry.

Checked my gear, used the porta-potty, hopped on a bus, it was now 8:45, which basically put me in Hopkinton at 9:45, way too close to my start time. Had a fun ride out on the bus- I sat in the heater seat and jammed my feet under that so they’d dry, I also asked everyone around me if they’d like me to dry their gloves. So my feet and four pairs of gloves got semi-dry on the ride out. I drank a flat Coke and chatted with runners about goal times, other races we’ve run, you know- the usual thing that nervous runners do.

The Athlete’s Village looked like a refugee camp- the area under the tents was ankle-deep mud, so I stayed on concrete. It hurt to look at. I basically huddled into the masses as we did the slow walk towards the corral entrance. I lubed up profusely, Desitin’d my b-hole like it was my job. No chafing today. Just not gonna allow it to even take root. Dropped my sweatpants at the donation bins, put my gloves on, powered up my watch and took a little jog down to the corrals.

Of course soon as I get in the corral I have to pee. I stood there and tried my hardest to pee on myself (zero fucks given at this point, was already completely soaked and starting to shiver slightly) but was way too keyed up. Or cold. Or both. Just repeating over and over in my head “this is your day… stick to your plan…” The rain wasn’t that big a deal, to be honest it was the wind. The ever-present wind.

Gun goes off, we go off, and I’m running the Boston Marathon. I’M RUNNING THE BOSTON MARATHON! Okay, relax, dude- you did this before.

Take it easy, nothing dumb right now. My plan was to start off with two 7-minute miles then work my way down to 6:50 then settle into 6:45 pace by mile four. I went out way too hard first time here and was cooked by the Newton Hills. Not trying to do that again. Luckily I was totally boxed in and looked down after about a half mile and was running about 7:30 pace, and was able to finally pee (that’s the fastest I think I can run while pissing myself). Sorry if any of my pee-pee got on anyone.

First three miles: 7:25, 7:01, 6:45. Was feeling pretty good now, I ripped off my long sleeve half-shirt like Hulk Hogan and discarded it. My arms felt warm from the trapped heat, almost felt humid in there. Every time I started to throw a little surge in from adrenaline I reigned it in, said “not now” and “slow down”. Mile four was 6:47, okay this is it. Stay right here…

And I have to pee again. I stopped at this long row of porta-potties on that little hill on the way out of Ashland. This one would take over a minute, it just kept coming and coming. 8:33 for that mile. It was at this moment I abandoned trying to run sub-3 and said to myself that I just wanted to re-qualify for next year. Basically needed a 3:11 or better, and I knew it was going to be hard to do that. Running into a 25-30 mph headwind was wasting so much energy.

Somewhere in the Greater Boston area

Then a 6:44, 6:45 and a 6:52; threshold pace for me is about these miles, but why does it feel like 10k pace? I’m going to crash and burn, hard. Better slow down. Better try to go through the half around 1:33 or so. Next four miles: two 6:59’s and a 7:04 and a 6:55 into Wellesley before stopping to pee again (WTF?)

Smile!

I split the first half in 1:34:19, probably losing almost two minutes to pee breaks. It’s gotta be that cold-induced diuresis again. My body just has to pee a ton when I’m cold. Oh well, can’t do anything about that now (…or ever? Any doctors out there wanna chime in on this? I start taking Flomax or something?)

Working…

Besides for my thighs and hands being a little cold I felt great- was taking 100-120 calories every 3.5 miles (about every 25 minutes) and was drinking 2-3 ozs of water at every other mile. That’s 300-360 every 75 minutes (my plan was to eat about 250-300 cals/hr), and I took either a gel or three Shot Bloks at 3.5, 7, 10.5 and 14 and washed it down with two cups (4-6 ozs) of Gatorade.

My screen name on PT is “das antelopen” which is German for “the antelope”, so yeah, that’s me.

I got a huge boost from my buddy Robb at mile 14, he was here with his family from nearby Weymouth- even made us PT Runners a sign!

I knew I’d need more energy for the hills coming up so I decided to take another gel and two cups of Gatorade at 17, just after the first Newton hill before the Firehouse. I noticed at this point I was passing a ton of people- folks were already wearing emergency blankets and walking the hills. Uh oh. I better slow down- I had just run the last three miles at 6:56, 7:05 and 6:52. Maybe I should try to keep it right at 7 and the hills at 7:30- there’s still a long way to go.

My form still looks solid

It felt like the second Newton hill was the steepest but also the shortest; I had done a ton of hills in my training so honestly, the hills didn’t feel that hard today. I would again pass what felt like 500 runners here- this is the hill that starts at the Firehouse. I noticed I was yelling out loud a lot here, mostly to myself but it may have helped and/or annoyed other runners. “PUMP YOUR ARMS!” and “C’MON DUDE!” “YOU GOT THIS!” and such.

A 7:26 mile and then a 7:28 had me feeling good- this is where my race died in ’16, just tried to hammer these hills and couldn’t. Felt like the tank still had a lot in it, and of course I stop to pee again at 30km. This better be the last time, if it wasn’t it had to wait, I had literally no more seconds to give away. I knew I was gonna be close to 3:11.

Dude? Bro!

After a quick 30-second stop and splitting a 7:56 mile, I really hammered the third Newton hill and tried to reign it in for Heartbreak. This was where I was gonna spend a little bit and then try to coast down, there’s a nice three mile downhill after cresting Heartbreak and this was where I planned on taking a lot out. I felt really good just churning up Heartbreak, passing maybe 1,000 runners here- no lie. People were walking. People wearing red bibs.

I stopped taking perverse joy in passing these folks and started feeling sorry for them, at first it was like, “shoulda trained harder” which turned into “damn, this is serious…” People had blue lips and were shivering uncontrollably. I was surprised that there were only 1202 DNFs, that means most of these folks persevered to the finish. Mad props to the Medical Staff- they treated something like 2500+ people.

Top of Heartbreak, Boston College, people partying hard, time to hammer. I screamed “TIME TO EMPTY THE TANK FOLKS! WHO’S COMING WITH ME?” to which no one replied. Maybe they all had survivors guilt. It felt good to run hard down the backside of this hill, a nice 6:46 mile that felt faster but now with no more hills to block the wind it was like a full force gale here. That 6:46 into that wind (let’s say 25 mph) equates to about a 6:10 pace. Here’s an article on wind-aided as well as wind-impeded running: Running in Windy Conditions

The next few miles were directly into the wind- once you turn onto Beacon Street it was right there in all of its glory. I took another gel at mile 20 and my last with 5k to go. I would split a 7:03, a 7:18 and 7:26 as the Citgo sign comes into view. These miles were hard, and the “dudebro” was summoned. At Mile 23 the sky opened up with some of the biggest rain drops of the day, they felt like they were the size of silver dollars.

Dude! Bro! C’mon dudebro, one time! One time!!!

Then the “One Mile to Go” marker, then that dip under the Mass Pike, fading, starting to really enter bonk mode here. Just grinding and giving it everything. a 7:35 mile, fuck! Legs, failing, just… Dying…

Then up the other side, see that crowd? HEAR THAT CROWD? And here comes the kick, I’m finding I have legs here; the turn onto Hereford, up that little rise, passing hundreds of runners, voices, screaming, cheering, USA USA USA, holy shit- do I have legs now!

And I’m going to cry. Don’t cry, dudebro, you’re on camera somewhere. The emotion is just coming up- just let it all out, dude. Just let it rip bro.

SHOW YOU MY O FACE

Sprinting here, feels like sub-5 pace here (actually was) just watching the clock from a few blocks now, 3:10:00..01…02…03

Battle cry?

C’mon dude, hammer. HAMMER, BRO!

OMG dudebro we did it!

3:10:40. I can stop running now. I started to walk. Now I could feel the cold. I’m cold, dude. Bro, you can’t lift your arms over your head to celebrate.

Trying to lift my arms and… frozen at the shoulders.

Let’s get warm! I went right to gear check to get my bag, of course stopping for the medal, bag of food, water and emergency blanket. That took forever, we were all teeth chattering and cold waiting for our bags as they rifled through the bins to find our bibs. I went to wait in line for the changing room but said “F this” and went to a porta-potty, putting the seat down and using the inside of my emergency blanket to get dry and changed on top of. Literally warmed up instantly once I was dressed.

Then I went home. What a day.

Strava data

Some take-aways from Boston:

I feel like anybody that ran 3:12 or faster at Boston this year could probably equate that to a sub-3 in those unfavorable conditions.

My buddy Shan sent me this little item:

I like the little handwritten footnote- ideal for me is like 47 degrees.

That works out to a 2:57:19 for a 3:10:40, and the winning times are just about in line with this above number, too. 2:15 to 2:06 (that’s around the usual Boston men’s time in “normal” temperature conditions) and a 2:39 to 2:28 for the women.

For the wind calculations, I don’t know what the average headwind was but it was rarely not blowing directly into us- that article I linked above said an equal headwind for your pace would slow you down about 12 seconds per mile, so a 6:45 pace is 8.8 mph and an 8.8 mph headwind would effectively slow you down to a 6:57 pace… But 8.8 mph was probably on the low side for the day, even if it was at 15-20 mph for the average that slowed everyone down an additional maybe 20-30 seconds per mile? Do I have that right?

Anyway, the conditions dictated the pace and I had to go with what I had. Take what the day gives you and do what you do. That’s all any of us could do. Kudos to everyone that lined up to start; no harm in DNFing this one- you’re still rad in my book.

I was also super happy that I was able to run a slight positive split- 1:34:19 to 1:36:21, only losing 2:02 for the second half. It felt like a negative split, with all the hills coming in the second half, but again- was psyched that I was able to have a strong finish. I passed 4,804 runners to “beat my bib” and finish in 3458th place.

I lost 3:11 to stoppages (three pisses!) and I gotta get better there- for all my road marathons I either never stopped to pee or stopped exactly once.

Some positives were my stomach was pretty good, had some early mile flatulence going on but that was gone pretty quick (sorry to anyone running behind me for that stretch in Ashland, my bad…) I was really good at taking water every other mile, either one or two cups and stayed right on target with gels/Bloks/Gatorade.

And hopefully I re-qualified for next year, I’m 4:20 under the standard so that should be good enough- unless the legend of Boston attracts another record number of applicants for 2019…

I guess we’ll see.

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The 2017 JFK 50 Race Report: Fake It ’til You Make It

Ugh, I’ve been dreading this moment- sitting down and putting all my thoughts together about the JFK 50-miler in blog form for the world to see. I kind of just want to skip it, make pretend the race never happened, just make it go away. But I know I can’t fully process this thing until I write about it, gotta put it down on paper and give it away so I can let it go.

This was supposed to be the race where all the proper training finally paid off- I had done so many quality runs leading up to this race, I felt so damn fast and ready. That’s the weird thing about ultramarathons though, you can adequately prepare in 9 of 10 categories but that one you don’t prepare for will get you every time… more on this below.

So five weeks out I crushed a 50k training run:

Maybe I peaked too early?

That’s my 50k PR by like 24+ minutes, too. I had been running a lot of faster stuff, sleeping well, eating everything in sight, hitting the foam roller hard and generally recovering really well. I had also been trying to do the whole 40 feet of elevation gain per mile prescribed by Jason Koop in his book, since JFK had about 2000 feet of climbing I made sure I did that on all my key runs.

Then two weeks out, my last long run was a super sick workout (h/t to Hoka NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario, he had Matt Llano do this workout two weeks out from the NYC Marathon in 2016):

This one was really tough…

I had practiced running with all the nutrition I planned on using, wore the vest I was gonna wear, ate the same breakfast before almost all my long runs, and had the audacious goal of going for sub-7 hours. I know, it sounds crazy but I thought if I could just run back to back 3:30 marathons, I’d be fine.

I had run that solo 50k at 7:41 pace, then another 28-miler at 8:05 pace, a 24-miler at 7:25 pace, a 20 at 7:43 pace, and an 18-mile progression run with that last 9 miles at 7:00 pace. I was doing technical downhill trails a few times per week, a lot of threshold and tempo-paced workouts and even had been in the gym two days a week actually lifting free weights! I felt so damn strong almost every single run.

I thought I did everything right EXCEPT…

…appropriately prepare for the weather. Or I should say I didn’t “practice running while cold and wet”.

Damn. I literally saw dudes pass me on the C&O Towpath and thought, “that’s a lot of clothes, bro…” and damn me if I didn’t beg to have tights and a little bit better of a rain shell after mile 30.

I’ll skip all the pedantic crap about the drive down and dinner the night before and sleep and breakfast – that stuff was all great. No complaints, nothing eventful. Hooked up with my homie Donnie Knight as I checked into the hotel, which was gifted to me by my other homie Mike Coupland that wasn’t able to race JFK. We had pancakes for dinner at Denny’s, it was delicious.

Anyway; woke up, got dressed, followed DK over to the school near the start line, caught the last few minutes of the race briefing, dropped off my finish line drop bag and was ready to go.

Actually started right off the line, maybe 2-3 rows back of the leaders, that was weird. Hey there’s Mike Wardian, hey that’s Emily Torrence, oh, cool- Eric Senseman!

I knew I wanted to hit the trailhead area at around 24 minutes, came through there at just under 22. Felt fantastic. Was joking with some runners about trying to catch falling leaves, but being that far up in the pack (somewhere in the top 50 I think) those guys weren’t in the mood for joking. Only serious runners up here.

The Appalachian Trail section was the best part of this race, in my opinion. I felt really engaged, felt flow-y over the rocks and roots and leaves, just clicked off miles effortlessly. Kept myself in check big time. Wanted to hit the Weverton Gap split at mile 15.5 at 2:20 but came through at 2:40. Thought, okay- I’ll run a 7:30 today, that’s still an awesome 50-mile time, I can do that, just chill out, be patient…

Feeling great (because I’m dry and warm here…)

Was hopping on to the Towpath right at this first rain started to dump heavier. I was still moving well here, clicking off mellow eight minute miles. Everything felt fantastic until the aid station at mile 25-something; I was just past halfway at 3:56 and thought, even if I implode I’ll still run sub-8, this is awesome! I stopped at that aid and took all the stuff out of my back zippered area, refilled my bottle, put my rain shell on (it was steady now) and started off again, was stopped maybe 3 minutes.

Happy on the inside but miserable on the outside? Whatever, dude.

These next 10 miles were basically between 9 and 10-minutes per with a lot more frequency in the pee breaks; oh no- the dreaded cold-induced diuresis is back! Shit!

Why do I keep getting this? Anyway, I had to pee every 7-10 minutes for the next like 4 hours. I should’ve learned at Bighorn, then again at Eastern States- when I get cold while running I have to figure out a way to stay warm. I could’ve used dry clothes right now, but with no drop bags allowed at JFK there was no way to remedy this situation- tights or running pants in a drop bag would’ve been a lifesaver.

Those guys I scoffed at earlier- fucking geniuses. Those guys would all run their goal times I bet. Oh, I am such a silly little douchenozzle. When will I learn? Just keep faking it until you make it.

Anyway, I still maintained a positive mental attitude, even though I was mildly shivering and my hands were frozen inside of wet gloves. I kept laughing with the aid station folks about how absurd this sport is.

Hit the 38.4 mile aid station split at 6:29, thought, “okay, now we really have to run and generate some heat!” but yeah, I had nothing. I was so stiff from being frozen that I simply could not stretch out my stride. All that awesome training has just literally gone to waste. “I’m so fit tho” means NOTHING when you haven’t prepared. Dammit, I was a Boy Scout, that’s like our motto. Be prepared.

Off the towpath, 7:10 through now and on to the country roads and more shuffling, but now at 10-12 minute pace! Oh, the humanity. I’m watching myself as a train wreck in real time, completely unable to do anything that remotely resembles real running.

Sup, bruh? You gotta blanket? Hot tea?

The last six miles, which in my mind were going to be the easiest, were by far the hardest miles I ran all year.

The last six miles of Eastern States 100 were easier, at least I felt better for those. My buddy Dave told me when he ran this race years ago as his first 50 he got passed by a soccer mom in a full pink and purple LA Gear outfit being all like, “great job, honey!” while he was like “WTF is happening- THIS SPORT IS AWESOME!?!?”

Yeah, that was my experience tenfold.

I got passed by a barefoot runner. I got passed by so many people in the last eight miles, maybe 45 people. “You’re awesome!” “Go get it!” …and I meant every word of that, because I sucked that day.

Luckily for me Donnie came up on me at mile 48.5 and we would run, actually run the last 1.5 miles in together, that was a really cool feeling. My plan was to shuffle in at like 14-minute pace but he had another idea. Sometimes you get the help you don’t ask for but needed so bad.

Anyway, lesson learned. Overdress when the forecast says “a windy and rainy 43 degrees today”. Or at least dress appropriately.

But having a decent attitude will always be more important than having good, dry clothes. I can suck, and can KNOW that I suck, and have a really shitty day and still have more fun than I thought. I can laugh at myself for the absurdity of thinking I could run fast rather than hold myself in contempt for not hitting my goal.

I always told myself that I’d quit this sport once it no longer was fun, and it’s still always going to be fun as long as I remember that I’m the luckiest person alive that I get to go out and disappear for upwards of eight hours on a weekend morning to go “run” in the woods.

Luckily for me I don’t have to fake the love I have for this amazing, silly, humbling, crazy, awesome, inspiring, ridiculous sport.

Strava link

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The 2017 Eastern States 100 Race Report

Eastern States 100 was such an awesome experience. I had the time of my life out there, spending almost 32 hours on that course and loving every second of it. If I could use two words to define the day I’d come up with gratitude and joy. So grateful for all the people I had out there helping me and sharing in the joy of what that meant. It takes a village, y’all.

Friday afternoon

I had to save a lot of mental energy by letting some minor things go early on; I’ve had races fall apart long before the actual start because of wasted mental energy. I had a terrible night sleep pre-race, but I usually do anyway, so I just let that go.

Couldn’t get my Suunto to sync to Movescount to change the GPS accuracy so I could have battery life for the whole run, so I just let that go. I felt so free not checking my splits and pace and elevation gain and all that jazz every 5 to 10 minutes. Think I’ll do every 100-miler with no GPS from now on. Let the aid stations be my mile markers and use “time of day” as my guide.

Woke up about 4 minutes ahead of my alarm after getting maybe 4-5 hours sleep; made coffee, ate some oatmeal, used the porta-potty, lubed up my feet and assorted moving parts, dressed and ducked my head in to my tent to kiss my wife and baby boy good-bye, only to find my little guy awake playing with a flashlight. I was delighted when my wife says, “we’ll come down to the start to see you off…” which was awesome for me but I knew she was in for a rough day since our guy was awake at 4:45. Oof. They were set to crew me twice, once at Lower Pine Bottom (mile 17.8) and Hyner Run (43.2) so I was hoping she’d get a few minutes of peace around his napping. More on this later…

Pre-race announcement from RD Dave Walker- a class act and all-around awesome dude

Was looking down at bib numbers furiously to find my buddy Mike from a running message board we participate in together- we’d run together until the aid station at mile 11.3 (Ramsey) and what a great dude, we chatted all things running, life, music, etc!

Just about sunrise, headlamps coming up from behind

We parted ways when he had a shoe issue to take care of at Ramsey, hoping all day that he’d come up behind me and we’d get some more miles in together. After I finished I was absolutely gutted to find out he dropped, he looked so good when we were together, conservative and controlled- as a matter of absolute fact I owe my awesome race to Mike by staying with him and keeping it really easy during those early miles. I learned one very important thing today- the easier you go at the start of these things, the more you can kick it in at the end. Duh.

Taking a lot of pics early is a great way to control your pace…

I was all the way back in 124th at mile 17.8, when I got to Lower Pine Bottom, passing our car and thinking, “Where’s Allyson?” I got some help from a volunteer that yelled up to the top to try to find her; the aid station is up this little switchbacked road on top of a hill and the car was parked along the road leading to it. They yelled back, “try to see if it’s unlocked!” which it was so I grabbed a Red Bull and a few gels and a pre-measured Ziploc of Skratch. Ran through the aid, kissed Ally and Eamonn, he wanted to run a little bit with me which was so cool, this little dude I love so much loves to run! Grabbed some salty potatoes and watermelon and was off.

So fresh and so green green

Steadily worked my way up to Brown’s Run at mile 25.8 and accessed my drop bag, all I really wanted to do was lube up again and drop off my rain shell since it was super clear right then. I thought, “no rain today…” and boy, was I wrong. I’d semi-regret this later.

Just working with a few fellas in the early miles

About 15-20 mins after that aid I had to work through some horrific stomach issues from just about 1 pm until about 3:30 (took 11 shits during the race- Desitin is amazing stuff, people). I literally shredded my poor little butthole. It was starting to warm up a bit as we entered the early afternoon, and good thing for me the first of two decent thunderstorms would roll through and drench me, keeping me cool and offering some temporary relief; all the while stopping to projectile poo every 20-30 minutes. I kept thinking about this story I heard on NPR a little while ago about all the different things people have used to wipe themselves after pooping since time immemorial. I was using sticks, rocks, bunches of long grass, leaves, I would’ve really liked to use a rabbit or squirrel because they look really soft.

Just after Ramsey we crossed this bridge on the Canal trail…

Went through Happy Dutchman aid at mile 31.6, stopping briefly for some hand sanitizer, baby wipes, Vaseline and a refill of my hydration bladder (yes, do it in that order to make sure you’re not contaminating those around you, or yourself).

…and we were treated to some really cool views

So misty

Luckily one of the race medics, Brian (you rule, dude!) took care of me at Ritchie Road (mile 38.5). I explained to him what was happening, he ran and grabbed this kit and then I needed him to “block” for me as I hid behind a pick-up truck with a bunch of baby wipes, paper towels and Desitin for maximum relief. If anybody saw anything there, my bad, my pasty white butt was in a very bad way. Ultrarunning is hard. Take care of your b-hole, I imagine your cheeks will rub against themselves about a million times during a hundo…

Rock formations here looked like Roger Dean’s Yes album covers

On to Hyner Run (43.2) where I’d again see my wife and child, so psyched to see them. Despite all the issues, I was moving well and still passing people. I was actually passing a lot of people, kept telling myself to relax but my legs felt really great. My spirits were good in spite of my stomach issues, which started to clear up as I doubled my salt intake. Just pouring Skratch and Tailwind and gels and whatever in me, not letting some minor poopy issues take me out of this race.

I got to Hyner at 4:48, a good 12 minutes ahead of what I told my crew- my buddies Dave and Steve were on their way up from the Philly area to pace and crew me through the night and do a gear hand-off with my wife. As I started to frantically scan the parking area for our silver CR-V, another buddy, Steve Tucker, grabbed me. “I think I beat everyone here…” I said. He was really great about keeping me calm and focused. I knew I needed a shoe and sock change because my feet had been soaked from both falling into a creek crossing (yeah) and those rain storms. I knew I also needed a headlamp because it might take me 3 hours to do the next 11 miles.

Steve had just finished Hardrock like three weeks earlier so I knew I could absolutely trust every word he said. He told me to relax, eat, not worry about anything- he ran to his car to give me his back-up headlamp. I was okay with taking some time here and we decided that I would just go to Halfway House at mile 54.7 and do the shoe change there. My feet felt good, no hot spots or anything like that so I figured I’d be okay for another few hours.

Just as I was about to check out of the aid station and start up the trail, my wife pulls in. “Stop that car!” I yell as people started flagging her down. She stopped in the middle of the lot as I ran up and was like, “open the hatch, babe!” She was in near tears, having both gotten lost trying to find this aid station and cleaning up our kid from puking all over himself. Everybody was having a day! I changed shoes real quick while chugging a Reed’s ginger beer, Steve ran over with a look of relief- I gave him his headlamp back, grabbed mine and was off. I hopped back on the trail right at 5 pm.

Beautiful trails…

The next section was really runnable, so I alternated a few minutes of decent running and decent hiking. Kept passing people, moving up to 85th place by mile 51.1 (Dry Run aid, you all were so rad!), at this point people were starting to look terrible, I guess they went out too hard?

Lovely singletrack

Picked up my pacer Dave Stango, was so psyched to see him and Steve Neugebauer at mile 54.7!

Dave was 6th place here last year, and cool story about how we met: Eric Schranz from URP has taken quite a shine to Eastern States (Eric: come do this race next year!), so after Dave was a guest on his podcast I started following him on Strava. After I didn’t get into Western States (again- five time loser!) I reached out to Dave to pick his brain about ES100, he was more than happy to oblige. Seeing as we grew up about 15 minutes from each other in Delaware County, PA and are around the same age we had a lot in common, and he even showed me around the trails at Ridley Creek State Park. After doing a few runs together whenever I was back in the Philly burbs to visit my parents, I offered to pace Dave at North Face-Massachusetts, which he won (and dropped me with about a mile and a half to go) he then offered to crew and pace me at ES100.

Ultrarunners are cool like that- if you’re ever in the Connecticut area, shoot me an e-mail or blow me up on Twitter and I will be more than happy to take you out on my local trails. I think that 95% of us will be into this sort of thing. The other 5% that might say “no”, you don’t want to know those guys, and they’ll probably be doing something different in two years time anyway.

BEWARE THE CHAIR (I would fall out of this chair while eating pizza later) photo by Dave

So I hooked up with those guys a little after 8 pm, and my legs still felt great. Was feeling the general fatigue of running for 13 hours and being awake for almost 16, but that’s to be expected. Good times ahead. I’d check out of Halfway House in 84th place…

The wilds of PA sure are awesome

Stayed patient but steady- didn’t push too hard here, just continued to move up through the field, passed another 20 runners to move up to 64th place at mile 63.8.

Me and Dave stopped for a minute at one point to see the large “blackness” off to the side of the trail that was the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, switching off our headlamps to see a few meteors from the Perseid shower. I don’t remember if this was between Algerines (mile 69.1) which I had been calling Al Green’s and started singing all his classic hits and Long Brach aid (mile 75.6) or between Long Branch and Blackwell. At any rate, my mind was beginning to show signs of mild deterioration.

photo by Dave Stango

Moved well through the night, switching pacers at mile 80.3- also was mildly hallucinating right before and just after sunrise, I kept seeing houses off to my left along the trail that weren’t there. Luckily I knew they actually weren’t there. There actually was this “DYNAMITE” shack on the side of the trail though that Dave was telling me about so when we finally saw it I chuckled to myself, thinking that I may have already seen it, but probably not. Ultrarunning is a hell of a drug, people. Passed another few runners at Long Branch in chairs and cots that had that 1000-yard stare going. I feel you, bros.

Steve took over pacing duties and humored me through my mild hallucinations (look, there’s a bridge with some kids sitting on it and… no it’s just a log with some fallen branches… okay, this is weird.) Started having stomach issues again here, stopped for some quick liquid poops and had to re-attach my inflamed b-hole again at mile 84.8 aid station, SkyTop. That coffee I had at Blackwell was, in a word, terrible. I’m never drinking coffee in a race ever again.

Pulled into the 92.8-mile aid for another pacer change, stayed here for a while and really took care of myself for the final push- foot re-lube and sock change, a Red Bull and a lot of salty things. Watched runners I beat into the Aid Station leave before me; Dave was like “come on man, come on!” I was like (deadly serious): “we will pass all of them back and then some in the next ten miles”.

We did catch all five runners that left Barrens before me and would pick off another six runners on route to a really satisfying and enjoyable 31:42 finish time, good enough for 43rd dude (47th overall). That section between Blackwell and SkyTop was really tough on me, a lot of climbing late in the race, stomach issues, hallucinating harder than I ever have (legally) but just knew that good times were ahead if I just kept on moving- two-plus hours to go 4.5 miles, wow. But I was still cracking jokes, still laughing, still having an awesome time out there when I felt like my body had somewhat betrayed me. I was not going to let anything wreck the fun I set out to have.

Carrying my boy across that line

This was the most fulfilling and awesome experience I’ve ever had running. Not wearing my GPS watch for a race? I don’t do that sort of thing.

I’m way too obsessed with splits and elevation gain and all that jazz that I have a really hard time having fun because mentally I’m somewhere else. I’m wondering what it’s going to look like on Movescount, or how much elevation gain I’m going to lose or gain when I sync it to Strava.

photo by Jim Blandford

I was actually relieved to not record the data, because I wanted to stay firmly rooted in the present. I wanted to look at my watch, say “it’s 2:30 pm and I am deep in the Pennsylvania woods somewhere between miles 33 and 35 and I don’t give a crap because this is fun.”

Getting rained on is FUN. Having a funky stomach while running and trying to problem solve is FUN. Training since January 1st with one goal in mind, to finish the Eastern States 100 is FUN. Eating bacon at mile 51 is FUN. Trying to get dudes up out of that chair to run with you at 4 am is FUN. Running past a rattlesnake den is FUN. Asking your pacer why there isn’t any gravel spread out on the trail at mile 96 is FUN. Seeing your 22-month old watch all the runners go in and out of the aid station and pretend to run just like them is FUN. Listening to your pacers’ awesome stories and life experiences is FUN. Seeing a black bear barrel down a fern-covered canyon is FUN. Taking part in Pennsylvania’s best 100-miler is FUN.

This is why I run ultras.

This is why I love this community.

This is why this is FUN.

Allyson, Eamonn, me, Dave and Steve (photo by Jim Blandford)

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2017 Manitou’s Revenge Race Report: Hot Takes!

Manitou’s Revenge is a 54 mile point-to-point ultra with 15,000 feet of gain along the Long Path of the Catskill Mountains that runs like a 100-miler, at least that’s how my legs are feeling in the aftermath…

I had the loose goal of ~16 hours, wanted to finish in daylight…

I started in wave 5 (at 5:22 am, 20 mins after the first wave) so had to amend the finishing goal to 15:38 (since 9 pm was “last light”) so I had some work to do…

Legs felt great all day, it’s amazing what a 100-mile week followed by a 60-mile week followed by a 25-mile week will do for your legs- they felt fresh and snappy and light, at least until mile 51 or so…

The first 3 miles are on road to the trail head, then a nice singletrack for a while, then the first really big un-runnable climb was a class 3/4 scramble, the first of like 25 of these- if you’re gonna “run” this race, hit the climbing gym in prep or at least have some super steep scrambling skills, holy shit…

Look at this thing.

I opted to not bring my trekking poles for this fact, wanted my hands free for all the climbing…

Just kept a nice steady pace, worked my way up through the field in the early going- some guy about three miles in asked me “is this your fist time?” Me: yep! He comes back with a snarky “better check your pace”. Whoa, dude- this ain’t my first rodeo. Better check your attitude. I never saw that guy again so I assume he was out there all night and possibly eaten by bears…

Course was so gnarly it made a plane crash on it. True story.

Latched onto some runners that have run this race previously for course beta, kept hearing about the gnarliness of the upcoming “Devil’s Path” section…

Legs felt awesome, finally settled into a train with some of the same runners for a while now, there was Tom, Jenny, then Scott and Jeff…

Biggest climb of the day comes at mile 21, was lucky enough to catch up to this guy David and did the climb with him, would actually run most of the rest of the day with him…

An as luck would have it, turns out he’s the RD for my upcoming 100-miler, Eastern States- sometimes the stars align and put people in your path that you’re supposed to meet, and I honestly think running and leap-frogging each other for almost 10 hours pulled me along to a faster time than if I went it alone…

Caught up to some other awesome folks I knew from some other Connecticut ultras, Scott and Sarah- celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary while running Manitou’s! So awesome…

Mile 31 aid (Platte Clove knows how to party, I love you Jack!) was the shit, was basically waited on like a champ- this also makes this race feel like a 100-miler in that you can sit down and have three people working on you, changed out of the Vazees and into my Hoka Speedgoats, got a refill on fluids, ate a lot of Swedish Fish and drank a ton of Mountain Dew…

Then the Devil’s Path section- the next 7 miles took almost 3 hours because of the terrain- un-runnable rooty rocky climbs, like actual climbs, looking for footholds and roots to grab, these miles were all in the 24-to-28 minute per mile range…

The crux of the race happens at mile 37- Pecoy’s Notch, an honest-to-god, legit scary downclimb, definitely class 5 shit- you fall you break your pelvis/back/neck/face/testicles and possibly die…

Seriously…

The next few miles were cool, still hairy as shit, but the worst is over…

I should mention here that I took three nasty falls on the day- one on my ass (tailbone), one on my hip (felt like a skateboard slam circa 1992) and another on my knee/elbow (that one drew blood)…

I also banged my head on a rock while climbing, this race looks to take you out any way possible…

Legs still felt great and was able to run any flat part pretty hard, switched into power hike mode whenever there was an un-runnable up, but if it was runnable I went at it hard…

So at the mile 43 aid station David says to me: “let’s go really hard here on out and finish strong”, with only 10 or 11 miles to go, I say, “okay, let’s do it, let’s just crush ourselves and blow up in glorious fashion”…

We hammered the first climb together but he started to pull away on the flat section…

He’d stay somewhat within sight for the next few minutes, but this was where I finally hit a low point, I had about a half hour of low energy, semi-negative head space stuff…

…and pulled myself out of that pity party, looked the clock, thought if I really hammered I could break 15 hours…

Made it to the mile 48 aid station , the Tiki Torch aid- they were rad, said I could probably finish in daylight, all downhill from here…

Hammered this next section, drops 2100 feet in like 4 miles, just totally destroyed my quads right here- there’s no better pain than searing quads after mile 50, most races would be done by now, but 54.3 miles sounds way more serious than “just 50″…

Hit the last aid at mile 53, dude yells “ONE POINT THREE TO THE FINISH, ALL FLAT, ALL ROAD, YOU DON’T NEED A HEADLAMP, SO GOOOOOO!”…

I fucking hammered that shit…

Woof!

15:19 finish time (no idea what place since the wave starts and relay runners and all that) but was the last person to finish in daylight, at 8:41 PM. This is an actual thing per the website: breaking the 16 hour benchmark time of “I don’t need no stinking headlamp!”…

…that was pound-for-pound and mile-for-mile the hardest race I’ve ever done, by a lot…

I feel physically, like I ran a 100-miler. San Diego 100 may not have hurt this bad actually. Bighorn definitely did though…

Seriously: do not do this race. It’s too hard. You will not finish it. It makes Lake Sonoma 50 look like a road half marathon. I say that with all due respect. Manitou’s wants to kill you, or at least make you go home covered in scrapes and bruises. Seriously, do not do this race…

I can not wait to do this race again…

The only mistake of the day I made was setting my GPS to record every 10 seconds and set it on “okay” accuracy, since it died just after 10 hours last 50-miler. I lost 8.7 miles from that. I think I need to set it to record every second but set it to “good” accuracy, should get me like 50 hours of battery life? Someone help me out with that…

Strava stats…

Manitou’s Revenge website: do not even think about registering… 😉

Pure elation to be done.

Video from Mountain Peak Fitness of Kehr Davis, 2017 women’s champ:

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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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