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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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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