The 2016 Boston Marathon Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That ain’t me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sup, brah?

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

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

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

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

Does Newton like to party?

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

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

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

DAT CROWD DOE

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

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

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

NICE BEARD BRO! (my beard was big)

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

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

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

So I ran the Boston Marathon one year ago today.

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

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

“No, man, I’m good thanks.”

NO, SIT DOWN.

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

How’d it go today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossing that finish line

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

Ambivalence

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

Antonyms: certainty, sureness, decisiveness.

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

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The 2017 Two Rivers Marathon Race Report

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

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

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

Lessons learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strava stats

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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The 2016 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race Report

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

A little Willowdale single track

A little Willowdale single track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...and some Willowdale fire road.

…and some Willowdale fire road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s what I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strava link to race data

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2017 Racing Schedule: Beast Coast Edition

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

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

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

There, I said it.

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

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

February 25th: the Colchester Half, Colchester, CT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12th: Eastern States 100, Waterville, PA

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

September and beyond…

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

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

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

 

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The 2016 Roxbury Marathon Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About a mile in, trying to find the zone.

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

Well, that escalated quickly.

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

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

splitz

Sorry, my GPS watch rubbed it off…

It says “29, 60, 125, 151, 217, 244”

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

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

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

Yes, I talk to myself while racing.

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

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

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

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

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

Working the downhills

Working the downhills. (photo: B. Vanderheiden)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully 2017 presents some opportunities to write more.

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The Bimblers Bluff 50k Race Report

Oh, Connecticut in autumn is ridiculously beautiful. If you get the chance, come be a “leaf peeper” in New England, the locals love it when you drive very slow on major roadways and suddenly pull on to the shoulder without signaling and throw your doors open to take pictures of the leaves! Yes, that’s all sarcasm there. Except for the first sentence, CT is rad in autumn.

Seriously though- I just spent ten years living in California and basically experienced 1.5 seasons every year; ten-and-a-half months of spring followed by a week of heat and then three weeks of rain. It’s great for running and general outdoors awesomeness, but c’mon- you know you love the splashes of mustard yellow, fiery vermilion and psychedelic salmon in the trees. That’s why people run The Bear 100, to see the aspens, right?

So what can I say about this race? First, it’s got a low key, old school vibe. It’s on some really technical trails covered in fallen leaves. It’s also got some very runnable single track and wide jeep roads. Throw in a few thousand feet of climbing (I came up with 3,176 feet per Strava) and you’ve got yourself a nice “fall classic” here in the Connecticut woods. Add the Connecticut area USATF Trail Ultra Championship to that list and the front of the field is fast, fast, fast!

So the race starts and finishes at an elementary school and after receiving some basic instructions from the RD, Mr. Bimble himself, we’re off for a quick lap around the perimeter of the soccer field. This is a pretty good idea that spreads out the runners before the road crossing and then funneling us on to a single track through the woods. Temps were perfect, in the low-to-mid 40s, gentle wind, partly sunny.

I locked into a conga line at around 8-to-9 minute pace with the front of the mid-packers, sort of where I always want to be (and where I always sort of end up anyway). I wanted to follow two basic rules; for the first half of the race- don’t be an idiot. For the second half- don’t be a wimp.

I talked to a couple guys before the race and they were like, “you know this race is a bit long, maybe almost 2 miles long…” I thought, “okay, no worries, I’ll just add 20 minutes to my goal time” and figured I’d just be a little more patient on going for it for like an extra mile. Yep, wait until mile 16-ish to start trying anything dumb.

Pretty uneventful through the early miles, there was an aid station about 3 miles in that I opted to skip, I had only taken maybe one sip of my water. I knew the next one was about 7 miles away and thought that I’d be fine for the next hour. I had a few gels on me and planned to re-stock myself at the aid station and just fill up on water and go.

About a mile before the next aid station I’d take my first wrong turn, we had to basically traverse this “rock” then wrap back around it and sort of snake our way down through this crack- it’s kind of hard to explain. All I know is that when I came to the bottom of it I went straight for about 30 seconds before my spidey senses started tingling big time- not only was I off course, I wasn’t even on a trail. I was just kind of meandering through the woods. There were a lot of times where you could easily lose the trail because a) it was completely covered by leaves and b) the flagging was orange, as was the majority of the leaves. Orange flags in an orange forest, go figure.

That being said this was a hard course to mark and was marked very well. After I got myself righted there was a nice little stretch of single-track, then a section of rock-hopping, a little more single-track, more rocks, then a road crossing then the aid station.

bb50k-1

Hi, do you have any idea how much I love to run?

“Hi!” I exclaimed. “How we doing?” The aid station folks were really nice, offering cookies, PB&Js, Coke… but… no gels. “Hey, where are the gels?”

“Oh, we don’t have any…” I literally thought they were joking, and waited for the punchline. “Oh, you guys are serious…”

“Yep, sorry… I might have some in the car…”

“No, that’s okay, I’ll just… figure something else out… Umm…” My mind went frantic for a second as I scanned the table.

No gels? In an ultra? Where am I? Is this for real? Okay, settle down, think. THINK.

Coke. Lots of Coke. I filled my handheld with half Coke and half water. I slammed three small cups of Coke in quick succession, knowing that four ounces of Coke was about 50 calories. I took the knife that was in the jar of jelly, grabbed a chocolate chip cookie, slathered that in grape jelly and said thank you and was out.

Okay, I had one gel on me after taking one about 45 minutes in, I’ll do Coke until the next aid station in 6 miles, grab like 3-4 gels and stick to my original plan. They gotta have gels at the next aid, no big deal.

Luckily the biggest climb of the race was right here staring me in the face to get my head back into the game. This was a massive grunt up the “bluff” to the most stunning views of the valley underneath. I stopped a few times on the cliff side just to take the view in, and it was pretty awesome.

So I locked into a nice even pace here with an accomplished trail runner named Debbie from the Shenipsit Striders, we would spend the next 5-6 miles chatting away, which was great because this section was really technical- mostly leaf-covered rocks until a jeep road that led to a bridge over a creek crossing and then back on to mellow single track. I let her lead since she had run this race a bunch and she just hammered the downs like a billy goat, basically showing me where to put my feet. Thanks Debbie!

We were being funneled between a residential neighborhood on the left and some horse stables on the right, about a mile out from the aid station somewhere around mile 16. I was all out of water and Coke and took that gel, so I decided to start hammering a bit to get to that aid quicker.

I came up on a runner I had met a few weeks ago at Trader Joe’s (he saw my Bighorn 100 shirt and we got to talking about ultras) named Mark so we ran together for a few minutes, then I took off.

Ferocious determination.

Hit ’em with some BLUE STEEL

Okay, another aid station, let’s get some gels and water and get moving!

Guess what? No gels. Don’t panic. Drink a lot of Coke, again. Grab some salty potatoes, a lot of salty potatoes, throw them in a to-go Ziploc bag, get some Coke in your bottle with some water and get going.

Okay, there are no gels at this race. That’s unexpected but out of my control, so I better just let it go and keep using my alternate fuel source, which is working pretty well right now. Watered-down Coke. I was trying to think of their slogan but I don’t have a TV so I had the old ones going, like “Coke: the next generation” and “Coke: you got the right one, baby”. Maybe those are diet Coke slogans from the 80s, I have no idea. All I know is that I feel really good so I whipped out the iPod for some tasty tunes and really started to hammer.

And I go off course again. Dammit, dude- pay attention! This is the second time you lost the trail, so I back track and proceed to return to the conga line that I had left back at the aid station. Okay, recollect, be patient. Settle down. Just work your way up this climb.

I grind a few more miles and now I go, just really start to hammer. The tunes are cranking, the Coke is working, I’m feeling good. I know the aid station is somewhere around mile 23-ish, so my plan is to really work hard, get there, take care of myself and then just let it rip to the finish…

…and I go off course again, three minutes of following these weird tiny pink flags that were left over from a previous race or possibly a mountain bike event, because after about 90 seconds I realize I’m on a mountain bike course (I think the banked turns and a jump gave it away).

DUDE, PAY ATTENTION!

I get back to where I went off, of course it’s marked excellently with multiple flags and ribbons- I just freaking flaked on it. New England trails present you with a very important choice- look up at the wonderful fall foliage and search for flags or look down so you don’t break the shit out of your ankles. It’s an interesting conundrum over here, maybe I’ll eventually learn to do both. Luckily I kept my nerve and knew that I was only about a mile, maybe mile-and-a-half out from the aid. Just relax, because it’s going to start hurting once you leave that aid station.

So I pass another runner, he must’ve got me while I was wandering in the woods a minute, and we cruise down into the aid. There’s all these cool signs cheering runners on from the local clubs and whatnot, pretty inspiring. If I come back next year I’ll make myself a sign saying “stop going off course bro” or “bring your own gels”, you know- something like that.

So of course I (weakly) ask for gels, they say no (kinda already knew the answer), I eat some salty potatoes, slam some Coke, Mountain Dew and Gatorade, fill my handheld up with half Coke half water and as I’m about to leave I see the dude I got to the aid right after me take off. Then, best moment of the race for me: a trail angel gave me a package of Clif Blocks. “You’re my new best friend!” I said as I tore off down the trail. The kindness of strangers, y’all.

Okay, now I’m in hunt mode. I pass that guy back maybe a half mile out from the aid, then a few miles down the trail I caught another guy that had been running with the first woman, he was wearing a “2016 Oil Creek 100” shirt and I thought, “damn, this guy is a beast” because that race was like two weeks before this. There’s no way I could run a 50k 15 days after a 100-miler.

Then I caught another guy that was cramping really bad right around mile 27. I offered salt, but he was pretty miserable. Then off the jeep road back on to sweet single track, this is really where it’s time to start digging deep.

Passed another runner sitting on a rock here in the woods, I think he was experiencing a full-on bonk right about now. I’ve been there, bro. Then I come up on the last aid station, I just did Coke at this point, half a bottle, no water. Just put my head down and hammered. Hopefully I can catch a few more guys in the last two miles- so of course I’m looking up a lot more than I should because to go off course at the end of the race would be disastrous, I roll my ankle on a root.

Then like three minutes later I catch a toe and go flying. I’m hoping the end is nigh because I’m obviously having a tough time keeping my shit together. Then I see a guy off the side of the trail cheering me on, he looked familiar- he’s the guy from the first aid station that was going to get me a gel from his car (I should’ve let him). He says, “man, you passed a lot of runners!” I asked if there were any more guys ahead, he said no but first woman is like a minute up on me.

I thought, welp, I won’t catch her because she was running really strong all day. That and before I knew it I was hitting the road crossing and was back at the school and crossing the finish line.

If you’re looking for a low-key, old school ultra distance event in New England right smack in the middle of leaf peeping season, then the Bimbler’s Bluff 50k is your jam.

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Race Report: The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50k

Sorry for the late turn-around here, this race was over a month ago, and well, you know- I’ve had a few things going on. Like getting a Jack Daniels’ VDOT O2 coaching certification (that test was hard!) and simultaneously trying to get my coaching business off the ground.

I also went back an re-read (as well as took pages of notes on) all my old training manuals, like “Running With Lydiard” by the late great Arthur Lydiard, “Run Faster” by Brad Hudson, “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger, as well as reading the new book from Jason Koop, “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”. My head is full of running knowledge, hopefully I can convert that over to running wisdom.

Okay, so I’m a New Englander now (or is it Yankee?). I think you’re officially moved to a new area when 1) all of your spices are unpacked, sorted and arranged (makes your meals awesome), 2) you know some sweet shortcuts to and from the closest Trader Joe’s and 3) you run a race in your new locale.

The Pisgah Mountain Trail Runs 50k would be my entrance into the New England ultra scene if there is one- spoiler: okay, I checked and there is one!

So we stayed at my wife’s parent’s house in Greenfield, MA on Saturday night which was only about 30 mins from the start in New Hampshire. I woke up a half hour earlier than intended due to my 11-month old waking up looking to party at 5:45 am, fun times. Had a big (read: calorically dense) liquid breakfast (twelve ounces of coffee with eight ounces of heavy whipping cream, two tablespoons of grass-fed butter and two tablespoons of coconut oil, blended to perfection). Drank a lot of water, too, maybe 40 ounces before start of race because it was going to be humid AF.

I left the house at 7:30, thinking I’ll get there around 8-8:15 (late start for an ultra, 8:45? And on a Sunday taboot!) but alas, I got ridiculously lost! Google Maps user error: since Pisgah State Park is located in both Winchester AND Chesterfield, I stupidly typed in “535 Old Chesterfield Rd. Winchester NH” and it of course, needed to be Chesterfield.

Yes, there’s two different Old Chesterfield Roads, one in each town, that are not connected. One is dirt and one is paved. I ended up on the dirt road, with the nagging suspicion that I am not where I’m supposed to be, driving deeper and deeper into the woods.

After getting righted around and speeding my ass off on beautiful and winding country roads (hey, a covered bridge!) I made it to the parking area at 8:41. Four minutes to get my shoes and socks on, get lubed up, go get my bib at check in and go.

I was coming out of the elementary school’s gym right as I heard “GO!” so I quickly ran towards the start line, my GPS watch finding the signal as I’m hitting “start” on my watch right as I cross the start line, way at the end of the pack (30 seconds behind the last runners). I mean, I’ve cut it really close by getting to Lake Chabot maybe 10 minutes before a race like the Skyline 50k but this was the first time I’ve ever actually missed the start of a race. Luck favors the prepared, so if I was short on luck today I had no one but myself to blame.

As I’m running to catch up I’m simultaneously biting the strap of my (empty) handheld water bottle to free up my hands, while one hand is trying to stuff gels into my shorts pockets (I ended up dropping the cucumber mint one, d’oh!), while holding four safety pins and my bib in the other hand. Fucking epic way to start a race. Also I should mention that huge storms came through during the night and it was gently misting on and off all morning, so the course (and my feet) were gonna be nice and wet.

Anyway, this first section is on a paved road so I kept it around 8-8:30 pace and managed to pass as many people as I could, I figured I wanted to be somewhere around 10th place by mile 5 if I wanted to hit my A goal, which was sub-5 hours and a top 10; the B goal was sub-5:30 and top 20 and of course that C goal is always just to finish (sans injury)!

I was treating this race as a warm-up to the second season of ’16, kind of a long fitness test to see what I needed to work on. This was basically a C race for me, so I knew I wasn’t in top shape from a six week long training layover after the Bighorn 100.

Anyway, back to the actual race- I had been holding in a pee all this time, too- so soon as I saw a huge tree about 10 minutes in I stopped, hid behind it and let ‘er rip. It was one of those long-ass pisses, took almost a minute.

I had to stop looking over my shoulder at all the people passing me here, I figured most of them were doing the 23k and that I had to run my own race, I wasn’t going to get sucked into that whole “this person can’t pass me “ ego-driven shit that I am wont to do in races. No, save that for the goal race in November.

I kept telling myself to take it easy, hit the halfway mark at fifteen miles then start to race, just fall into an easy rhythm somewhere around 9 to 10 min/mile pace and just churn it out. Power hike the ups really hard, run the downs well. It was intermittently raining hard/soft for the first maybe 2 hours so that made things interesting.

I settled into a pack with a woman named Kristen and a dude named Clark, we chatted about races we had planned on and the Northeast ultra scene (there is one, just gotta poke around!). I took a hilarious fall on one of the slick bridges over a creek and landed on my back on the softest bed of pine needles ever. Felt so nice I didn’t want to get up.

Pretty uneventful for the next ten miles, started to feel sort of shitty around miles 13-14 and that rough spot would continue for over an hour until mile 20. Those first two hours I had been fueling steadily, had about 250 calories of Tailwind, drank 1-2 little cups of Coke at every aid station and probably 2-3 gels so it wasn’t an energy issue, I think it was a “I didn’t taper for this so my legs are literally full of crud”.

I did do some hard runs the week of the race, so I expected my legs to be gassed, just figured it was going to come after mile 24 or so. I think the breakfast I ate (drank) should’ve been supplemented with something solid, like oatmeal or a pop tart. That “bulletproof coffee” was the same thing I had before Canyons 100k, but that race demanded a totally different effort than this one- I came through the first half in just under 7 hours and this race I was targeting somewhere around 5 hours. Different efforts demand different fuel sources- in hindsight I should’ve gotten in more carbs today before running. See- I’m still learning!

I got to the aid station at mile 20- this is what finally got me going: a cup of orange Gatorade (the worst flavor in my not so humble opinion), a cup of Coke and some weird blue Gatorade- looked like windshield wiper fluid and tasted like alcohol-free mouthwash, probably called like POLAR FREEZE or some shit like that, just really very yucky stuff.

But it got me going. Put some headphones on and churned out the five mile “Kilburn Loop” passing a few runners that were starting to succumb to the mileage. Then getting back to that same aid station and starting up the last big climb(s), a series of relentless rollers for the next 3 miles. Papercuts, baby. I passed a few more runners here, just grinding along.

Finally I crested the top and knew from studying the course map that I had a pretty decent downhill then flat road section to the finish. I was pretty deep in the pain cave right about now, not having done anything longer than an 8-hour day in the San Juans in July while Hardrock spectating.

So there’s a water only stop about two miles from the finish and as I’m filling up my empty bottle for a few sips to bring me in I look up the trail and see a yellow shirt coming down, maybe 200 meters behind me.

Dammit. I don’t want to race but I don’t want to get passed here. I really kind of hate being hunted but it sure lights a fire under my ass. So, of course, I raced to the finish. Me and that guy high five at the finish line, he was like “I just couldn’t close the gap” and I thanked him for forcing me to finish strong. I seriously would’ve dawdled to the finish if he didn’t nip at my heels.

All in all, it was a fantastic race- the course marking was excellent, the post-race burgers and soup were delicious, I stuck around for a couple hours just to introduce myself to local runners, watch people finish, find out about some fun races, all that.

Viva New England trail ultras!

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