Monday, November 28, 2011

JFK 50 Mile - 11/19/2011

I had a lot going for me heading into this year's JFK50 as opposed to last year: significantly more experience and exposure to the world of ultras, a lot more high mileage and quality training, a (new) faster marathon PR, and much greater familiarity with the course.  I have Jackie to thank for that last one, especially!

I decided after Burning River to make JFK my focus race for the fall.  Priority would be taken away from marathon racing and given to consistent training for a couple of months.  I was never really sure what to set as a goal for JFK.  Back in the summer, when we formed our team from the Naval Academy for this year, I had thought about breaking the military team record, which I thought would take at least one sub-7 or a few sub-7:10 finishers.  At the time, I thought that with some pretty serious training, I should be able to go for sub-7 hours.

Early in September my recovery from Burning River seemed to be complete.  Training amped back up and plenty of quality races and training miles came in the next couple of months.  I didn't really realize it as it was happening, but it was pointed out to me that I'd been traveling a lot to races.  It turns out I had gone somewhere to a race of sorts for six of seven weekends starting with the UBER Rock 50K on September 24th.  Of those six races, one was an unexpected marathon PR at NYC, and the only one which was less than a marathon was a 10 mile PR.  In between all of these came a lot of really good training runs and high mileage weeks (for me).  After all this, I was feeling primed for JFK in the best shape I'd ever been in.  Under 7 hours now seemed almost like an expectation I had for myself.  I told myself that I really should be able to do it, but I still wasn't sure.  So much would come into play.

As I continued to try and convince myself that I should be able to break 7 in the days leading up to the race, I also started conjuring up splits and potential race strategies for a 6:45.  The night before the race, my parents asked me if I could estimate when I would be arriving at each checkpoint where they would be along the course: miles 15.5, 27, 38, and the finish.  I spent like 20 minutes doing mental calculations and thinking about the race, and ended up writing down 2:15, 3:45, 5:05, and 6:45 and telling them these could 15 minutes off or more.

Whatever the case, I showed up to the start with legs feeling fresher than I could remember feeling in months.  I assembled with the rest of the team in the gym and, just like last year, we got a late start jogging to the starting line, which they said is a little over a half mile from the gym.  We began jogging over, in good spirits, not feeling particularly rushed.  Turned out we were a little late, because we were still jogging down the street in Boonsboro when a gun went off.  "Wait, was that...I think that was the start?"  It was indeed!  We continued jogging right up past the starting line and began the race.  Although we'd lost almost a minute right there, I didn't let it bother me.

The best races I had in the previous couple months were the ones I approached as fun runs without sweating all the pacing and racing details.  So I wanted to do the same here.  I've really come to enjoy uphills and technical downhills and rocky trails.  So I knew the first 15-16 miles of JFK would be the most fun part of the race.  I stayed completely relaxed, ran with Ted, and just enjoyed myself UBER style.  I wanted to hit the towpath feeling as fresh as possible.

Ted and I gradually made up for the minute we had lost, passing lots of people in the initial couple of miles up to the South Mountain Inn, including a nice looking girl named Jackie who we would talk to more after the race :-D.  When we got on the trail, passing people became a little less frequent, but still gradual.  Last year we were a few places out of the top 50.  I definitely wanted to be top 50 this year, and thought top 30 (maybe top 25) would be possible.

At some point on the App Trail, probably around mile 12, I had a strong urge overcome my bowels.  Once it settled, I discussed with Ted the likelihood of having to make a pitstop at the next aid station.  He was feeling it too, apparently!

Grabbing gels from Dad!
sweet new Navy Ultra singlets!

We came down off the switchbacks together and saw my parents at about 2:12 I think...right on schedule!  Another half mile or so and we came to the big aid station before the towpath.  That urge I had felt previously had not returned, but Ted had to hit the toilet real quick.  I expected I'd have to be stopping later on and that I would see Ted again.  I told him I'd continue onto the towpath and start out at a conservative pace.

The first couple miles were relatively eventful as far as running on the C&O Canal Towpath goes.  I was passing lots of early starters, many of whom were in cheerful spirits.  Once in a while, I would catch up with another 7am starter, run with him a little bit, and then continue on.  After a few miles I caught up with a guy named Wes, who I soon learned won JFK in 1987 (I believe).  We talked a bit and ran together for a few miles.  He guessed that we were in the top 25 or 30 at this point.  That excited me a bit, but scared me more, I think.  I was feeling really good, but knew that it wouldn't last.  And then, I'd surely be seeing lots of these people again.  Wes told me something like, "You see that guy up there in the red? And then up ahead of him there's a guy in green.  You can pass them and if you do that, then you can pass maybe 10 more people."  Well I didn't know where he got his information, but part of me did trust his judgement.  He'd won this race before, and run it several times...I liked to think he knew what he was talking about, as far-fetched as it may have seemed to me.

Eventually, Wes dropped back and told me to go on.  I told him there was a good chance I'd be seeing him again later, but he didn't seem to believe me.  One of the next guys I caught up to was a guy named Jesse.  I ran with him or near him for a bit.  I didn't wear a GPS watch, and I never even took any splits on my Timex, but I remember a few key points along the route.  One of them was the halfway-ish point...and aid station at mile 24.8 (I think).  I hit that with Jesse at 3:25 or 3:26 on my watch.  I thought about last year's JFK when I hit the halfway in 3:45, and came back with another 3:45 for a 7:30 finish time.  I knew that there was no reason the second half should be slower than (or the same as) the first half on the JFK course if I ran a smart race.  I hoped that would be the case today.

The towpath was as long and monotonous as ever, and I had multiple highs and lows along the way.  Sometimes, my legs, especially my quads, would cramp up for a mile or two at a time.  For nutrition, I was taking a gel basically every hour starting at about 1:15 into the race, carrying Gatorade in my handheld which I would refill every 10 miles or so, and usually grabbing an orange slice or two and sometimes a couple pretzel sticks at each aid station.  The gels became a little more frequent later in the race.

Sometime shortly after seeing my parents at mile 27, I definitely started feeling the pace.  I was getting tired, and the miles of the towpath were taunting my mental state.  It would be 11 miles before I saw my parents again, and I was really hoping to be looking good each time they saw me.  There was a guy up ahead of me who I'd been able to see for a while, but he appeared to be running stronger than I was.  I kept my eye on him up in the distance for the next few miles.  At one point, he stopped to pee, and I got a little closer to him before he finished and got back to running.  Then, a little later, he stopped to tie his shoes and I caught up and ran by him.  He finished soon after I passed and quickly caught back up with me.  He was definitely feeling better than I was, so I decided to let him go.  I started trailing behind him again, but not far back.  Soon enough, I came out of the semi-low point I was having.  Maybe it was the motivation of having someone to run with.  I caught back up with him and ran stride for stride with him for a few miles leading into the mile 34 aid station.  He was pushing the pace a bit for me, but I figured it was worth it to stay with him.  At one point, he looked down at his Garmin and appeared to be doing some mental math.  After a minute, he said that if we continued our current pace, we'd run a 6:25 or 6:30.

Hold up.  That's not me, I thought.  As motivating as that thought was, I dropped off a little and never saw him again after the mile 34 aid station.

Mile 34 to 38 was tough.  This marathon (26.3 miles) of towpath was painful both physically and mentally.  But after 34 miles, I knew I'd be seeing my parents again at the next aid station.  I probably slowed down a bit in this section to preserve myself for when they saw me. That was a long 4 miles, and I was definitely hurting when I rolled into that aid station.  But my dad greeted me telling me I was 16th  (later learned that it must have been 17th).

Coming into mile 38 (I think)
Sixteenth?  At JFK?  I believed it, but I think it was a little better than I was expecting.  Although I wanted to dilly-dally at the aid station, I couldn't let myself, especially after that bit of news.  I let the volunteers fill up my bottle, grabbed a couple things for myself, and got going again in short time.

I look tired...
Sometime back around mile 30ish, I had an interesting encounter on the towpath.  I passed a woman who I was pretty sure was Meghan Arboghast and thought, "Oh, God, what am I doing??"  I also noted that there was no lead bike with her, meaning that someone in the field was beating her.  I wondered who it might be.

Well, shortly after leaving mile 38, Meghan Arboghast caught up with and passed me back.  I was almost positive it was her, so I greeted her and found out I was correct.  She seemed like she was in a good rhythm, and kept on going to finish second for the women. 

I had to pee.  I looked at my watch and it said 5:21 or so, and decided I'd keep moving until my watch said 5:30.  Then I'd break up this last little section of towpath and reward myself with a little pee break.  I really wanted to...I was struggling.

So I did that, and then the end of the towpath aid station came sooner than expected!  This was my longest aid station stop (still probably only a minute or so).  I think I took a couple bites and sips of some random different things, then headed onto the road.  One guy who I had passed earlier in the race (I think at the very beginning of the towpath) passed me at that aid station.

I thought about keeping up a jog up that "hill" at the beginning of the road.  But then I got to it.  I welcomed a quick walk break up it.  I knew there were aid stations every 2 miles or so from here on out, and that was very uplifting.  Even more uplifting was how I began to feel once I started running again after that hill.  Then I looked at my watch when I passed the 8-miles-to-go marker.  5:40.  My watch was at 5:40.  I could run the last eight miles in 10 minute pace and still break 7.  That sounded perfectly doable.

The mile markers (now every mile) came and went quickly.  And with each one, my mental math comforted me more and more.  I felt "great" much as I can feel "great" after 45 miles of hard running.  I recognized the spot right around mile 47 where Jackie came blowing by me a year earlier.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I actually turned to look behind me real quick at that point.  But there was nobody to be seen, and that last guy to pass me was still visible a half mile or so up in the distance.  I had slowly been closing on him, but he seemed to be finishing strong too and was out of my reach.

The only split I took on my watch the entire race was the last mile, just because I was curious what it would end up being.  It was a 7:04, which I considered a good strong finish.  The last eight miles was about 61 or 62 minutes, so under 7:45 pace.  Looking at the chip time splits on the results, it appears my 26.3 miles of towpath was covered in 3:18:29, or just over 7:30 pace.  I must have been moving when I was feeling good, then.

The clock read 6:42:36 when I crossed the line in 19th place.  I was glad that the minute or so we had lost before the start didn't come back to bite me in any way.  I was almost 2 minutes behind the guy in front of me, and not within a minute of any significant time landmarks (that is, I was a little worried in the beginning that I might end up running a 7:01 or something..).  The announcer had some nice things to say over the loudspeaker as I approached, introducing me as the first military finisher and the youngest finisher so far, or something along those lines.

It was a perfect race.  Everything went better than I could have asked for...I couldn't believe I was in the top 20.  Then, to top it all off, we clinched the military team trophy in what was apparently a close race with the National Guard team!  And Jackie came through with another top 10 finish, second year in a row! It was one year ago at this race that I met her - first when I passed her at mile 4, and again when she passed me at mile 47.  I have to say it must have been the Halloweeny 50k in the snow that was our most valuable training run on the JFK trails this year.  But seriously, Jackie and the Navy guys were such an important part of JFK training...lots of fun miles with them!
8 straight years!
 That Jackie girl I saw in the beginning of the race!
 Of course, my parents were there to support me the whole way.  Although I didn't have the huge numbers represented by Team Jackie, it was so good to see my parents at those three aid stations during the race.  My mom was taking some of the pictures seen here, and my dad would hand me a baggy with a couple gels to last me a another hour or two.  Seeing Team Jackie at those aid stations was an added bonus - the more familiar faces the better!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chicago, Baltimore, Waffle Cone, Halloweeny, and NYC


Basically since I recovered from Burning River, the race I've been focusing all of my training toward has been JFK50 on November 19th.  The focus race of the fall for my team was the Chicago Marathon on October 9th.  I was debating training completely through Chicago or doing a short taper for it.  A couple days after that Uber Rock 50K, I decided it'd be fun to give sub-2:50 a try at Chicago.  So I tapered and took it easy for about 2 weeks, feeling confident that I could PR in a marathon and get under 2:50. 

The goals I wrote down for Chicago before the race included hitting the half at 1:24-1:25, running 20-minute 5Ks, and "confident about PR, should go sub-2:50, perfect day=2:47/8".  Here is a basic rundown of the race:

  • 6:32/mile average for first 5K
  • Low 6:20s/mile average for next 20K
  • 10 Mile split in 1:04:07
  • 13.1 Mile split in 1:23:55
I was feeling great up to this point and thinking about 2:48.  The last time I was in Chicago, I ran very even splits, and wondered at the halfway point this year if I might be able to do something like that again.
  • Mile 17-20 average 6:39/mile (beginning to fade)
  • 20 Mile split in 2:09:09 (a PR for 20 miles...I struggled to a 2:14 a month earlier)
  • Mile 20-26.2 average ~7:00/mile (crash)
The last 10K was tough and I ended up with a 2:52:28.  It was slower than I thought I would be able to run, but I couldn't complain - it was still my second fastest marathon and I didn't see myself as in peak marathon shape.


So after Chicago, I got back to training.  In building up to JFK last year, I raced Steamtown, then ran Baltimore the following weekend, then Marine Corps on Halloween.  But I did little to no training in between those 'long runs'.  I had the same kind of schedule this year, but wanted to keep up my running in between long runs/races.  The few days after Chicago, I basically just did shorter, easy runs; but I was running at least.  Then on Saturday I headed to the Baltimore Marathon with Jackie, another long run/race in her heavy racing and training schedule.  She ran very well with a 3:15 clocking on a tough course on a brutally windy day.  This was my second time running Baltimore, and it is definitely the most difficult road marathon course I have run.  On top of that, there was a serious headwind for much of the race, most notably mile 20 to 23 or so.  I ran with Jackie and had a lot of fun, and got a great training run out of it.  A couple hours on the White Clay trails with Jackie in Delaware the following day felt pretty good, too.

Waffle Cone

I continued to increase mileage after Baltimore, and continued to feel really good.  I began falling into this trend I've observed over the last several weeks with a lot of miles at a faster pace than usual.  A lot of my runs have been ending up under 7:30 pace.  This summer, when I was doing a lot of 80 or 90 mile weeks, my pace was usually around 8 minutes or slower.  Since taking a day off before Baltimore, I had done about 110 miles in 8 days, much of them at a decent pace.  I was in Delaware again on Saturday, and the following morning was the Caffe Gelato Waffle Cone 10 Miler (or something to that effect).  Although Jackie had just done some 35 miles or something that day, we both seemed to think it would be fun - just a small, local race on a very nice weekend weather-wise.  It turned out to be a trail race, which made it interesting.  A few miles of it were singletrack and as I was racing through those miles, I realized that I had never really run all-out on singletrack trails before.  I ended up running 1:02:02, an unexpected 10-mile PR.  I've been wanting for a while to try to run under an hour for 10 miles.  This impromptu race gave me confidence that I'd be able to do that.  Give me a road course that's not too hilly, and I think I could do it.  It was a fun race, and Jackie and I added a few miles afterward before cashing in our free waffle cone coupons.

Halloweeny Fat Ass 50K

This "race" was ridiculous.  I put race in quotes because it was really just an organized fun run, fat ass event.  Jackie and I saw it as a good training run for JFK and a fun way to spend Halloween weekend, running in costumes bought at Goodwill.  Much of the course was part of the JFK course, plus a loop up the Maryland Heights trail (which was awesome) and a loop through Harper's Ferry.

The race was schedule to begin around 8:00am.  Here was a look out the back window at about 7:00 am:
It was Halloween weekend and snow was falling and sticking to the ground.  Surely once the sun came up it would stop coming down and melt away.

After a meeting with all the runners and the race organizers in a pavilion at the start, the RD said something like, "Okay well I think that's everything, so umm...Go, I guess!"  Of the 100+ people who signed up for this freebie event, apparently only about 40 showed up.  Many of those no-shows were probably deterred by the weather.  It was still snowing at the start, and we jumped onto the Appalachian Trail from Gapland to Weverton Cliffs:
My 'Candace Corn' outfit from Goodwill was certainly not made for this kind of weather, nor was Jackie's pom-pom tutu.  Once we got moving, I warmed up enough, but the worst part definitely came when we got down onto the C&O Towpath.  Down there, the snow was more like sleet or cold rain blowing into us with a persistent headwind.  After the second aid station, we started climbing the Maryland Heights trail, for which I was very thankful because I knew the long steady ascent would keep me warmer.  We went up for a couple miles, keeping a watchful eye on the trees far above us.  It sounded like a gun range at times with high branches cracking and falling to the ground all around us.  Luckily, all the runners made it through unscathed.  It was seriously pretty dangerous; if it weren't for the loud, gunfire-like cracking noises which provided a few seconds of warning, at least a couple people would quite likely have fallen victim to these so-called "widow makers". 

On the MD Heights loop, the snow was several inches deep and still falling.  It was beautiful, and I couldn't believe it was October in Maryland.  The only thing that could have made it better would have been the added comfort I would have had from wearing actual clothes.  But the trails were awesome and peaceful, and I was reminded how much I love running in the snow, especially after a long hot summer.  After an overlook over Harper's Ferry, I was a little disappointed to descend back down the to Towpath where the weather wasn't so pleasant.

There were four aid stations on the route.  We stopped at them each for at least a few minutes, and I mostly ate cookies because I was hungry and they were delicious.  For the Harper's Ferry loop, I really needed to rely on the turn sheet that was provided at the beginning of the run.  It was kind of cool running on this unmarked route, though.  Once in a while we would come upon an arrow drawn in the snow on the ground by somebody's feet who was ahead of us, indicating the right direction.

Eventually, we were back on the Towpath and then heading up the switchbacks at Weverton Cliffs, back on the AT toward the start/finish at Gapland.  The AT was much more snow-covered at this point than it had been in the morning.  The running was slow and meticulous, but really peaceful and fun. 

Before we rushed into the bathrooms to change into dry/warm clothes, this is what we looked like after finishing:
And I don't think I'd ever seen snow on a pumpkin before:

New York City

If you ever get the chance to run the New York City Marathon with the NYPD Running Club, I highly recommend it.  Running through the five boroughs past hundreds of thousands of spectators with NYPD across the front of my singlet was a remarkable experience.  The NYPD is clearly appreciated and loved by the people of the city.

After Halloweeny, I continued my heavy training which was still going really well.  I had a better than expected, relatively hard 20 mile run on Tuesday, and felt good throughout the week.  NYC was to be my last hard training run before JFK.  As such, the time I ran was not really a concern to me.  I thought it would be cool to get another sub-3 under my belt, but really wasn't sure how my legs would feel.  I had a feeling even a 3-hour marathon would be a pretty difficult effort, and was realistically expecting something in the low 3 to 3:05 range.

I went up to NYC with Ted, Charlie, and LT.  Ted and Charlie were shooting for something fast, and LT was kind of undecided.  He seemed to be planning on going out at 2:55 pace or so (maybe a little faster), so on the starting line I decided I would just run with him until I dropped off pace.  When the gun went off, we began running up the Verrazano Bridge and my legs felt completely dead.  I was kind of confused because they had felt fine on our short shake-out run the day before, which granted was short and easy.  But I assumed it was just from sitting on the long bus ride to the start and then standing around for a while at the starting line, and hoped it would go away soon.  Or if it didn't, then I'd end up with a relatively slower time, but still get a good training run.  Either way, I'd have fun.

After a 6:58 first mile up the Verrazano Bridge and a 6:09 down the other side, LT and I settled in to about a 6:30 pace and enjoyed the massive crowds and beautiful day.  Before I knew it, we were at mile 9.  Those first 9 miles flew by.  I was genuinely surprised when I saw the 9 mile mark, expecting something more like 5 or 6 I think.  When I hit the 10 mile mark in 1:05:22, I think I started to think about how I was feeling.  Excellent.  I was feeling excellent.  I was going way faster than planned, though, and knew I would be feeling the pace sooner rather than later.  Somewhere around mile 10 or 12, I started pulling away from LT a bit.  Admittedly, I was pushing a little bit at this point...but it was comfortable and I didn't feel like I was setting myself up for any kind of huge crash later on.  So I kept going and went through the half at 1:26:01.  Around mile 14, I started to think about that, and realized that I only had to run a 1:29 second half to come in at 2:55.  That would be way more than I was asking for out of this race.  But I felt good enough and told myself there was no reason I couldn't run a 1:29; it might mean getting out of my comfort zone a little bit later, but I knew I would be able to if I wanted.

As I ascended the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15, I noticed that I was passing a lot of people and that I thought I had been doing so for several miles.  I would see a pack up ahead of me and think, "Oh, I can catch up to them and just hang on to their group for a while."  But then I would catch up to them and go right by them.  And that kept happening.

After that bridge, there was a sweet 3 or 4 mile stretch down First Avenue.  It felt like Boylston Street in Boston, but 3+ miles long.  Just a long straight stretch with several rows of spectators cheering alongside.  My pace dropped into the 6:20s for this stretch, and I was still feeling really good.  At this point, I started telling myself that if I hit the 20 mile mark within 2-3 minutes of my 20 mile split at Chicago, then there would be no reason why I couldn't beat my Chicago time.  I hit 20 miles in 2:10:59, less than 2 minutes slower than my Chicago 20 mile split.  I knew what this meant: I was going to run under 2:52 at least.  But if I was going to do that, then why not PR and get under 2:51:02.  I felt great, so I started realizing this would be a real possibility.  Forget that, I felt so good, I could go under 2:50.  So that's what I decided.  I felt almost fresh still going into the last 10K, so I felt like I could really start pushing and still sustain it for a few more miles.

Mile 21...6:17
Mile 22...6:19
Mile 23...6:06

I was at 2:29:43 at mile 23.  I told myself before then that if I hit 23 in 2:30 or better, I could definitely PR and probably go under 2:50.

Mile 24...6:31
Mile 25...6:10
Mile 26...5:52

I was having tons of fun running fast for that last 10K.  I've never finished a marathon feeling so good.  I was pushing myself hard, but comfortably.  I crossed in 2:49:31 with the most unexpected PR I've ever had.  Looking at my running log, I had run 164 miles in the 12 days before this race.  Ironically, this turned out to be the best race I've ever had in a marathon.

Previously, I viewed Chicago '09 as my best marathon race.  It is still the most evenly paced marathon I've ever raced, with half splits of 1:27:36 and 1:27:38, and only a 22-second spread among my 5K splits.  In New York City, though, I opened with a 1:26:01 and continued to speed up for a 1:23:30 second half.  I don't know the 5K splits exactly, but I closed with a 38:32 10K compared to 40:40 for the opening 10K.

Since my mindset for this race was entirely in training run/fun run mode, the fact that I ran a PR didn't, and still hasn't, really hit me I don't think.  I crossed the finish line feeling like I just had a really good training run.  It did much for my confidence leading up to JFK, which was already high.  And it makes me wonder what I could run for a marathon under normal racing and training circumstances (also, I was hungry and had to pee starting at about mile 5 in NYC and consumed nothing but one gel at mile 16 and a little Gatorade or water every couple miles).  Not sure when that will happen again, but I look forward to it.

Now it's two weeks of taper while I chomp at the bit to toe the line at JFK50...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Uber: The ultimate, something that nothing is better than.

   The day of the UROC 100K/Uber Rock 50K was one of the most fun days I can remember.  Matt and Jackie and I arrived at the Wintergreen Resort at about 6:00am to retrieve our race packets and then immediately begin stalking the premises for some of our favorite elites, who would be racing the 100K.  First we saw Ian Sharman, then Geoff Roes, Devon Crosby-Helms, and then many more.  We became very distracted and then, after the 100K started, remembered that we did have our own race to run still.
   None of us had ever run a race with this much elevation change before.  Not that it was extraordinary by mountain running standards, but the 6,400ft of both up and down over 50 kilometers certainly created a course profile unlike anything I'd ever raced.  The three of us had a couple of outstanding training runs in the Maryland Appalachians the weekend prior, where I had a blast on the steep climbs and technical descents.  I expected the Uber Rock to have lots more of that, and it certainly did not disappoint!
   So the three of us stood on the starting line, in the middle-back of the crowd of 50K and half-marathon starters, not really knowing what to expect from ourselves on this course.  Considering, too, that we had all trained completely through it, I think we were all interested to see how we would fare on these mountains.
   I felt great when we started running, which actually didn't surprise me.  I knew this was going to be a really fun day, and I was thinking about how much fun I was having more so than the potential difficulty of the run.  Admittedly, though, I was looking forward to the difficulty, too.
   We fell in to the single file line of runners on the rolling singletrack.  Within the first mile or two, we already experienced a stream crossing or two, some sweet views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and a furious nest of bees which left everyone with at least a welt or two.  Soon, we were climbing up the Wintergreen Mountain, partly on trail and partly on road.  There was nothing too steep, really.  Matt and I began tagging along with a seemingly experienced ultrarunner named John.  We felt like he knew what he was doing, so we decided to hang with him.  We ran most of the way to the top of this first ~1100ft climb, walking in a few spots just to save energy for later.  I was loving the ascent, enjoying the trails, and just generally satisfied with the moment.
   At the top of that climb, the peak of the Wintergreen Mountain, was the first aid station, where I quickly refilled my bottle and grabbed a couple bites of something before beginning the descent.  It was now about 1,500 feet down, with the first half mostly on singletrack (some of which was very technical and a lot of fun) and the second half on road...steep, pounding asphalt.
   The road brought us to an intersection and we immediately began the steep uphill for about a mile to the next aid station.  Matt and I steadily alternated between walking fast and running.  We were now in the vicinity of a couple of racers from VMI who were doing the half marathon.  They were turning around at the top of this climb for the final ~4miles of the half marathon.  Although we weren't in the same race, I was a bit motivated to arrive at the top of the climb either right with or ahead of some of them.
   On that climb, Matt and I began to drop the folks around us, albeit unintentionally.  After the aid station at the top was a rolling 4-5 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I say rolling, but it was basically either long gradual uphill or long gradual downhill.  Basically, this part was very runnable and we were both feeling good, which was probably reflected by our pace.  We began passing lots of 100K runners, who had started an hour before us, encouraging them all on the way.  As we began to wonder where we might stand in the 50K (because it had been a while since we'd seen any 50Kers), a pair of 100Kers said as we passed, "Are you guys 2 and 3?"  Matt and I looked at each other at the same time, wondering if he was right.  We continued along the parkway, trying not to let the prospect of placing affect the way we raced - at least not yet, before even the halfway mark.
   In due time we were refueling quickly at another aid station, and then back on some nice runnable trails for several miles.  On this section we had a Devon Crosby-Helms sighting, and then a David Goggins sighting, both coming the opposite direction in the 100K.  We rolled into the aid station at Sherando Lake feeling good and entered the 1.1 mile loop around the lake.  Although this was still quite runnable, I think we both started feeling a bit tired.  We also were not really at all sure what mile in the race we were at.  We completed the loop and refueled quickly again, before hitting the trail again for several miles mostly uphill back to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Shortly after the loop, we saw Jackie coming the other way, looking great as expected.  I wondered when she might be catching us :-D
   Thinking we must now be more than halfway done, I was feeling decent.  However, some of the uphills on the trail, which were nowhere near what we saw in the earlier miles of the race, were costing me a decent bit of energy.  We continued to run mostly, walking quickly up a few of the inclines.
   The next aid station was a treat - it came much sooner than I was expecting.  We reached the top of a hill and emerged from the woods to see the second to last aid station of the race.  I stuffed my face with a couple of shot blocks, coke and watermelon, and refilled my bottle, while the volunteers ventured a guess at what mile we were at (we thought they would know).  I think they said it was mile 23 or something.
   On that previous trail section, Matt and I did get a few encouraging words from runners passing in the opposite direction - things like "Go get him!" - which seemed to indicate we might be closing on this elusive leader of the race.  After this aid station, we were back on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  After the initial climb for a half mile or so, I felt recovered from the trail section and put my road legs on.  Matt and I began to drop the pace, working together in a fraternal harmony down the parkway, where visibility was as low as probably 30 feet at times from the dense fog.  We were in hot pursuit, my legs were feeling great, and I was having so much fun.  After a couple miles, we found our victim, at first just a silhouette in the fog.  He was walking.  Bingo.
   As we passed him, we might have slowed just a little to exchange a few words and encourage him along.  I thought it would be cool to have a 'lead pack' of three.  Shortly after we passed, he began running again to try to hang on.  Goooooddd, goooodddd....
   This was when I really started to go.  Seeing that he was going to try to fight back from a low point in his race, I thought that if I could drop him now, it would be very difficult to recover.  So this was the fastest I ran all day other than on the steep descents.  He hung on for a mile or so, before dropping off to take care of some cramping.  Matt and I continued trucking into the final aid station at mile 26.8.
   Leaving this aid station, I looked at my watch and saw 3:55, noting that we'd run a sub-4 marathon.  That excited me because coming into this race, I thought 5 hours would be a quite good time even on fresh legs.  So I took off down the steep road for about a mile.  I don't think I've ever run that fast or that hard down a hill that steep.  Sure, it was pounding, but my legs were still feeling good and I felt like I could handle it and still be okay to tackle the final climb.  At the bottom, I rolled right into the 3 mile climb to the finish, which was about 1,200 feet up.  The climb was a lot of fun, forcing me to alternate speed hiking and running quite frequently.  I had never won a race before and I was now in first in the final miles of this one.  Sure it was a small race, but that compelled me.  I was not going to lose on the final climb.  The gradient eventually began to ease, and then it was a short little jaunt down through the parking lot to the finish line, where I could hear them doing the half marathon awards ceremony (couldn't see anything, though, because of the fog).  I came around a U-turn to the finishing shute as the half marathon awards were concluded, and I think they realized I was finishing basically as I crossed the finish line in 4:31:29.  The photographer came up to me and asked me if I would run across the finish line again so he could get a photo. hahah
   I was incredibly satisfied.  My first race in any kind of mountains, after a few heavy training weeks with no taper, and my first 1st place finish ever.  AND my legs still felt great at the was awesome.  Adding to my excitement even more was hearing Matt holler just a couple minutes later as he approached the finish line, and seeing him emerge from the fog to finish in second and deliver the 1-2 punch we had been fantasizing earlier in the race.  Great way to rep Navy Marathon.
   And THEN, to add to the jubilee a short time later, the sixth 50K finisher and first female was Jackie, adding another tic to her W column and giving us our first couple victory...which I think is totally cute.
   So anyway, it was a really fun day.  I think we all did much better than we were expecting, and got in an excellent training run for JFK.  I absolutely loved the course, and am dying to get in some more mountainous races.  One thing I thought was really cool about this course was the variety of terrain and surface - there was something for everyone.  Some really fun, technical trail descents; some long steep climbs; some fast roads; some fast trails.  All of that added some great variety and really kept me engaged and made the course fun.  And on top of all of this, we had plenty of time to mingle with (read: stalk) the elites when they finished their 100K and get a few pictures and autographs...before heading to the Brad Paisley concert :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011 Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run

A quarter-day road trip, a quick race packet pick-up, and a 3:00pm dinner, and I was checked into a hotel with my parents and Jackie, a matter of just hours before the dark but buzzing starting line of the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run.  It was an exciting night, with an early bed time and the alarms set for 3:00am.  But I wasn't nervous!  I kind of expected to be nervous at some point, but then again, why should I be?  I was finally getting to do what I'd been looking forward to for months!  I kept thinking about the Grand Canyon...The Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run was the last time I had gotten up at 3:00am I think, and that turned out to be a really fun day.  And so should this be!

Race morning I felt calm, focused, and definitely stoked to get going.  Having my parents and Jackie there was great, and I was absolutely thankful for their presence.  They were in for just as long of a day as I was, but not even as fun (well, depending on how you look at it I guess)!

The gun went off at 5:00am sharp and I fell into the pack of almost 300 runners heading out onto the road for the first 9.6 miles.  I couldn't believe how fast people were going out!  I settled into a slow, very comfortable jog, and tried to fend off thoughts of the magnitude of this run.  Meanwhile, it seemed like loads of people were passing me.  I had no idea what kind of pace I'd be holding for this run, but I knew it wouldn't be faster than the 9:30 to 10:00/mile pace I started out at.  So part of me kind of liked watching all these people pass me; I kept telling myself I'd be seeing many of them later.

At mile 9.6, I came into the first big aid station and saw my parents.  I knew the most important things I could do to finish this race would be (a) not starting out too fast and (b) eating and drinking plenty.  So I ate and drank a little while Dad filled my bottle and Mom took pictures, still feeling brand new.  Then I was off, on to the trails now.

Just as I expected, everyone who has said that long races like this are largely mental is certainly correct.  It was weird - being tired going up a steep hill less than 15 miles into the race, knowing I would constantly have to try and control that level of tiredness for the rest of the day, trying to keep it below my threshold.  It was kind of an intimidating thought, but I think it's pretty cool.  And, notice I said "try".

At mile 18.6, I saw my parents again exactly 3 hours into the race.  Same deal as before, I drained cups of Gatorade, soda, Heed, and whatever else, and ate lots of fruit.  I had been starting to get hot, so I asked my dad for cold water on my head at the next aid station.

For the next several miles, I continued to chat with other runners.  I was generally near or with the same runners for most of miles 10 to 30 or so.  Something I thought was pretty crazy was that even less than a quarter of the way through the race, I was already really looking forward to each aid station.  The morning kind of turned into an aid station hopping adventure, leaving one aid station feeling good, thinking all I had to do was make it to the next one to feel good again.
Popsicle and cold water over my head at mile 23
I knew I would see Jackie at mile 28.4, where she was volunteering at an aid station for the morning, and I was excited about that.  I knew she would be curious or anxious to see how I looked when I got there.  I also knew that how I look and how I feel are not always the same, and that she could tell the difference.  My mindset was on a rollercoaster ride all morning, which kind of matched the hilly terrain leading up to Jackie's aid station.  If I remember correctly, there were some pretty big hills in that stretch.  I remember being pretty sufficiently exerting myself around mile 25 to try to catch up with a group of 3 or 4 runners up ahead, so that I could have some company on the hills.  Catching them actually took a good bit of effort, though they were in sight for quite some time.  I was tired, and it was only a quarter of the way through this race in terms of mileage (and less than that in terms of hours).  I think when I caught up with that group though, I started feeling better and I went ahead, putting on my high spirits as I approached Jackie and company at Alexander Road.  So I think I looked good, and felt good too, at mile 28.

Jackie grabs my bottle and runs me into the aid station
I left that aid station with a guy named Dustin.  We ran together for several miles at a pretty good clip and carrying on a conversation to distract ourselves.  After a few minutes and a road crossing without seeing any course markings, we realized we'd distracted ourselves about a half-mile off course.  We doubled back and found the turn we missed, after having added probably close to a mile.  It was sort of a mental blow, but we didn't really let it get to us, as we were both feeling good at the time.  After another couple miles, we separated, and I ran the remaining miles to the next aid station mostly alone.  These were some hot and sunny miles, though mostly flat.  I was maintaining a decent pace I thought, but the heat started getting to me and I was forced to walk to save from exerting too much even on the flat path leading to mile 33.3.  Although I had felt good for most of that section, I was pretty tired when my parents greeted me at the 1/3 mark here. And wow, it was still morning.  I left that station just before 11:00am, refueled and re-hydrated.

The next aid stations were basically: mile 40, 44, and 49.  Mile 33 to 49 was almost all trails, I think.  It was nice, with several stream crossings, and some pretty serious hills.  I actually felt great though, for almost that whole stretch.  I was expecting to see my parents again at mile 40, but a road closing prevented them from being able to access it.  That was a little disappointing, but I figured something like that must have come up and trusted that I'd be seeing them again.  And mile 40 was a great aid station.  It was noon, which I realized was lunch time.  I had some Ramen, which was basically the first solid food I'd eaten other than fruit all day.  And it was great!  Although it was hot outside, it felt really good to eat some warm solid food.  The volunteers there warned that the next section was hilly and technical, but shady.  This was when I really started feeling good, though. Maybe it was the Ramen, now that I think about it.  Hm.  I rolled into mile 44, a small aid station with just a half dozen volunteers or so and no crowd.  They were really nice, and talkative.  I had some good food there too, I think, and then hit the woods again.  I continued to feel good, and maybe once every mile or so I would pass someone.  The trails were still very hilly, but I was having a blast.  Somewhere in this segment I remember feeling great and thinking, "If there was ever any question, I am definitely finishing this race."  About a half mile before the mile 49 aid station, I encountered the first big set of stairs of the race.  I crossed a stream and rounded a corner and came face to face with probably 100 stairs on the trail.  I felt fine up them though, and cruised in to the big aid station at 49.1 miles, where Jackie met me and ran me in and I saw my parents again.  This was a great aid station.  One volly met me about 200m up the road and jogged along side me, asking me what I needed, until Jackie saw me and ran up to me smiling and taking over.  I knew that I might see her at this aid station, but I wasn't sure, so it was a nice kind of surprise.  And I also hadn't seen my parents in over 3 hours, so it was great to see them again and know they weren't lost!  I was in very high spirits at mile 49, and feeling pretty good physically, too.  So Mom, Dad, and Jackie saw faithfully to my every need.  I told them I'd like to make a sock change at the next stop, because debris and wet socks had caused some major rubbing around my ankles.  This was just a 4.4 mile loop before coming back to the same aid station, so I set off.  It turned out to be a kind of debilitating 4.4 miles, though.  It was hot and sunny, and had a couple big hills, one of which was on blacktop.  I think coming down that steep blacktop hill was the first time (out of many for the rest of the day) that my quads were really suffering from the pounding of descending.  So after a long four and a half miles, I came back to the aid station in a little worse shape than I had entered it the first time.  But at least I was more than halfway done now.

Mile 63.8 - Happy Days
My crew helped me change socks, and another little surprise came when Jackie decided to run with me for the next segment. So she and I headed out of the aid station together, my legs tight and sore from sitting down for the sock change.  But soon enough I was loose and running again.  It was 5 or 6 miles, I think, to the next station, and then another few miles after that to the next station with crew access.  We were back in the woods, running at a good pace again (well, what I considered a good pace at the time), and carrying on constant conversation.  It was awesome to have company, and I was in very high spirits.  The steep downhills were pretty painful, and I continued to use trees to try to stop my momentum and save my quads, but other than that I felt pretty good.  At that next aid station, I peed - one of only 3 times during the race, I think.  After leaving that station, the next few miles were pretty tough.  A lot of long straight pavement; I was definitely feeling the pounding.  I believe I walked a good bit during that segment, alternating jogging when I could.  By the time we reached the next big aid station, Happy Days, at mile 63, I was pretty beat up.  It was an awesome aid station though, with grilled cheese, soup, Hello Kitty bandaids, and a foot care session from Jackie and Dad. 

Now I was to make it to mile 70.6 on my own, while Jackie took a break from running so she'd be fresh for the later miles with me.  When I stood up after my nice break at Happy Days, I was limping hardcore.  Walking was pretty difficult at this point.  I disappeared back into the woods, hobbling slowly.  I passed a couple taking wedding photos on a path in the woods.  They waited for me to pass because for some reason they did not want me in their photo.  I apologized as I hobbled by, figuring it was probably a little awkward for them. 

Soon enough, I was feeling surprisingly good again.  I joined up with a few other runners after we thought we were lost again.  We doubled back a little bit, but eventually realized we were on the right path to begin with.  There were three of us, and we were all feeling pretty good actually.  So we picked the pace up a bit to I think about 10 minute pace for a while.  It was a nice section of the trail, too, with some sweet rock formations.  After a mile or so, it was down to two of us: me and a French guy.  We were talking, and pushing each other, having a good time.  I pulled ahead of him eventually, and the segment starting feeling long.  I kept expecting to see the next aid station, but would instead encounter another hill or something.  I continued to run strong, though, and eventually came out into a grassy clearing with large rolling hills.  Off in the distance at the top of one of the hills, I could see the silhouette of a tent and a few people with the setting sun behind them. 
Jackie joins me on the hill - Frenchman behind me!
It was a really cool scene.  And at the top of the last hill, I was met by Jackie and my parents again, now 70 miles into the race.  Here, Jackie was joining me again and would run with me for the remainder of the race.  First step, a 3.3 mile loop on the trails to come back to this same aid station.  I felt great again for this loop, definitely running at least 7 minute miles.  Ok, maybe 10 or 11 minutes.  I don't know, but I was moving!  Or at least it felt like it...Ask Jackie...

So we made short business of that loop and returned to my parents at the aid station.  I was loving life, and now just about 3/4 done with the race!  Wait...only 3/4? That means there's a whole quarter left.  And a quarter in this case is 25 miles.  Ah well, I was having fun!

Proof that I was still having fun at mile 73.9
I grabbed my headlamp from Mom and Dad, as the sun was getting low, and pranced off with Jackie, 6.5 miles until the next aid station.  Did I say prance?  I meant crawl.  Not literally, but I was forced to a walk almost immediately.  Very soon after leaving the aid station, the sun had set and it got dark, especially in the woods.  Maybe that delivered a mental blow, or maybe I was just plain tired from running 75 miles.  Whatever it was, I couldn't bring myself to run.  I tried a couple of times, and Jackie encouraged me, but it rarely lasted more than a few steps.  So we walked.  I was feeling pretty drained, and didn't even feel like talking really.  I was just focusing on supplying the energy to land my next step firmly on the ground in front of me.  Luckily, Jackie did feel like talking.  So, while I wallowed in my exhaustion, I listened to Jackie's life story quite intently, and I don't think there was a moment of silence.  I basically walked all six and a half of those miles.  It was definitely my worst segment, and it felt very very long. 

Finally, we came to a covered bridge with Christmas lights, lots of volunteers, and lots of food.  And of course, Mom and Dad were there.  They were definitely glad to see me as it had been a couple of hours since they saw me last.  I entered the aid station, very relieved to see everyone, and did this:
Dad and Jackie taking care of my legs while I go to town on some Ramen
Then, after a nice break, I set off on the 5 mile loop with Jackie.  For whatever reason, this was one of my best segments.  It was 5 miles of rolling single track, and for some reason I felt great!  I was even running hard down the hills, which would have killed my quads 20 miles earlier.  We completed the loop in good time, and my parents were not expecting me for another 20-30 minutes at least when they saw this:
Moving right along now! Dad looks happy to see me so soon.
I think we were all a bit surprised.

Okay. Only 15 miles to go.  Easy day.  The next 8 miles are kind of a blur.  I wasn't feeling particularly good or particularly bad.  There was an aid station around mile 88, with lots of glow sticks.  Then there was a mostly road section until the aid station at mile 93.  I was still doing pretty decent for most of this section, and continued to pick people off every once in a while.  In these later miles, Jackie and I were paying a lot of attention to the trail/road up ahead, looking for headlamps bouncing along.  Every time we saw one, it gave me some incentive and almost without fail, I would pick up the pace until we caught and/or passed the light.  One such instance occurred in the couple of miles approaching mile 93.  It was pretty tough to catch him, as we were running at a very similar pace.  I eventually did, though, and we ran side by side in almost complete silence for a couple of minutes.  Then, all of a sudden, we were at the aid station! This was the first time I could remember all day that I reached an aid station sooner than I was expecting! It was an awesome feeling. 

Finally, at mile 93, I felt like I was almost done.  This was the last time I would see my parents until the finish.  They told me they were going to drive to the finish line from there, try to check in to our hotel, and wait for me.  All I had to do from here was 3 miles on a flat towpath, then the last 5 miles.  And who really cares about the last 5 miles -- that's nothing.  The 3 towpath miles were decent, though I was feeling pretty tired.  I hadn't sat down to give my feet and legs a rest at the mile 93 station.  So I was very excited to reach the final aid station at mile 96.  I sat down briefly and ate a little bit.  I should note that it was brief, but not exactly by choice.  I might have spent a few more minutes in that lawn chair had a guy that I passed on the towpath not come into the aid station looking pretty strong.  So Jackie pulled me out of the chair and dragged my ass back onto the course. 

Now this was fun.  We turned onto a road and had a little police escort up a big hill to keep us safe from traffic.  Not that there was much.  But for the first 2 miles or so after that aid station, every time we looked back we could see the headlamp of that guy.  It was crazy.  I was dead tired, but I also didn't want to let him pass me again.  It was really exciting.  I felt like a sloth racing a snail. 

We went down a decent hill on the road and turned onto the trail again.  My headlamp was fading, and Jackie's light was wigging out and flashing because it was getting low on battery too.  Our poor lighting situation was making me very upset.  But the thought of the closing miles allowed me to keep my composure.  And we were running again, man.  I started covering good ground, thinking to myself that I must be gaining significantly on that guy behind me, but also kind of scared because he did look strong the last time I saw him.  Running through the dark woods, we reached the staircases I'd heard so much about at mile 99.  Lots of wooden stairs taking us up out of the woods.  Jackie got in front of me and I started pushing myself up them.  They actually felt pretty nice, and I soon realized I could ascend them at a decent pace, even skipping some steps.  At one point, I actually asked Jackie to speed up a little bit because I was in a rhythm!  After the stairs, we came out onto the grass for a half mile or so, and then turned on to the road. 

This must be it...This must be the road that takes us into Cuyahoga Falls, where the finish line is.  I was high.  Twenty-two hours after starting, I was still running, having loads of fun, and approaching the finish line!  We continued up a gradual hill on the road, and eventually I saw a red neon light on the side of a building. "Wait a minute -- is that a Sheraton sign!?" As we got a little closer, Jackie and I confirmed that it was indeed a Sheraton sign.  I excitedly told Jackie that the hotel I reserved was a Sheraton, and it was only a couple hundred feet from the finish line!  We were finally there.
After a long day
I don't know what I've done to deserve the faithful, unwavering dedication of my parents and girlfriend.  It was a very long day for all of us.  The difference was, though, that I had a blast and, truly, I loved every minute of it.  For them, it couldn't have been nearly as much fun.  I know they enjoyed the experience overall, but they definitely had some long, tired hours throughout the day.  Jackie ran 40 miles with me total, including the final 30 of the race.  She saw me in all kinds of physical states, and probably some different mental states as well.  But she never failed to motivate me to push myself even when I didn't want to, and she was excellent company to have for all those hours.  My mom and dad - they got up at 3 in the morning, too, and drove from aid station to aid station all day long. Literally.  I know they were beat and wanted to go to sleep, but they greeted me happily every single time they saw me and helped me get everything I needed.  And knowing I'd be seeing them at an aid station always provided me with motivation to get there.

In 2006, I ran my first marathon because I wanted to do something hard.  That turned out to be the hardest thing I'd ever done.  Then I started running marathons faster to try to push myself more.  In 2010, I ran my first 50 miler, hoping it would be the hardest thing I'd ever done.  It was.  Then I think I surpassed that with the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run with Ted.  When I got myself into this 100 miler, my number one hope was that it would be the hardest thing I've ever done.  I reached mental and physical boundaries that I had never explored before in what turned out to be an exciting and incredibly meaningful experience.  I was never going to quit or drop out of this race.  I briefly thought about what the consequences might be at one point (during that 74-80mile stretch), but never actually considered doing it.  Unless I was physically broken and could not move forward, I was always going to finish because every single mile, every single step, and every single aid station made the entire experience so meaningful.  Truthfully, it was one of the most fun days of my life, and I can't wait to do it again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jacksonville, Sauer Kraut, BR100 Training and Tapering

Everything seems to be falling into place for the Burning River 100 Endurance Run.  This Saturday I will finally get to face up to the race that has been foremost on my mind for the past several months.  I signed up for BR100 as I began my taper for Boston; I started training for BR100 when the gun went off at Boston (the way I saw it).  Now, I am simply waiting for this weekend.  Training for the 100 miler has not gone exactly according to plan, but I do feel confident.  I didn't exactly get as high mileage in training as I had planned, or as many long long runs (30+); however, I am comfortable with the very high number of 20+ mile training runs I got in, and the good number of back-to-backs and B2B2Bs. 

For the first three and a half weeks of June, I was in Jacksonville, Florida.  This was less-than-ideal for my training schedule, I thought, but at least I was still able to maintain decent mileage.  After a couple weeks there, I was losing confidence.  Everyday I would go out to run and feel sluggish and beat.  From my location, there was very little choice in mixing up running routes.  I had two directions to choose from, and it was 5 miles in either of them before making any worthwhile turns.  It was very hot, and everything was long, straight, flat roads with little shade.  So running was boring and sluggish.  I started to doubt my 100-miler aspirations, but did remain motivated, if that makes sense.  I dragged myself out the door to get those miles in for at least an hour and half or two hours most days.

I tried to make some fun out of it.  One weekend I did a 15-miler to Jacksonville Beach, finishing at a hotel where I met friends for the weekend.  Another day I ran to downtown Jacksonville, which turned out to be exactly 20 miles from where I was.  That was an extremely hot day.  Another 'adventure' was my 'exploration' of the Jacksonville-Balwin Trail, a paved rail-trail path.  I found out about it via google and decided it'd be a decent way to mix things up a bit and get in a long run.  It's a 14.5 mile path.  Like everything else, it was straight, flat, and sunny.  Another very hot day.  I started at one end with a 12-oz Gatorade and two gels.  The Gatorade and one gel were consumed at mile 11ish.  I turned around at the end of the path, 14.5 miles into the run, dreading the next 14.5 miles.  At some point -- maybe with like 10 miles to go or so -- I started walking intermittently and taking breaks.  I was very overheated and thirsty.  I knew there were two water fountains with 5.7 miles to go -- I had seen them on my way out but didn't stop at them.  I struggled along, the thought of the water fountains driving me forward, my pace having dropped to 9 to 10+ minute miles.  I finally reached the fountains, only to find them nonfunctional. Dry.  I cursed them, laughed at myself a little, thought about crying, and realized that I didn't have any choice but to keep going.  Within a half mile, I waved down a passing cyclist, who was kind enough to share with me the coldest, crispest, most refreshing water I may have ever tasted.  I took several swigs from his bottle, enough to feel good enough to keep moving forward. I thanked him profusely, as he may have saved me from some serious heat/hydration problems.  Eventually, I finished the 29-mile run and downed all the things I had been craving out there: chocolate milk, Dr. Pepper, Gatorade, and sweet tea.

Shortly after this run, I started adding a couple miles at night each day.  I would run in the afternoon/evening, usually feeling tired and sluggish, and then go for a shorter run later at night.  I quickly realized that I felt 10 times better running at night than during the day, and that the heat must be to blame for the way I'd been feeling.  Then I took a look at my log -- my running really wasn't going as badly as I was feeling.  The pace for most of my running was acceptable, and I was doing decent miles.  And that was with some pretty intense heat and minimal fueling during the runs.  Even that 29-miler where I blew up in the heat - counting all the breaks and walking and everything, it was still 9:29 pace.  I could live with that, considering it is a 100-miler I'm training for, after all. 

So my confidence boosted a bit, and I started to feel pretty good about where I was at.  I left Jacksonville and came back to Maryland.  After running 91 miles in 7 days (beginning with that 29-miler from hell), I ran the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut Marathon in Pennypack Park, Philadelphia.  This race was put on my the same folks as the Dirty German 50k.  I figured I would run however I felt, which would probably turn out to be about 3:30, maybe 3:20 if I had a good day for some reason.  The first mile felt tough.  I let the faster folks go ahead and do their thing, figuring I would just settle in somewhere in the front-middle of the pack  But I felt like I was pushing, and then figured out why when I saw the first mile was a 6:30.  So I slowed down a bit and tried to find a rhythm.  For some reason, that rhythm was still around 7-minute pace, which I kept thinking I would pay for.  The course was basically an out-and-back x2.  I came through halfway in 1:33, saw my dad, and told myself this second lap would definitely be significantly slower.  But I actually started feeling better.  As I approached the halfway point, I counted the people who were ahead of me as the course doubled back on itself.  I think I was in 12th or something and, based on the gap, it seemed like there was maybe a chance to pull in a couple guys to break into the top 10.  So I did; I slowly picked people off, as I started feeling really good, surprisingly.  I finished with a 3:07 for 9th place.  When I got home, I went out for 6 more miles, still feeling pretty good.

I had a couple of good weeks of running back here in Maryland, where I actually have some hills to train on, before beginning to taper.  I volunteered this weekend at the inaugural Endless Summer 6 Hour run, which was a big success at the tail end of a serious heat wave.  I was there to help out with the race and help crew Jackie as much as I could, as she ran her first timed event like this.  She ran a phenomenal race, completing over 41 miles, less than a half mile behind my good friend Ted, who won the race overall.  It was fun to be out there, and pretty inspiring really.  Definitely got me stoked for this weekend - just hoping I can deliver like Jackie and Ted did!

So that's the last month and a half or so.  Overall, it's gone pretty well and I feel totally ready for BR100.  I'm not nervous...just really excited.  Maybe the nerves will come as the starting time gets closer, but that really can't come soon enough!  I've been focusing on this for months, and I'm so stoked to get out there and hit it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dirty German Endurance Fest - 50K

   After a night of dancing and less than three hours of sleep, getting up for this race was not particularly easy.  But this is what I'm all about.  So after a little over an hour drive to Philadelphia, Jackie and I arrived at Pennypack Park for this 50K that we must have been crazy to actually sign up for.  There were three races taking place at the same time that morning: a 25K, a 50K, and a 50 mile.  Still, though, there were a lot more cars there parked along the side of the road than I was expecting.

Jackie and I: night before race (left), after race (right)
   I wasn't really sure how I would feel for this race.  Like the Delaware Marathon, and the Trail Dawgs race, this was a 'training race'.  I was out there mainly to have a good time and maybe push it a little bit if I was feeling sparky.  So I started out nice and easy, at about a 9-minute pace with Jackie.  It was weird to think we were within the Philadelphia city limits, running on single track trail along a creek, especially considering some of the areas we had just driven through to get there.
   After three or four miles, I decided I felt good and would pick up my pace a little.  So I started picking people off.  I'd run faster until I caught up with someone, stick with them for a minute to see if they wanted to chat or whatever, then move up to the next person along the trail.  This went on for about an hour.  About 55 minutes into the race, I caught up with a group of 4 or 5 who seemed to be moving along at a decent pace.  Then I took a 2-minute pit stop in a porta-pot.  The course is two 25-kilometer loops, and the second half of the loop has a stretch of a few miles on a paved path through the park.  When I came out of my pit stop, I sped along this path until I caught back up with that same group.  It contained a woman running the 50K, one or two men running the 50K, and one or two men running the 25K.  They were pretty talkative, and moving at a good pace, so I decided to latch on with them.
   One of the 50K-ers in the group was named Scott, who is training for a 100 miler.  He and I got to talking, and there seemed to be an unspoken agreement at some point that we both wanted to ditch this group.  So we sped up a bit and continued talking; the course had turned back to mostly single track trail by this point.  Scott was more a veteran of the mountains, me being more experienced on roads.  This course was mostly flat, with only a little bit of up and down in the first few and last few miles of the loop.  Everything was runnable; all hills were short, and only a couple were steep.  I could still tell, though, that Scott was stronger on the ascents than I, and I seemed to be a little stronger on the flats.  We both seemed to handle the descents well.  We talked about this, and decided to work together for the remainder of the race.  We had no idea what place we were in at this point, but figured we could continue to move up.
Scott and I working together, coming through half way
    Scott and I went through the first loop together, arriving at the half-way point at about 2:05.  That sounded pretty good, I thought.  As we continued on to the second loop, I kept telling myself I was going to slow down a little and chill for a bit, but that never really seemed to happen.  We pushed the next several miles, and before I knew it, we were approaching the aid station at the far end of the loop.  The volunteers told us we were sixth and seventh place, and we could see fifth place just up ahead.  I told Scott to go ahead, I was going to hang out for a minute and get hydrated.  There were 8.25 miles to go from this aid station.  Scott took off after the fifth place guy, and I ate a potato and some orange slices to re-energize.  I started running about 100 meters behind Scott, but felt better than I had going into the aid station.  So I took off along the flat road section for a couple miles.  Shortly after the course turned back onto the trail, I passed the guy who had been in 5th place going up a short hill.  He was walking, so I felt good about staying ahead of him.
   I had been maintaining about a 20 second distance behind Scott.  At an aid station with 4 miles to go, I stopped and took my time to rehydrate and re-energize.  But as I put a piece of potato into my mouth, that same guy came around the corner approaching the aid station, and I immediately took off again mid-chew.  About a mile later, I came into a short clearing and saw a runner 50 or 60 meters ahead of me looking over his shoulder.  Something told me he was a tired 50K runner.  I quickly caught him, confirmed that he was in the 50K, and encouraged him on.  Now I was in 5th place.  I was having a blast.  I felt fantastic.  It was the final few miles of the race and I was continuing to speed up.  It was fun seeing how many people I could catch.  After going through some very windy single track, the trail straightened out a bit and I could see I was still about 20 seconds behind Scott.  With maybe 2 miles to go, I decided to shoot the gap.  I caught up with him and we ran together through some of the small rolling hills, but I could tell he was tired.  I was hoping the two of us would run together to the very end and have a gentleman's race to the finish, but I ended up putting a little distance on him.  I seriously felt awesome, and I kept speeding up all the way to the finish.  My time ended up being 4:07, so I ran a negative split by a couple of minutes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Delaware Marathon

   After my highest 12-day mileage streak ever and a 3-day mini taper, I approached the Delaware Marathon on Sunday, May 15th with indefinite expectations.  I thought it'd be awesome to run a sub-2:55, but my legs were tired on a short run the day before so I wasn't too sure about that.  Anything sub-3 would be cool.  But the point of this marathon was to run on tired legs.  I wanted it to be basically an all-out effort, but obviously not a PR.  So I went out at 6:30 pace and decided to see how long it would take to die, and then just keep pushing through it after that.
   I made it 6 miles a little under 6:30 pace.  Then came the first hill, which was big.  I was excited to run this race because the 2006 Delaware Marathon was my first, five years ago now.  However, the course has changed since then.  When I ran it in '06, it was 4 loops and almost entirely flat.  Since they changed the course, I had heard that it became quite hilly.  It's now two loops.  So you hit the big hill from mile 6-7ish and 19-20ish, then a slightly shorter but still steep hill at the beginning of mile 12 and 25.
    So after that first hill, my pace slowed, and the majority of my miles for the rest of the race were in the low 7 minute range.  As intended, I was tired, and it was pretty difficult.  I had gone through the half in 1:27 something, and was happy with my 3:03 finish.

The 2:43 is NOT my time.
      Next up is a 50k this coming Sunday, May 22nd.  It appears to be a small trail race.  I'm excited, as it will be my first 50k race. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

100 Mile Training and the Trail Dawgs Marathon (4/30)

Well I’m definitely now in what I would consider the full swing of my training for the Burning River 100 miler.  I’m writing this to keep track of how my training has been going, what I’ve been doing, how I’ve been feeling, in case I need/want to come back and reference it later.  If you are reading this and you are not me, then I hope it’s not a waste of your time and maybe you get something out of it.
Since I was racing Boston for a PR, I didn’t want to sacrifice fresh legs in that race by beginning training before April 18th.  That said, signing up for the 100 miler as I entered my taper for Boston was not the best decision for taming the antsy-ness and desire to get out and move around that comes naturally with tapering. 
                So the Boston Marathon on 4/18 basically served as Day 1 of 100-miler-specific training.  That was 15 days ago now (that’s it?).  I’ve been focusing on running on tired/trashed legs, decreasing recovery time from races and long runs, and doing more (than usual) running at a pace that keeps my heart rate relatively low.  These seem like reasonable objectives in 100 mile training.  Am I doing it right?  I dunno..
                The four days directly following Boston were shake-out runs of 5 to 6 miles at whatever pace was manageable on the recovering legs.  I don’t use a heart rate monitor, but the idea was to keep the HR low and just let the legs shake out.  Then that Saturday, Jackie and I ran essentially the first 21.5 miles of the JFK course…approximately 15 miles on the App Trail at a slow but difficult at times pace, then pushing a bit harder for 4-5 miles on the C&O Canal towpath before cooling down.  It was a tough run, three and a half hours on our feet, with my legs probably still a bit trashed from Boston and post-Boston.  That week, counting the marathon, came out to 77 miles…which was actually my longest week of 2011 so far.
                I followed that week with a 74 mile week, made up mostly of 5 to 10 mile runs in the 7:30ish/mile range, three two-a-days (Tues-Thurs), and my first day off since Boston on Friday.  Then, my next significant training run/race!  I returned to the Trail Dawg Triple Crown Marathon, which I had done for the first time in 2010.  (I’m actually not sure what exactly to call this race…it probably doesn’t have an “official” name, cuz that’s how the Trail Dawgs roll.)  It’s an awesome, low key trail marathon that does the same loop twice, with 4 significant (knee+ deep) stream crossings, rolling hills (some of them pretty steep), mud, and a squiggly spray-painted line for a starting line (where the gun goes off a fashionable 5 to 10 minutes late). 
                I went into this race thinking, “If I take this hard, although my legs are tired, I could potentially make it my first race victory, depending on who shows up.”  When I saw the kid who won it last year on the starting line (he’s my age), the competitive spirit that festers in the depths of my heart fired up.  “Maybe I’ll tail him, see how he goes out, and make a decision from there how I’ll run this race.”  I also needed to see how my legs would feel…doing squats for the first time in at least a year two days before the race was not the best idea.
                Well, the defending champ went flying out right from the get-go and I was like, “Uhh, nevermind.”  Then my coach, who was also running the marathon, said something to me to egg me on, and seconds later I was flying down the hill after this dude.  My first two miles were sub-7 pace.  I felt okay, but knew I wasn’t going to be running a 3 hour marathon on this course in this condition.  I was staying 50 meters or so behind the guy, and he looked back several times during that first mile to see how closely he was being followed.  Then I thought, (here’s that competitive spirit), “Maybe I can stay here for a couple miles and scare him enough to make him go out too fast, and then maybe he’ll pay for it later.” Nothing personal, if you happen to ever be reading this, dude. 
                I settled back and ran with the next two marathoners, talking a bit with one of them, a guy named Art.  The trail was crowded with half-marathoners (who started 10 minutes before the marathon), so I took my time and was patient with passing them on the single track.  I decided I was in no rush.  I stopped for about 20 seconds at an aid table to grab a drink at mile 6ish, while Art and the other guy kept going.  I ran by myself for most of the rest of the loop, passing groups of half-marathoners occasionally.  On some of the open stretches, I could see that I was within 100 meters or so of the third place guy.
Coming through the half at the end of the first loop
                 That was the situation at the completion of the first loop (the halfway mark).  I thought I was gradually sneaking up on 3rd place.  A few miles into the second loop, though, I stopped seeing him and I decided not to push it too much.  I stopped to pee, enjoyed the stream crossing, grabbed a quick bite at the aid tables, and shifted back into “ultra” mode.  I had fun running the second loop completely alone, at an easy pace.  The final stream crossing comes at 23 miles or so, then some hills to the finish.
                Coming up a hill with less than 2 miles to go, half jogging, half walking, I rounded a sharp turn and looked up.  There, 20 meters in front of me, was my friend the defending champion.  I knew that if he did crash and ended up not winning, but still beat me, then he would take the age-group award (which I won the previous year when he won overall).  So if he was not going to get first, I had to beat him.  I took a couple breaths, shook out my legs, and broke out into a decent pace run.  He informed me I was the third marathoner now, I gave him some encouragement (and maybe a slight heckle), and made my way by him.  I kept up a pretty good clip for that last mile or so (now it was me looking back occasionally to make sure I wasn’t being followed), and finished third with a 3:37:xx, about 10 minutes behind Art, who ended up winning.  I felt fantastic at the end.  I finished maybe 2 minutes after the 5k race started.  If I had come in 2 minutes earlier, I might have hopped into the 5k for a “cool down”.  
Strong at the finish, probably saying "Got him!"
                I love that race.  The Trail Dawgs are a fun group with some very enjoyable events.  I was very pleased with how this “training race” went and how well I felt afterward.  Along with my training the last couple weeks, it has made me very confident about my 100 mile training.  Next up is the Delaware Marathon (road) on May 15th and the Dirty German Endurance Fest 50k on the 22nd.  I think I’ll do a mini-taper for those races.
Coach Nate on final straight, sees me approaching him

Nate breaks out in sprint as I chase him with wet shirt