Monday, December 29, 2008

A Very Ultra/Trail Running Christmas...

In the season and spirit of giving, I feel really blessed.

I certainly have a love/hate relationship with this time of the year as far as the holidays are concerned. I love spending time with family, catching up on what everyone has been doing since we last had a chance to gather, and generally enjoy being reminded of how important it is to have friends and family. I also love giving gifts; We don't have much, but we love having the means to give something to the people we love. I don't necessarily hate receiving gifts, but for a couple reasons I get uneasy. Probably too much to unpack and probably too personal, but basically I have a problem with 'stuff' and think part of the great deception of this life is the constant desire to accrue 'stuff'. Again, it's a weird philosophical issue for me, and I think there are needs that should be met, and am not about to say people shouldn't be allowed to have nice things, but I have seen how 'stuff' creates discrimination and causes unnecessary pain to others because they are ridiculed because they don't have the right shirt or the 'cheap' version of something.

Usually I spend the weeks before Christmas dodging questions about what I want or need, but with a limited budget, and a desire to continue trail running and my pursuit of running an ultra, I suggested people could support this through the giving of gear. I think my family was relieved to finally have ideas, and I really was blessed to receive what I like to think of as a trail runner's gift package.

I won't sit here and list the gear individually, but a few things that I got I have had the chance to use and gain a bit of an understanding of how they will beneficial. The greatest of these was a biofoam roller that has really helped the IT Band situation. Using it really has made a difference, and the only pain in my leg has been from, first running on tough snowy trails, and, second, falling hard and taking a root across the middle of my quad, but none of which seem to be IT related. I also got a couple Nathan Hand-held Quickdraw water bottles. I was really hoping to get a couple hand-helds in anticipation of the Spring and Summer trail season. handhelds aren't necessarily desirable on technical trail races, but thinking about Pineland Farms and Stone Cat, two ultras that seem to be events where one can get away with two handhelds, it is nice to have the option to carry two types of fluids in mass quantities. Carrying one of the Nathan Quickdraws on a technical trail has certainly been tested already, but more on that in the post to follow this one.

I hope everyone had a great holiday, and I wish everyone who spends the time with strides and keystrokes, sharing their experiences with life and the trails in this blogging forum, the best for 2009. I certainly look forward to the chance of meeting more of you on the trail next year!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slush (Ass-Porridge), 'Fast Running" and Chris Trapper

I know I should be doing other things right now, but it has already been a long week at the office, and when creativity or good ideas bubble up, one must follow!

Last night before I went to bed I looked out the window and saw the snow lightly drifting down from the sky, catching the ugly amber of the floodlights on the side of our apartment building, but still holding on to the inherent beauty of snowflake. When I got up this morning I was happy to see more snow outside, covering everything, and then in the hour between getting up, and getting out the door, a nice cold rain transformed the fluffy snow to heavy 'ass-porridge' slush... yes, I called the slush ass-porridge! I don't mind the winter months, in fact, I prefer them. In the winter you can put on another layer and get warm, in the summer one reaches a point where they are out of layers to take off, and then you are confined to the indoors or risk local law enforcement reminding you that there are certain regulations regarding public decency, but I digress. I guess I should be over it by now, I have lived in New England all of my life, and have stood in a puddle of slush more than a few times in my life, but happiness is certainly when the weather decides to just drop precipitation in either frozen or liquid form during the course of a storm. The only thing worse is ice, or a rain storm that is followed by a cold front that freezes the liquid before it has a chance to drain off of the roads. For the most part it is because I have had a couple occasions where I have slipped and fallen on the ice while training, which seems to always result in numerous days of recovery and lost fitness. I'd rather run in a foot and a half of powder snow with trainers on, than two inches of watery ass-porridge... anyway...

Thanks to the bipolar disorder that is New England weather, I took advantage of the warm temperatures Monday night and did some faster running. On the docket was 30 minutes, and my general plan was to push the pace only slightly, just to get my legs away from the acclimation of the slower ultra pace. Where the ultra pace is good for my general goals for 2009, I understand why so many ultra training plans insist on longer track repeats and tempo runs. The benefit is the development of one's Lactate Threshold, which will make it possible to run faster on the shorter road races, but it will also help to bring that "easy feeling" pace for ultras from 10 mins./mile down to perhaps 9:00 range.

In my college days I could really crank out a 5k training run at 5:10 - 5:20 per mile, which translated to running longer runs of 60-90 minutes more easily at 6:00-6:10 pace, which made 7:00 mile pace seem extremely slow and manageable. I certainly wasn't fast compared to other college runners, but my ability to endure longer runs at what now looks like a blazing pace was there. It is fairly basic, but I have found that by running fast, one gains the ability to improve times in shorter events, as well as in longer events, even ultras. Training to just run long and at a relaxed pace doesn't necessarily provide the ability to endure the type of hurt and strain that occurs during shorter races, Nor does it provide the milieu to improve basic speed. Although, I will say that long training runs where I went overboard and found myself absolutely cooked at 3 hours, and was still 30 minutes from home, and just had to suffer to finish the run, illuminated a different type of pain that has made me less of a wuss when it comes to shorter tempo runs.

Finally, perhaps this should be reserved for the other blog, but I am in agreement with some of Sherpa John's ( comments about the power and importance of music. I absolutely love music and I wish my parents made an effort when I was growing up to expose me to some sort of music lessons or training so I could grant the wishes of some of my more lyrical poems that should most certainly be songs. One of my favorite singer/songwriter's truly has a talent and dedication to creatively crafting great music. The artist is Chris Trapper, and I highly recommend checking out some of his stuff. His MySpace page has 5 songs on the player, two are original Christmas songs, two are from his new CD (one of which is the title song from last year's movie 'August Rush'), and the fifth is an amazing Ballad he wrote and performed at the United Nations this Fall. He is one of those artists that should get more national attention and airplay, but he allegedly doesn't fit the archetype of mainstream pop music.



Sunday, December 14, 2008

Week Wrap-up...


This was one of those quietly satisfied weeks for me.

I only ran three days this week, but I would say that all three training runs were quality:

Su - 0
M - 0
Tu - 65 minutes (7.1m)
W - 2.7m (Tempo Run)
Th - 0
F - 0
Sa - 91 minutes (9.3m, Ultra Pace)

Total - 19.1m

The IT band is still a continual concern, and it inevitably is a limiting factor right now as far as jumping into any longer distance attempts. Aerobically and mentally I feel like I could attempt the GAC Fat Ass 50k in January, but the strain on the IT band is a concern. I am keeping options open at this point, but I'd rather be patient, train in health, and run a strong 50k at Pineland Farms.

The great news is that last night I went out and turned what was just going to be a 5 mile run into something more signficant. I went out at about dusk and headed off into the darkness and cold, and just set the cruise control. I have learned that being bundled up for cold weather running almost always translates to slower paces, so I have resolved to stay away from being compulsively critical of my pace and times during the winter.

Going down the road I was surprised by the lack of traffic for the hour. Got to the 2.5 turn and thought "IT band is not tight, and I want to explore a little". Over the interstate and past the on/off ramps I found the traffic and the yuppies coming home from Christmas shopping trips - almost all gave me the flip of the headlights - probably wondering what this fool with the head lamp is doing outside in 20 degree weather. I decided to head down a side road I had seen on other runs, but never actually explored. I took a peek at my watch halfway down this road and saw I had made it to 30 minutes out... (still feeling good, wondering if I should turn because I have commited to an hour run, which has been my "long" run so far since coming back from the injury, ah, what the hell, I am enjoying this!)

Cruised down a road with houses spaced out in the woods, all seemed to have ample amounts of Christmas lights. Who needs to drive around to look at the lights when you have a headlamp, reflective jacket and tights! Got to 45 minutes out and turned around. Going back up the road the full moon had just crested over the stands of naked trees and the moonlight flooded the quiet road. I shut off my headlamp and just cruised, taking in the abundantly clear sky with the moon and the stars - It is hard to feel cold when one is surrounded by such a scene!

The last ten to fifteen minutes of the run were a little bit of a concern because I could feel the soreness start to get progressively worse on the outside of the knee. I stopped and stretched to see if I could ease the pain a little, but it didn't seem to make a marked difference. Onward!

Generally, I approached the run as an ultra pacing training run. I did not anticipate going as far or as long as I did, but I stuck with the general principle for the duration of the run. The goal was to keep moving and just go at a pace that seemed effortless. Ideally I was thinking 9:30 to 10 per mile, so without really being a slave to mile splits I accomplished that.

Most of all, I simply felt blessed to be able to cover some distance and be out for an extended period of time. Sometimes the idea of training for hours as opposed to minutes is daunting and a bit of a point of anxiety for me - wondering if I have the time, or can even accomplish the goal of running far and/or long - but when the first step is taken and the adventure begins, the feeling of freedom and the ability to commune with the outdoors - even if it is a paved road - is like no other.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

About a Million Things to Say...

Since this weekend I have started and saved close to three new posts. They all may see the light of day, but I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there.

First, the last couple of days have been really positive for me. I have been really careful with my training based on the IT Band issues, a little because I didn't know it was the IT Band until last week, but also because I didn't want to overdue it and essentially do the one step forward, two steps back thing.

One of the things I have realized about the injury is that with the proper amount of stretching and preventative measures it is manageable and I could take on some of the longer training runs.

With this in mind I embarked on my first attempt at an hour-long run. I have been trying to slowly build back the long run, and this was the next step in the process. I was a little worried because on the 50 minute run last week I started to tighten up around 45 minutes. Other than the darkness it was a great run, and though I did have a little tightness at 35 minutes, I started to feel great at the end of the run and finished with 65 minutes, and felt like I was just getting the party started! I wanted to keep going and see how long I could maintain the groovy feelings, but it was getting late, and I needed to be home to see the kids off to bed.

There was some definite tightness following the run, as well as earlier in the day today, but I made sure I did IT Band stretches at every opportunity during the day. Yeah, I was the weirdo in the kitchenette at work stretching while my soup was warming up! The reward was that I felt good enough when I arrived home tonight to go out and run an easy 20 minutes. I figured I'd try because the forecast for tomorrow and Friday is a fairly uniform "extended crappy" - cold and sleet.

The air temperature felt downright balmy when I stepped out to start the run, and that alone put a charge in my stride. I haven't made an attempt at running fast since the injury because of the possibility of strain, but I went with the quicker pace for the heck of it. I actually felt great pushing the pace a little, and though I held to the 20 minute time limit, I ran negative splits the whole way: 7:50, 7:30, and the .7 of the 3rd mile was at 7:15 pace. Yes, not blazingly fast, but it was nice to see 7's, instead of the 8's and 9's I had been accustomed to on previous runs, on the minutes-per-mile read out on the Garmin summary. Easily the most satisfying 2.7 miles I have run in the last 2 months!

All this has made my brain start rolling over the idea of winging it and attempting to run the GAC Fat Ass 50k in January, since it is a 10k loop and I can bail if things start to deteriorate too much. Then there is the part of me that is rational and is thinking that the best action would be to make sure I can get healthy for sure and run my first Ultra at the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50k... Oh the mind of a trail runner!

On the topic of 2009, my general thought is that I am going to stick to the trails and my two goal races are going to be:

Pineland Farms 50k - May 2009
Stone Cat 50 Miler - November 2009

In addition, I am hoping to run at least six of the Eastern New England Trail Running Series races. Merrimack River Trail 10 miler, Oxford Dam Race, and the August edition of Wapack are three I really, really want to do in 2009. The Blue Hills Skyline Trail Run in July is also a consideration, but that is an experience in itself :-).

I would like to perhaps find a way to run a road marathon, but the adventure of the trail and the challenge of doing an ultra makes a road marathon look sort of like a moot point in the grand scheme of things.

So here's to a brief snapshot of 2009!

Cheers everyone!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Snow!

Oh, let the madness begin here in New England...
(The white stuff blanketing the lane in Plymouth, MA)

Last year was a horrible winter for me and my attempt to train for my first half marathon. I was also unemployed, dealing with deep depression, and heavier than I am today, so I had a lot of other stuff going on, but the prevalence of ice on the roads and my eyesight issues, running at night or in any low light environment really made things tough.

Having a pair of decent hybrid shoes should make a difference, as I have learned from my trail running friends that snow and ice on the roads can be better managed with shoes that can handle mileage on the roads and the trails respectively.

I guess this is the test of living in New England - making adjustments and sacrifices to make sure that one can maintain fitness over the course of the winter, in order to be raring to go for the spring races.

It's too cold to run....
It's too icy to run....
It's too dark to run....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Injury Diagnosis - A Mere Two Months later!

The basic news:
- No ligament damage
- No cartilage damage
- No meniscal tear
- No excessive fluid on the injured area

So the big winner is a severely strained IT Band! Also, evidently my left hamstring is extremely tight, which is also a factor.

Yes, the pessimist wants to be mad because of the cash I dumped for co-pays, X-Rays, and the MRI, BUT I am definitely happy that it is nothing more serious that needs surgery and the corresponding time off and recovery period.

I guess this is what I get for rushing into my training runs for too many months and then not stretching after those runs. I have been trying to train around my family's schedule, which means that if I have an hour to run, I best get out the door so I can run for that entire hour. I guess now I'll have to start implementing family stretch times! :-)

On a lighter note, when the doctor was giving me the news about the IT Band and Hamstring stretching, he says "You know, Rob, you could probably get away with no stretching in college, but once we get older, 30's and 40's, the body really needs those stretches". I didn't say anything, but internally I was raging. I have a couple good months left in my 20's and I'd like to keep it that way! I can already hear some of my other friends on the trail ready to pounce, as I know there are a couple of you out there that are beyond this 'older' 30's and 40's, and I'd be happy to provide the number of the doctor I saw for your comments and criticism! :-)

Amid all of the appointments and such, I have been able to maintain a little bit of my training. Last night I ran a god-awful 50 minutes, the IT Band started tightening up the last 5 minutes, but I completed the run. Unfortunately the pace was in the 9:00/mile range, but when I started running I programmed my internal pacer to "Ultrarun", so mission accomplished, I guess.

So I guess I officially get to start thinking about my goals for 2009, more on that later though.
The overwhelming thought is whether or not to run the Road GP series this year, or to focus on trails and the Eastern NE Series, and an Ultra somewhere along the line? I must say at this point I'd rather be on the trails running with friends rather than toiling on the roads. The hilarious part of the whole situation is that if I choose trails over roads, my next major goals race would be the Hyannis Marathon at the end of February, as retribution for that other road marathon on the Cape I was not able to run. Roads or not, a February marathon would be a great Ultra training run! :-) See, the optimist is fighting back!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Capitalism & Conservation

While I was at work today I was rolling a couple of ideas through my head.
The first was the typical obsession with running and my current injury and the impending MRI tomorrow AND the hope that I don't have a meniscal tear, etc.

But the other thought sort of made me a little sick. It isn't a new thought and I wouldn't chalk it up there with the revelatory moments of life, but it was something that was spurred by recent developments in the town I grew up in, and really is a tell tale sign of an overall American sentiment when it comes to the environment.

Recently, the town of Plymouth, MA voted to allow the beginning of planning and construction of a Movie Studio that is aimed at rivaling Hollywood, CA for American filmmaking. Where I do see this as a great opportunity for the town to gain needed tax revenue, it just brings to a head the issues that are certainly plaguing our society as a whole. If you'd like to read more about the new plan for a studio you'd do well to search the terms "Hollywood East" or "Plymouth Rock Studios".

I have to laugh because months ago the town was wrestling over zoning issues, and studying the "Environmental Impact", and using those issues as major barriers to the project and the plan. To me it just seemed like posturing and an act to appease the portion of the population that likes to wave a flag of environmental responsibility out the windows of their SUVs while bringing their kids to soccer practice. I think a better project would be to consider the countless acres of forest and open space that the town has laid waste to in the last 5 years alone to erect commerce centers in areas that were once habitats for numerous animals.

Literally, five miles apart, exist two shopping centers that have the same function. All of the ammenities of having an Olive Garden, Sam's Club, Super Walmart, Panera Bread, and the list could go on and on. I know both developments were in the same interest of generating tax revenue for the town, which seems to be the overwhelming choice for communities all over the U.S., especially when it doesn't necessarily involve directly going into tax payers pockets, but the paving of vital woodlands seems ridiculous when one takes the time to think down the chain of cause, effect, and consequence. One consequence came fairly quickly after the construction began, when people started noticing their small dogs and cats disappearing because of the residential invasion of coyotes. The reactionary result was, of course, a public outcry for a campaign to limit the coyote population, not even thinking for a second that perhaps this was all because the coyotes were displaced because developers decided one Mall was not enough, and in the process of destroying the coyote habitat, also removed their natural food sources.
Eventually people got hip to having their animals contained inside the house at night, and slowly the coyotes are starving to death.

What disgusts me even more is the push to build all of these commerce centers, movie studios, and, another pet project planned for Plymouth, a minor league baseball stadium, without even considering the economic times. The amount of spent dollars will eventually dwindle down, the promised jobs will dry up when the business goes away. Even if the slow down is partial, some businesses will still fail, and all we'll be left with is expanses of pavement and empty box stores that took as little as six months to build. Odds are there are no provisions in the contracts of these stores or centers that explains that if the businesses go under, the developer is responsible for the demolition and re-forestation of the area. I can hear the laughter over that thought! Even if trees were planted, it would take hundreds of years to regain what it took perhaps 3 months to destroy. It is embarassing.

Plymouth isn't the only place this is happening. Saugus, MA just demolished a bunch of land to build a plaza with a Trader Joe's. Five minutes up and down the road you can find numerous other commerce centers and grocery stores. Trader Joe's was basically built to appease the yuppie need for having a trendy store in the neighborhood. Even outside of Massachusetts, while we were living in the Midwest we'd drive up the interstate and see numerous areas of open space that were being converted into subdivisions and commerce centers, nearly identical to one another.

I am not saying that I am glad to see the economy slowing down because I don't want to see people lose their jobs, but the hope that some of these mega commerce centers will be passed over because they are not affordable, wouldn't be such a bad thing. Living in a free market society is wonderful, but responsible development would be great. Preservation of land shouldn't be up to special groups like land trusts and the like, it should happen out of a respect for the fact that once a piece of land is stripped and paved, it is VERY difficult to ever bring that back to wilderness in our lifetime.

Just thinking out loud...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Just Keep Moving... The Best Philosophy

I love reading just about anything Ultra-Running Related. I think I have mentioned in earlier posts that I have Running Through The Wall by Don Allison from Breakaway Books. It is essentially a collection of vignettes from Ultrarunners of all levels, and their encounters with the long run. A common thread through many of these stories is the moment where one encounters the pinnacle of adversity during there ultra runs and must decide how to cope. Unless there is something extraordinarily wrong with the runner (and in some cases there is something extraordinarily wrong) they decide to do one thing: "Just keep moving".

Additionally, I also had the opportunity to finally sit down and watch JB Benna's documentary The Runner last night. The film documents Dr. David Horton's challenge of the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail. Throughout the whole experience, through the highs and lows, Horton is challenged by the terrain and his own emotions, but he resolves to keep running, and moving forward.

Throughout the last 5 or 6 weeks I too have been dealing with my own issues, only my challenge has not come through the challenge of getting to the finish of an Ultra. Instead I have had to deal with the inner struggle of dealing with ratcheting down my training, even to the point of complete idleness.

The last couple of weeks have been good because I have felt well enough to start incorporating longer distance runs lately. I have not been able to resume a higher weekly mileage, but I have resolved that the best way to deal with the situation is to, at the very least, attempt to preserve one aspect of my training plan going forward into next year. My hope is to conservatively build my long run each week. I was able to run 20 minutes two weeks ago, last week I was able to run 30 minutes without any pain from my knee, so this weekend I was hoping to run 40 minutes.

The basic philosophy is that when one is out on the trail, the measure of a runner is not necessarily gauged in the number of miles he or she can complete. I have realized that many events advertise a certain distance from point A to point B, but, in the end, it is about a distinct length of time one can be on the trail. For instance, my race at the Blue Hills this past summer was a great challenge. I was certainly in shape to cover the 7.2 miles of distance, but I was not in shape to negotiate the terrain and did not anticipate the 2 hours of run/speed hiking I was doing. It isn't a complaint, rather, it is a testament to the adventure inherent in many trail races.

Not that my injury was caused by such a miscalculation, but I think I made the jump from middle range distances to longer distances way too fast this Fall. I was pleased I was able to handle my first attempts at running 3+ hours, but I think I made a little miscalculation in thinking I could run over 3 hours because I was comfortable running 2.5 hours. I really should have built to three as opposed to just jumping up. I also drastically changed my philosophy of sticking to the basic training plan I was using, namely because I wasn't comfortable going into a marathon with my longest run being 20 miles.

I may increase weekly long runs by 20 minutes, instead of 10, for the sake of getting to a certain level in a shorter amount of time, but the basic goal is to get comfortable enough to run a 50k or 50 miler at some point next year, along with the general goal of becoming more fit an faster at shorter distances (I'd also like to bring my half-marathon and 25k times from this year down next year).

So today I planned on running 40 minutes. Of course I waited until after the sun went down, and as I took a peek at the temp outside I was not happy to see the "22" on the LCD display. Hat, gloves, headlamp, three layers, reflective gear, running pants... the works. I actually sort of enjoyed the whole process because it was the realization that winter is here, and I really believe the line is drawn between joggers and crazy-as-a-loon runners in New England. Certainly not an indictment of those that have treadmills and choose to train indoors in the winter, because, lets face it, if you are training indoors in the winter, it is most likely to be able to race in the winter. Winter running just proves to me that I really am serious about the sport.

So I headed out an ran along one of the State Routes near where I live. Lots of traffic, but ample shoulder to run on. Plus, if on coming traffic didn't see my with my headlamp and day-glow yellow, reflective jacket, they have no business driving after dark! Nonetheless I always run defensively, because I have never read a 'runner versus car' article that has ever turned out in favor of the runner.

My head was full at the beginning of the run. Why am I going out after dark, why am I not running a quieter route, why do I feel the need to run when the temp is so stinking low... but after a while I just settled into a collected pace, thought of running ultras, and just settled in. The knee seemed a little tight at the beginning, even with the stretching, but that seemed to abate after the initial ten minutes. I was also able to run on some of the dirt paths along the side of the road - not quite trail running, but with little ruts here and there I was careful to make sure my knee didn't take too much stress.

As I made the turn to come back home I really felt thankful that I was able to again enjoy a little taste of being an endurance junkie. The knee seemed to hold up well over the 40 minutes, and though I am confident I don't have any serious damage to my meniscus or any of the ligaments, I am not about to put anything in jeopardy by going overboard. We'll see what the MRI reveals next week, but as far as I am concerned, I am still simply moving forward.

Before I end this, I want to send a few props out to my friend, Mr. Breakheart himself, Dan for his great results in the Eastern New England Trail Running Series! Not sure how official the results are, but being in the top ten is certainly an accomplishment in itself, especially considering Dan has been on the comeback trail this year. It is definitely an inspiration to me!

I think the Eastern New England Series is one I hope to frequent more next year if I am able to be on the trails.

Cheers, y'all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Quick Update: Yin and, of course, Yang.

First of all, I use the concept of Yin and Yang loosely for sure. An interesting bunny trail is to various locations where the concept of Yin and Yang is described and developed. It really is a cool concept and philosophy.

Just got back from the doctor and the great news is that X-Rays came back looking normal. The "eh!" news is that I need an MRI on the knee to see if there is evidence of a Meniscal tear. The doctor was postive and encouraging about my training, giving me the green light to continue to run, but I am banned from trails and high intensity until I have the MRI and see if there is anything that needs extended rest, or, and I am hoping not, repair.

I have a great deal of observation and gripe to unpack right now, but I need to hold off on that right now.

My initial thought is that my "pushing through the pain" is really the issue with my knee. I am paying for stupidity, and the subsequent trauma is what has me on the shelf to a certain degree. I completed three half hour runs in the last 4 days, and feel well enough to perhaps run another 30 minutes tonight. We'll see, I was just hoping I'd get the old "Yep, it is IT Band Syndrome, no MRI needed" answer, but in the grand sceme of my yearly medical expenses, this is probably the one thing I'll need to pay for over the next year, so it'll all work out.

Maybe this is just a sign that next year is the year I should do the road series... but all my friends are trail runners! :-)

Cheers, y'all!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

USATF-NE Road 2009 GP Series

Okay, so it isn't trail related, but it is a great series of running events in the New England region, and a challenge. It is definitely one of the challenges, much like trail running, that brought me back to training seriously enough to race. If I do take on this challenge it will definitely not be to win any of these races or score any points for a club. For the most part it will be all about finishing each race in order to earn the designation of USATF Road Series 'Iron Runner". Sounds easy, right, running seven races to earn a jacket, but as my attempt to train and run the Cape Cod Marathon will clearly show, getting past the last race in the series is always the hardest part. A close second is staying healthy for the year to be able to finish all of the races in the series, which this year are spread out over 10 months from February to October.

The seven races that were recently voted on and awarded the designation of USATF Championship and GP Series races:

DH Jones 10 miler - Amherst, MA - Febraury 22nd
New Bedford Half Marathon - New Bedford, MA - March 15th
Bedford Rotary 12k - Bedford, NH - May 16th
Rhody 5k - Lincoln, RI - June 7th
Ollie 5 Miler - South Boston, MA - September 12th
Lone Gull 10k - Gloucester, MA - September 20th
Bay State Marathon - Lowell, MA - October 18th

The Pros:
- It doesn't interfere with running any Autumn Ultra, in fact, having Bay State as the Marathon installment, provides a nice 'training run' for Stone Cat if I go that route.
- It leaves July and August wide open for trail racing.
- All of the races could essentilly be training runs... Essentially I feel comfortable running most of these distances with a very limited amount of training if need be.
- It provides a great way of gauging improvements in speed and endurance.

The Cons:
- It is focused on road races, not trails.
- Race #1 is in Febraury on the SAME day as the Hyannis Marathon, which was going to be my answer to not being able to run Cape Cod this year.
- Pineland Farms Races, traditionally on Memorial Day weekend, would fall between and close to two of the GP races. Pineland is one ultra I have been considering, but do I have enough time to train for a trail ultra in May?

In any event, it is all for the fun of taking on a challenge, no matter what I decide to do. There is the Eastern NE trail series and the Grand Tree, but where both of those series' are great takes and offer some real adventures, there are lots of them.

Then there is my fascination with races of pure masochism like the Jay Marathon, which I would love to do at some point, but it fills quickly and well ahead of the date of the race, so you have to be darn tootin' sure you'll be in shape to take on that grueling 30+ mile trek.

Until next time, Cheers!

"Beware: Here there be Dragons!" - An Update...

The last couple of weeks have produced a slow improvement.

I have been able to run 3 days out of each of the last two weeks, which is a step up, but of the last 6 training runs I have been running only about 2 to 3 miles. Oddly, I have been happy with this because I have not felt really any lingering pain, but there is still that odd feeling in the knee I injured back in the first week of October. It is weird how time goes by so quickly. It just amps up my feeling that you have to take chances and run races when you have the opportunity and the fitness. The strangest part of the whole ordeal is that I thought I was injured the middle of October, but the run with Dan and Brenda was on October 4th. Not that it really matters, but all the same, it has basically been six weeks of being on "grounded" status.

Today I was able to complete back to back runs of 30 minutes, which is a great feeling. Today's run I added in a shorter section of trail running, not sure if the deviation from flat roads would amplify or aggreviate whatever is wrong with my knee. Nonetheless, it was great being able to get just a little taste of some autumn trail running as the sun was setting. Fortunately, I came to an appropriate turn around point right where the Beaver population has all but destroyed the footbridge across an oft flooded swamp section of the Bay Circuit trail that connects Willowdale to Georgetown Rowley State Forest. With the recent rains the water was very high and beautifully reflected the canvas of colors in the sky. As I came back, the wind howling through the barren branches of the now naked trees was really comforting as I hopped rocks and roots, trying not to twist my knee any more than was needed. I can't wait to be back at 100 percent and training for the next trail adventure.

Basically, I am thankful to be back running on a limited basis, and if it takes longer to get my knee acclimated to the rigors of longer trail running.... again..... I am cool with that.

OH! The good news too is that I have an appointment with an Orthopaedic Surgeon this week, and should have some sort of clue about what is wrong with my knee, and, better yet, what I need to do to get back to health. I am well aware that diagnosing knee injuries is not an exact science unless X-Rays or MRIs produce some sort of evidence, but I am hopeful I'll get some news, good or bad.

I have some thoughts about training and how I plan on building my long run endurance for my pursuit of an Ultra next year, as well as my thoughts on specific goals for 2009, but more on those later!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Reflection Pool...

There is a longer entry here somewhere for anyone that cares. Maybe it will get written, much like that Blue Hills Skyline Trail Run I still have yet to write, but at this very late hour I am in the proper mood, so I'll just send out a piece for now, and essentially write a longer reflective entry when I have a few things sorted out.

Not being at Stone Cat this weekend was very hard for me. I had intended on going to volunteer and see other trail running friends make their way over the Marathon and 50 mile distances, but sick children provided enough distraction (and sort of a welcoming excuse) to not be there. My nerves kick in here because I had sort of half-assed said I'd be there, and didn't show, so I fear I may have burned a few bridges. Maybe I didn't, but I still suffer from some of the issues of social anxiety that I have been dealing with since adolescence. Again, not an excuse, but whenever I find that I am taking steps in the right direction I have to do with something like this. Part of adopting a carefree, carpe diem, love life approach has helped in some ways, but there are still demons.

Running plays a huge role in providing stress-relief and a sense of accomplishment. I am convinced my success as a college student was linked to the fact that I was a Cross Country and Track athlete. It was only when I was pegged as the team captian that I started stressing about races, and even then, when the gun went off, all you really have is one choice - Run. Aside from that, running showed me I could accomplish anything, so those research papers, presentations, and teaching experiences were gravy.

This past year has seen so many great things - finally a job that I am settling into and holding, thoughts of going to Law School, and leaps of improvement in my fitness. I am very thankful for the great string of healthy months of running that I have had - It almost got me to a marathon, I ran an amazing trail race this summer that showed me there are challenges that have nothing to do with time. I ran my first half marathon and 25k, completed a 25 mile training run on the roads, a four-hour trail training run, and met so many cool people along the way.

I still have things to work on - a couple being the emotional/social/commitment issues. Being a better husband and father are a couple others that need work. I need to slow life down a little and try to find some sort of spiritual connection again. Finding this connection is important to me, I still have my organized religion issues, but I know finding some sort of peace in that realm will help in other areas.

I guess this is the yin-yang moment for me. My knee is still not 100%, I have run the last two days, two miles each time out, which is nice, but it is a far cry from what I had been hoping for. I am pissed about getting injured so close to Cape Cod and Stone Cat - mostly because of all of the training I put forth, which at points were really hard, but I'll be calling the Doc tomorrow to get an appointment, and probably a subsequent X-Ray and MRI - whcih I am sure will not be covered by my trailer park insurance plan, but it is a necessary means to a solution that will help me get back to a place where I want to be: Out on the trails and roads. Yep, I know I sound like a whiney jerk, but I now remember fully how much of a role running plays in my life. It doesn't rule my life, but it certainly helps stabilize the outside things that make this whole thing 'liveable'.

Simple right? Put down the refined sugars, get the knee looked at by an orthopaedic, and get on with life.... Unfortunately, for me anyway, I tend to be my own worst enemy.

I'll have a more optimistic running based ramble later on, perhaps around Thanksgiving, as it is sort of a mile marker for me as far as accomplishments go. Perhaps I'll drop back in if I get to see a doctor sonner rather than later, but I am not holding my breath on that one. Nonetheless, I will be strapping on my knee brace and running 2 milers as long as it doesn't cause soreness or pain until I figure out how to get from two miles to two hours in good health.

I'll get there, patience I guess.

Monday, November 3, 2008

IT Bands are STOOOOPID!!!!

So a brief update.

The good news is that I think I have a decent handle on the issue with my knee. This past week I was able to run twice (3 and 4 miles) on the roads, and had decent success with minimal pain. At first I thought it might have been because of the knee brace (and it may have helped), but everything seems to add up and point to the IT Band - biking irritated the injury, it hurts most on hills and uneven surfaces, etc. Really, the offending training run was the 20+ miles of running in Willowdale with Dan and Brenda a few weeks back, which was chock full of uneven terrain for sure - perfect conditions for an IT Band situation to occur. Because I pushed through it I think I made the general recovery time longer. Knowing it is IT Band Syndrome is actually sort of a relief for me, way back when I ran my first season of XC I developed ITB issues, and most optimistically, I came back from the injury. I am going to treat it like IT Band syndrome, get healed, and start dreaming about the Fat Ass 50k, which has been confirmed will be run on January 10th at Bradley Palmer, Hyannis Marathon in February, and all the adventures I hope to take on in 2009!

Obviously. it looks like Stone Cat is definitely going to be scrubbed for me, but I am sure I'll be over there volunteering and taking some snapshots.

Happy Trails!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

No Cape Cod....

Well, not that I really had too much faith that my knee would miraculously mend in time to run Cape Cod, but just about the time I should be basking in the glow of my first marathon finish I am sitting here on my couch wondering exactly what is wrong with my knee. I am not going to lie or sugar coat anything, but I am pissed off that now that I have health insurance I can't afford to go to the doctor to figure out what exactly is wrong with me. Especially when I haven't done anything strenuous for a week, and though it doesn't 'hurt' in the traditional sense, it just feels like something isn't altogether right.

Maybe I just need another week or two or true rest, but it doesn't help my irritation with the health care system and the current election candidates' lip service on the issue(s). It is like both are just towing the rhetoric to election day hoping that their empty promises will get them elected. This really isn't injured runner rage; It is just a concerned citizen wondering what the hell people are thinking about while their country falls apart around them.

I know, I know, stick to the thoughts on running, but honestly, does it bother anyone else that the reason Obama may very well get elected is not because of new fresh ideas that could evolve an elevate the country? I am not affiliated with any party and have read each candidate's major stances and plans (I use that last word loosely) and neither seems to be willing to risk to much to inevitably do what is best for the country. Oh well, enough of that.

This morning was weird. The weather seemed to mirror my feelings of the whole situation with training for nearly three months, getting through all of the longer training runs, including the 25 miler, only to get injured on an easy trail run for no apparent reason other than perhaps tweeking something on the uneven terrain. When I woke up it was misty, cold, and gray - about as depressing as I felt. As the morning progressed the clouds broke up, and just about the time I anticipated finishing the race, the sky was a deep blue with a bright sun bringing out the Autumn colors of the remaining leaves on the trees.

Allegorically, I feel like this will pass and I'll go from this seemingly gray period into a bright blue sky of happy healthy running. I guess the hardest part of the injury is that I was training to simply complete a marathon, not qualify for Boston or run a certain time oriented goal. I know injuries don't discriminate or happen only to those runners training hard, but I was definitely giving myself ample recovery after long runs. I guess I am also upset because running is my preferred method of stress relief and dealing with the anxiety issues I have. Not being able to run almost adds more stress and brings up some of the faith-based questions and issues I have found a bit of peace with through something as simple as a quiet hour of running on a secluded forest trail, or along the shoreline.

In any event, if you have read this far, perhaps you are willing to add to the discussion. I write this blog to share my thoughts on running and life, but in so many ways I think we need to act as a community. I love reading other's stories, and that is one facet of the community, but based on this post an how I am feeling, I'd like to offer the following questions and the invitation for anyone who reads this to respond. Post your response in the comments, or post your response on your blog and just leave a link in the comments here.

1.) What does running do for you?
2.) Have you had an injury that has been over an extended period of time? What got you through that time, and how did that time being injured change your perspective on running or shaped your running goals?
3.) Regarding the forthcoming election and the current state of the U.S., are you an optimist, pessimist, or a little of both?
4.) Do you find a spiritual component or connection with running?

As you can see my time as a College Composition and Rhetoric Instructor is showing - don't worry, no one will be graded!

Here's to Open-Mindedness and civil dialogue! Cheers!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Documentaries, War Movies, and Film Scores (This is about running).

As if reading other runner's recent race reports (Yay, Alliteration!) on the various blogs I enjoy:

Fatozzig's Place - Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon:

Breakheart Trail Running - Diamond Hill Trail Race:

Sherpa John's Run Across New Hampshire:

was not enough to provide temporary soothing to my injured knee, I have had a rush of media adrenaline coming at me all week!

First, I got confirmation of my items being shipped from Amazon. Two movies - "Spirit of the Marathon" and "The Runner" (The David Horton versus the Pacific Coast Trail Speed Record flick). That got me pumped and I know after spending an evening watching these two movies back-to-back (it is just inevitable) I am going to be charged with energy and filled with the spirit to put my broken self on the line at Stone Cat.

I also picked up the "Band of Brothers" series set at Newbury Comics the other day. I believe war is a horrible thing, and I think I am a fan of war movies because of the sheer emotion and the reminder of the duality of humanity, and the need to be reminded of why we need to make a conscious effort to at least be civil to each other, instead of finding new and better ways to destroy each other. Don't peg me as a total hippie, because I do agree that sometimes you have to fight to defend yourself and your family, but I digress.

The first episode of the "Band of Brothers" series is called "Currahee", and it follows the soldiers of Easy Company during their time as new recruits at Camp Toccoa in Georgia. One of the resounding elements of the episode is the training on Currahee Mountain where the fledgling paratroopers are sent running up and down the mountain:

Sure, it is often punishment and always PT, but for anyone who has run Cross Country, it has that certain something that always made hellish hill workouts bearable. I always ran the hills for my teammates, that is what got me through some of those college XC hill workouts running up and down the same two hills for 45 minutes. "Three miles up, three miles down!" Perhaps it could be "STONE CAT! 12.5 miles out, 12.5 miles back - plus that 1.2 that gets tacked on!" :-)

In addition to the movies, I found an Internet music player ( with a "Soundtracks" station - under the 'Classical' heading, if you go. New project at work has me doing research most of the day, so I usually have this station on my headphones, and I can't help but get pumped by some of the selections:

Fighting in the 17th - "Backdraft" - Interesting note about this one, I once was known to put this on repeat on my MP3 player and run as fast as I could down Central Street in Saugus toward Lincoln Ave. and Cliftondale Square, I know, it is sad.

He's a Pirate - "Pirates of the Caribbean" - Makes me want to get my bandanna and eye patch so I can swing from the masts, or run 26.2 miles of trails!
Many selections from Braveheart, for which I am always a total sucker!

Of note, but not on the slacker soundtracks play list are ANY of the training montages from the Rocky Movies. Particularly my favorite is the Rocky 4 montage where he runs up the mountain in Russia while "Hearts on Fire" blasts in the background.

I also got a catalogue from RaceReady this week. Their gear is awesome for anyone running long distance races, check them out at

Amid all of the influences, I am still carefully optimistic. I am still holding out hope for Stone Cat. Aside from the 30 minutes I ran this week, I have been really good resting the knee and this week my goal is to cycle for at least an hour Monday through Saturday as long as it doesn't aggravate the knee. I think I'll be less anxious about toeing the line at Stone Cat without any running as long as I stay consistent with my cycling regimen.

So I guess you could say that if I am a good boy and ride my bike, my reward in three weeks is to run 26.2 miles... there is something very wrong with that!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Half-Hour of Hope...

I had no intentions of running when I got home from work tonight. After Sunday's reminder that injured body parts are subject to their own healing schedule - resisting the Mind-Body tangent - I was positive that the Cape Cod Marathon and the Stone Cat Marathon were events that would be whisked off into the realm of DNS's I have accumulated over the last couple years. Not that anything is ever certain at any weight, but I have found injuries can just appear out of thin air when you are carrying extra weight.

When I got home from work after the first LONG day of work I expect to be facing for the next couple week - new deadlined project - Fun stuff, but about six weeks of work stuffed into two weeks, all I could think about in the car was running.

So when I got home I just got my reflective gear, headlamp, and laced up the shoes and headed out. Going slow, but not expecting I'd get very far. Initally the goal was 20 easy, but as I ran I felt like I could bump that to 30 minutes. Though I have been feeling congested all week, everything felt great for the first twenty minutes. I can't say the last 10 minutes hurt, but I started feeling the knee get tight and uncomfortable. Regardless, I was elated to get the 30 minutes in.

It was sort of comical getting to about 15 minutes and having the internal conversation with myself about possibly running Cape Cod. I guess I should be happy that I might be able to swing Stone Cat as long as I stick with low impact training on the bike, and really give my knee the time to heal. I guess the only caution would be that it was the trail that jarred the knee in the first place.

Whether or not I run Stone Cat, I guess I am realizing I need to take the steps to make sure that one month of down time (if that is what it is going to take) doesn't result in two months of recovery and greatly diminished performance. I worked hard to get back to some semblence of being a long distance runner, and this injury is the first real challenge to my fitness. The last time I hurt myself it simply meant time off and then getting back to learning how to run 2 miles, then 3 miles, etc.

Most of all, the run tonight made me realize that I need to cherish every mile and be at peace with what I can do. Yes, there is the desire to strive for more, but as any who have taken up this crazy sport know, odds are if you keep running, you will get faster and develop the ability to go farther. In a weird way I saw these marathons as the pre-requisite to run an ultra, but as I discovered on the last run with Dan and Brenda, with the right pace and the proper motivation, ultras and marathons are sort of the same beast.

I guess this is where the goals for next year begin to rattle in my head, and when USATF-NE comes out with the 2009 Grand Prix Road Series schedule, I may finally have the right fitness to run all of the races, become an "Iron Runner" and then cap it off with my first 50 miler.

Best of luck to everyone tapering for their Fall marathons or ultras - one way or another I'll see you on the trails!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Training - 10/11 - "Look at Me, I'm Invisible!"

For all you running purists that want to crunch my stats from this week, you might want to go elsewhere! For others, prepare to be entertained or offended!

Sunday - 0 miles - Normally a recovery day, so I was only on Defcon 5 at this point. Additionally, my left knee was sore as hell from pushing it for an hour and a half more than it probably wanted yesterday. Not sure if it is a lateral ligament sprain or if it is an IT Band issue. I have had IT issues before, and at least you can stretch the IT band and be ready to run a marathon in three weeks!

Monday and Tuesday - Rest and hopefully recovery.

Wednesday - My legs feel like thoroughbreds in the starting gate, desperately in need of some exercise. My knee still feels funny, and anytime I twist it the wrong way I get that uncomfortable "cease and desist" order. It is going to be REAL cool when I back up 16 weeks of marathon training with three weeks of nothingness! Fark Moo!

Spent the night enjoying the mindless sludge cable has to offer, started watching this show "Real Housewives of Atlanta" and I sort of threw up in my mouth a little bit. At least it is good to know that when society falls apart trail runners will be okay, but these vain.... yeah... will be in trouble.

What kind of reality does one live in when they call their sugar daddy because they want to go out and buy a full loaded Escalade on a whim, AND what kind of reality does the sugar daddy live in when he looks at the $65,000 price tag and says, "Sure".

Thursday - Descended into utter sloth. Two pints of Tetley's English Pub Ale deep, sitting on the couch in my underwear, bag of Goldfish, and Remote, watching American Chopper at 11:52 pm..... Now that is what I call training... Help....

Friday - Nice to have the weekend rolling around. Knee feels somewhat decent, no pain, but there is a tightness? I am not even sure I would use that word. At least it feels like it is getting better. No beers, lots of icing, so I guess I am a big winner today! Still pissed I have to work Monday, but my favorite band, Great Big Sea, did a live studio set on NPR's World Cafe - AWESOME stuff. Check it out:

Saturday - Beautiful Autumn day, hard not to lace up the sneakers and tool around the block for a while, but I promised myself I'd give my knee a week to heal. Perhaps tomorrow I'll run 3 miles? I did cheat a little and went out for a twenty minute walk because the kids were driving me nuts, and it was far too nice of an afternoon.
I guess in summary I do feel infinitely better than I did last week, but I have noticed another lovely issue - perhaps a hernia. It feels like a lower abdomenal strain, but one that doesn't get worse with activity and one that seems to not be getting better with rest. I had an abdominal strain last year and I can say that it was easily aggrevated, so I guess I am a little worried, but I am choosing ignorance at this point. Plus, thanks to the healthcare structure, If I weren't employed I'd be able to afford surgury, but because I am working I am not sure I can... but that is whole other can of worms, but it is totally screwed up if you ask me. I have so many political tangents I could go off on right now, and not to worry they are all bipartisan.
Sort of in a weird place right now, but we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Runner Quirks - Injury times suck!

I hate this!

I have been very fortunate over the last 8 months because I haven't had to face any injuries. Where that is good, it provides the necessary forgetfulness of just how crappy (trying to keep this post "G" rated) injury time can be.

It sucks coming home from work and just plopping on the couch. I thought running after work took time away from doing things at home, but I have found over the last few days of no running, that the time where I am usually running I don't get anything done anyway!

The lack of endorphin has also made me crabby, and I am having that internal conversation about "getting fat". I know, really masculine, right? Not to validate the thought, but I know running a marathon at 185 pounds is easier than running one at 190. Then there is the rigmarole of thoughts about not running Cape Cod to heal enough to run 26.2 at Stone Cat in four weeks, or to run Cape Cod and not Stone Cat, or if it is just a lateral motion issue, and I should buy a knee brace and that will fix the issue... Sometimes being lost in your thoughts is worse than being lost on the trail!

Plus, I get my hopes up with my knee feeling fine after a day of getting up out of the cubicle to walk to the printer or to the head, and then I walk up the five steps at my apartment building and feel a twinge in the side of my knee - not pain - a twinge, which suggests to me that I need to continue to rest it. (This is usually followed by internal swear words because the wee ones are around).

Ah, and then, after assuming I was looking at a long holiday weekend forthcoming, I found out that my company does not observe Columbus Day as a regular holiday. As a runner, I guess I shouldn't mind because they do observe Patriots Day...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Roots and Rocks - An Amazing Feat for a MA runner! (Oh and I have news, too!

Right off of the top, I want to extend huge congrats to Carol O'Hear of Brookline, MA for her 1st place finish at the Arkansas Traveller 100 mile run this weekend. More impressive than being the first woman, though, is the fact that with this finish she completed the Grand Slam of Ultra Running. I have never met Carol, I believe she runs for Team Vasque, but any local runner who completes the slam deserves a couple props. Heaven knows it probably won't make it into the Globe or Herald!

This year was a little different, as the Arkansas Traveller 100 is not normally one of the slam events, but with the cancellation of Western States this year due to forest fires, Arkansas took over as the fourth race in the series.

Here are the races and Carol's finish times:

Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run - July 19-20, 2008 - 24:15:03
Leadville (Colorado) 100 Mile Trail Run - August 16-17, 2008 - 28:31:31
Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run (Utah) - September 6-7, 2008 - 35:37:43
Arkansas Traveller 100 - October 4-5, 2008 - 22:28:22

(Note - Western States Endurance Run is typically the last weekend of June)

Those not familiar with this feat, it is indeed about running four very tough 100 mile endurance runs, but it is also about doing so in a short period of time. Some people train for ONE endurance run of 100 miles over the course of a year and a half, not to mention the fact that some people need months to recover from these types of events. Terrain, altitude, training time, travel time, recovery practices, etc. all factor into the equation when one sets out on such a journey. So one can appreciate that the challenge extends so much farther than the Start and Finish lines of each run.

Congrats Carol, this trail runner simply stands in awe!

In true melodramatic form, I got my Bib number for Cape Cod!

Not that it didn't already feel official with the registration and acceptance, but today I got an email from the Race Director of the Cape Cod Marathon with my Bib Number. Very cool!

With three weeks until the race, I am sort of chomping at the bit, but also hoping that I can heal and get properly rested for the big day. Which I have to say, isn't all that 'big'. I mean, it is because I have sacrificed and trained for over a quarter of a year to get into the shape to be able to even enter a race of this distance. Not to mention the fact that whether or not I achieve both goal races this Fall, I have already accomplished the over-reaching goal I had for 2008.

As the saying goes: "Never forget where you came from", and though it typically applies to ascendancy into wealth or success, it certainly applies to the last year of my life as a runner. I have mentioned this a couple of times in this blog, but last Summer and Fall I was entering 5ks hoping just to finish, and running 23:00 for 5k was impossible. My final race of 2007 was a 5 miler where I made it to 4 miles, feeling spent, pushing to break 40, and held on to run 39:10. Needless to say, I was WRECKED after this race!

In those days the thought of running a marathon was a figment of my imagination. The following winter I found more trouble with bad weather, overuse injuries, and a plateau in my attempt to shed some pounds. After injuring myself once again in February, I took some more time off, feeling somewhat healed, I stood on March 1st at 212 pounds, realizing it was simply time to start from scratch. I worked on getting comfortable just running 3 miles, adding in a "long run" of 6 miles when I felt I could run/walk the distance. The only way I can characterise these early runs is by saying that they were mentally tough because most of the effort was used to make sure I didn't stop and walk. I also added in some of my first trail training runs, and really fell in love with the unique challenges inherent in running trails.

So sitting here having lost 25 pounds, and possessing the ability to join a couple of my running friends to do a training run of 21 miles and having the ability to just go out and run for NUMEROUS hours without too much trouble is TRULY a blessing. It isn't the Ultra-Runner's Grand Slam, but there is something so simplistically sweet about knowing that I have effectively changed my life for the better. If I prove myself worthy of the task, that finisher's medal will be nice, but standing on the Starting Line knowing I have a right to be there is definitely enough to bring a happy tear to my eye.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Mr. Murphy and his Law" - Training W/E October 4th

Sunday - 13.5 - Trail run/Long Run. Hit the Bay Circuit for some trail training since I have committed to running the Stone Cat Marathon. Another humid day, sort of weird to have to deal with humidity this close to October, but I dealt with it. Still feel somewhat off because of the sickness this week, but I got the mileage in. Felt spent by the end of the run. Also had my first trail run in with unsavory individuals using the shade to conduct dastardly deeds, I threw in a surge to make sure I got as far away from whatever they were doing. I also had to re-route because of flooding on the trail - WHAT ELSE IS NEW! 13.5 in 2:12 (9:45 pace). Not bad, but felt logy at the end of the run, probably not a great pace to attempt to run at Stone Cat, then again, I am obviously not 100% right now, and the conditions sucked.

Monday - None - Partly due to feeling like trash from being sick. Rest Day after going longer yesterday.

Tuesday - None - Sinuses are hurting and I have all sorts of congestion. I guess I am not out of the woods just yet!

Wednesday - 8.2 miles - Trying to remain honest with the training plan and include a second longer run of over an hour, I switched what could have only been 5 miles, to 8 miles. It doesn't sound like much, but with the darkness coming sooner, and getting home from work later the last couple of weeks, AND having energy sopped because of this sinus stuff, I was glad I got more mileage down.

I tried running conservatively and wanted to stay close to a certain pace window comparable to what I'd like to run for Cape Cod. In retrospect, I averaged 8:57 for the run, which is great (places me with a surplus of 1:36 after 8 miles), but it also didn't feel as effortless as I had hoped. It is a quandary I haven't been able to figure out, that is, how running slow and controlled can actually feel sort of uncomfortable.

The day after I feel no soreness or strain, so it must have been fairly effortless on my legs, and the discomfort is most likely due to respiratory issues from being sick.

Thursday - Work happened today. Not making excuses, but ahhhhhhh... Let's just leave it at that!

Friday - 'Old Reliable' 3.3 miles. Got home at a reasonable hour (while the sun was still shining!) and just went out and run the 3.3 out and back that I really like because it is very quiet and pastoral. Put a watch on it, but just ran easy, turns out that was 8:04 pace. Good all around!

Saturday - Long Run, Trails - 20+ miles. It is so hard to simply slap a tag on this one run because there were so many good elements to it, yet, as I sit here and type I still feel soreness and pain in my knee. Amid the soreness, I am so glad I ran this morning because I had a chance to hook up with the Breakheart Trail Runner himself, Dan, and with a true Iron Woman, Brenda. Speaking of which, I guess I shouldn't be surprised on group runs anymore when we start running and start the banter to pass the time, and someone throws out something like "Oh, yeah, I did an Ironman Triathlon this year, it was like my fifth". Honestly, though, when you decided to spend your early hours on Saturday meeting friends to run for a couple hours or more on trails you are bound to meet other endurance addicts that have taken on many challenges in many different places.

At this point in my training schedule I wasn't sure I'd be up for as much as 20 to 22 miles, as I was a little concerned about recovery and making sure I properly taper before Cape Cod, then again, Cape Cod is three weeks away, and this is a trail run, so the benefits or an extended run all on trails had far too many positives, especially with my lingering doubts about how I'd be able to handle Stone Cat.

The morning began with a distinct chill in the air, perfect with the foliage. Met up with Dan, and then Brenda followed. We started out in Willowdale and headed along my patented 5.5 mile Willowdale loop o' trail fun - complete with mud, water crossings and great views of the changing colors. Where I anticipated a little water we found about 150 yards of trail covered - a little more than expected! But in true trail running fashion we made our way through the water and soldiered on (is there really any other way?). Adding a couple other out and back spurs on the loop we managed to get about 6.5 miles. Restocked with fluid for the next excursion we headed along the Bay Circuit trail that cuts across Willowdale North to South. This loop was a tad shorter, but got us up over 10+ miles. Back to cars to patch up and analyze wounds, and refuel for another loop through Willowdale. The final jaunt through Willowdale took us back over the previous Bay Circuit loop, but this time we added more of the Stone Cat course over to the Doyon School. As we followed the trail along the north side of Willowdale I found the running to be a little more technical, amplified by the onset of a little "trail runners knee" in my left leg.

I pushed through the discomfort, taking a couple moments to walking and hydrate, and we arrived back at the fishing bridge after nearly 4 hours and. We added on a little distance along the Ipswich River on the Bradley Palmer State Park side, making sure it was truly 20 miles.

I gained a lot of confidence over this run, and thoroughly enjoyed spending the time with Dan and Brenda. It just goes to show that there is some hope for the human race. Where three people who have very briefly met, or haven't ever met at all, and can come together and spend time chatting and enjoying each other's company while focusing on a similar goal. There were no uncomfortable facades that often are present in the workplace or most other areas of life. We arrived to run, no strings attached.

Weekly Miles - 46

Mr. Murphy and his law showed up this week. My left knee is really sore. I suspect it was simply from running over the uneven terrain at Willowdale Saturday and turning my knee a few too many times, but either way I am forced to simply rest the knee. Sitting here typing three days after the run Saturday, I have felt a marked improvement in my knee. It is still a little tender to the touch, but I can flex it and put weight on it without pain, so I don't believe it is damaged.

Also, if worst comes to worst, I have three weeks until Cape Cod, and I have to rest it for a couple weeks and ramp up to the marathon in that final week instead of the solid taper that is scheduled, I am fine with that, too. Yes, I am a little worried about Stone Cat, but Saturday was sort of paradoxical because though I felt the pain in my knee over the course of the run, if it were the actual Marathon I would have found a way to get to the finish line, no matter what.

Until next week...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Training - September 21 to 27 - One Month the Cape Cod!

Find thyne's training hither....

Sunday - rest following the 25 yesterday. Tight and sore, but I expected to feel MUCH worse the day after.

Monday - rest again... Still feel tight and sore, and want to make sure I give my body ample time to repair the damage.

Tuesday - 5.2 miles - Tempo. Felt very tight to start off the run, and felt muscle groups that are still thrashed from Saturday, but just pushed as long as I could and found some definite improvement. 7:38, 7:19, 7:13, 6:57, 6:51 mile splits. Worked really hard to break 40 minutes for 5 miles last Fall, and I can't believe how close I am to the next goal of breaking 35 minutes for 5 miles.

Wednesday - 8.2 miles - This was supposed to be MUCH easier than it turned out to be. Run on the roads in the pitch black dark all by my lonesome, which inspired a faster pace. Out in 32:39, back in 31:00 (which is probably the reason why the last 3 miles felt tough). This run was not a good idea at this pace. This is where too much intensity could definitely get me into big, big trouble. Yes, 7:57 pace for this run could be good news, but I really need to scale it back.

Thursday - Rest - Sick. Felt like absolute trash, really shouldn't have gone to work yesterday, REALLY shouldn't have run yesterday, and today I paid for it. Slept half the day. Rebellion on a biological level!

Friday - Made it back to work, but that wiped me out, then when I resolved to try to get out and run two or three miles the heavens continued to pour down the deluge of the century (or so it seemed). Not interested in being sick longer than I have too, thus, I bagged it.

Saturday - Still very congested and the pouring rain seems like an unwelcome additive for a longer training run today.

I did make it through 22 Ounces of Sam Adams Oktoberfest, though, while crushing an order of Steak and Chicken Fajitas at Applebee's. Does this count as training for an endurance race at any level? Topped it all off with a couple Stone Cat IPA's to celebrate the fact that...... I'M IN!!!!

Yeah, it was a good thing I sent in my application earlier this week because the Stone Cat Marathon is officially closed (Many great places on the starting line still exist for the 50 miler if anyone is still interested!, LOL). So I have a ticket for the dance at Willowdale in 6 weeks. I still have a little insecurity about my ability right now when it comes to running 26.2 on trails, but when one is training for a 100 mile endurance run they most likely have not prepared by running 100 mile training runs, so I guess it is sort of like that! Or not, but at least I am not sitting here telling myself that I can run the 50 with my current base of training. Otherwise, very cool to go down the list to see other trail friends like Dan (, trail veterans like Rich Busa, and runners from many different states, provinces, and countries, two of which are from Prince Edward Island, Canada, or "Home" as I like to call it. Definitely will be an experience, and, honestly, I think that is why I sent in my application.

Collectively, I am a little disappointed with this week. I made some bad choices with the two tempo/fast training runs I had, which I think just magnified the strain and wear that the 25 miles of last weekend left on my body. Perhaps getting sick was a bit of a blessing in disguise, as it drained my energy and forced me to rest and recover from the running of this week, and last weekend. I was able to get my hands on some Zinc tablets that kept me healthy throughout my first college Cross Country season, so I think I'll add a little more Zinc to help with my Immune system, as well as with repairing some of my muscular damage.

Four weeks to Cape Cod, six weeks to Stone Cat, and I am still feeling okay. This past week was certainly the first challenge I have faced since deciding to run a marathon this Fall, but it is not a challenge that I really need to be worried about. Next week is a new week of training. I'd like to get at least one more significant run in before Cape Cod - perhaps 18 to 20 miles, and I'd for it to be on trails to help find a better long run pace on the surface. With the shortening days, my evening running has pretty much been limited to the roads, as I still don't feel comfortable doing any extended trail training in the dark by myself. Thus, I may need to consider morning running before work. I almost definitely will be looking at my long run next weekend being on trails, and actually, since I didn't go long today, I might do an extended run on trails tomorrow. In the home stretch now, no time to be doing anything too stupid, but it is not time to lay back and believe that I have nothing left to do.

Time to ice my heels, have another Stone Cat IPA, listen to some music, and just enjoy this Saturday evening.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Stonecat, Saying Goodbye, and Reasons Why I Run....

As I sat at my desk today at work, basking in the second consecutive rest day for my body, and dreadfully lost in an unproductive vortex, I started drifting off into deeper thoughts.

I think it was partially driven by some of my procrastination. I hopped onto Cool Running to quickly gloss some of the local College XC results from this past weekend, as well as some of the road race results. Before I got back to the project I was working on, I jumped over to the GAC website to see if anyone had posted any new club news.

I was shocked to see that the Stonecat confirmed entries were updated a week earlier than advertised, seeing the reason why, only 40 or so slots left for the marathon! This twisted my brain into the realm of "am I really going to attempt this two marathons, three weeks thing?" I already had the app printed out and strategically placed in my cubicle, all it needed was a signature, a check, an envelope, and a stamp.

Yes, I have been slightly gung ho about signing up for the Stonecat, but rational side of me realizes the challenge inherent in running 26.2 miles on trails. There are other races with less mileage and over far more treacherous terrain, but one must approach the starting line of a trail race with an iota of rational confidence that they know what they are getting themselves into. Hell, in 2004 it snowed for the Stonecat and 104 people finished the marathon in addition to the 14 that finished 37.5 miles, and 35 that amazingly endured to finish the 50 miler:

With all of this thought and considered, I signed the application, and, when I left work, I put the completed application in the mail. If I happen to be one of the lucky 40 to get into the marathon it will definitely be a run to remember for me.

One of the elements that made the decision easy was a photo I have on my desk at work. It is a photo of my Dad, my Grandfather, and me on the day my wife and I were married. My Grandfather passed away almost 18 months ago, and it was a day I don't think I'll ever forget.

My Grandfather was first diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy - essentially a virus that attacks the heart and created holes in the organ, which limits the ability to pump blood to the body - back in 2003. He was told that there is no fix for this condition, and essentially one day his heart would stop working, as it stood they estimated that his heart was only working at 40% of its capacity. At the doctor's advisement he lost a great deal of weight to ease the strain on his heart, essentially adding years to his life, and then he was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. All of a sudden the Cardiomyopathy was a moot point. He fought the cancer as best he could, but then in the spring of 2007 his Kidney's began to fail, and he was given days to live.

To that point I had lost two other close relatives - my Maternal Grandparents. My my grandfather passed away there was really no rhyme or reason. I had visited him in the hospital after a simple surgery, expecting him to be home soon. A few days later we got a phone call that he was gone. My grandmother was also somewhat unexpected, but she had not seemed well in the weeks leading up to her passing. Luckily, I was able to visit her a couple days before she passed, but it was still hard because there was a phone call and the very sad news.

In the case of my Paternal Grandfather, we knew what was coming. The day before he passed I went to see him at home, and this was clearly a trip to say goodbye. Often people greet sudden death with the wish of being able to say goodbye, but as we drove down to my Grandparent's house I could not comprehend how I would ever say goodbye to one of the most influential people in my life. After the visit, I sat in the car and could not wrap my head around the thought of never seeing someone I loved so much again. Sure, there are spiritual beliefs, but sometimes that is not enough to reconcile the physical present.

I have been extremely lucky to have known my Grandparents. All have had a profound influence on my life, and the memories of so many great things are always readily available. In the moments where I have had to say goodbye to each it is abundantly clear to me that life is far too short, and it is in their memory that I run. In some ways it is to make sure that I stay healthy so I can be there for my children and their children in the future, but it is also in celebration of life and freedom. Running always reminds me that there is more to life, especially on days when something goes wrong at work or when it feels like routine is taking over.

Being fast is a good goal, but it shouldn't be the only one. That is why I love trail running and endurance racing. Yes, the fastest are rewarded because of their ability, but toeing the line, meeting the challenge, and crossing the line is as worthy an accomplishment. Not to downplay the challenge of running a 5k, but the level of commitment and training that it takes to run a trail race or endurance race really allows one to peel back the superficial layers that life sometimes super-imposes on us.

I run because I have been given breath.
I run because I have been given an able body.
I run because life is bigger than frameworks, expense reports, and fictional facades.
I run for the challenge.
I run because sometimes in these challenges you effortlessly fly, while other times you have to grind and grit, and others you are forced to stop, walk, and come face to face with defeat. If there is any greater teaching tool in life I am not sure I know it.
I run because it teaches the need for both self-determination and community.

Sure, this is very idealistic, and probably seems stock and cliche, but it is a snapshot answer to the question of why I would want to do something crazy like run marathons. Finishers medals are nice, but, honestly, there has to be more.

So my friends, why do you run? What drives you to take on the challenge each day?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dude, Where's My Car? - Training week 9/14 to 9/20

"I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid... Then I ran some more." - Narrator Fight Club

Sunday - 22.5 (est.), Just thinking about it makes my legs hurt. Read the story if you are interested.

Monday - Rest - See above.

Tuesday - Rest - See above. :-)

Wednesday - 5.1 miles /hybrid run. One of the great things about my Trabucos is that I can run more than a quarter of a mile to get to trails. Ran to the closest trail crossing of the Bay Circuit trail about 1.5 miles from my apartment, ran a couple miles on the Bay Circuit and then back. Everything felt fast at first, but was actually slow, and the trails were VERY technical, resulting in 10+ pace. Pushed the pace on the roads heading home, about 7:10 pace. Felt somewhat fresh at first, but technical trails and fast running were sort of a bad idea. Somewhere I tend to think that Sunday's run was more of a strain on my system than Cape Cod will be. I could be wrong, but I have no anxiety about running 26.2 on roads at my current level of fitness. We'll see.

Thursday - 4 miles - More fun without the sun! Over to Bradley Palmer to do some trail work with some others from GAC. As usually, good times, but I must say that I am still trying to get used to the running trails in the dark. I would have thought that with my eyesight issues I wouldn't really have too much of a challenge after dark, but I realize now that I still rely on the same cues that other folks with better vision do. At least these runs are much better among friends.

Friday - 3.1 miles - just some easy mileage on the roads to decompress after a LONG week at work. Probably not the best idea seeing as I am probably going long tomorrow. Some have booze, some have drugs, I have running.

Saturday - 25 miles - Yes, officer I can explain! See, what happened was this crazed psycho just got in my head and forced me to run all of these miles. I swear that is how it happened!

Originally, the plan was to run 20 today. I had a great plan where I would use my trunk as a makeshift aid station, and I would run 5 miles out, 5 miles back, refresh my fuelbelt, and then head out in another direction to run 5 out and 5 back, easy, right? The basic goal of the run was to get the mileage in and do so in the easiest pace possible, so heading out I took it VERY easy and planned on dialing back my pace anytime I felt like I was going a bit too hard. As I studied local road maps the night before I decided I wanted to run routes that I hadn't previously run before. I also noticed the Merrimack River was only 7 miles away from where I live, and I thought it would be cool to run out to the river.

Got out of the house at about 6:15 am, a definite chill in the air - so much so that long sleeves and gloves where needed, and started westward on Route 133, which barely had any traffic for a change. Made it to the Rowley/Georgetown border, first mile done in 9:36. Not too bad because I wanted to go easy and I still felt like I was still tight and not quite awake. Cruised into and through downtown Georgetown, rattling off miles of 9:30, 9:10, and 9:21 - I guess a little concerned that my pace was slow, but I was more interested in completion more than anything else, and I felt good, so no worries! Crossed over into Groveland and negotiating a couple nice sized hills, and passing a section next to a lake with pea soup fog, just sort of running locked into easy. Started down a long descent and saw the edge of the Merrimack River. Got whacked in the face by the sign of an Obama supporter out in front of a cafe who clearly did not hear me scream "excuse me, sidewalk!" I guess the sign was better than becoming a hood ornament for the Escalade that came whipping around the corner, causing me to jump up on the sidewalk in the first place. Oh well. Crossed the bridge over the Merrimack, again, VERY foggy, entered into Haverhill for about 10 seconds and started back east. Mile splits 9:07, 9:04, 8:50.

Heading back the next 7 miles were still really controlled and felt fairly comfortable. With the increasing daylight and advanced hours I had to be a little more attentive of those drowsy drivers that were on a crusade for their morning caffeine rush, not at all interested in yielding to a runner wear a fluorescent yellow vest, but otherwise it was a very nice. Averaged 9:05 pace for miles 8 through 14. Got back to parking lot and refilled my bottles, thought about calling it day and going back into the apartment, but made haste and headed south to finish up with three out and three back.

This time I headed south on an out and back I knew. I knew where the three mile turn was, then I started thinking about going a little further, running perhaps 40 minutes out and 40 minutes back, as that would bring me to about 3 1/2 hours, and then it became a little more. I just had stopped looking at my watch and continued to just feel as if I could keep running as long as I didn't push too hard, which then became a discussion of 'well I wonder how far I can go with this ache in my legs". Almost making in to downtown Topsfield, I turned around and headed for home as my watch turned over at 3 hours. I didn't look at my watch for splits during this 'out' segment, only seeing how close I was to three hours. My mentality was simply to keep moving at a pace that I could handle, keeping in mind to stay as close to manageable as possible. 9:19 pace for this leg. The 'back' section was pure guts because I knew that if I finished this section I would have run 25 miles without any walking breaks. I can't really say that I felt like I was hitting a wall at any point, I just felt like I had been running for a long time and my legs were sore, tight, and heavy, but I was still moving forward. It was so different from last weekend when I got to a certain point and my legs were simply done.

At about twenty one miles I choked down my "emergency" power gel I had stashed in my shorts. Laughed at a barking dog threatening to chase me, realizing a.) my legs were hurting so much so that quick lateral movements were DEFINITELY out of the question, and, b.) if anything wanted to eat me bad enough I had no additional gears left to utilize.

Turned for home, looked at my watch - 24.9 miles - headed up the road to acquire the final tenth of a mile, and slowed down to a walk, unable to completely stop as my quads were not ready for complete rest. Last 6 miles were around 9:30 pace with mile 25 being a 9:43. Opened the trunk, took in the remaining gatorade and cooled down with a little walking, absolutely pumped that I ran 25 miles. Time: 3 hours, 52 minutes.

As I sit here 36 hours after the run, I think I may have taken a huge risk by doing this mileage, but this was my last significant long run before race day, so I wanted to push myself. All things considered, physically I feel excellent right now. I am still slightly sore, and yesterday was definitely filled with slow walking from place to place, but if I had to run 3 miles today, I probably could have.

On the positive side, I think I really did well making sure I hydrated early and often, and made sure I took in calories at the right time. It was cold and I really didn't want to consume as much water too early, and there was the temptation to take in fluids less often, but I stuck with my original plan. I think that has made all of the difference in my quick recovery. Additionally, I felt the hurt that seems to be present in longer endurance races and I learned how to co-exist with it. Yes, there is a part of me that sees the writing on the wall as far as break 4 hours for the marathon, but, honestly, the challenge or starting, enduring, and finishing the race is the most important aspect of this challenge. Putting things in perspective, a year ago I was hoping to get enough fitness to finish a 5 mile road race in under 40 minutes... this Fall I am in a MUCH different place, and I am so proud to be here.

I am almost positive I am going to go ahead and send in my application for the Stonecat Marathon as well. If I am recovering this well from my run yesterday, two weeks should be plenty of recovery between marathons. I also have no pipe dreams about Stonecat. I am hoping to run Cape Cod in about 4 hours, Stonecat could easily be closer to 4:45 or 5:00. On race day I am simply going to find a pace, find someone to tag along with who is running that pace, and just enjoy the experience, and try to accomplish the finish line running with people, instead of against the clock. With it being a trail race I am positive there will not be a shortage of friendly people.

So now the training changes from a build phase to a fine tuning and slight taper phase. With Stonecat in the mix I think I am going to do my longer runs on trails whenever I possibly can do so, which should help in discovering what pace per mile will work at Stonecat. So perhaps 13 or 15 miles at Willowdale next weekend.

Not that I believe too many people are reading this blog, but if you do happen to read this, remember that anything is possible. Things that may seem nearly impossible at first will become possible, and perhaps even easy with the proper approach and the proactive passage of time. Life is too short to EVER resolve that you can't accomplish or achieve something that seems hard at first.

Until the next update...

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