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...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wasted in Willowdale

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/
Gang aft agley."
-Robert Burns

One of my goals for this past week of training was to do my long run on trails, so my intention was to head over to Willowdale State Forest for some earthy goodness. Initially I wanted to do so on Saturday, but as things turned out (family commitments) I had to move my long run to Sunday.

Before I launch into the events of my long run yesterday, let me first explain a few things I have learned:

1.) Trails are easier on the body - sure you can turn an ankle if you aren't careful, but, for the most part, joints are happy with trails.

2.) Trails make you both stronger and faster. If I had to choose between two runners of equal ability, one training on roads, the other training on trails, I'd always choose the trail runner. Personally my road race times have decreased solely because of the inclusion of running trails.

3.) Dehydration kills.

It does seem like a paradox to say that trail running is easier on the body, yet make you a better runner, but the effort that one needs to put forth in trail running is such that you strengthen different muscle groups and develop a heightened focus that cruising on roads cannot provide.

Since our apartment is a mere 2.7 miles to Willowdale, my plan was to run over to the forest, stopping at Cumberland Farms to buy a Gatorade and a Powerbar, find a trail intersection just inside the forest where I could leave my drop bag as a makeshift aid station, and measure out the distance of the pre-planned circuit I had outlined on a trail map. Water bottles filled, gels stored away, trail map tucked away, and Asics Gel-Trabuco's snugly laced, I headed out to Willowdale. Very briefly, the Trabuco's were awesome on and off road. I have a pair of Montrail Hardrock's that are superb on the trails, but they are definitely not suited for too much contact with the roads - you definitely feel every step.

Obviously the game plan was to run slow, and then when I found that pace, run slower. I knew that throwing in an extended trail run would be more taxing than a normal road run, but my "crazy" has been acting up, and I am contemplating the idea of running the Stone Cat Marathon a couple weeks after running the Cape Cod Marathon... yeah, don't ask. As I came through the first mile I saw 9:00 on my watch - a good sign. Made my pit stop at Cumby's, chugged along to Willowdale chowing a Powerbar and carrying a 32 oz. G2. Got chased by a wayward dog, came through the second mile at 8:52, still good. Made it to the trailhead and started into the forest. Made it to the trail intersection that I wanted to leave my drop bag, or so I thought. Started up the trail only to find that a large section of trail that I was going to run was under deep water. Normally not a problem, but I couldn't see where the water ended and the trail came back. Pulled out the trail map, reassessed the circuit, and found a way around the water. After putting my drop bag at a new intersection, I began my first lap.

The first circuit was really one of discovery. Willowdale is a place where one can get turned around quite easily if they don't know where they are going, and with this being my first long jaunt through Willowdale, I was very careful at each intersection to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Quite often was the trail map utilized, and I met a couple DCR workers marking timber, and monitoring wildlife that helped me through a particularly difficult intersection where four trails come together. Unfortunately, this first lap was more about finding my way and less about monitoring pace, and as I completed the first loop - 5.4 miles - I was a little leery that I had run it around 9:20 pace. Far too fast for a long run on trails for me. Loop two was a little more controlled as I generally knew where I was going. The last couple miles I really started to feel a little wasted, but made sure I started drinking more often. The last mile I really started to question whether or not I should cut it short and head home. I didn't really look at my watch to gauge pace, I just did a brief systems check and convinced myself I could do a third lap. In hindsight, I ran the second lap in about 9:06 pace. Bad news.

The third lap was filled with numerous walking breaks, a turned ankle, thoughts of how stupid I was, but mostly a learning experience of how to react when you have given too much and all you can do is forge ahead. Unfortunately, though I thought I was slick with my stash of Gatorade, I really needed a second 32 ounces, and should have been consuming at least 32 ounces of fluid per lap. I was soaked, partially due to crossing a couple slightly flood sections of Gravelly Brook, but mostly because of the brutal humidity that took its toll. I started cramping toward the end of the last loop, realizing I had at least three miles to run after gathering my drop bag. The last loop I came through around 10:30/mile pace - which is probably close to where I should have been running during the first couple laps.

Maintaining any kind of pace was impossible during the last 3 miles. If I was running it was only for a couple minutes at a time with lots of walking. I passed by Cumby's, threw my empty bottle in their trash - KEEP THE FOREST PRISTINE! - and slogged home. Last three miles in 35 minutes, easily more walking than running, and it was a type of hurt I can barely explain. Absolutely wasted.

Here's my trail map, it is oddly a pictorial example of how my body felt:

(Click for Larger Image)

In total the final statistics for this run were 22.3 miles in 3:42:29. Although, I did have some early issues with the garmin, so it may have been closer to 22.5-23 miles in about 3:40. Needless to stay, a little much, and WAY beyond my previous highs for mileage and elapsed time. On the bright side, if you are one that believes in the "that which does not kill you can only make you stronger" mentality, this was sort of a breakthrough. It was definitely a learning experience, but I am not sure what the overall lesson was... Maybe, "don't ever do that again"? I really think the humidity and impending dehydration made the situation worse, and almost believe that I could double up with Cape Cod and Stone Cat as long as I rest and take Stone Cat as a trail 50k training run - which is my next goal.

I was definitely sore as hell today, but my heels, which have been a continued concern, don't feel any worse than they did before the insanity yesterday.

All things considered, if you think about goal setting, we stand back and say that our goal is to get from point A to point B, even when we are really not sure how exactly we are going to accomplish that. I may be insane thinking about two marathons in three weeks, but where my goals are based on completion and not time, I still think it isn't that much of a stretch. Plus, with the financial market going berserk, life is too short to worry about how crazy one's goals might be.

At least now I don't feel bad about calling this blog Tracks of a 'Trail Runner', because I definitely earned another stripe or two.

Roots, Rocks, Puddles and Peace, friends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Revelation and (sort of a) Gear Review -- Petzl Tikka Plus Headlamp

Trail runner is getting back to the/his roots this week. Mostly because I thoroughly enjoy trail running so much, have been getting little fixes running with Gil's each week, and have been bugged by a really silly endurance challenge that I am trying to gauge whether or not I even want to go through with - more on the latter when it becomes official or I am feel particularly imbalanced one day! :-)

So with the official summer season rapidly moving away, so too goes the evening light. What one was a nice bright evening run at 7 pm, has now become a twilight/night run. With darkness approaching and the regularity of running with a club that doesn't hide from either trails or darkness or the two combined, I have procured a headlamp.

I have to say, as I was standing in front of the display at Dick's Sporting Goods in Saugus at the Square One Mall (shout out to Breakheart Trail Running!) I was a little overwhelmed at what I was getting myself involved in - I mean seriously, after all I have been through with trying to find the best hydration belt or handheld water bottles, I wasn't exactly ready to jump in feet first without studying up on the subject.

After looking at the various styles and models I went with the Petzl Tikka-Plus:

Essentially it has four LED lights, three positions, three different brightness settings, as well as a strobe setting. Along with the durable elastic headband and within my budget ($35-$40) I decided upon this one. I also was a bit picky trying to find something with a decent amount of 'lumens' and that was also lightweight, I think my choice fits the bill in these categories as well.

A Run in the Woods After Dark...

As I was saying above, I have been wanting to get out to the trails more, and as I road home from work yesterday I realized that the weather was such that any bugs would be at a minimum and the terrain would be a little sloppy - Perfect! But between negotiating with children, getting changed, getting some calories in me, and slipping on my Montrail's, it was bordering on 7 pm, and I knew that the headlamp was going to get it's first work on the trails.

I did take the headlamp out on a couple of dusk road runs and it seemed to work well. It takes a little getting used to with presence of new gear, but for the most part I have been happy with the performance on the roads.

It was an interesting trail run to say the least. Prior to having to use the headlamp I started up a trail off of the dirt road that cross through Georgetown-Rowley State Forest, I had a general idea of where the trail went, but in the fading light I lost the trail and sort of wandered aimlessly trying to discover if the trail just washed out from the rain we had this weekend. I resolved to turn around and get back on to the dirt road. As I crossed over the I-95 footbridge in the Forest, the light really was fleeting and I turned on the headlamp. I turned off of the main fire road down a narrower road that has a little more distance. I figured an out and back would be a bit easier than trying to navigate single track in the dark.

I tried to keep all of the ax murderer, headless horseman thoughts out of my head, but just as I would get around those thoughts, I'd hear a group of dear (I am hoping that is what they were) crash through the brush and through the water in the distance. No, I am not embarrassed to admit I had a VERY bad case of the willies! I think I'll have to work on this a little bit before I decide to do a trail ultra that requires more than 25 minutes and three miles running in the darkness and the woods.

Logistically, it was kind of weird. I was able to manage not turning my ankle any more often then I might on a normal trail run, but the beam of light, combined with the humidity/mist in the air provided a bit of a fogging effect and I had to adjust a few times to not catch too much light off of the reflect, which was really important because of my eye condition - ocular albinism.

I did make one slight wrong turn, but since I was on my way back I knew it was a wrong turn and quickly back tracked.

I see the difficulty in trying to move quickly along a course, watch your footing, but also keep an eye out for blazes or other trail markings in these types of conditions. Georgetown-Rowley is nice because most of the intersections on the trail are marked with reflective signs, so I never really had too much to worry about with regard to getting too lost, but I can't even fathom what it might be like on a nasty single track.

Aside from my issues with losing the trail earlier in the run, I managed to run in the 8:45 to 9:30 per mile pace amid the conditions. I am not really sure either way about the timing, because as most trail runners will attest to, sometimes the completion of the journey is the most important part of the adventure, and isn't that really why we run on trails, for the adventure?

I am looking forward to more night time jaunts on the trails, but I really think it wise to do so with experienced trail runners like the guys at Gil's. There must be more technique and strategy. Of course, it may just be a situation where you do it, and learn from the experience.

Until next time....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Run to the Rock" Half Marathon - Plymouth, MA - Race Report

Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of rain pounding the roof of my mother's house in Plymouth. At that moment I realized that my experience running this race for the first time would at the very least definitely be one thing: damp. It just seemed inevitable. Just as the rain seemed to be letting up as I left the house, it started to pour. As I got out of the car and walked over to the shuttle to the start, it poured. Twenty minutes before the start of the race the drizzle quickly turned into a deluge. And as we stood at the start line waiting for the gun to go off, the sky opened up and even before the beginning of the race we were all soaked through.

I actually am a fan of running in the rain. Perhaps it is the trail runner in me that craves water crossings, but I have always enjoyed rainy conditions. The tropical downpours and gigantic puddles were a little bit of an inconvenience from time to time, but honestly, why complain? It could be worse, oh, say, 90 degree heat? The humidity was definitely present, but, though I felt it with almost every breath, it honestly didn't bother me.

I came into the race unsure of how much I would get from my legs. I prepared by giving myself the day off on Friday, but after running a 25k less than a week ago, I was a little curious what kind of response I would get the first few miles. I also resolved that I would not use this run to mirror my potential marathon pace. Instead, I wanted to have a controlled race, but I also wanted to test myself and see what I could do for a half marathon. I knew the course relatively well, so I figured if I could established a PR, it would be here.

I must interject here that nearly eight months ago I woke up one Sunday morning hell bent on running a half marathon, so I did. It was filled with lots of walking, immense soreness, and a pain and dejection I have never felt before. When I finished I was physically, mentally, and spiritually finished and I believed somewhere inside of myself that a marathon would be impossible. That day I ran 13.1 in 1:58:41 (9:02 pace).

The first mile of this race is by far the fastest, as the first half mile is a long downhill. I thought of this as a way to put some hay in the barn for later on in the race time-wise, but I also didn't want to run too fast and have to deal with that mistake for the multitude of the race. I managed to come through in 7:50, good news. This was the moment where I thought I would sit back and settle into a decent pace, I was a little concerned when I arrived at the 2 mile mark with a split of 8:02. The third mile produced more of the same and a split of 8:07. At this point my old watch was acting up again - I didn't want to bring my Garmin out in the tropical storm - and from this point on I have no reliable splits. It was probably just as well because I ran the rest of the race on the edge. Close enough to feel like I was giving too much too early, but back enough that I thought there would be an outside chance of holding my pace.

The course is very hilly, and where some people found this tough, I seem to have found my enjoyment of hills once again. I was able to push up the hills and use the down hills to gain a little more time, or make a move past some slower runners. Around mile 6 I made a really brave move, throwing in a 30 second surge past a pack of 10 runners I was contently running with, feeling a little bit like they were slowing down. It paid off as I started chasing another slightly faster pack.

I continued to use my strategy on the hills, making it to mile 9 and feeling like I was still in control. Miles 10 and 11 were where I started feeling my earlier pace, but not feeling like I needed to back off. I continued to push and pursue the runners ahead of me. Reaching mile 12 was a relief, but it was also the moment of truth. I really had to bear down here, and I had no idea where I was time-wise. The final half mile I just turned off my brain and ran. The runner ahead of me was sufficiently holding her distance ahead of me, and I didn't feel like I had enough to chase her down. Coming out onto Water Street, seeing the finish line and hearing one my friends from HS track, Steve Infascelli, who won the Half-Marathon in 1:19, scream out "Rob, you totally are breaking 1:50", I got a little bit of a lift. Through the finish and through the shoot I was elated: 1:46:32 (8:08 pace).

I honestly thought that 1:50 would be a great accomplishment, but 1:46 was simply a wonderful surprise. This really makes me believe that if I can listen to my body and stay healthy, along with paying my dues by doing the long runs, I have a fairly good shot of breaking 4 hours for the marathon. I think my ideal pace for the marathon will be anywhere from 8:50 to 9:10 per mile, and I think my experiences racing this week warrants that as a realistic goal. Above all, today I am not all that sore and I feel confident about the remainder of my training. I have also vanquished that doubt about covering distances of marathon and beyond - with the right training anything is possible.

Mostly, though, I am so happy to be a runner again, because if there is anything I proved this week, though I may still have a few more pounds that need to be dealt with, I am definitely a runner again!

Training Update: W.E. - Sept. 6th

This was one of those weeks that I am sort of on the fence as far as how pleased I am with how it all turned out. Essentially this week was a week were my mileage was WAY up due to having two endurance races/long runs during the actual week. Together with my 16 miles last week my average mileage for the last two weeks comes out around 30 per week so I am not sure I really should be too concerned.

I am a little concerned with the discomfort in my heels. I have been trying to keep a preventative approach to the discomfort, but it is still a bit disheartening to think that my ultimate goal may be compromised by an injury.

All in all, I ran 5 days this week, raced twice, ran some nice easy trails with Gil's, and had a really nice tempo run during the middle of the week that didn't become too fierce of a pace. Running with Gil's is always an example of all of the great things one can accomplish in the sport of running that doesn't necessarily completely rely on being the fastest one in the group. This week I got to pick the brain of a fellow runner that completed an Ironman distance triathlon the previous weekend... my mind was completely blown.

From here on in it really is focusing on the marathon. I may venture out to run the Ravenswood Trail Race in a few weeks, or perhaps the Diamond Hill Trail Race, but, for now, I have hit all of the preemptive goals I made prior to running the marathon. The post to follow will cover my experience with the "Run to the Rock" Half-Marathon yesterday.

Weekly Mileage - 43.1 miles
September Mileage - 39.8 miles

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Last week's training....

Honestly, I underachieved this past week. I would say I am frustrated, but at this point, where I am running 8:00 pace on longer runs and starting to feel some slight breakthroughs with my 5k speed, I am going to err on the side of health and listening to my body.

Yes, at 29 years of age I am hoping to get back to this:

But honestly, the goal is more like this:

Training is sort of a snap shot of the overall picture. The point really isn't about running oneself into the ground as quickly as possible, but, rather, it is about endurance and seeing something through to the end, no matter what the path looks like. As I am learning through trail running, often times you look at an application and see the distance is 10 miles. You assume you can complete the course in 80 minutes, arriving only to find gnarly terrain. This is where time become secondary to completion. It is sort of where the world went wrong. All these "everyone wins" thoughts are nice, but if you are awarded for doing nothing, what message does that send?

I look at my fellow trail runners. Winning and losing begins and ends with the finish line. Talk to the folks that ran Wapack this past weekend - everyone is a winner for sure, but to obtain the moniker 'winner' or, more appropriately, 'finisher', you have to contend with 17+ miles and a few thousand feet of vertical climbing.

I guess the messge is that if my training tailed off at all this past week, it was more out of protection for the greater goal of running injury free in the pursuit of my first marathon. I am starting to feel the tinge of heel discomfort that might be the beginnings of plantar fascitis. The good news is that it really only hurts when I am barefoot and typically in the morning. Thankfully I have no discomfort while running, and the entire 25k I had no indications of it. Nonetheless, I have been using golf balls and frozen water bottles to massage and ice the area as prevention.

So, last week:

Sunday - 0 (rest from long run)

Monday - 3.3 miles easy, working on pacing.

Tuesday - 5.4 miles easy, Garmin died while on the run, just ran, great stuff.

Wednesday - 3 miles, tempo, Bad day at work inspires mile splits of 7:11, 6:50, 6:40. Yes, that is my Go-go Gadget flow. :-)

Thursday - 4.2 miles, Ran a very easy trail run with a few of the guys from Gil's A.C. If I hang out long enough with these guys I will never escape my dillusional thought that Ultramarathons are cool.

Friday - rest.

Saturday - rest. Converting long run to the 25k Road Race in Gloucester on Labor Day.

Weekly Mileage: 15.9 miles
August Mileage: 133.7 miles
Year-to-date: 705.7 miles

Hoping to stay healthy and run a great half marathon this Saturday!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Run Around The Cape 25k, Gloucester, MA

I had no intentions of running this race a week ago. Then after some peer pressure from fellow trail runners - I know, the irony of trail runners encouraging one to run a road race! - I was standing on the starting line of this prestigious race around Cape Ann.

The course is a loop that follows the coast of Cape Ann, starting in Gloucester, continuing into and through Rockport, and back into Gloucester along the south shore, finishing at the O'Malley Middle School. Allegedly there are 16 'major' hills on the course, but I am not sure I noticed that many. More on that later. The first half of the course is by far the hillier than the second half, but, just about when you think you are home free to the finish, the course boasts a sharp and steep climb at about 15.3 miles. I believe broken is the word for runners at the top of this climb. Conditions were spectacular for the most part. Much like other races around this time of the year, there is always the possibility of the fleeting heat and humidity of the last weekend of the summer season, but this morning started off cool, only yielding to moderate warmth during the last 5k of the race.

Essentially the idea was to use this as a marathon training run, but much like any race, it was just too tempting to be all dressed up and just hang back. I was definitely on board with the 'marathon training run' idea the first few miles, as I came off of the start line very conservatively:

I came through the first mile well over 9:00, which was a little too conservative, but I was trying to identify what each pace might feel like with my 'fast' road racing shoes on - Saucony Fast Twitch 2's. I threw in a small surge during the second mile to get out of a little traffic, and then in the third mile I tried using the downhills and then retreated back into marathon pace. I came through mile three in 26:48 (8:56 pace).

The next segment of the race I started feeling like I was holding back a little too much, so I started pushing a little. I also started feeling some beginnings of stomach issues, and was sort of freaking out about having to make a deposit and not knowing where the nearest bank was.... if you catch my drift. Yet another reason why trail running is so much better than road races - the universal port-a-john (leaves of three, let them be :-) ). Mile 4 was about the time I stopped looking at my watch and just focused on a comfortable pace. Mile splits for this segment were 8:22, 8:53, 8:14 - 25:29 (8:30 pace).

Going into Mile 7 it was time to start thinking about consuming some PowerGel. I did some research to see what the best method might be of carrying gels during longer races, without the assistance of a waist pack/ fuel belt. I found a nice method of pinning the gel packs to my shorts in a way that you basically pin and tuck the gel packs over the waistband. Ideally, when it is time to get a gel, you rip it away and it, if done right, takes out the necessity of ripping open the gel with your teeth because it is already punctured. Good stuff. I took in my first gel just before the 7 mile marker in Rockport without much fuss, although the lukewarm chocolate goop was quickly choked down and furiously followed by the nearest fluid. I was still concerned about my stomach issues, and having to consume some calories made me a little more concerned. I tried to focus on something else. I was starting to pick off more runners that got ahead of themselves in the first five miles, so that helped, but we were starting to enter Rockport's downtown, and the only thing I could think about was how I really had no place for a potty emergency. Here's to hoping and praying! Coming through downtown Rockport was an experience - more views of the Atlantic on a picturesque day, more cheering spectators, and more traffic. Leaving downtown Rockport we ascend one of the remaining 'longer' gradual climbs, passing mile 9 in the process. 25:09 for the third three-mile segment, with splits of 8:13, 8:26, 8:30.

A weird thing happened in the next three mile segment, I started to feel a little bit of a lift. I was able to cruise on most of the uphills, and throw in a couple of controlled surges on some of the downhill sections. We were back in some of the more rural reaches of Rockport, easing some of my digestive anxiety, but having a good idea about how well I was running at the 10 mile mark I was not about to kill a good time because of something that might not actually be an issue. More runners were falling off and I started to pick off more folks. Finally found an aid station with Gatorade! Never been so happy to throw down some refined sugar in all my life. Slowly the tree cover started to disappear as we passed Good Harbor Beach and the cars lined up waiting to get in. I was offered numerous shots of alcohol as I plodded by... it must be Labor Day! I was also a spectacle to those in their cars as I evidently had a serious chaffing problem and my white singlet was covered in blood. Past Good Harbor and the citizen bartenders, gulped down some much needed Cytomax at the aid station preceding the 12 mile marker, and that closes the book on the fourth segment of the race. 24:32, still negative splits for three mile segments. The great part about this was that I actually still felt really fresh and running was still seemingly effortless. I didn't feel like I was going too slow or too fast, and when I needed to pass someone, I still had another gear to work with. Mile splits: 8:21, 8:04, 8:07.

Upon completing the 12th mile my mind began to wander about getting to 13 and really began to wonder about where I was in relation to a half-marathon time. Again, looking at my watch was something I completely threw out because I was just interested in maintaining the pace I was running. As we approached downtown Gloucester the traffic exponentially increased and we began to encounter motorists with varying degrees of respect for runners. Passing mile 13 actually sort of became melodramatic because it preceded a busy intersection, I saw it, passed it, got past the plaza entrance clogged with traffic and glanced down at my watch quick enough to see 1:51 something at about the half-marathon point. From here it was straight-up urban combat running as we passed the State Fish Pier on the Inner Harbor waterfront. I was trying to focus on getting to mile 14 more than not getting run over, but it was sort of a tall order. Just before the 14 mile mark there was a long incline off of the main shoreline road, and that was the first time my quads started to talk back. This last section of the race has barely any water, and even less shade. Combined with the traffic, I really started feeling slightly drained. I can't say I bonked, but I had a 'Near-Bonk Experience at Mile 14. I was due for another PowerGel at this point, but with the lack of water, and the fact that I was only a mile and half from the finish, I decided against it. I think I might have to reassess my schedule for calorie intake. Perhaps at one hour, and then every 10k. Finally arrived at mile 15, ready for the finish line, and feeling for the first time that I had run the distance on the mile marker. Splits - 8:19, 7:59, 8:25 - 24:43.

The final half-mile was highlighted by me dry heaving up the last large hill, recovering (slightly) and then dry heaving down the last 100 meters to the finish line as I tried to pick it up a little bit in front of the cheering crowd. Bloody and dry heaving I crossed the line: 2:12:41 (8:35 pace), 185th out of 508, if that matters.

It was a great race from the perspective of feeling as if I was in control for a vast majority of the race. When the marathon rolls around I will have no problem rattling off 8:40 to 9:00 mile splits and having it feel conservative. It'll be interesting to see how the half-marathon goes this weekend down in Plymouth, but I can say with assurance that I know what to expect on the course.

Until next time...