Monday, May 25, 2009

Race Report: Trav's Trail Race, or Learning How To Fly, again..

Trav's Trail Race, Newburyport, MA, 3 miles

The morning began with Breakheart Dan graciously providing me a ride to the race. Fortunately this one was in the town next door, so it was an easy, short ride to the race. As always, we rode up chatting about all things running related and spent a few minutes hoping our trail friends who had ventured a little farther north on Interstate 95 this weekend to take on the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge Races were fairing well. Just about the moment we finished talking about that, a hearse rolled by us on the way North, hopefully not bound for Pownal, ME!

We rolled into the parking lot at Maudsley State Park and the overcast of the early morning began to burn off and the Sun started baking everything in sight, including runners of Irish and Scottish descent that happened to forget their sunscreen. Oops.

It was a little strange pulling into a State Park for the pre-race gear up, only to figure and find that the race you are running is only three miles and there would be virtually no need for gear. Nonetheless, the duffel bag from hell was opened, and knowing Maudsley was the home course of the Newburyport Clippers XC teams, I thought about the possibility of a lighter, faster shoe, since the terrain would more than likely be MUCH tamer than most other trail races.
(Breakheart Dan laces while RunninRob uneasily decides which tires to use!)

Though I had done a bit of speed work earlier in the week with the trail shoes, and was longing for my old XC spikes, I decided to keep it real and lace up the Trabuco's, no sense bringing road shoes to a mud fight - no matter how fast they make you feel!

We met up with Trail Pixie and one of her students, Vivian, as Dan and I came back from getting our numbers. I was chatting with Vivian, and looked down at my Garmin to see what time it was, only to find a blank LCD screeen. Uh oh... Sure enough, I forgot to recharge the Garmin and had to toss it back into the gear bag. No hydration gear, no Garmin, damn I was feeling naked!

The four of us headed out on the course for an easy warm up, previewing the first and last mile, as the course was an out and back, with a lollipop second mile that looped through the woods, and rejoined the initial mile, where runners retraced their steps back to the finish. I believe the saying is, "What goes up, must come down", but in this case, the course began with a furious downhill, which meant the last 1/2 mile or so would be UP to the finish when the legs were really feeling it.
(First drop down to the woods)

(Dropping down further under the shade of the trees)

We arrived back at the start area just in time to grab a little water, stretch VERY briefly, and amazingly as we settled waiting for the call or gun, we saw the sea of runners before us rush forward, which induced an "Aw Crap!" from all of us in the way back of the pack. I didn't want to get tied into the mob at the start and decided to haul butt around people that approached the initial downhill with a little trepidation. I mean come on! Uneven dirt trails have NOTHING on some of the nasty single track at Overlook and the Blue Hills! I made a quick decision to get my giddy up in gear, and though I might pay for it later, I charged down the descent as fast as possible to find some space to settle into a decent pace. Upon finding the space in the midpack, I made an agreement with myself. At three miles I knew it would be a quick race, and I didn't want to slip into anything conservative, so I decided to run the first mile a little faster than expected and then re-evaluate at the mile marker. Thankfully, there were still slower runners that had gone out too fast, and were a little phased by the presence of a few roots and rocks on the course - I am proud because I used to be that runner, but clearly I have developed my inner trail animal. I may not be fast, but these 'roadies' were plodding in the wild! As Trail Pixie says, "Fresh Meat!".

(The trail leads back into the deep, dark woods, where 'roadies' are stalked...)

In some ways I feel like my experience running the Six Hour built a great deal of mental toughness for me. Ultras tend to teach you how to push through the pain and keep moving forward. The course continued through the woods, and I began to realize we would not be getting any mile markers today. Obviously we were getting the 'visitors' treatment with the Newburyport XC course, having no idea where the mile markers were. This worked to my advantage mentally because I could feel I was on the edge with the pace I was running. I had other runners in my sights, but I didn't want to make any moves because I was running at a pace where the next gear up would have only one use, and that would be for a sprint at the finish, if the opportunity presented itself, and if the hills up to the line didn't waste me before.

Understanding the basic outline of the course, I knew we'd arrive at the trail crossing that turns into the lollipop, and this would signal the last .75 or mile of the course. This crossing was quickly followed by the downhill to the stone bridge across the swamp and to the trail back up to the finish. I was still feeling alright, but in that place where my pace was on the razor's edge. Mentally I was doing well, there was that little voice that was begging to back off a little, but I also had those two runners still in my sights. At the very least I didn't want to lose contact with them, even if it meant working the hills and having nothing at the finish.
(The end is nigh!)

I was able to keep contact with both runners, and as the course flattened at the top of the hill there was about 150 meters to the finish line. I suddenly felt and found my giddy-up hiding somewhere and surged past the first runner rather easily. The second runner was a little harder to reel in, but I was able to nip him by a second at the tape! Who says running in the midpack isn't exciting!

As I came through the chute, I wondered why I hadn't seen Breakheart Dan or Trail Pixie, usually I am in my chill place of Nirvana at the end of a long trail adventure, and suddenly see a friendly face blasting by me in that last mile. As I circled back I saw Dan coming through the chute. As it turned out I was the hunted in that last mile, but that little bit of mental toughness and persistence staying on the runners ahead of me was enough to keep a hard core trail animal like Breakheart Dan just a few seconds away. It is a FAR cry from our training run at the Middlesex Fells a few months ago where I couldn't hang with ANYONE in the group! Vivian was a little over a minute behind Dan, and Trail Pixie, who was on the second half of a weekend double dip, the first being the Wachusett Mountain Race on Saturday (Tired Quads, what?), came through shortly thereafter.

For both Breakheart Dan and I, it was a great race. Both of us ran paces in the 7:40's, which by no means is blazingly fast, but we both are coming off of a couple sizable trail challenges. Dan spending over 6 hours (6:45) on the Wapack Trail during his MorFun adventure (link here).

We headed over to the parking area to change, where I found my most favorite XC element of all time - mud splatter on the singlet! (grunt, grunt):

We caught back up with Vivian and Trail Pixie and made our way back over to the tent for the awards and raffles. I snuck off back onto the course to snap some of the photos of the course, and found the trails and carriage roads to be very, very peaceful.

Maudsley State Park is such a great area to do a little trail running, or simply to walk and enjoy a day in most any season. It is accessible and quite friendly for pedestrians. The race itself is also a great opportunity to try a little trail running if you have not had the opportunity to do so. I suppose it is challenging if you are used to running on the roads, but the volunteers and fellow runners are friendly, the course is off-road, but features soft pine needles and even a section of wood chips. An excellent introductory race into the world of trails and cross country racing. It is also for a great cause, as the proceeds go toward the Travis Landreth Memorial Scholarship Fund. For those not familiar with the Travis Landreth story, you can read more here, but in a nutshell, Travis was an OUTSTANDING local distance runner that passed away far, far too young. As a runner and coach in the New England region I have had the pleasure to see the Landreth family name still at the top of local and national road races and cross country meets, as Susannah and Molly Landreth both remain active in the local running community. Trav's is an excellent, family friendly event, and shouldn't be missed!

Up next for me is the Oral Surgeon and four empacted wisdom teeth being extracted. If I survive that challenge I'll be heading to race number 6 in the Eastern New England Trail Series. This must be the RunninRob swing of the series, as this one is also a hop and skip from my current habitat, 10k in Boxford State Forest. It is a Tuesday Night and should be really low-key and fun. A great chance to catch up with some trail friends, old and new, and earn a few more series points!

(Make sure you bring friends along for the jouney, it is WAY better!)

Beyond Boxford, I am still learning how to fly. Trav's showed I still have wings, now it is time to strengthen and focus. Hopefully the Dam Trail Race in August will be a realization of some of the hill work and speed I am trying to add to my training. Not to mention the diet, in an attempt to go from "Big Mac" down to "QP w/Cheese" (please, please don't christen me with that for my trail name!).

Until next time!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Little More Distance and Perspective...

When I got home this evening I really felt like running.

I went into the closet, grabbed a shirt and some shorts, quickly changed, stretched the minimum amount of time, probably not enough, laced up a pair of shoes I haven't worn since last Fall, but figured they still had some life left in them, and honestly, at this point I have probably 5 pairs of functioning running shoes I use on occasion. Each have a distinct feeling, each have their own personality, and each still have a little (some nearly new with only a few miles) life left.

I chose my Mizuno Wave Inspire's. They are pretty much at the end of the road, I logged most of my marathon training miles in these trusty shoes, and with the rain falling outside, I wasn't too concerned about splashing in a couple of puddles with this pair, and I figure they deserve it in the twilight of their life.

The run was really peaceful and therapeutic, actually. I walked for a half hour on Tuesday as a nice easy time of getting out and getting moving post six hours/27 miles. Oddly enough I have actually felt really, really good over the last few days, and probably could have logged a few more miles on Wednesday, but am completely fine with the down time.

It was moderately warm tonight, and the rain felt really nice - not cold and clammy, but sort of refreshing. Definitely more of a Spring-time shower. At first I was going to do a run/walk for a half hour, but then resolved to just run easy and comfortable, working on the form and being more effortless. As I ran I thought about the Six-Hour and the experience as a whole. I thought about my trail friends headed to Soapstone Mountain this weekend, and to Pineland Farms in 10 days. I also thought about strategies for training to get faster on the trails toward the end of the Summer and throughout the Fall. I thought about friends who have run 50 milers before, and thought about how I might find that special class of individual that has what it takes to go the distance in a race of that length.

As I thought about these things I also thought about a conversation with Pathfinder I had earlier in the week. We were talking shop about pacing during endurance runs, and as I thought about sending him splits comparing the pacing strategies that I used in training runs that failed miserably , versus the conservative "Trail Snail" approach I learned on the fly running with Trail Pixie this weekend, something dawned on me.

The revelation was this... First bouts with the Ultramarathon are almost NEVER raced, they are survived. I ran Sunday like I was just trying to survive. The only time I got remotely agressive was in the last mile of the race when I knew I had eclipsed 26.2, and could afford picking up the pace to finish in under 6 hours. Early on, essentially the first 18 miles, running with Emily, our conversation kept us moving and away from too much time thinking about paces and too fast or two slow, at the most we explored that when we ran by the clock on the way back into the woods for another loop. Beyond mile 18, while running solo, I basically resolved to just keep moving and SURVIVE. I caught a runner or two during the last couple laps, but paid no attention to the watch, simply knowing the number I had to be under the next time I came through the start/finish area.

It baffles me how anyone races these distances competitively. I am sure there is competition, but these races are so long and so much can happen that it really calls up a survival approach. The last six miles of the Six-Hour I'd hear people tell me Emily was only a few minutes ahead. I'd nod and say 'Thanks', but deep down inside I am thinking to myself: "F--k, I am just trying to figure out how I am getting through the next 90 minutes without breaking anything!" :-)

It was crazy seeing the elite runners rattling off laps with ease. They seem so fast and make it seem so effortless. I imagine with training and preparation this is possible, but as far as I am concerned the endurance race is essentially about walking that tightrope between self-preservation and self-destruction.

There is only one way to end this post. Perhaps the most appropriate quote I have ever heard regarding ultras:

"Any idiot can run a marathon; It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon!" - Alan Cabelly

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"The Trail Is Our Sanctuary" - Report & Musings - G.A.C. Mother's Day 6 Hour Run

As runners, occasionally we look at a challenge and initially think that we aren't ready, in shape, or prepared, but then there is that little bit of bravado that screams from somewhere deep inside that we shouldn't be so careful, because it is in those moments where we are a little over-matached where we discover our true character and composition.

The G.A.C. 6 Hour was a challenge I wasn't entirely prepared for. I sent in the application with a little bit of trepidation, as my last two attempts at running around three to four hours had turned into death marches. Looking at these training runs and talking with trail friends kZ, Trail Pixie, and Breakheart Dan, even before these latest attempts of going long, it was agreed that the long runs and races could be completed with a conservative pace, run-walk strategy, and a will to get to the finish line.
The GAC Mother's Day 6 hour also seemed like a good choice because it allowed for any participant to drop at the conclusion of any lap. I figured if things started getting bad, and I was on the fast lane to Ugly Town, the finish would be close enough to get to without too much carnage. In Contrast, the Pineland Farms 50k is two 25-k loops, so you can see the advantages of a shorter loop event.
We arrived to Bradley Palmer State Park just after 8 a.m., greeted by a clear and cool Mother's Day morning. I thought we were a little on the late side, but we were able to park very close to the course, allowing for very easy access to supplies at the end of each lap. I was a little slow getting everything together before the start, stretching, and organizing Nuun tablets, scooby snacks, water bottles, etc. It was also a slow process because Ultra Trail events are great social occasions, too. Trail Pixie was parked close by, and popped over to chit chat prior to the start. Before we knew it, R.D. Jim 'Gilly' Gilford's booming voice came over the field of cars and runners, "15 Minutes!!". That made me scramble a little faster, and before I knew it Gilly was calling 5 minutes.

(Heading to the Start)

As we stood in line at the start, Emily and I were surrounded by some familiar faces, Richard Busa among them. To be silly I say, "Hey Busa, you doing Six Hours today?" With that smile, Busa looks me in the eye and says, "That's the idea". I swear, this is the third race in four weeks where I have come to the start to see Busa standing there, and the amazement never wains. Busa is 80 years old, and is more active than most of my 30 year old friends, I can only hope I am half as spry as Busa when I reach my 80's.

Just as Trail Pixie was introducing me to one member of the Lynn Woods Crew, Jay Curry, I looked down at my knee and realized I forgot to put on my IT Band strap, CRAP! I guess I will get a strider or two in before the start!

Once full equipped I made it back to the start and about a minute later Gilly sounds the horn. Off we go!

The race is run over a three mile loop course consisting of single track trail, jeep roads, gravel paths, and a little pavement. The vast majority is over single track though, and runners are treated to different landscapes along the way. It is a really great course because it almost appears to be a figure 8, with a quarter mile section of the course bringing outgoing and incoming runners together, which provides a great opportunity for runners of all speeds and abilities to say hello and cheer out words of encouragement. The course is also sort of cool because there are sections of the trail that seem to have their own personality. There's the aforementioned 'social' stretch, there are a couple sections that run along jeep roads and feature a couple decent climbs and descents, there is a section of single track that is raised up and very narrow with a canal on one side and the Ipswich River on the other, and dark section of woods with a comfy pine needle floor, a short steep climb, and brook just wide enough that it requires a well-timed hop instead of a simple stride or step. The final 200 yards are over pavement, along the parking lot, where spectators made up of family await their runners coming home after a lap. It was great coming out of the woods and hearing my boys scream "Daddy!" It was an especially great lift in the later laps.

The start and finish area had refueling table, adorned with ultra friendly foods. Everything from Cookies and Brownies, to PB&J and Boiled Potatoes with a salt bowl. Beverages of all different flavors were also readily on hand.

Trail Pixie and I arrived back at the transition area with smiles and three miles in the books:

As we arrived I made a few small additions to my gear, but didn't need too much at this point. As you can see I had my own pit crew for the day, diligently raiding the cooler for snacks!

Coming through the transition area we looked at the clock and saw the first lap was about 37 minutes as we journeyed back into the woods for lap 2, or miles 4, 5, and 6. As we negotiated the first section of single track that winds through the woods and up and down a steep hill, we talked about the strategy for the forthcoming laps. We agreed that 37 was a good start. The plan was to try to average 12-13 minute per mile pace for as long as possible, walking the uphills and downhills to preserve the quads for the later rounds. Yes, it seems quite conservative, but I already knew what happens when you over-reach on the pace too early. Yes, I had dreams of marathon or 50k distances in the 6 hours, but I knew I would be more disappointed if I ran 21 miles in 4 hours, only to bonk completely. Most important to me was to be consistently running according to plan in the last hour. Pixie assured me that the Trail Snail approach would work wonders!

During the lap we caught up to one of Emily's friends, Randy, and we chatted and ran together for a while. After about a mile or two, Randy had places to go and people to see (we secretly thought he was sick of our goofiness, and that is why he picked it up). Arriving back at the transition area I grabbed a packet of Succeed and quickly mixed a batch. Grabbed some fig newtons, and headed back out, grabbing a low five on the way out.

We figured the split for our second lap was 39 minutes, which was still within the plan. Good news. As we passed the food table I grabbed a couple pretzels to munch on the run.

The third lap seemed to go along without any real issues. My quads started letting me know they were there and making a little bit of a protest, but nothing too dramatic. I figured this was a good sign, since we were getting close to two hours. I think I have heard a saying that advises to run the first third of an ultra with you legs, the second third with your head, and the final third with your heart.

Originally Emily had mentioned she'd pace me for the first three or four laps, making sure I didn't go out too fast, and then she'd drop. We didn't really talk about her plan while we were out there because we were having too much fun, and I had an inkling that a couple laps would turn into 5 or 6 or 9 for Trail Pixie! That tends to happen with trail runner, we always seem to have a little more left.

We finished the third lap somewhere around 1:55, by this time I was getting ready for my third 20 ounce water bottle of the day. The temperature had climbed and it was really quite dry amid the bright sun and blue sky. I popped and S-Cap at hour two, which turned out to be a great hourly habit. I actually was really impressed at how I felt decent at two hours, then reminded myself it would get harder soon enough! On this lap we were heading across one of the early sections of the loop that goes up and over a rolling hill along an open field and jeep road, and who comes bolting toward us, but none other than USA Track superstar Jen Toomey. I wondered if this is where the hallucinations were actually beginning! The six hour had its fair share of fast people, but it was sort of cool seeing a fast track and road girl rubbing elbows with a bunch or dirt dogs and trail animals. I resisted the temptation to chase and attempt to ask for an autograph... "Ms. Toomey, could you sign my Nathan Handheld???"

As the laps rolled by I made sure I was sticking to my plans - 20 ounces of fluid every hour, and since it was getting warmer I stuck to the Succeed Ultra instead of alternating with the Nuun every other bottle. I was also careful to keep eating intermittently. Making sure to keep enough in my stomach to keep going, but not over doing it. Mostly my food of choice were fig newtons I brought, and the PB&J sandwiches that tasted SO good from the food table.

Lap five was a little bit of a scare for me because I was worried that I was drinking a lot, and though I was sweating, I never really had the urge to pee. Yes, it sounds gross, but I was worried about my hydration, and knew that as long as the cycle of fluid input and output was working, I was fine. I also was slightly concerned because though I hadn't taken as much ibuprofen as I had in training runs, I still took in one prior to the race and one at two hours. Worried, I resisted the temptation to take another 200 mgs of ibuprofen at three hours. Thankfully, and amazingly, as it turned out, I only took in those two ibuprofen, and didn't take any after the two hour mark.

I didn't freak out about the peeing (or lack thereof) problems, and just kept running. The conversation between Pixie and I became more infrequent as we went on to lap six. Our last three laps had been over 39 minutes due to a little more time in transition, but we were still on pace to finish our sixth lap, or 18th mile under 4 hours. At the transition on the sixth lap I wanted to see if I could get the water works flowing and had to wait for the porta-potty. Trail Pixie and I agreed that she would head back out on the course. Essentially we came into the transition area well under 4 hours, but waiting for the bathroom and spending and extra minute or two making sure I wasn't internally bleeding or super, super dehydrated took at least 3 to 5 minutes. Satisfied that I was somewhat okay, I headed out on the course. Looking at the clock I crossed back out on the course in 3:59. I guess this is where the test of the heart starts!

Running solo was tough at first, instead of talking to Emily I was left with my thoughts. I was pleased that I felt like I had been running for 4 hours, but was still able to run without feeling like I couldn't keep up a conservative pace. My lower abs hurt and I wasn't sure if it was because of stomach issues or just the lack of core training and the strain of being upright for so long. I started feeling queasy from the Succeed and sipped it just because it was what I had and knew I couldn't go without fluid. Thankfully my last visit to the food table I found some saltines as well as the boiled potatoes and salt. Having gobbled the potatoes, I stashed some saltines in back pockets of my RaceReady shorts - thank goodness I bought these a couple weeks ago!

Rationalizing with myself, I thought at least this was lap 7 and I was already out on the course. Either way I am finishing a seventh lap and will have 21 miles on the books. I stuck to the conservative pace and plugged along. I saw Randy on the 'social' section and he let me know Emily was only a couple minutes ahead. I wanted to catch up, but the stomach was still in knots. Regardless, I didn't feel like I was done yet and wanted to give an 8th lap a whirl. I felt bad, but not so much that I wanted to quit, perhaps there is a little toughness somewhere inside! I also realized I was only 5 miles away from logging the marathon distance and getting my name on the official finishers list for the 6 hour (all runners who complete 26.2 or more are considered official finishers).

I came to my family pit crew and my kids were getting grouchy... Daddy are you gonna stop now... Ugh, I felt like poo, and was almost ready to do so. Instead I grabbed a couple Newtons and dumped close to half a bottle of Succeed on the ground. I grabbed a Nuun tab tossed it in the bottle and headed for the food table, trying to not think about dropping. I filled the bottle with some ice cold "Agua Erotica" snagged a PB&J quarter-sandwich and a handful of saltines. As I crossed the clock, I saw 4:39. 39 minutes exactly for lap 7 with down time hunting for food and Nuun, excellent! (Secretly at 4 hours I figured if I had the juice I could run an average of 40 minutes a lap and get 27 in 6 hours, but had no idea what the final two hours would bring. Start of Lap 8 and I was up 1 minute!)

I didn't even think about the fact that I have never been on my feet this long during a race or training run, and headed out on the course. Mentally I told myself, "Once you pass the two American flags at the trail head, you finish the lap to which you have committed". This lap I continued to worry about the fluid in, fluid out issues, especially since I made my way through the first half of the fresh bottle of cold Nuun rather quickly. I tried not to think and just to run. The second mile of this lap was quite tough, and I probably walked more than I wanted to, I also tried to find a secluded 'pee' tree, which added a minute or two. I fought through mile 23 and 24 and arrived back at the transition area. I still felt like I had enough to snag that marathon. My wife had the film rolling:

At this point I just didn't think. I grabbed another Nuun tab, and made a B-line for the food table. Grabbed a cracker or two. Filled the water bottle and chatted with a couple volunteers. I knew it was close to 5:15 (allegedly my Garmin said my last lap started at 5:19) when I was near the transition, leaving me 45 minutes or so. One of the volunteers said, "Why don't you just run out to the mile marker and back to get the marathon". I thought, "That's nice, but I think I am just going to try to finish another lap!"

Off I went. I was a little worried because I was still really sore in the lower abs, and the stomach was not back to normal. I also wasn't sure what I was going to get from my legs. I tried to avoid looking at mile splits, but it was too tempting to resist that first mile. As I saw the lap time of 11:59 pop up I knew I was in decent shape. From here on in I resisted looking at the watch and just willed myself forward. Out of the secluded woods of the second mile, I arrived to the social section and saw Trail Pixie heading out to snag an additional mile on top of the 27 she had already logged. I was pumped! We shouted encouraging words to each other and I headed over the last hill to the last section of pavement and trail that would lead to the finish line. I was a little concerned because I knew I was on fumes, but I pushed where I could to make sure I didn't miss the 6 hour deadline.

As I came out of the woods my son Noah was waiting for me. He started running with me, I could taste the finish line! I chucked my handheld water bottle into my duffel bag as I ran by and the left kids in the dust, finding some other gear that can only be explained as adrenaline. I wanted them to finish with me, but I wasn't sure how close I was to 6 hours and I just wanted it to be finished.

I crossed the line, realizing I had run the final lap under 12 minute pace! Stupidly I stopped altogether and started dry heaving. Yuck!

Keeled over I saw I had run 27 miles in 5 hours and 53 minutes. Lifetime bests for distance covered in one run, and time on feet. I have run close to 25 miles once in a road training run last Fall during my marathon training, but my previous long run/time on feet was 4 hours and 10 minutes. Gilly shouted out, "Nice job, Rob!" and I retorted, "Gilly, I have never run that far or long in my entire life!" To which he grabbed the bullhorn and announced my life time best to the others - G.A.C. always has the best events for trail enduro-NUTS. Stone Cat Marathon and 50 miler in November, be there or be square!

After collecting myself, Trail Pixie and Busa hanging close, and we reveled in our day of adventure! Emily snagged 28 miles, and Busa finished with a solid 23 miles. Busa then relayed how his Chiropractor was telling him he is in the final stages of back deterioration and we might find him in a heap on the trail one of these days. Odds are if we do he'll be smiling!

We ambled back to the food table and had some of the sweetest tasting Coca-Cola I have ever had in my entire life! It wasn't quite 'Agua Erotica', but it was darn close!

Eventually I made it over to the car and took off the trail shoes, and to my amazement I took off the Drymax Socks and had NO blisters. Not even a hint of one, it really was amazing, and much like the new pair of RaceReady LD Sixer Shorts, the Drymax Socks were totally a great buy. Come to think of it, the Nuun, Succeed Ultra, and S-Caps were also new pieces of trail running swag I recently bought and had little time to test, but were an obvious benefit in this run. I am not fast enough for endorsement deals, but I'd gladly wear patches for any of the companies because their gear and products clearly kick some butt!

Eventually we packed up and gravitated home, where I prompty took a 15 minute ice bath and totally chilled out!

Sitting here the day after I can't get over the experience. It was just so awesome to go so far over my previous best of moving time and time on feet, as well as running my first marathon and a little beyond. I also am positive I had enough in the tank to get 50k. I also can't get over the fact that my legs are only a little sore -no where near the level I had anticipated I might have to deal with after 6 hours on the feet. I think the ice bath fairly soon after the race was key, and I also think the Succeed worked in mantaining the proper level of vitamins and minerals, sparing any deep muscle damage.

You know, usually I am a fairly calculated person and wanted to follow that formal training plan to a first marathon, yet this was the absolute opposite. I ran two hours at Ward with kZ, Dan, and Emily three months ago, then did 3 hours at the Middlesex Fells with the gang in March. A couple other 1-2 hour winter snow trail runs, not to mention the 4 hour and 3 1/2 hour solo long runs more recently. Other than the weekend long runs, and a few weekend trails races I have been limited to one or two short road runs of 3 or 4 miles a week. The IT just hasn't allowed for much else. Long slow miles on trails are okay, faster stuff and especially road miles are not so good. If I am limited to long and slow on the trails, I am cool with that! :-)

From here I am encouraged about making a run at 50k in the near future, and now I wonder about the prospect of the Stone Cat 50 miler in November. Obviously I have some work to do before the 50 miler, but now I feel like I can honestly have the conversation about doing an Ultra in the near future. I think Sunday I earned a few more trail animal stripes to do so!

More immediately, I am looking at the Eastern New England Trail Series Races, amazingly I already have three under my belt, and have a couple opportunities in the next 6 weeks to race a couple more local ENETRS events. For now, though, I am going to give the legs a well deserved rest and think of the plan for the next grand adventure!

Until then, Happy Trails Everyone!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Final Thoughts Before the GAC Topsfield 6 Hour for Breast Cancer Research

A Little mood music for the Post...

First, I expect a fun time. Part of me wants to go all 6 Hours to for the adventure and challenge. The other part just wants to be out there to enjoy a good race with great people for as long as I can.

Second, of course I have distance goals, but this is still a training run and a grand experiment of what works and what doesn't work for me. I still have the far out thought of doing the Stone Cat 50 miler in November, and I will learn a great deal about myself tomorrow, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I'll also be learning the Pixie Trail Snail strategy. I hope I am a good student! :-)

Third, it is for a great cause, and I have family members and good friends who have battled with cancer, so when it starts getting hard, I'll have a reason or two to suck up and deal.

Finally, It is going to be fun. My knee sort of ached this morning working with my group of "First 5k" runners and walkers, but I didn't have the strap, and didn't adequately stretch the IT and surround muscle groups.

I have read a lot over the last couple weeks about nutrition and hydration, and think I generally have a plan - at least regarding the hydration end of things. Nutrition I generally have an idea, but my mind is swimming in the ratios and calories from carbs, and all that business. I don't want to mess that up too much, because it might end in a short day, but I also realize some of the mistakes I made in my long training runs, and that is a very good thing.

Here's to getting really zen tomorrow and having a good time.

Even before I want to throw out BIG thanks to Trail Pixie for volunteering to pace me for the first couple loops.

This is going to be fun!


Sunday, May 3, 2009

"A Little Slice of Trail Running Heaven" - NMC Overlook Trail Race Report

"If you don't wanna get your feet wet, DON'T RUN TRAILS!"
- Sage advice from a TRUE trail animal, Richard Busa

Ask most trail runners, and they will happily provide you with their opinion on favorite and least favorite terrain or obstacles that one might encounter on a given course. Often times the answers to these questions change with season and fitness level. My choice seems to always be quickly connected to a like minded woodland animal, which almost always becomes a bit of a "self image" thing. I'd love to be that nimble mountain goat hopping from rock to rock, but these days with the slower times I go to that place where I feel most at home - the water crossing - the deeper, the better. So lately, as I run, Carrying a little extra on the frame, I picture myself a little like that moose that loves nothing more than to trudge through a river or stream.

At first I looked at the NMC Overlook Trail Race and initially balked because it was out in Fitchburg, but as I found it is definitely a course that should not be missed! A group of about 50 trail runners descended on Saima Park in Fitchburg for the Mid-Morning start under overcast skies. A brief chill gave way to a lukewarm and slightly humid air. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly better than the fare of sunny and hot from the previous weekend.

Probably the best part of the trail racing scene is the people. I rode up to the race with Breakheart Dan, and when we pulled into the park we saw Trail Pixie arrived and in preparation for the forthcoming foray in the forest. Trail Pixie spotted friend Sara, and we all were introduced, and as we chatted, Rich Busa came scampering by, per usual with a GIANT smile on his face. For me anyway, time with my trail friends tends to always wash away the dysfunction of 'normal' life... ugh, perhaps TMI there, but oh well.

(Hanging out before the start - idle only long enough for the bugs to think they have the upper hand!)

The race director called out that it was time to head up the road to the trail head and the start line of the race. Snapped one last picture before 'go time'. Then realized I hadn't evacuated all of the waste materials in the system, and quickly ran up another trail to find a shady spot. On the way back there were others doing their best 'hide behind a tree and TCB or maybe TCP?' pose. Sorry, no photojournalism here! I try to make this PG-13. But it does seem to suggest another reason why trail animal might fit better when describing many of us (at least most of the boys... and some of the girls, too).

The call goes out, and we are off. Thankfully, I was smart and stayed with Dan and Trail Pixie at the beginning. No need to get ahead of myself and spend the last half of the race hunting for magic mushroom power ups at slightly reduced speeds! My basic approach was to run between 63 and 70 minutes, but mostly to enjoy the course and run a smart and strong race. The terrain was constantly undulating and I can't really remember any flat sections. It seemed like you were either flying down a hill or relentlessly plodding upward. The course offered all types of terrain: Soft pine needles, flat rock faces, soft sand with scattered rocks and roots. I found that my skills at descending technical sections is slowly getting better with the experience. Unfortunately, my ascent skills are lacking, and there were a couple of climbs that were across extremely loose, rocky trails, (rocks scattered and roughly the size of softballs), and it was VERY hard to find a clean, direct line up the hill. These sections really slowed me down.

One great element of races is that you can arrive with really no agenda, and get into the thick of the battle and find you are going back and forth with one particular runner. After getting slightly separated from Dan by traffic on the single track, and then stopping to see if I runner who had taken a hard fall behind me needed assistance, I found I was close enough to see Breakheart Dan, but not close enough to make a worthwhile surge to catch up. Instead I seemed to be trading spaces with runner in the photo below:

In those moments when I really wanted to back off the pace I kept my head up and focused on the yellow shirt ahead, and the thought reeling the runner in. Again, I love the good natured competition of the trail race scene. In fact, when I'd pull even with my rival for the day, I'd say hello and try to make a little small talk. Sensing this was not appreciated too much because it was cutting into her cardio, I backed off and just focused on those trail areas where I knew I'd be able to gain ground.

Eventually, I passed and started to find a sort of zen moment. There was a lot of overhanging trees and nifty woodland scenery. I figured I'd hear evidence of runners ahead and/or behind me, but all I could hear were my own footfalls and the wind rustling the newly bloomed foliage. I had no desire to look at my watch or look over my shoulder. It was great, and it was one of those moments where I was truly at peace, and simply glad to be on the trail and away from the problems and pains of life.

A little way up the trail and over a couple of short hills I spotted another runner ahead of me, and he looked like he was not doing too well. As Trail Pixie put it: "It's nothing personal, you are just bait" :-). This put a little bit of a spring in my step, a second pursuit had begun! The ambient woodland noise was amplified by a stream that cut through the stand of trees, signifying the water crossings I was waiting for were coming soon! As I strode down to the bank for the first crossing, I noticed my prey was having a hard time getting out of the brook, but managed to just before I hopped in, darn! The next water crossing was not far off, and this time, prey was right ahead of me. Instead of descending and hopping into the lovely clear water, he stops short on the near bank, NOOOOO!, which meant I had to make a bit of a detour into the drink.

In true heritage of the Highlanders of my family I leaped in with a Kitchen Ceilidh, "Eeeeee-Yeeeewww!" I believe this will be the norm for me whenever I reach a water crossing in the races to follow. Every animal needs a call. :-)

Little did I know the water crossings were on the heels of the finish line... well, right after the final LONG ascent. This is where I started feeling cooked, and my nearly forgotten trail rival in the yellow shirt pushed ahead of me on the long climb. Not to be outdone, I surged as best I could in certain spots, arrived at the top, and scooted to the single track that made a fast descent to the finish line. This was actually where I impressed myself the most, because I knew I didn't have too much of a lead on yellow shirt, and I knew my lack of descending skills might come into play here. I sort of agreed with myself that I might end up broken by a bad fast fall, but I wasn't going to give up my place. Surviving the descent, a backed off just a little when the trail flattened out and I thought I may have another 3/4 of a mile to go. A couple other runners got me on this section, flying by - I suspect they knew how close we were to the end, while I was trying to save my kick (what kick?).

Perhaps based on my bravery to blitz the descent, I managed to cross the line 4 seconds ahead of my impromptu trail rival in the yellow shirt, and significantly ahead of my aquaphobic trail prey. :-)

Breakheart Dan, having finish a couple minutes ahead of me, was waiting at the finish, and Trail Pixie came scampering in not too long after. On our way back to the park where the post race munchies were at, I figure it'd only be right to pose in the brook that we got to cross a couple times earlier up stream!

Competition over, we all gathered and chatted about the race, among other things. Race results were announced and the ever popular, 'if you finished, you get a prize' award system was in effect. Did I mention I love the trail running scene? Trail Pixie picked up a water bottle for her efforts and Dan got some lovely "Fred Brown Lake Winnie" gloves adorned with a Loon! No comments please! Even with my moose-like speed I snagged a pair of NMC running gloves!

This was more of an abstract type of race for me, what can I say - it was sort of a right brain day - but from a technical standpoint it was the best of the three races I have competed in this season, all three of which have been Eastern New England Trail Race Series events. I finished the course in 64:40 which I was happy with, and managed to find a little competition among my usual station in the middle of the pack.

Next up for me is the GAC Mother's Day 6 Hour Run. First, it is for a good cause with the proceeds going toward Breast Cancer research. Second, it provides me with the opportunity and challenge of an Ultra. One gains the title of official finisher by completing 26.2 miles, and where I wanted my first ultra to be something sexy like a 50k, this race affords the opportunity to possibly run my first marathon ever, and perhaps beyond into Ultra land! I have NO delusions about being able to run 50k in 6 hours, it would take nothing short of a Mother's Day Miracle to do so, but the distance seems secondary to the challenge of doing anything for 6 hours. Above all, though, it will be among other trail running and ultra enthusiasts, so it will be great fun for sure!

As the saying loosely goes, the journey of many miles begins with just one step, and this is will certainly be an interesting adventure!

Until next time...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Gear!, and Not Gonna Overlook, the Overlook!

Recently I bought a new pair Asics Trabucos, which are basically replacing my initial pair of Trabs that got some great mileage and got me through the Fall, Winter, and most of the Spring, they are versatile enough to hold their own on the roads, yet rugged enough to be an asset on the trails.

This new pair of shoes sort of got my mind thinking about other pieces of gear I will need in my upcoming endurance endeavors. Click, click, click, ship, ship, ship, AND poof! New gear arrives at Rob's door!

The new items include:
- RaceReady's LD Sixer shorts
(I have a pair of these shorts, but where the size fits, my hips and backside make them a little snug in that area, making some parts of the anatomy show off a little more. So I grabbed another pair one size up, and they are perfecto!)

-Drymax 1/4 Crew Trail Running Socks
I have had a lot of success with the pair of Wigwam socks I purchased a while back, but have read some great reviews of other trail runners (Check out Anthony P.'s review and Umstead 100 report at his I Run Ultras blog) who swear by these. I found a great deal online and purchased a couple pairs.

-NUUN Electrolyte Drink Tablets
Still experimenting with different beverage and nutrition combinations. Found another good deal online for a small tube of NUUN. Took one of my handhelds this morning on a short run on the GAC 6 Hour Run course and popped a tablet in to practice running with my handheld and drinking as I go. First impression is that it tastes great, puts more of an emphasis on the food one eats during the ultra as a serving has like 3 calories. Stay tuned.

-Salomon Trail Runner Zip Tech T-Shirt
Wanted a shirt that was light, UV protecting, and half zip for those ever changing conditions on the trail, which allow for additional ventilation without showing off the pony keg stomach!
The shirt also has a side pocket that isn't all that large, but might be a good spot for some salt tabs or ibuprofen. Wife says she like the blue on me... how can you go wrong! :-)

Overlook Trail Race and GAC 6 Hour Prep...
Since the bonkfest Sunday at the Blue Hills, I actually had a decent week of training. The following Monday I bagged 5.4 miles on the roads, took the next three days off, last night I ran a fastish 3.7 on the roads, last couple miles 7:45 pace, which just confirms I am below were I was last summer fitness wise. Then this morning after my first session training walkers and new runners for their first 5k on the roads of Bradley Palmer, I switched the road shoes for the Montrails and ran the GAC 6-Hour course around my target pace. The plan is to run evenly throughout, instead of going out fast and suffering later and sooner.

Thoughts on the Overlook. Basic goal is to go out slower than last week and try to run under 10/min mile pace. Ideally, I'd like to run closer to 9 mins./mile, but the course looks like a roller coaster throughout the 7 miles. Again, I see myself as the Moose on the trail. I can go fast when I need too, but I am more interested in mud and water and having some fun! Trail Pixie and Breakheart Dan will be in the mix, so I good time is assured!

Thoughts on the GAC 6 Hour. It is still a little scary, but any event with Ultra folks is bound to be a good time. I also found out my ibuprofen is in actuality not going to kill my kidneys, so I feel good that I have another weapon in keeping my knee at a manageable level of discomfort to get in the miles. Still not sure what the plan is in reference to the GAC and Pineland Farms. PF sounds like it could be a REALLY fun adventure with trail friend, including Pathfinder, but if I somehow get to 5 hours running 12 minute pace and feel reasonably good, I might just buck up and bag the marathon. At the very least the GAC will provide that final test in my VERY unconventional 50k training this Spring!

The funny thing was that on this purposefully slow run at Bradley Palmer this morning I took it easy and had splits of 10:43, 11:30, 10:21 for a lap of 32:34. Still too fast! I was using the 5 min run, 1 min walk strategy, along with walking the 'big' hills. The course is relatively easy, but I want to still be somewhat functional at 4 hours! I have to say, the strategy and planning involved in Ultras is really kind of cool and fun. What you do in the first half hour can mean the world later on.

Anyway, enough jibber-jabber, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Time to get out and enjoy some more!

Happy Trails!