Thursday, November 18, 2010

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon, or Getting Opus on Y'all!

It has taken me a couple weeks to process everything that went down in D.C. over Halloween weekend, but I think I have finally arrived at a spot where I feel like I have sorted through everything and can at least attempt to encapsulate the experience in a single post.

Be forewarned, if you are not a runner, some of this might not make much sense, but take the literary journey nevertheless, there may be something in what follows that might resonate and slightly inspire, if I may be so bold.


I flew down to D.C. on Friday morning... actually, check that, I flew down to Baltimore Friday morning, and took the regional commuter rail from BWI, which actually isn't even quite in Baltimore at all, down to Union Station in D.C.  When we arrived in D.C. we had a general idea of where we were in the city and what we could possibly do before we headed over to our hotel, which was actually not in D.C. at all, but in Alexandria, VA.  Even having scoped out the Fodor's on the train from BWI to D.C., I still felt like a perilously lost tourist gripping my luggage extra tight as we looked for someplace for lunch.

It is actually sort of interesting how much my anxiety came out during these initial phases of being down in D.C.  It wasn't a particularly hard trip, with a quick trip from Boston to BWI, and the train ride was smooth and simple, but I think just being away from all of the safety of familiar environments was enough to dig deeper than usual.

Polished off a burger and fries at Johnny Rockets and headed out of Union Station.  We figured since we had a few hours to use before check in time we'd see some of the sights.  We headed over to Capitol Hill and saw the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and the Capitol Building.  I don't think it really registers or resonates until you are standing tall in front of these massive structures.  Sure, they are only buildings, but they are truly national landmarks and have so much history tied to them.
We moved on to the front of the Capitol and got the amazing long view of the National Mall all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial.  It was interesting to see all of the activity on the Mall in preparation for the John Stewart and Stephen Colbert rally on Saturday.

Next we decided we make our way to the nearest DC Metro Station and head over to Alexandria.  By this time, all of the walking and handling my bag, which had a broken wheel, was getting to me.  My hip started to get increasingly sore, which was not a good sign, and then my shins decided they'd also get into the act.

Leading up to the race I had the shin injury which kept me entirely off my feet for most of the last two weeks of September.  Having seemingly survived and recovered, I was able to get some good training in during October, but once I began to taper my hip and glute issues were acting up, as was my IT Band problems (seemingly out of nowhere!), and with all of this happening I was even questioning making the trip to D.C. at all.

We actually were about to head in the direction of the Metro when a Capitol Police Officer started hollering at my Mother about her New England Patriots sweatshirt.  Talk about surreal, given that moments earlier we saw a Capitol Police Officer on a Bike speed past us and pull an near endo getting off the bike to simply tell a guy with a camera and a tripod he needed a permit to be filming!

Turns out this Capitol Officer was laid back and we asked him where we might find a restroom, and he pointed us to the Botanical Gardens.  Now only a trail runner would initially think that it is quite odd that I'd be encouraged to do what I typically do out on the trail - pee on the bushes - but my mind quickly stepped back into reality.

Capitol Rotunda from the Desert Room in the Botanical Gardens
The gardens are actually incredibly amazing and I highly recommend that anyone heading to DC take at least a little time to check them out.

We finally made our way to the Metro, to the Hotel, and at long last I was able to sit down and get a little settled in after what was a long day using almost every form of transportation.

As I sat in our surprisingly posh digs for the weekend I decided it might be nice to head out and see the neighborhood, as we were staying in the heart of 'Old Town' an uber ritzy section of Alexandria that holds a median home value slightly north of $500,000.  Historic brownstone heaven if you have a cool half mil to throw around.

Lacing up my shoes I wasn't sure if I was making the right choice given all of the carnage walking had done to me earlier in the day, but I figured I would leave my 20+ pounds of luggage at the hotel for this journey.

As expected, running through the neighborhood was very interesting.  Passing every type of luxury sedan while trying to make sure the brick and cobblestone sidewalks didn't prove to be my marathon Benedict Arnold.

Just as I was about to cross a street I was cut off by two surging dogs taking their owner for a walk.  Abruptly stopped, we exchanged apologies, as here I was running in the twilight without a light, and she feeling bad that her dogs nearly took out a runner.  In Boston this would most likely be the end of the encounter, but we struck up a conversation, and when she found out I was a visitor I got a 15 minute personal listing of all of the places to find good food in the area.  In all honesty, the good outlets for eats was taken well, but I was secretly looking for a running store I knew was in the area.  Yeah, just what I need, gear hunting whilst on vacation!

After a few turns, I finally found 'Pacers', the spot for runners in the D.C. Metro area (

To put it simply, for a trail runner that has had his share of experiences with running stores and gear, Pacers was THA BOMB.  I could have avoided my anxiety of packing Gels in my TSA liquid and gel bag, which happened to be Carb BOOMs - not a flyer friendly brand for the TSA agent without a sense of humor, as Pacers had an amazing selection of Gels and Energy edibles, along with a few different types of electrolyte drop tablets.  They also had an amazing selection of packs for hydration or otherwise.  It was a little piece of heaven for me, and I ended up solving one of my raceday problems by picking up a Spibelt ( for my gel packets, since I was opting for the CWX compression shorts instead of the RaceReady's.

Gear acquired, I happily headed back to the hotel, save a trip to a local Trader Joe's I found on the way home.  Once I got back I figured the only thing left to do in the day was to go on a recon mission to the Pool and Gym to see if there was perhaps a hot tub on the premises, and to my job I did indeed find one!

As I sat soaking my soreness, I had the chance to meet a few other marathoners staying at the hotel, one of which was also into trails and ultras, and was following up his Marine Corps Marathon with the NYC Marathon the following weekend.  At least now I had one other person in the world that made my goal of two marathons in one week not so crazy!

Saturday I woke up feeling decent, not too sore from the previous day, which was a good sign.  After getting ready, old friend and fellow Marathoner Josh Hill swung by the hotel to pick me up for our trip into DC for the Marathon expo.  After arriving, I was blown away by the level of production and pomp that is a large marathon expo.  If my experience at Pacers the previous night was a light slice of heaven, this was Nirvana!

The Marine Corps does a fantastic job with all aspects of the race and it isn't a Marine Corps branded marathon, it is a Marine Corps production full on.  In fact, as I went to obtain my number and race packet I wasn't sure if I needed to salute the two Marines at the booth.

 During the expo it was just cool to see all of the offerings, and after a while the whole Turkish bazaar atmosphere wore thin, but before I was ready to bug out with all the essentials taken care of, I made sure I got in line to meet one of the top U.S. distance running stars, Ryan Hall.  It was very cool to meet Ryan, and he took the time with everyone, not just to say hello and sign an autograph, but also to ask about our preparedness for the race.  I have had the chance to meet a few pro athletes in my life, and distance runners all seem to be universally cool and down to earth, which isn't all that surprising given we all seem to start at the same place and all have to log the miles to succeed at whatever level we are on.

Following the marathon expo we were on our way out of D.C. and amazingly found a parking spot literally steps from the Lincoln Memorial, to which Josh swerved into the spot asking, "Hey, this doesn't happen every day!  Oh, wanna see the Lincoln Memorial?"

Not wanting to do too much walking the day before, given the toll the previous day seemed to take, I agreed it would be cool, since this was my first trip to D.C., as was the case for my Mom, who was with us.  I didn't want to be that pre-race diva, either!

The sightseeing progressed from the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam Wall, to the Korean War Memorial, to the World War II Memorial, and eventually over to the White House.  By the time we were heading over to the White House, both hips were now sore and achy, as were my shins and lower back.  I didn't complain, but I was seriously starting to wonder what I was doing down there.  This was not the way I had hoped I'd feel less than 24 hours before I was supposed to run 26.2!

After the sightseeing, which was TOTALLY worth the aches and pains, Josh and his girlfriend invited us over their place to have a lovely carbo-loading dinner.  Following the dinner, we headed to the hot tub at the hotel, as I needed one last desperation soak before the main event.  We met a few other marathoners, as well as some of the people that were in DC for the Stewart/Colbert Rally.

Read to Go!
Back in the room I went through my usual race prep and anxiety, which was heightened due to all of the 'what ifs' with my physical state.  I hadn't run a sustained 20 miles throughout the whole training cycle, but I did have three long ultra training runs that were 20+ miles and ranged from 3 hours to 4h, 10 mins. in length, so I had the time on feet locked in for sure, but there was still that anxiety of getting to 10 or 16 miles and having everything stop working and not being able to move to at least slog my way home.  I just wanted the finish, not just for me, but for my Dad, and for my Grandfather, and for the many service men and women that gave me the freedom to run like a fool in our Nation's capital.  

Bag packed, alarm set, and it was off to dream land... well sort of, given that I woke up every two hours like clockwork!

Race Day

The alarm went off at 5 and I sluggishly got ready and met Josh in the lobby to take the hotel shuttle to the Metro Station.  I must say, being SUPER hydrated in an unfamiliar place, with few pit stop options is not a cool place to be in!  Thankfully the Metro ride to the Pentagon, where the Runner's Village was set up, was quick and before I knew it we were among the throng of people streaming from the Pentagon Metro Station over to the parking lot where the security check in and pre-race holding area was located.

I was reluctant to start the process of warming up because it was still dark and cold.  The temps for the day would be very nice, but the 8 a.m. start, combined with a 7:30 sunrise made it difficult to shed layers and check bags, especially when the plan was to run in a sleeveless t-shirt.

Nevertheless, I began the process of making myself bionic.  I had the compression tights on for the hip and IT band issues.  For good measure, I put on the IT band strap under the shorts just to make sure that behaved, and I invested in some KT Tape, and braced my knee in that respect as well.  I felt ready, and strangely with a desire to find and terminate someone named John or Sarah Connor... or run for governor of California.

The minutes passed by quicker and quicker, and I made the decision to try to use the porta potty one last time before heading over to the start, which was a bad move.  By the time I got out of the porta potty and across the parking lot to the road that led to the start the gun went off.  I would have been upset if it didn't dawn on me that a.) I had a chip in my bib, and b.) there was no way I'd be crossing the start line anywhere near the gun. 

As I walked the half mile or so to the outskirts of the corrals, I just tried to relax and get focused.  I passed about 200 porta potties on the way to the start line, which made me feel silly that I waited in line, but I chalk that up to a first timer mistake.  All said and done I made it to the masses still walking like herded cattle to the start line.  Things were getting exciting as we could hear the music and the PA announcer booming, and the yellow and red arches of the start drew near.

And then it began...

There was surprisingly plenty of space early on to maneuver and get into a decent rhythm toward the back of the pack.  As I started passing runners and moving up things got progressively more congested.

The first couple of miles are actually quite challenging as we headed into the Virginia city center of Rosslyn, which is directly across the Potomac from D.C. this initial stretch is definitely high energy, but it includes 30 feet of gain in the first mile, and a gradual climb that gains 70 feet to the second mile marker. 

The adrenaline of the start definitely helped as I made it to the mile marker in 9:05, but from there I definitely backed off the pace for the next few miles.

My body felt good at 2, and we entered the chaos of the first water stop.  I was carrying my Nathan Handheld bottle the whole way to make sure I was properly hydrating throughout the race.  At first the thought of having a hand held bothered me, but it allowed me the luxury of having roughly an hour of fluids at hand, to have liquid to wash down the gels, and any time lost trying to get my bottle filled at the tables was gained when I could take the express lane through a few of the other water points.

On that note, the Marines at the water stops were awesome when I came with my bottle and asked for a refill, and it doesn't get more efficient than the Corps!

From two to three the course gains another 40 to 50 feet of elevation, but I honestly didn't feel any of it based on my slower pace and training on the trails.  In fact, after this initial climb to three miles there is one more big elevation gain from 6 to 8 (120 feet), and the final .2 to the finish is uphill to the Iwo Jima Memorial. 

During the 4th mile I meditated on my splits, as I was averaging about 9:30 pace, which seemed far too slow to start things off.  I also was thinking about how the initial plan of running 8 minutes and walking 2 was sort of out the window since I had been running for close to 35 without any walking breaks.  As we came toward the four mile mark I looked down at my watch and saw 38:26 which was down toward 9:35 pace, and I knew it was during the next mile that I needed to make a decision about what kind of day it would be.

Just about that moment I had a bit of déjà vu.  I looked at the scene and the thoughts running through my head and I thought, "Hey, I dreamed this!".  I honestly had a dream earlier in the Fall that I was at this very point in the race, thinking about how slow I had started.  I don't remember how the dream played out, but I know that the gist was that I turned things around and picked up the pace and had a fantastic finish. 

I am not sure if the déjà vu triggered something primal, but as I ran the 5th mile, I ate a gel and tested out what the body would do if I started to gradually increase the pace.

We crossed the Francis Scott Key Bridge into D.C. and ran north along the Potomac.  There was a bagpiper, which also got deep into me.  As my Great Aunt says, "You know you have that Scotch blood when the pipes make you stand at attention!"  In this case they made me run a little faster, and upon arriving at mile 5 in 47:38 (9:31), I knew it was game on.

Back in the summer I ran the Yankee Homecoming 10 miler with the strategy of using surges every mile to help my split times and eventual pace down to a slightly faster level.  The idea was to run at a reasonable pace, but then surge at every mile marker for 45 to 90 seconds.  Not an all out sprint, but a slight push to another gear.  After the allotted time, I backed off to the reasonable pace.

I found this does help to get split times down, but one of the other benefits is that I actually find my 'reasonable' pace becomes slightly quicker because it feels easier than the surge pace.

This was a good strategy for the 10 miler, but the last 1.5 miles of that race was pure hell.  Certainly not something one wants to incorporate in their marathon race strategy, right?

Well, staring at 5 miles in the books, a decision I would not use walking breaks, and decently fresh legs, I thought, "Well there is only one way I know of gaining back time, and that is running faster".  At this point I resolved that I'd use the next few miles to throw in these surges, and see how long I could handle it, and how much time I might gain.

The next five miles brought us back toward D.C. through Georgetown, back along the Potomac again, and toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Georgetown was crazy with people packed along the side of the road screaming so loud you could not hear yourself think.  It was really a huge lift.

I really wasn't too concerned with individual mile splits at this point, as I really only checked my watch when we cleared a mile marker. 

The surges seemed to be agreeable, and I resolved that the 10 mile mark would be an easy point to see what kind of progress I was making.

10 miles arrived as we passed the Kennedy Center of the arts, just a half mile outside of the next major scream tunnel at the Lincoln Memorial and I looked down to find 1:31:10 as my 10 mile split!  In retrospect, I ran the second 5 mile segment in 43:32 with my 10th mile split at 8:03!  I checked all my systems at this point, and things felt good.  We got a huge lift in the chaos of the spectators at the Lincoln Memorial, and I realized then that I had a shot of reaching the halfway point at 2 hours.

I continued to throw in surges, figuring that at the very least if I crashed and burned over the last 10 miles I could go home with my head held high explaining that I at least got to the halfway point in sub 4 hour pace following a slow first 5 miles. 

The 5k from 10 to the half was a bit more remote as we headed on an out and back to Hains Point, which is at the tip of a DC island in the Potomac, which makes up East Potomac Park.  As we arrived at the turnaround at Hains Point, we also hit the half timing mat and I looked down to 1:59:01!
I felt like I had accomplished my mission and settled in for most of mile 14. 

I felt good, and there was a little voice inside of me that was whispering, "So you made it here, but are you willing to push a little more to put some time in the bank?"  As we passed a bluegrass band twanging away I started to agree with the voices in my head (did I just say that?), and at mile 14 I resolved that I'd try to surge each mile for as long as I had the gear, and could make it happen.

From here things got a little less clear, and much more primal. 

I hit mile 15 at 2:13:01, which, I didn't realize at the time was a 41:51 five mile split from 10 to 15.  From 15 we headed off the East Potomac Park Island and back toward the Lincoln Memorial again.  I started to have a little trouble here with my mental state and my legs were beginning to show some signs of fatigue.  This was quickly spelled when a pounded a gel, filled my bottle with more Powerade, and cruised by the furious fans at the Lincoln.

From here the course takes runners the length of the National Mall toward the Capitol Building.  When we arrive at the Capitol we head back down the other side of the National Mall toward the bridge that carries us over the Potomac one last time.

This was also a tricky section for me, and I think over these four miles I surged only a couple times.  Mentally I was cracking a little because it felt like the longest two miles to the Capitol.  Once we rounded the turn I got a little bit of a lift seeing the 19 mile banner and knowing I was only 1 mile from 20, which would be a mere 10k from the finish.  It is a wonder what little mental tricks you can play when things start getting rough!

20 arrived just before we hit the bridge across the Potomac and I was elated that I had run 20 without stopping, which was a huge victory considering what I had thought might happen on this day, I also noticed I made it to 20 in 2:55:38!! 

I didn't even think about it in terms of sub 9:00/mile pace, and I definitely didn't think about how my split for the five miles from 15 to 20 was 42:37.  I simply thought I might have another surge in me, but beyond that I wasn't sure.

I took the surge at 20, and a very short surge at 21, and from there it became a pure guts race.

This stretch was perhaps the most barren, as there was no shade since we were running on a closed section of interstate highway, which also meant there were no spectators.  The drop demons came swooping down and were eating at my confidence.  I began thinking about how I only had one gear, about how this section of the course was miserable, about how maybe I had worked way too hard earlier and the race and I was now about to pay dearly for it.  Each step felt tougher than the last, but I refused to walk.

Finally we came down off of the interstate, crossed the 35k timing mat and the 22 mile marker, and into Crystal City, which is another city center across from D.C. in Virginia.

Crystal City was filled with cheering spectators and music, but it was all just a whirl of an unintelligible cacophony to me.  I wanted to stop and walk, I felt wrecked, and this little out and back section was getting on my nerves.  I wanted to head toward the Pentagon, where I knew the finish was near, and instead this race is taking me into a canyon of yahoos telling me how fantastic I look.... whatever!

At the turnaround in Crystal City I must have missed the 23 mile marker, which didn't help my mental state.  Nevertheless I pushed on, and at this point I started feeling a little tightness in my chest, which brought on a whole different level of concern.

It wasn't much, but it was there, and it bothered me.  The last thing I wanted was to drop dead at mile 24 of the marathon, so just as we were crossing the 24 mile marker I decided to walk for about 30 seconds.

This seemed to help, so I started running again, and made it just past 25 miles when I had to walk for another 30 seconds.  Passing the Pentagon at mile 25 I looked down at my watch to see 3:37:56, and I knew sub 4 hours was in the bag.  Ironically, my five mile split from 20 to 25 was still an impressive 42:18 amid the rough miles and little bit of walking.
Mission Accomplished

I walked one last time just around mile 26 and then charged up the final hill toward the finish and the Iwo Jima Memorial.  Moments later it was Mission Accomplished in 3 hours, 52 minutes, and 21 seconds!

As I walked through the chute I began to lose it, as I was overjoyed with the finish.  I ran with my heart pinned to my jersey, without fear of giving too much too soon, and in my own little way I felt like it was the only way I knew how to run the race to honor my Dad and my Grandfather, both Marines.

As I got my medal and space blanket I was just lost in the moment, it was so surreal and much different from my finish at the Hyannis Marathon back in February, which was also quite fulfilling and emotional in its own right.

Post Race 

The finisher festival was definitely an experience, but what sounded like a good time (beer garden and live music) the day before the race, was an entirely different concept following the marathon.  I just wanted as much water as I could handle, since the temperature had climbed all the way to 65 during the last hour of the race and even my habitual hydration during the race left me feeling dehydrated at the end.  I used a porta-potty and confirmed said dehydration.

As I stretched out I made my way over to the family and friends meet up area and eventually met my Mom, and Josh's girlfriend Danielle.  Finally Josh made his way over to us, and we drifted off to find some food.

As the day went along I stayed in a place of sheer amazement over the accomplishment.  I didn't have any stats or splits at hand, but the final product was all I could have asked for.

After retiring to the hotel I was able to see my stats and was blown away with my progressive 5k splits:

5k - 29:47 (9:35)
10k - 29:11 (9:23)
15k - 27:43 (8:55)
20k - 26:31 (8:32)
25k - 26:18 (8:27)
30k - 26:47 (8:37)
35k - 26:35 (8:33)
40k - 27:10 (8:44)

After winding down, I hobbled out for a couple beers and some recollections of our old home town with Josh.  Running MCM was a fantastic experience, but it was made so much more memorable because I got to share it with an old HS friend and track teammate.  You really know your real friends when you can fly into town for a weekend and pick right up like the time and distance between that last H.S. track workout or college XC meet or previous marathon didn't exist.  I am blessed.

I also have to thank my Mom for all her support throughout the experience.  I am glad I had a travel buddy for the trip, because there were certainly moments where my usual mental wrinkles came out and it was very important to just have someone there to simply listen when I wasn't doing so well... again, I am blessed.

A view North along the banks of the Potomac.
Monday morning arrived and it was check out and travel day for us.  I woke up early and got my running gear on to head over 4 or 5 blocks from the hotel to take a couple pictures of the Potomac.  I tried light jogging, but after 3 or 4 minutes my body violently protested, to which I replied, "Listen, it wasn't like I made you run an ultra!"  Muscles don't listen, they simply stop working, remember this, and ye may live a long and fitful life!

Regardless of my soreness and lack of mobility, we visited Arlington National Cemetery, which was certainly worth the time and effort, especially considering we were among the many, many graves of those that had paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  I simply wish we had more time to take all of it in.

We actually cut it pretty close when we arrived at Union Station in DC to hook up with the commuter rail train to BWI, and had to 'jog' to make sure we were on the train as it pulled away from the station, at which time my legs reminded me of the big FAIL that was.

Beyond that and a brief delay at the gate because there was a problem with the landing gear... not a big deal, right? ...we were landing at Logan just after sunset, and it was back to the very real world of trying to navigate all of the hustle and bustle of home.

Recovery and Reflection

Running my second marathon of 2010 was a fantastic success, mostly because it was an ex nihilo experience.  I came into the race expecting basically nothing, and left D.C. with something that I will never ever forget.

Thought it was technically the third marathon of my life, it felt like the first.  I ran it much more differently than the GAC 6 hour, where I got 27 miles, thus, technically a marathon, and it was nothing like my experience at Hyannis in February, which I trained for on short notice and used a run/walk strategy throughout.

Thankfully, my legs felt pretty good by Wednesday and Thursday of that week, but due to a chest cold or respiratory virus/infection, I was having trouble breathing when I went for a run.  With that, I never made it out to Stone Cat, but I was at peace with all of that.

So now the question lingers, "What's next?"

For me, ultra running is still a very real desire, and the more I long 3 and 4 hour trail runs, the more accessible the marathon has become.  I certainly respect the distance, but I have had lots of success this Fall logging 20+ mile ultra training runs and only having to take one or two days off following the run to recover.

Obviously 50k is the next logical step for me, and maybe it will be, but I look to 2011 as the year I run 50 miles, and hopefully log a qualifying time for a 100 miler.

It is funny, when I was 235, and what trail running friend Steve calls a BGR "Big Guy Runner", the marathon seemed impossible.  Eventually I ran 13.1, and marathon seemed accessible.  Now that I have run the distance a few times, 50k seems like it will be cake, and 50 miles, where it was once beyond my belief, is now visible on the horizon.  It will be a challenge, but I believe I can do it.  100 miles... well, we'll wait and see.  If I learned anything from my Marine Corps Marathon experience it is this:

Never say never.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Well, I made it.... to the Start Line

This will be quick, but I wanted to quickly post to give a quick update.

First, I am not sure what I am thinking by doing this, but for Stone Cat I am upgrading from the Marathon to the 50... yeah, don't ask, but I will say it is like that quote where the reporter asks the climber, "Why did you want to climb that mountain?", and the climber replies, "Because it is there."  Realistically, six days after a road marathon I am not sure I'll have the juice to finish a trail marathon, let alone a 50, but I will be going very conservatively, lots of run/walk breaks!

Second, I leave for DC tomorrow for the Marine Corps Marathon with mixed feelings.  All of a sudden my time goals are gone and I will be using a run walk strategy to try to a.) limit muscle damage, b.) speed recovery, and c.) FINISH.

I am not completely broken, but the last 4 weeks have scared up a few nagging injuries, and where they aren't enough to keep me off the course, they are things that make me wonder what the day will be like.

All in all, I KNOW I can do 26.2 miles, there is not question there.  The big question is how much carnage I will need to endure to arrive at the finish line.

So I cheer for the victory of just arriving to the line, whether I DNF at MCM and all goes to waste, or finish both races, I know that just by trying I am accomplishing something... right?

For all my friends, I believe you can track my Bib on race day if you like, shoot me an email for the details.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Upcoming Event: Tuff Ten Trail Race - 10/17/2010

WHAT:  Tuff Ten Trail Race (10k)
WHERE: Breakheart Reservation, Saugus, MA (very conveniently only a couple minutes off route 1)
WHEN:  Sunday, October 17th, 2010, 10 a.m. Start
Howdy folks, just a quick plug for an upcoming first ever trail race on the trails of Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, MA.

Trust me, if you make the trip you will not be disappointed!  The tough ten will be a 10 kilometer jaunt over all of the types of terrain that the Breakheart Reservation has to offer.  The intrepid runner will get to see the softer side, with nice single tracks of forest floors carpeted in pine needles, to rugged climbs to the top of one of the many vistas that should provide a clear view of the Boston skyline.

Here are a few shots of some of the trails and scenery from my training run at Breakheart around this time last year:

Proceeds for this race will go towards the continued preservation of the suburban trail running gem, which is all the more reason to come out and enjoy some fantastic trails so close to the city.  Seriously, where else can you run some rugged trails with a decent amount of a challenge and then be enjoying some pasta or pastries in the North End less than 30 minutes?

This will be a great take, and the RD is a REAL trail runner, so you know it'll be good!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nothing a Little Mileage Can't Handle...

So not that I ma breaking any records with this, but I officially logged 49 miles this past week of training.  Sure, much of it was based on run/walk type training, but somehow I arrived at the end of the week with nearly 50 miles and just a little soreness in my knees from yesterday on the trails.

I won't go into great detail about the long run yesterday, but basically Breakheart Dan and I met up to run the Stone Cat Course.  We took it really easy and added in many walking breaks.  The day was amazingly brilliant, and a classic New England Fall day, and it was one that you live for as a runner.  Was really glad to share it with Dan, but after hearing his ITB flaired up big time today, I am a little disappointed.  Dan is a great person, totally dedicated to the sport of trail running and ultra running, and deserves way better than he is getting right now with his ITB tendinitis issues.

After Dan and I completed the loop, 12.5 miles, I headed back out on the trails for a few more miles on the trails, as well as a few miles on the roads home to my place.  All told I grabbed another 5 to 5.5 miles on the trails, and then about three on the roads home.  Total for the day was 21.25 miles, at about 4 h, 12 m.

I felt pretty crushed for the rest of the day, mostly because I didn't hydrate nearly enough before and during the run, but Sunday brought more great weather and I was really looking forward to getting outside.

We decided on taking the kids on a short hike through Maudsley State Park, and covered a couple of miles.  I even got a little running fix by wearing my INOV8's for the hike and challenging the kids to a couple short trail races over the terrain.  Maudsley is a fairly popular park, and it is hard to find a trail where you are ever alone for too long, which can be good or bad, but we also had the opportunity to stop and listen carefully, and heard a Great Horned Owl off in the distance.

After our excursion I wanted to get a short couple miles, which inevitably turned into five when I tried shortening my stride and taking it very easy.  I think I found that true marathon pace, and with a good taper and a little recovery might be able to go sub-4 hours at the Marine Corps Marathon, which would be fantastic.

Nevertheless, I am not afraid of the start or the race itself.  I had some serious soul searching and BIG thoughts today.  All of our personal hang ups seem to get rapidly burned away when you realize that one day you will be dead, and this current life we are living will be over.  No matter what you believe, all that you have in this life will be gone, and as far as I can see, there is no proof if we will carry our memories with us.  So the best I can come up with is to try my best as a Father, be good and reliable to my friends, and not pass up any time to spend with loved ones, or miss out on any adventures because of emotional distress.  This life seems long and arduous sometimes, but it is always moving, more and more rapidly as they days go by, and we have to cherish each one.

In love and truth, be who you want to be, do what you need to do, and make a difference in the world.  As the old campsite mantra goes, leave it better than it was when you arrived.

Happy trails!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Here and There... Yet Again.

Back in August I was feeling like I was making a serious breakthrough.  Unfortunately, I feel like those are the times when I need to back off the most, because my body is usually not far behind with a reality check.

Following Moose on the Loose I developed a bit of a lower ab, groin issue which wouldn't allow me to run across the parking lot, let alone extended miles on the trails.  Quickly races came and went, and I ended up eating the race fees for Beverly Commons, which should have been NSTS race number three for me, as well as NSTS race four - ECTA 10 miler in Hamilton.  I was also not able to run a really important marathon training run/race - The Nahant 30k.

Amid all of this I was able to get a few decent long runs with significant time on my feet.  First a 23 mile excursion through Willowdale, and second a 20 mile road run which did me in entirely.

The 23 miler was incredibly inspiring, gave me hope I could overcome the injuries, but then on the road 20 miler I developed a pain in my ankle at 6 miles, and like a dufus I ran through it.  When I got home it progressively got worse with more pain, tightness, and swelling.  It could have been shin splints, it could have been a stress fracture, it could have been compartment syndrome.

Most times I would avoid the doctor, but I was in to see my GP, who sent me to get some happy radiation to take a couple glamour shots of my lower leg.  No stress fracture, YAY, but strict instructions to not run for two weeks.  Hard to news to take when one is 7 weeks out from a marathon!  Of course, since I use running as my way of treating depression and anxiety, it was painful to be sedentary.

So there I was, sitting with my sad sack self, thinking about how I would now be burning money for race fees, plane fares, and hotel rooms that were locked in for the Marine Corps Marathon in DC.  I was bummed out about having a third straight Fall season where I was sitting on my butt, eating race entry fees - as well as ice cream, and lamenting at how injuries seem to love me this time of the year.

Finally I made my way out of the darkness and am back to running, back to the marathon goals, and the fun trail runs with the guys from the club.  Back to dreaming big.  I am a little bummed out that I probably won't be running any fantastic times in DC and at Stone Cat, but the Fall goal of running two marathons in a week is still on, and I have decided I am going to try to run the Fells Ultra in December.

The Fells will be an epic challenge.  It has always tested me mentally while running the short 8 mile edition of the race, now I need to reckon what it'll be like running that same 8 mile loop another 3 or 4 times!  It is a course where my lack of eyesight becomes an incredible disadvantage, but I am not going to not try because of those limitations.

Oddly enough, I am sitting here with a reply of the 2008 Ironman in Kona going on in the background... that is surely a harsh reminder that every step is a blessing, and it is all about the journey to the finish line.

I am still out here living the journey trail friends...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'Possum Droppings and Moose Tracks - A Couple Race Reports

The last month has been quite interesting and busy for me.  Family and work lives have seemed to be ratcheted up a notch, and I find less and less time to chronicle my adventures on the roads and trails, as I continue to try to get back into the shape I once enjoyed some 13 years ago as a college runner.  Of course, the reality is that this whole effort has nothing to do with the destination, but, rather, it is about the journey.

Since my major goal for the Fall is to run two marathons in the span of six days - Marine Corps Marathon and Stone Cat Trail Marathon - which are on different surfaces, I have found that I need to make sure I don't lean too heavily on one surface versus the other.  The rub being I could train 100% on trails and be ready for both races, but could not train on roads and really be prepared for Stone Cat.

Nevertheless, the 'Possum runner in me decided it was fine time to stick my nose in a longer road race and test my mettle with other road hogs.  Living on the North Shore, Newburyport's Yankee Homecoming is a very nice option for a challenging 10 mile race.  I didn't really have much of an interest until about a week before the event when a friend of mine at work had mentioned he was running it, and that was enough to get me to the event.

Yankee Homecoming usually draws upwards of 1500 runners for the 10 miler alone, as it is one of the centerpieces of Newburyport's 'Old Home Week' style festivities.  It starts at 6:30 at night, so it can be a sauna over the first half of the race depending on which New England July weather persona shows up.  It also has a classic finish, where sweaty, drained runners charge into the Newburyport High School stadium to finish at the 50 yard line of the football field.

This was not the first time I had run this race.  In my former life as a runner I clocked a 61:58 on this course in 1999 when I was college and club speedy-shorts.  With a marathon on the brain, I was shooting for a finish of 1:20 to 1:30, in fact, I knew the course was tough in the latter 5 miles, and resolved that sub 1:20 would a fine accomplishment.

I made it to the race and it was very warm before the start, which meant bad news for me, as I am not a great heat runner.  I also had spent the better part of the day in my cubicle at work, so I felt tight.  I grabbed my number and filtered my way through the 5000 other people in the race area.  It was a bit of sensory overload, and the inner trail animal was getting a little skiddish.

I decided my race strategy would be to get out at an even pace and try to steal a little time each mile by adding 30 to 60 second surges at every mile marker for as long as I could.  The expectation was that the last three miles would be the toughest, and any time I could gain in the first 5 or 6 miles would be money in the bank.

When the gun went off it took about a minute to cross the start line, and then the first half mile was a furious effort of weaving through traffic to find some space.  I knew I was behind my goal pace and decided to begin my first surge early to get back a few seconds.

To my surprise, my first mile was around 7:30, and I felt like I was in a good place with 9 miles to go.

Yankee Homecoming is actually also a fantastic race because there is so much spectator support along most of the 10 miles.  The sections of the course that go through downtown Newburyport are surreal, as the sidewalks are packed with people and the cheers are beyond raucous.

I continued my strategy for the first five miles, and felt like I was asking way too much from my legs as my first five splits were well below what I targeted to run, and I knew full well the last five miles are where the hills were.  Nevertheless, I decided I was going to go for it, and figured the worst case scenario would include bonking hard and run/walking whatever distance I had left to the finish.

First five splits: 7:28, 6:54, 7:11, 7:21, 7:24.

Mile 6 was the first great challenge as this mile features a significant, gradual climb, and it was at this point that I decided I had an outside shot of holding a 7:30 pace.  At the top of the hill I noticed I was off pace, and needed to make up some time, but burning quads - perhaps over taxed from the fast first five - were crying out for a little backing off.  I did back off a little to collect myself, but then decided that I was going to go for it, making it to the six mile split with a 7:26!  From there the dye was cast and I took advantage of the descents in mile 7, 6:57 split, and then held on as best as I could for the remaining three miles.

I have to say the last two miles were mentally and physically amazing challenges, but even though I was able to hear the cries of my body to stop, I somehow stayed in a focused place where I was able to keep moving forward.  I can't even begin to explain how much I wanted to stop and walk at about 8 miles, but somehow just kept moving my legs.  I just remember telling myself that I had to keep moving.

As I got closer to the finish the crowds thickened and the cheers got louder.  I tried to ride the wave of encouragement and as I arrived in the stadium I came to the line and yelled in exictement when I saw the clock - 1:13:41!!

In actuality my time was 1:12:41, as the chip only clocked finish times and not net time, but I started my Garmin when I crossed the start, so my splits were accurate.  My last three painful, painful miles were 7:18, 7:23, and 7:13.

Besides the novelty of running much faster than I had anticipated - to the point where even I was in disbelief following the run - I was extremely happy with the level of testicular fortitude and mental toughness I was able to conjure and maintain.  Even in my faster days I rarely had races where I was able to feel as dialed in as I had felt during this race.

Not too bad for a trail animal!
Yankee Homecoming 10 Miler Results

Nearly a month later, I had the opportunity to snag a ride with Breakheart Dan to Nashua, NH to run the Moose on the Loose 10 Mile Trail Race.

The morning was mild, with thick overcast and a hint of rain in the air.  Again, I felt tired and was just looking to run a decent race, and was targeting a finish time around 1:20, knowing full well that my Yankee Homecoming Race would not be a good guide for a target time, since this one was on trails.

Breakheart Dan and I nonchalantly stretched and headed over to the line, a little bummed that we didn't see more familiar faces.  

The course itself, in actuality, is 4 laps of a 2.5 mile circuit.  The circuit is off road, but is mostly made of gravel, dirt and pine-needle paths.  Definitely more a cross country-like course than anything found on the Grand Tree, or most of the ENETRS and NSTS, calendars of events. 

I found the multiple loops to be advantageous when it came to racing during the last two loops.  By that time, one knew the best places to push and where to hang back a little, and I was able to 'race' a couple runners with a decent amount of success.

After the gun went off I scooted out to a quick start, and found the first mile's long gradual descent very nice.  So much so that I ran the first mile way too fast - 6:54!  From there I backed off the pace a little bit, but from my Yankee Homecoming learning experience, I knew that pressing a little bit wouldn't spell instant disaster.

I finished the first loop, and headed out for the second with an idea of what was up next.  It was a little interesting having relay runners in the mix (Moose also offers 2 and 4 person team relays) and it was tough staying close to the mantra of holding a consistent tempo run like pace when you had all or nothing relay folks with you.

Loop two there was that internal dialogue of whether or not I was running too fast, and then resolving once again that if I crashed and burned in loops three and four, at least the fast miles now would lead to a cushion if the bonk happened.

Loop three was where most of the racing occurred, as I pushed by a couple of guys at different points on the loop that were running about the same pace ahead of me, and in true XC coach form, once I passed, I used turns and down hills to gap them a little and see if they'd respond.

Loop four was when all the racing and fast pacing started to catch up with me, and it was simply about shortening the loop and holding the pace to different landmarks and then reassessing if I needed to back off.  As I came out of the park and onto the dirt access road, I saw Breakheart Dan heading out for his 4th loop and we hollered at each other.  I kicked home, and again came to the finish and was extremely elated to see 1:10 on the finish clock!

Convinced it wasn't true, I looked at my watch and saw 1:10 as well!  Admittedly, I had the course as being short - about 9.8 miles, but again this was an amazing leap forward for me.

I don't have true lap splits, but based on the Garmin data each lap was roughly  2.45 m:

1st - 17:39
2nd - 17:58
3rd - 17:39
4th - 17:14

The time was good enough for 14th in the thin field, Titus Mutinda earned top honors with a 56:36 for the men and Stephanie Burnham was tops in the women's race with a time of 1:06:59, and somehow I managed to earn a pint glass for my effort, as I placed 2nd in my age group.  Breakheart Dan also had a nice showing as he came in just under 1:30 and, most importantly, had little trouble with his IT band.  Dan is still in rehab mode with his ITB, but I am sure I can speak for those of us in TUG when I say that it is nice to see him back out on the trails where he belongs!

Moose on the Loose 10 Mile Trail Race Results

I am certainly happy to see my times start to come down a little, and it is nice to get out and feel like I can race as opposed to just run, but if anything can be gleaned from the last couple races for me (and maybe for you?), it is the realization and revelation of personal endurance.

Times and splits mean so very little, but I am overjoyed to know that with all of the crap that I am going through right now, a choice I made 4 or 5 years ago to lose weight and try to become a runner once again is paying off.   The last few years haven't been easy with hip problems, IT Band issues, etc., but I endure.  Too cold, too hot, missed races because of depression - I endure.  Even now I sit with an ice pack wedged in my crotch because I strained my groin yesterday because I took 5 or 10 steps the wrong way.  I could get bummed out and worry about missing a NSTS race this weekend because of this, but no matter what happens, I'll endure.

As I look around at most other areas of my life - kids, marriage, work, etc.  I notice how that theme of personal endurance permeates just about everything we do in our lives.

I guess when you really get down to it, it really is all about that RFP, Relentless Forward Progress.

Happy trails!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

RACE REPORT: Pingree Reservation Revisited - Run For The Hills 10k

Doing my best Bigfoot impression I have been quietly training and just enjoying different activities.

The endurance sasquatch in me has been quietly moving.  Though I haven't been doing anything too spectacular, I have managed to maintain a little endurance, have successfully managed to run at least a half marathon distance or greater each month in 2010, and this past Sunday I rode 'Ugly Betty' my new 'do-it-all' bicycle nearly 65 miles over 4 hours, which was pretty darn amazing since the longest ride of my life was about 23 miles back in 1996.  I have to say the cycling has been an awesome addition.  It allows me to get out of the house a bit more often during the week, and, as evidenced during the Sunday ride, it is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to getting at the heart of why I am a trail runner in the first place - adventure and exploration.

(Ugly Betty Chillaxin' as I take a few pictures..)

As I rode I would make it out to one point of interest and feel good and would think: "Maybe I'll go a little further".  For some reason I feel like cycling isn't as damaging as running has been lately on my body, and I have been faced with the desire to go long, but the inability to do so with my hip and IT issues.  Thankfully I can run about a half marathon without too much carnage the next day, so I am extremely thankful for that, but in a lot of ways I look at cycling and think to myself, "I could do a century ride...".  The plot thickens!

So on to the race report...

This is the second time I have participated in the 'Run for the Hills' 10k held at the Pingree School in Hamilton, MA.  It is a 5k loop course on the trails and athletic fields of the school, and for those of us that decided to run the 10k, that meant one loop to experience the course, and then a second to try to survive it again.

As usual it was a great crowd, really low key.  This year the race serves as the second event in the inaugural North Shore Trail Series.  It was a little lonely for me, though, as this weekend is the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run, and nearly all of the members of the Ultra Gang are headed to the Green Mountain State to run, pace or crew.  The same runs true for many of the G.A.C. regulars, and the Wicked Running Club was putting on their 'Kidz Races' at the same time, so there were only a scattering of familiar jerseys and trail racers.

Overall, Pat (38:05) and Heather Rich (49:19) continue to defend their 'Fittest Couple in Essex County' title, as both won their respective races, and I imagine they'll continue to dominate throughout the other NSTS races!

As for my experience, well the good news is that I can honestly say that over the last two years my fitness has improved.  I finished 33rd overall in 54:53, which improves upon the 57:36 from 2008.  One thing that hasn't changed is my complete and utter lack of performance in the heat and humidity.  I also noticed my Garmin was up around 6.5 for the race, so I think my pace was just under 8:30/mile as opposed to hovering near 9:00/mile, but serious, we are splitting hairs here!

As far as gear goes, I decided to bring along the fuel belt with a couple flasks of water since I knew I'd need it in the nearly 80 degree temperature, and where I was leaning toward the Inov8's, I decided the course was okay for the New Balance MT100s.  The MT's turned out to be a good choice, as they continue to be super responsive.  I really like the Inov8's (Terroc 345 GTX), but where the NB's don't have all that much protection, and I really mashed my right big toe during the race, the Inov8's still have that feeling of clunky, 'moose-charging-through-the-woods', responsiveness when it comes to rocks, roots and debris.  At least with the MT100s I feel nimble enough to place my foot wherever it has to be in order to get through technical sections.

I got out fairly quick, and where the race bottlenecks, when the wide athletic field grass yields to a bridge and narrow trailhead, I was in great shape and didn't lose any time.  I felt like I was going slightly faster than I had hoped and dialed it back a little.  I wasn't aware of it, but I came through the first mile in 7:40, which was fine considering my high hope was to average around 8:00/mile pace.

At about 1.5 miles my legs just seemed to crap out on me.  I had no life in them at all, and around two miles I clipped a rock and did a face plant into the trail.  Fortunately it was a good fall, nothing completely physically broken, but mentally it ruined me.  I had to throw in a few walking breaks, which was really demoralizing since it happened on the FIRST loop, but I was soaked with sweat by about 2.5 miles on account of the humidity and heat.

At the Start/Finish area I saw Jen and the kids and ripped off my shirt and fuel belt and headed back out for loop two.  I dialed the pace back a little and tried to build a little more mental toughness.  I think the second loop was a little more controlled and I only had a couple moments where I had to stop and walk.  The second loop certainly felt like it went by faster, as I wasn't work as hard as I did on the first loop, but I have to say that the first mile and a half of the course is a bit of a roller coaster, and does a great job testing the runners early and often. 

I thought I had more, but the heat and humidity was brutal for me.  Nevertheless, it has been over a month between trail races and I just feel like it has been far too long, so in many ways I was happy to get out there on the trail, even if it wasn't a stellar performance. 

A few final thoughts on Pingree...  I am not sure if it is the course or the heat or a combination of both, but it is a really tough course.  I will call it the Pingree Power Plant, because twice now I have done the race, and twice I have felt like all my energy and mental toughness is drained in the first 5k, and the second loop I just spin my wheels because I am clearly spent.  I say this all as a compliment, because if you want easy, stay on the track or roads.  Pingree offers a really nice mix of trails.  One minute you are cruising on some nicely groomed single track, and then the next minute you are negotiating a serious stretch of roots and rocks.  Where the first NSTS race, the Kupenda 5k, is a little more friendly to those coming over from the roads, the Pingree trails really show what can be expected when one signs up for a trail race.

Up next for me is probably the 3rd event in the NSTS, the Beverly Commons 8 Miler.  I know nothing about this race or the trails it is run on, so I'll have another mental challenge with which to deal.  I may do a couple road events before Beverly Commons, and with all the cycling I have been doing lately I am seriously considering a Fall century ride or sprint triathlon strategically placed early in September to provide ample time to stay healthy and trained for my end of the Fall marathon double.

Until next time, Happy Trails!