Sunday, January 31, 2010

January - Quick like this post!

Now that 2010 is official 1/12th over... yikes... I am able to look at some of the early returns for training and improved health this year.

Sure the goals are still floating in my head, and while I did think I'd be headed for another shot at 50k next weekend, some family issues have come up and I need to stay close to home for the next few weekends.

Today I finished up one month of training in 2010 in an uncharacteristic way - RUNNING!

Indeed, I have been training, but I realized that I haven't actually 'run' for a continuous and challenging pace in quite some time. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I went out for a run that didn't include walking breaks. Not that I am complaining, because it has made each odyssey much more soul satisfying, but part of the reason I added interval training and speed work back in November and December was to try to get a little faster on the shorter distances in order to get faster on the longer runs, by virtue of pushing that lactic threshold.

It seems the speed and interval training has paid off because I essentially ran 2.5 miles at 7:02/mile pace, which is way down from any of my road racing PRs since deciding to become a runner again. The 2.5 miles were purposefully quick and I pushed to the point of feeling all sorts of rotten over the last 1/2 mile. Hopefully the ice will fade a little and I can get some more interval training in.

Weight is a little bit of a disappointment, as I was eeking closer to 185 a couple weeks ago, but seemed to get into a rut of being tired and busy and disinterested in counting the calories. I also haven't made it to the gym in a couple weeks, so my resistance sessions, the REAL calorie consuming exercise I do, haven't been there. The good news is that at the end of last month I was wrestling with my weight to stay south of 200, now I am fighting to stay south of 190, so overall I am winning the war. Time to get back in gear and make sure I toe the line at Hyannis somewhere between 180-185.

Ultra Training is going well, and I feel like I am suddenly in a bit of a bind with what my overall goal should be. On the one hand I'd like to plan and commit to running the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50 miler at the end of May, but the race falls the day after one of the USATF-NE Mountain Races, which also has another race the following weekend. So now I am left to wonder which goal means more to me? Do I want the Mountain Goat moniker, or am I in the mood for more cowbell? Yes, I could do both, but I have a wife who is not keen on carting me around to all these nooks and crannies of New England! :-)

By the numbers:
I officially ran 9 times in Jaunary and logged 82.2 miles. I also logged 6 to 10 more miles on the treadmill with my 'Uphill Challenge' runs before resistance training.

Including my last run of 2009, half of my training runs have been long runs of 20k or more:
12/27 - 13.3m, 2h, 11m
1/9 - 12.4m, 2h, 56m (Fat Ass 50k through snow)
1/16 - 19.7m, 3h, 10m
1/24 - 14.1m, 2h, 30m
1/26 -13.5m, 2h, 20m

This is wonderful news for me because these runs were all focused with Ultras in mind, and included run/walk strategies. The 1/9 run was followed by a run on 1/10 that totalled an hour and covered over 10k, and the 1/16 run was followed by a really tough 2 hour snow hike on 1/18.

I have read many seasoned ultra runners comments about how less can be more, and some runners can get away with running 3 times a week if the three runs are focused on going long and learning to run 'tired'. Essentially it becomes a matter of learning how to function when the time on feet increases.

I am a little bummed I am not able to do more training with the rest of the Gang, but I know I am slowly getting back into the swing of things.

Above all, this month of training and recent family situation has led me to understand that this life isn't necessarily about the journey overall. Rather, it is about the people with whom we are fortunate enough to share the trail.

Until the next adventure...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On The Road Again... Reflections and Training Notes

I will admit that when I started this blog I was a road runner that dabbled in trail racing, and over time that has clearly evolved to the safe assumption that I am now a trail runner that occasionally, when forced or led by circumstance, will run on the roads.

In 2009 I logged numerous miles on the macadam, but I was much more focused on the trails, and, aside from a 5k I ran in Boston as part of my responsibilities for a 'First 5k' group I was coaching, I stayed away from road racing. The only real allure left for me on the roads are the endurance events, and a couple weeks ago I decided I'd give that first road marathon another shot. So it is back to Cape Cod I will hopefully go, with 16 months of lessons learned under my belt.

My injuries seem to be slightly in check, and while both my IT band and hip flexor still don't feel 'right', they have been subdued enough to allow me to get some longer training runs in. Initially I figured the trails would be kinder to my ailments, and was staying away from longer road runs. Then back in December, the day after Breakheart Dan helped drag me to my first real LONG run in many month (3:30 time on feet and close to 30k) I headed out for a shake out run on the roads. Somehow I managed to run for an hour, covering close to 6.5 miles without too much carnage. The next weekend I didn't have the option to hit the trails, and having just signed up for the Hyannis Marathon, I figured a slow half marathon on the roads would be possible. I used a slightly relaxed run/walk strategy, but still felt like I was suffering toward the end. My pace was under 10 min./mile, but the roads, stomach issues, and the wrong choice of footwear tore me up. The following weekend was a new years 10k snow training run, and then the following week was the G.A.C. Fat Ass.

The day after the 3 hour thrashing and truly tough 20k through the snow at the Fat Ass, I hit the roads and somehow managed 6.75 miles at 8:54/mile pace using a 15/2 run walk strategy.

So I arrived at this week with a little more confidence that I could resume some longer road training runs and not be laid up for days recovering from the beating.

Admittedly I have been limiting my training to running long on the weekends, but I have also been focusing on resistance and interval training during the week. Since the snow has started to fly I have had to be very careful with the inclusion of interval training sessions, but I have supplemented my gym sessions with some short and tough fun on the treadmill. Before super sets of resistance training, I have been hitting the treadmill for a warm up of 15 to 20 minute of running/walking at 15 percent grade. The impetus being my desire to run the USATF-NE Mountain Running Circuit this Spring/Summer. I probably won't be scoring too many points, but the practice running 'uphill' in January and February will pay off in May/June/July.

So this week I logged a couple of sessions in the gym, both with 20 minute 'uphill challenge' warm ups, which left me mulling over weekend plans outdoors. Having done one of the tough gym sessions Friday Night, I thought about resting Saturday and, instead, running Sunday. Eventually the nice weather beckoned, and the forecast of more snow and ice inspired me to get out and go long.

So I set out with my Nathan HPL and some snacks in the gleaming late afternoon sunshine to run easy and log a couple hours on the roads using a 8/2 run-walk strategy, mimicking what I'd like to do for the marathon. Best case scenario, I'd cover a half marathon in the process. I was also a little anxious because it was warm enough that I decided against the CWX tights, which have certainly been helping my IT band, hip flexor, and ab issues during longer runs. In the back of my mind I was wondering if the old injury demons would come through in the absence of the preservation technology.

So off I went, venturing north on roads I hadn't yet fully explored. This new route was made up of mostly serpentine, rolling rural roads that pass all the mini mansions, few remaining farms, and marshlands that comprise the Newbury/Byfield area.
(Great Meadow Conservation Area)

(Frozen tidal stream)

The 8/2 run-walk was working well and the first hour was going smoothly. I was hydrating and generally felt good. Of course this inspired me to go a little farther out when I saw I had hit 1 hour. I then started thinking about how cool it might be to extend the run to 3 hours, and found myself still going on the 'out' portion of the proposed out & back at 1:20. I decided it might be a stretch, but I'd continue on, and the scenery turned more residential as the minutes ticked by, finally I found myself in a downtown area, and came across the following:

(Is it far away... or far, FAR away?)

This was actually sort of a thrill because I have a thing for these "Entering" signs we have in Massachusetts. Some people have high pointing, I have Bay State Border Chasing. :-) Hey, that would be a great name for a team - the Bay State Border Chasers. :-) In any event, I don't have a real systematic approach, but the idea is to collect pictures of these signs when I happen to encounter them on foot during 'significant' runs. It took me 80 minutes to catch this and the "Entering Newbury" on the opposite side, so these two are keepers!

I resisted the temptation to look at my Garmin to see the distance, because this was a run that was to be solely based on time. I had always wanted to make it this far (to the Newburyport town line), and had mapped it a couple times, so I understood I was looking at a big number. I clicked 90 minutes and started the return trip home. Out and back runs are a little like placing a commited wager on one's body. There are no short cuts home in most cases, and what you sow on out portion must be harvested on 'back'.

Thankfully I brought my headlamp and reflective vest, as it would be needed for the 90 minute haul home.

The twilight seemed to be in a hurry to move on west and let the darkness of night descend quickly, and before I knew it I was following the faint beam of my headlamp, retracing those steps that were in daylight just a short time before.

At two hours I felt decent, much better than I had on my last long training run on the roads a few weeks earlier. At 2:10 I felt slightly worse and could feel my hamstrings starting to ache a little, and then my right calf began to get sore and tight. At 2:20 things got worse, and by 2:30 I was in full 'push through the pain' mode.

By this time my run walk strategy went out the window and I was just trying to get from one landmark to another. I suspect part of the cramping was due to not having a couple s-Caps along for the ride to use just in case I decided to go long, and I later realized that my HPL, which I though had been drained at about 2 1/2 hours, was holding back about 8 ounces of fluid I could have definitely used. As it was, I only brought 40 ounces of fluid, thinking I was only going to be out for a couple hours.

Eventually I made it back home, looking down at my Garmin, and seeing I was close to 3 hours, 10 minutes. I continued to slog a couple loops around the parking lot until I reached the 190 minute barrier. Hobbling, sore, and feeling like I was going to puke all over the apartment, I noticed my distance was 19.7 miles! The true masochist in me wanted to get up and hobble .3 of a mile to get the even 20, but I was having trouble getting up off the floor, so I called it a day.

Distance: 19.69 miles
Time: 3:10:12
Pace: 9:39/mile
Stopped time (according to SportTracks): 4:39

Not to dwell too much on the statistics, but I am very impressed that I was able to do this duration and manage 9:38/mile pace. Especially considering the fact that I was using the 8/2 strategy.

Of course I have a concern of two about the fact that on race day in Hyannis I'll be due another 10k or so beyond this point, but hopefully a slightly easier pace and some good conversation with Cookie Monster will be enough to get me to the finish line. I know better hydration and some S-Caps might delay the cramping, but there is little in the world that compares to that feeling when your miles away from the finish line and your body is screaming with every foot step. I am not sure if pushing through this pain builds character or a future of chronic injury!

Nevertheless, I am also about 99% sure I am going to attempt another trail 50k down at the Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass at the beginning of February, so that should provide another physical and mental 'triple dog dare' to sort a few things out as well!

Until Next Time,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

RACE REPORT: GAC Fat Ass 50k, or 'Let Me Down Easy DNF'

Saturday I learned that where you can prepare to run a specific distance, often, you cannot prepare for the trail conditions that will be present on race day.

Earlier in December, Breakheart Dan and I ventured out to Bradley Palmer to run the course. This is what the trail looked like on that day:

Very runnable and conducive to cruising and working a run-walk strategy.

Yesterday course conditions were slightly more taxing:

(Flat, but virtually no traction)

(Conga line through the snow!)

(Fairly self explanatory - like wandering through sand dunes)

(All things considered, the winter landscape was beautiful)

Let me be clear, I am not upset or depressed that I dropped after just 20k on a day where I had hoped to get in all 50k, in fact, the second 10k was mostly on my own and quite a lesson in mental toughness. It was a great learning experience and provided another training run of multiple hours on my feet.

The day began quickly, as I was ready, packed and prepared for the race, getting there in time to register and get geared up, but a couple conversations with old friends I haven't seen for months left me miserably behind schedule. I didn't even have time to locate kZ and Breakheart Dan prior to the race, and as I rushed back to the start/finish area with my drop bag, I realized the clock had already started!

Kahtoolas fastened, water and Nuun combined, and I was off into the wilds.

I was a little peeved that I missed the actual start, but then I realized that this, after all, was a Fat Ass Race, which, as Breakheart Dan puts it, means 'No fees, no frills, no whimps!' I put the initial crisis away, only to realize that the snow was really quite unpleasant for running, and where it was runnable, I had some serious questions about getting into a rhythm and how I might conserve energy.

Long story short, Runnin' Rob never found a rhythm, and by the second loop I knew I was loosing far too much time to take a reasonable shot at 50k. I felt like I could have run a third loop at the price of injury and possible frost bite (I found holes in my gloves during the second loop, which explained the inability to keep my digits warm!).

It was just one of those days. Over the first 10k I felt like I had no pace, I drained my water bottle by mile 4, and the arch of my right foot started aching because of all the uneven footing and snow divets. The second loop was a glorified speed hike as I could not find too many places with great traction, and when I did run, the hyperflexion of my right foot made the arch hurt worse. The fifth mile of the loop presented probably the most challenging section of the course as far as finding any even packed snow or traction, and was like running in soft sand or mashed potatoes - lots of work for little gain.

On the positive side, I shared the trail with the legendary Gilly of G.A.C. for a little while, I met a few more of the other hardy trail runners who ventured out, and have to give special thanks to Alison Phelan of Wicked R.C. for sticking around with me for the latter 5k of the first loop. Just another example of how awesome the trail running community and trail running events can be. You often meet great people willing to share a story or two along the trail. Maybe misery just loves company!

Maybe I am getting more mellow with age, but most things went wrong Saturday. Nevertheless, after dwelling on dropping and my first DNF, I ate a couple cookies, and was cool with it! :-) I managed to bump into kZ and Mr. Bill, got to finally meet Kevin the 'Pathfinder' from Maine, and just generally enjoyed the festivities before I completely lost all feeling in my fingers.

20k speed hike in 2 hours, 55 minutes before crying uncle.

There will be other 50ks, in fact, I see another on the horizon, but more about that later!

I also registered for the Hyannis Marathon on Febraury 28th... not sure why. I think I was just bored at work one day and signed up... is that normal? :-)

Happy Trails!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Trail Intersection - Where Ordinary Meets Extraordinary

Right now my four year old is freaking out over something completely random - for me this is ordinary.

In an hour and a half I toe the line at Bradley Palmer, the site of my first dance with the Ultramarathon. The only think keeping me from the 50k was the time limit, as I covered 27 miles in 5 hours and 57 minutes. For me, that was extraordinary. That was almost 7 months ago, and I considerably more time and training in preparation.

Today, no time limit, just a 10k course and the promise of 1 to 5 loops for anyone who brings goodies for the aid table and is fool enough to run in the snow and 20 degree temperatures.

I declared I'd run this race 5 weeks ago having been injured most of the autumn with very little base mileage underneath my belt, but decided I could train within the 5 week time frame. In a way, I figured the training runs would be enough attrition to get me away from the crazy idea of 50k in 5 weeks, yet I endured my 10k, 20k, and 30k long runs, and now I am sitting here on the morning of the event mentally preparing myself for 50k.

Not exactly rested, and damn it is cold out there!

But in life we tend to stay safe and never extend ourselves to challenges that might be a little over our head, negating ourselves from achieving that greater greatnesss.

This is where the ordinary meets the extraordinary!

This one is for this one life I have been given, this is for those that have give their lives so I can have this opportunity, this is for those that aren't sure if the challenge is worth it.

Time to gear up!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Running in a Winter Wonderland - Revere Highlands, MA

I am often left in sudden state of wonder when I see what mother nature can do to a landscape that usually looks brown, down -trodden, and has a fairly nasty reputation of being a place where a person should not venture on their own. I was able to see this renewing and transformative power in action this weekend as I headed out for my first run of 2010.

Just when I thought we might get away with naked trails and good running for the G.A.C. Fat Ass on January 9th (Google searchers are going to have fun with the terms in the previous phrase!) New England has been dumped on over the last couple of days with numerous inches of snow with no melting in sight. It is the nice fluffy kind that can be plowed through by a gang of runners, but whether or not it will stay in that state over the course of the week is any one's guess.

Yesterday as the storm raged outside I looked at my running clothes and Kahtoola microspikes and knew I had the gear to grab a run in the weather. Though, being at my mother in law's house in Saugus, MA was a bit of a factor, because, for the most part, the house is not in close proximity to any trail systems on foot, well, except for one place...

Revere Highlands is not an official name, and as hard as I tried, I could not find a topographic map that showed a proper name for this place. It is only about .3 of a mile from my in-laws, and is accessible by an old rail bed, perfect for strapping on the Kahtoolas and not having to worry about any shallow snow on pavement or concrete. At first I was going to dub the place 'Mount Saugus', but on closer inspection, this section of terrain, made up of granite ledges, rocky single track and a criss cross of soft sand trails around and through the power lines, is actually within the borders of Revere:

This isn't a place new to me. Back when my wife and I were dating we would spend summer afternoons strolling around enjoying the weather, and she would tell me about how it was really unsafe to hang out around the power line trails at certain times of the day because it was a favored hideout for those up to no good in the area. In addition, the few times I have ventured into this 'forbidden' area to check out the trails during bright daylight hours, the place is typically strewn with beer bottles and cans, old car parts, and other pieces of trash.

Regardless of the condition and reputation, though, a raging storm and blanket of somewhat deep, newly fallen snow was enough to transform this place into a trail running playground.

The area isn't very big, so one can't get lost. A redeeming factor is the challenging terrain and sometimes steep trails. The snow made footing far less tricky, almost covering the rocks and roots to the point of acting as a cushion.
I decided to explore a little at first, finding a steep hill and doing repeats for the heck of it - which is a good sign that my inner psycho runner is coming back! After the repeats I ventured higher into the hills and felt like could touch the sky!:
The elevation must have been massive because I was having visions of a far off Shaolin Temple (where they allegedly serve over-priced Chinese food to snobs):

But then I caught my breath and oxygen was restored to my brain to enjoy the panorama of the real-life snow globe:
From the vista I looked down at my Garmin to see a paltry 2 miles logged and really wanted to run a bit more. I ventured back down into the low flat lands to see how far it was from the acme to the end of the trail that led into the sector of power lines and trails. The technical and undulating trail was fun, but tricky in the snow, and it was shocking to only see that one way from vista to trail head was only .6 miles. Nevertheless, it was a challenging .6 to ascend because of the steep hills, and I figured a few out and backs would more worthwhile hill work, and if things got too tricky I could ratchet down the intensity to an ultra pace with walking breaks in preparation for next weekend.

The first out an back I plowed at a decent pace and could feel every foot of elevation gain when I arrived back at the top. The intensity was a little more than I had wanted for the weekend prior to the Fat Ass, but when I have the opportunity to get out into some fine New England winter weather to partake in some adventure, I like to make it last!
The last few out and back reps were more focused on an ultra pace, and I definitely learned a few tricks for running in the snow and conserving energy that might get me an extra loop next weekend. As I neared the 10k I had hoped to cover for the day, I appropriately reached the vista one last time as darkness started to settle over Saugus, Revere and Melrose:
I headed out of Revere Highlands with an snowy smile on my face because the trail running Gods had truly blessed me with an unexpected taste of winter running in a place that certainly does not lend itself to such peaceful activities.

I can't say I'll be gathering 'The Gang' to head over for some hill repeats under the power lines, or to do hilltop flexibility and yoga exercises in the shadow of the Shaolin Temple of Spare Ribs and Suffering Bastards, but as I followed my outgoing frozen footsteps home along the rail bed, I remembered to thank mother nature for that transformative power that seems to have the ability to cover, heal, and make things new.

In some ways, I hope this simple 10 kilometers of running, ironically at the birth of a new year, somehow helps me to heal and rise anew for all the adventures to come in 2010.

Happy Trails Everyone!