Friday, April 23, 2010

The Long and the Short of It - A Weekend of PRs

My racing season in 2009 was marred by injuries... and a lot of racing. 

It really seems ironic, but in the winter I was coming back from the IT band injury that killed my marathon aspirations, and caused me to spend the better part of the winter dealing with getting the injury diagnosed and rehabbed.  But with slight recovery, and a passion to seize the day whenever possible, I hit the trails often when I was mildly able to do so.

I learned a lot in 2009, got to spend many, many miles with trail running friends, and though it was a slow progression sometimes, I was able to see a lot of trails Eastern New England has to offer.  With all of the miles and smiles and dirty socks, I still had that desire to improve.

Nevertheless, my thoughts for 2010 have been based in going longer and simply experiencing more of the ultramarathon life.  This began with the decision to do the Hyannis Marathon on short training.  10 weeks later I found myself running the final .2 in tears at the culmination of a goal nearly 4 years in the making.  This was also a great experience because I basically had no side effects from the marathon, and was able to basically train through the marathon.

Then my fiasco at Eastern States put things into perspective, and I have been testing the limits of my IT band to see exactly how far I can go with the sore, rapidily tightening IT band.

So last weekend's 20 miles in the woods was a nice reminder that I might be okay to a degree.  A few days later I had a hard day at the office and just laced up the shoes and took off for an easy run... an easy half marathon... who does that?  I ended up only adding ultra walking breaks a couple times, and covered the 13.5 miles in about 1:51, which a half marathon split of 1:47:44.  This was particularly impressive considering my current PR for the distance was set in Sept. 2008, where I ran 1:46:32 at the Run for the Rock in Plymouth.

Fast forward to the weekend.  The usual suspects in The Gang were all headed off to various Ultra pursuits in either Connecticut (Traprock 50k) or here in Massachusetts (Don't Run Boston 50s).  Bummed out that I was missing out on Traprock, I knew I wanted to race, and I found that the 'Chase the Gorilla Down Argilla 5k' was happening on Saturday.  Chase the Gorilla is one of those iconic races you see on CoolRunning and joke about doing one day, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.

When I was physically able to come back to running, I trained and ran a couple of 5ks in the Spring of 2007.  Both of which were clocked in over 23 minutes, and I remember how absolutely exhausted I was after running both.  This was rather frustrating given the fact that I really only felt the same hurt after running MUCH faster when I was in college.  It also puts into perspective all those afternoons spent sulking in my dorm room because had a bad, slow race and ran 32 minutes for 5 miles.

Nevertheless, I headed out on the cold and drizzly morning and grabbed my number.  It was they typical road race crowd.  The folks there just to do it, the roadie warriors from the running clubs in their official looking singlet and short combos.  There once was a time where my nerves would get the best of me here because I was once one of them, hoping my Greater Boston singlet would get under their skin, even if I wasn't nearly as fast as them.  I laughed a little, got up front, out of the matching outfit fitness crowd, got all the odd looks because I was sporting my Vibrams and RaceReady shorts.  

I sort of got a little self-conscious about the Vibrams, and I am still a little thrown off.  The fact is, I don't want to be trendy in that 'douche bag' kind of way.  I guess the Vibram and barefoot movement thing is getting a lot like CrossFit, in that there is an aire of elitism, and I am not down with that.  The thing is, I can see vast improvements with my form and speed by running in the Vibrams, and am using a minimalist trail shoe from New Balance that is helping as well, but I guess, like CrossFit, if it helps to accomplish something then it is worth it.

So the race starts... No gun.... wondering if starting races with pistols is now forbidden in Massachusetts?  I get out front, a rare treat in my second life as a runner, and I cruise.  Get to the first mile in 6:21.... whaaaaa??  I was wondering what the final two miles had in store for me given the fast start.  Thankfully there was no time keeper at mile two, and I gave up the Garmin, because, really, do you need GPS on a wheel measured 5k?  I think not.

I just ran as close to the edge as I could, and came to the finish line to cheers and a solid 20:08!  Three years since my last road 5k, three minutes shaved off the new runner PR!  The time was good enough for 24th overall.

(Cranking home - photo credit: Preston, Metro Boston Barefoot Runners)

I am not about to sign up for a 5k every weekend, because that really doesn't present the challenge I have come accustomed to with trail racing.  Sherpa John has some thoughts on the Boston Marathon in his latest post, and I found the same thing at this race.  Lots of posturing before the race, no interaction during the race, and then afterward people scoot off to the next destination.

I did have a chance to talk at length with Preston from the Metro Boston Barefooot Runners group following the race, so that made the 'after party' much less uncomfortable, but aside from bumping into one of the runners I coached/trained to her first 5k last Spring, it was really kind of a weird scene.  I mean, don't get me wrong, in some ways I feel like a total social misfit at trail races where I only know I couple people, but typically during and after the race you have a few new names and smiling faces to look forward to at the next event.

Like I said, I am happy with the PR, and it will serve me well on the trails, but I miss my friends.

Sunday I just chilled out, and then Monday I was raring to run having watched an inspiring performance by Erkesso, Cheruiyot, Ryan Hall, Meb, Ernst Van Dyk.  Yes, even with all I have said about the roads, it is truly amazing reality TV to see the elite runners going at it over 26.2 miles.  I guess knowing others who run ultras, and dabbling with them myself, I have an appreciation for the suffering that happens over that last 10k.

The brilliant afternoon made it easy to get outside and go.  I just ran as I felt and didn't worry about the watch.  The IT band started nagging toward the end of the half marathon course I mapped out and tried for the first time, and when I finished I nearly dropped dead seeing that I had shaved three minutes off my previous best for the half marathon, and done so by averaging miles under 8 minute pace.  

This is sort of a big deal for me because that 8 minute/mile barrier has seemed to be insurmountable over most runs longer than 5 or 6 miles.  Where it isn't that big of an issue, because the ability to run a half marathon on most days is a total blessing and the best when I think about trying to run A MILE at 235 pounds, it means a lot to me.  It means I am making some progress.

So 3 days, 2 PRs, and one weekend... now if only my IT band would cooperate and I could get back to my real goal - completing a 50k!

Beyond the short 'trail' race (Whale of a 5k Trail Race) this weekend, and the Marine Corps Marathon in the Fall, I have nothing on the docket, and I am wondering if taking a shot at 50k at the G.A.C. Mother's Day Six Hour is a good idea.  The G.A.C. race has so many positive features:  fairly tame course, 3 mile loop, lots of interaction with other runners.  I am really thinking of just going and seeing how long I can maintain 30-33 minute loops.  At the very least it is good experience with a great crowd, and if I have a good day, I'll be able to honestly say I have run an ultra!

Oh well, time to dream!

Until next time, Happy Trails!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Lost and Found", or "A Tale of Two Twenty Mile Runs"

In many ways I feel like the last few weeks can be encapsulated by the thought that I lost myself on the roads at Eastern States, but found a piece back out on the trails a few weeks later.

The low down on Eastern States is basically that I had every intention of running the race using an ultra run/walk strategy that would allow me to average a mile pace of less than 10 minutes.  Given how fresh I felt at the end of the Hyannis Marathon I figured this would be cake.  

The day just started off crummy, as I went out way too slow, and came through the first mile over 11 minutes.  I figured this would be okay, as there were another 19 miles to make up the time.  I continued to feel like junk, but kept with a 15/2 run walk strategy.  Unfortunately, this was not helping and the 8:35 mile pace I had been regularly running in longer training runs with the same run-walk strategy wasn't even translating, and to make matters worse, at 7 miles I had to take a true 'ultra' stop.  This included running off the course, through a bog of mud, and across a parking lot at the aid station to get to a porta-potty.  Following the potty break, I noticed my IT band and knee were a little uncomfortable, but nothing all that out of the ordinary, but a little alarming that it was bothering me this early on.  Regardless, I continued on and started feeling a little better toward mile 10.  At this point I resolved that a lost first half could be tempered with a speedy finish over the last ten miles.  

Proactively I started eliminating some of the regular walking breaks in the interest of gaining some time, and somewhere between miles 12 and 15 I had a three mile split time of 9:15/mile, and had rattled off 8:54 and 8:42 splits and felt good.  I was pumped, and finishing strong was really looking and feeling good, as I was easily picking runners off.

Then the death march began.

A little before mile 15 I hit a water station and stopped to refill my bottle and basically everything in my left leg tightened in about 30 seconds.  I tried hobbling to a slow run, but my body wasn't having any of it.  Stopping to stretch a little also was of no benefit, and I found it actually made the situation worse because it allowed everything else to tighten up.

I thought about dropping at the next water stop, but the ultrarunner instinct took over and it was all about getting to the finish line, no matter what!  The pain was searing those last few miles, and even a walk seemed to be too painful.  Ironically the smiles and confidence I had gained from the quick miles clicked off before the injury were quickly washed out to sea in some cosmic emotional rip current as I plodded along Hampton Beach.  Split for the last 5 miles: 1:16:04.

Ever since my 5 miles death marching to finish the Eastern States 20 a few weeks ago, I was sure I'd be lost in yet another period of recovery, regret, resentment, re-institution, and, with any luck, rebirth.  I took the week following ES20 off entirely and tried all of the good things people suggest when injuries happen.  Ice, stretching, and junk food.  Okay, I added that last part, but I hung out with my friends Ben and Jerry a couple times to wallow in my crapulence.  Do as I say, not as I do, kids!

As in my previous post, Easter weekend I was able to do a little running in the Vibrams, and the following week I clearly was in the frame of mind that the IT bad was better, hence a week of 36+ miles.

Monday I decided to run a time trial in the Vibrams, 2.5 miles.  16:48 (6:43 pace) was the baseline, and one of my goals over the next couple of years is to continue to improve my speed in order to improve my easy pace for the longer stuff.

Tuesday I decided to run a little longer with real shoes using 15/2 run-walk strategy.  Of course the last half turned into a tempo run and I finished the run strong.  Pace was slightly below 8/mile pace with the run walk in full swing.

Thursday I ran in the Vibrams again.  5 miles this time around, and I continued to see a vast improvement in my pace and time.  I can only hope this is the case with my form and resilience to injuries.

Saturday I had planned to attempt to run the Merrimack River Trail Race and get a better idea of where my fitness is compared to last year.  Unfortunately, race morning brought a stomach bug to both of the kids and I was grounded for the Eastern New England Trail Race Series' opener.

I decided to make the best of an otherwise depressing situation, and mixed a max batch of Succeed Ultra for the Nathan HPL, grabbed the new trail cam, and headed out for the Bay Circuit Trail with no particular plans regarding time or distance.

Getting back out on the trails for a long run was outstanding.  It was super interesting due to the amount of flooding we have recently had, and there is still quite a bit of fallen trees from the fierce wind storms we have had over the last few months.

So I scooted down the section of tarmac leading to the trail intersection close to my apartment, and instead of heading east, I decided to check out the local west end of the BCT, which typically is impassible due to high water and beaver construction efforts.

Sure enough a few minutes of running led me to the water crossing:
Not necessarily all that impassible, but I was really hoping to enjoy the BCT through Willowdale and Bradley Palmer, so I took a moment to enjoy the brilliant afternoon sun, and headed east.

I decided to use a 15/2 run-walk strategy for the run.  I knew it might be delayed occasionally due to water crossings and tree climbing, but that was the plan.

I cruised along at an easy clip, not having to stop until my first walking break.  The next session of running was not as consistent, as I had to find my way around hip deep swamp water.  Having forded the swamp, nearly losing a shoe, and getting back on the move, I discovered it would only get more interesting.  Just up the trail I discovered that the trail and another section of swamp had become one.  To add a little flavor, the trail was blocked by three fallen trees.  Eventually I got through the swamp and over the trees, and was able to resume some running.

Eventually I cruised over to Willowdale, found more tree dodging and high water, and then crossed over into Bradley Palmer.  At this point I realized an easy couple of hours on the trail just wouldn't do, and I turned over the idea of 3 hours or a nice easy 30k to make the training run worth it.  The thought of extending training run was also appealing, as it would increase the time to get deep into Bradley Palmer.

I crossed the fishing bridge and headed along the second half of the GAC New Years Fat Ass course, including perhaps one of my most favorite sections of single track in New England.  A sweet bit of climbing through the trees.  I decided I may not have the fluid for the trip, but I decided the run should be extended, and I continued the out portion of the run to about 10 miles out, asking my legs to do what they couldn't do at Eastern States a couple weeks earlier.

As I headed back I was able to enjoy the same obstacles encountered on the inbound amble:

(Too fun!)

(This never gets old!)

(Trail is somewhere under there...)

(I hated balance beam in gym class!)

(In the midst of a stream crossing...)

The following is my video of the aforementioned swamp section rife with fallen trees, and I have to say, at three hours of 'time on feet' it never seems to be easy, physically or mentally!

I have to say this was a really fun run, and I was really happy that I was able to finish this run in a lot less discomfort than my 20+ mile  adventure on the BCT last year that sent me to a very uncomfortable place toward the end.  I was definitely getting there on this run, but probably had another 1/2 hour or so in me before true 'gut check' training began.

Distance: 20.2
Time: 3:33:08 (10:34/mile)

The coolest part of this run was the fact that I did the entire thing in new shoes fresh out of the box.  I received a pair of New Balance MT 100's on Friday, and where I was a bit skeptical about how minimalist they truly were (more so than advertised), they turned out to exceed my expectations for performance on the terrain.  I'll hold off on a full fledged 'gear review' for these until I get a few more miles on them, but the early returns are great!  We will see how they hold up beyond 20 miles, as I hope to wear them more on the trail this year for both more technical trail races and endurance events. 

On this run alone, though, they are a really nice balance between trail ready rock star, and near naked minimalist flight shoe.  Can't wait for the next run!

Happy trails!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Long and the Short of it, or Wanderings Since Hyannis, including the Eastern States 20 Miler

Since the Hyannis Marathon I have been wandering around, or at least so it seems. I signed up for the Eastern States 20 Miler following the marathon as I felt really good following the marathon, and believed that Hyannis would turn out to be a long and rewarding training run for any ultra events later on this Spring.

Eastern States was a very powerful event for me, but for all of the wrong reasons, and if you are interested in the details, stick around!

My wanderings post Marathon - the headlines:

First Week of March - Recovery? What Recovery?

Ran a 10k Tempo run below 8 min mile pace and ran 20 miles over two days, including a surprising 2h, 16m run where I covered nearly 16 miles (8:36 pace).

Second Week of March - Wash, Rinse, Repeat!

No runs during the week, but doubled up on the long runs on the weekend. Saturday ran 12 miles in 1:42 in the cold drizzle, Sunday ran 13.1 miles in 1:56 in pouring rain and freezing cold in shorts. Very interesting due to the flooding, but not such a good idea for the immune system!

Third Week of March - Springing Back on to the Trails!

Another week where less definitely was equivalent to more. Ran home from work once during the week, covering 8 miles, and then spent the weekend running the trails of a VERY soggy, muddy and 'broken' Bradley Palmer State Park with Trail Pixie and Breakheart Dan. All told, Dan and I covered a little more than 17 miles, and it was great to be out with my bestest trail friends for a Spring Fling.

Em's Post
Dan's Post

Fourth Week of March - Mr. Ying, meet Mr. Yang.

Following weekend fun, I took more time off to recover following the run, and didn't get back to it until midweek. I hit the gym and ran my Mountain Madness challenge on the treadmill. Covered 2 miles at 15% in about 25 minutes, which was a new record for me. Speaking of records, I ran time trial 5k Saturday and shattered my old PR since I began running again 4 years ago. It all caught up with me Sunday during the Eastern States 20 Miler. IT band locked up at mile 15 and I was too hurt to muster anything more than a fast walk, but was too proud to drop out.

Last Week - Humbled, Rested, and Re-focused.

Ran once, 5.6 miles, and walked quite a bit over the weekend. Barefoot, mostly.

Photos from 'Wash, Rinse, Repeat' Weekend:

(Even the Geese are Grounded.)

(Led Zeppelin wrote a song about this...)

(Babbling brook? What babbling brook? This is a screaming stream, or talkative torrent!)

(Usually I need to stick to the trails to find stream crossings...)

Photos from the Eastern States 20 Miler:

(Crossing into the Pine Tree State...)

(The start, rightfully I am at the back of the pack, and, no, the start is not when the light cycles to green.)

(Crossing over into New Hampshire, not quite as transcendent as I had hoped!)

(One of New England's classic rotaries, this one in Portsmouth, NH, which is actually called a 'traffic circle' in NH, and all of us back of the pack runners loved the inclusion of actual traffic!)

(Just off of Wallis Sands State Beach in Rye, NH)

(Seacoast Running - Follow the Line!)

(Hampton Beach - Nice view, too bad the photographer was in searing pain and seeing red!)

Easter Weekend Homecoming Run and Walk...

(Barefooting back at home - end of the Jetty in the Middle of the Plymouth Harbor.)

(Another View from the Middle of the Harbor.)

Beyond all of the happenings of this last month, I have been inspired by faster times, humbled by an injury I thought I had beat, and quite undecided as far as what is the next adventure will be for me.

The recurring IT band issues could be due to the mileage, or a need for more hip and glute strengthening. I have definitely scaled back my plans to run any of the longer events I had hoped to run this Spring. I think I'll use some of my faster times at shorter distances to rebuild my base, and am looking at the USATF-NE Mountain Running Series as the next adventure, but the travel logistics for a low-vision hombre like myself are a little up in the air. Where my wife has said it would be cool for me to run the races, I am not sure she understands the travel involved... we'll see!

Marine Corps Marathon registration opens tomorrow, and it would be my hope that I can fix myself enough to get to D.C. in one piece, but if ES20 proved anything, it proved nothing is certain during an endurance race!

Thankfully, I feel like the IT Band is not as bad as previously thought, and I can make an honest attempt at the Eastern New England Trail Race Series season opener this weekend at the Merrimack River Trail 10 Miler, beyond that I can't say for sure where I am wandering!

Happy Trails!