Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Cape Cod marathon was not snowed out, only the roads between me and it.  As such, I found that early November, instead of being a time to recover from a marathon, I was in race shape and looking for a race.  Because of the aftereffects of Hurricane Irene in September, the Mt. Toby race was reschedule to the time I was ready for a race.

As with any race, I try to go in with a clear goal.  Having trained and tapered for a marathon I didn't run, I decided that this was the year I would beat my 2002 Mt. Toby race time.  I wanted to beat my PR set when I was 31, racing fast and well but training very inconsistently.   In 2010, with more consistent training, I had missed the mark by 1 minute.

I slept surprisingly well the night before the race.  Usually, I've been thinking about a focus race for months as I train.  With Mt. Toby, I hadn't done any workouts specifically thinking about it, just some basic weeks of training.  As such, I was less hyped about the race which was nice.  Unfortunately, the kids were both a little sick.  At Mt. Toby 2010, I had cramped up at the end of the race and later, was sick in bed for 3 days.  Would I repeat again this year?  I kept waking up in the morning feeling groggy - or was it the beginning of being sick?

As is usual, I wrote out my schedule the night before - wake 3 hours before the race for a good breakfast, plan to arrive at the race 1 hour before to do some chatting and sign in, warmup 20 minutes before the race, start eating 15 minutes after the race had started.

During the chatting part of the race, I spoke with two guys from Worcester who had never taken on a trail race before.  It was satisfying, as a veteran of 4 of these races, to be able to give a nice race report.

At the start, I knew two guys who were going to go faster then me.  One guy, Aaron Stone, I see a fair bit in races but only at the start.  As a fluke, I had beaten him in 2010  but with one Mt. Toby under his belt, I was sure he was going to easily beat me.  After these two guys, the field felt thin so I was curious how I would finish overall.

Pacing is always a question.  I had mentally thought about how I had pushed for the last 10 miles of the Pisgah trail race.  I remembered the feeling of pressing down on the uphills and strongly accelerating at the crest of small rises.  I knew that I needed to maintain this type of pacing to meet my main goal - run the fastest I ever have for this race.

From the start, I was running at what felt like the speed was good load on my legs.  I almost immediately longed for the more languid pace of a longer race.  At 14 miles, this was still a "go-go" race for me - I couldn't relax.

After the short pavement climb, we hit the trails - a muddy jeep trail.  This race is 5 miles of rolling hills  and general climb followed by a long 2 mile grind to the top of the Mt.  This is followed by a harrowing 2 mile descent as we retrace our steps.  As is my usual pace strategy,  I start comfortably and slowly increase the effort.  I am almost always finishing the last mile of a race faster then the 1st mile.  This can be a generally good strategy but unless I get that pace right in the beginning, I don't run my fastest race possible.

When we hit the woods, I was in maybe 15th pace.  I would run with a few guys for a minute or two then push on past them as the realized the pace they had choosen was too fast.  I ran this way for a while until I caught up with Scott.  I see him at many races - at the starting line and about 1/4 of the way through the race.  He is a rabbit runner - starts out fast and slows down.  I'm a negative split runner, start out slower and drop my time as I run.  As I do most races, when I catch him, we chat a little.  I always joke with him that he started too fast.  In 2010, I beat him by 10 minutes.  This year, the gap was at least 15 minutes.

The long slow slog began.  I wondered if I was working hard enough.  There were several times when I started walking when the slope was just too steep.  I found that a secondary goal besides setting a PR had set in - I didn't want to hurt that much.  As such, I kept the climb to a speed where I would get a slight burn in my legs but kept riding the edge, knowing that I had the very demanding descent still ahead.  I found it strange that at this speed, my lungs were not working anywhere near their capacity.  I had run into this earlier in the year at the 7 Sisters race.  Here, there were many small climbs and my breathing was incredibly relaxed on the hills.  As I write this, I see a clear weakness in my training - compared to my lungs, my legs are weak.  While I feel like I run a fair amount of hills, it is not near enough.  It's time to increase the incline on the treadmill more.

 Near the top of the Mountain, the climb levels out for the last 1/2 mile or so.  Here, I caught up to 2 runners.  I had been slowly gaining on them the whole climb and only when it level out was I was able to accelerate and pass them.  After tagging the fence, I refilled my water bottle and they both passed me.  I took off after them and quickly repassed them.

They were not happy about this and for the next mile, as I worked at gliding the downhill, one of them was on my tail.  In my pre-race planning, I had planned to not push the downhill as I had in the past.  As a younger runner, I thought about the downhill as free speed.  Now, as an almost Masters runner, I think of the downhill as free damage - a chance to shred your legs.  In earlier Tobys, at this part of the race I was nearly blinded by speed wetness in my eyes and hyperventilating from the effort as I tried to push the downhill as hard as I could.  This time around, the downhill felt relaxed and almost comfortable.  When it finished, I was a little melancholy - now, based on my  pre-race plan, it was time to start making the running hurt.  Now was the time to go.

Coming out of turns, I would pump my arms to sprint back to my race speed.  I found I was still leaping over logs, a good sign that I was holding up well.  When a branch needed to be swatted out of my face, I still raised my arm to the challenge, not yet tired enough to simply squint my eyes and duck.

As I squeezed down on the speed, working to keep smooth, I was feeling good about my time.  I had been careful up to this point and was now running what I felt to be my maximum speed.  As I ran along, barreling toward the finish, I felt that here, for this part of the race, this was the fastest I would ever run this portion.  This, I thought, is my top speed.

Another running came toward me and I quickly passed him.  He was a younger runner who looked like he was suffering.  My race journal states that the year I ran my best race, I had bonked about 2 miles to go and got passed by an older runner.  Today was this kid's turn to bonk and get passed.

I passed the last aid station and did not refill my bottle.   I was running empty, light and knew I could hold the pace to the end.

When I hit the paved road, I knew I had basically 2 laps of a track to go.  I thought, ok, two laps at 85 seconds each, just like in training.  I knew how much that pace could hurt at the end of a workout and knew that now was the time for it.  As I came down the last paved hill and headed for the turn on the dirt road for the park, I saw another runner ahead of me.  Keith Schmidt has been beating me for years and here he was. I was closing in on him pretty quickly but not fast enough to close the gap.

I had checked my watch at the turnaround point and knew it had taken me about an hour to get to the top of the mountain and so I had only about 40 minutes to retrace my steps.  As I surged toward the fiinish line, the was a small rise.  I charged and felt my pace barely slow.  I was satisfied to hear a few of the onlookers let out an audible "Woah!" as I sped into the corral.  I crossed the line about 30 seconds behind Keith, unsure if I had attained my main goal.  After my breathing came back to normal, I checked in on my time.  1:38:45.  I had accomplished my goal and gotten 5th place in the process.

Strangely, I was no elated.  Earlier in the year, at the Pisgah 50km race, I had set a PR by 30 minutes over a  course about twice the length of this.  Today, I had only set a PR by about 2 minutes and while I know that a 1/2 hour PR is quite unusual, part of me had begun to expect massive PRs.  While this had been a year of PRs - 10 minutes at 7-Sisters (12 miles) , 1 second in road 5km, 30 minutes at Pisgah, a simple 2 minute PR seemed less then I could have expected.

Writing this, it has been an impressive year.  I probably won't again set so many PRs in 1 year, thought next year I do have 4 PR goals on the list.  That said, this race, which I only committed to 2 weeks before the race, meant less to me and as such, setting a PR also means less to me.  I think that had I caught Keith, who had beat me at Pisgah by 45 minutes in 2010, I might feel different about the race.  Maybe next time, next race.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pisgah 50km 2011

The Pisgah 50km trail race was my goal race for the year and I slept horribly the night before.  They warn you about that so I knew it wouldn't effect my race performance.  It didn't.

My previous attempt at this race, in 2010, consisted of 20 miles of strong running, 10 miles of "death march" and 1 mile of fast finish.  Even with all the death march, I PR'd by 30 minutes.  My A,B, and C goals for this year were A) go under 5 hrs (15 min faster than last year) B) At least go faster then last year and finally C) if all else fails, please, please no more death march.

When I finished, I found myself weeping tears of joy - a new experience for me after a race.  I walked around for a good 5 minutes saying, "I can't believe it," as giggly sobs trickled down my face.  I met all my goals.

Before the race, I had ramped up my mileage to an average of 20 miles./week more then the previous year.  I also was more consistent about running.  Finally, I spent time practicing my race pace.  To break 5 hours, I needed to hold 9min40second miles for 31 miles.  After track workouts, I would finish with a 9:40 mile.  Strangely, it is difficult to run so very slow after doing 1200m repeats at 5:40 mile speed.

Coming around the track as I practiced my pace, as I headed onto another straightaway, I pictured the short section of pavement at the beginning of the race and imagined I was starting the race.  I imagined the 50-70 people would would quickly be in front of me at the start, knowing that most of them would start to fast.

I was determined to run a smart race.  My practice paid off.

A few minutes into the race, I met up with a few runners I knew from track practice.  Very nice people but we would be racing very different races.  At this point last year, I would have thought, "Man, I'm going too slow."  This year I knew the reality - they were going too fast.  After a bit, I passed them when my footwork on stones was faster even though our speeds on the flats was similar.

The first waterstop - a few jugs in the woods, happened at mile 4.8.  I had a pace chart on my wrist based on the starting time.  I expected to arrive at the water at 9:30 and as 9:29 rolled around, I started to get nervous that I was behind.  Then, around the next corner, I saw the jugs.  9:30 - precise.  I was very pleased.

It was another 33 minutes until the next stop - this time an Aid station.  There was some climbing in this section, which I was careful to walk on the steep parts, knowing that if I was running flat sections with a slight whistle of the wind in my ears, I was on a good pace.  I ran with some nice guys - one on his first ultra.  They made nice company but soon, I found I was thinking more about the chat than the race.  I had made this mistake the year before - running a faster pace because the company was so good.  Now, on a slight down, I rolled the pace a bit and found the company was falling back.  I decided to let them go.

Soon, the first aid station came up.  Like a good triathlete, I was ready for a fast transition - bottle already open as I grabbed cup after cup and dumped them into my water bottle.  Bottle top back on, I went trotting off and checked my watch.  10:03 it said.  Checked my pacing chart - Wow! - 10:03.  I was nailing the pace.

I needed to go over Mt. Pisgah between mile 17 and mile 20.  I had decided that if I was on pace after mile 20 and felt good, I could start running by feeling and not by strategy.  Things were looking good.

After aid station 2, at 12 miles, there is an incredibly steep section of paved wood road.  I downed nearly a 1/2 a bottle of sports drink during the long walk up.  My drink strategy for the race was a) only drink sports drink to be sure I get enough electrolytes and b) drink at least 1 bottle an hour.  During my 2010 death march, I had assumed under training was the main culprit.  Since then, I had decided that not enough fluids was the main culprit.  I had done a number of training runs where I found I was drinking about 500ml an hour so on my projected 5 hour run, I needed to down 2.5 liters of fluid.  I did.

Not long after the top of the paved section, after I'd started running again, I began to feel a tightness in my lower abdominal area.  I tried adjusting my bottle belt and my shorts but nothing worked.  Then, I tried something else.  I pulled over for my 2nd of 3 pit stops.  After 10 seconds (yes, I did count) I was running again and the discomfort was gone.

The next water was at 10:55.  After the long walk up the hill, I expected to be a bit behind.  I was working the downhills more but wasn't sure if that was enough to stay on pace.  Still, I began counting down the minutes.  3, 2, 1, Water.  I was perfectly on pace after 2 hours of racing.  I raised my arms and shouted "Nice Job Man!"  as I passed the water.  I had planned on not filling up here.

A half an hour on, I filled my bottle again.  3 hours into the race, I had finished 3 bottles and was loaded with my forth as I headed over the mountain.  As I left the station, I looked at my pacing chart and saw :55 but my watch said :27.  "What station are you?" I called back.  "17!" the volunteer yelled.  Oh, I realized.  I had looked at the wrong pace and had a momentary panic - I did not want to be 20 minutes ahead of pace.  I was in fact 2 minutes ahead, which was fine with the mountain coming.

The mountain is a long, slow grind up mostly runable trails.  There was a bit of walking.  At this point in the race, I had been passed by one guy - in a green shirt.  He had run a 4:48 the year before and hoped to do similar.  "I started too slow," he had said as he passed me.  I let him go, pleased to run my own race.  Other than that, with my pace oriented race, I was continually passing people.  About once every 10 minutes, a new shape would appear in the distance and in good fashion, I would catch up, say "Looking good," then quickly distance them.

As I came down off the mountain and my legs were feeling strong taking the impact of my body as I dropped 1, 2, sometimes 3 feet with every stride, I thought again of Dave Wottle.  I couldn't remember his name at the time but I was thinking of pacing so much that he was often on my mind.  In the 1972 Olympics, he ran the 800m and won in with what seemed a tremendous kick in the last 200 meters.  Upon analysis, it turned out there was absolutely no kick.  Dave had determined what time he need to win then had practiced and practiced the pace until he could hold nearly perfect 26.5 second 200 meter splits.  At the beginning, he was far off the back of the race.  As I continued in a race where my splits were holding true, I knew what he was thinking in that world class race.  "They all went out too fast."

I came down from the mountain for another bottle fill and a time check.  Goal - 11:57.  Actual, 11:59.  That was fine with me because I had planned that this might be a little slow.  The next section,. the Kilburn loop, is known for being fast.  Now that I had passed 20 miles feeling good, I came off pace and raced by feel.

This was the point last year where I had totally fallen apart.  I stopped sweating (evidence of not enough liquids) and my arms were chafing badly.  I also had had trouble navigating any terrain, even flat terrain, that had boulders in it.  Now, as I literally charged around curves and powered up hills, I was imagining the pain I had been in the year before.

I began to look for "me."  Runners were coming to me quickly now and as I passed them and said, "Nice job man," (only the experienced women were ahead of me - those who wouldn't blow their pacing) I checked to see if they were in as bad of shape as I had been.  None were - they were all moving nicely, just not fast.

Coming off the Kilburn loop, I had made up the 2 minutes and gained another 5.  And, I was feeling great.  After getting my last bottle full, I powered up a dirt road and saw in the distance the next runner I would pass.  Rob is an old running buddy and when trained up, a very fast dude.  He wasn't well trained and he had talked of a 6-hour finish and here I was, running a sub-5hr time and only catching him at mile 26.  He, like so many others, had started out too fast and was running a substantially slower pace then I was.  I, as it would turn out, had started out a bit slow.

I soon caught up with the guy in green and he did not look good.  He was running without a bottle and now, was sitting on the ground, grabbing at his calf.  He had just cramped badly.  After asking if he needed anything, I left him behind.  There was a rise that slowed me enough that I could take another drink.  No cramps here, I thought.

I was now in the final leg.  This was a section where the year before, I had stopped at a steep descent and wondered just how I could possibly get down.  I finally grabbed a branch and used this as a 3rd leg to hobble down.  Travel time - about 60 seconds.  This year, I recognized the descent.  I galloped down it, please at how well my quads were standing up to the downhill pounding.  Travel time- about 5 seconds.  Instead of hobbling off after the descent, I powered away.  I was actively pumping my arms and working to snap my legs forward for the next stride.  When my feet would touch the ground, I would give little thoughts of "push, push" to get more speed out of them.

I passed another guy, in black and white, then quickly blew a turn.  I went straight, all the pink flags were left.  I soon recognized my mistake and counted the seconds until I was back on trail.  25, 26, 27 - on.  I figured I'd lost about a minute.  If this was what kept me from breaking 5, I figured it would be fine.

Another runner - oops, the black and white shirt gain.  For the second time, I said, "Looking good man," and blew by him.  Soon after, I passed my last runner with about 3 miles to go.  Later, at the finish, we talked a bit.  He said he had remember passing me at about the same place the year before.  "You looked in pretty  bad shape last year.  This year, I was feeling pretty good but you just cooked by me."

At the last water stop, with 2.3 miles to go, I didn't look at my watch.  I was moving fast and began to wonder if there was any possible way that I could be beating my goal by 15 minutes.  I figured there probably wasn't, given that I'd blown a turn, but I was still "swinging for the stands," as they say in baseball.  The dirt road down became a paved road going up.  I had been tricked before by an uphill in the road that I had thought to be the last.  Now, I knew there was one more, hidden beyond a turn.

Knowing I was in the finish, I was going full bore, like the finish of a 10k race.  I turned the corner onto the main road, charged into the chute, and let my momentum carry me to a stop.  I was a good 10 strides past the chute when I came to a stop, dropped my bottle, and circled back to hand off my tag.

I lolled around for a minute or two before circling back to the chute to see my time.  I was pleased to see not that many names in front of mine and was blown away by my time.  In the last 11 miles of running, I had dropped from averaging 9:40 a mile to about 8:05 a mile, making up the 2 minutes I was down and gaining another 15.  I had finished in a time of 4 hrs and 45 minutes.  In 2010, I had set a PR by 1/2 hr.  Again, in 2011, I had done the same.  I did not thing this possible.

In 2010, I had run two races - a solid 20 mile race and a horrible 11 mile.  This year, I again ran 2 races.  A solid, exactly on pace 20 mile race and very strong 11 mile race.  Running those last miles, I was hard pressed to remember that I had already been running for 4 hours, I just felt so strong.

I could not believe how well I had done.  I had spent a year thinking about this race, thinking about what I had to do to race better, and I had done it.  I had run a race that was beyond what I had dreamed of and felt great.  I walked away from the spectators, tears dripping from my eyes as I half giggled, half sobbed and muttered, "I can't believe I did that, I just don't believe it."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Habitat 5km - August 2011

With a throbbing crescendo, the motorcycle cop passed me, zooming off to the next intersection. I was slowly gaining on the one in front of me, the one stationed below the signal, stopping the traffic from coming through their green light. I hesitated for a half a step as I rushed toward the red light then I came back out of my habits and into my life. "Nope," I thought, "I'm gonna' run right through that red light and the cop is going to watch me. This is a race and I'm in the lead."

The Habitat 5km was a small local race with about 75 runners. My father volunteers on a weekly basis for a local crew in Buffalo NY so he suggested I do this race. It was an interesting experience for me because he was talking a bit of smack with his co-volunteers in the weeks before the race. "Well, you guys won the Habitat Golf Tournament this spring. My son is going to win the 5km." In the kitchen at my father's house, expectations were running high.

Just last week, I has listened to a podcast talking with Olympic runner Suzy Favor-Hamilton. She had been widely expected to win the 2000 Olympics 1500m race. The pressure ended up being too much for her and on the final 200 meters of the race, she had a panic attack. She slowed considerably and after dropping to 5th place, she faked a fall rather then the embarrassment of a bad finish. Would I be able to take the pressure of the family's expectations?

That morning, saying good bye to my sister Jennefer, she asked again, half joking, "So, are you gonna' win?"

At the start line, I looked at other runner's shoes. Nobody wore racing flats. I then talked to a young guy - he was a soccer player just out for a run. He wasn't going out for cross country. "In soccer," he said, "at least I'm running after the ball." I did a couple striders off the front of the assembled runners - nobody else was doing them. All signs were that I had a good shot at giving my dad something to brag about this coming Thursday - his "work" day.

From the gun (yes, there actually was a gun - unusual for the kind of races I do) I imagined I was at track practice and was going to do an 800m at 85 seconds a lap. I checked my stride and the power I had to put into my arms to maintain form and everything looked good. I felt I was on stride to lay down a few 5:40 miles.

After a small straight, the course went around a corner and traveled a block. After the 1st block, not only was there nobody near me, I couldn't hear anybody else. I was only me and the motorcycle cops.

At the first mile, a friendly volunteer shouted out "5:25". I was a little faster then my goal of at least a 17:30 finish was fine since was was hoping to set a new PR. Note, this is a new PR in the last 10 years. While my highschool 5km times were on the cross country course, I will never again be able to go sub-16minutes for a 5km. I was dreaming of going sub-17 again but haven't been focusing on the training for a 5km. I'm really thinking about my upcoming 50km - not much of a speed race.

By mile 2 I had slowed a bit but still felt strong. The cops kept leap-frogging ahead of me. All I needed to do was following the one in front of me who kept glancing in his rear view mirror. When there was a turn in the course, the guy in front of him would have his white, 2-wheeled steed pointing out which way to go. All along the course were volunteers but with the white steeds, I didn't need their help for directions.

As I turned onto Southpark street (no association) I began to feel a twing of burn in my legs and the discomfort was climbing. There was an ever-so-slight rise and this was enough to make a cruise speed a bit of work. I looked back for only the second time in the race and saw a regular car far behind me. I knew there was no race to be had for me, which is a big relief when you're late in a race and starting to question why you're running so fast. I reminded myself what I had thought at the start line - run strong and if there's a contest at the end, dig deep the last 1/2 mile.

Now, running all alone, I simply wanted to run strong.

At the distant finish line, I could see the time clock click over to 16 minutes. Judging the gap I needed to cross, I was pretty sure a sub-17 was not in the bag today. Ask I strided out the finish, I hoped for a PR but was greeted with the voice at the finish line saying, 17:24, 17:25, 17:26. "Oh well," I thought, "matching my PR of 17:26 from last year isn't bad."

Later, waiting for the next runner to come in, I checked the results table and saw they had granted me a 17:25. That, I decided, would be my time. So, a new PR and a pleasant race.

As I trotted back to my family, we watched the 2nd runner come in. I hadn't realized what kind of a lead I had built until I watched the time - 20:11. I was nearly 3 minutes faster than the next runner. "It was almost embarrassing," my father declared at the end. The race director came up after. She said, "I saw you at the start and I knew you'd be the one."

The 1st place price was some nice gift certificates to local restaurants. As an out-of-towner, I tried to give them to my dad but they weren't for restaurants he went to. I found a guy with tape measure (the 1st place prize for age-category winners.) He was happy to trade and threw in $10.00 with the deal. Between that and my dad paying the registration fee (thanks!) I think this might be my most lucrative race yet!

I don't know if I will ever again have the kind of police escort that is normally afforded to presidents and lead runners of international marathons. Still, I will long remember the thrill of having of the helmeted riders surging pass me to make sure no cars interrupted my headlong rush to the finish.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Today, Julienne had to go to work (report cards) so the kids and I
went to a local 5km road race. Since I was pushing the double
stroller, I started in last place (48th place, in this race.) Soon,
we got on the road and I got into my cruise speed and began passing
people. Skylar was enjoying going "zooming" but Sylvia was less
excited. "I'm tired" she said, and promptly put her head down to

There is a large hill in the middle of the race. We lost a little
ground to the #5 guy on the way up but at the turn, we quickly passed
him. For the downhill, Skylar played an important role. I had
attached a braking mechanism (boards rubbing on the tires) to the
stroller and once we started going fast, I called "brakes!" He pulled
so hard that I called "less brakes!" and we went down the hill, fast
but controlled. At the bottom, we passed the 4th place runner and
settled into a fast cruise speed.

As we closed in on the finish line, I noticed that we were getting
closer and closer to #2 and #3, who were running close together. We
rounded the school, shot across a dirt path, and were on the running
track behind the school where the finish line was. As we went into
the final turn, we passed the #2 and #3 runners. The woman called out, "I love it when the people with a jogger do well!" Just in case, we put in our final
sprint, not sure if they would fight back and turn on a kick I couldn't match
pushing 100lbs of kids and stroller. Still, I gave it all I had and
crossed the finish line 2 seconds ahead of them.

While it was my slowest 5km race either on trails or off since I was a
freshman in high school, we still got second place. On the way there,
Skylar had said, "Will we win?" "No," I had said,. "Are you SURE we
won't win?" I was sure we wouldn't even be in the top 10. So, as one
bystander had said, "that's quite the handicap you got there." I
guess he was right.