Posts Tagged ‘race report’

Martha’s Vineyard Half Marathon: Race Recap

June 8, 2017

In theory, many months ago, the title of this post was supposed to be “Martha’s Vineyard Marathon,” but theories don’t always pan out. I had it in my head that I wanted to use this race to make an attempt at a BQ. The brutally honest truth is that I lost my fire somewhere in the early stages of training, which, coupled with an injury, left me at a pretty low point in my running morale. After a string of good results, which prompted the BQ thoughts in the first place, this turn in the opposite direction felt particularly brutal and there were times when I really just hated running. Nothing felt right, not even the simple act of one foot in front of the other. I eventually came to realize two things: 1. I was not enjoying this process and did not find it fulfilling, as I thought I would. 2. I missed being a triathlete. I missed the biking and, yes, even the swimming workouts. So, I made the decision to drop down to the half marathon distance for this race and put my focus back on tri training. This seems as good a time as any to give a shout-out to my longtime friend, Jason L., who DID accomplish his goal of BQ’ing at the Eugene Marathon. Jason put in an inspiring amount of hard work and miles, and it was pretty awesome to see him crush his goal. Good work, buddy. Now, on to the race.

This was the inaugural running of the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon/Half Marathon. Unlike, as far as I know, all the other races run on the island, this was put on by a national race company, USA Endurance Events, as opposed to locals (see MV 20 Miler and Vineyard Triathlon). While the race did benefit two Vineyard non-profits, it’s my understanding that they did not do much, if anything, to reach out to the local running scene. This lack of coordination revealed itself most readily in volunteer situation, which I’ll address later. Should anyone from USA Endurance Events happen to be reading this, that would be my first note for you. The locals will help, but you need to work with them to ask for it!

We arrived on island Saturday afternoon and headed to the race “expo” in Oak Bluffs. As it turned out, the expo consisted of bib and t-shirt pickup plus a few branded pieces of apparel and some Gu products for sale. What stood out for me was the complete lack of race information readily available. For example, no one seemed to know how to determine which of the three waves you were supposed to run in nor how the pacer situation was being managed. These turned out to be minor complaints in the end, but it also seems like information that would be easy enough to put on the race website.

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The race swag included a mesh drawstring bag, t-shirt, and running cap.

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After lunch at one our go-to spots, Slice of Life cafe, we headed to our home for the weekend at the Winnetu Resort. Because R had to do work, I passed the time reading my new graphic novel, Lucifer, and I may have also enjoyed a two Bloody Mary’s.

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Something something, calming the nerves makes me race better, something something.

Dinner was my now preferred go-to fish piccata (sole piccata to be exact) at Chesca’s in Edgartown. Of course, before turning in I laid out my race kit, which I’d like to think was suitably matchy-matchy.

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Brooks Launch 3 for race day.

As it usually does, race morning came way too quickly. After a stop at Espresso Love for an English muffin with butter, we headed to the start location, which was different from the finish location, at Martha’s Vineyard High School. From what I understand, there were also buses that took racers from several locations to the start, but I can’t say how well that system worked. Two things stood out about the start setup. First, there were FAR too few porta-potties for a race of around 1600 people. Second, the guy MC’ing the race (who knew races had MCs?) really straddled the line between fun and encouraging, and simply intolerable. A barefoot white dude with dreads, this guy punctuated every statement with a Little John-esque “YEAH!” If it helps you get an idea of this gentleman, bear in mind that the pre-race music was almost exclusively Rusted Root. I’m serious.

It turned out that Wave 1 meant racers anticipating a sub-8 pace for both the marathon and half. I found the 1:40 pacer, a nice bearded guy named Brian from Beast Pacing, and we set off down the bike path on our way to Oak Bluffs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the path was not as crowded as I thought it might be, given the number of racers. It helped that it was still pre-season for tourists so there were not many bikers out. As for the race itself, the course mostly wound through woods in the middle of the island. There was one stretch of dirt road that lasted about a 1/4 mile, which is not called out by the race. I did hear that the marathon had a roughly 2 mile stretch. Both of these were somewhat sandy, not hard-packed dirt, and the race simply has to make a point of noting these in future course descriptions.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava

There are no real steep climbs, but several long inclines that seem to go for a while. In fact, the course is net downhill.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava (1)

The most mentally draining part of this race is a stretch that I have done many, many times, which is essentially the part on the map above from “Ocean Heights” to Oak Bluffs, where the finish was. While it’s a very pretty stretch, often with water on both sides of you, it’s a long, straight shot, and I was really struggling at that point. I did my best to focus on the scenery and maintain as much forward progress as I could muster.

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Finally, I made it to Waban Park. The finish was somewhat of a tease, as you had to run up a road parallel to it, then make a sharp turn for a final stretch of about 100 yards on grass to the line itself. Though I’ve finished the Vineyard Triathlon on this stretch, and it didn’t feel too bad, this part of the park felt tremendously awkward running on. Maybe it was just the fatigue, but I couldn’t find a comfortable stride and kind of stumbled to the finish.

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Of course, I messed up my finish line pictures by worrying about my watch, but heaven forbid I have an incorrect Strava record!

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As you can see from the pace chart below, I was right on target for a 1:40 finish…until I wasn’t.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava (2)

Still, I learned after the race that I had finished third in my age group, which was my first time placing in my AG in a “real” road race. Though I was a bit disappointed with my time in general, this picked me up a bit, and made me look at the race in the context of my current training and focus, which was not on PR’ing for that half marathon. In fact I’d only run one 10 mile run leading up to it. So, all things considered? I wound up feeling pretty good about the race in general.

Now, for a list of things I hope the race changes for next year:

  • More expansive “expo” featuring MV businesses and races.
  • Many more porta-potties at the start.
  • More water stops.
  • Better staffed water stops.
  • Better trained staff at water stops.
  • I’ve heard the signage needed to be better for the lead runners.
  • No dirt sections on the course.
  • Better stocked post-race provisions.

All in all, a good race with some definite room to improve. I have a feeling I’ll be back again for it next year!

Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon Race Recap

June 23, 2015

In my first triathlon of this new racing season, the JCC Triathlon By The Sea, I made the rookie mistake of not doing my homework on the race course, which led to mistakenly neglecting to do 2 loops of a 3 loop section of the bike course, turning a 10 mile leg into a 5.5 mile leg and a DQ in the process.  I was quite miffed with myself as it likely cost me my first Age Group placing ever.  Consequently, I was looking for redemption at the Summer Solstice Triathlon, a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision race put on by MRA Multisport in Sutton, MA.  The race is a sprint in the purest sense, with a 1/4 mile lake swim, 10 mile bike, and 5K run.

I generally like to give myself roughly an hour before a race so I can get settled in, which I find especially important when it comes to triathlons as there’s just more to get done before the race starts.  So, you can imagine the stress I was feeling as I crawled westward on the Mass Pike at a stop and go pace for 2 hours, finally arriving at the parking lot 25 minutes before the swim meeting was scheduled to start.  Thankfully, parking for the race was about as easy as I’ve ever seen, requiring just a couple minute bike ride to make it from the lot to the actual race location.  As it turned out, all my fretting was for nothing as this was a very low-key race and I was able to breeze through the check-in, taking roughly 2 minutes to check in with registration and get marked up with my number and age.

Having now had a few opportunities to practice in other races, it did not take long for me to get my transition area set-up done just how I like it.  The best addition to my set-up from last year is definitely my new transition mat.  While giving me a clean, dry spot to put my bike and running shoes, it also serves the handy purpose of giving me something bright to look for in the transition area when coming in from the swim and bike legs, cutting down on any wandering about.

IMG_3940 Also pictured is my TYR Alliance Team II Backpack, which I highly, highly, highly recommend for anyone looking for a transition bag.  It just so happens Mrs. R got me both the mat and backpack for Hannukah this year.

Heading into the race, my biggest concern was the water temperature for the lake, which the race packet had listed at a brisk 67 degrees.  Even though the swim was only a 1/4 mile, the temperature had me scared enough to want to go with my wetsuit, which I also thought was important given that this would be my first open water swim of the season and I had to get used to wetsuit swimming again.  Figuring I should be a Big Boy Triathlete, I made myself get in the water to get acclimated and warm up a little.  Lo and behold, it wasn’t so bad!  In fact, it was rather nice!

Thus mentally prepared, I lined up towards the back of the swim start, which was organized men, women, newbies, fastest to slowest in each group and with a 2 person departure on the beach every 3-4 seconds.  Now, the trouble with this configuration is that it meant the fastest women would be right on the slowest men’s heels, i.e. my heels.  Because the first turn was fairly close, this caused a fair bit of congestion in the water and made for a decent amount of grappling and swimming on top of other racers.  Though I would have prepared a clean swim for performance reasons, I looked at this as one more opportunity to work on my race condition techniques.  Things started getting hairy after the first buoy thanks to a combination of perpendicular chop, murky waters, and continued congestion.  Still, I felt relatively strong in the swim, with a final time of 8:23, 50/144 overall.

T2 was not as fast as I would have hoped, taking 3:01, largely as a result of difficulty getting my wetsuit off over the ankle timing chip.  One more thing to work on.

My goal for the bike leg was to work on keeping my heart rate fairly level without red-lining, which would kill my run.  The course was not closed to traffic, as I’ve learned is the case with many triathlons but, for the most part this was not a problem.  The only times I really noticed cars being a potential issue were when passing a racer on the left and having impatient cars then pass me on the left, creating a dangerous situation for all.  Still, no complaints, it just required some heads-up riding at times.  On the flip side, the roads themselves were in great condition and made for pleasant riding.  The course itself had a few rolling hills with one screaming downhill.

Bike Leg Map

Despite this being a non-draft race, there was definitely a lot of non-legal maneuvering during the race, myself included.  If everyone dropped back 15 feet after being passed it just would have been a complete mess.  I found myself in a group of 5-6 riders making moves and counter-moves depending on the terrain, but I didn’t think anyone was actually trying to draft off anyone else.  For nutrition during the bike, I went with Skratch Labs mix in my water bottle.  Rolling into T2, I was happy with my ride and felt like I had a decent amount left in the tank.  I finished with a time 29:17, a 20.5 MPH average, and 36th overall for the bike.

T2 went very well for me, largely thanks to my NiteIze laces, which let me just slip on my shoes like slippers without comprising the tightness of the lacing.  59 seconds after entering the transition area, I was off on the run, which meant a hill right off the bat.  Though it might not be the hardest course as a pure 5K, it felt quite challenging as the last leg in a sprint triathlon.

Run ElevationAs you can see, there wasn’t a lot of flat to the out-and-back course, which mostly involved running on a sidewalk on the way out, and road on the way back to avoid the runners coming in the opposite direction.  For the run, I tried to concentrate on even splits, knowing I’ve gone out too fast in the past (for both road races and tris) and not wanting to hit the wall halfway through.  I think I largely succeeded in that respect.

Run splits

After a nice downhill, I turned the last corner for an uphill finish, giving everything I had left to push for that elusive AG placing, finishing the run leg with a time of 22:56, a 7:24 pace and 27th overall for the run.

My final time was 1:04:34, placing 30th overall and…5th place in my age group.  In 2013 and 2014 that time would easily have put me into 2nd place but, no such luck this year.  Oh well, at least I made it into the Cool Running listings?

Run splits

The race was followed by a nice little BBQ and some spectacular lake views of the sunset.

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If you’re looking for a super low-key, friendly sprint triathlon to add to your early season schedule for 2016, I’d highly recommend the Summer Solstice Sprint.

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The 118th Boston Marathon: A Race Recap and Retirement

April 24, 2014

My third marathon, and fourth race of a marathon or longer, is now, officially in the books.  The official time, 4:26:16, a 10:10 pace.  This wasn’t the time I’d hoped for, it wasn’t even in the same zip code as what I hoped for, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the result.  Here’s how the day went.  Actually, first, let me lay out my marathon day gear:

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For shorts, I went with the new Brooks Essential 3.5″ Split Short.

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And, my Skechers GORun Ride 3s.

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And, now, we return to the recap.  The day started with a 4:00 AM alarm so we could make it down to the Westin in Copley Square to reconnoiter with the Run For Research team in our private ballroom.  I wish I had gotten myself there earlier to get some more coffee down, but I didn’t realize how the streets would be blocked off and had to go way out of my way just to get to the hotel.  But I was very grateful Rebecca woke up early with me and drove us in so I could get in a quick nap along the way.  After a team picture, we loaded up our buses and made the trip to Hopkinton.  It’s always a little mind boggling thinking about how long it takes just to drive there and thinking “I have to run back!”  We arrived at Athlete’s Village sometime 7 and then hunkered down for a long morning of…waiting.  With a bank of port-a-potties right outside of our bus, I decided the best bet would be to hunker down with my RFR teammates and try to relax some.  While this mostly worked out well, especially because I didn’t bring anything to sit on in Athlete’s Village, I do think it set the stage for me to be dehydrated during the race, as I only had one water bottle with me.  I knew I could have gotten more if I went into the staging area itself, but I wasn’t sure I’d be let out of it once I passed through security, so I held off until about 9:30, when I couldn’t take it any more and had to get water so I could eat some Honey Stinger Chews.

Now, somewhere along the way, I got either completely mixed up in what time my wave was supposed to start, or just had the time of day wrong, because I totally missed my wave’s start, Wave 3 that is.  I thought that I was joining the Wave 3 crowd to head to the start when, as I looked around me at the other runners, I realized that everyone else’s bib was yellow, while mine was blue.  This seemed like a fairly good indication that I had done something wrong.  Now, this wasn’t exactly the WORST problem to have in the race, especially because it meant I got to see some friends in Wave 4 before I started.  That said, it did throw me off, as I wasn’t starting with my RFR team and it gave me some anxiety that I could have done without.

Starting in Wave 4 meant that I would have many thousands of people in front of me from the start.  Clearly I wasn’t expecting to set any land speed records in this race, but I did have hopes to be around 8:30 pace (Spoiler Alert: I did not achieve this), which would be hard to reach, certainly in the early stages of the race.  I have to be honest and say that weaving my way through the field so I could try to find my stride took its toll on me both physically and mentally.  I became annoyed nearly from the beginning of the race by…well, pretty much everything: groups from the same charity running 4 across in the middle of the road, walkers at mile 1 in the middle of the road, large numbers of runners wearing headphones that couldn’t hear me coming up on them and saying “excuse me” or letting them know I was passing on one side of them.  Some things I think I had a right to be annoyed at, some things I was just annoyed at because I was already in a lousy state of mind and wasn’t doing much to combat it.

I did my best to persevere and try to stay near my goal pace and, for the first 10 miles, did reasonably well at that, ranging from 8:18-8:59 pace during that time.  There’s not a lot to write home about for those first 10, with few opportunities for large crowds of spectators and not a whole lot to look at.  Personally, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel is about when the race starts to pick up for me in terms of spectator support.  Maybe I’d built it up too much in my head, but this years Scream Tunnel just didn’t seem to have the…POP it has in years’ past.  I did think it was fantastic that they made custom signs this year for runners, inviting people to submit what they wanted a sign to read.  My friend Kat (who ran 3:25!!) made this one for me, but sadly I didn’t see it on the course.

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Passing through the town center of Wellesley and the arch marking the halfway point, I knew that any hope of maintaining a semblance of the pace I was on was out the window.  The wheels may not have come off entirely, but they sure felt wobbly.  Knowing I had the hills coming up didn’t help me mentally.

I think it was around Mile 15 that I took the first of what would be many walking breaks.  Part of the breaks had to do with pure fatigue, part of it was the calf cramps that kept on attacking me, causing me to flail my leg out like I’d been shot.  It was really all I could do to push myself to keep moving in a forward direction through the Newton Hills, losing time all along but never going backwards or stopping.  Here you can see some pretty sweet Pain Face and what happened with calf cramping.

Cram 3 Cramp 2 Cramp

Finally, I made it to the mile 20-ish mark where my mom, sister, and cousins were waiting for me and cheering exuberantly.  They got some great pictures too, where I somehow appear to be happy despite then telling them something along the lines of “I hate the marathon!”

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From there, I knew I only had 3-ish miles to go to get to Rebecca.  I wish I had something interesting to say about those miles other than the fact that they hurt.  They hurt a lot.  Finally, I made it to Rebecca, but I couldn’t even get much out in the way of words, having been socked in a the gut by a wave of emotions  She did get a neat picture where she’s pointing me out to our friends and I’m looking around trying to see the group cheering for me.

Becca Picture

I’ll confess, up until this point I wanted to quit the race a number of times.  I wanted to quit at the halfway point, at a med tent on Heartbreak Hill, at mile 20 when I saw my family, and again at mile 23 when I saw my wife, not to mention a number of times in between.  Despite these impulses, one thought sustained me and kept me moving, namely that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other runners who were going through, or had gone through, much worse adversity than I was currently experiencing, not to mention the thousands of people who would have loved to have gotten a bib and had the privilege of my suffering, and here I was, thinking of quitting because I was in pain and unhappy with my pace.  How could I ever use the phrase “Boston Strong” again if I proved myself to be Boston Weak?  Plus, there was no way Rebecca was going to let me quit once I saw her with 5K to go.

Because I have no idea where this occurred on the course, I’m going to include this picture of me apparently being chased by a Walker from The Walking Dead here.

Walker

Ironically, though in years’ past the BC kids lining the course basically until the end have normally been my nemesis.  Too loud.  Too obnoxious.  Too many.  This year though, they were awesome.  They were loud and raucous, but encouraging in a way that made me want to respond to them by pushing myself.  Even when I couldn’t run, I at least tried to give them a thumb’s up to acknowledge their cheers and let them know they were making a difference.

At last, I hit Hereford St. and then, Boylston St.  I have to say, it is a LONG way on Boylston St.  The fact that you don’t even hit Mile 26 until you’ve gone a bit on it is disheartening in and of itself.  More disheartening though was that I couldn’t run the whole way, like I desperately wanted to.  Apparently at some point I did manage to break into a semblance of a run for a short period of time though, not that I have any idea where this picture was taken.  Suffice it to say that, at some point during this race, I looked like a runner.

Flying

Despite 26.15 miles of discomfort, when the finish line came into view, I was able to muster some energy to make sure I got a finisher’s picture I could be psyched about.

Hands UpI’ll have a future post with some reflections on this year’s marathon, some good, some bad, but I don’t want to sully this post with negative musings.  I will use it to announce my retirement from the marathon distance though.  It’s just not a distance that seems to agree with me like others do.  Of course, I’ve said that before, so who knows.  Still, if that’s my last finisher’s picture of a marathon, I can say with all honesty that I will be at peace with it.  I’ll still have these memories to treasure.

3 Marathons

Go like never before, my friends.

 

2013 B.A.A. 10K Race Report

June 24, 2013

Whew, that was a hot one!  The summer racing season officially kicked off for me with the BAA 10K, the third running of the race and the second leg of the BAA Distance Medley.  This race had particular significance because it was the first BAA race after the Boston Marathon.  As a result, the race sold out in record time, with runners around the state, and maybe even country, eager to defy any suggestion that the attacks have changed the way we live and race in Boston.  The BAA encouraged runners to show their pride by wearing yellow and blue, so I debuted my Hanson’s Yellow Team Brooks singlet, which is quite yellow and Brooks HVAC Synergy Short II shorts in blue.  On my feet were the Brooks Pure Connect IIs, in which I hadn’t yet run over 5K.  I ended up being quite happy with the Connects for the 10K distance, though I’m not quite sure if I could get away with them for a half marathon.

Despite very much wanting to participate in this show of spirit, I have to admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to the actual race.  Ever since the TARC 50K, I’ve been struggling to come back from an IT band injury.  I haven’t been happy with my fitness and I think the injury caused me to overcompensate in a way that has made my quads feel like rocks.  Some runs have just felt like I’ve been running underwater.  Generally speaking, I don’t like to race when I don’t feel like I can shoot for a result I’ll be happy with.  But, as Rebecca reminded me, it would be quite silly to waste an entry fee, especially when I would have taken a spot someone else would have wanted in the sold out race.  So, with about a week to go, I made the commitment to myself, and put it in writing to new coach Will Feldman, that I was going to do the race and use it as a test of my fitness.  I might not get a time that I’d be super-excited about, but at least I’d know where I was in my progress, and where I had to go.

As per usual, we didn’t get out of the house when we wanted to and ended up in a bit of a mad dash to the start, which did give me a chance to get in a quick warm-up jog without then having a long wait to when the race would actually take off.  In what I believe was a new feature to the race, there would be multiple waves based on projected time.  Although runners were free to put themselves wherever they wanted, for once it seemed like everyone did a fairly good job of lining up in an accurate corral.  I went to the back of Wave 1, which had a projected pace of 7:00-7:59/mile.  I honestly could not say I had any clue where in that range I would end up falling, but I at least had aspirations not to fall outside of it.

As the race started on Charles St., in between the Commons and Garden, I tried to just settle into a nice little groove.  I’ve found that I perform best at the 10K distance when I feel like I’m comfortably pushing myself while staying in control of my breathing and form, unlike a 5K where I generally feel like I’m close to red-lining for most of the race or a half marathon where I know I have to keep a good amount of energy in reserve.  It really made a huge difference to be able to start with other racers that were going my pace, instead of having to fight through people who put themselves too far up as I was mostly able to avoid the weaving and dodging that is commonplace at these larger races, particularly so with the BAA 5K.  Though relatively flat overall, the first hill on the course comes when running under Mass Ave.  I’m really not sure why, but this little bump has always thrown me off.  Knowing that, I tried to power through it and maintain some momentum after the hill.  I think it worked as a mental trick.

To call the course interesting would be a lie.  In fact, it’d be a mean lie to tell someone.  It’s an out and back race, largely along Commonwealth Ave.  One nice aspect of the course though is that there are markers for each kilometer, which makes you feel like you’re steadily making progress.  As we made the turn from Bay State Rd. on to Comm a little after the Mile 2 marker, the main hill of the course loomed before us.  Essentially, there is a long gradual incline up Comm to the Mile 3 marker, at which point you hit a cone and then head back down.  What I love about this part of the race is that, depending on where you are in the field, you get a close-up view of the elites streaming past you.  This proved to be a great distraction from the hill and I didn’t mind expending some energy to cheer them on, particularly Americans Jason Hartman, fourth place at Boston and first American, and local fast dude Nate Jenkins.  I also saw running club friend, Shannon, a Goon Squad Runner, and a few GLRR runners, all on the opposite side of the cones from me as they made their way on to the finish.  Focusing on the distractions, the hill didn’t seem so bad this year, despite the sun beating down on us, but I knew there was still a long way to go to the finish.

I really felt like I was beginning to falter as I made my way downhill on Comm.  It doesn’t really help that you can see a bump up in the road at the end of the downhill, which, at least for me, killed any momentum I might have built up.  I could also feel my quads starting to yell at me, but not to the point where they felt like they were locking up.  I have to think that there was a combination of pure fatigue and heat fatigue working on me at this point, especially as there was no shade relief to be had on this part of the course.  I did my best to keep my rhythm going but knew that my better miles of the race were behind me.  I only hoped that I had banked enough time early on to maintain a decent overall pace.  Sadly I wasn’t able to see Rebecca as she made her way along the course, but at least keeping an eye out for her provided another welcome distraction from the road ahead.

Action shot...somewhere...on the course.

Action shot…somewhere…on the course.

Once more through the pass under Mass Ave and we were on what I call the Alphabet Section of Comm Ave.  The streets in the Back Bay section of Comm go down from H to A (Hereford to Arlington) meaning it’s very easy to know exactly how many blocks you have to go on the street.  I did my best to avoid looking at the street signs but only made it to Dartmouth.  Still, the end of the street was in sight.  I was happy to see a large crowd of people at the turn, but dismayed at their enthusiasm.  If you’ll allow a brief digression here, I feel compelled to comment on the state of crowds at road races.  For the record, I’m totally cool with races that feature no crowd support, it’s always a bonus to have it there.  I enjoy some races like the Hartford Half Marathon because there isn’t a constant crowd, so you can settle in, but in the sections where there are people, they cheer vociferously.  The contrast is nice.  For most of the BAA 10K there were few people along the course.  However, in contrast to Hartford, when I came upon a large contingent of people, they were largely silent.  Everyone is standing around looking at their phones waiting for the specific people they came to cheer, and not cheering on anyone else.  This is a completely foreign concept to me, especially at a BAA race.  I took it upon myself to urge the crowd to make some noise, and, to their credit, the people responded.  I even had a runner thank me after the race for doing so, so I guess I wasn’t alone in my feelings.

Running down Commonwealth Ave. towards the finish!

Running down Commonwealth Ave. towards the finish!

In any event, back to the final kilometer of the race, which takes you around the Public Garden on Arlington and Boylston St. before a final straightaway to the finish on Charles St.  That last straight always feels terribly long, and with the sun taking its merciless toll I struggled to find one last reserve of energy from which to summon a kick.  I finished the race in 47:27, a 7:39 pace, which I was surprised to later learn was 14 seconds better than last year’s race.

Race Results

With my medal!

With my medal!

I’ll take the early season result as encouragement that my fitness level isn’t quite as terrible as it feels and keep pressing forward with my training.  I’m glad Rebecca encouraged me to go through with the race, even in the sweltering conditions.  We enjoyed a nice brunch after at Joe’s American Bar & Grill with Rebecca’s Reach The Beach teammate Vanessa and her BU Law boyfriend, Ramon.  A race and brunch?  Makes a pretty great Sunday for me!

Me and Becca Post Race

Rebecca and me post-race in all our medaled glory!

Run Happy!

TARC Spring Classic 50K Race Report: “Flat and Fast…”

April 29, 2013

On Saturday, April 27, I accomplished a goal that had been percolating in my brain since I read Born To Run: running an ultramarathon.  When I signed up for the race on January 4, I was essentially starting my running from scratch, having come off a long injury layoff.    I knew that it would be a tough goal, but with Rebecca’s encouragement, and some input from our good friend Alett, I was reasonably optimistic about pulling it off.

I picked the Trail Animal Running Club (TARC) Spring Classic 50K for my foray into the ultra world.  After getting out on the trails in the Middlesex Fells a few times with soem Animals, I was getting pretty worried about a 50K trail race, but I was assured that the race trail was much easier both in that it was a lot less technical in nature and everyone considered it “flat and fast.”  Now, SPOILER ALERT, after having run the race, it should be noted immediately that trail racers and road racers mean something entirely different when they say “flat and fast.”  Animals seem to forget that the implicit “for a trail race” qualifier that is necessary when saying “flat and fast” is not explicit to a newbie trail racer.  To me, the course could fairly be described as rolling with a couple significant, but short, inclines that popped up each loop.

We arrived at the race around 6:45 a.m., mostly because I wanted to be sure to get one of the custom t-shirts made by Animal Emily Trespas.  Totally worth it.  One cool aspect of the race, apparently in “fat ass” tradition, was that the aid station was stocked by the racers.  Everyone was asked to bring an item, for example I had the “salty” category and contributed some pretzels and Pop Chips.  Even before the race started, it was easy to see how different a smaller trail race is from a road race.  Everyone seemed to know each other and I got the feeling they were all just looking forward to a fun, organized, timed run together.  I was happy see my fellow Goons, Thor Kirleis and James Provenzano there, as well as Marathon Sports Run Clubbers Ryan and Bethany Couto.

Being firmly of the belief that if you look good at a race, or at least have fun with how you look, you’ll feel good as well, I broke out a new race day outfit, pictured below:

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If you’d like to recreate this vision of green plaid, the shorts are the Brooks Infiniti IIIs and the top is the Race Day singlet.  I went with my Zoot compression socks and Brooks Cascadia 8 for footwear.  Thanks to Tom Poland of Greater Boston Running Company Andover for making sure that the singlet got in by the Friday before the race so I could rock it.

The Course

The race course is comprised of 5 10K loops, giving plenty of opportunity to get familiar with the terrain and come up with a plan for the miles ahead.  The first stretch of the loop featured, in my opinion, the two most challenging hills, not so much for their length, but steepness.  The second of these inclines was described by Animal Mike Saporito as “douche-grade,” which seemed very appropriate as it was tremendously steep, even if it was only 15 yards or so (or less even).  I did not even attempt a single running step on this hill on any of the loops, knowing it made much more sense to power hike it during the early loops and then just try to trick gravity into letting me up the hill during the later loops.  Maybe I was just really tired, but changing the laws of physics seemed easier during the 4th lap than walking.  Apart from those two hills, the course featured more gradual slopes that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow during, say, a 10K road race, but added up over 50 on the trails.  Thankfully the hills generally didn’t involve technical terrain on either the uphill or downhill.

Several runners described the course as “really runnable” overall, meaning you could spend a lot more time running and less time picking your way over rocks and roots, like one might in the Fells.  At least, that’s what I assume it meant.  I did manage to take a decent fall during the second lap when my mind started wandering, but it was on soft pine needles and there was no damage done.  There were only 3 sections I can recall that really forced me to tread carefully and walk, not because I was exhausted or sore (though I was), but because my trail running technique isn’t up to snuff yet.  All 3 sections involved “stream” crossings, or at least the crossing of water by virtue of rocks or logs.  On my first two laps I stepped directly into the water on the first crossing, misreading what was more solid mud and what was…less solid.  I did get the hang of it as the race went on, trying to find a balance between moving quickly enough over the rocks to avoid losing my balance and not going so quickly that I took a misstep and ending up in the drink.  Even though the last section was the most mentally taxing for me in terms of having to concentrate on each foot plant, it was also the most rewarding to get through because it meant the end of each lap, and then the race, was close at hand.

The Race

Going into the race, I had a feeling that the fourth lap was going to be the hardest one, both mentally and physically.  I was not disappointed.  I had zero, literally zero, expectations for what I was going to do in terms of pace and final time.  I figured I’d go out at a very comfortable pace and try to hang on for dear life.  I ended up at the start standing next to Luciana and Jayme of TARC, with whom I had run in the Fells a few weeks prior to the race.  I decided to start with them and see how the pace felt during the first loop.  At some point, feeling decent, I picked up the pace a little and continued on my own.  I hooked up with an Ed and Mike from Weymouth for a portion of the first lap and then again during the…third lap, I want to say.  Ed and Mike were good guys and I hope they finished strong.  I spent portions of the second and third lap with Ryan Couto, who is quite the accomplished ultra runner, along with his wife, but he passed me leaving the aid station and I never caught back up, finishing about 14 minutes behind him in the end.

It was during the fourth lap that my muscles started to rebel, first my quads, and then my calves.  This development meant hiking a lot more than I had the prior 3 laps in an attempt to avoid the muscles locking up completely, which I knew would spell doom for the remainder of the race.  I also knew that I had to hold back some during the 4th lap, not knowing just how much more energy I would need for the last one.  After a long slog through the woods, I finally made it back to the start/finish, where Rebecca helped me out greatly (again) not just by grabbing fuel from my bag, but in gently encouraging/urging me to get going for the fifth and final lap and not to loiter any further.  It also helped to see Thor finishing strong and cheering me on as I departed for my last 10K.  Maybe it was because there were some cool personal moments during the last lap, maybe my brain was just fried, but somehow the last lap felt much better than the 4th.  There was the moment early on in the loop where I knew for sure that I was going to finish the race and be an ultra runner.  There was the moment my GPS told me I had completed a marathon distance.  And there was the moment the GPS clicked over to 30 miles.  All these moments added up to help get me across the line, a moment Rebecca captured:

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My final official time was 6:15:02, but here’s the story my Garmin told as well as the pace breakdown from it (I inadvertently restarted the GPS after the race, so the total elevation numbers will be off as well as the last mile stats):

GarminPace Chart

After finishing, I did my best to keep walking, and upright, not wanting a repeat of last year’s post-Boston experience of deciding it would be a good idea to lay down and then not being able to get back up again without feeling dreadful.  I did manage to get a picture in with Cesar, a great guy and an Animal.

Me and Cesar

Fueling

This was probably an aspect of the race that could have used improvement, though I’m not entirely sure what I would have done better, specifically.  I used my Ultimate Direction Blaze Plus fuel belt to carry one flask of Gu Brew and another of water, which I refilled at each aid station.  I made it a point to drink at least every mile and then on occasion when needed as well.  I took an Accel Gel every 4 miles and a SaltStick cap every 10K (except before the last loop, when I took 2).  At the aid station I would generally grab a handful of pretzels to munch on along with some liquids.  I think I took one pack of Gu Chomps as well after Lap 2.  Although I carried Sport Beans with me, I never ended up using them.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any stomach issues during the course of the race.  That said, maybe my legs wouldn’t have started cramping if I had taken in more sodium.  All things considered, I was able to manage the cramping and would prefer that to stomach distress.

Takeaways

Doing a trail 50K race was an entirely different experience than anything I’d done on the roads, and not just because of the distance and terrain.  Letting go of self-imposed expectations for pace and performance was liberating.  Ironically, the distance made me less apprehensive about the miles remaining, like I might feel during a half marathon.  I think I could count on one hand the number of times I looked at my Garmin in between miles (I had a beep set up to alert me at mile markers so I could be sure to manager hydration), an urge that is sometimes hard to resist during training runs.  Moreover, I was able to run, and push myself, without any outside forces, at least when I wasn’t going through the aid station area where Rebecca, and our friend Courtney, was cheering me on.  Sure, for some stretches I would run with others, but I never felt that I HAD to, or that I needed music (or Joy The Baker podcasts) to keep me going.  Just trying to make it through the trail and across streams without falling kept my mind engaged.  When I didn’t have to fully concentrate on the trail, I was mostly just blank, not getting any deep thinking done, just being out in the woods and covering miles.

Will I do another ultra?  I honestly can’t say.  I don’t have the same sense of unfinished business that I do with the marathon.  I don’t have the compelling desire to keep lowering my PR like I do with the 5k-1/2 marathon distances.  But then again, maybe those are both the perfect reasons to want to do one again.

There are many people that helped me along the way in my training, and I thank you all.  I hope you know who you are, if you happen to be reading this.  You pushed me during tempo runs and kept me honest during easy runs.  Thanks to Brooks and my ID teammates.  Thanks especially to Coach Sage for the workouts and encouragement that got me to the end in one piece.  Thanks to my sister, Sarah, for the advice on injuries and just for being a great source of encouragement.  And, most of all, thanks to Rebecca for supporting and encouraging me during this crazy “journey” (he said while he stared meaningfully into the distance).

Run Happy!