Monday, June 20, 2016

Training 6/13 - 6/19

Another week, and that means another post! Maybe this will be a habit once again.

Plan for the week was to make this a step back week to remain consistent with the pattern of three weeks of build and one week to step back. As it turned out, I don't think I stepped back as much as I should have, but I felt good on all my runs. As always, I proceed with caution.

Onto the numbers:
6/13, Monday: Off
6/14, Tuesday: (Cathance: 6.7, 1:07:23) Easy cruise down to and along the river. Legs felt good, but the rest of my body felt "kinda draggy." Sometimes running in the evenings isn't the easiest.
6/15, Wednesday: Off. Last week was my first week with three, consecutive midweek runs, so resting today was the biggest part of the step back.
6/16, Thursday: (Highland A: 5.3, 43:05) Name for the run is derived by adding up and overs on Mt. Ararat to the "traditional" Highand Green Loop--yes, very creative. Consciously tried to hold myself back, but still managed a "snappy" pace. No complaints with that. I was a bit tight, which was only a slight bother.
6/17, Friday: Off
6/18, Saturday: (Southwest Harbor: 11.3, 2:17:49) Our annual end-of-school tradition has become a weekend in Southwest Harbor, and with my parents along, D and I were able to get out together. In short, this run was awesome. Nothing else to say...just awesome.

A photo posted by Ryan Triffitt (@sn0m8n) on

6/19, Sunday: (Heath: 4.1, 36:02): After downing a couple beers and a full rack of ribs, I'm not sure what exactly I was recovering from. Despite holding up my belly, my legs felt great.

Miles: 27.6
Time: 4:44
Elevation: 2,707

So, like I said, not as much of a step back week as it probably should have been, since the miles were right, but the time was only 10 minutes less and the elevation was about 80% more. I try not to worry too much about numbers, but they do tell part of the story. I'll keep tabs on things this week and adjust if need be.

A photo posted by Ryan Triffitt (@sn0m8n) on

Monday, June 13, 2016

Training 6/6 - 6/12

As promised, it's another post! And, speaking of that post, I'm totally shocked and surprised at how many people read it or responded to it. More than that, the number of people that identified with my thoughts was pretty remarkable and humbling. My intent with the post was for my own cathartic review of the past few months, so it was comforting to know that I wasn't alone and gratifying to hopefully help others with their own running challenges. Yay Internet!

With that, my hope for these weekly recaps is for me to get a snapshot of my training. I also hope it will help me know, beyond the numbers, exactly where I am in my training. For example, if I write my weekly recap and note that I felt tired on all my runs, it will be a flag to rest a bit more the following week. That's my hope.

For those that do read these updates, I think it'll be interesting to find out that I really don't run all that much. From afar or through Facebook, it may appear that I'm crushing a ton of miles. Not true. In reality, my two biggest weeks in 2016, while training for an ultra, were only 40 miles. (More to come in my 2016-so-far recap.) There's something glamorous about running 100-mile weeks, but that's not for me. I'm just too fragile. Running a little is better (way, way better) than not running at all.

Onto the numbers:

6/6, Monday: Off. I pretty much always take Mondays off.
6/7, Tuesday: (Bradbury: 5.1, 54:42) Due to the need to be in Freeport for a meeting (was still late), I snuck in a run at The Brad with Half Bomb and Nate Dawg. Easy, conversational pace. Well, conversational enough for me to complain about the overuse/lack of care of the trails from a certain constituency. Felt good...and the run, too.
6/8, Wednesday: (Mt. Ararat: 4.2, 35:32) In the future, Wednesdays will be "Workout Wednesdays," but today was just some easy hills. Might have gone a little quicker than "necessary," but my legs are starting to come around.
6/9, Thursday: (Heath: 4.1, 36:00) First time running three consecutive days since Grayson Highlands, and my legs made certain I was aware of that fact..
6/10, Friday: Off. I pretty much always take Fridays off.
6/11, Saturday: (Fatherland: 4.6, 35:07) We traveled down to my parents' house midday, so I could attend a retirement party for my high school cross country and track coach. Scheduling was tricky, but I was able to get out for a leg-mover in the afternoon. Felt fresh, which was a good sign.
6/12, Sunday: (Willowdale: 11.9, 2:13:21) After the evening's festivities, which would only be considered festivities at my advanced age and were really only excessive eating and moderate drinking, we didn't get too early of a start. Emphasis on "we" in that last sentence, as D and I were able to get out together, thanks to my parents. (Although we did miss mini-golf.) And, despite the aforementioned festivities, I felt great. We headed to Willowdale State Forest to check out the "new" Stone Cat course. (Research, perhaps?) The running at Willowdale is pretty great and fairly easy: relatively flat and not too technical. But, trying to follow a specific route at Willowdale is nearly impossible: the trail system is a twisted spiderweb thrown into a blender. The time above does not include the 30 minutes of stops to look at the map and read the course directions. With each of those items, however, we were able to follow the course, which is smoother than I remember, but just as twisty. I had a blast out there and really enjoyed being able to spend some quiet time on the trails with my favorite adventure partner.

The ferns of Willowdale
Miles: 30.1
Time: 4:54
Elevation: 1,509

All in all, a solid week. Nothing spectacular, but a good building block week. It was the third week in-a-row that I've increased my mileage, so next week will be a step-back week. And, yes, I increased to 30 miles and will be stepping back. Like I said, I don't actually run all that much. The primary focus of each week is to stay healthy, with a secondary goal of quality miles that best mimic my goal race, if there is one.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Blog Post?

Full disclosure: I started this post a year ago. Let it sit, and now I'm trying again. Buckle up. I have a lot to recap. I suggest doses, or caffeine, or not even bothering...

It's been two years since my last post, and my wife has been lightly bugging me to start posting again. (As if listening to me whine and moan in real time isn't enough, she also requested it digitally.) Yet, if I'm writing this, it must mean that I've been missing it as well. And, in truth, I have. Now, there's no way to sum up two full years, but I'll do my best.

So where have I been?

After the 2014 Spring Classic 50k, (my last post) I was in high spirits. And, all along while training for that race, I was seriously considering taking a stab at the TARC 50 Mile. (After seeing the heat and carnage that day, I couldn't be happier to have skipped out on that. I would've died--possibly not an exaggeration.) However, I came to my senses, since the 50k took a lot out of me--more than I would have expected. In hindsight, it took out exactly what it should have based on the training I was able to put in. Ultramarathons--even "easy" ones--are hard. And, I went after it that day.

Jamie showing perfect crew form. #alwaysbecrewing
While I was smart enough to bail on a June 50 mile, I was dumb enough to register for a November 50 mile--Stone Cat. It made sense at the time, but training over that summer never came together for me--physically or mentally. I rolled my ankle at the Bradbury Breaker in August, and I didn't rest enough. It ended up causing calf problems that plagued me into the Fall. Additionally, something wasn't right in my head. All my long runs were a struggle--all of them. Especially, a 7-hour tour of Bradbury during which the 100% humidity and a mid-run, water-bottle-spiking, temper tantrum nearly led me to quit the sport altogether. Running just wasn't fun. It's tough to train for a 50-mile race, when your heart isn't in it, and you have a nagging injury. I'm not making excuses, I'm just illustrating how ego--the same ego that pushes you to success at the finish line--can make it impossible for you to see reality. I should have shut it down and healed up. It took a while longer for me to figure that out. Things got even worse.

What really wasn't fun was my "experience" at the Pisgah 50k in September. The day included a rebelling gut and 30 minutes sitting on a milk crate at the 20-mile aid station. I finished. Why? Because I'm stubborn. I kept listening to my own advice: "There's a difference between hurting and being hurt." But, it was horrible. That horribleness was all my own doing: lack of training, lack of focus, eating terrible the day before, not respecting the race. I crossed the line a few ticks under 7 hours. In my previous two spins there, I've run 5:25 and 4:50. It was that ugly.

That did no go well.
I did manage a solid last long run prior to Stone Cat. I explored some new trails and really enjoyed my time out there. Unfortunately, that run was only 14 miles. That was about the limit of my body. Add to the lack of training, another roll of the same ankle a week prior to the race, and that was that. I went to the Stone Cat start knowing that I wasn't going to finish, but I hadn't admitted that to anyone or even myself. The result was a drop after 25 miles. You can't fake 50 miles. That was expected. What wasn't expected was my attitude post-race: I was pretty happy with my time out there. I'd had fun. Sure the last few miles were a shuffle as my body came to grips with reality, but it was a great morning on the trails.

Coming out of Stone Cat, I was feeling positive. Then, two weeks later I rolled my ankle again: as hoar frost collapsed underneath me on a flat section at Pineland. #pinelandsux. I finally got the message and shut it down. I also contracted a fairly terrible sinus infection that took me out of life for a week, lingered for a couple more, then knocked me down for a few more days later than month. It may have been a blessing in disguise as I stayed mostly off my feet, with a few random runs here and there.

With the turn of the calendar to 2015, I knew that I needed a different approach. Older and wiser, my plan was to have no plan. Specifically, no race plans. I was always chasing the next race and had become the poster child for FOMO--fear of missing out. And, because of that, I was barely showing up or actually missing out. Luckily, the winter was awesome, so I was able to mix in a ton of snowshoeing and cross country skiing. I participated in five snowshoe races (one being a duathlon) and slowly built up my running mileage. Three weeks up and one week down--that was the basic pattern or as close to that as possible.

In short, it worked. In April, I had a test of sorts at the Run the Rock 25k in North Carolina. Aside from the heat and lack of training, it went really, really well. Seriously. With a long run of 10 miles and no run warmer than anything in the 50's prior to that week, I didn't know what to expect. What I really didn't expect was to be leading the race at 10 miles. Granted, it was a small field, but I went out conservatively and gradually worked my way up. However, it was at the 10-mile point that the clouds burnt off. It was close to 80 degrees with 100% humidity--not my favorite weather conditions. The hills near the end and the lack of training took it's toll, and I ended up third overall with a huge smile on my face--my very, very sweaty face.

Southern bling for Team Snowplug!
In the past, after this positive experience, I would've signed up for a host of races. I didn't. I took recovery seriously. And, surprise! It went well. The rest of the summer was a slow build of speed and mileage. I sprinkled in some hill and speed workouts midweek. I increased the distance on my weekend long (or almost long) runs. Now, it wasn't perfect. I had a calf niggle in June and rolled my ankle in July. I took time some time off, and I treated the injuries. I was smart. When I was healthy, I raced. I ran all three races at our summer series. The Scuffle was easily my best hot weather performance ever, and the Breaker went really, really well. The following week, I ran the Falmouth Road Race. It was slower than I had hoped, but I consciously decided to slow it up to avoid heat stroke--it was one of the hottest years on record. I'm not a fan of giant road races, but it was great to experience one of the New England classics.

What is this place?
Falmouth came together as part of our family vacation on Cape Cod, and a few days later D and I ran together at a location known as the Trail of Tears. It was definitely a wake up call. The trails were very New-Englandy style singletrack, so a ton of little ups and downs. On every single flat or down, I would pull a bit ahead, but D would kill me on all the uphills--all of them. In translation: I was soft. Time to HTFU.

In the next few weeks, I put in my strongest training in years. Hills, long runs, hills during long runs. I did it all. I also raced twice. First, the Bruiser, which was solid, and then had an awesome run at the HVNC Run through the Woods half marathon the following week. Things were clicking. My longest run of the year was still the Run the Rock 25k, but I was still performing well and feeling good in these half marathon-type races. Then I did this, this, and this. Things were really clicking, and I started to think about an ultra. Could I get one in 2015?

My options were slim, but I narrowed it down to two: The Hamsterwheel 6-hour on 11/14 or the TARC Fells Trail Winter Ultra on 12/5. It's nearly impossible to pick two more disparate races. The former is a dead flat and smooth on a 2 mile loop. The latter, even though also loops, is relentlessly hilly and relentlessly rocky with hills and rocks on top of that. So, obviously, I chose the Fells. My logic was solid, though. The Fells gave me three more weeks of training, which I felt I needed. Also, I was worried that I might run too far at Hamsterwheel, since I think I could've come close to 40 miles, which I couldn't have realistically handled. Time to run some hills!

I ran a Double Breaker, which is doubly hard. Then, one month before the race, I logged my first 20-mile run of the year. Like I said, I knew I needed more time. I rounded things out with a 20 at Pineland, that actually didn't suck. Was it enough to tackle 32 miles with 4,000+ feet of gain and loss over pointy, rocky nastiness? Nope, but it was what I had.

With a race date in the first weekend of December in New England, weather can be a significant factor, but I got extremely lucky. It was a beautiful day, which is rare for this race. And, other than that, I ran smart, and I ran hard. It kicked my ass. This race is no joke. I ran the first two 8-mile laps comfortably, and then pushed as hard as I could for the last two. My crew, D and Half Bomb, had me in and right back out at each lap, and some college friends who live in Boston came out to cheer me on in the last mile. Their dog decided that I needed a pacer, so I even got that extra boost in the final stretch. Honestly, the race is a blur. Probably in part to the fact that it's all so similar, but also due to the fact that I just put my head down and ran. I was focused. I wanted it. Nearly 6 and half hours after I started, I had completed my first ultra in 20 months. As a bonus, I was 9th overall, and the second old guy. It was indeed an awesome day and a hell of a way to close out 2015.

In fact, it nearly was my final run of 2015, as it took me about three weeks to feel normal after that. But, I wasn't worried. If I learned anything in 2015, it was that I couldn't push it unless my body was ready. It really is that simple. So, I rested. I waited. And, eventually, as I noted in one of my runs on Strava: the pins are coming around.

If you've actually made it through all that, I'd seriously question your sanity. And, with that, I think I'll save the first half of 2016, including a Grayson Highlands 50k race report, for another post. In the meantime, my hope is to put together a weekly-ish training recap. I've looked back on those in the past for reference, so my hope is that they'll help me moving forward, and perhaps you, my limited audience, can see deep into my twisted mind. Onward!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

TARC Spring Classic 50k Race Report

Finally burdened with the task of writing a race report nearly two and a half years since my last ultramarathon, and it took me nearly two and half years to finally write this. At last, it was time to pass the grill tongs and the bottle opener to someone else and get in the game myself. I'm very thankful to have been able to do so.

The theme of my training, which I dubbed "Operation Get to the Starting Line," was to stay healthy. Easier said than done. But, I knew that pushing too much in training could only set me back once again. I went into the race with decent fitness and strength, but nothing that I would call great. Even if I got to the start line a bit underprepared, I knew it was better than not starting at all. My training was very much focused on my weekend back-to-back runs with the midweek being reserved for resting and assessing. And, above all, no speed work. My final three long runs, while not perfect, certainly gave me some confidence:
3/28: 21 miles at 8:16/mile - all road
4/3: 20 miles at 10:50/mile - all trail in 80+ degree heat. I melted.
4/12: 21.5 at 11:28/mile - all trail and crazy technical
Note that I didn't say "a lot of confidence." The amount of time running was solid, but the distance was not. On race day, I'd be running close to 50% longer than my longest run in terms of miles. That fact had me concerned. Still, with a flat course, I hoped that I wasn't in too much trouble. But, again, I wasn't injured.

On race day, I was shockingly relaxed. I had a great time pre-race sipping coffee and chatting with Michael Wade and the large contingent of Trail Monsters that were there to run the various distances (10k, half marathon, marathon and 50k). In fact, I was so relaxed that I skipped the pre-race meeting (see: sipping coffee and chatting) and missed out on the news that the race was going to start early. Suddenly, there was a howl and a whole slew of runners heading off down the trail. Well, I guess the race is starting.

Trail Monsters not attending the pre-race meeting.

Lap 1
The trail narrows fairly quickly off the starting line, so I don't think I took a running step until about 30 yards in. And, even then, with all the people--approximately 300 in the 3 races (10k had started 10 minutes prior)--I was barely jogging. My race plan called for going out easy, but when the average pace read out on my Garmin read 13:XX a half mile into the race...well, I guess I was going out easy.

In all seriousness, pre-race I believed I could run between 4:30 and 5:00, with a realistic goal of sub 4:50. I figured on an amazing day, I might be able to sneak under 4:30. Nine minutes per mile is a 4:39 50k, so my plan was to run nine-minute pace for the first two laps. From there, I would assess, with the hopes of picking it up or at least not slowing.

I was running with John in the first couple miles, and we were steadily passing people until about the two-mile mark. Then the following exchange happened:
Me: "Nice to be free of the crowd."
John: "Yup."
Me: "This pace feels about right."
John: "Yeah, I don't want to go out too fast."
Seconds later he was speeding away from me down the trail. I kept him in sight, but I kept closer watch on my Garmin: average pace 8:50ish. I didn't want to overcook things just yet. I still had John in my sights about a mile later when Ian, running the half marathon, caught and passed me. He heckled me about the "old man" beating me, but I was able to keep my ego in check. I was worried than Ian speeding by would entice John to pick up the pace, and, unfortunately, that's just what would happen.

It wasn't raining at the start of the race, which was a blessing, but it starting raining about 20 minutes in. I was feeling a bit overdressed at first, but the rain cooled me down to a reasonable temp quickly. In fact, I was very comfortable through out the race.

The average pace crept down to 8:45, but it felt very comfortable, if a touch risky. I tried not to think about it too much and just focused on staying relaxed and "no effort"--that was my mantra.

Lap 1 passed uneventfully in 54:22

Finishing the first lap. Photo by Topham Photo

Lap 2
After a flawless bottle hand off from Jamie, my crew, and more heckling about the old man, I was off for my second lap. While finishing my first, I was very surprised to see Michael on the short out and back section that starts and ends each lap. I figured he'd be long gone with the training he'd been putting in this year. I'd seen John as well. "No effort."

I ran the majority of this lap alone. Just me and the mud. It was muddy to start, and the rain added to it. But, after the tales of the TARC 100/50 that was held on some of these same trails last year, I couldn't complain. I will say that I was amazed to watch some other runners try to figure out ways around it. Not that I'm the toughest guy out there, but it is a trail race.

Squish. Photo by Topham Photo

Of note: I stopped to pee during this lap. I never do that in a race.

Another flawless bottle swap with Jamie, and I was off.

Lap 2 time: 53:02

Lap 3
I was surprised to see Michael even closer at the close of the second lap, but I assumed that he was about to pick up the pace. I stayed consistent with my splits and noticed that the average pace was now closer to 8:40. With that realization, I started to dream of my uber-reach goal of sub-4:30, but then I remembered that I still had half the race ahead of me.

On one of the twistier sections, I could see Michael and John just ahead, and with some quick math, I counted them less than a minute up. In a few clicks, I had caught up to John who was feeling the effects of his early pace. We were almost exactly halfway through, 15.5 miles, and he told me he was going to dial things back a notch. I told him not to worry and that he was right on 4:30 pace. A steady pace would get him to a fine finish. Well, he later informed me that "my skipping and frolicking" while passing him really took the wind out of his sails. Oops, sorry about that.

Less than a mile later, I caught Michael just in time to heckle him for dropping his water bottle. We ran together for a bit, and I confided in him that was feeling good but concerned I was in over my head. What I didn't tell him was that I was stoked to be running with him at this point in the race, since he's been killing it this year in preparation for the Ghost Train 100 in October. He's run twice as many miles (literally) as I have this year, so to be feeling solid and with him at this point was a big boost. Of course, shortly after I thought that, he gapped me slightly, and was a few strides in front of me as we closed out the lap.

Lap 3 time: 52:52

The handoff.

Lap 4
This was, as they say, when shit got real. Thanks to another flawless hand off from Jamie, I was able to get out of the aid station ahead of Michael. And, because I've spent so much time watching ultras, I recognized a couple guys I passed early on in this lap as fairly experienced and/or accomplished ultrarunners. Suddenly, I was feeling a lot of pressure. I felt like I was racing. No, I was racing.

Then, almost out of no where, I heard myself say out loud, "You gotta believe."

That was it. At 20 miles, I made the decision to keep it going. I could have easily backed off, conserved a bit, and not worried about blowing up. But, where's the fun in that? Plus, my competitive disorder was in high gear right now. My legs were still churning out the miles, and I needed a test. This is what I had been missing all this time. Time to take a risk, suffer a bit, and see what I could do.

It was during this lap that I also got to experience what makes ultrarunning so great. I was starting to lap a number of other 50k runners and marathoners. Everyone was so encouraging. One woman even said to me, "You're amazing." I wanted to reply, "I'm totally normal," but my communication skills had diminished to neanderthal level at this point. Another gentleman even scolded me lightly for not more fervently asking to pass: "You gotta tells us slow pokes to get out of the way!" I grunted a smile.

Lap 4 time: 53:42

Lap 5
I only have snippets of memories from this lap. I remember saying out loud on more than one occasion, "Just...keep...pushing." I remember another runner cheering me on as I ran ever step of the "steep hill." (Those who ran the race know the hill to which I'm referring.) I remember a blur of ouch.

I had been wearing gloves for the first four laps but tossed them at the aid station. Shortly into this lap, I absentmindedly pressed my thumb and forefinger together. Something felt strange. I looked down and realized that my left had was pale and swollen. Better check the right. Yup, that hand too. I tried to wiggle my fingers, and they felt like foreign objects. That process probably took three minutes, but my brain was still sharp enough to realize that I'd overdone it with my fluids. In each of the first four laps, I'd drained almost an entire 20-ounce bottle of Nuun. I was on electrolyte overload. I squirted half of my bottle out knowing that I didn't need to carry all that extra weight, and probably took 3 sips in the final 5 miles.

With that issue solved, I was able to get back to my main focus: suffering. It was a manageable level of suffering, and although the splits would later reveal that I was slowing a bit, I was hanging tough. Then, suddenly, I wasn't. I popped. It was like a switch was flipped. The risk at mile 20 hit me hard sometime after mile 29, and I was a shuffling mess. I was moving forward, but barely. Less than two miles to go, but they were by far the longest two miles of the race. In one of the muddier sections, with about a half mile to go, Michael went flying by me babbling nonsense about sub 4:30. I could barely see, and it felt like my skeleton was made of Twizzlers. It's amazing how fast a 9-minute mile can look. ;)

But, I finished. I crossed the line with a smile on my face and a high five from Michael, who was nice enough to wait for me after his finish.

Lap 5 time: 57:13


Ultrarunning is fun.

Once the results were posted, I was bummed to realize that the pass at the very end dropped me out of the top ten, but I can't complain. For my first ultramarathon back after such a long hiatus, it's a huge relief to have finished. While I'm pleased with the result, I'm more proud of the way I ran the race. I ran smart, even splits. When Michael pass me, he was the only 50k runner to pass me...period. I took a bit of a risk, and it paid off. Sure, the last two miles were gruesome, but that has more to do with training than race day tactics. Could I have backed off in the third lap or at the beginning of the fourth lap? Sure. But, I believe I was still destined to run into some trouble with the lack of training. Again, it was all about getting to the starting line healthy, so I wasn't in prime fitness. Will I get there again? Maybe. But, running an ultra was far more satisfying than watching one...two...three...

Thanks to...

Jamie for crewing. It takes a true friend to stand out in the rain and not mind me barking orders at him. Then, he gave me a beer and a sausage after I finished. He's almost as good at crewing as I am...

Dr. Jamie Raymond for keeping my parts in working order by bending and popping me in unspeakable ways.

John for holding me accountable through the winter--a couple nights per week at 8:00pm, often in sub-zero temperatures. There is absolutely no way I would have gotten the miles in without such a committed training partner.

The Trail Animals Running Club, specifically the race directors Bob and Josh. They put on a helluva show.

Danielle for putting up with all my whining and believing that I could get back here. (Speaking of my lovely wife, she won the women's race. Topper.)

My Trail Monster Running teammates who encouraged me during my injuries and sent me kudos post-race. Even this athletic supporter needs support sometimes.

The obvious question, now, is: what's next? The first priorities are to recover and stay healthy. Beyond that...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Snowshoe Season

Happily feeling saddled with the burden of updating the blog, since I'm actually fairly ambulatory these days. And, I'm even more happy to report that I completed my first snowshoe season since 2011. Granted, I wasn't able to attack it as hard as I would have liked, but two years of injuries and sporadic training will do nothing but erode one's fitness. That erosion was on display in all my races, but I made it to the start line of five races, finished each one, and survived unscathed. Here's a recap...

January 19, Bradbury Squall
After some quality early season snowfall, a prolonged and particularly aggressive January thaw put this race in serious jeopardy. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my race director duties, but wrestling with Mother Nature is stressful. I managed to devise a course on the East side of the park that was just under three miles, but it took much more shoveling than should ever be needed to pull it off. Plus, with the icy conditions, it was more like a road race than a snowshoe race--firm and fast.

After a healthy period of sandbagging from the crew pre-race, during which we all professed our disinterest in racing that day, the race went out like a 1500 meters on the track. It was insane, and a giant mistake for me. Around the first corner and on to the first stretch of single track, I "settled" into fourth place behind gIANt, but my heart was already dangling out of the side of my mouth. We hit the Snowmobile Trail after 3/4 of a mile, and Jamie, Tyler and Scott easily moved past me a pulled away. Due to the firm conditions, I was able to keep them in sight, but by the time we reached the turn around, Chuck and Jennifer were breathing down my neck. Thankfully, fat is aided by gravity, and I was able to grunt and froth my way back down the Snowmobile Trail to the Link. I could see Jamie ahead of me, as he looked back approximately 37 times in the final quarter of a mile, but I was wide open and had no shot of getting him. I did manage to hold onto 7th place overall, but I knew that it was smoke and mirrors. The course really played into my hands being short and fast. I can handle that right now, but I know that in a real snowshoe race, I would've been toast.


February 8, Maine State Snowshoe Championships
It's no easy feat to get to Rangeley, so I was happy to have John as my driver and official MEDOT tour guide for the journey. It was cold when we arrived, but the yurt was warm and cozy. The field this day would be small, so I knew that even in my weakened condition all I needed to do was finish and I'd qualify for Nationals. As it turns out, that's exactly what would happen.

After an uneventful but beautiful warm up on a mix of groomed trail and singletrack, I made my way to the starting line in the "stadium." The race was held at Rangeley Lakes Trail Center--a Nordic skiing facility--and it was the perfect venue for a state championship. Even with the small field, the set up and course made it feel like a big deal. I could almost picture stands full of screaming fans. I was pumped to go after it...for about 100 yards...

Maine State Snowshoe Championships Race start.
The gun went off, and so did my left hamstring. It wasn't a full on pop, but I felt a significant tug only a few seconds after the start. For the next mile or so, I tried everything I could to try to make it feel normal with no success. Lengthening my stride, shortening my stride...nothing seemed to work. After turning off a lengthy singletrack section during which I shadowed Jamie, and once again, had Chuck and Jennifer on my tail, I shut it down. I knew that I just needed to finish to qualify, and I hoped that I could complete 10k without doing any real damage.

My reaction was strangely measured, since you'd think that I would be quite upset, but I after so many injuries I was nonplussed. I would have loved to have been able to race, but I was able to stay focused on the bigger picture as I have other fish to broil this year and the goal was to just get to Nationals. So, I jogged along and enjoyed the scenery. The upside was that I could enjoy the aforementioned scenery, which was stunning, and I was feeling very lucky to be able to be out in the woods on a such a winter's day...ahem. It was definitely worth the travel to be out on those trails, and I hope to find myself back there again.

At about 5k, I caught up to Tyler who was walking after realizing in only his second snowshoe race that it's really easy to go out too hard. He soon caught back up and trailed me for a bit before I decided to stop trying to race on my bum hamstring, and I let him by. Then, much to my surprise only a few minutes later, I came upon a group of seven or so all standing a trail junction totally befuddle. I quipped that it was nice of them to let me catch up, but once we confirmed we were headed down the correct path, they quickly pulled away. I was alone again and meandering along the singletrack toward the finish. As it turned out, we all stayed on the singletrack too long as the course wasn't clearly marked, but I was just as happy to enjoy the woods rather than try to run on a groomed nordic trail. I crossed the finish line with a disappointed smile, happy to have finished and hoping my hamstring wouldn't become a major issue.


February 16, Bradbury White Out
A few sessions with the ice pack and a fortuitously schedule appointment with Jamie, and my hamstring was feeling just fine as the second Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series race came around. I definitely dodged a bullet on this one and was pleased with myself for making the right decision during the race in Rangeley. The downside, although a few days of training wouldn't have made much of a difference, was that I was not physically ready for the conditions on this day. This was a real snowshoe race.

I wanted to make up for the easy and short course from the Bradbury Squall, and combined with the conditions, I really nailed. I still opted for the flatter East side, but I packed in the two biggest climbs I could find along with half of the dreaded O Trail. In short, this course is a keeper! Plus, Mother Nature threw a snow/rain/snow combo at us in the days leading up to the race, and breaking the trail to mark it was a Herculean task on Saturday. The crust was heavy and thick leaving chunks of various sizes on top of soft, sugary powder below. After marking, John and I ran the course together that day, and I told him, "Those are the hardest conditions I've ever run in. No fun at all." I wasn't exaggerating.

Prudently, I opted for a more leisurely start in this race, and it was necessary. My lack of strength is painfully obvious in the soft snow, and I was still leery of my hamstring. I was chasing David for most of the first two miles, but he has 20 years of experience on, yeah...

Bradbury White Out start
Laurence tailed me for most of the race, and each time I offered for him to go around he declined. We did manage to pick a few people off here and there--including a few folks who went out way too hard and Scott who was having a very uncharacteristically off day. We reached the O Trail with Ben right on our tails, and I knew that I was going to get nipped eventually. I managed to keep the train moving through the O (while cursing the race director), but as soon as we turned onto the Knights Woods Trail, Ben moved around and off up the hill. I told Laurence to go after him, but he once again declined content to listen to me grunt and snort my way up the final hill (once again cursing the race director). I managed a bit of a smile near the finish, knowing that I'd gutted it out. I never attempted to really race in this one, but I didn't just go through the motions. It's tough for me to not race when I put on a number, but the stars were not aligned for me to go after it on this day. It's a strangely measured and mature attitude from me, but I think it's going to be necessary moving forward.


Almost a smile at the finish line

March 1, U.S. National Snowshoe Championship
How often do normal people get to compete in a national championship event? Measured and mature was replaced by balls to the wall. I knew that I don't have the fitness or strength to do any damage at this event, but I wanted to give it everything I had--even if I was bringing a butter knife to a gun fight.

The ride to Bennington, Vermont on Friday evening was a mix of awesome--a bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter--and less awesome--being second hand rear ended by a drunk driver. Luckily, no one was hurt by either the burger or the moron...aside from Scott's car, but it was still drivable. With the drama behind us, Saturday dawned sunny and cold, as we made our way to Prospect Mountain, which was the perfect venue for a New England snowshoe race. A retired alpine ski area turned Nordic touring center, time has stood mostly still at Prospect, but the energy for a National Championship was off the charts.

The day started with the Junior 5k, in which Chris was entered. Because he's a true American hero, he sacrificed his race to help a competitor in distress. Then, the women's 10k race went, and we were able to get some course intel from Jennifer before our start. In short, don't go out too fast, and it's hard. With an opening mile on all groomed Nordic trail and a mile long climb to the summit in the third mile, it confirmed what we already knew.

Near the mile mark. Joe Viger Photography
The race had more than 200 runners on the line making it easily double the size of the largest snowshoe race in which I'd ever competed. And, it felt like it. I was lucky to keep my snowshoes attached to my feet, but I saw a number of other runners who had to pull over to get shoes back on after being trampled. It was tricky to not get caught up in the energy of the race, but I did a good job of staying relaxed in the opening miles and was ready to go when the climbing begain. I was able to get into a good gear and just kept grinding. I passed a number of people on the climb, but I could also feel that I was pulling a group along. Shortly after the 4k mark, a runner went by, then another, then another. I was lamenting my lack of strength and was leery to start pushing, but after a few seconds, I decided to drop a gear and try to pick off those three. It was Nationals after all. I picked up the pace and was able to earn those places back. My timing was perfect as I was worked by the time I reached the summit. I was able to regroup and get into a line of other runners as we entered a tough and twisty singeltrack section in which I was running all out and just trying to stay upright. Once it flattened out, I must have relaxed and caught my snowshoe on the edge of the trough. I supermanned in spectactular fashion losing a couple places in the process. I was able to get back up and give chase. Another climb was a slap in the face, but I was charging and clipping the heels of a runner in front of me. He let me by at the top, and I kept chasing on the final, long descent to the finish. After 8k of snowshoe racing, a steep, fast downhill is pretty painful to say the least, and my legs were wobbly. A trio of runners snuck past me a few clicks before the final downhill switchback, which was severely rutted out since 300+ runners had churned it up prior to my arrival. I negotiated this stretched and was determined to catch that trio in the final quarter mile or so to the finish. The pictures will attest to the fact that I gave it everything I had. The trio and I were separated by a total of four seconds, and I didn't have enough real estate to catch them.

Satan face at the finish. SNAPacidotic

Post-race I was stunned to find out that I finished 105 out of 213. Even in my weakened condition, I never expected to be that far back. Then, I remembered that every single person in the race needed to qualify, and they came from all across the snow-covered United States and the Canadia. How cool is that? I'm honored to have been able to compete in such a great event and proud of the effort I showed.


March 9, Bradbury Blizzard
Even though it felt anti-climatic to have a race the weekend following Nationals, my race director hat was back on for the final race of the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series. I had a chance to get to The Brad on Thursday to assess the conditions, and I was excited that we'd be able to race on the mountain side. Of course, it was warm on Friday and Saturday during the days and cold at night, so the course had more ice than I would have liked, but no one ever said that snowshoe race directing reduced stress. On Saturday, I had a ton of help marking the course. John and Sean had no idea that it would take two hours to mark a quarter of the course. We placed approximately eleventy billion flags on the Switchback and South Ridge Trails. Then, we ran the Beautiful Loop, 15 miles--it was a big day.

Sunday was the first day of Daylight Savings Time, and I somehow set my clock ahead two hours. At least I had extra time to get registration and the start and finish lines set up. The good part about having a race after Nationals was that I had finally really tested my fitness and strength. Granted, the results weren't entirely encouraging, but they also weren't unexpected. But, armed with the knowledge that I could actually push a bit and not explode, I was looking forward to testing myself at the Blizzard.

Bradbury Blizzard start
At the "gun" (me yelling GO!), things went out a bit faster than I expected, but I was happy settling into my pace knowing that the first part of the course was the much easier than the rest. Also, without the opportunity for a proper warmup, I really needed to take it easy to work the previous day's effort out of my legs. By the time I turned onto the Boundary Trail, I was a few strides behind the ageless David where I would remain for the remainder of the day either chasing or annoying him. I picked off a few folks along the way who didn't realize how hilly this sucker was, which gave the race director in me a point of pride. Then, while starting the South Ridge trail a few strides behind David the race director in me was terrified watching him descend with reckless abandon. The racer in me was disheartening by my complete lack of downhill ability. I resigned myself to reel him in slowly on the climb on the Switchback, which is just what I did. I pushed pretty hard up the zigzags, but took a moment to enjoy the crunching sounds of those behind me and watch the conga line move along--I love climbing the Switchback as both a racer and race director. At the top, I opened up the best I could and with each step, I was gaining a bit on David around the Tote Road. Finally, at the top of the Northern Loop, I was right on his shoulder, but then we started down the Terrace Trail. I would never see him again, and I was once again left to lament my downhill "running."

While compiling the results, I was stoked to see that I wasn't too far behind the crew I've been trailing all season. There's definitely something brewing. And, of course, it was a huge relief to complete my second consecutive Bradbury series and my first snowshoe series since the first in 2011. Above all, people loved the course--many said it was their favorite. It's clearly the hardest of the three, with 700+ feet of climbing in five miles, but the crew that comes out to run my crazy idea embraces that. I'm lucky to be supported by each and every one. Bad asses, indeed.


Finishing up snowshoe season.
Despite what the results might depict, it was a very successful snowshoe season. I made it through healthy. I competed. I had the honor of competing. I was surrounded by great competitors and, more importantly, great people. Snowshoe season is my favorite season of all, and it was tremendous to not be standing on the sidelines. Fitness-wise, I have a lot of work to do, but that will come. I'm in no rush. It's more important to be healthy than to be at top fitness. Easier written than done...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bradbury Bruiser - Race Report

An actual, living, breathing race report. It's true. I finally put in an effort worthy of a report. Not the result I would have liked, but certainly the effort. But without giving away too much of the ending, here's what went down at the 2013 Bradbury Bruiser.

Since setting my sights on the Big Brad Ultra 50k, I'd basically forgotten about the Bruiser. It was on the calendar, but I didn't think about the course or race strategy or anything until the day before. I took a quick peek at my 2010 race report--the year I PR'ed in 1:38:23--to get refresh my memory on the three key splits: end of the Island Trail, the beginning of O Trail and the finish. That year, I went approximately 15:00, 60:00 and 23:00, but this year I'd hoped to get under 1:44:48 to put me a 4 hours even for the series. I thought this was a bit a stretch, but still held out hope.

What I didn't need to review pre-race was the strategy. I've learned how to best tackle this race: stay relaxed on the Island Trail, race hard until the O Trail, then hang on to the finish. It's worked well for me in the past, and this was my goal again despite my depleted fitness. While marking the course with Jeremy on Saturday, we were chatting about something that had become quite clear to me this summer: it's really hard to race, when you don't trust your fitness. It's tough to push yourself early and often, when you haven't trained and tested yourself enough to know if you're going to survive. Right now, I don't trust my fitness--what little of it there is--but I knew that if I was going to have a satisfactory day on Sunday, I needed to have a little faith.

Unfortunately, on Saturday night, I felt terrible. Not sure quite what it was, but had some aggressive gastrointestinal issues that evening that left me feeling a bit wiped out on Sunday morning. In my favor, however, was the weather. A cool September day was on tap, so I knew the weather wouldn't be holding me back. After the usual song of dance of setting up the Start/Finish area, which I feel like I have down to a science now, and the hustle and bustle of registration, Ian was giving the pre-race instructions, and we were off.

Unlike the previous races this summer, after the announcements, I moved quite a few rows back from the start line. I did not want to get pulled out too quickly, potentially sabotaging my race even before it began. My plan worked, and according to the photos I was in 36th place at the start of the Island Trail.

Feeling comfortable in 36th place at the start of the Island Trail.
Photo courtesy of hurdlingreggie/Maine Running Photos.
It was a very comfortable spot to be in and then throughout the Island Trail, while I watched others waste far too much energy jockeying for meaningless positions and wasting crucial energy so early in the proceedings. The end of the Island Trail came in 16:30, a full 90 seconds off PR pace, but just where I thought I should be, and once we made that left hand turn, I was in a good place to pick up the pace.

I say "we" because at about a mile into the race a kid in a blue shirt pulled up behind me. He would end up staring at the back of my head for a very long time. It was great to have the push, and it definitely put me into race mode. But, of course, I wouldn't have minded dropping him either. It is a race.

Exiting the Island Trail. Note the blue shirt lurking. Thirty-third place at this point.
Photo courtesy of hurdlingreggie/Maine Running Photos.
I asked him a couple times if he was interested in passing, but each time he declined. He seemed more than content to let me dictate the pace, and I know without him I probably would have backed off a bit. Either way, we would run alone--together for a bit--then catch a group, pass them...rinse and repeat.

We rolled through the first aid station which was quite spirited due to our awesome volunteers, so I decided to give them a bit a a cheer back. Or, perhaps I'm completely insane.

Photo courtesy of hurdlingreggie/Maine Running Photos.
At this point, we'd moved up to 22nd and 23rd, and I was really enjoying the stress of racing. A third runner joined our train just past the entrance to the Bat Cave due to an untied shoelace, and it felt like even more of a race. I still didn't trust my fitness, but I also knew that I needed to try to shake my blue shadow. I'm not as nimble on the technical terrain as I would like, so part of my Bruiser strategy is to hammer the Snowmobile Trail, which comes at mile 6 or so. The treadway is smoother, and no one likes to pick up the pace on an uphill, so it's a good place for me to try to break things open.

So, as soon as we hit the Snowmobile Trail, I dropped the pace considerably, and I as the trail pitched upward the footsteps behind me got quieter and quieter. I was putting myself fairly deep in the hurt locker at this point, but it was working. As an added bonus, I was catching up to two guys in front of me. A frothy and subdued thanks to the aid station crew this time, and I pushed some more. I was pretty worked by the time, I turned left off the Snowmobile Trail, but was super stoked with the risk I'd just taken. It had seemed to have paid off as I took a glance back at the left hand turn onto the next bit of singletrack: no blue shirt in sight. Plus, I was able to latch on to the two guys in front of me. I say "latch on" but I was always a few strides back of second guy who was always a few strides back of the dude in front. We were a pretty disorganized train, but we were moving pretty well. Or so I thought.

Then just before the long, superfluous mountain bike bridge, the blue shirt reappeared right on my tail. Oh, to be young and fit. Damn. Since I now had company--or more likely from fatigued--I dropped back a bit from the two dudes in front and ran along on with my blue shadow once more. As we entered the singletrack on the other side of the Snowmobile Trail, I tired to pick up the pace again, knowing that I was going to blow through the upcoming aid station and push hard up the hill on Knight's Woods--that dreaded, awful, terrible, hill on Knight's Woods. I flew through the aid station with Jeremy and Zak yelling wildly at me, and I put the hammer down going up the Knight's Woods Trail. That hill hurts like hell. It must have hurt blue shirt too because I got another gap, and actually caught back up to the other two guys in front. I was a grunting mess by the time I ran the final few yards to the O Trail, and it was at this point that the blue shirt finally went around. I managed to squeeze out a "Great job" or other such congratulatory phrase as I knew I wouldn't be seeing him again.

I enter the O Trail at 1:18:59 in a train of four other runners. The split was only about two minutes slower than my PR split from Island to O, which was encouraging. However, I knew I had pushed really hard to get to the O, and my plan of just hang on backfired somewhat.

Being the caboose in a train of five meant that it was easy to get dropped off the back. And that's exactly what happened less than a minute or so in. I couldn't--or didn't--hang on. Since my race strategy at this point has always been "hang on as best you can," I cut myself a little too much slack. If I had tried to stay with them longer, which would have been a tough task, perhaps the O would have gone a little better. As it was, I soon found myself running alone and not moving very well. Then I was moving even slower. It's really hard to know what's going on in the O Trail with its myriad twists and turns, but I could tell that a group of three or four was gaining on me. I started to see them more frequently, but at the same time, I also knew I was nearing the end. After stumbling and shuffling, I started running harder when I was afraid of getting caught, and I was somewhat ashamed at how well I was able to run as I popped out onto the Knight's Woods Trail for the final push to the finish. Then I remembered that I was about to claim my first Bad Ass hoodie in three years, and I picked up the pace another notch.

After they'd broken out the calendar to record my O Trail split, I headed for the finish.
Photo courtesy of Maine Running Photos.
I crossed the line in 1:45:47, 22nd place. I made sure to seek out the guys that I ran with throughout the race, especially my blue shadow, congratulate them on their efforts and thank them for their push. It had taken me nearly 27 minutes to complete the O Trail, and I'd missed my goal of breaking four hours for the series by 59 seconds. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to be healthy enough to complete the series and actually racing the Bruiser was so much fun, but there's more there. There has to be. I just have to keep working for it--both mentally and physically. I am fit enough to run the O Trail faster than that, but my mind wasn't there. Training isn't just about the body. Damn, this sport is cool.

Who's ready for the Snowshoe Series?