Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lookout Mountain 50 Mile - Race Report

"Intoxicated by the madness
I'm in love with my sadness."

- Smashing Pumpkins, Zero

Summing up 50 miles is hard to do, but that song that popped into my head around 30 miles certainly feels appropriate. A lot happens in the course of more than 9 hours of running, but at the same time nothing happens at all. An entire day of running feels like it takes all day but in many ways it goes by in the blink of an eye. After preparing for the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile, which covers trails in both Tennessee and Georgia, for a couple months, it felt a bit surreal to actually be running it. I didn't really know what to expect in my first 50-mile race, and I'm still not certain what I've taken away. I do know this: it was an experience unlike anything I've ever had. I expected some grand epiphany, but really, it was just a day in the woods. A great day. A horrible day. It was something I'll never forget...for so many reasons.

The event really started on Wednesday afternoon with a trip to my parents' affording us easy access to the airport for our early morning flights on Thursday. D and Sam headed off at 7:00 to D's parents' house for an extended break, while I headed for Charlotte at 8:30. An uneventful flight and long drive across North Carolina and into Tennessee later, I arrived at the Extended Stay Chattanooga, which would be the moderately acceptable accommodations for the duration. On Friday, I did a dry run to the start/finish location of the race at Covenant College atop Lookout Mountain along with some course recon exploring the trails on either side of the 34/38 mile aid station. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily during my short jog, but it was good to get the travel out of my legs in preparation for Saturday's effort. And, I was comforted in the fact that the rains would end for race day—that doesn't mean things would be dry. It was also good to get all my getting lost around Chattanooga out of the way, which was a constant for most of my car-based excursions around the city. Finally, I met fellow Trail Monster, Nathan, at packet pickup, and we headed back to the hotel to make some dinner and get our drop bags and race supplies in order. Nathan was also running his first 50-mile race, and we exchanged our thoughts as we prepared to dive into the great unknown.

With it still dark on Saturday morning, we made our way to the race site while temperatures remained in the high 30's. In fact, it stayed dark until just before the start, when the sun seemed to rise so quickly that it felt as if someone had flipped a giant light switch. Complete with multiple pop-up tents, a long row of porta-potties, a fire pit and an inflatable start/finish arch, it was clear that this was a serious operation, and I was confident that this meant the course would be well-marked and the aid stations well-stocked. Even expecting no-more than 2 hours between aid stations, I went with my two-bottle Nathan waist pack, primarily because it allowed me to carry the variety of gels, Clif Shot Bloks and Honey Stinger Waffles that I thought I need/want along the way. I fully planned to utilize the aid stations later in the race for some solid food needs and Mountain Dew or Coke if need be. Additionally, tucked away in my bag of tricks was a random connection that allowed me to trade emails with last year's race winner, Troy Shellhamer, to get some intel on the course itself. Troy assured me that while there were plenty of hills, the course was overall fairly moderate. Armed with this knowledge, I was expecting a tough, but not overly difficult or ridiculously hard course. The lesson here: the fast people lie.

Despite being fairly nervous on Friday, I was very calm on race day and was ready to go at the start. Knowing from the course profile that the first ten miles were essentially downhill, my goal was to keep things in check but also take what the terrain gave me. My rough goal for the race was between 8 and 9 hours, so 10:00 per mile was what I was shooting for overall, knowing that the first 10 would no doubt be faster than that. I wished Nathan good luck, moved a bit closer to the starting line and headed off down the road with 264 other hopefuls. I watched the front runners pull away quickly and let others around me pull away as well. The first mile was primarily pavement, and my only goal was to not race anyone as it seemed others were intent on jockeying for position. I let couple people duck around me as we entered the singletrack ensuring that I didn't have anyone breathing down my neck on the first bit of technical trail. Soon, however, as we swtichbacked downward, I was leading a train that dwindled each time I heard "On your right," or "On your left." I was intent on not pushing too hard, so I was happy to let others go around, confident that I'd see them later on.

As the trail continued to descend beneath a number of rock outcroppings, I was struck by two things. First, the beauty of the views and the trails themselves. Being on the northern side of Lookout Mountain, we were in the shadows as the sun rose, but the river valley below was well lit. Secondly, the technical nature of the trails. Despite what I was lead to believe, the trails were very rocky and wet. It was the wetness that was the predominant feature as my feet were wet almost immediately due to multiple stream crossings in the opening miles. Whether it was the mental shift I was attempting to make due to the technical trails or the fact that I was trying very hard to not race during this race, I was feeling pretty off for the first couple miles. I couldn't find my rhythm at all. Then, while ducking under an overhanging rock, I twisted my left ankle. It was bad enough that I had to stop and walk for a minute or two. My Garmin told me that I was only 3.5 miles into the race, and I was very worried that I'd come all this way only to drop at the first aid station. Luckily, it did seem to loosen up a bit, but I was very cautious for the next few miles not wanting to reinjure it. And, thankfully, I never rolled it badly again the rest of the day.

The trail brought us along the edge of Lookout Mountain, around its northernmost tip and directly into the sun. It was nice to get a bit of a comfort here as even with my gloves and long sleeve shirt under my Trail Monster singlet, I was a bit chilly at times. The trail remained technical and muddy as we wove our way under the Incline Railway twice and switchbacked further down into the valley. After turning my ankle, I reconnected with the group I was running with, which numbered about ten, and together we reached a gravel bike path that led us gradually downhill to the first aid station. Obviously, we were all happy to be able to open up our strides and run freely as we fanned out across the road and the pace quickened dramatically. It was here that I ran my fastest mile of the race: 7:58. I didn't stop at the aid station since I still had plenty of Nuun in each bottle and had already downed an Espresso Gu and a Honey Stinger Waffle for "breakfast." My Garmin clocked the aid station at 7.75 miles, which was a bit shy of the 8 miles advertised, so I knew my pace was a bit quicker than it was reading, as I came through here in 1:14:34.

Enjoying the sun just past the 8-mile aid station
The next bit of trail was among the most runnable of the whole course with a mix of smooth singletrack and gravel roads. I was hopeful that the really technical sections were behind us. I was very mistaken. It was in this section that I chatted quite a bit with fellow-New Englander and eventual woman's winner Debbie Livingston of Connecticut, and soon we came upon two volunteers who warned us that there was a river ahead. They weren't kidding. Friday's rains combined with a rainy previous week has caused the river to overflow its banks. Apparently, when the race director marked the course on Thursday, the river was still down, but by race time I found myself wading through water that was mid-thigh in places. We should have been following the river for 200 yards, but, instead, we were right in it. It really wasn't a huge deal, and I was feeling good enough at this point that I found it pretty humorous. However, there was a gravel road a few feet up the bank that we would have all been just as happy to run on. Granted, my feet were already pretty wet, but I didn't need my shorts to be as well. This difficulty for difficulty's sake was definitely on display in couple sections of this race, and it's really one of my two complaints about this race. Everything was well-organized and well-run, but we didn't really need to go through the river, and there were other sections of "fake" trail, clearly used only for this race that we were routed onto when other gravel roads would have been just as easy to use and actually made a bit more sense. That being said, wading through the river does make for a better story, and I was still squishing from shoes when I reached the mile 15 aid station.

Not me, but a good look at the river—the shallower part anyway.
My Garmin was even shorter at this stop, closer to 13.5, so I estimated my average pace to be right around 9:30 per mile or so thus far. Again, on mostly downhill terrain. I also moved right through this aid station, getting ahead of Debbie, but catching up with her husband, Scott, on the next climb. We ran together for a couple miles as we negotiated a small climb and descent before the major pull back up to the start/finish area. As I made my way around one blowdown on the climb, one of 5 or 6 we'd already negotiated, I also took note that the trail was becoming more technical again, and it stayed that way for the next 5 miles up to Covenant College. Although I run on very technical trails at Bradbury Mountain State Park, I'm comfortable saying that the real technical bits aren't my forte. I was silently hoping that the second half of the course would be smoother.

The trail on the climb back up to the start/finish reminded me greatly of the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail. In fact, if you had beamed me onto this trail and asked me to hike them for a bit, I would have guessed that I was in Georgia. Speaking of hiking, we hadn't hit much real climbing to this point, and, in some ways, that first short climb, which was about a mile, was a good wake up call. And, a good reason to walk. Following a fairly gradual descent, the real climb began. It was about 3 miles back up Lookout Mountain, and a bit intimidating when I looked at it on the elevation profile before the race. I felt that this climb would be a good barometer as to how I could expect the rest of the race to play out. As it turned out, it didn't at all, but rather gave me what was either a good mental boost or a false sense of hope. I felt very comfortable on the climb. I mixed running and walking liberally and was never out of breath or felt I was working hard at all. Walking felt good. Running felt good. I was feeling very positive about my "first half" of the race. The only negative was whacking my left knee badly on an adjacent tree stump as I climbed over yet another blowdown.

I reached the paved road at the college catching up to another runner who promptly announced that he was dropping. "What? Why?" "I won't be able to make it the whole way," he said as he peeled off to his car parked a few yards away. With the race's major climb behind me and the sun shining brightly, my spirits were running high, and I couldn't fathom stopping now. I shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, "Well, you won't make it the whole way with that attitude," and smiled broadly feeling good about my race as I hit the aid station at the start/finish area in about 3:30. I had my one and only drop bag at this point and took just a minute or two to refill a bottle with Nuun, pick up an entirely new bottle, dispose of some trash and refill my pouches will gels. I was very conscientious to take a gel or shot bloks every 30 minutes during the race, and my stomach held up pretty well with this schedule the whole day, give or take.

While the first portion of the course is one large loop, the second part consists of a 12-mile out, a 4.5 mile loop, then those same 12 miles back to the finish. I noted my Garmin read 20.5 miles as I left the start/finish area, meaning that was reading about 2 miles short. More importantly, this meant that I could expect the next aid station, which was 5.5 miles from the start/finish, to appear at around 26 miles on my Garmin. And, even though the trails had been trickier and much wetter than I had hoped for, I was still confident that I could get under 9 hours; 28 miles in 5:30 seemed reasonable.

The trail leaving the start/finish was a smooth gravel road, but quickly morphed into singletrack along a stream, and it was the twistiest, muddiest, most slippery singletrack of the whole race to this point. "Hmmm…this is not good," I thought, as I was hoping for smoother running. Luckily after about a mile and half, as noted on my Garmin with a "Thank God I'm out of that" watch check, I reached a stretch of powerlines. I also figured that I'd be excited to know that I only had a mile and a half left when I was headed for the finish. I passed a couple people on the powerlines and soon got into a train with three other guys, shortly after turning back into the woods. The trail was twisty, but very runnable and slightly downhill, and the four of us were moving along at a pretty good clip. We crossed a stream that was about mid-calf deep. A spot the race director noted, "You'll probably get your feet wet." The four of us joked about this as our feet had been wet all day. I was happy to run with this group for a few miles as it was the most consistent company I'd had in quite a while. Despite a few other wet spots and slippery rocks, the trail remained fairly runnable until we crossed a paved road.

Shortly after crossing this road, one of the group said, "Wasn't the aid station supposed to be here." His name was Brian from Knoxville (?), and he had run the race last year. Another of the guys concurred as we crossed a slippery wooden bridge. We shrugged it off as we entered a rhododendron thicket. This was the first of a handful of such thickets and in each of them the trail became extremely twisty winding its was around the tangled trunks and branches. In short, I hated the rhododendrons. I could no longer find my rhythm and was struggling to maintain my pace. At some point in the thicket, my Garmin clicked passed 26 miles, and I began to wonder if the aid station existed at all. We did eventually emerge from the thicket, but the trail remained singletrack and was also climbing. And, suddenly, I wasn't having fun anymore. With each step, the aid station failed to appear, and with each step, I was get crankier and crankier. Even the runnable singletrack wasn't feeling runnable, and anything truly technical was a chore. This section kept alternating between the two, and cranky was morphing into anger. "Where is the !$(*^%!$(* aid station?!?!?!" 26.5 miles, no aid station. 26.75 miles, no aid station. 27 miles, no aid station. 27.25 miles, no aid station. Looking at my Garmin every minute or so certainly wasn't helping. Additionally, my average pace was creeping up with every step. I was feeling pretty awful and seriously questioning how much longer I could keep going. I was still running just behind Brian, who was probably feeling about the same way I was, when we reached a rocky section of trail that was very slippery due to the water running over it. We had to climb down the rocks. "Are you $%*()#%^ kidding me?!?!?!" Even though I was prepared to fall and break myself on the rocks, leading to a lawsuit against the race director, damn the waiver, I stayed upright. And, turning a corner at 27.5 miles, the aid station appeared. Seven miles is very different from 5.5, and this is my only other complaint with the race direction. The aid stations really need to be marked appropriately. Looking at the course map from last year, it simply looks like they changed the location without changing the map. Being mentally prepared for 7 miles would have made a huge difference.

When I arrived at the aid station, I asked for some EPO and an ATV, but my requests were denied by the volunteers. They did offer me everything else they had, which was an extensive selection, but none of the solid food options were appealing. I may have audibly grumbled my disinterest but downed my first cup of Mountain Dew of the day. I begrudgingly trudged out of the aid station at around 4:45 on the watch. A few seconds later, I was treated to an amazing view of Lula Falls and had to laugh as I thought about one of our mantras from the AT, "Yeah, yeah, beautiful…tra la la…whatever..." My attempts to turn my mood around was short lived, thanks to a ridiculously steep climb—not just steep for running, but steep for anything. In fact, at the top, three separate sections of rope had been fixed in order to pull yourself up. "WTF?!?!?!" It's a good thing the race director wasn't at the top.

Passing Lula Falls...tra la la...
At the top of the ridge, which offered a nice view "yeah, yeah, whatever…" and very runnable, grassy old roads, I caught up to Brian. Neither of us were particularly rosy. The road alternated between flat and slightly uphill, and on each uphill section, we walked. We chatted a bit, but mostly trudged along in silence both sensing the other's disinterest but need for a friend right now. During another bout of walking, Brian said "I'm gonna run. I'm getting too comfortable in my sadness." Off he went. I walked for a few more strides but figured that it couldn't hurt to run myself. Soon after, the trail turned off the ridge and started downhill. The surface remained the same, which was great, but, as I'd found, in true Lookout Mountain fashion, nothing would be so simple, and the trail was blocked by one of those can't-go-over, can't-go-under blowdowns. Whose idea was this again?

Turning off the old woods road onto some singletrack, all I could think was "Oh great, now what?" Thanks to a tornado, I wasn't disappointed. The original trail along a river had been obliterated by a tornado, but an unthinkable amount of chainsaw and trail work had created a new path through the forest. It wasn't particularly runnable or fun, but it was the best they could do under the circumstances. Granted, this rational and complimentary description comes thanks to being removed from experiencing it. At the time, I wouldn't have had such nice things to say. I was not enjoying my run in the South and was seriously thinking about calling it a day. The trail was far too twisty and lumpy to get anything close to a running rhythm going, and I didn't want to go another step. On top of that, I had to come back through here…if I wanted to finish. At this point, I didn't care. Finishing seemed unlikely.

Then, in an instant, it all turned around. I reached a gravel road, and said, "Hey, I know this road!" After leaving the last aid station at 27.5 miles, I figured that I would reached the 34-mile aid station in about 33.5 miles, guessing that my Garmin was still a little short. However, I had turned around at this gravel road during my recon run on Friday, and it took my about 10 minutes to run that stretch to the aid station. This stretch was only about 4.5 miles, and I was about a mile from the aid station. I instantly picked up the pace, and I knew that I was going to finish the race. Of course, I was still walking the singletrack that I had run the day before, but I thought it wise on this uphill stretch to the road. Shortly before that road, the leader and eventual race winner went past me. He was flying and looked a lot better than I felt. Hate that guy. Once on the quarter-mile stretch of road, I saw Troy in second place and the third place runner close behind. Interestingly, those were the only three runners I saw, and I was feeling pretty good about my place in the field. With the 4.5-mile loop ahead of me to get back to this point, I guessed I was hovering around the top 25.

My attitude had completely turned around even as I walked up the gravel road into the parking lot with the aid station just beyond. I joked with some spectators as I walked, "This isn't a very triumphant way to come into an aid station!" My watch was reading 5:45, which meant 2:10 for the out portion of the out and back. Reaching the aid station bounty, I chowed down on potatoes with salt and a cup of Mountain Dew. The volunteers asked me how I was doing, and I said, "Man, you guys aren't kidding around! This course is serious." They got a laugh, and as I took off to run the 4.5-mile loop, I jokingly yelled "See you in 28 minutes!" This got an even bigger laugh…if only I knew why…

At the aid station, I had caught up to Brain, whom I thought was long gone, and we left together. "Ready to trudge along?" I asked, but I got a bit ahead of him as he walked up the hill behind the aid station while I ran. I had run the last half mile of this loop on Friday, so I was looking forward to that final stretch. It took me forever to get there. This entire loop was either twisty, uneven singletrack or improvised trail. I couldn't get any mojo going the entire loop, and even when I thought I was running well, the Garmin would tell me otherwise with mile splits all in the 12's, 13's and 14's. It was in this loop that I realized I would be out for at least 9 hours. I'd completely turned the corner, however, knowing that I would finish, but I knew it was going to take me a while. Slowly over the next few miles, I became more and more comfortable with that fact. What was less comfortable was my stomach. As I was "running" through yet another rhododendron thicket that seemed to dominate the second half of this loop, my stomach became incredibly queasy. It came on quite suddenly, but, luckily, thanks to a ginger chew, it dissipated just as quickly. Very odd. Knowing the "half mile to go" point of the loop, I was a bit frustrated when I realized that I'd been running the loop for over 4 miles without reaching that spot. That spot was actually marked by a stream crossing, and each time I came to a new stream, which was fairly often near the end of the loop, I'd be disappointed to find it was in fact not the stream I was seeking. It did finally appear, and doing the math, my Garmin would measure the loop to be about 4.75. It was so twisty, however, (think Island Trail at The Brad...for almost 5 miles...), it had to be longer than that. My guess is over 5 miles. I reached the aid station at 6:45. My "28-minute" loop had taken me a hour.

One thing I'll never forget about this race is the look on the volunteer's face at the aid station. As soon as I arrived, he asked me, "Can I get you anything? Water? HEED?" I handed him my opened bottle and said, "Mountain Dew!" I downed a number of potatoes with salt as he filled my bottle with rocket fuel and headed off. I'd been passed by a couple guys during the loop, but my spirits were still high as I left the aid station. It seemed unlikely, but I had 2:15 to break 9 hours. I was feeling mentally good, and hoped that I could get a second-wind physically that would really push me to the finish. Interestingly, I was now well beyond my furthest run to date, but I never really thought about it. Leaving the aid station was the 38-mile mark. I wasn't focused on the total mileage just the fact that I had 12 miles to run.

I got another boost shortly after I left the road, as I came across Nathan just before "my" gravel road. He was doing well and feeling much like I was—this course was much harder than we had thought. We chatted for a few seconds before we split to do our work.

This time through the tornado section, I was in much better spirits. I was still moving slowly, but at least I wasn't angry. It was also sort of fun to come across all the other runners on their way out. Everyone was very encouraging, and I tried to be the same. Admittedly, I knew that all of them would be out for a lot longer than I would, and I really fed off their positive attitudes at facing that task. It was also in this section that a very interesting phenomenon started happening. I'd be moving along at what I perceived to be a decent pace, when I'd suddenly hear someone coming up behind me. I got caught and passed a few times and marveled at how fast each of these guys was moving. Maybe I was moving slowly… In fact, I was. So, this is what 50 miles feels like.

Finishing up the tornado section, I arrived back at the old woods road that climbed to the ridge. I had gone about 40 miles at this point and decided that if I was going to have any chance at 9:00 I was going to have to start running. I figured that this move would either bury me or jump start for a strong finish. At this point, I stopped saying much if anything to those still headed out and just put my head down and ran. It was the first time in the entire race that I worked to a point of breathing heavy and being unable to speak. I pushed that pace as long as I could, but even once I gained the ridge and started the gradual downhill, I could tell I wasn't moving all that fast. By the time I reached the top of the ropes for the downclimb, I was cooked. It was with very wobbly legs that I negotiated that descent and trudged into the final aid station.

I knew 9 hours was out the window, but I was in much better spirits this time through. Unfortunately, they were out of potatoes, but the Pringles hit the spot along with more Mountain Dew. From mile 34 on, aside from the potatoes, Pringles and Nuun, everything else that went into my mouth was required to have caffeine in it. Caffeinated gels and shot bloks were key. The wet rocks were easier to negotiate while climbing, but the following uphill was a bit of a grumpy walk. I was still mixing running with walking, but my running wasn't very fast. My legs just weren't responding, specifically my quads. It was a feeling I was very unfamiliar with. In my most recent marathon and 50k, my legs were tired, along with my lungs. At Lookout Mountain, I wasn't breathing heavy, but I was done. Even when I was done at MDI, I was still moving at a good clip. Fifty miles is an utterly different feeling.

Shortly after leaving the aid station, another runner passed me offering a ton of encouragement. "Run with me. We can still break nine hours!" Seven miles to go in 1:05. I told him I appreciated his enthusiasm, but it wasn't going to happen for me. I hung with him as long as I could, but I hit the rhododendron thicket and slowed to a crawl. Running on smooth singletrack was difficult, but anything technical was an utter disaster. It was all I could do to stay upright. I still ran when I could for the rest of the way in, but it was really about just getting to the finish.

The last five miles were actually comical. I was only caught by four or five more people, and I did my best to stay with them each time but I was barely moving. I was dead, but I wasn't down. I was actually in a terrific mood. It was extremely odd. Knowing that I was still completely functional, I tried to run all the flats and push it when I was passed, but again, my legs just wouldn't work. The stream crossing 4 miles out from the finish was a bit dicey as my wobbly legs weren't thrilled with the rushing water and slippery rocks. And, it was just on the other side of this stream that Debbie reeled me back in and sped steadily away. Needless to say, it was obvious how much downhill there was on the way out. While walking the lengthy hill back to the powerlines, my stomach started growling. I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle, laughed about eating something with only two miles to go and watched a handful of people run away from me. But, it wasn't like I was running, so I might as well walk and eat. Again, normally, when I'm shot, I'm completely shot, but this was not the case. It was as if I was carrying a huge weight and just couldn't move forward.

The final bit of comedy came with less than a mile to go, when Brian caught me. I hadn't seen him since mile 34, and he slowed when he got to me. I laughed and told him not to hang out with me, since I was barely moving. Seconds later, I was tiptoeing down a short hill watching Brian pull away. It was fitting.

As I came up to the finish, it was with mixed emotions. I was thrilled to have completed my first 50 mile race but disappointed that I couldn't finish stronger. I'd lost a lot of time in the last 10 miles of the race, and I'm not really sure why. Lack of training? Wrong type of training? Lack of fuel? Lack of experience? Did I go out too fast? Did I run too hard in the middle? Could I have pushed more in the middle? These are the questions that went through my head as I came up to the finish, but really, I was just happy. They announced my name as I approached the line: "Ryan Triffitt from Topsham…[long pause]" "Yup, it's Maine!" I yelled. "From Topsham, MAINE! We've never had anyone from Maine here." I pumped my fist over my head a few times and crossed the line. Final time: 9:23:19 in 27th place. As it would turn out, only 155 runners finished the race for a close to 40% drop out rate. Yup, it was a tough day out there.

I grabbed a bag of Fritos and my finishers pint glass. I was also told to grab a prize from the schwag table, which ended up being a North Face Junction hydration pack. It was a bit breezy as the sun was starting to go down, so I hobbled to the car as fast as I could. I called D telling her the good news and got a "Good job, Daddo!" from Sam. Amazingly, I had no blisters or chaffing to complain about. I changed into dry clothes, went back to the finish area and ate a cheeseburger by the fire. I spoke to Troy, who had finished second and was waiting for some friends to finish, and I chided him about his description of the course. He said he was also surprised by the difficulty and that they made a few changes this year, each increasing the length and difficulty. He also said that all the water and mud were the biggest surprise making it feel like a completely different, much harder course this year. I did take some solace in knowing that the course really was a difficult 50-mile course, as this was also the consensus of all the other experienced runners I spoke with. In short, the course was beautiful, I hated it. And, as always, it was great to share war stories with the other runners post-race, many of whom I'd seen along the way, but as soon as the sun went down it got very cold. I had planned to wait for Nathan to finish, but since I was shivering uncontrollably, I decided to get warm in the car, grab a pizza and head back to the hotel. Nathan did show up eventually, finishing in 11:47, stoked with his first 50-mile finish as well.

So, the obvious question remains…well, actually there's two. First, why do I pick such hard races?!?!? The only marathon I've run is MDI, and the only 50 mile I've run is considered a "doozy." But, the real question is: Will I do another 50 mile? The answer is yes. I've been hobbling quite a bit since then and my ankles were quite swollen, but I would definitely like to try this distance again. I've made huge strides in both fitness and knowledge since my first 50k, and I'd like to think I could do the same at this distance. That being said, I'm definitely going to choose a less hilly, less technical course. One thing is clear: I'm just not as strong on highly technical terrain. It's not that I don't enjoy running it, it's just that it doesn't necessarily suit my strengths. I'm best at getting into a rhythm and hammering. No chance of doing that at Lookout Mountain. Ultimately, though, I don't think the longer stuff is for me. I really like the marathon and 50k. I'm not really sure why. Those two just seem like the "right" amount of time. Maybe I'd like a 50 mile if I could run more. I really don't like hiking. But, it's tough to say until I've had more experience. All that being said, the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile was a great experience and one I'm thankful to have had. If the schedule permitted, I'd definitely run this race again, which is says a lot about the beauty, the organization and the people, since it was so damn hard and unfun at the time. I'm not certain when my next big race will be. Right now, the plan is to relax and recover. Some day soon, I might even go for a run.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Training 11/20 - 12/3

Double dippin'...
The busyness of life delayed my training post last week, so this is a two-fer. And, it somehow seems fitting since I really don't think of my training in weekly blocks. I really think of it in large cycles broken into 3 and 4 day chunks. A week is too arbitrary. Plus, I'm the only person in the world (aside from D) who counts the week Sunday - Saturday. I use an old school calendar planner, and the first day of each week is Sunday. Hence, Sunday is the first day of my training week. Again, arbitrary. Most of all, I think these two weeks will illustrate my point that weekly mileage is arbitrary and, really, nothing more than a number to impress or exaggerate your buddies. The week is a very rough guideline for me, as I'm more focused on making sure in my 3 and 4 days blocks I maintain a good mix of strength, speed and rest. The right combination of those ingredients balanced our over time pointing toward the larger goal. Then again, maybe this paragraph was me trying to convince myself that I don't just wing it...

Onto the numbers...

11/20, Sunday: 22 - 4:00:20, Bradbury Snowshoe Bad Ass + Bradbury Mountain Breaker. I met Jeff, NJ Dave, Jim and Zak at The Brad at 8:00...well, they were ready to go at 8:00, and I was admittedly unsure how this run was going to go based on my cold. I was pretty certain it was close to dead, but I wasn't certain how far I would get. Obviously, this worried me as I considered this a very important run with Lookout Mountain on the horizon. It was great to have company, and the pace was comfortable as I led the group on the courses that...well, are a touch hilly. Zak, still crippled by plague, peeled off after a couple miles, and Jim stuck around for a few more. Jeff and Dave ran with me for the entire Snowshoe Bad Ass, and I even got a boost from a visit from D and Sam out on the trails. Weather was unseasonably warm, so I was down to just a t-shirt by the end. Luckily, I'd brought plenty of fluids. The Snowshoe Bad Ass took a bit longer than I had hoped (about 2:20), and I knew that it would be a stretch to get under 4 hours. Once I lost Jeff and Dave, I definitely felt the effects of running solo, and my pace slowed a touch. However, I stayed fairly strong and only walked a few short stretches of the Summit Trail. I forgot/didn't grab an extra gel my last trip through the parking lot aid station, and I could have used it. I was definitely bonking by the end, but it was good to work through that in a training run. Happy with the effort, I didn't try to sprint the finish just get under the 4-hour mark, but I was happy to sit and devour potato chips as soon as I finished. Very solid run, and good confidence boost.

11/21, Monday: 11 - 1:17:41, River Road + Meadow Cross. In the mindset of ultra training, I wanted to follow up Sunday's run with a medium length run. And, I decided to up the ante by tackling it at marathon pace. Despite some heavy legs in the first two miles, this run couldn't have gone any better. The 7:03/mile average felt very comfortable on this relatively hilly route. Just great back-to-back efforts.

11/22, Tuesday: 5.75 - 52:58, TMR TNR @ Twin Brook. Trespassed (to our surprise) with a decent-sized TMR group for a run by headlamp, but ended up breaking off and running easy with Jeff. Legs felt great, and an easy run filled with plans for future training and over-analysis of current training (as he and I are wont to do) was just what I needed.

11/23, Wednesday: Off - planned, with drive south for Thanksgiving. I also pronounced my cold officially kicked.

11/24, Thursday: 5 - 39:04, Weldon Farm Road w/ D. I had mulled over running 4 or 5 different races on Thanksgiving morning, but I chose discretion not wanting to overtire myself or tweak anything so close to Lookout Mountain. So, instead, I decided to go for an easy 5 with D pre-turkey. Well, at some point, D turned my morning into a progression run and dropped the hammer on me. I did manage to out sprint her in the final meters for a small victory. It's not that the pace was outrageous. I just wasn't mentally prepared for anything more than a shuffle. Amazing what the mind can do...

11/25, Friday: 5 - 41:03, Weldon Farm Road w/ D. Same loop from my parents' house again this morning, but much different disposition. This time around, D wasn't feeling so frisky, but I was nice enough to keep things mellow. Nice loop around the neighborhood.

11/26, Saturday: 26.2 - 4:04:01, Bradley Palmer State Park. Nothing good to say about this run aside from the result. I basically felt terrible the entire way. I felt especially horrible miles 7 through 12, when my groin and psoas were so tight, my stride was basically a shuffle. I decided to run the GAC Fat Ass course, since I know it well and gave me the option of using the car as an aid station. D offered to come along for the first 12 miles, but, unfortunately, I wasn't very good company. Once she dropped off, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and just got it done. The final 14 miles were almost a minute faster per mile than the first 12, but I didn't necessary feel any better—I just stopped caring about how I felt. Getting through this run feeling so horrible was actually a huge confidence boost. If I can pull this off feeling like that, I'm excited to see what I can do when I'm rested. Possible cause for feeling terrible: Fundido.

Totals: 75
Trail: 54
Road: 21

Easily my biggest week of the year, but again, that's arbitrary. Forty-eight of those seventy-five miles came in two runs. Rarely do I get two long runs in within a 7-day stretch, but that's just how the schedule worked out. Having my parents to babysit was certainly helpful. Of course, now I can say I've done a 75-mile week.

Week two of this post is the start of my taper. I agree with Jamie that a three-week quasi taper is good for the body and spirit. Yes, your mileage is cut back a little bit, but no so far that you start freaking out about it too soon before the goal. So with arbitrary weekly mileage and the quasi-taper in mind...

Onto the numbers...

11/27, Sunday: 10.75 - 1:46:29, Willowdale State Forest w/ D. Once again taking the opportunity to have my parents watch the kiddo, D and I headed out to run something resembling a lap of the Stone Cat course. I was very curious how I was going to feel after Saturday's effort. And, honestly, I felt pretty good. It took me a bit to warm up, but after a creaky start, the miles just rolled along. Some of the course markings were still posted, but many were not. Plus, I'd only been to Willowdale once before and D (despite having run the marathon) is, admittedly, directionally challenged. Needless to say, we got off track but did manage to get back on course and to the car despite grumbling at each other a bit. I bonked big time at around 1:30, but thanks to an extra gel from D, I managed to hang on until the finish. Admittedly, I'd hoped to get the full Stone Cat course and about two hours, but this was good enough. Another solid back-to-back.

11/28, Monday: Off, planned, traveling home.

11/29, Tuesday: 5 - 41:52, Highland Green. Back home for an easy spin around the neighborhood. Felt a bit tight, so I took it very easy.

11/30, Wendesday: 5.25 - 48:34, Mt. Ararat. Since it's just a quasi-taper, I thought I get in a shortish hill session on Mt. A. The overall pace was slow, but that was mainly due to my caution on the downhills. With rain the previous day and overnight, the trails were very slippery. Aside from some tight calves, happy to report that the body felt good. Saw a fox on three separate occasions.

12/1, Thursday: 8 - 56:03, Meadow Cross. Again, going on the quasi-taper theory, the plan was for 8 at marathon pace. Mission accomplished despite having a lot of trouble getting out the door. I just wasn't feeling it, which I'm attributing to a couple late work nights. However, after the first half mile or so, I got in a good groove, and this run actually felt pretty easy. I'd noticed that in my past marathon pace runs on this loop, I would lag a bit in mile 6, so I made a conscious decision to push it a bit in this mile. The result was a 6:56, which set me up nicely for a 6:47 and 6:44 on the way in. I did feel a bit tight, but nothing major. Good run.

12/2, Friday: 5.75 - 51:18, River N Back. Easy run down to the Cathance on a really nice day. Kept the pace easy, and despite another late night, felt really good. Let the real taper begin.

12/3, Saturday: Off, planned. Needed to save my energy with our six-year-old niece spending the night. Um...I mean...tapering...

Totals: 34.75
Trail: 21.75
Road: 13

Seems like a really short week, but here's that word again: arbitrary. With no long run with that seven day block, it drops that number. The more important number is 50. I've averaged 50 miles per week for the last 4 weeks, following a full recovery from the MDI Marathon. Admittedly, that recovery took longer than I had hoped, but I'm glad I didn't push it. Solid training in the month of November, and I'm feeling as ready as I can be. I would have liked to have gotten one more solid back-to-back weekend in, but I've decided to err on the side of rest rather than risk overdoing it going into the 50. The mental edge from knowing I'm rested will be more valuable.

One thing I haven't mentioned in this post is my right knee. (You didn't think I'd get through this without my "injury of the week," did you?) The good news is that it's feeling a lot better. The bad news is that it's not feeling 100%. It really comes and goes. One run I won't notice it at all. The next it will be a bit wonky. Some runs will start fine, but it flares up then subsides. It's very random. I've still been foam rolling, stretching and icing, and while I'm certain I'll feel it during Lookout Mountain, I doubt it's going to be an issue.

So, I'm officially tapering. Focus right now is rest, stretching and hydration. All the remaining runs will be short and easy, and I'm going to try not to go crazy. (Does looking at the Chattanooga forecast a couple times a day count as crazy?) I'm starting to formulate a race strategy, but it's tough not really knowing the terrain. I think I'm going to have to formulate a plan and figure out what that means pace-wise on race day. I have an elevation profile, so I know what to expect for hills. But, I don't know exactly how technical it is. Reports vary. My assumption is smack in between Pineland and The Brad...which leaves a lot of possibilities. I'm just going to have to be smart on race day. Uh oh...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Training 11/13 - 11/19

Main goal for the week was to get some reasonable mileage in and test out the knee. Luckily, as I mentioned last week, running actually seems to help it by keeping things loose...along with the requisite foam rolling, icing and stretching. It's still not 100%, but it's very manageable and trending in the right direction. Fingers crossed.

Onto the numbers...

11/13, Sunday: 14.5 - 2:19:58, Cathance & Pancakes. Hosted a Trail Monster get together at our place and dragged some brave souls on a loop I'm calling "Awesome Topsham." It's a great mix of singletrack, ATV trails, dirt roads, industrial artifacts, a waterfall, fields, a stream crossing and a couple trips up Mt. Ararat. So, ya it's awesome. Great crew with plenty of chatter and a nice easy pace. Top it all off with pancakes, bacon, some "French" sausage, coffee and beer, and you have a terrific Sunday morning. It was my longest run since MDI, and legs felt sturdy and springy throughout.

11/14, Monday: 8 - 59:19, Meadow Cross. Same route and plan as last Monday, i.e. kinda snappy. I was able to comfortably run about 40 seconds faster. Of note, I've done both these routes in my Brooks Racer ST's, aka my road racing flats, and I'm really liking that decision. I really, really like the feel of these shoes, and I don't think it's possible to run slower than an 8:00 mile in them. Good back to back runs.

11/15, Tuesday: 5.5 - 48:24, TMR TNR at Twin Brook. My maiden voyage to the Greely Road side for the TNR. In other words, it was also the first time I've gone in the dark. I'm not entirely certain, but I think this was also my first ever trail run in the dark. Admittedly, I'm not sure I like running at night. Even with headlamps (one on my head and one around my waist), it's dark. Maybe I just need more practice. It was also the muddiest I'd seen (or not seen) Twin Brook, so that threw me off a bit as well. My knee was barking a touch, and overall, I felt a bit uncomfortable. At least the actual running part was easy.

11/16, Wednesday: 5 - 38:24, Highland Green. Easy spin around the neighborhood. I was thinking a lot about Lookout Mountain, which accounted for the quickened pace. What can I say? I'm excited. Knee felt 100% fine.

11/17, Thursday: 8.25 - 1:14:11, Mt. Ararat x17. Broke out a new pair of Cascadias for this run, since I want to get some miles on them before Lookout Mountain. (I'm currently nursing one pair along, and a second has close to 500 miles on them. 700 miles seems to be the limit, so I was glad to have another option in the closet. And, technically, they're old, since they're the Cascadia 5s, an older version.) I have to admit that even though this run is fairly boring, I love it. There's always a point around 1.5-2 miles at which I think, "How many more times do I have to do this?" But, soon, I'm at 6 or 7 miles and feeling good. Plus, I know I'm seeing results from these runs and plan to hit it once a week.

11/18, Friday: Off - I'd originally planned some type of speed work for the day, but I'd contracted one of the kiddo's many diseases and was feeling too snotty and achy to go outside. Definitely erring on the side of caution with Lookout Mountain a month out.

11/19, Saturday: 5 - 41:08, Highland Green. I was on Daddo-duty for the day and had originally planned to get out for 5 before D headed to work. I wasn't feeling well enough to do so first thing in the morning. Thankfully, I felt better as the day progressed and headed out in the dark when she got home. Instead of sticking to the well-lit, quiet roads around the high school, I stuck with the usual Highland Green Loop, which includes about a half mile of trail and a mile of dirt road. In other words, it was dark. I felt a little uncomfortable on the long dirt road section and could feel it in my neck and shoulders when I hit the well-lit Highland Green road. Aside from that, run was fine. Good to get the blood (and with the cold, the snot) flowing.

Totals: 46.25
Trail: 28.25
Road: 18

Decent week, but a little short of what I wanted. Again, erring on the side of caution, so not a huge issue. The cold is lingering, but I'm hoping it will be done in a couple more days. Thoughts on all my runs are completely consumed by Lookout Mountain, and I keep coming to the same conclusion: I have no idea what I'm getting into. It's a new location, new trails, a new distance and a new time to be running. A lot of uncharted waters for me. I was able to connect with last year's winner through a "it's a small world"/Appalachian Trail connection, and he was very forthcoming with race course info, race details and training suggestions. It was definitely helpful, but it's not the same as being there myself. Then again, that's part of the reason I'm so excited. I don't really know what I'm getting into, and that's somewhat appealing. Should be fun. Big training week coming up, and then all of a sudden it'll be taper time again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Recovery & Training 11/6 - 11/12

It's been a long time, but, frankly, it has taken me a long time to recover from MDI—both physically and mentally. It wasn't until this week that I was psychologically ready to run. I just wasn't feeling it. Something flipped this week, and I needed to get out there. Not so fast, my friend...

Originally, I had given myself a maximum of three weeks post-MDI to start training in earnest, but 5 days post-race, I became really worried. I walked around Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park a fair amount the day after the race and put in a 3-mile shuffle on Tuesday. My legs were tired, tight and sore, but I felt much better for it. A day off followed by a really, easy 5-mile trail run on Thursday on which I was no longer sore, but definitely leg weary. No surprises, thus far. However, when I woke on Friday morning my right knee was killing me. Specifically, just below my knee on the inside of my leg—the top of my tibia. I immediately thought the worst, and after no improvement on two subsequent runs, I went to see Julia for a massage and some piece of mind. She assured me that it was just tightness, and I would indeed survive. With a little more of my own research and tons of input from friends on Facebook, I knew I was looking at possibly pes anserine bursitis at worst or the beginnings of it at best. Knowing that my hamstrings are generally tight and started bugging me only 10 miles into the marathon combined with Julia's moderate shock at their tightness, I knew they were to blame. So, with a combination of focused stretching, icing and ibuprofen, things are looking up. And, honestly, another thing that's helped: running. I think getting some blood flowing through everything has really helped, and as long as I don't stress out my hamstrings, it shouldn't get any worse.

In the three weeks following MDI, I only managed a total of 45 miles, but it was probably enough. It did take me the full three weeks to get back on track, and I'm not out of the woods yet. I did get a solid week this week, and my thoughts have squarely turned to the Lookout Mountain 50, just 5 weeks away...

Onto the numbers...

11/6, Sunday: 5.5 - 45:12, River N Back. D has done this loop a bunch, and she suggested I give it a try. I liked it as it has a good mix of singletrack and wide trails. Just another terrific option from our doorstep. Run felt good, and I could tell I had flipped the switch into "training mode."

11/7, Monday: 8 - 59:58, Meadow Cross. I wanted to do something slightly snappy, and this loop was perfect. The 7:30/mile average felt very comfortable the entire way, and even had to reel it in on a few occasions. It was a good sign that my legs were completely recovered. I started feeling my knee only two miles into the run, but it never got any worse and would even dissipate periodically. Good sign. With a quarter mile to go, I admittedly picked it up to be certain I'd sneak under the hour mark. Really pleased with this run.

11/8, Tuesday: 6.5 - 58:08, Mt. Ararat x13. Looking to get back into real training, I opted for a return to Mt. Ararat hill "repeats." They're not true repeats since I don't run them hard, but I don't back off either. I managed to keep each lap of the mountain to under 4:00, which is a good benchmark. (I have three different laps I run in succession with distances varying from .35 to .45.) It was great to get back to climbing, and my knee wasn't an issue. Two confidence boosting runs back-to-back.

11/9, Wednesday: 5.5 - 47:26, River N Back w/ D. We took advantage of rare coinciding schedules to get out for a run together. Great easy run and my knee felt fine. Not a bad way to spend the morning.

11/10, Thursday: Off - planned

11/11, Friday: 11.11 - 1:39:24, Pineland with Jamie. Jamie concocted the idea to run 11.11 miles on 11/11/11 starting at 11:11:11am. And, that's just what we did. Real easy tour of Pineland on a dreary day. We spent the entire run talking about past races and future race plans. Many of the world's problems were solved. Barely noticed my kneed at all. Great run.

11/12, Saturday: 5 - 39:16, Highland Green. Easy tour of the neighborhood. Legs were a bit tired following my longest run post-marathon, but nothing to complain about. Knee was fine. All systems go.

Totals: 41.5
Trails: 28.5
Roads: 14

With Lookout Mountain looming, the focus will be getting my long runs in over the coming weeks. I know I won't be as prepared as I could be, but my confidence is building. I'm not the slightest bit worried about the time or distance, but I'd prefer not to travel to Tennessee and come away disappointed. I have a lot of things in my favor and am looking forward to my 50-mile debut.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mount Desert Island Marathon - Race Report

There's something special about the weekend of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, and that something is what induced me to register the day after the 2010 race. After running the race with D in 2008 as my first marathon and watching Jamie get his first Boston Marathon qualifying time last year, I knew I wanted to be a part of this race again. However, I never could have predicted the outcome of Sunday's race after either of those two events.

Race weekend started with a fairly pleasant drive, including a stop for lunch, on Saturday. While the kiddo slept quietly in the backseat, I sent D off on a run on Acadia's carriage roads and headed for the marathon expo. I have to admit, I was a bit jealous that she was getting to enjoy a no pressure jaunt in arguably my favorite running destination. Sam eventually woke from her nap, and I hung out with Jamie for a short bit at the expo also chatting with Mindy, Pete and Tim and Bob Dion while Sam dragged my red bag schwag bag around...literally. Sam and I headed off to check into our hotel and do a diaper change, then back to pick up D and then back to the hotel to meet my parents, who were part of my amazing support crew. I snuck off for a drive of the refresh my memory/confirm my fears, and then we all headed out dinner. It wasn't the most relaxing pre-race afternoon and evening, especially after Sam threw pizza all over me at the restaurant—"Sowwy, Daddo," but I did manage to get to bed around 9:30.

We stayed at the Bar Harbor Inn—only a two minute jog from the starting line—which worked out perfectly because as I went out to warm up it started raining. Since I was chock full of pre-race jitters, I needed to pee again, so I took it as a sign to shoot back to the room. This turned out to be a shrewd move as I was able to drop my warm up clothes, which were also my finish line clothes, since I wouldn't see D or my parents again before the start. I was cold and lamenting the rain as I went to the start line, but saying good mornings and good lucks to a number of folks, including Blaine, Jim, Tom Trytek and Peter Keeney to name a few, kept my mind off the conditions.

Trail Monsters ready for the roads.
Before I knew it, Thunderstruck was playing, and we were off.

The start. Look at my shoes!
Jamie and I lined up in the second row, and I have to admit that adrenaline got the best of me as we ran a comfortable 6:00 pace for the first quarter of a mile. Jamie wisely mentioned that we should tone it down, and we passed the first mile in 7:07, which was right what we wanted, as droves of runners went passed us. Jamie and I had chatted a bunch during the week about race plans, and he convinced me that we should run together for as long as possible. His plan was to try to hit 7:10's for the first 20 miles. Knowing that he'd slow down towards the end, he felt this gave him a great shot at his reach goal of sub-3:10 and set him up really well for his main goals of re-qualifying for Boston and setting a new PR under 3:12:30. Since I hadn't been able to put in the marathon-specific training I'd hoped for, I really had no idea what was realistic for me. A lot marathoners can say, "I'm in 3:02 shape," for example. All I knew was, I'm in "I know I can finish this thing faster than the last time" shape, so I decided to run with Jamie for as long as it felt comfortable. I honestly didn't know if that was going to be one mile or twenty-six. I just hoped we'd both have good days.

Early in the second mile Jamie commented, "See most of those guys in front of us? We'll see them again later." Outwardly, I agreed with him, but I really doubted my ability to run this pace for the entire race. I even dropped back a bit a couple times, and each time, Jamie would motion for me to jump back on board. "Yes, sir!" In the early miles, we started chatting with two other runners, Ty and Anita, and we soon became a pack of four. The conversation was free flowing and often off color, but it was just what we all needed on this day. Well, I know I did anyway. It really was a fantastic vibe, and it totally took the pressure off. Even if the pace was too fast, I wasn't overly concerned because we were having so much fun.

I have no idea when it stopped raining, but it wasn't the prominent weather feature du jour. That honor went to the wind, and it was really blowing as we passed the Tarn just after the two-mile mark. The wind would continue to remind us of its presence from time to time in the early miles. No one wanted to really talk about it aside from a few groans here and there, but we all knew that it would be in our faces in the final miles.

Mile 5
Just past mile 6, I took my first gel, and, predictably, I had a bit of a bad patch. I guess I can't eat and run at the same time. It was short lived, however, as I didn't want to lose my crew, especially at the start of the climb on Cooksey Drive. From 2008, I remembered that I didn't really enjoy this climb, but this year it passed quickly thanks to more great chatter. Mentally, this was a big boost for me to not only get through a bad patch so quickly, but to also not feel a hill I remembered distinctly from three years ago. Of course, the mental ups and downs are unavoidable, and I would battle them for the next few miles. After crossing the not-bridge at the construction site at Seal Harbor at 8.5 miles, I had my first real "uh-oh" moment of the race. We started climbing the hill, and I felt terrible. I obviously hadn't been running the tangents because my Garmin was starting to hit the mile markers before they appeared, but I knew we were still right in the 7:10 range. (I stuck with the Auto Lap function because I didn't want to have to worry about hitting the lap button at each mile mark. Lazy? Perhaps. But, I really had enough on my mind.) I just put my head down on the uphills and tried to stay with my crew.

The "Uh-Oh" Moment at Seal Harbor
This would be the theme through the roller coaster hills through mile 10. It was also in this stretch that I really started to notice how much the downhills were taking out of me. My hamstrings were starting to tighten, and all I could think about was my lack of speed training and my hammies blowing up in the final miles. I would have moments of feeling OK, but mostly I just tried to keep our group a pack of four. And, amazingly, I did.

Much like mile 7, I remembered feeling really bad during mile 11 in '08. I mentioned this out loud, and Jamie and Ty both agreed that they disliked this mile. I took comfort in the fact that no one else was feeling particularly frisky, and it bolstered my spirits a bit to the point that I felt pretty good again. Also, I was really looking forward to seeing my crew at around 11.25 for both the mental boost and a new bottle of Nuun, since I drained my first 10oz bottle by mile 9. I wasn't disappointed on either front as D executed a flawless hand-off and the crowd was pretty loud at this corner. I felt great coming through here and was excited to soon be at the halfway point.

Team No Filter
One of my takeaways from my course drive on Saturday was that miles 12 through 15 were the flattest of the race. (Not flat, mind you. This is MDI, after all.) And, I wanted to make certain that I was feeling good and moving well through here. Unfortunately, our pace slowed to a 7:23 for mile 12, which was a shock. Jamie realized it, too, and said, "Unacceptable," and we ticked off a 7:11 for mile 13. I knew we were a bit shy of the 7:10's Jamie had wanted, but I was happy about how we were running. As we approached the half marathon mark I said, "Raise your hand if you're about to PR in the half!" Only my hand went up as the four of us hit the marker in 1:34:57. Jamie grumbled about being slower than last year, and I know just what he was thinking. "This is not a negative split course." And, shortly after he said, "Well, I guess I'm not breaking 3:10 today." I told him that it was still a possibility since he was clearly running very well and relaxed.

Through the half marathon
The half split really lit a fire under Jamie, and he pressed the issue a bit. I told him, "This is pretty much what I have right now." In other words, "It isn't likely I'll be hanging with you through 20." He got a bit ahead of me, and I was really starting to feel uncomfortable. Not bad, but it was no longer a pleasant run on the island. The marathon had turned to work, and I was having a really hard time making the mental shift.

At some point around mile 14, which was a lackluster 7:17, two guys, Red & Gray Shirt Duo, motored by me. Jamie was a few seconds ahead, so I made a fateful decision to latch onto these guys and try to catch back up to him. This turned out to be a brilliant move. Within about a minute or so, I was back with Jamie, and Red & Gray Shirt Duo were just ahead. They had pulled me to a more respectable 7:05 for mile 15. I was stoked to be back in the picture, but I told Jamie, "I'm having a really hard time making the shift from running comfortably to working. This is starting to hurt." He replied, "It's all in your head." Those words were a giant turning point in my race. He flipped some kind of switch in me, and I was totally locked in.

R&G were a bit ahead of us now as we ran along Sargeant Drive, and I motioned to Jamie and pointed to them. In other words, "Let's stay with these guys." I tucked right in behind them, and they pulled me to a 6:45 mile 16. It certainly didn't feel like a 6:45. In fact, it felt easy. I thought, "Well, if I'm feeling this bad, but easily clicked off a 6:45...well...maybe...let's do this." I also hoped that Jamie would hop on board knowing that I wasn't feeling great, but he stayed a bit back. I just focused on R&G and stayed relaxed.

I made my next critical decision at around mile 17. I'd been downing the Nuun at a faster rate than I had anticipated and I only had a few sips left. I had planned to drop the handheld with D at mile 21, but I decided to take a gel right at 2:00, instead of 2:15 on my every 45 minutes schedule and drop the bottle with her at 17.5. I figured if things went bad and I needed another gel, which I was still carrying, I could grab water from an aid station. This was another great decision, as it felt great to run unencumbered for the final 9 miles. In fact, I didn't need another gel and bypassed all the water stops.

Turning off Sargeant Dr. at 17.5. Looking bad, feeling good.
After nearly decapitating D with the fling of my water bottle, I was feeling really strong and focused through the turn off Sargeant Drive at 17.5. I actually moved around R&G just as we turned onto Route 198. I don't remember looking at any of my splits from miles 17 through 20. I was really in the zone. Mindy and Pete were yelling for me at around 18.5, and I didn't even realize it was them until I had gone by. I had been dreading the hill at mile 19—it's nasty—but it didn't really phase me. I knew it was nasty while I was running it, but I sort of didn't care. R&G were still right behind me, and they eventually passed me for good just before the left hand turn onto Route 102 in Somesville. As it turns out, I averaged 6:57 for miles 15 through 20. Perhaps not the shrewdest marathon strategy, but I didn't even really realize it. It just sort of happened. But, in hindsight, it was really the crux of the race as I banked time for the final stretch without blowing myself up. And, again, I'd gone into this stretch feeling terrible, so by the time I came to at the 20-mile mark, I'd passed I have no idea how many people and set myself up for a decent time...assuming I could hang on for 10k.

Mile 21 is sneaky hard, and I slowed to 7:22. As I was rounding the corner to go through mile 20, a spectator yelled, "Up the hill and head for home!" Well, that's bullshit. You're not running home. You're running the hardest miles of the marathon, and at MDI, those miles happen to be some of the hardest of the entire race. (I would argue 3, 4 and 5 are harder than the final miles, but they're early, so no one is hurting there.) I distinctly remember passing one runner here, and I knew he was in for a rough final 5 miles. "Don't be that guy," I thought. I got another boost at the mile-21 mark, as D and my parents were there yelling. Of course, D's voice quivered she attempted to spur me on, "Go, honey!" I yelled back, "You don't sound very confident!" But, really, she confirmed what I already knew. I was hurting, I looked terrible, and I had some big hills ahead of me.

Mile 22. Looking bad, feeling bad.
The good part about this stretch of road is that there are long, straight sections on which you can see the field in front of you. At around mile 17, I had picked up a view of what I thought were the lead women. (As it turns out, the first-place woman was well ahead, flirting with 3 hours.) I had seen them sporadically throughout the next couple miles, but once on Route 102, I could see that they were a little closer and running with a decent pack of 4 or 5 men. This group proved to be a good motivator, and I hoped I could close in and pick off any stragglers. Deep down, I never thought I'd catch a group 2 minutes or so ahead, but mind games are part of...well...the game. R&G were still there, too, but after passing me, they dropped the hammer and just crushed it.

I did managed to pass a couple guys before the "Top of the Hill" Restaurant just before the mile-25 mark, but I can't really recall the order of the events from these final miles. I do know that the wind was blowing in our faces, and I actually flipped it off with both hands at one point. After I did this, I felt instantly better, and I also thought, "If you can do that, there must be a little more there." It actually made me run faster. Contrary to popular thought, there are a couple short downhills in the "all uphill" section from mile 21 to 25, and these do nothing but destroy your quads that much more for the remaining climbs. Trust me, MDI is a fantastic race, but the final miles are just brutal. Among those, mile 24 is the worst. This mile was easily my slowest mile of the race: 7:56. I couldn't believe it when I saw that split. I felt like I had been pushing so hard and gotten so little in return. It was also at this point that my thoughts of a Boston Marathon qualifying time went out the window. I didn't arrive at the starting line with a goal of qualifying for Boston—even though the entire marathon world is obsessed with the concept—but my split at 20 miles, just under 2:24, gave me a glimmer of hope that I could get 3:10:00 or better. However, it was also at this split that I got the biggest boost of the entire race. Mindy and Pete jumped out of their car at this point to give me one final push homeward. Like I said, things are pretty hazy, but I remember Mindy running across the road and asking me some type of question to which I replied through my thousand-yard stare, "This hurts." She jumped behind me and yelled "GO!" for what seemed like 50 times. I was so confused—"Why is she yelling so much?"—I could do nothing but follow her orders. I was really somewhere else, but I started running faster. Only 2.2 miles to go...

I did remember one key landmark from Saturday's course drive, which was the backwards sign that signals the start of the final climb to the "Top of the Hill" Restaurant. I'd told myself on Saturday that this point marked the "put the hammer down" spot. I did the best I could and passed through 25 miles a few seconds after 3 hours. "Hmmm...maybe Boston is in play." From 2008, I knew that the downhill that starts just before mile 25 would be excruciatingly painful, and it didn't disappoint. I passed another runner here, even though I was really just trying to keep it together. Then, the final slight uphill and then "little bump" at mile 26...well, yeah...they're horrible. You'd barely notice these features on a easy training run, but they're indescribable at the end of this race. Cresting that little bump, though, you do get a slight downhill to the finish. It was here that I spotted the clock, 3:09:56...57...58... It was at this point that I passed D who was screaming wildly. I pointed at the clock, and said, "There goes Boston!" But, really, I didn't care. I pumped my fists and crossed the line in 3:10:11, 21st place.


Finishing it up.
Going into the race, if you had told me those figures, I would have rolled my eyes. I'm still having a little trouble believing it. I did put together some goals before the race, and I figured that I could break 3:20. That was about what I ran the marathon in during the Gator Trail 50k in March, and with the pavement pounding and crazy hills, I figured this was realistic. However, I would have been happy with anything under 3:30. I thought if I had an exceptional day, I could run about 3:12. So, obviously, I'm ecstatic with my time. But, here's the thing: I don't feel like I had an exceptional day. I didn't feel great for the whole race. I really struggled on the downhills and flats. I slowed a ton in the final 10k to about a 7:30 average and was sort of a mess. (I almost crashed into one of the firefighters directing traffic in Southwest Harbor.) It was a good day, but it wasn't exceptional. And, that's a really good thing. I know that I could run faster. Having not been able to get in much specific training for this marathon, I wonder what could have been. Additionally, how much was I slowed by the wind? There's definitely more there.

Some point that evening, D asked me, "Are you going to be upset about those 11 seconds?" I'm not at all—for the reasons she was asking. Again, I never went into this race with a goal of qualifying for Boston, and I stick to what I said to Jamie post-race: I'm glad I don't have the pressure of having to run Boston in 2013. Honestly, I think it's a little sad that so many people measure and limit themselves by a marathon time that a group of guys with calculators in a board room have determined is what I need to enter their race. I'm a little upset about those 12, not 11, seconds because it would be awesome to have dropped my PR to 3:09:59. But, honestly, I gave it all I had on a really hard marathon course. Could I have found a half second per mile? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it was an awesome day, and I'm really proud of my 3:10:11. Really proud, and despite what the BAA says, I think I should be.

Leg flush!
You mean I have to stand up now?
It always hurts less when you run well and seeing my friends, new and old, do the same was awesome. Jamie earned a new marathon PR and crushed his course PR with a 3:12:09. Anita wasn't far behind, winning her age group in the process. Ty was right behind her. D found me in the crowd for an emotional hug, and my parents were right behind. Sam wanted nothing to do with me, "Daddo sweaty," but she had no problem eating my hard-earned ice cream. Jamie and I headed for the beer tent (We were in the top ten in the "get your post-marathon beer" race!) and were soon joined by Blaine, who rocked a 3:03, top ten finish, Jim and NJ Dave. Spirits were high as everyone was pleased with their efforts, but we all agreed—we'd rather be on the trails. Trail Monsters for sure!

Trail Monsters in their natural habitat.
Thanks to everyone out on the course cheering for me: Mindy, Pete, Kate and her parents. Each yell was much appreciated. Huge thanks to my parents for helping us keep Sam in check all weekend and helping D while I was racing. And, finally, thanks to D for pulling off another amazing balancing act allowing me to get out and race—definitely the most impressive performance of the weekend.

My crew at Sand Beach.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Craig Cup 5k - Race Report

Another weekend. Another 5k. This time, it was the Craig Cup 5k. Cross country! I have no idea what's gotten into me. Well, that's not true. I'm hoping that a little 5k action will help build some speed for the MDI Marathon, and I may or may not be addicted to racing. So, I found myself at Twin Brook on a beautiful fall morning completely apprehensive about the task at hand. I knew that, unlike the 65 Roses 5k, the competition at the Craig Cup 5k would be pretty stiff. But, just like the 65 Roses 5k, I was completely out of my element. Luckily, the Craig Cup is actually a Trail Monster Running event under the direction of Jeff, so there were plenty of friendly faces. Offsetting that was the fact that this was also my first cross country race in fifteen years. What am I doing here?

I went out for my warmup on the course wanting to see exactly what I was getting into. I know the trails from the TMR TNR, but I'd never looked at them with the idea of running as fast as possible. A high school cross country team was out doing a workout on the course, so I was intermingled with them, which helped me not focus on how crappy I felt. I hate warming up. I made it back to the start/finish area, and guys were doing strides, high leg kicks and whatnot. What am I doing here? I did a couple strides of my own. I did not don spikes or flats, and I headed to the line. I knew that the field would be full of fast roadies used to these sorts of races, so I figured anything in the top 20 would be reasonable.

Jeff and I took our spots on the far left side of the longer than necessary starting line, which turned out to be an excellent angle to the first turn. As the gun went off, I took off like it was a cross country race...from what I could remember...and did a quick scan of the entire field to my right. I was in a around 15th or so around the first corner and moved up a few spots as I settled in an uncomfortably comfortable pace. It also felt a bit uncomfortable because Jeff was behind me, which was a very unfamiliar position for both of us. I noticed right away that guys were avoiding the puddles and muddy spots when the width of the trail allowed, but I was only focused on running the tangents. I figured I needed to keep the suffering to a minimum and could handle a few off-kilter steps here and there.

My entire thought process was focused on staying relaxed and not backing off. Admittedly, I feel like a backed off a bit as we entered the woods as I let a TLB (tall, lanky bastard) in spikes and high split shorts get pull away. "Hmmm...he clearly runs 5ks. Better let him go." Weak.

That's my 5k face. Just past 1 mile.
Despite that lapse, I went through the mile in a startling quick 5:57. Knowing that I ran 18:53 (6:05 average) on the roads at 65 Roses, I figured anything under 21:00 would be respectable on a cross country course, so I was a bit panicked by the split and decided not to look at my watch again. Relax and hammer. However, in many ways this race was very different from 65 Roses in that it was a race—I had people to run with. I passed a runner after we ducked back into the woods, could still see the TLB ahead sporadically and could feel another runner right behind me. Based on the cheers from Val and Ian at the mile mark, I assumed it was Jeff since they had said "Jeff's right behind you." (Thankfully, even when I'm low on oxygen I can do some simple math.) But, as we popped back into the fields briefly at around 1.5 miles guy-in-a-blue-shirt (Gibs) moved up and passed me. He nearly went straight through a righthand turn as we reentered the woods. I yelled to him that he was off course and briefly regained my place. I had delusions of staying ahead of him, but after a few seconds he passed me again. Back to chasing. I stayed as close as I could, but couldn't maintain his pace. My real problem was the downhills. I couldn't keep up with the turnover. Hmmm...track work, anyone?

Gibs had a decent gap at two miles when I again passed Ian and Val who seemed a bit more adamant in their cheers that Jeff was right behind me...really. Uh oh. For some reason, I figured that if I could get back to the fields, approximately a half mile to go, ahead of Jeff, I could hold him off. My only reasoning for this was that there was no way I was going to let anyone pass me in the final half mile. That's not how you run cross country. Luckily, I could still see Gibs, and, foolishly, I never gave up on catching him. So, pulled by Gibs up ahead and pushed by the specter of Jeff from behind, I hit the fields a tried to relax and open it up. Surprisingly, I never tied up during this race. I was able to stay fairly relaxed despite being well out of my comfort zone. I mean, I had the serious XC-froth going on, but that's just how we harriers roll. (Yeah, I'm not buying that either.) I crested the final hill confident in my place and was shocked when I hit my watch after I crossed the line: 18:52, 9th place. I managed to run one second faster than I had two weeks ago on a much easier course. That's racing vs. time trialing. Really stoked with this result. Of course, my elation was short lived as the clock reached 18:55, and Jamie reminded me that I'm running a marathon this weekend. Never liked that guy.


Finishing. Ouch.
I have to admit, this race was actually kind of fun. Cross country hurts. A LOT. But, it's a cool kind of hurt. It's a great combination of running fast and not running on roads. Maybe I'll try to do a few more of these next year. I'd love to attempt to get fast enough to not embarrass myself at Franklin Park—so many great memories of racing there in high school. Yup, attempting to capture lost glory. I must be creeping up on the masters category.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Training 9/25 - 10/1

In the interest of not falling further behind...

Onto the numbers...

9/25, Sunday: 8.5 total, 65 Roses 5k. I still don't know what I was thinking, but not complaining about the result.

9/26, Monday: 6.25 - 57:12, Commons w/ D. Real easy recovery run. Nice to get out with the missus. No ill effects from the 5k.

9/27, Tuesday: 18.5 - 3:00:35, Topsham & Cathance Trails. With the MDI Marathon on the horizon, I should have done a longish road run, but I couldn't really stomach the thought. The trails were too much of a pull. Plus, I took this opportunity to explore some new to me trails, which did not disappoint. And, really, this run was just about getting it done on some tired legs. They were very tired. My energy was never bad, though, so that's a good sign. It was warmer than I expected out, and one handheld didn't get it done. I had to stop at the Cathance River Ecology Center where the caretaker was nice enough to let me fill up. She even gave me a tour of the facility, too.

9/28, Wednesday: Off

9/29, Thursday: 5 - 40:59, Highland Green. Not sure if it was the misty, windy conditions, general malaise or tired legs, but I felt pretty off and crappy. Things got a bit better by the end, but not much. It didn't help that I barely had time to squeeze this 40 minutes in, when I had hoped to do a speed workout. I was hoping for 3 x 2 mile, but it wasn't happening. All this led to me being in a generally foul mood.

9/30, Friday: 7 - 49:49, Stratton Road, Williamstown. We headed west for the memorial service for D's grandmother, and I was able to get in a run shortly after we arrived but before a family dinner. I wasn't expecting much after a 5+ hour car ride but held out hope for a decent loop. I was warned it was hilly, and they weren't kidding. However, I felt really, really good, so after two miles I decided to make the next 5 a tempo run. Ended up averaging about 6:45-6:50 for those miles and was holding myself back a bit. Really pleasant surprise.

10/1, Saturday: 4.5 - 44:53, Clark Trails, Williamstown. Still in Williamstown and still hilly. D and I snuck out first thing in the morning in a steady rain to explore the trails behind the Clark Art Museum. Since we were short on time, we didn't explore beyond the main system, which has a couple old logging roads connected to it, which looked very tempting for a long journey. We sloshed up and down neither of us feeling particularly frisky due to the weather and the early hour. Good run, though, and a small system I'd definitely recommend.

Totals: 49.75
Trail: 29.25
Road: 20.5

A great week on tired legs. Nice to follow up last week's big number with a 50-mile (close enough) week. I ended up averaging 54 miles per week in September, which should give me a strong base. Two taper weeks for MDI now. Still hoping to find a little speed for the marathon, but it's mostly out of my hands now.