Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gator Trail 50k - Race Report

Eighteen weeks of training later, the Gator Trail 50k finally happened. It felt like it would never come. Great synergy to this race as during the first week of the training cycle, D and I had the chance to scope out the trails at Lake Waccamaw State Park. That run was during a Thanksgiving visit to her parents, and, now, in March, it was time to cash in on those eighteen weeks. I withdrew them in full running a better race than I believed I could. Ever since I researched this race, my "A" goal, which I believe I only said aloud to two people, was to win it. Looking at past results, I knew that I needed to get close to 4 hours, 7:45 per mile, to have a shot. I knew this was a lofty goal, and maybe even a bit unrealistic. But, that's what I pointed my training towards, and, in reality, I never really came up with a "B" or "C" goal.

After a relatively uneventful travel day (even with an energetic 18-month-old) to North Carolina on Wednesday and two subsequent days spent relaxing, D and I were up in the dark and driving southwest to the race. The sun had risen, just barely, when we arrived at the park, but the sky was cloud covered, which was a pleasant sight for the northerners. Another pleasant sight was the reading on the thermometer: 48°. My biggest fear for this race was temperatures rising into the 80's, but we lucked out with the weather as the skies remained cloudy throughout and the mercury never rose above 60°. Perfect racing conditions, and I joked that I wouldn't be able to use the weather as an excuse.

Southern hospitality was in full effect as we chatted with the race director, Grant, before the race at this small, Fat Ass-style event: low-key, no frills and welcoming smiles all around. The 50-kilometer course consisted of 5, 10-kilometer laps, which included a 1.2-mile out-and-back section about halfway through. In a unique twist, during each lap at the end of the out-and-back, each runner would take a sticker from their number and place it on the board to ensure no one skipped this section. Grant went through this procedure and other pre-race instructions as the group of thirty-or-so runners milled around the start area. Then, almost without warning, Grant said, "Well, OK. Ready, set, go." We were off.

Lap 1
At the sort-of command, I found myself at the front of the race only a few strides in. D yelled up to me, "I hope you know where you're going," which got a chuckle out of myself and everyone else. I expected a few others to come up and run alongside, but I clicked through the first mile alone in 7:57 and turned to see second and third place 10 and 15 seconds back, respectively. It was at this point that I resolved myself to running the race alone and at my pace. 7:45 was the target pace, and that's what I got the reading on my Garmin down to over the next few miles.

At the end of the out-and-back, which was almost exactly 5k, it only took a second or so to tack my sticker to the board. Pre-race, I was a bit worried this process would be cumbersome and slow, but it was quick and easy. The out-and-back was great because I had the opportunity to see everyone behind me. I determined that I had about 1:30 on second place with 3rd, 4th and 5th not that far behind him. Plenty of motivation for me. The section of trail following the out-and-back was right along Lake Waccamaw and really nice singletrack—narrow, twisty goodness. This was my favorite part of the loop, and I was really enjoying the first few miles.
Coming into the race, I wasn't certain how my target pace was going to feel, and I was very please at how easy the first few miles went by. I finished the first lap in 47:41 (7:41 per mile) feeling very relaxed and comfortable, although my Garmin was reading a bit short due to the twists of the trail.

Lap 2
Unfortunately, "I Will Survive" was blaring from the speakers as I picked up my lap-two sticker at the start/finish line, and I was stuck with one of my least favorite songs of all time in my head for the next couple miles. The beginning of the each loop wound through pine forest with the trail alternating between firm and sandy sections. The sand wasn't deep, but it was soft enough to slow you down. On each lap, I did my best to avoid the soft portions by running alongside the established trail. The footing was rougher, but firmer, so I considered it a good trade off. The other "interesting" feature at the start of each lap was the lingering effects of the controlled burns recently held by the park staff. For the first two miles of each lap, the ground was black on either side of the trail and still smoking in a few locations. The smell of smoke was evident but never bothered me or hampered my breathing. However, it was still a bit unsettling to see the blackened, smoldering earth all around you.

Shortly into this lap, I came upon two runners heading in the opposite direction. I hated to be the bearer of bad news, but I had to tell them that they were headed in the wrong direction. I did hesitate for a moment thinking I may have had gone wrong, but from our recon trip in November, I was certain I was going the correct way. Since part of trail racing is finding your way, I kept going, but it was a good reminder that I needed to remain focused.

At around 9 miles, I did a double-take at my Garmin because I could hardly believe I'd already run 9 miles. I felt like I'd barely run a step and knew it was going to be a good day. In fact, I thought to myself, "I refuse to have a bad day." On the out-and-back, I once again had the chance to check in on the competition, and I estimated my lead had stretched to four minutes. My second lap split was 1:34:20 for a 46:40 lap (7:31 per mile), and the miles were still coming very easily.

Lap 3
With the Garmin coming up a bit short, I knew that I had run a more than it was reading and that my average pace was also a touch faster. Throughout the second lap, I'd kept the "Average Pace" reading at a steady 7:45 and hoped to do the same through the third lap. The tough, tough music choices continued as I was serenaded with "La Bamba" from the sound system as I started the third lap, ready to have things start feeling a bit like work. Around 14 miles, I made the transition from running easily to feeling it a bit. This was a big shift mentally. I knew going into the race that it was going to hurt. There was no way to avoid it. I was prepared for it. The only questions now were how much was it going to hurt and how long could I keep pushing this pace? However, as this lap progressed I was feeling worse but actually getting faster as my average pace dipped to 7:44...on the Garmin at least.

The out-and-back was another confidence booster as my lead had stretched to eight minutes, and second place was the only other racer I saw in this section aside from runners I was lapping. One runner joked: "If you keep this up, we won't invite you back." So much for Southern hospitality. When I picked up my sticker to close out lap #3, I checked the clock, which read 2:20:47. That lap would turn out to be my fastest of the day: 46:27 (7:29 per mile). I knew that if I could run two 50-minute laps and be right at 4 hours. Honestly, I had my doubts. From looking at past results, I knew that despite being a flat course, most people had the tendency to slow down quite a bit in the final laps/miles. Obviously, I didn't want to suffer the same fate, turning the race into a death march, and I was concerned I'd overcooked that third lap.

Lap 4
Heading out to "Anyway You Want It," one of the great volunteers yelled, "Have fun!" I replied, "Hard not to on a day like this! Thanks for ordering up this great weather for the guy from Maine!" And, in truth, I was having fun. It was work, but it was still fun. The trails were very pretty, and I appreciated them more and more. From the pile of ping pong balls...errr, turtle eggs, to the cactus, to the mangrove trees, I was running in a place unfamiliar to me and really enjoying it. The trails were fun, twisty and just plain great for running. That being said, I needed to go to work. The sand seemed deeper and softer, and I could no longer find the best lines. I maintained my pace through the first half of the fourth lap, but the second half was a struggle. The average pace on my Garmin kept creeping up...7:45...7:46...7:47...7:48...

I began to worry about second place thinking that if he had taken it easy the first few laps, he could really be making up some ground on me. I was relieved when I finished the out-and-back without seeing him, but I did catch a glimpse of his neon green shirt through the trees and guessed I was now up by nearly 11 minutes. Even though that was more than a mile lead, a lot can happen in an ultra, and I felt confident I could win it but didn't take it for granted. Plus, with my Garmin telling me what I already knew—that I was slowing down—I was no longer really enjoying the day. In fact, at one point near the end of the fourth lap I said out loud, "This sucks." In the closing miles of this lap, I wanted to be done. I had no idea how I was going to not only maintain my pace or even complete another lap. It seemed an insurmountable task. Indeed, the fourth lap was slower: 48:01 (7:44 per mile).

Lap 5

The clock read 3:08:48. "This one is going to hurt," was all I could say to the volunteer crew as I started lap #5 as "I Just Called to Say I Love You" played in the background. And, hurt it did. I forced myself to take one final gel as I started the lap. I'd been drinking HEED since the start but opted for Gatorade for the final circuit. My stomach had had enough of the HEED/Hammer Gel/Clif Shot Blok mixture I'd been downing for the first four laps but was thankfully still reasonably settled. The final lap was basically a blur. Throughout the rest of the race, I'd been exchanging words of encouragement with every runner I saw, and I felt badly that I could barely communicate now. The average pace on my Garmin was reading 7:49 and stayed right there for the entire final lap. I was too exhausted to do the math to determine my actual pace or how far I had to go. All I knew was that I was running a bit faster than it was reading and had actually run a bit farther. But, I also knew that 7:49 was not sub-4-hour pace, so I kept trying to get that number lower. I just hoped that I had a 52-minute lap in me. I wasn't so sure. I really labored the first half of the fifth lap, and the out-and-back felt like it went on forever. However, like the rest of the laps, it was about a 10-minute round trip on the out-and-back. So, I was still moving, but it just hurt a lot more now. Thankfully, second place never appeared, so I was feeling better about taking it home. I actually dropped my handheld on this lap at the beginning of the out-and-back to run hands free for a stretch, which was a good mental boost. Picking it back up was a different story as my legs were not pleased with the change in motion. I'd been fighting off cramps since about mile 25, and I nearly fell over picking up the bottle.

As I ran along the lake, I crossed the first of two boardwalks and took note of the sign that read "Visitors Center - 2 Miles." I never really figured out if this was correct, but I assume it was a touch longer because we didn't run directly back to the Visitors Center. My watch read 3:43 and change at this point, and I knew I had a shot at breaking 4 hours. But, I also knew I had to hammer it. It was going to be close. I was in full-on grunt, froth and drool mode, and as I hit the long boardwalk that marked the very end of the lap I was even cursing at myself to keep moving. It wasn't until I hit this point that I was confident that I had the race won. With a quarter mile to go, I dropped my handheld and pushed my final loop around the parking lot. I crossed the line in 3:56:29, which, in all honesty, feels strange to type. My final lap was 47:42 (7:41 per mile).

My Garmin gave me a distance of 30.26 miles, and with that time, the average per mile was, indeed, 7:49. For the full 31 miles, my average pace was 7:37, which also feels strange to type. I really thought 7:45 was a stretch, so I'm thrilled with the time. In the end, it wasn't so much about winning, but breaking four hours. If ten guys had finished in front of me, I'd be just as happy. Well, OK, I'm pretty stoked to get the win.

D's parents arrived just as I was finishing, so they got to see me hobble painfully as my legs seized up the moment I crossed the line. The cramps I'd been so worried about hit me as soon as I stopped running. Everything hurts less when you're happy with your race, so I was able to laugh, at least a little, through my grimacing. Eventually, I was able to walk somewhat normally, give Sam a hug and change.

Not long after, D came off the boardwalk and onto the road to finish her race. I was elated to see she had a huge smile on her face as she ran past her Dad holding Sam and then past me. The only thing that was missing was an Ironman-esque announcer saying: "YOU'RE an ULTRARUNNER!" I was thrilled she finished her first 50k, and in impressive fashion: 4:47:10, second woman. I'm really proud of her ability to pull it all together as a mother, wife and athlete.


All in all, it was a great day on the trails. For the win, I got a custom picture frame with an alligator on it. (The race director will send us our photos later.) Really nice touch. Just one of many that made this a really fun event. I love the feel of small races. The course, while flat, was not boring nor really easy. It has enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes and plenty of roots to make the singletrack challenging. The sand I could certainly live without, but the trails are beautiful. I really didn't mind running 5 laps, and I hope I have the opportunity to run at Lake Waccamaw again sometime.

One random fun fact: I don't know my exact time because of the short readings on my Garmin, but en route I PRed in the marathon by around 20 minutes. I guess I'm in a wee bit better shape than when I ran my one and only road marathon in 2008.

Thanks to D's parents who not only took care of Sam on race day, but also hosted us this week and put up with all my (our) pre-race neurosis and post-race hobbling. We could not have done this without them. A good support crew is key. THANKS!

So, what's next? Walking normally is the first goal.

Daddo, you stink!

My cool down.

Kick Ass!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Training 3/13 - 3/19

Taper madness.

Onto the numbers...

3/13, Sunday: 9.5 total. Granite State Snowshoe Championship.

3/14, Monday: 3 - 23:53, Patriot Commons. Legs felt good. Took it very easy. This loop is boring.

3/15, Tuesday: Off

3/16, Wednesday: 8 - 1:08:13, Highland Green dirt roads. As the seasons transition, it's tricky to find trail runs that aren't fraught with ankle-wrenching postholes, which at this point in my training, I'd really like to avoid. However, the plowed dirt roads/construction roads around Highland Green are in great shape, so I just ran up and back on them until I got 8 miles. Throw in the wind, rain and generally foul weather, this run was all about head down, get the miles in and call it a day. Mission accomplished.

3/17, Thursday: Off

3/18, Friday: 5.25 - 41:00, Highland Green +. Now that I'm intimately acquainted with all the dirt roads in Highland Green, I added a piece on these roads to the normal loop. Nice addition that alleviates the need for an unnecessary road piece at the beginning. This will become the regular loop. Run felt great, and I was holding myself back. Itching to go. Of note: snowshoe season is over, so I am allowed to run in shorts, and this was the first run of the year in shorts! Pasty.

3/19, Saturday: 5 - 41:36, Highland Green. Same loop. Totally different conditions. About an inch of wet snow had and was falling. Windy, too. So, instead of shorts, it was tights and a rain shell. Preferred Friday's weather.

Totals: 30.75
Trail: 14.25
Road: 16.5

Tapering is no fun at all. Necessary evil, but I feel really off on all my runs—snappy, but strange. I'm not sleeping well either...well, it's impossible to fall asleep. "Hello, ceiling." The good news: only a week to go. I'm obsessively looking at the long-range forecasts for Lake Waccamaw, NC. We fly on Wednesday. Biggest challenge of the trip: Gator Trail 50k or flying with the kiddo? Push.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Granite State Snowshoe Championships - Race Report

The 2011 snowshoe season is in the books, and I wrapped it up with the Granite State Snowshoe Championships at hosted by acidotic RACING at Great Glen Trails. This race would be my fifth race of the season, qualifying me for a ranking in the Northeast Snowshoe Federation Cup standings. More importantly, it would also be the fifth race that Trail Monster Running fielded a full team, and we had a shot to first third amongst some very stiff competition.

A number of things were different for me in 2011 vs. 2010. First off, I kept my car on the road, but, the biggest difference were my performances thus far. I've been running well in 2011 and felt some pressure to keep it up. Admittedly, I had some pre-race jitters and found myself missing the race directing portion of racing. With only my race to focus on, I didn't really know what to do with myself. This was also one of those races at which you look around and everyone looks fast. All the usual suspects rolled in from acidotic, Tuesday Night Turtles and my Trail Monster Running teammates, and I knew it was going to be a tough task to meet my pre-race goal: a top ten finish. I think my nerves were obvious as I couldn't wait for anyone else to do a warm-up with and headed out on the roads solo. I met up with Scott Mason, who was planning to be behind the camera, on the way back, and we chatted for a bit. Then, I jumped in for a short stint with my teammates, giving me a solid two-mile warm-up. Back inside to change, then off to the start line.

Race start. Joe Viger Photo.

I lined up on the far left of the front row, which kept me out of the fray and spray (of snow) at the start. The conditions were strange. The first half of the 10-kilometer course is on the groomed Nordic trails, and despite looking firm, they were anything but. The temps were fairly warm, so you'd sink a bit with each step. So much for a fast first half. I settled into a comfortable pace that put me in seventh place, directly behind TNT's Dave Principie.

A quarter mile in. Great Glen Trails photo.

Dave slowly and steadily pulled away from me, and by 1.5 miles, he had a big gap. I was really questioning whether or not I was running too comfortably, but with a 7:26 first mile and knowing the climb that lay ahead, I didn't want to overcook it. I could hear footfalls behind me the entire time, but forced myself not to look back. Then, at about 2 miles, aR's Ryan Welts went by me on a downhill. I stayed right with him, and we exchanged places and conversation for the next mile. He let me know, what I already knew, that Captain Snowshoe himself, Chris Dunn, was right behind us, and that he wasn't really enjoying the groomed trails. Admittedly, neither was I. I wasn't anxious to get to the good stuff.

5k down. 5k up. Joe Viger Photo.

I passed through the start line/3 mile mark in 24:09 and began to mentally prepare myself for the climb ahead: 350' in the next 1.25 miles. I was expecting the soft, slushy-ish conditions to carry over from the groomed trails to the singletrack. Instead, the singletrack was fairly firm. However, it wasn't stable. The treadway was quite uneven, and with each step, you would posthole...or you wouldn't. You never knew what was going to happen from one step to the next.

Starting the climb. Scott Mason photo.

More climbing. Great Glen Trails photo.

Still climbing. Great Glen Trails photo.

Since I knew the trail from running it at least a dozen times this winter, I wanted to push the uphill, and I led the Ryan-train throughout the entire climb. I'd hear Ryan right behind me, then it would get quiet, then I'd hear him again...rinse and repeat. We kept getting glimpses of Dave up ahead, and it became clear that we were gaining on him. At the very top of the climb, Ryan asked to go around, and I obliged. He had clearly been holding back a bit, as a gap quickly opened up between us as we ran along the "flat" section at that led to the high point of the course and eventual left hand turn signifying the almost one-mile-long downhill. I consider myself a strong descender, so I hoped that I could close that gap.

As I made that left hand turn, I took a peek back and didn't see Chris or anyone else, which really helped sharpen my focus on the two ahead of me. However, in the process of looking back, I nearly went down not looking at the singletrack as I postholed unexpectedly. Unexpected posthole would be the theme for the next mile. The tricky conditions on the uphill were multiplied tenfold on the descent. It was extremely hard to stay in rhythm or get any momentum going. This section of course is a fire road, so it's wide open and fairly straight. I could see Ryan and Dave almost the entire time, only losing sight on them briefly on a few corners. I'd see Dave posthole, think I'd have a chance to catch up, and then I'd posthole. I'd see Ryan posthole, think I'd have a chance to catch up, and then I'd posthole. Over and over again. It was both frustrating and worrisome. I didn't want to wrench an ankle or a knee, so I focused on staying upright more than trying to catch those guys.

The downhill ends just after the 5-mile mark, then the course turns left onto the last piece of singletrack. I looked back when I reached that corner. I couldn't see anyone behind me, and Ryan and Dave had essentially left me behind. This section starts with an uphill that would be tough even without a mile-long downhill preceding it. I was talking to myself up this hill, knowing that I really needed to work if I had any hope of seeing Ryan and Dave again or staying ahead of the strong field chasing. I think I scared a couple who were just out for a leisurely snowshoe in the tranquil forest. I started seeing glimpses of Dave through the pines, and I knew that not only Ryan had passed but I was also gaining on him. Once I hit the powerlines, I had Dave in my sights, and I could tell that I was running the uphills faster than he was. Of course, the uphill that starts with a half mile to go is the toughest climb of the entire race, so neither of us were really flying at this point (read: shuffling). I pushed this hill as hard as I could and pulled up directly behind Dave at the very top. I could barely see straight, and really wasn't able to ask Dave if I could get around. As we turned right past the Honeymoon Cottage, he was able to put a few feet between us, and extended his lead through the insane final quarter mile. It may have been the equivalent of just one lap around a track, but it was anything but flat. The downs were...well...sketchy, and it was all I could do to stay upright and alive. It was also through this section that I was aware that someone was gaining on us. I had no idea who this someone was, and I wasn't sure if it was even human from the noises it was making. Wounded water buffalo in heat? I've been known to grunt and froth in a race, but this was closer to demonic possession.

Trying to stay alive. Gianna Lindsey photo.

Final uphill. Scott Mason photo.

In the end, Dave was able to better navigate the final section to finish a comfortable 10 seconds ahead of me. I crossed the line in 8th in 57:09. Ryan had put more than a minute on me in the final miles. The bellowing didn't cease until fellow Trail Monster, Jeff Walker, crossed the line just behind me. It's a good thing this was the last race of the season because Jeff really has figured this snowshoe racing thing out, and I was lucky to be the top Trail Monster.

Obligatory painful finish photo. Joe Viger Photo.

Scott Mason's Photos
Joe Viger's Photos
Gianna Lindsey's Photos
Great Glen Trails' Photos

I have many reasons to be thrilled about this race, but I'm not. I achieved my goal of a top ten finish, but I didn't really race. When Ryan went by me at the top of the climb, I let him go. I didn't race. When I caught up to Dave, I never made a real push to get by him. I didn't race. I just didn't have the same fire that I had at the Bradbury Blizzard. I was fairly complacent, which is disappointing. I'm really just nitpicking here (and possibly whining a bit), but I feel like I left something out on the course. I was a very good effort, but not a great race.

That being said, I'm proud of where I've come in the past year. Because I'm a nerd, I compared the 2010 and 2011 results. I wanted to see just how much slower the course was this year. (It's not a perfect comparison because the first 5k on the groomed Nordic trails were slightly different [and possibly a bit easier] and the finish was different [tougher and longer], but we all ran the same courses in the same conditions.) Nineteen people raced both years, and on average, times were 10% slower. Only one person of those nineteen was faster in 2011: me. I think that says a lot, but again, I'm not entirely satisfied. I know I could have raced harder, and I know I'll remember this lesson at the Gator Trail 50k and beyond.

As far as the Northeast Snowshoe Federation Cup, Trail Monster Running finished third overall in what was really our rookie year of racing. Club-wide, I think we'd only ever run 5 snowshoes races combined—four of them my four races last winter. It was exciting for me to see everyone really get into it. Individually, I finished 22nd overall, only 2.5 points out of 15th. Needless to say, the Northeast has a very competitive snowshoe field.

Looking ahead, it's taper time. The real test is on March 26 on the shores of Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Training 3/6 - 3/12

First official quasi-taper week. Only quasi because it was more of a step down week than a full taper. The real taper madness begins next week. One item that I glazed over in last week's recap was the shin/ankle pain from the previous week. Well, it left as quickly as it came. Unofficial diagnosis was tightness in my anterior tibialis. Ice, heat and The Stick did the trick. Or, I raced it out at the Bradbury Blizzard. Runners actually believe they can do that.

Onto the numbers...

3/6, Sunday: Off

3/7, Monday: 5 - 40:42, Patriot Commons + Route 201. Just a random road run from home in the rain and wind. Fairly gross out. Legs felt fine, but it certainly wasn't one of those runs that you enjoy.

3/8, Tuesday: 8 - 58:07, Meadow Cross Road. Plan was to run the first 2 miles easy, then the last 6 at marathon pace. I felt great, and marathon pace turned into a 7:02 average. That's certainly quicker than my marathon pace right now, but it felt very comfortable so I rolled with it. After the previous day's rain, I did get to run through 200 yards of ankle deep nearly freezing water at the 3-mile mark. The elderly folks in the church van headed in the other direction gave me some interesting looks. I laughed as a ran through their wake.

3/9, Wednesday: 7 - 1:08:23, Topsham Snowmobile Trails, Dump Loop w/ D. D was doing a recovery run after her long run the previous day, so we kept the pace very easy. Nice morning on the trails.

3/10, Thursday: 14 - 2:12:41, Topsham Snowmobile Trails, Dump Loop, Murder Road and Other Random Trails. Wandered on the Topsham snowmobile trails to get to 14. Explored some new trails, one that may be a good summer addition. Some light snow started falling in the last few miles, but it didn't really affect the trail conditions, which were a tad soft. I did try to check out a couple more snowmobile trails, but turned back on each after postholing a couple times after only a few yards. I wasn't in the mood for bloody shins.

3/11, Friday: 3.75 - 31:56, Highland Green Construction Road. Rainy, windy and gross. I did get to run on a muddy road, though—only redeeming quality of this run. Just a bad day to be outside.

3/12, Saturday: 3.25 - 27:26, Patriot Commons. Considered taking the day off, but I subscribe to the theory that you should always do an easy run the day before a race, and with the Granite State Snowshoe Championship on tap for Sunday, I squeezed in a couple miles. Plenty of snow-eating fog to go around. Very uneventful.

Miles: 41
Trail: 21
Road: 20

All in all, a pretty uneventful week, but that was just what I was going for. I guess that a mellow, successful training week doesn't make for a very good blog post.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Training 2/27 - 3/5

Nothing came easy this week, either mentally or physically. Between the general fatigue of training, a big effort at the Bradbury Blizzard, my schedule, some sinus issues, life in general and even the weather—everything seemed to be conspiring against me. However, it was still a solid week of training. I didn't quite get the mileage I was hoping for, but that was me erring on the side of recovery post-Blizzard. When I laid out my training plan, I knew that this would the last of three hard weeks before my taper, so I didn't expect it to be easy.

Onto the numbers...

2/27, Sunday: 7 total, Bradbury Blizzard

2/28, Monday: 4.75 - 42:14, Mt. Ararat H.S. + Patriot Commons x2. Forced myself to get out in the wet snow and wind. There was already a good coating of icy snow on the roads, which actually made perfect screw shoe conditions. That was the only thing that was perfect. I just kept my head down and got the miles in. Not a great way to go through a recovery run, but my legs actually felt pretty decent.

3/1, Tuesday: 3.75 total, 3k snowshoe "race." Final week of Nordic Meisters, and I was just going through the motions. With a whole boatload of new snow under a crusty layer, the unbroken trail wasn't particularly appealing for an easy effort. Instead of my usual Aqueduct Loop warm up, I ran the course, then ran the course again for the timed effort. It was much more mental output than I wanted, so I bailed on any kind of cool down.

3/2, Wednesday: Off

3/4, Thursday: 7 - 1:03:49, Topsham Snowmobile Trails - Dump Loop. Very windy. Could have done without that. Add in the fact that the trails hadn't seen much snowmobile traffic after some new snow and rain, and it was more effort than I was hoping for. My sinuses were bugging me, so that just added to my grumpiness. Legs felt good, though. That's the most important thing.

3/5, Friday: 22 - 2:54:21, Highland Road + Simpson's Point. Awesome run. Based on how I'd felt the rest of the week, I was pretty nervous as to how this run would go, and with this being the final long run before Gator Trail, I really wanted to have a good one. It certainly didn't hurt to have sunny skies and not much wind. My hope was to run 8:10-8:15/mile, and I easily and comfortably went under that with a 7:55 average. I was very tempted to push this run to a full marathon because I could have easily PRed. But, that wasn't the goal for the day, so I stuck to the plan. Wiser to leave something in the tank, and a good confidence builder.

3/6, Saturday: 5 - 45:32, Highland Green (Out & Back). Very easy recovery run, but more snow, rain and wind. I was a bit sore and tired, but that was what I expected.

Miles: 49.5
Trail: 17.75
Road: 31.75

I had hoped to get to 55 miles for the week, but with my mental state the first couple days, it wasn't in the cards. My effort at the Bradbury Blizzard, frankly, took more out of me mentally than I had anticipated. However, I know that the mental aspect is a critical portion of the training—very good lessons learned from that race. Even without the number I'd wanted, it's still a good week, and I've come out of it feeling good, which is far more important than being a slave to the numbers. It's very tempting to "use" my current fitness right now, for example PR in the marathon during a training run, but I have to be smart and stay focused. Three weeks to go until Gator Trail.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bradbury Blizzard Race Report

The final race of the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series and another double duty race day for me. With 750' of climbing over 5.25 miles, the Bradbury Blizzard was definitely the hardest race course of the series, and it was covered in fresh snow making it that much tougher. What made it even tougher was a tactical mistake/accident on my part and this race for me was anything but a time trial like the Bradbury White Out. This was a race, and I raced like I don't think I ever have.

Once again, I was at Bradbury Mountain State Park early to get the course marked, and Ian was, once again, there to help me out...with everything. We split up to tackle the course, and I headed up the Switchback Trail. On Saturday morning, I was the first to hit the trail and find where I wanted to send the race course. By Sunday morning, the park had seen a lot more traffic, as I expected, and the entire side of the mountain was crisscrossed with snowshoe and ski tracks. My usual paranoia about each and every flag was in full effect, but in the end, the course markings worked out great. When I finished marking the Switchback Trail (about 6 hours later), I headed out on the Tote Road to throw down a few more flags and make sure the trail was in good shape. Unfortunately, it was in a little too good of a shape, as the park had run a snowmobile up and down the trail a couple times to "groom" it. I'd been hoping for more singletrack, but based on the reactions of those that ran the race, maybe it's a good thing the course wasn't any harder. And, in truth, even the snowmobile packed trail wasn't that well packed, so the running was still tough.

Our biggest field of the series assembled at the start line, including Chris Dunn, Geoff Cunningham and Judson Cake from acidotic RACING; Peter Keeney from Crow Athletics and a stout group of fellow Trail Monsters. I knew this was going to be a tough race. Aside from my course marking more than two-hours prior, my only warm up was a little jogging and strides just before the start. Not exactly ideal for a race that climbs 220' in the first half mile. I had decided to go with my (now) usual plan (antics?) of going out hard knowing that even if I was thrashed after the first climb, I'd have a long, gradual downhill to recover on the other side. My rationale being that I could, hopefully, run away from my competitors as I'd done at the White Out.

Bradbury Blizzard start. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

As the race started, I was out front with Geoff and Judson right next to me as we reached the bottleneck to begin climbing the singletrack, I was in the lead. Well, I'd planned to go out hard, but not quite this hard. Geoff and Judson had both race at the Northest Snowshoe Federation Championships the previous day, so neither were exactly fresh, but there's no logical reason I should be ahead of them. Judson had beaten me by more than 3:30 at each of the first two Bradbury Snowshoe races, and I've never been within sniffing distance of Geoff on any surface. Of course, about halfway up the Switchback I had delusions that they were really trashed from Saturday's race, and I'd be able to stay out front. Then, about two-thirds of the way up the Switchback, I realized I was in way over my head. I could feel Geoff right behind me, and thought about pulling over. He didn't ask, so I just kept pushing. Maybe I should have tracked out a couple passing lanes. Once we reached the top of the climb, Geoff asked to pass, without sounding out of breath. Never liked that guy. He and Judson cruised on by down the Tote Road, and I realized that I couldn't see anyone else behind us.

I kept Geoff and Judson in sight for as long as possible, but after I couple minutes I was alone. It was starting to look like the White Out time trial all over again. That being said, I wasn't comfortable. It took me a full half mile after the climb to feel normal again. Snowshoeing up the Switchback Trail is hard.

As I turned right onto the Northern Loop Trail to begin the second climb to the summit, I looked back...still alone. Then, my spidey sense started tingling, I must have looked back another 6 times in the next quarter mile, and a few yards before I reached the Terrace Trail to begin the descent, I saw that Peter Keeney was closing the gap. I'd managed to stay ahead of Peter at the White Out mainly because he couldn't see me, but that was not the case today. It was a race.

Knowing that I'm a decent descender, I hit the Terrace Trail hard hoping to disappear for a bit. Running down the Terrace Trail would be fun. Racing down the Terrace Trail was on the edge between fun and insane. Who designed this course? I didn't quite disappear, but I couldn't see Peter any longer. I hit the cruel piece of singletrack around the Feldspar Quarry that marked the very end of each lap and thought, "How am I going to run another lap at this pace?" My Garmin read 25:20 when I made the turn to start back up the Switchback Trail.

Nearing the end of the first lap, already hurting. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

Powdery. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

The good part about the Switchback is that it runs through open woods, so I could see exactly the field around me. Geoff and Judson reappeared, and I timed them at about a minute ahead of me. Peter was not far behind me and gaining, and Chris was about a minute back. This really was a race. With every turn Peter was getting closer, and my whole goal was to stay in front of him through the climb. I didn't want to give him the psychological edge of passing me on or near the top of the climb. I did manage to reach the top ahead of him and pushed hard down the first stretch of the Tote Road. I looked back and realized I'd gapped him. "I may have a chance," I thought. Being the race director as well I also thought, "If I stay ahead of him, the overall and masters podiums will be nice and tidy." Double duty is weird.

Just like the first lap, it took me a good half mile to recover from the climb, but this time I was in a race. Peter had reappeared, and a big part of me was really hoping he'd slow down. He never did and just kept pushing me throughout the lap. By the end of the Tote Road, he was only a few seconds behind, and I was deep into the pain cave. I doubted I would able to pull it off, but my new goal was to stay ahead of him through the climb up the Northern Loop. It was obvious he was climbing stronger than I was, and I was certain he knew that. I hoped that if I could stay ahead of him on the climb, I could put a little doubt in his mind. This was racing. As we climbed the final stretch, he was right on my heels, and I was waiting for him to move around. He never did. Mission accomplished.

The second time down the Terrace Trail crossed the line into insanity. I knew it was my best chance to get away from Peter, unless I fell. I nearly went down a couple times, but I not only managed to stay upright but also get a bit of a gap. Unfortunately, that gap quickly evaporated as he surged pretty hard as we turned right off the Terrace Trail. It took about 3 miles from when I first saw him, but he finally passed me. We exchanged labored words of encouragement, and I knew he was hurting as much as I was.

When I devised this course, I figured that if two people were racing together, the first person to reach the Feldspar Quarry singletrack at this stage in the race would win the duel. Now, I was in second place in such as duel with more than a quarter mile to go before we hit the singletrack. In the past, I would have conceded and run it in for fourth place. Something was different on this day. When Peter went past me, I stayed right with him. He would open small gaps, and each time I closed them back up. And each time, I thought I couldn't push any harder and had no idea how I'd just done that. We lapped a group of runners, including fellow Trail Monsters Ann and Kate, and it was awesome to have them cheering for me. Home field advantage!

Peter reached the Feldspar Quarry singletrack first, and I was right on him. I had to put out of my mind what I had previously thought about this finish and just try to stay close. If I could stay on him, it was going to come down to a sprint in the last 30 yards.

The Suffering Sequence:

Starting up the Feldspar Quarry singletrack. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

That can't be efficient. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

Why does Peter look so comfortable? Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

No extra charge for the drool. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

Getting gapped. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

As we turned left to head to the field, he opened a gap that looked huge, and I thought, "You didn't push all this time to not even let it come down to a sprint." I hammered the last couple yards of singletrack and was right on his tails again just as we turned right onto the field. He moved right. I moved left and gave it all I had. It was just enough to go by him and finish in third place in 49:54. Although, Peter quipped post-race, "You should be able to beat an old guy like me."

Sprint finish. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

I owe a ton to Peter for pushing me throughout that entire race. A lot of mutual respect was earned on this day. Geoff and Judson (holing hands...maybe) finished together a little over a minute ahead of us. Peter earned top master with Chris not far back in a great weekend double of racing. Fellow Trail Monster Chuck Hazzard was sixth overall, third master, running a really great race. A lot of other strong performances by other Trail Monsters as we took places six through fourteen.

Photos from Maine Running Photos: Set 1 | Set 2

Looking back, it was foolish for me to push so hard in the first half mile and lead the race. I didn't plan on it, and it just sort of happened. (Conspiracy theory: it was an acidotic RACING plot to sabotage my race!) Glad it didn't cost me in the end, although I'm certain it made that end a little more painful. That being said, I'm really proud of this race. I raced. I didn't just show up and time trial. At any number of points, I could have backed off and taken fourth, fifth, sixth place with the field assembled. I was able to will myself to keep pushing. I thought I was toast after the first lap, but the second lap was actually a bit faster. That shocks me. I learned in the race that I can suffer for a long period of time, and then push even more. Hopefully, this is a lesson I can carry forward.

Thanks to everyone who came out to race, volunteer and support the first annual Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series. Yup, annual! We'll be back next winter.

Leading the crowd in song at the awards. See you next year! Courtesy Maine Running Photos.