Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 Steamtown Marathon Report

Destination – Scranton, PA
Objective – STEAMTOWN Marathon

Goals: Top 5, Sub 2:30

A small bit of backstory:
Two years ago, I was scheduled to run the 2012 edition of this very same marathon. Training was locked in and come race week, I knew I was ready to rip through the course and go sub 2:30. Or at least that was the feeling early in the 2012 race week. At around 1am Friday night (technically Saturday morning), I ended up in the ER due to a violent illness that struck at the wrong time. However, it took such a toll, I had to withdraw from the race less than 24 hours before it started. My friend, Matt Byrne, would go on to win his third Steamtown title that day. It would have been great to run with him but alas…..

Flash forward to 2014:
After my 2:24:55 at Two Rivers in March, I reached out to the race committee requested a comp entry into the 2014 Steamtown Marathon. They honored me with their offer of the comp. Between the end of March and the start of October, I really shifted my running logging in long miles and an average of an ultra a month. After the 100K at Green Lakes at the end of August, I knew I had to kick it into high speed. While I dabbled to keep some sort races for foot speed, I knew the marathon would require loads of it. Marathon distance was not the worry. So for the entire month of September, I raced essentially a 5K each weekend. The first couple felt slower than I would have liked but by the end of the month at the Sloppy Cuckoo races, I felt locked in.

In the final week before the race, I was much more nervous than 2012. I didn’t know my competition like I had a couple years back and my identity as a runner was now as an ultramarathoner on the trails. Plus, throw in what happened with the ER and, yes, nervous. One of the few things I was feeling good about was camping the night before the race. I was going to be saving some cash and thus reducing the pressure to win any. However, Thursday night, my partner asked if we could still do the hotel room as she had a rough work week. Amazingly, I settled down quick and made a deal with her anout the room. So in the end we did stay at the TownePlace Suites in Moosic, PA.

Before leaving on Saturday, I found out who the contenders were. It was here, I felt a bit nervous. I had hoped for a top 5 but I was slated to be 6-7th by a few minutes based on projections. (I projected a 2:27. A split the difference between the Two Rivers time and the sub 2:30)

We drove up from Philly and arrived at packet pick-up at Scranton High around 3. During pick-up I grabbed a few gels that I was short (I had two but I race with four) and met up with Matt who was there with his Scranton Running Company. And I bumped into Mel Lancet who was also doing the marathon. I know Mel from Viaduct. That Viaduct family is a tight community. After pick-up, we headed downtown to see about some food and possible shopping. (Not for me but for her.) Kind of struck out on both accounts. But on the plus side, we got a sense of the finish line set-up and getting in and out of Scranton.

Not finding food was fine as we knew there was a Panera Bread across the street from our lodging. Once we checked into our room, that is where we went. I went simple with a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup. (Additionally, I picked up two slices of pizza from a place a few doors down to take back to the room.) While eating, I told my partner, what happens happens. I cannot worry too much about the race now. This was clearly a bit of lowering expectations and not looking forward to 26.2 miles of hard fast mostly pavement racing. Back at the hotel, we settled in for the night watching a small binge session of Breaking Bad. (We were in the middle of the final season. We have since finished.) After that it was in bed around 11pm for a 5am wake up as I had a 6am elite shuttle bus to catch.

The bus ride from downtown Scranton to Forest City was memorable simply because it was cold on the bus. Not freezing but I felt cold. On this ride, I got to see some of the competition for the first time. (Not everyone took the elite shuttle.) For most of the ride, I listened to In Flames’ Siren Charms and sat with my eyes closed, relaxing. 45 minutes later, we made our destination and were escorted to the classroom set aside for us. On the way into the high school building, I ran into Carl Albright, co-RD at Viaduct. Viaduct again on the weekend. (I would later find out another Viaduct-er, Joey Parente was there honoring his friend, Jim.) I said a quick passing hello before coming out and saying a real hello before I warmed up. After warming-up, I returned to the room to relax and found out there were W-9’s to fill out if we expected to win money. Initially, my thought was not to bother. After the preview, I had thrown out the idea of winning money. But on second thought, why not anyways. So I filled out the W-9.

Around 5 minutes before the start, I left the room to make my way to the line. Good thing I didn’t wait longer (as I was the last out) since I barely made it to the line before they started. (Later found out from the 3rd place female, it was started 3 minutes early.) For the first couple of miles, I was with a small group not far behind the leader, Fred Joslyn. However, around mile 2, this group split. A few dropped back and a few latched onto Joslyn. The lead group became 4 and I was stuck in ‘no-man’s land’ in 5th. At which point, I further expected to not finish top 5. But this did not do anything to get me to go slower. I just kept running. The miles ticked off. I could see the lead group pull farther and farther away. Eventually, I heard before the half, they had 3 minutes on me. A lot of this was after Carbondale, where I had to chop stride to go around a car. (It happens. Thankfully, Carbondale got me locked back in focus quickly with their support.)

For miles 14-20, I mentally wanted it over. My pace was starting to sag some. We were on roads I wanted off, praying for the trail section to come give me some relief. Eventually, they came and I was able to zone out. Around 16.5, I heard Matt cheering me on. It was a great push. I needed it and what better way to get it than from someone I know. In this stretch there is a section on some bike path that gave you a chance to see runners within a few minutes. It was here that I felt the first sense of being caught. 6th and 7th did not appear far off. Maybe 30 and 45 seconds up.

Around mile 20, I got a bit of a second wind in the form of seeing 4th place alone ahead. It was Brian Flynn and he looked like he was hurting. With 6th not far (in my head) behind me, I went for Brian. Not guns all out, catch and die myself but steady freddy style. My thought was I can end up hopefully in 5th still if I grab 4th.  It took me a few more miles to catch him. I think it was around mile 22. Around the mile 23 marker, I saw 3rd place!  It was Chass Armstrong. For a brief moment, I got excited but calmed down and took the same approach to chasing him. While I did not feel like I was going faster than prior, I was maintaining which was good enough to catch Chass on the downhill coming out of Greenridge past the mile 24 marker. It was here, I felt confident to make top 5. Now, it was to go for the sub 2:30 time. I was hanging on to it by a thread. I couldn’t go much faster and there was the last big climb before the finish still. However, up ahead in the distance, but visible, was Peter Kemboi in 2nd. I knew I didn’t have much real estate left but I was going to try to catch him. With around ¾ to ½ mile left, we hit the uphill. Peter is closer but still out of reach. My stride hits a wall closer to the top. Brian Crispell is there and gives me a verbal push of encouragement. I crest the hill and run down to the finish line. I do not catch Peter who finished 22 seconds ahead of me. Nor do I crack 2:30 as I finish in 2:30:03. (Fred Joslyn would repeat, winning in 2:22:37)

Normally for me, I would be really upset about the time. With the way the race played out I cannot be really since from mile 2 on, I ran by myself. If I was not so seasoned doing that from ultras, I do not think I would have done as well. My plan was to stop putting any emphasis on the marathon if I went under 2:30 for a second time. So I’m not retired from the distance yet. And I’m okay with that. I ran a smart race and managed to move up places in the closing miles.

Eventually, we said goodbye to Scranton as a celebratory meal at Waffle House awaited us. But I hope to be back next year.

Result: 3rd place overall

Time: 2:30:03

Up Next: Fire on the Mountain 50K (10/26)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sloppy Cuckoo - Back to the Trails For Four

After 4 straight weekends of 5Ks, I went back to up some higher distances. Not only that I went back to the trails as my final big lead-in for the Steamtown Marathon. 

Sloppy Cuckoo is a series of races put on by Uberendurancesports (the RD being Stephan Weiss) in Philadelphia's Pennypack Park. This is the same venue that hosted the Dirty German Endurance Races back in May when I participated in the 50K. For the Cuckoo, Stephan puts on a 12HR, HM, Uber 10K (really 6.55) and 5K. For this year, Stephan introduced a triple challenge which consisted of the HM, 6.55 and 5K. Obviously, you cannot include the 12HR into the challenge. While floating the idea of adding the Cuckoo into my pre-Steamtown program, I initially thought of the HM only. As the race came closer, I thought about the Triple. After some Facebooking, the RD threw it out there that I could realistically quadruple. This made me think about it more. And after talking with Peg, I got the ok to go for it.

So this past Sunday, that is exactly what happened......I signed up for the Sloppy Cuckoo Triple Challenge. Peg was kind enough to drive me to the race with the intention to watch me run the HM and be back by the end of the 5K. From a timing standpoint, the HM started at 8, 6.55 at 11 and the 5K at 12:30. Knowing it would be a long day, I prepped like a mini-ultra. I had multiple trail shoes and racing tops along with a small camper cooler. Also, I brought not one but two camping chairs so I could put my feet up in between races. Due to the forecast of 80 degrees, I made sure to set up under a tree that would give me plenty of shade. 

Before the race, I saw Joanna (who was hoping in the 12HR) and Rodney (also doing the triple). I suggested they set up under the tree near me for the shade. Most people who were doing the 12HR had set up out in the open. Yes, the majority had shade tents but not all of them. 

As 7:30 hit, Joanna was off, along with Amy (who was running her 1st 12HR). Amy's husband, Emir was doing the HM. I had managed to say hi to Emir and Amy before her start.

As 8:00 neared, I saw Jonathan Cornibe. For the HM, I knew he would be my toughest competition. Jon is great on the trails and has been running tremendously as of late. My shot at the triple was not going to be easy. From the get-go, I ran to put distance between Jon and myself. After a small 2 mile loop, I had some lead. Enough thankfully that when my own dog, Falcon started running after me, he did not interfere with any other runners. Mentally, his pursuit threw me off my game for a good chunk of the race from that point out because of the worry that Peg was not able to corral him and something happened. In my head, I thought about stopped and taking him back. Thankfully, it did not come to that. In the end, I managed to break the existing event record in the HM in 1:23:29. 

Now, I had to wait......and wait. During this wait, I used the bathroom a few times. As 11 approached, I worked to pump myself up. The heat was around much more than during the HM. At the start of the race, I nearly tripped three strides into the race. The way I look at the Uber 10K, I survived it. The switchback section made me dizzy. Amazingly, I won in 43:36. (My triple lead was over 20 minutes going into the 5K)

Before I knew it, the 5K had arrived and Peg was back to watch me run. It was a blitz, I flew threw this race in 16:45. Triple victory complete! (Combined: 2:23:51)

Strike that.....Quadruple victory as I also won the challenge since I took all three events outright. For my efforts, I took home two cuckoo clocks, two weather houses and one whistle in addition to some delicious grilled cheese in my belly. To wash it all down, I celebrated with a Coca Cola from Wawa on the drive home.

Three days out and I am flushing any tightness out of my system as I finish my final week of training before Steamtown on Oct 12. Going in, I feel really happy with my recent results. I'm ready to go....

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back with the quickness.....

Just figured to drop in a line on how things are going. Training has been locking in for next month's showdown with the Steamtown Marathon. Managed to get in a nice 21 mile long run yesterday on a day I was intending to run a 30K trail race. However, life intervened and it had to be switched to a simple long run.

Most notably since the GLER 100K, I've run three 5K's.

The first was on Aug 31 and was the final edition of the Jimmy D 5K up in my old stomping grounds. Previously, I had run 3 out of the first 4 years taking second in the 4th. With relocating to Philadelphia, it has been hard to get back but with this year closing out a decade of the race, I returned. While I finished 3rd, it really was so much more than a race for me as I got to see a lot of familiar faces, including the RD Erin Varga.

Then on Sept 6, I toed the line for the HCA 5K which is a really small race run in Drexel Hill. It has become a tradition race for me and the start of the fall racing season even if this year was the hottest and most humid it has been in the six years I've done it. Much like the previous 5, I won this race. However, my time was a shade over 17 minutes making me question my leg speed as this was the slowest time I had ever run in the event by over 30 seconds.

Thankfully, I had a real good higher mileage week this past week and ended up running in the Boxers Trail 5K. This is a trail around 2 miles from my house that has a long tradition of being a training ground for such fighters as Joe Frazier. It is not a fancy race but the 9:30 start and close proximity to home allowed me to do my warm-up as the commute with some sleep in time. Here the result was a victory but completely opposite of HCA. At Boxers, I ran 40 seconds faster in 16:32 which is impressive in the sense it is a mix of trail and pavement with the trail throwing a good series of rolling hills for around 2 miles of the course.

Unless I find something longer to race, it probably will be local 5Ks until Steamtown. But I need the speedwork so that is good.

That's all for now......(Hey, I said this would be quick.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Success, Failure and Perseverance

Over a month has passed since last communicating with you, my loyal readers. In that time, I have logged 3 races:  100M, 5K and 100K. Quite the span of distance. And over the course of them, I have been broken many times to come out with personal victories. Maybe not the accomplishments I wanted to achieve but I came out with something I could look back on and be proud of.

Of these, my 100 mile debut is the race I am still recovering from. Early this year, I decided to make my 100M debut at Viaduct on the last July weekend, the site of my ultra debut at any distance. While I had planned to do a great race report on this event, I was so broken by this race mentally and physically, I am struggling to move on. I thought about of even speaking how it breaking me down is humbling (it is) and that I’ve bounced back. Truth is, I have not. In the end, I merely survived it thanks to wonderful friends old and new. In brief, what happened was that I ran a terrific 90 miles in 13:30 right where I wanted to be before everything shut off and I could not go another step. I had to get a ride to the start/finish. Eventually, I decided I wanted to do the other 10 no matter what. And I did with a large overnight break. Thanks to Maggie’s friends Dylan and Ken, both who I met the night prior, I was able to accomplish finishing 100 miles before the limit. For that I am honored and so appreciative. It means a lot to say I finished a 100 miles. However, my mind is not always my friend and reconciling how I finished by getting a ride back to the start/finish and then another to where I had stopped doesn’t feel right. And since I believe in myself I can do it and be one of the best is tough. Obviously, my thoughts turned into where can I run another 100 miler? If you read my Facebook feed, you know I was a bit all over the place. Eventually, I realized I needed to be responsible about jumping into another 100 because of fiscal responsibility. But I needed to move on somehow…..

So I opted to run a 5K. In the past, if I have had bad short races, I go run another short race. (Sometimes the very next day.) Always, I risk a double whammy of bad but it is helpful for me. Years back, I ran to 4th at the Harrisburg Marathon a week after running a horrible 10K. With it now being the beginning of August, races were scarce in the Philadelphia area. After searching, I was able to settle on a race the week immediately following Viaduct with a good cause (always important) and that had been established. Feeling I could run a time faster than last year’s winner helped. The race: On Your Marc 5K benefitting Small Steps in Speech. Come race day I got to the site, registered and warmed up. I was nervous especially as I saw some young speedsters sporting college and high school singlets. This was going to be tough. The course also was not going to make it easy with an uphill finish and lots of climb. Hills…oh yeah! Ron Horn of PCS was timing and on that day, I could not have asked for anyone else given his humor really calmed my nerves. In the end, I eeked out a six second win running a 16:24. It felt good to run such a time a week after putting a 100 miles on my legs in such a short span. While, happy, I still felt off. So I decided to possibly skip both a concert and annual 5K for a 100 miler in north central PA in early September. Looking at all my other options, Virgil Crest is too close to Steamtown and going out of the state would cost more than I could comfortably afford given it was going to have to be turn and burn. That left Pine Creek. My call…..see how my 100K goes since GLER is two weeks prior to Pine Creek.

Which now brings me to GLER (or the Green Lakes Endurance Races) up in Fayetteville, NY. I had signed up for this race after contacting Tim Hardy, the RD following my aborted 100K effort at Lake Waramaug to see if I could get a comp. He thought it great I asked and offered the comp as one of the event record holders. He also expended this offer to other course record holders. (Winners would get a hefty discount.) Tim does a great job putting together a wonderful event. He wants GLER to be a first class event and I can say it is. Originally, my plan for lodging was to car camp. However, three days before the race, the park put the hammer down. Absolutely, no car camping. Thankfully, through friends and Facebook, a fellow runner, Joe (running his first 100K and his first above 40 miles) was camping in the park (an option I would have done but all the sites were reserved) and allowed me to share his site. Friday night before the race was the first time I met Joe. If anything the ultrarunning community is wonderfully supportive and helpful, my experiences with Joe, Dylan and Ken are a testament to that. A humorous camping note is that Joe camped in his minivan while I pitched a tent. I think I had it up and down in record time. (Many thanks to Peg for the sleeping pad to use! Even when she cannot be there, she is supporting me.) Saturday morning felt just right for 62 miles. Before the race, I knew I was going to set up my gear along the stone wall next to the aid station. I did this last year and knew it was ideal. Great height and with a more efficiently organized bag, pretty much set it and forget it. The time before the race passed quickly and before I knew it all the runners were being called to the starting line. This was the first chance I got to say hi to the RD. Also, I said hi to Jason Mintz, who finished second last year in the 50K and was taking a shot at my record. One person I did not see was Daven Oskig, who I expected to be my main competition in the 100K. Once the official start was given, Jason and I were off. For the majority of the first couple of loops were always rather close. On the 3rd loop, I passed Jason as he was having a rough patch. A loop later he would pass me on his way to the 50K victory as I was experiencing not so nice left knee pain. (On the way home from work on Wednesday, while riding my bike, I had a collision with another cyclist on a paved bike path after he made an abrupt left. The impact injured my elbow the most but did bruise my left knee.)  I considered dropping out. My head was in a dark space that I would battle for the majority of the 100K. What kept me going was not wanting to have another race that I might regret dropping or quitting. After hobbling beyond the 50K mark, I told myself, take some ibuprofen and if it does not help with the knee during the 5th lap, call it a day.  On that 5th lap, a nice rain was falling and that calmed my nerves. There are few things in this world that I love more than running in a slight rain through woods. Before I knew it, I made it through 5 and was on 6. I was still having on and off pain causing some powerhiking of an hills and brief walk spells. Then on the 7th lap, I was clear headed. I was losing my shot at sub 8. I needed to throw in a big lap. I did. I dropped a lap I needed. I just needed to get through the last one in 1:04. However, the stairs out of the aid station were no longer agreeing with my knee as I got a return of sharp pain. My hopes of a sub 8 were slipping away. In fact, this moment did it in. I did my best but I was losing time….and in the end, I was a shade over 2 ½ minutes slower than I needed. However, I did manage to run a win and new CR. And I will say it was really nice that Tim was there when I finished announcing the new record. As a matter of fact, I was able to hear him from the other side of the lake less than a ½ mile from the finish routing me on.

If I did not have tickets for a concert, I would have hung out more than the hour I did post race. My drive home involved lots of rain and I did not make the concert. It was ok because I made it home safe and ended up sleeping really well.

Due to the knee discomfort I had, I have decided to put an 100 mile plans on hold for a bit. Pine Creek would not be wise and really risk overracing long distance, which is one of the thoughts I had looking back on the 100K. So for now, down to 5Ks and other shorter races as I get ready for the Steamtown Marathon later this fall.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Return to the Roads: Slow, Fast Frustration and a Great Cause

It has nearly been a month since I wrote regarding OSS. For much of that time, little of note has been happening until the past week.


Due to so much trail and ultra based running, I felt I needed to return to some speed on the roads. With the core of summer coming, races dry up like a drought in the west, so I had to do some scrambling to see what works time-wise.

First up ended up being the Revolutionary Run held in Washington Crossing, PA. As the same suggests, it is where Washington crossed the Delaware River. (It's a famous moment in US history.) It had many of things I wanted: reasonable entry fee (this is getting harder these days), quick easy travel, and an early enough start time. The bonus was the 10K option. While there was a 5K, I want more bang for buck and registered for the 10K. The Rev Run is an extremely popular race as parking is over a quarter mile from the start and registration areas. I would have been closer had I parked in NJ and walked over the bridge. For this race, I was incredibly nervous. I had no idea where my capacity for speed was at. I told myself, I was strong enough to run well and do what I could. In the end, it was lots of suffering. Mainly, it was because I felt slow. When the race started promptly at 8:30, it was a quick start. Not by me but from some of the other racers which led me to instantly respond. Having been away from such short distances there was the worry of not responding and never having a shot. In retrospect, maybe holding a tad back would have helped some but I do not think by much. By the mile mark, I am sitting behind two young college runners. Mile 2 is where things went south. As the 5K started 15 minutes prior, we were now weaving through the masses. Stupidly, I did not expect this. My reaction time to the two leaders was slow and I begun to lose a stride or two. By the time, we got through this overly crowded section, I had lost contact. Negative thoughts about quitting rang in my head as my brain for some reason was telling me I was going really slow, while the truth was not as bad. Around the 3 mile marker, I get passed by another younger runner. I tried to keep contact but I could not turn my legs over any quicker despite this being something of a downhill section. Eventually, we turned around to run this section again uphill, so I was not looking forward to it. I was in a dark place. However, once I hit the turnaround, I felt like I was running at a better gear. I felt faster. Despite that, I was not gaining any ground on the 3 runners ahead of me. Now and again, I felt I would get a shade closer but it was not any real change. I was a solid 4th. With the way I ran the back half of the race, I felt my time would at least be under 34. Nope. 34:25. Horrible. Granted the winning time was 33:05 but being 4th AND over 34 minutes was a bad taste. Instead of hanging around, I took the chance of missing a podium spot by walking the mile to the car (the finish was even farther from the parking area) so I could get home quicker. Did I win an age group? Yeah, I did. Do I care? Not this time because I wanted more in my return. I had very little excuse. A few days after this race, I felt better about my efforts given that the three people who beat me consisted of two D1 runners and the current 3200m PA state champ.

As a result of my 'poor'' showing at the Rev Run, I saw it as more reason to get another short distance road race in. With my efforts to maximize weekend time when Peg is home, finding the Moonlight 5K was perfect. A late Thursday night race close enough by. Yes! Start time was 9pm meaning I did not have to leave for the race until 7:30, thus, missing rush hour traffic and allowing me to walk Falcon. Even better was the cause for this race was one I could relate to.

The Moonlight 5K was for the benefit of the Cure4Cam Foundation. It is an organization whose purpose is to raise awareness and support therapies of childhood cancers. It was founded in honor of Cameron Evans who died in May 2012 of leukemia. Cameron was a cross country runner in Downingtown.

Back in October 1996, my friend and cross country teammate, Robert Morris, passed away from leukemia.

Considering that connection, I felt strongly, the Moonlight 5K was an event to support so I signed up. Even did so in advance. Also, I deemed it highly important to run my hardest here. By participating in a race inspired by the memory of a runner lost to leukemia, I felt I was running in Rob's memory as I know a lot of people in the local HS and running communities doing so in Cameron's memory.

The Moonlight 5K took place last night in Exton, PA on a two loop course through a corporate complex. One which I must say had some of the freshest roads I have ever run. Upon arriving, I picked up my number and shirt before heading off on my warm-up. Usually during warm-ups I stay off the course (or if I have to be on the course run it in the opposite direction) this time, I ran it in the actual direction. Not the whole 5K mind you but one complete loop. I was very happy I did this as it was much more rolling than I expected. With a lot of local HS runners at this race, I knew it was going to go out fast and furious. And with Chester County Running providing the timing, you know that some of the best were coming out. Once more, I told myself run smart and don't get dropped.

About 15 minutes before race time, it started to rain. Nothing major at first but as the start time got closer and closer it was much more consistent. It is around 5 minutes prior that it was clear the rain was not letting up. This was going to make for a much darker Moonlight 5K since the clouds were blocking the moon and there is not a ton of street lamps in this corporate center. Then again that was part of the allure of the event as people would be sporting glow sticks and glow bracelets. As we lined up for the start, I learned that there was a relay component. Oh great! That means things just got faster! However, it appeared that most of the young guns were running the relay! YES!

After a rapid start command, we were off. If there was any point, I felt slow, the start was it. A swarm of about 10-12 jumped out in front of me. Initially, I thought, 'This is not going to be pretty'. Yet, there is something about running in the rain that helped me fall into place. I started moving up the ranks. About 3/4 of a mile in I was 5th. Then, a little farther, I was 4th and then 3rd and 2nd! I was a short step behind the lead runner. He was a relay guy so I knew I was the lead individual. This was the one time I got to clearly see the clock posting a 8:07 for about 1.6 miles. Meaning I had a shot at sub 16 with only 1.5 to go. But I was not on fresh legs like the relay runner was. Boom, he was opening some distance on me on the open road. However, as the rain continued and we began to lap the back of the packers, I began to slowly eat at his lead. I had a shot to win the whole thing outright?! I kept pushing. I was feeling great. Yet, in the last 1/4 mile, I was caught by a relay runner bumping me down into third on the road. This is where I would stay. I can report that the runner who caught me also caught the runner ahead of me. Because of the driving rain and people at the finish area, I could not make out the clock for my time. It looked like it might have been high 15's. I thought I saw 15:54 when I came back around to the front. Despite not immediately knowing my time, I felt I ran awesome and only 'lost' by a handful of seconds to two relay teams.

Not knowing the state of things, I went back to my car to drop off wet racers and singlet. With the weather basically being a monsoon, I opted for another loop barefoot as my cooldown. Oh yeah! That was awesome! Rarely do I run shirtless but I did. In fact, all I had were my racing shorts on. With the water on the smooth asphalt, it was so soothing. It was during this lap that it appears people just stopped. The loop was rather barren. It was not until 1/3 mile left that I saw another runner. When I got back to the finish area, the clock read only 33 minutes. The parking area was rather empty, the timing mats were pulled up and everything was being broken down. There was no stopping the rain. Clearly no awards were going to be done there so I hoped in my car and drove white-knuckled home. Roads were flooding in the area. Thankfully, I got out of there when I did. By the time I reached the King of Prussia area, there was no rain. Whew.

Due to the rain, I rain fast and enjoyed it. Also got home earlier. Sadly, I did not get to enjoy any post race time with people. Still I was excited when I got home and so anxious to find out what the recorded times were.....

Until, the timers sent out an email today saying they could not provide results for the event due to their timing system malfunctioning. Now, they used an electronic timing mat system. It appears there was no back-up. None of the bibs had pull tags and it was a rainy night out so maybe it was not realistic to use a tape. Yet, I am sad at this moment to not know my time. I know I could have just worn a watch but I like to race shorter distances free of it. So this situation certainly opens up some food for thought about back-up timing systems at races along with what happens when mother nature strikes.

Also, I know I ran a race and was the individual winner but with no results, there are likely no awards, does that mean it was not a race that occurred?

(Also, have since learned the mats went dead even before we came through for our first lap. Apparently, they were even sparking!)

Certainly a question for me to ponder. I consider this a win simply because I am lucky enough to know my standing when it was still a race. Plus, at the end of the day, I had a good time and supported a cause that is personally relate-able.

(Lets hope somehow I can find out what my time was.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

OSS/CIA 50 Mile Recap - Running and Falling in the Dark.

Bouncing Back. You could say that is a theme for the recap to follow.

If you have been following my exploits, you know that my last ultra at Cayuga Trails 50 resulted in a DNF way too early on. With it having been a groin injury of the grade 2 variety, (Thanks, noticeable bruising!), I rested a whole two days. I know that was really pushing it but on June 7th was the Wissahickon Trail Classic, a 10K trail race in Philadelphia that my partner, Peg serves on the beneficiary’s steering committee. I’m sure you can connect the dots here. I’m not going to much into that race other to say I got 3rd in 42:00, 1:42 behind the winner. Didn’t have my best day because the groin was still hurting resulting in some rather poor incline running. Just precisely the type of running I can rock on this course usually. In brief, I’m happy with the time since it was only 37 seconds slower than last year and I know I lost all of that and then some with the inclines.

However, my performance at the WTC, got me thinking I could be ready for a 50 miler. I was on the uptick and in shape ready to throw down. As a result, I landed on one of the coolest races….the OSS/CIA 50 Mile NIGHT Run. Yes, NIGHT! And this is not some race on the roads where you have lights. Nope. Two loops through the trails in Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia where no light exists but the one you provide when the sun goes down. (We started at 7:30pm so there was a bit of light.) I admit the nighttime running is what really what appealed to me. Partially it appealed because of the looming 100 mile debut next month. So at the least, it was a training run for Viaduct. On Wednesday morning, I felt good and determined I was clear to run the 50. Yet, near derailment for some logistical transportation issues. Thankfully, that all worked out and I registered in the final moments of being able to do so. While this meant, I would not see much of Peg this weekend, I was excited. Did I mention I was signed up to run 50 miles in the dark?

Jump ahead to Saturday and I leave the house at 2pm to give me 4h 15 min to arrive for the pre-race brief. Google maps said I should expect 3h 30min with current traffic so I saw that as time to hit Taco Bell to get two Black Bean Burritos for fuel. Figured get them now and eat as I go. One is consumed within 20 minutes. The other around 5pm. Traffic leaving Philadelphia was rough. Seems to always be when I am traveling for an ultra. Luckily, once out of the city my ride was much smoother except for a patch on 495 near DC. Amazingly with the Taco Bell stop and traffic I arrived at the race site at 5:45. This gave me ample time to check-in, get my bib and set-up my gear. Part of the gear set-up involved laying a pillow and sleeping bag down in the backseat of the Versa for when I finish and want sleep. The rest of it was on a picnic bench next to the Start/Finish check-in station.

This brought things to briefing time. Alex, the RD, kept it quick emphasizing to keep the copies of the maps provided with us. I planned on heeding this. Tales of getting lost was enough to respect the course. Initially, I planned on using my LaSportiva Helios but decided to go with the Vertical K’s. In retrospect, I should have gone with the former. Anyways, after some wonderful chatting, 7:30 rolled around and we were off. 

To start, I had my Nathan Handheld Bottle’s pouch loaded with GU and Shot Blocs to go with the Gatorade in the bottle itself. (This was in my left hand.) My headlamp was wrapped on my arm with the lamp in my right palm. With daylight still hanging on, I ran comfortably trying to take advantage of seeing everything for a quicker pace. Going in, I hoped to run around 7 hours. I would soon learn the hard way, it was not happening. Early on, I felt good until there was a spot I made a hard left turn where after a minute, I questioned if I should not have turned and that the 1st check-in aid station was near that point. Here, I stopped looked at the map and felt, I must have gone the right way so I opted to keep going. Yet, for a long time I did not see any markings. Eventually, I saw flags but as my watch got closer to 55 minutes, I really felt I must have missed it and was going to roll into the Oakridge Aid Station around mile 10.8. Mentally, this thought began planting seeds of doubt. What do I do if I missed it? Does that mean a DQ? Or can I just make it up on the second loop? Then a few minutes later, there it was! A sign for the 1st check-in station. Since this was an out and back hill portion, I was able to see how far back second was. Based on my calculations I had 3 minutes. And it appeared to be Brian Schmidt with another runner I did not recognize. I knew Brian is a quality runner so I made note to keep going and try create some more space.

After a few more miles where I began to pass the 6:30 early starters, I reached Oakridge for the mini-loop. The loop was said to be 1.8 miles long. I tell you it is the longest 1.8 miles ever. I somehow did this stretch in 21 minutes. Coming in at around 1:28 and out in 1:49. This is where I started to think 7 hours might not be possible. It was also in this mini-loop that I had to move the headlamp onto my head as the sun was now too far gone. Before leaving Oakridge, I topped off my Gatorade and was off.  On this loop, some of favorite trails were on this next little 3 mile section. Now, after that...not so much. At least not in the dark. In the 5 mile section that followed the 3, I suffered my first spill. Semi-hard spill too. My toe clipped a root on a slight downhill and I went down. It was a small reminder to be honest. It was also in this stretch that I passed an early starter who almost missed a right turn. I was approaching from behind and caught a glimpse of the reflective tubes signalling the turn. I called out the turn. Talk about good timing. I kept moving until the last water station where I topped off my bottle again. Not long after this, I had that bathroom urge. Since I was unsure how close second was, I really did not want to stop. Yet, I felt my pace impacted by the focus on holding so I ducked off the trail, did my business using the right materials and got back out. Before I knew it, I was upon a person helping direct traffic on the trail where the outbound and inbound converge and diverge. After a short span I saw a sign saying return directing us over a bridge followed by a left turn sign. I don't know why but something did not feel right. I ran back over the bridge I just came confused. I was not sure if I accidentally started the second loop early. I paused checking my map and decided that I had been going the right way. And after a while, I saw red blazes I had not seen before so I had it right. Yet, second stumble occurred in this inbound portion less than 2 miles from the end of the first loop. Eventually, I made it out of the woods to the small paved parking lot section into the start/finish area. Going under the arch into the check-in portion, I fell. HARD! Apparently, I clipped the concrete strip at the front of the handicap parking space. Amazingly, it was not seen. I got up checked in, looked at my hand seeing I had scraped some skin back and asked for a band-aid. Due to this, I took longer for my pit-stop than normal. I had reloaded GU's and Shot Blocs along with fluids quickly but the medical component had me out slow by my standards. I will say this was not a way to end a loop or start a new one...Loop 1 was 3:23. (Back out at 3:27)

Now I was back out and had a chance to finally get a sense of my lead. Was hoping for at least ten minutes. Turned out it was six over Brian. I also saw third place. Was expecting to see it be Brad Hinton but it was not. I didn't get a good look but it appeared to be Chris McIntosh. I was not feeling comfortable with my lead. And then......hardest fall of the night. Number 4. Again it was on a downhill. Again I clipped something. Now my right knee was scraped up and my upper left arm banged. I got up from this one hurting. Running after this fall was not smooth. I was hurting in my hip initially. Was my groin hurting too? My mind started to do a systems check but with a rocky mental state after 3 other falls I was having a tough go. I began to consider turning around and just walking back in. But for some reason I kept going. After what happened at Cayuga I really did not want to quit. I started to go back and forth on quitting and just finishing with a bit of hold on mixed in there. Figured at least I could get to Mawavi (the 1st check-in) since I could see where anyone was. Getting there was not mentally easy. My pace was slower as being beat up took its toll. I started to powerhike some of the rooted uphills. Everything seems to be farther away when compared to my recall from the first loop. Guess darkness will do that. Amazingly, I got to the checkpoint in first despite being 15 minutes slower. Even more amazing was I had at least 6 minutes on second still as I was off the out and back already on my way towards Oakridge with no sight of anyone. Of the whole night, the 3 miles to Oakridge were the hardest. Mentally I felt broken even with no apparent loss of lead. Once more, I thought about dropping. If I could get to Oakridge, I'd be fine with calling it. 

When I got into Oakridge, I checked in and asked the volunteer recording to let me know how much I had on second once I get back out of the loop. Unlike the first lap, I was now doing two loops of this 'mini loop'. Thankfully, I did not have to run all the way back to the aid station for each loop as the legendary Gary Knipling was keeping us honest by marking us down. He was also such a spark plug. He was asking me my name in addition to number. I thought it was a check to make sure I was not losing it. During the second loop, I fell again. Not nearly as bad as the rest, so that was a plus. Back through Oakridge for the last time, I refilled my bottle and downed a couple of cups of Coke. Before I left, I inquired about the lead and it was 15 minutes!!!! This shocked me and inspired me. As much as I hurt, I ran out feeling light and fast (even if it was not really fast). I was thinking I might be able to hold on if I kept going. If anything, I could finish. The final 11 miles in never seemed to end. Each time I thought I was nearing the end of a section to make a turn or reach something that I saw on the first loop, it never seemed to come. This got even worse the farther I ran. Once again on the back half of the loop, nature called. Much stronger than before.  I pulled off and again did what was needed. Time was slipping away. This loop definitely was slower. I hoped maybe I could only be 30 minutes slower. That passed. I still had a way to go. You get the point that I was bruised on many fronts so I will jump a bit....

Eventually, I reached the bridge leaving me less than 2 miles. I looked at my watch and had a shot at going sub 8. After everything, I wanted that sub 8. I pushed and ran what felt like the fastest miles of the night. In actuality, it might have not been. Just felt that way. At long last, the parking lot!!!!!

On the way in, I made sure not to fall again. And up the chute, I was done. 7:56:45. A new course record on a challenging technical nighttime loop. Around 20 minutes later, Brad Hinton finished also going under the course record. Third was Chris McIntosh. Apparently, Brian Schmidt dropped from falling. In the end, 37 of the 70 starters finished for a rate of 52%. 

During the run, I went through about 4 bottles of fluid, 6 gels and a pack of Shot Blocs. After some chatting, I loaded my bags in my car and curled up for slumber in the backseat. Around 5:40, I woke up and decided to hit the road up 95. On the way down I saw bad northbound traffic that impacted my decision to stay for breakfast. So a shade before 6, I was on the road. I'm happy I made the decision since traffic was smooth and allowed me to use cruise control nearly the entire way. And the recharge from the short sleep made it enjoyable. (Even if I was pulled over in Maryland. Valid reason that was not speeding.)

Being home early allowed me more time with Peg and allowed me to attend a breakfast outing with friends of ours.

In the end the OSS/CIA 50 Mile is a must do. Add it to your schedule. While not a course for speed, it is great 100 mile training for those nighttime moments. You will test yourself. The folks at Athletic-Equation do a great job hosting a truly unique event.

For me, I may possibly look for a fast 50 mile in late fall (not sure if it will be JFK as that might be too close to some other events on my calendar). 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

DNF - US 50 Mile Trail Champ: Cayuga Trails 50

Today, did not go as planned one bit. It is around 1:30 and I am home in Philadelphia instead of finishing up 50 Miles of trail running in Ithaca, NY.

At the second aid station, I officially dropped from the race. 6.9 miles into the race. It is heartbreaking as I felt so ready for this race. Part of the reason, I am typing this entry out is as a means of healing and release. How it happened was just before AS1, there was a point where the course is on a bit of singletrack with grass on the side that turns left and does a small dip down. It was here that I strained what is my right Gracilis muscle (or this is at least the self-diagnosis). Upon running into the dip, I planted on some soft trail while steering myself onto a wooden board. In this transition, I knew something was not right.

Knowing Peg was at AS2, I went through 3.1 and towards AS2. While, I had just tweaked something, I felt I could possibly run it out. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I could move but I had no ability to open up my stride without discomfort. As the discomfort became more apparent, I knew I could not be able to run the additional 43.1 miles without great risk. Due to this, I entered the aid station and dropped from the race.

My emotions range from crying to anger to sadness. Thankfully, Peg accompanied me on this trip as her presence and ability to drive prevented me from spiraling into the depths farther than I have.

It is hard that I feel like I lost an opportunity with this race and there are lots of what ifs. Physically, I know I made the right call but reconciling the mental is a tough go at the moment.

Presently, I plan on taking a few days off completely to heal this injury hoping it is minor. Originally, I intended to get rest after this race but there is definitely a dissatisfied taste in my mouth.

So for the first time in my ultra career, I have a DNF. (And only my third DNF in 20 years: one in 1996 and one in 2007. CORRECTION: fourth, I forgot about a DNF in 1999 during my one semester at York.)

Post-Initial Entry:
Well it is nearly two days since all of this went down. And emotionally I feel a bit better. Still in a rut and that has a lot to do with questions about recovering from my injury. That dovetails into getting better because one of the best ways to get over the last race is run another one. Obviously injured I cannot do that. Today is my second straight day off from running. Physically, I do feel better than I did yesterday which was bad enough I felt it better to stay home from the office. In retrospect, some of that was likely mental as well. Peg has been great during this. She mentioned seeing An Endurance Life at the film festival really helpful in her understanding of the situation. Before she would have saw it just isolated to the event and not part of the larger life context.

Huge thanks to Maggie for being such a darn good friend. In discussions with her, it was decided Cayuga left a lot of unfinished business for both of us. So, we’ve determined we’re going back in 2015. This nudging has been good. I’m committed to it. Even emailed the RD and told him of my intention. Now, I don’t expect the same treatment as this year. At least right now, I’m not deserving of it but I certainly intend to be.

Also, thanks to everyone in the past 24 hours who has heard my tale of woe and been supportive. All of your responses have started the path away from what I perceive to be a failure. It is important that I move on. I’m typing this with the hope that in a few days I feel I can run again. That will be a big step in the healing process. Once I reach that, I will take it from there. I’ve got race options…..and a couple of them are ultras. We’ll see where this goes but I’m on the slow ascent.