Monday, November 17, 2014

Bucks County Marathon: Sure, lets race a marathon today!

As loyal followers of this blog may know, my race at Stone Cat did not go anywhere near as planned. Thankfully, lots of running and hiking on trails in Maine (particularly on Pleasant Mountain) did a lot to heal. Not to mention that during that span, my legs felt really good.

So it was not out of the question that when I returned to Philadelphia on Friday that I would see if there was a race to do. Oddly enough, this past weekend was light on racing. However, I did notice that up in Washington Crossing, the Bucks County Marathon was taking place on Sunday. I filed that away. Saturday morning, I woke up and did nice quiet 10 miles along the river. Still, I thought about the marathon on Sunday. Normally, a marathon after such a long easy day would be out.

After discussing it with the spouse, I decided I'd figure it out Sunday morning. The 9am start with less than an hour drive, made it easy to sleep in and make the call when I wake up.

I didn't have a great sleep on Saturday due to some tooth discomfort. So I had no problem waking up on Sunday. After mulling it a bit, I decided around 7:15 to go run up in Washington Crossing. (Left at 7:30) At this point, I was more towards the decision to run the marathon. Part of what was holding me back was the race day fee of 125 bucks. I don't normally make snap judgments with high cost like this. My take was if on the way up, I don't want to race, I can run along the towpath on the NJ side. If anything, it would break up some monotony of running the same places near home.

Drive up along I-95 felt good. As I pulled into the parking lot close to 8:15, I was going all in. I was running the marathon. I walk the 1/3 mile to the registration area with my gear bag and register. I hand over my check and get my number. I was not the only person who decided to race a marathon that morning as around 11-12 people signed up race day! Managed to get a small size long sleeve tech-shirt too!

At this point, I find a good spot for my bag near the start/finish and spot Pat McCloskey, the RD. I chat him up a bit and ask who was the guy looking to go fastest. He tells me Brandon Carter, last year's number two was hoping to run 2:37. This was the same time, I jotted down on my entry form for prediction considering the 50 miler a mere week earlier. At this time, I also find out Pat does comps if you ask and provide information to justify it. Did not know this. Once we go off for our respective duties, I hit the line-free port-a-potties. It was great! I should mention that if you are looking for a nice size marathon of 500 people max, this is a great event as the number of potties can handle much more in terms of number, especially with public restrooms nearby!

Anyways, I shake a bit of rust off my legs and line up in the first wave. Before I know it, Pat is giving us the go and we are off. Immediately, I settle in alongside Brandon. Let me say he has a fantastic beard but he was also a Redskins fan wearing an Eagles jersey. We seemed to separate ourselves relatively quickly on the initial paved section before hitting the towpath. The towpath was mainly packed dirt or fine gravel throughout. In all, we might have had 3-4 miles of pavement the whole race. Our first aid station was around mile 2. Brandon grabbed something and dropped back for a moment. I skipped this station. In a bit, Brandon reconnected. A few more miles down the road, same thing happened with my flying by the aid station and Brandon dropped off when he took aid. This time however, he did not come back. Knowing his talent, I moved as steady as I could. I was not really checking my mile splits. Every few miles, I would look. But with the day cool and feeling good, I ran comfortably. My mile times showed I was going under 6 minute pace. With the course out and back, I figured I would likely positive split so go out in whatever and hope to come back in 6 minute pace. I would hope that could be enough. Not until the turnaround, would I know if that was a possible strategy to implement.

In regards to the course, the setting was so beautiful and quiet. All I would see or hear really is the lead cyclist a bit ahead of me and the smattering of spectators.

Eventually, I reached the turnaround in around 1:15:24. At this point, it was look at my watch time and see what my lead is. Less than a few minutes later, I would see Brandon in 2nd. I figured I had 3 1/2 minutes up. Another 2-3 minutes I saw 3rd place. So I felt I had at least 2nd locked up if I was to be caught. However, on the way out, I noticed the course was a tad uphill in spots, so when I saw the first people behind me, I was on a downhill grade so I opened it a bit to keep the tempo up. I felt smooth still. And the best part now was all of the other runners encouraging me as they were headed out! Their support kept me energized more than the occasional gatorade or gels I was consuming. My thoughts turned to running as fast as possible and hope I had 4 minutes up with 10K remaining. There was no longer any desire to settle for second, I wanted to win. I kept pushing. Around the 10K mark, the course circles around giving runners a chance to spot others in the race. Coming out of this little paved loop section, I know I had at least 4 minutes with a little over 5 to go. At this point, I told myself, do not give back more than 15 seconds a mile. Yet, because I was now checking my splits at mile intervals, I was holding just under 6 pace! Not only was I easily going to go under 2:40....I was going to crack 2:35!

With a mile to go, I was now on the 'spiral of death' which is how Pat described the early and last part of the course which make up the majority of the pavement in the race. And after 20+ miles on soft surface, the pavement sucked. So much so, once I knew I had the race victory now, I was like, I'm going to drop a 7 minute mile here and enjoy this. If I run 2:33....awesome. And for much of the spiral I did that, until the last .2. I looked at my watch and saw if I hammered just that bit more, I could crack 2:32. That is exactly what I just did! I ran through the line in 2:31:53. My third fastest marathon just a week after a 50 miler and a month after my 2:30:03 in Steamtown. I was amazed at what I just did.

Heck, I even jokingly looked at Pat and said 'Can I have my race entry back?' Surprisingly, he said yes to it! That was a cherry on top! Especially since I made such a split decision to do the race.

Pat found my drumsticks and gave me a 'what the heck are these for?' We got some nice shots of us with him holding them.

After a bit second place came in but it was not Brandon. It was Brian Cullen in 2:47:02. Brandon held on to third. So I turned a three/four minute lead at the HM into a 15 minute win. Seeing them come in, I walked my gear back to the car while I had energy and to let Peg know how things went. With awards to be done after the third female, I was going to hang out and enjoy some of the delicious food which included handmade veggie burgers! Tasty! I didn't eat much else but I certainly was stuffing my face with one of those burgers when Pat did the awards. It was funny. At least to me because I was so classy looking with a face full of food.

Not long following awards, I said my goodbyes to Washington Crossing and drove home for a lovely evening. All in all a great day!

A few other tidbits:
The course is not entirely flat as many of the junctions where there is a bridge that crosses over the path, the path dips down and up for a few speed bumps.

I've been experiencing some tooth pain since around Thursday. The cold has been good for it so running has not been a problem. (Today, I went to the dentist and there was no signs of anything major so the cause is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Hopefully, some clean up he did will help.)

Raced in my one of my pairs of the Brooks T-7. Knowing the surface I knew I did not need to use the Saucony A3's since they don't have too many big races left. My alternative would have been the Montrail FluidFlex. But once I walked across the field and saw the moisture ice up a bit on my toes, I swapped out for the Brooks. Both the T-7's and the FluidFlex's were considered due to the light weight and race surface.

Now, I know another place where I can go enjoy some easy but scenic running.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Stone Cat 50 Mile Recap: Crumbling Kitten

Today is November 15th, one week after I ran the Stone Cat 50 Miler up in Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, MA. It has taken me this long to write up my recap for a couple of reasons. One, I was on vacation in Maine where I tend to be much more removed from technology. Second, I was busy running the mountain near the house we stay at and doing some hikes. Both of these have been beneficial in enabling me to even do a race recap for Stone Cat.

In short, I consider it the worst ultra performance of my ultra-career. (Despite placing 2nd in 6:28:23) Respectfully, I should have seen this coming....

Back over the summer I was looking for a fast 50 mile race to take a crack at sub 6 hours. In examining my options, I got down to Stone Cat and the Nashville Ultra in early November. (Due to JFK's entry fee, I did not consider it.) Stone Cat became my preferred choice as it could easily be tied into a vacation to the house my spouse shares with her sister in Maine. Plus, it was two weeks after Fire on the Mountain as opposed to just 1 for Nashville. Thankfully, I lucked out on the lottery and got into Stone Cat back in July. As thus, Stone Cat became a nice A-race to close out the year of big races. And despite it being the third marathon or longer in a month span, I was geared to it. I had to be knowing Samuel Jurek and Sebastien Roulier were in the field. Both guys had times sub 6:15. My logic was it would take a sub 6 possibly to win on an extremely runable course. So yeah, some pressure there.

A couple weeks back, the spouse told me she did not ask her relatives living 45 minutes from the race site about staying with them since we'd have out dog Falcon. This left a bit of a small scramble but luckily the race hotel, the Comfort Inn in Danvers, took pets in addition to having a great rate! This settled things.

However.....on the Thursday, before the race, I locked my keys in my car during a run. My spouse had to come back from work in NYC early to retrieve the car for me since she had the spare pair on her. Stress where I shouldn't have had it....not good.

The next day, Friday, we drove up to MA with only a dash of problems the worst of which was 95 20 miles from the hotel. Not bad since we still made good time, had an easy time checking in, prepped my bottles and gear for the morning while grabbing some take out Panera. (Sadly, they did not remember to give me my Cinnamon Roll.)

All this was fine.....until.....sleep. Went to bed around 10 to wake up around 4:30. An hour later, Falcon barked. We had never stayed in a hotel with him before. He usually is not a barker but he is always attentive. (He is a shepard/chow mix.) Typically, telling him once to stop does the trick. Not this night. Anyways, while he did not bark throughout the night, this instance kept me awake far too long. Stress level HIGH! In the end, I managed only 3 hours of sleep due to being unsettled.

To say I was pissed would be an understatement, I was furious. Thankfully, the drive to the race was easy enough. My spouse, Peg, and Falcon came along. Falcon would be in and out of the car during my race. Peg was a trooper on this day because she knew I was not going to be rosy after the night. My focus was off and physically, I was exhausted. These factors played a big role in my effort.

At check in, I ran into a former HS XC teammate's brother, who I also knew. He was there crewing for a friend of his also doing the 50. It was great to see him and gave me a slight boost.

Before I knew it, 6:15 had arrived and we were off. Three of us, Samuel, Sebastien and I ran together up front almost from the get go. We had some nice conversation. It was really the best part of the day for me. Eventually, Sebastien dropped off the back. I was feeling exhausted. I recall looking at my watch and one point going, 'it's only been 15 minutes! I feel like it has been 30' That said it all. Despite running with Sam for a while, he pulled away and put 2 minutes on me before the end of the 1st lap.

All I could think about was how exhausted I was. Essentially, I was mentally defeated already. During ultras, we all hit that bad patch. Well, I spent much of the race trying to find a good patch. As I finished the first of four 12.5 mile loops, I changed handhelds and mentioned how exhausted I felt to Peg. I was so out of it, I had almost forgotten to take off my gloves, arm warmers and tech shirt I had on at the start due to the cold. Rookie. I tried to run faster but I just did not have any gears. My head and body kept me back from pushing with any relative ease. I was fighting myself and I was losing. After the second lap, Sam had gained another 2 minutes on me. At this point, my only goal really was to finish. This was because I made a promise to Peg that once the race was over, I would be in vacation mode. And the only way, I could do it was to finish because I would really have been pissed about the lack of sleep had I not run 50 miles. Sam's lead grew after 3 to 8 minutes. My pace was ugly. I wanted to sit down and nap or just go for a walk through the woods. I mentioned this time to Peg that I wanted to go to Maine after the race instead of staying another night so we could see family the following morning.

In the end, I slogged through the last lap and SOMEHOW managed to finish in 2nd place. I was happy to be done but sad that I could not give it my best. I allowed myself to mentally lose prior to reaching the starting line. Granted physically, I was drained from the lack of sleep but I do think beginning a race in a bad headspace was my biggest downfall. Due to that, I would claim this as my worst performance since becoming an ultramarathoner. There was no reason I could not have given Samuel a better run for his money. And let me say, he ran an outstanding race. My hat's off to him.

Eventually, I came off my stance of wanting to leave for Maine immediately. And if you were to ask Peg, I handled things much better than you would have expected. Thankfully, the weather in Maine was ideal and on Monday when I finally got to hit trails on Pleasant Mountain, I was able to move on.

Where do I go from here? Maybe try to add something before the end of the year. Likely won't be a 50 miler since I would have to find money to travel for one of those.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Fire on the Mountain 50K - Finale (for now?)

Long long ago this year, I signed up for the race this entry is about, Fire on the Mountain 50K in the western part of Maryland.

It had been on my radar for a couple of years now. Back in 2012, when I was unable to do Steamtown, I really was looking for a way to take advantage of my fitness in a non-marathon but long race environment. Doing some internet searching, I came about Fire on the Mountain and Rock N The Knob (in PA). Both were the same weekend and after some thinking, I settled for the 30K of Rock N The Knob. (Did not regret that decision.)

Last year, I was geared on doing Harrisburg before a stress fracture derailed things.

But 2014 was the year I was destined to run Fire on the Mountain (or FOTM for short from here on out.) It helped that the RD, Kevin, had a deal of $20 registration around January. That sealed it as I sent in my check as soon as possible. Little did I know when I signed up that FOTM would be my 10th ultra of 2014.

With so many races that required focus this year, FOTM, while important, did not get a lot of attention until a few weeks ago when I realized I was hitting a gauntlet of races: Steamtown, FOTM and Stone Cat. Each of them being two weeks apart. Much of my emphasis was on a great Steamtown performance that left me little time to worry about logistics for FOTM, including lodging. I flipped back and forth between a Super 8 in Hancock or camping at the finish line/bus shuttle area. Eventually after a bad night of sleep on Friday before the race, I settled for the Super 8, where a number of fellow runners were staying. Oddly enough, I was not near them or saw them during my time there.

I rolled into Hancock around 6-ish and went off to find dinner. Being a vegetarian in this town did not seem to be a good thing as it limited my safe bets. Hardee's probably would have been the safest but that would have meant just fries. I thought about the Pizza Hut and almost ended up there. It was last option. After an attempted, find something to microwave at the local Sav-A-Lot, I ended up with a medium pizza and fries from Sheetz. Amazingly, not a total disaster. I knew I was risking it with the pizza but I had faith in Sheetz to be edible. In a pinch, I'd do that again.

Back in my room, I watched some World Series action and checking for any last minute race updates before hitting the hay. As much as I needed a good night of sleep, it was not to be. It was ok but not totally refreshing. But I had time to wake up as I had a 30 minute car ride to the finish/bus area and a 45 minute ride after that.

Thankfully, I did not get lost getting to where I needed to be since it was on some unlit roads. Upon my arrival, I checked in, got my number and went off into the woods for a little doubling down. After some freshening up, I confirmed with the RD that we could wear sweats to the start and they would get back to the finish. Since it was cold, I wanted to stay as warm as possible, especially since two weeks ago in Steamtown, the bus did not have heat. (This time that was not an issue.) Plus having a bag for gear to be returned, allowed me to listen to music on the bus ride out. As I was about to get on the bus, I looked up to the sky and saw the most beautifully clear sky in my life seeing so many stars that felt closer than ever before. But I could not stand in awe forever, I had to get on the bus.

During the ride, I listened to a combination of In Flames' Sirens Charms and Gary Numan's Splinter albums. I managed to relax and catch a few winks during the bus ride. Before I knew it, we were at our destination following a small walk down a dirt road to Point Overlook. Like many others, I went off into the woods one more time. A few minutes before the start, I shed my layers and put them in my sack pack loading it into the back of the designated pick-up truck. As we lined up, got last minute instructions and were about to go, a couple of stragglers arrived giving FOTM a brief delay in starting. After a spell, the official start commands were given.

At once the lot of us started down the dirt road we walked before merging onto a road for about a mile before we were to swing onto the red trail. (To avoid getting lost, our course instructions were given as Red Trail ->Green Trail -> Fire/Logging Rd -> Purple Trail. These came in very handy.) Down the road, I met Wade, who was running in his first ultra. As we turned onto the red trail, I moved to the front on the single track. We hit some downhill with technical footing and a lovely surprise of a downed tree. It was a few feet before the tree, I rolled my ankle. It hurt immediately and locked up. Wade and another runner passed me. I thought about dropping out right there. However, I felt, I might be able to loosen it and walked for around 30 seconds down the trail. I was moving ok and would continue to do so all day. However, my ankle injury did limit my flow and speed as I was uber aware to not take any risks on it. The red trail was far and away the most technical section of the day. Great fun that I would have loved more at 100%. But I moved on. Before the first major climb of the day, I passed the second place running and could see Wade ahead. With the steep grade, I had no intention on running up the hill and used my power hike technique where I put both hands behind my back. This works well for me. (And credit goes to Ben Mazur, who is the first person I heard use this method.) All along this trail, I would see Wade and then not see Wade. Typically, this was happening along the sections that I really took it easy on my ankle. Eventually, we popped off the red trail at an aid station before moving straight ahead onto the green trail.

It was on the green trail that I was able to run smoother. In fact, this was my best section of running the whole day. Granted I did take it easy on a lot of the dry water crossings due to the rocks. Around half way through this section, I caught and passed Wade. I slowly crept away. (Later on, I would find out he was having some stomach issues along with making a wrong turn causing him to drop out.) Right before the half way 'Oasis' aid station, I saw some orange blazes that freaked me out with a down directional sign. However, I saw a young girl, who was the RD's daughter, to my right so I went right up the uphill road.

YES! I made it half way and I was going at a much better pace than the first section of the race. I had an outside shot of the course record as I was in 16 and 2:23 with 16 more to go. (CR: 4:38 - Held by Brad Hinton, a tremendous ultra runner who I had the honor of racing at the OSS/CIA Nighttime 50M in June) At the station, I topped off my handheld with orange Gatorade before bounding off.

Knowing, the course going onto the fire/logging road section, I asked Kevin, the RD who happened to be at Oasis, how long the stretch was. 8 miles. I was either going to love or hate this stretch. However, it would be my best shot at giving me breathing room for the purple trail. I ran this the best I could. (The theme of the day.) My ankle being tight was no help pushing the pace. Despite, things, I managed to cover the 8 miles in a little less than an hour giving myself around 1:15 to cover the last stretch on the purple trail.

Going in, I heard the purple trail was the most runable. I would say without the leaves it totally would be. But with a rolled ankle and leaves covering much of the trail, I did not take it like I would. Mainly, I did not want to really do something stupid where I would not be able to race Stone Cat. Part of the decision to be cautious allowed me to enjoy some of the views I could see from the mountain top through the trees. Then again, at the same time, I was wondering which one would be the next to go up. (Answer: none, this was the last mountain.) This section had some great downhill that normally I would have flown done jumping side to side to avoid the rocks but I gingerly took the upper portion of downhill slow. Later on, there would be a more gradual downhill that I could find a solid strip of footing to flow down. Back when I hopped onto the Purple Trail, I thought I might be able to go under 4:30. For much of this stretch it was dangling there. With 3 miles to go, I knew I would have to high tail it in order to do so. I did not. Whatever, the reason, I just enjoyed the scenery of the final miles even if I just wanted to be done. The last hill before the trail's .5 marker, I hiked up, touched the marker and realized, I had the record. I cruised through the rest and out of the woods. In year's past, there had been firewood to grab for the final 1/4 mile. With Kevin, 450 miles from the site, a few minor things did not happen for the race. This was one of them.

In the end, I crossed the line in 4:31:59 taking 6 minutes off Brad's record. I was happy with that considering when I took off my shoes and socks, my right ankle was definitely swollen. (It really looked bad by the time I got home where it was more than a roll that happened. It was a sprain.) Originally, I had hoped to leave around 1pm for my 3 1/2 - 4 hour drive home. Didn't happen that way. What happened was one of the best things of ultras, sitting around with people talking and hanging out. I enjoyed soda and pizza for a few hours. At some point I had to leave, which was 3pm. I wanted to be home no later than 7 because I did want some time to see Peg before she left for NYC.

One thing I mentioned in the title, that I did not mention really was that earlier in the year Kevin announced this was to be the final edition of FOTM. He was unable to find someone to take the race organization on. While I am sad it is the final year, I am extremely delighted that I participated considering it had been on my docket for two years.

Maybe one day, the race will be resurrected and someone will break my CR. It is possible. I believe my ankle cost me 10-15 minutes out there. But that is whatever.

Now, I have another race to turn my attention to...Stone Cat 50.

When is that? Oh in a week of this posting. (Today is 10/31, Stone Cat is 11/8.)

Many thanks to RD Kevin Spradlin for his dedication to put on a race from 450 miles away from the site. Also: Kevin's daughter MacKenzie Spradlin for the photos she took, the aid station staff along with all the other runners who made this race what it was. I have plenty of good memories to last for a long time.

Fueling: Lemon-Lime and Orange Gatorade, Strawberry Banana GU gels and Black Cherry Clif Shot Blocs.

Shoes: LaSpotiva Helios. (Their rock protection saved my hide at FOTM considering my jacked up ankle.)

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.