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2012 Umstead Trail Marathon race report

Saturday morning I did something I haven’t done in almost three years. I ran an official marathon, the Umstead Trail Marathon. Since doing the National Marathon back in March of 2009, I’ve run the marathon distance or more plenty of times, most of those times coming in the past year or so, but have not actually run in an actual marathon race. I actually hadn’t planned on running THIS race either, but earlier this year the opportunity presented itself, as Bull City Running had some entries available. I figured that I would likely be doing a long run at Umstead anyway, so why not have some fun and make part of it a race.

Fast forward to this week. After the 10 miler last Sunday and the ensuing drive back to NC, I started the week off exhausted, which is why I slept for 13 hours from Monday evening to Tuesday morning. I spent the week acting like I wasn’t racing by doing back-to-back long runs Tuesday and Wednesday (29 at Umstead Tuesday, 21 on the Duke XC trail Wednesday) and followed that up with a track workout Thursday night. My “taper” consisted of running 5 easy miles Friday morning. The forecast for Saturday was somewhere between biblical rain and The End of the World. I woke up around 4am Saturday to the sounds of the promised rains. Rolling over, I briefly considered canceling my alarm for 6:45 and just sleeping in. But, I seem to have developed an affinity for suffering and misery so at a quarter to seven I was swinging my legs out of bed and going about the process of getting ready. This was actually the first race I’d be doing IN the Triangle area since moving here, and it was real nice not to have to either 1- travel hours the night before to someplace or 2- wake up REALLY early to drive an hour or so to the race site. This was basically in my backyard. Cereal, bathroom, dressed, supplies, bathroom, out the door around 8ish. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rain seemed to have mostly abated and while still overcast and threatening looking, it seemed like a pretty nice morning for running.

I drove to my usual spot on Old Reedy Creek Rd, put on my Pure Grits, grabbed the handheld full of Perpetuem, and started to jog up to the start. It’s about 2.5 miles from the car to Camp Lapihio where the race start/finish was (and also where the 100 will start/finish, conveniently enough). I got there around 8:45 and immediately saw John Stiner. It was nice seeing a familiar face and we chatted before I realized I needed to go into the lodge and check in. As I was waiting the few minutes before the start, John asked me what my race plan was. I hadn’t really thought of anything specific, my two big goals were to not get injured (VERY big goal, especially with the early miles on wet, muddy singletrack and how much of a clutz I usually am) and to get a good long run in, everything else in my mind would be a bonus. I told John I was going to go pretty hard until I blew up and then suffer to the end. Most of my long runs at Umstead have been pretty comfortable and I feel relatively fine at the end, I wanted to suffer some today, because I’m sure I will at some point over the course of 100 miles.

I had to check in at the timing tent and then I ambled over to the right side of the starting line. As is often the case at races, it seemed to me like there were dozens of people who looked super fast and I figured if I ran about what I figured I would (3:15-3:20), I’d be happy with top 5-10 or so. Considering the week I’d had, I didn’t expect to be particularly competitive, or have my legs be able to hold on for 3+ hours at a hard effort. I said hi to Alicia and Alisha and then lined up about a row behind the front. There was a countdown and then we were off.

The race

The start went up the road into camp, slightly uphill before turning onto the bridle trail for an abbreviated out and back on the airport overlook spur. Right away some guy in a yellow Fleet Feet singlet blasted out to the lead, well ahead of everyone else. Somehow I found myself in 2nd a few steps behind a group of guys. I could hear them chatting and I thought briefly that I should hang back. But then I remembered my goal — run hard — and just went with it. As we turned toward the bridle trail, one of the volunteers cheered out that she hopes we look as happy on the way back in (at the end of the race) as we do now. As we ran the airport spur out & back, it was hard to remember I was in a race. It was Saturday morning, I was running the bridle trail at Umstead, welcome to every. single. weekend. So I was saying hi and good morning to people as I passed them and instead of just saying hi back, or ignoring me which is much more typical, they were cheering and saying good job. It was a bit weird at first. At the turnaround right by mile one the leader already had a sizable lead and I was a few seconds alone in second. As I ran back up toward Company Mill, I began to pass the rest of the field. It’s kinda neat being up in the front of a race on an out & back because everyone starts cheering. Often I feel pretty bad because usually I’m too tired or focused to saying anything back but it was early so I was able to cheer for everyone else too.

Another mile or so and I was turning onto the Company Mill trail, the first stretch of single track. I couldn’t even see the leader anymore by the time I reached it. Instead of my usual caution and slow approach to running the hiking-only trails, especially the downhills, I let loose a little.The trail was a mess from the rain. It was very muddy and slippery in spots, especially the bridges (FORESHADOWING!) and I had to occasionally reign it in to avoid turning slips into outright spills. As I came off of Company Mill back on the bridle, the first aid station was there. I think this was the first time someone cheered for me by name. I didn’t see who it was but that was a lot cooler than “Go 221!” or “Good job runner!” There was a considerable downhill to the bridge on Graylyn and I again just ran hard. Especially on the bridle trails, all downhills basically meant sprint. At the bottom the course turned back onto single track, this time the Sycamore trail. This is the only stretch of the race I haven’t run on yet. It was basically the same as the rest of the single track I’ve run here, some roots, some rocks, rolling up and down, and it was very wet and muddy.

Coming off the trail and turning to go down a hill to the next aid station, I was about 5 miles into the race and at that point had no idea what time I was at (I wrapped my Garmin in seran wrap to keep it dry. I didn’t really care about pace or whatever, I just wanted it to keep track of time, mostly for the running I’d do AFTER the race, and I left my regular Timex which CAN handle rain at school over the weekend). Because it wasn’t really raining, I peeled off some of the wrap so I could see the face. I was apparently running right around 7:00s or just a bit slower apparently. I saw the leader motoring up the hill as I was coming down. At this point, I figured he already had about a 2-3 minute lead! I grabbed some water and took off up the hill. There was a line of runners coming into the aid station as I was leaving, probably only 20-30 seconds back. That was a bit depressing, to have been running relatively hard and everyone else was still right there. On the next stretch of the Sycamore trail, I was just hoping the shirtless guy who had been right behind me would hurry up and pass me already so I didn’t have to wonder when it would happen. I hit 7 miles in about 49:30 and a few moments later, I came to a bridge with some steps. I apparently took the first step too fast because my foot slid forward and I slammed my left shin into the step above. There was loud expletives being yelled for a few seconds. I hobbled off the bridge, checked my shin, decided it probably wasn’t broken, started jogging, stopped and checked it again, cursed at myself for being a careless dumbass, and then kept going.

By the time I was back on Graylyn I was saying to myself that I didn’t want to see anymore goddamn single track (and fortunately for me, I wouldn’t the rest of the race). I was now heading up the same hill I had run down a few miles earlier, my shin was a non-issue. This time at the aid station at the top, I grabbed a water and a honey stinger Ginsting gel. It tasted pretty good and I figured Honey Stinger products have been pretty good to my stomach. To that point I had just been sipping my Perpetuem every so often, and I had a package of honey stinger chews in my pocket for later. This portion of the race course, the Reedy Creek to Turkey Creek bridle trail, is the part of the park I am definitely most familiar with, having run it dozens of times over the past few weeks. The course ran down what is apparently called Corkscrew Hill, which makes sense as it winds around. Again, I was running hard down the hill. I was 9 miles in and I think the watch said something around 64 minutes, which seemed about right. I hit the bridge at the bottom and the long, gradual uphill began. Sort of like last weekend at Club Challenge, this hill didn’t feel particularly bad. In running the 100 course so much, I’ve come to actually enjoy this section, the uphill is never THAT steep, so I can just grind and not slow down all that much. I got to the top which is apparently the Trenton Rd aid station and everyone was cheering and again calling me by name. I did what I had started doing at pretty much every aid station (and would do at pretty much every aid station til the end), stopped to grab a cup (or two) of water and an orange slice. Tasty. I turned and started running the gently rolling Turkey Hill section.

Because this stretch is such a long out & back, on the left side of the trail I could see mile markers all the way up to mile 21. It helped break things up, first I’d come to the mile marker I was actually at, then some time later I’d see one in the opposite direction, always narrowing the gap. For the next 2ish miles from the aid station, down to the two paved bridges, I was just cruising. Around mile 11 I noticed I was right about 84 minutes which meant right on 7:00 pace. I knew that meant if I somehow held that, I’d run about 3:03, much better than I anticipated. I also figured I’d blow up at some point, probably on the next section. The next section is, on the Umstead 100 website, known as the sawtooth 79 because it’s about 2-2.5 miles of fairly steep ups and downs. I was going to treat it just like the rest of the race so far, plod along up the hills as hard as I could and bomb the downhills harder while catching my breath. Somehow, today the hills didn’t seem as bad as they normally do. I definitely slowed some on the ups but I think I made up for it on the downs. And while my legs were definitely a bit tired, they didn’t seem to be getting worse and cardiovascularly I was completely fine. There was an aid station around mile 13 and it was here that people started telling me how far back I was. I wanted to tell them I didn’t care at all, because I had no inclination on going any faster to try and catch someone so far ahead. Although I WAS surprised to learn I was only 4-5 minutes back, I figured the gap would have widened considerably more.

I hit the mile 13 marker right at 1:31. I was just about halfway but for some reason, mentally, I felt even closer to the finish then that. Back onto Graylyn and back down the hill toward the same aid station I was at about 9 miles ago. As I was turning to go down, the leader was heading back up Graylyn, so year, I figured about 4-5 minutes was accurate. I still didn’t care. I stopped again to grab another honey stinger gel and some water and an orange and was off. Before I got back to Graylyn I saw the same line of guys in roughly the same order coming back down. Again I was a little demoralized that while I was slightly further ahead this time, it was only by about 80 seconds. I didn’t take into account that I was feeling the same, if not better, than I had the last time I saw them. Actually, definitely better. In fact, as I turned back onto Turkey Creek trail, I was feeling better than I had at any point yet. And I was going slightly faster. The long back portion allowed me to see most of the field which was really cool. I was a little less vocal but tried to give some thumbs up and smile. It took me a little over 20 minutes to go from 13 to 16, which surprised me quite a bit. As I went hard down the last sharp downhill and came back to the narrow stretch, I realized I was almost back to the bridges and a lot further along than I realized. Cool.

It was a very gradual, mostly uphill stretch back to the Trenton Rd aid station. The whole time I was thinking mostly about the guys right behind me and figuring if they were running as well as they looked and I was running as slow as I felt, it was a matter of minutes before I got caught. I kept the hammer down and as I came back to the aid station, I could hear a trumpet playing Gonna Fly Now from Rocky. At mile 9ish of the Broad Street run I found the actual song exceedingly annoying. But I was feeling like crap and worried about not meeting my goal at that point. Here, I was in a great mood, I was feeling good, I felt very close to the finish even though I had another 7ish miles to go, and I noticed it was a young boy doing the playing. Kind of reminded me of a young Scott, so after grabbing another orange and a water I gave him a thumbs up and a wink as I departed. The next mile or so were downhill, and (SURPRISE SURPRISE) I was running hard. I kept waiting for the inevitable blow up and the longer I ran, the less likely said blow up seemed. I caught a quick split of about 6:30 on this downhill. I noticed I was at 2:18 at mile 20, so I had actually sped up in general somehow. I started to think that if I managed NOT to blow up, maybe I could hold off the rest (as I figured no one else would be going much faster than 6:40-6:50s at this point) and hang on to second place. I got back to the bridge that signified the start of Corkscrew Hill and there was a guy who mentioned I was about 8-9 minutes behind the leader now. This seemed far more likely to me and helped me relax; I WAS running for 2nd place, now I probably wouldn’t even be reminded about the leader anymore.

As the hill leveled out toward the top I could see the aid station and someone was standing with an orange slice, as if they read my mind. I grabbed it and a quick water and was off on the Cedar Ridge out & back. This being a fairly brief out & back, I figured I would see the leader coming toward me any second. It was mostly downhill on the way out and I felt like I was absolutely flying. There were moments on some steeper spots where I was actually going, ‘WHEEEEEEEE” out loud and throwing my arms up like I was on a roller coaster. I can’t remember ever being that happy at either of the other two marathons I’ve done, especially not so late into it. But then I didn’t see him right away. Where the hell was the leader?. I briefly worried I had gone the wrong way until I came to the mile 22 sign. But still no leader. And then, finally I saw him. And for the first time all race he did not look too strong, or like a running robot. He actually looked human, and unhappy. The biker who was escorting him looked up and let out an audible gasp off surprise when he saw me. That made me laugh as I ran by. Only maybe a minute later I came to the turnaround. Already? Cool. I went around the cone and began the climb back up, glancing at my watch. One minute went by, still no one coming toward me. Two minutes. Three minutes. Four minutes. What is going on? Where the hell is everyone? Finally about four and a half minutes after starting my way back I saw 3rd place. And he said something to the effect that the leader was just up ahead and looking bad and to go get him. That was NOT what I wanted to hear really. I could just picture it in my head, catching up to this guy and then having him start feeling better and making me actually race all the way to the finish and still losing. Not exactly what I wanted to do today. I had spent almost three hours accepting the fact that I was going to run pretty well and finish in 2nd, so this was throwing me off. A few guys later, I see Ronnie Weed coming at me telling me the same thing and that I’m gonna catch him on Cemetary Hill. I realize that no one else knew that I wasn’t TRYING to catch this guy and I was not about to try to go harder now because I was closer. I was in the middle of re-lowering expectations in my mind when I came to the powerline cut again and sure enough, there was the leader in the yellow singlet, walking next to the bike and not looking to hot. Balls. I guess I AM going to catch him. As I went by him, I asked if he was ok and patted him on the back. I didn’t know what to do, I’ve definitely felt like crap in a race before (see: Triple Lakes 40 miler last year) and if someone had caught me late in that race (like I was expecting), I’d probably want something similar. I hope I didn’t come off as condescending.

Anyway, now I had this surreal moment where everything hit me. With about three miles to go, I had just blown right passed the machine who had been leading the race and now I was in first and the closest person behind either of us was at least eight or so minutes back. It was very likely I’d win. WHAT?! SERIOUSLY?! SHUT UP! KEEP RUNNING! That’s something like what happened in rapid succession in my head at that moment. I think some people at the aid station were a little surprrised when they saw me, now with a fancy-pants bike escort coming out of Cedar Ridge first. I didn’t take anything at the aid station but I did thank them (at least I hope I did, in my head I did) and kept rolling. I’ve run the stretch from the Graylyn trail junction to Camp Lapihio dozens of times, this is part of  my long run loop, there was not much more left to go at all. I kept the throttle down, this was the only stretch of the race, from here to the finish, that I was absolutely all out on. I also realized that I would very probably come close but not quite break 3 hours. I was ok with that. The guy on the bike asked me if I wanted anything, water, gel, etc. I said no thanks. People on the trail I passed were cheering, which now just felt cool. I wondered how surprised John would be to see me coming through first. I hit Cemetary Hill (which until last week I didn’t realize had a name) and made myself treat it like the end off a long run, which meant push hard. I actually caught up to the biker before the top, at which point he mentioned no one had done that before. I think he was just being nice. At the top I knew the rest was mostly downhill. The turnoff finally came into view, I made the right and headed for the finish stretch. As I went back onto the camp road I remembered what the volunteer had said at the beginning of the race and I made it a point to smile and thank the volunteers here. I wasn’t feeling as good as I had at the beginning, I was feeling BETTER. As I barreled down the final downhill stretch, I could see mile 26 and a volunteer was talking into a walkie talkie, probably mentioning my imminent arrival. The road rounded and the finish came into view and I could hear people clapping and cheering and all I can remember is feeling really pleased and smiling. I crossed the line first in 3:00:36 and got my pint glass (seriously, I love getting beer-related race things) and my bat plaque that said “1st Place Male”. Baller.

John found me and we talked for a little bit. People were asking me how I felt. The honest answer, pretty good. I just ran a 9 minute PR on a fairly hilly course and won the race and I didn’t hurt myself, so yeah, I’m feeling pretty damn good. We waited around for the next runner to come in. The guy in the yellow singlet must have rallied as he came in about ten minutes later for second. Apparently he had started cramping, ugh, been there, sucks. I grabbed some food and then headed out for a few more miles. I decided not to run quite as much as previously planned, the effort made up for the lower volume in my mind. And I wanted to get back and eat a free Moe’s burrito and have John work on me a little bit and see everyone else finish. I’m happy I got to see Alicia turn for home as first female (WOOT! REPEAT CHAMPION!),making it a very good day for the Bull City Track Club. I know I had to run the race myself, but without people like John (who keeps my legs from falling off), or Kim and Jason and the folks at Bull City Running (who run the greatest running store in the world, by far), or the countless volunteers who were always so friendly and helpful, I doubt I would’ve run nearly as well. It was so cool hanging out after the race, seeing everyone else come in, talking with a bunch of other runners, like Alicia and Alisha, Josh, and Shannon (who is also running the Umstead 100) and is practically my neighbor. They wanted to know about my plans for running the 100 (which I still have only the bare minimum of an idea about, aside from ‘I’m going to run it and hopefully finish before April 1st’). After everyone had finished, I helped John pack up his car and walked the 2.5 miles back to mine. I stopped to sit on the bench that overlooks Lake Crabtree for a few minutes, just relaxing and taking in what turned out to be a nice afternoon. I decided that it had totally been worth it getting out of bed this morning.

This post is long enough, as usual, so I’ll add a separate for some of the really cool pictures I found from the race. Also this will give me a chance to check facebook and give proper credit where it’s due.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

March 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm 8 comments

Temporary scars, February stars

I’ve never been a fan of February really. I don’t particularly like winter and by the time February rolls around most years, the lack of sunlight and cold and all that have usually been compounded enough to make me pretty miserable. February has also not been a particularly good month for training. Just by it’s nature it’s set up to be a down month, as most years you only get four full weeks and nothing extra. I had  decent January this year, just a bit over 300 miles, an ok performance at the 100k in the middle of the month, sort of a return to consistency. But in general, it was a little disappointing to me to start the year off like I did. With a 100 mile race and some other big goals on the horizon, I felt a little behind where I thought I needed to be. I knew February needed to be better but I had NO idea what I was in store for.

By any of the metrics I’ve been using to keep track of my training since I actually started considering myself a runner a few years ago, February was by far the best month I’ve ever had. For starters, there’s the numbers (which make me double check at first glance, but my legs remember every. single. step.): 546 miles (~18.8 miles/day or slightly less than 132/week), probably over 76 hours. I also ran that 10 mile race that I’m quite pleased with. I’ve never done anything quite like that. And the awesome thing is that my legs feel pretty good, not destroyed or any more tired than what I would consider normal. I have random aches and pains that go and come but all seem to have identifiable causes and solutions. The massages have been a huge help obviously, but I’m also eating better (read: not good, I’m still a fatty, but better) and sleeping more. I’m also running A LOT on softer surfaces which I think is a big contributor to my (knock on wood) consistency and health. I feel like February went a long way toward setting me up for success in the coming months of this year and beyond, but it is just one month, just a start.

All that time spent running can certainly drag on me, and it has from time to time. I’ve managed to get together with some runners here and there to do some runs or part of some runs together but the vast majority of those 546 miles were run by myself. I was talking to my mom last night about how things are going here. It struck me as I was telling her about my awesome Sunday how a day like that can put the rest of the days in a different light. Most days are not like last Sunday, not even close. Most days are get up early, drag my ass out of bed, run, work all day, run pretty much immediately after work, often until well past dark, come home and eat something, maybe veg for an hour or so, go to sleep. Limited to no human contact outside of work. Limited to no time for anything other than running and the essentials outside of work. Like I said, it can drag. I have the luxury of living like this right now because I don’t have a family, or anyone really who I am obligated to give my time to, and so I don’t. I realize I’m not going to be in this situation forever, and I’m not going to be 26 and in good health forever, so as I was explaining to my mom (who worries considerably about my happiness and all that nonsense parents have to kvetch about), no I’m not what I’d consider “happy” most days, but I think what I’m doing will pay off  later. Running good races, being somewhat competitive, testing my limits, exceeding expectations, those are things that will make me happy. A day like Sunday, that’s enough to keep me going, enough to put my head back down and keep trucking along step after step after step. Most of the time I’m just uncomfortable and awkward in social situations anyway, so my time is clearly better spent alone running through the woods. Sometimes it depresses me that running by myself for a few hours a day feels more normal than talking with people, even other runners, out at a bar or whatnot but it does.

The main thing I wanted to put down in this month’s recap is that I had a good month. I finished it in better shape than I started. And I finished it with my desire to keep working the way I’ve been working still burning. Thirty-one days from now I’ll be running my first 100 mile race. I’ve got a couple other things, races and even (hopefully) non-running related things, to look forward to before the end of the month. Maybe when I write my March recap, I can say that I’m in better shape than I was right now AND I’m even a little happier. If you’re gonna dream, dream big, right?

Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!

March 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm 6 comments

Club Challenge 2012 race report

Sunday I ran what is known as the Club Challenge, a 10 mile race on the roads in Howard County. It’s hosted by the Howard County Striders and is for all of the Maryland (and nearby) running clubs to get together and see who’s the best. Because of the club aspect, it’s free for members of the various clubs and pretty much every good runner in the area comes out, making it an unusually competitive race, especially for the end of February. I ran it last year, only a few weeks after returning to running from an extended layoff to deal with a myriad of injuries and pseudo-injuries. I ended up running a 1:02:30 which really surprised me because I didn’t think I was in very good shape at all and I wasn’t particularly running all out during the race. It was a good way to start what was a sort of up and down spring of racing that culminated with a 59:07 10 mile PR at Broad Street in May.

This year, I’m living five or so hours south of Baltimore and until early in January figured I’d be missing Club Challenge. And then I went ahead and re-upped my membership in the BRRC JUST so I could register for Club Challenge and have an excuse to visit and see a bunch of people who I miss. The timing wasn’t ideal, in that I had a work retreat that went Friday overnight into Saturday morning so I would be driving up on Saturday afternoon, running the race Sunday morning, then driving home. In my mind, it would be worth it. Going into the race, I didn’t really know what to expect from myself. This year has obviously started much better than last year, but for the past few months my focus has shifted from shorter distances to ultramarathons. My goal races are the upcoming 100 miler and some 12 and 24 hour races later in the year. I’ve done a handful of runs that could be considered workouts, and those were mostly half-assed or lacking any sort of focus. I knew I was in pretty good shape but had no idea how my legs would respond if I tried to run about an hour or so quicker than normal. Last Tuesday’s 9 mile sorta-quick run on the super flat ATT made me think I should be happy if I could run the same pace for 10 at Club Challenge because I remembered the course being pretty hilly last year.

Enough backstory. I got to Baltimore early Saturday evening. Johnny and I jogged a little 4 miler around his neighborhood in crazy cold wind and went to get some dinner. I got to sleep around 11 and the couch cushions on the floor were surprisingly comfortable to sleep on. I woke up a little after 6, feeling better than expected, small bowl of cheerios, and I was ready to go. We got to the community college where the race started and finished a little after 7. Bib picked up, caught up with some BRRC people I hadn’t seen in a while, went to the bathroom, and then headed back out to the car to finish getting ready. Went with a t-shirt because while it was a little chilly, there wasn’t much wind and the sun was kinda warm. Johnny and I jogged a little 15 minute warm-up and headed to the start just in time. Having no delusions of winning the race, or even coming anywhere close (seriously, some REALLY fast people run this!) I lined up a row or two off the front just as the starter was saying, “Runners set, GO!” And we were all off.

The race

My goal for the race was primarily to run fairly hard but under control and even. It would be a bonus if I could beat the time I ran last year, despite having A LOT more volume on my legs this time and not even close to fresh. With that I allowed the mad rush of people to dart off the line and I settled in to what felt like a good rhythm. I knew the first 5ish miles are mostly downhill with a few ups and the second half of the race is much more uphill, so it’s easy to go out hard and pay for it later. After the first minute or so I settled in a few meters behind a group of about six or seven guys in Falls Road Running singlets. Falls Road sponsors Team That’s What She Said, which comprises basically every good runner in the city. I heard someone mention they were aiming to run right around an hour and I figured if it felt good, I’d just hang here for the time being. I also saw Serge Arbona a few seconds up ahead. Serge is one of my ultrarunning heroes, having already accomplished some mind-boggling things (like holding the world record for distance run in 24 hours on a treadmill). He’s also running Umstead next month which is part of why I decided to sign up for that. I think it’s such a cool aspect of the sport that you can run right there with the best of the best (albeit not for very long but still!).

It’s well-known that the mile markers along the course are kind of off so I was happy to have my Garmin to get at least an idea of what I was running. It appeared that I was running right around 5:55s for the first few miles which was cool because I felt like I was expending less effort than on Tuesday’s run. Of course, there were some nice downhills where it felt basically like cheating. Around mile 3 we crossed over this bridge and began a loop of some neighborhood. I went by one or two guys here and at this point I had a literal wall of five Falls Road guys in front of me, and Serge and another BRRC runner tucked into that group. We went by a few people but that group essentially stayed together for another mile or two.

We hit what is close enough to the halfway mark so I’ll go with it in about 29:30. Right after the sign, the course turns left and begins climbing a decent hill. To that point, there had been a few rises but nothing terribly substantial. I had noticed that on the ups I didn’t need to really push much harder to maintain, and I seemed to be stronger than the people around me. When we hit this rise, Serge kind of took off ahead. I was feeling really good, definitely not like I was racing yet, and figured if I pushed here I wouldn’t have far to go even if I got tired. So I did. And I ended up going by everyone in that little group, catching and going pass Serge too. By the top of the hill I had caught up to two other runners and one of the Falls Road guys had caught back up to me. We turned and wound around some more neighborhood streets, me, the Falls Road guy, and a Howard County Striders runner. Back over the bridge and into some other development right around mile 7. The uphills had slowed me some, but I was still right around pace to finish in about an hour. It was around this point that I entertained the thought that it would be realistic to do just that, break an hour. Last year, the hour 10 mile seemed like this giant goal that would be real tough to achieve on the flat, fast Broad Street course. And here I was running well within myself and thinking that if I just maintained, I’d do it again.

A little before mile 8, the course turned onto a larger road that ran by a school. I remember passing some fading runners here last year. No longer tucked in neighborhoods to protect us, there was a headwind for most of this stretch that kinda sucked. It was at this point it stopped feeling like a tempo run and felt more like a race effort. My legs were also starting to feel the cumulative fatigue of 120-130 mile weeks. 2ish miles to go, mentally I knew I could dig in and gut it out. The Falls Road guy was a few seconds ahead and I just locked my eyes on him and tried not to lose ground. The course turned back onto some side streets, there was a downhill that I let loose on and then another short climb. A few more turns and with about a mile to go (probably less), I recognized the street I was on as leading back to the college. I made the final turn onto the street the race had started on, which meant there was about half a mile to go. I thought about going all out to try to catch the Falls Road guy but was a little worried how the hamstring would react so I just tried to accelerate gradually to the end. Two quick turns in the parking lot and it was a short downhill to the finish line. When I turned and could see the clock I was a little surprised to see it reading 59:22, :23, :24,…  I sprinted that last bit and crossed in 59:29.

That’s a 3 minute course PR and only 22 seconds slower than I ran Broad Street last year. I was also 37th overall (last year I was 57th) and the first finisher for the BRRC. This was about as big a confidence booster as that Saturday 44 miler was. I ran almost the same time for 10 miles on a much harder course, feeling relatively comfortable for a large portion of the race, despite not having focused on running fast or short races at all. Progress! Falls Road ended up crushing skulls and winning everything (individual male and female, team co-ed, male, and female). I was able to see Johnny finish up in a big new PR, crushing his under-70 goal (66:14)! Success and great days all around!

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone

February 28, 2012 at 10:34 am 3 comments

Weekly Recap 2/20 – 26 (and some more navel gazing)

Another pretty good week here. This is something I will not get tired of saying. Let’s jump right in and then I’ll prattle on about running- related stuff and also semi- to barely-relevant crap that will probably cause most readers’ eyes to glaze over long before they’re done.

Mon – am: 6 miles, 45:15, Black Creek greenway to Umstead & back//pm: 22 miles, 3:06, Umstead, bridle trail with 2x Turkey Creek loop (meaning, HILLS)
Tue – am: 4 miles,  37:30, Duke XC loop//pm: 16 miles, 1:53, ATT (soft side), 3 easy, 9 miles moderate (sorta maybe M pace?  56:49; splits: 6:28, 6:27, 6:27, 6:24, 6:12, 12:40 2 mile, 6:07, 6:04), 4 easy
Wed – am: 5 miles,  45 min, Duke XC loop//pm: 8 miles, 56 min, Duke east campus loop//evening: massage from John Stiner, ouch, and yay
Thu – am:  off//pm: 18 miles, 2:24, Duke XC loops, first ~7 with Alicia Parr, last 11ish solo and a little slower
Fri – am: 7 miles, 57 min, BCG to Umstead & back//pm: 15 miles, 2:04, random roads along Lake Gaston near Littleton, NC
Sat – am: 5 miles, 47 min, more random roads on Lake Gaston//pm: 4 miles, 37 min around Parkville with Johnny
Sun – am: 20 miles total incl Club Challenge 10 miler (59:30), 1.5 jog warm-up, 8.5 miles (75 min) after with Johnny

Total for week – 130 miles, ~17.5 hours

Relative to last week, about an hour or so less running, which makes sense as there are eight less miles. Not a big deal. The volume is still within a range that I want it in. And I got in two sorta quality runs (Tuesday’s whatever sort of quicker run and then yesterday’s race). I’ll talk more in depth about Club Challenge in a separate post. For the week’s recap purposes it suffices to say that the first half of the race felt considerably easier than Tuesday’s effort, the next three miles felt like a tempo workout, and the last two felt hard. To have that be how I cap off the fourth consecutive pretty high mileage week was a nice confidence booster. I commented to Johnny toward the end of our post-race run that my legs actually felt like they could/wanted to keep going for another hour or two. I’m finally starting to feel like I’ve shaken off the general laziness and rust that lingered like a bad infection for 2+ months after Stone Cat.

This coming week, the goal is to get the volume a little higher and do a longer long run. Last week’s longest was 22 and that was on Monday, but in general I think it was a good way to recharge from the 44 miler. I’m running  the Umstead trail marathon on Saturday which utilizes a lot of the same ground as the 100 mile course. My plan is to run about 30ish Saturday including the race, hard but not all out, and then come back Sunday and do my standard two course loop 30 mile long run. Monday – Friday is going to be just volume, maybe another half-assed workout Tuesday or Wednesday. Getting down to crunch time, less than five weeks to Umstead.

Now for some semi-related ramblings! It was really awesome to see so many people I like a whole lot this weekend. I got to stay with Johnny and Sara Saturday night. Johnny quickly became one of my best friends when I moved to the Baltimore area  a few years ago and the two of them recently got engaged. They are two of the best and awesomest people I’ve ever known and getting a chance to see them, and run some with Johnny, was a big factor in me deciding to inconvenience myself by driving 5 hours north Saturday afternoon and then turning right around and heading back to NC Sunday afternoon. I also got to meet Stella, their rambunctious, playful kitten, who cuddled with me a bit while I was sleeping on the floor Saturday night (I felt a little like I was cheating on Puck, my own kitty). At the race I got to see basically anyone who runs in Baltimore. It was particularly nice catching up with Dan for a bit after the race, and David too. I also finally got the sweet plaque and a tech material BRRC polo for winning last year’s Grand Prix series for my age group. I also got to see Henry Peck, Christian, and Serge. Coincidentally, I spent the first 5 miles of the race running in a group of mostly Falls Road guys and Serge. I ended up finishing about 40 seconds ahead of him, which was kind of surreal, as he’s been one my running idols for a few years now. I’m sure at Umstead it will be just as cool to try not to get lapped by him!

Now for some less-running-specific ramblings that are probably interesting primarily just to me, but because this is my blog and I have too much rattling around in my head, I need somewhere to get these thoughts out…Under basically any other circumstance, the race (and the seeing awesome people that went along with it) would have easily been the highlight of my week, and basically my month too as I haven’t had a lot of social and/or fun time in February. However, it was not. Instead, the highlight of the week (month) was the part of the long drive home from Baltimore to Cary. Specifically the part where I spent three hours in Fredericksburg, VA. This IS somewhat running-related because the drive home certainly affected the way this new week is starting. I had planned to leave shortly after getting back to Johnny’s and getting showered. I didn’t leave on time. I almost never leave anywhere on time. This resulted in me getting to Fredericksburg at 6pm instead of more like lunch time. But ultimately, I think that was serendipitous. I got to have a delicious semi-spicy burger with a chile habanero rub and applewood bacon and PINEAPPLE at Capital Ale House. I also got to taste Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew (but just a sip, a 10oz cost $13.50 and I had to drive home still). I also spent three hours utterly wrapped up in the company I was keeping, having a great damn time, actually happy and relaxed for a change, and reminded of how good life had started to feel back last June.

Unfortunately, I had to get back on the road and finish driving. I had popped a 200mg caffeine pill and chugged some Coke to ensure that I wouldn’t fall asleep and slam into something and once back at the apartment, I was definitely still feeling those effects. All of that meant I ended up finally settling down some time after 3am and only getting about 3 hours of sleep. I was surprised how ok I felt on my 4 mile morning jog today but all I can think about right now is going home and taking a nap. The past few weeks, Monday has gotten the week off to a good start with some fairly high mileage. That probably won’t be the case today. So this week will be different but no worse. Yesterday managed to provide cause for a bit more optimism and positivity than usual for me; both with running and life in general. Pretty great end to another good week.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

February 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm 2 comments

Weekly recap 2/13 – 19 (and ramblings)

I had a third consecutive solid week, and ran 100+ miles for a third consecutive week, a first for me. I’m not going to dwell on that, it’s just a byproduct of the fact that I’m being consistent, I’m healthy, and I’m trying to get a good amount of time on my feet in preparation for all the long races I have this year.

Mon – am: 3 miles, 29 minutes, Duke XC loop//pm: 21 miles, 2:56, 7+ loops of the Duke XC course
Tue –  am: 4 miles, 36 minutes, Duke XC loop//3p: 4 miles, 33:30, Duke XC loop//8:30p: 6 miles, 55:30, Cary Parkway
Wed – am: 3 miles, 28 minutes, Duke XC loop//3p: 7 miles, 58:30, Duke XC loops+//6:30p: 7 miles total, incl track workout (100, 200, 400,400, 800, mile, 800, 400, 400, 200; 200 slow jog after each, everything around 5:30-5:50 pace), 1.5 up/1 down
Thu – am: 3 miles, 29:30, Duke XC loop//pm: 19 miles, 2:43, four long Duke XC loops+some additions (cold, rainy, muddy, miserable)
Fri – am: 3 miles, 29 minutes, Duke XC loop//pm: 8 miles, 63 minutes, Duke east campus loops (also did some squats in between the runs)
Sat - am: 44 miles, 6:02, Umstead, three 100 miler course loops (1:41, 1:42, 1:41:45) + running back and forth to the car (~1 mile) in between loops, first one with Alicia Parr, last 30 miles solo. Felt GREAT!
Sun – am: off//pm: 6 miles, 54 minutes, treadmill at the Y

Total for week — 138 miles, ~19.5 hours

For those following along, obviously this is yet a new new Monday – Sunday high in terms of both mileage and time. However, going from last Sunday through Saturday’s long run, I logged 148 miles and a little over an extra hour. Like I said above, the specifics and personal bests and all that are nice but ultimately not as important as the net result, which is hopefully that I’m going to be in good shape to run 100 miles in six weeks and some 12 and 24 hour races later in the year. More generally, I feel like if I CAN handle the mileage without breaking down, the MORE I run, the better it will be because I’m certain I haven’t maxed out my aerobic capacity. With six weeks to go before Umstead, I’m finally starting to feel like maybe I WILL be ready. I spent a lot of time running loops of the Duke XC course, mostly out of convenience as it’s across the street from where I work. But also because the surface is soft and it’s fairly hilly compared to other runs I could do which keeps the speed in check and (I hope) will make me stronger. Plus it’s a good mental toughness workout to just run loop after loop when I could bail every 25 or so minutes.

Saturday’s long run went so much better than I had expected. I intentionally did my weekly squats and other random leg lifting workout Friday afternoon and while I didn’t go as hard as other weeks, I went hard enough to leave my legs feeling pretty heavy Saturday morning. I wanted to start the run with tired-ish legs. And then somehow I cruised the first 14+ miles with Alicia feeling just fine, a little worried that we were going to fast and the last hour or two would turn into a death march. Never happened. I stayed on top of my fueling (tried out some Perpetuem and mostly Cliff shot blocks and Honey Stinger chews). I was almost metronomic as far as speed, each course loop within a minute of each other. And the last mile of the day was sub-8:00. I never hit a point where I started flagging or feeling significantly more tired. I also ran faster through 40 miles than I did in my 40 mile race last year (by 15 minutes). And I’d say the run I did Saturday was more difficult than the Triple Lakes race course. So… improvement? I guess.

Ramblings time! A lot went through my mind over the course of almost twenty hours of running last week. And of course as I sit here, I can’t remember most of it. I do know I hit a bit of a low point around Thursday/Friday. Mostly just semi-depressed about how ultimately futile doing what I’m doing is. Blah blah existential crises about how there really is no meaning behind what I’m doing and ultimately I’m going to die and is this really how I want to have spent the majority of my life? The answer I came up with is… better than the alternative. The alternative being get drunk far too often, eat far too much (or, basically as much as I’m eating now), sit on my ass and play video games, etc etc and then I’d be fat, miserable, unlovable, kind of a socially inept jerk, as opposed to now where I’m just a miserable, unlovable, kind of socially inept jerk with off the charts measures on virtually every possible test of cardiovascular fitness. I was drawn to ultrarunning in large part for the social aspect, the big camping, cookout party-type atmosphere I saw at Finger Lakes (which I’m very excited to return to again this year), and yet here I am, spending in inordinate amount of time alone still. And it’s still by choice. I’m sure any distance runner who’s spent any significant block of time training seriously for something has felt similarly. The fact is, most of the time, especially, when I AM running, I like the solitude. It’s more comfortable for me. Even when I was regularly going to Fullsteam runs, if the handful of people that I’ve gotten kind of friendly with werent there I’d find myself finishing the run, getting a beer, standing around awkwardly watching pretty much every other runner socializing away and wondering how it’s possible for me to be this disconnected from a group of people who should actually GET it. And then I’d leave and be mad at myself for spending the money on a beer when I had some at home in the fridge. I do a lot of things thinking, “this will be a good chance for me to get out of my comfort zone and do something social.” And I almost always end up getting home mad at myself for wasting the time and money. Which leads to me being less and less inclined to do so. Jeez, this got a bit depressing. And this is threatening to get pretty significantly unrelated to running and waaaaaay more personal than most people who read this blog really care so I’ll cut it there.

Fact is, I’m pretty content most of the time. Whenever I sit down to write, I’ve always found it easier to write about the negative stuff than the positive. I’m pretty uncomfortable with happiness, in general and specifically with discussing it, like if I do, I’ll ruin it or something. It’s why it’s so easy for me to look past any sort of accomplishment and focus on things I could do better next time. Which I suppose is a good trait to have if you want to keep improving, but I wonder if I’ll ever REALLY enjoy anything I do or accomplish. It’s why that Dogfish Head 120 minute bottle is still sitting in my fridge almost five years after I bought it and why the bottle of Bitches Brew I picked up in October will probably be there for at least a couple years too.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

February 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm 3 comments

Mud

This is what 19 miles and almost 3 hours of running on muddy, wet trails in cold, miserable rain looks like. I was NOT very happy yesterday while running. I wanted to stop after about two miles when my shirt was so wet it was clinging to my stomach and chest and making everything even colder than it already was. Obviously I didn’t. I wonder why the right leg got it so much worse than the left.

MUDDY LEGS!

It’s been a while since I was THIS much of a mess after a run. It looked much messier in person (as opposed to the crappy computer camera quality). Fun times.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

 

February 17, 2012 at 10:29 am 2 comments

The woods

For the past few weeks, pretty much every morning I find myself doing the same thing — slowly jogging three or four miles on the cross country trail that encircles the Duke golf course (which has an entrance conveniently located directly across the street from where I work). Two or so weeks ago, there were men out doing some tree work along a stretch of the trail. Chainsaws. The smell of gasoline and sawdust and pine needles. Every morning since then I have meant to get back and blog about it and then I get caught up in work and put it off. But I have a longer-than-usual break so here I am.

Every morning when I run by that stretch, particularly when the tree work was actually taking place, but even now when there’s less gasoline and sawdust and more just pine and a scent I can best describe as ‘the woods’, the same memories and emotions hit me. I immediately remember the fun parts about working in Maryland state parks. I remember all the chainsaw work I got to do, how I loved the smell when I was felling a tree, how exhausting it could be, how awesome it was. I remember running out my front door and being in the woods immediately, often without another human being for a few miles (save my roommates), and forcing myself to realize just how lucky I was to be where I was at that moment and how most people would love the opportunity to have what I have available to me. Part of me really misses working in the park. There was a lot that I don’t miss, and I love where I’m at now and what I’m doing and, for the most part, my life is as I want it to be (for now), but there are few things more fun (and exhausting) than starting a chainsaw and cutting down a tree and doing it well and then cutting it into logs and hauling them into the woods. 

Every morning, now, I run along the west end of the golf course loop and that’s what I think about for a few minutes. It’s peaceful, it’s a trifle wistful, it’s a nice break to the monotony. I’ve always known I prefer trails to roads, running along any surface that’s not paved, through trees, birds chirping, squirrels scampering, the woodpeckers going to town, an occasional fox scurrying along; it’s nice to get that reminder so regularly. And I always take a moment to think about how lucky I am at that moment.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone

February 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm 1 comment

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