First week of something resembling a taper down and I am not crazy yet. In fact, it was pretty nice. I used some of my extra free time to get some stuff done around the apartment but mostly I just relaxed more.
Mon – 10 miles, 1:27:30 mostly on the Black Creek greenway with an extension into Umstead
Tue – 12 miles, 1:31 on the soft side of the American Tobacco trail. Started off real easy, picked it up gradually and naturally on the way back, legs starting to feel completely recovered
Wed – 10 miles total, 6 solo (47 minutes) mostly around Duke’s east campus and then ten minutes after finishing that another 4 miles (27 minutes) with the Fullsteam group. It felt really good to be running quickly (much quicker than I’ve been going recently) and joking around and laughing with the guys
Thu – 10 miles, 79 minutes on the ATT (paved side) with one of the Bull City Track Club women who was getting a workout in and I took it as an opportunity to meet one of my new teammates and run faster than I probably otherwise would
Fri – 8 miles, 58 minutes on the trail around Lake Crabtree. It was rainy and muddy and I took my brand new Brooks Pure Grit trail shoes for their first run and really wanted to give them a good test. I intend to write a full review after the 50 miler (I’ll be wearing them at that) but early returns are that they are AMAZING!
Sat – 9 miles, 68 minutes on the Black Creek greenway, chilly morning, a little wet in spots, felt pretty good after the first few miles
Sun – 5 miles, 36 minutes on the American Tobacco trail (paved side) including a 4 mile Halloween themed fun run put on by Bull City Running
Total – 64 miles
The last time I ran so little in a week was over five months ago, in mid-March! It seems amazing to me that I have now managed to put together nearly half a year of easily the best, most consistent, most intense training I’ve ever done. By the end of this week my legs were feeling much fresher than they have in months, ready to just GO. On yesterday’s run, I started off with an 8:00 mile, then followed that up with a 7:00 without much change in perceived effort, the last two miles of the 4 miler were 12:45 and quite honestly I felt like I could hold that for a marathon (at least on a relatively easy course in weather like yesterday — low 50s, no breeze), which makes sense because based on my other race results, my VDOT predicts a 2:45-2:49 marathon. Of course, I’m running almost two marathons back-to-back on Saturday. But back to the past week, so my legs felt great yesterday and with five more days to get them recharged I’m feeling very good about the race. I kept the intensity higher than normal on most of my runs. The time for slow, easy running is over as it’s not going to do me much good now. The volume is significantly reduced, but the intensity isn’t so my legs will feel fresh, at least that’s the hope.
This week I will have even MORE free time. Just some shorter runs and one low-key workout tomorrow and then Saturday it’s time to reap the rewards of all my hard work. Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
In 2010, I raced only nine times, total. Of those nine, only one race REALLY mattered to me, the Richmond half marathon. The other races were fun, and I definitely wanted to do well and ran them hard, but only if I had run horrible in the other eight, I still would’ve been pretty happy with 2010 because Richmond went pretty well. This year I took a vastly different approach. As of right now, I have raced nearly twice as many times as last year, and I’m not done. I will obviously be doing the 50 miler in less than a week and a half. After that I’d really like to do a Turkey Trot this year and there are a handful to choose from in the area on Thanksgiving. I’d also like to take that shot at a legit sub-17 5k, which will probably come in December. And there’s one more race that I’m considering but won’t decide or say any more about until after Stone Cat.
All that to say that last year’s approach to racing and this year’s have been quite different. The weeks leading up to Richmond were not ideal, and I didn’t get to run as much (or for a bit, at all) as planned so I basically did almost a month long taper for the race. Who knows how things would have gone if I could have trained as I wanted, but one thing was for sure — my legs were pretty damn fresh. This year, with all the races I’ve run (at least for me it’s been a lot), I haven’t had a lot of time to consider tapering. Honestly, I haven’t really tapered for a single race, at least not in any traditional sense. Most of the races I did doubled as workouts, and since May/June I’ve been more focused on building volume so most of my summer races were on various degrees of tired legs. I’ve scaled back volume a little for a few races, like the half marathon in Virginia Beach but mostly I’ve just taken an easy day or two before a race.
Stone Cat is different. This is the race I’ve spent the last few months focused on, my ‘A’ race for the fall I suppose. I’ve run some really good races this year, hell I’ve won some races which is something I couldn’t really fathom last year, but running the absolute best I am capable of for this 50 miler is more important to me than all that. If I’m serious about becoming an ultrarunner, this is the best test of how far along I am and how far I have to go. That’s why I’m actually tapering for this race, noticeably and with some focus. For the past 20 weeks I’ve averaged about 97 miles per week. That is so far and away more than any stretch in my life and I’m ready to start reaping the rewards. There is little I can do to improve further between now and the race so it’s all about recovering, absorbing the training, and getting to the start rested and with fresh legs that are ready to go go go. I will admit, like with the training part, I’m still pretty new to the taper part. This is very much a science experiment of one. The initial plan was to cut back about 30% this week (which would mean 65-70 miles) and then down to about 30 miles Mon-Fri leading up to the race next week. Some have said that might still be too much, some have said it seems ok. Whatever I do, I intend to keep the intensity relatively high as the general consensus seems to say that’s a good idea. It’s a balancing act because while I do want to rest up, I fear running much much less will lead to my legs feeling stale instead of fresh but hopefully the quick running will help counteract that, as well as the massage with John I have scheduled for next Wednesday. The important thing, I keep reminding myself, is not have an impressive looking training log, it’s to run a fast 50 miles on November 5th. If anyone reading wants to chime in with some thoughts, suggestions, etc feel free; it’s always appreciated.
Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone! (happy, but not quite as much!)
I started last week off feeling about as bad, physically, as I have felt in a year or two. While nothing felt truly injured, I was in a considerable amount of pain in a variety of places and realized I’d need more time than I imagined to recover from the 40 mile race. Over the summer I’ve run a few 30+ mile runs, some of them quickish, and I’ve always been back to normal in about two or three days max after taking it easy. Even when I ran 46 miles on my birthday, I was able to slowly jog 5 miles the next day and four days later I was doing a hilly 13 miler around Umstead. Of course, I did my birthday run significantly slower than the race. As a result, I entered this past week with more of a focus on recovery and potentially beginning to taper a week early instead of thinking about one more week of building. But on Wednesday I got that massage and things improved significantly almost immediately. I managed to finish the week feeling almost 100% again and now as I actually start to taper off for Stone Cat, I have more confidence and optimism than I did on Monday.
Monday – 10 miles, 87 minutes on treadmill at apartment complex fitness center, everything tight and sore
Tuesday – 10 miles, 90 minutes on American Tobacco Trail, soft side
Wednesday – 4 miles, 35 minutes on treadmill again, feeling better but still some tight spots
Thursday – 12 miles, 1:31:30 on American Tobacco Trail, soft side; perfect running weather, things started to click, feeling much better
Friday – 2:30p- 5 miles, 42 minutes on American Tobacco Trail, paved side from downtown Durham//5:30p- 8 miles, 69 minutes, Duke east campus loops
Saturday – 16 miles, 2:21, Black Creek Greenway to Lake Crabtree loop trail to Umstead and back, another perfect weather day, took it decidedly easier and just really enjoyed being out there running on a trail
Sunday – 28 miles, 3:30 at Umstead; ~half mile jog from my car on Old Reedy Creek Rd, two Umstead 100 course loops (1:33:24, 1:32:05), then a bit of an extension on the road and some on the Lake trail.
Total for week – 93 miles, about 12:46 of running
Obviously I was feeling more like myself by the end of the week. The double on Friday was impromptu. I ran a bit before a work meeting and when I got done I had to head over to Whole Foods for some groceries. WF is right next to the Duke loop and I felt compelled to run some more, so I did. It was super relaxed and the best I’d felt all week. Saturday I remember thinking to myself as I was running around Lake Crabtree how much fun I was having, something that definitely doesn’t occur on runs very often. I was all by myself on a beautiful afternoon, cruising through the woods and I finally felt pretty good. I didn’t need any reinforcement that trail running is far preferable to road running for me, but I got some. I’m also not sure where yesterday’s run came from. I spent most of Saturday night and early Sunday morning at a party drinking more beers than I’ve had in a long time and eating nothing but smoked turkey and desserts. I finally got to sleep at 4am and woke at noon. Got running around 2:45p with the expectation to push a bit on the first loop and then take it easy on the second. I thought I was moving well but not that well. I’ve never run under 1:40 for an Umstead loop before so the first loop was kind of a surprise. I started the second off more relaxed but I kept noticing I was still pretty close to the first loops splits at various spots. This was one of those runs where I definitely felt better as I went further. I also was trying out coconut milk as a fluid option and while the taste isn’t fantastic, it seemed to work pretty well. That and some water was basically all I had and I didn’t have any stomach issues. This was my last significant run before the 50 and it was a good one to close this part of training with.
This coming week will start my taper. Admittedly I’m not really sure what to do or how to do it. So I’m aiming for about 70 miles which is a ~30% reduction in my average mileage over the past few months. It will be mostly front loaded and there’s going to be maybe one low-volume workout early this week. I’m gonna have a lot more time on my hands over the next two weeks, maybe I’ll actually get some laundry done (more likely I’ll just nap).
Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!
Yesterday it had been four days since the 40 miler. I woke up and was still feeling pretty creaky. While pleased with how most of my had recovered (my calves, despite foregoing the calf sleeves or compression socks felt great, my hamstrings weren’t too sore, my bruises from the falls were healing), some parts of me still felt like crap. Particularly, my left hip flexor/groin area was super tight and even a little painful. In general, both quads still felt really bad; worse than they do after heavy squat day even. With only two and a half weeks before Stone Cat, it was definitely time to be a bit more proactive about recovering.
A few days before the race I had asked Kim at Bull City Running Company for some recommendations about massage therapists in the area, seeing as how I was still pretty new and Yelp had recommended some franchise that didn’t seem to specifically cater to athletes, let alone runners. I was hoping to find someone with some running experience, someone who understood what I’ve been doing to my body for the past few months and could actually help, not give me some spa treatment. I wanted to get put through the ringer, hurt a bit, in order to get things moving along. And I’m really glad I asked because I was referred to John Stiner and that is quite possibly the best thing that’s happened to my running since I’ve been down here in NC.
John Stiner Massage is located in Durham, pretty convenient to where I work. I called him Tuesday and, because I was driving home and got his voicemail I didn’t leave a message. I called him back yesterday morning and as luck would have it, he was able to fit me in for an appointment at 4pm. This is pretty awesome as the dude is busy, working with some of the top athletes in the area including the Duke XC team and an aspiring Olympic Trails marathoner. I didn’t really have expectations aside from getting a good working over (which wouldn’t take much honestly, considering how I felt already). As soon as I got there, I immediately felt comfortable. John is very engaging. And in the small-world department: he’s intimately familiar with the Finger Lakes races as he went to school and has done a ton of running in the area, and even ran the 25k last year!
The best way to describe the actual massage I got is: wow. Actually, WOW!!! He spent the better part of two hours really working me over, extremely thoroughly. It wasn’t a “few minutes rubbing this, a few minutes rubbing here, let’s put on some sounds of running water and light some candles and do a very superficial going over and get you out the door” deal. It felt more like PT, only BETTER than any PT I’ve ever gotten. I am admittedly tight and I’ve not been good or diligent about working on since I stopped wrestling in high school. He got my legs to move in ways I haven’t since then, and in ways I didn’t think were quite possible. It hurt at times, considerably, but in a way that immediately led to feeling better. He clearly knows what he’s doing, on a physiological level, and also from being a runner himself. The best and most telling part though is when I finally got up off the table. I immediately felt significantly better than when I had walked in the door. My range of motion was considerably improved. Moving in ways that were almost impossible in the morning felt so much more comfortable right away. I was, and still am, amazed. And extremely grateful.
Waking up this morning, there are still sore spots. That’s not surprising. But overall my legs feel much better than they did 24 hours ago. I jogged around this morning with some of my students and didn’t feel any debilitating tightness in my hip flexor (though it is not yet 100%), my quads are finally starting to feel something closer to normal, and I am feeling very confident that the next two and a half weeks will be enough time to get myself ready to make a couple months of very hard work pay off on November 5th. To that end, I already booked him again for the day before I fly up to Boston. I want every advantage I can get, and this is a huge one!
I haven’t typically written many recommendations on here. Partly because I don’t really think myself good enough or influential enough to be the sort of person to make recommendations or that people would look to for my opinion. I’ve never really been given samples of stuff by companies to review. I’m a relatively good runner who busts his ass and works hard and has improved considerably since I started a few years ago and that’s really all there is to me. But it seems lately I am getting more regular readers here and in general I’m being asked stuff about what I wear, what I eat, what I think about x,y,z more often from other runners (and non-runners who are interested in getting into the sport). I don’t recommend things unless I truly and fully believe in them (and obviously use them myself — Anyone who’s read this blog long enough knows of my love for Brooks, and my affiliation in their ID program. I’d still wear Brooks even if I wasn’t in the program.) I didn’t get a discount to do a write-up or anything like that at all. I’m doing this because any expectations I could possibly have had about massage and recovery were completely blown away yesterday and I feel compelled to talk about it. If any runners in the Triangle area go anywhere other than John for a massage, I’m confident in saying they are wasting their money. Yesterday I added another valuable component to the training puzzle.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Saturday I ran the 40 mile race in the Triple Lakes Trail Races event out in Greensboro, NC. As I mentioned previously, this was my first ultramarathon race since the Potomac Heritage 50k in November of 2009. Going into the race I was feeling pretty good, I hadn’t put a lot of pressure on myself because this was primarily to serve as my last hard long run before the 50 miler next month. The reduced volume in the days leading up to the race helped my legs feel fresher than they have in a while. I didn’t know what to expect except for lots of roots, some beautiful views, and a long day out in the woods.
The night before I managed to sleep alright, about 6 or so hours which is very good for a pre-race night. I woke up at 4:30 am not feeling particularly tired, got myself dressed and packed and out the door by 5. I got to Bur-Mil Park just north of Greensboro, where the race would start and finish, at 6:30am. It was a short walk from the parking lot to the picnic tables for packet pick-up, I was one of the first people there it seemed, and I was enjoying the early morning calm and chill. I wasn’t freezing but I would have been uncomfortable without my jacket. The weather, which had been pretty bad all week, reversed course for race day. The high was scheduled to be about 70 and it was probably about twenty degrees cooler right then. I had an hour and a half before the start so I walked back to my car and then drove about a mile back down the road to Harris Teeter where I used the warm bathroom instead of dealing with the port-a-potties. I got back to the park with about a half hour to go and set about getting ready — getting my Brooks Launches on (I didn’t get my Pure Grits yet, and debated between the Launch and the Green Silence, ultimately going with the somewhat more substantial Launch for cushioning with the roots, I didn’t want my feet to get too beat up), vaseline-ing appropriate areas, filling my handheld with Cytomax (this was a last minute decision but one I was pretty confident would be good), and filling my shorts’ pockets with gels. I headed over to the start area wearing a sweatshirt. As I got to the start, they made an announcement that they were starting the half marathon first (there are three races — a half, a full, and the 40) and then the full/40 five minutes later. I milled around waiting, not feeling it would do me any good to warm-up in the way I normally do for races, so I peed in the woods and did some dynamic stretching and eventually ambled my way to the start line.
The course runs along most of Greensboro’s watershed trails around some really pretty lakes, with about about two miles at the start on the paved park road and a greenway and a few road crossings along the way. The marathon and 40 mile races share the same course for the first 11+ miles along the north side of the lakes before it splits, 40 milers doing an out and back while marathoners skip that and head right back to the finish on trails south of the lakes. Going into the race, all I knew about were the roots, I wasn’t sure how hilly things would be but being a trail race I was ready for whatever.
There was a pretty good crowd of people there. I made my way to the front where there were mostly marathoners. I asked a few what their goal time was, hoping someone would say around 3:30 as that was the pace I was looking to run. We were told that the 40 milers would be crossing a bridge on the out and back section that was flooded. Sounded like fun to me. I drained a 5 hour energy and got my mind ready to go, my legs were already there. The RD got in the gator, sounded the airhorn, and we were off.
Right away a few guys moved out in front as the first few hundred meters were climbing up the hill on the park road. I fell in right with a group of four marathoners, feeling very relaxed. That was my goal early on, to run relaxed and steady, not exerting myself too much. By the time we were out of the park, the group had pretty much separated itself from everyone else. There was me, a college guy running his first marathon ever who told me to call him Scotty Mac, a shirtless guy in red shorts, a guy in a blue sleeveless shirt, and a guy in a red Carolina Godiva shirt. Around 2 miles in, Scotty Mac began to fall back a bit, I wish him well and pushed on with the other three. The cool thing about this race is that even though it’s mostly on trails, they actually have almost all of the miles marked (not sure how accurate they are but they were fairly consistent it seemed). We hit the 2 mile sign and I saw we were just over 14 minutes. Hm. I had a choice here — I was feeling GREAT but still had 38 miles to go and was running with the guys leading the much shorter race. Do I pull up and run slower on my own or do I just go with it. Well, considering my plan going in was basically to go out hard and see how long I could hold on and how it felt late in the race, I stuck with the group. I figured if I started feeling fatigued I’d back off some.
We got off the greenway onto some trails finally, a little loop that went around Bur-Mil park, then back onto the greenway and then a bigger loop around the park on trails. We passed mile 3 right at 21 minutes. I was talking with the other guys, not out of breath, not pressing, just cruising. Being out on the trail on a crisp fall morning seemed like the only place I could possibly want to be, I was pretty happy. Around mile 5 we came off the trail and the ran over a bridge which afforded some more gorgeous views of the lake. This was where the first aid station was. The pack was still together and I briefly slowed to down a cup of gatorade. To this point, I was sipping my Cytomax every so often, and figured I’d take a gel around mile 8 where another aid station would be. Back onto some trails we went, I was running second behind the shirtless guy, the other two right behind us.
This is how things went for most of the first 11 miles. I took a blueberry pomegranate GU Roctane as planned right before the next aid station, a little less than an hour in. I still had plenty of Cytomax so I just had a water or two, crossed the road and carried on. The next three miles were also uneventful. There WERE plenty of roots but that was it; no significant ups or downs, just rolling trail with intermittent views of the water. Around mile 11 we briefly came out of the woods to another road, I had a cup of gatorade and we continued on a trail for another little bit. Coming back out of the woods, we finally reached the split-off point. I wished the three marathoners well as they headed along the route that I would be running a little bit later. At this point I was done with my Cytomax and filled my handheld up with mostly Gatorade and some water at the aid station before crossing the street and beginning the next part of the race all alone. I glanced up the road as I entered the trail and didn’t see a soul.
A short ways into this section I passed the mile 12 sign. I was at 1:26:30. 28 miles left, I’ve run 28 miles quite a few times already this summer, I’m feeling good, this is gonna be a great day. This trail seemed a bit more rugged, there were a few larger hills but my legs were still feeling fantastic, I was backing off slightly on the really steep sections but by and large I was running, and quickly. I dunno how off the next two mile signs were but apparently I covered the next two miles in 13:50. I passed the “flooded” bridge and don’t remember getting my feet wet at all on the way out, there was only a few boards that were submerged. Around mile 15 there was another aid station where I downed another cup of Gatorade. Around this point I noticed something concerning going on — as I passed close to the water in a sunnier section, I noted that my vision seemed to be a little foggy. This has happened before, most notably at Pikes Peek and Broad Street in the spring. I hoped it wouldn’t get much worse as I still had a long ways to go but I also knew there was nothing I could do about it now. I remember hitting mile 16 in 1:55ish and it was there that I began thinking about HOW good a day I could possibly have. I knew there were still 24 miles to go and I’d probably slow some but I knew my legs could handle the distance and I’ve run quick long runs before, plus the weather was perfect so I was gaining confidence by the minute.
Then I made my first mistake. Shortly after the mile 16 sign I apparently missed a pretty sharp left. It was entirely my fault, because there were multiple arrows telling you where to go. I didn’t turn. And eventually I ended up at a road. Which I proceeded to run up a bit to see if the trail came back, despite not seeing anyone (all the other roads I crossed had at least a few people) or any pink arrows. Eventually I realized I was off course, cursed loudly and retraced my steps. I was pissed. I ran back until I saw arrows marking an intersection, but I didn’t know which direction I had come from so I guessed. I guessed wrong. Eventually I came BACK to the mile 16 sign, almost 9 minutes after the first time I’d seen it. I basically had just ran an extra mile. I saw a few guys in the distance and cursed again, my stupidity and carelessness had all but erased my lead. I immediately reversed course and began booking it the right way this time. I tried to let the whole incident melt away but I was pretty angry with myself. I was now no longer way out in front and I had wasted a considerable amount of energy and got nowhere for it.
Three rolling miles later I came out of the woods to another aid station. I had been eating a Gu Chomp every few minutes throughout this 40 mile only section and was about halfway through the package of eight. I re-filled my bottle with more gatorade, took a few cups of water, doused myself with one and then asked where to go. They said, back, as this was the turnaround point already. Awesome. I bounded back into the woods, eager to see where exactly the rest of the field was. About 2 minutes later I came across the first person, but I’m pretty sure he was a relay runner. Another minute and I saw a guy with long dreadlocks and a dude in a red shirt. I was pretty sure this was 2nd and 3rd, so I figured I had 5-6 minutes on them still. I gave them a nod and continued on. I was still feeling pretty good and moving pretty quick. I came up to the mile 20 sign in about 2:31. Halfway done with a bonus mile and I was right near the pace needed for a course record which was ~5:03. Not knowing anything about the second half of the course I allowed myself to think maybe it would be possible. If nothing else, the 5:20-5:30 goal was definitely doable it seemed.
And that’s basically when I started a completely different race. The first half of this race went so differently than the second half for me it’s like I ran two different races. Almost immediately after the halfway point, my stomach began to send me warning signals. I was still moving at this point but I could feel the gatorade I was putting in begin to just sit there, sloshing around. I knew I still needed to consume some calories but the chomps stopped appealing to me immediately and I didn’t want to take another gel yet. The Gatorade also became instantly unappealing. And it seemed my energy levels dropped precipitously. It was like a light switch had just been flicked off. I was running still, but I had slowed. I was now powerhiking any signifcant uphill section. I took my first fall around this section, tripping up a hill as some people ran by the other way. I managed to scrape up my knee but nothing worse. I also at some point literally ran into a tree. It wasn’t hidden or anything, it was off the trail, I didn’t trip, I just ran right into it with my right shoulder, bouncing off it like a pinball and continuing on. I was getting my money’s worth.
I came back on the 15/23 mile aid station and forced myself to down another cup of liquid, and also poured a few waters over my head. My stomach was feeling worse and worse. I had hit my first significant low point in the race, and I was not happy. My legs felt fine, they weren’t tired or stressed, but I just didn’t feel very good overall. I needed calories and I needed liquid but it felt like my body wasn’t absorbing what I put in. It was a rough stretch to the point where we had split from the marathoners. I managed to get back to that split about an hour after leaving the turnaround. Still, on the way out I had run in a few minutes faster despite adding an extra mile that way. I was nearly 26 miles in and I had been running for 3:25. The fact that I still had 14 miles to go weighed heavily on me at this point. I took a bit extra time at this aid station, impulse downing a Hammer espresso gel from the table, refilling my handheld again and pouring more water over my head. Back onto the trail I went, for the first time more worried about being caught than about any time I could potentially run.
The stretch to the next aid station was only about 4.5 miles but it felt exceptionally long and arduous. It was in the section that I stopped to walk for the first time, meaning not powerwalking up a hill, just walking, on the trail, in a stretch that was definitely runnable. I was angry again. I was really struggling with my stomach and considerably worried about my ability to run and hold anything down. Every time I started moving I got nauseous. When I stopped I could feel the energy draining. I fell again at some point. I stood with my hands on my knees hunched over, wondering how the hell I was going to even FINISH the race. In my head I kept repeating the mantra “relentless forward progress” and I forced myself to do just that. I figured walking (more like stumbling) was better and more productive than hunching over. I would hit good stretches and I would force myself to run some but for the most part this must have looked pretty ugly to an outside observer. I figured it was just a matter of when, not if I would be caught and passed.
Finally I came to the marina and the next aid station, where I tried a handful of pretzels as that was the only thing appealing to me. I forced down some water and gatorade, knowing I needed something to keep me moving. People there were really encouraging and said I looked good (LIARS!) and that there was about ten miles left. Someone offered me a bandaid. “For what?” Then I looked at myself quickly and noticed I was bleeding from my shoulder where I ran into the tree and it looked pretty grisly, and also from my knee. I declined and ambled through the marina and back onto the trail. 30 mile sign, and I was at a little over 4 hours. It HAD been a rough 10 miles. At this point, I adjusted my goal to “don’t die” and thought it was about 50/50 on that. I trudged along, trying to break the race down into training runs. 10 miles left, that’s what I did on Monday, no problem. The mile signs were coming slower and seemed to be further apart. My energy levers were really nosedived at this point and it felt like everything I had drank the past two hours was just sitting in my stomach. I forced myself to take another Gu Roctane which didn’t help at all. I was beginning to come up on some of the back of the pack marathoners. I tried to use them as motivation to keep plugging on, encouraging them as I passed and reminding myself that I wasn’t the only one suffering. It made me think of my friends from the beginning of the race and how I was kind of jealous that they were surely done already.
The trails in this stage of the race were more difficult than the early ones. They were all up or down, the hills were a bit bigger, the roots were still bad, it was not pretty. I was actually surprised that I was still leading. There was a lot more powerwalking, or just regular walking, or slow walking. There was also another fall when I was attempting to run, this time I was on flat ground and rolled onto my back so I wouldn’t break anything or twist an ankle and managed to get up pretty quickly and keep going. Both knees were now scraped up, my hands were stinging with dirt in scrapes, my left hip flexor felt strained from the combination of the fall, the downhills, maybe the thigh wrap I had on for my hamstring. It was just another thing to pile on. I found myself questioning what the hell I was doing and why exactly was I subjecting myself to this. And each time I did that, I reminded myself I LIKED this, I WANTED this feeling, I WANTED to scrape the bottom of the barrel, to test myself and my limits. I reminded myself that it’s easy to be tough when things feel good and you’re cruising along. But NOW is the time where actual toughness is proven. I made up my mind to be tough.
FINALLY, I came to the last aid station. Right before mile 35 I came out of the woods again and to a table. There was a woman working there who seemed pretty disinterested and also didn’t attempt to hide how disgusted she was by me. I’m sure it didn’t look pretty, I was bleeding from a few different spots, I was staggering, I could feel gel dried up and probably mixed with snot in my beard, I was a mess. There were cups of Coke and water and Gatorade. At this point I could barely stand the sight of gatorade, let alone the taste. I though maybe some flat Coke would help settle my stomach like when I was a kid. Problem was, this was not flat Coke, not even close. So it made me hiccup and it made my stomach WORSE. I dumped a couple waters over my head. It wasn’t that it ever got particularly hot, and even when it warmed up some, the breeze off the water kept things pretty cool, it was just that the water on my head helped sort of keep me from spacing out too much, and kind of woke me up each time. I had lingered long enough so I set out again, decided that I would walk to the bridge a few meters away and then begin “running” again when I got to the trail on the other side. I left two women at the aid station who were wearing bright pink shirts that said something like ‘Christian Runners’. As soon as I got on the trail, I felt an overwhelming urge to pee. Up to that point I hadn’t even thought about it, and definitely didn’t need to, but it just hit me so I looked up the trail to make sure no one was coming, looked back to see if the women were behind me (they weren’t), pulled to the side and peed for a good minute. I was not in the least surprised to note it was dark dark yellow. Obviously I had been correct in assuming that my body was not absorbing any of the liquids I had been drinking for some time. I was severely dehydrated and didn’t seem to know how to fix the problem. I had a full bottle of Gatorade, the same gatorade that hadn’t been working at all. How the hell was I going to get through another five miles?
I took a few big swigs from my handheld, forcing down the Gatorade. I started running again, slowly. Almost immediately I knew I had finally passed the edge of the cliff. The combination of the carbonation from the Coke and the gatorade and the running was too much. I stopped and hunched over, again. I thought maybe it was another false alarm. It wasn’t. For the next two or three minutes I was bent over on the side of the trail and bright orange Gatorade was being vomited back up. It was awful, it felt awful, it looked like something out of an exorcist movie, it was the lowest point in the race for me. To make matters worse, I basically couldn’t see out of my left eye and my right one was pretty cloudy too. But then something strange happened. As soon as I was sure I was done and there was nothing left in my stomach to throw up, I stood and… felt better. MUCH better. Somehow I felt MORE energetic than I had a minute ago. My stomach felt great. I started moving, much faster than I had the previous 15 miles. I was by no means cruising like I had been early but I was definitely running again. At this point, the fatigue had set in though and my legs were beginning to feel the effort and undernutrition and I was trying to squeeze as much running out of the before allowing myself to walk. I ended up only powerwalking up the steepest hills, as I was now on a pretty up and down mountain bike trail. I also impulse downed my last remaining gel, a pineapple GU roctane, which actually tasted delicious. I had hit the lowest point and I had recovered and now I was less than 5 miles from being done with it all.
I was still running scared of being caught, but with my new found energy, I though maybe I’d be able to hold on long enough to get to the end before someone caught up. Each mile sign I passed I converted into a regular running route back home, which helped make it seem shorter. I counted steps. I had “Edge of Glory” playing on repeat in my head, but mostly just the chorus. I came down another hill and out onto this greenway and there were people there pointing ahead and saying it was just around the pond now. I didn’t know what they meant until I came to the grassy field on the other side of the greenway. I looked left and could see the Finish arch. All I had to do was run (uphill) around this small pond and I would be done. Maybe 1/2 mile left. It was here that I finally felt comfortable that I was going to win, but even still I pushed with whatever energy I had left in my legs. I passed one more marathoner and gave her some encouragement. Around the pond and now just a straight line to the end. I guess some people noticed I was the first 40 mile runner and began clapping and cheering. It was cool but I was kind of out of it and it all sounded like it was going on underwater. Finally I crossed the line and came teetering to a stop long enough to get handed a finisher’s medal. The clock said 5:37:43.
Post-race thoughts and musings
I drank a few cups of water right after, as that was the only thing I could stomach. Then I pounded a can of Coca-Cola and this time it was delicious. I had a banana and just kind of walked around. Eight minutes later the dreadlocks guy, Andy, ran in for 2nd place. A few minutes after him, the guy in the red shirt, Darian, finished third. I congratulated both of them and headed over to wear I saw a massage table. Unfortunately the massage therapist had left shortly before I finished. Damn. I walked the quarter mile or so to my car to get some clothes and my Boost shake to start the recovery process. Walking back up the hill we started on, I was amazed and kind of questioning how the hell I managed to do what I just did, especially considering how impossible running one more step seemed to me at this point. I hung around the finish area for a few hours, cheering people in, talking to other runners, trying to get calories in in the form of chocolate chip cookies, pretzels, and bananas. It’s strange that I had no lingering stomach issues after I finished running, and while I was tired from running, I wasn’t feeling nearly as bad as I did during the bad stretch, nor did I feel much worse than after a long run or hard workout. I foam rolled before getting back in the car for the drive home and rewarded myself with a big dessert and beer from Bella Mia near my apartment.
Some things I learned and took away from the race –
-Ultras are TOUGH! Running a 5k or 10k all out hurts in a special way, a very quick intense sort of way. Running 40 miles on rolling, rooty trails as fast as you can drains in you a completely different, but no less painful way. During this race I felt as good as I ever have, physically and mentally, during any race in my life and I also felt the worst I ever have EVER, also both physically and mentally. The fact that I can experience such high highs and low lows during the same race is part of the allure. Of course, during that bad 15 mile stretch, I was having trouble agreeing with myself that I LIKE this, but looking back now I definitely do. Maybe I’d feel differently if I hadn’t held on and won but I doubt it.
-I’m glad I did this before Stone Cat, so now I know some things I need to work on or at least be aware of and I have a better understanding of what my body will be going through over the course of the race. I think my stomach issues stem from too much sugar in the gatorade primarily. The Cytomax was working really well and in a perfect world I would have had someone at the 11 mile mark and then maybe the turnaround to give me another bottle of it. What I probably should have done was drink primarily water at the aid stations and re-fill my bottle with very dilute gatorade, relying on my gels which have always worked well for me before this. At Stone Cat, it’s going to be 12.5 mile loops so this shouldn’t be as much of an issue, at least logistically.
-I don’t think it was a huge mistake starting off as fast as I did. I don’t think it was a big contributor in my stomach issues. I was feeling very good and even when I was struggling later, my legs weren’t shot, I just didn’t have any energy and I felt nauseous. I ran the race I wanted to run from the onset, and it gave me a slim chance early on to run a very good time. Ultimately I got a chance to practice being tough and the fact that I WAS able to get through the worst of it and finish and win is a huge confidence booster, for next month and just for my running in general.
-The atmosphere at trail races and at ultras is awesome. Everyone was so friendly and laid back. I love it and I’m glad I’m going to be more a part of it going forward. For winning, I got a fleece blanket with the cool skull and crossbones race logo on it. That was more than enough to make me happy.
-It looks like I might be doing an extended taper for next month. My legs aren’t too bad, my quads are pretty beat up and that left hip flexor is definitely strained a bit but other than that, I’m recovering very well. Hard work and dedication DO pay off, usually.
- Results are here
If you actually got through this whole thing, thanks for reading! If you have any comments, input, advice, criticisms, etc I would really appreciate it. I’m still pretty new to this ultrarunning thing and I know there are A LOT of people out there with significantly more talent and experience whom I could learn so much from. Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!
It’s been almost two whole years since Jess and I woke up crazy early in her friend’s parents’ basement somewhere in DC and trekked to some house near the National Zoo where I proceeded to get myself ready and eventually run for exactly 5 hours, covering something near 50k on trails in and around the district and northern Virginia. That was the first time in my life I’d ever run a race longer than a marathon. That was the first time in my life I’d EVER run further than a marathon, period. It was difficult, at times my quads seized and I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish. I got finished and I was basically useless for the rest of the day. But it was also one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
Last year the longest race I did was a half marathon, in Richmond about a year ago. At the end I was hurting in a completely different way than I had at the 50k, but despite running for almost three hours and forty minutes less, it still hurt in it’s own different way. The longest RUN of any sort I did last year was 19 miles, on a lovely rail trail on a pretty warm afternoon in centralish Michigan. It felt extremely long at the time. I was pretty tired when it was done. Back then I had decided that I wasn’t going to even run a marathon for a while, focusing on getting faster at shorter distances.
That was still the plan going into this year. And then something happened. I think part of it was that I ran quite a few shorter races this spring. I PRed at basically every distance despite dealing with some constant nagging pains that made training less than ideal. My life started undergoing some abrupt and not altogether pleasant changes too. Everything sort of culminated in Philadelphia, at Broad Street where I ran what I think might have been the best race of my life (or at least very close second to the 3 mile race in Baltimore two weeks ago). I was sort of burned out on that feeling, that short distance race intensity burning misery. It had been so long since I experienced the other sort of misery, the kind that comes from draining yourself so completely that you begin to run on fumes, and when the fumes run out you’re just running on momentum or something. The float-y head, out-of-body, completely drained feeling you can only get from running long. Really long.
So in June, partly because I was tired and partly because I was frustrated trying to get workouts in and constantly being various degrees of injured because of it, I just started going long. I stopped worrying about being anything approaching fast, I started calling most of my runs jogs, I just wanted to move through space as much as I could manage. It worked better than I imagined. I managed to get a little faster anyway. I set a PR for the MILE in the midst of a 99 mile week, one that came after a 102 mile week. At some point I realized that it would cost the same amount of money to register for the Stone Cat 50 mile race as it would for the Philadelphia half marathon. Running t the Finger Lakes races with Ashley in July cemented my fate. Two years after running my first ultra, I would be doing my second.
Except it isn’t going to work out quite that way anymore. In a little less than 9 hours I will be in my car driving northwest to Greensboro, NC. It will likely be sort of chilly and hopefully I will be pretty well rest even considering the early hour. When I get there, the park should just about be opening. I’ll go get my race number, go back to my car, get my stuff together, maybe nap a bit. At 7:30ish I’ll start loosening up. At 8 am I’ll be running a race. If everything goes well, I’ll finish this race around 1:30 pm, five and a half hours later. 40 miles along the watershed trails of Greensboro. This will be my second ultramarathon ever, though I am no longer a stranger to the distances. Since June I have run 30 or more miles five times, including 46 on my birthday. Some of those 30+ runs have been faster than my first marathon was. I am not worried about completing the distance.
And yet, I’m here on the eve of my re-entry into the world of ultramarathons and I don’t FEEL like an ultrarunner. I am lightyears beyond where I was two years ago. I will NOT be caring all manner of stuff in a clunky backpack the entire race tomorrow. Instead I’ve got a handheld water bottle and some gels and that’s it. I’ll be fine re-fueling at the aid stations otherwise. I just feel like… an outsider. I think part of it is that even though I’ve met so many really interesting and really awesome people at the running store and the Fullsteam running group, it is quite rare to meet someone with running goals similar to mine, even among the people who at or beyond my ability level. My aspirations are not modest, I want to be GOOD at this ultrarunning thing. I’m not going to show up tomorrow and be content running 40 miles and enjoying the scenery and chatting away with people along the course. I’m going to have my head down (so as to watch for the many roots apparently strewn about the course) and I’m going to run hard; not all-out, as this is ultimately a test run and my last long run before Stone Cat. But even still, I want to do well. I have a time goal in mind, one I feel is realistic given the way I’ve trained this year and the way my longer long runs have gone and what the weather is supposed to be like tomorrow and etc. It’s interesting going into such a big race (at least distance-wise, the field is pretty small) without the typical pre-race jitters. It also feels a little strange knowing tomorrow I will be on my own. I mean, every race I run I do by myself obviously, but there will be nary a soul there that I know, no one to cheer me on, or meet me at crew access points, or wait for me at the finish. It’s all me tomorrow, and that’s not common for most races, particularly the more intense ones. I’m sure by the time I leave tomorrow I will not feel quite so alone though, ultrarunners are friendly and welcoming from my experience. At any rate, it’s going to be a helluva Saturday.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Back in mid-March I went to Goucher College’s track to do a threshold workout consisting of mile repeats with 1:00 recovery between each. This is one of my favorite workouts to do, I like threshold pace because it is, by design, comfortably hard, and I like running that pace for mile repeats because it’s long enough to feel like your doing something without totally wrecking you. The 1:00 recovery goes by very quickly so it almost feels continuous, and that’s the point. You’re not supposed to be able to clear out all the metabolites building up by the time the next repeat comes around, forcing your body to improve blood lactate clearance. I’m digressing. My point is that back in March I was feeling really good, but something really bad happened and it was completely my fault. Burritos happened. More specifically, I had decided to nom the leftovers of last night’s Chipotle burrito with extra habanero hot sauce a mere hour or two before my workout. I paid the price big time, having to make a beeline for the trackside port-a-potty 1200m into my third repeat. I thought I was through it then and tried to get one more mile in but my digestive system got the better of me and while I DID do one more mile, it was a costly one and I required a clothes change immediately after.
Fast forward to 5:30 this morning. I am at Duke’s track jogging my warm-up. It’s drizzling a bit but in a refreshing way because it’s not freezing. I actually feel awake, alert, and GOOD for how early it is and I’m ready to do some threshold miles. NOT at the forefront of my mind is how last night I used my free burrito coupon at the new Moe’s Southwest Grill near my place and loaded that thing up with spicy salsa and jalapenos. I get started. Now I’m in somewhat better shape than I was back in March, I’ve had a whole summer of solid training, I’ve run some races that indicate it’s time to move up the Daniels’ VDOT chart. Still, 5:50 for a threshold mile sounds daunting so I decided 5:52-5:56 is a good range to shoot for, after all my focus is on the 40 miler this weekend and the 50 miler in 3 and a half weeks. I need to get over my mental thing that a mile with a ’5′ in front of it HAS to feel super fast. It doesn’t, at least not anymore. My first mile goes super well, I feel relaxed and in control and I run a 5:45. I mutter that that WAS too fast but really, it felt about right. A minute later I’m going again. I hit the half a few seconds slower but right on where I should be. I’m a little gassy I notice but nothing out of the ordinary. Then with a lap to go, I start to feel some stomach pains. And THAT is when I realize my gigantic mistake. Nothing I can do at this point so I finish up the second mile, 5:49, perfect, and take my minute. Things settle down as I’m walking around waiting to get going again. First lap, gassy again but nothing major. Second lap, getting worse. I start my third lap and I get this sinking feeling that things are not going to end well. At 1000m I am starting to panic, my stomach is starting to turn over. I come down the homestretch and I know it’s game over. My third mile once again turns into a 1200 (4:20) and I keep going straight into the port-a-potty where I suffer the consequences of my indiscretion.
A few minutes later I emerge still not feeling great. I decide to try to learn some from last time and NOT attempt another mile. Instead I jog a half mile and then attempt to salvage the workout by doing some 400s at ~5k pace. I figure if something goes wrong, at least I’m just doing 400s now so I can go straight to the toilet again after. Fortunately I only had to pay the price once and the 400s go reasonably well. I opt to alternate one hard, one jog (the hard ones were 80, 81, 77, 80, the jogs were all around 2:10-2:15) and call it a day with almost 4 miles of quality work.
I learned a few things today: Not to be afraid of 5:xx miles in workouts, because I CAN handle them and they WON’T feel like an all-out effort. I’m in good shape and I’m getting to where I want to be when I want to be there, if that makes any sense; basically the work I’ve been doing is starting to pay off when it matters. But most importantly, I learned (again and hopefully for the last time) that under NO circumstances am I to eat spicy burritos before a track workout or race. Ever. Again.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
All I’ve done lately is write about the races I ran. Boring. Lots more is going on, running-wise than just that, and this is a really exciting time because I’m getting down to the point where I’m getting excited about Stone Cat. I mean, I’ve BEEN excited but now it feels REAL. To that end, I’ve moved into what will be the highest volume stretch of this training cycle (and this year, and my life). Before I talk more about the upcoming races, goals, and other things I’ve been thinking about lately I want to recap the last three weeks.
Three weeks ago I ran 93 miles. It was, for the most part, unremarkable except for a few things. Wednesday morning I did a workout on Duke’s track at 6am. Part of what is remarkable about that is that I was up and running at 6am in the first place. I did 4k at a pace I thought I could hold for the Dogfish Dash. Turns out that was 14:12 (~5:42 pace). Turns out I ran the 10k that weekend in 5:48 pace, and that was humid and hillier than the Duke track. Good stuff.
Two weeks ago I ran 110 miles. It broke down like this:
Mon – 12 miles easy on the Duke XC course (1:44)
Tue – 11 miles really slow on the Loblolly trail from Umstead to the Reedy Creek Greenway and back (1:45)
Wed – 23 miles (2:37:20) including 19 solo mostly around Duke east’s loop (2:19) followed immediately by 4 more with the Fullsteam group (28:20)
Thu – 15 miles on the Duke XC trail with a focus on repeats of the short, steep hill (12 in all), 2:06
Fri – am: 3 miles super slow on the Duke XC trail//pm: 10 miles, Harrison Ave to Umstead to Black Creek greenway and home, 89 minutes
Sat – am: 3 miles super slow on the Black Creek greenway//pm: 7 miles with Johnny around his neighborhood in Baltimore
Sun – am: the Playworks race (3 miles in 16:11) plus 5 total warmup/cooldown//pm: 18 miles with Talia in College Park (2:24)
I was happy about the long run on Wednesday, as well as Sunday’s race/long run combo. In lieu of track workouts, I’ve still been getting some quality work in. I loved Thursday’s hill workout, I missed hills. Friday was the last day of September. I ended the month with 432 miles, a new high for me and an average of basically 100 miles/week. Rolling right along, last week I started off super sore and achey from the race and the second weekend in a row of very long drives. By the end of the week though, things were rolling right along.
Mon – 14 miles very easy on the unpaved portion of the American Tobacco Trail (1:54)
Tue – 12 miles, also on the American Tobacco Trail, also easy (1:45)
Wed – 30 miles total, 23 solo around Duke east mostly (2:54:30), then 4 miles with the Fullsteam group (29), then another 3 solo after (24ish), total of 3:47:30
Thu – am: 4 mi, very easy around Duke XC trail//pm: 14 miles from Black Creek greenway to Umstead and back (2:04)
Fri – am: same 4 miles around Duke XC trail super slow//pm: 10 miles also around the Duke XC trail (1:23)
Sat – 12 miles on Black Creek greenway and a loop of Lake Crabtree
Sun – 10 miles in Cary with three 2 mile loops on the Bond Park lake trail as a progression (15:11, 14:31, 13:36)
Another 110 miles, back-to-back weeks. Actually this is my first back-to-back 100+ mile weeks. And by the end I was feeling better than the beginning. I exercised some restraint and didn’t do the 5k that was being run from Fullsteam Sunday afternoon, opting instead to have a few beers and cheer on some people from the Wednesday group who were doing their first race ever. I’ve had some random groin tightness the past few weeks, it goes and comes. It doesn’t affect my running though which is good, moreso just annoying especially early in the morning. Other than that and the early week aches everything is rolling along really well. Wednesday’s 30 miles was the longest I’ve run since my birthday and it was a big confidence booster. It was warm when I started and the Duke east loop is rolling plus the streets around where I was running are kind of hilly. I was able to run strong by myself and held it together reasonably well up to the end of the group run. I’m hoping that with cooler weather, a little bit more rest, and being in a race atmosphere I’ll be able to hold a slightly slower pace for a little bit longer. Saturday’s 40 mile race is going to essentially be a test run for Stone Cat, but I’d still like to do well.
This already got long enough so I’ll discuss that stuff more later. Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Yesterday I ran the 2nd annual Playworks Teach Learn Play 5k. The race took place around the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Last weekend I drove to Milton, DE which is about a 6-7 hour drive from NC to run a 10k. But that one was put on by Dogfish Head and it came with the promise of free tasty beer. This was a much smaller 5k and there would be no free beer after. Under almost any other circumstance there’s no way I’m driving another 6 hours back-to-back weekends to run a 5k. But this was special, because it was put on by Playworks Baltimore. This is the wonderful organization I worked for last year. I won’t blather about what they do and how great they are but I do recommend everyone reading check out the website at some point. Regular readers of this blog will know that in August I moved to North Carolina to be help launch Playworks Durham. In doing so I left behind a lot of really awesome people who I miss quite a bit, both co-workers and also people like Johnny. So while the timing might have kind of sucked, I was not going to pass the opportunity to see all these people and hopefully get some redemption from last year. Last year, I ran the first ever 5k Playworks organized in Baltimore. It was run at Druid Hill and I ended up taking 2nd, getting outkicked by about 5 seconds at the end. This year’s course was flatter (and also had the advantage of being part of my every day Baltimore running route) and I was much fitter going into it.
Driving up Saturday was alright except for the traffic in and around DC of course. When I got to Johnny’s I was hungry but we wanted to go for a run first, which was good for getting my legs to feel a little less stiff. The weather had taken a dramatic turn for the cooler after a week where it had been in the 80s and 90s and humid. I welcomed the change. Sunday morning I got up around 6:30. The race didn’t start til 9 but I wanted to get down to the Inner Harbor and see if maybe I could help set up. Got downtown and parked by 7:30 and walked over to the start. It was so good seeing so many familiar faces and getting such a warm welcome from everyone. I noticed some of the people drawing a line with sidewalk chalk along the promenade. It turns out the 5k would be run exclusively on this promenade in the form of three out-and-backs. I realized then that this was definitely not certified and was probably going to be short, not that that was a big deal to me, I kind of liked the low key approach. I jogged about two miles after playing some Four Square to warm up. Got my T6s on and headed down to the start. I was so happy today was actually the first race in a while that required my typical warm-up sweats to stay on until the race. I threw in some surges and practiced taking the hairpin turns and I felt ready to GO!
In jogging the entirety of the course I figured it to be pretty much spot on a half mile from one end to the other (afterward confirmed this, exactly a half mile). So this was going to be a three mile race. They were a few minutes late in starting, luckily I anticipated this. I saw two guys wearing team singlets who I figured would be my main competition. I lined up near the start, we got some last minute instructions and were off!
The first few steps were on a decline before settling in to a flat trip along the promenade. The course made a big L starting between the Light and Pratt Street pavilions, passing the Science Center at halfway and turning around in front of the Rusty Scupper (a popular seafood restaurant). I immediately went to the front and settled into a comfortably hard rhythm. I could hear some footsteps right behind me the whole way around. Scattered all along the course were people I had worked with so every time I went passed I heard cheers specifically for me. It felt like I was running as the “home team” here which definitely helped. As we turned around at the half mile mark I saw 2:40 on my watch which felt about right. The two young guys in team singlets were right behind me only a second or two, one said Liberty and the other was blue. I kept the effort steady as we approached the end of the first mile, noticing a slight headwind on the stretch between the turnaround and the Science Center. As I rounded the first mile I saw 5:22 on my watch and I also saw the Liberty guy catch me and edge passed me.
Normally, I’d probably let him go as I felt I was already running about as fast as I was capable and he looked strong and smooth. But I didn’t. I made myself pick it up for a second to get right on his shoulder. I told myself not to let him gap me, even if that meant running what felt like an unsustainable pace. I figured I’d hang as long as I could and hopefully salvage second if/when I blew up. But something funny happened. I stuck right with him. We slowed a bit on the next half mile hitting the turnaround in 2:50 this time, but feeling like I had run faster than the first time around. As we turned to go back, I had to really up the effort to not let him break free. I got behind him as we went through the headwind again and was thinking to myself how I didn’t want to have to do this yet another time before I could be done. We hit the 2nd mile in 10:52; a 5:30 mile, but that second half was a 2:40 again, things were picking up and getting much harder.
As we headed out for the last mile we were starting to go through a big chunk of the other racers, although traffic was never an issue like I had feared beforehand. Again we went out passed the Science Center and I could hear all the friendly faces cheering for me, urging me on. We hit the turnaround for the last time and I took a tighter line which allowed me to get up almost even with him. We hit the turnaround in 2:45. At this point I knew it was a battle for 1-2 with no one even close to us. I also knew that we’d be well under 17 as long as I didn’t fall into the harbor, and even though it wasn’t a 5k, I thought that would be cool. As we approached the Science Center with probably a little more than a quarter mile to go I surged. I knew it was too early, I knew I couldn’t hold it to the end, but I also knew that I haven’t had an extra gear, a finishing kick since I started running the volume I’ve been doing since May. I can sustain a pretty quick pace but in all of my races since Broad Street I’ve never had anything resembling a kick. I figured this guy did have a kick and if I waited to try to outsprint him, I’d lose. This was, in my mind, my only chance. Of course, he responded immediately by going faster and regaining his few foot lead. We turned for the last time and now it was just a straight flat stretch to the finish. He was still slightly ahead with maybe 200-250m to go when something weird happened. Something inside me just clicked, physically AND mentally. I’ve been in a number of races the past few years where I was outkicked at the end and took 2nd. I think a big part of it has been confidence; the assumption that I’m not as good as the other guy, that I don’t belong right there, that I can’t handle that awful end-of-the-race feeling, that I’m still running a good time so it’s kind of ok. Today was different. Today I had my big boy pants on and I found some confidence. I also found that extra gear I’ve been lacking. I kicked. For what seems like the first time in my running life I kicked and I kicked hard and this time I immediately pulled away from him, no response. I was ahead and I could see the finish and it was approaching quickly and I was running scared and everything burned and hurt and felt awful and I was tired and just wanted to be done so I ran so freakin hard and pushed pushed pushed and crossed the line.
I won. Somehow I won by NINE seconds! I don’t know how much that was me speeding up and how much was him maybe slowing down when he saw I was running away but wow! I won and all of my old co-workers were probably as thrilled as I was about it. A Playworks guy won the Playworks race. And I ran 16:11 which means I ran the last mile in 5:19 and split 2:34 for the last half mile. It amuses me that the results list the pace as if it were an actual 5k. Still, I’m fairly certain that I could have held my average pace (~5:24) for that extra tenth-ish and that would have given me about a 16:45 5k time. That would have been a HUGE PR! But most importantly to me was not the knowledge that I actually AM in sub-17 shape now, despite focusing on races MUCH longer, but it’s the confidence this gave me. I’ve won a couple races this year but never like this. I always LOSE races that come down the way today’s did. And this time I didn’t. Sure, the guy I beat was a 17 year old high school runner but still, I ran smart, I hung tough when I didn’t really want to and felt awful, and I figured it out at the end. That’s a bigger breakthrough to me than the time one. It makes me think it might be worth it to jump in the 5k next Sunday in Durham.
Another great thing I took away from yesterday is that I was able to run an easy 18 miles with my friend Talia in College Park a few hours later. To me, this bodes well for the ultras I have coming up and tells me that what I’m doing seems to be working.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
Yesterday I ran the Dogfish Dash 10k. This is a race I’ve wanted to do for a few years now. The main reason has very little to do with running. The race is put on by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales. When I was an undergrad at the University of Delaware, Dogfish Head was one of the first beers I got into when I could actually purchase my own alcohol legally. At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was that one of the very best breweries in the world was located just down Rte 1. Nowadays I appreciate just how much effort and time and hard work goes into making consistently delicious, consistently “off-centered ales for off-centered people” such as myself. Ok, enough digression. Suffice it to say, Dogfish Head ranks #1 in my heart as far as beer goes (90 minute IPA, best beer ever) and getting to run a race that started and finished at the brewery followed by a post-race party there with free beer and tours sounded seriously awesomesauce. Add to that the fact that one of my best friend, Kenny,s lives in Milton, a mere mile and a half down the road from the brewery and it was held the promise of being one of the best weekends of the year. And it certainly lived up to that.
Drove up Friday night, getting in around 2am and proceeded to put away a whole tray of bagel bites. Got a really good night’s sleep and spent most of Saturday relaxing on the couch watching season one of Louie which is definitely one of the funniest shows I have ever seen, ever. In the early afternoon I set out to go jog the course, throwing in some surges here and there to get a feel for what it would be like running at race pace the next day. The rest of Saturday was spent heading down to Rehoboth Beach to get my race packet and goodies at the DFH brewpub. After I got my stuff I ended up going inside, having a few brewpub-only beers and a pizza while talking to a bunch of other runners which was fun. Then I got home and Kenny’s amazing mom made porkchops and this rice and peppers thing and so I had a plate of that. Delicious. Bed by midnightish feeling like I had a good race in me.
Got up around 6:30. The race was to start at 8am, and being so close it was nice not having to worry about rushing or parking or any of that. I had a packet of oatmeal and half a banana, got my stuff together then all three of us drove over around 7:30. I got out and started jogging my warm-up along the first part of the course, stopped for one last bathroom trip and jogged back to the start area. There were something like 1700+ runners registered for either the 10k or the 5k which was being run concurrently. Said hi to a guy at the start line I knew from Dailymile and lined myself up at the front ready to roll.
The horn sounded and we were off a little after 8. Right away this young kid went out hard, as did an older guy I recognized from Wilmington races who ended up winning the 5k (and the kid, not your typical young kid who goes out hard and dies after 200m. He was 9 years old and ran 19:42 for 6th overall). There were a few others guys out with me and I settled into a pack of maybe 4 or 5, feeling good. Actually I felt good for quite a while, we turned out of the brewery onto a road that ran downhill to the half mile point. At this point, the 5k winner and one guy running the 10k had maybe a 5 second gap on the next group which consisted of a tall guy in a blue singlet, a guy with curly hair, and me. The course ran over this wooden footbridge and then wound its way through a neighborhood area. I hit mile one in 5:30 and was not surprised nor concerned. I felt good, I THOUGHT I was running about that actually. Around this point the three of us were a little strung out and I picked up the pace slightly to not lose contact. Shortly after that I was actually moving past curly hair guy to stay with the taller guy. I could see up ahead the 10k leader was actually AHEAD of the 5k leader. We made a rectangle around a neighborhood and I hit mile 2 in 11:15 (5:45 mile). I wasn’t surprised or bothered by the slower split; the first mile had been net downhill, this net uphill, it evens out. More importantly I was still feeling good and running in 3rd maintaining the ~5 second gap to 2nd place. The leader at this point was waaaay out in front already, probably at least 30 seconds ahead, so I put my focus into the race for 2nd. We ran back over the footbridge and up the hill we had come down earlier before turning off down another road as the 5k course headed back to the brewery. Back down a hill and then we began a long straight stretch. I hit mile 3 in 17:05 (5:50 mile) and shortly after crossed 5k in about 17:40.
Up to this point I was feeling pretty good. My legs were getting good turnover, I was breathing alright, and I was running what felt like a sustainable effort. But the morning was extremely humid. I’m not making an excuse for anything, just saying that running in 70 degrees with 95% humidity is not conducive to PRing, especially when your PR was set on a net downhill point-to-point course where it was cloudy and in the mid-50s with a tailwind the whole way and dozens of fast guys (and a few gals) to pull you along. Here I was running solo, and the humidity was making it harder to breath. I was beginning to feel the effort as the road gradually inclined. I grabbed a water and downed a bit and splashed the rest on myself. While it wasn’t hot or sunny, I was sweating profusely. Around mile 4 (22:59, 5:54), my left leg felt a little crampy. I altered my gait for a few steps to try to shake it out but over the next half mile or so I lost a good bit of time to the tall guy. At this point the course wound around and back on itself, so the last ~2 miles were run on part of the course we had already run earlier. We made two rights quickly and there was just an open field between the roads so I could see the two guys ahead of me. The leader had to be up by like a minute, minute and a half already, it was ridiculous. As I finished the 180, I could see I had at least 30 seconds on the next two guys so at this point it was whether or not I was going to catch 2nd place or just finish in 3rd. I briefly thought about not killing myself to try for 2nd and just cruise in for 3rd, it wasn’t going to be a PR anyway. But then I picked it up. Unfortunately what the course doubling back on itself meant was that we were going to be running through the back of the pack 5kers the rest of the way. There were also some 10k runners who we were moving passed, this is a key point for later. I hit mile 5 in 28:52 (5:53 mile) and noted that the same mile split had required SIGNIFICANTLY more effort than the previous one. We ran down a small decline and I saw the 5k winner jogging up on his cooldown. He yelled to me that 2nd place was only a little bit up and that I should go chase him down. So I did try to pick it up a bit. I think I accidentally blew a snot rocket on runner and almost ran into another. I crossed the footbridge for the final time and had a brief moment of panic. I was in the midst of a horde of 5k runners and passing some “lapped” 10k runners as well. I wasn’t sure where exactly to go as I had thought the 10k finish was a slightly different route than the 5k finish. I was wrong. Fortunately I spotted 2nd place up ahead and so I went after him. Going up the small hill for the next 200-300m was the worst I felt all race. People were walking next to me and I kinda wanted to be doing that instead. But when I got to the top it was a straight, flat shot to the finish and I felt much stronger. As I got to the entrance driveway to the brewery I heard Kenny yelling for me and I tried to sprint the rest of the way in. There was no chance of catching 2nd place but I still wanted to finish strong. Fortunately this finishing stretch they had coned off, 10k runners on one side, 5k on the other so I didn’t have to weave in and out for the final few hundred meters. I kicked with everything I had left and crossed the line in 36:07 (a 7:16 1.22 mile split), good for 3rd overall.
Then things got a bit odd. I congratulated the 2nd place guy. Then I saw the guy who won the race. Except he was upset. Apparently he had been soooo far out in front and some volunteers had been confused so they sent him to the right where we had turned earlier in the race instead of on to the finish the second time around. Seriously?! Did he LOOK like he was in the middle of the pack? The dude was FLYING! Anyway, there wasn’t really any long-lasting controversy. In a fine display of sportsmanship, the guy who placed 2nd agreed that the other guy would have definitely won easily and should be the rightful winner. So they cut 2 minutes off his time (conservative I would say) and gave him 1st overall as he should have been.
For my efforts I won the 20-29 age group which was good for two different bottle openers. After the race I got some yogurt and fruit, jogged another 6 miles, and then eventually got my free beer (a few of them), saw another running friend who ran a big 10k PR the day after she set a new 5k PR and almost won that race outright, went on a tour, and bought a case of 90 minute IPA and a t-shirt before leaving. So to recap — yeah, I ran 40 seconds slower than my PR, but in much less ideal conditions and at the START of fall racing season (for me at least, I’ve done a grand total of one workout and it was four days before this). Considering I’m focused on the 50 miler, this race gets a big thumbs up for all aspects. And it gives me confidence that I can run a really good 5k next Sunday in Baltimore.
And for getting through all this, here’s a picture from early in the race. The 10k winner’s brother took it and emailed it to me (BIG THANKS there!):
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!