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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

Weekly recap 2/6 – 12 and whatever

I finally have put together two decent weeks in a row! Hallelujah! Praise Cthulhu! Or FSM! But yeah, two weeks of the highest volume running I have ever done and right now as I write this on Sunday night, a little drunk, a little tired, I am surprised at how GOOD I feel! Here’s the recap, then I’ll babble about dumb crap:

Mon – pm: 23 miles, 2:59, downtown Raleigh, first 15 with Jessalyn, last 8 solo a little quicker
Tue – am: 3 miles, super slow on Duke XC trail//3p- 3 miles, slightly less slow on Duke XC trail//830p: 13 miles, 1:51 on treadmill at Y
Wed – 5:30p- 12 miles, 1:39, Umstead and then Cary Parkway to Y, then some squats and other lifting at Y, then 8:30p- 6 miles, 55:30 back home along Cary Pkwy
Thu – am: 3 miles, super slow on Duke XC trail//pm: 13 miles, 1:49 on Duke East campus loop, bathroom pitstop at mile 5
Fri – pm: 12 miles, 1:27 at American Tobacco trail (soft side), 2 easy, 4×1 mile quickish/1 mile easy (6:20, 5:00*, 5:50, 5:47 for quickish miles, 2nd mile cut short at 0.9 to take shit in woods), then 2 miles steady ~13:40, then 1 mile easy
Sat – am: 29 miles, 3:58, at Umstead, 2 loops of Umstead 100 course (1:43:45, 1:38:15) plus some extra
Sun – 16 miles, 2:18, at Umstead, started with some fast ladies from BCTC, ended with just Kate as everyone peeled off to do slightly less

Total for week - 133 miles, a little over 18 hours

The distance covered represented both a Mon-Sun and an overall any-seven-days personal high, ever. Last week I had set the seven day high at 132. The numbers are not particularly important, the time on my feet is, at least I think. To be completely honest, I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing. I figure I have a 100 mile race in seven weeks, a 12 hour race a few weeks after that, and two 24 hour races later this year. The more time I spend running, and un-injured, the better. So that’s what I’ve done. I feel pretty good. I’ve slowed down and just run more. Although this week’s average pace for all miles is somewhat faster than last week’s, probably mostly because of Friday’s pseudo-workout and the quicker long run on Saturday. Either way, I have no business feeling as good as I do considering what I’ve done the past two weeks. My legs actually felt like they could go a lot longer today. This bodes well.

A few random thoughts: today’s run was nice. I started with five awesome, fast ladies from the Bull City Track Club. Most of them are running the Boston marathon this year. We ran some of the bridle trail and some of the single track at Umstead. I’d say at least 85% of the running I do in a given week is by myself, so it’s nice to do some miles with other people. The main issue is that it’s hard to find someone who wants to run upwards of 2 hours during the week, although Jessalyn has done that a few times already, including last Monday. I kind of like doing the long, long runs solo as it helps not just with the physical stuff but with some mental toughness too (at least I think it does), but the other runs, like today, are much better with some company. I think I’m doing a better job of branching out and trying to be more social, at least within the running group. I went to the Bull City spring kick-off event at Fullsteam tonight (how can you argue with free Fullsteam beer?!) and actually talked to people instead of just standing awkwardly by myself drinking beer and reminding myself how much of a loser I am!

Another thing that I wanted to mention that amused me — Friday night I was on the phone with my mom. She asked me about what my plans were for the weekend. I mentioned that Saturday I had plans on running 28 miles (obviously I overachieved) and her response was simple, “Oh, that’s not too bad.” That’s not too bad. For a 28 mile run. I had to laugh, out loud. The type of running I have gotten into, this ultrarunning stuff, has completely skewered my mom’s perspective on running. Most people in the world will never even attempt a marathon. For the ones who do, it’s a gigantic achievement. And a marathon IS a big deal. But the distance (not the race, there is a big difference) is not a big deal for me anymore. I did my long run yesterday and was absolutely fine this morning. Ho hum. A year or so ago, telling my mom that would have elicited serious concern and worry for my safety and well-being. Now it barely registers. I have ruined my parents as far as realizing what constitutes a significant distance to run. It kind of put into perspective just how far I’ve come in a year. Last year, at this time, I was still thinking my goal for the fall would be to race a fast half marathon. Oh younger Mark, if only you’d known what your future held. So naive!

This week I’m looking to run similarly to the past two — lots of miles, lots of time on my feet, lots of time on the trai. A longer long run at Umstead this weekend, maybe another sorta-workout, hopefully some more running with people (apparently my pace fits perfectly with all the women in the track club that are running Boston this year, why the hell would I complain about that?!)

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

February 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm 10 comments

Disaster averted

Those who have read this blog for a while will maybe remember about a year ago I wrote about a particularly awful incident that happened to me while doing mile repeats at the Goucher College track. Running-wise, I felt great that day. Strong, smooth, crushing my workout. Unfortunately an hour or so before I decided to head to the track, I ate some leftover spicy quesadilla. MISTAKE! The short of it was that I did two full mile repeats and the third one was cut to a 1200 as I was sprinting down the homestretch directly to the track-side port-a-potty. I didn’t make it. It was the first time I had run so hard, I’d crapped myself. Not bad, but enough to make me bag the rest of the workout. I’ve had a number of close calls and near misses before and since. Until last night, they had all been directly related to Mexican food consumption combined with track workouts.

Last night was different. Originally I HAD planned on doing a baby workout, just to get my legs moving faster than the slow slog I’ve been doing 99% of the time. OF COURSE, by yesterday afternoon I was running to the bathroom every half hour or so. UGH. To make it worse, I hadn’t even eaten anything particularly delicious (or spicy) the night before. My GI system just decided to hate me. I amended plans and headed to Duke’s East Campus loop. Only a little over a mile and a half, and with a Whole Foods across the street from the where I was starting, just in case anything went awry.

Things DID go awry. I didn’t notice it on the first loop. But by the mid-point of the second, I was feeling some distress. Stupidly, I went on for another loop instead of heading to the bathroom. Halfway through the third loop I was in emergency mode and I still had about a half mile at minimum to go before I could get the Whole Foods bathroom. I cursed myself for not having the forethought to bring some toilet paper, as at least then I could have ducked behind one of the big bushes dotting the loop. Instead I trundled on as some dude came flying past me. This will be important in a second. With about a quarter mile to go I honestly thought, “Goddammit I’m going to shit myself right here.” I didn’t. I slowed it down and waddled across the street. I was trying to find a balance between moving fast enough so as to get to toilet ASAP while going slow enough to not cause a second catastrophe. As I got to the door, I noticed the runner guy who had gone flying by me minutes earlier entering the bathroom. And as I entered the bathroom I heard him narrowly missing a catastrophe of his own. I chuckled to myself, “THAT’S why he was flying. I empathize.” My empathy was short-lived, as I realized there was only ONE toilet! I briefly considered going to the women’s room. I briefly considered crapping in the urinal. Or the sink. I didn’t. I beared down; not moving made the problem much less dire. Finally I had managed to get in there.

I went back out and jogged another 8ish miles, my stomach somewhat less of an issue but still VERY uncomfortable. It seems I must have just caught some sort of stomach bug. Occupational hazard of working with 300+ children on a daily basis. I had other thoughts I thought I wanted to write about on my morning run the other day, but I forgot them.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY (and with some toilet paper in your pocket) everyone!

February 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm 4 comments

Weekly recap 1/30 – 2/5 (and some introspective musings)

First, YEAH GIANTS!!! SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!!! WOOOO!!!! 

Second, a quick recap of what definitely the best week of the year, training-wise, (not saying a whole lot) and probably ever (saying a little more) for me.

Mon – pm: 23 miles, 3:19ish at Umstead mostly (with a loop of the 100 course in there)
Tue – am: 3 miles, 30ish (Duke XC loop)//3p- 4 miles, 36ish (Duke XC loop)//830p- 8 miles, 73ish, Cary Parkway meanderings
Wed – am: 3 miles, 28:30 (Duke XC loop)//pm: 15 miles, 2 hours, downtown Raleigh with Jessalyn who is also on the BCTC listserv
Thur – am: 4 miles, 37:30 (Duke XC loop + mile of hills)//pm: 16 miles, 1:58:30 on the American Tobacco Trail (soft side)
Fri – am: 3 miles, 29 minutes (Duke XC loop)//pm: 8 miles, 66:30 on treadmill @4%, preceded by my weekly squats and stuff, followed by another much needed and super helpful John Stiner massage
Sat – pm: 32 miles, 3:48 at Umstead, two 100 course loops (1:46, 1:47), plus some extra on the bridle trail
Sun – am: 6 miles, 57 minutes on the greenway to Umstead and back

Total for week: 125 miles, almost 18 hours

Both the time and the distance are, by a lot, Monday to Sunday lifetime highs for me. However, from last Sunday to Saturday, I had run 132 miles which is a general seven day high. Throw a freakin parade, right? A year or two ago, I would probably be looking to tell as many people as I could all about this. While I may have stopped short of full out bragging, I would have made a pretty big deal about it. I have a slightly different perspective on it now. I AM very pleased with how the week went. Monday’s run really set the tone for everything. It helped that pretty much every day it was in the 60s and sunny (at least until the weekend) and all I wanted to do when I got out of work was run. I had no major plans for the weekend (aside from the Super Bowl yesterday. GIANTS!) either so I was able to run as much as I pleased Saturday. It all added up. I remember back in January of 2009, I ran 93 miles one week in training for the National Marathon. I thought I was hot shit, I thought that 93 mile week was going to make me soooo good. Now I understand that one good stretch of seven days (or hell, one good month even) doesn’t magically make you a good runner. Consistency, that’s key. This week isn’t going to make the rest of the year a success. But it IS a very solid step (or, lots and lots of steps) in the right direction. I finished the week feeling about as good as I did at the start, which is a great sign. And both mentally and physically, I feel hungry for more. When I walked in for my massage Friday, John mentioned that I looked like I had started training in earnest again, something about my face. I guess it shows.

Semi-related… Part of why I love going to John has nothing to do with the excellent work he does, it’s almost like a two hour therapy session. I go in, I get my body fixed, AND we talk (mostly about running) and I always find I leave with my mind in a better place too. There have been thoughts rattling around in various stages of clarity for a while now. One thing I probably knew but didn’t admit to myself until this week was that I was at a really low point. Physically, I’ve been a little beat up since November, but it’s been more mental and emotional. I’ve run, I’ve even raced, but I haven’t enjoyed a whole lot of anything. I’ve been trying to find enjoyment and purpose and fun in the things I’ve done the past few months but it’s been a major struggle. This always seems to come up this time of year for me, and despite the nicer weather than most winters, it seems to have happened again. However, the overriding emotion I was feeling on Monday afternoon could probably most accurately be described as bliss. I was (mostly) alone in the woods on a beautiful early evening with the sun setting over the trees and my legs felt good and everything felt as it should be. I had intended to run about 18 and added an extra 5 because of that feeling. And that theme pretty much dominated the week; running more mostly because I felt like it. It was such a nice change from the way I’ve operated for so long; being semi-obsessed with the numbers, the number of miles I have to run in a week in particular. Sure, I knew I wanted to run a good amount last week but I didn’t have a specific number in mind. I felt good, I was running easy, so I ran a lot more than usual, and it felt great. I ran primarily for the sheer joy that the act of running brought me, not because I felt like I HAD to do it. Honestly, there were precious few moments when I actually even thought about upcoming races and goals while I was running, even while I was running the course at Umstead, a race that is drawing ever closer.

Another thing that turned into a more coherent thought on Monday was how while my life is far from perfect, I have a pretty sweet deal going on right now, at least for what I want out of life in the immediate future. I’m a single guy. I live alone. I have a job that, while demanding, allows me to mostly leave work at work so when it’s quitting time it becomes ME time. I have no real major responsibilities or attachments to anyone or anything other than me. So if I get home from work and decide to spend 3-4 hours running, I can do so without having to worry about coordinating dinner with someone else, or not spending enough time with someone else, or any of that. It’s a double-edged sword for sure, there is a great amount of loneliness that goes along with it, but it’s (mostly) by choice. My cousin (who is awesome, a couple of years older, married, and has two kids) was joking with me last night saying that it’s good and all that I have this running, but wondering if I ever want to have sex again, or eventually get married, have kids, etc. The short answer is yes… someday. Would I love a scenario that allowed me to have both? Of course. IS there a scenario like that possible? I’m sure there is. A lot of people seem to make it work. For me, it goes a lot deeper than just not having or not willing to sacrifice the time to find other people or cultivate something with someone. Ultimately, RIGHT NOW, this is working for me, mostly. There are rough times still, and I’m sure there will be many more, mentally and emotionally, but it’s hard to argue with, or compare to, the feeling I had for almost 18 hours of last week. I could go on for a while, but this has taken enough of a tangent for one day and I have a nap to get to.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

February 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm 3 comments

Weekly recap 1/16 – 1/24

The primary goal for last week was to recover from the 100k race. To that end, I think I did a decent job. Considering how wrecked I felt after Stone Cat, and that was 12 miles shorter, I can’t complain much. Of course, after the 40 miler in October, I ran 93 miles the next week and basically didn’t miss a beat. Of course, at THAT race, the only issue I had was gastrointestinal in nature. I digress. I took the first three days of the week (and actually the last day of last week too) and did absolutely nothing. I watched football, I gardened on Monday, I can barely remember Tuesday and Wednesday they were so uneventful, and then I got back to work. I definitely didn’t feel 100% on Thursday (still don’t, not quite), but there’s improvement.

Mon through Wed – fuckall
Thu – 4 miles, 35 minutes on treadmill at Y, ankle mobility drills and some recumbent biking (45 min) too
Fri – 3p- some weights, highlighted by 5x5x165 squat workout and some one-legged squats, step-ups, then 2 miles at 15% on the treadmill (23 minutes)//830p- 13 miles, 1:55. I went out for an actual run run in the rain Friday night (because I couldn’t possibly have anything better to do on a Friday night) planning on maybe 6-8 miles. I felt so good that I just kept going, seeking out any potential hills I could find in the area
Sat – 10a- 12 miles, 1:41. Up the greenway to Umstead and back, it was a pretty nice morning and I ran longer than planned again//6p- 6 miles, 55 minutes. Again it was raining and I just wanted to go out and shuffle a bit. I actually felt a lot better running than I had just lounging around all day in my underwear watching tv
Sun – 9 miles, 83 minutes. The fact that I ran at all Sunday morning was a victory. I was kind of hungover and every step reminded me of the poor decision making skills I exhibited Saturday night. I spent a lot of time thinking about what’s important to me and the changes I really need to stop thinking about making and actually make.

Total – 46 miles (a little over 7:30)

All things considered, ok. Taking a long view of this, I’m sure it’s better that I didn’t push it when I wasn’t feeling very good early in the week. Next week I want to increase the volume obviously. I also need to get more sleep, eat better, drink less, blah blah blah. Don’t hold your breath.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

January 24, 2012 at 9:22 am 2 comments

Weymouth Woods 100k race report

Appropriately enough, my 100th post is a race report from a 100k…

Saturday I ran the Weymouth Woods 100k down in Southern Pines, NC. I had targeted this race for a number of reasons. For one, Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve, where the race was held, is only about an hour south of me so I wouldn’t have to worry much about travel. It also worked out in the lead-up to Umstead. While it was a race and of course I want to do well in races, I viewed it as more important as a an opportunity to test equipment, fueling, etc and get a really well-supported long run in with plenty of time to recover before the goal race. The 100k consisted of fourteen ~4.5 mile loops on the trails through the park, which at first seems horribly boring but I didn’t really mind and it made logistics a lot simpler. A big bonus was the fact that the always amazing Ashley was flying in from Boston and my brother Scott and his best friend Pete were coming in from LI, specifically to come to the race for me. Add to that my cousins who live in Raleigh were planning on coming down with their little boys who know I run but have never actually SEEN me run a race, and I was pretty stoked. I was also feeling slightly bad that all these people were going to see me and I wasn’t exactly expecting that good a performance. My training hasn’t exactly been stellar since Stone Cat. I’ve had some nagging issues that have prevented me from training the way I’d have liked to and I am not in the sort of shape I hope to be in a few months from now.

Still, a race is a race and when the race starts all the outside issues and excuses get put out of mind and the goal is to run smart, hard, and well. The week leading up to the race I actually started feeling particularly good. Fresh. It probably helped that I took Tuesday and Wednesday off. An easy “8” miles showing Ashley one of my favorite routes (the loop around Lake Crabtree) Thursday evening and a quicker-than-it-felt shakeout Friday night led me to believe that my legs were definitely ready for the race. Mentally, I was also in a much better place than usual before such a long race. I think a big part of this had to do with my lowered expectations. I was looking forward to just being out there running, not trying to make months of hard work and training culminate in something that would make it all worth it.

Friday night we all got pizzas at Bella Mia, got my stuff together, and got to bed a bit later than I probably should have. But I slept like a rock, another departure from usual pre-race happenings. Saturday morning we were all up and on the road shortly after 5am, saw maybe a dozen cars on the way down, and made it to the park a little after 6am which meant we were able to snag a parking spot right near where the course runs along the sidewalk in front of the visitors center. Getting to the race almost two hours before the start afforded me some downtime. First there was some vegging, the typical pre-race bathroom trips, having oatmeal squares and blueberries for breakfast, the process of getting everything organized, waking up the crew and shepherding them into the warm visitor’s center, going over the plan a few more times, making sure the watch was charged, going to the pre-race meeting, then going back into the visitor’s center for final preparations with about fifteen minutes to go. I finally got my pinky toe taped up in hopes that it would help prevent he usual blister forming there, put on my Brooks Pure Grits, got my water bottle and watch and the big warm gloves and headed out to the start line with about two minutes to go. I got to the start line and didn’t have much time to think before the countdown started. Ashley wished me good luck, I shook out my legs, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!

The race

As we crossed the start and ran about a tenth of a mile on the park road toward the trail, I settled in behind a group of about six guys, running very comfortably. Two guys had immediately shot off the front and quickly put some distance on everyone. For once I felt no temptation to run hard and get up there with them, reminding myself over and over that it was a VERY long race and it was quite probably I’d be seeing them again. As we turned onto the trail I was very happy I had made the trip down to run the course a few times the previous Saturday, knowing what to expect helped a great deal to mentally prepare for the many different things the it would throw at me. The way it worked, the first mile or so of the loop was a pretty rooty, mostly downhill winding stretch. Then we’d hit some wooden bridges, things would roll and then gradually climb for another mile or so before coming to the only aid station about halfway through the loop. From there it would be a relatively flat, immensely runnable stretch before a short climb, a short, steepish descent, some more winding, and the last mile or so to the finish would be mostly uphill, with what felt like the most arduous part coming at the very end when the trail came out behind the visitors center and wound around to the front. After each loop, we’d run along the sidewalk and make our way back onto the start of the trail. Rinse, repeat fourteen times and that’s all there was to it!

Early in the first loop I settled in with a group of three other guys, one being a fellow Brooks IDer who had run the race the previous two years (this was the third year), John, as well as a young army guy, Dan, and another dude with a sweet mustache. I recognized Ray K early in the loop, an extremely accomplished ultrarunner and someone who I’ve learned a lot from by mostly lurking on the Ultra List. That was a pretty cool moment, recognizing him. For most of this first loop we chatted idly about previous races, the weather, whatever really. I was feeling fantastic and didn’t look much at the Garmin (which I wore mostly so I could keep myself in check in the early stages), opting to go with the flow, considering no one was pressing anything. I think I led the group for most of the first loop, not necessarily by choice but because everyone else seemed a bit deferent.

We all came through within seconds of each other, 37:54, and Ashley had a fresh gel ready. I didn’t need to swap out my water bottle because I’d only had half. The plan was to eat a gel every half hour, just like I had done on my 47 mile Christmas run, and swap out the water bottles every loop so I wouldn’t have to waste time refilling. I had mostly GUs with some Hammer gels, and a few Cliff shot blocks. In the water bottle was primarily coconut water which has worked extremely well for me, on some loops I asked them to add some pineapple juice. I also brought a 2L of flat Coca Cola for later and in case my stomach got upset. Finally, I had a 5 hour energy shot for the halfway point. My goal was to run about 40 minutes/loop which would give me a 9:20 finish. That was honestly what I figured I could do if everything went right and I had a great day. Considering the winner ran 9:23 the year before, I figured that would also make me competitive at the front.

I wasn’t concerned that the first loop was a bit faster than the plan as I almost felt like I’d cheated and gotten through it without any real effort. I remember one of my early running mentors talking about a 5k and saying you want to get through that first kilometer feeling like you haven’t been racing at all yet. I just sort of extrapolated that to the first few loops here. Loop two was pretty much identical to the first. No really. I ran almost EXACTLY the same time (37:54.75 vs 37:54.05). After this second loop, I ditched the really big warm gloves as my hands were actually feeling too hot and the gloves made handling the gels and all that almost impossible. Instead I got Ashley’s pink ones. Awesome. I opted to keep the MacArthur wrestling hat and my long sleeve Brooks shirt on a little longer. I also had on clear safety glasses, the reasoning being that my previous experience with my eyes ‘fogging up’ during my last few ultras and long runs was probably related to the cold air and wind so hopefully the safety glasses would help prevent that. But the kept developing condensation and so about twice per loop early on I had to wipe them off. They were also scratched up pretty bad but it was better than the alternative (being blind with 30ish miles to go). As I came out of the woods at the end of every loop someone from the crew would be standing behind the visitors center and I could hear the cheering, “GO MARK!” as I climbed the hill. That was one of the best parts of the race. Every 4.5 miles I got to see Pete, Scott, and Ashley and there enthusiasm was noticeable and appreciated. I started the third loop in much the same frame of mind, feeling great, definitely wanting to push the pace but realizing that it was waaaay too early. I bargained with myself that around 40 miles would be ok to start running hard if I still had it in my legs, and if I didn’t, that would be the time to really dig in.

At some point early in this loop, our little group of four became fractured. Dan and I got a little ahead of the other two and ran most of this loop by ourselves. At one point we passed a guy, who looking at the splits and results I realize must have been James Brennan, and with that there were only two runners ahead of us, albeit way ahead and out of sight already. We chatted a bit and I learned that he was from upstate NY and his previous longest race was the Marine Corps marathon last fall. He was anticipating it hurting pretty bad later but said he was tough. I was impressed. The two of us came through the third loop together but I as I kept moving through quickly, I was on my fourth a little ahead of him. That was the last I ran with any other racer all day. I was 13+ miles in with a long way to go and I just settled in for the long haul.

The next few loops are mostly uneventful and kind of blended together. I was doing a very good job of eating every half hour, sipping from my water bottle every few minutes, and generally relaxing into the run. I’d check my watch every mile or so and was pleased to note how consistently I was running and how good I felt. I took it easier on the uphills and was cautious on the downhills. I wiped out once early, I think it was the third loop, landing on my knee, then rolling to my hip, and finally smacking the side of my head. There were two or three stubbed toes which hurt and I paid for after the race but other than that, I remained upright and moving forward. After the fourth loop I took off my long sleeve. After the sixth loop (almost mile 27), I took off my wool hat in favor of a baseball cap as I was definitely warm enough. This helped cut down on the condensation forming on my glasses, win-win! I also noted right before that that I had passed through a marathon in about 3:41, as opposed to ~3:19 at Stone Cat. Much smarter! I hit halfway in 4:22:36, feeling great still. I took off the t-shirt I had underneath my singlet. It was on this seventh loop that I caught and passed the guy who had been running in 2nd, though I didn’t realize it until I was done with the loop and my crew told me there was only one person ahead of me. Of course, at that point Tomasz had about a ten minute lead and was apparently running strong. I recognized the name from other race results and figured he’d have to have a really rough second half for me to have any chance of catching him.

I got through loops eight and nine in much the same fashion. Pretty sure I stopped to pee during loop nine which is reflected in it being a trifle slower than the first eight. After nine I was just over 40 miles but I was beginning to feel it a bit. I was approaching uncharted territory but I was also running a good, smart race and I was confident I could keep it up. I slowed a bit early on the tenth loop but once I got to the halfway aid station, I felt a bit better and picked it up, even dropping one of my only sub-8 miles of the race. As I crossed a bridge I saw Ray K sitting there and he told me to “keep hammering” and so I began repeating that to myself when I started feeling sorry for myself or particularly low. As I came through at the end of the loop, Ashley was there ready to run some with me and after taking a big swig of Coke, we were off. My cousins and their little boys had also arrived at some point around here and that was a HUGE mental boost. The next three loops were basically a minute slower than the previous. Considering I was beginning to feel exponentially worse, I’m pretty happy with how well I kept it together here. Ashley was very encouraging and helped warn runners we were coming by, something I didn’t really have much energy for. I found it a little amusing when we would pass people and they said something about how good I looked, because I sure didn’t feel like it anymore. After the eleventh loop, there was a slight mix-up now that Scott was in charge of the crew and there was no water bottle filled and waiting for me. I didn’t want to stop moving so I just kept going with whatever was left in the one I had. This is one of the only (small) mistakes made the whole day and probably didn’t mean much in the big picture. At some point I noted that I passed 50 miles and, according to the watch, had done it quicker than at Stone Cat. Baller.

The penultimate loop was definitely the hardest, quite similar to how the third lap of a mile race on the track is always the toughest (to me at least). You’re so close to being done but you know that when you finish that loop, you still have a bit more running to go. I didn’t stop and walk any but there were definitely some slow stretches. My feet were beginning to hurt in spots; I could tell there was the familiar blister/callous combo on my left little toe, my big toe felt like it had rubbed and the top of it hurt like it had in previous weeks. My left Achilles had been sore off and on all day. I was feeling kind of drained. But I pressed on mostly for want of being finished, and out of my shoes and so I could finally stop moving and just lie down.

Ashley had to peel off because her calf was starting to hurt and I would be on my own for those last 4.5 miles, which somewhere in my head I kind of wanted anyway so no biggie there. I took off the glasses here, which had worked extremely well. As I passed people they asked me if this was my last and they began congratulating me. I appreciated it but in my head had to remind myself that I hadn’t yet done anything worthy of congratulations. I was running with a little more abandon, determined not to leave any energy left in reserves by the end. I blew through the halfway aid station, ran as hard as I could up the short uphill and bombed (or what felt like bombing at least) downhill. With about a mile and a half to go, my watch died. I was surprised it lasted as long as it had. No matter, didn’t need it at this point. As I crossed the wood bridge by the swamp I knew I had about a mile to go and I put the hammer down. Despite it basically all being uphill to the end I ran, harder than I had in hours. I saw Scott at one of the last trail junctions, about a half mile from the end and I almost broke down there, but instead he just started running and I made it my goal to try to catch him. It felt like I was sprinting. I came to the very last climb up and out of the trail and I pushed and pushed. My legs were on fire, like they feel in the last reps of the last set of heavy heavy squats. I could hear everyone cheering from the top of the hill and as I came out and rounded the visitor’s center I could see everyone standing there looking extremely excited for me. I ran right through the line and into Ashley’s arms for one of the best hugs ever. I finished 2nd overall in 9:05:27, about eight minutes behind the winner (and the fourth fastest time in the race’s brief history).

Post race

I congratulated Tomasz on his victory. I ended up making up nearly five minutes on him over the last nine miles, but he was clearly better all day. As I staggered the twenty or so meters to the chairs where we had set up camp, lots of random people congratulated me and I was kind of in a daze so I hoped I thanked them. Everyone wanted to know what I needed. I downed a Boost immediately and took off my singlet. I wanted a shirt and I wanted to get my shoes off, but I also had to pee. About three minutes later, Dan finished up in third place. It would be over an hour until the next finisher would come in, the three of us had lapped the rest of the field. Cool. The two of us talked a bit, congratulated each other and then I went inside the visitors center to take off my shoes and prop my legs up for a bit. Eventually we left for my cousin’s in-laws place where I had one of the most delicious burgers and sausages ever (hunger is really the best sauce).

The damage wasn’t as bad as I imagined it to be, and a few days later it’s even better (although I definitely wasn’t walking normally until Tuesday). The plan is to be smart about recovering so as not to experience any unnecessary setbacks before Umstead. I won’t be doing much of anything this week, and then I’ll be slowly getting back to normal over the next two. The confidence I gained from this race will definitely be a help. I finally managed to race smart AND hard and the result was much better than I anticipated it would be. I am eternally grateful for the wonderful people I was lucky to have there with me, and super thankful for all the race staff and volunteers who did such a fantastic job putting on the race. People have expressed disbelief that I actually ENJOY doing something like that, racing for 9+ hours over 62+ miles. At times during the race I have to remind myself I do it willingly, but the fact is, I really DO enjoy this, and thinking back a few days later, most of my thoughts are positive. It was a very fun day. Hopefully next year I’ll be back in better shape and with a slightly better result.

Since this got long (of course), I’ll put up a separate entry with the many pictures from the course. But I’ll leave you with this one I snagged from Marie Lewis, the RD

Looking exactly like one would imagine running 100k feels like when it's finally done.

My splits (Katie texted me on Sunday to tell me they were ‘beautiful’):

Lap # Lap Time Lap Pace Cumulative Distance Cumulative Time
1 37:54.8     8:29               4.47 37:54.7
2 37:54.0     8:29               8.94 1:15:48.80
3 37:05.0     8:18               13.41 1:52:53.80
4 37:08.9     8:18               17.88 2:30:02.70
5 37:52.5     8:28               22.35 3:07:55.15
6 38:01.5     8:30               26.82 3:45:56.65
7 36:40.3     8:12               31.29 4:22:36.95
8 38:04.6     8:31               35.76 5:00:41.60
9 38:34.7     8:38               40.23 5:39:16.35
10 39:56.4     8:56               44.7 6:19:12.80
11 40:53.8     9:09               49.17 7:00:06.60
12 41:52.0     9:22               53.64 7:41:58.60
13 42:30.2     9:33               58.11 8:24:28.80
14 40:58.9     9:10               62.58 9:05:27.65

 

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

January 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm 11 comments

Meeting Tony Krupicka

Last night after picking Ashley up from the airport and doing a run around Lake Crabtree, the two of us headed to Fleet Feet Sports in Carrboro. Fortunately for me, John Stiner told me during my massage last week that Anton Krupicka, he of the world-class (and really, out of this world class) ultrarunning talent and general bad-assitude,  would be doing a meet & greet and giving a talk there. I had had no idea and would have completely missed it. It was pretty freakin cool; Tony put on a slide show and talked about his running exploits through the years, answered a bunch of questions and was nice and patient enough to stay after and chat and take pictures, like the one below. He was very entertaining to listen to. Ashley and I both agreed that after listening to him talk and meeting him, we felt like we needed to go out RIGHT NOW and run UP A MOUNTAIN. And then do it again. TEN TIMES. Seriously, it definitely helped set the mood for this weekend, and for the year and beyond in general. Super motivating.

Cool in a different way was meeting someone outside the store who had also been to the talk. We started chatting about races and it came up that we had both done Triple Lakes 40. He asked how I had done and I told him I had won it last year. His reply was awesome – “Oh, YOU’RE MARK?!” Apparently more than just a half dozen or so people actually read this. I suppose that IS part of why I started it in the first place, to make some more connections in the running community, considering I’m still relatively new at it. And awkwardly shy in person.

Today we’re going to stock up on fuel stuff for the race and get my brother actual running shoes at Bull City Running Co and then eat pizza at my favorite — Bella Mia. This weekend has gotten off to a great start, here’s hoping it keeps going right through tomorrow and finishes with Ravens and Giants wins on Sunday.

Til  next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

January 13, 2012 at 11:00 am 1 comment

2012 US Marathon Trials fantasy team

The US Olympic Marathon Trials are on Saturday in Houston (both men and women). I’m pretty excited about it as I love pretty much everything about the sport, from the sprints to ultras. Sadly I will miss the tape-delayed broadcast because I will be running the 100k all day, but hopefully I can get my cousin to DVR it. Last night I did something only a truly diehard fan of running would do — I went to Bull City Running Co and participated in a Marathon Trials fantasy draft. What’s that? It’s very similar to something JV and I have been doing three years running now with the NCAA XC Championships. Essentially, 23 dudes got together in the running store and spent about two hours selecting runners to make up our seven person “team.” After the races, it will be scored cross country style, meaning you score points based on the order of finish of your runners (1st gets 1 point, 2nd gets 2 points and so on). Lowest score wins. With 23 guys in the contest, I had to go pretty deep to fill out my roster. Even still, I think I picked a pretty good team. Here it is (bonus points if you can pick up on a particular trend with about half my team, it was not coincidental. If you want to know, scroll down):

1 – Mo Trafeh, Nike
2 – Max King, unattached
3 –  David Jankowski, ZAP Fitness Reebok (Yeah North Carolina!!!)
4 – Daniel Browne, US Army
5 – Michael Wardian, unattached
6 – Camille Herron, marathonguide.com/Inov-8/Powerbar
7 – Devon Crosby-Helms

I had the 11th pick, which means every other round I had the 13th pick. Was really pleased Trafeh fell to me there as I think he’s got a shot at making the team. The theme is, not surprisingly, ultrarunners. Everyone knows about Wardian. To say he runs a lot of races is to say that the universe is kinda big. But what is sometimes lost is that he is a very good ultrarunner. He won the US 50k and 50 mile road championships last year, he would have won the UROC 100k if not for getting lost on trails, he was 3rd at the World 100k championships, and 2nd at the JFK 50 (running under the old course record), etc etc etc. Max King doesn’t do the mountainous 100 milers but he’s run (and won) a lot of fast 50ks and a a few 50 milers. He’s probably a darkhorse to actually make the Olympic team. And Devon Crosby-Helms has competed, and won, an impressive list of ultras in her own right. She won’t make the team but hopefully she’ll improve on her OTQ performance. I don’t REALLY care how I do, but it is nice to have a somewhat more invested rooting interest in the trials now. It helps that I actually know of and would already be rooting for the people on my team anyway.

Anyway, nothing much else to report here. Eagerly awaiting the arrival of some of Team Awesome (Ashley and Scott, along with Scott’s friend Pete) who are all flying in today to come to the race this weekend. We’re all going to Fleet Feet in Carrboro tonight to see Anton Krupicka talk and whatnot. As an ultrarunning fan, I’m pretty freakin excited.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

January 12, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

2012 goals and stuff like that

I remember sitting down to write out my goals for last year and having so many that I had to break them up into two separate posts. There were the intangible goals that really could have been summed up as, “there is more to training than just running, do the other stuff too.”  And then there were very specific time goals, from one mile up to half marathon. It didn’t go and longer because at the start of the year I had no intention on running even a marathon, let alone an ultra. I was much more wrapped up in hitting a certain time at a certain distance, basically looking for races to serve as time trials, than I was on things like competition or, well, basically anything else having to do with running. And as I mentioned previously, I wasn’t actually very successful in achieving those goals. But it WAS a fairly successful year anyway.

Thinking about my goals for 2012, I feel quite a bit different than I did at the start of last year. For one, I am not nearly as obsessed with time goals. Obviously I want to get faster. Last year was the first year since I started running that I was actually consistent more than I wasn’t. And healthy more than I wasn’t. And the improvements were less about getting faster and more about my ability to turn it pretty good races much more frequently. And run a lot longer than I thought I would be doing yet. It was a decent start. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at some point this year I’d like to run a mile in less than 5 minutes. Or finally break 17 for a 5k. If I manage to stay healthy, I’m pretty sure I will at some point, but that sort of stuff will have to wait.

I think my primary goal for the first seven months of the year will be to survive really. I’ve set a fairly ambitious and possibly foolhardy plan in place through mid-July. It starts next Saturday with the Weymouth Woods 100k. For being one week out from running 12+ miles more than I ever have in my life, I’m not feeling much stress. That’s probably because I’m treating it more as a long run and a way to figure out logistics for Umstead than as a race race. March 31st is the Umstead 100 which will be my first 100 miler. I’m somewhere around 40th on the Massanutten wait list, a race known to be one of the hardest hundred milers on the east coast, and one that attracts quite a few REALLY good ultrarunners. If I get in, and it seems likely based on past years, that will be by the most challenging race I’ll have attempted to date. In the middle of July, I’m running my first 24 hour race, the BOMF 20in24 Lone Ranger Ultramarathon in Philadelphia. So to recap, a 100k, two 100 milers, and a 24 hour race. Thus, the goal of survival. I’m sure I will also learn a considerable amount more, suffer a considerable amount more, and hopefully have a considerable amount of fun in the process.

But if I try to come up with more specific goals, I find myself struggling. I’m going to be running races and distances that I’ve never done before. I’m not sure how my body will respond and when it comes to most ultras, distance is a relative term. One hundred miles at Umstead is not nearly the same as one hundred miles at Massanutten. The longest, time-wise, I’ve ever run for is less than eight hours which is only 1/3rd the amount of time as the 24 hour race in July. Time goals (and distance goals for Philly) seem silly to come up with for these races, especially still so far out. So I will say instead that for these, and the entire year really, I want to run smart races more than anything. I want to be competitive if it’s possible and I want, more than anything, to finish each and every race confident that I ran as well as I possibly could have. It sounds corny and I’d roll my eyes at it if I weren’t me and reading that but it’s true. If I relax, run smart, dig deep, and run the best race I can, the times and all that will take care of themselves.

There are some little goals too – I’d like to run a race or two back in Baltimore, just because I do miss the city, and more importantly people like Johnny. I’d like to do well at some of the races I ran last year that I’ll be repeating (like Finger Lakes, although I’m running at least 50k this year instead of the 25k, the Triple Lakes 40, and possibly Stone Cat again). I want to blog here a bit more regularly, and write less… formally sounding. I read back over a lot of old entries and I noticed I sound a bit like a somewhat vanilla version of myself. Not that I’m dishonest with what I write or anything, just that I’m a bit boring, at least to myself. Of course I also want to recommit myself to “doing the other things that make up training” which includes weights (specifically squats) at least once a week, getting enough rest, losing a few (or a few more than a few) pounds, eating more vegetables, blah blah blah. I think I alluded to my biggest goal for this year in my last post. I want to be sitting down to write up my 2012 recap in twelve months and I want to be able to write about how THIS was far and away my best year of running ever and yet still have room for better.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

January 8, 2012 at 2:40 am 1 comment

Obligatory 2011 year-in-review stuff

Seeing as how I have only 362 days before 2013 (unless the world ends, that is), I figure I should finally get around to reflecting a bit on 2011. In all measurable (and immeasurable) ways, 2011 was absolutely my best year of running ever. It’s not really even close. I ran more, I ran faster, and I ran further (or is it farther, I can never remember) than I ever have before. I made some awesome new friends through running, and some friendships I already had were strengthened. I saw some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with my eyes. I discovered I can do so much more than I previously thought capable of. But all the intangible stuff aside, I’m kind of a stats/numbers geek so that’s what I’m going to talk about.

In 2011, I ran a grand total of 3,337 miles. That is a little over 9 miles per day, or about 64 miles per week for the entire year. Obviously the year was not nearly as even as those number would lead one to believe. I started the year not running for over three weeks, my first running coming on January 24th. I battled nagging aches and semi-injuries for most of those first few months, and my only workouts were races. Somehow I still managed to run some decent times and capped the spring with a big 10k PR at the 10k in Rockville and a very satisfying sub-hour run at Broad Street. It was after Broad Street that something in my head just clicked. I had spent the first few months of the year so focused on structuring this perfect running/racing plan and trying to hit workouts and I just kept feeling frustratingly on the edge of disaster. So I sort of gave up and decided to just run. And run I did. For some reason it seems I train my best in the miserable hot summer months. May was the first month I had run over 300 miles in almost a year. June I ran 397 which was a big lifetime high. July followed with 428. And so on. In the six months from May through October, I ran more than the entirety of 2010. And all along I managed to stay reasonably healthy and not feel particularly burned out.

I looked back at some of the goals I stated for myself at the beginning of last year. I didn’t meet all of them, but I came pretty close to most — no sub-5:00 mile (5:06 though, a new PR), no sub-17 5k (but I did run a 16:11 3 mile), no sub-28:30 5 mile (but I did split 28:32 at Pike’s Peek 10k), DID run sub-36 10k (35:29), DID run sub-hour at 10 miles (59:07 at Broad Street).

Of course, at the start of 2011, I thought my ultimate goal would be to run a really fast half marathon in the fall. And while I DID set a new half PR in Virginia Beach in September, by June my goals had clearly shifted to much longer races. 2011 was to be the year of firsts for me. I won my first race. And then my second. And third. And fourth. I won’t pretend that any of those wins were particularly impressive or anything to brag about, but they certainly were cool moments. And any time I can win good beer, I’m happy. Right around the time I ran the Finger Lakes 25k in July, I decided to listen to Ashley finally and run a 50 miler and that became my new goal for the fall. Along the way I ran 46ish miles on my birthday in August. I ran that half marathon PR. I ran that 3 mile PR. I ran a 40 mile trail race that I won despite feeling worse than I have ever felt while running. I smashed my weekly and monthly mileage lifetime highs almost routinely. I had two running streaks of over 60 days. I was running a lot and loving it and doing it reasonably well.

It wasn’t so long ago I did run that 50 miler, Stone Cat, and I did pretty well for a first attempt at racing that distance. I underperformed from what I thought I was capable of but I think I’ve learned a great deal from the experience. The somewhat disappointing end to what I really have to admit to myself was a better fall racing season than it felt like, only serves to fuel a renewed hunger for continuing to bust my ass and improve in 2012. I’ve taken it pretty easy the last few weeks of 2011. Mentally, I needed that. Physically, I DEFINITELY needed it. It’s easy to forget that in 2010, my longest run was 19 miles and my highest volume week was 80. I’ve laid out a pretty ambitious plan for the first half of 2012 and I’ll talk about my goals for the year and all that later today or tomorrow. Suffice it to say here though that while I am overall pretty happy with 2011, and ought to be, to me it just marks the first year that I really took this stuff seriously for the long term. Which means that I expect to be talking about how quaint it was that I thought 2011 was such a good year for me when I write my 2012 review a year from now. Onward and upward!

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

January 4, 2012 at 10:14 am 4 comments

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