Posts filed under ‘races’

2014 Umstead Marathon race report

Another race report! This one hopefully a bit more timely. (ed. note: I had written out a pretty long (of course) report and WordPress decided it didn’t like it and deleted it. GrumpyMark is going to write a super quick one now and whatever, grrr)

The Umstead marathon holds a special place in my heart. Two years ago I was a fledgling ultrarunner who was trying to do everything I could to get ready for the Umstead 100 and was offered an opportunity to run the marathon. I figured at the time that I was going to do a long run in the park anyway so I might as well have some fun with it. I ended up winning it and setting a big (still-standing) PR, running just over 3 hours. That run gave me the confidence I needed to do so well in the 100 miler a month later. Last year was the opposite story. In the three months leading up to the marathon, I ran a total of less than 120 miles. I showed up to the race having JUST got over a knee and hamstring issue (the issue being that when I ran, it felt like fire knives were stabbing me in those places), I was fat, and totally out of shape. I gutted out an almost personal worst and somehow managed to run just fast enough to ‘get wood’ (the cool little wooden trophy given to the top-15 in each gender). I am pretty sure that was the least fun I have ever had in a race, ever. The fact that I did so poorly with a big bullseye in the form of Bib #1 on my chest definitely didn’t help matters.

This year HAD to be better than that. This year has already been better than last so it would stand to reason. I initially hadn’t planned on running the race but I was fortunate to get one of Bull City Track Club’s spots again (THANKS JASON AND KIM!) so I figured I might as well try to redeem myself. The week before, the 10 mile performance gave me reason for cautious optimism that I would at least be competitive. Of course I then went and promptly re-aggravated my tight, painful left calf by pushing it too hard on a 23 miler Tuesday and then again Wednesday even more. By Thursday I was wondering if I’d be able to run at all. Friday I managed two very painful, very slow miles and then had an emergency session with John  Stiner which made things feel somewhat better but definitely not nearly 100%. He also strongly advised me not to race, something my parents, who had come down to watch me do improv Thursday and go to the race Saturday, echoed. I decided I would at least go to the race and get my shirt and if I felt up to it, I would start and bail if it got real bad.

My parents, Shuriah, and I got to the race right around 8am, I got my bib and started getting ready. Saw John again and he reiterated not to be stupid and I tried to convince myself that I wouldn’t. If I were being honest with myself, which I was trying to do, the calf was still very tight and kinda hurt even just walking. I was not quite sure how this would go but I wasn’t that optimistic. I put a compression sleeve on it but didn’t really expect that to make much of a difference. About ten minutes before the start I jogged into the woods a little to go to the bathroom one last time. I could certainly FEEL the calf but it wasn’t VERY painful so I knew I could at least start.

For some reason I still lined up near the front, right next to Ronnie Weed and Matt Hirschey. I saw Wayne Crews and Lorraine Young, last year’s winners, up front again too. We got started right around 9am and for the first time in the three years I’ve run this marathon, I didn’t start and almost immediately feel like I was working hard. I actually took that first uphill out of the camp area relaxed, chatting with Ronnie and Matt and perfectly content to let quite a few runners go by. My big goal for the race was to maybe finish without setting myself back significantly. After that, I figured it would be nice to be top-15 male again and ‘get wood’ which was a cool insect this year (although not as cool as an oppossum)! As we got near the first mile turnaround on the airport overlook I counted who was ahead of me and figured I was sitting in about 11th place or so. Ok.

We were running quickly but not pressing and while I was definitely AWARE of my calf, it wasn’t hurting. Yet. We turned onto the single track and the thought occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to run ANY single track in the months leading up to the race. I honestly couldn’t remember off the top of my head the last time I did, I guess when I was helping out at that race at Eno River SP in October. My goal for the single track became ‘don’t hurt yourself worse.’ Ronnie and I were still pretty close together and Matt had pulled slightly ahead and so did Anthony. I decided to let go a little on the downhill on Graylyn and that was probably a mistake. My calf tightened up considerably and when I got back on the single track I was feeling it. Blah blah we ran up hills and down some hills and came to an aid station and I think it was around there that I may have caught Matt and gone briefly by him. I was in ~6-7th at this point and figured I was running a pace I could manage the whole way. We came out of the woods and Matt had once again gone by. I couldn’t quite see Ronnie behind me anymore but figured he was close, as were a whole bunch of other people. At mile 8, we were done with the single track and I was happy about that. Heading back up Graylyn, my calf hurt some more. At some point between then and when I got to the next aid station where Reedy Creek and Turkey Creek meet, I had to stop and stretch it out a little. I pressed my finger into the lateral head of the gastroc and tried to do a little self-active release. It worked moderately enough to get me running again. 

The next interesting thing that happened was getting lei’d near halfway.  That helped me remember not to take this so seriously.I hit the halfway mark in about 1:38 which was much smarter than 1:31 last year. I had had to stop a few more times to stretch and massage the calf out and around mile 12 it occurred to me that maybe I should call it quits. I figured I’d wait until I get back to Graylyn to decide one way or the other. It was an increasingly frustrating situation I was finding myself in. Aerobically, I felt great. I wasn’t taxed at all. My legs also felt really good. There was no creeping soreness, no lack of ‘pop’ but there was the calf holding me back. If I thought about, or foolishly tried to run a bit faster, it tightened and threatened to just give up altogether. So I tried to be smart. Between 12 and about 20, there were periodic stops to stretch/massage and also brief 15 second ‘walk on my heels to try to stretch my calves’ stretches. Ugh. Matt was long gone, as were the people ahead of him. I caught a brief glance back during one of my massage breaks and didn’t notice anyone coming up behind. Odd. I was running ~7-7:30 miles but didn’t think that was enough to put so much distance on anyone behind me.

Right around mile 15 we come back down to that aid station off Graylyn and I could see that I was well behind Wayne, Michael, and Lorraine. I saw Matt coming up the hill out of the aid station as I was going down. It looked like he had at least a few minutes on me. I began to see how far ahead I was from everyone behind me on my way back up. It wasn’t much. Maybe a minute or two? I was counting men to see where #15 was and how much cushion I had. It was like almost 15 or so minutes. I figured that if my calf didn’t relax, or, more likely, got worse, I might still have enough cushion to get that coveted wooden bug.

Last year I remember the Turkey Creek section on the way back sucked. There was a lot of walking, partly because I was in pain bu mostly because I was waaaaaay out of shape. That wasn’t the case this year. I took the hills, especially the downhills, conservatively because my calf didn’t like them, but I was able to move pretty consistently. It was a very weird mix of thoughts in my head. My competitive side continued to be frustrated because, hey, this is a race and I want to do well and I didn’t want to get caught and passed and I wanted to push more than I could. I was also happy that aerobically I was feeling ok still, 2 or so hours in. 

As I made my way back to the end of the Turkey Creek section something awesome happened — I started to feel better. Maybe it was a bit of adrenaline from knowing I was only about 10k away from being done and, hey, I’ve run a bunch of 6-7 mile runs this year, no problem. Maybe it was the fact that the calf was finally getting some more blood and all the easy running and massaging had actually helped loosen it up a bit. Whatever it was, as I approached that aid station where I turn back to Reedy Creek, I was feeling the best I’d felt all race. I took this downhill a bit quicker. I didn’t think I was going to catch anyone ahead but I also was starting to feel more and more confident that I was going to successfully maintain my position. As I started working my way up corkscrew hill, I noticed a guy ahead of me that I was pretty sure was in the race. I quickly closed on him and, yep, he was. Looked like he was having a tough go of it. Pangs of last year hit me, I was there, it sucks. I kept on trucking and turned onto Cedar Ridge for the long downhill. I noticed that I had actually picked up the pace a bit this last stretch and hadn’t even slowed much going up corkscrew. 

Cedar Ridge. Man. Two years ago I honestly didn’t notice how difficult it was. So late in a marathon, so long of an uphill immediately after a long downhill. That year I felt like I flew up. That’s where I caught and passed the leader and just kept building steam. Last year, it’s where I really fell apart, mentally and physically. I walked a lot of it. I got passed by a bunch of people. I sucked. This year I was braced for it to actually be hard. It was. But I was ready. I noticed I was not THAT far behind Matt anymore, maybe two minutes. I also noticed I was well ahead of the next runner. Hmmm. I made the decision as I turned to head uphill that I was going to push it, calf be damned. I was too close and had been so patient and I can survive 3 or so miles. 

I put my head down and tried to find some extra bit of strength to climb back up. It was definitely significantly less unpleasant than last year but it certainly wasn’t an easy float like the first time. I think people at the aid station were telling me I looked strong, and maybe that I was pretty close to 4th place. I didn’t really understand why they said because I was definitely in 5th at best but whatever. This was the best I felt all day, by far. I was finally able to really push down on the throttle and my leg cooperated. I had plenty of energy for Cemetery Hill and at that point I had caught sight of Matt. By my estimation he was up by about exactly one minute at the top of Cemetery Hill. Part of me thought that was probably too much with not enough left to run. Then I took another estimation at a tree and it was down to 26 seconds. And I was clearly gaining. I caught up to him before the water fountains and just kept on. Making the turn off the bridle trail, it struck me I was going to finish and I was going to do it successfully and respectably. The downhill last couple hundred meters were fun again, not quite as fun as the first time but close. I rounded the bend and could see the finish. I heard mom and Shuriah screaming for me, I heard the announcer say something like, “Here comes Mark Manz, our 2012 winner” and then I was done. 3:11:44. 4th place overall, 3rd place male (apparently someone else had cramps and slowed down or something without me noticing). And while my calf was not super happy, it felt no worse than earlier in the day, maybe even a bit better. As far as I was concerned, a very successful run.

Writing this so long after the fact, I have the benefit of perspective. At the time it may have seemed a little dumb but I’ve managed to continue training, taking a needed easier week after. My calf is fine now. I will always wonder “what if” — what if my calf was not an issue. I hate making excuses, and I doubt I had another 3:00-3:01 performance in  me, but maybe a 3:04-3:05. Wouldn’t have changed my placement but it would have made things more interesting. Ah well. This year was pretty good, next year will be much better.

Mark, out.

March 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm 5 comments

2012 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run race report

On Saturday I ran the Umstead 100 mile Endurance Run. It was my first 100 mile race ever.  But to accurately and fully write a recap of this race, I need to go back some beyond four days ago. Back to last June when I went to a Baltimore Road Runners Club picnic. It was there that I talked some with Serge Arbona, mostly about the races he’d done and the ones he had coming up. For those who don’t know, Serge is one of the most accomplished ultrarunners around (and a REALLY nice guy to boot!). I was only a few weeks away from moving to North Carolina and he joked that I should come pace him at Umstead next year, as I was going to be living close by. At the time I had never run more than 31 miles but somehow a seed had been planted. Fast forward to September 7th, the day registration was opening up for this year’s race. Umstead tends to fill up very fast, like five minutes fast. I happened to have a bit of a break at work at noon when registration was set to open. I decided that I would try to register. Whether I got in or not I would take as a sign from the universe on how to proceed going forward. As luck would have it, right around 12:02pm, I was officially registered to run. At that point I had still hadn’t run an ultra since the 50k disaster in DC in November of 2009. But if I didn’t want to waste my money, I was going to run my first 100 miler in a few months.

Fast forward a bit. I ran some longer races last year, to mixed results. I got some experience and miles on my legs. I got a little fat and out of shape by the time I ran Weymouth Woods in January. Fortunately, something clicked after that race. Despite being sorta fat and out of shape I ran reasonably well and reasonably even splits and recovered quicker than I probably ought to have. I guess I made up my mind there to get my shit together and train seriously and maybe I’d be able to survive the whole ordeal.

I had some pretty good, encouraging results leading up to Umstead. But in the few down weeks leading up to the race, I was consistently more looking forward to seeing my friends and some runners that I admire than I was about actually running it. The race was more an excuse for everything else. I remember telling someone only a few days before that I was a little nervous that I wasn’t really feeling nervous or anxious at all. For once I felt like I had done everything right, or as right as I could manage making things up as I go along. By Wednesday of race week my legs felt better than they have ever felt. Ever. I was starting to get a little excited.

Thursday night Katie, my amazing crew chief, flew in from Boston. Despite having extremely limited ultra experience (as in, she crewed for me at Stone Cat and that was it), I was confident that my life was in the best hands possible. Friday morning Johnny showed up and Team Awesome was fully assembled. But the fun was just beginning. Part of why I was so excited about this race was who else was coming down to RUN it. In addition to Serge, Christian was coming down to crew/pace him. As was Dave Ploskonka, another very accomplished ultrarunner from Baltimore who I met when we both paced the 10 miler there last June and then I crewed him at Hellgate last December. Those two I knew, and look up to a great deal as both have run some incredible races and have a ton of knowledge and experience and bad-ass-ness to their credit. In addition to them, last year’s race winner, John Dennis, was running. So were a couple other guys who ran very fast times last year. And Mike Morton, who had already run 13:18 in Florida in January and almost broke the American 24 hour record last September (running 163+ miles). In short, there were A LOT of really good runners there and with a course that is entirely runnable, I was pretty excited to see what would happen.

Friday was a bit of an adventure. Dave’s car got towed in Baltimore so he was having a rough start to the weekend but DID manage to get down here in time to suffer through what was apparently not the most enthralling pre-race briefing ever. We all missed that briefing because we had to drive out to Chapel Hill and pick up Serge and Christian from a mechanic. Apparently Serge’s car was shot. We got to the park a little after 6 and I got my race bib and after Serge and Christian got their stuff out of Johnny’s trunk, the three of us headed to my pre-race pizza place, Bella Mia. Dave joined us and we had a pretty relaxing, delicious dinner. A quick trip to Target and then it was home to get things prepped and get to sleep. Only hours away from the race and I still wasn’t very keyed up. Instead Dave and I were sitting around joking about all sorts of stuff and I was feeling extremely loose and relaxed. I even managed to sleep relatively well.

4 am my alarm went off and I got up easily. Thanks to Katie’s packing the night before, all I really had to do was eat a small bowl of cereal, go to the bathroom, get dressed, and gather my belongings to get out the door. We were all in Johnny’s car and headed to the park around 5am and probably arrived around 5:30. It was drizzling a little but not obnoxiously so. It actually felt a lot like the morning of the Umstead marathon, so I took it as a good sign. I got my Brooks Pureflows on, grabbed my duffel bag and headed up the hill to the start/finish area. It was a pretty crazy scene up there. With 280-some people registered, the start area was extremely crowded with runners and volunteers and crew. I was more than a little overwhelmed and for the first time, feeling some nerves about what I was about to attempt. Instead of trying to digest the magnitude of running 100 miles, I focused on the steps I needed to take to get to the start. I got to the bathroom and applied my A&D ointment (which I FINALLY remembered to thank Dave for giving me that advice, LIFESAVER!), and got my singlet on. I found a spot in the woods to take care of some business. With about three minutes to go I was at the start line, with Johnny and Katie around me. I tied my shoes and then with about 30seconds I worked my way toward the front where I found everyone I expected – Serge, David, Mike, John, and a couple other people I didn’t immediately recognize but who looked fast. This was it. I looked around and spent a moment just enjoying the calm before things got started. I switched my headlamp on and heard them count down. GO!

The race

The nice thing about Umstead (or the awful thing depending on your perspective) is that the 100 miler consists of eight 12.5 mile loops, all of it on the bridle trail, except for the half mile or so stretch that runs between race headquarters and the bridle trail that is run at the start and end of every loop. The bridle trail is made up of extremely well packed gravel (I described it to Johnny early in the week as ‘NCR trail with some hills’) and every step of the course is runnable. Most of the first few miles are flattish, some downhill, some uphill, nothing too intense. There’s a brief section from a little after mile 7 to a little after mile 9 that has some short, steepish ups and downs, and that’s it. I don’t know exactly how much I’ve run the course but I was certain that no one in the field had run more miles on it than I have in the past few months. While knowing what to expect isn’t as important as being in good shape, it definitely was a mental help to know what was coming and when. Doing my first 100 miler, the less surprises, the better as far as I was concerned.

So the race. Yes. We started by running up the park road that led out of camp. Because it was dark I couldn’t quite make out who was who but someone I figured correctly to be Morton darted out quickly ahead, followed closely by Serge and John Dennis. I was briefly up there and I know I said something to Dave before he pulled away too. By the time we hit the bridle trail I was probably in 6th and I was also already sick of my hat which I took off and hung on the gate. Another one or two guys went by me on the airport spur out and back. It also started raining a little harder, enough that as I passed the gate, I ran over and got my hat off it and put it back on, this time ON TOP of my headlamp. The next forty or so minutes were pretty uneventful. I got passed by a few more guys. I think by the time I hit mile 3, I was in 8th or 9th. I had no idea how fast I was running; I was wearing my regular old watch because the rain would mess with the garmin (in retrospect, I think this might have been a good thing). All I knew was I was running what felt pretty relaxed (and if I was being honest with myself, maybe a touch faster than planned). I also felt pretty flat which was initially disappointing. My legs didn’t feel that peppy, and I felt a little sleepy actually. I decided it wasn’t worth worrying about and that when the sun came up I’d probably feel better. As I ran down corkscrew hill, someone I recognized as Jonathan Savage ran by me and as we made our way up the hill on the other side of the bridge, I went by him again. I could say lights waaaaay up ahead already and thought to myself that I should mention to Katie when I got back that somebody was probably gonna crash and burn later.

About 6 miles in, it got light enough to take my headlamp off, FINALLY. I hate that thing. I left it at the aid station just before 7 miles and was off. The first time through the Turkey Creek hills was uneventful. I saw three guys who were waaaay ahead earlier in the loop already starting to come back to me. This whole stretch I was constantly reminding myself NOT to push it on the hills, just relax and take them easy as it was VERY early. By the time I got back out onto Graylyn Road and the lovely mile-ish downhill stretch, I might have gone by another guy. On Graylyn I caught up to another runner who I think was Troy Shellhamer (who I knew had run almost under 16 last year and was probably looking to run even faster this year). We chatted very briefly about how fast some of the guys went out and he mentioned there was some really good runners this year and advised me not to get sucked up in going out too fast with them. It was a good reminder. After that I pulled away a little and continued on. I think the first time I noticed a mile marker was at mile 10 and I noticed I was right around 8:00 pace. Whoa. Not sustainable. BUT! I had exchanged some emails with Ray K about a week earlier and he advised me to go out right about how I was, shoot for a 6:40-7 hour 50 mile split and then try not to die too hard. Maybe not the BEST strategy for someone for their first 100 miler, but I wasn’t really interested in trying to ‘just finish’, I wanted to see how fast I could actually go. I promised myself that I was going to actually race this one. So things were either going to go awesomely, or they were going to get really ugly and be fucking miserable for a long, long time. I didn’t want any in between. I didn’t want mediocre.

Coming back in at the end of loop one, I felt fine. I had wanted to get done with the first loop and feel like I hadn’t really done anything yet and that was pretty much what happened. I had my nutrition plan working (coconut water, honey stinger chews and assorted gels every half hourish, supplement with water and salt at aid stations) so far. I saw a few guys coming out on their second loops as I was coming down the hill at the end of my first. Said hi to Dave who was probably a half mile ahead, and then met Katie and Johnny at the start/finish. I gave them my singlet and hat (both were too wet and would only get wetter and I worried about chafing). By my watch, the first loop took 1:41:47, a little fast but well within reason.

I re-stocked my gels, took a fresh handheld, and was off on number two in seventh place. There were a couple guys pretty close to me on the way in as I was going out. The second lap was fairly uneventful. The sun had come up but it was very overcast and still sort of drizzling. It actually felt really good to me and I kept hoping it would stay like this all day. Around 2 miles in, I came up on 6th place, who I recognized as Darian. He had also run the Triple Lakes 40 miler back in October. We chatted for a few miles before I pulled away around mile 4 (he went on to have a stellar first 100, running 18:25 for 10th place!). And that was really the only excitement for this lap. I couldn’t really see anyone else ahead of me, I was still running about the same effort, and was incredibly relaxed and calm. I think it was this lap (or maybe the third) that I saw Jessica, a teacher at my school who also runs and does Ironmans, at the far aid station. That was a nice surprise. As I came back in at the end of the lap, I noticed how much further along the three leaders, Morton, Dennis, and Serge, were, easily already a half hourish up on me. I said hi to Dave in about the same spot as I was coming in. I asked Johnny and Katie to move down to the bottom of the hill so I could tell them what I wanted coming in and grab it going back out. I think after this loop I had some candied ginger. My stomach wasn’t bothering me (and thankfully really didn’t all day) but I kept taking a couple pieces each lap as a preventative measure. Second lap took 1:40:12, and that wasn’t surprising because I had more pep now that it was daylight.

The third lap was my fastest somehow, but again, it was pretty even. I had no interest in trying to chase down the leaders. I was sticking to the plan and it was still very early (which makes me chuckle to write, I had already run a marathon, at essentially the same pace as my very first one four years ago, and it was EARLY). I DID realize a few miles in that I didn’t have enough gels to stick to my fueling plan, because I should have taken one when I came in. I didn’t really sweat it, just knew I needed to eat something more at the far aid station. I got in and out of that, forcing down some pretzels because it sounded like a good idea, and a banana (so I could tell Katie I was eating solid foods). I tried to stretch the gels and chews I had as far as they’d go on this lap and I relaxed on the hilly section. Despite that taking it easy, I came upon the guy in 4th place (I say 4th because unbeknownst to me, I had passed Dave at the aid station, he had been in the bathroom with stomach issues that unfortunately ended up torpedoing his race). At this point we were starting to encounter runners on their second laps too, but I recognized the guy in the green shorts as having been way ahead earlier. I was actually a little surprised because someone earlier had specifically mentioned that green shorts was fast and I also remembered right near the start hearing him talking with someone else that he was 2nd (?) at Uwharrie 40 this year. As I slowly went by up one of the early steep inclines I had a brief moment where I thought maybe I’ve actually been running a really stupid race all along because, really, do I have any business being this far up and passing people like that? It was a brief moment, because then I shut myself the hell up and continued on, at what felt almost like dawdling pace.

The rest of the loop was the same as the previous three. I noticed my legs felt eversoslightly heavier or tighter or something, but not alarmingly so. When I came down the hill I quickly told the Katie that I needed more of everything. Double it.  I hit my watch at 1:39:29 and headed out again. I chugged a Boost shake here, on Katie’s orders. It was a good idea, the calories definitely helped. I set off loaded up with two gels and two bags of honey stinger chews. They informed me that the only three ahead of me were the three leaders. I was incredulous, but didn’t bother staying around arguing. Right around 4.5 miles in, I heard footsteps coming quickly. One of the guys I had been seeing fairly close behind every lap had caught up and he was looking really strong. I’d later learn his name was Jim and he was from Albany. He mentioned running together for a little, to break up the monotony. I welcomed it, but also worried that he looked A LOT better and stronger than me right then and I didn’t want to burn myself out keeping up. The next few miles to the aid station were pretty pleasant as the conversation was a welcome distraction. I mentioned that it was my first 100 and he had previously done Vermont and when he asked what time I was shooting for I honestly had no idea anymore how to answer. I was nearly 44 miles in and if I kept up the pace, we’d break the previous course record. I was honest and said I figured I’d like to hang on enough to break 15 at this point and he had similar designs. Only about 6 hours in, we had ourselves a long day ahead still.

We got into the aid station together. I started dipping a boiled potato in salt and eating it which seemed like a good idea. He stopped for the bathroom and I continued on, figuring he’d catch up pretty quickly (I was right). We ran together for a good bit of the back section hills before he gradually pulled ahead. I was right that he must have been feeling better than me at that point and it would have been stupid trying to chase him down not even halfway into the race. I came in at just about 1:45 for a 6:46 50 mile split, which is a HALF HOUR PR (unless one counts the 7:00 50ish mile split at the 12 hour, in which case it’s only a 14 minute PR). I was really happy that I had managed to perfectly execute Ray K’s advice to go out between 6:40-7:00 for the first 50. The second part of that advice was essentially to hold on for dear life and try not to blow up TOO much. I was definitely starting to get a little tired but not as badly as I imagined. Johnny also surprised me by jumping in to pace me here, which was definitely welcome.

Johnny was great to run with. I was quickly starting to not enjoy running. This probably had a lot to do with the rain stopping and the sun actually coming out. Things warmed up quickly and the humidity seemed to linger. My comfort level quickly dropped. He kept reminding me to drink, and made sure I was eating. I wasn’t very talkative but that was alright. He also reminded me to relax into the hills, and not get too excited yet. I started cramping some, particularly my calves and some weird tendon-y thing on the front of my ankle (where it connects to the top of my foot). When we came into the aid station I was wondering how far back I had fallen from Jim. But as we left, I ran into him (he had changed from a neon green to a black New Balance singlet) and we ran together a little bit before he again pulled away.  I don’t recall anything much else extraordinary from this loop except I was starting to wish I could just call it a day after the loop and get credit for a 50 mile finish. Of course, neither Johnny nor Katie would allow that to happen. Neither would I but still, it’s nice to know your friends won’t let you back out of the stupid thing you started. We came in around 1:46 (~8:32 total), so even though I felt a good deal worse, I had managed not to slow considerably and Johnny deserves a lot of that credit.

Three laps to go. The mental math had started in earnest. If I ran 2:00 laps the rest of the way, I’d still have a 14:32 finish which would be pretty good, and if I slowed even more I could probably hold it together to break 15. Johnny went out with me on the 6th lap too. We had gained on Jim on the back half of the fifth lap, he seemed to be struggling with the heat some too. I noticed as we ran along Reedy Creek trail that we had gained a considerable distance on the guys I assumed were immediately behind me, standings-wise. I also noticed that I hadn’t seen Serge or John Dennis as I was coming in from the last lap, wondering if they had slowed some. Morton, however, was continuing to hammer it. As for my lap, there were a few moments where I had to walk and shake out a cramp. Johnny was good about not letting me take too much time, only a few seconds. It was now legit hot out and I was going through A LOT more fluids. Aside from the main aid station before mile 7, there were a few unmanned water stops set up every few miles and I was now stopping to take a cup or two of water there. And I refilled my bottle at least once, possibly twice. I also stopped to pee around mile 3, the third time I had done so during the race. I was happy that while my urine was yellow, it was not dangerously neon or anything. Another buoying thought: while I was definitely gassy, burping and farting quite a bit, my stomach was cooperating and there were no warning signs that I was in imminent bathroom emergency territory. And that was mainly the story of lap 6. At some point I went past Jim (maybe it was at the aid station?) and didn’t seem him for the rest of the lap. It was hot and miserable, possibly the least fun of the whole race. The whole time I knew even when I finished, I’d still have almost a marathon left. As we came to the end, Johnny mentioned that he was stopping after this one. Apparently he was feeling kind of off too. If HE’S feeling off after TWO laps, shit, what’s gonna happen to me?! was probably a thought I had around then. We finished the lap in 1:54ish, I was in about a minute before Jim but needed a little time at the aid station and then I came back down the hill and saw my cousins and their kids. A big old group there just for me. According to Katie, this was the only time I smiled all race. It’s kind of blurry, I just remember coming down the hill and stopping. My cousin Bryan asked me how I was feeling. I replied honestly, “I’ve felt better.” Just a tiny understatement. My 3 year old cousin Greg was holding the bag with the orange slices and I remember grabbing into the bag for some while muttering to myself, out loud, “Fuck, fucking fuck, fuck fuck fucking fuck—“ And then an “oh shit” when I realized what I was doing within earshot of my 3 and 6 year old cousins. Someone told me that the only two ahead of me were Morton and Serge, that Dennis had dropped after 5 laps for some reason. That put me in 3rd.  On top of that, apparently Serge looked like he was starting to really struggle and I could maybe catch him. What. The. Fuck!? Was this real life? Was all this actually happening? And on that note, I chugged a 5 hour energy and was off again.

I remember immediately thinking to myself that I could now run 10 minute miles and still break 15. And also reminding myself that a 15:30 or so would not be anything to be embarrassed about. The first two miles, the airport spur, took about twenty minutes (including the stop for resupply). It was still hot and miserable and I was not happy. This was definitely the time where I thought to myself how I didn’t just never want to run another ultra again, I never wanted to RUN again, period. I just wanted to sit on my ass and do nothing. Jim had put some distance on me again and I was content to just hang on. I came down corkscrew hill and saw Josh and Shannon and maybe said something or maybe just grunted at them at that point. Right after the bridge after mile 4, I saw a group of people, a family, standing by where the trail forks and you could go right over to the lake instead of up the hill that the course goes. They were cheering and then, as I got closer, I recognized the tall blonde guy to be my friend Zane! He had said he was going to come cheer at some point and there he was, with his family in tow. And what’s awesomer, he jumped in and started running with me. PERFECT timing. He asked me how I was doing to which I responded flatly, ‘bad.’ Everything sucked. But we trudged up the incline and he talked and it helped take my mind off things for a bit. n

At the top of the incline the trail levels out and turns right onto Turkey Creek. There was an unmanned water station here, near the water fountains. As we were coming to it, I see a tall, shirtless runner in compression shorts. Christian. Again… what. The. Fuck. All I could manage was, “Christian?!” He looked at me a little downcast and mentioned that Serge was done. That he had never seen someone throw up quite that much. I looked up the trail a few more feet and there was Serge, looking much more miserable than I was feeling. My heart sunk. We were 80+ miles into the race and he was one of the runners I’ve looked up to, the guy who was a big reason why I was even running the race (with a goal of not letting him lap me) and I was about to go past him. It sucked, and I think I managed to say something that wasn’t totally stupid (or maybe it WAS totally stupid, but the intention was good) and Zane and I carried on. We came into the aid station and that’s where Zane said he was gonna turn around and run back to his family. I thanked him for getting me through that rough spell. Truth be told, I WAS feeling some better. As I started to leave the aid station, Jim’s girlfriend (who if I were giving out crew awards obviously Katie and Johnny would be #1, but she would have to be #2, or even 1b. She was a one woman operation and kept driving back and forth from the start/finish out to the second aid station where you have to hike in all day. That one’s a keeper fo sho. I digress) had a granola bar in her hand and looked at me and said, I should just give this to you to give to Jim. I saw him about a hundred meters up ahead and laughed and told her there was no guarantee I’d catch up to him. So we both ran up at him and I told her he’s in second place. She argued with me that he’s in 3rd but I knew I was right this time. She got him the granola bar and we headed onto the trail together. I told him that we were 2 and 3 now, that I had just passed Serge and he must have too without realizing it. This was officially crazytown in my head. Morton was going to win and break the course record, unless a snake got him or something (and even then I wouldn’t bet against him). Everyone else was basically in a race for second place. And by everyone else, I meant Jim and I because it appeared that everyone else had also succumbed to something or other that slowed them down.

Jim pulled ahead on the hills again and I stopped to refill my bottle and walk off another cramp. I was pleased in general that my feet still felt pretty ok. I knew the left little toe had the same blood blister that always occurs after a few hours running. My left ankle was also a little sore but nothing felt broken. I chuckled when I hit 85 miles right about 12 hours. Again. This time though, I HAD to keep running for another 15 miles. I reasoned that even 5 mph would bring me home in 15 hours now, and that thought was slightly mollifying. When I came out to Graylyn Rd, I realized I really had to pee. Rather than stop completely and risk really tightening up this time, I noted that no one else was around so I pulled down the front of my shorts and peed while walking forward. I was actually quite impressed with myself. At that point I also decided that if I had to take a crap, I would just crap my pants and worry about it later. It’s amazing how 12 hours of running and a bit of competitive fire can alter your idea of what is acceptable.

I finally finished up the lap in 1:56ish, right about 12:22 on the clock. I was thrilled to meet one of my primary goals – despite the fact that Morton was about to completely obliterate the course record by running a 13:11, he didn’t lap me! Looking at the results, it appears Jim and I were the only people who DIDN’T get lapped. Sicknasty. One of my only regrets from the race is not being able to tell Mike how bad ass he was and how inspiring it was to see him out there every loop, hauling ass. It was a good reminder that as bad as I felt running as hard as I was, someone was out there running faster and probably didn’t feel all that fantastic either. Digression over, I knew this last lap was make or break. Katie argued with me to take a headlamp. I told her no and stormed off. Jim had left about three minutes before me and really what choice did I have but to try to chase him down for 2nd? Unfortunately the first two miles of the lap were slow again. It was a struggle, a crampy struggle. I just made myself continue moving forward, as slow as necessary, but constantly moving forward. Right after the second mile, things started improving some. I kept muttering to myself, “empty the goddamn tank” and it seemed to be a good reminder.

I kept passing people on earlier laps and some of them would cheer and ask me if this was my last. I honestly didn’t have the energy to formulate recognizable words so I would just give thumbs up and grunt. I sincerely hoped my grunting didn’t come off as rude or anything, I just couldn’t think of words, and if I could, I wasn’t able to get them out. ‘URRNNGHHH’ was about the best I could do. I started making deals with myself, the evil sort I am known to make on training runs – just run to the first water station and you can powerwalk for a minute. Nope, haha, you have to keep running! Just run to the top of the mile 5 hill and then you can back off a moment. HAHA NO! YOU CAN’T! Any sort of downhill or flat I consciously tried to pick up the pace. I couldn’t see Jim up ahead and the thought that I could back off and still comfortably come in 3rd and under 15 started tracking across my mind but I had promised to keep the pedal down and that’s what I did. I was in and out of the far aid station in maybe 30 seconds, faster than the previous two laps. I hit the back hills as hard as I could, running every step this time, imagining all the miles and miles I ran over this very loop the past few months, all that work was for this day, this moment, there was no make-up race. I went right by the water station this time, my bottle nearing empty but adrenaline had me thinking I was fine to make it to the finish at this point. I grabbed the headlamp I had left there on the first lap. 3.5 miles to go. Out onto Graylyn. I ran that downhill as hard as I could, it felt like an all-out sprint, I was redlining. 2.5 miles to go. I hit the uphill hard too. I knew I just had this and cemetery hill and that short one to the finish left. I turned at the top. Maybe 2 miles to go less. 1.5. Cemetery hill. My mind was almost blank. I had run this very loop dozens and dozens of times and occasionally, the times when I was running it late in the evening, I’d imagine it was the last lap of the race and how that would feel. And here I was, ACTUALLY DOING IT! I crested cemetery hill and knew I HAD to put everything I had left into the final mile. I KNEW I wasn’t just going to break 15 hours, I was going to SMASH it. I was going to break 14:30! All the times I tried to imagine what it would be like had failed so miserably it turns out. My mind was just thinking push push PUSHPUSHPUSHGODDAMMITGOPUSHNOWGOOOOOOOOO! I was thinking about Johnny and Katie and how they had been out there all day long and how they’d probably be very happy to see me. I figured I was probably going to come up just short of Jim because if he had ANYTHING left, he was likely doing the same thing I was right now. And I was ok with that. And then I came up on Dave. He was coming in at the end of his sixth loop. He hadn’t been having a fun day but I guess seeing me pepped him up some and he started running with me. It was awesome to have someone to push me that last stretch. We were probably running close to 7:00 miles. It felt like I was flying. Finally, the turn off the trail onto the park road. Then into camp. Now it was just a steep downhill and get up the hill to the finish. People were clapping and cheering. I could SEE the red neon of the finish banner through the trees. Bottom of the hill. I yelled Johnny’s name because it was dark and I wanted them to know I was the one coming in now. I bounded up those steps. I don’t actually remember feeling them at all. I got to the top, only a step or two more. I remember throwing my water bottle down in some surge of emotion. I ran through the finish. 14 hours, 16 minutes, 25 seconds later, I was done. I had finished my first 100 miler. I was 3rd place.

The immediate moments post-race are kind of a surreal dream sequence to me. I know I gave Johnny a big bear hug. And Katie. And Katie got my finisher’s buckle for me. I know I wandered over to the aid station and people were asking me what I needed. I think I grabbed a Gatorade. Someone asked what lap I was on. Katie interjected, HE’S DONE! It felt so good to hear that. Holy shit. Then it hit me. I had done it. I had taken my expectations, which were by most accounts on the ambitious side for someone running his first 100 miler, and I had obliterated them. I ambled toward the cabin and then I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably for a few moments. Johnny took a picture of me around this time that I think perfectly captures the moment, hopefully I can get it up here soon. I thanked the two of them profusely Without them, there’s no way I would have accomplished what I did.

Going into this race, I kept mentioning that I was more excited to see my friends and be around the race atmosphere. Of course once I got out on the course, I also wanted to do well. Sometimes you put in the hard work and sacrifice and suffer and still something happens and you have a bad race. And other times, everything, EVERYTHING comes together and you run one of the best races of your life. I was very fortunate that at Umstead, for my first 100 mile race, the latter happened. This recap is entirely too long as it is, so I will cut it here, at the end of my race; a logical place as any for stopping. I have a bunch more thoughts on everything, and pictures, and random musings as I am want to ramble about. I’ll get to all that later, separately. I’m still sort of decompressing and recovering and getting my mind around things.

Til next time… RUN HAPPY everyone!

April 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm 29 comments

Pikes Peek 10k

This will not be a typical Mark race report. It’s 4:30 am and I’m headed down to North Carolina for a week that will involve me traveling across the state in search of the best pork barbecue, pizza, beer, and trail running it has to offer. I’ll probably write a much more in depth post about yesterday’s race when I get back but I want to get at least some thoughts down.

Yesterday I headed down to Rockville for Pikes Peek 10k. The net downhill point-to-point course is known as a PR course and LOTS of fast guys (and gals) show up. I registered for it a while back intending for this to be one of my target races for the Spring (one of my goals was a fast 10k after all and there are none around here better). Unfortunately the last month of training has not gone anywhere near as well as I planned so going into yesterday’s race the only real quality work I’ve done had been a few abbreviated workouts weeks ago and some races.

Fortunately my 10k PR was pretty soft, set last December on a hilly course I did on a whim. My hope was to lower that PR some and hopefully prove to myself that a sub-hour showing at Broad Street in two weeks is realistic. I lucked out with the weather. Low 50s (maybe a bit sunnier than I would’ve liked) and a mostly tailwind (at times it felt like a crosswind but I’m not going to complain at all).

My warm-up consisted of a bit of jogging around, some half-assed strides, some drills, a quick round of dynamic stretches, a sprint back to the car to get my chip, and then a lot of jumping around to stay loose as the start was delayed almost ten minutes. Finally they got the giant balloon arch in place and we were off. There’s a short stretch on the road we start on before making a left and from there it’s just straight down MD 355 (which is also called Rockville Pike, hence the name). Even though the course is net downhill, it is NOT all downhill. There are a few brief inclines mostly when the road went over another.

The first mile felt like it had the most downhill, even with a slight incline thrown in the middle, and I went through in 5:28. I knew that was too fast to sustain but chalked it up to the big start and figured I was settling in now and would try to sustain a slightly slower pace. At this point there were already a few guys who I was running around and would for most of the race. A Falls Road-er in a blue singlet and tights and an older guy in Brooks gear (the ID elite singlet and shorts like me) who was wearing Sauconys. I went through mile two in 11:15 (5:47 mile) with the Falls Road guy and the two of us would stay together for the next few miles, slowly reeling in a group of three ahead of us.

Shortly after two, Brooks guy pulled off to tie his show, but by mile 3 he had caught back up. Damn. Somewhere between two and four there was a long(er) incline that I felt like I was just slogging through. I was glad there were people running with me, at some points I just stared at the back of a jersey and tried to ignore all other stimuli, internal or external. I went through mile three in 16:58 (a 5:43 mile) and passed through 5k in 17:35 which made me chuckle seeing as how I was pretty close to all-out running 17:30 two weeks ago. I thought to myself as I went through the halfway that I was probably not going to negative split this thing but if I could hold on and not drop off too much, a sub 37 clocking was reasonable. Yes, sub-37 was what I had in my head at that point. That represented the higher end of my goal spectrum. My mental math was pretty fuzzy for most of the race.

Somewhere around the halfway point, things got tough. Physically AND mentally. Mentally possibly more so. I just wanted to stop. I wish I could say I was staying positive or something like that but the truth is I was in a pretty bad place for a lot of it. I was constantly fighting off the urge to just stop. Internally, I was extremely whiny and self-loathing. But my body was kind of doing it’s own thing, running pretty evenly. I reached mile four in 22:43 (5:45 mile). Around this point the Falls Road guy ran up ahead and caught up to a red Falls Road singlet. I couldn’t go with him so me and Brooks guy ran together about twenty seconds back. I kept trying to tell myself that I’ve run the distance remaining in tough track workouts. I kept looking at the tall buildings in the distance, trying to not focus on each step I had to keep taking. Hit mile five in 28:32 (5:49 mile) and chuckled that one of my goals for the year was a 28:30. I kept telling myself something along the lines of, “hold your shit together just a little bit more, don’t blow up now!”

Brooks guy started kicking I guess. I gave him a thumbs up because I couldn’t respond. Or so I thought. After about a half mile I felt… better. Not good really, but better. And the prospect of being done was really motivating. So I think my cadence picked up. I passed Brooks guy right after the six mile mark (34:24, a 5:52 mile). From there it was a slight downhill to the finish and I put everything I had into it, covering the remaining distance in 65 seconds! I didn’t realize sub 36 was possible until I saw that 6 mile split. WTF? I passed one more guy who had no response right before the finish line and crossed in 35:29. That’s an almost 3 minute PR! Yes the conditions were easier and near-ideal but still. WHAT?! Craziness.

I’m still sort of wrapping my head around this as I’m not sure where it came from. My training has been less than ideal of late and I’ve done no specific work for the race distance. But hey, I’ll mull it all over on my NC vacation. And hopefully I can have another day like that in Philly in two weeks. In the meantime I’m  just gonna be happy with a big PR and what is really probably the best race I’ve ever run.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

April 18, 2011 at 5:14 am 9 comments

Kelly’s St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock 5k race report

Today I ran my first race race of 2011. Yes, I ran the 10 mile Club Challenge two weeks ago but like I mentioned then, that was far from an all out effort. Today was to be a completely different story. Since Richmond, I haven’t really raced. There was also the 10k in December that I did on a whim but I never got to that OMGI’MGOINGTOCOLLAPSEATTHEFINISH zone that I feel goes along with racing an all out effort. Today was the perfect day to do just that. While I had an idea of the kind of shape I’m in right now, I had no actual data to confirm this so I was kind of going in blind. I’ve spent a few weeks now getting my running legs back and have started doing workouts but not a whole lot yet. This race would help clear all that up for me and set my training for the season going forward.

The Kelly’s St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock 5k (what a mouthful!) is put on every year in Baltimore. It also draws a HUGE crowd of both runners and spectators because it immediately precedes the St. Patrick’s Day parade and a gigantic downtown-wide party (or so it seems). The course starts up on Charles Street and the first 3/4 of a mile run straight downhill towards the Inner Harbor. The rest of it is mostly flat. Needless to say, this is a PR course and attracts some of the area’s fastest studs. This was exactly the sort of race I wanted at this point in training — a good course to run fast on surrounded by really fast people to pull me to the best time I’m possibly capable of. I love the low-key local races, no doubt, but at those even though I’m not winning them, I’m usually up near the front and there’s rarely many people to actually race as things get spread out. Today I figured a top 50 would be a good showing.


The race didn’t start til 1:15pm so even with the clocks going ahead an hour overnight I was able to get a full night’s sleep, waking up feeling refreshed. Had my usual cereal but opted for the ginger green tea that sits best in my stomach. I spent the morning basically waiting to get ready — going to the bathroom a few times, getting my race gear together, playing Bejeweled. Around noon Jess and I finally set out to get going. We decided to park the car at the Whole Foods garage and jog our warm-up from there to the start about a mile and a half away. This way we’d be about half a mile from the car at the finish, be able to do our grocery shopping after, AND get free parking!

Jogging over to the start, I could see already how much of a zoo this was going to be. People were EVERYWHERE. Some were setting up chairs to spectate along the race/parade route, many others were walking around with the green race t-shirt on. It helped that the weather really cooperated today. It was sunny and warmish, mid-50s by the start I’d say. The wind was a bit brisk though which would become a factor later I figured. We got to the start area about a half hour early and I did some dynamic stretching and some drills. With about fifteen minutes to go I started doing some easy jogging with strides intermixed. I worked my way towards the front as the National Anthem was playing over the loudspeaker, finding a spot two rows back. Even in a race with almost 4,000 finishers, I wouldn’t be boxed or crowded.

Race time

The start command was given and just like that, everyone blasted off the line and began the downhill. Going in I knew a negative split would be a bad plan given how fast the first mile would likely be. I decided to take the mile out hard but controlled and then accept that the next two would be tougher, hoping I’d have enough mentally and physically to hold on. By the time we hit 3/4 and made a left, I was surprised how close I still was to some people I recognized as faster than I am. Still, I felt in control, sustainable. In most races I vividly remember a number of people I run around, some who pass me, some who I pass, but a lot of today was a blur. I know right around the mile there was a bigger guy who I had been behind since the start that I finally ran past. As we turned onto Key Highway and passed the mile mark, I heard 5:11 for the first mile. It didn’t register at the time but that’s the fastest I’ve ever run a mile. Normally, that would be a recipe for disaster but it felt about right here.

The next bit was ever-so-slightly inclined as we wound around Federal Hill Park. Here an older guy I recognized from a few Delaware races pulled past me. I decided to try to keep him close so I picked it up even though my legs were starting to fatigue. As we neared the turnaround I recognized a dude with a ponytail right in front of me as someone who I finished slightly ahead of at the Club Challenge. I took the 180 degree turnaround wide so I didn’t have to slow down much and was met with some wind. I saw Jess looking strong right before I hit the two mile mark. As I passed I saw 10:56 (5:45 mile) on my watch. A MUCH slower second mile but that was ok. NOW was where I needed to be tough and not slow down. The next quarter mile or so was the toughest as we were running directly into a headwind. It wasn’t that strong but it was persistent. I tried to stay close behind the guy in front of me but it didn’t make much difference. As we turned onto Light Street I kept reminding myself that I run this stretch often (albeit not in the street but still) and know exactly how far I still have to push . The crowds were cheering and that felt pretty cool but they were sort of a blur in the periphery. I finally turned onto Pratt and the wind was at my back for the last 600 or so meters to the end. I pushed. Hard. With everything I had left. I knew a PR was pretty much in the bag but I wouldn’t be satisfied with that anymore. I could feel the effort in my legs, each step became tougher but I pushed harder. I thought about the last few 400m reps I did at the park on Tuesday, how I was closer than that, how I could hold this. As I crossed mile 3 I didn’t look at the watch (turns out it was a 5:38) I just sprinted. There was a quick left and then a few more meters to the finish. I tried like hell to catch the young guy ahead of me. I ended up crossing the line a half a step behind him. Final time — 17:08, a 39 second PR!

I staggered a bit, almost fell over the volunteer who ripped my timing chip off my shoe, grabbed a water, and allowed the result to finally sink in. AWESOME! But wait, it’s not all awesome. At least not officially yet. You see, as we were making celebratory quesadillas this evening the official results were posted here by Charm City Run. I should be #26, right behind that 17 year old I couldn’t quite catch. But I’m not. I’m nowhere to be found. According to the results, I didn’t race. My legs beg to differ. I emailed the timing company tonight and hopefully this gets cleared up soon, I’m sure they deal with a lot of this, especially at a race this big. At any rate, I know what I did. Turns out I’m in pretty good shape, at the start of the season no less. With a few months of workouts ahead, I’m even more excited for where I’m headed.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!

March 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm 12 comments

Fast times at the Race 4 Time (or, my blog’s first race report!)

As I alluded to in my last blog post, yesterday morning I got up at 6 am to head north to Wilmington, DE and run a race. It was the 4th Annual Race 4 Time 5k right along the riverfront, meaning it would be a legitimately flat, fast course. It also had a $2,500 prize purse, with the overall male & female winners getting $150 gift certificates to the Delaware Running Company and 1st, 2nd, 3rd in each age group getting $75, $50, $25 respectively. Looking at last year’s results, the elevation profile, and seeing all the coin being thrown out, I figured it would be an excellent race to to run as my first actual race of the year (I did that 5k in Boston back in March with Jess but that was definitely not racing for me). It had been ten weeks of really solid training since that windy 5,000m time trial on the track at Sparrow’s Point and with phase I of training winding down (two weeks left!) I wanted another check-in on my fitness levels. I was coming off a 72 mile week and this would be my second consecutive 70+ but I did some schedule rearranging to give myself a day off and allow me to race with at least moderately fresh legs (or fresher than they otherwise would be at least). I ran that mile time trial on Tuesday which gave me a little insight as to what I could potentially run in the race.

I got a decent night’s sleep Friday night and woke ready for action Saturday morning. Jess had come in the night before to come watch and cheer which was sweet. We got on the road at 7am which was about a half hour later than I wanted but c’est la vie. Got to the riverfront at 8ish, changed into my Brooks ID uniform, picked up my number and timing chip, and put on my Brooks T6 racers. It was getting kinda warm already but not nearly as bad as it had been on Tuesday morning. Even still, I didn’t need to do a full warm-up as planned, and settled for about a mile and a half jogging the last stretch of the race course, throwing in some 1:00 pick-ups to race pace. Then I went to the bathroom, took in some Gatorade, and headed over near the start area. The race was running a little behind schedule so I did a couple more quick strides around the parking lot to stay loose, hiding from the sun underneath a shady tree otherwise. Finally, they had all the timing stuff up and running and called us to the line. I took a spot just off the front, behind a guy in a Salisbury track uniform and just ahead of a blonde woman. There were a few faces I recognized from my few years of experience running and racing while I was at the University of Delaware. After a minute or so of instructions, the air horn sounded and we were off!

My goal was to run MY race, not get caught up in what was going on around me like I did last November. I figured shooting for something in the 18:10-18:20 range was a realistic, if possibly cautious, goal. The course immediately turns right after the line and heads down and around the minor league baseball stadium. Immediately, the eventual winner shot out and gapped everyone else by about 30-40m. I’d lose sight of him in about 3 minutes. A pack of four formed behind him and then there was me and a taller, older guy in a New Balance singlet a few seconds back of them. I wanted to “steal” that first mile, getting through it as fast as possible without really overexterting myself. I saw Jess as we turned away from the riverfront and neared one mile. She confirmed what I was feeling, that I was running relaxed and strong. I hit the mile mark in 5:30 and around this point the heat and the sun started becoming much more noticeable to me. As we turned towards the riverwalk, NB guy went ahead of me and two miles started to seem like a loooooong way to go. I think the sometimes wood/sometimes concrete of the riverwalk helped give me something other than how much I was starting to feel the racing. I focused primarily on just staying relaxed and fluid, and not losing contact with the NB guy. As we wound our way along the river, I saw Jess again just before mile two and she yelled something vaguely threatening at me that I processed as, “You better not slow down now you sonofabitch!” Then again, that might have just been what I was saying to myself in my head. Who knows?! I went through two miles in 11:21, and was not surprised at all that I’d slowed some, although I wasn’t rigging or anything. As we turned off the riverwalk, all that was left was a wider loop around the stadium and then a long straight stretch to the finish near Joe’s Crab Shack. What remained of the race was essentially what I had run for my warm-up and that provided a big mental boost, knowing about what was left ahead. I started feeling a little better knowing the end was approaching and began to push harder. I went by the NB guy I’d been with for most of the race just as his teammate went by both of us looking very strong. I started focusing on a guy wearing a blue sleeveless shirt about 50m ahead of me, trying to reel him in. As we turned the corner, I could see the finish line off in the distance and began to really pick up my turnover. Accelerating, I pulled away from NB guy and saw blue shirt get closer and closer. I saw Jess right around the 3 mile mark (which I didn’t see), but can’t remember if she had said anything. In fact, I don’t remember much of this final stretch except that it sucked. I could see the clock getting closer and thought I saw it change to 18:00. A few steps later, I realized it was still 17:4x and I gave it everything I had left. I crossed the line, hit my watch, and stopped to let the volunteer tear my tag. Then a little girl took the timing chip off my shoe as I stood there sweating like a dam burst and trying to force the hot, saturated air into my lungs. Jess found me and I’m pretty sure I told her repeatedly that I was going to die, couldn’t breathe, and that my femoral artery had burst. Clearly, I had left it all out on the course as my mental facilities were shot. Turns out, I was just exhausted, dehydrated, and my right groin was a little sore from the effort.

I walked over towards Joe’s Crab Shack, where the post-race goodies and awards were held. Stopped to get a very disappointing massage from a guy who looked horrified at how much I was sweating, then headed over to the car. Took off the T6s and put on my Glycerins for the “cool”down, which consisted of about 2.5 miles of really easy jogging along the river and around the stadium. Finally I went inside the cool air-conditioned restaurant and nommed some bananas, a bagel, lemonade, and an orange. The awards ceremonies were worth waiting around for as it turned out I placed 2nd in my age group and 7th overall, with an official time of 17:47.5. The AG placing netted me a $50 gift card — my first race winnings ever! — which I proceeded to spend on a hand-held bottle and a tub of mountain berry flavored Accelerade.

All in all, I’m super pleased with the race. I did exactly what I wanted, running my race and giving myself an accurate idea of what my current fitness level is. Setting a 52 second PR and winning some coin was a nice bonus too! I’m looking forward to a summer of some low-key races scattered throughout some serious training and hopefully some big PRs when things start to cool down and I move into my serious racing phase this fall.

Til next time… RUN HAPPY EVERYONE!

June 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment

John Stiner keeps me running strong

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