The 2019 Manitou’s Revenge Race Report: I Can’t Do This Alone

You want the condensed version, fine: Manitou’s Revenge had its way with me. Again.

You want the pedantic version: okay then, buckle up kiddos. This is gonna be long…

Yeah, so the 54 miles of rocks, mud, roots, never-ending climbs, insanely technical descents, sphincter-tightening rock scrambles, creek crossings and general Catskills awesomeness has completely humbled me once again.

My legs are wrecked- probably not the best of ideas to run Worlds End 100k three weeks before Manitou’s but hey- if it weren’t for terrible ideas would any one ever have tried to run an ultra? I feel like my wife knew this was gonna be a bad idea back in February. “Yeah but I ran Lake Sonoma 50 then Miwok 100k then San Diego 100 all in the span of like seven weeks…” and that was 5+ years ago. I am no longer that runner.

So what makes Manitou’s so special?

The RD, the volunteers, the organization, the trails, the views, the hikers, the runners, the crews and pacers- everything surrounding this race is just pure magic. That being said I can make something magical and beautiful into an unadulterated shit show.

First, I missed the bus from Phoenicia to the start line. When they say they’re leaving the parking lot at 3:30 AM that does not mean 3:32 when I arrived. To say I missed it is only a half truth- I had the luck of getting a ride from a runner’s wife to the school (the second parking area in Phoenicia). Yeah I was that guy that flagged the bus down and hopped on in the middle of the road. Little bit of foreshadowing to how my race was going to play out. Those who know me well would say this was perfectly on-brand.

So got up to the race start and saw the CT Mixers crew that was there- some of the raddest folks this side of anywhere; Ron, Stacey, Tom, Jay, Karen and Fred, you all are awesome.

Was both psyched and a little intimidated I got to start up in Wave 2, so I got to share some early miles with Jay, then realized on the first big descent of the day that I just could not run downhill and knew it was going to be a long day.

Going up Blackhead

Between Blackhead and AS #2

Figured I’d slow down and wait for Stacey who started a wave behind me, she’s gotta be coming up soon. Yep, right after the first aid station she’s coming up this climb with a huge smile. “Hey Jimmy I’m dropping!” No way. Yep. Can’t blame her- one of the most bad ass runners in all of Connecticut with absolutely nothing left to prove after destroying the course record at Connecticut’s premier 100-mile race The CUT 112 three weeks ago. She will never brag about how awesome of a runner she is because she’s such a great person so we can all do that for her.

We ran with my homey Scott who I had ran many miles with here two years ago and his awesome attitude (and best socks of the day by far) and we all stuck together going into North South Lake aid, said goodbye and good luck to Stacey as she starts the next chapter of life in Colorado.

I think I the next 14 miles were the worst of the day for me- nothing was more frustrating than getting to that descent into Palenville, the most runnable section of the day dropping 1800 feet in like four miles and I just sucked ass. Got passed by a train of bros into the aid station and thought “probably going to be running with a headlamp tonight.”

Hello darkness my old friend

But I discovered early on that I could still climb well- so that next big one up from Route 23 I hammered and passed all those dudes back- only to be completely demoralized by like two miles of straight mud. The thought entered my head- drop at Platte Clove dude. You had a sick race at Traprock 50k, got your Western States qualifier at Worlds End, just end your season now.

“…I’m a dumbass…”

“…there’s no way I should be running another tough mountain race three weeks later…”

“…I’m so not recovered…”

“…ugh you so dumb Jimmy Mac…”

Those thoughts were so pervasive and I hate that I had nothing to really counter them except for the fact that just because something hasn’t yet been proven false doesn’t necessarily make it true. I would basically stay in this race to prove that I wasn’t a dumbass, which is really dumb so it cancels out the idiocy…

Don’t look at me, I’m hideous (photo: official)

So after the mud on Kaaterskill it’s the same old story going down the next big descent into Platte Clove- just dudes running a train on me here, on-your-lefting the shit outta me.

My quads, knees, my IT bands? This shit has never hurt during a race- I’ve never had IT band problems in my life. Who’s fucking legs are these? Gonna pop an Aleve and walk it into the aid station and force some jolly over-caffeinated asshole to talk me out of dropping here.

Just then Tom rolls up on me as I’m trying to get the child-proof package open. I’m all, “Dude I can’t run downhill today.” He’s like whatever, we’re like a mile out from the aid, I’ll run with you. He basically paced me in there, obviously had much better legs than I and for that act of kindness I decided not to drop. I figured he was going on to just crush the day after checking on me.

Once we got in there T-Bak hopped into action and was the most epic on-the-spot crewman ever, I sat in a chäir, chugged a RedBull, basically kept repeating in my head “you can still have a good day” over and over.

Tom was like “you ready?” and we rolled outta there. I was surprised because Tom could still hammer and here he was waiting for me. I now had the resolve to finish this thing no matter what.

These were welcome early on, later not so much

For the next eight hours it would basically be Tom leading on the flats and descents and me leading on the climbs. It was all I had on the day and I had to use it, I’ve never climbed this well during a race. We just kept churning out the miles, runners coming and runners going- I literally had no idea how many runners passed us or runners we passed, it was all a daze.

Indian Head

Tom shimmying up through this split in the rock

The aid stations were awesome- every single one was a sight for sore legs, filling up my pack, making me smile, indulging my shitty sense of humor, you guys were my everything. Straight up Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic shit today. Jordan at Mink Hollow, thanks for the CULTRA props! The best aid stations all day, I told everyone of you that and I wasn’t lying. You all were the best because I am a huge aid station kudos slut but also because I am a high maintenance runner. Every time one of you were like “you look great” externally I was “you lie” but internally I was like “oh I need to hear that so much today.” Thanks for letting me be vulnerable AF and taking care of my fragile ego. Mostly thanks for keeping me smiling.

My stomach was rock solid all day long- did four scoops of Skratch in my pack for every 50 ounces of water, ate six packs of Clif Bloks, ten Roctane gels and supplemented all that with Coke, pickle juice, salty potatoes, bacon and potato chips. Did 300-350 calories an hour without fail, drank those 50 oz every two and a half hours or so.

But after ten hours straight of drinking strawberry Skratch I was ready to just drink water so I switched over to that and started on the solid aforementioned aid station fare. Salt, sugar, caffeine. Over and over. It does a body good. At ultras.

MINK HOLLOW REPRESENT (photo: Jordan Planck)

Tom pulled away from me on the descent from Silver Hollow down to Warner Creek- I tried my best to stick with him but he was strong. I caught back up to Scott at the creek, he was moving pretty well and he was locked in with another runner, I hit the flat and then the climb up Carl Mountain and felt fantastic after switching back to vert legs, passing four or five runners here.

 

Fuck. This. Downclimb. (photo: Tom Starodaj)

Fully puckered sphincter. (photo: TS)

I finally caught up to Tom around Willow aid station, the last of the day. All I had to do was a mellow two mile flattish section then we hit the fire tower and descend, descend, descend. I wanna say it’s like 2.5 miles and drops like almost 2000 feet. As bad as I felt I did really well on this section, passing another few runners before summiting the peak and dropping- Tom pulled away ferociously and would put four minutes on me to the finish.

I did not have to take out that headlamp, finishing with about ten minutes of daylight left.

15:41:13, twenty-two minutes slower than 2017. 34th place dude, 40th overall. (photo: TS)

I gotta publicly thank Tom for his selflessness and him saving my race, basically shouldering my burden. He could probably tell that I was in a shitty way when he came up on me at mile 29- he was bummed when I said Stacey had dropped so maybe he was like I’m not letting you drop today. Who knows- we’ll get a run in soon and I’ll find out. Sometimes the simple act of running with someone who is familiar makes the day go easier. Dave Walker saved my race here two years ago, basically spending a similar amount of time with me and making sure I got through the sketchy sections unscathed.

So my biggest takeaway from this year’s Manitou’s is this: instead of being discouraged, my experience this weekend has stoked my hunger for even more epic adventures. It’s got me excited to run with folks even more, to dive deeper into this amazing running community not only here in Connecticut but the whole Northeast. The ADKs, the Whites, the Greens, fucking epic-ass Maine, more Catskills, more Berkshires and Taconics, all the blue blazes, yucky traprock, some Dirty Jerz and especially my home state of PA, just more more more.

All of it.

I’ll be back, Manitou’s (photo: TS)

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The 2019 Traprock 50k: You Get What You GIF

I’ll start this blog off with some context, here- read this: 2017 Traprock 50k Race Report

This is basically the summary of the above link

I came into this year’s edition with a ginormous chip on my shoulder, not really at anyone or anything- just with something to prove after my shitty performance here two years ago. I also came in here having not run an official ultra since the JFK50 almost 17 months ago, so to say I had missed racing long was an understatement.

I just wanna be held by #ultra

I could bore you with training talk (it’s going really well aka BORING), or how I prepared mentally (have a lot of other distractions going on right now- all good things but BORING), or what I ate (blocks and gels and Skratch, yeah BORING I know) or any of that BORING stuff; the thing I want to focus on while writing this essay is the people.

Bored yet?

Specifically the community of runners here in Connecticut that make everything possible. I met a ton of great runners, family and volunteers (roll call): Michael LoPresti, Andy Meisler, Tom Starodaj, Clayton Collins, Brian Shafer, Koby Nelson’s mom and dad, as well as a bunch of runners I was chatting with during the race and didn’t catch their names because I am a self-centered little shit. It was great to see and share miles with Ron Locandro, Brian Vanderheiden, Chris Deming, one of my favorite people ever Art Byram, the future of CT ultrarunning Tobias Tello, Rick Rushka, Jake Gaeta, Terry Predzimirski, Geoff and Jamie Miller, Briain O’Hartaigh, Steve and Amber Chamberland, my homey William Jara and last but not least Enrique Tello. Then finally; I got the legend himself to fill up my hydration bladder, Joe “The Highlander” Laskey.

CONNECTICUT YOU MY BOI

This is going to be a short race report, mostly because everything went right for me. It was one of the most satisfying race experiences I’ve ever had. No negative head space or dark places to overcome, no existential dread, no tummy issues, some minor cramping the last five miles, a little chafage; but sorry. This is going to be a boring ass race report.

You seen this GIF yet?

I’m mostly going to name drop the shit out of the people that make up THEE best trail and ultra running community in the Northeast, definitely in America, probably the universe. You think yours is good? Fight me.

I may have gone too far right here

Sorry, I’m getting emotional. I will submit that I did have a good little cry about a half mile from the finish once I realized I had the best fucking day imaginable. Like full-on air punching, FUCK YES, we did it! That kind of crying. I also probably cried because I realized I had one more fucking climb, but hey- Traprock. This shit ain’t flat.

Sadists designed this course

The Race Directors are very important people, not only because they co-host a podcast with me but because they are literally the people that made this all possible; securing things like Special Use permits, EMTs, porta-potties, FOOD, ice, popsicles, Totino’s Pizza Rolls (great when not running, gag inducing while running), Coke, all that shit- these folks lost sleep over this race, making sure it was 100% a success, you better give it up for your RDs Stacey Clark and Brian Roccapriore.

Not just because they’re on CULTRA

Then I gotta give it up to Kurt Zimmerman, volunteer coordinator extraordinaire. The man making sure everyone doing their job was doing their job. Thanks, Kurt! In Kurt’s spare time he’s a chemist or something really hard, he gave me a quick lesson on fructose vs. glucose polymer absorption rates in the gut or something like that but I promptly forgot it all because I had just been running pretty hard for 6+ hours.

My brain also cramped

Veeder Aid Station! Great to finally meet Michael Crutchley. When I came through there the second time on loop 1 he was like “hey Jimmy” and I was all “????” and he said his name but it sounded like “Crutch Lee”. I thought, what a great name! My parents suck for naming me Jim, Crutch would’ve been dope as shit! Then like a minute later I was like “Oh, right… Crutchley. Michael Crutchley.” I thought that was probably a good time to slow the F down.

Okay I will slow down

Then the “Other” Aid Station, the one I was calling ‘The Andy, Dan and Tricia Aid Station” with the Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Andy Orefice, Dan Haggerty and Tricia Dowcett-Bettencourt greeted me here a few times but due to the proximity of the aid stations I didn’t really need this one, seeing as I ran with like 2 lbs of water on my back since I knew how to read a weather report (hashtag WTF single bottle people? How do y’all live with yourselves out there?) That aid station was awesome!

I do not fux wit the pizza rolls while running

Okay, kids- I’m getting kinda slap-sticky over here and I really want to bring it back in and get serious a minute. It was a really tough and unforgiving day once the sun came out. People were running untenable paces on undertrained legs, hell, I heard one guy before the race say he hadn’t trained at all. I knew that the day was going to be DNF City for many citizens.

That third loop tho

Once I came through after my first loop and saw that I was under two hours (1:56), I thought I’d be in deep shit later. You can fake a loop. You can fake two loops on sort-of decent half marathon training. But three loops on this course on this day? I don’t think that’s fakeable. That’s also not a word. That’s a fake word.

Can’t fake three loops my dudes

Second loop went well, just over two hours (2:03) and still felt great. Was putting in 100 calories every 20 minutes and supplementing with Skratch in my pack, so about 350-400 calories an hour. Stomach was rock solid all day, energy was also solid. Whoever said shoot for 250-320 calories an hour is a goddamn liar.

Sugar + Caffeine is all you need

Loop 2 was still pretty uneventful, picked up a few folks starting to succumb to their decision to start out with sub-1:45 loops but get rich or die trying, right?

Really great idea to go out with the leaders, guys

Right at mile 16 I had the bright idea to start going hard. Convo in my head went like this: “Dude, you gotta go now if you’re gonna break six hours, so go now.” No, I should sit back and keep being patient, loop 3 is where the magic happens! “No you weak bitch, go now, start running hard and maybe your body won’t know what’s happening to it and you can stay one step ahead of the pain cave!” Oh man, that doesn’t sound like a great idea, plan was to start going hard on loop 3 after the first big climb, let’s just chill. “No fuck that you got this!” Okay, let’s take a chance!

What was I thinking?

I caught up to Scott Slater around this point (local badass and finisher of many hard hundos in addition to Tahoe 200), and was like “Hey Scott what’s up, man- I feel good, I’m gonna pass!” and literally like 10 minutes later was like “No, this is not sustainable, I must slow down.” Dumbass me is trying to start a 50k finishing kick at mile 17 like it’s a neighborhood 5k.

I have way more dumb ideas than good ideas

Hit the final and then loop going up the climb Brian Vanderheiden is coming down towards me and lit an actual fire under my ass with “I’m coming for you Jimmy Mac!” I didn’t know exactly how many over-40s were still in the race but I knew Brian was an old guy like me so game on!

Me running away from Brian

My power hike game was strong and as soon as I hit runnable trail I was off. To be honest, the third loop was a blur. There was like a rip in the space-time continuum and I fell through it.

Fuck is going on?

I started passing a few runners, but making sure that when I did so that I passed them decisively because I didn’t want to get sucked into racing anyone. In a race.

On your left. Or my left. Whatever, move.

With five miles to go it starts, first a twinge there in the calf, then a tightness here in the groin, then the hamstrings; cramps.

Take the wheel Jesus

Thank you Michael Crutchley for the ice in my pack and the send-off, I was about three miles from the finish and I could smell the barn. Or me. I think that was me. I had to dig deep and get it done now.

MY FEET HURT

I kept looking back and seeing flashes of color in the trees- it is not a fun feeling knowing you’re being chased. Yeah, okay fine- I passed a lot of people but I don’t look at the way I was hunting people down and taking their souls the exact same way as being hunted, but I see your point.

Ultrarunning is a fucked up way to play tag

I didn’t let up until that last section, up the climb back to the finish, like a half mile to go. I looked back one last time, didn’t see anyone and finally let up. I knew I just had a great day.

Ice Cube = ironic

The exhaustion, the heat, the cramping, the mild dehydration, the chaffing, the enormity of it all finally hit me and I had a quick emotional moment. Towards the end of races I always think of the Kurt Vonnegut quote from Slaughterhouse Five, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” and for a split second there that was true. Then I had to go down that horrific descent to the finish praying I didn’t die because my legs were seizing.

DRAMATIZATION: MAY NOT HAVE ACTUALLY HAPPENED

6:10:53

9th overall, 8th place men’s, 3rd place men’s 40-49

I did my best!

Traprock 50k is an absolutely awesome race and it’s bolstered by an even more amazing community; the Belly of the Beast Coast is right here in Connecticut. Shoutouts to all the clubs and groups that call this state home- thanks for having me!

Good night America

Hope to see you all CT’s toughest 50k next month: The Blue 2 Blue Challenge

The following local clubs/companies make all the things happen here:

CT Trailmixers

Steep Endurance

Shenipsit Striders

Live Loud Running

Bimbler’s Sound

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Putting 2018 to Bed

Hi reader, sorry I’ve been neglecting you. I thought I didn’t have anything to say, but it turns out I’ve got a lot to tell you. It’s been a while since I wrote one of these. A lot has happened. More than four months have passed since my last entry, and in internet time that’s like 13 years.

I did some running. I ran some races. I put on an event. I signed up for some 2019 races, too.

Let’s go back to September, when I had one of the worst races of my life at the New Haven Road Race 20k. Without clicking on the link, here’s the TL;DR version: It was hot and humid, I ran a fast first 10k, took and ill-advised gel, puked my brains out, jogged it in last 10k, remembered how much I hated running shorter distances.

Was determined to get redemption at the Hartford Half six weeks later; wanted to run sub-1:25 for a chance to get in the NYC Marathon without having to enter the lottery, but I read this section wrong:

“A limited number of time-qualifier spots will be available to runners who meet the time standards in a non-NYRR race. These spots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Applicants who apply with a non-NYRR race qualifying time will be placed in the non-guaranteed entry drawing during the application period (January 14–February 14, 2019) until their time can be verified. Verification will be completed prior to the 2019 entry drawing on February 27, 2019. Those who apply with a non-NYRR race qualifying time after the number of spots available has been reached will be placed in the non-guaranteed entry drawing.”

So I didn’t necessarily have an automatic entry but I had at least a decent chance to get in with a fast time. More on this later…

So in classic Jimmy Mac self-sabotage fashion, I took my eye off the end prize (trying to run sub-3 at the Philly Marathon on November 18th, five weeks after Hartford) and threw everything I had at Hartford. I got it in my head how much easier it would be to run a fast half rather than a fast full, and decided three weeks before Hartford to just do a bunch on half-specific workouts and cut the mileage to be fresh for a fast 13.1.

Well, it worked but much like a major league baseball team two games back of the wild card a few days before the trade deadline I went and mortgaged my future. Yeah, I got the wild card but was knocked out in the first round. When I should’ve been peaking for Philly I was tapering, racing and recovering.

Anyway, Hartford was a great race, everything just clicked into place. Settled early on with a group of about 5-6, a few dudes I knew from Manchester Running Company that I had met from racing over the summer- as well as some speedy young ladies. It was a nice light drizzle, high 40s, perfect half marathon weather. Things were looking good.

I tried to tuck in behind Dave Fusfeld, another fast grey beard from the MRC and at mile five he announced to our now splintering group, “it’s time to go to work!” and pulled away. I tried to stick with him but dude was on a mission, ended up running a 1:23:14.

So now I was all alone, just gritting teeth trying to hold sub-6:30 pace. Ended up running a 6:13 for that mile and felt really good. Decided to crank it down and try to hold 6:25 pace until the end. Took 200 mg of caffeine at mile seven, and once that got into my bloodstream it was on, clicking off a 6:24, 6:26, 6:23 and a 6:06 for mile nine, when I made my move.

hartford 2

I feel as terrible as I look.

Basically it was less of a move and more of a desire to get as far the fuck away from the guy running next to me with his Strava app open on his phone calling out his splits every couple minutes. Seriously, who the fuck races with that arm band iPhone thingy? Road runners you kill me, and not in a good way. After 9+ miles of racing hard I was in no mood for anyone’s bullshit.

Anyway, I hit 15k right at 60:40 and thought, “here we go, 6.1k to the finish”.  I needed to run 4-minute kilometers or 6:25 pace to get in under 1:25-flat. Piece of cake! The fact that I could still do math at this point meant I was going to be okay, but I think that was mostly a function of being so ridiculously caffeinated.

6:23

6:11

6:05

And then a full-on sprint to the finish for a very satisfying PR of 1:24:24.

hartford 13.1

The feeling of knowing you gave it everything you had that day.

Honestly, I was wrecked afterwards. I was actually wrecked for about a week, legs just did not bounce back. Once the glow of that wore off and my legs returned to normal it had dawned on me- Philly was in four weeks. Eep. What did I just do?

Two days later the DOMS set in, then the next day rolled an ankle, then that next Friday tried to do a marathon pace workout and could only get to within 20 seconds of my goal pace, I felt screwed. Then a discouraging 20-miler on Sunday left me feeling like Philly was going to be really tough.

The next week I focused on a ton of volume- 88 miles with two decent workouts to bring back some sense of confidence, then I could go into a week of sharpening runs and finally start to rest a bit.

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 2.46.45 pm

Staring at the camera = breaking the fourth wall.

Welp, Philly came and went- I say that with a tinge of bittersweet agony as I ran a new PR but came up 5:46 short of running that sub-3. At 42 years old, my window is closing fast on that goal. Here’s a brief account of the race:

Went out easy right behind the 3-hour pace group, wanted to hit the half at just off 1:30 and then negative split (lol). Hit 10k at 42:24, about 20 seconds faster than I wanted to, but hey, party! Saw my wife, kid and sister at mile 8, got a nice boost from them. Felt great all the way through until about mile 16, splitting the first half at 1:30:28. Started trying to crank it down but just could not find that extra gear I needed. Split 30k (18.6 miles for you non-metric folks) at 2:09:31, now a full 90 seconds behind pace. Oof. Took 200 mg of caffeine at about mile 17 but that did absolutely nothing except make me better at math (again). I had to run 6:40 pace to close out the last ~12km to squeak in under three hours. Saw my Dad in Manayunk at miles 19 and 21, he took videos of me passing by and my form looked awful, all stiff and upright- but a huge mental boost from seeing him, that was awesome Dad! Saw my buddy Tucker about a mile later, dude was fresh off a 6:53 top 20 finish at JFK 50 the day before (thanks for the kind words my dude, also for the slap on the ass). Then saw my buddy Dave at mile 25ish, he was all, “dude you look awful…” to which I replied, “oh my god, I feel like shit”. Crossed the finish line in 3:05:45.

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 2.47.00 pm

Do you really think this photo is worth $69.95?

I still haven’t figured out the marathon. I might never, and I’m in that weird place between wanting to give it another go and walking away from it entirely. Time heals all wounds, and dammit this one is gonna be hard to sit with for a year plus. If I know anything about me I’ll probably be chomping at the bit for another go-round on the roads. I mean, hell- it’s a Boston Qualifying time; 4:15 under the new standard, so I got that going for me. There’s a really good chance that Boston 2020 could be my last marathon. There’s also a really good chance I run like 3:01 there and that stokes the fire for another try at 2:59:xx

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 2.47.23 pm

You think I’d be happy with a PR.

After the sting of Philly had worn off, the real FOMO started to set in. The fear of never running sub-3 might be more of a physiological missing out; I might just not be able to physically do it, like “genetics” and shit, and if that’s the case then that’s okay. I don’t really want to believe that, just like an 86-year old doesn’t want their driver’s license taken away, but I’ll be 43 next time I line up for a road marathon. My window of “fast” might close on me in the next 15 months.

The real FOMO I was experiencing post-Philly was of the mental variety- the fear of not running an ultra for the first year since 2012; and that hit me big time.

Actually what I had been missing was the ultra community. I missed the “did you finish?” people rather than the “what was your time?” people. The folks that didn’t mind the “pooping in the woods” jokes or the people that have also tried peeing on themselves while running. Those people are always going to be my tribe; the silly misfits, the outcasts, the ones that go out for an eight to ten hour “run”.

The ones that don’t cringe when you explain to them that at some point during your last 50 miler your toenail came off your toe and is inside your sock and you didn’t stop to take it out because you somehow managed to get it to wedge perfectly between two toes and it just stayed there and both toes and toenail were quite happy with this situation. Yeah, I missed those people.

So I had this silly idea to create a “Fat Ass” event- yeah, that term probably needs a makeover but until then whatever. I had a course in mind, designed it using Strava’s Route Creator and got to work. Actually, it didn’t take much work at all. I’ve run thousands of miles up at West Rock Ridge State Park and wanted to showcase it, hopefully evoking the same feelings and emotions that it gives me every time I run here.

West Rock is CT’s second largest state park after Macedonia Brook SP; or it’s the 3rd largest if you combine Mohawk Mountain SP and Mohawk State Forest, again; whatever. West Rock offers 1,691 acres to play in and I wanted to show it all off.

I wanted people to experience all the cool trails here, even using the water property land under the ridge that the Quinnipiac Trail sits on in the north end of the park, as well as the teal connector that brings you from Lake Wintergreen south to the playground and ball fields in Westville.

Everybody got lost!

I went out on a few runs the week before and put up some very minimal markings, mostly at the turns. Due to the sub-freezing conditions I did not put any water out at Aid Station #2 and #4. Oh well, nobody got dehydrated.

Honestly, I initially thought three or four people might come out and run this with me. As interest started to build I started getting psyched. The week before I tried to sit down a few times and prepare a speech but nothing came up. Basically just wanted to say “hey, here’s this giant park in our backyards that no one uses!” It’s been my experience that most runners are not using the whole park.

“CT DEEP has no idea what is going on in any of their parks…”

A local trail running group called the West Rock Ramblers that organize short group runs on the weekends only use a small portion of the southern and sometimes central part of the park, in fact they seem to completely skip the northern end altogether- in my opinion the best trails are the ones on that part of the ridge. Luckily I hooked up with a local speedster named Neil Clauson when I first got to town and he showed me all the amazing parts of the park that can be accessed from the Hill Street trail head.

Actually, the Fat Ass was Neil’s idea- we ran together on New Year’s Day last year and were planning out our years- we wanted to have another go at the Q Trail FKT as well as put on a few events; an inside-out Q Trail Fat Ass, then a Sleeping Giant “All Trails” Challenge, where basically you have to run all the trails on the Giant, not repeating any of the east-west trails (yellow, white, green, orange, blue and purple) and using the red connectors to link them all. He also pitched the idea of a West Rock “All Trails” Challenge with a similar bent to the SG idea.

Then I got sucked up into Boston training, Neil moved away to Maine and the rest is history.

Little bit bigger than I anticipated…

It was a pretty joyful day, seeing this many folks out enjoying the trails. Okay, the course markings where blue met red were very confusing, but hey- a lot of folks got to do the half marathon option! There were Ramblers, Mixers, Striders, Bimblers, Steepers, hell- it was CT’s best and brightest mountain/ultra/trail folks. Definitely the most fun I’ve had all year.

photo courtesy Tobias Tello

Mad props to Jeff Grant for his huge win at the 15k distance and Tobias Tello for his win at the 50k in 7:15. He then went back out for another loop in the dark and finished with 37.6 miles on the day. Jake, Terry, Art and Will all also completed the 50k distance. Art actually did like 36 miles from my shitty course marking and lack of a real explanation.

photo T. Tello

Then New Year’s Day came and went and life got back to normal. Then, just as I was sitting in the glow of how amazing the CT ultra community is, I got a text from Art asking me to be on his CULTRA Podcast, New England’s premier mountain/ultra/trail podcast. Go there, listen, subscribe and like. If you write a review, they will read it on air! In the future, everyone will be podcast famous for 15 minutes.

Okay, that’s it for 2018.

Bring on ’19!

Here’s two more events I’m hosting, come on out and enjoy the trails with me!

6 Hours at the Reservoir and The Blue2Blue Challenge

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The Summer of Speed (and a Labor Day debacle to end it!)

Running fast is terrifying. Writing about it is even more terrifying.

Especially since running is such a niche sport; even though a half a million of you have finished a marathon last year literally none of you even care about running. Hence, the USATF needs to be kept alive by a subsidy from a large shoe company. But I digress; the terrifying part of writing I mentioned above is knowing that maybe 20 to 25 people are going to read this essay, and that’s probably 20 to 25 more than should, so here goes…

After Boston I had been looking to scale things down a bit- I was entered in the classic east coast ultra Manitou’s Revenge (with the idea I’d run Twisted Branch 100k in August and then Grindstone 100 in October) but decided in March to withdraw from that and go the opposite direction. In short, I didn’t feel like training massive hours in the woods this summer.

Having never raced on a track, the idea seemed both awesome and preposterous. How do 41-year old runners make their track debuts? I decided to find out.

My goal was to get fast for the short stuff. I entered the “neighborhood 5k”, the Hamden Hills 5k on Memorial day weekend in May. Spent all that month intensively training for a fast 5k, only to show up on race day to 80 degrees and 70% humidity. Ah, east coast summers.

Fifteen seconds after the start, right before it dawns on me that this will be painful.

Here’s what I said about it the next day:

5k is a tough distance- all smiles at the start, then at about 800 meters in it dawns on you: this is going to hurt.

I went out with the leaders with the intention of trying to cover their moves and stay in the race as long as I could; when I was leading after 1 km it felt too hard and too unsustainable. I decided to back off and settle in behind some bigger guys and let them set the pace. At the 2.5 km turnaround me and another runner surged into the lead.

We traded the lead back and forth for another kilometer; I was constantly checking on him, monitoring his breathing, looking for any clue in his stride that he might be getting tired. He wasn’t. I asked him if he was just messing with me, he replied “no way man, this is hard” to which I though “he’s gonna unleash a monster kick and I gotta try to stay with him”. I threw a surge in with 1000 meters to go and he stuck right on me. Not yet. “You gonna start kicking?” I wondered. “Let’s see what happens last quarter mile…” he grinned.

So with about 400 meters to go he starts kicking, I stayed with him for about 50 meters and then watched him slowly pull away… I tried to reach down and give it everything I had, but it just wasn’t enough.

19:33. Good enough for second place overall and the Master’s win. Nothing is more humbling than watching an 18-year old absolutely crush you in the last quarter mile, and nothing fuels the fire like defeat…

So that was the start of my “Summer of Speed”. Pretty good, but I needed to get better. I had actually raced a race- that was a first. Never have I been there at the start and been there at the end, so that was new. Yeah, yeah- the neighborhood 5k is not very competitive, whatever. For someone who’s name has never been used in the same sentence as “fast”, this was kind of cool.

So now I have all of June to train for the Manchester Running Company’s Thursday Night Track Series at Manchester High School. The 800, the mile, the 2-mile, a 5k and a steeplechase (gulp). Add to that the possibility that I’d run in the USATF’s Connecticut Open/Master’s meet, and I was faced with the fact that I literally have no clue how to train for those middle distance events. Let’s get to work.

First up: June 9th, the Spring Street Mile. A road mile that’s billed as Connecticut’s fastest mile, it has a slight downhill (drops 130 feet!) Workouts for middle distance are basically a lot of 200, 300 and 400 meter repeats. Some sample workouts:

2x(8×300) 300’s at 60 seconds with 30 seconds float, 5 minutes between sets

5x(4×200) 200’s at 37-38 secs with 30 secs rest, 2 min between sets

8×400 at 78-80 seconds with 2 min rests

10×400 at 75-80 seconds with 90 second rests

3x(4×400) at 77-80 secs with 1 min rests and 3 min between sets

Here’s what I said at the time:

“…oh my shit. 

First mile race and it sure was hard. The sensation of pure discomfort is so acute: the build up of lactic acid, the taste of fucking dirty pennies in your mouth, the stars at the edge of your peripheral vision from oxygen debt- holy fuck. 

Wanted to run even splits and try to sneak in right under five minutes; so 75 second quarters was the plan. Also forced myself to not look at my watch (looked at it 5 seconds in just to make sure it was recording). They call your splits out every quarter mile, came through first 400 in 71, fuck! Too fast. Try to relax. 

By this point I’m breathing in through my mouth, just taking huge gulps of air. Just tried to focus on driving my knees back and pushing my mid foot into concrete. 

Two-Twenty Five, 2:26, 2:27… fuck, I’m still too fast. Three seconds now could be disaster at the finish. Relax. Look ahead to the horizon. Wait for the last 400…

3:43, 3:44, 3:45… girl calls out. I’m right on target now. Let’s start kicking! There’s a guy that looks over 40, catch him… Actually, another grey-hair, catch him too! I can’t see what’s to my side, my peripheral vision has gone full K-Hole at this point. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror, I’m disintegrating. I can see the clock ahead… 4:55, 4:56, 4:57, and… 

…I hit the line and reach for my watch and look down at it. 5-even it says. Definitely broke five (started it early and stopped it late). I immediately go hands to knees and think “that was awful… that was so fucking terrible… why would anyone want to race that distance? I can’t wait to do it again…”

4:59.57, 41st place (winner ran 3:55-something), ladies winner did 4:24.xx It’s a massive downhill (drops 136 feet) so my time is about 15 seconds faster than what I could probably do on flat right now, but a huge confidence boost- racing two more miles on the track this summer and a 1500 in late July. Hoping to make some marginal gains before going back to marathon training.”

So now back into 800/mile training. Basically, it’s building a lot of lactic acid then running hard repeats of 200’s, 3’s, quarters, 500’s, 600’s, 800’s and kilometers. To continue what I said above, here’s some more sample workouts:

5×1 mile at lactate threshold with 2 min rests then 8×200 at 38-39 seconds with 200 floats

3x(500-300-200) at goal 800 pace w/ MP/HMP pace between sets

3×1 mile at LT plus 4×400 at 76-78 secs w/ 90 secs rest plus 4×200 at 35-36 secs with 1 min rests (2 min rest between sets)

5×1000 at 3:35 per km w/ 2:30 rests plus 400 at 81 (1 min rest) plus 3×200 at 36-39 seconds (30 secs rest)

Yeah, that kind of stuff. Ouch.

So I lined up for my first ever track meet on July 5th, 2018. I ran the mile on a hot and steamy night and basically died. Split 81, 83, 85 and tried to kick it in hard but could only manage an 80. Oof- only a 5:28.44.

Getting kicked down by Shizhong Yang

Then 40 minutes later lined up to run the 800, and that was awful, too. Split 75 and 78 and it felt as bad as expected, for a 2:33.84.

All aboard the strugglebus

Okay, more work to do. Next week I’ll run the 800 and the 2-mile.

But first, gonna hop in another neighborhood 5k, this time on trails at the West Rock Nature Center for the inaugural West Rock Super Prestige 5k, two loops on the course that a local semi-famous bike race is held. Another humid day, and another day where my plan was to just try to go out hard and stick with the leaders, and once again I found myself in second place. But, won the Master’s Division and won some sweet swag, a t-shirt, a few gift certificates and some lousy electrolyte mix. Good times!

Literally have no idea wtf I’m doing up here

Okay, next Thursday night- this time the 800 was before the 2-mile and that went even worse, split 74 and 80, just faded so incredibly hard for 2:34.72. The 2-mile went slightly better with a solid 11:42.64. All this racing and training is crushing me, I’ve gotta put it together one of these days.

I also should mention that I joined the Manchester Running Company this week, mostly because they’re a really solid and awesome group of runners- shout out to all the runners that took the time to talk to me and make me feel welcomed, as well as all the volunteers and finally Patrick for coordinating it all. The vibe there is super rad and they’re cultivating a truly amazing community of runners!

Never again! At least until next time.

Another week goes by and suddenly we get a cooler night, I’m just racing the 5k for week 3 and I feel good, legs are ready, it’s a good night. Goal was to finally break 18 minutes, so was sticking to the plan of running a 5:50 for the first mile, a 5:45 for the second and then a 5:40 for the last mile and hopefully having enough to kick it in. I hit a lap to go at 16:35 and thought, here goes…

17:59.89, literally made it by the width of my body. Probably the best I’ve ever felt while running, it just felt effortless. Floaty. Like every stride was just grabbing the ground and pawing back at the track and spitting it out behind me.

Two days later I came back to that same track to run the USATF Connecticut Open/Masters meet, basically an all-comers meet for CT region USATF members. I was hoping there’d be some really fast guys there to drag me along to fast times, and alas, there were no runners in the 40-44 age group present. So I’d have to compete basically against myself. I was entered in the 3000 meter and the 1500, and my goals for those were 10:30 and 5-even. My legs, to be honest, were pretty wrecked after Thursday night’s 5k.

The 3000 starts and I’m just sticking to my plan of 5:45 for the first mile and 4:45 for the .86 of a mile (3000 meters = 1.86 miles). I let another runner, George, go on ahead- he was building a pretty sizable lead on me but I thought with seven laps I could really take it easy (ha!) for at least three, then start turning the screws. George came back to me on that third lap, and I just settled into cruise control for the duration. 5:45 pace just felt right, it’s what I had run Thursday night, I guess it’s what my body wanted to do today.

I hit the line at 10:45.21 in first place. My first ever win. Weird, I thought it would feel different. Maybe because I had another race to run in less than an hour, maybe because the competition wasn’t what I thought, maybe because I wasn’t expecting it.

Two races, two gold medals.

Same for the 1500- just wanted to run hard. My legs did not feel great at all, but I just stayed moving after the 3k (they had to page me on the loudspeaker for the start of the 15 because I was jogging around the school, lol). Sorry to have held up the start for a few minutes, my bad. This one I led gun-to-tape though. Just wanted to break five minutes, thought I’d run 80 second laps through the first three and a 60 for the last 300 and call it a day. Split 75-81-81 and 58. Went out a tad too hard and it probably cost me a good 4-5 seconds, maybe could’ve broke 4:50 if I was smarter. 4:55.75 for the win.

Had Tom breathing down my neck, that’s why I went out too fast.

Next Thursday would mark the end of the Track Series, and I was determined to try the steeplechase.

Here we go!

Shit, I almost went down.

Laugh it off and do it again.

Okay this one went better.

Starting to get the hang of this thing!

…and that was terrifying. It was a hot late afternoon and I watched my pace go from a respectable split of 88 seconds for the first lap to 93 for the second, to 96 seconds… oof. I just died a very beautiful death out there. I just kept telling myself “don’t get lapped” as I could see Tyler Lyon coming on strong, putting almost 90 seconds on me in the seven lap race. That was probably the hardest running event I’ve ever taken part in. 12:05-flat, and every second of it was just terrible. And awesome.

Four barriers plus a water jump every lap, that’s a crazy event. It’s almost like you need to be in insane 5k shape with 10k strength AND be a solid hurdler. 36 inches high, and I’m only 67 inches tall. Math.

I opted for the step over method on the barriers for the first few laps and then had to resort to vaulting over it with my left hand, just throwing my legs over like a sad little rabbit. Oh, did I mention my legs were completely wrecked from almost 2 months of intense middle distance training and racing? Yeah.

So, because I am so smart I opted to run the 800 meter race a little while later.

300 meters in and realizing that this is not how normal people have fun.

77 seconds on that first lap.

Here we come! Matt looks strong, why am I smiling?

76 seconds on that second lap. I can’t believe it. 2:33.26 for a new 800 PR. That distance is pure evil.

Then I hopped in the 2-mile, but DNF’d it after three laps. Just had nothing left in the legs, and decided to call it a season. Took a down week then started to get after it again…

Signed up for the New Haven Road Race 20k, and had a somewhat solid month of training going in. Quick four-day taper and here we go!

Race day was a balmy 80 with 99% humidity at 8:30 am. Oof.

Things went from okay to what? to bad to worse at mile 8. Plan was to run 1:22 (splits = 6:35) and went through 10k at 42:14, already a minute plus off pace. Okay, maintain this and run 1:24-1:25, no big deal. Went through 8 at 54:08 (6:46 pace) and started to feel low on energy, I figured a gel with some caffeine would perk me up, and sugar is good. There was a water station just past mile 8, so I took the gel then and washed it down with 2 cups of water and…

…it stayed down for about 5 minutes, and then for the first time ever in my running career, it came out. Explosively. Right about mile 8.8, and I started jogging, then shuffling, then another first in a road race… I was walking. And continuing to empty the contents of my stomach, just retching and eventually dry heaving.

I would spend the next seven minutes there at the mile 9 water stop in Fairhaven (on Blatchley between Pine and Lombard) trying to drink water, having it come back out immediately, while the volunteers and spectators looked on in horror.

“White boy, you need to sit!” No, I’m good, just as soon as I can get this down and keep it down I’m gone. Baarrrrrffff. Nope, not yet.

I basically had another 3.4 miles to go and was not about to DNF this race. My legs felt fine. I finally got some water to stay down and slowly trotted away from there, trying to get back down to 6:45 pace but to no avail. It would take me another 27 minutes to finish that 3.4 miles, and it was not fun.

Yuck.

Don’t look at me, I’m HIDEOUS

y tho?

Definitely not paying for any pictures that depict me as this ugly.

1:35:23 for a terrible day but a great lesson learned.

I probably didn’t need that gel, a caffeine pill at that point would’ve been just fine, or some RunGum. Just needed a pick me up and it wasn’t nutritionally. If there’s anything I know about running in heat, my body can’t do two things at once; digest AND stay cool. I was on the thin line of blowing up anyway, the push I needed to send me over that line was trying to drop a maltodextrin bomb into a stomach that wasn’t ready for it. Live and learn.

But what an awesome summer! I got to race on the track a whole bunch! I flooded my shit with so much lactic acid again and again that I kind of miss the taste of pennies coming down the back stretch.

Nothing like the muscles in your neck tightening up for no reason except that “Oh I just wanted to run really fast”.

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Moving in a Different Direction for 2018 and Beyond

Flashback: November, 2011… 

I can distinctly remember finding out about this thing called “ultramarathon”.

I had just finished the Coastal Trail Runs’ Chabot Half Marathon, my first trail race. I had been dueling it out with this guy in an orange shirt for the last few miles on that awesome singletrack under the eucalyptus trees- every time I threw in a little surge he’d match me, staying just a few meters ahead of me the entire time.

He finished just a few seconds ahead of me and we high-fived.

“Dude, you were pushing me hard the whole last five miles, that was awesome!” he says to me.

“Man… I could not catch you… nice work!” I replied. “I just… didn’t want to get passed by the guy behind me… in the red shirt…”

Then that guy in the red shirt comes into view now, by-passes the finish chute, goes over to a bag, grabs a water bottle and some gels and heads back out on the loop we just finished.

“Oh yeah, that’s so-and-so, he’s leading the 50k race…” says orange shirt.

“What’s a 50k? That’s like kilometers? Fifty!?!?” I had not yet learned to convert metric to imperial because before I was a runner I never had a need to.

Long story short: Joe (orange shirt) tells me about ultras, 50k is 31.1 miles- today those folks are doing two half marathon loops and then a five mile loop to get to 31 miles, then you graduate up to 50-milers and 100 kilometers and then the grandaddy of them all, 100 milers (200 milers were not a thing yet, this was all the way back in 2011 after all).

He then told me about this race called Western States 100, from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California- from deep in the heart of the Sierra up and over 9000-foot mountains and through these hot-ass canyons down into the gold country and ending on the track at Placer High in Auburn.

“I’m going to do this race one day…” I thought to myself.

First ultra finish: Canyon Meadow 50k, June ’12

Flashback: December, 2017…

I am now a six-time Western States lottery loser. Six fucking times I put tickets into this damn basket and six times I got nothing. I am beyond disappointed. I start scrambling to figure out my race plans for the entire twelve months of 2018 now, because that’s what you have to do now if you’re an ultrarunner.

One more year of holding my family hostage so we can plan a vacation around which 100-miler I’m going to do. One more year of being gone all day Saturday on training runs and one more year of being tired, hungry and sore all the time. One more year of “well, maybe next year…” which isn’t that big a deal since I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan and have said that every October since I was old enough to remember until 2008. I can wait for things for a long time apparently.

Oh, and I also had two tickets in Hardrock from a Bighorn finish in 2016 and that was going to run out, so I had to pick a race that was a qualifier for both, in the slim chance that I get picked for that before 2030.

34 miles into my first 50-miler, Dick Collins, October ’12

So on January 1st I sat down and wrote down my plans for the year: okay, Boston Marathon in April. Manitou’s in June. Maybe a 100k in August? And Grindstone 100 in October. Okay, cool- I am an ultrarunner.

Then I had the crazy idea to go and finally finish my degree. I dropped out of school with 96 credits. Who does that? This asshole, that’s who. So I took a remedial math class (Intermediate Algebra) at the local community college and applied to transfer into Southern Connecticut State University. Yes, I got in. They like money and I need to give them some so I can get this degree, so it works out for everyone!

Then our wonderful, energetic two-year old got into the pre-school of our dreams, starting in September. That’s also going to cost money.

Looks like things after September this year will be busy, maybe I should switch that 100-miler to August?

Then my wife comes to me with this crazy idea: let’s see if we can buy a house! So, I won’t bore you with the details, but we just bought a house, and we move into it in less than two weeks.

This means I cut the lawn now. This means I fix all the things. I dig the garden and plant the vegetables we always wanted. This means I have to actually be around the house to do things to the house. So, in summation: I have more adulting to do than I have ever done before. Like actual adulting, not “going out to get an oil change” adulting.

Suddenly life asserted itself and made running a 100-miler not so important.

In fact, it made the idea sound silly and really selfish.

I also haven’t felt the excitement about running long like I used to. Eastern States 100 last August was a lot of fun (I’ll be back crewing and pacing this year) but afterwards I didn’t bask in the glow that I had from previous post-hundreds.

I had ambivalence, and I’ve learned that for me, ambivalence is a jumping off point.

Do I want to keep running these things and chasing this goal of Western States?

Do I even want to run Western States anymore?

Maybe it was living in the ultra-bubble of the Bay Area that magnified the intensity.

Statesmas, bro! DUDE, STATES! It’s Western time! I feel like all the cool kids were sitting at the cool table, with their cool fucking sweatpants and here I am, running Canyons 100k just to see what Cal Street was all about (it was okay). I wanted to run down Cal Street with wrecked quads while projectile vomiting, that’s what all the cool kids are doing!

Super photogenic ultra guy, Skyline 50k, August ’13

Present day: April, 2018

I e-mailed the race director for Manitou’s Revenge and told him I couldn’t make it this year. Maybe I’ll be back in ’19, maybe ’20, maybe never? I didn’t rush to sign up for Grindstone on April 1st at 7 am like I had planned.

I had a blast training through an absolute shitty winter here in New England, getting ready for the Boston Marathon, which I’d say was a huge success.

I really like that my longest run was less than three hours.

My wife really liked that when I said I was going to be back at 2 pm, I was actually back at like 2:05 pm.

I really like coaching, too. I’ve been steadily building a clientele since September of 2016, and without sounding too corny I really cherish these relationships- watching my athletes progress and really jump into this sport has been super affirming. Whether it’s putting together a plan for a half marathon, or tracking a runner at his first marathon, it’s been a lot of fun. Here I thought it was going to be all “do this workout and pay me on this date” and it’s been the exact opposite- it’s actually been a partnership. Getting a text from a one of my runners saying “did my first double digit run!” or “just ran a new 5k PR” is pretty rad. I love you guys!

So, for now I am *just* a marathoner. And an occasional 5ker. With a half marathon or two thrown in. Don’t worry, I won’t call them “half Marys”, I’m not that ridiculous. And I’ll probably run a 10k soon. Maybe I’ll join a USATF-sanctioned club. And possibly do a few shorter trail races…

…and some track events.

Because I am absolutely terrified of running an all-out 800-meter race or a mile on the track. Or a 3k steeplechase? That’s scary. What if I fall over a barrier? What if I get lapped by some high school kid? Holy shit, this is actually what keeps me awake at night.

Because that’s where the real FOMO has been lately- the fear of continuing to miss out on the things I’ve already missed out on. I didn’t run a step until I was 33 years old, so I never ran high school track, never ran XC, any of that.

They have open track meets! I can enter them and compete, and actually race against other people- that’s pretty freaking scary.

I still have a healthy fear of 100-milers, and probably always will; but I don’t get the nervous butterflies anymore when thinking about doing a tough race like Wasatch or Cascade Crest.

It feels like a chore, something I think have to do (get a qualifier) so I can do this other thing I think I have to do (run WS100). I don’t actually have to do any of those things and I can come back to it when I start to miss it. If I start to miss it.

I’m also officially over lotteries. Just done with them.

The day before running my first 100-miler, San Diego, June ’14

I got into this sport because of the freedom it provided, but I haven’t felt very free in a few years. That thing I’ve been chasing? I don’t think I want that anymore.

So this summer I still get to be a runner. I get to be a present and loving husband and father, I get to be a homeowner, I get to watch my kid go to his first day of school, I get to go back to school myself, I get to jump into the local 5k and get my ass kicked by a fast college kid; I get to do so much by not getting to do an ultra this year.

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The 2018 Boston Marathon: The Dudebro Abides

I’m gonna say something super controversial right now: I really didn’t mind the weather at Boston this year (gasp!) The real challenge for me was all the training done in my first official New England winter. But wait, you may say, you’ve been back east for two winters now! I spent most of 2016-17 winter on a treadmill. Oof. I hid from what everyone agreed was a very mild winter.

Coming from Northern California and having not done a winter in ten years, soon as the temps got down under freezing I typically opted for an indoor run. And as the law of specificity would dictate, my first two road races last February and March were terrible. Gotta run outside if you’re gonna race outside.

So this winter I decided to just do it all outside- after all, there’s no such thing as shitty weather, just shitty clothes (and shitty preparation). I got me a pair of those special underwear- no, not the Mormon kind, the special “junk-covering patch” kind that keeps you oh so warm… uh, down… there. Some better socks, better gloves (even wore my ski gloves a on a few single digit runs actually), wore my ski goggles on those mornings we got hit with flurries or sleet and just tried to prepare well for crappy weather.

I grew to love it. Those runs in 17 degrees with the windchill pushing it down to a balmy 7; I wore them as a badge of honor. Let’s see if I can do a threshold workout in 10 degrees today!

So six weeks out from Boston the thought hit me- I bet we get absolute shit weather for the race this year. I mean, winter does not want to leave, why would it change for the biggest race of the year for me?

Luckily three weeks out I did an 18-miler at MP into 20+ mph headwinds with some light scattered drizzle and low-40s. Perfect, I’ll be ready for race day now. So no surprise ten days out (when almost all runners start obsessively checking the weather for their goal race, seriously don’t lie- you know you do it) when I saw what you all saw. Shitty weather!

My training also hit a slight snag twelve days out when I woke up with a locked sacroiliac joint; if any of you are low back pain sufferers, I feel you. I had to go get a few emergency chiropractic sessions to unlock that and restore full mobility, effectively forcing me to take three days off and miss my last workout ten days out (10 miles at MP). Not a great way to start a taper.

Anyway, I had to trust that my training was good. I had never run more miles during a build than I had before this race. I’d also never been this fit or this hungry to go out and really attack a race. The mental prep was the biggest thing though, just preparing myself to stay positive through every step of the race, even the days and nights leading up to it. My mantras I had developed through positive self-talk were “stick to you plan” (as far as nutrition and strategy goes) and “this is your FUCKING day”. Also, “dudebro”.

Dudebro has become my alter-ego through this block of training. Whenever I’d be doing a run or workout at MP or faster, the positive and encouraging self-talk would start: “just hold on, dude.”

Hold on, bro. Hold pace, dude.

C’mon, you got this dude. Bro. Little surge up this hill, bro.

Dude? Gotta hang, bro. Let’s go! Bro!

Eventually it became just “Dudebro!”

So when would I need dudebro at Boston? Basically from the minute I left my house. The initial plan was for my wife to drop me off in Hopkinton at like 9:45 am but I decided she’d be better off at home with our two-and-a-half year old. No sense trying to see me at Wellesley for like five seconds while managing an energetic little guy in a cold downpour, then trying to get downtown to pick me up- sounds like that would be way harder than what I was about to do. There will be more Bostons.

Luckily I live a little less than two hours from Boston, so my plan was to get to the Alewife T stop and get downtown by 7:30 am, then board a bus for Hopkinton and be at the Athlete’s Village by about 8:30. I was in Wave 2, Corral 1 this time around, so I had an extra 20 minutes from my run in 2016, which on race morning in those conditions equaled to what felt like about 45 extra seconds.

Except route 84 between Hartford and the Mass Pike was an absolute shit show- they got about two inches of snow/ice/freezing rain overnight so the driving was very slow, I slid three or four times and was like, “okay, just get to Boston in one piece today…” So this put me back about 30-45 minutes. I finally got to Cambridge at 7:45 am, and was downtown by 8:15- I met a really nice guy on the train from Ohio named Jim that also ran JFK50 last November.

I opted to walk from the Park Street stop across Boston Common to gear check and stepped out into a torrent. Feet were soaked within three minutes. Said to myself “this is not even in the top ten of things that will go wrong today…” Had to stay positive because I wasn’t going to stay dry.

Checked my gear, used the porta-potty, hopped on a bus, it was now 8:45, which basically put me in Hopkinton at 9:45, way too close to my start time. Had a fun ride out on the bus- I sat in the heater seat and jammed my feet under that so they’d dry, I also asked everyone around me if they’d like me to dry their gloves. So my feet and four pairs of gloves got semi-dry on the ride out. I drank a flat Coke and chatted with runners about goal times, other races we’ve run, you know- the usual thing that nervous runners do.

The Athlete’s Village looked like a refugee camp- the area under the tents was ankle-deep mud, so I stayed on concrete. It hurt to look at. I basically huddled into the masses as we did the slow walk towards the corral entrance. I lubed up profusely, Desitin’d my b-hole like it was my job. No chafing today. Just not gonna allow it to even take root. Dropped my sweatpants at the donation bins, put my gloves on, powered up my watch and took a little jog down to the corrals.

Of course soon as I get in the corral I have to pee. I stood there and tried my hardest to pee on myself (zero fucks given at this point, was already completely soaked and starting to shiver slightly) but was way too keyed up. Or cold. Or both. Just repeating over and over in my head “this is your day… stick to your plan…” The rain wasn’t that big a deal, to be honest it was the wind. The ever-present wind.

Gun goes off, we go off, and I’m running the Boston Marathon. I’M RUNNING THE BOSTON MARATHON! Okay, relax, dude- you did this before.

Take it easy, nothing dumb right now. My plan was to start off with two 7-minute miles then work my way down to 6:50 then settle into 6:45 pace by mile four. I went out way too hard first time here and was cooked by the Newton Hills. Not trying to do that again. Luckily I was totally boxed in and looked down after about a half mile and was running about 7:30 pace, and was able to finally pee (that’s the fastest I think I can run while pissing myself). Sorry if any of my pee-pee got on anyone.

First three miles: 7:25, 7:01, 6:45. Was feeling pretty good now, I ripped off my long sleeve half-shirt like Hulk Hogan and discarded it. My arms felt warm from the trapped heat, almost felt humid in there. Every time I started to throw a little surge in from adrenaline I reigned it in, said “not now” and “slow down”. Mile four was 6:47, okay this is it. Stay right here…

And I have to pee again. I stopped at this long row of porta-potties on that little hill on the way out of Ashland. This one would take over a minute, it just kept coming and coming. 8:33 for that mile. It was at this moment I abandoned trying to run sub-3 and said to myself that I just wanted to re-qualify for next year. Basically needed a 3:11 or better, and I knew it was going to be hard to do that. Running into a 25-30 mph headwind was wasting so much energy.

Somewhere in the Greater Boston area

Then a 6:44, 6:45 and a 6:52; threshold pace for me is about these miles, but why does it feel like 10k pace? I’m going to crash and burn, hard. Better slow down. Better try to go through the half around 1:33 or so. Next four miles: two 6:59’s and a 7:04 and a 6:55 into Wellesley before stopping to pee again (WTF?)

Smile!

I split the first half in 1:34:19, probably losing almost two minutes to pee breaks. It’s gotta be that cold-induced diuresis again. My body just has to pee a ton when I’m cold. Oh well, can’t do anything about that now (…or ever? Any doctors out there wanna chime in on this? I start taking Flomax or something?)

Working…

Besides for my thighs and hands being a little cold I felt great- was taking 100-120 calories every 3.5 miles (about every 25 minutes) and was drinking 2-3 ozs of water at every other mile. That’s 300-360 every 75 minutes (my plan was to eat about 250-300 cals/hr), and I took either a gel or three Shot Bloks at 3.5, 7, 10.5 and 14 and washed it down with two cups (4-6 ozs) of Gatorade.

My screen name on PT is “das antelopen” which is German for “the antelope”, so yeah, that’s me.

I got a huge boost from my buddy Robb at mile 14, he was here with his family from nearby Weymouth- even made us PT Runners a sign!

I knew I’d need more energy for the hills coming up so I decided to take another gel and two cups of Gatorade at 17, just after the first Newton hill before the Firehouse. I noticed at this point I was passing a ton of people- folks were already wearing emergency blankets and walking the hills. Uh oh. I better slow down- I had just run the last three miles at 6:56, 7:05 and 6:52. Maybe I should try to keep it right at 7 and the hills at 7:30- there’s still a long way to go.

My form still looks solid

It felt like the second Newton hill was the steepest but also the shortest; I had done a ton of hills in my training so honestly, the hills didn’t feel that hard today. I would again pass what felt like 500 runners here- this is the hill that starts at the Firehouse. I noticed I was yelling out loud a lot here, mostly to myself but it may have helped and/or annoyed other runners. “PUMP YOUR ARMS!” and “C’MON DUDE!” “YOU GOT THIS!” and such.

A 7:26 mile and then a 7:28 had me feeling good- this is where my race died in ’16, just tried to hammer these hills and couldn’t. Felt like the tank still had a lot in it, and of course I stop to pee again at 30km. This better be the last time, if it wasn’t it had to wait, I had literally no more seconds to give away. I knew I was gonna be close to 3:11.

Dude? Bro!

After a quick 30-second stop and splitting a 7:56 mile, I really hammered the third Newton hill and tried to reign it in for Heartbreak. This was where I was gonna spend a little bit and then try to coast down, there’s a nice three mile downhill after cresting Heartbreak and this was where I planned on taking a lot out. I felt really good just churning up Heartbreak, passing maybe 1,000 runners here- no lie. People were walking. People wearing red bibs.

I stopped taking perverse joy in passing these folks and started feeling sorry for them, at first it was like, “shoulda trained harder” which turned into “damn, this is serious…” People had blue lips and were shivering uncontrollably. I was surprised that there were only 1202 DNFs, that means most of these folks persevered to the finish. Mad props to the Medical Staff- they treated something like 2500+ people.

Top of Heartbreak, Boston College, people partying hard, time to hammer. I screamed “TIME TO EMPTY THE TANK FOLKS! WHO’S COMING WITH ME?” to which no one replied. Maybe they all had survivors guilt. It felt good to run hard down the backside of this hill, a nice 6:46 mile that felt faster but now with no more hills to block the wind it was like a full force gale here. That 6:46 into that wind (let’s say 25 mph) equates to about a 6:10 pace. Here’s an article on wind-aided as well as wind-impeded running: Running in Windy Conditions

The next few miles were directly into the wind- once you turn onto Beacon Street it was right there in all of its glory. I took another gel at mile 20 and my last with 5k to go. I would split a 7:03, a 7:18 and 7:26 as the Citgo sign comes into view. These miles were hard, and the “dudebro” was summoned. At Mile 23 the sky opened up with some of the biggest rain drops of the day, they felt like they were the size of silver dollars.

Dude! Bro! C’mon dudebro, one time! One time!!!

Then the “One Mile to Go” marker, then that dip under the Mass Pike, fading, starting to really enter bonk mode here. Just grinding and giving it everything. a 7:35 mile, fuck! Legs, failing, just… Dying…

Then up the other side, see that crowd? HEAR THAT CROWD? And here comes the kick, I’m finding I have legs here; the turn onto Hereford, up that little rise, passing hundreds of runners, voices, screaming, cheering, USA USA USA, holy shit- do I have legs now!

And I’m going to cry. Don’t cry, dudebro, you’re on camera somewhere. The emotion is just coming up- just let it all out, dude. Just let it rip bro.

SHOW YOU MY O FACE

Sprinting here, feels like sub-5 pace here (actually was) just watching the clock from a few blocks now, 3:10:00..01…02…03

Battle cry?

C’mon dude, hammer. HAMMER, BRO!

OMG dudebro we did it!

3:10:40. I can stop running now. I started to walk. Now I could feel the cold. I’m cold, dude. Bro, you can’t lift your arms over your head to celebrate.

Trying to lift my arms and… frozen at the shoulders.

Let’s get warm! I went right to gear check to get my bag, of course stopping for the medal, bag of food, water and emergency blanket. That took forever, we were all teeth chattering and cold waiting for our bags as they rifled through the bins to find our bibs. I went to wait in line for the changing room but said “F this” and went to a porta-potty, putting the seat down and using the inside of my emergency blanket to get dry and changed on top of. Literally warmed up instantly once I was dressed.

Then I went home. What a day.

Strava data

Some take-aways from Boston:

I feel like anybody that ran 3:12 or faster at Boston this year could probably equate that to a sub-3 in those unfavorable conditions.

My buddy Shan sent me this little item:

I like the little handwritten footnote- ideal for me is like 47 degrees.

That works out to a 2:57:19 for a 3:10:40, and the winning times are just about in line with this above number, too. 2:15 to 2:06 (that’s around the usual Boston men’s time in “normal” temperature conditions) and a 2:39 to 2:28 for the women.

For the wind calculations, I don’t know what the average headwind was but it was rarely not blowing directly into us- that article I linked above said an equal headwind for your pace would slow you down about 12 seconds per mile, so a 6:45 pace is 8.8 mph and an 8.8 mph headwind would effectively slow you down to a 6:57 pace… But 8.8 mph was probably on the low side for the day, even if it was at 15-20 mph for the average that slowed everyone down an additional maybe 20-30 seconds per mile? Do I have that right?

Anyway, the conditions dictated the pace and I had to go with what I had. Take what the day gives you and do what you do. That’s all any of us could do. Kudos to everyone that lined up to start; no harm in DNFing this one- you’re still rad in my book.

I was also super happy that I was able to run a slight positive split- 1:34:19 to 1:36:21, only losing 2:02 for the second half. It felt like a negative split, with all the hills coming in the second half, but again- was psyched that I was able to have a strong finish. I passed 4,804 runners to “beat my bib” and finish in 3458th place.

I lost 3:11 to stoppages (three pisses!) and I gotta get better there- for all my road marathons I either never stopped to pee or stopped exactly once.

Some positives were my stomach was pretty good, had some early mile flatulence going on but that was gone pretty quick (sorry to anyone running behind me for that stretch in Ashland, my bad…) I was really good at taking water every other mile, either one or two cups and stayed right on target with gels/Bloks/Gatorade.

And hopefully I re-qualified for next year, I’m 4:20 under the standard so that should be good enough- unless the legend of Boston attracts another record number of applicants for 2019…

I guess we’ll see.

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The 2017 JFK 50 Race Report: Fake It ’til You Make It

Ugh, I’ve been dreading this moment- sitting down and putting all my thoughts together about the JFK 50-miler in blog form for the world to see. I kind of just want to skip it, make pretend the race never happened, just make it go away. But I know I can’t fully process this thing until I write about it, gotta put it down on paper and give it away so I can let it go.

This was supposed to be the race where all the proper training finally paid off- I had done so many quality runs leading up to this race, I felt so damn fast and ready. That’s the weird thing about ultramarathons though, you can adequately prepare in 9 of 10 categories but that one you don’t prepare for will get you every time… more on this below.

So five weeks out I crushed a 50k training run:

Maybe I peaked too early?

That’s my 50k PR by like 24+ minutes, too. I had been running a lot of faster stuff, sleeping well, eating everything in sight, hitting the foam roller hard and generally recovering really well. I had also been trying to do the whole 40 feet of elevation gain per mile prescribed by Jason Koop in his book, since JFK had about 2000 feet of climbing I made sure I did that on all my key runs.

Then two weeks out, my last long run was a super sick workout (h/t to Hoka NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario, he had Matt Llano do this workout two weeks out from the NYC Marathon in 2016):

This one was really tough…

I had practiced running with all the nutrition I planned on using, wore the vest I was gonna wear, ate the same breakfast before almost all my long runs, and had the audacious goal of going for sub-7 hours. I know, it sounds crazy but I thought if I could just run back to back 3:30 marathons, I’d be fine.

I had run that solo 50k at 7:41 pace, then another 28-miler at 8:05 pace, a 24-miler at 7:25 pace, a 20 at 7:43 pace, and an 18-mile progression run with that last 9 miles at 7:00 pace. I was doing technical downhill trails a few times per week, a lot of threshold and tempo-paced workouts and even had been in the gym two days a week actually lifting free weights! I felt so damn strong almost every single run.

I thought I did everything right EXCEPT…

…appropriately prepare for the weather. Or I should say I didn’t “practice running while cold and wet”.

Damn. I literally saw dudes pass me on the C&O Towpath and thought, “that’s a lot of clothes, bro…” and damn me if I didn’t beg to have tights and a little bit better of a rain shell after mile 30.

I’ll skip all the pedantic crap about the drive down and dinner the night before and sleep and breakfast – that stuff was all great. No complaints, nothing eventful. Hooked up with my homie Donnie Knight as I checked into the hotel, which was gifted to me by my other homie Mike Coupland that wasn’t able to race JFK. We had pancakes for dinner at Denny’s, it was delicious.

Anyway; woke up, got dressed, followed DK over to the school near the start line, caught the last few minutes of the race briefing, dropped off my finish line drop bag and was ready to go.

Actually started right off the line, maybe 2-3 rows back of the leaders, that was weird. Hey there’s Mike Wardian, hey that’s Emily Torrence, oh, cool- Eric Senseman!

I knew I wanted to hit the trailhead area at around 24 minutes, came through there at just under 22. Felt fantastic. Was joking with some runners about trying to catch falling leaves, but being that far up in the pack (somewhere in the top 50 I think) those guys weren’t in the mood for joking. Only serious runners up here.

The Appalachian Trail section was the best part of this race, in my opinion. I felt really engaged, felt flow-y over the rocks and roots and leaves, just clicked off miles effortlessly. Kept myself in check big time. Wanted to hit the Weverton Gap split at mile 15.5 at 2:20 but came through at 2:40. Thought, okay- I’ll run a 7:30 today, that’s still an awesome 50-mile time, I can do that, just chill out, be patient…

Feeling great (because I’m dry and warm here…)

Was hopping on to the Towpath right at this first rain started to dump heavier. I was still moving well here, clicking off mellow eight minute miles. Everything felt fantastic until the aid station at mile 25-something; I was just past halfway at 3:56 and thought, even if I implode I’ll still run sub-8, this is awesome! I stopped at that aid and took all the stuff out of my back zippered area, refilled my bottle, put my rain shell on (it was steady now) and started off again, was stopped maybe 3 minutes.

Happy on the inside but miserable on the outside? Whatever, dude.

These next 10 miles were basically between 9 and 10-minutes per with a lot more frequency in the pee breaks; oh no- the dreaded cold-induced diuresis is back! Shit!

Why do I keep getting this? Anyway, I had to pee every 7-10 minutes for the next like 4 hours. I should’ve learned at Bighorn, then again at Eastern States- when I get cold while running I have to figure out a way to stay warm. I could’ve used dry clothes right now, but with no drop bags allowed at JFK there was no way to remedy this situation- tights or running pants in a drop bag would’ve been a lifesaver.

Those guys I scoffed at earlier- fucking geniuses. Those guys would all run their goal times I bet. Oh, I am such a silly little douchenozzle. When will I learn? Just keep faking it until you make it.

Anyway, I still maintained a positive mental attitude, even though I was mildly shivering and my hands were frozen inside of wet gloves. I kept laughing with the aid station folks about how absurd this sport is.

Hit the 38.4 mile aid station split at 6:29, thought, “okay, now we really have to run and generate some heat!” but yeah, I had nothing. I was so stiff from being frozen that I simply could not stretch out my stride. All that awesome training has just literally gone to waste. “I’m so fit tho” means NOTHING when you haven’t prepared. Dammit, I was a Boy Scout, that’s like our motto. Be prepared.

Off the towpath, 7:10 through now and on to the country roads and more shuffling, but now at 10-12 minute pace! Oh, the humanity. I’m watching myself as a train wreck in real time, completely unable to do anything that remotely resembles real running.

Sup, bruh? You gotta blanket? Hot tea?

The last six miles, which in my mind were going to be the easiest, were by far the hardest miles I ran all year.

The last six miles of Eastern States 100 were easier, at least I felt better for those. My buddy Dave told me when he ran this race years ago as his first 50 he got passed by a soccer mom in a full pink and purple LA Gear outfit being all like, “great job, honey!” while he was like “WTF is happening- THIS SPORT IS AWESOME!?!?”

Yeah, that was my experience tenfold.

I got passed by a barefoot runner. I got passed by so many people in the last eight miles, maybe 45 people. “You’re awesome!” “Go get it!” …and I meant every word of that, because I sucked that day.

Luckily for me Donnie came up on me at mile 48.5 and we would run, actually run the last 1.5 miles in together, that was a really cool feeling. My plan was to shuffle in at like 14-minute pace but he had another idea. Sometimes you get the help you don’t ask for but needed so bad.

Anyway, lesson learned. Overdress when the forecast says “a windy and rainy 43 degrees today”. Or at least dress appropriately.

But having a decent attitude will always be more important than having good, dry clothes. I can suck, and can KNOW that I suck, and have a really shitty day and still have more fun than I thought. I can laugh at myself for the absurdity of thinking I could run fast rather than hold myself in contempt for not hitting my goal.

I always told myself that I’d quit this sport once it no longer was fun, and it’s still always going to be fun as long as I remember that I’m the luckiest person alive that I get to go out and disappear for upwards of eight hours on a weekend morning to go “run” in the woods.

Luckily for me I don’t have to fake the love I have for this amazing, silly, humbling, crazy, awesome, inspiring, ridiculous sport.

Strava link

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