Archive for Trail running

Small Victories; Western States 100 (0-62)

I didn't make it to the Olympics Nana and Grandad but I'll take this!

I didn’t make it to the Olympics Nana and Grandad but this is pretty cool! #WS100

At first I was really confused, but then I grabbed my phone to switch off my alarm. Wow. I had done it. I had actually slept! I thought to myself ‘OK let’s go. Western States in two hours. Sweet’. Sleeping was a small victory.

I grabbed my blood tester so I could get my breakfast going. I wanted to scoff down my 600-800 calorie breakfast with a two-hour window before the gun. I knew a heavy breakfast would not be an issue, it would be my last normal meal for at least a day. Plus, the first four miles of the course are straight uphill to the highest point (8,750ft) from Squaw Valley (home of the 1960 Winter Olympics) which meant hiking not running so my stomach could handle this. My glucose was 165 mg/dL, a good start. My nurse and me had decided to bolus 75% of the insulin required for this carb heavy meal of two bagels, a banana, a yogurt and a cereal bar.

Hanging out in the warm with my crew prior to the start.

Hanging out in the warm with my crew prior to the start.

My crew of Tiffany and Team Novo Nordisk team-mates, Benny and Matt worked like clockwork loading the car and checking out of the hotel at 4am sharp. All I had to do was eat all those carbs and get dressed. We got to Squaw and I went off to grab my bib and ankle chip. I surprisingly had to go through a mini-medical again. My weight shot up 5lbs but I was now wearing my backpack and running shoes. I didn’t understand this process. Maybe it was because of the heat and Craig Thornley (RD) was covering every base? Afterall, it had been announced late yesterday that this would be the second hottest Western States in its 40 year history with a high of 102. It definitely was not hot yet though. We lingered inside the main building until five minutes to go. The start area was electric. Although dark, the sun would rise soon which was a positive only in the fact I wouldn’t need my headlamp until the evening.

I said goodbye to my crew and  squeezed my way to the front of the pack (just to get out onto the course efficiently more than anything else). I looked up and there high above me on a three-step painters ladder announcing the crowd in his skimpy blue shorts and white cotton t-shirt was the man who started it all forty years ago to the day, Gordy Ainsleigh. I shook his hand and am fairly sure I told him I loved him in all of my excitement. Come on. I mean, how can you not love Gordy? His horse was too weak to compete in the 100 mile race so he decided to run it instead and so he did, in under 24 hours by the way. No crew, pacers, water, aid stations, nothing. Just sheer guts and determination. That’s Gordy.  Needless to say, I was now really buzzing and just like that we had the ten second countdown and away we went, everyone screaming and whooping at 5am.

Mile 1 - up we go!

Mile 1 – there is no concern about going out too fast at Western States 100!

After 90 seconds, I stopped running and started my power hike up the fire road towards Emigrant Pass. AJW had mentioned at the veteran’s panel discussion pre-race “Only the sub-17 hours run the climb and those who believe there is a bank”. I did not fall into either of those categories. My plan was simple, strict and potentially hugely successful. I was following the sub-24 hour race times per aid station. I had 55 minutes to climb 3.5 miles which worked out at a 16-minute mile hiking effort. I was adamant I was going to stick to my pace so I would not blow up. I had pacers from mile 62 (Foresthill) to the end; my girlfriend Tiffany and team-mate Benny. They would kick my ass so hard if they needed too, because they knew how much I wanted the ‘one-day’ silver buckle. That was honestly my one and only goal for the race and for the course and temperatures, quite the goal to still strive for.

A flood of people passed me as I dropped back to what felt like the middle of the pack as we climbed the early morning light. Occasionally, the climb flattened and I could run a short spurt. As we passed  the waterfall S-bend section, I realized my shoes were not tight enough. I found a rock to address this and lost a minute or two of time. I reminded myself of Ellie Greenwood’s tip; don’t panic. So, I had lost time to tie my shoes better. So what? It was mile 2! I stayed calm and kept hiking. I hit the Escarpment aid station one minute early. Just like I had been encouraged to do, I had hiked so far on just half a bladder of water to conserve every possible piece of energy. I now filled it to the very top, grabbed some bananas and continued on up the last half mile to Emigrant Pass.

Climbing between Escarpment and Emigrant Pass.

Climbing between Escarpment and Emigrant Pass.

We passed some photographers at the top of the climb and spectators. I had kept turning to my left all the way up to watch the sunrise behind Lake Tahoe. This view was absolutely mind-blowing. I thought at the time ‘I have never run in such a beautiful setting’ and a week later, that statement remains true. AJW said “saviour the moment, soak up the Western States experience (being a lottery, you never know when or if you will do this again), thank the volunteers, enjoy time with your crew and take in the views, look back before descending the mountain for one more look at Squaw and Lake Tahoe”. I did and would do all of these things.

Emigrant Pass sunrise.

Emigrant Pass sunrise.

Follow the yellow *ribbon road.

Follow the yellow *ribbon road.

I followed the Montrail yellow ribbons down the single track the other side of the mountain. The highest part of the course was already over. With seven miles before the next aid, the thing to do now was to eat, and eat often and run at a very easy pace. The course here had zero snow on it compared to previous years. Holding back the legs took some serious discipline on my part. My pace was 10:45’s and I used my Suunto Ambit to guide me as best I could as I descended in the wilderness section of the course. I knew nothing of my place or cared. “Run your own race” said everyone at the panel. It’s true, you have to do this your own way, it’s 100 miles!

This was a rugged section of rocks with the added factor of amazing views of near and far mountains in high alpine country of the Granite Chief Wilderness. Supposedly, you could see thirty miles away here where the Robinson Flat aid station was. Looking up too much could cost you a fall so I tried to save my curious eyes when we had slight uphills to look around.

Towards the end of the section, I had joined part of a congo line; tight single track up a rocky stream. Keeping your feet dry was not really an option here but being patient was. Some people around me dug an elbow in here or there to jump ahead a whole place at mile 9. This seemed beyond ridiculous to me. I stayed calm and decided now was the time for my earphones.

Running the wonderful Granite Chief Wilderness

Running the wonderful Granite Chief Wilderness section.

When the course flattened out, I started running again. I wanted to hit the aid at 2h 10 and thought I only had a few minutes to cover some serious ground if I was going to make it. I must have lost a chunk of time in the congo line. But I turned a long right and then I saw people. Here I was at Lyons Ridge aid, two minutes ahead of time. A quick fist pump. Small victory. I checked my CGM and was around 150. Fist pump, small victory. You get the idea now. It was time to eat some more and not hold back as I could tell my BG number was dropping off. An old guy with a hose asked me if I would like some of Foresthill’s water. He said it with such passion, it felt rude to decline. It was only 7am and I thought, this seems early to be cooling off but the moment he sprayed my torso I felt a big difference. Everyone was right, dry heat (although not that hot yet) is deceiving.

Lyon Ridge

Lyon Ridge

Running along the ridge line on my way to Red Star Ridge (mile 16) was another spectacular section. The congo line had split up before the aid station and I got to run this part solo. My music was blaring out some 90’s British Indie; Placebo and Radiohead I recall. I was officially in my element. Life was good, real good. I sang (no one heard), smiled (no one saw) and ran with happiness. I even had a really fun pee break on the ridge. I’m ranking it number one on my ‘most scenic pee of my life’ list! On a more serious note, peeing was great as it meant i was hydrating well (my glucose level was steady). The ridge line went directly over a section of rocks and the trail then descended into wooded pine lined switch backs for a mile or so.

Scrambling up a section on the ridge line.

Scrambling up a section on the ridge line to Red Rock Ridge.

Running through a foot-strike scientific experiment (Western States is used for a host of sport science data) screamed ‘aid station approaching’ which was pretty darn sweet as my watch said 15 miles when in fact the aid station was officially mile 16. Reaching these check points before I expected too was a real plus mentally. Small victory, yes. Too add to the plus column, the aid station was really loud. It was in a really remote spot so no crew were here but it was a non-issue, the volunteers were simply awesome. I had a personal volunteer right on me saying “What do you need?”. She grabbed my backpack off my shoulders, refilled it with water and I topped up my hand-held with the GU electrolyte drink. Both drinks were packed with ice. I even spooned my hat in a bucket of ice and threw some more down my back for good measure. It had only just turned 8am but all of this was completely necessary to keep my core temperature as cool as possible as the outdoor thermostat was going up fast. I had already gone through 80% of my gels, chews and fruit bars – a good sign I was eating and eating often. I loaded my backpack with more and off I went. I walked out of the aid munching on a cereal bar. I kept saying to myself ‘eat early and often and run easy’. I was doing both textbook style.

From mile 16, it was more gradual downhill running into Duncan Canyon where I would get to see my crew of Tiffany, Benny, Sean and Matt for the first time since Squaw. That was almost five hours ago. The goal pace on the section was 11:30’s but I was definitely going sub-11’s. It was tough to hold back, sometimes it felt like I was doing more damage than good, by braking at that pace. Some parts of the trail were now very exposed, so I played a continuous on/off game with my Oakley’s. Running in the sun was a sure-fire way to keep me drinking regularly. I was more or less a robot anyway; take an S-Cap every 30 minutes, drinking water every 5 minutes, consuming 300 calories of food/liquid an hour. But a quick reminder from the sun didn’t do me any harm to keep at it.

Tiffany helping me refuel and Matt about to prick me!

Tiffany helping me refuel and Matt about to prick me!

After hours of steady relaxed running, I entered into an army of people at Duncan Canyon aid. I caught a glimpse of “Changing Diabetes” ahead on a shirt. My team-mate, Ryan Jones was just leaving the aid station. I locked eyes with Matt. He guided me off to the left like I was a plane looking to park at a vacant gate. He did a great job too. Away from the mass of spectators and into our own shady spot. The crew knew the drill here; towel (to wipe my fingers), blood test (result = 211), sunscreen (Tiffany slapped it on, she was not stingy) refill drinks with ice and a refill foods for the backpack. And go.

Tiffany and Sean - food display 10/10 : )

Tiffany and Sean – food display 10/10 : )

All the food I had bought from REI was carefully displayed on a blanket and I picked out what I wanted efficiently. The ‘piece de resistance’ though was the Anton Krupicka style bandana neck scarf supplied by Tiffany. This was not going to win me any style contests but with a chunk of ice wrapped in it, this would cool my neck and torso all day long. I hadn’t tried this out before but I couldn’t think of any negative reasons why not to try it. The one aid station hiccup we did have, was not having the Aquaphor on hand. I lost a load of time in Leadville due to chafing so this was potentially a big deal although I was not feeling any skin irritation yet. The crew would be back at Dusty Corners in 14 miles and I was confident it would be on everyone’s mind there.

I peaced out and descended a steep section of trail, focusing not too fall in front of all the spectactors. I entered the aid happy and left happier. It was really great seeing the gang. Everyone was in high spirits. I walked a small uphill and then decided to get going again at running speed. And DOWN I went like a sack of spuds! I had got my left big toe stuck under the smallest rock and fell down onto a section of dirt. On the positive, I found no traces of blood to wipe off. Small victory? Absolutely! At first, I didn’t want to clean myself up feeling like I was wasting water but the reality was, I now had 70 fresh ounces of the stuff to get me up to Robinson Flat aid at mile 30.

At mile 25, Ryan came into sight again. I caught up to him and we checked in with each other. He was feeling the heat and had decided he was going to change shoes up ahead to his more cushioned Hoka’s. He was only carrying one water bottle on his hydration belt which concerned me as it was only going to get hotter and hotter for the next several hours, especially in the most feared part of the course; the canyons. We hit a big stream crossing. There was no chance of keeping your feet dry here. We waded through knee-deep, grabbing big rocks as support. Upon, reaching the far side I almost forgot to dunk my hat in the cold water. I felt like Indiana Jones grabbing his hat at the very last-minute. The option of a cool wet hat versus a hot dry one for a few miles could make a big difference. Every opportunity to get cool, I took it.

Crossing the stream before climbing up to Robinson Flat.

Crossing the stream before climbing up to Robinson Flat.

The climb up Robinson’s was long and slow. A volunteer back at Duncan Canyon had told me six key words as I left “2 miles down, 4 miles up, looking great” describing this section, so I was mentally zoned in pretty good.  I had to do a bit of basic math for pacing as these miles called for 15-minute pace. I went with 12-minute downhills and 17-minute uphills or thereabouts. Ryan led the climb all the way. Conversation distracted us from thinking too much about the heat or the climb. I thought I would go past him here but he set a good pace and I tucked in behind. As Ryan had already decided he would need some more time than me at the aid to change his shoes, we agreed we would see each other down the road.

All smiles rolling into Robinson Flat with team-mate Ryan Jones.

Mile 30; All smiles rolling into Robinson Flat with team-mate Ryan Jones.

I hopped on the scales at Robinson Flat, the first major aid station with medical and more spectators than usual. We were just under 30 miles and my weight had dropped only 1lb. It got rewarded with a “great job” by the doc and so I walked over to regain my backpack from a volunteer who had been filling it with ice and water. Whether it was my constant weight in the heat or something else, I really did feel overall really good. The quads were my achilles heel however, tingling slightly at this point so I got a volunteer to sponge them down with ice-cold water that helped wake them up. What really woke me up though was seeing Jeff Le, a really inspiring Brooks ID runner whom I have known for years but never met until now. Jeff went on a life transformation by shedding 160lbs and is now an incredible role model for many; an ultra runner himself over the last few months. He gave me a nice distraction from my quad discomfort. Maybe so much so that when I started running out of the aid station I actually had to turn back! I had forgotten to put ice in my hat and down my back. Losing a minute to do so may have saved me ten by not doing so, who was to know? Now finally ready to roll, I sheepishly tried exiting again, running through a tight yellow marked path with people either side cheering me on.

Before I knew it, I was climbing again, now up on Little Bald Mountain with the most sun exposure thus far. Good call on the ice. The positive of the climb was that I knew the elevation profile. It was only a mile and change up, before four miles of all downhill into Miller’s Defeat. Just before I descended, I checked my pace chart and focused on easy 11-minute miles. I was technically now in the second phase of the course “the canyons” but that didn’t mean start going any faster. The downhill here would be over 1,000 feet and very runnable terrain on dirt roads but I had to save my legs for the canyons. Miller’s Defeat was a tiny aid station. It was an efficient cold shower here, more ice and bottle refill only which would easily see me through to Dusty Corners where my crew would be for the second time.

Mile 38; Running in the sun to Dusty Corners.

Mile 38; Running in the sun towards Dusty Corners.

I was eating good, really focusing on the caloric intake per hour and sipping water regularly. Glucose was overall, really good. If it dropped below, 120, I ate immediately but that was all. My pace stayed steady at 10’s (although I knew it should have been 11’s). I told myself, any slower and I would be doing quad damage. Whether or not I was right, I was doing 10’s and I knew I had gone from hitting aid stations on the money to now building up a few minutes ever since I left Lyon Ridge. I was breaking my strict plan of no faster than sub-24 pace before 62. What was wrong with me? Why can’t I ever stick to a plan? I hoped the great feeling I was experiencing would still be the there at Foresthill when pacing duties commenced. I did not want this to be a zombie march home like Leadville and waste the energy of Tiffany and Benny because I got greedy up front.

Yes. Pour more water on me.

Yes. Pour more water on me. I will not complain.

I flew into Dusty Corners with a twenty-three minute lead on sub-24 pace. Laura and her friend Geri had arrived direct from the airport in time to crew and pace Ryan. I gave her a sweaty hug, she didn’t seem to mind. Everyone was asking me how I was feeling and I couldn’t pretend I felt anything other than amazing. I truly did. The irony is, after the same time on my feet in DC four weeks prior I was crossing the finish line of my 50 mile race and was absolutely beat. And here I was, OK, a few miles less on my feet but in hotter conditions with many many miles to go and I just felt incredible. My glucose had raised into the mid 200’s (slight overcompensation on the carbs between Duncan Canyon and Dusty Corners) so I took a unit, filled my handheld up with Powerade Zero (no carbs) rather than Gatorade and took gels/chews in my pack for down the road. As it was almost noon, I decided now was a good time for some lunch. I have never really thought in this kind of mind sight before but it made sense to me. I had been grazing on gels, cereal bars and fruit since the start and now was time for something more substantial.

Everyone's happy at Dusty Corners with Laura and Tiffany

Everyone’s happy at Dusty Corners with Laura and Tiffany

I left the aid with a chicken caesar wrap. I purposely walked the next half mile so I could consume ‘lunch’. I soon got into my stride again and ran through the breathtaking Pucker Point that gives you a glimpse of what’s to come next; the hot and deep canyons. If I was here for a leisurely hike or training run, I would have appreciated the view far more but I was pretty happy not looking over the ledge to see how deep it went. My mind didn’t want to know, my body said, just get me there and I’ll figure it out.

Pucker Point. Don't look down unless you want to see how far you have to run!

Pucker Point. Don’t look down unless you want to see how far you have to run!

Around mile 40, things turned ugly and quickly. I started to get into some serious discomfort with cramping in my hamstrings and IT band areas. Stationary agony took over. To add insult to the situation, I was stuck in an exposed section of trail as the sun beamed down on me. An S!Cap, a slow walk, a brisker walk and finally some sort of shuffled running ensued to get me going again. But within yards, the same pain occurred in my other leg. This was not good. How many miles to go? Too many to count. I had to switch that off straight away. What did Ellie say again? Don’t panic. OK. Focus. I had too just put one foot in front of the other and so that’s exactly what I did.

I finally made it to a sign that read “single file runners”. I felt guilty that I was walking towards people conducting another gait analysis study and here I was, walking towards them about to be a useless statistic! So I put on a brave show and miraculously found some perfect form (heavily biased opinion) and passed their low fixed camera, even exchanging some pleasantries acting as if my legs had never felt any better!

Last Chance aid really was just that. Not my last chance to bail before the canyons (DNF is not in my DNA) but my last chance to really cool off the legs with a soak. I topped up all my water supplies and put ice in every possible place worth carrying it. Of all the course, you did not want to run out of liquid here before the next 4.5 miles. It would take (on paper) 80 minutes to descend 2,000 ft into the super hot Deadwood canyon and then up the steepest climb the other side; 1,500 ft in 1.7 miles with thirty something (I try and forget) switchbacks to Devil’s Thumb. A lack of fluid here would be a disaster.

Left appears a good option.

Left appears a good option.

As I descended the first of many switchbacks down, I instantly recognized the point where Kilian Jornet took off from Geoff Roes and Anton Krupicka in the 2010 race (this was caught on camera for the inspiring documentary “Unbreakable” by JB Benna). As my quads stung with each downhill footstrike, my head shook in disbelief he actually could and did do that. If you want to be humbled as a runner, I encourage you to watch any of Kilian’s videos. Moments later, a runner in his mid 60’s came flying past me down the switchbacks without a care for saving his legs or any of the roots or rocks in his path. Double humble pie! And I thought I was a good downhill runner!

I ended up descending with a girl a few feet in front of me; Traci Falbo. She was pretty badass. I had no intention of taking the lead from her. I found out she is not only friends with my friends (Kino, Jackie etc), but this was only 25% of her Summer racing. She was one of the thirty-two going after the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch in the space of three months!) Triple humble pie for me down the first canyon!!

Suspension bridge I purposely avoided at first to cool off in Deadwood Canyon's river bed.

Suspension bridge I purposely avoided at first to cool off in Deadwood Canyon’s river.

As I had learned from the course talk, I was instructed to go down the trail and cool off in the river at Deadwood before crossing the bridge. The temperature was supposedly 10-15 degrees hotter down there than the rest of the course which made it 117 ish (?!). Yes, it was hot but I won’t pretend it actually felt that hot. I scrambled down rocks into the clear water where other runners were soaking below. I lifted my insulin pump from my shorts and soaked in the clear water up to my chest. I didn’t really gage the time I relaxed here but as soon as Traci left, that was good enough for me. I scrambled out, crossed the bridge and got my power hike on still dripping from the river.

I checked my GPS for current mileage and added 1.7 to it so I would know when this climb of climbs would be over theoretically. Steady climbing to Devil’s Thumb, that’s all I could do. I guess I had my strengths and weaknesses wrong this whole time with trail running. I’m actually a climber, not a descender because I took no prisoners getting out of this canyon! I’m pretty sure I gobbled up ten spots on the climb. Most competitors were not enjoying the ride up, some were top ladies having rough days outside of the top 10 spots.

Devil’s Thumb aid station was booming with energy for the middle of nowhere. We were welcomed with open arms which was clearly just a trick to get us directly on the scales again. They had me at 174 and I bartered with them that it looked more like 175. My CGM was vibrating and beeping at me which is never a good sign. I double checked the score with my glucose meter I was carrying on board. Yep, I needed some glucose to push me back up. The next aid station was at the bottom of El Dorado, one hour away. I chugged some Coke and Sprite but my stomach was cringing that fizz now (I had been sipping on those all morning).

I saw a runner with an ice pop and asked him where he got it. A volunteer gave me the choice of three flavors. I took all of them. Ice and sugar together? Perfect. I still wasn’t convinced I was carrying enough sugar supplies in my pack to get me down the next 5-mile stretch safely when my eye caught a half drunk Gatorade bottle on the ground behind the aid station. “Can I have that?’ I asked boldly. “Um…well” and before I could get the long excuse why I couldn’t, a lady interupted “I have a frozen one in my car”. An angel at Devil’s Thumb! As she ran off to her car, I iced my legs, refilled my hat and bandana full of ice and then there it was, the coldest frozen best ever Gatorade I had ever held! I knew I was carrying 34 grams of carbohydrate, 34 grams of sugar in my right hand like the nerd that I am (have to be) and off I went. I had lost weight and time at Devil’s Thumb. But it was important to try to eat and leave fully stocked up on carbs to make sure I didn’t go hypo in the canyons.

A gradual descent pre-canyon

Moving along between canyons; sometimes one step at a time was better than nothing

Before the drop off into El Dorado, I ran some easy flat trails but was struggling once more with cramping. I decided after a lot of choppiness; run, cramp, walk, repeat, to just walk at a brisk pace on the borderline of cramping up but not quite. This kind of sucked because I knew doing this for long enough was eating into my time I had accrued (it was now down to about 15 minutes post-Devil’s Thumb). As the descent begun; the long 2,600 ft drop into El Dorado Creek, a runner passed at what looked like a nice controlled pace. I jumped on board, at first from a distance and mimicked his pacing. Could I hold this? Um…yes. For a minute? OK, sure. How about two? Yes, why not? My glucose felt good, right where it should be in the mid 100’s again. I kept going. “Hey man, hot as balls right?” he shouted back to me. “I guess. I’m more concerned with  cramps right now” I replied. “Double up dude” referring to salt capsule intake.

I try my best to take two per hour as per instructions but maybe he was right. Do the instructions know I’m cramping non-stop in the middle of the Western States canyons at 115 degrees? Jessie was his name and he proved to be my next saviour. More S!Caps in the system and me and Jessie were now descending this canyon like it was a 10K trail race. We joked the weather should be killing us. A London and Portland boy used to rain and clouds running sub-24 pace at the 2nd hottest Western States on record. We smiled and laughed at that one. We had unknowingly crossed the halfway point of the race on the descent and rolled into the aid station at the bottom. An aid station in the bottom of a canyon. God bless those volunteers.

Ice cold sponge showers were free of charge, so I took two. Jessie went ahead as I picked up some fruit and chocolate for the climb. At least three runners sat in chairs looking defeated. So far, I had avoided the chair like the plague. I was not planning on using one until Green Gate (80 miles). “Beware of the chair” one of many great ultra sayings. The chair doesn’t get you anywhere, you’re better off keeping the wheels turning, especially down in a hot canyon! Needless to say, I didn’t spend too long looking at the chairs and off I went on the 1,800 foot climb up to Michigan Bluff where the crew awaited me for the third time. Knowing that, put a rocket on my back. I soon and surprisingly caught Jessie again and this time passed by. My climbing strength shock me again as I passed several more people on the up. Was I being too aggressive? Absolutely not. My heart rate remained well in range, I just stretched my legs fully and kept the pace steady.

A famous Western States landmark sign (and shoes). 56 miles were behind me.

I reached a flat on the red sandy trail which spelled the climb was over. A few spectators hung out sunken into their $8 Walgreens foldaway chairs to my right. “Welcome to Michigan Bluff!” an older gentleman yelled at me. I smiled and responded “Great to be here!” It really was. One last ‘mini’ canyon and then it was pacer time, all the way to Auburn. Matt Patrick was the first person I recognized at the frenzied aid station with bright carnival flags lining the route. I think he said I looked great and if he didn’t, I remember, I definitely did. I had picked up some more time thanks to Jessie being my slingshot of energy when I was having a real tough time only a few miles back.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Michigan Bluff; Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Blood glucose was back at a safer 200 (it beat dropping off from 100 back at Devil’s Thumb). All the crew were there for both me and Ryan. They were, as per norm, on top of it  all, each with their own job to do; refill bladder with ice and water, refill handheld with ice and Gatorade, bandana with ice, ice packs on my head and shoulders, refill backpack with food etc etc. Race car crews should be asking for tips from my crew. I cannot and will not ever be able to thank them enough for their energy and support. It was beyond awesome.

One more canyon (Volcano) to go and then Tiffany would begin pacing me. That felt great to know. The stretch of trail before the canyon descent was straightforward. I tried to eat some more real food here. A swiveled around a metal gate and that gave me enough of a clue that this was now business time once more. The quads were hurting, getting numb almost but the worse pain were my Latin buddies; left and right sartorius that wrap diagonally form the lateral hip area to the medial knee (longest muscle in the body science fans). Those were killers and known to get painful with chronic downhill activity. Yes, that box was firmly ticked!

But my head was strong, I knew I was having a great race overall. I followed another super strong female runner down this final canyon. I shamefully asked her (Abby) if she thought the river was much further. We agreed it couldn’t be anymore than a mile. I felt better knowing she lived and trained in Colorado because she was flying! Eventually it (the river) appeared almost out of nowhere. Back in the drink up to my chest just for a minute or two. This was such a lifesaver to bring body temperature back down, a great tip from the veteran’s on Thursday. Abby was all business and climbed out the river and up the other side, never to be seen again (Spoiler alert; she finished F10 – the only female without a sponsor. Amazing.)

The climb up to Bath Road was standard procedure power hiking. I felt like I was ahead of pace here but didn’t bother to check. I have climbed Bear Mountain, NY enough times (the same climb in elevation change) that this one was definitely the easiest, plus it was the last one which helped in the head. The sign saying ‘Auburn Running Store aid station 1/4 mile’ though was not mentally good for me because it was way further!! Me and another runner playfully harassed the aid station for their false advertising sign! I didn’t hang here for even a second. Foresthill aid was in 1.4 miles where the crew would be waiting. I had everything I needed so kept going.

I didn’t know I had to keep climbing beyond Bath Road aid though but that’s exactly what I had to do. It was all asphalt which was a nice break from trail (normally I crave the opposite). Pacers and crew cars were coming down to meet their runners, so I had some nice camaraderie with them to keep working up the climb. I turned hard left on a pine trail parallel with Foresthill Road so I knew I was close. More and more people came into sight, my favorite one though had her new backpack on, cap back to front with pigtails and a huge smile on her face. It was great to see Tiffany so excited, about to pace me during Western States. What an experience for us to share.

The scales had me back up to 177lbs. Small victory. I was ahead of schedule by thirty minutes or so but felt great, not worn out. Small victory. 62 solo miles done, 38.2 to go, ALL with pacers now. Small victory. If you don’t build the puzzle one piece at a time, you never complete it. This was exactly how I was getting through the distance, managing the experience and adventure as best I could. I was enjoying it tremendously. Now I just had to keep it all together with the help of pacers and this would be a huge personal victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Face DC 50M: Keeping up with Wardian (almost)

tnf dc BANNER

Walking under the start/finish blow-up North Face arch at Algonkian Park ( a few miles upstream of DC) brings back fond memories from last year. I surprisingly won the 50K event here, by far my biggest “W” and was back. This was to be no defend my belt day though, I was cranking it up a notch to “the big boys” 50 mile race as my running friend Kino would say. I needed a second 50 mile race in my legs for Western States 100 and with four weeks to go, this made a lot of sense.

I had a plan for the race. It was fairly straight forward. 9/min mile would get me in at 7 hours 30 minutes and a top 5 place based on previous results. Midweek leading up to the race, DC (and New York for that matter) got hit with heat wave temperatures in the 90’s and humidity sky-high to boot.

Knowing this didn’t throw me off my time goal but I did begin to toss around different ideas with people of how to run in such heat. I hate the heat but part of me was secretly happy. Western States 100 will be hot, probably hotter so in terms of ‘training’, the conditions were going to be a great test for me out there. The best advice came from my Novo Nordisk teammate, Matt Patrick. “Run em while you can” he said on the plane ride down their meaning run your miles before it gets too hot you have no choice but to walk. The race begun at 5am so I had at least two or three hours of cooler temps (if you can call 70’s-80’s cooler!) before the sun was to rise and the sauna was to kick in.

Out and back course with three loops at Great Falls.

Gore-Tex 50 Miler: Out and back course with three loops at Great Falls.

My new plan was to run 8/min miles early for as long as possible, maybe to the Great Falls aid at 19 miles. By the time the sun was beaming down on us, I would have a gap on competitors who would have to work really hard to catch me. If I was out of sight an albeit a mess, I still might pull off a good time and placing.

Now, most of my friends disagreed with this plan calling it borderline suicide or not saying anything and just pulling me the ‘ug face’. I think part of their disagreement made me want to experiment with this kamikaze idea even more. Something is definitely wrong with me!

My BG was a shy over 200 at 4:45am. I had been managing it closely since 2am when I gave up on sleeping and got the pre-race routine going. I diluted my Gatorade hand-held bottle down slightly. No backpack today – another experiment, also a big risk because of the heat but after the back pains I got during Bear Mountain lugging around 70oz rather than 20oz (a handheld bottle weight) I wanted to feel as light as possible, especially with my aggressive start. )The DC race course is set up far better for refueling with the biggest gap between aid stations being a shy under 7 miles compared to Bear too).

My other teammates (Matt, Ryan and Benny) were still asleep at the hotel with later start times for the 50k and marathon races. I did not mind one bit getting going so early though. I would have taken 4am if I could! I stood at the front of the start line near Michael Wardian (The North Face athlete with too many accolades to list here) He was being announced by the MC, a clear favorite to win the race in my eyes.

Fast start out the gate - a white blur of rundiabetes.

Fast start out the gate – a white blur of rundiabetes.

We blazed out of the start into the field. Down a dip, up a dip, along flat grass surrounded by waist-high grass – it felt very Cross Country like. I ran on the heals of the leader. The pace felt really easy. I think it was 7 minute miles.

Pushing the pace early with the other four leaders.

Pushing the pace early with the other four leaders.

Wardian came by. I re-introduced myself after we had briefly met at JFK50 (my first 50) in 2011. We begun too small talk, dead easy guy to talk too. We ran the long flat section south and the leader joined in the conversation as we now ran as three with several others hanging behind.

A lollipop extension around a pond was a new part of the course to me. (This is not part of the 50K course). As we returned to the main stretch we passed the first aid stop. I struggled to find the water section rather than sodas (way too early for that!) and immediately I fell off the back with no one else stopping to refuel. I knew carrying water bottles I would have to stop more but didn’t expect everyone else to blaze ahead and wait until mile 8.5 aid.

At first, I thought they were gone but within a few minutes staying at a good pace and not trying to run anything but my pace, I had jumped back on to them as we went up and down the banks along the golf course. No golfers were up this early to see the shenanigans of our race. Last year, I remember we got some funny looks during the 50K!

The more people spoke, the more I got to know my company. In the lead, a guy who had just paced David Riddle (JFK50 2011 champ etc etc) to a 50M win, Michael Wardian, Nikki Campbell’s (The North Face athlete) pacer and then a quiet, serious runner decked out in North Face gear, arguably the most intriguing of the four. He was all business. For that, I decided to call him Ivan Drago, the Russian nemesis from Rocky! And then there was me. What was I doing here?! Well, it felt great and I was having fun so I stood my ground and went with the plan.

We reached the first climbs around mile 10. This would be the end of the road for the gang of five. Instantly, the top 2 ran the hill. I knew my endurance level and hiked it hard instead. Nikki Campbell’s pacer (who I later found out to be Dennis Ball- we have several mutual friends) tried to keep up, saw I was right behind hiking and quickly followed suit. Rocky’s rival followed.

Several short but steep up and downs followed as we hiked and ran south, the Potomac River on our left, water flowing down towards the capital. This was a fun section, possibly my favorite. A stream crossing was ankle-deep. the same crossing was waist deep the prior year. What a hugely different experience this was on the exact same course.

I now sat in clear third but had lost sight of the front two. I was clipping off 7:15’s and that was definitely better than I had hoped for. The sun was rising fast and he heat too. I ran through six-foot tall grass, turned a corner and saw Wardian to the side of the trail ‘watering the plants’. I ran by. Whoa. Hold that thought. I ran by Michael Wardian.

I’m a big advocate of saying race yourself, not others. Your placing is merely determined by who does or does not turn up on any given day. But, this was Michael Wardian. I had to pinch myself that I was ahead of him running in 2nd place a third of the way into the race.

I ran through an open field and used the space to have a quick look back to see what was going on. Rocky’s arch nemesis was there but not Mike.

On a flat and then long descent I stretched my legs to try to get a nicer gap on the rest. I ran into the Great Falls aid station (mile 18) in 2nd. I met my girlfriend there. I think she wanted to tell me I was going too fast but instead smiled and said I was doing great. Like clockwork, we wiped my sweaty hands down, did a blood test (144) and refueled for the first of three Great Falls loops. But just like that, I was back in 4th. Both North Face runners were really efficient at Great Falls aid and were off.

I climbed the long hill road steadily as I watched Wardian pull away slowly. By the time we hit the top, I was back on my own. On paper, the Great Falls loop looks like a maze but in reality if you just follow the arrows, it’s not rocket science.

At the first of two turn around points, I saw a teenager sitting by a traffic cone with earphones in showing little interest of the race. Probably the son of a super keen runner/volunteer Dad I assumed. He pointed at the cone and mumbled. I paused and looked at him and said “This is the turn around?”. He nodded. “Really? Are you sure? Positive?” It felt wrong “Did see two runners ahead?” He jumped off his perched rock and ran off to find them.

I turned back and felt like I had cheated my placing back into 2nd. But this was not my fault. Within a mile, Wardian was back. He joked he wasn’t having he best day with a long pit-stop and then this mis-hap. The gap on first was already quite large at mile 23, he had a lot of work to do. Off he went again to push on. I just felt great to be running almost up to a marathon with someone of his caliber. I was waiting to blow up but really enjoying being up front that my confidence was growing and my body followed suit.

Great Falls cliffs - beautiful and treacherous all in one!

Great Falls cliffs – beautiful and treacherous all in one!

After the second turn-around point (people marked your bib as proof you made it, EMT was there and a full aid station – quite the contrast!) a fun descent followed with a few tricky rocks at the lowest point. This led us back to the river and to the most scenic but also treacherous part of the course – the Great Falls cliffs. Diagonal dagger rocks spread the trail and the use of hands became important. My hand-held went subconsciously back in my right hand in case of the worst happening. Tip-toeing through the rocks, I chose a safe controlled pace. This helped my heart rate lower as I slowed the intensity.

One loop done and back at the aid station. Blood glucose steady and off again. My Rocky friend nipped ahead of me pushing me back to 4th just like last time I was here. The climb was tougher but almost all runnable still.

The turn around point was now greeted with three mounted bikes, three adults and a sulky teenager who had clearer got an earful for letting two of the lead runners go past the cone and up the hill off the course! It was a pretty amusing site.

On the return to the spine of the loop you pass all the competition. This is all mind games stuff, looking at each other straight in the eyes to see if they are tired, broken or just god damn having a great day. I opted for the latter every time I had this opportunity. I hiked/ran sections now but was wary not to do so much of the hiking near my competition.

A shirtless duo were working well behind me and I feared them for a few miles since I first spotted them earlier on loop one. By the time I had clocked a marathon under my feet, they were heading on by and looked strong. I now lay in 6th.

Coming back to the aid for the final loop, I felt OK. I was running well, albeit loosing a couple of places. My glucose continued to sit tight, right in the mid-100’s. The course was now busy with two races, mine and the 50K. I overtook some of the back of the pack runners up the climb, who were not enjoying the long hill and complaining to me! I just shrugged and said “almost there”. Why complain? Negative thoughts won’t get you very far.

Wardian ran by me fully in the zone, followed by the silent assassin who still didn’t want to even say hello to me and then there were the twins looking very comfortable working as one. The turn around (for those interested) was now decorated with a natural road block (tree branches!) and an again lonesome and still sulky teenager. I kind of wanted to do a bonus loop for the next display!

I noted I had about three guys behind me but my gap was definitely a few minutes on each of them. The initial nods of heads from the first loop were now replaced with more fiery stares looking for any sign of weakness in me. But I knew they had to now push up a gear to get me and the heat was now my friend and their foe.

I was drinking really smart. 20oz (my entire hand-held water bottle) between every aid station. This worked out to be about every 30 minutes. Just to make sure I was cool enough, I was grabbing the water out of the volunteers hands and pouring it over me. The only negative of being this wet meant my CGM sensor fell out of my stomach so I was now reliant on actual blood tests for the remainder of the race.

I caught up with Ryan towards the end of the final loop. He was not having his best day with the heat really getting to him. Sensibly, he chose to run it in easy and save his energy for Western States down the road.

The idea of being paced for some of the race had been tossed around and I wasn’t that keen. I’m extremely stubborn and don’t ask for help very much I guess. But when Tiffany gave me a fresh bottle of Gatorade, more food for the umpteenth time at Great Falls with a pacer bib on standby should I want her help, it was an easy answer.

Off we went, 18 miles to go back to Algonkian Park. We ran along the riverbed getting cheered on by the Great Falls spectators. We soon took a left and cranked up a tough climb.

Benny flew by us in first place of the marathon as we had all predicted. He was a white blur of awesomeness. Tiffany and me counted minutes between him and 2nd. It took the distraction away from my pain and race for a few minutes at least. My whole body was worn out. No cramping and my lungs felt great but my limbs and torso just ached tremendously.

Climbing up with Tiffany as company at mile 35.

Climbing up with Tiffany as company at mile 35.

We reached the open field and walked sections that I would run on any other day. Was now the time the wheels were going to fall off and drop back twenty places? I did my best to keep my mind from such negative thoughts. I didn’t want to be thinking like the runners who were complaining earlier.

Running became less and less an option in the mid-30 miles. Downhills and sunshine spots, without a doubt were running territory but flats were becoming a real issue. Luckily, we hit the climbs next so I could break up the pacing between hiking and letting gravity take me back down into the valleys.

We caught up to some 50K runners. Every time I spotted someone, I hoped it was 5th but by now, I knew what and who they were. We reached my teammate, Matt and he was having an OK day but nothing heroic for him. We talked for a while in single file as I happily slowed to his pace to regroup. Tiffany departed back to Great Falls before she got stuck too far along the trail. Her surprise pacing section really helped keep me going strong.

After half a mile, walking and talking with Matt, I had decided that I had recovered enough and didn’t want anyone to gain too much time on me.

I shot off and wished Matt well. I had about 12 miles to go and all I could focus on was where the next aid station was. For what felt like miles and miles, I was hoping it was the next corner or the next or I would hear voices. My memory from 5:45am was faint, the same as how I felt. I was walking way more than I would have liked. I kept knocking back more water, kept throwing in the S-caps (salt capsules). I was holding up but it was a real fight five inches between my ears.

Finally the aid station came. I grabbed the water and gave myself a shower. Grabbed some chews and received my bottle back from a volunteer. And out. I had not been that efficient at an aid stop all day. My watch told me I was still ahead of my goal time. My average pace was around 8:45’s now. Having not seen 5th for miles, I was content with my place. I was even so wiped that if 7th had made a go at it, they could have taken it.

At the lollipop loop with 4 to go, the sun blazed down on me by the lake and I was pretty much done for the day. Then, Benny calls from behind and catches up to me. He’s still leading the marathon but not looking as good as he had done on his way out to the turnaround point.

Without much thought, I caught back up trying to go his pace. Even, if it was just for a few hundred yards. The fire came back, we started working together. I knew I had to dig deeper to stick with him through to the finish. And then, Benny stopped. He walked, he groaned in his own agony. Good to know he is human. I was now the one telling Benny to keep going, encouraging him to dig deep.

We came back to the main stretch of the lollipop and saw 5th running towards us. He asked where to go, clearly lost and panicking. He followed me and Benny. (I was less than convinced he had run the lollipop at this point).

At the turn by the aid, we had 2.5 to go. Benny was still struggling and took in more fluid than me at the aid. I was ready to go, he wasn’t and now I had 5th place up for grabs. He was staring at me in the face! 5th ran ahead. It was a tough call but I waited for Benny. We had agreed to help each other home without really saying it verbally.

A long, long straight followed. Benny put on his after burners and caught up to the guy ahead. I’m not sure where he found that energy but I had to try to do the same.

I took off and gave everything. I recall seeing 6:30’s on my watch. I passed 5th and this time with utter purpose. The problem with this, was I got so pumped that I blew past Benny too! I kept going at that pace all the way down the straight. I pretended to myself that the finish was right at the end of the straight. It was lactate threshold excruciating! I didn’t dare turn to show 6th my worry but I really wanted to make sure Benny was coming right behind.

I reached the end of the straight, an absolute mess. Definitely sub-6’s down that stretch. I stopped, turned and prayed Benny was close and not 6th place. Why did I doubt him? As Benny got to me, I looked back and saw an orange dot that signaled game over. It was almost in the bag, a top 5 place.

We stayed side by side on the golf cart down to the car park, crossed the road and made the sharp left under the finish chute. I let Benny have his moment. He had crushed the field and the marathon course record too.

Benny wins the marathon and set a huge CR.

Benny wins the marathon and set a huge CR.

I cruised in behind and was ecstatic to take 5th in the 50 miler, a year after winning the 50K. There’s something about DC racing (my marathon PR is still from Marine Corps down the road).

Benny and me celebrated, completely exhausted. Tiffany dragged me off. I knew I needed shade and found some in a tent. I collapsed there for a while, my body was in bits. I had really hammered those last four miles with Benny but to grab another place and see him win was well worth it.

A top 5 place at the DC sauna race. Yep, I was happy with that!

A top 5 place at the DC sauna race. Yep, I was happy with that!

This was a great race. A real moral boost for me after a disappointing 50 at Bear. I didn’t like the heat at Bear but this heat and humidity was way higher and I coped really well in it. I thought I didn’t like the heat. Maybe I just do well in bad conditions? This is all good feedback, looking forward to ‘The Big Dance’ in California. Temperatures are predicted to be in the 100’s and likely hotter in the canyons.

I say “Bring.It.On!” Another fantastic weekend with my Novo Nordisk teammates. We shall all regroup in 4 weeks at Squaw Valley, CA and do it all over again, just a few miles more with a bit more heat. Can’t wait.

Team Novo Nordisk #changingdiabetes at The North Face Endurance Challenge

Team Novo Nordisk #changingdiabetes at The North Face Endurance Challenge

P.S. Wardian won. I’ll get him next time ; )

Long Island Greenbelt 25K

Who knew? - the start of another great trail section in LI.

Who knew? – the start of another great trail section in LI.

After a 50 miler, most people shut it down for a few days, weeks, even longer. Fortunately I have friends who don’t. Joe mentioned midweek about the Greenbelt 25K/50K at the weekend. Keila and myself were sold instantly and just like that, this became the next race.

We tossed the idea of the 50K around all week but opted for the more sensible 25K option; an out and back (the 50K was a double out and back). We knew we could always add miles on if 15.5343 didn’t satisfy our legs and lungs. When training for 100 mile races (which all three of us are), the long weekend runs (yes, plural) are standard practice. Throwing a bib on and being surrounded by other trail runners can make those miles more fun.

25K - out and back course in central Long Island

25K – out and back course in central Long Island

The forecast was rain and lots of it! I didn’t mind that, it would beat getting hot as we had last weekend at Bear. We pulled up at a peculiar industrial lot in Long Island.  This was the home of Greater Long Island Running Club (the host organizers) in Plainview. We filled out day of registration forms, grabbed bibs and t-shirts and got ready. This was a no fuss local race. My BG was just right, I grabbed a gel to carry but would rely on the aid stations for Gatorade top ups today.

The 50K runners had begun one hour earlier. A couple hundred of us set off at 8:30am. I followed three guys who seemed to know where they were going. After an interesting sharp u-turn around a traffic cone down an asphalt road, we entered a tiny gap in the trees and found a trail. This, I guessed was the magical Greenbelt trail I had heard so much about from various friends for years but never taken up the opportunity to explore, until now.

Start of the 25K in the rain.

Start of the 200 deep 25K in the rain at GLIRC HQ.

I held third place and felt good. I saw second ahead but first had disappeared. The trail was mostly flat, single track with winding turns and a few small downed trees to hurdle. I didn’t know much about the course other than we were running north to Cold Spring Harbor and then turning around and coming back. My Novo Nordisk team-mate, Ryan, had told me midweek the course was relatively easy (he ran in 2012) but he did get lost that at the end and cost him the win!

I slowly closed in on second place over the next mile. We crossed a road and he looked me straight in the eyes, said nothing and ran away. I shrugged and continued to follow him.  He would look around a few times checking on me and who was behind me. By the end of mile two that would be no one. We had created a gap already battling for 2nd place.

The course was marked with orange ribbons but these were fairly spread out (this was no North Face event). Sometimes this runner in front of me would choose a trail route without a ribbon in site. I was truly lost and confused so needless to say, happy to let him lead me up to the turnaround point. Maybe I should have listened to the race instructions at the start rather than hide under the canopy from the downpour!

The trail remained single track, a few small climbs and descents, a field crossing hugging the perimeter and standard rocks and roots but this was by no means a technical course. It actually felt like a vacation away from Bear Mountain.

At a smaller road crossing an a quick sip of Gatorade at the next aid station, we descended a long section. I decided it was time to go ahead, I was ready to stretch my legs and felt as if I was losing too much time on first place being guided. I asked the guy what signs he was following. Orange ribbons I knew but it was the white paint markings on trees – the Greenbelt trail that I had missed from the race instructions. Good to know!

I hadn’t planned to be so aggressive with the race. I actually came into the ‘race’ without much of a plan. I knew I wanted an easy(ish) out and a strong back/finish (something I have been lacking in my last few races).

5 miles of climbing ahead (forget looking for splits here).

5 miles of climbing ahead (forget looking for splits here).

At 5 miles, some serious climbing ensued. Big steps were the first sign of things to come and the hiking began. The 50K leaders were coming towards us so this was now a time to race smart and look up too. Continuous climbing and small ascents were continuous.

I hadn’t had much time to figure out how my new Suunto Ambit watch worked. The one basic feature that was incredibly helpful, as always  though was heart rate. I was hanging around the 170 bpm. I stuck to my old trail trick of not letting it go any higher, no matter who was around. I  was now hiking frequently to keep my effort even.

Some of the trail now was not only hilly but more technical. Vast tree roots, a drop off going left as the trail wrapped to the right, that kind of thing to keep it interesting. Trees proved good support for climbing hills and also useful brakes for the shorter descents.

I crested another hill and saw the best view on the course; an overlook to the north shore, a good indicator I was close to the turnaround point in Cold Spring Harbor. First place ran by me, we acknowledged each other but my greater concern was how far ahead he actually was. I checked my watch so I could gauge the true time gap between us when I would eventually hit halfway.

I descended some steep steps to a handful of people at the aid/check point. Before I could do the math, they all made sure I knew I was far behind first place “Todd”; a big hint that he was the local hero and I wasn’t to mess with him!

I didn’t need to try. I was four minutes back and my recovering legs (oh, I didn’t mention I was tired?!) had no desire to push much harder to reel Todd in. If his wheels fell off, so be it but I wasn’t going to gun it, not for a race we had only mentioned a few days ago.

I said adios to the Todd fan club and climbed up the steps inbound. I was curious to see the gap I had created on my early guide. I was conscious not to be walking or looking anything like the word ‘tired’ when we were to meet face to face.

He ran by but his concern was what was on his heels; 4th place was now a stones throw behind and my buddy Joe was also close in 5th. I didn’t calculate my gap from them but it felt too small. I pushed the pace up a fraction. My hiking stride lengthened and my descent running took a few more risks now.

Inbound in 2nd place.

Inbound in 2nd place.

Saying so, I still stuck at my HR plan, well, no higher than 172 bpm seemed to be my new comfort limit. I had to keep reminding myself that walking hills was perfectly reasonable, everyone chasing would have to climb the same grade and tire themselves out more if they chose to run them. I truly believed running these would be foolish and punished later in the race on the flatter section home.

I said ‘hi’ and ‘nice run’ to all my fellow racers who were still on the outbound. It was a great atmosphere, even while the rain began to start belting it down. I think (most) people enjoyed the trail and rain combination.

Back at the aid station meant the tough hills were now firmly in the bag. It also meant I could grab a quick Gatorade to keep the levels up. As I had pushed my pace a bit more than I wanted too, I thought it was worth asking the volunteers how far ahead the leader was.

I got blank stares at first. “Oh, you mean Todd? He is um…well gone”. My legs were too tired to question if the locals were calling my bluff. I had five to go and was happy with how I was doing managing the race.

The long home stretch was largely uneventful. There would be no Todd sightings, no attack from behind. It was just me and the trails. I was cranking out some great  8/min miles. It felt like a training run now. I wasn’t hammering it and red lining but I also was not cruising. It felt, well, not too far from perfect.

Just as I calculated I only had one more trail mile to go before I would hit the asphalt, I surprisingly saw people at the end of the trail. I got directed to the left  which was confusing as an out and back course told me I had to go right here. At least got to avoid  the tedious traffic cone u-turn I guess. It didn’t make sense but who was I too argue.

Energy discipline: steady HR throughout was  really my only race plan coming home.

Energy discipline: steady HR throughout was really my only race plan coming home.

I ran the road downhill and could now understand how Ryan had got lost the previous year. The next marking was nowhere so I had to go from memory as to where my left turn was meant to be to get to the industrial car park finish.

The rain was now really hammering away. I pulled into the home straight. No crowd here, not even a photographer. Just a clock timer and some cones to finish between. The race directors were all hiding under the canopy to  keep somewhat dry. This really was a no fuss local race. I kind of digged it.

I found Todd under the canopy. We small talked. He has won this race three years in a row now. His strategy? Bomb ahead and make the catchers get discouraged by the gap when they see you coming back. At least I know for next year!

Joe came in just after the woman’s winner in 4th and Keila soon followed in 6th (2nd female). Taking 2nd, 4th and 6th a week after 50 miles was pretty satisfying but just being out on new trails getting the legs going was definitely why we were there.

LI Greenbelt day of reg. finishers; 2nd, 4th and 6th. We will take it!

LI Greenbelt day of reg. finishers; 2nd, 4th and 6th. We will take it!

We grabbed lunch and made new friends, some of which were local legends; the USATF 50K race director and an ultra pioneer with a Western States and Badwater finish from the 90’s. A great (wet) Saturday morning well spent just down the road from our concrete jungle home of NYC.

The North Face 50M: Surviving the Bear

Bear Mountain - start/finish line

Bear Mountain – start/finish line

Saturday May 4 2:30am; my second installment of 50 miles at The North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain, NY was about to begin. (Yes, I ran it last year and made a conscious decision to come back). It was to be my first of two 50-milers in preparation for Western States 100.

My blood glucose was higher than I wanted, just above 200. I juggled the numbers with breakfast and basal rates. By 4:45am, just before lining up, another test, still 200. I changed out my water bottle of pure Gatorade for one of a mix of Gatorade and water, effectively halving the carbohydrates.

50 mile elevation chart!

50 mile elevation chart!

My 2012 time of 9:17 was good but I felt I could go sub-9 if everything fell into place. The race was about 300 deep and not many cared about being right at the front. Purely on my time goal, I opted to toe the line with McDougal and Schmitt (the two favorites). The weather was cool, for now in the upper 40’s but was headed towards a high of 72. I hoped the trees would protect my light skin (I’m no hot weather running fan).

5am: the start of the adventure!

5am: the start of the adventure!

We took off exactly at 5am, across the flat field, under a small bridge and then onto the trail.  The section was a lot of gradual ascending for three or so miles in darkness, our headlamps our only guide looking for the guy in front or glow sticks. There is definitely something really cool about night running or very early morning running as this was. I think it’s the fact knowing that 99% of people in the same time zone are sleeping. I know my choice. I view the 50-mile race, Bear in-particular, as an impatient hike due to the amount of walking involved with constant elevation changes. I’m pretty sure I was the impatient walker growing up, long wooded walks in the English countryside and darting off ahead.

Mile 2

Mile 3

I rolled out of the trail, just shy of 4 miles at the Fort Wayne aid station (doubling as the 40 mile aid too). I chucked my headlamp to a volunteer, shouted my bib number and kept going. I was ahead of schedule (I had sharpie data written all over my forearms for time/aid station as a rough guide).

I was in the top 20 and felt fine there. I placed 19th in 2012 so felt I was right on track. The next section was single track with rocks, roots and more rocks everywhere, basically a lot more technical than the first one. The eyes were in overdrive looking a few feet ahead, occasionally looking ahead to track the route via the runner ahead or the next ribbon marker. Eventually a more runnable section by the side of a misty lake was a great sight. The views you get to witness so early in the morning in mountains are priceless. I flew through aid two without any wasted time.

Descending a tricky single track soon followed. A few guys ran on my heels and I let them go by without a fight. I wasn’t going to force a pace that wasn’t comfortable on this terrain. I tried to let one more pass but he resisted. “No. It’s me Carlo”. Argh! A friendly face. I stayed ahead, we small talked for a while. As we then climbed a long asphalt road, my team-mate Ryan Jones caught up to make us a group of three.

Ryan had not run Bear before and made a few comments about the course so far, mostly swearing. We all laughed. Yep, the Bear sure is grizzly. The truth of the matter was, we were only 10K in and there was way harder stuff coming up for us. I checked my CGM while I wasn’t having to look for the next place to plant my foot and saw my BG had settled nicely at about 150 now.

Back on the trail, the three of us were about to do some of the hardest climbing of the course up to the peak at 15 and then again at 20. Picking when to run and when to walk was key. I mixed it up pretty good but definitely know my weakness on the trails; climbing. I let a lot of guys go here. Either they were stronger or naive. Carlo, was stronger as was the first placed woman. Ryan sat back and ran smart.

The climb took us to one of my favorite parts of the course. The trail looks like it ends with a big rock boulder in front. You look left and right searching for the orange ribbon but this is Bear, that’s not what goes on here. By my feet was a 50-mile arrow pointing straight towards the boulder.

I scrambled up the rock face using hands and feet together to get to the top. The reward is magnificent; flat rock sections to run on with views for miles. This ends sooner than you would like as you pass a small mountain cabin and descend again with hands and feet on the other side.

A standard descent at Bear.

A standard descent at Bear.

The runner below to my right shouted to a bunch of runners on my left “wrong way”. All those  climbers that went past were now behind me because they missed a marker. It’s that simple to get lost, one runner makes a mistake, everyone around follows. I felt lucky to have been where I was at the time and able to not make the mistake.

A steep and treacherously rocky descent followed for over a mile where everyone that had gone slightly astray was now working overdrive to get back in front. (Was it me or did we still have 35 miles to figure this all out?) We climbed a nasty rocky single track to the Arden Valley aid station, first heard (volunteers loves cowbells) and then beautifully into view.

Jumping through the rocks

Jumping through the rocks

A volunteer refueled my bottle. What I mistook for being Gatorade on offer was in fact the event sponsor’s brand; Clif, a similar electrolyte drink. So what? Well, I know that 20oz of Gatorade has 34 grams of carbohydrate (all sugar). What did Clif electrolyte have? Exactly. I had no idea. It was too late, what could I do. I had to assume the same carbohydrate rate. I have nothing against Clif, their chews and energy bars are awesome but I had never tried the drink. I had many gels and energy chews stuffed in my shorts and backpack so if I did need a fast-acting glucose, I had over means readily available.

A guy ahead was putting ear phones in down the road. I didn’t want to deal with passing him with music blaring so got in front before the next trailhead begun. Other than him, the pack had spread thin and I was now solo for a few miles. We ran by a rare open yellow field with the sun beaming down heavily. The trail was mostly pine here sloping heavily to the left which made for some good core work and tree grabbing skills. Occasionally, I would see a runner ahead or two and close in on them. A few big stone sections between marshy streams, remind me of the film, Labyrinth with the dog trying to get to the castle to rescue the girl from David Bowie! I guess my castle was the finish area but I couldn’t think that far ahead quite yet.

I knew from the elevation chart, I had now passed the highest point of the race. That really doesn’t mean as much as you think on Bear though due to the never-ending continuous ascending and descending and rocky terrain to stop you ever getting into a rhythm.

A guy ahead dipped his hat in a stream. I thought it was a bit overkill so early in the morning. As I passed the stream, I copied him and put my hat back on. He was correct! The sun had come up and it was already getting that hot. So hot I guess that I ran down a hill turned right and ran back towards some runners behind me. As embarrassing as it was, I was glad they were there to stop me going further than a few feet the wrong way!

Rocks and water hazards galore.

Rocks and water hazards galore.

By mile 21, I was at another aid station by a big lake. I didn’t have much time to marvel this view but Tiffany probably did. She was there to greet me and do a blood test (she was carrying my spare meter);143. I clenched my fist with joy as the aid station volunteers stared at me. Maybe they thought my lottery ticket had come in.

I refueled the large bladder of water here for the long stretch ahead. I grabbed some cups of Coke and a few orange slices. Tiffany tried to point me in the wrong direction. Now, not only was I trying to run in the wrong direction but my number one crew member was trying her best to do it to me too!

Over a stream via tree branch and then across the road back to the trail. The section involved lots of long straights. A part of the course to get some time back from the earlier climbing. This section is far from boring however. At the southern most part of the course, is where the magic is and only the 50-milers get to see it. Huge open spaces with flat rocks for our feet  and 360 degree views for our eyes and heart. It feels like stepping out onto a new State (Utah always springs to mind, although I’ve never been – yet!). The direction of the trail changed frantically from straight across a flat rock to a hard right or left through a small gap or jump down to a lower rock. Adult’s playground? Absolutely. My only company up here were bemused Japanese hikers who stared at me, not sure what to think! Well the impatient hiker in me could run free here and I did.

Running the rocks: the top of Harriman State park

Running the rocks: the top of Harriman State park

I rolled into Camp Lanowa aid station at 27.7 miles, now in ultra territory. Some high school boys were throwing a football around to entertain themselves cheering me in. I got a small bout of energy from them and called for the ball. This kid didn’t take into account, I had just run over a marathon or that I’m English. Yes, excuses over, I dropped the catch! (Jerry Rice would not be proud of me Team Run NYC!).

Another blood test here; 124. Not only were my numbers great, my CGM was showing me the same readings. I had been monitoring it all morning and seeing a great level of consistency, really, rally satisfying stuff. A few cups of Coke, orange slices (why change a good thing?) and back at it.

Well, “back at it”, sounds very misleading. I had now started hitting my wall. The positive was, the two longest sections were done. I knew my times were off, I wasn’t hitting my aid station goals for sub-9. My Garmin watch wasn’t helping either claiming I had run two more miles than I actually had. This began to mess with my head when I thought I would see an aid station but had to plough another twenty minutes until I actually did.

Obstacle Mountain - yes, this is part of the course!

Obstacle Mountain – yes, this is part of the course!

In between trail sections here, was a long asphalt climb. And I mean, real long! As soon as it went up, I knew I had to walk it. Ryan Jones came up by me. I hadn’t seen him for a while. We exchanged “pleasantries” about how hot it was, how tough the course was, how much our bodies ached. Oh, we also were having great blood glucose control though! Are endocrinologists would be proud of us for that. Ryan is one tough guy. He came into the race after a week of flu and therefore, obviously no running. He also had just won the NJ 100 earlier in March. We ran a section of the climb together. I felt bad to say anything to him but I had to stop and walk again. Ryan was relieved to hear it and for a moment, both of us were hands on knees in the middle of the road just saying “Oh man” in synch. It was kind of comical looking back.

Ryan found 2nd gear afterwards and kept going. I followed but remained in 1st (with the hand brake also up). The trail began again and was a nice change from the asphalt climb, well until we started to tip toe over some more basketball sized rocks all spread out. I had found a couple of new runners now to mingle with and we were all asking the same question; where was this next aid station?! At this point, the brain needs to break down the race into small chunks just to handle the magnitude of the task at hand. Aid stations are mini-goals. It’s like trying to run to the next lamppost when you’ve never run before. By the time you’ve made it, you grow in confidence and can push yourself to look for the next one.

By the time I was back at Fort Wayne aid station, I felt like I was surviving the course, not running for any sort of time. My whole body was really fighting to stay in the event while my fried brain was looking at ways out of it. I saw Ryan again at the aid station, he was about to head out. My blood here was 191. My highest of the race. I ditched most of my Gatorade and replaced it with water to weaken it like I did at the start.

Off I shuffled up the very unattractive car park area for a stretch. I caught up to Mon and Jess from TeamRunNYC. We stopped for a photo. Mon was apologizing for slowing me down. “Do I look like I needed slowing down?!” I said. I was barely alive at this point. Kino, also joined us. He was a second pacer for Jess’s first ultra. That’s one cool trio right there folks. Kino and Mon pacing the whole 50K for a friend. Hats off to all of them.

I went ahead as the trail was flat, winding left and right over a few bridges. But then trouble really came. A climb. It must have been all of six feet high. It looked and felt like agony. OK, now I’m in serious trouble I said to myself. I walked sections I would normally bomb. This was not pretty. The pain my body was letting out was almost too unbearable. A week later, I still can’t find the right words to describe this pain. Jess, Kino and Mon caught back up. Kino kept offering me gels and food snacks believing it would help. He didn’t know my sugar was 191, he instantly thought I just needed sugar. I think he was in shock to see me in so much pain! They continued as I dragged my way along pathetically losing a bunch of time. I questioned when this would be over. I still had Timp Pass coming up (a huge climb and descent). If I walked from here, that would be over two more hours, nowhere near my initial goal time. It was depressing.

I looked at rocks, I was shopping for a nice big smooth rock. If I could just find a good one, I knew I was beyond ready for a nice sit down, maybe even a nap and call it a day.  I had told myself that Keila would catch up soon and when she was here, she would just wake me up! What a great plan. No, that was a terrible plan and completely unlike my nature but I truly did think that. Let’s just say, thank goodness I couldn’t find a rock I liked.

I descended down a super steep section with Jess and co only just ahead. In my hour of absolute agony, it felt comforting to have friends close by. I was still dreading the big climb, I knew it was anytime soon….and then out of nowhere we had made it to the 45th mile aid station. A really fun party atmosphere one in the middle of the woods with lots of people working or 50K’ers having a few moments break from the course.

I was in shock. I had been dreading the climb and it wasn’t where I thought it was. Two 50K runners were eating and drinking and patting each other on the back. “Right, this is it. The final push, 10K to go” one of them said. The light bulb in my low energy head went on. He’s right, the final push. I didn’t even say bye to my friends (who were having a great time by the way), I ran on, got on with it. My watch had hit 9 hours. The dream goal was well gone. This wasn’t to be my day for any PR’s. I knew I knew I had about an hour more of pain.

It was now a good mix of 50K runners and 50 milers. The atmosphere was picking up, you could sense we were all close to the same ultimate goal, finishing. A sharp left and Timp Pass begun. You could see people ahead high up climbing the big rocks to the peak of the curved climb. 3rd place woman now passed by and looked strong. My watch read 9:17 up the climb. I shook my head and couldn’t fathom how I ran that time a year ago.

And down Timp I went. Not overly fast, there was nothing to gain now but still fast enough to impress some of the 50K runners. I guess, when I did my first ultra here two years ago, I recall a runner running down this section and was in disbelief of how they could do it. It must all come down to experience on trails, leading to confidence over time. It truly is, a very different type of running than road running.

As Timp got lower, the rocks got bigger. EMT was trekking up the opposite way to take care of the guy with a gashed knee. Talk about a tough place to try to get too, Timp Pass was most definitely it. The trail finally became runnable and instantly, the last aid station was there with 2.8 miles to go. I have never stopped here and didn’t plan on starting now. A couple of 50 milers were milling around and I took advantage of that. I had no idea of my placing, nor did I overly care. My focus was solely on breaking ten hours and would need some 8/min miles to do it. I flew down the descents, over a bridge and up a climb on the far side giving it everything, I couldn’t afford to walk. But, I had no choice, walking it was. My legs were dead. I sloached moving forward. There was no way I was going to even break 10-hours now I thought.

One...more...mile

One…more…mile

A final mile and a half to go and most of it downhill, I stretched my legs again and let gravity do most of the work for me. I was playing leapfrog with a guy in green (later to find out it was Jason Friedman, a fellow NJ trail series/Leadville runner). A few more teasing ascents just to really dig the knife in and then I saw the bridge which I had gone under hours earlier. My watch read 9:56. I was relieved to know I somehow was going to duck in under ten hours. A long, long way short from my sub-9 goal but small victories are something you take at Bear Mountain, at ultrarunning actually.

Tired!

‘Ooh – comfy grass to lie on!’

This was definitely not my day. I had been looking forward to lying down for hours and chose to do so immediately as I crossed the line. This was anything but a celebration, pure relief and joy I could now finally stop moving forward. It was over.

Lots of my friends surrounded me immediately. Tiffany helped me up, Melissa gave me an ice-cold cup of water and Den Is, all smiles gave me a helping hand too. He told me he won the 50K when I asked. That didn’t surprise me. I later found out his time was 4:13 and had won by over 47 minutes!!! That did surprise me but he is something else.

An ice bath for my feet followed. I’m not used to them, so didn’t last anything close to the prescribed ‘ten minutes’. My quads and calves were completely shot. I wanted to go the medical tent, beer tent and food tent all at the same time. I opted for the DIY medical tent with ice bags on my quads and regrouped with my Team Novo Nordisk team-mates; Ryan, who had just finished ahead and Matt P – who ran the 50K (smart man).

We hung out at the finish line area on the grass bank for a few hours as we eagerly awaited our final team-mate’s arrival. Laura, had just flown in from San Diego the day before and this was her first ultra. No 50K, no flat, easy 50M, straight at it! Matt, Ryan and me were needless to say impressed. And more so, when she finished all smiles. I think we’ve just got ourselves one more ultra runner!

Team Novo Nordisk back in one piece! #changingdiabetes

Team Novo Nordisk back in one piece! #changingdiabetes

So, I left feeling slightly disappointed. I set the bar high (again). I’ve had days to reflect what the race means. Number one: I don’t quit. That’s the best news I can ask for getting ready for Western States. I managed my blood glucose control really well (I started at 200 and finished at 146 with zero problems for 50 miles). I can’t wait to do it all over again at Washington DC in four weeks. Yeah, I think everything will be OK. As Matt said, you can’t always have the perfect day but you can always have fun. That, I did for sure.

The 27th mile – Leatherman’s Loop 10K

Flag of Hearts; being waved at Leatherman's Loop in honor of Boston

Flag of Hearts; being waved at Leatherman’s Loop in honor of Boston

Sunday morning of April 21st marked the end of a long and painful week for everyone in the running community, everyone who has a heart. Driving through the pine tree-lined road into the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation (an hour north of New York City), me and my friends found ourselves about to participate in an adventurous 10K trail race filled with obstacles—including water crossings, rocks, tree roots and a 45-degree incline known as “the wall”. The Leatherman’s Loop sounded like perfect therapy. We parked in a large meadow and saw a heart flag raised high at the finish area of the course. The countryside was beautiful, it was peaceful here, it was safe. I viewed the 27th annual Leatherman’s as an ironic meaning – the 27th mile of the Boston Marathon. The 27th mile is normally a celebration of achievement, this was more of a somber run to honor those who weren’t so lucky in Boston 6 days prior.

Portrait of the Leatherman

Portrait of the Leatherman

The legend of the Leatherman dates back to 1860; a mysterious figure of the upstate New York and Connecticut area. An outcast man of sorts, he trekked over the countryside by day and sought shelter and food in various towns by night. The route later became known as the Leatherman’s Circuit. He travelled year round in…well…a loop. Farmers were said to have known when he was coming and to have gotten him a meal ready and a bed to rest on. The 10K race is a celebration of him but also a celebration of people, of runners, of the human spirit to keep moving forward arguably. We dropped off our food supply in honor of the Leatherman (at the Leatherman’s foundation; rice and beans were requested). A great food bank initiative that normally collects over 1,000lbs of food each year at the race.

Starting area under the flags

Meadow start; listening to the inspiring announcements, in particular the tribute to Boston

Approximately 1,300 runners lined up underneath, what appeared to be sailors flags with an assortment of colors in the meadow. Roaring speeches were made by Tony Godino, the founder and Danny Martin, who invited runners to dedicate the day to the Boston tragedy.  Lastly, Theo Harris sang Amazing Grace.  The last verse sung by everyone together, just as the Boston tribute T-shirt states “Stand as One”. That we did, and then we ran.

The famous loop!

The famous loop!

Not particularly ready, I reacted to others who began sprinting across the heavy grass towards a teepee. A bell had been rung (quite possibly the quietest bell I’ve ever heard or not as the case maybe). I didn’t know the course but I did know if you wanted to place well, you had to get to the front early. We had about a third of a mile to sort ourselves out before we entered the trailhead. It felt very cross-country like. My pace hit 5:45 as my lungs and quads pierced, still aching from the marathon effort of Monday. My pre-race blood glucose of 160 would need some exterior fuel soon if I kept this up!

Deanna Culbreath, a fellow Brooks IDer ran by my side (she was undertaking her third loop) and gave me a briefing on the course. “The first three miles are the hardest. When you hit the wall, your halfway and it’s easy after that”. “OK, thanks”. I didn’t know what the wall was at the time, but it sounded like I would need some energy to get over it!

Sprinting across the meadow to get a good position before the trailhead.

Sprinting across the meadow to get a good position before the trailhead.

Into the trailhead the masses went, crossing some early teaser mud baths. Some kids ran past me, nudging me accidentally in their own excitement to get ahead, breathing heavily. “Slow down” I told one of them. Nothing. Middle age wisdom is lost on youth I guess! I didn’t know my place,  I assumed top 50 but it was tough to call and tough to know how my body would hold up so soon after the marathon so actually didn’t care as much as usual.

Soon, the trail narrowed to single track. I passed people on my left and right, wherever I could, if I could. I would also get taken over as we were still sorting ourselves out. We followed small pink flag markers as we wound our way up and down steep sections of the woods.

Stream crossing #1

The first  of three stream crossings.

At mile two, we approached our first stream crossing. Not since Leadville had I got the chance to do this. I was behind two others as we jumped into knee-deep ice-cold water. As they walked across, I tried to run. I clambered up on the rocks of the far side ahead of them, only to find I couldn’t get a grip on the wet rocks to exit. I slipped and braced my body for a rush of cold water but then felt two hands under my arms lift me onto dry land. I thanked my competition and ran on. That’s trail running for you. My shoes were heavy from the water and my pace slowed while I dried off. A second stream soon after but no such drama on this occasion. It was deeper than the first one but not chest high as I was told it had been in previous years.

Mud Flats

Mud Flats

We were now running the ‘mud flats’ section. Think walking in ankle-deep mud where you all of a sudden lose a shoe. This was that environment. Some runners tried to avoid the mud but then realized the brambles lining the trail got them instead. I knew my quadruple knots on my Brooks Grits were going to hold up Ok. I went the direct route!

The sound of distant bagpipes was then joined with the view of an open field. I looked up and saw several runners bunched together climbing what must have been ‘the wall’. Relieved that it wasn’t a brick one with ropes and army guys shouting, I ran towards it and then slowed to a grinding halt to walk it steadily. A guy behind me screamed (I’m not sure why) and made it a point to beat me to the top. He obviously didn’t read my JFK 50 write-up referring to Ellie Greenwood’s hill technique. Within a few feet of the top, I ran ahead of a very short of breath fellow runner. He won the wall climb, I’ll give him that.

"The wall"

“The wall”

I reminded myself what Deanna had said. 3 miles to go, easy trail running now. I saw two guys ahead, caught them and made a gap on them quickly. I didn’t want them hanging onto my shoulder. I ran alone, free, single track on a ridge line, it was incredible. I then caught up to a group of five spread out loosely. The lead guy was in red. He was my target by the end. I reeled them in but more gradually than before, these guys were much closer to my pace. The first two were going backwards, they were done, the middle guy pressed forward up a long gradual climb and I happily let him waste energy as I sat behind him to the top of the ascent  and the last two were soon behind me too. I was winding down S-bends on soft pine needles through a section called ‘Deer Hollow” on single track having a blast, feeling great. My place? Who knew, who cared. It never crossed my mind.

Mile 5: gaining ground

Deer Hollow: Miles 4 and 5

A sharp right by a stream meant I knew it was close to the end. Pre-race, I had run over to the final and most famous stream so knew I was about to cross this. Another couple of runners were ahead as we ran by the river bed. My goal shifted again; beat those two. A rapid descent into a field followed.

Brooks chasing Brooks; the final stream crossing

Brooks chasing Brooks; the final stream crossing

I heard the roars of the crowd gathering around the stream crossing. Lots of cheers and groans, maybe someone ahead had fallen into a deep spot? All I cared about was taking one more place. I crossed the stream, divided into three sections of water almost and almost landed on his heals as we grabbed the grass ridges to elevate back onto dry land.

The crowd lined both sides of the bank up to the meadow as to where we had started. It felt like a mini-version of a mountain stage bike race where the crowd gets too close because of pure enjoyment of the event.

Up the bank and onto the meadow finish still chasing one last place.

Up the bank and onto the meadow finish still chasing one last place.

I ran hard, music playing to my right. It sounded fun, I didn’t even see them but heard later they were dressed as the three amigos! The one runner remained, whoever else was ahead had finished. I was almost satisfied to pull up and call it a day but something inside me pushed me. Maybe it was the anger inside me from the Boston bombings? It definitely wasn’t anything negative towards the target runner. Maybe it was just the thrill of how good I felt six days post-marathon? Maybe both. Regardless, I kicked the last 100 yards and didn’t let up to make sure it was no fight.

Rob Cummings, the race director had to almost physically slow me down to say I had finished. He tore off my bib tag to place me and usher me down the roped shoot. I walked under the heart flag thinking of Boston once more. I felt good, I felt happy. That emotion has been very difficult to feel all week.

I ran back to the stream crossing and cheered on my friends. We re-grouped, put on dry clothes and….ran some more! Did you really expect a 10K to be enough?! After some more miles, my blood glucose sat at a perfect 100. Good job too, Tiffany won a pie at the awards for winning her age group in her first trail race! Life is good, thanks for helping the healing Mr. Leatherman. The 27th mile in the books.

Post-race with Joe, Keila, Tiffany (note pie!) and me.

Post-race with Joe, Keila, Tiffany (note pie!) and me.

More Boston Prep; Febapple FROZEN 20 Miler

Fifty....Twenty (same difference - hey, this is Boston training!)

Fifty….Twenty (same difference – hey, this is Boston training!)

Ice was the news we heard from Rick McNulty, Race Director and owner of NJ Trail Series. “Add 20-30 minutes onto each loop (10 miles)” he wrote on the Facebook group page. Jeez.

A midweek detour to Paragon Sports saved the day with the swift purchase of some Yaktrax for me and Gary. Gary asked me “Are we going to really come 1 and 2?” To which I responded “We’ve got Yaktrax!”

My Brooks Pure Grit with a new companion

My Brooks Pure Grit with a new companion

After walking the mile from the Maplewood train station in rural New Jersey to the 2,110 acre South Mountain Reservation we were completely spent! Our Achilles were on fire. We were not warned the walk was uphill the whole way. Warm up; done!

Hanging at the start with Jackie Choi (who will be running the Grand Slam this year!)

Hanging at the start with Jackie Choi (who will be running the Grand Slam this year!)

We checked in and watched the fellow, more hardcore runners doing the 50k and 50m who had already started. I was observing everyone. We’re runners wearing Yaktrax or spikes? How many layers were they wearing? Hat, no hat? Gloves no gloves? I could go on but I’ll spare you!

I asked the RD his view on Yaktrax. He thought about it for a while. I was kind of hoping for a confident quick answer. He shouted to a female runner in Yaktrax “Hey, Yaktrax. Good idea?” She replied “YES!” Case closed. On they went and we lined up at the start with 60 or so other 20 milers.

Start of the Febapple - ice!

Start of the Febapple Frozen 20  (strong emphasis on frozen)

The guy next to me crouched down waiting for the “go” as if he was running the 800m! And then he took off like it too. Our group followed and questioned whether he knew it was 20 miles rather than meters. But the really crazy thing to me was, he wore no spikes or tracks, not even trail shoes. He wore Brooks Pure Connects, a shoe I would choose for a road race.

We ran the first mile on road. I told Gary this was the worst trail race I had ever run! And then we turned left.

A steep descent on a single track trail with patches of ice and rocks and roots. This was what is all about. We then climbed out of the valley and started crossing cold streams, tip toeing through technical sections of rock and ice packed ground. Some ascents and descents were covered in a smooth layer of ice. The Yaktrax were a dream on this. I was so grateful we had these.

Someone was on my heals as I followed Gary through the wooded trail. I didn’t like this feeling. Either pass or back off because I refused to go any faster in case of adding a new war wound to my legs. Finally he passed and went quickly ahead just like the 800m runner did at the very start.

Me and Gary observed, took note and then shared ” We’ll see him later”. We climbed a long hill. It got steeper but felt wrong to walk. This wasn’t an ultra after all. But the hill kept going and the incline increasing.

I begun to walk. We could go the same pace as running it but keeping our heart rate a lot lower so at the crest we would be ready to run again. If anyone wanted to run past here, it would be hugely likely that when the course became runnable again we would pass them by with ease.

We ran back to the start finish in even 3rd place, 4 miles in. Now we had the bigger 6 mile loop to get us halfway. We descended a hill, very runnable with much less ice. We got faster and faster really enjoying the chance to stretch out legs and get some time back.

We then realized that there was nobody around us and more alarming, we hadn’t seen an orange arrow in the snow or pink ribbon on a tree for a while. It felt wrong to stop and question it but we had to ascend to find the last marker. We climbed the hill we had just bombed down briskly searching like two golf hackers looking for the little white ball amongst trees and shrubs. Finally I saw a pink ribbon ahead and then we saw a couple of runners turn off down a different path, one we never knew existed.

The key here was not to panic. We had 15 miles to correct our mistake so sprinting now was pointless. We caught them over time. One guy we passed was all “what? how? huh?” towards me. I pointed the finger ahead giving Gary full blame for getting us lost! In truth, it was an equal mistake. We missed what was actually about five pink ribbons and ten orange arrows in the snow telling us to go right!

Febapple10-e1298432470482

After a very icy descent the trail flattened out. It become very runnable for long sections with manageable smaller climbs. We turned right into an open field and passed the other aid station. I had just popped a gel and had no interest in any liquid so stayed on the dirt path towards the next wooded area. We saw a new face look at us wearing all grey. He left the aid station like he had just stolen something! I said to Gary that’s 3rd place ahead. He wasn’t having it. I was convinced. There was no way that was a 50K runner and the 10 milers hadn’t even started yet. We lost one more spot than we thought from our mistake.

Frozen waterfall at mile 8/18

Hemlock Falls; a 25-foot dramatic frozen waterfall at mile 8 and 18.

He never left our site for the next few miles. I could sense he was working hard to stay ahead. We passed an amazing frozen waterfall over a bridge and then climbed again. I caught him and passed by. Then the Yaktrax started to malfunction. I was slipping every left foot strike. I was convinced I had lost a Yaktrax. I looked down preparing to see my biggest fear of the day but it wasn’t that bad. It had hiked up my foot over my toes. I found a rock to perch over and adjust it back. 500 yards later, I felt a slip, looked down, same problem. I stopped a handful of times to fix this but knew I was in trouble. For starters, now it was happening on the right foot too. And secondly, I had 11 miles to go!

Grey guy and Gary both passed. They weren’t too far ahead and I knew Gary wasn’t going to take off anyway. We came through halfway in 4th and 5th in 1:24.

We re-hit the asphalt mile and discussed the game plan. We knew 1st place was gone, 2nd possibly too after all. But we could see third way ahead pushing the pace. Gary had no desire to pull him in, content that this was going to be a great 20 miler training run towards Boston. But I couldn’t resist the urge. Maybe it was the feeling I got from placing 4th last weekend. I didn’t want 4th again, I wanted 3rd. So we split here.

I kept my pace in line with the guy ahead. My Yaktrax were up to their old tricks but I decided at this point to fix them, only if I slipped, I couldn’t afford to stop every few minutes. We hit the steep descent on trail and I caught him almost immediately. I could hear his breathing and see his panic in his movements to stay ahead.

We shared pleasantries as I passed. He wasn’t even going to try to hang on and said “See you at the finish”. Was he serious? We had 8 miles to go here! Regardless if he was genuine or playing a game, I pushed on hard which was the right thing to do but most definitely in the wrong place. I was back in the most technical part of the course with ice, rocks, roots and streams to jump over. At one stream I fell in and almost crashed my legs onto the rocks as I crawled out the other side. And then there was an icy turn with a nice 40 foot drop off into some serious trouble.

14 miles in and I was back to the start/finish area again. I used the angle of a sharp left to glance quickly to see what was going on behind. The guy I had passed was still around. I had 300 yards on him. I knew the next section was fast and knew I needed a bigger gap so decided now was the time to go up a gear. Luckily I also knew to look for about five pink ribbons and ten orange arrows pointing me right!

I was catching the back of the 10 milers and had to wind my way through them respectfully. Running around people was fun. I encouraged them and vise versa. I love that about trail running, something road runners rarely do. I kept the effort high; running where I could and power hiking sections of the steeper hills. I kept some gas in reserve, in case I needed it for an attack from behind.

I ran passed the 15 mile aid station. I didn’t need any gels and had no urge to hydrate (a mistake really. Hot or cold conditions, my muscles would have appreciated some liquid in them). Down a long stretch and I passed a few more 10-milers enjoying the trail in flowing conversation. But this was a stark contrast to what I saw beyond them. A runner in red going pretty hard. I had caught up to second place.

18 miles in

18 miles into the race

I cranked the pace that much more on the downhill and swallowed him up. Thinking he may see me and jump on for a fight until the finish, I ran passed him hard. At the bottom of the stretch we turned a tight left over a narrow bridge. I looked left and saw he wasn’t going to be a factor. As I crossed the bridge, out of nowhere I saw my Team Novo Nordisk team-mate Ryan Jones (also training for Western States 100) coming the over way. We yelled some noise to each other and high-fived (I later found out he was telling me 1st place was only slightly ahead!).

I ran past the frozen waterfall one last time and climbed up the stretch of hill pretty confident I had 2nd in the bag now. After seeing how the leader had sprinted off at the start, I could only imagine he had finished and changed into dry clothes at this point.

I crossed a road which I recalled was approximately one mile of flat easy trail to go. I kept the pace up all the way home to finish in 2:44. A solid 20 mile run which felt like 25-26 on my legs due to the difficult conditions. I immediately bumped into the winner and congratulated him. I was surprised to hear we had the same finish time. I assured him (twice) he was wrong! But it was true. I lost out by 34 seconds but never saw him. I looked at his shoes and quickly reminded myself, he would have lapped me in Yaktrax! I had no feelings of defeat like last week.

Warm clothes! Gary and me post-race

Warm clothes! Gary and me post-race

I waited for Gary who came in only a couple of minutes behind in 4th. He didn’t care about his place, a smart runner that doesn’t get the urge to race just because he has a bib on. My blood tester wouldn’t immediately work post-race because the temperature was too cold! Changing proved a slow and skilled process with cold fingers and standing on a single shoe to avoid the mud. Yes, more core work trying to stay upright after 20 miles of it! Our clothes were absolutely drenched, so it was important to do so.

Ryan finished soon after and won the 50K. A great start to his 2013 campaign. I expect nothing less from him though. I hope we can run sections of Western States together in late June. We packed up and headed off. Another 20 miler locked into the training books (albeit a little different from Central Park). A good day at the running office. I was sure I was going to feel a few aches in my body the next day in places I didn’t knew existed. End note; I was right but it was oh so worth it!

Couple of podium spots for Team Novo Nordisk runners.

WS100 bound; couple of podium spots for Team Novo Nordisk runners

 

2013 Race Calendar; The Plan of Attack!

I have spent a few more weeks than I had planned in my off-season; my right ITB told me to roll more, rest more. It’s given me time to reflect on an amazing 2012, appreciate being 100% healthy and like most runners in December-January; plan for an even more amazing 2013.

The A race (of all A races!)

My “A” race stands out like a sore thumb, in a very very good way; Western States 100. As a first time entrant to the lottery system to the oldest and most prestigious 100 miler in the world, the chances of actually getting a place were between slim and none. I somehow got in. What is it with me and raffles in 2012? I don’t know but I need to be buying Mega Millions too. I’ll be rubbing shoulders with the best in the sport; Tim Olson, Ryan Sandes, Ellie Greenwood to name only a few. I will be fortunate enough to share this awesome experience with my Team Novo Nordisk teammate; Ryan Jones (a fellow LT100 finisher in 2012).

Did someone say running in Colorado?! I’ll go!

My second major race falls into a new distance. The 100K race is something yet to be tackled on my resume. I’ve seemed to found a fairly successful race distance between 50K and 50M; the “W” from The North Face in DC and my 16th place at JFK (both 2012) are my highlights to date. I was unable to enter the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) event last year due to the date being a week apart from the Chicago Marathon. This year, no such marathon dilemma, it is fully on my radar. It will be my “A2” race if you will. The event, in it’s third year now, attracts the best athletes going after the biggest prize money in ultra running (not that I think I will get anywhere near the pot of gold!) It has moved from Virginia to Colorado for 2013. I don’t think I can resist the challenge of some thin mountain air on a great point to point course beginning in Breckenridge and finishing in Vail.

Looking to PR big time @ the oldest one of them all; Boston Marathon

But, back to the start. I”ll kick things off with some winter training with a great and smart training partner; Gary Berard, and give Boston a good effort. It’s time to shave off some time from my PR of 2:45. Then, it will be full on trail season with a return to Bear Mountain for 50 miles and DC for the same distance (key fitness tests for Western States). I’m dabbling with Pocono Marathon in mid-May purely from a downhill elevation perspective (specificity training). Remaining races will no doubt happen on a whim to add the year. I haven’t figured out a half-marathon yet towards Boston for starters and I’m keen to tackle a Half-Ironman maybe towards the end of the year. I am really excited and ready to race alongside my team mates at Team Novo Nordisk and make this year the best one yet.

Here’s the calendar to date (bold=registered);

February 16th: Martha’s Vineyard 20-Miler, MA (tbd)

April 15th: Boston Marathon, MA

May 4th: TheNorthFace Endurance Challenge 50M, Bear Mountain, NY

May 19th: Pocono Marathon, PA (tbd)

June 1st: TheNorthFace Endurance Challenge 50M, Washington DC 

June 29th: Western States 100, Squaw Valley-Auburn, CA

July 20th: 20in24 Relay, Philadelphia, PA

September 28th: UROC 100K, Vail CO (tbd)

JFK 50 Mile: The 33 Minute PR

A year ago I stepped up to what many regard as a ‘real’ ultramarathon; 50 miles. The race to me was simply known as JFK. I have since learned much of its history. It is the oldest 50 mile foot race in USA, inspired by Teddy Roosevelt and implemented by President Kennedy in 1963 to make sure all military officers were fit for war. The course has stayed the same each year since. Starting out in the small town of Boonsboro, MD, the race is 15.5 miles of road climbing and Appalachian Trail (AT), just over a marathon on the C&O canal towpath and ending with 8 miles of rolling road hills into Williamsport, MD. I learned a lot from my first 50 in 2011, mostly don’t assume your body will keep going without fueling or pacing!  I was however ecstatic with my 7 hours 13 minutes and 33rd overall. How could I not be? It was a PR!

JFK elevation: 15 miles of trail fun followed by 35 miles of flat and fast canal path/rolling hill roads

I returned to this historic race for precisely that reason. This year was the 50th running of the oldest 50 mile race in the country. I signed up in Spring for one of the 1,000 places against 10,000 people and was lucky to get a place. I think I put about six stamps on my envelope come to think about it, just to make sure I had paid enough postage and maybe it would get there even quicker!

Race Day: November 17th 2012

I woke up at 5am to temperatures just above freezing that would rise to a high of 52. Perfect running conditions. First, great weather in Leadville (no thunderstorms), then Chicago (no heat) and now JFK. The weather gods have been kind to me this year. Walking the half mile from Boonsboro school to the start line on the main street bundled up in five layers, I had the intention of starting the race with a long-sleeve top over my Brooks ID singlet and wear hat and gloves. I scanned what over runners were wearing and decided to scrap my extra layers and go singlet and sleeves from the start. A final pre-race blood test had me at 240. My glucose had risen from 143 at breakfast. Not ideal and a slight miscalculation of bolus intake. I already had my hand-held bottle filled with Gatorade which I now wished was just water. I poured half of it away, upset with myself for not having water to replace it with and/or having a better starting blood glucose. Probably both. I increased my basal rate on my insulin pump and knew I could get water at aid stations to stay hydrated. I would figure it out, I always seem too.

The start of the 50th annual JFK 50; me (in neon yellow, no not Eric Clifton in pink tights!)

The great-grandson of Teddy Roosevelt fired the starter pistol to get us under way at 7am sharp. I sat right behind the two favorites; Max King and David Riddle before they quickly pushed up to the very front. As the top 25 of us quickly took off from the main pack, I immediately wished I had kept my gloves as the cold wind rushed over my hands.

The pace was fast, faster than I had thought possible. 7:02 at mile 1. I had studied my Garmin data from JFK 2011 and knew I was too aggressive in the first half of the race which led to a breakdown in the second half with cramps through miles 32-38. So why was I running a 7-minute mile?! In my defense, the start of the race is a good time to jockey for position before the trail section and road miles are always going to be quicker than trails.

Road miles out of Boonsboro, MD

My plan for this year’s race was 8:30 average pace through the first 15 miles and 7:30’s for the last 35. This would equate to a 6 hour 30 minute race. Plan B was: 6:43. Why so precise? A 30 minute improvement from 2011 sounded nice and Plan C was to go sub-7 hours. My training seven weeks post-Chicago consisted of not much training. Rest had become the new mileage. My longest run had been 16 easy miles.

We soon climbed steeply for a mile and jumped onto the first section of trail. As the sun rose on my left, the shining light flickered through the trees making it hard to see the trail but at the same time, was one of those beautiful images that remind you why you are a runner. This trail section was fairly wide and still a frenetic pace for 50 miles. An aid station appeared so I grabbed a cup of water as planned to balance out the effort of the first few miles.

We hit a road section again, in the woods now, and climbed again, this time steeper to get to the highest point of the course. Ellie Greenwood was a few yards ahead of me and I studied her as she chose when to run and when to walk the hill. I copied her. My average pace had fallen to 10/min miles but I trusted what I was doing. This is the two-time Western States 100 champion as well as numerous other amazing achievements in the sport. Others around her chose to run the whole way up. I knew I would see the majority of these people again before the race was over.

A familiar looking volunteer from last year pointed at a narrow gap into the woods and I now knew we were onto the magical AT section for 10 miles. This is by far the toughest part of the course, not because of elevation changes but the jagged rocks buried under and around large brown leaves. The pace now fell into that 8:30 range but the energy expenditure felt like 7:30’s. As tough as it I say it was, it is and will always be the most fun part too.

I joined forces with a familiar face, Derek Schultz on the AT, a fellow Brooks ID runner with a very strong ultra background (Laurel Highlands Ultra course record holder). He bombed the downhills and I caught him on the flats as we shared stories for a few miles. We passed the JFK 50 legend Eric Clifton in his trademark outrageous running tights (neon pink this year) and Derek chatted to him while I closed the gap on a pack of three ahead.

I tagged on the back and we became a solid four, staying in order passing the early 5am starters. The last few miles of AT are where the rocks get trickier as your brain gets more tired. It’s also a place that has put a nice dent in my right shin for life from my fall last year.

Just as I thought to myself I may just get off this trail without falling, down I went at the feet of two men from the 5am start. They were staring straight down at me as I moaned in some serious pain. One of them said to the other “That one looked like it really hurt” as if they had been hanging out at the third corner of NASCAR all day comparing car crashes.

They were right. That one did really hurt. My left foot got tucked under a rock and down I went hard on my right side, my right knee connecting perfectly with a rock embedded on the trail waiting to cut me open. I very gingerly got up and got handed my water bottle that must have flown off course during the downfall. I looked down to see if the pain was actually warranted and saw a nice line of claret over the notch of my tibia and was relieved. I mean, if you’re going to fall and moan about it, you want to see proof it hurt right! I hobbled, I walked and finally I ran again and slowly got back into my stride, relived it had not been any worse.

Descending the switchbacks of Weverton Cliffs

At 14.5 miles, I was now functioning like nothing had happened back there. I descended the steep Weverton Cliffs switchbacks down to the Potomac River. A 1,000ft drop in less than a mile. There were lots of 5am runners in this section so I had to communicate well to get by without any more drama. If the switchbacks had a tree on the inside, I grabbed it and swung around the turn without losing too much speed. Clearly the fall, had not hurt my confidence.

I heard lots of cheers below and soon ran through a large crowd of spectators including Michael Chu as I got close to the C&O canal towpath section. At the aid station prior to this 26.3 mile stretch of flat monotonous running was Tiffany, being a trooper running around Maryland all day supporting me. She greeted me with a huge smile and handed me my blood tester. I pricked my finger, blood strip already set up and got my reading: 275. 27…what?

My glucose went up after 15.5 miles? I filled my water bottle with water and kept on going. I analyzed in my head why 275. I had thought that maybe on the trail I was going low around miles 10-13 so knocked back two gels, which in hindsight I never needed. I readjust my basal level from -60% to -20% and would see where my glucose was again at mile 27.

I checked my average pace for the first third of the race; 8:25. Just faster than I had planned but I was happy with that. Now was time to get into my faster stride. I was hitting 7:38 average for the first few miles of the canal. Not quite the 7:30’s I would need for Plan A but it was still early in the race and I found my pace to be manageable. The most important thing was not to run a mile faster than 7:30 even though I felt good. I passed a pair of runners who made a comment “The race doesn’t start until mile 30”. It made me think. I actually put that in my head but changed it to mile 35. I still remember how quickly the body can fall apart from miles 30-35 with that ‘still X miles to go’ mentality.

Changing pace on the C&O canal path

Just shy of marathon distance, I saw a deer ahead on the canal path. I’ve always enjoyed seeing them while out on the trail. As I got closer, I waited for the deer to see me and bolt but it never did. I ran around it giving the guy some space but clearly not enough as it begun to follow me and then decided to chase me! When did deer ever chase humans! My pace went into marathon mode for a few yards until it either felt sorry for me or just got bored with this running thing.

I then teamed up with a human. We chased each other back and forth but not like the deer. We decided it would be easier to say hi, acknowledge we were running the same pace and run together. He (Nick), like many others in the race was part of the military, based at West Point, NY. We ran into a main aid station at 27 to lots of cheers, still chatting away. Tiffany was there again, ready to help me with my blood test; 250. Well, going down but still not low enough to start really eating much. I gave her my handheld water bottle, no need for that anymore as now aid stations were frequent along the canal path (every 4 miles or so) and I was carrying gels in my compression short pockets anyway (if I would ever need them), so I didn’t need to be lugging around Gatorade on heavy arms. Tiffany told me we were in 26th and 27th place.

I caught back up to Nick and we carried on at our pace. We discussed our JFK races from last year, both with similar stories of good but not great performances. He was way ahead of his time goal so when he stopped to take an S-cap and said he would catch me back up and never did, I wasn’t too surprised.

I hit 50K and knew the next few miles would be the toughest mentally. There would be aid at mile 34 and the next main one at 38. The aid station at mile 34 never seemed to come as the long left bend around the Potomac River just kept on going and going with no one in sight. I almost wanted to see another deer! My pace was now slipping towards the 8 minute mark and I wasn’t feeling great. I knew I wasn’t going to cramp like last year; I had been taking two S-Caps on the hour like clockwork. It was my sugar. This time, I knew it for a fact. I could feel the symptoms of a hypo, not just the effort of running 34 miles. I finally saw a dozen Santa and elf hats and an area decorated in tinsel. What a great sight! A volunteer asked what I wanted and I said “Everything!” I grabbed two cups of Coke, M&M’s, orange slices, pretzel sticks and some cookies. I told them, this was the best aid station on the course. Partly because it was decked out for Christmas but also because mile 34 of 50 miles sucks! It’s far enough into the race that you’re really hurting but still too far enough from the finish, you can’t get too excited about it being ‘almost’ over. I played games in my head; 8 miles of canal path, 8 miles of roads. ‘Lets go’ I told myself.

Mile 34 Cookie Monster sighting

I left the aid station swiftly and munched on the food. I had three cookies left. I ate one but quickly realized I was not carrying any more liquid. Their was no way I could eat the other two cookies without getting a really dry throat. I decided to keep them by putting one in each of my short pockets. I don’t know why I did this, I had gels on standby if need be but laughed to myself as I felt like the Cookie Monster taking on the JFK50! Churning out these mid-30’s miles was real agony. I knew a 6:30 finish time was off the table now but as I turned a corner onto a long straight away, I saw a great sight; three runners way ahead. I knew I would eventually get to them. This image gave me new energy. Seeing them and my mile 34 aid station intake made me feel so much better. The pace came back to 7:35-40 and I closed the gap gradually. Eventually I passed them and knew I was now closing in on the top 20 of the JFK50. This became a new goal in itself, one that I did not plan or think about at all pre-race.

I kept my placing but felt my energy and pace dip again as the final aid station on the C&O canal path was not too far away. I pulled out one of the cookies from my shorts and ate it with an energy gel, about 50 grams of simple and complex carbs as one. My mistake of experiencing two hypos close together was that I had tweaked my basal rate of insulin between miles 27-38 and I had been too aggressive to bring my glucose level down.

At the aid station, Tiffany asked how I was doing. My reply was negative for the first time “I’m so tired”. Rightly so, 38 miles is, well 38 miles. But it wasn’t the distance. My glucose was 90. Proof that I had been fighting hypos. I took a Gatorade from her and downed it in seconds and grabbed some Jelly Belly Sport Beans.

Mile 41: the C&O canal towpath almost over

I pushed on but still didn’t feel great. The third place woman passed me and I watched her as she ran with an effortless stride (unlike me). I realized she was hurting too, just not showing it. I kept her in sight and as my glucose rose from the Gatorade and sport beans, my body felt better and I noticed on my watch that there were now only 10 miles left. That’s nothing, I said! 2 miles of canal path, 8 miles of roads. Dig deep. And I did. 7:09, 7:07 for the last two canal path miles.

I had caught back up and re-passed her, promising her beer and pizza at the end for helping me. By keeping her in sight, we had both closed the gap on some other runners who were now also behind us. One of which was third place runner Jeff Buechler from last years 2011 JFK. I felt bad for him, his leg must have blown up or something to be this far back from the leaders.

My pace was now really going up in gear. My glucose felt like it was back to normal and I was about to hit the last section of the course; the rolling asphalt hills. The part I like to forget, is the immediate climb off the C&O canal path which is 200m of pure agony. Your pace goes from hare to tortoise as you clamber up it. I didn’t dare look at my heart rate data but I’m sure it was close to max. I reached the crest with no desire to go any further until I saw a runner ahead. As I ran along the farm roads, one turn then showed me that after him there was no one left to catch. With under 8 miles to go, I was convinced this would be my last place to take. I contemplated sitting on him until one mile to go but quickly realized he was suffering far worse than me so passed by, wished him well and I truly felt sorry for him even though we had over a 10K to go. I asked him if anyone was ahead. He said no. Why would he have said yes? He knew it would only motivate me to kick on. Smart runner, dumb question from me.

I crested a hill as I opened the gap on him. He was right, no one. Just me and the road and an excruciating 7 miles to go! I chose the 8.5 road miles to think of my uncle and his battle with cancer using each mile as a year of his fight. It really helped me because I was absolutely exhausted. I went past an aid station and grabbed a cup of Gatorade to top up my glucose level. I refused to have another hypo now and didn’t care so much if I went the other way. I even threw away my last cookie like a pro cyclist would throw away a water bottle before a big climb. Every ounce mattered to me. I’m pretty sure looking back, that throwing the cookie away didn’t do anything for me!

For the first and only time on the course, we had mile markers. They were traditional wooden blocks by the side of the road with the number of miles to go. All on my own and ready to be done, all I wanted, was to see the next one with a 6 on it.  As I closed in on the mile 6 board, the wind knocked it over on its back as I ran past. I laughed at that one. This was exactly how I felt! I hadn’t looked at my watch for a while. My pace at this point was what it was, meaning I had no more speed to give. It was just under 8-min pace which I knew would put me around 6:43 finish time (Plan B goal). I focused hard to remain sub-8 minute pace.

With 5 miles to go, I noticed a guy in the distance running on an adjoining road. He looked the part. Light shoes, skinny, skimpy shorts. The tell-tale signs of a fast runner. He joined the race road and ran ahead of me. After having some time to really think about this ironic scenario, genius me realized he was not a random runner, he was the next guy ahead of me! I had to assume he went the wrong way or took a pit stop. Either way, I was on his heels and soon he was another one behind me.

Mile 46

Any excuse not to run now ; )

I turned right in between a row of small houses and saw a police car stopping traffic. I knew this was mile 46. I also knew I wasn’t going to see Tiffany here but really wanted too. This pain was really getting unbearable now. Then, of course she jumped into the street cheering me on. It was awesome. My energy was again lifted and the road was now coned off to traffic with the final 4 mile stretch.

At three miles to go, I hit another long straight and I could see three more runners ahead. One was Ian Torrence who I had run with in the pack of 4 back on the AT, hours earlier. I had to pinch myself that I was going to maybe catch this guy. He is a few years older and maybe not his old speed but this guy is a real name in ultra running.

And so it was, I chalked off more guys. My plan to not run hard early and blow up was working. My tank was close to empty but I had been slowly improving my place for most of the race. I had not been passed properly since early in the AT section.

I climbed a sweeping hill to the final aid station at the top. I remembered this and knew I was one mile shy of the end…until the volunteer shouted “1.5 miles to go!” Oh well. What’s half a mile over 50.2 miles right? I turned left to roll downhill on a main road and glanced to my left to see the last person I had passed way back and no threat to me now. I could have eased off the pace at this point and kept my place but I knew I was close to a 6:40 finish time. I made that my mission as I clocked off a 7:10 mile 49.

That 33 minute 50 mile PR feeling!

Can you say ‘Run Happy’ Brooks runners?

I climbed a slight hill on the final straight and saw the finish in the far distance. What a sight! I pushed all the way home and made it; 6:40:38 an average pace of 8 minute miles. I had just taken 33 minutes off last year’s time. What a difference a year makes in my short ultra running career.

I got helped over to a chair by the finish line where I got to celebrate with Tiffany and was also greeted to another familiar face; ultra runner Mark Rodriguez, who came out to watch. I did a post-run blood test for the first time in the comfort of sitting down; 123. A man stood over us and said “I like to see those numbers” explaining further that he was a doctor. We agreed. It was the first good one of the day!

I walked into the Williamsport school to go and take a shower. I hid from the first aid medics that would have loved to play with my gashed knee (I learnt my lesson from this last year!), chat with Ellie Greenwood (by far the best female ultra runner in the world right now) who enjoyed the fact that my last name was England like no tomorrow and met with Max King and David Riddle too. Top ultra runners but better still, top people who genuinely care about their fellow runners as much as they care about their own performances. JFK next year? Maybe. I prefer the mountains to flat courses. If I do go back, I have to consider breaking into the Top 10 males as my goal. We will see. With this much fun and support on the course, why not? For now, rest and more rest before my inaugural race for Team Type 1 in the  California International Marathon on December 2nd.

Ellie Greenwood was more amazed at my last name than her 17-minute course record win (I like to think so).

Finally caught up: Me with Max King (new course record holder) and David Riddle (2011 winner and old course record holder)


 

 

Jeff, Jen, Me and Tiffany. Hanging out at the finish line ready for Buffalo Wild Wings!

Paine to “Pain” Trail Half Marathon

Just one week after a tough (almost PR) Chicago marathon, I chose to..well, race again! My good running friend, Gary Berard, told me about a popular trail race a stones throw north of NYC which intrigued me. The race: Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon. Runner’s World Magazine describes it as “…a giant single loop that winds its way through the woods and trails of several lower Westchester communities“.

I, of course had no need to race so soon post-Chicago. My next ‘race’, the JFK 50 was seven weeks away in mid-November and my training plan for that consisted of little more than easy miles. But the idea of a trail run only 30 minutes by car from home, made it so easy! I signed up with good intentions of treating it like a 13.1 easy run, just with a race bib on and 1,000 friends. The day before, my type A personality was fully restored and I declared to Gary I was going to race it. Team Type 1’s Matt Patrick also sewed a seed in my head texting me in the week that I could win it! (This is his home turf so he knows the course better than most).

On October 14th, we were picked up by Gary’s friend, Geoff Badner who was also using the race as a training run for the Brooklyn Marathon (the same weekend as JFK). Gary unfortunately went from runner to spectator with a bad back mid-week. I tried to convince him, it was because he was now married and just getting old but he didn’t buy it. He even went to the chiropractor to confirm he should not run. Tough luck for him, but hats off for still making the road trip and cheering on Geoff and myself, early on a Sunday.

We picked up our race numbers by the start in New Rochelle and checked out the competition. Anyone in skimpy shorts or lightweight shoes or a combination of both meant competition! I was feeling mentally strong and had decided the goal was to try to make top 10, anything better, a bonus. My blood glucose read 190mg/dL just prior to the start. Absolutely perfect, I could not be happier with that.I toed the line and a rifle was fired. We all charged up a gradual hill for over 3/4 mile and I quickly found myself in 3rd place. My first mile split was 6:13! Slightly keen maybe?!

Asphalt road soon got replaced for the good stuff: single track trail with rocks, roots and a few small bridges mixed in too. I sat behind the lead two feeling pretty good. I lost ground on them going uphill but gained when going down. Then, I got impatient on a downhill and decided I wanted the lead, so I took it.

Appropriate sign up some of the inclines during miles 2-5

Here I was, in th lead of a half-marathon with 11 miles to go, just a week after a marathon! What was I thinking? Well, I was hoping everyone else’s heart rate were as high as mine to start with! As quickly as the idea of a nice W got in my head, it quickly got booted out again as the front two passed me. More followed. I got put in my place (10th to be exact) and had to readjust my winning goal back to my original. It was fun for a few hundred yards at least. I knew I had to back off. My heart rate was probably 175. I wish I had worn my monitor to see how high it really did get. I needed to bring this down or I would be toast well before this was over.

Mile 7 @Paine to PAIN Trail Half Marathon

We continued on single track for a few miles occasionally crossing a quiet road and then entering more magical forest to explore. I was about 13th or 14th at 6 miles as the hardest part of the course was now behind us. The rocks and tree roots with up and down climbing was now replaced with flatter and wider runnable trail. Each mile for me however was getting slower and slower. Sub-7 miles were now 7:20….7:30 and then I hit my lowest and slowest moment at mile 7: 8:07. I took a Honey Stinger gel thinking maybe their was more to it than just fatigue, maybe my blood glucose was dropping towards a hypoglycemia level? Whatever it was or wasn’t,  I was now heavily regretting my heroic performance at the start!

Then I heard more footsteps gradually closing in on me  I didn’t turn around, i knew I would see whoever it was in a matter of seconds anyway. It was the first female. She passed and said “Hey” in a surprised tone. I responded the same adding even more emphasis on the surprise in my voice. It was my friend Deanna Culbreath, a fellow Brooks ID runner!

We both really had no idea either of us were running this. She said for us to run together (which would have been awesome) but my legs were toast and I had to go my own pace in this low moment. She ran ahead and took down the next guy soon after. She was getting cheered on by volunteers and spectators who acknowledged that she was the clear leader of the women’s race. It was awesome to witness.

Mile 9: thank you second wind!

Every turn I expected to lose sight of her but I didn’t and the guy in front had managed to stay with her. Maybe seeing a familiar face lit a fire inside of me or maybe it was the guy ahead who did decide to stick with her that made me feel like I had more energy deep down somewhere. I remembered the famous words of Scott Jurek “Dig Deep” and did just that. It’s hard to say how or why I got out of that mess in the middle miles. All I know is, I was grateful Deanna was out there kicking my butt because I gave me a second wind. I managed to get my pace back to 7-min miles as we continued to circled around the big loop back towards New Rochelle.

At mile 10, I had regained two or three places, one of which was the guy who had tried to hang with Deanna, but I was clueless if I was 9th or 15th or somewhere in the middle. Keila ran this race in 2011 and had told me about the age group prizes. This was not just any prize, this was an engraved beer tankard! The tangible award made some more pain go away and this became my new race goal. Yes, a glass beer tankard made me run competitive! (although who was to say how many 30-39 year olds were ahead of me).

At mile 11, I had clawed my way back to rock star ultra athlete Deanna. We had actually been pushing each other for the last mile or so. Without ever really talking about it then or since, I think we both really enjoyed competing against each other out there on the trail. I felt good and decided to press on, convinced she would follow suit.

I really had got the wind back in my sails now and was clocking low 6’s for those last 3 miles. I saw Gary standing in the middle of the woods after a turn and he did what any good running coach does; give a runner information they can use to their advantage.  “Good job” or “almost there” wasn’t going to help me. His words? “1 mile to go, 10th place, next ahead is 40 seconds, 1/2 mile to the road and you finish on the athletic track”. 5 key pieces of information were passed onto me in 5 seconds. Super helpful and the best part was, we didn’t even discuss that before the race. I cannot wait to train with him for Boston 2013.

With this on board, I gunned it towards a road I couldn’t yet see. It felt longer than the half mile quoted but I’ll blame my dead legs, not Gary on that one. The road took me quickly into full view of the athletic track and I got a glance at the finish line. This got me pumped up. Not because it was almost over, because it is just like the finish of the famous Western States 100 in California!! (minus 86.9 miles..who’s counting right?).

Sprint finish: why not?! Thinking of my Uncle and my Dad

I turned a sharp right down onto the track to do the final 300 meters. The surface felt great after 12 or so miles of rocks and uneven trail terrain. I sprinted the last straight thinking of my family, who have had a rough year, to say the least with health news, and clocked in at 1:30. I was ecstatic to come in the top 10. I had hit my race goal.

Within a minute, a got to watch some Paine to Pain history as Deanna came roaring home to win the women’s field and smash the course record by over six minutes! A great achievement and a great outing for Brooks Running all round! Geoff followed shortly after in 1:34 which surprised me as I thought he was going to take it easy and use it as a ‘training run’. Look who’s talking I guess and watch out Brooklyn Marathoner’s!

It was a tough week for personal reasons between Chicago and Paine to Pain. Lots of emotions but this race helped me escape and enjoy my running!

We all hung around for the awards making new friends while watching others finish. Some of my best times are post-runs, talking to people. Oh and yes, I managed to sneak into 3rd place age group for 30-39 and get my now beloved glass tankard. All that Paine to Pain was worth it! All in all, a great trail half-marathon put on a few miles north of the NYC. For any New York runner looking outside of the NYRR bubble or just wanting to dabble into some trail running, may I strongly suggest Paine to Pain 2013?

My prize!!! 3rd place 30-39 male. Someone fill this thing with beer already!

 

 

 

Gotta Run with Will

In September, I was honored to be asked by Will Sanchez to be on his show; ‘Gotta Run With Will’. Previous guests have included some local celebrities of the NYC running scene; Nicole Sin Quee, Francis Laros, Deanna Culbreath, Jonathan Cane and Terence Gerchberg. I had a great time being his guest discussing my running resume, managing diabetes and of course the Leadville 100 in honor of my Uncle Dave!

Will is a true part of NYC running. He has been a member of New York Road Runners since 2003, worked as a mentor with Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Research) and attends the famous NYC Run Club; where I have met 99% of my New York friends! Thank you Will and the team at Gotta Run with Will.

 

%d bloggers like this: