“All net proceeds go to JDRF whose mission is to find a cure for type 1 diabetes and its complications through the support of research.
The 4.25-ish mile course is a great fun test of trail running…..it has some great climb, fun downhill, single track, switchbacks, along with plenty of rocks and logs to navigate…”
Archive for Training
I knew nothing about my next race held at Kettletown State Park going into my first ultra of the season. Partly because it is located up in Connecticut (I rarely seem to venture there, just drive through it a lot) and partly because it was to be the inaugural race put on by some folks known as Trail 2 Trail.
I chose to do the 50K, the longest option of the four races (5K/10K/20K were the others) and this hugely excited me because it would give me one more state to tick off my slow completion of 50 states. Yes, going beyond the marathon distance counts and for the really curious, no, I am not even close to being halfway done!
I picked this race believing it would be good build up into my two 50 mile races, Vermont 100 and then onto something I keep harping on about, Tahoe 200. My imagination told me the course would be fast and there would be a good chance of a PR on it. My coach however had other ideas for me whether my imagination was right or wrong. He strongly encouraged me to take my racing cap off and treat it like a 50 miler (in terms of pace). Just a few days prior, the rule changed a bit more. It was now to be treated like the first 30 of a 100 mile race. I knew he was right, I just honestly didn’t want to hear it. You see, putting a bib on and taking it easy is more of a challenge than touching my toes. For those that don’t know me well, I cannot touch my toes!
Regardless of speed, I went into the race-non-race fully prepared. Some would even say over prepared. A tall runner in full neon joked with me at the start line “I take it you’re doing the 5K?” friendly mocking me about my fully stocked up hydration pack. The game plan today (other than not to race) was to eliminate all of the mistakes from two weeks prior at Bear Mountain. Today I was going to carry two water bottles. One was full of water, one was my timely prize from CLIF that I received the day before the race. I had S-Caps. I had gels. Lots of them. I even had a bag at the start/finish area so I could do blood tests, change shirts or just get more of all of the above mentioned nutrition. How does the saying go? Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. I was prepared to make sure Bear Mountain was a one-off mess.
The course at Kettletown was a 10K loop. A small loop on one side of a lake and then a larger one on the other side, shaped like the number eight. This design layout allowed for frequent aid stations. The aid station being the same one of course at the start/finish area. The race director explained to the group of over a hundred runners that there were no electrolyte drinks available. I already felt my IQ increase for my detailed prep work. For the 50K route, we were told that after three loops, we would reverse the course for the last two for no other reason than it would mix it up. To start the race, a song would be played and when it was over, we would begin. As we waited at the imaginary start line listening to House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’, I couldn’t help but feel this all had a touch of ‘The Barkley Marathons’ to it with its quirky rules (or maybe lack of them) and interesting version of a start horn, gun or general loud noise. If you wanted a race the opposite of the New York City Marathon, Kettletown State Park was fast becoming a hot favorite for any tri-state runners.
The song from my years of puberty finished, we all hesitated and then realized we were meant to start running. Tiffany ran by my side (she was competing in the 20K) at the front and we quickly started climbing up a grassy bank into the wooded trails. Runners passed me by left and right and I watched as Tiffany ran ahead and soon went out of sight going uphill. With four different races going on at once, it was impossible to know who was racing what. With my racing cap left at home, I didn’t have to worry about this. It actually benefited me to have everyone thrown together.
Being clueless to the course, I threw out an idea that around five hours would be a good finish time; not killing it and or backing off too much (I was in the mind sight of opting for the first coaching suggestion of running it at 50 mile pace). One hour per loop would also be simple to track. my time game plan was of course planned out naively still without knowing what was in store for me. For starters, the previous night getting ready at home, my phone alerted me to a flash flood in the area! I smirked at my phone and then towards Tiffany and thought of my recent mud bath adventures at Bear Mountain. Would this be round two?
In reality, the mud or wetness of the course wasn’t ‘that’ bad. That’s not to imply my feet were dry though. A mile in to the race, I found the first muddy puddle and then a second one and then a stream crossing. You get the idea. It was virtually impossible to not take at least one step into the aqua and most people around me just went the most direct route. I already liked my Saturday company.
At the start of the descent from the climb, the course soon split. 5K runners were to go left (although I’m not sure I had actually seen any) and we (10K/20K/50K) descended a technical route over to the right of football sized rocks down to a small two plank, slightly unstable footbridge. Once over this, we headed back up, through tightly cropped foliage and over more rocks before descending steeply to the start of the loop down to the start/finish. A quick check of my watch and I noted the small loop was almost an exact two miles. With all my liquid still fairly full, I had no reason to stop at the aid and proceeded on across a really cool wooden bridge that crossed a fairly lively river. This was immediately the most scenic part of the course so far. Scrambling up and over big rocks alongside the river was a test of good core and foot skills. People were guessing the best route towards the next flag and making mistakes all over. Some went off course to the left, others to the right. I guess by the fifth loop we would have it figured out but for now, it was trial and error stuff.
Over a road marshaled by one of the organizers and I was back climbing again. I ran gently up all of it but knew deep down this would not be the same later. The trail turned flat and then presented a gradual downhill of sweeping single track over pine needles twisting and turning through the trees. It was a great section of trail. Dare I compare this section to part of Western States? …This part of the course felt like a section at Western States! Brownie points to the course designer for making me think of WS out there!
A water cooler with a stash of white cups sat idle on the trail and marked the end of the fun downhill. I then climbed some switchbacks which kept the grade manageable but still took a good grind until reaching the top which gave a partial overview of the lake now well below. Remembering looking out at the lake pre-race to try to gauge how hilly this course could be, I threw out a guess that the top of the hills were probably 400 feet above the lake. I assumed that now I had seen the lake, I was at the top of the hill.
My course knowledge was proving particularly worthless! The trail turned left and then up again over some wet rocks. I grabbed all sorts of thickness of tree branches to save me from spilling over and then up a big rock step, Kettletown’s equivalent to the Hillary step before clambering along a ridge line to now, the true peak. From there, the trail got really fun again with a long descent mixing the flat and random juts of rock and roots all the way back to the road. From there it was a third of a mile back along the rocky river stretch and over the wooden bridge to the start/finish aka race HQ.
When I got there, I wasn’t ready at all to be efficient with my stop. I was like a racing car pulling into the pits without any idea what I needed. I first dashed across to my backpack and rummaged for my blood tester. With a reading of 82, it was time to get some more quick carbs on board. I grabbed a few more gels and loaded them into my side pockets of my pack and then went to refill my bottles.
I should have had them ready in my hands and done this immediately in hind sight. By going to my bag first I missed the opportunity of the water cooler being free. Now I was waiting behind a runner to finish and losing time. It shouldn’t have mattered due to my non-race agenda but it bothered me that I was making small mistakes again and mistakes cost time. I need a chalk board to write “I will learn from this” multiple times over as punishment and by Tahoe, I will be a pro.
Once the cooler was free, I poured in a new powder packet of CLIF and refilled the other one with water. A glance at the time read 1h 07. If that was to be an honest pace for the day (as was the plan), I was looking at a 5:35 finish time. Probably a better conservative time than trying to go sub-5 without calling it a race.
I climbed up the long open trail again recalling my first mile split in the mid-9’s. I repeated this pace again and then realized I needed to focus more on my glucose numbers than my Garmin numbers. Why I didn’t mix both water bottles with CLIF was lost on me with my BG at 82 but I stopped to correct that at the top of the hill.
Like a scene out of Breaking Bad, I was in the middle of nowhere trying my best to pour a container of powder into a small water bottle hole and making a real mess of it! With the majority of it making it into the bottle, I sealed the cap, brushed the excess powder off my hands and marched on up the trail.
In the valley of the trail this time around was a lost and bewildered runner coming towards me shouting “where is the start?” To begin with, I had no idea what race he was trying to be in. I soon figured he must have made a wrong turn and come back the wrong way along the 5K route to a T-section which is where I met him. After suggesting his best bet was to follow me and run three miles back to the start from where I was, he decided to seek a second opinion from a nearby hiker instead.
As I had been assisting, a runner I had been running behind and catching for the last mile decided to take no part in the puzzle of how, where or why the lost runner had got himself into this pickle. She had shot off up the hill and away from me again! Once I was back up the ridge line, I had managed to catch her again not impressed with her lack of desire to help and now with the last mile and a half down to the start/finish over a nice grade, I opened my legs up and pushed on ahead.
As I approached the wooden bridge, this was now my landmark to get water bottles ready and go straight to the cooler. I was excited to see Tiffany at the finish and learn how her 20K race had gone. She came over to me as I filled my water and was not too happy to have finished second. It was tough because I was having a grand old-time of it, enjoying the course, running conservatively and all of that good stuff and she had just finished a hard-fought race and had this raw emotion of defeat. But as I left the aid station, I thought about it and realized how much competitiveness she has inside. I kind of liked that she was mad. I was happy she wanted more and not content with how she did. Maybe because it showed me, she always wants better, always trying to improve. We are very similar in some ways and that is a probably an attractive personality trait we both give each other.
On the third and final loop (in normal direction), I had a guy in a white shirt on the hunt for me. We had been going back and forth since loop two and now I was hearing loud rustling along the trail close behind me, I was surprised he was back again but decided to keep moving forward without reacting to it. With the downhill back to the lake over the next climb, I pulled away once more and ran the rest of the third loop solo.
Going up and around the ridge of the lake, a runner in blue came bombing towards me. I waited for the next runner, probably Dan from November Project (the neon runner) bringing chase but no one came. Wow, I thought, he is on loop 4 and has a huge gap. Impressive.
At 30K in the bag, I was back for more liquids. Brian (the guy in white) was calling it quits which really surprised and disappointed me. The yo-yo game we had been playing for a few hours was officially over. The RD approached me and said something about ‘done’. Given my bemused look, Tiffany interrupted and explained what he was asking. “No! I am not done, give me more!” I responded. With 20K left, my mind was nowhere near done and I had to verbally say it with meaning before my body could even process that bad idea.
Loop 4 was the start of reversing the course. The concept was quirky enough let alone the results of it; some runners ran the big loop first but once at the option to go reverse, went the normal loop direction, some ignored the rule completely and kept running the same way and then their were others (me) that took the rule literally and ran the whole 10K loop in reverse.
It was easy enough to navigate the red flags and when I saw the back of a whiteboard, I knew that made sense too. Whether I was right or wrong for doing it this way (let’s say I was right), the race as such was now just a bunch of time trialists’ going all sorts of directions in Kettletown.
When the top five guys all came at me in the opposite direction, I realized I was the one isolated and doing it differently so at the last start/finish to refill my water one last time, I discussed with the RD’s the Wacky Race situation out there and decided I wanted to go back to the normal direction.
First off, everyone who didn’t change direction had an advantage of course knowledge. When you run a 10K loop three (or four times) in a row, it’s pretty fair to say you get to know the course well. My loop 4 felt like a whole new course. And secondly, if I was as close as I thought I was to them, I had better go the same way. Yes, I wasn’t here to race but if they were tiring and my pace was staying moderate throughout, I wanted to know about it both physically and visually by perhaps climbing a place or two on the board.
I checked my glucose and was happy to see it perfectly in the right zone. Now doing the shorter loop of two miles again first, the leader sped by me. That meant he had almost two miles on me. But another guy was in my grasp. We had passed along the single track minutes earlier on the end of my loop four and now I could see him ahead and not looking too hot.
He said his hip flexor was shot and refused and water or S-caps I had to offer him. I returned to the lake with a marathon in my legs and still felt good. Tiffany exclaimed “You are not racing are you?” to which I replied “No, it’s not my fault people are getting tired!” with a cheeky smirk. “Then how are you catching them?!”. That was the first time I knew my proximity to the leaders was for sure closing. Now that I could sniff blood, it was hard not to push a bit harder, see who was around the next bend. This is obviously a huge pitiful of using a race as training miles.
I crossed the wooden bridge and saw what Tiffany was talking about. Another runner appeared who I had not seen for a long time and one I would not have got by continuing to go in the reverse loop. Down went third place without any fight either and now just like that, I had a podium spot.
Knowing the leaders large gap, the only mystery that remained was where was second place? I knew who it was now. They guy in blue that had been going different directions on the loop all day long. Talk about everyone going different directions, this guy just made up his own rules from the get go! But regardless of everyone’s direction, the distance would be of course be 50K for all. And I also knew one more thing, he would be coming towards me on this final four mile loop stretch.
I knew exactly how to gauge the gap. If I hit two miles to go before seeing him, it was advantage me, if I saw him first, advantage him. Did he know this? Maybe, maybe not. I pushed the next mile hard, up and down the craggy rocks and over the ankle-deep stream one last time, through the over grown trees and up high overlooking the lake. The course was second nature to me now. The watch beeped mile 28 and there was no sign of him.
Within ten seconds though he appeared. We exchanged nods and went our opposite directions. It was a 2 mile time trial to the finish. Game on. I climbed the ridge line harder than I had all day now and ran down the other side even harder knowing my route back to the river was slightly easier to traverse than his. I had snuck on the racing cap for better or worse most definitely now.
Coming out onto the path where the loop meets, I knew if I saw him, I could still push harder but I arrived to nobody, not a sound. I stopped to listen, I would have heard a pin drop. I scrambled the rocks by the river one last time, managing to run off trail one more time (I never did learn the best route here!). Without anyone around, I was fairly confident I had clawed my way up to second.
I crossed the invisible finish line in 5:37, climbing a surprising 5,000 feet of up over the distance and being confirmed as suspected as 2nd overall by the RD’s. I saw Dan Berteletti (the winner) sitting on the grass at the lake and congratulated him. I received my wooden medal and a buff. No fan fare, no fuss. I enjoyed how low-key it was and the guys who had put on the show for us or was it us for them? Probably a mix of both I guess, it was an exciting and close finish for a 50K.
The best part of the race though was that my legs felt great and my glucose levels were equally cooperating. Pushing the last loop was definitely not the game plan and the dangers of pushing hard in small tune up race scenarios need to be cut out to avoid burn out. The bigger picture has to be Tahoe and every training run and even ever race needs to focus on just that. I will grow as a runner if I can manage my competitive nature. Just as I know now to let the guy fly by me on a Tuesday night in the park, I now need to let the guy in a C-race do the same. If I can’t do that, I need to stay away and run 31 miles away from a race environment. This is a skill I am clearly yet to master. For now, one ultra down, many more to go for 2014 and a new state on my list is complete.
Lotteries are a fairly simple concept. You buy a ticket, hope to see your numbers and win or in most cases, actually lose. But some lotteries are easier than others. My life experiences tell me I’m much better at running related lotteries than Mega Millions ($7 and counting). You could argue that winning a lottery to get to run a race further than most people choose to drive their cars should not be classified as winning per se, but in my world of adventure and fascination with pushing the body well beyond the comfort zone, I beg to differ.
I try to go about every day of my life, remembering it is no rehearsal. You have to grab every opportunity by the horns and if that means doing some crazy stuff along the way then even better. Here is my story of how I chose my 2014 A race as well as the rest of my race calendar.
When last December rolled around, it meant I had two important tasks to take care of. Buy Christmas presents and enter lotteries for popular ultra races. After my 100% lottery success rate at Western States (1 from 1), I got greedy and bought my ticket again with dreams of the Grand Slam in mind (Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch in the span of 3 months). I also insanely threw my name in the toughest 100 in the world; Hardrock (any excuse to go back to Telluride) but both entries were denied on the same day.
I found out later, I actually made the wait list for Hardrock, listed with 50 by my name. I wasn’t entirely sure if that meant what I thought it did. I ended up asking someone who knows a thing or two about ultras, Anton Krupicka, of all people at his NYC film event; In The High Country, a couple of days later. His smirk told me enough before his response even came out. As I expected, all 35 in my “never” category (first timers) would have to drop out and 15 of the 49 wait listed ahead of me, just to get a bib! Now I understand why they call this category never. It was time to move on.
Climb the Empire State Building? Sure, why not. This wasn’t my alternative for missing out on two huge ultras but it would be such a cool thing to do (read insane) it appealed to me! I entered the lottery ticket, didn’t dare tell Brian at the Run Smart Project (who is helping me with my Boston training) and waited….Result; “Thank you but….” Third strike! Next.
OK focus. Back to the big races with mountains and lakes, no more indoor quirky challenges to distract me. This was now it. I had most definitely saved the biggest lotteries for last; the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), arguably the hardest mountain 100 mile race in the world traversing Italy, Switzerland and France around the famed European peak and out of nowhere almost, a brand new race that drew me in as soon as I heard the name “Tahoe 200.” The race was instantly appealing for the unfathomable distance, location and the fact that it was an inaugural race.
After three outs, of course, the lottery gods woke up and I received entry into both races. With the races scheduled just 5 days apart, over 5,000 air miles not to mention a 10 hour time difference, the sane part of my brain said I had to choose just one. Would it be around a mountain or around a lake?
My brain was spinning. This led to numerous discussions with Tiffany, family and friends to get a sense of how to decide on this tough but ultimately very good ultra runner problem to have. As much as it frustrated me that I was about to let one of these two races go, I realized that many other runners from these lotteries and others did not have the same choice.
Saying that, it didn’t make my decision any easier. Over a week had passed and I had still not made my decision. UTMB or Tahoe 200? Alps or California? 100 or 200? Sometimes, it just seemed ‘easier’ to just do both. Could I physically do both? Probably. Would I hate every second of Tahoe though? Probably.
Just before I was about to put pen to paper and play the pros and cons game, Tiffany said “Choose whatever makes you happiest.” She was onto something. I went back to the moment in time I knew I was selected in both races. For Tahoe, I followed Twitter on a Sunday afternoon as names were tweeted in threes and fours every few minutes. 85 ‘lucky’ runners were drawn from a pool of almost 200 applicants. Giving up hope, my name was drawn dead last! But I was in and I was overjoyed to be in.
Three days later, I woke up to go to work and saw I was tagged in a Facebook post at 4am. I knew what it meant. I had just been selected for UTMB. Due to getting into Tahoe, my initial reaction was anything but joy. I had already started planning Tahoe. Tahoe is so unique. The inaugural 200 mile race. The appeal of it at present is just stronger than UTMB right now. Perhaps because UTMB is not inaugural, perhaps because I want a different challenge than 100 miles, perhaps because I might be able to compete at Tahoe. I think it’s all of the above. I’m lucky that I will get to share this journey with another two of my NYC ultra friends; Lucy Ledezma and Otto Lam and have my crew from Tiffany, Team Novo Nordisk and my family to help me achieve my biggest race yet. The adventure awaits.
“The first ever 200 mile single loop mountain race in the United States, the Tahoe 200 circumnavigates the sparkling, clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail. The route occasionally detours off the TRT to explore aspen meadows, rock gardens of giants, small impossibly blue lakes, thick canopied forests, and long ridge lines with stunning views. The course is nothing less than magical.” – Candice Burt, RD, Tahoe200
Now the decision has been made, UTMB is far from forgotten. I will apply again and get to do it one day. For this year, every race builds towards early September and the Tahoe 200. The first goal race begins at a very special Boston Marathon. I’m tired of having a PR from 2011. Enough said. Then the Cayuga Trails 50 upstate New York which doubles as the USATF 50 Mile Championship and then Vermont 100, my third 100 ever and hopefully another great race. There are still lots of other races to add including what happens after Tahoe (I’m serious by the way). I’m going to knuckle down and find some more trail marathons, 50’s and maybe another 100K or two. 200 miles isn’t going to run itself.
February 15th: Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler
March 15th: Rock N Roll USA Half Marathon, Washington DC
April 21st: Boston Marathon
June 1: Cayuga Trails 50 (USATF 50 Mile Championship)
July 19th-20th: Vermont 100
September 4th-8th: Lake Tahoe 200
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
What weeks ago seemed impossible, was now on the table. A return to the Summer retreat island of Martha’s Vineyard for a great Boston tune-up race of 20 miles.
My Jack Daniel’s training plan called for 15 miles at marathon pace (6:15) with some easy miles thrown in either side. I adapted this plan for the race and decided I would start out easy and then knuckle down to marathon pace. Well, that was the pre-plan at least.
The weather was not ideal but hey, this was Massachusetts in February; mid-20’s with a north wind and a forecast of rain and snow. I was careful how much insulin to take with my breakfast. My aim was to be anywhere around 180 pre-race.
I spent much of the ferry ride monitoring my blood glucose rather than the view outside. We arrived on the island to a pleasant view of light sky with only a few clouds, no rain or snow in sight. Was the forecast wrong? The optimist in me said yes! I chose shorts, long sleeves, no hat or gloves. After all, I was going to go pretty hard at this. If I was cold, I could always go faster!
I did a final pre-race blood test; 198. This was a great reading for me. I was happy to be starting at this point. I stuffed my shorts pockets with 4 energy gels, the plan of taking one at 5, 10 and 15 miles (a spare as back-up as I knew Gatorade was scarce on the course from last year when I had to snag one of Rui’s gels to keep me going). 400 or so of us ‘toed the line’ outside the ferry terminal in the north town of Vineyard Haven. Lots dressed in Boston marathon attire making the statement that this run was part of the bigger picture for 8 weeks time.
I was itching to go. I had missed this although it had only been a couple of months since my last race in California. I knew the smart race plan was to run my own race but I quickly found a small group of runners to run with at the front. There were two leaders way ahead, and then us. We crossed a bridge into the township of Oak Bluffs and got read the 1 mile split by a volunteer. It felt like I was back in school getting yelled my splits round the track by my coach. “6:34”. OK, that wasn’t easy pace. Pre-plan ruined! We maintained this for the next two miles. I could taste the opportunity for a high placing and I didn’t want to slip back and run solo. I knew by mile 5 I was going to press anyway so I stayed in the group working as one.
I shielded myself from the wind with two runners ahead of me. We headed south along the Nantucket Sound with the wind now behind us. The pace definitely picked up. I fell off the back and considered letting them go. The only problem, I was now running in no mans land with no defense from the wind. I made a bold but ultimately correct decision to surge and jump back on the group. It didn’t feel good but as soon as I closed the divide, the pace felt OK again. The mile split was however 6:04. We now had some guys pushing the pace. Time for a gel, earlier than planned.
We sped south for a long section of miles with the wind behind us. The pace calmed slightly to my M pace of 6:15 so at least I was finally back on track with my pre-race plan! We had some heavy breathing going on. The good news, not mine. This was now quickly becoming a very obvious race for third place. The front two were half a mile ahead. Our pack of seven pushed trying to eliminate the weak ones. It reminded me of reading Tyler Hamilton’s book ‘The Secret Race’ describe training rides with Lance Armstrong. Lance would push, Tyler would respond as if to say “still here”. I was one of the runners saying “still here” over and over again.
At mile 9 we had stretched the pack thin. I was now in a group of four working even harder and now catching the lone runner ahead in 2nd. My mind raced way ahead, thinking not only a top 3 spot was possible but second place was also up for grabs.
We ran the bike lane route but occasionally had to jump on the road to avoid sections of snow that weren’t cleared in time for the race (the after effects of the Nemo storm). At ten miles I clocked 1:02 and change. Fast, really fast but I couldn’t back off now. I turned the corner to head west and for the first time, found myself with a gap on the other three.
I decided to go and I went hard to make them work extra hard to catch me. I was clear in third place with the 2nd place guy ahead still fading. It didn’t last. It was an aggressive move with almost half the race to go. I had two guys back on my heels in no time and quickly slowed so I wasn’t the lead man. Then, from almost nowhere came the change in conditions. Rain and snow fell and fell fast. I hoped I was the only person who enjoyed bad conditions.
It appeared not. The other guys seemed unconcerned with the conditions. We worked in unison to finally reign in number two whose biomechanics were getting worse and worse.
We caught him at 13. To my shock though, he wouldn’t let us go. He stuck their breathing hard and working harder to not let us go. I was a mixture of impressed and frustrated by him! Damn. Seriously, let us go! Now I was playing the role of Lance and this guy was Tyler hanging onto my wheel. He was tough.
We ran rolling hills as a four. 2nd place through 5th. Still clipping off 6:05’s and giving it everything. I had no idea how I was going to maintain this for seven final miles but I was also confident everyone else felt the same way; red lining it home. We were effectively fighting for two podium spots from four. My plan was simple. If one person makes the move, I go too. I could not afford to give a lead to anyone now. This happened a couple of times and I stomped out the move immediately.
We turned a corner at 14. No sign of first place, he had the race to lose now, not for us to win. (We actually heard from a volunteer he was 4:05 ahead). The heavy breather was no longer in my ear. I never looked round to see where he was. I just knew he had finally given up the “still here” game.
Then a guy in red made his move. It was big. I tried to go but he went with conviction. A well planned 10K to go move and just like that he had 100 yards on me. During my desperate fight to keep him close I had unintentionally become the solo third place runner. Great, except I was dying. My pace was good but my body was really questioning why I was putting it through this pain again now.
I closed my eyes several times from here on in. 1) it feels good when you’re dying. 2) no one could see my pain now. The gap ahead of me was now double. The aid station ahead was going nuts for us. I had three miles to hang onto third. A goal I knew I would be satisfied with. I had accepted that 2nd place was too strong for me. This was hell but if I could hang on, it would be heaven in 18 minutes. A car passed honking. And then…honk again.
I denied it. A second car rolled past. Honk (for me) and then honk (not for me). Who was right behind me? Was it the guy who was in second for so long with failing biomechanics or the guy I had run with side by side for ten miles? It didn’t matter and I didn’t turn to show my card of fear to find out. All I could do was work. I thought of my uncle (a year to the day he passed a way from cancer), my Dad, undergoing cancer treatment at present, my Team Novo Nordisk teammates. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I always do this when I’m in the severe pain part of the race. The pain of failure, far worse than some temporary pain.
One last sharp turn left to begin the last two miles. My Brooks ID friend Michael Robertson’s wife had mentioned the hills at mile 18 before the race in conversation. I actually had no recollection of then from the previous year.
But here they were. The first, a gradual climb over half a mile. Still in third. I tapped my Garmin at the mile marker expecting to see something horribly slow; 5:56. It felt sluggish but I was doing everything right to keep third place.
Then came the second climb with a few descents in there too. One mile to go. But now I heard footsteps. And just like that he rolled passed with ease. I acknowledged his effort with a “good job” and he replied “we’ll see” but it honestly sounded modest at best to me. It was in fact a runner I had not seen since about mile 6 and he took off.
My pace deteriorated. I was mentally broken at this moment. All I could think of was Steve Prefontaine’s quote “The worst place you can finish!” referring to his infamous 4th place finish at the 1972 Olympics 5000m final.
I didn’t know if others were gaining. It certainly felt like it at that moment in time. I could actually see third and second ahead of me in the final mile but had nothing in the tank to do anything about it. I imagined this scenario that third would catch second and deflate his bubble too. I used this ridiculous theory to push myself on. If I could stay in range, who was to say I couldn’t steal back third at the bitter end?
But nothing changed. Stalemate. I crossed the road and headed diagonally down the home stretch, for the first time daring to glance back to see who was behind. No one. And for the first time in two hours, my whole body relaxed.
I ran into the finish strong. 2:04 and change. 30 seconds behind third. I slumped over, hands on knees and stayed there for a while. I mumbled some disappointment to Tiffany. She got it. Didn’t have to say anything. She knew I was not thrilled to miss third.
At this point, I then realized how soaked my shirt was and my hands were frozen from the conditions. I staggered into the school gym to get warm and congratulate the other runners. It was after all, a great race. I’m proud to be able to compete with the front guys in races these days, rather than just chase the clock. However, I know my place in Boston. Way back there, chasing the clock!
When my hands got some blood back in them, I did a test; 171. Higher than I would have liked but better to be a bit higher than lower in the situation. I ended up popping gels at 4, 8, 12 and 16 due to the higher pace but in hindsight, I was good with gels after mile 12.
The preliminary results showed my pace at 6:14. Putting the 4th place blues soon behind me, I was happy to see this and realize what I had achieved. Weeks ago, I was hobbling around London with ITB pain and now I’m back, on the cusp of something great in the Boston Marathon on April 15th.
January has been a slow month, quite literally. The first week began with a few stiff miles. I hate the word jogging but I probably was…jogging. Some ITB pain I first felt in my right knee back in mid-December was just not going away. Luckily I had some nice places to run to kick off the New Year; Big Ben, Stonehenge and my old stomping ground of the North Downs in Surrey. But all in all I wasn’t happy. My mileage was down (about 15 miles total up to January 12th), my ITB hurt and quality Boston training weeks were now being missed.
Just like being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes; I had a choice to make. I could keep sulking about it or get healthy. My Trigger Point Performance Therapy foam roller and The Stick became my best friends!
A combination of self-therapy, rest days and very very slow running of very short distances were the turning point. Rest is such an important component of training. Clearly, I didn’t respect it post California International Marathon and my first attempt of starting Boston training. I only took a 10 day break (running with Scott Jurek on day 5 of my break doesn’t count because it’s Scott Jurek; true story!).
When Saturday January 19th rolled around, I should have been doing what 99% of other Boston runners were doing; running long. But I wasn’t ready. I played it smart (you decide) and took the weight off my feet. I dusted off the cob webs from a bike disguised as a clothes dryer and cycled up to Nyack from NYC and back with Rui and Mike which totaled about 60 miles. Zero knee pain, great endurance workout (even I did suck climbing hills). Perfect.
On Sunday, my goal was to attempt my first double digits run (10 miles). But then you bump into Chris Solarz on the bridle path of Central Park and your plan goes out the window. The plan goes even better. We caught up on life and knocked out 12 miles without even thinking about it. Goal, most definitely accomplished (plus 2 miles).
From there on, it’s been steady running all the way. Nothing fancy. 55 miles for the week. And although I was not doing any speed work or hitting high mileage, my knee pain faded and my confidence soared.
On Tuesday, I met up with my Boston training partner, Gary Berard to tackle our first speed workout for Boston (yes, 11 weeks out and we were going for our first speed workout!) Luckily we both have miles in our legs from 2012 and should still be able to achieve decent results come April 15th. We ran our workout that included 7x 1 mile repeats at a good pace. We followed the workout and executed it perfectly. I logged the workout into my new companion; Training Peaks and analysed it. Heart rate too high for pace but now I’m just getting picky. I am grateful just to be running right now!
On now to February. It’s a complete understatement to say I’m excited. More miles, more speed and I’ve even added some more races to my calendar. A couple of 20-milers; Martha’s Vineyard and NJ Trail Series Frozen Febapple on the trails. I’m happy that I’m talking numbers again regarding running rather than letters (such as ITB) explaining why I’m not.
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.
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).
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.
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 19th: Pocono Marathon, PA (tbd)
June 29th: Western States 100, Squaw Valley-Auburn, CA
July 20th: 20in24 Relay, Philadelphia, PA
September 28th: UROC 100K, Vail CO (tbd)
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.
Last Tuesday, I had heard rumors amongst the group of going to Yonkers Marathon to do our 22 mile easy run (training for the Chicago Marathon on October 7th). I dismissed this as a crazy idea. Why would we want to train on one of the toughest marathon courses and tack on an extra 4.2 miles? I slept on it and by Wednesday I had signed up, completely sold on the idea!
Yonkers is one of the last qualifying races to gain entry into the following year’s Boston Marathon. I entered Boston last week and immediately shared the news with my good friend, Gary Berard. We trained together for Boston in 2011; four months of solid work that resulted in a PR for both us. I hit 2:56, Gary an amazing 2:45.
He was keen to sign up. The only problem was his last competitive marathon was that race. It fell outside of the qualifying window. He has not been training for a while now due to his coaching business, GB Running. Somehow, I sold him on running Yonkers in three days time, saying I would run alongside him. I did however forget to mention it was a hilly course. He would need a 3:10 to get into Boston. We calculated the pace at 7:11’s/per mile. My easy 22 miler had quickly become a little longer and faster! It didn’t matter, he wanted a BQ and I wanted him to train with so it was on.
On Saturday Gary still hadn’t actually signed up and l kept receiving texts that his neck was hurting him. This wasn’t going to plan. So I texted him back “See you at Grand Central at 6am.”
Sunday 6am. Gary was there. He had time to recalculate the pace. It was actually 7:14 per mile. “Every second counts!” he said. A group of about eight of us boarded the train and ate breakfast during the thirty minute commute. My glucose was 200 so I was right on my pre-race goal.
By mile three, me and Gary got a thud in our backs. Pesky half-marathon kid trying to squeeze through the middle of us. In fact, it wasn’t, it was Rui. He was adamant on running his own pace of 7:25 so we didn’t expect to see him. He liked our pace so made the group into a three. The more the merrier.
We cruised north on rolling terrain into Hastings-on-Hudson. This was where the big hill started. We turned right and as expected begun to climb. I knew from the elevation chart that the climb was about a mile and a half long. Our pace here was off but it really didn’t matter. What goes up must come down meaning we would get the time back. It was also early days in the race.
At the bottom of the hill, there was a 10K checkpoint followed by a long straightaway with lots of young volunteers manning the upcoming water station. They were going wild and really enjoying helping out. If you took their cup of water or Gatorade they would be ecstatic! Maybe the excitement got to us too. I checked the Garmin and saw 6:40 lap pace. I pulled the reins in on that real quick. Gary said thank you (for noticing) but I should have said sorry for not noticing.
The pace remained steady after that small burst as we ran south back towards Yonkers. I felt good with my glucose. I had taken a handful of small cups of Gatorade up to this point and decided at mile ten to take a Honey Stinger gel. By mile 11 and 12, we had lots of high school and military half-marathoners blazing past us. We had to remain focused and not get sucked into a different pace. One asked us if we were doing the half marathon. I’m pretty sure he was disappointed we weren’t as he thought he had just jumped three places!
We ran downhill into the town centre and did a u-turn to go on loop number two. We clocked 13.1 on the timing mat at 01:34:40, goal pace was 01:35:00. We were in good shape. We also now knew exactly what to expect for the rest of the course. We were basically Yonkers runners from now on!
The one aspect of the course we couldn’t control however was the heat. It was nearing 10am and it was getting hot. A high of 73 was the forecast but this felt hotter already. I made a conscious effort to say “do not underestimate the heat and drink at every aid station from now on”. I was now grabbing two or three drinks at each aid station. I would give at least one of these to Gary. We didn’t want dehydration to be the reason he didn’t BQ.
The road ahead was now clear. All of the half-marathoners were out of sight and it felt like a training run. We had done this countless times together. Just a small group running side by side at X pace over X miles. In our current situation, we had 12 miles to go at 7:14 pace. I felt fine and I know Rui did too. As we should, we have both been training hard for Chicago but Gary was the concern. This was important to him. His training had been limited to training his clients at their pace for months. He looked OK but I didn’t dare ask him. I mean, what would I have done if he said no!
We saw a police bike in the distance and soon realized it was escorting the leader. I was confused though as I saw Mike Arnstein at the start line and he is a 2:28 marathoner. How on earth were we gaining on the leader at mile 16? Well, if we were all women, we were! It was the lead woman and she was well clear of her competitors. We passed her up the Hastings-on-Hudson climb and wished her well.
Rui went for a pit stop before the steep descent at mile 19 so we went to a two. I popped my second gel here knowing the downhill motion would help me digest it easily. As we had done on the last loop, we let our bodies fly down this hill at a much faster pace than necessary with the theory that braking to stay ‘on pace’ actually wasted more energy. We were also taking the most direct route through S-bends, and tight turns using all the marathon tricks in the book to not do more work than was necessary.
We were heading south again passed an industrial area with no trees, leaving little asphalt unshaded. Their was nothing we could do but stay on pace and blank that out. We were finding we had a headwind so I took the lead and let Gary run a few yards back. Tour de France moves on two feet! We passed a handful of marathoners who were now in trouble but for the most part, it was just us and the road clocking off miles.
By mile 22 I had expected to see Rui come back to us. I had to assume he had shut it done and would ease in for the last 4.2 miles conserving his effort for Chicago as was always the plan. I never let my head think I was going to stop at 22 and wish Gary the best. I had convinced him this was a good idea and our pace was good but too close for any mistakes to happen.
Gary had earlier in the race said with three miles to go, he wanted to blaze home. I said sure, why not? But we realized two things at mile 23; 1) He didn’t need too. Our pace was steady and on for a 3:08. 2) Gary’s lack of training, should I say zero training for this was now taking its toll on him.
For the first time, he asked “Where’s the turn?” referring to a right turn at the most southern part of the course. I heard this as “I’m tired now”. I checked lap pace on the watch; 7:10….7:14….7:20. For the first time I changed my tone and demanded he stayed on my shoulder. He dug deep, really deep to not have a space between us. That mile ended up being 7:20 but I knew we could afford to give back a few seconds so I didn’t sweat it (too much).
The turn came as did some partial shade. Before we knew it, their was a cop car at the end of the road which meant the next turn back north. This turn would be the most positive one yet, a long straight downhill where we again let the weight of our bodies do the work for us. I called out 1.5 to go. Then 1 to go. Gary said “Is that 1 mile or 1.2?” He had called me out!! I confessed I wasn’t really worried about the 0.2 part. Funny how he was though! We switched to shouting out actual mileage to go using my GPS as the guide.
I called out half a mile. Some small crowds started to emerge in the town, it was a rare but welcome site. You may be surprised to hear that no one really watches the second oldest marathon in the world! They don’t even close down the traffic for it!
After three obsessed hours staring at my lap pace on the watch, I had completely neglected the actual clock time! I did some quick math and told Gary he had to run a half mile in 5 minutes. It was in the bag. Then we got to a large coned section. My watch already said 26.2 miles was up so to see the 26 mile marker ahead was slightly alarming.
I literally sprinted ahead of Gary and left a big gap between us. What was I doing? How was this helping Gary get his BQ!! I let him come back to me but tried to maintain the pace around the last few turns. “You’ve got 100 seconds left”….”You’ve got 80 seconds left” and then “This is the last turn”.
And thank God it was. We turned left on the boardwalk and straight away, there was the finish line. I relaxed, let Gary bomb past and he finished in 3:09:00. I tucked in right behind. He did it. We did it. Great teamwork.
Rui came in right behind us at 3:10. He had been trying to catch up since we left him on the top hill. He was instrumental to Gary achieving his BQ to, running alongside for 17 miles or so.
We all enjoyed the moment. A great achievement on that course with zero training. A good day’s work, I was proud of Gary. We walked to a shaded area of the course to cheer home the rest of our teammates. After a few minutes had passed, Gary asked me “How are your levels?” I was so caught up in the race, I had forgotten to do a post-run blood test asap. Gary was already repaying me for my effort by thinking like a diabetic! I went to bag check, pulled out my blood tester and pricked my finger to draw the small sample of blood. Five second countdown on the meter and 179. More good news! All of this before midday on a Sunday. Now time for a well-earned lunch with my great running friends.