Tag Archive for 50K

Consistent Loopiness at the USATF 50K Road Championships

50K

A big draw to the Caumsett 50K is the fact the race doubles as the USATF 50KM Road Championships.

My first race of the year would be an ultra. That’s largely due to deciding to pass on focusing on the Boston Marathon as I have done the past four years. I guess I’m just not a streaker anymore! (Runner slang for consecutive days running or repeat racing, not the other type of running with no clothes on). With the ‘freedom’ of no marathon to train for, I knew the calendar of winter race options was my oyster. Talking of oysters, I ended up turning my attention to a local race, not so far from Oyster Bay. A road 50K in Caumsett State Park (which doubles as the far more glamorous title of the USATF 50K Road Championships race) was my choice. It’s a race that’s been on my radar for a few years and now seemed the right time to give it a go.

I begun training at the start of December which felt odd to me starting my 2015 campaign in 2014. I’ve never trained through the Holiday season and I knew that would be a tough phase to get through without losing focus. I was slightly lost how to go about training for a 50K road race with a firm emphasis on the word ‘road’. All of my previous 50K’s have been on trails, some gnarlier than others, but all without too much fixation on pace or goal time. I would have to hang my head if this wasn’t going to be a PR day.

RUN SMART PROJECT

A Scientific Approach To Becoming A Faster Runner

I knew this race could be almost run like a marathon, just slightly less gas to save the engine for another 5+ miles. But I just didn’t have any great knowledge of how to train for it. Luckily, my good friends at The Run Smart Project do and they customized a nice 3-month plan for me. Through the winter months, I found some excuses to not run every run prescribed, something I’ve never really had much trouble with before. Whether it was because training in December in NYC is hard (the park is dead), my travel schedule involved two trips to Europe (not complaining) or I just wanted to stay home and play with our new Weimaraner puppy, Miles, instead of facing the cold winter nights I’m not sure. But most of the time I did layer up and train and put in good, not great speed workouts.

Pre-Juno

Full on training mode in Central Park while the rest of the city hunkered down pre-winter storm Juno.

The training plan gives a predicted goal time (if you follow it precisely) and mine for March 1st read 3:22 goal time. I knew my fitness level was not there (it would have meant a marathon PR en route FYI) so I played a more cautious approach of aiming for a window between 3:30-40 which was in the 7-min pace range. I was hopeful but not convinced that was where I was, which I shared with my friend Ken Posner pre-race. I was however convinced that my 4:33 50K PR was about to be taken down though!

Ten 5K loops awaited me on a course I knew little about. I had chatted with Ian Torrence and Emily Harrison about this race a year ago and they said it was “definitely not flat”. I didn’t know exactly how to interpret that but was about to find out.

I asked around for information about what drinks were on the course but couldn’t seem to find a consistent answer. Bremen told me he thought it was Hammer which is low on sugar compared to other brands and therefore low on my list (sorry Hammer). I jammed four Honey Stinger gels into my gloves and tights and had more in my bag if I really needed to come back and reload. I had made a rookie diabetes mistake of trying to calibrate a new sensor for my CGM in the morning but the calibration hadn’t finished in time so carrying it was now worthless. The plus side of this mini disaster was that I had room for some more gels! The glass is always half full as a diabetic athlete : )

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8:30am on a cold day. Nothing better to do than start running! Photo credit: GLIRC

We took off in the bitter cold and I found myself letting a large number of male elites bomb ahead as I settled into a sub-7 pace alongside the returning female champ and course record holder, Emily Harrison. She had run a 3:17 last year so I quickly decided to ease up some more and try to relax into an honest pace.

The first mile was flat and then a long downhill, mile two, uphill and some rollers and the last mile went past the finish chute on and out and back lollipop loop which unfortunately involved lots of ice sections and cold puddles. I have nothing wrong with getting dirty but wasn’t this a national championship road race? This section was definitely the biggest challenge and hard to maintain a good pace.

By now, I had figured out that Gatorade was the electrolyte drink of choice on the course every 1.55 mile or so. With this really great news, I was able to quickly recalculate how and when to consume my carbs. Being that the type of race was not dissimilar to a marathon (where I don’t check my CGM often), I opted for my ‘every even mile’ carb intake approach.

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Fully focused on pace and monitoring my body. Photo credit: GLIRC

I ran lap 1 in sub-21 and felt that was probably slightly aggressive. The elites remained a bunch of five slowly stretching the gap on me (and others), Emily and Phil McCarthy ran separately ahead of me and I sat solo with a bunch of ten guys in hot pursuit to my rear.

I’m not sure how to ‘jazz up’ 10 x 5K loops but it was surprisingly far from boring. This is coming from the ‘I don’t do loop races’ guy. The repetitiveness of loops made the race a mathematical game for me. Lap after lap I was running consistent sub-21’s (I did not slow down after all) so I could predict the clock time down to a few seconds. As I passed by a really inspiring buddy of mine, Ken Tom, he said to me I made it look easy but I joked back “wait until lap 8”. But lap 8 eventually came and my pace did not waver. I am not trying to downplay the race or the distance. An ultra is hard, heck marathons are hard, running is hard. But today I locked in a pace and maintained it really well. I think I have to thank the monotony of loops for that.

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On the hunt in the second half of the race. Photo credit: GLIRC

Once I had finally caught and passed Phil McCarthy at the halfway mark, I knew I had to keep pushing on and swallow some more runners up if I was going to make an indent on the Top 10 USATF results board. I never actually knew my place but knew I was likely on the outside looking in. But to keep me in check of how this was all going, I got then got lapped by eventual winner Zachary Ornelas (Sketchers) before I could complete lap 6. I ate humble pie big time! He was flying.

Due to the course, especially the last section, it was obvious to see which guys ahead were my targets. All of my focus was on closing that gap. The only other thing I had to think about timing my next Gatorade or Honey Stinger.

Lap seven went by, same gap. Lap eight completed, same gap. Lap nine, same gap. Whatever my place, it seemed locked in. The two guys ahead were not slowing down. What was pretty cool about the second to last lap was running through the timed mat to collect an official marathon time. I saw my watch flip to 2:55 on the nose as I came by. Nothing spectacular but it made me smile as that was first ever sub-3 in NY state (I have a long-term goal of going sub-3 in 50 states). On the same lap, I did manage to un-lap myself from third place which did nothing for my overall place and then caught Emily Harrison which did nothing for my Top 10 USATF overall men place. But what it did do was show me, I was running strong while others were fading.

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Stop for nothing. I was locked in to consistent lap times and felt strong every time. Photo credit: GLIRC

On the final loop, I pushed and pushed just in case I could catch someone but my pace stayed at 6:35. My body was telling me this is it buddy, shouldn’t have skipped those workouts in December!The uphills now really beat my legs up (although they were gradual gradients or short rollers). I was going to sneak a peek at the finish clock before my final out and back section to see if I would make sub-3:30 but I already knew that goal was locked in so just ran, and ran hard through to the finish in a time of 3:27, a nice 66 minute PR!

Bremen, who ran the 25K (2nd place!), met me at the finish as snow was now coming down and I soon quickly realized how cold it had been out there. A giant blanket donated from him and some tomato soup was just the ticket I needed. I was content with my performance (almost as good as my post-race blood glucose!). I had to be. I got out of it what I put into it.

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Post-race friends hangout: Bremen, Ken Tom, Lucimar, Keila, Phil and Ken. A lot of cool war stories between this group! Photo credit: Keila Merino

At the awards, I had my fingers crossed that I had pulled off 10th USATF place but alas, I was short by two; 13th overall, 12th USATF with an average pace of 6:41. As the snowstorm continued, I hung out with my amazing ultra friends, grabbed some lunch and packed up shop before the storm got any worse. It was such a great race to be running with the likes of Keila, Zandy, Trishul and Ian Torrence and those mentioned earlier.  Running and friends. Oh, for the simple life.

A huge thank you to the Run Smart Project for my custom plan. I surprised myself with how well I ran but know I can still improve dramatically at this distance and surface. Top 10 next year? We will see.

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Consistent 5K splits. My marathon time was 2:55; first official sub-3 marathon for the state of NY!

Pearl Izumi Champions Team!

New year, new goals and luckily for me, new gear! I’m excited to announce that I have been selected to be a member of the ‘Pearl Izumi Champions Team’ for 2015.

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Ready for some adventures in these N1 and N2 beauties! #run365 #pearlizumirun

Pearl Izumi (originally a cycling brand) have been making great trail and road shoes for well over a decade from the brains and nohow at HQ in Louisville, Colorado.

More than 50 years ago in Tokyo, a father produced Japan’s first bicycle racing apparel for his son, a promising racer. Today, Pearl Izumi USA, Inc. has evolved into the world’s foremost line of technical-performing and quality manufactured sports apparel.

The name Pearl Izumi is derived from the gem “pearl” and an area of Japan known for its clear water “Izumi.” Literally translated, our name means, “fountain of pearls.” 

I love the simplicity of the shoe names; N1, N2 etc. The N stands for neutral and the number means the amount of cushioning or midsole thickness as PI likes to say. The higher the number, the thicker the shoe. But I also love all of the good stuff I’ve heard about Pearl Izumi as a company both from friends that work for the organization and elites that have had sponsorship deals with them over the last few years. Timmy Olson winning Western States 100 in some N1 trails didn’t hurt get the name out further, I’m sure.

I plan to be toeing the line in a pair of road N1’s for my 2015 debut race on March 1st; the USATF 50K championships in Long Island. I’ve just picked up two pairs of them for some hardy tempo workouts and a pair of N2’s for some easy miles and so far so good. Looking forward to picking up some trail shoes next and some apparel to boot. Lucky me indeed. It’s truly an honor to get this kind of opportunity as an amateur runner and I don’t take it lightly. Thank you Pearl Izumi!

A Test of Pacing, not Racing: Kettletown State Park, CT 50K

First Ultra of 2014 and a new state (CT) to conquer!

First Ultra of 2014 and a new state (CT) to conquer! Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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.

Kettletown Course Map

Kettletown Course Map. Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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.

And we're (all) off!

And we’re (all) off! Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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.

The bridge leading to the most technical section along the river. Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail

The bridge leading to the most technical section along the river. Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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.

Focused while doing my best to stay relaxed out on the trail.

Focused while doing my best to stay relaxed out on the trail. Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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.

On the hunt for second place with 4 miles left. Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail

On the hunt for second place with 4 miles left. Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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 medal design suited the style of race - low key, no fuss and original. Nice work T2T! Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail.

The medal design suited the style of race – low key, no fuss and original. Nice work T2T! Photo credit: Trail 2 Trail Series

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.

Post-race goofing in the lake with my favorite person. 2nd place for both Tiffany and myself. #firstlosers

Post-race goofing in the lake with my favorite person. 2nd place for both Tiffany and myself. #firstlosers

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.

Race Report: Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K

Laurel Highlands Ultra, Pennsylvania

It has only been 13 months since I crossed the divide from my comfort zone of 26.2 miles in big cities and thousands of spectators to the somewhat underground world of ultrarunning described as anything longer than a marathon. I had had now signed up for my second 50K race in 8 days (on the back of my North Face mud fest).

This happened partly because my closest running buddies and I wanted a glamping (glorious camping!) weekend away from NYC, but also because my training plan called for it! The Laurel Ultra, an hour south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a famous point-to-point 70.5 mile race. I had been prodded and asked a few times to do this. As much as I wanted to, I’m a strict runner when it comes to my training plan, so thank goodness for the cop out option of ‘just’ a 50K instead!

A nice hilly start!

I studied the elevation profile as usual. Three early hill climbs appealed to me as a good hard effort in preparation for Leadville but the remainder of the course seemed flat(ish) in comparison. The race topped out at 3,000 ft, nothing on Colorado’s Hope Pass of 12,600 ft to come but that’s not a road trip weekend away.

Ready for the start; me, Ila, Alisa, Fiddy & Beck

Rick Freeman (the race director, who kindly excepted our very late entries), got us underway alongside the 50K relay teams, most notably my favorite team, “Karaoke at the Monk”, running trails for the first time! I’m glad me or Keila never shared with them the website description of the course before they signed up;

“This is a very challenging course. Difficult footing is the norm, as steep grades, logs, rocks, steps, mud and other obstacles abound.”

At the start, some guys bombed it out of the gate. I was not up for such craziness, note my reaction in the photo (below).

Are they for real?!

 As we had three friends in the relay, I knew I would see at least two friendly faces at each transition area; mile 12 and 20. I took advantage of this situation from a diabetic perspective. I would do ‘during’ activity blood tests which was a rarity for me.

Entering aid station #1

So, at mile 12, I saw Steven and Sheila. I said “blood tester” and “chews” to them like they were my servants! (haha, sorry guys). Blood test=155. OK, but I was 225 at the start so I knew I was decreasing. I grabbed the Powerbar chews (think adult cola bottles!) from Sheila and ate them in 10 seconds flat. I asked where I stood as it was hard to gauge with the relay race also taking place. I was 5th. The one problem, the other 4 were 15-20 minutes ahead. This sounded like last week all over again but today my legs were already tired and my body was not cooperating to chase them down.

Running through huge rocks was lots of fun

I decided to relax (it does happen occasionally) and enjoy the rest of the race for what it was. Afterall, this is not the big event and I was happy with 5th. It would still be my second highest ultramarathon finish. From here as I was now on a section of switch backs and rolling terrain on single track (my favorite kind of trail). Their were many wooden bridges to cross and huge rock formations to squeeze between. Trail running sure is a blast!

Green, green trails!

Mile 20; same drill with my friends helping me out. Blood test=195, still happy with that. I try to be in the 150-200 zone when running. Any higher and my body feels heavy and tired due to too much sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia), minus 80 and I will start to get weak and tired (hypoglycemia). The goal, don’t feel tired due to diabetes alone but if it’s because I’m a running mad man, that’s OK! Hypoglycemia (commonly referred to as “hypo”) can be the same feeling marathoners get when they “hit the wall”. It’s basically your body running out of gas (glycogen stores). Being diabetic, my gas tank can just keeps going down at a faster rate putting me in danger of collapsing or worst scenario falling into a coma. That’s when consuming fast acting sugar (simple carbohydrates) comes into play and brings me back to a safe level 80+mg/dL.

At 3,000 ft up the view is pretty sick!

After hitting the summit of the course at 3,000 ft I took a few seconds to soak up the view (right). Why not? I reached the last aid stop at mile 26. Although not a relay transition area, I expected my friends to be there. I thought “Wow, I was so fast those last 6 miles I must have finally beaten them!” Wrong. They got lost and went straight to the finish! I was not relying on this however; for one I had the aid station, more importantly I was wearing my Salomon backpack/vest filled with enough candy to host a Halloween party. Such a comfortable piece of equipment allows me to never be in danger of having a hypo while running and not being able to get out of it, especially in the middle of nowhere.

After running through some rare open fields which was a ski resort with a stationary chairlift overhead (I thought I had run onto the set of ‘A Sound of Music’)and two more hills the end was finally close with a very friendly sign saying “50K FINISH, TURN LEFT”. I felt so bad for the hardcore guys I was passing doing the real deal 70.5 race. They had 40 more miles to go. Thank goodness for the 50K option I thought once more, I was done.

That’s how a result board should look! Labels stuck on a piece of cardboard #iloveultras!

I crossed the line in 5th . My friends were there waiting and cheering and told me I could have got 4th. “What are you talking about?” I said. “I never saw anyone in the 50K race for the last 20 miles”. It was true, I was 17 seconds from 4th place but never even saw the guy until we had finished. Oh well, no big deal. The legend of Steve Prefontaine will tell you that 4th is the worst place to finish anyway!

Anyway, my glucose was 201. It was now time to get to work on bringing that down to 100. A Nike moto; “There is no finish line” explains the life of a diabetic. Continuous glucose monitoring, balancing my lifestyle with insulin intake is my 24 hour, 365 day job. As, I was adjusting my sugar levels, Keila came flying in for 3rd female, overall 8th and as for those relay newbies; they killed it with an amazing 2nd overall place. I was so happy for all of them. We headed back to our glamping retreat (a fellow diabetic’s B&B ironically) for a BBQ feast and some well deserved beers!

Smiles all round. The Laurel Ultra has been conquered!

 

Race Report: North Face 50K – Washington DC

With just 4 weeks recovery after The North Face Bear Mountain, NY 50 miler I arrived in the capital still somewhat tired. This was also due to a serious lack of sleep the week prior to the race. My head said treat it as a training run. I picked up my bib number at the store in beautiful Georgetown and got excited. A training what?

However, the local news greeted me to warnings of a tornado sweeping through the area! No big deal, I’m from England, I’m used to the rain and the mud back from the XC days of old. The course is the same for everyone after all.

With a not so delightful 4 hours of sleep, I arrived bright and early at Algonkian Regional Park alongside the Potomac river for the second North Face trail race of the year as part of my phase two training for Leadville 100. The grass was wet to say the least from the overnight thunderstorms and this was just the start/finish area! I checked my blood glucose, it was 235mg/dL. A couple of guys spotted me doing this “Hey, you’re diabetic? What’s your reading?” I shamefully replied “Um…235. Better to be too high than too low though right?” In my heart, I knew it was slightly too high, even before 31 miles of trail running. I try and start a race at around 180-200mg/dL. I guess the cinnamon raisin bagel was sweeter than I calculated for breakfast, maybe also combined with some pre-race stress. Rather than make an insulin adjustment I reasoned with myself to go easy on the carb intake for the first hour of the race.

Ultramarathon man, Dean Karnazes got us under way at 7am sharp. I had looked at the previous years results and decided to try to aim for a top 10 finish but the main goal was to run honest within myself, not against people I didn’t know.

Within the first 2 miles, that plan went straight out of the window! I was going 7:15 pace. I got talking to a guy called Will and I calmed down the pace with him. He was a cool dude in the Air Force and his buddy also joined us for a mile or so was in the Army. Oh boy, I’m running against some tough guys today I thought. Why did I come to the home of the military to race!

The open field and dirt path soon turned to single track with huge puddles and thick mud running south alongside the river.  Even wearing a great pair of trail shoes like the Brooks Cascadia couldn’t save me from doing some  Bambi on ice impersonations sliding all over the place. It took every muscle in my body to stay upright. We crossed some “streams” which thanks to our near miss tornado from Friday night meant we were running through ankle, knee and a waist deep water crossings. This was going to be a long day but it was a blast!

After the first aid station, the lead pack had long gone and I found my real pace. A young French guy came roaring past me and I was now in 6th. Had I gone out too fast? I caught up to him on the flats after a hill section. He was from the Pyrenees mountains! This race was going to be like a downhill wind assisted 5K for him. Arthur Al, was his name. We ran together for the next 10 miles. He would drop me on the ups, I would catch him on the downs and/or the flats. We even decided to make a sharp left up a hill at one point to go the wrong way and we lost ten places.

The course is out and back with a mid-section incorporating lots of out and back loops where you pass people in front and behind you.

This proved a great place to say hi to my NY friends doing the 50 miler which had begun at 5am. Here we passed the 4th place guy who had been trying to run away from us for 10 miles. I will never understand the logic in that move in an ultra race, especially when you don’t know who you are competing against. He was done and we had a dozen miles left. We also got a glimpse of the top 3 guys running past us. I thought nothing of it until a guy in the 50 mile race said to me and Arthur we were only two minutes back. It didn’t sound right but it sure got me thinking.

At an amazing rock section; Great Falls, with a cliff drop straight down to the river, I somehow dropped ‘Pyrenees Arthur’. I questioned my ego, dropping him on a technical section with 11 miles to go. I was now running in solo 4th.

With ten miles left, I turned a right out of a wooded area and could not believe my eyes. 1st, 2nd and 3rd all spread out on a straight section 300 yards ahead. I knew then, it was my race to lose. This moment will live with me forever. I went past 3rd, then 2nd and said “great job” with genuine encouragement and they returned the gesture as you do in the ultra world. No#1 wasn’t quite as easy to catch or so responsive when I did. Quite frankly, he was upset I had come out of nowhere to challenge him and rightfully so.

I decided to “drop the hammer” on this guy as my buddy Chris Solarz likes to say. Just like the start, I was again doing 7:15 minute miles! I finally slowed down when I knew he could not see me. I even stopped sometimes and tried to listen out for a branch cracking, a foot landing on a bridge, anything that sounded like a human being. I did this three times. Each time, silence, just me and the trails and I’m really in frigging first place!!!

I had 10K to go. Save something in the tank in case Arthur comes roaring past or number two guy or whoever, I said to myself. I changed the screen on my Garmin 610 to heart rate only. I had to keep my heart rate below 170bpm. If I saw a 7 pop up next to the 1, I walked until it was lower.

The final 2 miles included a long straight, probably 1.5 miles. When I turned right I asked a few spectators cheering crazily for me, if anyone was behind me. They said “No one, you’re good!” With 0.5 left I finally relaxed and soaked up the winning feeling. 4 hours 32 minutes. Top 10? I’ll take top 1 thanks very much! It’s only been about 16 years since I last won and yes, that was on a muddy and wet XC day. I think I like the mud even more now.

So, it had been nearly 5 hours since my last blood test. How had I done with balancing my intake of carbohydrates while running 31 miles? Nailed it; 92mg/dL. More satisfying than winning? That would be a lie, but that is a great blood glucose reading!

I got presented with a winning gold medal and a bag of goodies by Dean Karnazes, who said some very kind words to me. Thank you The North Face for a great event and congratulations to all the runners out there!

Unforgettable day!

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