Tag Archive for Appalachian Trail

10K PR’s, Trails and More…Trails.

LOGO

I had to research Athlinks.com to remind myself what 10K races I had done in the past (there were not many). My 10K PR has stood from a New Year’s trail race in Virginia back in 2011 with 39 minutes and change. Other races I had run but actually forgotten about included the British 10K 2009 and a Central Park course,  the Joe Kleinerman from 2008 (one of my first races in the States).

I decided that this year would be as good as any to sign up for another 10K and PR. There aren’t many distances these days where I can say that with full confidence. My rationale is this. I’ve run countless half-marathons and marathons where I’ve noted the 10K time clock and realized ‘that’s better than my 10K PR’. . In order to keep this running goal simple and cost-effective, I picked a New York Road Runners (NYRR) race. Hear me out!

The NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K was 1) a stones throw from my doorstep 2) on a course I know inside and out 3) one of the biggest 10Ks in the world (biggest prize money at least). Note: my chances of leaving the day with some winnings were less than slim.

With my race calendar all but full in May, I was lucky that this race fit into my one and only non-race weekend. A slight modification to my Tahoe 200 training meant I would no longer be running back to back 26 milers over the weekend but instead, a 10K race with 14 trail miles in the afternoon and 26 more on Sunday. Either way, it was lined up for my biggest weekend of running in 2014.

The goal of racing was primarily just to PR but I wanted a time goal to break as well. A sub-37 equaled 5:57 pace and sub-36 equaled 5:47 pace. I thought about the toll on my body from Boston and Bear Mountain of recent weeks (plus the serious lack of 10K training!) so sub-37 seemed the smarter bar to reach for. Even that may have been too much. Did I definitely have sub-6 minute legs on me at this time of my training? This was all part of the fun to go and find out!

May 10th AM – 10K Race, Central Park, NY

Being at home less an hour before the start was no doubt a strange feeling. I’m used to being in a hotel room, cabin or tent somewhere across the country. An NYC race is just not my primary go to anymore, perhaps because I’ve done most of the NYRR racing scene, maybe more so because I just love to travel so much. I tested my morning glucose and all was good in the mid 100’s looking ideal for pre-run numbers.

At the start with Nike RUNNYC friends Jeff Blum and Michael Chu

At the start with Nike RUNNYC friends Jeff Blum and Michael Chu

Once at the start, I checked my glucose one last time (I recall this my fourth test in two hours) before dropping off my bag and saw it had dropped below 100. With the race minutes away, all I had on me was my two Honey Stinger gels that I planned to carry during the race. I took both of them which was slightly honey overload. I luckily managed to snag a sip of water from a random runner who just happened to be a fellow Brit, Richard who had come across the pond for the race.

I squeezed my way to about four rows back from the elite field of Kenyans and Ethiopians. Looking at their physique up close is always a reality check why people like me will never be able to run 4:30 miles. Thank goodness for people like Phidippides and Gordy who pioneered the long stuff!  My plan today would be 6-minute flat for the first three and go from there. Worst scenario that I felt terrible, I would hang onto that  pace for the second 5K but best case, I planned to push on down to 5:50’s or less to run home strong and take some places on the way.

Mad dash out of the gate.

Mad dash out of the gate. Photo credit: NYRR

After many typical NYRR speeches, we were off. Some runners sprinted ahead of me as if it was a mile race. I ignored the mayhem and found my pace as we ran past the boathouse on our left. Going up Cat Hill, I knew the incline would keep my pace honest so clocking a 5:48 wasn’t what I expected. Adrenaline does some crazy stuff to your body I guess, plan out of the window!

Mile 2 was flat through Engineer’s Gate and Fred Lebow’ and then snaked gradually downhill to the top of the transverse. I run this section of the park for mile repeats so I knew holding back to 6 here didn’t seem to make much sense. If the road gives it to you, take it right? Mile 2; 5:45. At this point my mind began fast forwarding to just keep going and chase down sub-36 after all.

We wrapped around the top of the park and up Harlem hill. Lots of runners began coming back to me. At the top of the hill the 5K marker read 18:09. I stopped believing that sub-36 was on the cards at this point. Not without killing myself at least and with another 40 miles to log for the weekend, my Tahoe part of my brain said no way, not worth it.

Mile 4 over the three west side hills kept my pace consistent with the last; dropping. I had just run two 6-minute miles and change. The pain was now kicking in, reminding me that’s why I probably should have run 6-minute miles at the start. But I had to stop obsessing over data, just run.

Being one of the biggest 10K races, I never had any concern that someone would not be in front of me. A few hundred yards ahead was a female runner in orange and a male runner in neon. My new focus was to not let them break away from me. I counted lamp posts to monitor the gap. It remained steady as we descended the fast descent on the west side of the park, the goal was being achieved. I wanted to glance at the watch as I was so curious what pace we were doing but resisted.

Passed the Webster statue on 72nd Street, I climbed the short hill to be greeted by Francis and Justin who were out pacing the Nike Run Club group. That was great motivation to keep pushing. On the descent to the Columbus Circle corner, I finally closed the gap on the female runner to make my move. With a mile to go, I still had a small shot at catching the other runner.

Pushing the last mile

Pushing the last mile. Photo credit; MarathonFoto

The final mile is much of a blur to me. It was an all out effort to catch him. A simple duel for a nothing place but he served a purpose for me and hopefully I did for him too. At 800 meters to go, the metal fences formed either side of the road and ushered us home. I got excited that this was it, the last moments of full exertion where now here.

But I could not close the gap. My heart was pumping my blood around as fast as it could and it felt as thought the chance just wasn’t going to come. But then on the short descent before veering left onto the 72nd Street home straight, I found a gear I didn’t think was there (and maybe nor did he). I made my move with purpose, now or never stuff. 400 to go now meant 400 to hang on, 400 to celebrate a great 10K race.

Nothing left to give. PR looming.

Nothing left to give. PR looming. Photo credit; MarathonFoto

I was able to take the final strides to the line alone crossing the line in 36 minutes and twenty something (5:51 average pace), good enough for a top 50 spot in a very competitive field. Wow, I almost went under 36 was my first reaction. Mary Wittenberg greeted me at the finish and my second reaction was directed towards her saying “This is why I don’t run the short stuff!”

New PR 36:23. No more 10K's for a while!

New PR 36:23. No more 10K’s for a while! Photo credit: MarathonFoto

I congratulated the runner who followed me in and apologized for my late burst of speed to nick a spot. He recognized the Team Novo Nordisk shirt and asked if I was a type 1 diabetic. We got into a conversation about the team and he said he was also a T1. I didn’t know who he was until today but now I was intrigued. Arjay Jensen was his name from Greater New York Running Club. We parted ways after collecting some very nice medals and I said I would be in touch. Pretty cool to have two type 1’s running hard out there at the front of the race from almost 8,000 runners. We didn’t even know we had more in common than the same speed until we were done dueling.

Once I escaped from the finish area frenzy, I finally noticed how drenched I was in sweat. It hadn’t occurred to me how humid it was although I did know the index reading was going to be around 90% for the race. Now standing still, I could feel the heat. At least it wasn’t a distraction out on the course for me. Nothing really was. I just ran my very well-known Central Park loop and came away with a result I was more than happy with. A PR by almost three minutes deserves no picking at!

10K medal bonus. My first NYC race for Team Novo Nordisk went better than planned!

10K medal bonus. My first NYC race for Team Novo Nordisk went better than planned!

May 10th PM – 14+ trail miles – Mohonk Preserve State Park, NY

I grabbed my stuff and had to go. I was now on a mission to meet up with Tiffany to get to Mohonk to run 14 trail miles to complete the day. To me this seemed quite normal but when I bumped into my new English friend at the end and begun small talking about my afternoon plans, I could tell from his reaction, my running behavior is far from that. I forget that a lot because to me, it is normal life. Work, sleep, run and then run some more.

At the Mohonk Preserve State Park having a quick photo break with Tiffany.

At the Mohonk Preserve State Park having a quick photo break with Tiffany.

Shawangunk Ridge view from the Mohonk Preserve tower is worth the climb.

Shawangunk Ridge view from the Mohonk Preserve tower is worth the climb.

After just a few hours since the race, I was back on my feet running the hills of the Mohonk Preserve State Park, a great place to get some good non-technical trail miles in. My legs felt great which was good feedback on Tahoe training so far. We took a “scenic” route back to New Paltz meaning I got to do another climb and tag on two bonus miles just in time before the heavens opened.

May 11th – 26 trail miles Manitou to Tuxedo, NY via Appalachian Trail

On Sunday, I tackled a technical section of Appalachian Trail from Manitou to Tuxedo train station solo. 26 miles with over 5,000ft of vertical. A day removed from Saturday’s adventures, my legs did begin to feel tired and this was a great test but it was just so great being outside once again exploring the wilderness of Bear and Harriman and enjoying the weather.

Following the white dashes (Appalachian Trail) for 22 of my 26 miles.

Following the white dashes (Appalachian Trail) for 22 of my 26 miles.

Last few miles of the weekend - finally getting tired!

Last few miles of the weekend running the technical AT – finally getting tired!

What a great way to spend the weekend, logging miles and exploring parts of New York most people do not. 46+ mile weekends will be a staple for me. Tahoe training is officially in full swing and to have a new 10K PR in the bag was just icing on cake to another great running weekend.

JFK 50 Mile: The 33 Minute PR

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

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

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

Race Day: November 17th 2012

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

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

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

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

Road miles out of Boonsboro, MD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Descending the switchbacks of Weverton Cliffs

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

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

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

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

Changing pace on the C&O canal path

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

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

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

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

Mile 34 Cookie Monster sighting

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

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

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

Mile 41: the C&O canal towpath almost over

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 46

Any excuse not to run now ; )

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

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

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

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

That 33 minute 50 mile PR feeling!

Can you say ‘Run Happy’ Brooks runners?

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

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

How do you train for 100 miles?

My brain is the orange circle

The question is frequent, my answer is not what is expected. Back-to-back workouts. These are defined as two long distance efforts on consecutive days, the latter one done with muscle fatigue. This type of training simulates (to a small extent) the tiredness of an ultra event be it 50 miles or longer. People expect a crazier answer such as running 80 miles or 90 miles. The fact is that anymore than 50 miles is viewed by most as too much. A 100 miles on foot is conquered 5 inches between your ears rather than physically (I’ll get back to you on that post-Leadville to confirm or deny this).
When it comes to 100 mile training, there is no easy way, no secret short cuts. You cannot go into this half-hearted or without a true passion and love for running. You will simply not make it. Some runner’s brains work like the graph (left). I believe my brain is always repeating the orange circle “go workout”.

The plan. Note the weekend back-to-back focus.

To be stronger, I need to run, a lot. My plan is devised by Bryon Powell (a top Leadville finisher) from his book ‘Relentless Forward Progress‘.  My maximum weekly mileage is 85. I’ve read other athlete’s blogs that state 100, 150, even 200! Like the 99% of ultra runners, I do have a job to pay the bills and just don’t want to go up to the 100 weekly mileage (not yet at least).  I fully believe in ‘training smarter is better than training harder’.

This is why back-to-back workouts are key for me. Just like training for a marathon, the one workout you should never miss is the long run, I cannot afford to miss my back-to-backs for 100 mile training.

I use my weekends to crank out these two workouts. While most people, look forward to a friday night out, I’m busy researching new trails to explore and getting my clothes and gels ready. My weekend mileage is anywhere between 30-50 miles.

A bear at Bear Mountain.

On June 23, I decided to do my biggest back-to-back yet. I boarded the 7:50am train out of Grand Central heading to Manitou train station just north of Bear Mountain. I had researched a point to point route along the famous Appalachian Trail totaling 26 miles ending at Tuxedo train station. It would be a true mountain trail test with technical ascents and descents.

I had a great time, even flying solo. I saw bears (OK they were in the zoo, but still), wild deer and other animals all day long plus of course magnificent views along the famous single track trail. From the top of Bear, you can see the Manhattan skyline about 60 miles south.

Safety never takes a holiday; map, blood tester, Road ID bracelet.

Let me be the first to say, trail running alone is not recommended. Not only did I get lost to add-on 3 miles but I also ran out of water before I hit the main road back to civilization. My sugar supplies were never an issue (my backpack can feed a Halloween party) but dehydration in the middle of nowhere would have been no joke. As promised, a huge thank you to hikers Alan and Chu for topping up my water bottle. Alan was lugging a 5 liter bottle in his backpack and happy to share with an independent explorer like me.

Due to the terrain and stopping to take more photos than I planned, my 29 miles took 7-1/2 hours. It also felt like a 40 mile road run due to the extra output required to go up and down mountain trails all day. My glucose control started perfect at 169 and ended perfect at 145. I was fighting a few early on-set hypo’s throughout the run though, most likely due to the heat.

A view from the AT

I finished at 4:30pm at train station #2. It was hot and i was spent. I refueled with whatever my body could handle. That happened to be not much; a pop ice to cool down, some chips and a cereal bar along with lots more water on board. Onto the bus i got (the train got cancelled!), took a quick nap and I was back in my manic city. I was now on a tight schedule for round 2; pacing duties for my good friend Keila on her NYC 100 mile race put on by running legend Phil McCarthy. I was to pace the last 18 miles from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn into Times Square.

Home for a shower, change of lycra and a recharge of my Garmin and back out. I grabbed two slices of pizza and headed south via the subway. Dinner time had never been so public!  I met my friends at the beach and waited for Keila to arrive with pacer Beck. I had heard she was doing awesome all day via text updates. It was better than anyone had expected, first place by the time Mike, Alisa and myself all jumped in to pace her at mile 83 at 10pm. My sugar was 219 at this point. I had been chomping on some local fruit waiting for her at Brighton Beach and had under calculated the carbs slightly. I took my handheld 20oz bottle of Gatorade, poured half away and added water due to my blood sugar. Let’s roll.

At mile 90, we stopped for a change of shoes and a general refuel. 2nd place Michael Samuels came through and kept on going. At mile 97, I had to stop in desperate need of some sugar. I had miscalculated how much glucose I would need for the last ten miles; I was running mile 45 of my day so it was getting tricky to keep the levels in the right zone (150-200). At 2am in NYC this was not going to be a problem though. I grabbed a Coke from the nearest street vendor and within a few minutes felt better.  I laughed at myself for getting dropped by Keila who had been running for 97 miles.

I picked up the pace as I didn’t want to miss the big finish. I saw second place ahead but this time it wasn’t her. My eyes lit up just as they had done a few weeks earlier in my own race when I saw the top 3 in sight. I ran as fast as I could to catch up with the once again first place speedster. The last mile up Broadway into Times Square was a fantastic experience. Keila sprinted into the bright lights of Times Square and won the race which had a lot of impressive local ultra runners in it.

Team 160Keila! Everyone had run and crewed all over 4 of the 5 boroughs for 21 hours. We will give Keila the most credit though ; )

Far less important, I had logged another back-to-back (it could be argued it was a double as well due to no sleep in between) but 46 training miles over 16 hours into the early hours of Sunday counts. Roll on next weekend if you are anything like this one. Congratulations to the champ 160Keila.

 

 

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