Unfortunately I have been pretty quiet here over the last couple of weeks. After Bear Mountain and Seven Sisters I was pretty toast, and a busy work and travel schedule have kept me pretty tired. Thankfully I have not had to stop training, and now I finally have a bit of time to give a little update.
After Seven Sisters, I did my best to hit the ground running. I jumped right back into a training plan and did my best to start to incorporate more runnable elevation changes (not technical, road or trail). I also started to include a double day once a week to run on tired legs and increase my volume. For the next 5 weeks or so I would be really happy to consistently hit 70-80 mile weeks. Going into my first 100 miler, I have no idea what to expect. Not wanting to go into it injured, I don’t see much benefit increasing my volume beyond what I did for my 100K. If after the race I feel terrible then I’ll consider adding volume for 100 milers in the future. Even though I can tell I am tired, I think I have been really executing well on my harder workouts and long runs. My main fear and something I plan to address with some days on the treadmill is getting in enough elevation. Sunny California is mostly flat where I work and it is tough to make it out to the hills on a regular basis.
This weekend (5/29) I am running the Pineland Farms 50 miler up in Maine! From what I understand the course should be pretty similar to what I will encounter in Vermont, so beyond just going for a nice long run, I should be able to address what my strengths and weakness are going into the final 7 weeks of training. I am really excited to get out and run a course that should be quicker than any 50 miler I have attempted in the past so I am anxious to see how I do. Of course, I am also going into this race without a taper or any goals, so I am trying to keep expectations low. Either way, running ultras is always a blast and I can’t wait for a nice long weekend with my trail running friends.
After being a runner in Boston for about 5 years, I finally took on the classic New England trail race: 7 Sisters. The reputation of this race is pretty notable: an unrelenting out-and-back filled with steep climbs, jagged rocks, and plenty of roots. As a rule of thumb, I heard that to estimate your time for this race, take your half marathon time and add an hour…or double it. Without a doubt, I came into the race with a bit of hesitation with all the notoriety and claims of difficulty. Obviously, I want to make it through the year injury-free, and tumbling head first down a shale covered descent was the last thing I wanted. But this was absolutely a bucket list race, and after finishing it I cannot wait to go back.
To add to the risk of injury, it decided to rain all week in Massachusetts leading up to the race and was forecasted to rain right as the race was starting. Nothing better than some mud to break up the slick, lichen covered sections of rock. The forecast absolutely made me hesitant and nervous about my goal of breaking 3 hours. I was coming into the race completely blind, and several friends said sub-3 was a reasonable goal. But with the rain and thoughts in the back of my head saying “this is stupid” I wasn’t sure whether I should stick to my goals or just go for it.
A car full of November Project folks made our way to Amherst early Sunday morning and got slightly optimistic when we saw blue skies. After parking at the race and picking up our bibs, it became pretty clear that we were not going to be spared as a thick fog made it abundantly clear that it was going to be wet and we would have limited visibility. Our crew got our bibs, got our gear ready and waited for the gun to go off.
7 Sisters has a wave start to help decrease congestion on the trail which is entirely single track. Somehow I got slotted in Wave 1, so I lined up after the elites took off and waited anxiously. The rain hadn’t started yet, but I knew it would be starting soon. In no time, we were off and working our way up the way to the ridgeline. Essentially the race was a big climb up to the ridge, a run across the ridge, and then a descent on the other side of the range. After that, you turn around and do the entire thing in reverse. The major climb out from the start was somewhat technical, with portions of loose shale. Not knowing what I was in for, I quickly got into power-hike mode and marched up the mountain.
At the top, there was a steep descent. And then a steep climb. And then a steep descent. Then a little bit of runnable stuff. Honestly, the way out was such a blur that I don’t remember much more detail than that. There were a few moments of scrambling up hyper-steep sections of the trail that I knew would be interesting coming down, but it was such technical trail it was hard to make note of anything specific. About 2 miles in the rain started coming down, soaking the runners and the trail even more. Roughly 5 miles into the run, there is a beautiful overlook (I imagine, fog made it impossible to see anything) and a building with a patio that the runners must walk over. After that, we began the biggest descent down to the turn around point. At this point the trail was nothing more than mud and rocks. To be honest, I’m not sure what was worse, the rocks that you might slip on or the mud that you couldn’t stop in. Serious “style points” were earned sliding several feet down the trail at a time.
I got to the turn around in 1:14, refilled my bottle half way and took back off the trail. The mud made climbs into a game of finding hand holds to support forward movement. As runners came pouring down the trail making their way to the halfway mark, it was a tough mix of staying out of the way and making progress. The climb from the turn around is the biggest of the entire race, so I did my best to run and hike quickly to make quick work of it. After reaching the patio again, I tried to push it as much as possible, but the mud and slippery rocks frequently had me on all fours. I lost confidence in my shoe grip and relied on tree limbs for braking. At about the 10 mile mark, Bear Mountain started to catch up with me and I felt my quads weaken. Downhills became even more treacherous but I was able to climb strong. After a few other big ups and downs, we were back at the first summit. I remember thinking on the way up that I would be able to fly down the initial section of trail, but at that point I had little faith in my legs so I took it easy. I made it to the short stretch of pavement and bolted to the finish for a time of 2:39.
I am pretty happy with my time and I think on a dry year I could probably break 2:30. As for strategy, I tried to be conservative on the out and push on the back, but given the congestion early on in the race I think a hard push up the first up hill can save a lot of time. Without a doubt I will be back to run 7 Sisters. I cannot think of a single race that I have run that has such challenging trails and climbing crammed into such a short distance.
Bear Mountain turned out to be a pretty humbling race. Not because I am disappointed in my performance or running, but rather because of the mental battles that I dealt with throughout the day. Over and over, I struggled with self-doubt and disappointment as I watched pre-race goals slip away. If anything, this grueling race helped me learn to dig even deeper, and find the satisfaction in my performance. I would like to think that some of missing my goal was due to running flat bike paths in LA or just being tired from travel, but most of it falls on getting carried away.
While I do not regret setting such an ambitious goal of breaking 9-hours, I do regret not re-calibrating earlier in the race, when I realized I had not done enough training on technical trails to sustain the pace I was originally running. Without a doubt, if I had a smarter pacing strategy I could have run sub-9:30. I think with some more maturity and experience, I will understand what levels of exertion I can tolerate, but this was only my 3rd 50 miler (and 2nd finish since Wapack crushed me by mile 43), so there are plenty of lessons to learn. Hopefully through this report, I have a bit of time to reflect on my mistakes and better approach my other races this year.
It makes sense to start with this recap on Thursday night, because every distance runner I have ever met told me two nights before is the most important night in terms of sleep. Well, I did not sleep well. Jet-lagged and anxious about trying to rest, I slept horribly and felt exhausted all day Friday. On Friday night, I actually slept incredibly well but since the alarm was set to go off at 2:45, it didn’t matter much. After a light breakfast and the drive to Bear Mountain, I got my bib and got settled in for the gun to go off. I complained a fair amount about the 5 AM start and having to deal with a headlamp for the first few miles, but it is what it is. The gun went off and we shuffled our way to the trail and up into the hills.
The first section of the race went well, as they usually do. I was surging with adrenaline and excited that it was finally race day. We climbed a few hundred feet over three miles which I mostly ran before a quick descent into the first aid station. I was having an absolute blast. Things felt great, I had a nutrition plan, I was hitting my splits, and camaraderie on the trail was high. Blazing through the Anthony Wayne aid station, I dropped off my headlamp and took off up the road. Some runnable single track, road, and then technical single track later and I was already at the 8.7 mile aid station. Every part of me felt clicked in at this point. I took maybe 15 seconds in the aid station before I was off onto the fire road where I clicked off 2 sub-10 minute miles.
From there, the course got hard for me. Technical ups and downs were breaking my running up really frequently, and I was moving with hesitation knowing that I had some intimidating climbs left. My energy levels were still high and I still felt strong, but in my head I felt my goal start to creep away. I battled with the idea of not meeting my goal. It was less than a half-marathon into a 50 mile race and I already felt defeated. I did my best to stay strong and resilient, but negativity is pretty persistent. I reached the Arden Valley aid station after a quick road section and quickly refilled and got going. After the race, someone said I was in the top 1o at this point, but I think I was closer to top 30-40 (Sidenote – I claimed top 20 immediately after the race, but I don’t think my pace was ever that impressive or that I got passed by 50 people before I finished, but hey, its possible). I ran down the hill, taking the opportunity to get some fast running in before turning back onto the trail. Once I did though, I banged my ankle against a rock hard and was moving precariously over a rock field. Right then, it felt like the end of my day.
The next 5 or so miles I moved sluggishly. All my pre-race excitement had faded and I felt like I was at mile 45, not 15. I was already in pain. My hips and feet hurt, I felt slow and ready to be done. I looked at my watch frequently, seeing myself eat into time I had built up in the first few miles fade away and getting passed by people who paced themselves smarter than I had. About 2 miles from the next aid station, I got passed by Amy, a Massachusetts trail runner who happens to be the race director of Seven Sisters and Vermont 100 (both of which I am running). Amy and I exchanged some brief words about Seven Sisters, November Project, and how we were feeling before she zipped past. While we didn’t run together long, I have to thank her attitude for giving me a little burst of strength to grind into the next aid station. I wanted so badly to run with her and the pack following her for as long as possible, but they were leaving the station as I got in, and I didn’t have the strength to run through the aid station. I once again moved quickly and got back on the trail.
After a mile or so the trail let out to a long road section that felt like absolute torture. I got passed by several people and the pavement felt excruciating. I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted more technical trail so I had an excuse to move a bit more slowly. Oddly enough, this is where the race started to come back together. Coming out of the last aid station, I honestly considered dropping. I was hurting, the race was gone for me, and I just wasn’t having fun. Not having to focus on trail gave me time to compose myself. I let go of my goals and just remembered how amazing it is that my body lets me run these incredible distances. I took some time to enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere of the race and my energy levels lifted. At this point, I decided to start taking some additional time at each aid station. I came into the Camp Lanowa station and ate some food and a caffeinated gel. I left the aid station ready to adjust my goals.
The first mile out of the aid station was really slow up and down a technical hill. But after that, it was smooth fire road. Hitting a runnable section, plus the halfway point of the race, with a bit of a caffeine kick turned my mood around completely. Sure, I wasn’t back to my first 15 mile speed, but I felt so much better. I kept it controlled and steady before I got back into Camp Lanowa. I exchanged some thoughts with a runner about how low I had been feeling and how things felt like they were coming around. Just being able to vocalize my shift in attitude helped me reconcile what the day was about. So, at the halfway mark, I knew I could still PR if I kept moving strong.
I felt back to normal along the next 4 miles or so which was mostly fire roads descending to the next aid station with a few modest climbs. Then, for some reason, the course climbs a mile and a half on pavement. It sucked. I did my best to run it, but I hiked about 50% of it before getting back to the fire road that descended to the next aid station. After that was some great single track and fire road running that got my spirits back up. We soon synced back up with the 50K crew and there were a bunch more runners to latch on to which helped immensely. There was one more hydration-only aid station before making it back to Anthony Wayne.
At Anthony Wayne I ran into Brogan, who was a burst of positive energy. We hugged, we laughed, we ate boiled potatoes. I knew that I had one big climb left, Timp Pass, and I wanted it to be done ASAP. I asked a volunteer if there were any big climbs left, and they said, “Yeah, it is coming up really soon, and the downhill is really technical”. Great, just what I remembered reading in the course guide, now if only I could remember where it actually was! The first mile out of the aid station was cinder path which I did my best to run. After that, the course got back to being pretty technical. While no means as a bad as the first 20 miles or so, it was enough that I started to slow down. On this section there was a short uphill with a decently technical descent and I told myself, “That was it,” and hoped there were no more climbs since my legs were starting to go. Turns out, it wasn’t.
I got into the Queensboro aid station and took some time to get fuel and asked again, are there any more climbs. The volunteer eagerly responded, yes Timp Pass, its right up ahead. Damn, I really did not want to climb Timp Pass. I knew it was only a few hundred feet of steep climbing, but it sounded so miserable. I left the aid and the trail gently climbed for a mile or so before shooting steeply uphill. At mile 47 so of a 50 miler, you thankfully stop caring and I just pushed up it. The downhill from the pass was absolutely worse than going up the thing. It was filled with baseball sized rocks that I should have run down in hindsight, but took my time gingerly walking down to the final aid station.
When I got to the last aid station, I did a time check and knew I wouldn’t PR outright. My time at Finger Lakes is still technically a better 50 mile time. But then I remembered that this was a 51 mile race, and that at 50 miles, I would still PR if I pushed hard enough. I started to run out of the aid station but my stomach felt like it would flip so I walked for a few meters. Once I was up to it, I started running. Quickly we linked back to where the relay runners were flying up and down the trail. I felt weak but I kept running because at that point, it’ll hurt longer to walk it in. There were one or two more short climbs on the last section. I desperately wanted to walk the entirety of them, but a glance at my watch and I saw I could break 10 hours. I floored it at this point, but flooring it when you are running on empty isn’t too quick. But it was quick enough to finish in 9:59. Talk about cutting it close! The finish chute was something incredible. The huge November Project presence was screaming and cheering as I ran in as I watched Colleen bouncing up and down taking photos. I felt tears well up in my eyes from joy that I held on to experience that moment.
If I had known that the first half of the race would be so much more challenging than the second in terms of technical trails, I would have run this race completely different. Sure, I read the course guide and race reports, but that is different than being out there. I don’t know if I could have broken nine hours, but I could have gotten a heck of a lot closer. I still think this is my best race to date, simply because I held on. I went through such extreme lows on this race that I thought I was going to drop, and I never thought I would experience that.
I think the Spring Classic was my 4th TARC event, and each one is better than the last. What more can be said about the events TARC organizes? Low key, high energy, and extremely supportive are just a few of the great things that come to mind about their races. Seriously, I am so lucky to have them as my local trail running group and can’t wait to run, volunteer, cheer at more of their races. Even with the wet weather, volunteers were cheery and people were excited to run. The Spring Classic is fun because of the huge range of events that happen simultaneously. I was running the half marathon, but there were races ranging from 10K to 50K. The looped course meant everything was commingled, which meant I was never running alone.
I got to the start right when the mandatory race meeting was ending (oops). I picked up my bib, got set, and looked around to see who else was running. Colleen was supposed to be there, but a last minute foot-issue meant she was taking an unplanned rest day. I knew a few November Project people who were hitting the trails, but I absolutely did not expect to see 10+ people out to run or just feed off the event’s energy. It was great to see so many familiar faces to help me get excited. A friend was visiting over the weekend, so I may have had a slight hangover at the start of the race and anything to get my energy up was necessary.
This half was my last long-run before the Bear Mountain 50 miler. I was using it as a test drive, wearing all the gear I plan to rock next weekend. By the end, I was happy with everything, but I hope it is dry on race day. In terms of goals, I didn’t have any. My friend Steve asked what I was aiming for when the gun went off, but I had no answer. Hangover + week out from a 50 miler = just wanting to get the race done. Either way, it was a race so I knew I couldn’t just take it easy. In the back of my mind, top 10 seemed reasonable.
Like I mentioned before, the runners for all the different events are mixed together on the trails. The course is a 10K loop, with some minor add-ons for the half and full marathons. In terms of keeping the race interesting, its great, but it does make it hard to know who you are really competing against. By the time the crowd thinned out a bit, I really had no idea what position I was in so my impromptu goal became pretty meaningless. The course itself is one of my favorites. It is an awesome mix of single track and fast fire road with some rolling hills that just makes for incredibly fun running. Also, TARC manages to make some of the most intricate courses that constantly twist and turn, making for a hugely engaging run.
So, the gun went off, we ran the half marathon add-on, and by the time I started on the loop itself I had no idea what position I was in. Steve and I were neck and neck and settled into a comfortable pace. Since there is no add on for the 50K runners, we spent the first few miles passing people sharing encouragement along the way. Since I ran the 50K last year, I had a pretty good memory of the course which helped pace myself a bit. My stomach felt pretty awful at the start, so I was really hesitant to push and have the potential to blow up. I kept calm and just enjoyed the run. The weather said there was a minor chance of rain and it was cool and muggy. I quickly warmed up and did my best to take frequent sips of Tailwind. Originally I wanted to run without a bottle the first lap, but since this was a test run of everything for Bear Mountain, I decided to carry it the entire time.
By mile 4 or 5, my stomach started to settle and I saw some runners who I knew were running the half so I decided to push. Given the unreliability of a GPS watch in the woods, I don’t know my exact pace but I picked it up to about 80% perceived effort. I put a bit of ground between Steve right before getting to the most technical section of the course. I love technical trail running, but being so close to my spring goal race made me a bit hesitant from fear of injury so I was running a bit timid. To compensate, I tried to push hard on any fire road. Towards the end of lap 1, the rain started to come down hard which I was happy for since I was getting hot. Running anything longer than the half I would’ve been pissed because for the most part raining=chafing.
I finished lap 1 30-40 seconds back from two other half marathon runners. Since I had my bottle and gu on me, I didn’t need to stop at the aid station and I began to dig a little deeper to try and catch the two runners. Given the curvy nature of the course, I would catch glimpses of my competitors in the distance, but I couldn’t tell how far they really were. Was it right in front of me or did I have a major turn or two before I was on the same part of the trail they were? Honestly, it made for a fun race because it became less about my overall goal and more about running each step strategically. I passed one runner about 2 miles in and did my best to remain consistent. When I passed the second runner, I did my best to surge and put some ground between us. However, this was right before a technical section of trail that he blew past me on. My heart sank as I thought that I would have no way to regain the ground given my strategy, but I held on and put distance between us on the fire roads, by the end leading by just 20 seconds. I finished in 1:43 and change, good enough for 7th place. Arbitrary goal achieved!
I really had an awesome time running the TARC spring classic. It had been a while since I have run anything shorter than an ultra, so running something that didn’t take 5+ hours was really invigorating. Honestly, had I not been hungover I think sub-1:40 would have been achievable, but given the proximity to Bear Mountain it is probably best I spared my legs some abuse. Besides keeping me moving the first 5 miles, Steve had an awesome race for a 9th place finish just 3 minutes after I came through. Every other November Project runner had an amazing day. I think the best part about trail running is the lack of seriousness. Sure, people have goals but everyone just looks like they are having a blast.
Taper time! Considering the amount of lingering aches and pains I have been having, tapering could not come soon enough. As Colleen mentioned in her post, I have mostly been dealing with some ankle and Achilles pain that sidelined me from two runs last week but is now subsiding. I think I am starting to mature as a runner since I actually skipped the runs as opposed to my usual strategy of just dealing with it and running through the pain for as long as possible. Now in the final two weeks before Bear Mountain, I feel my body recovering stronger than ever and finally feel like I kicked the illness that plagued me for the last third of my training.
As for race day goals, I think I am setting my “Everything Goes Right” goal at around 8.5 hours. While a huge increase over my 50 mile PR, I think that the course plays to my strengths and given good conditions, I can really do well. My main goal for the day is to break 9 hours. I really think this is doable and looking at average paces, the course profile, and my fitness something that I should be able to succeed at.
Shortest recap yet!
Tuesday I hit the trails at Rancho Palos Verdes for some hill repeats. The trails and views were magnificent, and my last hill workout for the training cycle went really well. I was really consistent between reps and gave it my all, which is probably why my ankle pain finally caught me and I had to sit Wednesday and Thursday out.
Friday I was back in Boston, feeling well, and it was Marathon weekend! The Boston Marathon is like runner Christmas, and easily one of my favorite times to be in Boston. There are tons of events to meet bad ass runners at and everyone’s energy seemed to be through the roof. Feeding off that energy, I went to my first November Project workout in ages. I did 7 miles on Summit Ave and PRed on the downhill portion (according to Strava) which helped build my confidence.
Saturday I was planning on running long, but a friend needed some help demoing a product at the marathon expo, so I ran 9 miles on the treadmill in various increments. Afterwards, I went to the Runner’s World shakeout run which ended at the November Project book launch. Besides being able to hear Brogan and Bojan, Colleen and I got the chance to Rory Bosio who was one of the nicest people ever! She was thrilled to give ultra tips, advice, and wisdom.
Sunday I finally got around to my long run and I was on the struggle bus. It was a bit warmer than I anticipated, my ankle did not feel great, and I was tired from the crazy week. But I got it done, finishing 20 miles and kicking off my taper!
3 weeks to go until I tackle 50 miles in New York State. It is a little scary to think about running that far, but I’ve done it before. What is a tad bit scarier: its about 3 months out from running my first 100 miler. Now that is scary. While I have been treating Bear Mountain as a goal race (hoping to PR in the 50 mile) I cannot lose sight of my lofty summer goal. Because of that, I am taking a few days off because my ankle is a bit tender. I think I tweaked it during the Six-hour 2 weeks back. Even though I can run on it with only some minor discomfort before it eases up, I think the best course of action is to rest and let it heal. Even if Bear Mountain turns out to be a sub-optimal performance, if I come out of the race feeling healthy I will be in a much better position to train for the months leading up to Vermont.
For the recap, boring runs, not boring runs, and trail runs:
Tuesday I ran after work in the dry heat of Southern California. Besides what Strava tells me about this run, all I can really remember is how dry my mouth was. I really hope my performance in the heat starts to improve since that is definitely a weak point.
Wednesday was my workout day for the week. I was planning on doing a progression run over eight miles, starting at about 7:30 and ending at 6:45/mile. For whatever reason, I blew up on this run and only made it 6 out of the 8 miles. To be fair, the pace may have been ambitious given my cold and my 50K attempt just a week and a half earlier, but to just miss a workout by so much was a bit devastating.
Thursday I did my best to explore the neighborhood and not just the bike path I had been running every single day. It was an easy day and I logged about 9 miles around town. While the scenery was a bit different, the flat, turn-free running was still pretty boring. This was the first day I remember my ankle noticeably hurting, probably form my hard effort the evening prior.
Friday back in Boston, I did my favorite 10K route. That’s it!
Saturday, instead of doing my planned long run Colleen and I ran 5 miles together around her parents house. Nothing crazy, just some conversational miles.
Sunday, Colleen and I hit the trails at Highland Forrest near Syracuse. Winter was clinging on for dear life, so there was some light snow and ice, but nothing unmanageable in trail shoes. I wound up logging 20 miles or so, which was great for the amount of time I had. Oddly enough, my ankle didn’t hurt on the trails. I think this was due to the variety of terrain and hills as opposed to straight pounding on the road.
Here we are, at week 12, with absolutely no sign that week 11 happened. But it did! and I wrote Hale 6 Hour Race Report instead of a normal training recap. Sure, I could do both, but I am already running 70+ miles a week, so that seemed like a bit too much work. Sadly, I am still recovering from my cold, so while I have been hitting my desired mileage, the quality is not quite what I was hoping. This was especially evident during my tempo run when I was significantly under my target pace. I am certain that some of it has to do with fatigue coming off of the 6 hour, but the struggle felt more like a cause of respiratory issues than tired legs.
Beyond logging as many miles as I physically can, training for Bear Mountain (and on the long-term, Vermont) has started to get a tad monotonous. I don’t think it is because of boredom with running, but rather boredom where I am running. Long Beach, CA is completely devoid of interesting places to run. Maybe I am not running in the right places, but everything that is convenient to me is a flat path, with few other runners. It makes training incredibly difficult just from how similar all my runs are starting to feel. I suppose on the bright side, it will make sure I am mentally prepared for boredom.
Monday I ran a 5K just to shakeout some of the soreness lingering from the 50K on Saturday. I ran this nice and easy after a long travel day.
Tuesday I ran an easy 10 miles after work. Those 10 miles were probably my most miserable workout of 2016 so far. Running east along the beach I had a marvelous tailwind, but the return journey I had winds gusting so hard that they were whipping sand into my face. By the time I got back to my hotel, I was spitting out sand.
Wednesday was the aforementioned tempo run day. I just felt off. Really hoping to kick this cold soon.
Thursday I did another easy day. I did 12 miles which brought me from Long Beach to Seal Beach. Across 12 miles I probably saw 3 runners and 4 other pedestrians. Seriously boring!
Friday I was thankfully back in Boston! Feeling a tad better than earlier in the week, I ran 7 uptempo miles from our apartment to Newton and back. Nothing crazy, but felt good to be moving well. It was a bit hot and humid, which made me sweat bullets. Good to know what I have to look forward to this summer.
Saturday was a cold, wet slog with the Heartbreak Hill Running Co. 20 miles in nonstop rain. Soaked to the bone. Cold. And dear god, the chafing. Thankfully I had my TBC/November Project friends Molly and Scott to be miserable with. Not happy about the conditions, but really happy I got it done.
Sunday I ran with TBC companions Kate and Alice for 15 laid back miles. Besides some crazy wind, we had a great time trotting around Boston. It was Kate’s time running around Fresh Pond! Really happy to have the company since the weather was far from ideal.
Somehow, it is the end of March and the first race of 2016 is in the books! While certainly not my optimal performance, I had an absolutely amazing time out on the trails at Hale Reservation at another incredible TARC event. Two days before the race, I woke up with a pretty nasty cough/cold that made me wheezy and gave me a sore throat. The idea of running for 6 hours seemed pretty unappealing, but I tried to look on the bright side. I decided to think of it like this: if I weren’t running the TARC event, I would be running alone. The race started to seem a bit more appealing, but I wasn’t as excited as I had been a few days prior. Either way, Saturday morning rolled around and Colleen and I made our way to the Hale Day Camp.
Colleen and I got to the reservation about 30 minutes before the start. We got checked in and got all of our gear set up. Running a short 3.5 mile loop made it possible to carry very little gear each lap which was amazing. Each lap I only had a water bottle, and in between I made sure to get my calories in. The loop itself was probably my favorite TARC course to-date. It was a great mix of technical single-track and some fire roads. While there weren’t any major climbs, there was a decent amount of up and down. The hardest part of each lap was running across some sandy beaches along the pond that absolutely killed my legs!
At around 9:10, the 6-hour runners were off after the speedy 5K group took off running. As soon as we started running, I didn’t feel on top of my game. My breathing felt labored and I didn’t feel well-rested. I was able to at least convince myself that I didn’t have any set distance to cover. If my body wanted to quit after 3 loops, that would be fine. I just was out there to enjoy the trails. Since the loop was relatively short, the first loop felt more like a warm up. We came back to the aid station where I grabbed my water bottle, ate a little bit of Gu, and took off. I was looking to keep my time at the aid stations short, because it really is deceiving how much time you can lose eating food or chatting with the wonderful volunteers.
Lap 2 my main goal was to keep it consistent with lap 1. I was at a bit of a disadvantage with the aid station time, but I did my best to keep my pace even and stay focused. I started to feel a bit more at ease, but still not great. I found myself focusing more on my health than on my running which was really distracting. My throat was sore, I was coughing, my nose was runny. It wasn’t the best. But as the miles clicked by, it started to feel more comfortable. Lap 2 was pretty much on par with lap 1, and I kept rolling along. Lap 3 was the absolute low point of the race. I was only 25% done, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep my pace, people were passing me. It was at this point when I started bargaining with myself: “6 loops would be okay, maybe 5. Well, as long as I run for 20 miles that is a good long run”. Lap 3 was the pits. But pretty much as soon as it ended my spirits reversed. Physically, I felt a bit stronger and I really wasn’t feeling fatigued at all. It was all in my head.
When I went out for lap 4, my main concern was still consistency. With Bear Mountain coming up in about a month, I want to make sure to have an extremely even race. I was using the 6 Hour as a way to test my pacing and endurance, so having the set loop to repeat made it great practice. By the end of the day, all of my laps were within 6 or 7 minutes of each other, which I would consider great pacing (at least for me). I was making sure to keep fueling. I switched to just drinking tailwind and having some Gu in between laps. Laps 4, 5, and 6 were all really smooth and even. At this point, I started to set my goal for the end of the day. I knew I could definitely do 7, I would really like to do 8, and 9 would be a great day given how I was feeling.
When I started lap 7, Colleen was in the aid station to start lap 6. She was flying! And feeling amazing! And an amazing burst of positive energy to keep me going. She was super supportive and encouraging for me to keep running. At this point we had about 2 and half hours left of running, but she was certain I could go for the full 6 hours. We left the aid station together and ran together for about half the lap. I got it in my head I had to run each lap exactly the same, but really I probably should have taken it down a notch and just enjoyed the next few laps. I hollered to Colleen I was going to go off ahead (which she didn’t hear) and took off. Even though I tried pushing it, I was only in the aid station a minute or two before Colleen.
At that point, Colleen had hit her 4 hour goal, so she was calling it a day. I tried to keep it quick at the aid station and went out for lap 8. By this point, my sickness felt like less of a burden compared to good old-fashioned tiredness. I had been running for 4 hours and change. Fatigue was setting in. But also, there was a ton of time left! So I knew I could make 9 laps, and just over 50K happen. I finished up lap 8 and then went out for lap 9 with just over an hour left. Since I figured I wasn’t going to make the cutoff for going out for another lap, I eased up a bit and just tried to enjoy the last lap. I was pretty beat up, but the course was still a ton of fun, and the sun started to break out. I wound up finishing lap 9 at around 5 hours and 36 minutes, right after the cutoff for starting one more lap! Josh, the race director was super supportive and said I should go out to try and beat the sweep crew, but I was tired and pushing that hard seemed impossible and stupid. I called it a day at 9 laps, 5.5 hours of running, and 31.5 miles covered.
Once again, TARC put on an incredible event. The course was incredibly well marked, all the volunteers were amazing, and every runner was super friendly! This was also the first “cupless” race I had ever been to, and I thought it was awesome how little waste this resulted in. As a tune-up for Bear Mountain, I was incredibly pleased. Sure, I didn’t feel 100%, but I was really pleased to be able to get 50K done. While I am a bit under my goal mileage for the event and for the the week, I still think this was an amazing event that I will definitely be back at.
In no way at all does it feel like I have been training for 10 weeks in 2016. This year is absolutely flying by and with races starting to get close, things are starting to get exciting! While I have been writing this blog as a build up to Bear Mountain, my true goal for the first half of 2016 is the Vermont 100. As such, I have a bunch of “tune-up” races leading up to my hundred mile goal. One of them is Bear Mountain, but this coming weekend I have the TARC Hale and Back 6-hour. I am really excited for this race for a bunch of reasons. One is that TARC puts on great, low-key events with a bunch of local runners. Honestly, most of the time they feel like social events than grueling ultra marathons. I am also excited to give my first timed event a try. It is a completely different experience to run for a set time rather than a set distance. Since how far I go will be completely decided by me, I am curious to see what my result will be.
Here’s what went down in week 10:
Still doing the consulting grind, I came out to California on Monday. Usually, I take Monday as a rest day, but with daylight savings time giving me some extra light after work, I decided to swap my Tuesday run for Monday and hit the trails for some hill repeats. I was super happy I did as the trails and sunset were stunning and a welcome change of pace from the bike paths I have been running endlessly.
On Tuesday, I decided to get up and just run a few easy miles around my hotel. This training cycle has gone so smoothly, it felt so bizarre to run not according to a plan. It felt pretty nice to have no distance, pace, workout specific goals to hit.
Wednesday I overslept. While daylight savings is great for after-work excursions, it makes running in the morning pretty awful. There is nothing like running for an hour and a half in the morning in complete darkness. So, I got up for my alarm and reset it. This turned out to be a mistake. After work I went to a new path to try and spice up my running routes. Turns out, it was no different than what I normally run expect it was about 80 degrees. Even though it was an easy day, roasting in the dry hot sun for 10 slow miles was absolutely miserable.Oh well, mental training for Vermont I suppose.
Thursday I did some 2 mile repeats at 6:50 pace along the bike path. I felt really really good on this run (probably because I hydrated extra well after being roasted the night before). Before this training cycle, I found it really easy to skip workouts like this, but the variety and challenge they add has been really rewarding.
Friday I got back to a cold Boston. Colleen and I went out for a nice loop around the reservoir at a conversational pace. Fridays are probably the hardest day for me motivation wise, just being exhausted from traveling in Thursday night and the time change, so it is nice to have Colleen motivating me to run.
Saturday meant it was long run time! Colleen and I both decided that a flat run along the river was more appealing than anything involving hills, so we set out along the Charles. Colleen was running 16 miles while I was planning 22. Colleen was still recovering from her respiratory illness, so she was on the “struggle bus” but I did my best to keep her spirits high. After 14 miles together, Colleen circled back to the apartment and I picked up the pace for the last 8 miles to around 7:20/mile. I am feeling really comfortable with my endurance, and the whole run felt pretty relaxed.
Sunday Colllen and I ran together again! This time, 9 easy miles along the river again. Yes, we are probably being lazy not getting enough hills or trails. But having a puppy, traveling for work, and having Colleen be sick means we cut corners sometimes. It happens.
During week eight, I learned that Long Beach, CA is mostly flat! And I am training for a bunch of very hilly races. So, that might be a problem. As I get used to traveling to the west coast every week, one of my main concerns is the lack of variation in my runs. Sure, I can try and cut across the city to some minor hills, but the endless streetlights and huge intersections make that seem like a pain. My plan moving forward is to try and balance my work and running life (because that is all I do out here) so that I can hit up some local trails during the week. That way, I am getting hills and trails (win-win!).
As for the training, I think I am starting to feel some endurance benefits on top of my perceived increase in speed. Two 71 mile weeks in a row and I still feel fresh. After my long run this week, I did have a bit of knee pain, but it seems that was just a side-effect of an intense trail long-run.
I started off the week exploring the town of Cerritos where my hotel was with some fartleks. Fartleks are probably my favorite workout, not because of the name, but because the surge of speed for just a couple of minutes is incredibly satisfying and challenging.
Wednesday I did an easy run along the same bike path I found on my Tuesday run. My plan called for some easy miles, so I just went out and enjoyed the warm weather. One of the strangest things about California to me so far is that I was on a great bike path, in great weather, but there was nobody around! For a part of the country with so many people, it felt oddly desolate.
Thursday I went out to the bike path again for some miles at around 7:00/mile after a warm up and ended with a cool down. Nothing special about this run, just some quality miles.
Friday I was back in Boston, and I did an easy 6.5 miles to rest up for the long run. Besides the time change being a total curve ball, the change in climate is certainly going to be interesting week to week.
Saturday I went out and hit the trails. Midday, I drove up the Middlesex Fells and set out to do 4 loops of the reservoir trail. Of the two main loops in the park, the “Res” trail is less technical and hilly, but it felt like the perfect “welcome-back” to the woods and good prep for Bear Mountain. While I felt like I was running harder than my pace indicated, it still was a fantastic run.
Sunday I got some easy miles in with Colleen! She was still recovering from throwing out her back earlier in the week, but she ran super smart and we had some great miles together.