Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Catoctin 50K...

July has been a busy month. I ran 5 races, in 5 different states. Three of these races were Ultra's. Now it's time to rest and recover for a while before heading back out to Leadville for the 100 miler.

I ran the Catoctin 50K trail race in Frederick, MD today. This is a very "low key" event. Jo and I were joined by Derek Schultz (who also ran), and his father (who volunteered at the race). We all shared a hotel room, and as always, we had a great time with them both. They're truly great people and we consider them to be family.

(On a side note, Derek took 3rd place overall. He's a very talented runner, a great mentor, and a fantastic friend)

Derek and I getting ready.

Here is a short list of the things they DO NOT offer with this event:

- T-Shirt
- Finishers Medal
- Course Markings on the trail
- Sympathy

These are a few things they do offer:

- 5 decently stocked aid stations
- An abundant opportunity to walk and reflect on your desire to run Ultra's

This race is as close to a "Fat Ass" event as I have ever run. I think the race director likes it simple and prides himself on the culture he's developed over the years.

The race started promptly at 8:00 AM after a runner briefing. This race is an "out and back" course, which I'm not a big fan of. The first aid station is at 6 miles, the second is 3 miles later, and the last is at the turnaround (then repeat on the way back). The first 5 miles were steep downhill on VERY loose footing.

Me at the start.

This is my primary complaint and this is why the race is so slow. The course itself isn't too challenging, but the footing is terrible due to the huge rocks on the course. When the terrain changes, the large rocks vanish and are replaced by grapefruit sized stones that litter the entire trail...loose, and rolling underfoot. If you prefer to stay upright, the only option is to go VERY slow and pick your footing carefully. With my key races for the year still on the horizon, I elected to be very careful and pick my way through the worst sections of trail. These sections account for almost ALL the trail.

After the first 5 miles of downhill, the course leveled out some and became pretty reasonable. I hit the first aid station, refilled my bottles and headed out.

The next three miles prior to the middle aid station were pretty reasonable to run and I took advantage of it. It was gradual downhill. (Note to Self....8 of the last 9 miles are downhill. I'm coming back this way later...probably slowly).

Again, I was in and out of the aid station quickly, grabbing some PB&J along the way.

The next 6 miles to the turnaround were mixed hills with a steep downhill for the final 4 miles before crossing a wide creek and hitting the final aid station.

I'll summarize the trip back. I ran uphill for most of the next 15 miles. Got lost at mile 28 due to the absence of decent course markers. I cussed alot, lost interest and questioned my reason for choosing this race.

Derek finishing in 3rd!!

As an ultrarunner, people often ask..."Why would you run SO far, on tough trails, in brutal conditions". While running this course, I was confronted with the reality that I had no reasonable answer to this question, as it relates SPECIFICALLY to THIS race. This race isn't special. It's not iconic in any way. The trails aren't scenic. So, what was there to gain? Training? No....that doesn't fit either. I totally lost interest in this event at mile 25 and reluctantly continued down the trail. A truly terrible place to be.

On an positive note, the volunteers were amazing people, and they were all very helpful. They were encouraging and had a real commitment to supporting the runners.

I finished this race closer to my typical 50 mile time than my typical 50K time. But I really didn't care. I was happy to be ending a day that was dominated by RUN, HIKE, BITCH, MOAN (repeat).

Me coming to the finish...FINALLY!

Post race nutrition!

For nutrition, I carried no food at all, but did use 2 handheld bottles. One with water, the other with Gatorade. It was in the mid 90's and I drank frequently, depleting both bottles between every aid station. During the race, I ate the equivalent of one full PB&J sandwich, three Pringles chips, a handful of grapes, and some watermelon.

Me and Derek exchanging stories.

Because I'm tired of even thinking about this race, I want to pass along a funny conversation I overheard as the finish line came into view. There were three women standing at the top of the last steep hill, cheering the runners on as they finished the race. This is a conversation between two of these women.

Woman #2- YEAH HE IS!!! GO RUNNER!!! (Quieter...yet loud enough for others to hear) Look at the abs on that runner! GO RUNNER! GO ABS!
Woman #1- GO RUNNER!
Woman #2- NICE ABS!!! (Quieter...yet again, loud enough for others to hear) I need to get HIS number!
Woman #1- He's #4! It's pinned right there on his shorts!

HAHAHA!!! That was awesome! Jo (my wife) was standing nearby and was laughing her ASS off!

My August is less eventful, and more meaningful. I'll do the NYC Triathlon next weekend, and thereby retire from the triathlon scene, never to return. Then I'll rest and go easy until the Leadville 100 mile race on the 20th.

A final note...during my race today, I had some runners see me on the trail and comment that they had been reading my blog. Some of these people were total strangers, but recognized me from my pictures. It's very cool that people are reading these posts, and I appreciate the feedback and discussions this forum promotes. Thanks to you all!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cross Training...With a Finishers Medal

I wanna share a little secret...I'm pretty lazy. Not your average "Sit on the sofa eating chips and soda" LAZY, but I am "Endurance Athlete" LAZY. This means I hate to train in the traditional sense. It's true that I do run several miles every day and I work on my core several times a week, but it tends to be more random than it should be. So in an effort to combat this laziness, I have to compete on a very regular basis. So instead of a traditional long training run, I do a marathon. Instead of doing hill repeats, I do a 15K trail race with lots of hills. And instead of cross training...I do triathlons.

Secret #2...I hate triathlons. In all honesty, I'm generally annoyed by any "athletic" event that gets finished before lunch. How challenging can it be if you aren't forced to miss at least one meal? Isn't that part of the challenge?

So I had a cross training day on Saturday at the New Jersey State Triathlon. I chose this event because I did it last year and I really liked it. Partially because they had a beer garden at the finish. So you can imagine how annoyed I was when I noticed they had switched the beer garden for an ice cream stand this year! Seriously?!?!? This is BULLSHIT! I'm not coming back next year...

This triathlon has a 500 meter swim in Mercer Lake. The water was 88 degrees, which meant I didn't need my wet suit. This is good...I hate my wet suit. It's a bitch to pull on and even harder to get off. Side note...I have a wet suit for sale.

The picture below is me scanning the transition area, thinking to myself..."How many of you bastards ran a 50 mile trail run through the Rocky Mountains 6 days ago? Nobody? Yeah...I thought so. Prepare to die!"

I'm not a particularly strong swimmer. And if you've never had a swim coach, neither are you. You may THINK you are, but you're not. Sure, we can ALL swim. But to swim competitively at any distance beyond 7 feet, you really need some professional assistance. It's much harder than it looks. I generally finish the swim in the middle of the pack (someplace I hate to be). So to make up ground, I have to CRUSH people on the bike and run.

Out of the water with a few young ladies!

I always love to finish the swim, because that means I get to go ride my bike. This is special to me because I never ride my bike. Ever. This is my third triathlon for 2011 and I've been on my bike twice before today's race, and both times were in my other triathlons. Incidentally, my bike is for sale. I'm serious...it's on Cragslist right now.

Below you can see a picture of the bike I have for sale.
Now from the other angle...

I made up alot of ground on the bike and I really enjoyed the ride. I'm very comfortable on my bike at high speeds and I love stalking other cyclists until I can finally reel them in and pass them. It's a huge game for me during the bike leg of the race.

I counted 87 people that I passed on my bike, and I was passed 4 times. But in my defense, I was passed by those serious cyclists with the aero helmets and wind resistant riding suits. They take this shit too seriously. This isn't Kona...we're in freaking New Jersey!!!

After ditching my bike at the transition area, I headed out into my run. This is only a 5K run, so I don't have high expectations. I don't do well at that distance anymore, especially coming off a bike. My legs are always dead for the first 2 miles.

The run was actually pretty nice because the route kept us in shade most of the way and it was about 102 degrees out at the time. I felt comfortable and relaxed, but I hate running straight off the bike. I suppose this is something I could train for...

I finished 2 minutes slower than I had the previous year. This may be a result of it being 20 degrees hotter this year, or maybe because I ran Leadville last weekend? Whatever the reason, it doesn't matter. This is just a cross training day.

At any rate, my triathlon career is coming to a close. I originally got into it because I always thought of it as the pinnacle of endurance excellence. Triathletes were pretty badass and I wanted to be one too. But since then, I've realized there are other opportunities to push my body to the extreme and I have chosen to take that path instead. My triathlon "Grand Finale" will take place in New York City on August 7th, and I'll make the most of my final day in this sport.

All athletes find their home eventually, and mine is on the trail, high in the mountains somewhere. That's where I belong so that's where I'll be. But I will miss my cross training days, I'm sure. Maybe it's time to get a coach?


Monday, July 18, 2011

A Long Run Through The Rockies

I came to Leadville to run this race and test my body at altitude. I'm a flat lander, living, running and training at sea level. This race starts at 10,000 feet and hits 12,000 feet, four times along the course. I really had no idea what to expect and was worried that I might DNF, which I have never done in an ultra. The elevation is intimidating, and the field is stacked with some great runners for this distance. And here I am, coming from sea level on the East Coast, trying to compete with runners that live and train at this altitude all the time.

I got up at 3:30 for a 6:00 AM race start and ate a hearty breakfast of jelly donuts, Coke, and coffee. My usual pre-race meal. Jo and I left the hotel at 5:20 and arrived at the race start a few minutes later. The morning was a chilly 48 degrees at race time.

One of the cool things about a Leadville start is that they fire a shotgun to begin the race. I was lined up in the front and was happy to see this ritual take place. One of the uncool things about Leadville is that they make you start by running straight up a ridiculously steep hill. I'm not convinced this is necessary. My initial plan was to walk to the top, but I got wrapped up in the fun and ran.

Once we reached the top of the hill, I couldn't catch my breath and really began to worry about my ability to compete at this altitude. I ran an easy pace for 5 miles before my breathing finally settled down. There were alot of negative thoughts banging around in my head during that time.

The race heads uphill to the first mountain pass right away. The pass is 10 miles from the start and the first aid station is 7 miles in. The hills are pretty manageable leading to the first aid station, but begin to get very technical and steep for the next 3 miles. Once we crest the pass, we have 3.5 miles of easy downhill to the Printer Boy aid station at 13.5 miles. This is the first opportunity to get aid from my crew. I made it there in 2:30 and was happy with my time considering the pass that we just climbed up through. At this point, I was feeling very good and beginning to feel like I might have a decent day on the trails. I spent 3 minutes getting aid, and ran out to the trail feeling good.

From Printer Boy, we continued our descent for another 1.5 miles, crossed a roadway, and headed up again for several miles. We hit the Rock Garden aid station at mile 18 and then continued along rolling terrain until we began our ascent to Shermans Pass. This was a tough climb and got very steep in several sections. Once we crested the pass, we had a steep technical downhill to the 25 mile mark, which is the turn around point. This is also the next place we can meet our crew. I got there 4:45 into the run and still felt really good. I took aid and headed back out the way I came.

I hustled back to the Printer Boy aid station crossing the highest pass along the way. At this point, a storm rolled in and dumped cold rain and hale on us as were cresting the pass, and during our descent. I was wearing nothing but running shorts and shoes, and got VERY cold until the storm passed. Shortly thereafter, I saw nearby mountains getting slammed with lightening storms and being hammered with intense rain. I crossed my fingers that the storms would satisfy themselves with abusing the 14ers and leave us alone. And they did, but the scene was breathtaking from our vantage point at 12,000 feet.

During my descent after the storm, I tripped on a section of single track and landed hard. In the process, I scraped up my right hand, right knee and my back. This is significant because it's only the second time I have ever fallen during a trail run and the first time that I have left behind skin and blood. It was a demoralizing setback, but I pushed on.

I got back to Printer Boy in 2:15 from the turnaround, which is the exact time it took me cover that section of trail before. I was pleased to see consistent splits this far into the race. I fueled up, had a cold beer, and headed toward the finish.

I had covered the distance from start/finish to Printer Boy in 2:30 previously and hoped for the same on the return. But that wasn't meant to be. That part of the trail is more favorable for good running on the outbound and more challenging headed inbound. I covered it in 3 hours and was somewhat disappointed by that.

I had really hoped for sub 10 hour finish and crossed the finish line at 10:00:24. I was bummed, but happy with my time, especially because of my doubts prior to the race. Leadville is a very tough 50 and I wasn't in a position to train at that altitude. I had to rely on my conditioning and cardio capacity to pull me through.

On fueling...During the race, I ate very little. I had an Ensure at Painter Boy both times I came through. I had two Ensure's at the turn at mile 25 and also ate a cookie. I also drank one beer at mile 34. I didn't take anything else in during the race. In retrospect, I realize I should have fueled more than I did, but I'm still messing with my strategy and am focused on perfecting it prior to my next big ultra.

This race was important because I'm coming back next month to run the Leadville 100 and wanted to use this as a supported training run for that event. This race gave me confidence that I could complete the 100 within the 30 hour time limit, understanding that I need some more training, proper rest, and more focus on my fueling strategy.

Our time in Leadville has been amazing and I can't wait to get back. This is truly a wonderful place to for an athlete to enjoy the outdoors.

Happy trails friends!!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leadville...My Nirvana...

If you look closely...you can see me running across the top of the Leadville sign!

This is, of course, my first trip to Leadville. After reading so many stories about this place and knowing how many great runners have done amazing things here, it's exciting just to be in this town. For any fan of ultras, this is a trip that is definitely worth making.

I went for a 4 mile run at 4:30 this morning to test my legs and lungs at 10,000 feet. This town is ALL hills, so going easy wasn't an option. I felt sluggish, but that was to be expected. Not alot of activity in Leadville that time of day, so I used the streets as if they were MINE!

So to test myself further, I decided to climb Mount Elbert. This is the highest peak in Colorado and the second highest peak in the lower 48 states. The base of the mountain is a 30 minute drive from Leadville, so this opportunity is too good to pass up. The trek to the summit is a 12 mile round trip with chin scraping inclines. A perfect way to test my legs and lungs at this altitude!

The climb started on some double track and had gentle inclines at first. And as if Ron Horn was involved, we had a creek crossing almost immediately and were left to hike uphill in wet shoes.

The trail eventually became single track and wound through large aspen groves that were dotted with beaver ponds fed by beautiful mountain streams that are fed from the glaciers far above us. A beautiful setting.

Due to the unusually nice weather, there were several hikers and climbers on the trail. And I made it my mission to pass them all. Jo didn't see the entertainment in this, but she humored me. How many times have I been told "NOT EVERYTHING IS A RACE!!!"? I dunno...but I'm not sure I understand that logic. So I set out to smoke all those bastards on my mountain.

After we broke through the treeline, the trail began to climb fast. We were out in the open with the sun beating on us and navigating some very steep terrain. But as we climbed higher and higher, the views just kept getting better. It was truly stunning!

As a side note, my legs felt great and my lungs managed the altitude well. This was certainly inspiring confidence in my chances of doing well during the 50 mile race.

The higher we climbed, the steeper it got. Jo was doing great and I allowed her to dictate our pace. It was a tough climb, but she kept pumping her legs! I was pacing, but she was strong enough to keep up and pass plenty of locals that are accustomed to this altitude. We were kicking serious ass on that mountain.

If it was a race, I'm sure we BOTH would have got an AG award, if not an overall award. Just sayin...

We finally made it to the summit! Because we were at the highest peak in Colorado, we had the most amazing views of the Rockies. Truly stunning! We had a quick snack of trail mix and a power bar, and headed back down for a quad crushing descent!

The climb took us 3:20 and the descent took us 2:10. We would have made it down faster, but I wanted to go easy on my legs because I have to save something for Sunday.

Climbing a 14'er has been on my bucket list for a long time. And to do it here, in Leadville was amazing. And to tackle to highest peak in Colorado is even better. It would be tough to have a better day than this. Truly amazing!

Now...I have 2 full days to rest before the Leadville Silver Rush 50 and I'm going to make the most of it. I feel strong and prepared. The trip today gave me confidence in my training and I'm sure it will carry over into the race on Sunday.

Stay tuned for a race day update and photos! Thanks for all the support!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

...And They All Fall Down...

The Double Trouble 15K/30K Trail race was held today at the French Creek State Park. All the usual suspects were in attendance and there was a large field of talented elite runners that made the trip for this event. The race was what I would consider "typical" in almost every way. 1) Ron started the race late. 2) Derek was on hand to take pictures. 3) I lumbered along being generally annoyed that so many fast people decided to attend yet another race I was running.

But there was an unusual phenomenon that occurred today. For some unknown reason, a huge number of trail runners made sudden and violent impact with the ground. I have never seen so many people bloodied and bruised during a single event. This absurd scenario wasn't restricted to the inexperienced, uncoordinated, or intoxicated. Even talented trail runners were falling victim to the compelling gravitational pull that seemed somewhat over exaggerated at French Creek today. It started in the first 200 yards when I hurdled over the body of a young lady that made a face plant directly in front of me. From that point on...bodies were dropping all around me. Even my poor wife "fell" victim to this...

In an effort to pad my personal race statistics, I invited as many inexperienced trail runners as I could for the Sunday race. My intention of course, is to convince these people that trail running is easy and it's really just a big party in the woods with some light recreational running mixed in. As a result, I was able to convince my intern and one of my engineers to join Jo and I at the race. Neither had ever been in a trail race before, and because my invite came on Thursday, neither had even considered training for the distance or the conditions. "Not to worry" I assured them. "It's easy".

To my surprise, they both did very well and finished with smiles on their faces. I was very happy to see Aaron and Shasta cross the finish line together, side by side, trying to edge each other out over the last 100 yards. Trail running brings out the best in people.

The most amazing thing about trail running is the people. I can share the trail for 1 mile with a total stranger and become life long friends with that person. It's as if every race is an epic journey that you share with like minded people, and that journey creates a bond that will last forever. This might sound implausible, but it's reality. All of my best friends are people I met on the trail and they will be my friends forever, bonded together by a common love and respect for our sport and the fantastic lifestyle it provides. This truth is evident after every race when we choose to socialize for 4 hours while discussing a race that lasted for 90 minutes. This doesn't happen in any road race, anywhere in the world. We're a different type of athlete and I love it.

I limited my day to the 15K because I'm trying to be mature about my running, which seems to be a constant struggle for me. I made Derek Schultz promise to tackle me at the end of the first loop if it appeared that I might head back out for another 15K. True to his word, Derek shoved me across the 15K finish line, thereby ending my day. Good friends are hard to find, and I always know I can count on Derek.

It's exciting and intimidating to know that the next trails I run on will be in Leadville. And those trails will be at an oxygen depleting elevation that will certainly tax my body and test my limits. But I think I'm prepared for this test and am looking forward to the challenge. It's made easier by the great group of friends here at home that I run and train with. The support and encouragement makes all the difference in the world and I want to do well for myself, and for all of the people that have helped me.

On to Leadville....

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Long Way to Go...

Being an ultra runner can be a lonely existance. We spend hours and hours running alone, in the woods, on trails, way up on some mountain, in some remote location. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, I'm just illustrating that it can be difficult to chat with people about the excitement, freedom, pain and suffering that often accompanies us on the trail. So we blog...

As I type this blog, Jo and I are making lists and deciding what we need to do to get ready for our trip to Leadville, Colorado. This is our first cross country trip, specifically for a race. I'll be running the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Ultra next weekend. There's alot of things to do for a trip of this magnitude.

This is an important race. Not because 50 miles is a big deal, but because Leadville is a BIG deal. It's iconic in my sport and it's an historic race. It's also important to me because I plan to do the Leadville 100 mile race in August and this race will help me prepare for the longer distance. This will give me a chance to test myself at 10,000-12,000 feet of elevation. I can test hydration, nutrition, and most importantly, race strategy. It's a huge opportunity to learn and prepare. It will also give my crew/race manager/wife, some experince supporting me during my run through the Rocky Mountains. Her role is as critical as mine.

I go into this adventure with confidence, but also with an open mind and a humble heart. I embrace the challenge and can't wait for the race to begin. No matter what happens, it will be an amazing adventure that we will never forget.

Stay tuned for details!