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, September 25, 2011

You Win Some...You Lose Some

This was another weekend of back to back trail races designed to further erode the last bits of energy in my system. On Saturday, I ran the Trails for Tails 40 mile ultra in Hanover, PA., then followed that brilliant move up by running the Conestoga 10 mile trail "run". Both races were challenging, but for different reasons.

I was joined in Hanover by my friend Paul Peters and his family. We all drove to Hanover the evening before the race and shared dinner together while plotting our strategy for the next day. As it turned out, Paul and I had a similar strategy...run as fast as possible for 40 miles. I like Paul because we think a lot alike.

We assembled at the start area at 6:00 AM, got our race packets and began getting ready for the race. Our group rolled in fully equipped for an ultra and immediately set up a tent, coolers, chairs and race gear of all kinds. Now keep in mind, this is how we roll at an ultra...it's not unusual to us...but we were the only group that was this well equipped.

Me and Paul right before the start....

As the picture suggests, the morning started off foggy and the air was thick. It wasn't warm yet, but it still felt oppressive.

After a few words from the RD, the race was off. Paul and I were planning to be pretty aggressive, so we took to the front early.

Please note...this is NOT a belly shirt I'm wearing. It just looks that way in the photo.

Paul is a faster runner than I am, so I was planning to keep him in sight as long as possible, but not burn myself out. I think I lost Paul somewhere in the first 400 meters. The dude is fast. Like cheetah fast.

This race is five 8 mile loops with some short sections of out and back. I figured I would see Paul again soon.

This race has a relay option, so I really didn't know if I was running with ultra runners or relay runners most of the time. SO I just settled in and ran my race, knowing it would all sort itself out over the next several hours.

Side note...why do people enter an ultra as a relay team anyway? Just go run a 10K like normal people. You're messing with my race and it annoys me. Do they realize that it DOESN'T make them an ultra runner? Anyway....

After getting lost once in the first loop, I came through the start/finish area in 1:15, which was right on my race plan. By this point, I was overheated due to the humidity and rising temps. I came through the finish line, took on some fuel, and shed some clothes.

The dude behind me in this picture stayed with me for about 15 miles. At about 14 miles, I realized I was running HIS pace instead of mine, which is a problem because he's faster than I am. So I eventually had to let him go so I could take care of ME. Due to the loops and the relay runners. I had no idea where I stood in the race at this point.

As anticipated, my 8 mile splits were slowing down with each passing loop. My goal was to finish in under 7 hours, so I stayed focused on that during the run. I don't know where that goal came from, I think I pulled out of my ass because I never ran a 40 mile race before.

After my 3rd lap, Jo told me I was in 5th or 6th place when I came through the start area. I wasn't sure where the data came from, but I took it to be genuine and started thinking about the finish. My thoughts began to spoil my mind and I quickly decided that I wanted a top 3 finish. Nevermind the fact that I've never finished in the top 10 at ANY ultra...I wanted MORE!

But here's the problem with my greed...by this time in the race, I had run with all the people in front of me except the guy in the #1 spot, and I already knew they were faster. But I didn't want to give up yet, so I kept pushing toward the front...wherever that was.

After the 4th loop, I was told that I was IN FACT, in 5th place. By this time, I was pretty tired and I knew the best position I would end up with was the position I currently held. As I started back out for my final loop, I began to wonder about the person in 6th place. My mind was racing with the possibilities. It was screaming, "HOLY SHIT!!! If you know you're in 5th, then THEY know they're in 6th! DUDE!!! They're coming for YOUR spot!!!".

With this in my paranoid mind, I began watching my split times with my left eye, and watching over my shoulder with my right eye. To further fuel my paranoia, there were no less than THREE relay runners that tried to stalk me during that last loop. The first one passed me, and I confirmed he was NOT the evil #6, but just a simple relay runner. The other two were running slow, so I naturally assumed they MUST be #6, so I throttled it. It wasn't until later that I learned that I was running from innocent relay runners.

Fast forward...#6 finished 45 minutes behind me.

I finally crossed the line, finishing solidly in 5th place overall!!!

I was greeted by Jo and my friend Paul (who finished 2nd overall). I checked my time at the finish line and they recorded my at exactly 7 hours! I was a little bummed to miss my goal of sub 7, but it was still a good result.

Immediately following the race, I started to prepare for tomorrow's race by taking my supplements and eating like an Ethiopian refugee. It was a good day and I was feeling good.

On Sunday, I ran the Conestoga 10 mile trail race. This is no ordinary 10 mile race. This is billed as the "Hardest 10 mile race on the east coast". I didn't make that up...it's right on their website.

I hadn't planned to run ANY race on Sunday, but was eventually talked into it by my good friend, Leon. I had heard about Conestoga and I knew it was tough, but figured I could use it as my recovery run from Saturday.

I want to say this right now...nothing about this day turned out as expected.

Packet pickup started at 7:00. At least that's what they advertised on the website, fliers, and the emails they produced. However, there were about 120 of us in the parking lot at 8:20 when the RD finally decided to show up and get to work on the race he planned, organized, advertised and scheduled for this day.

Who does shit like that?

This picture is my "Losing my temper" face while waiting on the RD to show up. If you look closely, you can make out my fake smile.

So anyway, Conestoga is a point to point race and we were picking up our packets at the finish line. They had buses scheduled to take runners to the start, but my plan was to have Jo drive me and Leon there, then meet us at the finish.

We eventually got our race packets and headed to the start line. This is me and my dear friend Leon at the start.

The plan was simple. Leon and I were going to run this entire race together and enjoy the experience as friends and fellow trail runners. At this point, I still liked Leon and was excited to be sharing this with him.

Three minutes after this photo was taken, Leon vanished into the woods like a freaking forest gnome and I never saw him again.

So let me recap for you...

1. I never planned to race today
2. I ran a hard 40 miler yesterday
3. I'm here to run and enjoy time with Leon
4. I'm now alone in the woods and my buddy is evidently a gnome

Well, all is not lost. I still get to enjoy this beautiful trail and have a nice run. At least I thought that was the case.

If you have run the Catoctin 50K or have ever read the things I have written about the Catoctin 50K then you'll understand my feelings about this trail.

Conestoga has 3000 feet of vertical climb over 10 miles. The climbs are steep and so are the downhills. In addition to being steep, the trails are muddy and rocky. More "bouldery" than rocky. Like shit you have to climb over, or lower yourself off of. I quickly realized that this is more of a survival exercise than a trail run. In all seriousness, I think I ran 1 mile and performed mountaineering tasks for 9 miles.

After a couple of miles into the boulder climbing and mud bath, I realized that Leon took off so fast because he knew he had tricked me into this race and wanted to get away from me before I caught on to his little ruse! PRICK!

At mile 7 of the race, we had completed the last enormous and retarded climb of the day. There was still more to come, but this was the last of the really stupid climbs. This is also the final aid station and a spot where Jo could take some pictures.

Here's a picture of Leon trying to escape me.

Here's a picture of me hot on his tail!

Jo also took this picture of the view from the aid station. I think I was stricken blind by pure frustration and I never noticed it at all. It really was a nice view.

The last 3 miles were almost reasonable, but still annoying. But at that point it didn't matter. They could have installed a damn escalator and I still would have been irritated.

Note to race directors everywhere...if YOU can't run your entire course, don't get sassy and advertise it as a trail RUN. Be honest and call it what it is. It's a damn HIKE!

The course record for this race is 1:30:00, which is a blazing speed for this trail. That's 9 minute miles. There is a cash reward for anybody that break that record. I personally doubt that it will ever happen.

On this day, I was laying down 16:30 miles. This is the slowest pace I have ever had in a race. I finished in 2:45:03, behind Leon by about 15 minutes.

The race was won by Josh Emery, a very fast and talented friend of mine. He came across at 1:45. Josh is a fantastic athlete and I was so proud of him for his work today.

After the race, it was clear that Leon was concerned about my perspective of the event. In his defense, he did claim to have forgotten that there were so few decent sections for running. In my euphoria of having that ridiculous race behind me, I decided to accept Leon's oversight and forgive him of any potential plot to kill me. Deep down inside, I know he's a good guy and I love him like a brother.

This is a picture of me, Jason, Leon and Josh exchanging stories about the trail after the race. In all seriousness, these are all wonderful people and I love them to death. I'm blessed to have so many great running friends in our area.

This weekend double took a lot out of me and I'm seriously considering taking some extra time off to recover. But if the trail calls my name, I suppose that's where I'll be!

Happy Trails Friends!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Double the Pleasure...Double the RUN!!!

Before I get down to business, I want to take a moment and thank everyone that has donated to my charity. And for those of you that are unaware, I am raising money for the HCM Foundation as part of my participation in the Javelina Jundred in November. You can view the details at...


If you can spare a few bucks, it would really make a difference in the lives of people that really need it.

And one more piece of news before I get started...I want to formally congratulate my dear friend Derek Schultz for his amazing finish at the Pine to Palm 100 in Oregon this weekend. Derek trained hard and flew 3000 miles to tackle a brutal 100 miler and came in 3rd overall. Derek is an amazing runner and I consider myself lucky to have him as a close friend and running partner. I'm convinced we're living in the Golden Age of ultra running and Derek is one of the emerging stars. We'll be reading about his accomplishments for years to come. CONGRATS DEREK!

As we come into the fall running season, I find my calendar packed with weekend doubles. This weekend was the first of many to come between now and November. On Saturday, I ran the Revenge of the Penguins 20 miler in Carderock, MD. and then ran the Philly Rock and Roll Half Marathon today.

These races fall one month after finishing the Leadville 100 and two weeks since my last ultra. The fall running season is a crazy blur of activity and I love it.

Revenge of the Penguins is a very low key race and pretty much under the radar. I was interested in it because there are so few 20 mile races available and it can make for an excellent training run. This race is run on a towpath along the C&O Canal and alongside the Potomac River. I found the idea of this race to be intriguing.

Jo and I got up early and drove 2 hours to Carderock to make it in plenty of time for the 8:00 AM start. There were approximately 300 runners in attendance, mostly from the DC area.

The format is out and back (which I despise). There were 9 aid stations on the course for 20 miles, so I didn't carry anything with me.

I'm somewhat perplexed by these shorter races that are run on flat and even ground. I don't run these types of races often and don't really know how to plan for them. I don't wear a GPS watch when I race or when I train. I don't know anything about my average split times or what my tempo pace is. I just run. That's my plan for every race I enter and for every training run I do. I just lace up my shoes, head out the door, and RUN. To the typical road runner, this probably sounds stupid, but to a trail runner or ultra runner, it really makes sense. You can't forecast race splits for the Hardrock 100 based on your times from the Umstead 100. Turnover rate and split times don't mean shit on the Trail. Therefore, I am at a total loss when running these types of races.

Soooo...when the race started, I ran like this race was the Olympic Trials. I went out FAST. It wasn't until the 3 mile mark that I realized I was in 3rd place overall. And while I'm pretty fond of my running, I'm also realistic. I am NOT a 3rd place runner, or top 1% runner. So after a few minutes of reflection...I backed off a bit.

Side note...this tendency of starting out too fast is pissing me off. Exactly who the hell do I think I am? I need to get this in check or I might kill myself. My lack of speed is why I became an ultra runner in the first place!

This is a picture of me running way too damn fast...

I finally relaxed and settled into a pace that seemed appropriate for what I wanted to achieve. I allowed several people to pass me while I listened to my iPod and took in the beauty of the "trail". At the turn, I counted the runners ahead of me and determined that I was in 27th place. This seemed more fitting for a runner like me.

Things were going pretty well until about mile 17 when I started to feel pretty sluggish. I knew right away it was a fueling issue. I hadn't eaten anything during the run and didn't bring anything with me. Once again, I'm a victim of my ultra running tendencies. If this were a 50 miler, I would have hit 3 fully stocked aid stations and eaten a PB&J and a cookie by now. And to be honest, I really missed having my crew (Jo) around to care for me. Who wants to race without a crew? This is madness!

Another side note...do I race ultras just so I can picnic in the woods...while I run? This should be explored.

I slugged out the last few miles at a slightly slower pace and got passed by a few more runners. I finally made it to the finish in 2:49:33 and was in 42nd place overall. This put me in the top 15%, right where I belong.

Me finishing...

I felt really good after the race, but I wanted to start preparing for my next race right away. The RD had pizza delivered to the finish, so I devoured 3 slices of that, I popped some electrolyte pills, Advil, and some multi-vitamins as soon as the race finished. I also drank plenty of water, sports drink and beer following the race. I had to restock the system ASAP so I could be prepared for what lies ahead tomorrow.

Out of the COUNTRY and into the CITY!!! These two races and venues could NOT have been any different!

The Philly Rock and Roll Half Marathon sounded like too much fun to pass up. Philly is a great city to run in and I was amped up for the race. I don't run many road races, and I rarely run races at this distance, but it sounded like a great use of my Sunday.

My lovely wife and several of our friends were also planning to attend this race, so I was also excited to see my friends and share this race with them too.

The start time was set for 8:00 and it was COLD when we were getting settled in our corrals. I was positioned in wave 6 and Jo was back in wave 19. We kissed goodbye and waited for the start.

Once I got running, the weather felt perfect. I was planning (hoping) for 8:00 splits for the entire distance. This was only important because it would guarantee a PR if I could hold that pace. I had no idea what to expect due to the 20 miler I ran yesterday. I just set my legs on cruise control and went along for the ride.

I am without my iPod because this race promises different bands stationed along the course. They represented almost every music genre and it was fun to listen to them all.

I got a little surprise at mile 4 when I heard somebody calling my name. When I looked over, I saw my friend Bart Yasso standing in the median cheering me on. I ran by and he gave me a high five! I love that guy...he's such an inspiration and such a great person! In addition to Bart, I saw my friend Bob Bodkin on the sidelines coaching his NF runners and I saw Mike Marsteller, the founder of HCM and a good friend, while he was cheering on his girlfriend, Lyndsay, in her first half marathon. All these great people cheered me on and gave me fantastic support.

I monitored my splits at each mile marker, which was made easy because they had timing clocks under every mile post. For the first 8 miles I was hitting 8:00 splits dead on. They were nearly perfect. I started to wonder how long this would last...Mile 9, another perfect 8:00. Mile 10 I was 1:20 into the race...perfect 8:00 splits. The same thing for mile 11, 12, and 13.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little surprised that I was maintaining this pace after my 20 mile race yesterday. But like I said before, I never time myself anymore, so I had no reason to think I could forecast my finish time. But I was feeling great and just kept the pace on lock!

I finished in 1:44:52... a new PR! Totally unexpected!

After I finished, I grabbed some food and wandered in the park listening to the bands while I waited on Jo to finish. The park at the Art Museum was quite a scene and I really enjoyed it.

I finally found a spot along the finishers chute and waited for Jo. She looked strong when she came into view and finished just shy of a PR at 2:20. She did great and I was really proud of her.

I think I scared the crap out of her when I yelled her name so I could get a picture!

We were also there with our friends Paul Peters who finished in 1:29, his wife Heather who rocked a PR in 2:25, our amazing friend Stephanie Goeckermann (pure badass and future ultra star no doubt) who tore it up with a 2:06, and our friend Nikki who ran her first half marathon in a time of 2:18!! I'm so proud of them all!

I love days like these because I get to share my sport with my wife. All too often, she has to set aside her race ambitions in favor of mine because I need her to crew during an ultra or help support in some way at a trail race that I plan to attend. It's nice to just go out and hit a road race for the sheer joy of running fast on asphalt (although, trails are still WAY freakin better) and spending the day with my wife and our awesome friends. It was a good day.

I'm going to "Double my Pleasure" again next week with a 40 mile ultra on Saturday and an extreme 10 mile trail race on Sunday. So look for my race report next week!

Happy trails!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Pains: A Day of Pain and Inspiration

In 2010, the Labor Pains 12 Hour Endurance Race was the scene of my ultramarathon debut. I returned again this year to celebrate a full year of ultra running and to log some miles on the trail with a great group of friends.

The Labor Pains trail is a 5 mile loop, consisting of mostly single track. The trail has a few rolling hills and a couple of somewhat technical sections, but is mostly runnable and is definitely a good trail for logging miles. The trail conditions, coupled with the 12 hour time limit, makes this race the ideal venue for first time ultra runners and for people looking to reach a new milestone in their distance running career.

I went into this years race with very modest expectations because I'm still recovering from the 100 mile race in Leadville. I was still fatigued from that effort and I had contracted some respiratory bug as a result of tearing my body down during that race. I've read that illnesses are fairly common in the days following a 100 mile race, and that seems to be what happened to me. I just felt sluggish and lacked sufficient motivation to get excited about reaching for an impressive distance or time. This is my first experience with the symptoms of burnout, and I hate it.

The weather during the race added to the general malaise of the crowd. While temperatures in our area have been dropping recently, Sunday turned out to be very warm and exceedingly humid. It was oppressive and weighed heavily on most the runners that had been acclimating to the cooler temperatures during training.

In spite of my less than enthusiastic mood and my broke down body, I was excited to see so many great friends show up for the race. The scene was electric and it was almost impossible to ignore the energy of the crowd.

For a lot of us, this group is like a family, except we actually like each other. A big part of the success of the Pretzel City Sports events is the relationships that have been built at these races. And we all keep coming back to run and race with each other. But most importantly, we come to support each other, share stories, eat and drink together and simply enjoy being in the presence of people that we love and respect. It's a truly unique running crowd and I'm blessed to be a small part of it.

Team HCM getting ready at the start of the race. My good friend Derek is sitting this race out because he's in training for the Pine to Palms 100 mile race in Oregon. Left to right, JC Clifford, Bob Bodkin, Derek Schultz, and me. Three of the greatest running friends a guy can have and an inspiration to many.

The race was scheduled to start at 7:30. And as to be expected at a PCS event, the Ron Horn (race director) got us started at 7:38ish. It's part of the charm.

Like the overzealous idiot that I can be on occasion, I decided that I was certainly one of the fastest runners in the group, therefore, I needed to be leading the race right away. The picture below is a little fuzzy, but I wanted to make sure to include it as evidence of my delusional condition. I'm such a jackass sometimes...

I burned through the first lap WAY too fast, running every uphill, blowing through the aid station, and generally pretending this was a 10K. My plan was to average 55 minute loops all day. Loop one was right at 43 minutes.

Me coming to the end of the first loop. Still way out in the front of the group.

At this point, I felt like I had made my point for the day, and elected to adjust my pace to something more "Ultra runner-like". Meaning I drifted back into the pack where I belonged.

By the end of the second loop, some of us were already lapping some the slower runners.

This picture below is more evidence that I was running too fast for my current condition, because I'm in FRONT of Kelly Murdock (in the white shirt, not the black shirt). This has never happened before, and for good reason. Kelly is a tiny bundle of running fury. She's freakishly fast and makes most of us boys look silly. I adore the young lady, but she pisses me off with all that fast running. Come on KELLY! Give a brother a chance!

After making my fourth loop, it was time to start thinking about my goal for the day. Coming into the race, I wanted to run 50 miles for the day and call it quits. But with my current depleted condition, it didn't really make sense to push myself that hard just to achieve an arbitrary distance. So I decided to hit the 50K mark and be satisfied with that, making this my 10th ultra since my race here last year.

I made two more loops on the course, then made my 1 mile out and back to complete the 31 mile distance, and I declared my race complete.

This distance was uncharacteristically painful for me, and while I really wanted a few more miles, I was happy to make a responsible choice for once, and sit my ass down when my body suggested it. I'll take that as a sign of maturity.

This is a picture of me right after I finished 50K. As you can clearly see, I'm replenishing my nutrients with the best source of calories, carbs and fats. I'm hoping to be sponsored by a beer company for the 2012 race season. If anybody has any ideas, please speak up!

But my day was a long way from being over.

As I stated earlier, Labor Pains attracts a lot of runners that want to hit the ultra benchmark for the first time. I want to take some time in this blog to recognize those people and their inspiring efforts.

My good friend, and Leadville pacer, Paul Peters attended the race with his wife Heather. Her longest race to date has been a half marathon, but she's currently training for the Steamtown Marathon. She wanted so desperately to hit the 50K mark in this race, and she did. Heather gave me the honor to pace her into her first ultra finish and it's an experience I'll remember forever.

Our sport is emotional at times because of the massive feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction of achieving things that were once unthinkable. Heather and I talked about her transformation from overweight to ultramarathon runner while we were running her final mile. That brief time running with Heather near her finish is an experience that I will remember forever. Heather inspires me and I'm so proud of her.

Here is a picture of me pacing Heather to her finish. An ultra runner is born!!!

But my day just kept getting better...

Derek Schultz's father was at the race to nail down his first 50K finish. Randy is a constant presence at a lot of these races, either running, or volunteering his time to support other runners. Derek is a brother to me and Randy is much like a father. I have endless amounts of respect for this man, and his enthusiasm for this sport is infectious. While most men his age are content watching the world slip passed their window or on television, Randy is out there, on the trail, living life to the fullest.

I was honored to pace Randy to his finish. Here we are running together at the end of his long journey. It was a priceless experience for me.

And to cap off a perfect day of running, I was pleased to get a chance to go back out on the trail and pace Rob Goeckerman for his final 5 mile loop. Rob had previously finished a 50K in the past, but today, he was smashing that distance by attempting to put up a 45 mile run. Rob has dropped a huge amount of weight and has started to do some truly impressive things out on the trail. He has a great attitude and I loved running his last 5 miles with him, providing support and encouragement to the finish. I was amazed at how strong he finished, keeping a good pace all the way to the end. I loved being a part of his achievement.

Rob, you're a freaking BEAST!

Having the opportunity to help bring these runners to the finish was a gift and it's one of the most satisfying things I've done as a runner. I appreciate the opportunity immensely.

Here are a few more people that inspire me...

Jeff Hills is an animal. Jeff, like me, is very new to the ultra scene but he's been eating up trail races like a fat kid eats cake! This guy is everywhere, running his ass off. Jeff took the sport up later in life and has been accomplishing great things. I love running with Jeff and sharing stories.

Jeff is AWESOME!

My friend and fellow HCM Team member, JC Clifford is another example of a great human being that works to better his life along with those around him. JC trains religiously for these endurance events and works equally hard to make a difference in other people's lives. I've never met a better man. His energy is intoxicating and he's inspirational to talk to. I was proud to be there to witness his first 50K.

Great job JC!

I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Tania before the race. She is a frequent contributor to the Runner's World Forums, and while I have read what she writes, I had never met her in person. Tania was at the race hoping to complete her first 50K. She was very nervous before the race and her mind was clouded with self doubt. I tried to provide her with encouragement and hoped she would gain some confidence, but she seemed pretty content with her current mental state. But deep down, I knew she would be fine. She just needed to get on the trail.

I thought about her constantly during my own run. I was anxious to know how she was doing and I wanted to help her if I could. So I planned to finish my race, then jump in and pace Tania on her final 5 mile lap (or 2 if she was that far back). But to my amazement, when she did come in, it was to FINISH her distance! She didn't need my help at all and she rocked her first 50K. I was so excited for her and proud of her for gathering herself up and making it happen.

Tania is one tough chick, and she should be very proud of herself. I was amazed by her! Here she is coming into the finish of her first 50K. ALL SMILES!!! Great job!

It's not often that a person can find themselves surrounded by so many great people, doing so many inspirational things. All of these runners are normal, everyday people. But they're doing extraordinary things. I've always said that trail runners are the best type of people, and whenever I witness these events, that fact is embedded even deeper into my mind.

I'm honored to call these people my friends and I'm humbled by their actions. There is so much positive energy, respect, appreciation and love in our group of runners. I wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything and can't wait to get back on the trail with all these great people!

After my 50K race, I ended up pacing runners for another 7 miles before I ran out of people in need of my services. That put me at 38 miles for the day. I can live with that...for now!

Happy Trails!