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, October 30, 2011

A Very Cold Day, For the Blue and the Gray!!!

Jo and I ran in the inaugural Gettysburg Blue and Gray Half Marathon today, despite the ridiculous winter storm that arrived on the east coast a month early. I assume this is a direct result of global warming, or could quite possibly be George Bush's fault. I'm waiting on the Obama administration to confirm.

We were excited to run this race because it was partnered with the HCM Foundation, and for those that don't know, I run on the HCM Team. This is a fantastic charity and we were excited to go out and be a part of supporting this great cause.

This race was unique, because we got to pick sides. You could elect to represent the Union, or the Confederacy. Being a descendant from the south, I picked the Confederacy. Being an antagonist, Jo chose whatever I didn't.

The race bibs, and shirts were color coded according to which side you chose.

This is my 6th race in October, my busiest month of the year. I set new PR's in three of them. My races included a 5K, two marathons, two ultras, and this half marathon. I had low expectations for the day, especially because it follows my 50 miler from a week ago. I'm just going to go with the flow and have a nice, relaxing run.

We lost power at our house the evening before the race just as we were settling in to bed, which caused us to lose sleep for two obvious reasons:

1) No heat resulted in freezing our asses off
2) We kept waking up to check our cell phones to see what time it was, so we wouldn't oversleep and miss the race

Fortunately, the power came back on at 2 A.M. which resulted in all our lights and televisions to come on, waking us up again. With that problem solved, we slept quite well from 2:00 to 3:30, which is when we had to get up and head out for the race.

Or did we....? Well not really, we could have slept in longer, as we were advised upon arrival in Gettysburg that the race was being postponed for an hour due to the weather. Lovely!

I choose to blame the Republicans in Congress and the 1% for this major inconvenience.

As the sun came up, and we prepared for the start, it was obvious that it would be a beautiful day. Albeit, very cold.

 Jo and I were bundled up for this run. This is a shot of us before the race. We were freezing our asses off!

Most of the ice had melted from the roads by the time the race started, but there were still several very slick areas on the course. This lead me to threaten my all time record for saying the word..."SH**!!!"

My greatest fear while running is falling down. Falling down hurts. Falling down leads to unnecessary injuries and leads to possible ridicule and embarrassment. The type of ridicule and embarrassment that should only be reserved for Corporate CEO's and Wall Street bankers.

I had intended to run a 9 minute pace today and wasn't in the mood to be competitive and had no aspirations for a PR, or even a strong race. I finished in 1:54, which is an 8:44 pace. I don't carry a GPS device, so my pace is directed by feel. It was faster than my plan, but close enough.

After finishing, I grabbed a banana and retrieved my checked bag so I could snap some pictures. After returning to the finish line, I saw our friends Melissa and Jarrett coming to the finish. This was Jarrett's first half marathon and he was doing very well. Melissa, a more experienced runner, is getting her man trained well!

Shortly after our friends finished, I spotted my dear wife coming up the last hill to the finish line. She was looking good and was happy to be done.

Her smiling face!!!

Finishing strong! I'm so proud of my wife! It's never easy, but it's always fun!

Jo didn't get the finish time she was hoping for, but she improved over her Baltimore HM time by 7 minutes. That's solid progress and I'm very proud of her!

Overall, this was great race. Nothing can be done to improve on, or influence the weather. But even with the snow, ice, and cold temps, it was a great race. This is particularly pleasing because this was the first year for the event. With that in mind, it was very impressive. I hope this race breeds a loyal following and is around for many years.

I now have 2 weeks before the Javelina Jundred in Arizona and I plan to rest quite a bit between now and then. I feel very well prepared for that race and I have high hopes for doing well. But anything can happen. I'm just happy I didn't fall down today and make an ass out of myself!!!

Happy Trails!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tussey 50 Miler...An Uphill Battle!

I had the pleasure of running the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler this weekend. This fell on the weekend following back to back marathons, including a serious effort in Baltimore that resulted in a new marathon PR. I viewed this race as a great training opportunity for my upcoming 100 mile race in 3 weeks, so I didn't have any plan for a strong effort, nor delusions regarding the upcoming challenge. I was just going to have nice, leisurely, 50 mile run through the mountains. Seems simple enough.

But before I get into all of that. I want to take a minute to highlight the accomplishments of two of my fantastic friends (and employees) that ran the Ghouls and Fools night time 10K in Reading this weekend.

Shasta and Aaron have taken to trail running this year and I have had the pleasure of sharing some running time with them both. It's exciting to see people come into the sport and truly get excited about it. I think they both have amazing potential and I take great pride in watching them develop their skills on the trail.

Ghouls and Fools in a great event and I was sorry to have to miss it in favor of my race this weekend, but that's just the way it had to be.

Here is a picture of Shasta and Aaron enjoying a well deserved beer after the race. Definitely a Pretzel City Sports tradition. They both had incredible finishing times and I'm immensely proud of them. They're dear friends and I love them both. I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there with them.

The weather report for Sunday morning suggested temperatures would be in the mid to upper 30's. This was a lie. When we awoke and left for the race, there was ice on my vehicle and the thermometer in my truck was reading 28 degrees. I suited up accordingly.

While waiting for the action to begin, I eagerly gulped down my ultra running staples. Sweets...and a bottle of Ensure!

I reluctantly left the comfort of my truck to join the shivering masses at the start line. It was still very dark, with just a hint of rising sun off to the east. There were about 150 runners lined up and ready to head off for a long day of running.

I was shivering uncontrollably at the start while we listened to what must have been the longest rendition of the national anthem in recorded history. I'm as patriotic as the next guy...but DAMN let's get moving already!

This is me trying to look cool before the start despite the fact that I'm reasonable certain I will die of hypothermia before the first aid station.

We finally got started and I was certain we would warm up immediately due to the 3 mile ascent that starts this race. I was wrong. I froze my Irish ass off the entire way. The ascent was gradual but noticeable and grinding. I was careful to stay on a nice even pace in these early miles.

Eventually, the sun began to slowly rise over the horizon. It was taking an unusually long time to come up today for some reason. But it was a very welcome sight!

To my surprise, it did absolutely nothing to warm me up. I was still freezing, and now irritated that the sun was laying down on the job.

Our first aid station came at the top of our climb at mile 3. I passed right on through without stopping, fearful of "cooling down" from the run. We were now continuing downhill for a while, into the valley floor. We ran another 4 miles to the next aid station, which I also passed up.

Jo was scheduled to meet me at aid station 3, where her crewing duties would begin. This is approximately 11 miles into the race. When I finally reached her, she filled my bottle while I drank an Ensure, and I immediately headed back out.

This entire race is run on fire roads. Most of them are gravel, and there are a few paved sections. The support crews simply follow the same course all day long, which is excellent for crewing.

Jo caught this pic of me in the side view mirror while driving past me during the race. I thought it was kinda cool!

The scenery was beautiful and the fall colors were on full display. I wanted to really take the time to appreciate my surroundings and my good luck in being able to enjoy this first hand, but I had work to do!

At about 19 miles into the run, I began to lose interest quickly. I had fallen into a funk and I just felt terrible. I never considered dropping from the race, but I had definitely hit a low point. This continued for quite a while and I began to complain to Jo at every stop. She did a great job of getting me in and out of the aid stations without letting me whine too long.

I loved the course markings. The race director had mile markers posted for the entire route, and markers 1/2 mile out from each aid station. I was very happy to see each and every one of them.

At aid station 7, about the 50K mark, I was greeted by Jo, and Maria. Maria was a race volunteer and a person I know from the the Runners World Forums. She was kind enough to take the time to give me some insider intel on the upcoming miles while I was fueling up. None of what she had to say was appealing to me. This race has a lot of uphill, and the worst is yet to come.

Me posing with Maria. She's awesome!

When I saw the marker for mile 37, I made a conscious effort to pull myself out of my funk. I had a half marathon distance to cover and I simply decided I was going to make every effort to appreciate a nice run through the woods and enjoy it as much as possible. This mental maneuver worked and my attitude improved drastically! I began to feel better and I was enjoying the run once again.

Except for the hills!

Have you ever become angry at a hill? I do this all the time and can't seem to control myself. I find myself negotiating with the hill at first. Then reasoning with it. And when those tactics don't work, I begin to swear at it and invoke serious threats that usually include references to explosives and bulldozers.

These hills were LONG...brutal...and immune to my threats.

But despite all that, I somehow managed to regain a sense of joy as I continued my run.

Me coming into an aid station late in the race.

My mind was flirting with the possibility of a new PR, but I had lost so much time during my 20 mile funk, that it seemed impossible. But with my new attitude, I began to think there was still a chance.

The last 4.5 miles of this race are downhill, but to get there, I had to tackle the hardest hills on the course first. The worst being a brutal out and back section that lasted 4 miles. It included a long, steep ascent, with a brutal downhill. Then I had to turn around and repeat the process.

Fortunately for me, this was when I was feeling my best and I actually gained several positions during this 4 mile journey. But it was agonizing and disgustingly brutal.

This is me after finishing the out and back. I was feeling great and ready to tackle the final downhill to the finish. Yes...running uphill still...freaking never ending!

I'm now at 45.5 miles into my race and I know exactly what I need to push through that last 4.5 miles. I need a beer. And my faithful wife had one ready for me at the final aid station. I chugged an ice cold bottle of it, and headed out for my last few miles.

The beer evidently did the trick, because I can't explain where the energy came from to be running hard enough to have both feet off the ground. If I didn't have this picture, I wouldn't believe it.

I finished strong and scored a new PR of 9:04:54, shaving 17 minutes off my previous record! I was ecstatic!

I gathered my finishers medal and plopped down in the grass. A perfect end to a beautiful day in the mountains! My smile says it all.

This race is not easy. It has 5500 feet of ascent, and obviously, an equal amount of downhill running. But it can be very fast if a person is well conditioned for it. For me, my legs and my body were pretty used up when I showed up at the start line, so I was lucky to get the result I ended up with. I finished 26th out of 143 runners, and I am happy to take that in this race.

It was a beautiful day and a well run event. I will deifinitely be back again someday!

Happy Trails!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

2 Marathons, 2 States, in 2 Days

If you've read my blog in the last week, you know that I sprained my ankle last Sunday while doing a training run on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. This, of course, was a big deal to me due to the upcoming races on my race calendar and the importance of those races.

While exhibiting frustration over my injury, I got a lot of advice from a lot of runners. Without exception, every single person told me to "reevaluate my race plans", or "don't run for a while", or "there are more races later, take time off!"

So after careful consideration, I decided to run anyway.

On Saturday, October 15th, I ran the Baltimore Marathon. In doing so, I set a new PR with a time of 3:44:21.

The weather was perfect for the race and I felt great, despite the swollen and bruised ankle. Clearly, I was able to run.

Baltimore and Camden Yards is a great venue for a race.

I went out too strong and had to throttle my pace back during the first 2 miles because I was pulling 7 minute splits. That is NOT my marathon pace.

Eventually, I settled into a nice even pace and kept it there without any trouble. I took plenty of water and Gatorade from the aid stations, but never stopped. I also didn't eat anything during the race. This wasn't really part of my plan, but I never felt the need to take on additional energy.

In all honesty, most of the race is a blur because I was so focused on constant systems management. I was worried that something might start to hurt in my foot or ankle. I was focused on maintaining an even effort at all times. And I was constantly monitoring the road ahead and the traffic I had to negotiate as other runners started to fall off their pace later in the race. I was totally and singularly focused.

It seems like the entire race only lasted a few minutes! I was elated to see the clock as I passed under the finish banner.

The Baltimore Marathon and I are now even and I have no inclination to return. It will likely go down in history as my best and worst marathon.

In addition to my race, Jo ran the half marathon. She and I were wrapping up the Maryland Double, which is the combination of running the Frederick Running Festival in the spring, and the Baltimore races in the fall. She wasn't as pleased with her day because she had hoped for a PR too, but it just wasn't in the cards. But she had a great time and we enjoyed Baltimore together!

As soon as we finished the Baltimore race, we loaded up and headed north for the 6 hour drive to Syracuse New York so I could run the inaugural Empire State Marathon.

This race appealed to me because it was advertised as a low key event and I was hoping to enjoy the fall colors in a beautiful setting. I was not disappointed.

We had been invited to stay with our good friends, Michael and Karen, while we were in town. Michael's daughter and son in-law were planning to run the race too. Jenny was running the full marathon and her husband Mike was running the half marathon.

The three of us before the race.

It was a very cool and windy morning. Perfect for distance running. The sky was clear and blue and it seemed to be a perfect day.

My plan for this race was to simply go easy and enjoy the day. I intended to fall into an easy 10 minute pace and just cruise through the race at that speed.

The first 6 miles were flat and easy, taking us through a local park and along the edge of a lake. The setting was very nice and I was just taking it all in and enjoying the easy run.

After mile 6, we began to climb a series of gradual hills. This continued until mile 17. These weren't steep, leg numbing hills, but they were subtle and seemed to go on forever. I wasn't expecting that level of difficulty and my tired legs were being tested, even at my leisurely pace.

Here I am at mile 6, before the hills began to wear me down. I was wearing my Baltimore Marathon shirt during this race because I could feel assured nobody else at this race owned one!

After my race started, the half marathon got under way. This race shared the same course for 6.5 miles and turned back to the finish line.

This is a picture of Mike running through the park.

Mike had a goal to finish in 2 hours. He had a great race and set a new PR by 11 minutes and beat his goal easily. He did an awesome job!
This picture was taken near the half way point of the race. I was feeling really good as the weather warmed slightly and I was holding out hope that the hills would subside soon. My spirits were high though and I was having a great time on this course.

This is a great picture of Jenny, showing off her bad ass muscles! She was not far behind me and managed to gain on me toward the end of the race.

The pictures below were NOT planned! They were taken at the 20 mile mark as we came off the hills and headed back into the park for the final stretch to the finish line.

We both blew kisses as we rounded the corner and saw our supporters. Great minds think alike!

The final stretch was very pleasant and leisurely as we ran through the park and enjoyed the fall colors.

I had been closely monitoring my split times and focused on keeping an even pace for all 26 miles. I was slowing myself down to keep that pace despite being tempted to aim for a better time. My finish time wasn't important today, but it's hard to fight that urge to run all out.

I came across the finish line with a time of 4:21:28, giving me an average pace of 9:59. I felt great and was happy to have stuck with my plan.

On a side note...I do not wear a GPS watch when I race. I wear a cheap digital watch and constantly do the math in my head to manage my pace. I enjoy this because it keeps my mind occupied while I run.

Jenny finished right at 4:30, which was her goal and a new PR for her as well. I was very impressed by both her, and Mike. They had trained properly, set great goals, and achieved exactly what they planned. I love bearing witness to the kind of excitement that can only come from these types of efforts. I was glad to be a part of their day.

I was glad the weekend was over and that I had met my goals and finished healthy. Both races were challenging, but for totally different reasons.

Baltimore is a big production with national sponsors and a massive amount of runners. The Empire State Marathon had a local feel and exudes a low key atmosphere. Both races attracted great runners and I enjoyed them equally.

My experience this last week begs the question...Do some runners heal or recover faster or differently than others? I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know I had a serious injury 6 days before I ran Baltimore and scored a new PR. I also don't struggle with recovery after long races and rarely take any time off between races. And I also wonder how much of this is mental. I won't pretend to know how these things work. I'll just keep running and enjoy as many miles as my body will allow me to.
Thanks to everybody that showed sincere concern over my injury. Your kind words meant a lot to me while I was wallowing in my self pity.

Now I'll go easy for a few days and hit the trail for a 50 miler next weekend! My confidence is intact and I'm looking forward to a strong finish to the year.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Week in My Shoes

Running mirrors life in so many ways. We struggle for perfection and excellence. We have highs and we have lows. And no matter what, we have to take the bad with the good.

I feel very blessed in life and sometimes I need to take the time to reflect on all that is good, while not worrying about the minor disappointments that life hands me on occasion.

This blog is a reflection of the good and bad that we all deal with on occasion. But I still consider myself a very blessed man and am happy with the life I have carved out for myself. Writing this blog was helpful in reminding me of how fortunate I really am, because this blog is overwhelmingly positive, despite the sad ending.

I am a very lucky man.

My week started off fantastic. I flew out to New Mexico and was able to find a new trail to run. I knew of this trails existence, but I could never locate it. When I finally did, I couldn't wait to get my running shoes on so I could go explore it.

This trail cuts through the high desert region outside Gallup, NM and sits at 6300 feet in elevation. It starts with 2.5 miles of climb and takes you over the cliffs and down the other side into the arroyo beyond. There is every kind of trail condition imaginable and it can be challenging and easy, depending on where you are at any given time.

I started my run as the sun was coming up.
It was in the 40's at the beginning of the run and it felt great. These pictures were taken on Blackberry, so please forgive the poor quality.

This picture below is taken from the trail above a section of slickrock that I had just run through.

I love running in the desert and I do it every chance I get. I ran this trail twice a day while I was out there and I discovered something new every time I went. It was truly inspiring.

I flew back to Philly on Thursday night. Jo did my laundry and I immediately packed another bag and we headed to Virginia the following morning for her family camping trip. This is an annual event that we never miss.

A picture of me and Jo in Luray, VA.

This year was particularly special because we had planned to run in a 5K on Saturday morning. We had found this race last year but never registered for it. But in talking about it, Jo's sister had said she wanted to race it the following year. She made a proclamation to lose weight and train all year so she would be ready to run this race in 2011. And this is exactly what she did.

Jo's sister in question, Dorothy (Dodi) is an amazing woman. She has struggled with losing weight in the past, but this race gave her something to focus on. I was thrilled to be running this event with her.

We were also joined by Jo's 76 year old mother and two of our nieces. We were quite a bunch.

From left to right...Maurisa, Chelsea, Dodi, Me, Norma, Jo. My family!

Here I am getting warmed up for the start...

I hadn't run a serious 5K in a long time and had seriously forgot how to properly pace myself for one. This race is on city streets and is very hilly.

I made every effort to not take this too seriously, but I was curious how well I could do. I never time myself when I run and I never use GPS, so my pace is a mystery to me.

Jo ran with her sister until her Mother started to pull away. Then she started running between the ladies, back and forth along the route to provide support and encouragement. I assume her 5K ended up being more like 5 miles.

Surprisingly, I finished the race with a new PR. After resting for a few minutes, I headed back out on the course to find my family.
I found Jo and her Mother right away. Both looking fantastic. I hope I'm that strong at 76!!!

I ran back in with these ladies and waited on the others at the finish.

Here comes Dodi and Maurisa toward the finish. Uphill of course! Dodi is very focused and intent on running the entire distance. She never stopped or walked during the entire race. I was so freaking PROUD! Great job girls!

I finished 3rd in my age group and Jo's Mother finished 1st in hers. And no...she was not the only person in that age group!

 If I was suddenly unable to run, I would still find so much pleasure in encouraging others and supporting people so they can reach their goals. I take so much away from those experiences. I think helping others in this sport is really the best part of being a runner and I think experienced runners have an obligation to do so.

For the following morning, I had made arrangements with Jo's Father to drive me to Skyline Drive and drop me off at a trail head where I could access the Appalachian Trail. Then he was scheduled to pick me up 10 miles down the trail an hour and a half later.

I had never run the trail before and was excited for the adventure. This was to be my final "hard" run before my back to back marathons the following weekend. It was a perfect day with clear skies and a cool morning.

Jo took this picture of me heading down the AT.
I took a small camera with me so I could snap some pictures along the way. The pictures below are from a high point on the trail.

The trail looks smooth, but these rocks were tough for getting good footing.

More rocks and some single track. Beautiful trail.

At about the 4 mile mark, I took a terrible misstep and turned my ankle...HARD! I had never experienced such intense pain and was certain I had broken my ankle. After several minutes of gathering my composure, I decided to try to find the road and get some help. I started trying to text Jo but it took 30 minutes before I had enough signal to get it sent. I hobbled up Skyline Drive a couple of miles until I found a good spot in the grass to sit and wait to be rescued. And before long, I was.

We went back down to Luray and I began to ice the injury right away. It was clearly sprained and in bad shape. I was instantly depressed and frustrated because of the possibility of missing the most important races on my calendar, which start the following weekend. To me, this is a devastating injury.

You can see the swelling and bruising around the ankle. Major bummer!

It's now 2 days since the injury and the swelling and bruising are subsiding. I've decided to play it by ear and make my decisions on a day-by-day basis. I've come to terms with the possibility of missing some races if it comes to that. But don't count me out yet!

Like I said in the beginning of this blog, I have been very blessed as a runner. I have ran in 34 races this year for a total of 850 miles. I have set new PR's 19 times this year. I took on Leadville as my first 100 mile race, and I had a surprisingly strong finish. I run all over the country in some of the most beautiful places. I have a lot of wonderful, supportive friends through running. I have no room to bitch about anything!

I'll be back in my running shoes again very soon. And when I am...I will be stronger and faster!

Happy Trails!