A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts - April 25 - Injury Management and the Mind-Body Link

I think I enjoyed myself too much this weekend.

In my zest for running on a very muddy course I wiped out in a puddle at the 2 mile point of a 3 mile trail race (Scholarship Trail Race). I felt a little bit of pain, but continued running. I actually ran well the last mile, passing some people on the uphill and finishing the race quite strong.

Afterwards, when we were talking about our respective races, I felt a sharp pain coming from my right big toe. It was at that point when I realized that I might have significantly injured myself.

Coming home after the race, the pain sharpened and the toe swelled up.  I tried running a few strides, but every time I pushed off I was in quite a bit of pain.

I might have broken my toe.

So here I am, 3 weeks before one of my "A" races this year (Massanutten 100), and I'm sidelined for what might be a broken toe. Broken toes can typically heal in 3-4 weeks.

Boy, this is cutting it close.

I immediately started RICE for the toe, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. All 4 are needed to prevent swelling and promote healing.

Now here's the kicker. I have to listen to my body.

You see, my body and I are on clear talking terms. It tells me how serious the injury is, how fast the injury will heal, and when it will be allowed for me to work out again without aggravating the injury further. The official term for this communication is the mind/body link.

As a coach, this is my PRIMARY DUTY above all others to teach people how to listen to their bodies. It is this heightened awareness of their bodies that prevents them from overtraining, prevents them from sustaining overuse injuries, and maintains the right level of training for optimal results. This, the mind/body link is the FIRST thing that must be developed before any meaningful training can occur.

The wonder of the body is that it's always talking to you. And yes, most of what it is trying to say to you is very important. It will convey to you whether it is overtrained, whether you run the risk of an overuse injury, whether it's ready for a hard workout, and when it feels that it needs to take it easy for the day. If only all athletes can listen to what their bodies are saying, overuse injuries would not be a major issue in training. And most people would have kickass seasons.

A person who can tune into his or her body can translate those signals into a meaningful "dialogue" so that biofeedback is maintained. Biofeedback is absolutely CRITICAL for optimal training.

It also helps tremendously when one sustains an injury like I did this past weekend. I'm pretty much a master of managing injuries; I don't stay injured long.

Despite logging untold miles of running and cycling in my 21 years as a triathlete and ultra runner, I sustained very few injuries, and only one was an overuse injury.

In 1995 I sustained a stress fracture of my fibula near my ankle. After successful injury management, I successfully ran the New York City marathon on a FULLY HEALED leg just 8 weeks later.

I suffered a broken ankle in 2002 after severely twisting it on a trail run. After only 6 weeks, I successfully ran the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Ultra and in a good time (10 hours 7 minutes).

Again, unlike other runners, I don't stay injured long.

This is the Mind/Body Link at work. When fully developed, it can be the athlete's ultimate weapon in his or her arsenal that can contribute to a great athletic season.

So here I have a huge challenge ahead of me. If I listen to my body correctly, hopefully I will have healed enough to get myself to the starting line of the Massanutten 100 Ultra in 3 weeks. It's quite a tall order, knowing that the timetable for healing might take me past the race, but I'm up to the challenge.

Right now, the first thing I shall do is rest and promote the healing process. Hopefully by the middle of this week I would have healed enough to get some swimming and cycling in without re-aggravating the injury.

Will it happen as planned? I don't know. But my body will tell me when it's safe to swim and bike, and ultimately run.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts - April 21 - Massanutten Data Gathering

Run 100 miles just to get this belt buckle? You bet your life!

As the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 looms (May 14-15), it has been occupying most of my waking minutes.

As the race approaches, I gather evidence from friends' pictures, Youtube videos, race reports, and even the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club website for any info on the course.

What makes it a bit difficult is that the course was changed last year. And although it appears that the major change was the location of the start/finish lines and that the course itself was largely left intact, the runners last year had to deal with the same sections of the course at a completely different time. What was then done in darkness was now in daylight, and vice versa.

This means that the race reports prior to last year are not really dependable.

And although I do get some info from previous years' race reports, the lion's share of the info I get has to be from last year's race.

So let's see what I gleaned from last year's race so far...let me pull up the course here...

The theme for most of the race is "aid station, major climb, major descent, aid station." Wash, rinse repeat. There are several exceptions to the rule but that seems to be the recurring theme here.

Some noted sections are as follows:

We actually do have a "honeymoon" of sorts going to Aid Station 1. It's pretty much all dirt road up till the aid station. After that, well, the honeymoon is over when we start to climb Short Mountain after the Aid Station.

Short Mountain is anything but. This mountain is the first climb of the new course. On the old course, this used to be a pretty tough climb on tired legs. Now, not so much when on fresh legs. 

Not to worry though! Kern's Mountain will now do the job on those tired legs at mile 70!

There are some pretty long sections between aid stations. There are some 8 mile sections in the beginning of the course, but what gets my attention are two sections in the middle of the race and 2 sections toward the end:

1)Veach Gap to Indian Grave (AS#7 to AS#8; 40.7 to 49.7 miles). This section is 9 miles long. The map above should give you a good indication here. The trail here along the ridge of that mountain is pretty rough also, so this section might very well take me 2 hours to traverse.

2)Hebron Gap to Camp Roosevelt (AS#9 - AS#10; 53.6 to 63.1 miles). This section is the longest at 9.5 miles and is quite tough. This section will be done on tiring legs during waning daylight.

3)Gap Creek#1 to Visitor's Center (AS#11 to AS#12; 68.7 to 77.1 miles). This is Kern's Mountain. 8.4 miles long. I will probably be running this in the dark. This might very well be one of the toughest sections to traverse in the race.

View of Kern's Mountain. I'll be running along the top during the night.

4)Picnic Area to Gap Creek#2 (AS#14 to AS#15; 86.9 to 95.4 miles). This section is 8.5 miles long and features a nasty climb. If I'm doing well, I'll be doing this in the dark. If not, I'll hopefully still be limping along in the morning daylight. It this point I'm hoping the last part of this race will give me the willpower needed to get me to the finish line.

With these 4 sections in mind, I will be carrying a Camelbak for the race. The debate right now is whether to take it from the start, or to put it in the drop bag and don it at Veach Gap. Right now I'm leaning toward the latter as I would like to stay unencumbered for the first 40 miles of the race.

I'll be posting my developing race strategy in future posts. The only question is when how soon I'll have to break from that strategy and focus on survival. ;-)

-----

I will be hosting a group at the Greenbelt Parking lot for the last preparations for the High Rock Challenge next week. We meet at 8AM.

I will be going over to the Scholarship Trail Race at the Greenbelt Nature Center afterwards. The race starts at 11:00AM. Applications can be found on the Staten Island Running website (or click this link). The course is 1 mile for young kids, and 3 miles for both high school kids and adults.

For those who like running, you can go to the Jackrabbit NYC Running Show in NYC on Saturday. The Staten Island Athletic Club will have a table there so show your face and say hi if going.

And on Easter Sunday I will be running between 30-40 miles in the last long run before the race I described above, Massanutten. I'll be doing laps on the 2 mile Greenway that goes along Latourette and Forest Hill Road between Richmond and Rockland Aves. I'll be there between 5AM and 12 noon so if you need to get a morning run in, come at anytime between those hours. Just park your car off of Rockland Ave. and start running down the path; you'll eventually find me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thoughts - April 18 - All About Boston!

Today is Patriot's Day in Massachusetts, and we runners know what that means...

Yes, I definitely watched the whole thing, and yes, I was glued to the TV throughout the race. Both the men's, women's AND the men's wheelchair divisions had exciting finishes.

This is the first time I EVER gave kudos to NBC for their broadcast. Yes, hell is definitely freezing over.

Granted, this was their small Universal Sports Channel, but it's still NBC here. The same NBC that shows more tear dripping human interest stories than the competition itself, whether it be the Olympics or the Hawaii Ironman.

I mean, omit all the human interest and commercials from their 2 hour Ironman broadcast and you'll probably get only about 10 minutes of racing highlights. Not a very good ratio in my opinion.

But in today's Boston Marathon, they nail it good! This is one of the best sporting broadcasts that I've actually seen NBC pull off. I definitely give them an A+ for this broadcast; they deserve it. 

Yes, they had a bit of background for some of the professional runners, but they kept it limited and focused on the race at hand. And yes, the actually race had 3 exciting finishes, which might lend to my praise.

But NBC covered how each of the races UNFOLDED. I was pleasantly surprised on how they even covered how the wheelchair division unfolded also, and the exciting finish in that race.

Now I understand that a marathon takes 2 hours while the Hawaii Ironman takes 8 hours and that they can fit a live marathon broadcast into a 2 hour slot. But it's really not hard to cut and paste the highlights of the much longer Ironman into a 2 hour show and make it as exciting as a live Boston Marathon broadcast. Limit the tear jerker human interest stories, and they should have a kick-ass Ironman show that might match the drama we saw today.

-----

As for the race itself, we had some world records that were sort of being "broken" (since the Boston Marathon is not a certified world record course due to its net downhill and point-to-point nature, they cannot officially declare world records here).

We have Geoffrey Mutai from Kenya who shattered the course record at 2:03:02. Wow, that is fast.

We have the USA's Ryan Hall who smashed his personal record and clocked in at 2:05:37.

We had a pleasant surprise in the women's race. All USAs eyes were focused in on Kara Goucher, but it turns out that another American, Desiree Devila gave the eventual winner Caroline Kilel (Kenya) a literal run for her money in the final blocks of the course. Desiree actually gave the Kenyan two hard surges and forced her hand in the final few feet.

Desiree Devila is definitely a name that will be going around in American running circles in the future, that's for sure.

And don't forget the 53 year old Joan Benoit Samuelson. She still has it! Her impressive time of 2:51:29 beats out more than 90% of the other people in the race. She won her age group, of course.

And in the wheelchair division, Masazumi Soejima (Japan) unseats 9 time Boston winner Ernst Van Dyk (S. Africa) by coming from behind in the last miles and overtaking him at the end.

Oh, and congratulations to everyone else who finished the Boston Marathon today. Hopefully most of you got PRs on this perfect running day.



Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts - April 15 - Continuing the Group Trail Runs

We have been getting a great turnout for the Greenbelt Training Runs for the High Rock Challenge.

What both the Greenbelt Conservancy and I would like to do is to find ways to continue some group trail runs after the High Rock Challenge is over.

There is certainly no loss of interest in trail running here. With 20+ people showing up to the group run 2 weeks ago, I'm sure there is an interest to continue it.

And we have no shortage of trail races to shoot for after High Rock either. We have the Bad Ass 6 Hour Trail Run in May, the Ladder 5K XC Challenge in July, and the NYARA 25K Trail Run in December.

My original plan is to do a group trail run every 2 weeks. It fits into my ultra schedule nicely, so I have no problems in leading some of the runs. During some of the "off week", I might come up with a plan to travel somewhere and do a trail run outside of the area and offer carpools to share and reduce costs.

Again, that is if people are interested.

I will definitely run this by the group tomorrow and Sunday and see their reactions to this. If they are interested, I can get their contact info and keep them in the loop with this.

And hopefully we can continue this past April. :-)

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Greenbelt Group Runs for the High Rock Challenge are both Saturday and Sunday at 8AM. On Saturday we'll have the pleasure of having Mario Ricca as well as me leading the runs. If the group is very big we will separate according to ability and proceed accordingly. I do intend to bring the group up Moses Mountain for at least one of the runs, so plan in a nice tough climb. :-)

Next Saturday (April 23) is the Scholarship Trail Race sponsored by the Greenbelt Conservancy and the Staten Island Athletic Club. Proceeds of the 3 mile race (1 mile for children) go to the Greg J. Buck Scholarship Fund which is awarded to High School Track and Field Athletes.

Also the next Sunday, Easter, is a personal goal for me. I will be running 8-10 laps along the Greenway along Latourette Park (the green line on the map) for my last long run before my 100 mile race in May. Hopefully I can run about 30-40 miles. If anyone wants to run part-way with me, I will be running from 5AM to 12PM. I will be parked on one of the side streets adjacent to Rockland Ave near Forest Hill Road; it will be loaded with food and drink for everyone. So come on down, even if you only do 4 miles, I would definitely appreciate the company.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thoughts - April 13 - Trails in NJ Worth Mentioning

Although I am quite glad that  I have a variety of options when if comes to trails on Staten Island (Greenbelt, Wolfes Pond Park, Clay Pit Pond Park, etc.), my sense of adventure has me leaving Staten Island for different scenery.

I do take frequent trips into NJ and run in the various parks there. After all, I did live in NJ for 7 years.

But why go to NJ? Aside from coaching there, the cheaper gas is an incentive to go. It'll offset the tolls a bit when filling up on cheaper gas in NJ. With that offset, I can definitely make multiple errands to get some stuff I need as well as make the excuse to run in some of their parks.

I would definitely go even more frequently if there are other Staten Islanders who are interested in going to trails outside Staten Island and are willing to carpool and share costs.

Most of the trails I do are only about 30 minutes from the Staten Island bridges.

So where do I go and how good are the trails there? Well, the following is a short list of available parks in the NJ area that have great trails.

Watchung Reservation

This park is only about 20 minutes from the Goethels Bridge. Like the Greenbelt it is a great tract of land in the middle of a suburban environment. Their signature trail, the Siena Trail (with white blazes), traverses the outer edge of the park in a 10 mile loop. This trail has a combination of everything: rolling hills, some technical sections, great scenery, and even a ghost town (Feltville). One loop of this trail can be pretty tiring to the runner or hiker. Fortunately, there is a winter ultramarathon in January that does this lap 3 times, usually in packed snow and ice.

Round Valley Reservoir

This beautiful place in the western part of Central New Jersey is a great place to run if you want more "mountain" in your running or hiking. It's signature trail, the Cushetunk Trail (red blazes) traverses the western and southen part of the reservoir and is extremely technical and hilly. This trail is not for the beginning trail runner! Various vantage points offer great views of the reservoir from both the lower part and the upper part of the trail.

South Mountain Reservation

This is another great tract of land in the middle of a suburban environment. The various trails here range from beginner to intermediate and offer pretty good views of the NYC skyline as well as waterfalls, bridges, etc.

Hartshorne and Huber Woods

South of Sandy Hook is a nice gem of Monmouth County. The trails here are well groomed, somewhat hilly and technical, and also offer great views of the Atlantic Coast. Between the challenging Rocky Point and Grand Tour Trails, you can easily do a 7 mile loop within the confines of Hartshorne Woods. If you want a bit of variety, you can also run down the road for a few minutes to Huber Woods and do the trails there.

Allaire State Park

Also in Monmouth County, the multipurpose trail section is accessible from the Hospital Road Trailhead. Although predominately sandy, the Blue, White, and Orange Trails offer a great variety  of trails to train on.

Jockey Hollow and Lewis Morris County Parks

Both of these parks in Northern New Jersey are part of one large tract of land. Although Lewis Morris County Park is, of course, owned by Morris County, Jockey Hollow (Morristown National Historical Park) is a federally owned park. The trails are interconnected and you can go from one park to the other without even knowing it if you're not careful. The signature trail of Jockey Hollow is the Grand Loop, a very hilly, lung busting trail that can have you doubled over at times, especially after 1 loop (7.5 miles). You can easily mix it up and take one of the interconnecting trails into Lewis Morris County Park and do the various trails inside that park. The big difference between the two parks, besides jurisdiction, is that mountain bikes are allowed in Lewis County Park (yellow trail), but not Jockey Hollow.

All these parks are within reasonable distance from Staten Island. I'll be offering those runners on Staten Island who are interested in going a chance to carpool so that we can enjoy the trails on the other side of the border while sharing the costs of the travel there.

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Don't forget that Saturday AND Sunday at 8AM, we will be having the Greenbelt Group Training Runs for the rapidly approaching High Rock Challenge. And again, on request, I will take everyone up Moses Mountain to see the great views from the top.

I will be going up to the North Face Endurance Challenge on May 7 to volunteer my time at an aid station for the race. If anyone wants to witness an ultramarathon and how an aid station is run first-hand (the Anthony Wayne Aid Station), I will be interested in hearing from you. There are two shifts on this rest stop; one is real early (4am) and the other starts at a more reasonable time of 10am. If you are interested in running an ultra and don't know what the race entails, this give you some great experience in how it's run. Let me know and I'll relay your interest over to the organizers so that they can expect you when you come. Last year I did both shifts and turned out to be a great day!

Lastly, April 23 are the Scholarship Trail Races in the Greenbelt. For those doing the High Rock Challenge the next week, it's a great final tune-up for the race. Races start at 11am and is for a great cause, as the money raised for this goes into the Buck Scholarship for High School Track and Field Athletes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts - April 11 - Good Coaching is Hard to Find Nowadays


I see it everywhere, not just in endurance sports.

I am quite disturbed of the quality of coaching these days. From endurance sports to baseball to even "life coaching", the trend has been ever spiraling downward in recent years. I cannot pin the blame on any one thing that contributes to this degradation, but the trend is definitely there.

Let me backtrack and explain where I am coming from.

Several weeks ago, I was talking to a runner who had visions of doing a marathon this fall. Now this person has just started getting into running late last year, a real coach would figure this into his training and be careful with him.

Several questions later and I knew the person was overtrained. The poor person was trying to stick to the coach's prescribed system that, "worked for everyone else under him and is documented as a success in several running magazines."

Hmm.

A saw an interesting parallel in an unrelated sport this past weekend. Major league baseball. Now I normally don't watch much baseball but what I do know is that major league baseball managers have a sort of "system" also that they adhere to when it comes to pitching.

I've seen this system in action in two games.

The result? Both teams were winning...but they lost.

I guess you can say that they snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory!  

The first instance involved The Yankees vs. the Twins. CC Sabathia, the Yankees' starting pitcher had 7 strong innings against the Twins. In the past, a coach would figure to leave the guy in there

But no. The "system" must be adhered to. Seems like there is an accepted practice among major league coaches to pull their starting pitchers if they throw more than 100 pitches. Even if they are on their game. Somehow, they have to "preserve their pitchers for the entire season". That's the accepted explanation.

Funny though how managers still pull their pitchers after 100 pitches in September, when the season is almost at an end.

The coach promptly puts in Soriano in the 8th. He bombs and the Yankees lose.

The second instance involves the Mets in yesterday's game against the Nationals.

This Mets pitcher Young goes 7 innings and only allows one hit. This guy is also having a good day on the mound.

But no. Again, we must adhere to the system. 100 pitches? Young's outta there! 

It was now up to the bullpen. They bombed, of course, and the Mets lost.

Guys, coaching is an art. In baseball a real manager will get to know his team's strength and weaknesses, and base his decisions on both the feedback from his team and the situation that they are currently in. To actually defer the tough decisions made to an accepted "system" is no way to coach a team.

It is likewise similar to endurance coaching.

I've seen way too many online coaches follow a "cookie cutter" plan that might work for 80% of his athletes.

But there is that 20% that the plan might not work for, and that's a pretty significant number of people.

Nevertheless most coaches nowadays try to shoehorn these people into this plan, telling them that "you'll start seeing results soon, I promise." (most online coaches are guilty of this).

Most of these athletes won't improve. Either they become injured or discouraged. Not a good way to lose an athlete.

The art of coaching is actually LISTENING to the person, SEE how they react to your questions or training, and prescribing a plan that will work for HIM or HER. The plan that might work for this person might not be generally accepted, but if it improves the athlete, THEN IT WORKS!

Sounds like a lot of work for the coach to do, right? Most of these coaches get paid in excess of $200 per month, so it's the least they can do for their athletes, don't you think?

I had an athlete in the past that had a huge problem with a triathlon training schedule with workouts on set days. What was surprising was that she felt tired on days she was supposed to run her key workouts of the week while feeling refreshed for the recovery workouts. After several sub-par weeks I decided to think outside the box and implement a very flexible system. It was basically a list of workouts that I needed her to do; each day she would pick from that list what she wanted to do that day.

To be honest, I really didn't think it would work for her.

But it did!

She started doing very well in her training and went on to have a fantastic season including her first Ironman finish.

That is why coaching is an art. To actually try to develop an accepted "system" that might work for most athletes and adhere to that system is not coaching. And any coach who tells you that his system works because "it worked for your friend" or "it worked for this other guy" is not really listening to you. Get rid of that coach, quickly.

And find one that will actually LISTEN to you.

----

This Saturday and Sunday are both High Rock Training Runs in the Greenbelt! Come on down. It'll be only 2 weeks until the race, so make sure you're familiar with the trails. We group at the High Rock Parking Lot at the end of Nevada Ave., off of Rockland Ave at 8AM on both days.

This past weekend I took the group up Moses Mountain to see the gorgeous views. Next week I'll promise to do that again. :-)

Both the Greenbelt Conservancy and I are trying to see whether we can hash out a plan to continue trail running after the High Rock Challenge. I'm always on the trails and the next trail race for Staten Island will come in May, the Bad Ass 6 Hour Trail Run at Wolfes Pond Park.

I will attempt this race even if it's just a week after my 100 mile ultramarathon, but I can certainly show you how to handle a 6 hour trail run in the woods.

There are also some trail runs in the fall, so hopefully we can make this work after the High Rock Challenge.

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By the way, Easter Sunday (April 24) will be my last long run before the Massanutten 100 Ultra. I'm hoping to make 30-40 miles along the 4 mile Greenway along Latourette Golf Course along Forest Hill Road between Rockland Ave. and Richmond Avenue. 

If I can get 8-10 loops of the Greenway done that'll be great! I would certainly love some company to talk the miles away. I'll be there all morning between 5AM and 12PM, so even if you only have 4 miles to do, come on down.

The pace will be understandably easy. Trust me on that!

I'll have water and goodies in my car for everyone.

This is a very important run for me, so I'll definitely need the help. :-)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thoughts - April 7 - Be Human. Don't Be A Slave to Technology

So 2 or 3 some odd weeks ago, I visited the Multisport World Conference at Columbia University just to gauge the present state of our collective endurance events (triathlon, adventure racing, orienteering, ultra running, etc.).

It was an overall positive experience. A lot of clubs and new races were represented at the expo, including NYARA and City Tri Racing, which is indicative of an industry that is alive and well.

One thing that stuck out as a not so pleasant surprise was a product that was touted as an accurate way to get your lactate threshold.

For all those who don't know what lactate threshold is, this is level of exercise in which lactic acid starts to accumulate in your blood. It is an intense level that can only be maintained for a couple of minutes maximum. The body's aerobic energy system is a much slower process than the anaerobic systems and cannot completely metabolize the fuel, allowing lactic acid, a waste product, to accumulate in the blood stream.

In other words, you'll start to feel lousy and you stop.

This product that was touted works exactly like the insulin tester that diabetics use; it draws a drop of blood and tests the amount of lactic acid in the bloodstream instantly.

So basically, you're supposed to run a lap at a certain pace on the track, immediately prick your finger with this device afterwards, and it tells you whether you are going anaerobic or not. Do you get a sense of wrongness in this picture?

I do.

Now I do like technology, but only to a certain extent. I believe that there is such thing as an overuse of technology. Especially when a bit of humanity is lost in the process.

Do you really need a device that tells you when you've gone anaerobic, especially when your body is TELLING you that you did? I don't know, but the burning in my legs and the shortness of my breath is sending me that same message that this device does. And I don't have to break blood vessels to know that.

Biofeedback is EVERYTHING folks. One of the most critical long term goals of training is the HEIGHTENED AWARENESS of your body. Other technological devices such as the heart rate monitor and GPS monitor are helpful in showing novices how it FEELS at a certain intensity and pace, but after a while, you should know your body well enough to wean yourself off of these devices.One of my pet peeves is people wearing a heart rate monitor in a race. Now most of you agree that as humans, we have that ability to perform above and beyond what we perceive as our limits, right?

Well, what happens when you let your heart rate monitor set the pace for you in your race?

You restrict that human ability to perform above and beyond your expectations.

Think about it. You're in the middle of a half-Ironman triathlon, and in the beginning of the half-marathon, the last leg of the event. You're feeling great and are about to overtake some runners in front of you, but your heart rate monitor is constantly beeping. Your heart rate is way above the limits you set it for.

So you pull back to an easier pace.

Bzzzt! You might have just eliminated doing the race of your lifetime!

Who knows what you might have done if you kept an aggressive pace. Competition is a whole different beast than training, and you might have tolerated the higher heart rate for a lot longer than your target zones would have suggested in training. You just traded your human side to the machine.

Please remember that all this technology are good training tools FOR BEGINNERS. After a while, when that innate sense of effort and pace matures with your fitness, it is best to start weaning yourself off these devices and go with only your perceived effort when training and racing. Sure you can use the technology occasionally to keep accurate tabs, but the majority of your training should be without them.

Because you're human, not a machine.

Machines always have to perform within certain limits. Human beings have the potential to perform far beyond their limits.

Don't limit yourself. And who knows, one day you'll demonstrate what being human actually is and have the race of your lifetime.

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Although there is no Greenbelt Training Run on Saturday, I *am* running long on the Greenbelt White Trail this Saturday. It's an early morning run and my pace is very easy, so if you want to run all or any part of the run with me, let me know. I can give you roughly the time I will be at certain times on the trail.

This Sunday will be the official Greenbelt Group Run for the High Rock Challenge. 8AM at the High Rock Parking lot. There will also be official training runs on both Saturday and Sunday (4/16 and 4/17) the following weekend. So come on down!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pushing the Limits, My Vermont 100 Mile Ultra Race Report, 2010

Re-blogged (if there is such a term) from another website and placed here for posterity. It's good to revisit this race, especially when I have another one of these 100 milers coming up 6 weeks from now.

In my whole life, I've always wanted to push my limits, both on mind and on body. My whole Ironman triathlon experience in the 1990's was one such way. I decided to go into Ironman triathlons as the logical next step after the marathon.  

My first marathon was in NYC in 1995. I enjoyed the race outright and it was nice becoming a marathoner back then. But I always felt that the body can master much more than that, and so I entered and completed the Ironman Triathlon the next year.

During my twenty-something years, I was to finish numerous half-Ironman races and 5 more Ironman races before a new calling came to me; the ultramarathon. Unlike the commercialized realm of humongous expos, brand-name products, and celebrities, the dark, shadowy realm of running 50 kilometers, 50 miles, or 50 miles over mountains and in pretty inhospitable conditions lured me. There are no celebrities here, no expos, or no sponsors (well, maybe a couple), just a few half-crazed souls looking for enlightenment by going where few people have gone before. Races like Badwater, which is held in 120F desert conditions. Races like the Arrowhead, where temps below zero degrees is the norm for this 130+ mile race. And races like Leadville, “The Race Across The Sky” where the average altitude is over 10,000 feet.




The Leadville 100 Topograph - 50 miles out, then back. Scary, isn't it?


The Vermont 100 topograph. Oh, that wee, wee little graph in the lower left hand corner is the Boston Marathon, adjusted to the Vermont scale.

I've done a couple of 50 milers and have failed in my first attempt at a 100 miles two years ago at the Burning River ultra, when I made numerous mistakes and had to bow out at mile 75. This year, I decided to tackle one of the original 100 milers, the Vermont 100, which took place in July 17-18. This race is also one of the so-called Grand Slam events, where a few of the toughest people of the world tackle four of these 100 milers in a 4 month period. This was the second race of the Grand Slam, with the Western States 100 being the first race 3 weeks prior to Vermont, the Leadville 100 being the 3rd leg in August, and the real tough Wasatch Front 100 being the last of the series. These battle-hardy people are considered Slammers.

So my strategy is quite simple. 1) Eat early, eat often, and make sure it stays down, 2) Keep moving. Stay at an aid station for only a couple of minutes, get the food in, and GO! No matter how bad I feel I needed to keep moving to keep the legs loose. 3) Keep driving toward the finish, and never relent, even in the face of adversity. In a race of this magnitude, I knew that I will be in extremely tough circumstances. I needed to keep focus on my primary objective and finish.

This summer is turning out to be a really hot one, and the weather forecast mimicked it. Race day temperatures were high of 91 degrees F, and a high humidity at 60%. The terrain calls for 14,000 feet of climbing, so I had some pretty challenging obstacles facing me. The start was at an ungodly time of 4AM, so this will be a 2 night race. I had a pen light for the hour or so of darkness that I will be experiencing after the start; my best headlamp was stored away with my crew for the run through the darkness during the next night.

One other thing that is of note were the mandatory medical checks. There are 3 of these checks on the course, and if I lose 5% of my baseline weight on any one of them, the medical staff can order me to stay at the aid station until they deem me fit to continue. If I lose more than 7% of my baseline weight, they can disqualify me. I was truly concerned with this because I do tend to sweat a lot and did tend to gain 5 pounds of weight during my taper last week. When they measured my baseline weight before the race, I weighed in at 204 pounds.

The night before the race, I arranged everything I thought I needed. I had my extra pairs of shorts ready, my extra shoes, the Bag Balm, batteries for the head lamps, towels, bug repellent, extra salt caps, etc. all arranged in the trunk of my car. My father, who is always interested in these races, will drive to each of the handler aid stations. Since he only is one person, I told him to meet me at the mile 46.1 aid station Camp 10 Bear so that he can get a good morning of sleep.

My pacer was arranged through the Vermont 100 organizers. His name was Bob from New Hampshire and would also meet him the second time I hit the Camp 10 Bear Aid Station 70 miles into the race, when pacers are allowed to aid their runners toward the finish. He would wind up a very important part of me finishing the race in good shape.

I decided to get up at 2:30AM, clear out the cobwebs of my head, get some Pop-Tarts in my stomach, and head on down to the start line of the race. In Vermont, away from all the metropolitan areas, it was pretty much pitch black with lots of stars overhead, a beautiful night in the country. It was quite warm at this hour so I basically applied Bag Balm on all the critical areas of my body, dressed in my running attire, put on my race number (#212) and left for the start. I checked in at the table; the feeling that I was now an “official runner” put things in perspective that all the training that I did led to now and I was ready to go.


From Start to Pretty House (21.1 miles into the course):



Ten minutes before race time...I was doing WHAT?!!

The last hour before the race was just getting mentally ready, taking in some water and a bagel, which were made available to runners, and counting down to the start. One last check to see if I had all the gear I needed. Pen light in one hand, check. Water bottle in another hand, check. Fuel belt with salt pills, energy drink bottles, and a cell phone, check. The cell phone is there to make sure I stay in contact with both my crew and pacer and to let them know where I am.

At the start line, chatting with the other ultra runners.

Finally, the time came. A countdown was initiated, with runners going 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and then we were off! We got onto the road from the field and all settled into our own paces. I decided on a 12 minute/mile pace, well within my limits; I didn't want to burn up any energy on the first mile. Most of the runners settled into a faster pace. That's OK, I know I'll see some of them again, when I pass them at mile 60!



We're off! And...walking?

After the first mile we turn off the paved road and go onto a double-track trail with some rocks, which were a bit tricky to the small light I had. Fortunately, I settled in with a group of 3 people, who had brighter lights, and helped light the way for me. We talked about our experiences with ultras and what our goals were in this race. I also started drinking generously from my water bottle knowing that I had an aid station coming up at mile 7.

We get back on the paved road and finally got to the first aid station, an unmanned aid station with just containers of water and Hammer Heed. It took me 1:27 to get to this spot, which was on time as far as I know. I quickly fill my water bottles and off I went again.

We were mostly on dirt roads, and the hills weren't bad at this point. As a matter of fact we had some downhills that boosted confidence in the runners. But looking at the topography of the course, I know that this confidence can easily be shattered as the miles wear on. Over the 100 mile course, as I stated before, we would be climbing 14,000 feet before we finish this thing, approximately half of Mt. Everest. And what is especially critical to know is that the last 30 miles of this race is the toughest, about the same time where runners will be at their weakest.

After some descent we finally made it to Taftsville, cross over Rt 12 with the aid of some police officers, through a covered bridge which was pretty neat, past the cameraman who was taking pictures of the race, and onto our first manned aid station of the race, appropriately named Taftsville Covered Bridge (15.3 mi). Eat early, and eat often is the mantra, and I made sure I was good for it. I wolf down a turkey sandwich and started diving into the Gummy Bears. With some Gummies in my mouth I looked at one particular volunteer in the eye and said, “I'd run 100 miles for Gummy Bears!”. She chuckled at this. I thanked her and made off with some more Gummies in hand.

The next section is the first serious uphill of the day, and the first sign of horses. Let me backtrack on this a little here. The Vermont 100, like The Western States 100, its sister race, began as endurance horse races. As history states, at the Western States 100, one person, Gordon Ainsleigh, had his horse lame before the race even began, so instead of bowing out of the race, he decided to tackle the course on foot, which led to the ultramarathons we see today. So these 100 mile races will always have close ties to the horse race. With the Vermont 100, the horse race just so happens to start an hour after the runners start (5AM). So it is at this point that the cavalry starts to come.

It's not like we runners were going to get trampled by a stampede of wild beasts though. Remember that these horses have to do 100 miles and need to pace themselves too. At most, the horses go at a trot and it is both our jobs to communicate with each other in case the horse has to pass. Sometimes they do slow the horses down to the runners pace, which is nice because I did happen to chat with one of the riders at this point. I congratulated her on a fine horse and asked what her strategy was in completing the race. Horses have a different anatomy than runners; they are built more toward speed and not stamina. The rider tells me that horses need to rest and cool down for at least one hour at each of their aid stations, which were 15-20 miles apart. After which they are fit to ride again.

One of the horse riders on the VT100 course

Some more horses arrive and go as I climb and descend the hills that lead me to the first handler station of the day, the Pretty House Aid Station at mile 21.1. Within a half-mile from the aid station I get a ring from my pacer asking me where in the race I was. I told them I was coming up upon Pretty House and that things were going swimmingly. He told me that he was on his way to the race site and should see me at mile 70 to pace me the rest of the way. I thanked him and as I hung up the phone, I was finally pulling in the the station. There were a lot of people watching at the side of the road and as I hung up the phone, I looked at an elderly couple who were watching me, pointed at the cell phone and joked, “just business.” I heard them chuckling as I ran by them. Anyway, the first fifth of the race was complete and here were my times...

From Start to Pretty House, 21.1 miles: 4 hours and 19 minutes. Pace of 12:20 minutes/mile.

Status: Strong and coherent


From Pretty House to Stage Road (21.1 miles to 30.1 miles, 9 miles total)

At the aid station I took in a turkey sandwich, some M&Ms and a lot of water, and went off into the next section. My father who was crewing was not here because I needed to rest him for the latter half of the race, I would see him at Camp 10 Bear, the 47.2 mile point of the race.

Aside from that, I didn't actually see the house to marvel how pretty it was. I guess I wasn't really trying at the time. Oh well, next time...the next segment of the race took us up another trying hill. As more horses passed us, I waved to each of the riders in turn. It was pretty neat sharing the road with horses; this is definitely something that a person from NYC doesn't see every day. We descended another hill over to the next aid station (U-Turn Aid Station), an unassisted aid station that only carried water and Hammer Heed. Well, scratch the water, it was totally gone by the time I arrived. My bottle was almost empty and I was forced to take the Heed. Ugh, the stuff was truly nasty going down. At about halfway to the next aid station I dumped out half the bottle of the revolting stuff, swearing never again to have it grace my lips again. I resorted to the “emergency” water bottles on my Fuel belt to make it through this section.

Oh, and about this section? This is about the first truly challenging section of the race, a very long, steep uphill to the top of a mountain, what they dubbed the “Sound of Music Hill”. Once you agonize yourself up the hill, the sights of the surrounding mountains are truly breathtaking!

Sound of Music Hill.

A sign indicated that we were now beyond the marathon distance at this point, and, as expected, we would be going nearly 4 times the marathon distance when we cross the finish line. Once up the mountain then what came next was even tougher, a really steep downhill section guaranteed to pulverize the quads into submission. At this early segment of the race, this is definitely NOT what I wanted right now. I know how it feels when quads are turned into hamburger in a marathon race and it wasn't a pretty sight. I really didn't want this to happen in a 100 mile race because I really needed them to function for the next 75 miles. Despite the concern, I jarred myself all the way down the mountain into the next handler station, Stage Road at Mile 30.1. Another section completed.

From Pretty House (21.1mi.) to Stage Road (30.1mi.), 9 miles: 2 hours and 3 minutes. Pace of 13:40 minutes/mile pace (very hilly section). Time from start: 6 hours 22 minutes (12:42 min/mile pace).

Status: Still coherent, a bit worn around the edges.


From Stage Road to Camp 10 Bear (30.1 miles to 47.2 miles, 17.1 miles total)

At this aid station I ate a lot, and I mean a lot. I was a bit haggard after climbing the mountain and really needed a pick-me-up from whatever food I can consume. The next handler station is Camp 10 Bear, when my father would start helping me out. After a run out onto the road from the station, a quick right into a driveway and boom, another steep hill up a trail. As I quickly realized, this was going to be the theme of the day for the rest of the course. Up the hill, down the hill, aid station. Keep that refrain going for another 70 miles and you have your Vermont 100 course. I kind of dropped hope for a sub 24 hour finish at that point and just concentrated on finishing this thing under the 30 hour cutoff. That means if I can hold each mile under 18 minutes, I would be fine by mile 90 in case I have to walk it in.

Up the hill, down the hill, Route 12 Aid Station (Mile 33.9), then up the hill, down the hill, under another covered bridge to an aid station (Lincoln Covered Bridge, Mile 39.2), then once again up the hill, down the hill and into Lillians Aid station (Mile 43.5). At this point I called my father and told them that I would be in Camp 10 Bear by 2-3 in the afternoon.

The stretch after Lillians was on a paved road for about a mile, then a right onto an uphill trail, then a dirt road for the rest of the way. Camp 10 Bear is the largest aid station in the area, since we hit it twice, and also includes a mandatory weight check. Hoping I didn't lose a lot of weight in the first half of this race, I decided to eat a Clif Bar and finish off all my bottles of water to add to my weight.

My arrival at Camp 10 Bear was heralded by many people cheering all of us on. It's a great feeling to pull in to this aid station knowing that almost half of the race is already done. Plus the cheering people here tended to uplift my spirits here. I met my father at the aid station and was escorted on to the scale for weighing. 204 pounds was my baseline weight, I got on the scale and...202 pounds, not even a 1% drop. NICE!!!

Mandatory Medical Check - Weigh In

Yes, I sweat a lot, but I was holding my food and drink down nicely, and so I didn't lose much. I was quickly cleared by the medical team and free to move on. At the aid station I slammed down a peanut butter sandwich decided to get to the car and have some of those orange and spearmint slice candies, waved to my father, and left the aid station.

Done with Camp 10 Bear!

From Stage Road (30.1mi.) to Camp 10 Bear (47.2mi.), 17.1 miles: 4 hours and 13 minutes. Pace of 14:48 minutes/mile pace (very hilly section). Time from start: 10 hours 35 minutes (13:27 min/mile pace).

Status: Still coherent, but now slowing down a bit.


From Camp 10 Bear to Tracer Brook (47.2 miles to 57 miles, 9.8 miles total)

Coming out of Camp 10 Bear, the thing that I now noticed first was the heat of the day. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the next couple of hours will be the hottest. I just need to endure the heat for 2 more hours. The road out from Camp 10 Bear was a nice gentle downhill, a nice respite from the hills, little did I know...(OK, CUE THE JAWS MUSIC). I was running pretty well, even passing another runner on the road (DA DUM). After a mile, the road levels out, and was still nice to run along (DA DUM). I took in some more water and hoped that the rest of the course was like this (DA DUM, DA DUM, DADUMDADUMDADUM...)

One quick right and all was shattered! I later found that they dubbed this monster of a hill Agony Hill, a 650 foot rise over just a half mile, on a single track with lots of rocks and roots. UGH! The people that I passed, well, they re-passed me going up this hill. In the middle of this horrific climb my left leg locked in a humongous cramp and I had to stop to message it out before resuming my climb. This would be one of the climbs that will be forever etched in my memory with this race. I wasn't feeling well at all and the hill just didn't relent. It was a battle of wills. After what seemed like forever the hill finally lessened a little, giving a little confidence to my fragile ego. I staggered into Pinky's Aid Station (51 miles) with no water and shattered confidence. At Pinky's one guy who did the race in the past told me that the hills were just beginning (turns out he was right).

Another uphill out of Pinky's, then finally a downhill toward the next aid station (Birmingham's, Mile 54.1). At this point I was just sick of all the food that they had. One other runner that I came in with asked for turkey without the bread, and that did appeal to me. So I asked for the same thing. I wound up eating a whole bunch of turkey at this aid station before leaving.

As it turns out this was a big mistake. I forgot about this little tidbit about turkey. It has an amino acid called tryptophan that tends to put people to sleep, and, as I found out, it has a PROFOUND effect on people who just ran 55 or so miles. This section from Birminghams to Tracer Brook was all about keeping awake and fighting off sleep. It was a rotten feeling; I did not want to stop at all because that can complicate things. So for a good 2-3 miles I was basically running with half-closed eyes. Turns out that the other runner who asked for turkey didn't fare so well either; as I passed him I found him lying on his back on the side of the road staring into the sky! Not wanting to end up like that I was determined to press on. By the time I got to Tracer Brook, the next handler station, the drowsy feeling finally abated, thank God.

Tracer Brook Aid Station

From Camp 10 Bear (47.2mi.) to Tracer Brook (57mi.), 9.8 miles: 2 hours and 50 minutes. Pace of 17:20 minutes/mile pace (still below 18 minute/mile and 30 hour cutoff pace). Time from start: 13 hours 25 minutes (14:07 min/mile pace).

Status: Feeling like a used condom.


From Tracer Brook to Margaritaville (57 miles to 62.1 miles, 5.1 miles total)

At Tracer Brook, my father fetched my headlamp, at my request. It was 5:30 in the evening and even though I felt that I could make it to the next handler station (Margaritaville, 62.1 miles) It was good to have just in case I had to walk the entire next section. He mistakenly gives me the older headlamp, which was designated for him during the night-time hours. I decided to take the lamp instead of waiting for him to retrieve the other lamp. I would swap it for the newer headlamp when I get to Margaritaville. Always have to keep moving...

The road away from Tracer Brook went up...and up and up and up. This hill, I learned, was Prospect Hill, and although it was on a nice dirt road instead of a trail, the hill had some teeth to it. As a matter of fact, Prospect Hill happens to be the highest point of the course (1900 feet). I was forced to resort to walking up all 3.5 miles of this hill. At the top, appropriately, was the Prospect Hill Aid Station, unattended. I filled up with water, and continued down the other side of hill. I was still running the downhill sections here so I wasn't completely a mess...yet. Rest assured, I had more than 38 miles of running to achieve the status of “total mess”. A nice downhill section of running saw me into Margaritaville at a pretty decent time, despite the Prospect Hill climb.

Coming in to Margaritaville

From Tracer Brook (57mi.) to Margaritaville (62.1mi.), 5.1 miles: 1 hour and 32 minutes. Pace of 18:02 minutes/mile pace (on cutoff pace). Time from start: 14 hours 57 minutes (14:27 min/mile pace).

Status: Partial mess, can only run downhills now


From Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear (62.1 miles to 70.1 miles, 8 miles total)

Wasting Away at Margaritaville...

If runners didn't know which aid station this was, the Jimmy Buffet music definitely tipped them off. At this aid station, intrepid runners can get themselves some margaritas from the Parrotheads running the station. As for me, I wanted none of it, instead going for the regular standby ginger ale, gummy bears, and yes, some grilled cheese sandwiches! Something different to whet the appetite. The sandwich slices definitely went down well here. I traded in my older headlamp for the “technologically superior one”, and went off into the waning daylight in search of Camp 10 Bear again.

...searching for my lost shaker of salt...

The first half-mile away from the aid station was a gentle downhill, and I wound up running and catching a runner who was walking at the time. The road then turned left, and started a pretty significant climb that had me walking most of the way to the Brown School House Aid Station (65.1 miles). There was when I received the good news; it was mostly a gentle downhill all the way to Camp 10 Bear. After rehydrating a little at the aid station, I run up a smallish hill, turned right and headed downhill. This was a really nice part of the race; so nice that I caught and passed a couple of runners coming down the hill. The road turned into a tight double-track trail. The only pause I had in this run downhill was to allow a pickup truck with race organizers through as they were attaching glowsticks to the trees on the course in anticipation of the approaching darkness. And in some of the darker areas, I did indeed have to put on my headlamp to navigate the way. Once off the trail and onto a wide dirt road, I turned the headlamp back off since I still had enough daylight to see my way. And the road kept going downhill at such a nice grade that I was able to run beautifully. A left-hand turn, up a small climb, then finally down into Camp 10 Bear, where my father, the 2nd Medical Check, and my pacer awaited me. Things are about to get very interesting, I thought.

From Margaritaville (62.1mi.) to Camp 10 Bear (70.1mi.), 8 miles: 2 hours and 7 minutes. Pace of 15:52 minutes/mile pace (ticking in ahead of cutoff pace). Time from start: 17 hours 4 minutes (14:36 min/mile pace).

Status: Somewhat recovered for the time being


From Camp 10 Bear to West Winds (70.1 miles to 77 miles, 6.9 miles total)

As I run into Camp 10 Bear I was immediately escorted to the scales for my mandatory weigh-in. I give my belt and cap over to my father and stepped on the scale. 201 pounds. Only 3 pounds lost and cleared to go! The medical crew did ask how I was eating and I told them that some foods were hard to keep down, but I managed to keep them down. An announcement came over the loudspeaker for my pacer, Bob, and he came over to introduce himself. Apparently Bob and my father did chat a little before I arrived at the aid station, so they were already familiar with each other. I had some more grilled cheese sandwiches, refilled my water bottle and went off into the night for the next aid station.

Meet Bob, my pacer!

And came upon another nasty trail climb, Call it the Sister of Agony Hill, because it was basically the same nasty grade and the same nasty terrain. I found out later that this hill was called Heartbreak Hill, definitely not to be confused with the one on the Boston Marathon course. If that hill in Boston were replaced by this hill, there would definitely be a lot of DNFs in the race. The hill basically climbs about 500 feet over one mile; you can guess the grade here. Ahead of me, the glowsticks just kept going up and up, and I trudged on.

Of course, this was where I familiarized myself with the pacer. Between grunts I told him who I was and why I was crazy enough to do this stunt. He turned out to be a doctor in New Hampshire and routinely hiked up the White Mountains. I had a mountain goat for a pacer; he was in great shape and knew that I had good pacer right off the bat. He also tried a 100 mile ultra and had to drop out several years back, but he seems to want to try this distance again sometime in the near future. I told him if he needed a pacer, I would be available.

We finally got up the steep hill onto an open dirt road at the ridge of the hill. Somewhere to the back of me, a half-moon was shining the way a bit but we noted several flashes of lightning ahead of us. It was still humid out there and scattered thunderstorms were in the forecast. At the rate I was sweating, some rain showers would actually be welcome.

We met up with some runner and her pacer from the Gills Athletic Club, a prominent ultra running club based here in New England and we ran basically together for several minutes. Bob knew people in the club and was chatting to them as I concentrated on the task at hand, getting to the next aid station. The road turned onto a single track trail and that was when things started to get rough again. Not only were the uphills killing me, but now the downhills were conspiring against me. My quads were already on fire for some of the steeper downhills that I've experienced before, but now, the steep jarring downhills were here in force. Every step I took I winced in pain as I descended these hills. As a result of being very slow and the distance to the next aid station being quite long, I ran out of water about half-way to the next aid station. Now thirsty, I was frustrated at every corner when the next aid station didn't show up. Bob noted my frustration and tried to calm me down, indicating I was still doing well in terms of time. After what seemed like forever, the trail finally exited onto a road. To my left, there were a couple of race organizers standing around a truck, I asked them where the next aid station was, and told me that it was a half-mile down the road. Clearly relieved, I settled down to a walk in anticipation of some nice cold water.

The weather at this point became a bit windy here, as it looked like some of those storms in the distance were about to reach us. We did feel a few drops of rain, but the weather eventually cleared and I was able to retreat back into my own little painful little world.

I got into the Seabrook aid station (74.7 miles) as haggard as can be. I drank large quantities of water, refilled my bottles, ate some stuff, then left. Yet another significant climb awaited afterward. This was what made Vermont so tough...the last 30 miles of the course is perhaps the most difficult since the hills just came relentlessly at the runners. As bad as the course was at this point, yes, it got worse later on.

A small downhill of quasi-running and I finally made it to West Winds. The road immediately before West Winds were dressed up in candles inside paper bags, and it made for an eerie sight as I approach the station. I met my father at this station. He wanted to know what I was doing, and I said that I was still moving forward, despite the discomfort. I also told him I was in uncharted territory. I bowed out in the Burning River 100 Miler at precisely 75 miles. I have now run 77 miles. Hooray for that.

Night time running, with its new challenges.

One other thing I noted were that there were about 3-4 runners sitting at the aid station looking utterly defeated. One thing I have learned from the DNF at Burning River was that I had to keep moving, no matter what, or my legs would stiffen up. So against my body's protestations, I waved goodbye to my father and to see him at Bills. And Bob and I walked off into the gloomy unknown.

From Camp 10 Bear (70.1mi.) to West Winds (77 m.), 6.9 miles: 2 hours and 22 minutes. Pace of 20:35 minutes/mile pace (survival mode). Time from start: 19 hours 26 minutes (14:36 min/mile pace).

Status: Blathering mess


From West Winds to Bills (77 miles to 88.6 miles, 11.6 miles total)

Approaching midnight, in the inky darkness, determining what was next, I struggled on. The road was a bit kinder at this point, with more downhills then up, but I had extreme problems going up any kind of hill. Bob basically encouraged me up these hills helping out whenever possible. Outside the sphere of light the headlamps shown was just a deadly still pitch blackness that was unnerving to me, a person usually surrounded by lights. The onset of the wee hours of the morning presented a different, and more terrifying type of challenge, the onset of sleep. Darkness is the stage for a titanic struggle between body and mind over trying to stay conscious. After some time I basically sleepwalked into Cow Shed (83.6 miles). No wait, I think this was the time where we went slightly off course; some friendly police parked in the area guided us in the right direction of Cow Shed...I think it was here. Thoughts tend to get so jumbled up when fighting consciousness that I seem to jumble up the events a little. Anyway, it was a slight miscalculation of several feet and we found our way again. Cow Shed was a blur; all I had in my mind was to keep moving, and don't stop. The problem is that now blisters have formed on both my feet and are now being made known. I decided to push for Bills anyway and maybe address the problem there (or hoped that the problems went away so that I didn't have to stop).

Running in the wee hours of the morning, fighting sleep...

Bills is the last medical check of the course; if I pass here, I'm cleared to the finish. Bills is also notorious for another thing; the people and the atmosphere is so nice in the barn that most runners tend to stay around for a mile, stiffen up, then drop out of the race. Through multiple sources, the ongoing advice is to get in, get weight, and get the heck out of there as soon as possible!

Getting to Bills was a nightmare also, it is on the top of a huge unforgiving hill and the blisters were starting to hurt a lot. After what seemed like forever (everything seemed like forever at that point), we finally crested the hill and walked into Bills a complete and utter mess.

From West Winds (77 mi.) to Bills (88.6 mi.), 11.6 miles: 3 hours and 54 minutes. Pace of 20:10 minutes/mile pace (survival mode). Time from start: 23 hours 20 minutes (15:48 min/mile pace)

Status: An incoherent blathering mess, the lowest point emotionally in the race


From Bills to Polly's (88.6 miles to 95.5 miles, 6.9 miles total)

A quick weigh-in determines my weight at 198 pounds, 6 pounds underweight. A significant drop but still within safe levels. I was cleared to go on. Despite the warnings about Bills, I had to address the blisters issue and the overall condition of my feet, so I sat down in one of the cots and slowly managed to get my shoes off. My right foot was a total bloody mess, with numerous blisters on my small toe, some larger blisters underneath the balls of my feel, and a huge massive one on the back of my heel. Bob got the Vaseline and slathered it on both my feet. My father was about to fetch a new pair of socks from the car, but to save time, Bob graciously gave me his socks to wear the rest of the way. At the same time I was given 3 cups of chicken broth for a desperate refill of my electrolytes. We gingerly put the shoes back on to my feet, limped into the Port-a-john to get some needed business over with, and gingerly walked back to the barn. At this time my worst fears were realized; I had stiffened up to the point where just walking would be difficult to do. With with only 11 or so miles to go, I was determined to keep moving. So I managed to limp away from the aid station and into darkness again.

The slight uphill was great to help me loosen up the legs for walking again and within 10 minutes, my legs were loose enough to get some ground covered. With 6 hours left in the race and under 12 miles to go, I actually achieved one of my goals, to comfortably get to the finish within the cutoff time. At this point I can cover a mile every 30 minutes and still finish under 30 hours, so I was completely relieved that I had achieved a victory of sorts here.

Another bit of good news was that, after an hour, dawn was starting to break. This then broke my body's insistence on sleeping; I had won the war there also. I was in better spirits at this point and tried to keep a fast walking pace down some of the hills to cover some ground more. The blisters were still killing my feet, but with less than 10 miles to go, my will was stronger. I could beat this thing! Some rehydration at the Keating Aid Station (92 miles) and it was on to Polly's, the last handler aid station before the finish. I thanked the volunteers for being out all night with us and pushed on.

At about a mile before Polly's something bad happened. I felt a shot of pain coming from the small toes in my right foot and had to stop a bit. I was in agonizing pain and told my handler that I may have to switch to my open toed-sandals at Polly's to give my toes some breathing space. After getting approval from me he immediately ran ahead toward the next aid station to ready my father with the sandals when I came in.

As I limped in toward Polly's I saw Bob coming back with the sandals I requested. The pain was somehow subsided, but I decided to put on the sandals to see how they feel. If there ever was a description for heaven, the sandals were it! They were a godsend! The feet felt immediately better; I knew I can traverse the last 4.5 miles in them. I got to Polly's, rehydrated, dropped the fuel belt and gave it to my father to lessen the weight, and off I was, step by step, toward the elusive finish line!


From Bills (88.6 mi.) to Polly's (95.5 mi.), 6.9 miles: 2 hours and 47 minutes. Pace of 24:12 minutes/mile pace (survival mode). Time from start: 26 hours 7 minutes (16:24 min/mile pace)

Status: An incoherent blathering mess, the lowest point emotionally in the race


From Polly's to The Finish Line (95.5 miles to 100 miles, 4.5 miles total)

With the sun finally up, the black flies were out again in force and had to swat at a couple of them to keep them away. Other than that, it was just sheer determination to get to that finish line. The hills weren't going to stop me now. I had the finish line lined up, and now nothing was going to stop me. The feet were doing better in the sandals and my spirits were raised. I talked with my pacer and thanked him for his help through the darkness, especially leading up to Bills. It was a tough, long journey and finally it was coming to an end, a good and victorious end.

We got to the last unassisted station, Sergent's at mile 97.7, then onto an uphill trail that led us toward the finish line. A couple of runners that still had some running legs left in them passed me, but I wasn't really worried about place, just finishing. At the top of a hill we came across a sign...99 miles done, 1 mile to go! Bob egged me on, up, the down some hills, then to a sign indicating only a half mile to go. At that point I finally found my running legs again and started to run in toward the finish. Down a sharp hill, around a bend to the right, and...the finish line!!! With a crown of people in their lawn chairs cheering me on I sprinted the last 50 yards in toward the finish and finally stopped the clock...28 hours, 9 minutes, 15 seconds. I immediately fell to the ground and looked up to the sky...to see a guy with a finisher's medal standing over me. I took the medal, smiled, and thanked both Bob and my father for getting me through this.

This is a race I will cherish for the rest of my life. I had covered 100 miles. Oh, and about the toes, even though my feet are healed 1.5 weeks after the race, my toes are still a bit numb, maybe a little nerve damage perhaps? Nevertheless, they will heal eventually. Secondly, I found that the weather took a toll on the runners in the race...only 55% of the people who started the race wound up finishing it. The heat, the distance, and the hills combined for a lethal combination that felled a lot of the runners on the course. I might be doing Vermont again one day, and if that day comes, it's probably because I'll be going for the Grand Slam of 100 milers (Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasach Front, 4 races in 4 months). Hey, I can dream, right?

From Polly's (95.5 mi.) to Finish Line, 4.5 miles: 1 hours and 52 minutes. Pace of 24:53 minutes/mile pace (relief mode). Time from start: 28 hours 9 minutes (16:53 min/mile pace).

Status: A smiling, stinking, dirty, blathering mess that has a finisher's medal to show for it!



Monday, April 4, 2011

Race Report - Indian Trails 15k

The Indian Trails 15K Road Race has always been one of my favorite races.

If not for the challenging hills, it is my favorite because it is one of the most beautiful courses in NJ for a road race. The Middletown/Atlantic Highlands area of NJ provide some great scenery, including horse farms, rustic dirt roads, and, of course, a great view of Staten Island and Manhattan from across the New York Harbor and the Raritan Bay.

You'll only get that view AFTER you climb the 3 big hills on the course though.


Picture of the first hill from the Sandy Hookers Website

But it's definitely worth the pain. And yesterday was no exception. The day was sunny and clear with temps in the 40s at the start. Which means there is nothing hindering that magnificent view over the water at mile 8.5 of the race.

I was coming off a recovery week in my training regimen, so my legs definitely felt like coiled springs ready to jump into action. I was part of a 9 person Staten Island contingent ready to invade New Jersey and tangle with the best of the runners they have to offer. That's because this race is a USATF-NJ State Championship race for Open Men and Women.

Our nine person group arrived at Croyden Hall, the start/finish of the race, comfortably more than an hour before the start. The temps were slightly chilly, but this week I chose to dress in just the singlet and the shorts. It was just last week when temps were only in the 20s for the Chimney Rock Run; the weather here is very bipolar in the spring. We have to constantly watch the weather predictions here to determine what to dress for our runs.

After meeting some old friends from NJ and doing a small warm-up, we lined up for the start of this race. I was situated next to CC, who will be crewing/pacing me at the  Leadville 100 later this year and a runner of similar ability as me.

The race started smoothly and both of us went out together. The first 2 miles were not bad at all. There is a small hill at about mile 1, but the downhill at mile 2 was a real treat. As soon as we got to the mile 2 marker, I shout to CC, "here comes the first hill!"

And true to form, there it was. I was hoping that 5 years of erosion would whittle it down a couple of feet, but alas, I had no such luck. The hill was just as steep as I had remembered it before.

Once we topped the first part of this hill and started to climb the second part of it, I felt my "gears" kicking in and was settling in for a good run. The downhill at miles 3 and 4 were nice on the legs too. Both CC and I were still together when I saw the right turn into the second hill. Again, I shouted to him, "hill 2 coming!"

The second hill at mile 5-6 was a steep, but very short hill. Once at the top we were back to going downhill for a bit again. CC asked if that was it and I told him yes.

The relative downhill section between the second and last hill was the last I saw of CC until after the race. I managed to barely pull ahead of him, but was too tired to turn my head to see where he was. 

All I remember about the third and last hill was it was a real bitch to climb, especially at the end. It was also very twisty so that you cannot see the top until you were almost upon it. What I forgot about the hill was that it was really a series of two hills. The first hill basically tires the runner and sets him up for the second, more steep hill. It was the one-two punch that can fell a runner in this race.

Topping the first part of the hill, I kept focus on the last part of the the hill at mile 7.5. There were several spectators cheering at the top as I was struggling the last few feet up the hill and back onto the paved road on the top. 

At the top, the view of the New York Harbor were stunning. We had the fortune of a nice, sunny, clear day and it made the painful climbs worth it. I almost regretted descending the screamer downhill section at mile 8.5.

The beginning of this downhill section is so steep that it just jars your insides if careful steps are not taken. It levels out at the lower section enough to get back into smooth cruise control as I hit the main road back to the finish line.

The last section was a little uphill, but it didn't bother me as will power and the desire to finish took over. I finished the race in 1:09:48, a 7:29 min/mile pace. I was satisfied; I couldn't have asked for any better performance here.

As for CC, he finished the race only about 40 seconds behind me. He was coming off a viral bout I think and he raced the day before, so he was on tired legs. Had he been healthy and rested, I think he could have finished ahead of me.

Everyone from Staten Island raved about this race. Enough to come back next year? You bet.

As for me, my recovery week is over. I've suffered no adverse effects from the race and was fine for my run this morning (10 miles). I might not have the speed anymore, but I do have staying power. So even though I ran this race hard, it was only 9.3 miles and probably could have gone out for a second loop at the same pace as the first had a second loop existed.

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This SUNDAY (note the day) April 10 is the Greenbelt Group Run at High Rock Park. Same place as always (High Rock Parking Lot, end of Nevada Ave. off of Rockland Ave.). But remember it's Sunday at 8AM this time, not Saturday. I will be in the Greenbelt on Saturday, but unless you're willing to run 20 miles with me on the Greenbelt White Trail, you won't see me. If you ARE willing to run 20 miles, or maybe even part of it, let me know, I can definitely use the company.

Tomorrow I'll be posting my Vermont 100 Mile Ultra Race Report here from another blog. Some people are interested to see what I've felt throughout the race and how the heck I was able to finish this undertaking. So be it. :-)