Another weekend of stellar racing from several Inov-8 athletes. The Cranmore Hill Climb (USATF NE Championship) was a dominating race, with Kevin Tilton (51:52) and Gina Lucrezi (1:04:19) taking the overall titles. Followed up by 2nd OA's performances by Jim Johnson (52:07) and Abby Mahoney (1:04:44), right behind their teammates. (local paper article with picture of Kevin here) At the Western States Endurance Run we had strong performances by Lainie Callahan (25:34:27 / 22nd female) and Todd Walker (20:42:24 / 34th male) Scott Dunlap was 8th AG / 169 OA at the Pacific Crest Triathlon with a time of 5:06:39. Lastly Serena Wilcox took the overall female title (7:28) at Ultimate X-C 56k ultra race at Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada. Serena bettered her time from the previous year on this course by 45 minutes while wearing the Roclite 320's.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
The grandaddy of ultras, the 37th Annual Western States Endurance Run is this Saturday, June 26 – Sunday, June 27. Starting in Squaw Valley, California, the course has 18,000+ feet of climbing and 21,000+ feet of descent for 100 miles to the finish at the Placer High School track in Auburn, California. Todd Walker and Lainie Callahan will be representing the team this weekend. Scott Dunlap will be racing at the Pacific Crest Half-Ironman in Sunriver, OR. On Sunday we have several mountain runners back for more pain at The 22nd Annual Cranmore Hill Climb in North Conway, NH. Gina Lucrezi, Abby Mahoney, Kevin Tilton and Ben Nephew will be ready for the challenge of two 5.8 Km laps up and down the mountain with 1200' of climb per loop .
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Yesterday I learned that the Oroc 280's had finally arrived at the U.S. warehouse. I immediately ran barefoot to the warehouse to grab a pair. Although I wanted to go for a long run, I am actually trying to taper for Mt. Washington, so I limited my run to a 40 minute sampling of typical New England terrain; rocks, roots, carriage road, and a bit of mud.
The Oroc 280 is inov-8's lightest weight orienteering shoe. It is based on the X-talon 212's with the same low heel, 2 arrow midsole and a similar upper. The outsole, however, is far different. The business end of the outsole is the center section of 6 dobbed lugs on the forefoot, and another 3 on the heel. These ultra hard metal dobs are planted in hard rubber lugs that are backed by a protective plate. Surrounding the dobs are peripheral lugs composed of a softer, stickier rubber for improved trail feel, flexibility, and grip. Compared to the lugs on the 212's, the 280 lugs are wider and more resilient.
When I put them on, I noticed that they had a secure fit that was not overly confining. Although I like the 212's, I find that are too thin for some of the more technical trails that I run on. The 280's take care of this concern. The support plate behind the dobbed lugs provides excellent protection from stones and roots, and the dobs themselves. No matter what surface I was running on, I never felt the dobs through the midsole. I could definitely hear the dobs while running over rock, so you won't be able to sneak up on people unless it's a softer trail. As expected, grip was outstanding on all surfaces. You might be in trouble on technical sections of polished granite countertop, but besides that, the 280's offer enough grip to alter the rotation of the Earth. Your skeleton will give out before these things lose traction. The firmer outsole increases stability in tight turns due to enhanced lateral stability. Despite the reinforced sole, the 280 is still very flexible in terms of regular forward running. However, they are quite stiff laterally. This translates into increased confidence in hard downhill turns. Another benefit of the sole reinforcement is an improved ride on hardpack compared to the 212's. While I only ran through a few short muddy sections, the lugs are spaced far apart and will shed dirt quite easily.
Based on my racing experience with other Inov-8 racing shoes, the Oroc 280 will make a great all-around racer. It is light enough for shorter races, and sturdy enough for longer races.
Most importantly, they look great with jeans. If someone disagrees with that, you can put the metal dobs through their foot!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Let me just start by saying that Poison Oak sucks.
In a recent post, it was revealed that in Amsterdam, while Chelsey and I were busy training with the legendary Spider Man, Daniel was meeting with Darth Vader – apparently making some sort of dark pact to ensure our continued success in our expeditions and adventure racing.
Chelsey and I were a bit shocked when we were told of this development, but remained open as Daniel explained that the “Jedi force” and the “dark side” were essentially just flip sides of the same coin. He further reasoned, “We’ve been playing with that Jedi energy for a while, don’t you think it is time we explored the whole package? After all, what are the yamas without the niyamas? Asana without pranyama? Yoga without Slackcrs?”
Apparently, Lord Vader had initially requested that we sacrifice Chelsey, in return for ultimate domination of the adventure racing world. In the end, a lesser price of five Euros was arranged (the recession has been hard on the bad guys too).
We were all a bit skeptical of the deal.
This past weekend, was the Coast to Crest race, where we found ourselves facing strong competition – including Feed the Machine, True Grit, and the 2 time national Champions DART/Nuun/Sport Multi. DART is a team we’d long looked up to, and in their nine years together they have dominated the sport in the US.
I’d raced against them 5 or 6 times in the last two years, and always come up short. But this time we were sure it would be different. We’d won our last 4 races easily, and figured the five euro bribe would act as additional insurance.
Our two teams (DART and YogaSlackers) headed out strong on the initial ocean kayak, soon putting a gap between ourselves and the rest of the field. DART set a blistering pace on the first long bike leg and gained nearly 40 minutes on us. I can’t remember ever feeling so helpless, trying to keep pace with them as they passed. We’d just returned from the s5 expedition in Scotland, and hadn’t ridden for over a month – apparently the dark side is not a substitute for bike training.
We spent the next 20 hours trying desperately to catch up – closing the gap during the trekking legs (we ran almost the entire foot section), only to make small navigation mistakes in our haste. In the end, we finished over an hour behind DART – in 2nd place.
Our initial disappointment gave way to relief as we hung around the finish eating breakfast burritos and waiting for other teams to come in.
We still had something to aspire to. Something to train towards. It was obvious to us that we’d need to rely on hard work rather than promises from someone dressed in black. We all agree – we are done with the Vader.
But we didn’t win, and the Tecnu showers were too little too late. So now, as Chelsey and I drive to Seattle for an Acrobatics training intensive – our true test of will begins. We try to call on all the Jedi tricks we know, using the power of the mind, prana, the force, meditation, anything….to keep from tearing at our skin like crazed animals looking for a moment of peace.
As I sit here typing, I can feel the battle being lost. My will is weak. My fingers begin to lightly “caress” the inflamed areas. And I find myself wondering as my fingernails brush the raised skin. If ever there was a plant aligned with evil and suffering, it is Poison Oak….perhaps I should give the Dark Lord one more chance.
I’m willing to risk another 5 Euro.
Monday, June 21, 2010
June 19, 2010
Imagine winning a long distance trail race held within minutes of your home town while your parents are there to see you at the finish line on Father's Day weekend; it is almost a story too good to be true, especially when you live a thousand miles away. So when Laura and I had the opportunity to work remotely from Kingsford, Michigan (where my parents live) for six weeks this summer, I immediately scrapped my plans to run the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race in lieu of the Keyes Peak Trail Marathon. This inaugural event was the idea of Race Director Jeff Crumbaugh of Great Lakes Endurance and local resident Ryan Jacobson of Wild Rivers Adventure Company. It wasn't the fastest or most scenic or best competition, but it was the first marathon in my hometown and a must do on Father's Day weekend.
Standing at the starting line looking around at the small field, it was easy to pick out the competition. There were a few guys that looked the part and the local area Montrail Rep (Peter Witucki) was standing next to me, as it was a Montrail sponsored event. He looked very fit and I was nervous that he was going to dust me in the first mile. The day I lose the prerace jitters and nervousness is the day I will stop racing. Starting at the base of Keyes Peak Ski Hill at 7:02am, Jeff shouted "Runners to your marks... Go!" and we were off.
The start of this race was brutal as within the first minute we ran up a soft sand covered snowmobile trail that climbed up the backside of the ski hill. I did not look back once but as we neared the split of the first mile and 200' of climb, it was just Peter and myself running stride for stride on each side of the trail. He was pushing the pace and not wanting to drop back, I stuck with it at 7:30 pace which was much faster than I wanted to start out.
The next mile and a half we reclaimed all of the climb with a winding and fast down slope as the pace dropped to 6:30 or faster. As the course would bend left or right, we would take the tangents and duck behind each other, otherwise it was side by side running with no one within earshot. At the 2.5 mile mark, we turned left onto Lake Emily Drive which was a paved road. I had been running on the left side of the road so Peter dropped back behind me to take the tangent. I had no intention of picking up the pace on the road, but it just came naturally, given the recent road racing that I had been doing. I kept the pace around a low six minute mile for the next mile coming into the mile 3.4 aid station. I was carrying the required 20 ounce bottle that was still full so I ran through the aid station shaking off any fluids. Based on the clapping from the aid workers, I could tell that Peter was less than 10 seconds behind me.
For the next 4 miles I tried to run with even effort which turned out to be about 6:40 pace, given the general rolling nature of the terrain. The miles were flying by quickly as I remember feeling great as I neared the 8 mile mark on County Road N. I was glancing at my Garmin GPS occasionally but only at the average pace and my mile splits; I was not looking at my overall time whatsoever, just focusing on the moment and going with how I felt. I was running a little scared, not knowing what type of lead I had, but refused to look behind me. I was in the lead and I was not about to take my foot off the gas.
My hand bottle was a little low and not knowing where I would find aid again, I had planned for a quick fill up. As with all Great Lakes Endurance races, they require a hand bottle and fill it up with water pitchers, thus eliminating cups. So after crossing and paralleling CTH N for a short distance, I came to the aid station just before the bridge that crossed the "oxbow" on the Pine River. The "oxbow" derives its name from the shape that the bend of the river makes just west of the highway.
I was polite but direct with the volunteers. I said "water" and "please pour it quickly." People who don't work races want to not spill a drop or get it on you, while I am thinking about minimizing time spent there and that stopping is breaking my rhythm. I hope that I did not offend anyone with this demeanor but I was a man on a mission.
Jeff had mentioned in the prerace briefing that leaving every aid station was a hill climb. This was very true after the second aid station, as the course climbed back out of the river valley as to cross the highway again. It was the first time that I walked, but it was just a few steps of power walking to get me to the top of the short but very steep climb. Not far after that, I crossed County Road N again and made my way onto a grassy section of the course. My 9th mile split was 7:20 as the trail had some tall grass and was much different terrain than the first hour. I split the first 10 miles in 1:10:20 which was just over 7 minute pace which I knew, but still was not looking at the overall duration I had been running.
The course continued to climb slowly from the "oxbow" at mile 8 all the way until mile 13. While a subtle climb, it was taking its toll on me and despite putting forth even effort, my pace was showing the strain of the climb. My next three splits were around 7:25 pace so my overall pace was slipping slightly. I took some HEED at the mile 11 aid station which was a mistake. I love Subtle Strawberry HEED, but the Orange flavor when mixed with Honey Stinger Gold gels is like mixing milk with coke and shaking it up in your stomach; I really did want to throw it up.
The course dropped down to the mile 14 aid station where I dumped my bottle and refreshed it with water. I had decided to switch to water and then take S! Caps for any electrolyte needs and resort to just Stinger gels for energy. Leaving the aid station was a hill climb longer and steeper than at mile 8 and despite trying to look strong in the lead and run the entire hill, by the top I was walking. I was starting to feel some of the pressure of being in the lead and it was jumping on my back like a grizzly bear. The course would continue to climb along LaSalle Falls Road as I headed west with the sun at my back toward Jultra Lake. Somehow I managed to hold onto sub 8 minute pace as I had to mix in several walk breaks on the hills.
The footing was not technical whatsoever, but the soft sand at times made it difficult to push off on the up hills. I was sporting the newest inov-8 roclite 295's and they were the perfect shoe for this easy terrain and I felt very light on my feet. The lugs were spaced just right to not pick up rocks on the gravel roads and as we sloshed through some puddles, they were able to dry quickly and not weigh me down.
I had split the first 18 miles in 2:11 flat which I thought was pretty decent at 7:15 pace. I had not run this fast for this long in any race dating back to my last road marathon in December. Since then I had either been doing long ultras at a slower pace or short distance speed races at a faster pace. I felt very good about where I was at, thinking that it would take between a 3:10 and 3:20 to win on this day.
Approaching the mile 18 aid station, I had been thinking about how I would traverse the river. Jeff had mentioned that there was a "swim" option and a "run" option to cross the river, but that the "run" option was further downstream. So as I arrived and saw the signs marking the directions I asked the volunteer which route was shorter. He said the "swim" so I leapt over the bank and plunged into the water. It was only a matter of seconds before I realized that the water was full of rapids and was well over my head. As the picture shows, I started to swim but the current of the two rivers that joined just upstream was too much and I couldn't make it straight across to the other side. I went from a full swim to a doggie paddle and then to a backstroke as I floated downstream to the far end of the river where the rope crossing mounted to a tree. According to Jeff, the volunteers at the river crossing said I looked "strong and confident" and "enjoyed the water." I was just happy to have survived the crossing without having to spend too much energy. I would later hear that they also called back to Jeff letting him know that the race leader chose the swim option, while the others chose the rope crossing that was only waist deep. I guess I was so into the moment that I never thought twice and just wanted the shortest option.
Leaving the north side aid station, I took a refresh of water in my bottle and a cookie. It took one bite to realize it was raisin and I donated the cookie to the fine animals of the forest. I am pretty sure they like oatmeal raisin cookies more than me. I was trying to forget what Jeff said about the climb that followed each aid station but was rudely reminded with a trail and road climb leaving the river. It was only a 150' climb over less than 3/4 of a mile, but I was utterly exhausted from trying to swim across the river. I began to regret the decision immediately but took solace in that I could not hear anyone cheering for Pete at the river crossing, so I had estimated that he trailed by 2-3 minutes.
Hitting the bend of Highway 101 and making a hard right back to the east, I think I saw a kid on a bicycle and said hello, but this could be one of those mirages that you make up to ease the distance when your mind is wandering during the later stages of a race. I was starting to struggle, which was evident by the nearly two miles I spent on Ironwood Drive to mile 21 as I started to doubt my abilities with every footfall. I was turning around to look behind me every minute and began to make excuses to myself on why I lost the race; almost as if it had happened already. This was the low point of the race.
It took a memory of a friend who passed away last year at this time to shake me out this valley. It was just 12 months early that Dave LaVarnway, my Dad's best friend, had suddenly passed away, leaving behind his wife, daughter and loads of people who cared about him. I started to think about the sorrow and hard times that his family has been through in those last 365 days and how my current pain could not even be compared to that. If they could have made it through this as well as they have, I could get my act together, but aside the pain in my calves and make a strong push to the finish. The course turned to the left on a technical two-rut grassy road for the next two miles and I was in the zone with my new mantra. The split times for these miles was not overly fast, but Dave was running with me and gave me the lift I needed. Well he wasn't much of a runner and would give me a hard time about running, but that was his way about things and I enjoyed dealing with his crap! It was how he showed you that he liked you.
I passed through the last aid station at mile 24 with just two short miles to go. The course hit the 26 mile mark at the top of the ski hill and would wind back down for two tenths of a mile to the finish. The last problem of the day to solve was to preserve enough energy for the final climb up the backside of the ski hill. I was expecting some sort of monster climb to the peak, but the climb was spread out over the last two miles and when I saw a sign that read "scenic overlook" I knew that I was close. I took a quick peek behind me and started to run along the top ridge and down toward the finish. I imagined that the volunteers at mile 24 had called ahead to let the people at the lodge know that I was coming in shortly as I could hear the voices long before they ever saw me. Coming down the last 1/4 mile I gave a few fist pumps with my bottle in the air in celebration. Somehow I had pulled it off; I had won the race!
I had thought all day about what winning the race would feel like; I was mentally picturing the win, as I had done so many times before, only to finish second or worse. I had won a dozen or so races in my career, but this won felt different, as it was my first marathon victory. I crossed the line, and with a brief motion, pointed to the sky as a way to say thanks to Dave for pulling me along when I was ready to quit. My time was 3:19:55.
Thanks to my wife Laura and my parents for being there to see the finish. Thanks to the volunteers and the race coordinators for bringing this race to the local area.
After a crippling walk down to Keyes Lake for a chilly swim, I cleaned up and put on some clean inov-8 team gear. Surprisingly, when I got back I was asked to give an interview for the local newspaper, The Daily News. Just as I had visualized the win, picturing myself crossing the line in first, I had thought about what I would say. It didn't come out like I had planned, but it never does. I got a chance to thank the race director, the volunteers and mention my dad, but I kept my inspiration to myself as that was between me and the course.
Some fine performances this past weekend. We'll start with Eric Charette's big win at the Keyes Peak Trail Marathon up in Florence, WI in a swift 3:19:55. At the hot and humid Highland Sky 40 mile Jeremy Ramsey raced to a strong 3rd OA placing (6:27:10) and Sean Andrish was 17th OA (7:30:30). Sophie Speidel garnered another top 10 female finish (9:11:30). At the Bighorn 100 mile, Joe Grant had a great race capturing 2nd OA (19:48:32) and not far behind was Yassine Diboun in 4th OA (20:43:27). At the Great Adirondack Trail Race, Serena Wilcox was the 2nd overall female in a tight finish (2:05:33).
Thursday, June 17, 2010
This Saturday is the 50th running of the Mt.Washington Road Race, the USA Mountain Running Championships, and the only national team trial race. This will probably be the most competitive domestic field in the history of US Mountain Running. The race is 7.6 miles in length, has an average grade of 11.5% with long sections of 18%, and the last 50 yards is a 22% appropriately called, "wall" to the finish line.
Prize money has dramatically increased and all 10 spots - the top six American male and top four American female finishers will become members of the U.S. Mountain Running Team. They will compete in the World Mountain Running Championships later this year in Kamnik, Slovenia. We have 12 Team Inov-8 mountain runners who will be in the mix up front and attacking this beast of a course.
In other racing action this weekend. Starting Friday, Joe Grant and Yassine Diboun will be racing at the grueling Bighorn 100 mile in the Bighorn National Forest, WY. An out and back course with 17.5k of climb under some potential extreme weather conditions, that on average takes ultra runners 34 hours to complete. Eric Charette will be up North at the inaugural Keyes Peak Trail Marathon hosted by Great Lakes Endurance in Florence WI. Sean Andrish, Jeremy Ramsey and Sophie Speidel will be at tough but beautiful Highland Sky 40 mile ultra in Davis, WV. Lastly Serena Wilcox will be at the Great Adirondack Trail Race in Keene Valley, NY. This 11.5 mile race is sold out, so it must a good race.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
"Seemed like a good idea at the time..."
A few weekends ago, my latest adventure was to run the Pittsfield Peaks ultra (53-ish miles), which has been named ‘the hardest 50 mile race east of the Mississippi’. The statistics on the race speak for itself – winning time the first year (for men) was over 10 hours, and the past two years was just under 9 hours…approximately 14,000 feet of elevation on the course…over 50 miles…but come on, how tough could it be? I suppose I should have taken the liability waiver for the course at face value – it simply stated ‘you could die’. Based on last year’s race experience here, I remembered that this would be hard, but a great challenge, I just needed to anticipate being out there for a long time. Of course, when I really thought back to last year’s race, I seem to recall never-ending hills, relentless stinging nettles, shoe sucking mud…I think I wanted to hang up the shoes and take up knitting by the end!
Of course, in my brilliance, this race was coming at the tail end of an extremely hard training week that included completing the Pineland Farms 50 mile race on Sunday and then doing a 24-mile training run on Thursday, just for good luck. I was expecting this race to be a suffer-fest, so why not go into it with tired legs?
I headed up to Vermont on Friday after work, registered, did some last minute coordination of my drop bag and water bottles, and set up my tent near the start/finish area. I was slipping into the sleeping bag just before 9pm, which is about as early as I can hope to get to sleep before an ultra. At 3:30 am, I was woken by a crash of thunder and the sound of rain beating against the tent. For the next several hours, I would be awake in the tent, watching the world light up with lightening and then hearing the grumbling of thunder claps. Of course, with the rain pouring down, all I could think about was this already muddy course getting even worse after the night’s soaking. When the alarm went off (not that I needed it), I finally sat up, and started the pre-race ritual, although it was much different to be doing it all within the small tent and huddled under the rain fly.
We finally made our way up to the start/finish area, and were greeted by a crowd all huddled under anything that would provide shelter from the rain. With a few pre-race instructions, the brave (or is it stupid?) crowd of runners finally stepped out into the rain, lined up and the race began. Immediately, over half the field started walking up the first hill, so I ducked around the crowd, weaving around the walkers to get near the folks who were starting out running. About 1 minute into the race the course turned into the woods, and with the minimal lighting through the storm clouds, it was tough to see anything let alone the trail. The crowd stumbled forward through prickers and over rocks and eventually found ourselves out on some dirt roads to pass the time as the day got lighter. My shoes, which I had hoped to keep dry for as long as possible, were already soaked through.
The early miles passed quickly – running through the drizzling rain, and finding myself in a group of runners that included Tom (the guy I battled with during the snowshoe marathon), Jay (a 15 year old who just finished his freshman year in high school and was doing the 50k - his first ultra, if you hadn’t guessed), Sam (an 18 year old who I ran about half of the Bear Mountain 50-mile race with and who got so addicted to ultras that here he was, just a month after his first ever ultra, at it again), and a few other runners here and there. We chatted, and cruised through the first 7 miles – I was having so much fun I had forgotten that this was a ‘Peaks’ race, which means that there would be some serious craziness soon enough.
And before we knew it, we were at mile 7, where the course climbed a long steep hill for about 10 minutes. And, when I say it ‘climbs a hill’, I mean you’re hiking up a 45-degree angle, with each foot plant slipping back a few feet as you push off in the mud. At least I knew to expect this, I laughed as I hear folks behind me who had never done this race blurting out all sorts of things. At the top of the climb we were directed to the left and into the woods…where we bushwacked, over rocks, logs, around trees and through the brush back down the hill. We ended coming out of the woods where we came it – this hill was pointless! The only reason for this hill was to get some early lactic acid in the legs and scrapes on the body – mission accomplished.
After the ‘lactic acid hill’ we skirted along some fields and dirt roads, again with some easy rolling terrain. Sam and myself were running together and enjoying the conversation and glad that the rain had finally let up. After a quick stop at the mile 12 aid station, everyone headed out on a 6 mile loop that would bring us back to the aid station again. Again, our group stuck mostly together, jockeying positions as folks surged on different elements of the trails, enjoying the first single track and technical running – I was happy and enjoying the race so far! We reached the 18 mile aid station, and I felt good, energized, and was loving the race so far…and it was already 1/3 of the way completed! Of course, I had felt that way last year also, so I didn’t jump for joy just yet…I remembered how rough the last 2/3rd of the race was.
Our group split up at the aid station, with folks taking longer or shorter to grab what they needed for the next 20 mile loop (with only 2 aid stations along the way, so we needed to stock up), and a few folks turning towards the finish to do the 50k race. I grabbed my waist pack and a handheld and darted down the steep, muddy hill that began the Bloodroot Loop, certain that those that I left behind at the aid station would quickly catch up. I gingerly picked my way down the steep hill, remembering the fact that I had supermanned down this hill last year, and didn’t want to cause that sort of carnage. I was quickly rejoined by Tom and the two of us shared the next several rolling miles. The trail followed a quaint mountain stream for several miles, and eventually turned upwards for the first serious climb of the day – up and over Bloodroot.
The trail climbed up and up, and every time you thought you were reaching the top, you turned a corner and more climbing appeared ahead. Tom, who was just ahead of me, kept disappearing around corners, so seeing him motivated me to work hard to get the climb behind me. It took me 38 minutes to climb the 2 miles from the bottom to the top of Bloodroot. Going over the top, I was happy to be about halfway through the race, at the highest peak of the race, and still feeling good.
On the backside, the trails were steep enough that I was checking my speed, but enjoying the relief of moving at a faster pace. The trail quickly leveled off onto a muddy section that rivaled Jay Challenge with the shoe-sucking mud. The grass was high, which obscured your view of the mud below it, and with only a few runners ahead of me there weren’t many foot prints in the mud to indicate where not to step. At several points, I would scan the ground, and chose to step in what appeared to be stable ground only to find myself knee deep in mud. Luckily, my energy level was high, so I was just laughing at this – what a blast! It was also nice that Tom wasn’t as amused by the mud as I was, so I caught back up to him and had some company. With the alternating between deep mud and deep grass, my legs were staying relatively clean (or at least being cleaned as soon as I would get them dirty). Tom let me lead for a while, but I got the impression that he wanted someone else to ‘guinea pig’ where to step so he could avoid the mud.
By the time we rolled into the mile 31 aid station, I was still feeling good, but was about ready to be done with the Bloodroot section and out of the serious mud. When I checked in with the aid staff to ask how folks were doing ahead of me, I was surprised to hear that Tom and I were the 2nd and 3rd to check in – I had no idea we were that far up! That gave me the motivation to fill the water bottle quickly and head on back out. The first few miles were some easy dirt road that quickly turned into climbing up and over the Long Trail. I could hear Tom behind me, and used that as motivation to keep the pace up and tick off the miles.
I remember last year taking over 1:30 to do the ‘6 miles’ between mile 31 and 37 (which aid station volunteers admitted this year was 8 miles…for the same trails…). Anyway, I was determined to not take that long this year, and tried to work the downhills and get back to the 37 mile aid station. I was relieved to finally see the river and know that I was close…and a few minutes later I entered the aid station…glad to be 2/3rds done.
After VT100 last year, I never thought I’d be happy to be running on a dirt road in Vermont, but I was so glad to see it, and be able to actually run for a while and pass a few easy miles (those are rare in a Peaks race). After about 2 miles on the road, the course goes through someone’s back yard and directly up the side of a hill…on a trail that was literally cut with a bush-wacker…there was no intentional trail, and it was a completely ridiculous trail. I laughed out loud, and was thankful for the 50k racers ahead of me that had stomped out ‘footholds’ up the side of this hill, otherwise I would have been slipping back down. After 15 minutes of wandering up and through someone’s backyard, the trail turned down, through some sketchy downhills, and the crazy bush-wacking trail lead back to the back country road, less than ¼ mile from where we had turned off.
I ran down the road, again, happy to put some mileage behind me and determined to hold on to a podium spot. The trail turned into yet another trail climb, up and over in the woods, and dumped us off at Rt. 100.
I ran up the next long road climb and was pleasantly surprised to be directed onto the single track we had done during the snowshoe marathon. It was long, but all the elevation change was gradual, and I was able to run the whole thing – trying to keep the tempo up. I was amazed how strong I felt so late in the race, but knew that I had to keep working hard to ensure a good finish.
Finally I reached the last aid station (at 48 miles), and knew that I was just 5 miles from the finish line – I was hopeful that I could use the ‘almost done’ enthusiasm to finish the race within 45 minutes – it had taken me an hour to do this section last year, and I had bonked by this point. I quickly jogged the single track back up to the top of the ridge and Joe’s Hill, started saying a little prayer that the course had changed from last year (where it was several miles of up and down the hillside). Someone must have been smiling down at me, because the last several miles were similar to the snowshoe course, with switchbacks cutting across the hill, generally trending downward, but extremely runnable. Of course, in true ‘Peaks’ fashion, they decided to add an extra mile or so instead of the ups and downs. I pushed the tempo, just wanting to be finished. When I finally reached the bridge (which I knew to be ¼ mile from the finish), I let out a holler and cruised through the finish line.
I was amazed at the difference that a year can make…or really, the difference that it can make to have energy throughout the race. The Pineland Farms race was supposed to be the easy race and the Peaks race was supposed to be the hard one…yet the opposite was true. By finally figuring out my fueling, I was able to keep the negative thoughts out of my head and enjoy the ‘suffer-fest’. It was also great to have teammate Serena Wilcox on my tail all day - she also had an amazing day out there!
There are plenty of races out there - and each challenge us in different ways. While Pineland was a true test of speed over a long distance, the Peaks race is a mental challenge - designed to test your ability to overcome the obstacles (serious climbs, insane mud, long miles), but then again, I found at this year's Peaks Ultra that if I can race with a smile on my face (and dirt on my teeth) - well, I can enjoy a 'suffer-fest'. I recommend this race if you're looking to physically and mentally challenge yourself.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Some fast times at the Market Square 10k, where Kevin Tilton was 3rd OA (31:42), Jim Johnson was 7th OA (32:48) and Abby Mahoney was 3rd female (39:06). Amber Moran continues to put down some fast road times, this weekend she broke the CR and set a new road 5k PR at the China Grove 5k in 17:01. Here is a nice article and picture from the race. At the Garden of the Gods 10 mile, more speedy times by Alex Nichols who was 6th OA (57:14) and Peter Maksimow was 9th OA (58:35).
Thursday, June 10, 2010
For their final pre-Mt.Washington tune-up, Jim Johnson, Abby Mahoney, and Kevin Tilton will be racing at the Market Square Day 10k in Portsmouth, NH. Alex Nichols will be doing the same at the Garden of the Gods 10 miler in Manitou Springs, CO. The Garden of the Gods 10 Mile Run is the 1st leg of the Triple Crown of Running Series. On Sunday, Scott Dunlap will be heading up to Bend, OR for the USATF Half-Marathon Trail Championships (Dirty Trail Half-Marathon).
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
Race reports tend to be about successes. After all, who wants to write (or read, for that matter) tales of doom and gloom? This story, however, is not about victory. There are no epic struggles, course records, or even fast times. Yet it is about a subject to which most runners can relate – the experience of injury, of missing the sport one loves, and of learning to trust one’s body again.
I had back surgery seven weeks ago today. It was not a pleasant experience, but a necessary one. For all of you U2 fans disappointed about Bono’s cancellation of the summer tour, try living for a day with a severely herniated disc. I consider myself to be a pretty tough cookie, but this thing had me reduced to a sniveling, tearful wreck, despite round-the-clock Percocet tabs.
So, as I said, surgery was necessary – and miraculous for that matter. I’m convinced my surgeon is a magic man. He’s got magic hands. (Are there any Ann and Nancy Wilson fans out there besides my stuck-in-the 70’s husband?)
Back to the story now. Surgery was April 19 and rehab began April 20. The surgeon, PA, and PT all forbade me to run, although I asked each of them multiple times, kind of like the kid who thinks if she asks for a cookie enough times, someone will eventually slip up and give her one. Unlike many wishy-washy parents, they were all firm and consistent in their responses, yet they did make one mistake. They told me I could walk as much as I wanted to. Okay, there was my green light. I’m guessing that when a medical person tells a post-surgical patient that walking is okay, they are assuming that any normal person would go out for thirty minutes, maybe an hour-long stroll around the hood. Obviously they don’t treat many ultrarunners.
Prior to my injury, I had planned on running the Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour. That goal was now out, but as race day got closer, I decided that even if I couldn’t run, I could still participate in the event. After much back-and-forth and consultation with my husband and my coach, I decided on Friday that I would walk the 12-hour the following day. I didn’t consult with my medical team, out of fear that “as far as I want to” might actually have a time or mileage limit. I figured I could take their words literally and ask for forgiveness later if necessary.
For all of you who may be wondering why the heck I would even want to walk 12 hours rather than just continue with the rehab and jump into a race when I’m actually fit and ready to compete, I must be honest and let you in on a little secret: I’m not actually as mentally tough as I would like to be. The fact of the matter is, in my one-and-only attempt at 24 hours, I called Mark on the cell in order to whine a bit and be talked out of quitting. At my first 100 miler, I threatened to hit him with the belt buckle if and when I finally finished the race. At my second (and final) 100 miler, he had to physically push me up a hill when I became despondent in the early morning hours. (I guess pacers aren’t technically allowed any physical contact, so this disclosure may result in a retroactive disqualification.)
Given this obvious tendency toward psychological wimpiness, it should make perfect sense that my next running goal involves mastering this $#@^& 24 hour distance. And in order to do that, I will need to get a much tougher mindset. Hence, the decision to walk 12 hours. Talk about boredom. Talk about the endless internal debate about whether or not to settle for a DNF. Walking is so…..slow. So noncompetitive. So non-challenging. So I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to work through my mental demons. And it was. I was lapped, over and over and over again. I was cheered in that “we’re going to cheer for you because we feel sorry for you and are proud of you for just being out here” sort of way. I persevered despite the knowledge that Mark was spending the afternoon at the Beer City Festival.
In the end, I walked fourteen laps for a grand total of 42 miles, stopping every nine miles to ice my back. Whereas racing is usually about “mind over matter” for me, my challenge in this event was not to ignore my pain but to pay close attention to it. It was a process of constant evaluation and re-evaluation as I struggled to listen to my body, to learn to distinguish between fatigue and pain, between discomfort and injury, and to challenge myself to push just hard enough but not overdo it. My end performance was definitely nothing to write home about but it was a first step. I’m not sure what this post-surgery body will be capable of, but I plan to do all I can to find out.
A stellar weekend for Inov-8 athletes once again. Starting off at the Teva Mountain Games. Peter Maksimow ran a strong 5th OA (48:57) in a very competitive field at the 10k Spring Runoff. Joe Gray raced to a 3rd OA in the half-marathon with a 1:26:49 on Sunday and Kelli Lusk was 1st in her age group with a 1:57:19. At the FANS 12 hour race, Michele Hartwig was 2nd OA female with a very nice 63.1 miles in 12 hours.
At the Pack Monadnock 10 miler, Gina Lucrezi kept up her winning ways and took the overall female win but this time she took course record as well in 1:13:25. Abby Mahoney was once again fast on Gina's heels and garnered 2nd OA female in 1:16:32. On the men's side, Kevin Tilton was 2nd OA in 1:01:07 and Jim Johnson was 3rd OA in 1:03:53.
We had yet another strong showing on the ultra scene yesterday. Amy Lane took the overall women's title in 9:58 and Serena Wilcox was 2nd OA female in 10:11 at the Pittsfield Peak 50+miler. What was also impressive was that Amy and Serena finished 2nd and 3rd OA in the entire race on a tough and muddy course that saw approximately 1/3 of the field DNF.
This was race #3 in the USATF New England Mountain and Trail Series. Unlike the other series races, this was run on 80% pavement. After competing on soft mud/dirt...the idea alone of pavement is painful. I did begin my career with a passion for road racing, so I have to admit that I wasn't all that bummed about the terrain. The race was 10 miles long, with a rolling first eight, and an intense climb for the last two.
Before I jump too far into the race report, I wanted to also note how great the New England races have been on a social level. Every weekend is filled with competition, and a "social hour." It is great getting to hangout with other athletes: Kevin Tilton, Jim Johnson, Abby Mahoney, and Paul Kirsch. These people have definitely made my move to New England quite pleasant and much more enjoyable then I originally envisioned. Thanks guys!
Ok, back to the race.... Since it was mostly on road, I tested out my f-lite 220s. One word...SWEET! They were super light and had great traction for the wet roads (it poured on us for 90% of the race). The course was fairly rolling, some nice climbs, but also some relaxed downhills. I was able to keep a good tempo pace throughout the first eight miles without too much trouble. I wasn't sure what to expect around the next corner, over the next hill, or within the last mile. All I could think was that no matter what I wanted to get a great workout in. I focused on picking off the competitors one by one. It helped pull me along, and helped me keep a steady pace.
The last two miles were all uphill which totally had me switching gears. The gradient for the last 1.5 miles is steeper than almost any part of Mt. Washington - so it was quite trying at the end of a 10 mile race. I just tried to remind myself that this would all pay off in two weeks.
The last 200 meters was the worst. One last smack in the face before the finish. I just thought "drive, drive!" I could see the time clock clicking away...it said 1:13.19. I knew the course record was 1:13.35, so I put my head down and charged in at 1:13.25. I was quite happy with my performance, didn't expect to have such a successful day.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Pineland Farms 50 mile
Rolling XC ski trails and farm fields
This race weekend would not have been possible without the generous assistance of my wife, Steph. We decided to make it a family camping trip, which meant that she had to do much of the work for the weekend, including packing up camp while I was racing, and watching Gavin all morning on Sunday. She also helped set up the Inov-8 display table on Saturday and Sunday. It was a real family affair, as Gavin also helped carry a few shoe boxes from the car! Ultras tend to be selfish affairs simply due to the time and preparation involved, so I really appreciated Steph’s help over the weekend. I could’ve gone up to the race solo, but leaving home for the whole weekend after working all week would not have been much fun.
I also have to acknowledge Erik and Ian, the race directors. To summarize, Pineland Farms is most well organized running event I have ever attended. The race venue is outstanding, the course marking incredibly clear, the aid stations were top notch, and the awards were precisely on time. One of the most incredible details was the fact that I could get ICE COLD water at almost every aid station all day long, even as the day got hot after 10am. North Face should actually hire Ian and Erik to direct their 2 day trail race events. On top of it all, both Erik and Ian seemed incredibly relaxed the entire weekend.
We drove up to Pineland on Saturday morning and headed over the race site to display some Inov-8’s. I have to mention that several people think that the name of the company is “Inov”, and they ask what “Inovs” I have. I guess the foot may not look like an 8 in some of the logos! After a few hours of talking shoes, we headed over to the Pineland Market for a late lunch. Another great thing about the race, that market is fantastic! We then headed to the group campsite at Bradbury Mountain and found a nice grassy spot for our tent. Steph and I took turns going for runs on the trails in the campground, which were some of the nicest singletrack I’ve seen. We all took showers (best showers I’ve ever seen in a campground) and headed in to Freeport to a nice Italian restaurant recommended by the ultra-friendly park rangers. Steph made a trip into Patagonia and discovered that they were having a massive Memorial Day sale. Everyone was happy. Dinner was great, and we headed back to the campground. Gavin was a bit sad that there was no campfire for smores (everyone was in bed early), but he was pretty tired from a day full of hiking, running through the race finish, and playing on the campground play set.
I got up at 3am to ensure that I was fully awake by the 6am start, and wasn’t too excited about the race. My stomach did not feel good after dinner, and was still a bit off as I tried to eat breakfast. Gavin had brought a stomach bug home from day care, and Steph had actually come home from work early on Thursday after almost getting sick. I wasn’t nauseous, but my stomach wasn’t right. As it got close to race time, I got a ride to the start with Jamie Tierney, who was doing his first 50 miler. Since I usually drive to the start, I managed to leave my waistbelt at the campsite. In hindsight, my initial plan of just relying on the aid stations probably would have slowed me down significantly, but I was lucky enough to get a belt from Brian Rusiecki.
Brian and I ran together right from the start, and the first 3.5 mile loop went by quickly at 6:34 pace. The downhill sections were probably run at around 6:00 or faster, which felt quick at 6am, but my legs loosened up as we started the first of three 25k loops. Since Brian had run here last year, I was content to let him lead as I tried to figure out the course. While we were talking about other races and future runs pretty steadily through the early miles, I wasn’t very talkative as the miles went on. My stomach was starting to bother me, which is not something I’m familiar with. I’ve never been one to get sick from running any distance. The constant turns and roller coaster hills were not really helping, either. I was able to work through the rough patches for the first 25k loop at 7:05 pace, but as we started the 2nd loop, I had to let Brian go and back off the pace.
I could still see him for the first few miles as we wound our way through the fields and back into the wooded XC trails, but I was feeling progressively worse. I stopped looking at my watch and just tried to get in as many calories as possible without getting sick. I received a lot of encouragement from the 50k runners, which I tried to return when talking was an option. It was starting the warm up on this loop, but the majority of the course was still shaded.
Despite backing off on the second loop in the hopes of feeling better later in the race, I continued to fall further behind Brian. It’s amazing how much longer this race felt than Bear Mountain, despite actually being much shorter. In addition to my unsettled stomach, the fields were quite warm by the third loop, and my hips got tired of the off-camber running. I ran by a number of friends running the 25k, and even lapped a few 50 milers. They were impressed, but I noted that they probably felt much better than me! I finally started to feel decent over the last five miles, but I was still not running very fast based on my split times.
I finally finished in 6:19, 13 minutes behind Brian’s 6:06. Gavin didn’t seem to care, and I got a big hug as soon as I crossed the line. The good news is that I was well under Leigh Schmitt’s old course record of 6:32, but I would have had a hard time staying with Brian even if I was 100%. He slowed over the last two loops, but it was a gradual trend that seems to be natural for the course. If you think that Pineland is fast based on Brian’s times, you might be in for a surprise on race day. You can start fast, but the combination of hard, runable downhills, a world-record number of turns, and off-camber field sections wears on you after 20-30 miles. The performance of the day has to go to Aliza, though. 6:48 is pretty impressive considering the fact that Brian and I were almost 2 hours ahead of Nikki Kimball at Bear Mountain! After talking shoes with all sorts of New England runners for a few hours, it was time to pack up and let Gavin nap in the car. The weekend finished with a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Newburyport, and some intense sprinting on the boardwalk with Gavin as he checked out all the boats. Not exactly the typical recovery run!
While I was generally happy with my 301 PK’s, I had them laced too tight at the ankle, which caused some irritation. Usually I don’t have this type of issue, but I tend to avoid off-camber trails when I train. I may have been better off with 315’s, which have a lower midsole and are more flexible. The lower midsole and flexibility of the 315’s may have lessened the amount of torque on the joints when running the off-camber sections.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Team Granite will be going for back to back wins after taking the title at the Longest Day AR on May 21st. This weekend they will be at the Cradle of Liberty Adventure Race in the SE area of PA. This race is part of the Checkpoint Tracker AR Series. Michelle Hartwig will be going long at the FANS 12 hour in Minneapolis, MN. The course is approximately 2.5 miles around Lake Nokomis. It is a mixed terrain of asphalt trail, grass, and concrete. There is a 24 hour option as well. Peter Maksimow will be at the Teva Mountain Games competing in the hotly contested 10k Spring Runoff. Peter showed a lot of speed and finished a strong 25th OA in 32:54 at the Bolder Boulder 10k last weekend. Lainie Callahan will be at the Auburn Trails 34 miler. The course runs from Auburn at Cameron Park Lake across No Hands Bridge up K2 on Olmstead Loop to Cool and back to No Hands Bridge.
Amy Lane and Serena Wilcox will both be at the tough Pittsfield Peak 50+ mile in Pittsfield, VT. The start/finish will be at The Aimee Farm on Route 100 in Pittsfield, VT. The race course will be on country roads, logging roads, NFS roads, snowmobile trails, and rugged single track trails. Jim Johnson and Kevin Tilton will be racing at the Pack Monadnock 10 miler in NH. This race is part of the USATF-NE Mountain Running Series.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
“More Cowbell Please”
Pineland Farms 50 miler in Maine is one of my favorite and least favorite races. I had run this race two years ago and was amazed at how I could run the entire course hard, as there are no long hills or technical sections, but rather rolling fields and double track. For me this type of course is challenging because I am not extremely confident in my leg turnover. The lure of this race for me is the atmosphere. The race directors do it up right with everything from a canine cross race to the 50 miler. Also the scenery, live music, food and wonderful volunteers make it worth the trip.
Before the race I checked in with teammates Chad Denning, Amy Lane, Serena Wilcox and Ben Nephew to see what shoes they would be racing in. I knew that if the forecast looked good I would race in my flite 320’s pk’s. There would be no need for me to have a lot of tread underfoot on this course so the less resistance the better. As we lined up for the pre-race announcements I discussed with Chad my plan for the first loop (The course consisted of a 5k mile loop followed by three laps of a 25k loop). The cowbell rang and off we went. Chad and I stuck to my plan for the first three miles in an attempt to not be overzealous. Now that we were onto the larger laps I felt a little sense of relief. There were four male runners in front of us and no one in sight behind. We could see one of the male runners in front of us, but I tried my best to stay on my pace and give the race time to unfold. As we ticked off miles I checked my watch to see if we were overreaching early on. Within a short period of time the answer was yes we were, so every once and a while I would tell Chad our splits and we would tone it back. Having Chad racing by my side was helpful as we could talk about a plan for particular sections of the course and remind each other to fuel. Luckily the sky remained overcast for the first full lap, but that changed.
As we lapped through I asked my husband for an update on females behind me. With a bit of a cushion Chad and I decided that we would slow our pace and cruise the second lap and then push the third lap. I grab a new bottle and a piece of a vegan cookie. I forced a few bites down and then had to throw the rest in the woods. Within minutes I had an upset stomach and I had to go to the bathroom. Now my stomach was not on my side. We continued to run and eventually I got a GU into my now empty system. For the entire second lap my stomach was touch and go. Despite this we maintained our desired pace and I just focused on trying not to allow my stomach to shut down. Other then that it was an astonishing calm lap. I would listen and hear nothing but nature, not a rumble of a large truck, a car horn or even a voice. Before we pulled back to the lap area Chad asked me if I was going to grab more cookie and just thinking of cookie I wanted to vomit. Just 25k to go, but my energy was on the downswing.
Again we grabbed new bottles, GU and got an update from George. Our lead over the next females was still growing and now we had about 20 minutes. I remember asking Chad if that was enough of a cushion or if I should run harder. I was worried. The sun was now getting more intense and I was drinking water like it was my job. I ate a GU and then remember saying allowed “ok GU, you can kick in now”. Finally my energy level was back but Chad’s wasn’t cooperating as well. With about 15 miles to go Chad and I parted ways. I could once again see one of the male fifty mile runners in front of me and slowly tried to reel him in. I finally caught him and we spoke a bit before I passed him. I knew I would see George again at mile 45 and focused on getting to him. Eventually I got there and grabbed a new bottle and got an update as I ran away. He yelled I had a 30 minute lead and then changed it to 25. This change made me worry that maybe he really had no idea how much of a lead I had. All I knew was I had 5 miles to go. I hadn’t yet looked at the race time on my watch and wasn’t ready to do that yet. I told myself that once I got to the final last 5k I could look at my watch to see how my overall time was shaping up. I ran a faster pace on the downs and flats and then slowed a bit on the up hills. I was starting to feel a bit overheated and starting to feel like I was ready to be done. I started dreaming of the shower I could take at the end. Looking back I can calculate that I ran the first 2 miles in under 15 minutes, but that was the easier portion of the 5 miles. When I looked head at the 5k to go mark I saw the third place fifty mile male in front of me. I slowly closed the gap and said hello. I tried to stay calm and just keep my pace consistent. As I finally hit the last aid station I had one mile to go and knew I still had the legs to really run it in. I crossed the line with a new personal record, a new course record and a sense of relief that I could now join the spectator party at the finish line.
It was a great day to be out running and so wonderful to share that day with fellow runners. I really enjoyed having so many Inov-8 teammates on hand at the event knowing that they would be there to support me if I needed anything. It was also amazing to have so many runners on course tell me how much they love their Inov-8 shoes; everyone seemed to have their favorites on.