Gunks Fat-Ass Fallback 50K

The Shawangunk ridge, known as Kittatinny Mountain (or Kittatinny Ridge) in New Jersey, and Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania is the continuation of the long easternmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The Gunks as they are locally known extend from the NY/NJ border to the Catskill mountains, and are arguably best known as a climbing destination.

While arguably find-able on the internet there is a fast-growing fat-ass running community led by Mike Cat Skill* (This is not Mike’s actual surname).Those of us lucky enough to know Mike are aware that he spends countless hours doing trail work, runs and scrambles like a certified boss, and then in his spare time comes up with courses in his backyard to satisfy whatever distance he’s currently dreaming of, then posts them online and persuades people to run them on the same day.

On Nov 19, Mike laid the groundwork for the Fallback 50K, a nearly perfect (distance-wise) point to point run through the Gunks that hit all of the iconic landmarks, several scrambles, and a fair mix of single track and carriage road. Our group of 9 managed to stay together for the entire day, hitting 31 miles with 4488′ of gain several scrambling routes, one minor medical emergency (that we came upon, not within our group) in a casual 6h41m. Here are the photos

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Len braves the early morning cold
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Scott getting ready
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Jayson Stretches off the drive
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Can’t begin without coffee

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Scott finishes our first scramble
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Seems like a reasonable place to hang
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Guiseppe has the reverse
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Mike was grinning the whole day as he admired his handiwork
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Happy James
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Laura Drops the downhill
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Final Crossing

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Bear Mountain 50 Mile Race Report 2014

2:45AM and my alarm is screaming it’s far-too-familiar xylophone ring-tone that I’ve specifically reserved for wake up calls. It’s time to roll out of bed, and start getting ready for a 50 mile run through the inevitably soaking wet trails in Bear Mountain State Park. Dave, Sean and I had booked the “official” race hotel this year, which besides just being plain nicer than the fleabags we’d stayed in previously, was exceptionally well equipped at 3AM with hot coffee, granola bars, and myriad treats to chow down on before leaving for the race. So, I had my typical cup of coffee, a small bowl of oatmeal with some Udo’s Oil, and double-checked my kit, which consisted of 4 gels, one handheld filled with plain water, about 15 S! Caps, a few Tums, a Singlet, Split Shorts, MT110’s, a Buff, and my Sunglasses.

After sitting around at the start line for a little less than an hour, 5AM finally struck, and the race was underway. I immediately settled in with the lead pack from the beginning, taking advantage of Jeff’s super-bright headlamp since mine had effectively died immediately at the starting line(and Jordan was pretty confident that the lamp would be superfluous anyway). The lead group of roughly 10 men ran surprisingly comfortable through the first aid station, and didn’t actually seem to start pushing the pace until the first road section, wherein things got decidedly quick in a hurry. I managed to stay with the leading men through the second aid station, and perhaps a bit afterwards before I decided that it would be best to stay within myself for the majority of the day, and at this point, continuing to run with the leaders would surely result in a pretty hard blowup.

Jordan McDougal, Jeff Gosselin and Myself in the early morning

After watching the lead pack slowly gain some distance on me, I began to really find my stride, and much more fully-embrace my tendency to power-hike steep inclines, and make up the difference on the downhill. The course had deviated some from the previous years, trading some technical single track and steep inclines for rocky double track, but the primary difference was the water. Having gotten ~1.5 inches of rain in the days prior to the race, there was practically no section of trail on the course where you could expect even a modicum of dryness.  For the next 10 or so miles, I found myself completely contained within my own head, never really running with anyone, and working my hardest to maintain a consistent effort, never letting myself get too excited, or too low. Most frustratingly however, coming into aid station 6 I was expecting to see my drop bag, which contained little more than a stick of body-glide, which I felt desperately in need of, but it wasn’t there yet, forcing me to ditch my singlet and grind on for another 7 miles hoping it would be there for my second pass. During those miles a never-ending side stitch began to develop, which I initially thought was salt-related, but upon further thought I’ve realized is a result of fatigue related to cross-training oversights (note: do more core work), but things rarely got bad enough to create the true sort of desperation I usually experience in the middle miles of a long race.

.25 Miles into the course…

The second pass through the aid station provided my much needed opportunity to re-lube my thighs, fill up my bottle, grab a couple of  gels and head back into the woods, wherein a decidedly bad report by one of the volunteers informed me that I was the “30something runner” through this point (I think he had been counting people starting the loop, not finishing the loop).

For the next several miles of meandering single and double track, I found my energies waning, and my side-stitch only seeming to get worse, taking a lot of pop out of my stride, especially since excluding last years TNFEC race I’ve not experienced this sort of discomfort.

Around Mile 34 things took a turn decidedly for the better when I was caught up to by the women’s leader Rory Bosio. After rather creepily announcing “I know you!” followed by an apology for being creepy, which included several backpedaling sentences about how I’m not actually that creepy, but you know, she’s kind of well known in circles of people who follow ultrarunning etc etc etc, we latched into the same pace, and began grinding our way back to Anthony Wayne. Rory’s presence was truly a game-changer, especially after having spent the majority of the day alone, and knowing that there was at least another 10K until I could pick up Jayson, having her as an indefatigable chatterbox was a breath of fresh air, as well as a brilliant opportunity to learn from one of the great ultrarunners.

Running into Anthony Wayne, and seeing both Jayson and Alli waiting for me was and incredible pick-me-up, especially since Jayson arriving as a pacer was a very much last minute addition to my race plans. What I didn’t anticipate at all was the intimacy with which Jayson knows the last 10 miles of the course, seemingly every 100 feet he had an observation, and directions as to what would be coming up next, as well as our best plan of action for attacking different sections of trail, and especially how to attack the intimidating Timp Pass. From the moment I picked up Jayson I was relieved of all decision making processes, directed when to drink, eat, run, hike, breathe, and heckle Rory as we continued to yo-yo eachother for the last ten miles of the course. When we finally came upon Timp Pass, Jayson’s planning started to become obvious, we had closed the gap on a few more runners, and found ourselves grinding up the hill, only to barrel down the super-steep technical backside, effectively putting the screws to the couple of runners we had passed on the ascent. We then blew right through the final aid station, knowing it was less than 5K to the finish, and that things had been going well enough that I could relatively comfortably run those last few miles without any additional fluid or calories. 8h20m from the start of the race I crossed the finish line with Jayson, and Rory a mere 16 seconds behind, landing me in 14th place overall, with a 43m35s PR on course.

Jayson, Rory and Myself at the finish

Race Report: NJ Trail Series Mountain Madness 2013

When I woke up at 4:30 AM sans alarm clock on Saturday morning I finally realized that I was actually pretty anxious/nervous to toe the line at this years Mountain Madness 50K. MoMa has a reputation as being one of the tougher 50k’s in the Northeast, which is definitely represented in it’s 4h39m course record (held by Mike Dixon) which, for a low-altitude race is patently indicative of how tough of a course it is. Race reports, both published in blogs as well as orally dictated to me by myriad runners of varying abilities articulated only one thing for sure: rocks. Surprisingly, peoples impression of the course ranged from calling it near-impossible, to wheelchair accessible, so obviously some of the opinions I found were outliers to say the least.Considering this, it looked to me like I should be expectant of a rocky course with a substantial (6000′) amount of climbing.

Rick McNulty provided the oral countdown leading precisely into 9AM (apparently he’s consistently punctual about start times) and we were soon rounding Shepherd Lake and heading into the woods. Within a mile or so (after hearing some runners in the chase pack yelling “too fast!” at us) the lead pack had reduced to a trio of Myself, Seth (who looks like Tarzan carrying a camelbak) and Bill Cuthbert. We headed up the initial climb at a staggeringly fast pace, and maintained what to me seemed like a relatively reckless clip through the first aid station (5.6 miles) wherein no one took any aid, and continued through several miles of the next leg until Seth and Bill gained ~200′ on me as Mike Dixon caught up, only for Bill and Seth to miss a turn (which Julian, who was taking pictures eventually reeled in and re-directed).

Mike and I dialed things back to a more manageable pace heading into AS2 wondering if Bill and Seth would go too far off course, and taking some comfort in the lead that we had developed over the chase pack (at AS1 we were “reportedly” 5 mins ahead of Mike, and the chase-pack proper was supposedly several minutes behind him at this point). I refilled my bottle, downed a cup of Coke, and a couple of cups of water, snatched a few gels, and the two of us were out of AS2 reasonably quickly. I had been expecting to see Mike on the course, and since his reputation preceded him as a dominant runner at pretty much any race up to the 50-Mile distance (as well as a solid sub-24-hour showing at the WS100 in 2012) I was glad to be able to run with him most of the way into AS3 before I started to lose the pace, giving him about a minute lead going into AS3.

Seeing Mike leaving as I came in, I tried my best to keep myself together, drink a bit, fill up my bottle, grab a couple of gels and give chase, but admittedly I was already starting to feel some stomach issues rising, primarily what seemed like an insatiable thirst, and a surprising reluctance to continue forcing down gels. The route from AS3-AS4 was an out-and back consisting primarily of fire roads with a stretch of single-track in between. Roughly 1/3 of the way to AS4, Seth caught up to me, and the two of us took full advantage of the downhill, basically running recklessly into AS4, while I was mentally coming to grips with the fact that this 3-ish mile downhill was going to turn into a 3-ish mile uphill before I knew it, and a low point was definitely coming up.

Seth came into AS4 and left without taking anything, roughly 30 second ahead of me, not feeling so great, and already noticing some of the early onsets  of dehydration (dark urine, constant thirst) I took a few moments to collect myself, grabbed a fresh bottle from Dena (who was slinging bottles for the day) socked back a few cups of water, and started my way back up the hill. The nice side of the Out-and-Back is that you can see any competition/friends, as well as how they’re doing. As I was leaving, Bill was charging into the aid station, followed by Jason, Lindsay, and David Allara, all of whom have had some rather successful races in the recent past, and from what I knew going into the race, Dixon, Hamoudi, and Allara should be the Raritan Valley triumvirate to look out for. I also had the pleasure of running into the Parakeet, as well as Robbie and Adam from the Salt crew on this stretch, and their encouragement was more than welcome to say the very least.

In spite of the obvious proximity of formidable competition, my own waxing misery was starting to get the best of me, especially with respect to the seemingly interminable climb (which, for the record was a blast to go down) so as I was getting close to AS5, Bill eeked by me a few hundred yards before the aid station. Coming into AS5, I could see Dixon and Seth heading out, and Bill refueling unbelievably quickly and hustling after them. Feeling dejected and dehydrated, I had my bottle refilled by a kindly volunteer, drank a few cups of water, and rudely informed (upon being asked) another volunteer that you could get a buff with a visor from the internet (the same place you can buy anything) before I headed back out on the trail to try and hunt my way back into podium position.

Feeling fundamentally miserable, I recognized that it’s precisely this point in any given race wherein you can really test your gumption, and after mulling over the idea of DNF-ing at the next aid station, I began to slowly, but surely start grinding my way back into the game. Fortunately, this section was (at the start) pretty steep and technical, so power-hiking no longer felt like I was surrendering to fatigue, but rather a smart game plan. I began to regain some strength and energy, finally reeling Bill back in on one of the extended declines. Little to my surprise however, on the next incline Bill quickly went out of sight (and apparently soon after took a wrong turn). Before long, I could see Shepherd Lake again, and started to pick things up headed into the aid station.

Upon retrieving my bottle, slugging back a cup or 2 of water, and ditching my singlet, I was informed that I was in 3rd place, with the leaders only 5 mins ahead of me (it turns out that this was a grossly wrong estimate of the amount of a lead that Mike had on me), so elated,I left the aid station at full-steam(and letting out a primal scream). As I was leaving, I saw Lindsay coming in, figuring that I had ~90 seconds on him, and that if I really went hard I just might catch up to the leaders, I was acutely aware that I was both hunting, and being hunted. With every squirrel that moved, or breeze that blew a tree, I was convinced that someone was catching me on the final seven mile loop headed into the finish, running scared is a wonderfully exciting, as well as stressful endeavor. In the final 7 miles there were several sections that utilized switchbacks, with my fear of being caught up to, I found myself incessantly looking back on every turn whilst trying to keep a low profile, foolishly hopeful that this might make me harder to see (it doesn’t). After just over an hour of running like my life depended on it, I came across the finish line to find myself in 2nd place, 5:15:15 elapsed, and laid down next to the finish line to take off my shoes and soak in some sun.

Bill came in 2 minutes later (5:17:16) Seth DNF’d, Lindsay came in 4th (5:24:36). Jason finished 9th in 5:45:15, Adam 20th (6:32:49) Robbie 30th (6:45:06) and the Parakeet DNF’d after reportedly taking no water for the first 6 hours.

A special thanks goes out to the following: Jeff Perry, for his incredible advice with regards to tapering, and race planning, Dena Orkin, for tossing bottles all day, and Jayson Kolb, for the race description, and the Saturday long run guys for their companionship the past few weekends out.

Taking off the shoes right after finishing (Photo Credit: Dena Orkin)
Sun-soak post-race (Photo credit: Dena Orkin)
Chewing the fat Post-Race with Dixon and company (Photo credit: Dena Orkin)

Summary July 8-21

Monday July 8 AM 10 Miles, 2960′ 1h19m 
Usual double-power-line loop, average pace
PM 4 Miles, 350′ 31m26s 
Shakeout-ish evening run, nothing particularly special, just a cop-out sort of way to get a few extra miles in.

Tuesday July 9 AM 7 Miles, 980′ 49m12s 
Pretty normal around-town pavement session, settling into a pretty regular 7-ish minute pace on the route, which feels relatively easy on this particular route, for whatever that’s worth, I guess the consistency is nice though.
PM 8 Miles, 2360′ 1h7m 
Kittatinny State Park with the Salt-guys. I was expecting to take it relatively easy this particular night, but on the second half, Adam decided to give me a reason to breathe a little heavier. It’s strange running with a target on your back, and not something I really like to do when I’ve mentally planned a lighter effort… but I guess my inner competitor really doesn’t like being out-done… or something to that effect.

Wed July 10 AM 5 Miles, 1480′ 40m49s Really crappy feeling power-line loop… but at least I got to see Phish in the evening (dancing counts towards mileage right?)
Set 1: Llama, Wolfman’s Brother, Sample in a Jar, Julius, Halley’s Comet > Bathtub Gin, Lawn Boy, Ya Mar, Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan, Theme From the Bottom > Suzy Greenberg
Set 2: Crosseyed and Painless > Harry Hood > Axilla > Sand > Light> Good Times Bad Times > Slave to the Traffic Light, Rocky Top > Cavern
Encore: Possum

Thurs July 11 AM 10 Miles, 1100′ 1h14m
Snappy-ish neighborhood road run. I really need to start harnessing the gumption to really crank down the pace on this route (PR is somewhere in the 1:04:xx range) but it seems like the best I can muster is going out on the roads to save the few minutes that the power line loops cost me in vert/technicality.
PM 8 Miles, 1020′ 1h9m
Really miserable feeling run with the Highlands guys… first 4 or 5 were okay, but wheels fell off hardcore…. c’est la vie.

Fri July 12 AM 3.3 Miles, 2440′ 39m59s 
Intended to run some serious repeats on Tammany, but my legs had absolutely no pop, and my stop on the summit almost turned into a nap on the summit… I probably could have eaten a clif-bar, napped in my car and headed back up the mountain for the afternoon, but realistically I just wasn’t feeling the vibe… and spent the whole ride home knotting my fists about the complete waste of gas it was to spend twice as long in the car as I did on the mountain.

Sat July 13 AM 10 Miles, 1100′ 1h15m 
Another road-jaunt
PM 7 Miles, 940′ 50m 
Ditto

Sun July 14 AM 7 Miles 940′ 52m28s
Shitty road run

Totals: 79.3 Miles, 15,670′ Vert

Monday July 15 AM 10 Miles, 2960′ 1h19m
Pretty normal/consistent run through the power-lines
PM 5 Miles, 1480′ 38m42s
Finally feeling like myself on the power line trails, starting to (finally) get used to the residual fatigue/general slogginess that has been my legs for the past several weeks, which means that I can more easily grunt through the  annoyances.

Tuesday July 16 AM 10 Miles, 1100′ 1h16m
I’m trying to work some roads in mostly to pretend that I’m going to run them at a faster click, but in reality I doubt the 3-4 min total difference between the road 10 miles and the power line 10 miles is doing me any favors… maybe the repetitive motion of road running has some validity?
PM 7 Miles, 1180′ 50m 
Kittatinny State Park with Mike. Really cranked things a lot faster than I was expecting, in fact I was working as a serious anchor for a good portion of the run. It’s great to learn some new trail systems however, as well as pretend I can hang on the heels of a proper NCAA athlete.
3Mins barefooting in the field as cooldown

Wed July 17 AM 5 Miles, 1480′ 38m23s
Kind of crummy feeling morning run, tired, laggy legs led to cutting things a bit short.
PM 1 Mile Barefoot 9:03

Thurs July 18 AM 10 Miles, 2960′ 1h18m 
Reasonably good feeling run on the power line trails, Maybe it’s the increased familiarity with the course, or perhaps it’s just the return to consistent moderately high mileage (which my mine and body seem to really jive with) but I’m feeling a greater sense of comfort with the heat, as well as the hills, not that I’m working any less hard, but rather that the sustained effort is becoming routine.
PM 6 Miles, 720′ 46m6s
Broken Shin loop with an added mile beforehand. My legs were feeling kind of crappy, but my mind/stomach were in good shape which allowed me to push pretty well, especially up the hills.

Fri July 19, AM 10 Miles, 1100′ 1h14m 
Usual road route, a little quicker than in recent weeks, but still long-off from what I’m capable of… the urge to really crank this route is growing…
PM 2 miles, 14m47s 
Easy little shakeout.

Sat July 20, 20 miles, 3200′ 2h48m
Allamuchy loop with an added extension on the rail trail. Super-hot and humid, for the past several weeks has left all of the streams I usually cross completely dry, which meant no respite from he oppressive heat of the day until I got to Cranberry Lake… which unfortunately reminded me more of my bathtub than a swimming hole. I also rolled my ankle a twinge coming off of the overlook, which caused me to re-evaluate the course for the day (original course was going to have more tech/vert). Things feel fine at time of writing, but it was a bit of a scare coming off of the gnarly roll the same ankle had a few weeks prior.

Sun July 21 AM 15 Miles, 4440′ 2h3m
Power Line trails… slightly dehydrated, and generally uncomfortable. I had to really concentrate hard to not let myself hike the couple of steep inclines on the 3rd loop (remembering KOLB’s heroic effort at the VT 100 the day before helped (19:58:xx))
PM 8 Miles… Hash

Totals:  109 Miles 20,620′ Vert 

Finally back into the hundred-mile-a-week range. For some reason the 100 mile week has always been an unusually challenging arbitrary landmark… and something I’ve still only done a handful of times in the past several years. Realistically I’m pretty banged up today, but my legs seem to be shaking off the funk after a few miles, and really being able to dig in pretty well. I’d like to also get out and hit more “true” trails in the upcoming weeks, as well as generally increase my vert along with the mileage as I start to get more specific about some fall races.

Allamuchy Round 1

‘Muchy Round 2

Planning some August adventures

Injury(ish?)

They always star out the same way: just a little niggle on a shakeout run, nothing to really worry about, you say to yourself “well, I’ll see how it feels tomorrow, no need to do anything yet” or some other trivial affirmation in an attempt to avoid the inevitable. It’s still there the next day, and the day after that, and before you know it, that approach of “meh, it’ll feel better in a day or two” has only exacerbated your little niggle into something more serious. So now you start testing it going down the stairs, kicking a soccer ball with the dog, and running across the street to avoid being the victim of vehicular homicide. Those days turn into a week, and before you know it, that slight discomfort is now something you’re really concerned about, something that might even convince you to *gasp* take a day off.

After the Bear Mountain race, I started this very familiar sequence of convincing myself that I wasn’t hurt, when in reality I was. I had taken a few diggers over the course, and one of those involved my left knee doing battle with an oak tree, which inevitably it lost. Of course during the first few days after the race, nothing seemed unusual, mostly because I was spending all of my time either sleeping, or on the couch, so it was pretty hard to really tell what was going on with my legs… I mean I just ran 50 miles, everything did (and should) hurt. But when I started moving again, there was that familiar niggle, this time on the medial side of my left knee… nothing to worry about yet, but that’s always a slippery slope.

You see like every stubborn runner, I’ve always been afraid to actually admit that I’m hurt… and this is obviously counter-productive. It’s probably a result of some misguided machismo, and fear. Lots of fear. Fear that if I’m actually hurt, then my fitness is inevitably going to recede, and as everyone knows, it’s a hell of a lot easier to stay fit than it is to get fit. Foolishly however, it seems that when we take time off for that minor discomfort it will heal, wherein when we continue to do the same thing we always do, which is to say run, on a RUNNING injury, it’s likely to get worse, forcing an even longer layoff, and the actualization of those fears we were trying to avoid.

Last year, if anyone cares to remember, I had some pretty gnarly IT band problems as a result of over-training, and then racing 50 miles. This cost me the majority of the summer as far as running is concerned, seeing as I didn’t feel reasonably healthy until roughly August, and even then, I had lost several months of maintenance-training, nevermind opportunities to improve. So, with this knowledge, I decided that this time, I’d seek professional help at the onset of my discomfort, and try to salvage my running season as best as I could. (there might have been some help from my mother)

After a visit to a physical therapist, it was concluded that I have sprained my MCL, but fortunately it’s basically healed right now (although still tender). This is good news, since in spite of my lack of posting in recent weeks, I’ve been pretty regular about running (albeit at significantly reduced volume). Unfortunately means that I’m going to have to withdraw my entrance to the Cayuga Trails 50 next week, because even if I’m healthy enough to run it, my lack of mileage in the past 3 or so weeks compounded with my lack of complete trust in my left leg really only means that running the race will either result in a DNF, or worse, an injury, neither of which am I really willing to drive 8 hours round trip to deal with. While disappointed about missing what looks to be a tremendous race, I’m much more concerned with salvaging a summer’s worth of running, and not losing several months of training as a result of hubris.

This means that for the present, I’m relegating myself to dealing primarily with road-running since lateral movements are still a bit iffy, and with a little bit of luck (and ice, lots of ice) I should be able to pretty quickly resume high-volume training, and get back onto the racing scene. In the meantime, maybe I’ll go hiking, that sounds like a good idea… and I guess I should kick that ball around with my dog more, since for once, I seem to have more energy than her.

Race Report: TNF Bear Mountain 2013

As much preparation as normally goes into an ultra, sometimes you’re just not quite ready, or willing to really deal with the trials that the day is going to give you. In an endurance event, the cliche always seems to be that it’s “all mental” and a humungous portion of the challenge actually is, but sometimes in spite of how good of shape you’re in, your body can refuse to do the task too. When you combine a weaker mental day with a bad physical day, that’s when things get interesting. This was one of those days. Things started off on the wrong foot by getting to the start mere moments before the race actually kicked off (I had enough time to grab my bib, take a leak, and eat half of a clif bar) so before the gun even went off, I was already running a little bit ragged.

I ran with the lead pack through the first aid station, and feeling really solid on my feet, having a great time chatting with the top runners, and generally trying to take care of myself. 50 miles is a long day for anyone, and it didn’t seem even remotely worthwhile to start to get into any sort of pissing contest before dawn, so I gladly let myself drop to the back end of the leaders and kept pace. I continued with the pack through roughly mile 6 or 7, by which point I had fallen about 100 yards off of the lead pack as we re-entered some single-track. Foolishly, on our way into Silvermine, ~1.5 miles from the aid station, myself, and about 4 other runners missed a turn entirely… you’ve got to be fucking kidding me, right? when was the last time we saw a course marker? shit, fuck, okay, lets turn around. I figure we added at least a mile, maybe more, and lost a solid 10 or 15 places… naturally the turn we missed also caused us to gain several hundred more vertical feet over foot-crushing terrain… brilliant.

I bounced back pretty quickly however (or at least thought I did) since there’s really nothing you can do about getting lost after the fact, but it took a pretty serious toll on my overall mental state. When I got into Silvermine, I handed off my headlamp, picked up my sunglasses, and exchanged a bottle, which was followed by a helpful yell from Sean reminding me to drink more fluids…. Apparently at both aid stations I changed over a bottle, but had barely drank from either (I was at least eating the gels they stashed in the pockets for me) this would come back to bite me in the ass later.

From Silvermine to Arden Valley Road, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to recoup some of my lost positioning. I was still feeling rather spry, and really comfortable on my feet. I made up a lot of time, but I still wasn’t drinking very much, and even gels were a little tough to get down. I refilled my bottle at the aid station, grabbed  a couple of gels, and went on my way.

Leaving Arden Valley Road, I was still feeling okay, but starting to realize that I was on a pretty rough path mentally… I hadn’t really dipped into bonking yet, and wouldn’t for a while, but the trouble I was having digesting food and absorbing water were definitely not good, I’d only urinated once, and it was coming out florescent (which I attributed to the pre-race vitamins I had taken…). This was definitely the nicest section of trail on the course, giving us some 360degree views, but the exposed rock left little for the RD’s to use to mark the trail, and being gun-shy from getting lost once today, I definitely took my sweet ass time, and became increasingly frustrated at every less-than-perfectly marked deviation.

By the time I got into Lake Skannatati I had already been seriously considering dropping out. My stomach wasn’t agreeing with me, and my brain had already begun to lose it’s desire to fight, in spite of the fact that my legs still felt great. I was seriously losing the battle. Seeing my crew at the aid station gave me enough of a kick  to get moving out of the aid station (after not letting them on as to how shitty I was feeling) but within a quarter of a mile I realized that I’d gotten myself in some deep shit mentally and physically. I tried to pee again, but it was a lost cause, my stomach was sloshing, and nothing was sitting well.

I had worked a bit of a lead coming out of Skannatati relative to the guys I came into the aid station with, but in a period of mental weakness, I slowed and let them catch me simply so that I would have someone to run with. Once I left the singletrack, and hit the fireroads I was caught up to by the eventual Women’s leader (who went on to crush the women’s CR) so I latched onto her for the final 5ish miles of the trail going into the aid station.

When I picked up Gene at Camp Lanowa I was in a lot better physical shape than the previous year, my feet were fine, my legs felt good, but I was having a real problem digesting food and absorbing water. We ran rather easily out of the aid station, all the way to Tiorati, and for a brief period of time, I thought I might be able to salvage a decent performance for the day, but coming out of the aid station I started having a really sloshy stomach, and terrifically low energy levels.

Eventually we came upon some 50k and marathon runners, which gave me an opportunity to feel like I was making progress by passing other runners. After I ground my way through the low patch, I managed to leave Gene behind entirely for about 20 minutes. Gene then handed me off to Dave as I tried my hardest to drink at the aid station, choke down a gu, and throw back a redbull to try to get through the last 10 miles.

The remainder of the race was simply a matter of survival. Every time I drank, or tried to eat, it seemed like it would just sit in my stomach and slosh around, which led to side stitches, and near-vomiting on several occasions. Dave basically had to drag me through this section of the course, occasionally I’d run, especially the downhills, and generally my legs felt okay, but the gas tank was empty, and wouldn’t even begin to entertain the idea of refueling.

I eventually gutted my way across the finish-line in 9:35:38 in 24th place overall, which I really shouldn’t bitch and moan about. But racing isn’t really that different from running, just running, and even though I have very little racing experience, I’ve run… a lot… especially in the last few years, and absolutely in the last several months, and this was just a shitty day. I lost track of where/how many times I fell, but I know it was at least 4.. maybe 5, which is FAR more than my average of 1 every 350 or so miles. If it were a normal run, I would have absolutely thrown in the towel after the 20th mile, recouped for a day, and tried a true long run a couple of days afterwards, but this was a race, and there’s an expectation to finish. As far as how I’m going to change my plans from here on out? I definitely need to learn to eat more, and drink more on-the run. Scheduling a recital the day before probably took a lot more out of me mentally than I expected. On the bright side, I’m still rather confident in my fitness, and my legs have recovered remarkably well so far, especially compared to last year… so I think that if I can dial in my race-nutrition a bit better then I still have a good shot at realizing some of my ultra-goals for the year.

10 Mins after getting lost

Climbing at Mile 47

Taper report TNF Bear Mountain 2013

Oh wait, you’re supposed to down-train for an endurance race right?? You see, the problem for me when it comes to running is that I perform best when I feel fit, and I feel fittest when I feel tired… the more tired I am the more fit I feel. Of course this can sometimes lead to me feeling like super-man and running a training run like a super-old-man; which is probably why I need to taper. Also, something about glycogen, I think I read that somewhere. In a book. With pages. I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten the taper thing exactly right… I’ve only done it for a few times… and one of those was for a race that didn’t even happen… I recall bitching about it’s cancellation with a whine of “BUT I TAPERED FOR THIS” but I’m pretty sure that I thought that replacing running time with beer drinking time constituted a taper… I’m not wholly convinced that this is true (but not wholly convinced that it’s not true).

You see, in addition to the very obvious correlation of my perceived fitness to my weekly mileage, a lot of other things are wrapped up in it.. Like my ability to handle stresses, an embarrassingly large part of my self-esteem, and my willpower overall. Since I’m obviously rambling, let me show you some charts to better elaborate my point.

First, here’s my actual Taper:

Here’s how that seems to work with my overall fitness:
Now, I can’t just sit around, and pretend to go to the gym, I obviously have other things to do, like prepare for a recital that I foolishly scheduled less than 24 hours before a 50 mile race…. Oh, and apparently I need to blog.

Running is obviously a big time and energy consumer, so obviously that time has to be spent on something, here’s a rough outline of how I’ve  been spending those extra hours.
The hardest part of the taper is that since I’m not tired, I can actually see how fit I am, but I’m not allowed to use any of this until Saturday.. This is like taking a fat kid, and putting him in a candy store with a hundred dollar bill, and saying you can’t buy anything…

 Tomorrow I plan to go out and run, because I do that every day, I’ll probably run for a half an hour… which is really the running equivalent of having “just one beer” it sounds good on paper, but in actuality it’s incredibly unsatisfying. Maybe I’ll do it barefoot, so I can pretend that it’s having some sort of positive effect on my biomechanics, but most likely I’ll run up a hill. With rocks on it. Then I’ll go and practice for hours on end, because I need to do that. 

Summary April 1- 7

Monday April 1, 7 Miles, 940′ :50 Local neighborhood run before I had to run to class, nothing special other than a general weightiness in my legs obviously derived from the weekends abuse. Still pretty happy with the general “autopilot” setting I’ve seemed to work into my legs though.

Tuesday April 2, AM, 10 miles, 2960′ 1:14 Double run through the powerline trails. Usually this takes me closer to 80 mins from door to door, but without deliberately pushing the tempo I shaved the extra six off, also I’m finally feeling 100% confident in my legs ability to support me through full-speed technical downhill… things are coming together.
PM 7 Miles 940′ :46 Snappy-ish run around the golf course and on the local hills; strength is coming back quickly.

Wed April 3, 12 Miles, 2690′ 1:27 Power Line trails with a short road-oriented add-on. Feeling kind of beat up and generally shitty overall, but that seems to be par for the course whenever my mileage starts getting near triple-digits.

Thurs April 4, AM 10 Miles 2960′ 1:19 Taking it relatively easy on the power lines today expecting to run again in the afternoon, and hoping for a little left in the tank
PM 10 Miles 1440′ Double Broken-Shin loop. Generally feeling like hell the whole way, tired, heavy legged, slight stomach problems, and really not there mentally. I did manage to kick pretty hard in the last 1.5 miles or so, which was a big mental boost, but generally a miserable run (in spite of good company)

Fri April 5, 8 Miles 2000′ 1:05 Wholly miserable on Allamuchy. TH>Summit in near record time, but with my legs being doggedly heavy.
PM 2 Miles :15 Hoping that a proper-shakeout would help me salvage the following day

Sat April 6, 9 Miles 2400′ Another miserable day on Allamuchy. Basically gave up, came home, and poured myself a glass of Bulleit.

Sunday April 7 25 Miles, 7400′ 3:26 Power Line Quinfecta. Saturday night I realized that if I were to run the power line loop 5 times, I would exceed the vert/miles of the Bear Mountain course by a few feet (~20/mile) hit a reasonably similar amount of rocks, and be able to resupply every 5 miles, much like an aid station. In spite of the sisyphean nature of repeated loops I felt really good the whole way through, and hit almost dead even splits.

Totals: 100 Miles, 24,000′
Finally, back into triple digit weeks (granted if you broke up my week differently, you could have made 100 miles in seven consecutive days already). In spite of the mercurial nature of my runs, or at least how I feel about my runs, the stopwatch seems to be pretty consistent, and as I’ve noticed every other time I get into higher volume mileage, I’m a much happier person when my legs are sore. The only real hangups this week have been some lingering foot-care problems (blistering etc) and a couple of “bad” days, but those are bound to happen anyhow, and without them I doubt that I’d ever get any proper rest anyhow. Otherwise, I’m really gaining some confidence getting closer to the TNF Bear Mountain 50 in early May.

Summary Jan 7 – 13

Monday Jan 7, AM 7 Miles, 940′ :47 
 Very average run through the neighborhood. Feeling rather fortunate that I have a quick local route that lets me pass a couple of farms as well as spend over a mile running directly uphill (albeit at a rather modest grade).
PM 2 Miles :16 Treadmill
Shakeout at the gym followed by some weights on the legs.

Tuesday Jan 8, 7 Miles, 940′ :49
 One of the unexpected side effects of adding weights to my routine is the inherent deadness in my legs. Granted, only losing 2 minutes on the course isn’t really a big deal, but being able to run the route with leaden legs is definitely useful as far as endurance cash in the bank for later.

Wed Jan 9, AM 5 Miles, 1480′ :40
Power-line trails. I wish I had bothered to bring spikes, but the ~mile or so of road running required to access the trails was enough to make me leave them at home (seeing as if I wear them on pavement, they’ll quickly be worn down to nubs, and I’m so incorrigibly opposed to carrying shit while I run). Unfortunately the trails themselves proved to be a combination of slush, hard packed snow, and ice, forcing me to rely on a combination of luck and balance to not faceplant in the snow.
PM 2 Miles :16 Treadmill
Shakeout at the gym followed by a slightly less ambitious leg workout.

Thurs Jan 10, AM 3.5 Miles 1150′ 29:30
Woke up feeling unusually lethargic and leaden, so even getting out for a run seemed like pulling teeth. Although, once I hit the trail, things quickly became a lot more enjoyable, even if my legs were feeling heavy.
PM 5 Miles, 720′ :43
Broken Shin Loop, at a miraculously recovery-oriented pace. Sprinted the last 1/4 mile or so with Butters, which is always a good time (and damn, can he move)

Fri Jan 11, 2 Miles, 16:30
Really run-down today, tired, heavy-legged, and generally not feeling like doing anything.

Sat Jan 12, 7 Miles 940′ :48
Much more like my “normal” self, and really enjoying the runs where I’m comfortably under 7:00 pace.

Sun Jan 13, 10 Miles 1100′ 1:15
 I think this by default counts as my “long” run for the week, although calling a 10 miler “long” seems like a bit of a stretch. I think I’ve only broken double digits 3 or so times since last May’s injury, and hitting it at a reasonable clip is really encouraging. Every time I start getting near higher distances, I find myself afraid of the inevitable swings in energy levels, but in actuality, they’re never as bad as I think it’s going to be.

Totals: 50.5 Miles, 7270′ 6h20m

Finally in the fifties. So far, so good, it feels like training, but right now I’m seeing no signs of any previous injuries coming back (knock on wood). I’m starting to really look forward to hitting bigger miles, and beginning to add a legitimate long-run into my plans. It seems that my brain goes a little haywire prior to adding the big run into my routine, mostly a result of fear with regard to the inevitability of bonking, GI issues, and the litany of unexpected troubles that seem to be inevitable over the course of a training season, but I know I’ve done it all before, and it’s really not that bad, so bring on the beast.


Review: Merrell Road Glove

The efficient road shoe is elusive. How do you find the right combination of lightness, ground-feel, and protection from pebbles whilst not interfering with the natural motion of the foot, and subsequently the remainder of the kinetic chain up the leg? When looking for a road shoe, I often find myself making compromises, some are too squishy, others too stiff, do I want a Zero-Drop shoe? or would I be better off with a bit of a heel?

The Merrell Road Glove is Merrell’s answer to the minimalist road running shoe dilemma. Based on the same last as their incredibly popular Trail Glove, the Road Glove is really a result of some minor alterations to its trail-oriented brother. Here are the Stats:

Weight: 6.6 oz (men’s size 9)
Cushioning: 4mm EVA foam
Vibram Outsole
ZERO drop

Okay, so that’s the boring part, and precisely what one would expect from the Merrell “Barefoot” line of shoes, so I’m really not telling you anything new right now. The fit on the Road Glove is exactly what any barefoot/minimalist runner would be looking for, snug in the heel, wide in the toe box. This allows the foot to feel attached to the shoe (in fact, it eventually feels like the shoe is molded onto your foot) while giving the runner enough toebox room for the toes to splay naturally. There is a piece of foam that touches the arch directly, much like the Trail glove. This is NOT an arch support, it’s foam, and is there to lock the foot into place within the shoe. This foam has no rigidity, and collapses easily when your foot flattens out, so it is in no way taking any load off of your arches.

The ground feel on these shoes is fantastic. Merrell has taken an approach that concentrates more on the outsole than the midsole of the shoe, so there’s only a small layer of EVA (4mm) between your foot and the outsole, but the outsole is present for the entirety of the sole of the shoe. While this makes for a very consistent ground feel, and prevents any squishiness in the shoe, it does feel a little stiff when compared to the outsole designs using pods (like the NB MR00). However, this is such a minor complaint, it’s barely worth noting. In fact, the Vibram outsole combined with the modest amount of cushioning seems to take the edge off of any pebbles you may encounter, while not sacrificing the overall ground-feel (a major upgrade from my VFF’s which leave my feet sore on any run <5miles)

How are they different from the Trail Glove? Simply stated, they have a different (less aggressive) outsole, and have eliminated the rock-plate. There have also been some changes to the upper, since a trail shoe really needs to be more connected to the foot than a road shoe requires. These handful of changes makes for a lighter shoe that will hopefully last longer on roads (the trail glove is reported to wear out very quickly on the roads… although it was never intended for road use).

Conclusions? I like them… a lot. While I don’t run exclusively in Zero-Drop shoes (I’ve found that I prefer a 4mm drop in my trail shoes) These have found themselves used heavily in my rotations. I would definitely consider racing in these, and am looking forward to putting some 20+ mile runs on them in the near future.

Note: These shoes were provided to me as part of my Merrell Sponsorship to Participate in the Outdoor Nation Summit.