Mountain Madness 2015 Race Report

I hadn’t run a pain-free step between March 15 and May 30th, and according to my journal, began running again on May 31. Knowing that it would be several months before I could be in form again, I quickly pegged Mountain Madness as a goal race. Historically it’s an aggressive showdown for local trail runners at the end of September, and just getting myself to the starting line would be an accomplishment, but it f I could show up actually in shape, I might even have a chance to try for the podium. Still under-confident, I waited until the week of the race to sign up, hoping that my mind and body would get out unscathed.

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Final shakeout run

5:45AM, and I’ve beaten my alarm clock by 30 minutes in waking up for MoMa, maybe I’m a little more torqued up than I originally anticipated.. I’ve prepared well the night before, laying out my race kit, arranging my gels, writing out instructions for my crew, and making sure that once I wake up, there is little to do other than eat, drink some coffee, down some water, and hit the road, but judging by how fitful my sleep was, all of this preparation was seemingly for naught.

Prior to the 9:00AM start, Eric gave me some last advice, reminding me that there is always someone who’s going to sprint from the starting line, not to be that guy, not to follow that guy, and to trust that I’ve got the right game-plan to execute today. Soon it would turn out that I am that guy.

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Starting line watch calibrations (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)

As the runners lined up, Rick McNulty gave his pre-race briefing and in his typical, low-key, old-school form counted down the last five seconds before the race began. Immediately I jumped out in front, knowing that there was less than a half a mile to jockey for position before the single-track began, inevitably forcing the runners to adhere to the pace of the man in front of you. Not wanting to compromise to someone else’s gait, I made it a point to hit the off-road stretch first, and be the pacemaker.

I quickly fell into what seemed like a reasonable, yet slightly aggressive clip. Ryan Jones settled in on my heels, and it was beginning to look like the race was on. We found an early rhythm with Ryan about 50 feet behind me when a spill on an early descent destroyed my Ultimate Direction bottle, spilling almost all of my water a mere two miles into the race.. I quickly downed the rest, took an S! Cap and hoped that the inevitable lack of hydration through AS2 wouldn’t come back to bite me in the ass later.

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Leaving AS2 (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)

Ryan and I continued to Jockey for position through AS1, where I took a couple of gulps of water, made sure I was headed out the right way, and quickly sprinted down the Cannonball trail towards AS2. The soft-single-track was delightful, especially in the still cool-morning light, and for the first time in the race, I was genuinely alone.. in front. After running hard out of AS1 for about 10 minutes, confident that I had built a few minute lead I decided to dial things back to a more manageable pace, ate a GU, and continued to grind towards AS2. Foolishly however, I missed a turn adding about a tenth of a mile to my day, and squandering the small lead I had built. After finding the correct trail again, I hastily hunted Ryan down, and gained about 20 seconds on him before AS2. Waiting for me were Eric and Luisina who I quickly told the bad news about my bottle, then I downed a couple of cups of water, and headed back out into the race.

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A man of simple tastes.. GU, Water, and the classic Ultimate Direction bottle (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)

Heading from AS2 to AS3 I found the rhythm I’d been seeking all morning, slipping into a pace that for the first time all day seemed like it was genuinely sustainable for the duration of the race. By the time I reached AS3, I had become comfortable with my lead, so I spoke with the volunteers for a few moments, refilled my bottle, popped a Gel and started the descent into AS4

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Heading into AS4 (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)

Strategically I had decided well in advance that I would use the descent into AS4 to my advantage, what I had forgotten is that the descents are spread out, and come across as two steep fire-road descents with a stretch of undulating single-track in-between them. I began to catch up to and eventually pass some 25K runners before some lingering stomach issues forced me to jump off-trail for some shorts-around-the-ankles time. Surprised that no one caught me with my shorts down, I quickly resumed bombing down-trail cruising into AS4 where Lui and Eric hastily refueled my bottle as I checked in with the AS Volunteers, who informed me that I was the first 50K runner inbound. I downed another 2 cups of water, opened up a gel and began my ascent.

The downside of running off the front of the pack like I’d been doing all day, is that you genuinely have no clue where anyone else is in the race, so the out-and-back stretch provided the only opportunity for me to check up on the competition.. and for them to check me out. My stomach had continued to feel funky, and while the few moments spent squatting in the bushes had helped, I wasn’t sure I was finished with GI troubles for the day.  I knew however, that this was the only time my competition was going to get a clear sight of me, so I convinced myself to grind as hard as I could into AS5, determined to hide any signs of weakness. It was here that I spotted Ryan JonesRyan Kunz, Marcus, and  Jay a few minutes behind me, followed by a healthy spotting of Sean on the lower end of the single-track. After running nearly every step of the climb to AS5, I again refilled my bottle, slugged a couple of cups of coke, re-confirmed my directions, and headed back towards Shepherd Lake.

I ran well (and scared) along the fire roads out of AS5 until things quickly turned to the gnarliest single-track of the day, forcing me to concentrate substantially harder, and as if the terrain change was’t challenging enough, this coincided with my lowest point in the race. I recalled my 2013 MoMa, where this same section caused the greatest despair, and was once again finding myself considering dropping at the next aid station. While I knew I had at least a few minutes on my competition, I began to feel like my strength was seriously waning…  I was still making good time, but I was convinced of the impending vulnerability of my lead, and sure that should I be spotted, I would be caught. This was exacerbated by an ever growing doubt in my ability to even finish the race, never mind win the damn thing. So in a move of desperation I doubled-down my efforts with the knowledge that I would eventually drop out on a fire-road with a long descent wherein I could relax a bit, and hopefully earn some extra time on the chase-pack.

After some more meandering single-track, I finally dropped out onto the fire-road taking me back to the lake, dumped my bottle for Eric and Lui to refill, checked in with Rick and the timing mat, and left as quickly as possible, hoping to get long-out-of-sight before anyone else came in, knowing that psychologically it would be harder for my competition to catch a ghost than someone they had recently spotted.

Leaving AS6 (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)
Leaving AS6 (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)

I ran the remaining 7 miles in 1:06:38, convinced that someone was hot on my tail, while grinding through the only genuinely tedious part of the course. My feet had begun to succumb to the abuse of the incessantly sharp rocks, making me wish I had worn something a bit bulkier than the racing flats I’d run all day in, and yearn for the moment I could cross the finish line, take off my shoes, and sit down..

I finally crossed the line in 5:12:56, 2m19s faster than my 2013 time, and first man across the tape for the day. Ryan came in second, in 5:28:27, followed by Marcus, and Jay, in 5:35:54 and 5:36:06 respectively. Ryan Jones finished in 6:01:07 (11th) and Sean finished his second of 4 MoMa’s in 6:15:58 (14th).

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Finally some cotton for my body, and some Bioskins for my calves (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)
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Todays choice in shoe, Saucony Kinvara TR2 (Photo: Luisina Figueroa Garro)

A special thanks goes out to Luisina and Eric who spent the day blowing up social media, and slinging water bottles. Jay M. gets a special shoutout for the 6AM tempos, and Jeff Boyardee for the confirmation of race strategy. Also, Bioskins for their aid in training and post-race recovery.

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Taper (Mountain) Madness

“Tapering Sucks” was the singular text I sent my main training partner Eric. Eric, in his ever-positive voice of reason (one of his best character attributes) sought to remind me that I’m “building the energy,” which while comforting (and true) still doesn’t quench my desire to go for a several hour run right now.

I’ve always found tapering to be menacing, cutting off my training when it’s usually going the best seems cruel at best, at and times down right torturous… When I’ve timed things right, I hardly ever feel as if I need to taper, usually having already gritted my way through the hardest weeks of training,  and convinced my body that the volume of running I’m putting in is permanent, and thus sustainable.

This is of course complete bullshit, as very often, my body feels incredible just before it starts breaking down. It did so in March before my latest bout with running-induced injury, as well as before all of my best performances (and most painful injuries). I’m well aware that when I time my taper correctly, my body is as close to injury and breakdown as it can be without crossing that invisible line… and I’m also aware that often my body chooses to ignore aches and pains when it realizes that I have no intention to stop, only for these niggles to re-appear during tapering (see: healing). Intellectually I can process this, but emotionally… not as well. I know that I’m tuned up, and denying myself chances to run makes me feel like a fat kid left in a candy store who’s been told that he can’t touch anything, it just seems torturous.

As I continue to rest for the next 2 days leading into Mountain Madness, I have to remind myself that even without consistent testing my body is well prepared for the race. Until then, I’ll try to sleep more, eat as well as I can, and be patient. On Saturday however, I will toe the line, take the gloves off, and push myself towards the finish line as fast as I can, a return to my natural form, an ultra runner again, rather than some guy who keeps telling barroom stories about how he used to run far. Since it’s been a while since my last posting, here are some photo’s from the summers training.

Eric and Jason at Bear Mountain
Sunfish Pond (Photo: Eric Ashley)
From the annual Maine pilgrimage
The last battle with the Bonkasaur
Allamuchy

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

Summary Jan 27 – Feb 2

Monday Jan 27, 6 Miles, 289′ 40m37s
Usual around-town loop straight from the house, legs feeling especially poppy today, but also very much pressed on time.

Tuesday Jan 28, 12 Miles, 449′ 1h30m
Improvised around-town route, ~15°F which while very much bearable, did require me to run several miles before feeling loose/warmed up. Legs were surprisingly achy overall, but still yielded rather consistent splits, within 30 seconds total once averaged for gradient, even better was the consistency from miles 4-12, which eliminates the warm-up and largest climb of the day.

Wed Jan 29, 8 Miles, 663′ 1h1m
Easy repeats on the local-most road incline. Trying to increase my weekly vert on run-able terrain without really pushing anything else. Legs were feeling rather dead, just generally unresponsive, albeit surprisingly consistent (one of the things I’m learning about with my new-found garmin stats)
PM 3 Miles H20 Treadmill 20m
Alternating 30 second and 1 min pickups with added resistance (water jet)

Thurs Jan 30, 3 Miles, 801′ 32m33s
Double summit of Allamuchy from Waterloo Rd TH (not Sussex TH) maximal effort on climb/descent with R&R on the summit/base of the mountain. Could have done several more, but had to boogie back home for a meeting via Skype.
PM 8.1 Miles 427′ 1h5m 
Shakeout loop, modified broken shin. Legs felt fine, mild heartburn, but nothing serious/out of the ordinary.

Fri Jan 31, 4 Miles, 239′ 30m03s
Easy shakeout day, trying to keep the blood flowing, and not let myself fall into over-training too early in the season.

Sat Feb 1, 15 Miles, 389′ 1h44m
Horseshoe lake start with Saturday marathon training group. First 5 miles were planned to be 7:45ish pace (reality: 8:06, 7:33, 7:28, 7:12, 7:03) with the following 10 being a progression from 6:55-6:30 or so, hoping to average 6:45. Reality was as follows:
6:44
6:44
6:35
6:34
6:39
6:50
6:44
6:32
6:32
7:14
On paper, I thought this would be a rather ambitious workout, especially considering that it’s January, and frankly I’m not in my best shape during winter, but excepting some GI distress, I felt remarkably good throughout, and was surprisingly loose/un-sore afterwards.
PM 2 Miles 15m H20 ‘Mill
Shakeout time, starting to really dig this water thing…

Sun Feb 2, 9 Miles, 324′ 1h18m
Patriots Path with Brian, trying to shakeout the legs, and anticipating some soreness/sluggishness from Saturday’s run, but it never really happened. PP has been well traveled, which unfortunately means that I should have worn spikes, as much of the path has the snow compacted into an ice-covered tunnel, which while fun, is less than ideal for forward motion.

Totals: 70.1 Miles, 3573′ 8h56m
It’s ineffable how good it feels to finally be back to “training” mileage, even if the overwhelming majority of it is taking place on local roads instead of trails. Overall, my legs seem to be responding favorably to increased volume/intensity, and I’m becoming increasingly confident in the training plan I’ve (loosely) laid out for myself going into some spring 50 milers, and eventually the big 100 in July. There are no shortcuts to regaining fitness, and I absolutely need to keep that in mind, and remember to not push things too hard too early, as well as making sure that I respect the distance/terrain of my upcoming races, and the specificity of training required to race well under those circumstances.

Back on the local hill

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)

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

Summary April 22-28

Monday April 22, 15 Miles 4440′ 1h57m Easy run on the power lines. The 2 hour run seems to be feeling really regular as of late, which is really encouraging. In fact, looking over the past several weeks it seems that most of my runs have been really consistent on the stopwatch, in spite of some pretty wide variations in energy levels and outlook.

Tuesday April 23, 1 Mile 8m Oh yea, about that consistency thing… apparently a nero is part of that deal. Frankly the whole really long, slow spring has been draining on me, so whenever the weather is cold/gross I just can’t seem to muster up the energy to get out for a run. My legs felt fine, but my head just wasn’t with me.

Wed, April 24, AM, 15 Miles 4440′ 1h57m Feeling really normal on the trails, and basically just trying to keep up my fitness levels without doing anything stupid like getting myself hurt. Been cranking around in a really busted up old pair of MT110’s, whose rock plate and mid-sole have seen way better days… which I think is helping inform my footing on technical descents, as well as making sure I stay light on my feet.
PM 2 Miles, 15m Easy road-jog to shake the legs out… feeling a little stiff this time around, and relatively exhausted after a long day at class.

Thurs April 25, 17 Miles, 2160′ 2h21m  Pretty relaxed road run on the broken-shin loop, albeit really low-energy. I positive split pretty heavily over the course of the run, which is probably due to a lot of latent fatigue in my legs, and a complete and utter lack of road mileage in recent weeks.

Fri April 26, 10 Miles, 2960′ 1h18m  Easy Power Line run, finally warm enough to don nothing more than shorts and a singlet.

Sat April 27, 15 Miles, 4440′ 2h Easy run on the power lines again…. probably the last “real” run before the TNF race next weekend. Finally warm out, which was wonderful, according to the sunburn on my shoulders. The heat also gave me one last chance to dehydrate myself before the race, and seeing as I only carried 20oz with me, and wasn’t totally spent by the end, I’d say I’ve done pretty well as far as training myself into becoming a camel this year.

Sun April 28, 5 Miles 1480′ 35m I figure that if I’m going to run less, I ought to run a little quicker, to you know, stay sharp or something
PM 1 Mile 9M Barefootin’

Totals: 82 Miles, 19,920′

I decided to lay off a little bit this week, realizing that I probably wasn’t going to be able to reap any real training gains from overdoing things this close to a race, but in actuality I would probably just end up making myself tired out. With the exception of the fundamental day off in the middle of the week, It was a reasonably good training week, and had I not thought that I should begin to lower my mileage today, I could have easily kept running for another 15 or 20 miles as things were really feeling solid. From here on out, it’s really just about maintaining confidence through my taper (and making sure I can be tired enough to sleep). I’m really happy with how the past 6 or so weeks have stacked up, an frankly I’m not sure I’ve ever been this solid on the hills and more technical terrain, which will hopefully carry through on race day.

Rebuilding

After spending the better part of May sitting on the couch complaining about how nice the weather is, I think I’m starting to turn the corner in my ITBS healing process. Unfortunately (for me) the only reliable way to properly recover from an overuse injury such as this is plain and simple rest. Of course, like any over-zealous 20-something, I managed to fail in my original attempt at resting, making it about 14 days without running before I restarted, only to run 6 miles of trail on my 3rd day back, successfully re-aggravating my condition (although much less painful than the initial flaring, so the resting wasn’t for naught). So, after that I decided that my best bet was to refrain from running for at least another 10 days, but begin cross-training as soon as things felt normal again (in a day to day walking stair-climbing sense of normal).
So this time around, I’m approaching my return to running in a very different manner. I’ve never been a fan of weight lifting, or the gym in general, but the obvious weaknesses in my hip abductors, as well as the relative weakness in my core yields a breakdown in my running form over a long mountain race, which is fundamentally unsustainable without some sort of intervention. So, following my mother’s advice (note: she’s a personal trainer, which makes her maternal concerns/advice a good deal more valid[or at least I’d like to think it does]) I’ve joined a Gym. Yes, I have begun to lift things up and put them down. My primary goal is, in the short-term, to salvage as much strength/fitness as possible through a combination of strength training, and low-impact cardio. In the long term I’m hoping to build more strength overall to stave off late race fade, and postpone the inevitable breakdown in form late in a race. With some luck (and diligence) this should help to reduce the likelihood that I find myself laid out again after a long racing effort, and should in turn reduce my injury rate in the long term.
As far as actual running is concerned, my plan as of now, is to begin running lightly in the upcoming week, increasing my mileage at an uncharacteristically prudent rate for at least the first few weeks while utilizing my new-found gym access to build some additional strength. I’ve also begun applying twice-daily therapeutic ultrasound to my IT band, which helps repair tissue on a cellular level by increasing blood flow, and breaking down scar-tissue. With some luck, I’ll be able to salvage some late summer race plans, and fully take advantage of a couple of New England trips I have planned in the next month.
Bonnaroo is happening this weekend, so here are some Jersey bred guys to kick off the summer.

Bear Mountain Video

This is of course, inherently self-serving, (but isn’t the point of a blog self-serving anyhow?), but Dave has just posted the video from the NF 50 over at the Highlands Hashers blog.

Thanks Dave!!!