Bear Mountain 2016

…The woods are lovely dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

These days it often seems like a trite cliche to quote Robert Frost, especially with regards to anything outdoors.. I think we can all wax poetic about the different ways we believe we have taken the road less traveled, or how the only thing we know about life is that it goes on… but today as I recapitulate my recent experience on the ECSNY 50 Mile course I intend to keep my Frost quoting to the extremely literal, as I did indeed have promises to keep, and upon waking at the very least, many miles to go before i slept.

This calendar year I had run 749 miles prior to toeing the line. The last time I ran this race (2014) I had run 1031.1 miles leading up to it…. in my first two attempts I had covered 1200+ miles in the same time frame …. in none of these experiences did I truly feel prepared. How the hell am I supposed to get my ass across this finish line on 62% of the mileage… and 5 lbs overweight?

The reasons for my “light” training load (which informs my not being at “fighting weight”) can easily be summed up by quoting Lennon… and telling you all that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. And by life, I mean work. Since I’m on the road towards cliche, I figure I ought to steer into the skid.

Keeping all of this in mind I had decided for the first time ever to run an extremely “reasonable” race… which loosely translates to actually running my own race, and not giving a damn about the place. I would only worry about how I felt, and a semi-arbitrary time goal. You see my training partner Eric had mentioned on multiple occasions that he wanted to beat 9 hours in this race.. and he was obviously trained for it. I had done the math, and figured that 9 hrs was pretty damn close to my course average (having run an 8:20, a 9:03 and a 9:35) and that I could probably pace Eric across the line in 9 hours if given significant motivation (see: pride, promises). This would still require a really solid effort, and a much more tactical day than I’m used to delivering. (and also be my best shot at breaking 9 as well)IMG_1851.JPG

With that, I had told Eric that come hell or high water, I would get him across the line in 9 hours or fewer, and that all he would need to worry about was keeping my skinny butt right in his cross-hairs. I did the math, wrote out the requisite splits, sharpie’d them onto my water bottle, and got to the start of the race.

We took off in the first wave, and quickly settled into the middle of the front pack of runners, neither wanting to be too aggressive, nor give up too much time in the first several miles until things began to sort themselves out. Upon coming through AS1 we were roughly 6 mins ahead of pace, which is a good buffer to earn early, but unfortunately my sharpie had already failed me and begun to rub off… we’d be flying by mental math for the remaining 46 miles.

Having run hundreds, if not thousands of miles together, Eric an I quickly fell into old routines. I would set the pace, Eric would settle in a few feet behind, and we would talk about whatever came to mind… resulting in a sort of free-form roaming conversational jazz experiment, and by the time the sun was truly up we had settled in with some like-minded individuals, and started to put in “the work.” Our game plan was simple… don’t lose any time (relative to 9:00 splits) through the first 20, then try to drive hard on the fire-roads leading us into 40, and hopefully this just might get us across the line in time to get Eric a PR.

By the time we landed ourselves on the Long Path we had fallen into a solid rhythm: Power-hike the climbs, and keep it cool everywhere else. Both of us had gotten ourselves into trouble on this part of the course, running too hard on the rocky trails and blowing up by the time we got to fire-roads in the 20’s… we would NOT let this happen. Today we execute.We did, we made it to the 20 mile marker in good spirits, and worked the fire-roads hard enough to continue to bank time, the plan was working.

As we started to drive ourselves into Anthony Wayne my energy was beginning to wane while Eric’s was only increasing. I tried to keep on top of my calories while keeping a leash on Eric who had begun to smell blood, and hum the Jaws theme every time we came across a struggling 50 miler.. be calm my friend, the gloves won’t come off until mile 40, let them all come back to us.

Having run portions of the course several times this winter, I was elated to recognize and make the final descents into A. Wayne, and in an attempt to boost my own morale began whooping, hollering, and screaming nonsense about feeling like dynamite, and referring to Eric as a 150LB tank in my best Burgess Meredith voice. We had 14 minutes in the bank, spirits were high, and Steve was about to join us for the final pull back to the finish line. Life.Is.Good.

We pulled into Anthony Wayne, refilled some bottles, grabbed Steve, and immediately began clawing our way to the finish line. Unfortunately the road out of A. Wayne is deceptively uphill, and while I had come into the aid station like a lion, I was destined to go out like a lamb, and begin fighting my only really bad low-point in the race.

Roughly 200 yards into the woods it had become obvious that my pace was wavering, I was losing control… all of my caution could be for naught, I was going to melt down… or was I? The real key of fighting the bonk is obvious, you must actually fight the bonk. In my experience, sugar related energy declines come in waves, and each one is just a little more powerful than the one that preceded it… I had eaten at the aid station, and nothing had kicked in yet, so it was time to choke down another gel, swig some water, and try my best to lose as little time as possible while I waited to spring back… I’ve power-hiked through a bonk before, and Steve had seen first-hand what a couple of spoonfuls of Nutella can do for me, things would be okay, it’s just a sugar low, it’s just a sugar low….

Eric had taken off (with my blessing) to crush his goals, Shirtless-Wonder was pulling away, but I still had my legs, and Steve would be my guide for the rest of the day. We power-hiked, we ran, we bounded down hills.

It took what seemed like months to make it to the formidable Timp Pass, and then suddenly the reality of my 9hr time goal was within reach. It’s less than 3 miles to the finish, and I have 25 minutes to get there… this is actually going to happen. Steve an I opened up our strides, and began to really embrace the recklessness that only runners who can truly smell the barn would know. I crossed the line in 8:56:26, 13 minutes behind Eric. I had kept my promise.

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Coming out of Anthony Wayne with Eric in tow (Photo: Steve Pack)
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Grind up Timp (Photo: Steve Pack)
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Almost on top (Photo: Steve Pack)
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Bromance for the end (Photo: Steve Pack)
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Home

In my increasingly hectic life I’ve lately been longing for a truer sense of home. Not in the basic roof-over-my-head variety, but rather something more consistent, somehow more meaningful. This desire for home is why we fill our spaces with tchotchkes, hang pictures, and painstakingly debate which shade of taupe really represents us when choosing a couch. As much as I enjoy my living space, the joys brought on by accruing more stuff are ephemeral. To me, home (for the last several years at least) and its sense of belonging has always been intertwined with motion.

In the fall of 2011 I began running around Allamuchy with Gene’s guidance. The short 12 minute drive from my house made it an obvious choice for daily small adventures, as well as time crunched weekend outings. As years have passed I’ve logged hundreds, if not thousands of miles in the park. I’ve summited the overlook countless times, and waxed poetic of a special downhill section of single-track behind the lake. Despite all of this the park has for some reason always been mistakenly classified in my mind as a compromise outing… It’s the place I go when I don’t have the time or resources to travel further, yet every time I return I’m amazed by the variety of terrain, and total joyfulness associated with running its trails.

This morning as I laced up my flats I could feel the stress slowly leaving my body, from the snappy (15m) ascent to the overlook, and long descent to the creek crossings, the wrinkles in my forehead began to relax, and as each footfall gained purchase in the soft earth, I could only think of the ideal state in Lieh-Tzu. It is not a state of withdrawal, but a state of heightened perceptiveness and responsiveness in an undifferentiated world. My mind concentrated and my body relaxed, bones and flesh fused completely, I drifted with the wind East or West, like a leaf from a tree or a dry husk, and never knew whether it was the wind that rode me or I that rode the wind. This feels like home.

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Last fall on a post-race recovery hike

Consistency

(Note: This post originally appears at highlandshashers.com as a guest post)

As we all know, the holiday season has all but passed by again, and with that comes the inevitable social gatherings, be it family, friends, co-workers, or any combination therein, eventually someone always brings up running. Typically it’s an inquiry for advice regarding a New Years Resolution; how to start running, how to keep going, what shoes to wear, and being that we live in a northern state, there is always a question about whether or not my lungs burn in the cold (they don’t, they never have, yours don’t either, HTFU). While all of these questions are benign, their intention never seems to be… In the context of the holiday party, what people are actually asking for is not advice, it’s a panacea. And just like at some point in your life someone has to tell you that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, I must inform you that when it comes to running, there is no panacea, there is only consistency, and discipline.

This of course goes against our common cultural logic where every article written about running includes 10 tips to your next PR, but as we all know, those articles are written to sell magazines, not improve times. Actual improvement is incremental, sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it involves getting slower while your body prepares itself for the next leap. Naturally improvement requires workouts, it requires long-runs, and myriad unsexy excercises designed to keep our  bodies balanced and healthy, and these are typically the topics I am asked about by my aspiring friends. What they tend to not want to hear is always the most important part, which is that all workouts aside, one must wake up the next morning, lace up your flats, and step outside your front door, and start running.

In our instant-gratification, 3-day fix-oriented culture, nothing seems less sexy than actual dedication, but if your goals include human-powered distance or speed, this is the actual panacea: Run, preferably a lot, sometimes fast, sometimes long. Understandably, it isn’t sexy to discuss the day-in-day-out monotony of rising early every morning so that you can slowly wear the rubber off of your running shoes. In actuality, it’s damn near boring, but it is indeed the secret, as unprofound as it is. The uninitiated will not understand the discipline required to run great distances, nor should they! This understanding is instead honed mile by mile over the course of days, weeks, and months. This knowledge is earned by ice-crusted facial hair, blisters, countless miles lit by dimming headlamps, blackened toenails, unmentionable chafing, and ineffable degrees of discomfort endured while pursuing goals that many will never begin to understand.

While this lack of shortcuts is a deterrent to many, those of us who choose these pursuits should not shy away from the challenge, but rather embrace it. Camus imagined Sisyphus smiling, claiming that the struggle itself is enough to claim a mans heart. And while it may not always make for good dinner conversation, I think he’s right. Learn to love the work, because if your goals are as ambitious as they should be, then you already know, it never gets any easier, only faster.

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The author benefitting from countless trials of miles

 

Summary Nov 9-14

Monday Nov 9, 4 Miles, 492′ 34m16s

Lazily paced run throughout my apartment complex. I’ve been trying to gain more vert through more dynamic routes within the complex, especially for <5 mile runs.

Tues Nov 10, 6.9 Miles, 659′ 53m33s

Early start to avoid the worst of the bad weather forecast. Felt good all morning, and finished the run feeling like I could have kept this pace up all day. This also marks my first continuous climb from the highway to the top of the apartment complex…

Wed Nov 11, 5.4 Miles, 1030′ 48m48s

1.8 mile warmup followed by 5x main complex hill repeat (~.2 miles 142′) at maximum effort. Cooled down with a couple miles of jogging. Intervals felt unusually crappy, and only got worse from the get-go. On the upside, I managed to top my previous incline PR according to Strava, but would have preferred a bit more pep in the legs.

Thurs Nov 12, 13.1 Miles, 1247′ 1h48m

Modified Broken Shin with Mark including an ascent up Hillcrest. Legs felt generally fine, but my quads were unhappy with the prolonged climbing — burning a lot more than I would have anticipated. Also dealt with some gnarly heartburn, which was easily fixed through some Tums, but none-the-less annoying. Decided to wind down the final mile of the normal 5 mile section to the 6:50 range.

Fri Nov 13, 1.5 Miles, 167′ 12m52s

Easy midday jog, Trying to take my easy days particularly easy leading into taper.

Sat Nov 14, 13.3 Miles, 623′, 1h33m

Ungodly early start with Jay, Jeff, and Kevin. Overall a little tired with a relatively unsettled stomach, but my legs felt consistent and competent throughout the day. AVG pace of 6:58 with HR steady at 141BPM leaves me feeling confident for Philly, which I anticipate to have similar weather conditions.

Sun Nov 15, 1.5 Miles 151′ 12m4s

Easy Shakeout, let the tapering begin

Totals: 46 Miles, 4370′ 6h2m

Confidence boosting final training week before my 7 day taper going into Philly. At this point, I just want to get through the taper and back to my normal routine of big mileage in inspiring places. I’m finally feeling confident enough in my legs to submit them to more serious ultra-training kind of abuse, something I’ve been gun-shy about for over a year, and as much as I’m looking forward to the marathon itself, I’m more excited to jump into my next block.

Summary Oct 26 – November 8

Monday Oct 26 5 Miles, 282′ 39m45s

Easy effort midday Shakeout type jog. Unfortunately a bit of lingering GI issues caused me to walk in the final uphill mile rather than risk some pants-around-the-ankles time so close to home.

Tuesday Oct 27 9.7 Miles 341′ 1h3m33s

1.7 Miles easy (7:30ish pace) followed by 8 Miles at 6:17 pace with Jay. I foolishly wore split shorts and a lightweight shell, which wasn’t the most ideal clothing combination, but otherwise an uneventful tempo. It’s been good to really start to wind things out in recent weeks, discovering gears I wasn’t sure I had.

PM 1 Mile 7m49s

Easy shakeout after doing some core-work at the gym

Wed Oct 28, 8 Miles, 869′ 1h5m25s

Pretty sluggish jog before work. Weather was supposed to be getting progressively worse throughout the day forcing me to head out with the head-torch first thing in the morning. Legs felt surprisingly okay, if a little bit tired.

Thurs Oct 29, 13.3 Miles, 1068′ 1h52m

Exploring Hillcrest with Mark. We’ve been running the same couple of routes out of the 400 Morris lot for years now, and I’m amazed that none of us have been going up this incredible incline. One of the better road-views in the area, and a pretty progressively challenging incline.

Fri Oct 30, 4.4 Miles. 436′ 36m55s

Trying not to leave my apartment complex for shorter runs created a pretty clumsy route. Overall my legs were feeling okay, just trying to save some pep for the inevitable weekend grind.

Saturday Oct 31, 16 Miles, 1283′ 1h57m

Started for an early 4 miles out of Chester before meeting up with Jay and Jeff for an additional 12. Jay’s routing was typically ignorant of the y axis on the elevation chart, with most of the gain coming in the last 5 miles. I left the run knowing I had it in me to run substantially harder, even with the weeks’ accumulated volume showing up in my legs (and Jay pulling on my shirt anytime I picked things up to 7:0x)

PM 2 Miles 223′ 16m304

Evening shakeout to finalize the days quota.

Sunday Nov 1 10.2 Miles, 1063′ 1h21m

Easy morning 10 miler. Again just trying to get to my 70 MPW quota. Nothing particularly substantial about the outing, rise and grind.

Monday Nov 2, 4 Miles, 29m49s

Morning treadmill run after spending the night in Atlanta. Had to fly into town for an early morning kickoff meeting, and hadn’t had time to scout the lay of the land for a proper road-run… plus the late sunrise and rain had me a little more gun-shy.

Tuesday Nov 2, 4 Miles, 230′ 31m45s

Definitively uncreative route-building, but none-the-less it was nice to actually get some proper-outside time after spending the entirety of Monday inside conference rooms

Wed Nov 3, 9.1 Miles, 371′ 1h

Short warmup followed by 6 miles at 6:07 pace with Jay. We had planned to do a longer Marathon-Pace run later in the week, so it seemed prudent to crank the speed up, and the distance down a little for this weeks speed sesh.

Thurs, Nov 4, 10.1 Miles, 830′ 1h25m

Usual Broken-Shin loop with the Highlands guys. Did the first round by myself before meeting up with the guys for round two. Ran with Mikey most of the evening, chewing the fat about running and the technology sector.

Fri, Nov 5, 2.4 Miles, 233′ 21m1s

Easy lunch-time jog, trying to shake the cobwebs off before Saturday’s MP run.

Sat, Nov 6, 15.4 Miles, 751′ 1h45m

Couple of miles of warmup pace followed by a half marathon at anticipated marathon pace (6:40). Admittedly I failed to properly hydrate before the run resulting in a genuine suffer-fest which started before the actual workout portion. I managed to hit my splits as planned, but it required digging a lot further into the pain cave than I would have liked, making me wonder what this workout would have been like had I fueled properly. Either way, it was a confidence booster going into Philly, both knowing that I could hit my splits in the midst of a long couple weeks, and that I’m still familiar with, and willing to go into the proverbial pain cave.

Sun Nov 7, 6 Miles, 558′ 46m

Easy jog around town. Ran into Jay and Jeff part-way through and stopped to chew the fat for a while.

Totals: Oct 26-Nov 1, 70 Miles, 5745’9h0m. Nov 2-7, 51.2 Miles, 2972’6h19m

Overall a really productive couple of weeks. I’m gaining a lot of confidence in my leg speed going into the Phila marathon, but admittedly still intimidated by the concise nature of a marathon, and still unsure about what I can really do on a flat course. From here on out it’s basically taper time, although I doubt I’ll really cut any mileage in the upcoming week, especially since my legs have really been responding to the uptick as of late. As much as I’ve been enjoying the precision of training for a race like this, I really can’t wait to get back to my normal routines, especially as I’m beginning to sense that my legs are well prepared for some more reckless training ideas.

Summary Oct 19-25

Sunday Oct 19, 2.3 Miles, 249′ 19m15s

Standard neighborhood shakeout type run, Monday’s are typically a hectic workday, which seems to gel pretty well for my lightest planned running day for the week.

Tuesday Oct 20, 9.7 Miles 315′ 1h3m

Started at Jay’s house, and “jogged” (~7:30pace) The 1.7 miles to Emman’s Road, our standardized tempo-stomping ground. We both stopped the watch to reset the metrics and crank out 8 miles @6:20 pace with a slight negative split in the last 3k. Generally it’s been feeling pretty good to open up my legs and see what they can do on a flat road course, although admittedly the sensation of a consistent grinding tempo run is still a little bit foreign to me.

Wed Oct 21, 9 Miles 466′ 1h9m

Left my apartment to drive the 2 miles into Flanders mostly to avoid running on bad roads during rush hour, although eliminating the ~250′ climb from the main road back up to my apartment was a nice bonus. Should have brought my camera with me, as the sunset on the ridge overlooking town was spectacular, I need to make a mental note that when running during golden hour it doesn’t matter if I’m on the roads, I should be bringing a camera… Overall the legs felt pretty solid after Tuesday’s tempo effort, even if they were a little bit heavy.

Thurs Oct 22, 4.5 Miles 571′ 40m3s

Standard HH 3.5 mile route with 5x repeats on the first half of the first hill. Coached Donde through my typical hill-repeat routine, which is primarily a strength building exercise with each repeat ending at LT effort, and a super-easy recovery jog back down the hill.

PM Run #2, 5 Miles, 413′ 40m15s

Standardized broken-shin loop with Smitty, relatively uneven pace as the legs wanted to go a bit harder than I had planned, forcing me to put the brakes on every mile, mile and a half to keep things from getting out of hand.

Fri Oct 23, 4 Miles, 741′ 39m58s

Easy Allamuchy loop with an overlook tag. The weather was just simply too stunning to keep myself relegated to the roads for another day. Unfortunately trail runs don’t seem to have a solid way to fit into my marathon training, and I’ve definitely been missing the mountains.

Sat Oct 24, 15 Miles, 456′ 1h50m

An overnight update of my iOs seemed to deactivate my alarm causing me to midd my scheduled run with Jay and Jeff, so in lieu of training partners I decided to throw in another workout. 3 Miles warmup in the 7:30 range followed by 10 miles under 7, and a 2 mile shakeout/cooldown. Admittedly I was a little disappointed about the splits during the 10 mile tempo, which definitely show how much pop the 8 miler and hill repeats took out of my legs.

Sunday Oct 25, 2.4 Miles, 236′ 21m56s

Super-easy shakeout run

PM HashOween 6.3 miles 558′ 2h53m

Nothing like crawling through sewer pipes, wading through rivers, getting lost in cemetery’s, and having  couple of wood-beers to wrap up your week… Dave and Gene officially lay the worst hashes every (and seem very proud of it)

Totals: 58.6 Miles, 4006′ 9h37m

Overall a pretty good week. I’ve been concentrating on working out more, and “running” less as I get tuned up for the Phila Marathon on the 22d. Coming off of MoMa I have a lot of confidence in my long-legs, and general ability to grit things out when it gets tough, but having not run a marathon since 2011 I’ve certainly been feeling a lot of internal and external pressure to put up a reasonably good time at a distance that’s so easily comparable across the field. The concept of running consistently hard splits, with nary a downhill for recovery still feels somewhat foreign to me, but looking across training logs I’ve been seeing my tempo runs get progressively faster, often with slightly lower HR’s associated as well, which keeps me optimistic that I’ll be able to deliver a solid performance come race day.

Utilizing the Standing-Desk to break up my workday
Utilizing the Standing-Desk to break up my workday
Allamuchy never fails to deliver
Allamuchy never fails to deliver
More Allamuchy, this one from a recovery hike Post MoMa (Photo Credit: Luisina Figuero Garro)
More Allamuchy, this one from a recovery hike Post MoMa (Photo Credit: Luisina Figuero Garro)

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.

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

December 5-20

Friday December 5, 5 Miles 610′ 36m48s
First run after a 5 day layoff from an exceptionally gnarly stomach bug. Legs were feeling very peppy, I suppose taking the brunt of a week off is enough to let the muscles an tendons heal, and gain some substantial pop back. Turnover felt really smooth, but a few days off made down-hilling more trepidatious than usual.
PM 1 hour Climbing
Went to the rock gym with Jeff, felt generally secure on trad routes, but lacking overall grip strength limiting my willingness to try any bigger moves.

Sat Dec 6, 7.5 Miles 794′ 56m59s
Legs were still feeling pretty poppy, stayed generally in a MAF training zone for the duration, while actively trying to increase the tempo/keep the heart rate up on the downhills.

Sun Dec 7, 15.6 Miles 3369′ 3h13m
Dunfield Creek TH>Tammany>TH>Racoon Ridge>TH(via AT) Awful stomach, just plain awful. Whatever stomach big I had the week prior seemed to come back in the middle of the night, so even leaving the house was probably a foolish idea. Couldn’t eat much of anything or the duration of the day (including breakfast) combined with wicked heartburn and a general queasiness throughout the day. Legs felt fine, which is encouraging, but a bonky run is always frustrating, especially when you’re neither physically or emotionally prepared for it.

Totals: 28.1 Miles, 4774′ 4h47m 
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Mon Dec 8, 3 Miles 151′ 21:49
Usual Monday shakeout, starting to trend a little faster now, which is usually a good sign of incoming fitness, but something I should make a deliberate effort to hold off on, it’s supposed to be a recovery effort after all.

Tues Dec 9, 5 Miles 636′ 38:57
Exercise induced heartburn. Undoubtedly one of the most frustrating things going on with my body right now, especially considering how easily (chemically) controlled it is… note: keep tums in your shorts.
PM Climbing 
Generally feeling weak. I should know better than to expect to have a shitty day in one activity that requires a certain synergy between mind and body and then expect to do better in the same day at something comparably mentally and physically challenging.

Wed Dec 10, 5.5 Miles 1122′ 47:27
Reger Road Repeats. 5x the ~215′ climb (over 0.4 miles) up the hill nearest my home. Maximal effort on the ascent followed by a pseudo-jog back to the base. Huge positive splits over the course of the day, and kind of a disappointing amount of willingness to suffer anaerobically.

Thurs Dec 11, 10 Miles 758′ 1h23m
True Recovery effort. Quads were generally shot from Wednesday’s hill effort, and heartburn reared it’s ugly head again, thankfully Donde Es had some tums in his trunk saving me from more discomfort than necessary.

Fri Dec 12, 3 Miles 151′ 21:19
Feeling a lot peppier today than expected, especially with regards to how shitty my legs felt upon getting out of bed.

Sat Dec 13, 10 Miles, 935′ 1h8m
Last minute schedule changes convinced me to toss the long-run for the weekend and instead try a hilly tempo out my front door. Slight cramping showed up in my left calf, which is a definite first for me, but otherwise things felt really good, super-consistent heart rate, only 1BPM above MAF range.

Sun Dec 14, 5 Miles 689′ 38:32
Supposed to be a recovery run, but instead seemed to get a little out of hand… or at least on paper it looks a little more out of hand. Knocked off one Strava segment while coming within 1s of another all while maintaining what seemed like a rather comfortable/sustainable effort throughout.

Totals: 41.7 Miles 4452′ 5h20m

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Mon Dec 15, 5 Miles, 676′ 36m38s
Exhausted after work and Manhattan commuting, but forced myself out of the house after getting home, and running trails by headlamp for the first time since May. Legs were feeling exceptionally poppy, and I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable moving at a higher sustained effort/pace. I think using the HRM intermittently is becoming a great tool for quantifying my general effort level, and acknowledging what kind of effort is actually sustainable.

Tues Dec 16, 1 Mile, 23′ 7m30s 
Streak-keeper before work/holiday party.

Wed Dec 17, 6.5 Miles 1257′ 52m44s
Workout Wednesday. 6X Reger Road sprints with ~90 second break after 3rd repeat. This week had a LOT closer grouping between the slowest and quickest repeat, with a delta of only 28seconds as opposed to lat weeks ~1min differential.

Thurs Dec 18, 11.4 Miles, 886′ 1h31m
Felt okay throughout most of the run, with a few middle miles feeling downright peppy. Mild heartburn show up again at the midway point, followed by the wheels slowly falling off over the final 3 miles. A few hip twinges and general overall tightness combined with some latent fatigue prevented a generally strong finish.

Fri Dec 19, 3 Miles 151′  21m43s
Strava keeps telling me that this route is trending upward… and maybe its a good thing that my “shakeout” road pace is in the low 7’s… although somewhere deep in my stomach I still think this might be too quick for a run designed purely to move some blood through my tired legs.

Saturday Dec 20, 20 Miles, 3497′ 3h55m
High Point>Sunrise Mountain>High Point Failure, pure failure. Undoubtedly the most desultory effort I can think of in at least 18 months, maybe more. I’ve run this route once before in 2012 and while there were a few inches of snow on the ground hiding the rocks, I don’t recall it being anywhere near as technically demanding as it seemed today, in fact I was holy convinced that every step of the route should be reasonably runnable. Setting high expectations for a route is usually the first step towards failure, combining this with a couple of nasty falls (one seems to have banged up my knee pretty well) took what should have been a relatively consistent and strong effort and turned it into a slog of epic proportions. My 1:37 split to Sunrise Mountain was respectable, but already being furious with the obscene technical nature of the trail, slight bonking, and a banged up knee and ankle turned into the worst positive splits I’ve amassed since 2011 or 2012. Looking back at my entry from 2012 on the same route, I managed a 3:39 with only a 13 min positive split… so expecting similar positive splits today, this should have taken ~30 mins off of that effort. Instead it ended up being +25mins. I’ve been doing this sport long enough to know that a single shitty effort is not indicative of fitness, chutzpa, or ability, but such an abysmal outing is surely enough to knock around your confidence.

Sunday Dec 21 OFF

Totals: 46.9 Miles 6499′ 7h25m

My Camera hasn’t been too active lately, so enjoy some photo’s from the picturesque Thanksgiving weekend…

Sunfish Pond

Steve’s first Mt. Tammany

Somewhere on the Kittatinny Ridge

Tammany #27 on the year

Ran into Dr. Lundeen on Summit #28


Summary Nov 10-16

Monday November 10, AM 3 Miles, 151′ 23m16s
Short shake-out type thing. Legs haven’t fully recovered from the previous Saturday’s abuse… I might still be able to grind out a 4+ hour run, but recovering from it is another story.
PM Bike, 47m34s
Local neighborhood bike ride, figured I’d take ‘Zilla out for what is probably the last ride of the season.

Tuesday November 11, AM 7 Miles, 663′ 55m46s
Overall a really desultory local road loop out my front door. I’d been foolishly hoping that a couple of days of light running/XT would give my legs ample opportunity to recover, but the reality is that the ability to grind day in and day out is probably my biggest indicator of fitness, and is sorely missing right now.
PM Climbing 2.5hrs
Headed over to the rock gym with Zach. Spent most of the time bouldering and learning better ways to do a sport that I’m admittedly pretty terrible at (perhaps why I’m so intrigued by it right now).

Wed Nov 12, 10 Miles, 879′ 1h21m
Another grindtastic day. First time in recent memory that I can recall seriously considering walking some road uphills. Suffering from a really general lack of strength, and inability to climb in any way becoming of a runner.

Thurs Nov 13 AM, 10 Miles, 896′ 1h15m
Lunch-time run with Jay. Surprisingly peppy after a few days of grind, especially when I think about how I walked down the stairs in the morning. Sometimes you just need a bit of companionship to get the pop back into your legs.
PM 3.1 Miles, 148′ 27m49s
Shakeout-like modified broken-shin loop with the highlands hashers.

Fri Nov 14, AM 3.5 Miles, 568′ 32m17s
Figured I’d hit up the power-lines with the fresh inch or so of powder on the ground. Awful time gaining purchase on the inclines combined with the shitty legs I’ve had all week made for a much slower than anticipated outing.
PM Climbing 1 Hour

Saturday Nov 15, 13.5 Miles, 3120′ 2h33m
DunCreek TH>Tammany Via Red dot>Sunfish>DunCreek>Tammany>TH. Very mercurial outing at the Water Gap. Legs were a lot less peppy than I would have liked, and the fresh coating of snow made for a lot of questionable footing.

Sunday Nov 16, 3 Miles, 161′ 21m42s
Another shake-out run… I felt really good out the door, but I was reminded of the latent fatigue in my legs within a mile or so… Ugh, failing to recover any sort of leg peppiness is getting tiresome.
PM Climbing 1 Hour

Totals 53 Miles, 6585′ 7h50m

Overall not a bad week. It’s remarkably comforting to be back in the “regular” grind of things, and while there’s still a lot of miles ahead of me, it’s nice to feel like I’m finally able to put some behind as well. I may have been a little over-exuberant in last weekends efforts, at least relative to my body’s ability to recover, an ability whose diminution I’m acutely aware of….