Thursday, August 13, 2015

Race Report: Beast of Burden Summer 100-Mile Run: A Step Back (A Step Forward)

I haven't written a race report for my blog, or anything for my blog, for quite a while, mostly because I haven't had a big race performance that I've felt was worth reporting for quite a while. So if you think I've only got great things happening, just look at how long ago my last race report was.

So I signed up for the Beast of Burden Summer 100 mile race after I had to cancel The Last Great Vol State Ultra, which was held in July, due to scheduling conflicts. I really had intended to stick to 24 hours or less this year, no multidays, as a way of getting back some speed and intensity as a way of being competitive in the 24-hour races again. I'd had a bad and disappointing day at Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 in late May, so I was really hoping this 100 could be a stepping stone back to a good 24, and maybe some other good competitive races before I get too old. The race is held on the Erie Canal towpath starting in Lockport, NY. It's 12.5 miles out, 12.5 miles back, four times through, on a flat, smooth, crushed stone surface, great for a fast time. The tough factor is the weather, which tends to be hot and humid in August, and there's no shad at all on the course.

I was very fortunate to get a ride to the race from Bobby Leong, who dropped me off on his way to eastern Ohio for a family visit. He even graciously agreed to take a quick side trip to Niagara Falls (American side), since I'd never been there before! Beautiful! (Bobby also has an awesome playlist on his phone, but that's for another story.

I was also fortunate to have the hospitality of Jim and Beth Pease, who are generous without end and who were invaluable volunteers for the race.

With a 10 a.m. start on August 8, I was able to get a good, full night's sleep before the race and still have plenty of time to set up my things on a picnic table near the start. It was my first time at BoB, but everyone instantly made me feel like family. There were also a number of New Yorkers (City folk) there to help me feel at home as well. And one nice item was that the weather was looking to cooperate nicely, with projected highs in the 70s with cloud cover, and only light winds! With the cooler weather, I opted to carry only one water bottle with me, which would contain my secret special blend of sports drinks, which I was trying here for the first time. One bottle rather than two meant moving faster and slower exhaustion, and I was confident that one bottle could get me through the 7 miles to the first aid station and 5.5 to the turnaround, with refilling at the aid stations.

So off we go, and some of the 50-mile and 25-mile runners took off like a flash. I went out pretty strongly, but on the eastbound outbound stretch the breeze was against us, so I didn't want to push that too hard, but just focus on proper form and technique. I got to the turnaround at Middleport in about 1:45, a little slower than I was hoping, but good enough to keep me in the lead for the 100. With the turnaround, you could see where your fellow runners/competitors were. Previous champion, Steve Parke was close behind me, so there was no slowing down. I got back to the start in 3:31, pretty much the same split. And Steve pulled in while I was there getting food and drink.

On lap 2 Steve caught up to me again at the Gasport aid station (mile 32), so I had to keep up the pace. By now it was getting warm, still not too hot, but the sun was coming out occasionally, and I had decided to run shirtless, which I never do, but it did help keep my body temperature down. By lap 3 evening was coming on, so the shirt was coming on too. Seeing Steve as I started lap 3 it looked like I had maybe a mile on him, still way too close to let up.

I was still feeling good, no problems with the stomach or feet or legs or anything, just starting to get that soreness that sometimes happens after running 50 miles. But I continued to focus on posture, form and technique to keep  me moving smoothly and quickly and to keep my breathing strong. The drink mixture seemed to be working well for me, although I had to take a break from it for 12 miles because the taste (strawberry/punch flavor) was starting to annoy me. But when I went back to it it tasted good again. And getting liquid nutrition helped keep me from spending too much time eating at the aid stations, in fact I ate very little solid food at all, except at least some fruit at each stop, one protein bar that I munched on through the race, maybe some chips, and once or twice some grilled cheese.

Darkness fell as I pulled into the start at mile 75, about 11 1/2 hours in (9:30 p.m.). So I was happy to be keeping a consistent pace, and was hoping to get the final lap in by another four hours and get under 15:30. My real hope was to beat my friend Tommy Pyon's 2014 time of 15:16, second-fastest on the course. So with little time spent I was off again for my last lap.

Jim Pease and me at the finish
I felt comfortable still and felt like I was keeping a good pace, but it's hard for me to tell in the dark. It was also hard for me to tell who the other runners were as I met them, so I wasn't sure where Steve was, so I just kept pushing to do what I could to keep the lead. By now I was becoming familiar with the course, the landmarks along the way, so it didn't feel like just long open stretches until the aid stations came into view. That breaking the course into smaller familiar sections helped keep my mind from getting too overwhelmed. I spent very little time at the aid stations now, just kept the finish line in my mind. On I went, keeping pace as best I could, feeling like I was slowing down but not sure. I was confident I had the win but still wanted to get as good a time as I could. Only in the last three miles did I start to get hungry, and it was a pretty painful hunger. I had just a little bit of Heed left in my bottle, which helped a little, enough to get through. I'm so accustomed to fixed-time races, what a joy it is to approach an actual finish line, and in the lead!! So I finished in 15:27:06, faster on the last lap than I expected! Partly that was due to shorter aid stops. Jim pease and Bobby Leong greeted me there, I got my buckle from the RD and I sat down and got some food in my stomach. Bobby, having returned from Ohio, took care of me well. After about a half hour of rest and refueling and chatting with the RDs and aid station staff and runners who had come through on mile 75, it was time to be off, as Bobby had engagements to keep before we returned home. I was told that Steve had a little trouble and had to take more time at the 87.5 mile aid station. Little did I know that John Boser (who's barely half my age), who I'd seen running strongly all day, had passed Steve and was close to finishing, in just 16:08 for second place.

Me and Bobby Leong at the finish
So that was the race, but there was also the run, the many great things that made the experience truly enjoyable, starting with the people. The other runners, the aid station volunteers were all so great and supportive. I don't chat much when I race, so I couldn't really express how appreciative I was of their kind words and support!

There was also the beauty of the course, the smooth canal and the woods alongside, with occasional houses or small towns along the way. It was especially beautiful as sunset came, and the sky cleared up to give bright colors to the landscape. And at night the occasional fog off the water added an eerie touch which was nice. It was nice to see stars, too, which actually helped me run, as I sometimes tend to slouch when I get tired which hampers my breathing. Looking up at the stars kept my head up and my chest open to aid in my breathing and my form. Plus i saw one shooting star, and I kept looking for more!

So I owe a big thanks again to Bobby, and to Jim and his wife Beth, to the RDs and their staff and volunteers, and to all the other runners, not just at BoB, but all those in the NY ultra community who inspire me and help make me want to be the best I can be.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Race Report: Brooklyn Marathon

This report is also a couple of months late, but at least it has a happier ending than my last.

Over the summer and fall I had been coaching a good friend from El Paso to run the new York Marathon, his first marathon, and through his experiences I felt a new excitement for the race, as if it were my first marathon again. (My first marathon was the New York Marathon in 1997.) He did very well in the race, I had a lot of friends who ran, either on their own or as pacers or Achilles guides, so I was inspired to sign up for the Brooklyn Marathon on Nov. 17. This would also be my first marathon since Boston 2011, which happens to be my PR at 2:50:55. I'd been wanting desperately to run another marathon but couldn't find on nearby on the calendar that I could run, until Brooklyn. I was also looking to re-qualify for Boston, but this would be too late to enter for 2014. Still, I was ready to go.

This relatively new race, put on by NYC Runs, was run entirely in Prospect Park. According to the web site the course was two loops around the lower end of the park (about two miles each), then 6 full loops (about 3.3 miles each), followed by another lower loop. It might have been confusing for some people, but the logic was there, and there were signs marking each mile, so it wasn't tough to follow. I was very familiar with Prospect Park, since I trained there a lot when I lived in Brooklyn years ago. I figured the big hill leading up to Long Meadow could be tough after a few repeats, but then again there was an equal downhill on the other side.

At the start it felt like a very fun, low-key race, almost old-fashioned, with not too many runners (about 400-500 in the end), no corrals, and in informal chat before the race with some of the expected leaders about staying in the designated lanes of the park road. The park was fully open to the public, but avoiding casual parkgoers was seldom a problem of any kind. The weather felt good, warm for mid-November and overcast, so it promised to be a good time.

I didn't have a firm goal, except to qualify for Boston, but I was hoping to get in under 3:00. I started out at a good pace for that goal, a little fast actually, but that first mile is mostly downhill. I chatted a little bit with a young guy, just graduated from college, who was running his first marathon, and hoping to get under 3:00 as well. We ran together basically for the two short loops and then some before he pulled away. I'm so accustomed to running ultras on loops even shorter than this that the multiple-loop format didn't bother me. There was water and Gatorade at either side of the park, so aid was good. I hit the half marathon mark in about 1:28, so I was still on track for a sub-three, but I'd have to keep pushing. Surprisingly, the big hill didn't seem to bother me as the race went along, in fact it felt like it got shorter, even if it did slow me down a little. My back did start to hurt me after about eight or nine miles, my feet started hurting after about 10, and that rain came down in the second half, but I kept pushing through. With about two miles to go, starting the final short loop, I spotted the young rookie who'd pulled away from me early in the race, and I was slowly catching up to him. So I had to motivating factors, catching him, and getting in under three hours. I was not quite able to catch the guy, but I did get in under three hours, with 2:59:03, good for 11th place, and first in the over-40 age group.

After my disaster at 24 The Hard Way, I needed a good race, so this felt very good. And I was reassured that I still have some speed left. And it was a fun race, a nice community atmosphere, well done by NYC Runs. They are trying to get permission to put the marathon on the streets of Brooklyn, but I really like the loop course in Prospect Park and the small field. This is one I might come back for in 2014.

Race Report: 24 The Hard Way

OK, so this post is two months overdue. It's tough to write about the races that don't go well. And this one didn't go well, despite the great hospitality by race director Chisholm Deupree, the incredible organization and staffing of the event.

The race took place on October 26 in Oklahoma City. I arrived the day before and Chisholm showed me the course. The loop was through a park, just short of a mile, and my early take on it looked like a good course to me. There were some little ups and downs, but nothing too strenuous. I also had the good fortune to meet lots of my good friends before race day, which is one of the real special aspects of the national championship 24-hour race.

Generally, I hadn't raced much over the summer or fall so I wasn't really sure what kind of shape I was in or what I might be capable of, so I didn't want to put to much pressure on myself to get a certain mileage. I would just try this one by feel. Looking at the registered entrants, Mike Morton definitely was someone who could beat me for the national championship, but he was still dealing with an injury and didn't come to Oklahoma. Brian Teason also looked like a possible contender, but it seemed like I had a good shot at a win and a third national championship, so I was optimistic.

Things started out well, I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace. After a few hours we had some rain, which never got very heavy, but it dissipated by early evening. There were some technical issues with the timing system that failed to record some runners' laps. I was keeping track of my laps, and the counter was always correct for me, but I wasn't sure about who was ahead of me. Brian always seemed to be just ahead of me, or just behind me, but never more than a lap. I was told there was another runner ahead of me, but no one seemed to tell me who it was or how far ahead. I admit that this uncertainty got on my mind a little too much.

Still, I hit 50 miles in about 7:30 - 7:40. I've definitely had faster 50-mile splits, even though this pretty much matched my split from the 2007 world championship in Drummondville, Quebec, which is still my PR. So I didn't worry too much. In that race, my 12-hour splits were about 80 and 74, so I made it my goal to try to get 80 miles again in 12 hours. That 4 - 4 1/2 hours I pushed pretty hard to hit 80 miles, and maybe pushed too hard, without eating enough, and without realizing it I was probably digging myself into a hole. I did hit the 80 mile split just after the 12 hour mark, and I let myself rest a little after that, by taking a couple of easier laps, incorporating more walking, and more eating. But for some reason, I just couldn't get running again. No matter what I tried to get my energy up, all I could do was walk. I still have no real explanation except that my head just didn't feel connected to my body, and I was in a mental place where I just couldn't get myself running again. I'd run for short stretches but that was it. I basically ended up walking most of the last 12 hours, and finishing with just 117.54 miles. The race was won by John Cash, who was leading pretty much the entire race, with 140.41 miles, 2nd was Nelson Armstrong (in sandals) with 138.48 and third was Dave Ploskonka with 134.3. I ended up 11th overall, 9th male, and 7th USATF male. Connie Gardner won the women's race with 132.71, Katalin Nagy 2nd (but not USATF member) with 124.06 and Cherie Yanek 3rd with 115.59.

It's extremely frustrating to me still because it's a race I could've won, and there was no real reason for me to struggle so much. All I can think is that I was just not ready to race. I just hope I can at some point find something to learn from it, other than that you can't force yourself to be motivated.

Friday, September 27, 2013

International Disposal Day

I am hereby declaring that today, Friday, September 27, is International Disposal Day (with apologies to my European friends for whom the day is half over, and my Japanese and Australian friends for whom it is already Saturday).

Today everyone must throw something away, particularly something you've been neglecting to throw away. It could be something minor an literal, like those tomatoes that have been in your fridge just a few months too long, or the stack of newspapers and magazines you need to tie up and take to recycling (recycling counts, too). It could be that box of souvenirs that really has no sentimental value, even after 20 years, or maybe that box of cassette tapes when you haven't had a working cassette player in 10 years.

Or it could be something else, like maybe canceling a subscription that's been a waste of time and money, or making this the first day to stop a bad habit. Or it could be even deeper, like ridding yourself of a negative influence, something (or even someone) that's been weighing you down.

My only two rules are: it can't be regular taking out the trash - it has to be something you've been meaning to get rid of for some time; it can't be too symbolic - you have to actually do something.

For me it will probably be a little of all of the above. But try it. You might be surprised at how good it feels!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race Report: BUS Pajama Romp 6-Hour

The Pajama Romp 6-Hour race has quickly become a favorite in the New York ultrarunning scene. It's a 6-hour race on a loop of just over 1.25 mile in beautiful Astoria Park, Queens, right on the water with views of Wards Island, and underneath the Triboro Bridge and Hell gate Bridge. It took place in the evening, from 5:00-11:00 pm, away from the worst of the summer heat. The 2013 edition was on Saturday, July 27 with excellent weather conditions, unlike the stifling heat of 2011 and the rain of 2012.

I had come into the race undertrained but was hoping for a good showing nonetheless. As with all race reports that don't have a happy ending, this one begins with, "I started out way too fast." Tommy Pyon and Aaron Heath took off like a shot, and although I didn't try to keep up with them, they motivated me to run faster than I should have! But that wasn't where my main problem was. After a couple of hours, solidly in third place and on point for a good mileage, my back pain reared its ugly head and forced me to slow down, even walking large chunks of some laps. Striding out just aggravated my back, so the running I did wasn't at a good speed. The pain came and went, but my legs had stiffened up so much that it was hard to get anything going. But I kept on, enjoying the company of the other runners, enjoying the beautiful evening.

In the end, I finished in eighth place for the men with 38.34 miles. Aaron beat out Tommy for the win, and Sky Canaves won the women's race convincingly. It was a great occasion to get together with runner friends, and to make new friends. One nice thing that stood out here is the number of talented young ultrarunners in the NYC area. There were a lot of new faces here, and they showed a promising future to continue the great tradition of ultrarunning in New York!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Race Report: Queens 10K

The Queens 10K is part of NYRR's 5-borough race series, which used to be a 5-borough half marathon series. The Queens Half Marathon was held for many years on the streets of College Point, which is a very nice neighborhood, but I think the residents there were tired of having streets closed off for a few hours one day a year, and I know a lot of runners weren't crazy about the trip out there. I myself once had to jog the three miles from the Flushing subway station to the start because there wasn't enough time to wait for a shuttle bus or a public bus. Eventually they moved the course chiefly onto park roads in Flushing Meadows Corona Park along with a long out-and-back on College Point Blvd. So the current 10K course largely follows that course, minus the section on College Point Blvd.

The race was held on July 21, and the weather was warm and very nice. It was my first NYRR race since the team championships in August 2012. It felt good to get out and do a fast race again. It was over in no time, there's not a lot to report on the race itself. I didn't run quite as fast as I hoped I would, but I'm happy with my 38:13, which was good enough for 2nd in my new age group, men 45-49. And I passed a lot of runners in the second half of the race, so that's a good sign for my pacing.

So I left the park exhausted but content. And it was just the first of three race weekends in a row, so more to follow!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Race Report: The Great New York 100 Mile/100 KM Running Exposition

This post is better late than never! The second, some people are saying "annual," Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition, managed to come off on June 29, on a hot, sticky day. The race had the same small, low-key, under-the-radar atmosphere of the first, but it was just a little bit larger, higher-key and on-the-radar. And what was a scrappy first effort became a better organized second running.

The course was the same, except for some small deviations, most notably the loss of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk from hurricane Sandy last fall. It still started in Times Square at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, and featured most of the city's best running routes, including greenways, park pathways, forest trails, beaches and bridges, as well as city streets - residential, commercial and industrial, before finishing back in Times Square. It roughly skirts the outer boundaries of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. (Staten Island is not on the route only because there is no way to get there on foot without going through New Jersey.) The idea of the race is to showcase the great places in the city to run that the city's runners might not otherwise know about, and I hope that it has accomplished that goal.

The main differences between last year and this is that I increased the field size from about 30 to what became 60 registered runners, I gave an option for a 100 km finish, added aid stations so that they would be spaced about every five miles. Another huge difference was the help of Trishul Cherns, who did an amazing job recruiting and organizing the volunteers, who all performed like rock stars! It was largely this help that kept the race running as smoothly as it did, and brought the New York ultrarunning community together.

I also tried a different course marking system this year, using yellow flagging tape, similar to trail ultras, but tied to parking sign poles, street light poles, etc., with little yellow cards with arrows taped to poles at turns, all of which I thought would be more visible. Last year I spray-painted yellow arrows on the ground, but I don't like the idea of spray-painting the city, it feels like graffiti or vandalism to me. But many of the arrows were still visible to give the runners some extra help in finding the course. Both last year and this I heard numerous reports of runners going off course. To some degree that might be inevitable, but nevertheless there is still some work to do devising a better marking system.

The runners this year were again mostly from the New York metro area, but there were several from far away, including our first two international runners, Juergen Englerth from Germany and Thomas Alm from Sweden. Juergen was among the 100 mile finishers, and Thomas finished the 100 km.

Our intrepid journeyers gathered in the relatively quiet (except for the jackhammers of adjacent construction) Times Square at the TKTS booth at 47th and Broadway starting at about 4 a.m. Tshirts and wristbands were distributed, drop bags dropped off, and last-minute instructions given. At 5 am after a beautiful National Anthem sung by Anna Uzzell Harreveld, the runners were off.

Eliot Lee once again provided invaluable help as supply chief, driving me to each aid station to drop off water and Gatorade (we again had Gatorade donated by Dennis Ball). Nick Palazzo was again our sweep vehicle, picking up leftover water and Gatorade after the last runners passed through the aid stations. So Eliot and I kept ahead of the runners for most of the race, which was necessary, but unfortunate that we wouldn't get to see them during their struggles. I only received the notifications, as the afternoon grew increasingly hot and humid, of the runners who chose to stop early after 30, 40 or 50 miles. But I did get to meet the incredible volunteers who had shown up, in many cases bringing food, ice or supplies of their own for the runners, and creating nice little oases on a hot day.

One indication that the race was a little higher-key and on-the-radar was that we had attracted the attention of a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, who emailed me a few days before the race. I was nervous about drawing attention, and I had no time really to speak with her anyway, but from the web site, the facebook page, one email from me and conversations with previous runners Keila Merino and Chris Solarz, she put together an article for the weekend edition on Saturday that Eliot showed me on his phone as we drove from aid station to aid station. I have to say, I really liked how it came out, and figured that by coming out on Saturday it would be too late for any nosy city or parks official to cause any trouble.

As the day wore on I did, however, come to realize one really stupid mistake on my part that made the run tougher for some runners. In the printed directions that I handed out at the start, which was four pages long, I realized while supplying the World's Fair Marina aid station that pages two and four were missing! Trishul's wife Kaaren had alerted me to the missing p.4 and said that she would make copies to give out at the 100K aid station, but p.2 covered miles 28-58, and most of the runners were in that zone at that moment. Some runners had the full set of directions, but many did not, and the route was hard enough to follow just from the markings. I decided the best plan would be to find someplace to make copies of the missing page and distribute them at the aid stations between miles 28 and 58. So Eliot and I found a Staples near the Astoria aid station, made the copies and drove back to the Bronx at Sound View Park, gave some to Nick to drive to World's Fair Marina, and we then made our way to Little Bay Park to continue supplying. This put us a little behind the lead runner, Tommy Pyon, but we eventually made up time, and fortunately Ravi Misra at Little Bay Park had some water already to give him before we got there.

But on we went. Trishul and Kaaren had a nice area set up at the exit from Forest Park for the 100 km aid station, and finish line for 100 km runners. 100 mile entrants were also allowed to stop there for a 100 km finish, and a number of them took advantage. A few continued on for a few more miles but decided that a 100 km finish was good enough. 100 mile runners were given 16 hours to reach 100 km if they wanted to continue on, but all were allowed 18 hours to receive a 100 km finish place and certificate.

So eventually Eliot and I arrive at the finish line to await Tommy, who is still in the lead. A number of his supporters were there, as well as many Times Square tourists, this being just after midnight on a hot Saturday night. But to my surprise there was also a group of tourists from Ontario who read about the race in the Wall Street Journal and came to Times Square specifically to see the winner come through, which he did soon after, in 19:36:55. One of them even took a picture with Tommy holding his baby!

We had 21 finishers for the 100-mile run and another 22 in the 100 km. I'm very proud of all of them, including those who didn't get to 100K. The one thing that suprised me the most about being a race director is how personally I take their successes and their struggles.

So I don't have room here to name all the great volunteers who made the race a success, but I have to give special thanks to Trishul and Kaaren, Eliot and Nick, as well as Rich Innamorato for loaning me his storage unit in Long Island City, Dennis Ball for more Gatorade donations, Joe Del Conte, who took on I think three or four volunteer duties, and Annette Vega who with Joe helped the later runners through the night.

What happens next year is hard to say, but I certainly hope to put something great together!!