Saturday, June 21, 2008

Holy cow, or the Mount Washington Road Race

Today I ran my first Mount Washington Road Race. The best words to describe my feeling about the race: Holy Cow. That was quite a unique race. 7.6 miles and just under 4,650 feet of climbing to reach the 6,288 foot peak. The climb is 12 percent on average, 18 percent at the steepest long grade, and 30 percent at the finish! Not an easy climb.

The morning started early as I arrived at Mount Washington after a two hour drive. I chose the more scenic route for the drive up to enjoy the beautiful morning and to hopefully catch a glimpse of some moose. I did not see any but my buddy Jim saw a mother and her calves on the same road, so I guess I was just a little slow. The first part of the drive was socked in with some low lying clouds and fog but at the half way spot and as the music on my iPod turned more upbeat, the clouds opened up as if on cue. At this point I had hit the more mountainous region of our glorious state and the peaks of some of the hills were still flirting with the clouds, which was a quite spectacular site.

Almost immediately after arriving I spotted Jamie, who was our driver down the mountain, and the rest of crew, including Jim from L.L.Bean and his Topsham running buddies. After handing of our runner's passes to Jamie to allow him to drive up, Jim and I and a few others headed off to run around the trails of Great Glen Trails XC ski area since we had an hour before the race started. All told I got in a 40 minute warm up run before heading back to the start just a few minutes before the cannon roared, sending the runners chasing the peak.

At 10 AM, we started. Cruelly enough, this race starts with a downhill. This could be for humor, or more likely so the race can be run on the entire auto road by starting outside the gate but not right at the gate where a bottleneck would be guaranteed. I started a little bit back in the field and it took me roughly 20 seconds to cross the finish line and them and undetermined amount of energy weaving my way around those those who chose a slower starting speed than me. At about the quarter mile mark the only downhill and flat sections were behind us and the rest of the way pointed straight up!

I kept a pretty good pace until near the end of the second mile when reality hit: this is a steep hill and is only getting steeper. This thought really hit me hard because I have never had to deal with anything like this. Typically in any race, be it a 5K or a 100-miler, every hill ends and you are rewarded with a nice downhill or at least a flat section. This is not the case on Mount Washington. One of Jim's veteran Mount Washington buddies told me before the race, while shaking his head, that mile 2 was a bear. Boy was he right. So after running for 1.85 miles I adopted my run-walk strategy.

After the run-walk strategy I never seemed to go to deeply anaerobic and felt pretty in much in control. Many other runners had also taken this strategy, and even those that didn't were not moving too terribly much faster than my power walk. At the half way mark I had clocked a time of 39:51, well on my way of achieving a sub 1:30. Shortly after the halfway mark, we passed the 4,000 feet marker and were now running above tree line. This is where the race got really cool, because the views were fantastic. It was unbelievable to look down at the start line and realize how high I had climbed. It was also at this point that I started likening this course to a Tour de France stage in the Alps. I felt like I had watched this race many times in July during the Tour. It was also at this point that I felt the alpine chill and noticed the thick clouds at the summit. I was heading for the place that had witnessed the all-time surface wind speed world record of 231 mph in 1934. So the weather in this place is never certain.

The last couple miles were punctuated by bouts of running and walking, worrying about my tired legs, and exhilaration at the views and what I was doing. The last mile found me completely enshrouded in clouds and getting chilly. As I neared the finish line, the thickened crowds motivated me to pick up the pace, despite my tired legs and the 30 percent grade "wall" at the end. I finished in 1:26:19, 123rd out of 646 males (Mount Washington results ). Considering I did not do any hill training in preparation for this race and also the fact that this race was the US Mountain Running Championship and boasted the largest elite field in the race's history, I feel pretty good with a Top 20 percentile finish. And I achieved my goal of a sub 1:30. Looking at the winner's time of just over an hour with a pace just under 8:00 minutes a mile is astounding. Unbelievable.

All in all, this was a great day. I have never been to the top of Mount Washington and I was not disappointed. Thanks a ton to my buddy Jamie for spending like $600 in gas to drive up to the top of the mountain and then cost himself another $1,000 for the future brake work he'll have to do to his car to repair the damage done driving down!!! Also a big thanks to my father-in-law Phil for coming out and volunteering on my behalf (I was granted a race slot through the Maine Track Club and in return I had to provide a volunteer). You guys are great and made this day happen. Will I be back next year? I don't know. I guess I'll probably throw my hat in the bucket again and see what happens. I might even train if I get in again!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Single parenting, training with Riley, and The Hill

Kelly is off working down in sunny Florida so my training has been less than stellar this week. Instead I have been training with Riley. She's got the L.L.Bean 4th of July 1 Miler coming up so she's been getting ready. Seriously. On Monday she went out and ran a mile with Kelly. Yes, at 3 1/2 years old she had enough focus and stamina to run a mile. Even more remarkable, she took time to stretch and do jumping jacks when she got home. Boy was I the proud Dad. Now don't get the wrong impression; we are not forcing her to do this. She has been asking to go for a run so we finally obliged, thinking it was some passing fancy and she would stop after a few feet. Nope.

So she took Tuesday as a rest day and was back at it yesterday. I threw Quinn in the jogger and Riley ran about a mile next to the jogger. She would have kept going but I made her stop once we got to the end of our neighborhood and hit the more traveled road. I then set off, with both kids in the jogger, to the playground at the local school. All told, Riley got in another mile and I got in just under 12 yesterday, combining a lunch run with the 5.5 I ran with the jogger. What a great workout pushing 70 pounds.

So far this week has been pretty quiet on the running front. Until today, I have got some pretty solid runs in. Monday I felt real sluggish after the tough weekend, but by Tuesday things seemed to be working again. Today I took off due to a busy day at work and because of some allergy/head cold thing that popped up this morning. Hopefully it is nothing and will be gone before I attempt my ascent of Mount Washington on Saturday morning. As the saying goes, "there is only one hill." To get to the top I will have to run 7.6 miles and climb nearly 5,000 feet. So by my estimation I will be anaerobic for about an hour and a half. See you on the other side.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Scuffle: A Bradbury Race Report

In the east we don't have too many cool, epic mountains to race on. What we do have is plenty of rain and mud. Yesterday's Bradbury Scuffle 6-Mile Trail Race had both. The morning started cool with a slight drizzle, adding to the moisture on the ground from the previous night's rain. Bradbury was somewhat quiet and sleepy when we arrived after 8 AM for the 9 AM start, but by 8:30 the place was hopping.

At the start line were many buddies and faces I have seen around. Total registrants for the race were around 70. No doubt had the morning dawned bright and shiny we could have expected more to toe the line. Not bad for a first time race. Racing with me would be my wife, Kelly, lining up for her first trail race. And I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to my great in-laws, Phil and Boo Boo (honorary in-law), for coming out in the rain to help with the kids. Real troopers they are!

Ian did the introductions and shortly after nine the cowbell went off. Out of the gate we went fast, with me falling somewhere in the back part of the top 10. Despite shouting for the front runners to "wait for me", they kept going leaving me to actually work for my position. During the first mile I caught a number of people, including my old buddy Steve F., who I trained with quite a bit leading up to last year's Vermont 100. It was great seeing Steve back out doing some races after recovering from a running injury last year. I am sure he'll be back to full strength in no time. Joining us in that first mile was a runner who I later found out was only 15 years old. Pretty remarkable.

To this point in the race we were running on snowmobile trail, leaving plenty of room for two abreast. As I saw the single track approaching, I picked up my pace to ensure I was in front when we entered the woods. Once on the single track, my primitive "Natty Bumpo" instinct kicked in and I was off. After running solo for about a mile I caught the only other runner I would pass and saw no one else the next four miles, with the exception of faint glimpses of runners behind me as the trail snaked its way through the woods. There were a few slippery spots and plenty of deep mud and puddle as the rain increased its frequency to just short of a downpour. Still I laid out all I had and at the end was rewarded with a 3rd place finish in a time of 42:40. In front of me was talented runner Blaine Moore (check out Blaine's photos) by 1:40 and strong runner Patrick Cote (apparently of NENSA) 1:20. Good, clean fun was had by all with no injuries or mis-navigation (sic?) to speak of. Kelly finished well also, and as always, with a smile barely looking like she had run. She was happy with her time and even came in speaking of chasing some guy down during the race. Go get 'em Kelly.

My average pace was 7:04 for the race. Not too bad for having run 24.5 miles the day before in preparation of my pacing duties at the Western States 100 and my July attempt at the Vermont 100. As for splits, I was a little over the map but that is to be expected on a course with as varying terrain as the Scuffle. First mile was 6:42 (snowmobile trail), with the next few at an average of 7:20, followed by 6:41 and 6:38 for the last two miles (also on snowmobile trail with some slight undulations). I am feeling good for the Mount Washington Hill Climb on Saturday. I can't wait to see what that does to my legs. And then I am off to CA to help Jamie achieve ultra running glory!

Finally, my thoughts and prayers go out to Trail Monster Chris Douglass who died a couple weeks back in a car accident. He obviously meant a lot to Ian, Jamie, Emma, and many, many others. Ian's moving dedication at the beginning of the race really served to motivate me during the run to make sure I hit every mud puddle in honor of Chris, who I didn't know but whose presence I felt in every drop of rain. Godspeed Chris.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fell running, ticks, and the turtle

Yesterday I was introduced to "fell" running. This is apparently when you just run over hill and dale over no distinguishable trail, but where you make the trail. I experienced this with Ian and Chuck, when we met Saturday morning at Bradbury Mountain State Park. The run started normally enough at 6 AM and started out on the nice tame trails of Bradbury. Soon, under Ian's compass heading, making our way through the woods and over fields towards Pineland. The trail we took is part of the trail system whose intent it is to link Bradbury with Pineland farms. After one very minor detour, we made our way over a field and saw the NOAA station at Pineland. Because there was a pretty impassable river in front of us, we turned off to start our fell run. This took place primarily along the power lines, but not before we made our way through a swampy field with waist high grass. This trespass deposited a number of scratches on our legs as well as an unbelievable number of ticks. By my last count, Ian ended the day with somewhere near 19 ticks, I took home 14, and Chuck somehow escaped with only a couple. One of the highlights of the power lines, excluding the tick count, was the red tailed hawk that
decided to treat us to an audible delight. I've never heard a hawk "speak" before, except on nature shows. This live display was much better.

We changed course a bit after about an hour and a half of this fell running and hit the roads for a quicker return to the park to meet up with Emma. While typically a road run that follows an awesome trail run is boring at best, this road run turned out to be pretty cool. As we passed over a bridge we spotted a huge snapping turtle on the side of the road. The shell on this thing measured approximately 16 inches tip to tail and 10 inches side to side. Because of her (we know this to be true) dangerous proximity to the road, we decided to move her a little closer to the water. First we decided to see how long her neck would reach to see if we would be in danger of losing a limb. Chuck grabbed a stick and placed it somewhat close to her face and we confirmed it was a snapping turtle, and one that did not want to be moved. Still we carefully tried to pick up her back end to push away from the road but quickly realized she had laid (or maybe was still laying) eggs in a hole she had dug (the reason we knew the sex). There were a probably 10+ eggs in this hole. So we left her as she was and moved on.

When we picked up Emma at 8 AM, we had run just under two hours and covered about 12 hours. At this point we hit the Bradbury Scuffle course and stayed there for the next two and a half hours. Two loops while at the same time laying down course markers for today's race. We also saw a little more wildlife: a couple garter snakes (I think) and a very cool looking frog that was camouflaged perfectly on the leaf fall. It looked like a tree frog, with some pretty cool markings.

All in all, this was a great run. Ian, Emma, and Chuck were great running partners and the wildlife was top notch. I also gained a ton of confidence from this run. I feel like I finally am getting ready for my 10o miler. Last year I remember there was a definite point in my training where I felt like I turned a corner and was ready to tackle the 100 mile distance. Yesterday I got that feeling. The run took about 4:30 hours and covered a total of 24.5 miles. Ian went out for one last lap but I had to get home to help Kelly. While I did bail out on the last 6 mile loop, when I got home I stepped behind my lawnmower and also cut down some trees in my yard. So if time on feet is critical to 100 mile training, yesterday I hit a home run!

Saturday run stats: 24.5 miles, 4:28 hours, 10:58 pace (includes stopping to mark today's race course), 1,500 feet of elevation gain/loss (using SportTracks elevation correction)

I will post my Bradbury Scuffle 6-mile Trail Race report tomorrow. I did well finishing 3rd overall with a 7:04 pace. As always, Ian of Trail Monster running did an excellent job organizing the race. He even ordered up perfect weather for the race: rainy and muddy as hell!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kelly, Team in Training, Western States, and Krupicka

I'm really starting to get used to not needing a car to get to work. The weather this week has been fantastic, which has made it hard not to want to get to work in any other way than a car. I have got in some pretty good bike rides to and from work and a couple really good runs to work. These runs take just under 1:50 and measure just shy of 14.5 miles. To get in almost two hours of running in before work ever starts really sets the rest of the day up well. It is a good feeling knowing that you got a good workout in before life takes over and places demands on you that provide many excuses as to not to run. After last weeks high mileage (just shy of 80), at least for this full time working dad, this week is a little lighter. I am planning on a nice 4-5 hour run at Bradbury Mountain State Park this Saturday, followed by the Bradbury Scuffle 6 Mile Trail Run on Sunday. Kelly and I are both running and I am looking forward to seeing how she likes her introduction to trail running.

Speaking of Kelly, she as taken on the task of training with and raising money for Team in Training. Her end goal, besides the ultimate goal of fighting cancer, is to run for the second time the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. I am especially looking forward to this as I can in a very little way return all the help she has given me by being her training crew and by going out with her to San Fran as a spectator. I am really looking forward to watching others endure a long distance race. It's gonna be fun. Please check out her fundraising page and give if you can. Here is the link: Kelly's Team in Training website. Thank you Kelly.

This week I have spent some time watching the Western States 100 documentaries Jamie lent me. I have watched these with conflicting emotions: on the one hand disappointed that I won't be running and on the other hand excited that I can participate as a pacer (and happy I won't have to climb the Devil's Thumb in 100 degree weather). It is funny that I am more nervous about pacing Jamie at WS 100 than I am about running my own 100 in Vermont in July. This is because if I mess up in Vermont it is only myself that I let down; if I screw up in the Sierra Nevada it is my buddy I am letting down. It is scary being a pacer. I have a newfound respect for all pacers, and especially the crew who selflessly care for their runner. Thank you crew.

I am excited for Jamie and am sure he is going to break 24 and bring home a big, nasty silver belt buckle!

And finally tonight I watched the documentary Indulgence featuring Anton Krupicka with Kelly and Riley (who we are slowly and surely grooming into a little runner). During this film Riley told us she wanted to run but needed Orange, Pink, and Green running shorts. Where this stuff comes from I have no idea. Anyhow, the flick was enjoyable. Krupicka is purely a runner and makes no bones about it. He doesn't apologize for sleeping in late, running most of the day, and when he isn't running just being lazy. Good for him. Here is a guy who simply runs because he loves doing it. And he does it more than most. Covering 200 miles and spending 30 hours a week on trails running is something that not many of us can do. He can do this because he has stripped away (or never taken on) all the stuff that holds many of us back. He's also young and taking advantage of what he loves. My hats off to him and I really hope he does well at Western States 100 this year. I will say I disagree with his stance on Dean Karnazes. Like many others in the Ultra scene, Krupicka labels Dean as a product of mass media and marketing. I still think that running nonstop over 300 miles, for a good cause, is pretty incredible. Do I think taking on a moniker like Ultramarathon man is a little over the top and driven by marketing decisions? Yes. But Dean has and continues to inspire many to run and just get out the door, which Krupicka takes great pride in doing himself, so I think we should simply "run our own race" and let Dean run his. It's all about the karma!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Good miles and night eyes

This past week I logged some pretty good miles for a guy with two kids under 4 and who has a full time job. I logged what I believe was just under eighty miles for the week. I really took advantage of the alternative commuting deal this week by driving my bike into work a couple times, biking home after work, and then running into work the next day. This gets me 15 miles of running on the day before work even starts. Pretty good deal.

The week until Friday was standard fare. Friday was special. I ran into work, doing the 15 miles at a pretty good pace for my 100-mile race legs (clocking somewhere in the 7:20 range) on some pretty hilly roads. I then worked all day, came home and ate, played with my kids, and went back out running. At 8 PM I met a sizable group at Pineland for a "run to midnight". The group consisted of a lot of the usual suspects with a number of surprise attendees. Check out Ian Parlin's Trail Monster blog for a picture. Set to run the night was Ian and Emma, Jamie (this was his last hurrah before the Western States 100 in three weeks), Eric, Jim and Shawna (sic?), Phil, Allen, and Blaine. The temps were in the low 50s and to my estimate a little cold and clammy. There was a good bit of fog as the warm front was rolling in (leaving us with temps in the 90s today).

The run started nice and easy, but I was feeling pretty energetic so I ran off the front of the group awhile to settle my self and reflect on the day at work. I finally saw the group through the woods and cut through to join the others for the rest of the evening. I ran a bit with Jamie and discussed a number of things, including WS 100 logistics where I will act as his pacer. Around mile 8 we returned to our cars for a refill and some food before we began our repeats of the Campus Loop. I decided to head over to Gloucester Hill with Phil and Allen to get some different terrain on my legs before doing the loops with the group. Phil set the pace pretty quick which I didn't mind but I knew would leave me hurting pretty good later on. Once we returned to our "aid station", Phil hit the road and I rejoined Jamie and the rest of the guys. At this point a few of the others called it quits but decided to hang out a couple hours and head over with the group to Denny's. Unlike the rest, Denny's was not in the cards for me. I had to get my beauty sleep before the kids forced my day to start in the morning.

It was at this point, near the 12.5 mile spot, that I joined the group going for midnight. All told I ran four laps around the Campus Loop. I had a great time, as always, shooting the breeze with Jamie. His excitement for Western States is obvious, as it should be. He is definitely ready for his run to glory. I am extremely lucky to be able to partake in it. I only hope that given his excellent fitness that I can keep up with him! Roughly ten minutes before midnight, Jamie and I called it quits. The big disappoint of the night was that none of us saw any night eyes, or animals caught in our headlamp lights. Other than the fantastical turkey that decided to fall out of its tree near us at the start of the run, there was no other nightlife about, at least that we could see. The irony was that as I was leaving I passed a skunk. Good thing he didn't decide to join us on the trail! At the end of the day, I got in 36 miles of running. A good day.

This morning I ended a good week with a great run with my buddy Jim from L.L.Bean. We knocked out 12 miles at 6 AM, beating most of the heat. By the time we finished, the deer flies were still asleep. As of yet, I have not seen the first one but after temps in the 90s today, I don't suspect my luck will continue for much longer.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Recovery and Alternate Transportation

Recovery from last weekend's Pineland Farms Trail Challenge 50-miler could not have gone better. I was back running painlessly by Wednesday (two days rest) and also threw in quite a bit of cycling to keep the legs moving. I find it hilarious each year as I come of a pretty good spring of running (by this point I would have already run a couple marathons and the Pineland 50K) how poorly running fitness translates to cycling fitness. I feel like I might as well sat on the couch all winter and spring. (This works also going from cycling to running). My legs are definitely not in cycling shape (yes, running 50 miles Sunday did not help, but that can not be my entire excuse.) I did use the bike for a couple commutes into work totaling roughly 62 miles on the bike in addition to 5-6 mile runs each day. It was good to get a couple hours of fitness in out doors during such a beautiful week.

I will be doing more of this alternate commuting over the summer as I not only try to get in better shape but to beat the man. You can complain all you want about high gas prices but if you keep driving your car to work and filling up the tank, the man is just laughing all the way to the bank. So find another way to get to work! L.L.Bean has partnered with GoMaine and in the month of June is offering employee incentives for alternative commuting, so I am planning on getting into that big time. Last week my bike in to work, run at lunch, and bike home left me with plenty of room for food, and I love food. This week I will get more into my usual routine of driving the bike into work, cycling home, and then running to work the next morning. This enables me to have ultimate flexibility in case I get stuck late at work or Kelly needs me to get the kids early.

Saturday I met Jamie at 6 AM for a run around Bradbury park. Our conversation centered mostly around our trip to the Western States 100, Jamie to run and me to pace him. I am really looking forward to seeing Jamie rock this course. He is so prepared, both mentally and physically. He should do really well out there! As always, running with Jamie is a blast and brings with it some peace as we tend to run together well and complement each other's ability. There isn't much guessing about pace or bio breaks. At 7 AM we met a larger group of Trail Monsters, including James from Massanutten Mountain 100 fame, Ian and Emma, and Jim. This group is a blast and we had an excellent time cruising around the course for the upcoming Bradbury Scuffle 6-Mile Trail Race. This is the first race in the three part Bradbury Race Series to be held this summer. The course is fun and fast and is a great introduction to what single track trail racing is all about. If you are around Father's Day weekend (June 15th) do this race! Our pace for the run was pretty easy as all of us were either recovering from 50 or 100 milers, but the camaraderie was high. This upcoming weekend the plan is to run a night run at Pineland, Friday night from 8 PM to Midnight. The more headlamps the merrier so hope to see you there.

Some other fun running stuff I came across last night while buying supplies for my pacing duty at Western States 100 and my own attempt at the Vermont 100...J.B. Benna's documentary on Dean Karnazes's 50 Marathons, 50 States, 50 Days was premiered out in CA, and while there is no future showing or DVD release dates, it is good to see it is ready...there is a cool looking documentary on Anton Krupicka, the winner of the Leadville 100 the past couple years, that I didn't know about, so if anyone has seen it I would love to hear about it...and I found a neat website that tracks running films that have been recently completed, in production, or recently abandoned, so check it out if you are looking for a flick about our sport.