Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My 2009 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100

Author's note: I was recently asked what I think about while I run for 24+ hours. After quite a few minutes of deep deliberation I concluded that I really think about nothing at all. This revelation was quite shocking and somewhat depressing; how can I spend that many hours thinking of nothing. I truly believe that success in these races is achieved by cutting off most conscious thought that is not related to managing one's body: how is my breathing, what is that pain in my knee, when did I last eat or drink, is is time for another salt tablet, when is this thing going to, strike that last thought as that is the type of conscious thought that will derail the best run race. Having said that, I must warn the reader that because I am not thinking much while on the course, I have a really hard time remembering exactly where I was at what times during most of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 that I ran on May 16th and 17th of 2009. I do remember experiences, feelings, and strategy. These I can share with you comfortably, but when it comes to the details, I ask for your forgiveness now.

So to begin, let me make one thing abundantly clear: Massanutten is hard. Of this make no doubt. It is rocky, rooty, rutted, rugged. Nasty. But with plenty of great views. And rattlesnakes. And on the day(s) I ran it, plenty rainy.

On to the details. This 100-miler was different in two very important ways from my two previous 100-milers. One, my wife and kids were missing from the cheering section having decided to stay home, and two, I was nervous. The first anomaly was understandable and tangible. While this did not make it okay, I could handle it. The second anomaly, or the nervousness, was much more destructive.

The nerves started weeks before the gun went off at 5 AM on May 16th, race day. The typical questions entered my mind, such as did I get in enough miles, did the difficulty I experienced on a number of training runs mean I was going to suffer on race day, and generally was I ready. Not helping matters was the cold and subsequent sinus infection I acquired a few weeks before race day that resulted in me bagging one of my longer training runs, a Boston Marathon double. And these nerves persisted to race day.

Not once have I lined up for a race wondering if I had what it took to finish. This terribly negative question was swimming through my thoughts early that Saturday morning as I stood around waiting for the annual Massanutten Mountain Trails pronouncement that started the race: "Get out of here!" Once I heard those words, all was okay with the world. The butterflies that had been dogging me for weeks were but mere memories. I was running now, doing one of the most simple things known to us bipeds. One foot in front of the other for no other reason but to have fun.

The Company:
As I am a Virginian, born and raised in Mechanicsville, VA, I felt this race was much of a homecoming of sorts for me. Also, I spent four years at Virginia Tech, deep in the mountains of southwestern VA, so I felt an extremely strong kinship with this race. Making this even more of a reunion was the fact that both my brothers, Chris and Jason, and my father joined me as my crew. None of them had ever witnessed anything like a 100-miler (unless you include Ironman Triathlons in the same class as a 100-miler, which I don't), so this was quite an experience for them. Also joining me was my most excellent buddy, Jamie Anderson, as crew chief and pacer. Jamie joined me at mile 65 at Gap Creek II aid station and spent the next 12 hours with me. The hours with Jamie were both the best and worst of times. Luckily the worse came first and we finished with a big bang.

The Conditions:
The day started as I would have expected from a late spring day in Virginia: humid. When the sun rose the day turned humid and hot. While I am not exactly sure of the temps, around mid-day I would guess it got up into the mid-80s in the sun. The heat forced me to stop at each and every stream crossing for a nearly full body dowsing.

Around 2 PM in the afternoon I felt a nice breeze whip up and noticed the darkening clouds forming over the mountains to my west. As I was exposed on a mountain ridge, I got a little worried about the electricity those clouds were surely to carry so I picked up the pace a bit. But it wasn't enough; the storm caught me as I was still exposed and the clouds let loose violently. Within minutes I was soaked to the bone and cold. Within a matter of ten minutes I went from melting to near hypothermic. There have not been many times in my life that I have felt such a quick shift in my body's thermal capacity. I became even more worried at this time and hurried to the next aid station which luckily had crew access and I was able to add some layers. From that point on the weather alternated between sun and heat to intense rain. There was so much rain in this storm, which did not let up until near 2 AM on Sunday morning, that dry creek beds were turned into raging rapids.

Near mile 60 another thunderstorm let loose as I was climbing one of these "dry creek beds turned into class V rapid" as lightning crashed all around me. I literally felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up at one of these strikes (generally not a good sign, especially if standing in a bunch of water). It was this point in the race that I started thinking that I might make this year's Darwin Awards ("runner struck dead by lightning as he played in a puddle of water during a thunderstorm"). This was another point in the race where I felt my core body temp plummet as I was once more drenched. Luckily I was running with another runner at this time who shared the trash bag he had intelligently picked up at the last aid station. Later in the race I picked up my own trash bag and wore it for good long while through the night. Never will I embark on a long run again without some form of rain cover.

After the storm moved on in the early morning the rest of the race was spectacular. That is with the exception of the incredibly slick conditions the rain had created on the six hundred million rocks that litter this course. The rain, coupled with the lichen that canvassed the rocks, made for many a stumped toe and stumble. It was the culmination of many of these slips that forced me in the middle of the night to sit down and declare that I was "done". My toes had taken such a beaten from every slide into the next rock that they wanted no more pain. This moment lasted all of 30 seconds, and from that point on (around mile 80) I probably ran the best pace I had all day. I chalk this up to the shame I felt at momentarily "quitting" in front of my buddy, Jamie.

The Course:
Without rehashing what is already printed on the MMT website, I will say this course goes up and down a lot. There are many mind boggling ups, downs, and all-arounds. The one brilliant thing about the MMT course is that there are very few climbs which do not reward the runner with spectacular views. Right out of the gate you spend a couple miles on a paved road, but it is dark and the asphalt is unnoticeable. By the time you finish the first ascent, I think it
is called Buzzard Rock, the sun is rising over the Shenandoah Valley, and if there is anyone out there that doubts the existence of some kind of God need only see the sun rise over the Shenandoah Mountains of VA . On race day morning we were blessed with a beautiful layer of clouds that hung just over the valley, right below the mountain peaks. The sun was just glowing off the clouds. Of note was the view of a cool looking fish hatchery from this spot.

The first aid station is at the first of many of the mountain gaps this course trespasses: Shawl Gap. In any race the first view of a runner's cr
ew is a very uplifting experience. Jamie did not disappoint and greeted me before I ever
reached the aid station. My dad and brothers were in aid station and I was happy to see that they all seemed to be excited to be there. At the next gap, Veach Gap, the aid station crew there had taken the time to fix the runner's pancakes and sausage - a breakfast fit for any ultrarunner. There were a couple great aid station surprises during this race, including "take-away" bags for filling with food to carry between aid stations that were separated by particularly long and tough trails and most memorable was the sloppy joe station that I hit sometime around 1 AM. I never thought a sloppy joe could taste that scrumptious and be such a motivator. I credit this sandwich for the remarkable burst of energy I had over the last twenty miles of the race.

There are a few particularly rough spots on the course that I would be remiss if I failed to mention them. The first is Habron Gap at mile 22.4. Preceding this aid station is one of the rare stretches of dirt road that is extremely runnable. While I am not exactly sure how long this stretch is, I would guess it is near 4 miles. I entered the aid station feeling really good, only to be warned that while the stretch to the aid station measured only 11 miles it felt like close to twice that distance. So I filled up at the station in addition to filling a couple goody bags with grapes to munch on during the nasty, sun-drenched ascent that awaited me. The climb was long and dry, and I ended up having to ration my water a bit having emptied nearly both my handheld water bottles climbing to the summit.

Another rough spot for me was the Bird Knob. This is part of a lollipop loop at the southern end of the course. This section of the course goes up, and up, and up some more, and then forces you to scramble over some boulders, and then goes up some more to one of the more spectacular views on the course. I even took the time to enjoy the view, while voiding my bladder. It was during this part of the course that I was dealing with one of my lowest points of the race. I was having a hard time wanting to eat anything as my stomach was very unhappy with me. I did as I always do in these cases and kept hydrating, eating what I could, and just waiting out the low point in the knowledge that a high always follows. The descent of Bird Knob is as challenging as the ascent, especially with quads that have already endured 55 or so miles of pounding. I am a fairly competent downhill runner so I enjoyed the descent but my quads were hurting when I finally got down.

The last point of the race that left a mark on me was the run into the Elizabeth Furnace aid station at mile 96.8 and the climb out of that aid station. This aid station is entered and exited via a series of long - correction - very long, switchbacks. These things felt like they went on forever. Both of these sections (into and out of) are between 5-7 miles but they might as well be 20. Most notable is the last climb. At mile 97 you leave Elizabeth Furnace and climb. Forever. The climb is steep and switchbacks all over the place. If this point in the race wasn't so close (it is actually 5 miles from the finish as the MMT 100 is really 101.8 miles), it would probably crush many runners. On the flip side, the descent is fast!

The Critters:
The mountains of Virginia are full of very cool critters. There were a couple that decided to pay me a visit during my run in their home territory. First up was the ornery timber rattlesnake. I saw this guy around 1 PM, shortly before the storms. He had decided to sun himself in the middle of the trail, although I am guessing he was forced out there by the 30-40 runners that were in front of me at this point. He was quite pissed. I decided I would try to save the runners behind me from a potential snake bite many miles from help by tossing a rock at the snake to "force" him off the trail. Well, he wasn't going anywhere but at me. As the rock landed near him he rattled and struck. Now I have seen these things rattle in cages before (I have actually shared a rock unknowingly with one on a hot summer hike in Douthat State Park in VA many years ago), but I have never had one rattle and strike at me with no glass in between us. Needless to say this helped my pace a bit. To my credit, I did stand there until the next runner caught me so I could warn them of the snake. Good deed for the day done.

The next wildlife experience was courtesy of a curious whip-poor-will (take a listen to the sample call in the link). The call of the whip-poor-will can be heard all night, and is quite the treat. Despite the fact that according to Native American legend the bird's call is death omen (not a good thing to remember during a 100-mile foot race), it is quite a beautiful call. Many descriptions of these birds mention that as nocturnal animals they are infrequently seen. Apparently no one told the whip-poor-will that befriended me and Jamie on the stone steps as Jamie and I were nearing Elizabeth Furnace. Dawn was approaching but we still had our headlamps on as we were climbing and my light caught the eyes of this little guy and the reflection startled me (I was jumpy all day and night after my rattlesnake encounter). After hearing the calls of these birds all night, it was quite cool to see one. He was sitting on a step right in the middle of the trail and let me get nearly close enough to touch him. He then flitted away and as we climbed a few more steps there he was again. So we got two close sightings of this very cool bird.

The Conclusion:
Massanutten was hard. But that is what made the accomplishment of completing the race that much sweeter. My finish time of 26:29 was over 6 hours longer than my best 100-miler (my first, the 2007 VT 100, which I finished in 20:27). I saw two sunrises and suffered countless bumps and bruises. I lost one toenail and a little pride when I sat down to "quit" in the middle of the night. But this race was one of the grandest events of my relatively short running career. The last 20 miles was spectacular. In the middle of the night I came out of one of my lowest lows and entered one of my highest highs (I once more must credit the Edinburg Gap aid station - I think - for the sloppy joe that had to have been laced with some kind of "speed") and for the last 20 miles ran gleefully past over a dozen runners to finish in a very respectable 15th place. While I did not accomplish my "A" goal of finishing in under 24 hours to receive a silver belt buckle, I did qualify for the pewter buckle and left myself with a goal for my next MMT 100!

I had a great crew. The act of crewing is extremely selfless and without any formal recognition (read: No belt buckles.) The crew is required to stay motivated and awake for the same amount of time as the runner without the benefit of the adrenaline rush of racing. And most importantly, they are not granted the luxury of complaining as the runner is when he comes into a aid station all grumpy and sore. The crew must maintain a good attitude and outlook the entire time lest they bring the runner down. So thank you to my father, brothers Chris and Jason, and my adopted brother Jamie!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Countdown to Vermont

More than one month ago I promised a more complete race report for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 shortly. Well, this has yet to happen. I am still trying to compile my thoughts (which I am loosing almost as quickly as I am gathering), but I do promise to compose a race some point. The issue I am running into is that my next 100 is next Saturday (!) after which I will be expected to write a race report for that race...

Next Saturday is the running of my third straight Vermont 100. The course is beautiful and very runnable. My times on this course are around 20:20 in 2007 and 21:20 last year. Last year the weather was hot and humid and I was not in the greatest shape. This year I have addressed most of the issues I had last year and feel much stronger. My A+ goal is to break 20 hours. B goal is to PR and C goal is, as always, just to finish.

After the Massanutten 100 on May 16, my training slowed down dramatically and I went into an extended recovery. This was not out of any desire or plan of mine but rather because I just didn't want to train. My motivation and energy were rock bottom. It was only until about two weeks ago (right before heading off to California to pace Jamie in the WS 100) that I felt completely recovered. It was a remarkably abrupt change; one day it was a struggle to get out the door to run and the next I felt as strong as I had all season. I now feel ready for Vermont and I am happy for it given that it is quickly approaching.

Since Massanutten I have done a few long runs in the 2-3 hour range and this past weekend I did an early morning 4-hour run on the trails at Pineland. I would really have liked to log some more long runs but I just didn't feel like it. Forcing oneself to do too much is a sure way to end up on the bench on race day. At any rate, I feel strong and confident about my chances of PRing in Vermont.

Looking beyond Vermont, I really want to go for a third 100-miler this year. Given vacation and financial restrictions, my choices are limited to east coast races (you guys out West are wealthy with races!), including the Iroquois 100 in New York and the Grindstone 100 in Virginia. Any suggestions would be helpful, and if anyone is interested in pacing/crewing, let me know. Now I am off to work on my MMT 100 race report!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Interim Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Race Report

My pacer, Jamie Anderson, has threatened me with bodily harm if I do not post my race report from the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in something less than the three months it usually takes me to get these things done. So here goes...

The race was held on May 16th. I climbed a mountain and then many more that felt just like it. It was blistering hot and then chillingly cold. I went from near heat stroke to near hypothermia during the first thunderstorm of the day. I almost stepped on a rattlesnake who introduced himself with a robust rattle. I witnessed and almost touched my first whip-poor-will. And I finished in 15th place with a time of 26:29:17, right after seeing my second sunrise of the race.

I hope this will satisfy my buddy Jamie until I have the time to properly craft a race report that you, my readers, will find worth your time. Until then, keep running.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tough time at Pineland and the Camden Hills

The antibiotic treatment I was on after Boston took its toll. It wasn't until this past weekend, almost two weeks after Boston, that I started feeling like myself again.

The Saturday following Boston was my planned long run for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 (on for next Saturday) - the apex of my training and the doorway to taper. The day started rough as I missed my alarm and awoke an hour later to a call from Jamie wondering where I was. Dohhh. While I consoled myself with the rationale that I needed the rest to get better, I was still frustrated knowing that today's run was all or nothing. After that I was in the inner sanctum of taper and there was no violating the rest rule.

I arrived at Pineland at 20 minutes to 6 AM and headed out for a short jaunt before returning after a couple miles to join up with my buddy, Jim G. We ran for an hour and half before coming upon Jamie and his neighbor and friend, Kate. After running with them for a short bit, we arrived back at the YMCA parking lot to meet up with the rest of the Trail Monsters.

My plan all along was to start at 4 AM and run until noon, regardless of the miles I got in. I was estimating I could get in 50 miles in this time, which is typically the max distance I run in preparation for a100-miler. Well, I started shortly before 6 AM and had promised Kelly I would be done at noon, so 50 miles was not in the cards. This was all the better as I started to feel terrible around 11 AM and the last hour of the run was terribly difficult (good training for the last hour of the 100...). I did not come out of this run with any confidence. In fact, it may have even shattered any hopes I had of doing really well at Massanutten. Now, that is not to say I am not going to attempt to do well. I just know that my training did not go according to plan, starting with my failure at Boston, and continuing on to my inability to go long at Pineland the following weekend. The only solace I take is that I gave Boston my all and then five days later I was able to run 32 miles in 6 hours on very tired legs and week dose of antibiotics. That has to count for something!

The week following the Pineland "long" run found my training back to normal. I was able to run daily and hit my morning workout class for each of the three days it was offered. On Saturday I met Jim G. again out at Pineland at 6 AM and we got in a couple hours of running on the most perfectly idyllic spring morning. We got in about 13 miles at a pretty even and good pace, and I started to feel better. I had finished my antibiotics the day before and I was starting to feel like my old self again. After Kelly met me at 8 AM at Pineland for her run and to hand the kids off to me, I headed home to pack for our trip up to Camden (the pictures included in this post is from this trip).

Last week the Trail Monsters had suggested a run through the Camden Hills. I started formulating plan that would enable me to do this run, somewhat as vindication for the poor training over the prior two weeks. By Friday my plan was cemented and included Kelly and I dropping the kids off with my most gracious and helpful father-in-law, Phil, and his lovely partner, Thea (Boo Boo). After the drop off Kelly I headed up to Camden and took a room at the Camden Windward House B&B in downtown Camden (we would recommend it). We spent a great afternoon shopping around Camden (where amongst other things we found a very excellent Van Gogh action figure for Jamie's 29th birthday) and had a great dinner on the water. A bottle of wine helped us to an early retirement and an equally early placement at the breakfast table on Sunday morning.

After breakfast and finishing John Parker's legendary running novel, "Once a Runner", Kelly and I made the quarter mile trip up the Mt. Battie trailhead to meet the Trail Monsters. Joining us for the run was Jeff "Professor" Walker, Ian "Giant" Parlin, Floyd "Robot" Lavery, Jim "The Mouth" Dunn, Ryan "Sushi" Triffit, and Jamie "The Pacer" Anderson. Kelly joined a group of the ladies for a hike (she ended up doing over 7 miles through the hills, which was quite impressive). The start of the run was straight up Mt. Battie, an 600-700 foot climb in one half mile. Quickly we were sweating while our hearts cursed us for robbing it of its oxygen so quickly and without warning. Once on top of Mt. Battie, where we took in a most marvelous panoramic of Camden and Penobscot Bay, we headed down the trail where we were going to scale Mt. Megunticook. Before we made it to far, Jeff's foot caught under a root and he took a gnarly looking spill. As I was right behind him, I witnessed it in all its gruesome detail. The fall would have been minor if Jeff had not have landed with his mid-section on an erosion break of rocks. In my opinion Jeff came away from this fall very lucky. What should have been a series of broken ribs was nothing more than a little blood and some "road" rash. Lucky dude.

After Mt. Megunticook the run pretty much was just up and down with spectacular views sprinkled in. A couple hours in we all decided that to achieve our goal of 20 miles would require more time than any of us had so we decided to cut out a 2.5 mile out and back to Frohock Mountain. Well, that is except for the hard core among us..."The Mouth" and "Sushi" decided they were going the whole distance, so we separated from those animals I think on Carey Mountain (???) and headed for home, which we guessed would take us another couple hours. (the hard core among us, "Mouth" and "Sushi" ended up calling in the cavalry from Frohock Mountain and almost beat us back to the parking lot, courtesy of the shuttle van!)

The ups and downs, coupled with some harder runs the day before, started wearing on some of us. I for one was getting tired, hungry, and thirsty. On the way out the door Saturday I had grabbed the wrong camelback (an old one) so my water tasted like freezer burn (or as Floyd, "Robot", described it, "an old Swanson" dinner) which made it less than palatable. While I was feeling much better after flushing most of the antibiotics out of my system, I still was a little beat and hopefully tired from the accumulation of effort over the training season. I am hoping my renewed health and a couple weeks rest will make all okay with the world and Massanutten a success. At any rate, after four hours of being on the trails, we made it back down Mt. Battie to our cars. The tally for the day was 15.26 miles and lots of elevation gain/loss. I am expecting Massanutten to be 85 more miles of this same type of terrain. Boy am I in for a hurtin'.

Post run we all headed into town and collectively we consumed an entire cow in the form of hamburgers. Beer was had all around (well, Jim took care of most of it, leaving some for the rest of us), and many laughs shared. To me, this day was what running is all about. Meeting your running buddies, sharing some grueling moments together tackling hard terrain, pushing your limits, and sticking by friends who are hitting low spots. Following these runs is a shared disregard for swine flu while you consume ground beef laced with bacon and drink your weight in beer. These types of shared experiences are hard to come by in this lazy, anti-septic world. Long live the Trail Monsters!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Boston 2009: My Comedy of Errors

It started innocently and logically enough; I would do a double Boston on marathon day. This would serve as the defining long run for my upcoming 100-miler in Virginia (Massanutten Mountain Trails) and save me the time I would otherwise spend on the bus ride out to Hopkinton. Also, as a family guy, I am always looking for ways to reduce the time lost with the family. This was an ideal plan and met that criteria. Little did I know of the trouble and heartache this simple plan would cause me.

On Easter Sunday I came down with cold. I was jubilant. This was perfect timing, as it gave me a full week to get rid of the virus and render myself theoretically bullet proof to another virus before the big show on May 16th in VA. Theory does not always pan out. Five days later on the Friday before the race I was actually feeling worse. And to add insult to injury, my wife, Kelly, now had my cold. This consisted of a sore throat (persistent and nasty), headaches, stuffiness, and aches and chills. Our plan was to head down to Boston Saturday, spend a couple days tripping around Boston, and enjoy the pool at the hotel. Well, to add another insult to the injury, my daughter, Riley, seemed to have other ideas Friday night as she started vomitting when I was headed to bed. As of Saturday morning, it looked like the trip was over.

As noon time rolled around and everyone was up and about, we decided to give it a go. As we are a family that shares everything, Kelly and I were sure one of us would get the stomach bug. As luck would have it, we avoided this (at least we have to this point). But better to try and maybe succeed than to doom ourselves to immediate failure by staying home. Once in Boston we hit the expo, did our part to support the profit/loss statement of Adidas, had dinner and were back in the hotel by sunset. As we were all dragging to this point, we hit the sack early.

On Sunday, we took the kids to the Boston Children's Museum (two and a half thumbs up) and did the usual of walking way too much on the day before a race. (In theory, if one was to add up the miles we walked in Boston the weekend before the race, this effort combined with the marathon would probably qualify me for an honorary double Boston.) By Sunday night I was a mess. The cold seemed to have intensified, I was exhausted, and totally stressed out about the run I had committed myself to the next day. It is one thing to run a casual trail run over 50 miles. There are usually no timelines, no directions to worry over, and no roads. In this case I was supposed to run 2.5 miles to the start from my hotel, run 26.2 miles of asphalt, and make sure I did not get off course while ensuring I made it to the start on time for the wave 1 start at 10 AM. I admit in retrospect none of this seems like that difficult of a task, but having carried a cold for the week while thinking through all this had worked me into quite a state.

Kelly had been trying to talk me down from the ledge for a few days before the stunt. I had brushed her suggestions off because I have never bagged a run or race (except Ironman Wisconsin which was held the same week as my son was born and I wasn't allowed to leave home). If I said I was going to do something I did it. Until Monday morning I was still holding out hope that the symptoms would abate and the cold would flee. No such luck.

I awoke Monday morning, race day, at 4 AM and got dressed for a long run. Shortly after waking I received a text from a running buddy, James, who was supposed to meet me on Boylston and join me until Natick. James had been running since midnight with John O'Connor, who was running a quadruple Boston (that's right, four Bostons, or 104.8 miles). The plan was to meet James and Jamie at the start line for company on my way out to Hopkinton. The text read that James had gotten cold waiting and had started the return trip slowly, with the intent of me to catch him. This was the first straw to killing the run. I still headed out to run but had started doubting my ability to complete a return trip given the way I felt. It was then that I received a call from Jamie. He had bailed due to a flare up of plantar fasciitis. This was the second straw. The instructions were written in the heavens: go back to bed, rest, and get healthy. This fool's quest is done. So I obeyed.

I hit the sack at quarter to five for a couple more hours of rest. At that point my teeth and jaw started aching, so much that I couldn't sleep. Not even a bunch of Motrin hid the pain. This was the first sing of the sinus infection settling into place, but I did not know it at this point. Instead, I ignored it. I am lucky enough to have a very supportive wive who loves running as much as I do and who knows how special Hopkinton is on Patriot's Day each year. She and the kids drove me out to the start and hung around until the gun went off at 10 AM.

As with all Boston starts, the first few miles are crazy fast. The course is famously downhill (severely at this point) and the energy that has built up in the corrals needs somewhere to go. My splits for the first 10 miles were roughly 7:10 on average. I felt great. Maybe I was operating on muscle memory and a lot of adrenaline. This is my usual marathon pace and in the beginning I thought "since I am out here, I might as well see what I can do". And then the wheels came off.

A bright point in the race came around mile 10 in Natick when I saw Jamie, James, Ian, and Carter, all fellow Trail Monsters who had come out to help John achieve his quadruple Boston. It was after this that things went south. The first sign that something wasn't quite right was that I kept having to clear my throat. This was due to the post-nasal drip and other "junk" in my upper respiratory. The second issue was the aching in my jaws and teeth had returned. The pace from miles 10-20 slipped a bit to around 7:35. I did go through the half at 1:36, and while not near my best, this is a competent half split for a marathon, for me at least. This pace put me on a qualifying time (3:15 for my age) with time to spare at the end for a beer outside Fenway. By the time I got to Fenway I felt awful and the only beer I got was the one that the crazy dude next to me spilled on me as he smashed a beer can on his forehead.

The walking reprieves began on top of Heartbreak Hill in Newton. I got a nasty stitch in my stomach that was digging in deep up the hill, so I had to slow to try and get rid of it. I walked for about 30 seconds while kneading my side and this helped a ton. I started running again, all the while searching out the statue of Johnny Kelly. I have now run Boston three times and not one time have I seen this damn statue. That streak continues. Despite feeling terrible, I was more pissed of being robbed of a view of this thing again. Maybe next time. The pace at mile 21 was the slowest of the day at 10:04, aided by the hills and walking break. The final five miles were split between walking and running and netted an average pace of roughly 8:45s. To the credit of Boston sports fans, they were very supportive and helpful. Not once was a barb thrown my way for walking, only words of encouragement. I fell in love with Boston again at that point.

The final stretch of the race is down Boylston, and while I have not participated in many grand moments in sporting history, I would have to say that this finish has to be near the top of the most dramatic conclusions available to the average marathoner. The roar of the crowd is deafening and there is so much energy as to make it feel alive and available for all the runners to harness for an almost out-of-body finish. No matter how tired you are as you turn the corner from Hereford Street onto Boylston, the finish feels like that first sprint down the Hopkinton hills. My finish time of 3:29 (average pace of 7:56) qualified this race as my worse ever Boston and worse ever marathon (excluding those that I have done to pace others or with a group). But that did not make it any less meaningful. Boston is special, no matter how fast or slow you run it.

The funny thing with bagging this race is that it seemed that my intent to run a double Boston had captured the imagination of a ton of people. My email and voicemail contained comments from friends and families about how they couldn't believe I had done two Bostons, and run the return trip to Boston so quickly given the fact that I had already run the course once. I received a call from the Portland Press Herald's running columnist, John Rolfe, asking to talk to me about the "crazy thing" I did in Boston. At work an email was sent around to myriad people before I returned announcing my feat and congratulating me. I was now left with the very unenviable position of deflating all these peoples' thrill with what I had (not) done. Even today I had to correct a bunch of people and notify them that I bailed on my double. The interesting thing is that no one has ever been that excited about the 100-milers that I have done. No one gets running 100 miles through the mountains or woods. They don't get the perspective of it. What they do understand is how "big" of a race the Boston Marathon is and to do it twice is "incredible". I can assure them that running the equivalent of four of them in the mountains while covering 20,000 feet of elevation gain/loss is a much tougher.

So on the drive home from Boston I still had not put two and two together that I had a nasty sinus infection. All I knew was that my jaw and teeth ached. I was hurting so much that I was unable to eat dinner on the ride home. I literally called my dentist and scheduled an emergency appointment for him to check my teeth. It wasn't until we were nearly home that Kelly suggested my problem might be my sinuses. As a guy who has been fortunate enough to avoid serious colds and illnesses for a very long time (yeah, except cancer), I haven't dealt with an infection or cold like this for a very long time so I had no idea what the symptoms are. As a test, I doped myself up on sinus medicine and loads of Motrin and felt relief a bit later. The rest is history and antibiotics. While I am still dealing with some pressure, I am starting to feel better. Two and a half weeks to Massanutten so I am hopeful I will be 100% by then.

On a final note, I want to salute and applaud John O'Connor for his courageous accomplishment and for his selfless effort on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project. Four Bostons is amazing and awe worthy. If you would like to donate to John's chosen cause, it isn't too late. Use the links above.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Long Hiatus Redux...Double Boston...About One Month

After this past weekend's run of just under 20 miles I was humbled. I had just run a little shy of three hours and I was wiped. In five weeks I will be racing my first 100-miler of the year, and here I was whipped by less than 20 miles. Of course I talked myself down from the ledge with all sorts of excuses for the tough run...sleet and snow in April is not motivating, lack of sleep, beginning of a cold, no food or coffee before the run nor any during...but I was still humbled.

This coming Monday I will attempt my first double Boston. It isn't a quadruple Boston like my acquaintance John O'Connor is running to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project (you can read about him at his blog,, but is still a long run on pavement. I am dreading it a bit, but it will enable me to get in a long training run with little impact to family time (if not running to the start, I would have to leave Boston a few hours before the race anyhow to get to the start). I will post more about my run afterwards. If you want to follow my progress during the run, text message "RUNNER" to number 41234, and once you receive a reply text requesting the runner's bib number, enter 6425. This will let you get updates of my progress at the 10K, Half, 30k, and Finish.

While I am somewhat dreading this paved run, I am looking forward to being joined by my buddy Jamie ( Speaking of Jamie, I just booked my flight to California to join Jamie as his pacer at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, to be held smoke free this year at the end of June.

So while I have not posted in awhile, I have been running and living life. I got another tattoo (really enhanced the Tree of Life tattoo on my left arm), celebrated my 35th birthday, watched my kids grow even more and do many more amazing things, and celebrated my 10th Wedding Anniversary. I also got in some great runs, including the Trail Monster Fat Ass 50K at Bradbury Mountain State Park a few weeks ago. The course consisted of 8 loops of 4 miles (the last loop was shortened to get to 5oK) around Bradbury Mountain. The course was very hilly, the trails were wet, snowy, icy, muddy, and generally nasty. As a point of reference as to how slow the trails were, I have averaged roughly a 4 hour, 10 Minute 50K at Pineland during the race there each May. The Fat Ass at Bradbury took me 7 hours...

So, I am now at four and a half weeks to the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler. While I am nervous and doubting my training every now and then (as I am oft to do), I am looking forward to getting back home to VA where my soul is strongest and spend a long day and night in the place which I feel is in my DNA. It's gonna be fun!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Big two weeks

Starting Tuesday, Feb 17, I ran 13 straight days and accumulated 120 miles. The week before last my weekly mileage was 67 miles, the most weekly miles I have run since last summer. This is actually the most miles I think I have ever run in a winter week. For me, my weekly threshold is in the 70-80 mile range. With the stress of work and the care of two high energy toddlers (not to mention not enough sleep), my body just can not handle much more. All this is put into perspective when i consider that in just less than 12 weeks, I will run over 80% of my recent 13 day total mileage, non-stop in a bit over 24 hours. All this in mountainous terrain in the blue ridge mountains of VA.

Now if I really want to get technical and all inclusive, I need to consider the impact of the 3x a week workout classes I am doing into my run total. I am now spending 45 minutes, three times a week in the gym doing a combination of plyometrics, core, and weight training, which I have not done in any of my past running seasons. So I could convert the time I spend in the gym to miles I could have run during that time, and add them to an adjusted, or "fully weighted", mileage total, because those 2 hours and 15 minutes I spend in the gym do weigh on my running heavily, forcing my legs (and body and mind) to run more tired than I otherwise would if I wasn't going to the gym. So to put this theory into numbers, last week I ran 67 miles. My fully weighted mileage last week, assuming I would have run five miles in the 45 minutes I spent in the gym (this is conservative, since my typical training road pace is 7:15-7:30), was 82 miles. While this is all fun with numbers, I am definitely doing more than I did last year and my training is more effective than a couple years ago when I was training for my first 100 miler, so I am going to throw out there the statement that I should do really well this year racing. While I can guarantee that I will not break any course records or win any races, I would bet that I will be happier on my long runs and feel stronger from start to finish. That's the real point of all this, isn't it? Winning doesn't account for much in my mind (and not because I am not fast enough to do it). It's the trying and doing that matters.

Last week I was in a training down cycle (for recovery) and will start ramping the miles back up this week. This cycle of training will culminate with another Fat Ass 50K at Bradbury on Saturday, March 28. after that will be a slight taper for the Boston (double) marathon, where I am still planning on running from Boston to Hopkinton for the start of the official marathon, and running back into town for the official finish.