2018 Race Recap #31: Palmerton Spartan Super

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This completes my third Spartan Trifecta in the last three years. Something I considered almost impossible when I started my fitness journey in 2016 has become somewhat routine. Perhaps routine is a little too blasé, but it’s something I’ve come to expect of myself and use to push myself toward more. Of course, it’s also something Spartan uses to push for more sales…but no reason to go down that road. It’s about delivering whats advertised.

Last year, I missed the opportunity for a few Sprints – I’d registered for the Boston Sprint, but couldn’t do it due to injury and finished the trifecta with the Fenway Spartan Sprint. A little weak, frankly. So, it was kind of important to get a little redemption this year.  As it turns out, redemption has its own hazards that are outside the scope of this recap.

A Spartan Trifecta is the completion of a Sprint (3-5 miles), a Super (8-10 miles) and a Beast (13+) in the same calendar year.  Now, there are specific rules around completing these – can’t do multiple, same day laps and what not – but otherwise reasonably straight forward.  So, it turns out a Stadium Sprint (the Fenway Sprint I did in November, while it counted as a Sprint for the Trifecta, was a little more than 2 miles…not really heavy lifting.  Not all races classified as Sprint, Super, Beast are equivalent.

My first trifecta in 2016, I ran the Killington Vermont Beast – widely regarded as one of the hardest of the Beasts. (At least according to this list, I’ve done top three of the 5 hardest courses…irrespective of length). Last year and this, I bagged off Killington because I’d done it once and went to Vernon, NJ instead.  I’ve done the Super in Barre, MA twice – it’s a cow farm. It’s relatively flat, and frankly almost the distance of the Sprint that’s also held on the farm.  An obstacle race of any distance is a challenge, but matched up against the Palmerton Super I did today, it just pales.

The FIT Challenge matches up very well in terms of difficulty — elevation gain, number of obstacles, challenge of obstacles — in fact I’d say it exceeds anything Spartan offers, particularly in terms of price. The Multilap FIT Challenge stacks up well against today’s Palmerton Super, but I will say today’s race was the only one I’ve done that I would compare FIT unfavorably against Spartan.

There are a couple of reasons for the difficulty of today’s race not attributable to the race itself – I slept terribly, I hydrated terribly this week, the shoes (that I’ve worn for 65 previous miles) were ridiculously narrow (perhaps the heat?) and blistered both my feet, the promised hotel “breakfast” was an urn of coffee and a pre-packaged muffin (“That’s it?” “Yeah – that’s it”). All of those are controllable variables and ones with any sort of attention to detail can be overcome. There are reasons fully attributable to the race that made it more difficult – it’s July vs. April, it took me just a little longer to do 11+ miles at FIT than it did for me to do 9 miles today, FIT was 4100′ of gain, today was 3500′, and burpees.  Perhaps it’s just the recency effect, but this felt subjectively more difficult.

I accomplished obstacles I’ve failed previously; I failed obstacles I shouldn’t have. Same story as usual, really. The one I’m most proud of? The goddamned Spear Throw.  Seriously.  I wrenched my gimpy shoulder earlier and the fact that I could even lift my arm was victory enough. That wrenching came back to bite me elsewhere, but at that point, hitting Spearman was victory enough.

This was definitely a Spartan Race I’m happy to have completed, and to have used to complete a Trifecta. I’ll be happy to not do this race again, however. In fact, after having wrenched my shoulder again – I’ve had difficulty with my rotator cuff for no less than the last 6-years – this may well be my last go at obstacle course racing. I’ll do the Super in Massachusetts again in a month to complete my “unofficial” 2x trifecta (for reasons explained about my second Beast attempt and because of that I set up my second Sprint on the same day as my first — remember, same day multi-laps don’t count — in a remarkable twist of pretzel logic to avoid deep regret), but other than that I may well have raced my last OCR. Which saddens me, I mean it’s OCR that I latched onto as the reason I wanted to get in shape, but I’m really worried that my shoulder may well have to be surgically repaired and if so, it would mark the first time I’ve run into the “at my age” syndrome where “at my age” I can’t really afford the time to rehabilitate. On that note, I guess we’ll see, but as of today I’ve completed a Spartan Trifecta on one of the hardest courses offered, not by literally sliding into home at the friendly confines of Fenway Park.

Results:

Time to finish: 4:21:23

OVERALL 1704/ 5078

M45-49 103/ 314
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2018 Race Recap #30: Lake Park Summer Fitness Running Series, Race #2

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Good for 17th overall.  I’m pleased.

Another mouthful.  The Lake Park Summer Fitness Running Series is a weekly 5k my running club holds on Tuesdays in July. It seems like an overly long title for a mid-week race, but whatever. It’s a legit race, probably moreso than the 52-Week 5k Series the club offers on Saturdays. It’s $5 to enter if you’re not a member, free to members, and it turns out CMS members really like free stuff.  As it happens, it was seeing this on the calendar that initially had me join the club in the first place: $20/yearly dues and if I did these races it paid for itself; also of note, the 52-week 5k price drops from $5 to $3 for members, so for a guy that was into running a truckload of races that year, it made all the sense in the world.

I seem to miss at least one of these races for some reason or another. Last week, it was a vacation. Last summer, I think I may have done one race coming back from falling down a mountain and it was pretty ugly – my time last summer was mere seconds slower than the first time I ran.   The first year I did three of them.

This is the third year I’ve been running to any magnitude. The first year, I didn’t know what to expect from running in summer, didn’t do enough and just rode the struggle bus through it.  Last summer, I spent June and most of July on the DL which left me out of condition and still unaware as to how to run in heat. This is the first time I’ve been able to actually put any real concerted effort into running in heat and humidity.

I can tell immediately that I’m not hydrating myself nearly enough, and I’m finding it’s my willingness to exert myself in less than ideal conditions that is getting in my way — like most things it’s the head that gets in the way more than anything else.

As it turns out, my head got in the way again this evening – just not for the whole race, so I guess that’s progress.

It’s a generally flat course – my GPS recorded a 2′ elevation gain overall: a loop around Worcester’s Lake Park before exiting the park, down a few blocks and back into the park to finish where it starts.  There’s generally a pretty good turnout – usually more than 70 or so runners – and the club does a small cook out featuring under cooked hot dogs and Polar seltzer water.  Hey, what do you want for “free?”  It’s truly a gem of a race, powered solely by an active group of volunteers.

I did a quick mile warm up which wasn’t pretty. I struggled through it at a moderate pace and I could feel every bit of my bootcamp workout from yesterday – nothing like jump squats to really let you know what for. The big difference tonight, beyond attempting to not let my head get in my way, was my running buddy Duke showed up at the last minute after having been stuck in traffic.  He challenged me to a 24-minute race, I said I was going to go all out for the first mile and see where that left me, but that I hadn’t seen sub-25 in some time.

And so it goes: I went out as fast as I could for the first mile and played it by ear from there.  Going back to the volunteers, it was super helpful that they were all out there at apparently strategic points to direct traffic, but it turns out just as I was wanting to quit I would see a friend of mine and obvi didn’t want to look like a wuss or that I couldn’t handle it in front of my friends…and of course once by them, I had to get a safe distance away so they couldn’t see me wussing…but then of course I’d see another friend.  If the antagonist getting in my way is my head, sometimes it’s helpful that circumstances conspire to use that antagonist against itself.

It wasn’t my best race, but it was my best race in a while. Basically, it’s what I needed: I got over the hot weather hump, I exerted myself, pushed myself and showed myself that performing in hot, humid weather doesn’t have to mean a half effort. I finished a full minute (and almost a half!) faster than any previous effort – it didn’t have to be my best race to be a good race. NOTE: My self time of 24:42 seems to be off from the official 24:35. I know I didn’t stop my watch as soon as I crossed the line but I didn’t think I had waited 7 seconds, so I’m not sure what’s up there.

RESULTS

July 10, 2018: 24:35
July 25, 2017: 27:48
July 26, 2016: 25:57
July 12, 2016: 26:34
July 5, 2016: 27:32

Ruminations on a Decade

Graduation from college.  You KNOW it's the early 1990's by the teal necktie.  You just can't get a good teal necktie anymore...:)
College graduation. A proud day for the both of us.

Ten years ago this evening, I was on my way home from having beared witness to my father’s passing. Lost, and more than a little alone, the drive home from my sister’s was surreal.  I honestly can’t remember much of the half-hour drive. Even today, ten years later, I still goof the details.  Like scheduling my remembrance on July 1 instead of July 6 for some reason.

I could get maudlin and tell you about how that flub fits in with just about everything about my dad – despite my best efforts, I always let circumstances get away from me instead of taking control of them. Even at his funeral, the priest almost forgot to let me deliver the eulogy and I didn’t stand up vociferously enough.

Instead, I’m going to choose to focus on what I did do, because I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have chosen to see – effortlessly, doubtless – because he didn’t spend too much time on himself, he did however spend a lot of time on his family.  On duty, and on love.

When I had the opportunity, I asked him to be my best man. I wanted him to be beside me at my wedding.

Honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of. Literally the only thing. Everything else seems disappointing. I didn’t make the speech for him that I wanted to because I let the coked-out wedding DJ blow past it.

I didn’t spend the time with him that I needed to. I don’t think I ever really showed him how much I wanted to be like him from the time I was 12. I don’t know that he ever really understood just how important he was to me. Christ, 24-hours before he died I was telling him that I had something else to do other than seeing him. Why is it that everything I can think of has me failing, why can’t I seem to match up? I’m not at all sure that he held me to that standard, why am I holding myself to that?

So, here I am, ten years to the day, perhaps even to the hour, that I’m ruminating on my relationship with my father on the day he passed. Holding myself to a standard that I’m not sure he held me to. I’m sure he didn’t see his value: his brothers both fought in World War II, he spent the Korean War in military school. He chose a cemetery plot in a direct line from his father’s. He spent a life time trying to live up to his father and brothers and I wonder if because of that he let me off the hook. Perhaps I was the beneficiary of low expectations.

He was a good man, and he deserved so much more from life. I’m proud he was my father, I just hope he knew that. I loved the man and I’m sure he knew that, so perhaps I wasn’t as big a failure as I fear. I just wish I knew for sure.

 

 

2018 Race Recap #29: Independence Rhode Race Half Marathon

This shot treats me very kindly as it would appear that I’m actually running – I know it’s toward the end of the race because I’ve taken the head buff off and wrapped it on my wrist.

First, please excuse the late posting for this. I’ve been away and frankly, haven’t wanted to go out of my way to post.  This was THE WORST race ever. Hands down. I mean the course was beautiful, but the result – ugh, for more than a few reasons it was terrible.

At the start of the race — 6:30 AM — it was 73 degrees, and I’m guessing no less than 85% humidity.  I was already feeling a tad under the weather during and after the TVRC race on Thursday, but on Friday it hit me full on. I was huffing and puffing for the 5-miler, and I’m not at all convinced I didn’t slurp down some wonderful allergens and/or mold spores or something because Friday I woke up with a 100-degree temperature and coughing up lungies like you might read about. I spent the night on Friday coughing and gakking and wishing for sweet death.

This was going to be a S-show of a race and I really only had two options: DNS or just do it. I chose “Just Do It.”

Leading up to this week, my goal was 1:50.  I was feeling pretty confident that after all my tweaks and dings and dents I was at the other side and could pull off a decent time here.  With the phlegm and general lack of ability to breathe on race day, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen but I was still hopeful that I would best my worst half time, I mean this was a pretty flat course, ocean front with a generally cool breeze, but no.  The combination of the humidity and the sick-death-pneumonia-black-plague I was suffering wasn’t going to allow anything remotely resembling a respectable time.

I started with the 1:45 pacer and quickly fell behind.  That said it wasn’t until perhaps the 9th or 10th mile, where there was a turnaround in Colt State Park that I saw the 2:00 pacer on the other side of the street heading the opposite way that I realized I was completely screwed.

My running dynamics were reasonably on point – 172 spm average is not far off where I wanted to be at 180, but my stride was terrible and my heart rate was terrible and life was terrible and everything sucks.

ALL OF THAT SAID, My time was my worst half ever. Straight up. No doubt. No excuses.

BUT, it turns out that comparatively, I didn’t have as bad a day as I may have. I mean I have some mitigating circumstances — so does everyone else — but despite my shitty time, I finished about where I would normally finish percentage wise, perhaps a little slower than I may have expected, but overall Dead in the middle. 50.6% for my age.

I had a shitty race. No doubt. But it looks like a lot of other folks had a shitty race too, and I have to imagine not all of them were sick. My race buddy Mike, who was shooting for a 1:45 finished with 2:01, so I know I don’t completely suck.

This will be a redemption race next year, I’m sure, but for now, the humiliation of having put some 3000 miles on my odometer since my first half and this one and finishing 6-minutes slower stings. Worst. Half. Ever.  Redemption will be forthcoming.

Previous Results

Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32
Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48

It happened yesterday

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Ten years ago today, My father died. A number of years that not that long ago would have seemed incomprehensible.  The expression is cliche: It seems like yesterday and so long ago at the same time. Cliches are overused for a reason: they lack original thought, because so many people experience what they convey.

I know you, dear reader, know and understand what I mean when I express to you I can still viscerally feel that last time I kissed him, held his hand and told him I would see him on Monday. It happened yesterday.

I had told him only the day before that I would see him on Monday; I didn’t know he wouldn’t live another 24-hours never mind the 48-hours Monday assumed.  On that Sunday, I had gone out with my father in law on a deep sea fishing trip we received for Fathers’ Day. My sister messaged me and told me Dad really wasn’t feeling well and can I come by today.  Later, while on my way there, I asked her if I could get him some coffee. I can still feel the blood empty from my face when I learned he was gone. That happened yesterday.

I stopped and bought him a coffee anyway. Black, two sugar. The man loved his coffee and he ought to have one last cup with his kids before his journey. I bought a coffee for my sister and one for me, and we shared them while we awaited clergy and the ambulance. I silently reflected with regret for not having been there sooner, for not having spent more time, for a whole host of short-comings as a son while the Priest granted blessings upon him. I saw his lifeless body slumped in his chair almost as though he were sleeping – I’d seen him “rest his eyes” while sitting in his chair so often over the course of my life, but never once imagined I was being conditioned to witness this moment. So clear it’s as though it happened yesterday.

Then there was my sister. She kept it together, until the Medical Examiner’s office came and packed him up. Out of her living room, they wheeled a sealed plastic body bag out on a two-wheeler, and she lost it. Fell apart. That was the moment of permanence to her, even though she sat with him as he felt his eyes become infinitely too heavy to keep open and slipped out of this life. She sat with him as his blood finally became too toxic for his heart to continue pushing through his body. It was to her he spoke his last words. It was only seeing him as the outside world now saw him that she lost it. I’m quite sure that were I to ask her, she would say that it could easily have been 10 hours ago.

Coming home was a long, hollow drive. Alone with my thoughts. That empty feeling of suddenly being quite alone in the world, that the one person to whom I meant the world was no longer. The fogginess of my thoughts and emotions of that drive home still has no equal in my life; I should be thankful, grateful for that and yet, as I write I’m sobbing as though it really did just happen yesterday.

I remember lying in bed, looking at the ceiling. Emotionally drained and empty. We all knew this moment, this day would come sooner than later, and yet when it arrived there was literally no way to steel myself. Like knowing a lava floe was coming and all you can do is stand there and take it. He knew it. I was with him at the hospital when the doctor told him that the transfusions were becoming less effective – that his body was losing white blood cells faster than they could replace them. I was with him when he told the doctor that he wanted to stop the transfusions because he was using resources better used by someone whose body wasn’t failing in the way his was. I was there when she told him that decision was “not compatible with life.” He knew what his choice was, he knew and still abided. Either way it was a matter of time, but his way meant sooner rather than later. I lay in bed thinking about that before at some point drifting into some degree of sleep. Sad. Empty. Drained. Knowing that the next day held telling my kids that Papa had died.

All of that seems so real and raw. All of that was ten years ago today. All of that could have been yesterday.

2018 Race Recap #28: TVFR Woodland Trail 5-Miler Series #1

PhotoPhew.  That’s a mouthful.  The Woodland Trail Series is a 3-part series of trail races through the West Hill Park in Northbridge, MA and Tri Valley Front Runners is a local (predominantly) trail running club.  My club never seems to do well at these events because, well, we’re not trail runners as a group.  BUT the registration fee for these races (3 for like $16) is just too good for any of us to pass up.  It’s pretzel logic, but it’s logic.

The race itself is not comparatively difficult: I came less than prepared for GPS and therefore had to use my FitBit, which is more or less accurate, which registered about 300′ of elevation gain.  It was in the mid-70’s but HUMID. Holy smokes, was it humid. It stopped raining just before the start of the race, which it’s hard to say whether or not that was a good thing.  It’s lightly technical; we started a single track for a bit, but otherwise it’s fire roads and hiking trails.  If you’re conditioned, it should make for a pretty fast course.  If you’re not…not so much.

I did a run on Monday, that felt pretty good overall, but woke up Tuesday with some seriously sore muscles meaning I’ve been slacking a bit on my pacing and was feeling it. That and I’ve been hacking up a lung as well.  So I know this was going to be a tough run.  My friend Dukie told me I was busy looking for excuses, and perhaps I was, but I knew it was going to be a rough run.  It was.  I wish I could tell you it was a self fulfilling prophesy, but I don’t think so.

I’ve done this particular race three times now: I ran it once each of the last two years. Last year I finished about 20 seconds slower than the year before, but I tell myself that was because it was one of my first races back after falling down the mountain.  This year, I finished about 30-seconds faster.  Roughly 2500-miles run over the last two years between running this course and I’m 30-seconds faster.  Worst? My pace was faster those times because the course registered longer. I’m so angry with my performance.  I can blame the humidity — I literally had to wring my shirt out — and I can blame respiratory issues, but at the end of the day, I just wasn’t ready.  Maybe next month.  Or maybe not.  July and 9000-degrees?  Ugh. Onward and upward.

Results:

June 2018: 50:58.39
July 2017: 51:54
July 2016: 51:38

2018 Race Recap #27: CMS 52-Week 5k

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Like so many other areas of my life.  13th of 25 runners. The low side of average.
Where to begin.  I’ve run this race many times over the last three years, so there’s really not much to describe in terms of the course: start at Worcester State University, run in either clockwise or counter-clockwise direction make a couple of turns, and, depending on the direction you’re running, you finish in front of a bus stop or in front of Aristotle.  Today, it was clockwise which means Aristotle was the finish line.

For what seems like forever at this point, I’ve been battling dents and dings related to running: jacked my piriformis doing the To Hale and Back trail race, tried to push through it at varying intervals, which led to shin splints…both of which reduced the amount of actual running and HIIT bootcamp training I could do so basically despite having had a few decent outings, my conditioning is not what it needs to be.

This is the first time I’ve run this course in this direction since February, when I finished with a 24:16 time.  In February and March, I was really at my peak form: hitting personal best times all over the place and feeling AWE-SOME about the whole thing.  The last few months have really kind of sucked and more and more lately I find myself asking no one in particular when I’m going to feel “good” again. The shin splint comes and goes – kind of like a roommate you don’t particularly like or want around – just long enough to take the wind out of my running sails.  I find myself limping sometimes and I’m not really sure if it’s because my shin actually hurts or because I’ve just become accustomed to it.

It seems disingenuous to say my conditioning is for crap because I’m basically running at the pace I was running most of last year, but I’m certainly not where I was the last time I ran this particular course.

Today was a glorious day outside, perfect weather. Perhaps a touch too much pollen in the air, but then again I’m probably just looking for excuses.  I got a quick warm up run in around the WSU campus.  Running in this direction I will often run as fast as I can the first mile – it’s pretty much downhill – and then find a comfortable pace to latch onto for the final two as there is some gradual elevation gain, but it’s otherwise so flat as to not be noticed.

So the result? About a minute slower than the last time I ran it: twenty seconds a mile.  When written out it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you’re hauling your butt across 3.1 miles it seems like forever.  Not quite as slow as I ran it in January – by about 7-seconds – but basically it tells me I’ve been shuffled back to where I was 5 months ago.

Time for some more long runs and more frequent longer distances.  This race has a special place in my heart as it was this that gave me the benchmark I needed to see progress when I first started running, it was frequent (and CHEAP!!!) enough that I could keep doing it, and it introduced me to a running community I don’t think I would have kept running without.  That’s why my backsliding hurts so much: it’s literally the benchmark I use for everything else and how I’m feeling about my running condition.

Clockwise (last 5):

June 16, 2018: 25:08. 75, clear. Beautiful.
February 24, 201824:16. Mid-40’s,  clear
January 27, 201824:24. 34 degrees, sunny. Just beautiful.
January 13, 201825:14   53 degrees, cloudy, 22 mph wind, rainy
November 25, 2017: 24:55 Sunny and 28 degrees.