2019 Race Recap #17: East End Trail Race 50k

Okay, first things first. Yes, I ran an excruciating half marathon this weekend, but I didn’t run it to race. I looked at it as a training run. It was hot, and challenging, and I did 13 miles. Fine. It’s all the things I didn’t do during the week that did me in today – and much, much less about yesterday. Now, would I advise following this weekend’s routine? Not a chance. That said, I didn’t sleep well, didn’t hydrate appropriately, didn’t actually train well. I was a disaster waiting to happen.

As it happened, a disaster didn’t happen, but a lot of things could have gone better for me today. Like, everything could have gone better for me.

This is a solid race. They seem to have done it right – a 10k (one loop), a 30k (three loops), and a 50k (5 loops). Now, let’s be honest. The 10k loop is closer to 6.5-miles – not a big deal in trail racing, but add that over 5-times and all of a sudden you’ve got 33.5 miles. Those two miles matter big when you’re struggle bussing those last two to the finish.

The venue was great. The organization was great. They could not have done anything to make this a better experience for the runners. Down to the fact they had cooling towels at Mile 4 and the start/finish. Best. Thing. Ever.

Curiously enough, I don’t have much to say for the race recap only because it was the same one race 5 times. It was challenging without being difficult for the sake of difficulty. It was mostly runnable track, except for the fact that I was toast and basically walked where I should have been running.

I expected better of myself. Over the first 16. 4 miles (what an odd number, you might be forgiven for thinking – it’s because my watch died there), there was 740′ of elevation gain. SO basically 1500′ of gain for the race, which shouldn’t have been an issue. I expected to finish in 6 maybe 6.5 hours. I finished in just under 90 – seconds away from DFL, until some rando came running from the woods and claimed that spot.

Building blocks. I get it. I know it was my mind more than body that got to me today. I will be working on that.

That said, this was my 6th 50k and it was my 3rd best – despite being almost DFL. So, not a terrible day. Right? I am disappointed that two months ago I ran North Face a little less than an hour slower – on a mountain with a substantially more technical course. So some backsliding I’ll have to work on before my next Ultra in September.

Results

26/27. 7:51:45

2019 Race Recap #16: 57th John & Jessie Kelley Half Marathon

A caveat: calling it the 57th Half Marathon is a bit of a misnomer. The race has been run 57 times, but it hasn’t always been a half marathon. It began as a 12-mile race (because, obvi, that makes sense), but became a half marathon in 2017. So, if we’re being real, its the 3rd Half Marathon. They’re really referring to the 57th running of what is now the Kelley Half Marathon, or more specifically the Kelley Road Race. Continuity matters, baby. What whatevs. The entry fee is zero. Always has been.

That’s something I’ve spent not inconsiderable amount of time trying to figure out: how do you mobilize a community of volunteers – there were plenty today from registration to water stops – have free parking at the muni lot, have post-race food, AND race swag (a really nice finisher medal) and ask only donations to the local food bank? At registration you can submit an additional contribution, but it’s totally voluntary. I mean, think about this: it’s a free race, just sign up. If the weather is crummy, people don’t show. BUT they still have the medals. Last year it rained. Today it was swampy, humid air. Now, they take the first 1000 registrations, then they’re “Sold Out.” I know this year they were full, and today 615 runners ran. So perhaps that’s what they bank on – roughly 65%. I don’t know, but I’ve paid more money for races where the medals didn’t show up or were multipurpose – 5k and half – or whatever.

Pretty sweet swag for a $0-cost race

Now, the point here was not to race, but to get my long run in. My friend Derya and I were just going to run and forget about pace because we’re doing a trail race tomorrow. I had a target goal of finishing under 2-hours: I haven’t been running particularly well as of late, and really hadn’t run much more than 8-9 miles at a time for a while. The weather was oppressive and as soon as I got out of my car in the parking lot, I knew I was in for a long slog.

Now, because it starts and finishes at the beach, there were full facilities for restrooms, which was a godsend after driving the 90-minutes to New London with a cup of coffee. The parking at Ocean Beach was free (another head scratcher). The race was chip timed, so there was no particular race to the starting line, and off we went.

By my watch there was some 560′ of elevation gain on the course – not quite, “flat with some rolling hills,” although the race site does disclose a not insignificant hill at mile 10. I didn’t start out racing – over the first 4-miles or so I was running about 8:35 pace- but after mile 3, I had to slow down because my ankles were giving it to me. It was difficult walking and I was wondering at that point if I was going to finish, but eventually I pulled myself together and ran. It was at this point Derya caught me and asked if I needed anything, and since the answer was “no” she took off but not before I complained about my ankles.

A little further up, I caught her and she said she was going to force herself to go slower and asked how my ankles were. Good enough. And that was the last time I saw her.

For the rest of the race, I did intervals – running, then walking, rinse, repeat. Folks along the course had their hoses out – THANK YOU!! – and the volunteers were great handing out water. I had some really nice conversations along the way – I was wearing my Central Mass Striders singlet and a few people cheered me on for it, including one person who seemed to know who I am but for the life of me I had no idea who she was.

I was really struggling at mile 11 when I realized that by the time I was there, I had finished Horseneck just a few months ago. I also tried to remember that the goal wasn’t to race and only to finish in under 2-hours – something that seemed somewhat suspect at this point. It was getting hotter, and apparently more humid if that was possible, and all I wanted to do was anything other than whatever I was doing – which at this point was running.

By the time I completed mile 12, I realized I had an outside shot of hitting my target of 2-hours. Now, look, 2-hours is a great goal for most people – some experienced runners I know have yet to crack that barrier. I’m not taking anything away from them, I hope, when I say that for me generally speaking 2-hours is not a good time. My goal has always been sub-2 hours and I’ve come up short twice: my very first one saw me missing 2 by 48 seconds, and last years Bristols Independence Rhode Race where I was experiencing a chest cold or infection or whatever, but I came in at 2:06. I was hoping today was not going to be the day when I hit #3.

As I turned the corner and realized I was near the finish, I turned everything I had on to cross the line. I could see the clock as I headed into the last 1/10th mile – It had just clicked over to 1:58:00 so I knew I could, I SHOULD, make 2-hours, and I just went. By gun time, I finished 1:59:18. By chip time, I finished a little better – 1:58:47, a little less close than I thought, but either way, I still finished sub 2-hours.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, that I managed the conditions and came in roughly 18-minutes slower than my last half, which just happened to be my PR, but I finished clean.

Results:

211/615, M40-49: 28/63, Chip: 1:58:47.0 Gun: 1:59:19.0

Previous Results:

2019: Horseneck Half Marathon 1:43:32
2019: 42nd New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:45:58
2018: 41st New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
2017: Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
2018: Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon 1:54:11
2018: Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
2018: Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
2017: Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
2019: John & Jessie Kelley-Ocean Beach Half Marathon: 1:58:47
2016: Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48
2018: Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32
2017: Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
2019: Wallum Lake Half Marathon (Trail):2:38:01.1

2019 Race Recap #15: 56th Annual Fred Warren 5.5-Miler

First I have to get this out of the way: It was southern bayou swamp-ugly out there. No less than 87 degrees at race time with humidity easily up toward 90% (at the time I’m writing this it is 79%). The air was just ridiculously heavy and I found it really hard to breathe.

Long about 4PM, I started thinking about how this race was going to run, and it was tough. I was having difficulty contemplating how this would be a good run for me. I was confident this would no go well.

No sooner had I gotten to the starting area, when I had to turn tail and head back to the parking area porta-potties. Hard to tell if it was a benefit to have to…uh…you know…so lighten my body weight, but it was certainly better to have the facilities there than not. That would have made for a very ugly 5 miles.

This is a local race run by my running club, so there were a lot of familiar faces which I certainly appreciated – I took a job recently close to Boston and the additional commuting time has been killing my social life with these folks, so it was appreciated to have the opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces. My daughter even came to race from her new place in New Hampshire, and that made my heart happy.

This was my first race since the North Face at the beginning of June and my first street race since the Worcester Fire Fighters 6k in May. I came THAT close to not having had a race in July. I mean the fact that this is only my 15th race this year astounds me a little given what the past few years have looked like.

Holden is a little town in Central Massachusetts, which means that it’s not flat. The Warren course is a loop, starts generally down for the first mile, rolling hills for the second, down for the next half, up for the mile and then mostly down.

According to my Garmin, the Elevation Gain was 384′ and the loss was 387′, which seems technically impossible given the start and finish are the same…but suffice to say, it’s roughly 385′ of gain.

It can be pretty challenging to be sure.

So at the start of the race, I’d run maybe 3/10 of a mile when my shoe came untied. It’s been more than a year since the LUK 5k when my shoe came undone and my friend Jeff sold me on Lace Locks. I haven’t worn sneakers with laces since…until today. Curiously enough that first mile was pretty quick. I ran the second and third mile at roughly equivalent speeds – with a fair degree of walking in there. The fourth mile, where you see that big up part,took me 9:07 (73′ of gain) and then it was pretty much downhill from there, where I notched the fastest mile of the race and second only to the last 4/10 of the rce where I paced in at 7:13, ultimately finishing 26th at 43:39.

My girl with definitive evidence that she did not finish last.

Now a couple of my friends were pretty well dehydrated, and while both finished, one had to leave in an ambulance for fluids. The heat and humidity were no joke. I’m honestly surprised I did as well here as I did. The lack of racing in general hasn’t helped but my increased sedentary time could not have helped my fitness level. The last few weeks I’ve seen my runs get sloggier and slower. Could be sleep, or bad diet, or whatever, but tonight I pulled through it until it felt good. Which makes it that much setter for me: I PR’d this course tonight by just about 7-minutes officially (for the three times I’ve run this race) and by roughly 3:20 if I include training runs last year. So I may have lost a little off my fast ball recently, it’s nice to know that I’m still racing reasonably well.

My daughter also hadn’t raced in sometime – since the Celtic 5k actually – and hadn’t run more than 4-miles in months, and she rocked the course too: Meaning she did not finish last.

The club puts on an afterparty where awards are announced and there are gift giveaways and food. Incredible value for the $15-20 registration fee. Good fun, great folks.

Results

2019:56th Annual 26th 43:34

2018:54th Annual 58th 50:35
2017: 53rd Annual 33rd 50:31

Father’s Day

June 15, 2008 was to be my dad’s last Father’s Day. We tried to take him for breakfast, but he used all his energy walking down the stairs and getting into the truck and just couldn’t get into the restaurant. He was so weak, I had to carry him. It was difficult getting him out of the truck, and we tried to get this to work so much, but just lost sight of the fact it wasn’t going to happen.

We eventually decided to call it, placed an order to go, carried breakfast out in styrofoam containers and ate the now pathetic breakfast back at my sisters. Just a disaster all the way around.

It was a disaster mitigated only by the time we spent with him. It wasn’t well thought out, breakfast was just what we did, so why not take him to breakfast? I should have known he was so weak and made other accommodations. I should have done something different, but I relied on what we always did instead of what would have been more thoughtful. 11 years later, I regret that one of the last days of my dad’s life, one that was meant to recognize what he meant to me, stands for that failure.

I wish I could say I’m better at these things because of it, I’m not. I wish I could say I did something better for him, but I didn’t. Today it was just hanging there in my mind, like the gloom here in New England on this, Father’s Day 2019: 66-degrees, rainy, dark and gray.

I had a chance to visit his memorial this week, spend a few moments with him front of mind, perhaps a prayer. Something I do not do often enough. The memorial park is a peaceful place, quiet – especially mid-day mid-week. The day we laid him to rest fresh as though it had been the day before. It was good to share that time alone with the man.

His dad’s marker is across the memorial park – Dad was a special guy, devoted to his father, and specifically picked a marker within easy eye shot of his dad’s – and I recall as a youngster heading out to the park on Sunday after church, so he could pay his respects. Kneeling on one knee, crossing himself, and praying, I recall the man hurting. I was a child when my grandfather passed away, and although I missed him as much as a child can I didn’t quite understand how Dad could still be so sad years later.

Its now been 10 Fathers’ Days since we buried my Dad, many more than had passed in my recollection above. I get it now, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten it from the moment I entered the room with his now lifeless body the night he died. I kneeled by the edge of his grave marker on one knee, crossed myself, even prayed a bit and couldn’t help but to cry. Recalling him in the same place, mourning his dad, lets me know that I need to bring my son more often, so he can see that it’s okay and normal and good to feel these things. Even after all this time, that its not a weakness.

I started writing this post this morning. I was really feeling the regret. Today, my Father’s Day was pretty much the routine. I was around family who came together to celebrate the dads among us. I sat around and watched baseball, ate some pulled pork sandwiches, and drank a few beers. No special circumstances, just what we always do. It was good.

And I realized that while Father’s Day 2008 was a mess, it wasn’t because he didn’t feel loved. He didn’t complain that he didn’t want to go, he tried to make it work – perhaps it was just that routine that he wanted desperately to have as much as I did. I’ll never know that, and while I regret that I hadn’t better considered present circumstances and made more thoughtful choices, I need to remember he didn’t feel forgotten. He didn’t feel unloved or ill-considered. I didn’t do my best that Father’s Day, but I was there. Maybe that’s most of what matters: today everyone was just there, we were together.

Today was Father’s Day and despite my attempt at a pity party for myself, my Dad may well have just given me another gift. Perhaps the day wasn’t a disaster mitigated only by the time we shared together, but rather was a cherished time because we shared the time together – even if was eating soggy eggs out of a take away container.

2019 Race Recap #14: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

In terms of my commentary about the race itself – course markings, watch issues – I don’t think I could say anything differently from last year. This is a very well done event, easy registration, good festival area, good course markings. There were a couple of times this year I found the markings a little wonky, but I think that was more me than the course itself.

What I really want to talk about is my experience of the race. 31 miles is a significant distance under the best of circumstances. This race covers roughly 6000′ of elevation gain – more than a mile going up. It’s quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve now done it three times.

Last year I finished in 9 hours, 50 minutes. Since last year, I’ve run 2 road marathons. The distance, while still quite significant, doesn’t feel quite as daunting. I also ran the 7-Sisters trail race, a race that while shorter by 2/3s was more technical and were it longer, and probably not much longer, I would likely say IT was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. So, I feel like I was reasonably prepared for this race.

Truth be told, I hadn’t hydrated well enough over the preceding days. I now know that, but otherwise I was ready. I felt good through the majority of the race. There was a couple of points where I could feel some cramps coming on but was able to hold off any real difficulty until after the mile 26 check point. At that point, however, it was clear to me that my running for the day was pretty much over. Sad really, as there were some imminently runnable downhills that would have been nice to crush.

The thing about technical trail running for me is that it is hard on the body, you really have to stretch yourself, but more importantly than that it’s refreshing, revitalizing. Here’s what I mean by that: in a world where your attention is monetized, you cannot afford not to be paying full attention all the time out here. The odd rock, or root, or decent all demand your attention or you will trip. What’s that person behind you doing? Should you let them pass? Are THEY paying attention?

When I’m running on a road, there’s the occasional car to be mindful of, but otherwise there’s a lot of room for internal dialogue to creep in. I wear headphones and listen to music most of the time to drown out that negativity. On the trail, your mind don’t have that luxury – it has to be focused on the task at hand.

Today, I woke up sore, with a few dents and dings, but mentally quite refreshed. Like spending the day in mediation, being present. It’s hard to do that in modern life, so I’m thankful for having had that time.

I wrote last year that I was bummed about failing to have foresight enough to grab a selfie at “Redemption Rock.” ✅

I took well over an hour off my time from last year, but when you look at my official splits you can definitely see where the cramps really started to affect my race. All in all, a solid effort that I’m pleased with.

RESULTS

2019: 113/164, 8:42.03
2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

2019 Race Recap #13: Worcester Firefighters 6k

2019 Finisher Medal

An unusual distance, 6k. First the story. Sometime during the evening on December 3, 1999, a cold storage building at 299 Franklin Street, Worcester began burning. The building was apparently known for housing squatters, and in this case a couple had set a fire for warmth. By the end of the day, 6 firefighters were unaccounted for, and whose bodies were not recovered for another 8 days.

Thomas Spencer, 42
Paul Brotherton, 41
Timothy Jackson, 51
Jeremiah Lucey, 38
James Lyons, 34
Joseph McGuirk, 38

This race memorializes these firefighters in it’s name and distance – 6k. Worcester holds another race, named specifically for Jay Lyons, earlier in the year for fundraising toward a memorial scholarship at Doherty High School in Worcester. I ran that race last year, although I missed it this year.

The Firefighters 6k is a great city race, this 19th year of the race there were over 1000 runners. There’s a wonderful finish festival with burgers, free treats from Worcester Based sponsors Table Talk Pies and Polar Beverages, and the swag is also pretty sweet. Now, I’m not much on swag for 5(-ish)k races, but this one is not most. The finisher medal really is something.

Inscribed on the back are the names of the six firefighters who died in that fire 20 years ago this year.

Team Sneakerama representing.

For the last two years, I’ve run the Newport 10-Miler and for some inexplicable reason I failed to register for it this year. So given my availability, I was able to join Team Sneakerama for this race instead. Now the course itself is just shy of 6k – where 6k is roughly 3.73 miles, the course winds up being about 3.6. Sure there are probably some hacks that could be made, but at the end of the day it’s close enough. Just enough longer than a 5k to make it a little more challenging. It’s pretty flat, there are a couple of tunnels to run through that go down and, by definition up on the way back, and the finish is a slight incline at the top of the hill by Institute Park. I found it a fast, flat course as it wound through Worcester.

Pretty fly for a white guy

It was pretty hot for a day that was projected to be overcast, if not a little rainy – the shade was cool, but man in the sun it got hot fairly quick. I was running a little too fast to be sustainable under most circumstances, but seeing people I know on the course was great and really kept me going. By the time I got to the 3 mile point, I really wanted to quit, stop and walk, but my competitive nature got the better of me and I slogged through. At mile 3.3, I really had had enough but again, saw friends and kept going. That slight incline to the finish seemed like it must’ve been 500′.

I was somewhat surprised at the results. I had been shooting for a 7:50/8:00 minute pace, but wound up with an unofficial 7:17. My official pace was 7:04 (because of the whole difference between 3.73-miles and 3.6-miles). I’m really super pleased, because this really could have been a train wreck between the humidity and my general feeling of grumpiness. End of day, I finished with a respectable time – especially given I have 5k finishes that are slower.

Also, more importantly, Sneakerama finished as second fastest team – losing to the Wormtown Milers, who poached a couple of ringers from my club CMS. My saltiness aside, it was a fun race and I’m glad I had the chance to do it.

RESULTS

26:22
Overall: 68/1067
M: 62/457
M 40-49: 7/91

2019 Race Recap #12: Horseneck Half Marathon

I now have 2 Horseneck Half frisbees. I can’t remember the last time I used one

The headline here is “What a difference a year makes.” Last year, I was 5-pounds lighter, but suffering a bevvy of maladies. This was race 12 on the year for me in 2019, 23rd of the year in 2018. Last year my shin was taped up to mitigate my shin splint, this year just a couple ibuprofen to quell the nagging niggits of pain here and there.

I wanted redemption for last years race. My goal time was initially to land in my personal Top 3, and I pegged it at 1:50:00. I haven’t been running particularly well on the street over the last few weeks and my last 3 races were trail races where I typically don’t perform well at all, so not having a point of reference to what my street time would look like I wasn’t sure I knew what to expect. I made a post to Facebook, and Duke predicted 1:45:00; this seemed unfounded but I love the guy and his ambition, so I shot for that. 1:45:00 it was.

The weather was nothing if not perfect. Roughly 60-degrees, a little overcast, perhaps a bit breezy. My buddy Rich and I debated the relative merits of wearing sleeves vs. no-sleeves, ultimately deciding on the singlet, which was the correct answer. As the starting gun went off, we headed out of Horseneck Beach reservation, I kept pace with Rich for a moment or two and then saw the back of his shirt disappear, so I’m guessing the shirt choice was the correct one for him as well.

The course itself is great – the whole area is just fantastic anyway, so I’m sure it would be hard to put together a crummy course – long stretches of old, country roads, stretches of beach roads, and the date on the calendar. They do a nice job with the after party as well: great food and drink. Just a great event.

In complete contrast to last year, everything seemed to be perfect. I got a great night sleep, ate reasonably well, hydration was on point, got to the beach early, and probably most importantly got a mile warm up in – I’ve been finding that my heart rate skyrockets for the first mile or so of any activity, so getting that warm up in has been really important. Since I felt good, I didn’t have that negative self that I battled the whole race last year. At mile 5, I actually said to myself, “Okay, only 8 more miles to go.”

Mile 6 was the first mile I had that was over an 8-minute pace – I don’t think I’ve ever run that far going that fast (fast for me that is), and only had 3 miles that were slower than 8-minutes: Mile 10 inexplicably was an 8:11 pace. I’m not sure what happened there, I don’t recall anything significant happening there, I must’ve just zoned out or something because 2 of the next 3 miles were among my fastest. It turns out Mile 6 was my slowest last year – it has the most ascent of the race at 56′ (it’s a super flat course)

Interesting comparison: my heart rate averaged 2 bpm faster last year. SO I was faster AND in better condition. Despite my apparent weight gain: last year I was about 180, and this year….not.

Here’s your author desperately trying to “hide the pain.”

I knew I was closing in on a personal record, so I was playing this mental game with myself about not stopping. I saw the sign for the 3-mile mark of the 3.5-mile race so I knew the finish was roughly a half mile away and kept telling myself that I have this, that I can get this done at 1:45, I just have to keep running for 4-more minutes. When you’ve been running for 100-minutes, what’s 4-more, right?

It turns out, it was the longest 4-minutes of my life, but in the end I pulled it off. From the beach walk at the end, the course turns right for the last 0.1 mile or so, and I saw a four people ahead of me, so I used the last bit of energy I had to snipe three of them, the fourth got me by a couple seconds.

A perfect ending to a perfect day. So as of this writing, my two fastest halfs have been my two most recent halfs, and since I’m not getting any younger, I’m pleased with this.

Results:

2019: Horseneck Half Marathon 1:43:32
2019: 42nd New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:45:58
2018: 41st New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
2017: Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
2018: Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon 1:54:11
2018: Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
2018: Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
2017: Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
2016: Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48
2018: Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32
2017: Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
2019: Wallum Lake Half Marathon (Trail):2:38:01.1