2020 Race Recap #1: Freezer Five

Another January 1, another Freezer Five. It’s the fourth one I’ve done now. Curiously, it wasn’t as warm nor as windy as last year; wasn’t as cold as it was in 2018. The course was in better shape despite the “winter weather event” we had the previous two days than it was in 2017. More people showed up than in 2018, fewer than last year, roughly equivalent to 2017 though fewer.

It’s the first time I’ve ever had the #1 bib – due only to the time of registration, not actual seeding or anything – but it was kind of fun. Of particular note to me because this will likely be my last race in the M40-49 Age Group. Not sure what to make of that.

White glove treatment!

In comparing my year over year, I see that last year I found I struggled between miles 2-3. This year it was at the end of 3-and into 4. Nice to know that my struggles are getting progressively further from the start. Depressingly enough, I was maybe 0.4 Miles from the finish when I stopped to check my heart rate – that hurt. You’ve just run 4.5 miles, the finish in sight and you can’t pull yourself together. Ouch. The big difference though, was my actual splits:

Mile20202019
17:087:45
27:407:59
37:558:39
48:058:08
57:567:49
Basically even when I struggled I still beat last year – except for Mile 5 and then only because there was that wild tailwind last year that pushed me uphill.

Last years pacing was so much more interesting, Miles 1 &5, 2&4 more or less matching up and then that dreadful mile 3. This year I clearly went out too fast – I perhaps would have last year as well, but for the headwind – but I wonder how well I’d have run if I could have had the same conditions as last year.

This was the 11th time I’ve run the course – 4 as a race, and 7 as recreation/workouts – and it was the fastest yet. I ran it in May and hit a 7:57 pace – a personal record for the course, and faster than my previous race times! So, doing this in less than 40-minutes in a race was a bit of a personal achievement. Despite my better time against the course, I actually finished slower against the field. I’ll chalk that up to the beautiful 50+ degree day last January 1 and more day of registrations.

I woke up today after a great night sleep, but still roughly 7 pounds heavier than I really want to be, so I’m pleased for the pace and the result. As always it’s a great way to start the new year, by going out and kicking some ass on January 1.

And we’re onto 2020! Happy new year!

Distance: 5 Miles

2020 Time: 39:16 | 7:51.2 /mi : Overall 52/215 | M 41/114 | M 40-49 19/37

2019 Time: 40:34 | 8:06.8 /mi : Overall 67/289 | M48/128 |M 40-49 13/34

2018 Time: 44:24 8:52 pace: Overall 76/157 | 58/91 | M 40-49 19/20

2017 Time: 43:04 8:36.8 pace: Overall 100/254 | 71/132 | M 40-49 22/28

Life Comes at You Fast: 2010's

Life comes at you fast.

My most difficult events in order of difficulty: North Face 50k, 7 Sister Trail, Boston Maratjon, Baystate Marathon and Joe English Challenge.

I remember a car accident I had in 1989. It was late spring/early summer: I remember that because this kid was going to his high school graduation. It was raining pretty good and it was mid-afternoon in Needham, Massachusetts. I was leaving my summer job to go to my regular part time gig in Franklin, Massachusetts, so it was rush hour. This kid and his mom driving her brand new Camry was trying to turn left across 5 lanes of rush hour traffic. I was in the left lane and the giant Ford Explorer on my right stopped to let them out from the side street as they made their attempt to cross traffic.

I could see the nose of the car moving into my lane and I stuffed my foot onto the brake as quickly as I could, but wound up driving my 1974 Chevy Nova directly into their left front fender. Hit it so hard that the hood buckled and pulled the other fender in.

I could replay that moment over and over again. Slowest 2 seconds of my life. And yet it happened so fast.

We often fail to see how things are developing, but see it all come together in slow motion. Just like that car accident.

Funny that accident should have happened 30 years ago, a few months before the dawn of the 1990’s. Bill Clinton, Nirvana, Windows 95. 2019 came at me fast, and yet I saw it in slow motion. Not unlike the decade itself.

I knew my work life was set to change, but didn’t know when or how. It came down to the wire, but I not only maintained employment continuity, I think I found myself an even better opportunity I never would have sought out had I not been pushed to it. It took me the entire six months I was given, as my former employer transitioned to become another company, but in the end the stress paid off. It comes with a fair amount of consequences and I wrestle with how long I can keep everything in balance. I’m eternally grateful to have been afforded the time to transition. I knew the change was coming, but not unlike that accident, it was slow to develop and when it hit, it did so with a crash.

That transitional change changed a lot in terms of my plans and expectations. It has caused quite a bit of disruption in my day to day. I have less free time so I have to make it all work. I see less of my running friends, but I make the effort to see them when I can. I’ve experienced this loss of community as an actual loss.

One of the direct consequences has been that I’ve actually done more running than I planned to. Because I leave for work so early in the morning to beat traffic, I get there so early that there’s no one actually there. So I can run. Coupled with the shower, it’s perfect. I can often get 7, 8,9, 10 miles in. It’s time I can use to get right in my head and be ready for my day.

My boy started High School. I’m so happy that he took the opportunity to take the path his dad did and go to parochial high school. I want for him the experience I had. Thusfar he seems to be flourishing, actually played football and is getting A’s. I couldn’t be any more proud of him.

My girl, she’s starting to thrive on her own. I hated to see her leave, because I knew she wasn’t coming back, but she’s building her life and I’m so happy for the time she was here under this roof. It’s funny, life isn’t unlike that car crash. All the little things you don’t notice eventually come together and hit you with impact. I could see it happening, i knew when she left this last time she was striking out on her own. I just wasn’t really ready for that. She’s got herself a career path job and finding her own way. It’s sad to look out and see your job as a parent has transitioned to a much different place than you were ready for.

I can’t believe 2019 is at an end. A decade is at it’s end. Back in 1977, Mrs. Flynn asked her first grade class what they thought the year 2000 would be like. At that moment, 2000 seemed so far away. I was expecting the final Star Wars installment to be released. My mind was blown that I would be 30 when that happened. As it happens, I was almost 50 when Episode IX happened. Hell, Episode I wasn’t released until 1999. (And if we’re being honest, it kinda sucked.)

At the end of 1989, I wanted to make a new start with the new decade, a decade in which I rightly figured I’d graduate college, get married and start a family. I did all those things, but not really according to plan. And in 1999, at the turn of the millenium, I was starting over.

We plan on getting married, buying a house and having a family, what we don’t plan for is that marriage not working out and keeping the rest of your family together. I am a lucky man. I was able to pull the pieces together, and have a vision for getting married, buying a house and growing my family.

At the end of 2009, I was mourning the loss of my dad, and realizing that at some point I’d grown into middle age, questioning so many things. The end of the last decade was really, really difficult. It also set into motion the relationships that helped define this decade, relationships spanning the globe and influencing my family for what I hope is years to come.

The last 10 years have been nothing if not transformative. Trial and tribulation at home. Delivering one child to adulthood, another on his way. Dispensing with bad habits, creating new good ones. I like to think that I’ve embraced mid-life and created the me that I wish I had the good sense to create back in 1989.

I’ve had two jobs in the last 10 years, and I’ve loved them both. How many people can say that? I’ve gone from being morbid obesity to…well, regular obesity but with the potential to run a half marathon in 1:43.

In the latter years of this decade I’ve probably run 200 races. It astounds me that I am that guy.

2019 has been the culmination of so much work. My fastest 3-half marathons were this year. I ran the Boston Marathon, something I never knew I wanted to do until I realized I did. I have an truly interesting and aspirational group of friends; people I can ask to do dumb things with me and they say…yes.

I am thankful that I’m going into 2020 healthy and happy. Something not everyone can say. My family is whole and strong, and thriving. And something I’ve not always been able to say, I actually have a strong social network of people I care about and who care about me. I’m forever thankful for that.

The 2020’s will see their challenges: I lost my uncle – my dad’s classmate – this year, and I’m sure this decade will see more of my childhood pass into memory. I’m hopeful, though, that there will continue to be more good than negative. I hope to see my boy graduate high school and go to college, perhaps marriage and a family for my daughter.

Overall, I’m going to look back at these last 10 years with a significant fondness. The people who have meant the most to me at the start of the decade, continue to mean the most to me. I’ve spent the decade adding to that cadre. That seems like a very, very good thing.

Have a wonderful and safe new year. Happy 2020. Bring it on.

2019 Race Recap #27: Mill Cities Relay

This was a bit of a change of pace for me. For a number of reasons, I wasn’t available to follow through with my original plan for this weekend, but sometimes – when you put yourself in the right position – things work out. This was one of those times.

27 miles. 5 legs. 2 states. Not sure about the river

Earlier this week, I just happened to find a Facebook message hanging in suspension because it came from someone with whom I’m not connected, so it didn’t show up flagged. It turns out it was sent a week or so previous asking me if I’d be interested in running a relay race.

Honestly, I thought my opportunity had passed but as it turned out it was still open – as it happens, all the fast people I know are all the same fast people other people know and they were all committed. Suffice to say, I was the fastest person still available – which is to say, my team was scraping the bottom of the barrel when picking me up off the bench.

So flipping cold, my beard froze

I don’t mind

Truly.

I’m a middle aged dude whose found running really late. I do okay, but I’m never ever going to be anyone’s speed demon. I just like that people think I can contribute. That’s all. And that’s what this was, but man…I thought I was competitive. Not so much.

The race is 27 +/- miles from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lawrence, Massachusetts, including some of the same course as the Bay State Marathon, I ran the first leg. 5.6 miles. Roughly 200′ of elevation gain. I haven’t been running well so I wasn’t sure I knew what to expect from this leg. Or any leg really. My running has been really labored and really slow; I’ve suspected it was a combination of a few things not the least of which were dehydration, sleep, and poor nutrition. Since I couldn’t really do much about the nutrition thing so soon, I decided to control what I could control. I got a good night sleep, eazed off the beer, hydrated appropriately, and ate well.

It was 5-degrees when the race started. at 8 AM That’s cold, for the uninitiated. That temperature probably helped me out, if I’m honest. I maintained a 8-minute pace for the leg – a pace I hadn’t kept in some time – and my heart rate was well under control too. I’m sure that the issue was my hydration because my average HR was substantially below what I had been doing, with shorter mileage and slower pace over the last week or so.

The swag isn’t so great, but the vibe was everything. Although what I take away from the logo is that 27 miles is greater than 5 legs which is greater than 2 states which is greater than 1 river. Which might be true in most cases, but what if that river is the Mississippi? Seems like a bit of an over generalization.

I felt generally pretty good, although I was cognizant that I was working hard, but I feel like that that was the external pressure of running a race versus a training run. I knew my leg was 5.7 miles or so, so when you’re less than 10-minutes into the race and figuring, “Oh, I have less than 5 miles to go..” it may be a long day.

For a guy my age, my heart rate was high – but not obscenely high – and I maintained a 7:56 min/mile pace for my leg. I’m pleased with that – even given that was one of the slower marks for my leg (and perhaps for the race, I’m not sure). This puts me at exactly 1947 miles for the year – 72 miles from my secret goal of 2019 miles; my stated goal of 1600-miles was surpassed back on October 7 with a 5.6 mile run. According to my spreadsheet I’m on pace for 2071 miles – over the last couple of months my averages have dipped; there was a point at which I was averaging close to 2100 miles.

My knee has been bothering me since the TARCkey Trot, so I’ve been easing up on that, but I really want to be sure I’m keeping my fitness level up. If 2019 has been the year of doing badass things, I want 2020 to be the year of doing an increasing number of badass things. Longer races, Longer training runs.

2019 has kicked ass.

Results

My team “Friends of Wormtown” finished 64/185. Definitely not last, in 3:17:23 Literally seconds slower than the Assembly Square Animals and the Bionic Women. I like to think I helped here.

2019 Race Recap #23: TARC Fall Classic 50k

This race was one of my first few ultras back in 2017. I did three that year: The TARC Spring Classic, the North Face Endurance Classic, and this one. And for the last two years, it was that race that remained my personal record. Now, the North Face is unlike the TARC races – where TARC is designed for experienced and beginner ultra runners, NF is designed to suck the life and spirit out of all.

In 2018, I only did the North Face and again, while faster than my first ill-fated effort, it wasn’t anywhere close to as fast as my Fall Classic time. They may both be 50k, but they’re as different as a sensible Toyota Corolla and a Tesla Model S with a death ray package.

This was my third 50k this year – unlike 2017, I’ve run 2 since NF. The East End Trail Race last month was an abomination. I finished just shy of 8-hours on a course that never should have taken me that long; not only was the course not technical, but to finish it 40-some-odd minutes faster than NF was just wrong.

Let he who hath understanding reckon the number of the kind-of-beast, for it is a human number. It’s number is six hundred and sixty…three.  Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.

My goal today was 6:00:00. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off – I know my usual trail race pace is somewhere around 14:00 – I’m decidedly not fast, but I thought I had a good shot. It was going to be generally cool for the majority of the morning. I got a good night sleep and was ready.

The course is a quick loop around a cornfield and then three loops around the Great Brook reservation trails. Things started sub-optimally when just before the race, my headlamp quit. Turns out, the batteries were corroded. *SIGH* A few miles into the race, I got stung by a bee (wasp more likely) on the big fleshy part of my calf. Then for giggles I fell. I ran reasonably well that loop, BUT I had a bit of a time bomb brewing and I needed to take care of it.

Fortunately for me, I was able to hold out until I got back to the start/finish area, where I was able to (just in time) avail myself of the porta-potty. So that took a few minutes (mostly the time was spent struggling to get my shorts back on) and then to get my hydration vest on.

While I very clearly lost a step on the second loop, nothing much happened of note…well, I got stung again, but at this point it didn’t really matter. The last loop was really difficult; I had to really push through some adversity – nothing race threatening, but just the overall experience. My knees really started to bother me when they never have before. Where normally it’s just exhaustion/fatigue getting the best of me, today it was my knees. No matter how hard I pushed, it was the knees. For the first time in ever, going up on the trail felt better than going down.

The course was super well marked, professionally timed. TARC does such a nice job with these races. Everyone brings something for the aid station, whomever marks the course takes great care – it’s obvious it’s a labor of love. And you can’t beat the entry fee – $25. They do a great job. If you’re into awards or swag, this isn’t your race, but if you like running trails and a challenge you’re in the right place.

So, 50k #7 – and third in four months (WOW! North Face was 4 months ago? Really??) and a PR by 40-minutes. I’ll take it.

Results

33/76 6:08:18.1

Previous 50k Results:

TARC Fall Classic, Carlisle MA 9/28/20196:08:18
TARC Fall Classic, Carlisle MA9/30/20176:48:39
TARC Spring Classic, Weston MA4/22/20176:56:46
East Side Trail Races 50k, Easton MA8/4/20197:51:45
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA6/8/20198:42:03
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA 6/9/20189:50:48
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA 6/10/201710:11:19

2019 Race Recap #22: Wicked Half Marathon

This wasn’t quite a last minute thing, but it hasn’t been on my radar very long. Choosing the “no swag” option, saved $10 off an already super reasonable entry fee, and needing a long run – and preferably a long race, as I’ve been running long solo and a few group runs, but without the competition to push me harder – it seemed like a good idea.

The course incorporates a lot (most?) of the Black Cat race course, so I was familiar with running it without having run this specific race previously. I was hopeful that I could hit a good time – after the Kelley Half last month, I really wanted to test the proposition that it really was the heat that day that doomed my race.

Now, bearing in mind low entry fees typically indicate spartan accommodations – and since this is the same race management company that does the Black Cat, I knew what to expect – I wasn’t disappointed: the starting line was a white spray painted line.

Today’s weather was expected to be warmer than seasonable, and it was: almost 60-degrees at 7 AM and well over 70 by the time I finished. Given this, I was concerned that I may not do as well as I had hoped.

Pretty cool medal too.

To the race: I started out entirely too fast, an utterly unsustainable pace, but for roughly the first half of the race, I kept a sub-8 minute pace going. I started thinking that I had a shot at besting – or at least coming close to – my Horseneck Half time earlier this year. And then…the hill I had forgotten about. Damnit. That slowed me down a bit, but not too much. From that point I got progressively slower and as I got slower, I got progressively more negative in my internal conversation. The old saw that you run the first half of the race with your legs and the second half with your head? Yeah.

By mile 13, I was really scuffing, but I knew it was close so I picked up the pace. That post 13 stretch (my watch clocked in at 13.3 – as a USTF certified course, I should have expected a longer than advertised distance) was among my fastest of the race. My official time: 1:48:23. Respectable, mid-8 pace, but given that my pace through half of it was sub-8, it really lets you know how much my pace fell off. Learnings? Well Horseneck was consistently about 7:40-8:00 pace. This was 7:11 to 9. Start a little slower, stay fast: my heart rate spiked too high and I had to slow down, had I maintained a slower pace I could have held onto it longer. All things I already knew, but sometimes have to be reminded of. Also, I need to do more hill work; running around Cambridge, MA has shown me that I can maintain pace, but I am missing the hills of Worcester.

I love this area and the course is great: down through downtown Salem, along the harbor in Marblehead, around Ocean Boulevard and back. Salem is awesome. Marblehead is beautiful. I really did like the race. I was disappointed that I didn’t do better, but heartened to find it was a personal top 3 finish. In fact, really pleased that my Top 3 Fastest Halfs, have all been this year. #OlderAndBetter

Finish!

Results:

127/607, M40-49: 17/52, Chip: 1:48:18.7 Gun: 1:48:23

Previous Results:

2019: Horseneck Half Marathon 1:43:32
2019: 42nd New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:45:58
2019: 13th Wicked Half Marathon 1:48:23
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 #18: Boston Spartan Super

It seems I say this with every recap of late. Race day was not my day. I sucked. It was horrible and I hated every minute of it. Last week I ran a half marathon and then a 50k the next day. On both I wrote more than a few excuses. For this race, there was no excuse. I sucked.

I ran terribly. I failed almost every obstacle there was to fail. I actually accepted a leg up on one obstacle (“The Box”) that I’d never seen before. I’ve run probably 15 Spartan races and there was stuff I’d never seem – this is generally a good thing – but it told me that I’d not done what I needed to do.

I signed up for the 10 AM heat because it was advertised as a SGX Coached Heat. I knew I wasn’t going to “race” it, for years now I’ve been dealing with a rotator cuff injury and rather than getting it surgically repaired, I’ve been taking a wait and see approach – I mean, in my day to day life, I do just find without having had my rotator cuff repaired. In a fine example of “how to show your customers you really don’t care,” there was no SGX coach. The MC was desperately calling for someone, but there wasn’t anyone on site. No one. They didn’t care enough to have someone there. That pissed me off and started my day on the wrong note. (as an aside, as of this writing, Spartan has not responded to my comments above on the Facebook event page).

Not that having a coach would have substantially helped my race, but honestly I was really hoping for the coaching and Spartan couldn’t have cared less – they didn’t have a coach on site. Unforgivable in my opinion. An epic fail.

I’m not a fan of the facility. It’s a motocross track and while there’s a lot of wooded area, the RD basically takes the track and uses tape to direct traffic. There is plenty of opportunity for the motivated cheat to cut the course. If you’re charging $150 to run a race, you need to do do better. I paid $50 on a coupon I got because I ran the Super last year so perhaps I shouldn’t be so pissed off. And yet, here we are.

My running hasn’t looked very good lately, and I’m sure it has to do with my recent job change – my commuting time having exponentially increased – but I also know I haven’t done the upper body work I should. This race was such a train wreck that I don’t even want to talk about it. I failed so many obstacles that I should have conquered I’m actually embarrassed.

Another day perhaps, but my shoulder is still not right – it may never be right and I should probably take that lesson. I know I said last year that I was probably done with OCRs, but did want to give this one a shot. With this in the rearview, I am pretty sure I’m done except for the one off Sprints.

Results

2:42:08

Ranking

OVERALL 1364/ 4542

MALE 1137/ 2896

M 45-49 97/ 263

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