This isn’t a 10-miler. Not a half marathon. Something in between. But it’s definitely among the most difficult things I’ve done. Somewhere between 11 and 12 miles, the official website says the elevation is “over 3500′” (I got about 4700 on my watch in just over 11 miles). It’s highly technical single track trails on an out-and-back course, which means then that there are some interesting intersections when the fast guys are coming back.
I had it in my head that it would be similar to the “Vulcan’s Fury” trail race in Pawtuckaway NH. That’s roughly the same distance over slightly less technical trails, but upon reflection when I did that race in 2017, I clocked in a little over 1800′ of gain. Sooo, like not like this race at all, basically.
Before the races last weekend, I hadn’t run a trail in quite some time, so one can easily imagine what was going through on that first mile when I realized just how out of my depth I really was. Combined with the rain over the last couple of weeks, this was something else.
To give some context as to just how out of my league I was, over the last 3-miles or so of the race, I was going back and forth with this guy who had started after me (his bib was in the 400’s and the waves went out numerically) who was wearing what looked not wholly dissimilar from a track suit and street running sneakers. Let that sink in: highly technical, glacial-rock and exceedly thick, muddy trails and this cat is rocking a pair of Under Armours for street running….and we’re competing for time. So, yeah, it wasn’t my best performance. For a really good description of the race, here’s an entry from RunnersWorld that helps you get a feel for it (and perhaps some of the psychos who run it).
On a clear day, the views would be amazing: across western mass, likely into New York, Vermont and Connecticut. Sadly though, with the low hanging clouds still stubbornly hanging around (there was a light rain earlier in the day, with the weather hanging around at least into Sunday) the only thing to see was the gray.
My friend Jen also ran the race and didn’t die. Here we are celebrating not having died.
It has taken me all week to gather my thoughts for this race. I admit, I was excited about running, but I didn’t expect the sheer emotion of the finish. It was a hard race – it was 26.2 miles after all – but it was the finish that I didn’t expect.
Having alternately grown up near/not-far-from the later stages of the course, and having spent some formative years in and around the earlier stages of the course, this was seeing the area in a much different way. Various memories came back to me along the course. This is an experience I will not soon forget.
First, this is a story of “home field advantage.” Since the marathon is a point-to-point event, most runners start in Boston and take the BAA buses to Hopkinton. This means you’re staying in the city (very expensive!) and you have few amenities with you at the race. You can bring their clear plastic bag to the runner village, but that’s it. My running club, on the other hand, charters a bus to the runner’s village in Hopkinton, gets two hotel rooms in Boston, and charters the bus from Boston back home. While you’re awaiting your start, you can stay on the bus (and out of the elements), use the on board bathroom, etc. You can also have access to your stuff. So as we were walking to the starting corrals, all dressed for our races, everyone who had come in from Boston were walking around in shoes covered with plastic bags, slogging through the mud to get to the porta-potties, shedding unwanted layers into “donation” piles. It had stopped raining while we were en route to the start, so by the time we were walking to the starting line, we were dry and comfortable. Others? Not so much.
A few weeks previous, we took part in the BAA’s final organized rehearsal run for the race – “HOP21” – where we ran from the starting line in Hopkinton to Boston College, the first 21 miles of the race. It was a pleasant day and I hit a very comfortable stride. I was confident that I could get this race done in less than 4-hours. Perhaps even 3:45 if the stars aligned.
The stars did not align.
At the start it was roughly 45-50 degrees and overcast. Actually, quite perfect marathon running weather. I felt good and comfortable, in no small measure due to the above treatment I’m sure. By the time I hit Framingham though, the clouds were beginning to part and the sun was coming out. By Natick, it was full on sunny and beautiful – an otherwise gorgeous day – but for a runner in a marathon, it was draining. Oh, and I had to poop something awful.
For the majority of the course from that point, it was glorious and I was happy I went with the choice of shorts and running singlet. It was the first time in months that I had run in something so minimal, and it was glorious. I’m fast enough that I can be reasonably competitive, but not so fast that I can’t appreciate my surroundings to some degree, so I saw some friends near the start, and some others a little further down, high-fived some kids along the course.
HELPFUL HIT, NEWS PHOTOGS: Don’t take those happy reunion pics by setting up on the course, or you will likely get knocked over. Sorry dude, it’s a race I paid quite a bit to run and your picture is not my priority.
The scream tunnel at Wellesley College was not anything I expected at all. That’s not wholly true, I mean I’ve seen the course videos and read enough to know what was there, but experiencing the enthusiasm was just next level. That was great fun.
As I got to the half-marathon point, I knew my family would be coming up soon. They were going to be at about mile 17, somewhere near Route 9 and I-95. I was really starting to struggle a bit, but no sooner had I found that I was slowing down, I looked at my watch to see I was coming up to mile 16 so I would be seeing them soon. When I looked up, I saw a poster sized picture of myself being held up. They were a lot closer than I anticipated and it was exactly what I needed when I needed it. Running club friends, work, school friends and my family. As I ran by, I was able to high five everyone. Almost a week later, writing this, I’m still welling up in tears. This display of support meant the world to me and is something I will take to my grave as one of the most meaningful gestures of my life.
A little further down the street at the I-95 overpass, as that high started to wane, I ran into some childhood friends who called out some (unusually) supportive words and that lifted me for a little down past the country club and hospital. From there it became an exercise in endurance and willpower.
Now, for the better part of 10-miles, I really needed a bio-break. At every opportunity, I looked for porta-potties. For 10-miles each bank of them had a line of some size, and as long as I felt like I could keep it together I wasn’t going to wait in a line – I’m running a race after all. As I got to the fire station in Newton, not far from the start of heartbreak hill, I saw my opportunity. There were a bunch of them, and vacant! I ran over, opened the door and…. yeah, whomever was there previously had not only peed all over the seat, but left a nice little…..well, I’d say nugget, but it wasn’t that solid. Thanks ace.
So I did my obligatory cleaning, and took care of my business, but I couldn’t get everything back into the compression shorts quite the same way. It was going to be another 7-miles or so getting chaffed and otherwise flopping around. Much better than the alternative I submit. I did lose a couple of minutes with that break, but I have to say I rationalize it by assuming had I let it go, I wouldn’t have finished.
By heartbreak hill, I was scuffing. Some guy was handing out Bud Lights, so I took one, drank some for calories, poured a bunch over my head and chucked it. I already knew my time goal was toast so may as well have some fun.
Long about mile 23, the clouds started to come together and it got much cooler. The wind picked up and it was not unpleasant. Had I not just run 20-someodd miles, I’m sure I would have been cold, but since I had it was perfect and refreshing. That said, it really didn’t help me pick up the pace, but it did keep it from getting worse. There were portions of the next 3 miles that I just could not run at all, I just had to walk. Sometimes I look at these moments as gut checks, and I can will myself to get back at it. This was not one of those times.
Mile 25. ALMOST THERE. Annnnd the sky opens up. Of course. I was struggling with pace. I knew I was near the end, I could see the blue line painted on the street indicating the final mile, but I just could not will myself to move. I made the turn onto Herreford and then the final turn onto Boylston, and could see the finish line and yet I could not run. I could not will myself to move any faster than the shuffle at which I was moving.
And then…and then I saw that familiar poster board from Mile 16-ish. My old friend and his daughter were at the finish for me. I moved as fast as I could over to them, hugged him, and he gave me a t-shirt. I’ll never forget this as long as I live, he then said “Now, go finish your race.”
I took off as fast as I could, looked at the shirt – it says “I’m Not Dead Yet” – and headed for the finish. As I crossed the line, I held the shirt over my head. I am not dead yet. Didn’t die. Didn’t finish last.
This is actually two separate races: the 10-miler and the 20-miler. The 20 is just a second lap of the 5-mile out and 5-mile back course in Salem and Marblehead, MA. I love the area, a relatively ancient area of the country, home of the Salem witch trials and the birthplace of the US Navy. Curiously enough, modern-day Danvers is actually where the witch trials happened and Beverly claims the mantle of birthplace of the US Navy as well. So, there it is.
This years’ course went through downtown Salem, past the State University, into Marblehead, a non-descript turnaround and back into Salem, past the Custom House and the House of the Seven Gables, back to the Hawthorne Hotel. The Marblehead police had concerns around snow removal on the original course and redirected the route from the turnaround at the waterfront.
It’s a great area, and I’m sure it’s challenging to keep some order along the course, given the ancient roads and reliance on volunteers, but honestly I found the course somewhat sloppy: it wasn’t quite clear, for instance, on what side of the (main) road the course should be run – causing several points at which traffic had to be crossed. Its usually a cold(ish) time of year for such a race, yesterday’s weather was on the warmer side, but there were plenty of waterstops. Perhaps it would have been helpful for more course marshals and fewer water stops – I don’t know, I’m not a race director so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt.
The race is inexpensive and the course is nice, the finish line party back at the hotel was definitely what was called for – some nice carbs, and soups. Low key, and on point.
I needed a long run this weekend and it probably wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t race, so this was (as their website advertises) at the perfect time for anyone training for Boston.
My pacing was on point for the first 15-miles or so at roughly 8:15/mile, 15-16-17 somewhat slower at 9:30 or so, and the last mile was my worst – I was just gassed. This was much more about training and much less about training, so it was helpful to see how my experience last week at Stu’s translated here. I still have a lot to work on: leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon last year, I was running faster, racing more and was, frankly, lighter (I seem to have gained 8-pounds) so I have some course corrections to make in the next month.
Man. March 3 and only on race #3. When I ran this race last year, it was race 10. That said, I have bigger goals this year: more miles, not necessarily more races. In about a month, I’m running what I believe to be a once-in-a-lifetime race for me: The Boston Marathon. So, I’m training and training doesn’t really entail running a bunch of races – although it does entail running some 🙂
This is one of them.
This was the 40th running of the Stu’s 30k. It’s 18.6 miles around the Wachusett Reservoir in Clinton, West Boylston and Boylston, Massachusetts. My watch registered up over 1000′ of elevation gain, but I’m going to note here that my watch isn’t always the most reliable reader of gain. The mapmyrun course outline has the gain at roughly 400′, but I don’t think that’s accurate either – the Strava feed of my connections who ran the race are all roughly at about the same gain: between 980′ on the low end and roughly 1100 on the high end. Suffice to say it is not only a hefty distance, but it’s not an easy course either. For the Marine Corps Marathon, I registered 755′ of gain..over 8 more miles. Boston racks up roughly the same, with an overall loss. Suffice to say, it’s a difficult course. As an aside, here’s a page with some great elevation maps, if you’re so inclined.
As I read the entry from last year, some themes continue:
I was generally keeping my pace pretty well through about mile 9, when I began to get markedly slower. At mile 17, I got markedly slower still. Mile 18 and beyond was my slowest stretch, a good portion of which was uphill and with my poorly planned training it’s not at all surprising. What was surprising was about 0.4 miles from the end, I got hammered with a cramp in my calf. Down I went. Then my gut. It took a bit to get back up and moving.
There was never a point when I was feeling good or comfortable, it seemed like it was a personal struggle from mile 4 on.
2018 Race Recap #10: Stu’s 30k
Funny reading this. I felt really comfortable right up to the half marathon point – maintaining a pace that would have been one of my better half marathons at roughly 1:50:00 – and really only started to get markedly slower at mile 15, and 18…well, 18 is just hell anyway, but I got through it. And about 9-minutes faster than last year. No cramps, no fuss. No 14 mile personal struggle. It was actually a good race – could have been better with more attention paid to hill work, something I will commit more time toward going forward.
Wow. Not a whole lot to be happy about today. I mean, I actually got out and raced, which was something I haven’t done in a while — the last time I was this late racing a second race of the year was in 2016 when I was doing my 46 races for 46 years campaign.
Now, I’ve had the great fortune to be selected for a time waived bib for the Boston Marathon, so I’ve been doing my best to train for that without worrying too much about racing, but while the long runs are good I know racing helps me push myself.
Today was NOT good. I got up early and ran 6.5-miles with a group from my club – that 8:50 pace felt like I was pushing so I know I have a lot to recover. It was another 90 minutes or so before the 5k, so I’m sure my body went into recovery mode, but good gracious my race was tortured.
I finished at 25:44 – the slowest I’ve run that course in no less than 18-months and among the slowest times in two years. I could write it off because I’d run earlier, but that’s just excuses. I need to spend more time focusing on the speed work, which I just haven’t done.
It was a spur of the moment thing, so there’s not a lot of detail to give here; I’ve run this course more than any other, I know it well, I just didn’t perform.
What an amazing year. Over the years I’ve learned 365 days is a long time, plenty of room for things to go badly, unexpected obstacles to get in your way, unplanned deviations to change your course. So many opportunities for a few weeks, or even just one event, to color the entirety of the year. This was not that year.
In the span of a few weeks, we went from celebrating my parents in law’s 50th wedding anniversary with two vibrant people to wondering if we would be planning funerals to watching them both bounce back. My mother in law was in the hospital for weeks with an unknown ailment…My father in law went from having a benign tumor to having cancer and a full round of chemotherapy…doubled up so he could go on vacation at the same time. He now is as in better health 2 months later than men 20-25 years his junior. An emotional roller coaster ride if ever there was one. The man is amazing.
My long time neighbor, in failing health for sometime, passed away, leaving her husband of almost 70 years alone for the first time. Watching him handle his sorrow and find himself through it has given me a measure of strength that despite loss – deeply felt loss – the human instinct is to continue on, push forward, be robust and to live, to conquer, to succeed.
We had the good fortune to host close family friends from France at our home for several weeks…and we have the good fortune to have as neighbors good friends who helped support our international efforts. Such an amazing harvest springing from good will. I’m truly fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life.
In November the sale of my employer was announced and in December it was completed. I honestly don’t know what the ramifications will be. In a year where we made more, gave more away, enjoyed more time off than we ever have, this was not how the year was supposed to end. Just another circumstance to be understood. Processed. Handled. Meanwhile, we’ve saved money, paid down loans significantly.
With the challenges though were the highpoints. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit England to see dear people we consider our family by choice, and to visit several Caribbean countries over the course of a week and a half cruise with my family. My son got the experience I never did and for that I’m forever grateful. He’ll have memories for a lifetime, and experiences that will make him a much more interesting person. A young man of 13, he’s already been to more than 10 countries (Canada, Mexico, UK, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica…) For myself, I had the opportunity to travel to Florida for a half-marathon, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for Spartan races, and Washington for a marathon.
We saw our football team lose a Super Bowl and a chance at a second back-to-back Championship season. We saw our baseball team rise to the level of “All Time Great” teams with a 4th World Series in the last 14 years….after going 86-years without one.
My fitness goal was to run 1500 miles, 4.1 miles every day for 365 days. As of now I’m at 1637, for a daily average of 4.5 miles. I promised myself I would push my limits, and I think I have. Of my Top 5 5k times, 4 were done this year with a 5th off by seconds. I ran a flipping marathon – I didn’t see that coming last December. I ran 3 ultras this year. 49 races all together – maybe one more tomorrow to end the year as it has the last two, with the last race being the CMS Weekly 5k. If I do that, that would be twenty two 5ks on the year of 50 races.
Funny thing though, by far my most common daily mileage (the mode for you numbers types) was 0. Zilch. Nothing. 94 times this year – better than 25% of the time actually – I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to get a run in. I think about those days and conclude that had I done just 1 mile in those days, just one, I’d be within shooting distance of 1750 and had I accomplished 4.1 every day, I’d be up over 2000. Which is a logical fallacy – you just don’t run the day after running a 40-mile ultra – but I know I could have done better for myself.
If I take those “0” days out of my daily average – making it an average of the miles I ran on the days I did run vs. yearly daily average – it comes out to something closer to 6.5 miles. My second highest daily running total? 3 miles at 28-times, 3.1 at 20-times. My target of 4.1? I did that 19 times this year: further proof that one descriptive statistic doesn’t give you enough information at all. My college Psych Research Methods professor would be proud that I’ve retained that.
I ran races with my kids from 5ks to Spartans to a Marathon relay. I met some amazing people who were in the process of crushing their goals.
On Sunday, December 30, I’m running the last of 3 10-mile legs with a friend striving to hit 2000 miles on the year – accomplished with a day 364 50k in an all-or-nothing gambit to complete an ultra-marathon AND hit 2000 miles. He’s amazing.
I met and was inspired by a marine master sergeant with an insane fitness schedule, became friends with a stage 4 cancer survivor – the man running for 2000 miles above – and supported friends through divorce and the passing of parents. TIme can pass so quickly that it becomes so easy to lose the forest for the trees. 2018 has been an amazing year, one that I wish were more common: more up than down, more good than bad, more positive than negative. The year hasn’t been uniformly positive, but it has been incrementally more positive than negative. The most important thing I’m taking with me from my experience this year is the realization that it is the people in your life that are the most important factor in how successful you will be: how much support do you have, how much support do you give, who can you rely on and who can rely on you?
I hope for you, dear reader, that your 2018 was as positive as mine. If not, then I hope the coming 2019 will be the year you should have.
Wow am I late in getting this written. You’d think I’d be more into it than to let it linger for almost two weeks. Fact is this was a top 5 5k for me. When I think about: 1) it was the second race in two months that I’d run; 2) Before the start of this year it would have been a PR; 3) I really hadn’t run very much since the marathon and definitely since coming home from vacation.
Now the marathon messed me up in a few ways. First I was in great shape when I went into it and after I just didn’t feel like running. At all. Certainly not competitively. I missed my time goal by about 3 minutes and that upset me as well. Regardless, I didn’t run very far or for very long in the aftermath.
It turns out, though, that my short distance times remain on point. The day before this race, I ran the CMS 52-Week 5K course to a course PR. I wasn’t racing, just running, but I felt good about it – especially since I’d packed on so much weight on vacation and hadn’t figured out a way to lose it.
At any rate, I thought this might be the race to PR my official PR. As it turns out, the race director realized the traditional course was something less than 5k and extended it…just…that..much. AS I came around mile 2.7, I was convinced I had maybe .2 mile to go…but alas not so much. I ran hard — sub 7-minute mile on my first mile — but that came back to haunt me as I was huffing wind by 2.5. While I didn’t PR for the race, I had a really respectable showing given a former Olympian showed out up out of nowhere — he wasn’t paid to appear or anything (I have it on good word). he just registered like anyone else. It’s pretty good when the winner posts a 14-minute finish and you still finish within the top say 63 of almost 700.
The weather was perfect. The race was well run and I didn’t die or finish last. Very clearly the Old man 40-49 age bracket is something of considerable note.