2019 Race Recap #4: Black Cat 20-Miler

blackcatmiler

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.

Results

2:57:43.6  8:54/pace
117/241
19/29 M40-49
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2019 Race Recap #3: Stu’s 30k

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.

Results 2:43:53

Overall: 81/221

M 40-49: 24/38 M: 63/116

Last year

Results 2:52:05

Overall: 170/319
M:  115/170
M 40-49: 35/47

2019 Race Recap #2: CMS 52-Week 5k #6

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.

Clockwise (last 5):

February 9, 2019: 25:44 Cold, windy 22-degrees
July 28, 2018: 24:57. Humid, 76. Disgusting swamp weather.
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.

2018

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.

2018 Race Recap #49: Worcester Jingle 5k

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.

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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.

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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.

RESULTS

2018 Race Recap #47: Marine Corps Marathon

I’m actually not entirely sure where to begin with this recap. This was an emotional event by design and a personally important event. This affected me on several levels. Let me start with how I came to this point, what I decided to do with this, the results of the work I’ve put into it, and finally the meaning behind the race itself.

Earlier this year, I learned that the Marine Corps Marathon was accepting lottery entries and just like the way I’ve managed the rest of my life, I entered the lottery because it didn’t require any sort of real commitment: if I were accepted via the lottery, I could choose to register or not, unlike, Say, the Chicago or New York Marathons where in order to enter the lottery you have to cough up your credit card that will be charged if you are accepted to enter via the lottery. I remember I sent my registration fee to my undergraduate college because it was refundable vs. the more prestigious school that had a non-refundable deposit.  When you’re making $3.60/hr, $100 means a lot…I guess.

At any rate, I entered the lottery on the last day I could. Within a few days I was notified I was accepted for entry and that I had only a few days to register…which I did on the last day. Now that I’d committed,  I wasn’t quite sure what I should do with it.

Now that I’d committed money to my race, I needed a reason to do this. I actually hadn’t anticipated getting into the lottery, although the lottery is apparently not as lucky as one may expect.

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Finished!

Given the Marine Corps Marathon IS hosted by the Marines, and is an exposition of not only the organizational prowess of the Marines, but also the expression of gratitude for the fallen, this is something much more than any other race in which I’ve participated.  This is a city built on the expression of history. I’m proud of the fact that I ran this to raise funds for modern Veterans facing the problems of modern life.

I met a woman on the shuttle over to the runner’s festival from Crystal City. We discussed the weather – a generally innocuous topic when speaking with strangers – she felt very cold while I thought it was perfect running weather, perhaps even balmy. It turns out she was from Barbados, which would explain our differing sense of the same experience. It further turns out she was exactly the person I should meet heading to the race: a professional motivational speaker and life coach, she had me ready to run through a brick wall by the time we were off that bus.  I appreciated her friendship for the 15 minutes or so that our lives intersected, because she really did help me see this for what it was: living my best life and giving back.  Thank you for that Joya.

Now, my goal for my first marathon was 4-hours. I’m never going to time qualify for the Boston Marathon, unless I can maintain my pace for the next, say, 30-years, but I am interested in maintaining a respectable pace.  So the 4 hour mark was kind of important to me for reasons. End of day, for the Marine Corps Marathon, I ran 4:03:17. A little disappointing – I got a very nasty cramp between miles 24 and 25 that effectively derailed my 4-hour attempt – but overall reasonably respectable.  According to one site, in the 2011-2012 marathon season the average time for any person, regardless of gender or age, was 4 hours, 24 minutes and 0 seconds; the median finish time for men was 4:17:43.  I’m sure there’s some variation from 2012 to today, but it seems like a reasonable number that shouldn’t vary too too much.

The first couple of miles are up hill, not unlike the hills I run in and around Worcester, so while I was used to it, I wasn’t feeling it early on. I was stiff and just didn’t feel up to it, at one point asking myself if I was going to be able to finish. After that first hill though, the payoff was the downhill for a couple of miles, which had me feeling much better about things, and from there until the finish line it was reasonably flat.  I was on cruise control for more or less the majority of the race.  There were a few places where I was running out of gas – more than I care to admit, frankly – but I was still on pace for that 4-hour mark.  I was actually pacing with the 3:45 runners for a while, but clearly by mile 22 I was running on fumes. and it was clear 3:45 was not going to happen for me.  The finish is uphill toward the Iwo Jima memorial, and curiously enough I had enough in the tank to run up and past several others because of the hills around home – thank you quads!

Marathon Statistics Data
Percent of the U.S. population that has run a marathon 0.5 %
Record time for the fastest marathon ever run 2:01:39 hours
Total number of U.S. marathons held annually 570
Total number of people who finished a marathon annually 581,811
Data from statisticbrain.com

Now, this was an amazing race and I’m glad I took the opportunity to run it. I loved the crowd support, and seeing folks lining the streets. My own family was along the course to root me on, and the energy was palpable. Running 26+ miles is hard, but running with others is certainly motivational.

Before I left Washington, I made it a point to visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Of the times I’d been to Washington, I’d somehow never been able to get into the cemetery: it was either closed or my schedule didn’t permit it.  This time though, it was important to me to be sure to visit: for perspective, to remember, and maybe most importantly to be sure I gave back just a little more.  I was moved by the race’s “Blue Mile,” I was there raising money for veterans in need; I needed to show respect for those who have come before me and who have given their lives. I needed to give something to them too. It’s an amazing place, and I was humbled being there. Godspeed, soldiers.

Results

RACE TIME: 04:03:17

OVERALL PLACE: 3744 of 27640

DIVISION RANK: 3696 of 21158

Leave Me a Message at the Tone

I found a “bonus” episode of a podcast I listen to occasionally in my feed. It’s about the power of the human voice and discusses, in part, the physiological effects of hearing the voice of a loved one on the body.

Nothing new or earthshaking there, but then it was revealed one of the speakers had acquired a new phone and lost the only message he had from his now deceased mother.

Hearing the voice of a loved one has the same chemical affect on your body as hugging that person. Hugging releases oxytocin and generally relaxes.  According to a 2016 article in US News: The hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.  Just hearing her voice was treated by his brain the same way as a hug, with all those positive benefits, and now, he’d never have that again.

In 2011, I got at first iPhone as an upgrade from my top of the line Motorola Q – the best technology 2005 could offer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I too would lose the only recording I had of my dads voice.

For the previous 3 years, I had replayed that voice mail often. Just calling to check in, “I love you…” just thinking about hearing that makes me happy. In the time since he passed on, the sadness I would feel has become far less pointed. But man I wish I still had that recording. There are times I could really use that rush of neurotransmitters like the ones awash in your brain when you get a hug. Those times where I can sit and reflect and wish I could ask Dad for his advice.

I remember being incredibly upset about losing that recording. It was an obvious sense of loss, but I never really thought about it in quite the way the biology was presented today. A hug. I was missing the hug from my dad.

This year was the 10-year anniversary of his passing; the passage of that amount of time remains unfathomable to me and I could’ve really used that connection both on the anniversary and at a myriad of other times in the last 7-years or so.

I now know that others have had the same experience and suffered the same loss and I now know that there’s a real, biological effect of hearing that voice. It’s somewhat humbling in that having that recording in the first place was a relatively new phenomenon in human history: I’m sure he would have loved a recording of his father, but alas all we had were photographs.  So in the end, I’ll choose to be happy for having that extra time with his tired, fading voice.