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

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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

2019 Race Recap #10: 7-Sisters Trail Race

I was already put on notice regarding just how difficult this race is when they start putting emergency numbers on the front and all my personal emergency information on the back. I’m pretty sure the only information missing was my Blue Cross member number and blood type. These people are not fooling around.

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.

Results

Place GUN

CHIP
PACEGENDERAGEAGE PLAGE GRP
3564:01:594:01:5920:09M4992M40 – 49

Full results

2019 Race Recap #7: Boston Marathon

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.

Team Mo in full effect

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.


RESULTS

PaceOfficial TimeOverallGenderAge Group
0:09:234:05:4717841107461940
Where’s the room again?

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

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