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 #11: Boston Spartan Sprint

Sometimes, I’m just way more motivated to recap a race than others. This is one of those times. So, it’s taken me a week to put this together. Real life is starting to get in the way of this stuff: this time it was Mothers’ Day, and then during the week other activities more demanding of attention.

This is the second time I’ve run the race with my kids – we ran the same race, the same weekend last year. This year, the oldest brought her boyfriend, I’m not sure if that was his or her attempt to ingratiate me, but I do appreciate the initiative and really, he ran a great race.

Last year the venue was the Scout Camp in Rutland, MA. This year it was at some moto-cross course in Charlton MA. Since it had been raining for a good portion of the week, someone at Spartan made the determination that a change of parking venue was in order, and thus it was decided to have racers park in Rutland – roughly a 30-minute drive from the lot to the venue. This was decidedly sub-optimal for the Mo’s as we live equi-distant to both venues: no reason to drive 30-minutes to Rutland to take a bus 30-minutes to Rutland and 30-minutes back, when we could drive 30-minutes to Charlton and take our chances.

As it turned out, mid-way through the morning, an official announcement was posted on the race Facebook page that the lot in Rutland was full, and for the rest of the weekend parking would be at the venue in Charlton. Just really messed up logistics: according to the page, they called some 22 different parking lots (again, ostensibly because the original and apparently final lot was unusable), contracted a slew of school buses, brought a bunch of people out of the way and likely inconvenienced a good number of folks who didn’t check the FB page when they were ultimately going to park in Charlton. Dumb. And a complete fail.

I didn’t much like the venue, at least for a Spartan race. Because it’s a moto-cross, there are bike trails, paved areas, and the like where the Rutland Scout Reservation and the Carter & Stevens Farm, both previous Boston Spartan venues, at least feel a little more rural in feel. I like the Spartan brand because they tend to avoid these moto-cross venues: Terrain Race, Rugged Maniac and lower-market brands use these venues, so it feels like Spartan is in a cost reduction mode with this place.

Probably my all time favorite fire jump pic.

This was my first obstacle course race of the year – my shoulder was really giving it to me by the last race last year, so I deliberately laid off the OCR and concentrated more on street running. My shoulder was sore by the end of the day, but it was fine the next day as I avoided any jarring yanks on it (which did mess with my performance, I’m sure of it).

I’d forgotten the difference in degree of difficulty between the Sprint and the Super – I’m really looking forward to the challenge of the Boston Super in August now, even though it’s in the same venue.

RESULTS
TIME (CHIP) FULL COURSE 1:30:48
RankingOVERALL 2034/ 4521
MALE 1489/ 2696
M45-49 171/ 278

Of specific note, we all finished in sequential order, which makes my heart happy.

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 #9: Blue Hills Trail Races Fox Trot 10-Miler

Cameron: “I’m dying.”
Ferris: “You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.

My favorite descriptor for a negative situation is “Dumpster Fire.” I laugh every time, it’s just such a funny mental image comparing an event or happening to a flaming container of trash. Urban Dictionary contributor Guitarist1234 nails why I start this recap thus:

I knew upon registering it wasn’t going to be a stellar performance, given the race the day before was also going to be of some distance, but after having run that race, I knew how badly out of trail condition I was. I’ve never been a particularly good trail runner, but I’m at least generally competent, and that day I was marginally competent.

Sometime later, I knew it was going to be something substantially below “not a stellar performance” when I realized that I was also going to the “Awesome 80’s Prom” the evening before. So to recap: Trail Half Marathon, 80’s themed night out, 10-mile trail race.

The question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do.”

So at the appointed time Sunday morning, I met my friends at the registration table, and picked up my bib. I had paid $12, I was going to run this race (despite having protested the evening before that I had only paid $12 so it’s not like I HAD to run this race…) I was moving on approximately 4-hours sleep, a can of Monster, and certainly had a head a little larger than usual with a decidedly greenish-hue to my complexion. Dumpster fire.

This course was shorter than the advertised 10-miles. My watch clocked in at roughly, but I have some questions about the watch’s trail accuracy there. Other folks seemed to come in at somewhere between 9.4 and 9.5. The half marathon the day before came in at 13.9, where others’ came in at about 13.4 so I know something’s hinky with the calibration there. BUT what I do know is that it is calibrated with itself, so I feel confident saying that on Saturday there was roughly 1200′ of elevation and Sunday – on a shorter course – there was about 1425′. My point here is that I felt like this was a harder course and it would seem to be backed up by that, despite my having spent the majority of this post discussing why I was such a… dumpster fire.

The race director was clear that this was the wettest he’d ever seen the course. Fantastic. And I can tell you for sure, it was wet. Muddy, at points it was almost a river race. It started on a car road heading up, and my friend Tom who had just said that he wasn’t in condition to race for 10-miles, took off like he had been shot out of a cannon as soon as the horn sounded. So I knew I was clearly out of my element.

I started off “okay” enough, but the wheels came off pretty quickly. My first couple of miles were respectable enough, but by mile 3 the wheels were completely off between my lack of proper preparation, and increasing elevation gain I was toast. From there, I varied between sub-optimal and poor performance wise. I did finally catch up with my friend Jen to come in ahead of her by about 30-seconds, but that was only because of a net elevation loss on that stretch.

For what it’s worth, Tom finished roughly a half hour ahead of me. Meaning he ran a trail race 10-miler with 1400′ of gain at slightly slower pace than my best 10-mile road races.


Results

90/112 1:58:08

2019 Race Recap 8: Wallum Lake Half

I hadn’t really run a trail since September of last year. I’ve messed around on the trails near Mt. Wachusett with my friend Tom a couple of times, knowing that I’ve registered for the North Face Challenge again (not bad for a race I’ve said twice now that I would never do again), but nothing to the point that I should have to just jump in.

Winter is a tough time to run trails in New England if you don’t like snow (Tom does, so he does run trails then…then again, he likes running generally and trail running in specific so there’s that too), and my focus since January has been training for my last race. So, this was going to be a fairly significant kick in the pants anyway, but honestly I was unprepared for just how much it did kick me there.

I honestly think it was more a mental challenge than physical, but I was clearly not where I needed to be. It was about 1200′ of elevation gain, but it felt much worse. There weren’t many if any severe climbs, but my heart rate monitor/Garmin app tells me that I was working it hard…and it still took me 2:38:01 to complete.

The course is a roughly 6.5 mile figure-8-ish track – so the half is two laps. Mid-way through the second lap I was questioning whether I had gotten off course because I couldn’t remember seeing certain things, but would be reminded again either by physical evidence (footprints in the mud) or geologic marker (flat, glacial rocks). It’s been unseasonably rainy the last few days, so the course was ridiculously muddy as well, with several areas flooded out requiring either full-on attack through, or some pussy-footing around – more often than not I pussy-footed around until the later stages when it was very clear to me that there was nothing more to be gained by skirting the issue.

I really thought I was behind everyone by the time I was coming to the final mile or so. I was beat, and could barely will myself forward. Over the final…we’ll call it .3 mile, I could see another runner just walking and I figured I could probably catch him if he didn’t pick it up. For a fleeting second I wondered if he had already finished and was waiting on someone, but I needed something, anything to motivate me to finish stronger than what I was heading toward, so I pushed. It turns out he hadn’t finished, and I was able to run by him and grab a higher finishing slot. I finished almost a full hour AFTER the winner had. Remarkable considering I don’t run street half marathons at 1:39:00 and this was substantially harder than a street.

Results

39/67

2:38:01.1 +58:46.2

Previous Half Marathon Results

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 #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?