2018 Race Recap #23: Horseneck Half

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I really like running with these guys. Besides the fact they’re both much better runners than am I, they’re really good people.

Up until yesterday, we thought this race was going to be one rainy, wet mess. Then a hint of promise: Weather Underground forecast rain to stop right about race time and pick up again just after my anticipated finish time with some percent chance of rain during.  Come this morning, the forecast was clouds and fog, and about 60-degrees. Essentially perfect running weather.

Which was good, because I was going to need something close to perfect conditions: I’m pretty much fully recovered from my piriformis strain, but (damn, there’s always a ‘but’) since I’m an idiot and kept trying to push through, I developed a bit of a shin splint, which is painful and has pretty much kept me from running very much at any competitive pace – and yes, I know, I wrote about a 5k I recently ran and won my age group…but take a look at that pace: not exactly world beating – and not pairing up with my previous paces. My conditioning has suffered over the past several (6?) weeks, but I have been mindful to avoid blowing up like a tick weight wise like I did in December when I was last injured. I’ve been going to fitness bootcamp (although, I do have to admit to feeling kind of low and letting that keep me from going more) and being mindful of my calories. I’ve actually lost weight over the last 6 weeks or so, topping out at under 180 for the first time in quite some time. That mindfulness paid off today, to be sure.

Then there was the pre-race issues. I just couldn’t put myself together. The car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t get into the trunk to get the jumper cables because…the car was dead so the fob nor the button inside would release.  Because I took so much time messing around with that stuff, I didn’t get anything to eat. Just a potential disaster looming.  NOTHING was going my way.

The Horseneck course is pretty flat and under the conditions today presented I would normally have looked at it as an opportunity to crush my New Bedford Half time. My buddy Duke, about whom I’ve written previously,  on top of being a captain of industry also happens to be a certified personal trainer (who knew?) and he taped me up pretty good. That bought me more than a few pain-free/reduced miles – without which this would likely have been an ugly crying hot mess. My goal today was really to be competitive with my Clearwater Half time from January – my first distance race after December – but definitely under 2-hours. The layoffs were similar in scope and I wasn’t feeling optimistic.

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Look at these guys pretending they don’t know me.

About 2 miles in, I was questioning whether I’d be able to pull this off – whether it was a lack of proper stretching, or conditioning or what – I was letting doubt get to me. My internal dialogue was becoming poisonous to my race, so I had to shut it off and focus on other things: the scenery, the pace, distance to go, my music.

I could feel the tightness in my quads – damn conditioning – and knew I couldn’t stop so I had to keep running. It was about half way through that I was becoming quite ornery about it, and that was manifesting itself in fighting with the motorists trying to squeeze by runners along the ancient roads of Westport: by and large there was plenty of room for motorists to pull to the side of the road and/or stop to allow cars in the opposite direction to pass by, and yet these morons kept squeezing runners over and the like. One guy actually got into the race course, and started honking at a woman who was probably 100-feet ahead of me. I burned quite a bit of fuel trying to catch up to let this guy know exactly what I thought about that – he was literally so close to her that had she stopped he would have hit her. Sadly, however, the cluster broke up and he continued on his way: I was pleased that she either hadn’t heard him (doubtful) or she ignored him and kept running her race.  I was secretly hoping someone would try that nonsense with me.  My middle finger did get a bit of a workout – I’m not sure I’m proud of that, but sometimes keeping fueled means keeping fueled by anger.

Between mile 8 and 9 I was busy trying to figure out what I had to do to finish sub-2 hours; this is a sure sign that I was allowing that toxic self talk back into my head – giving myself an out: “…okay, so if I average a 10:00/min pace…” Allowing myself wiggle room for failing to perform. I had done well enough to that point that I had some cushioning to meet my goal, but it would be close, and this time that toxicity was outweighed by stubbornness.

As my watch clicked over to 12-miles, I knew I had enough time to beat 2-hours, but then the question was by how much, and would I get my Clearwater time? I kept pushing and actually had my best pace since that second mile. Those last few miles were difficult for me as well because of the headwind, so as we made the turn into the State Reservation, with a little less than a half mile to go it was a god send. Flat, generally wind free, just enough to push myself over the finish in a little less than 1:58:00.  Didn’t beat Clearwater, which was a bit of a personal defeat because I wasn’t happy with that time in January and after the voyage this year I am certainly disappointed, but it was a personal victory in keeping it under that 2:00 mark.

In my very first half – the Black Goose Half Marathon in October 2016 – I finished in 2:00:48 and I’ve been pissed at myself since that I couldn’t find 48-seconds somewhere over 13.1-miles.  From that low to my most recent half where I hit a personal best, I had really hoped when I registered that I’d come close to 1:50:00 or even better my New Bedford Half time.  It turns out I most closely approximated my Cambridge Half Time.  Disappointing, but not heart breaking.

I may have an opportunity to run a half in London next week  (or perhaps some shorter derivation), but unless that happens I’ll have another shot at an improved time next month – hopefully without the issues that plagued me today.  Onward and upward.

The course had a total gain of maybe 30′ (my watch says 358′ gain, 322′ loss…pretty significantly because it’s essentially a loop and I’m pretty sure there’s not 30′ of elevation between the finish and start). Remarkably I had a 176 spm cadence, so it would appear it was mostly in my head. My stride was shorter than usual, so I know I could have been faster, basically “remembering” what an 8:20 m/m pace feels like – I could feel myself moving easily between say 9:15/20 and 8:40, but I was letting my head too much control.  I’ll be working on that one.

Previous Results

Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48

 

 

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2018 Race Recap #22: Boston Spartan Sprint (Open)

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Team Mo, rocking the bling at the finish.

Early this week, my daughter texted me and told me that her plans for today had changed and was wondering if there was a race we could do. As it turns out, there was.  Of course, I was already registered for the Sprint and was kind of hoping to rip it up, but I would run with her.  And then it occurred to me that I didn’t have to make a choice.  Since my debacle with the second Beast a couple of weeks back, I really can’t see my way through to getting another one on the calendar (who knows), so my hope of earning a double trifecta this year has been pretty much shot. So since I had a code for a Sprint I decided to just run a second lap: two laps in the same day only count toward the Trifecta once. Groupon had an afternoon entry AND a discount code, so we were able to pick up a couple of late entries for about $60 each – so I got to run with both.

Also of note, since Spartan considers a second lap of the course a separate race – different bib numbers, second full registration fee, second insurance fee, second shirt, medal – I consider it a second race too. A race like FIT Challenge considers multi-laps an add-on so I consider that the same race. That’s the difference between an entity overly focused on profit margin (and not wholly well run either as illustrated below) and a labor of love that’s actually profitable and well regarded (and well run).

As soon as the first race of the day was finished – it began to rain.  And hard too.  So I took up shelter at the facility’s shooting range and waited for the kids to get there.  Which is another story, and since this is my blog, I’ll happily digress and tell you that story.

On Thursday of this week, Spartan announced it was changing up the usual practice of $10 parking and instead would make parking free and charge $5 per person to ride the shuttle.  After the backlash on social media about this – that it was contradictory to the idea of carpooling, and/or that folks would simply drop off at the facility and then park – it became clear that it wasn’t going to work out quite the way the race anticipated and on Friday they announced a clarification that what they really meant was that it would be $5 per person to ride the shuttle, with a max of $10 per car. Now all well and good for me – because the kids were showing up later and were riding in together, it was $15 instead of $20.

These guys CRUSHED it, and I’m happy they let me tag along.

However, by the time they arrived for our 12:15 heat, the lot was full and they were now redirected to a secondary lot at a college in the next town over – 15 or 20 minutes away.  Now, there was no mention of this lot on the web site and I’m quite sure I received no email about it.  So the kids find the new place, and wait.  And wait. And wait. Because apparently no one told the shuttle drivers to go there…or how to get there.  5 arrived at once, then another that they got on.  Where they would have been 45 minutes early, they now arrived late.  Inexcusable logistics problems by a company that runs races all year across the country AND, let’s not forget this was not the first time they’d run this specific race in this venue.

Remember, it’s now been about 2.5 hours since my first race ended. I’ve been steadily rained on for two hours, muscles cooling off, and pretty sure my body had gone into full recovery mode – even if I’d only run 5-odd miles, it was longer than it had taken me to run the first race.

The rain made the already muddy course ridiculously sloppy – more than a few of the obstacles were almost impassable, Olympus was exponentially more difficult than it was in the morning; the slip wall was true to its name.  The Sandbag Carry and the Herc Hoist were made more difficult with the water having penetrated the bags.  I used the very same station at the Herc Hoist that I had used in the morning and while it’s safe to say fatigue played a part, I’m quite sure it was also much heavier after sitting in the rain.  The bucket carry was more difficult due to the course itself – thicker, sloppier mud made slipping quite the hazard.

All of which said, it was awesome to run with these guys. “Team Mo” was an experience I wouldn’t give back at all. Watching them help each other and support each other. Not a thing better than that.  On this time around the course, I came up with 5.63 miles and 1375′ of elevation gain.

Results (Open)

1:59:51

OVERALL: 1363/ 4655
MALE: 1028/ 2692
M 45-49: 107/ 272

2018 Race Recap #21: Boston Spartan Sprint

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Please like me; I finished and didn’t die.

In all honesty, I’m not thrilled with my first race today. I ran about as well as I could – I’m on the other side of my piriformis issues I think (it flared up not at all today, perhaps a dull ache), but over the last week or so I seem to have developed a compensatory injury in my ankle or perhaps the end of my hammy.  I crushed some of the obstacles I had missed at the Beast a couple of weeks ago (Olympus you’re mine now), I failed one I expected to (the Twister, damnit) but actually did better than expected, and I came THIS close to getting across the rig which I actually hadn’t expected to complete.  Damn Spearman: always a crapshoot for me with that one.

I finished the Spartan Trifecta last year, but the skin of my teeth – I was injured most of the early summer so I missed the Boston Sprint and completed the set with the Fenway Stadium Sprint – since it’s technically a Sprint, it counts, but it didn’t feel like it – so this was the first mud Sprint I’d done since 2016.   It was a good, challenging course. My GPS pulled down a little more than 5-miles so it was on the long end of the Sprint spectrum, but I suspect that’s to make up for the relative lack of elevation gain.

I found the bucket carry to be more challenging than the same obstacle at the Tri State NJ Beast a couple of weeks ago – that one was basically ring around the rosey in a relatively flat spot; this one was up and down through mud, water, and downed trees.  Otherwise, the obstacles and the course really wasn’t all that difficult, but then again I’m measuring it against my recent races at the Beast and the FIT Challenge so perhaps I’m not being fair to the course. There was a grouping of upper body obstacles right in a row that was devious and clearly designed to make the course harder than it might appear otherwise – well played.

There was a non-insignificant amount of mud along the trails and it has been a while since I experienced that aspect of the race, so that was a welcome challenge.

Overall I think I acquitted myself well – certainly didn’t crush it as I had hoped I would, but I’m willing to cut myself some slack for injury and some conditioning loss from not being able to run as much. I pushed as hard as I could and I think I gave it my all.  I was certainly more careful counting my burpee penalties.

Overall, I was pleased with the Sprint course – it was a challenge but not over the top. My watch clocked in at 5.34 miles and 1100′ of elevation gain.  Clearly not my best result, but perhaps that’s just because there were a lot more badass 40-49 year old guys out there today than usual. I’m going to chalk it up to the idea that I’m really just not as competitive as I’d like to believe.

Results Age Group Competitive:

1:40:13

OVERALL: 304/ 409
MALE: 237/ 297
M 40-49: 84/ 104

2018 Race Recap #18: Tri-State NJ Beast

Last summer, I had planned to do the Savage Race in Massachusetts, but has to bail due to injury.  I traded my deferral code for Savage to a guy for a Spartan code which became this race.

The Beast is the longest and most difficult of Spartan’s three standard race distances: Sprint, Super, and Beast. Once past Beast, you get into the Ultra or Ultra Beast which is generally speaking some variation of the Beast course, and several Hurricane Heats which are a variation of the race.  Touted at 13+ miles, 30+ obstacles.  My watch totaled 15 some odd miles and, honestly I didn’t count the obstacles.  This was my third Beast – my second time here at Vernon – and (I think) my tenth Spartan race and I’ve found over time that it’s a fool’s errand to focus too much on distance traveled or on obstacles completed.

What started out as a raw, overcast day turned into a bright, sunny 70-degree slice of perfection. Not too hot, not too cold.  The site is the Mountain Creek Resort,  a New York City metro area ski resort. Unrelated to the race itself, while out on the course, there are definitely signs the resort has its troubles. In all honesty, I wasn’t entire sure the complex was actually still operational and the Wikipedia entry kind of explains its current state.  Another proximate ski area, Tuxedo Ridge in Tuxedo, NY has also had its financial difficulties and has hosted its share of Spartan Races as well.  Its hard to know if the financial difficulties are related to the willingness to host an obstacle course race or if its mere coincidence.

This years Beast seemed less difficult overall.  The thing with Spartan is they’re not terribly innovative and they trot out generally the same obstacles year over year.  This race seemed much more of a trail race through the hiking trails of the resort and less the mountain slog that I’ve seen at Killington (oh dear God, the quads!!) and to a lesser degree here last year. There was some mountain climbing but it wasn’t the gratuitous “we’re making you climb this because we can” sort of climb.

I was running with a first time Beast participant and it was a challenging race for her, so I don’t want to discount the level of difficulty involved, its just that it seemed like an easier course over last year.  I’ll be taking another stab at it in a few hours so we’ll see how my experience Saturday affects my performance Sunday.

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My usual Beast race buddy and my first time runner.

I had been really nervous about how my butt injury would hold up, but it held up pretty well – no major discomfort at all, perhaps a few twings here and there but overall nothing that would hold me up.  I was able to hit several obstacles I didn’t think I would which was a bit of a minor victory – any time you can avoid burpees is a good time – and for the most part even the ones I failed limited the burpees with an additional course trail instead.  (Innovation!!!)

Spartan did a little something new with the Ultra Beast course this year, by adding a 3 mile addition to the first loop of the course. This really seemed to mess up a lot of the folks we encountered along the way and it would appear a good number of them missed the course cut off to continue.  More than a couple were complaining about the hellish trail in that 3-miles. I have no way of knowing, but perhaps that was some of the more difficult trail the Beast course was lacking.

The obstacles seemed to be more standard than they have been in the past: the buckets at the bucket carry were prefilled, the farmer’s log “logs” were concrete atlas stones with handles built into them instead of actual, you know, logs. The sandbag carry was far more difficult than I remember it being in the past – large wreck bags instead of the sand filled pancakes that had been the obstacle – and the Herc Hoist seemed far more heavy than I remember it being, although several days of rain previous to race day may have helped both of those items become more heavy than anticipated.

I clocked 15.1 miles and just over 5000′ of elevation gain.

Overall, not my best time ever – I ran the Men’s elite heat (well, kinda – since my friend isn’t a male, she couldn’t run in the men’s elite heat so I delayed my start) and finished last in my age group and something like 3 slots off last for the heat.  Overall though, according to Athlinks, I finished solidly in the middle as I usually do.  I finished about 7 minutes slower than last year – we’ll see how I do Day 2 after having experienced the course.

Spartan Beast

Tri-State NJ 2018 6:09:12
Tri-State NJ 2017 6:02:24
Vermont Beast 2016 8:37:50

2018 Race Recap #17: Jay Lyons Memorial 5k

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Pretty slick race shirt. Got a pint glass instead of a finisher medal – I’m not sure how I feel about that, finisher medals are actually a little more useful to me than additional glassware, but it’s something.

The Jay Lyons 5k is now in its 18th year – a memorial race for one of six Worcester Fire Fighters who died fighting a warehouse fire in 1999. If there is a race worth running, certainly it is this one.

I have to say I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to go. It was a gamble and one I may have lost had I gone for that additional lap yesterday. The day started much later than usual – even for a weekend day – and when I did actually get up, I had a hard time actually walking around.  I was pretty much 90-years old all morning.

After 3-laps at FIT last year, I couldn’t walk for a week.  I mean I really hammered myself good.  This year, while sore, I’m self ambulating so that’s a good sign.  I may not have been with an additional 3 miles and 1400′ of gain, so I may have learned a lesson.

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Running is such fun.  Look how happy everyone is. Photo Credit: Debbie Linder

So, today was pretty much lazy – I did some laundry, did some errands, but otherwise laid pretty low.  According to my Fitbit, by noon I had accumulated maybe 1,800 steps, when I’ve been averaging about 20,000 daily.

By the time I had my bib, and the National Anthem began playing, I still wasn’t sure how well I was going to be able to run: the ibuprofen started to wear off and I was very much feeling the dents and dings from yesterday’s course.

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Repping Team Sneakerama. Something about running with this team brings out my better efforts.

The fire truck horn sounded and the runners were off. My first mile was pretty good, but it was clear to me that it was going to be a bit of a battle and that first mile was definitely going to be my best: a 7:20 pace.  Mile 2 was reasonable, but clearly slower at a 7:40 pace. I was feeling the wear and tear by that point and when my watch went off with the 8:04 pace for mile 3, I knew I had only a little more course left and with what gas was left in my tank, I laid it out there. The course was really, really flat and a little more than a 5k – I recorded 3.18 miles, and in that time I hit a 6:41 pace.  Now, I’m left to wonder if I could have pulled off a better pace had I paid more attention to my mile 3 time although I’m quite sure it would have had the opposite effect.

It’s a nice, pretty easy course, that I think I would normally have had a good shot at a personal record.  Even still, it wasn’t a bad time at all – a friend noted that a few months ago that would have been close to a personal record, and indeed that is true.  I’m happy with the overall result and glad I took the opportunity to run.

Team Sneakerama took home quite a few individual trophies and a team award – I have to say for a relatively small race, funding a great scholarship for one of Worcester’s High Schools, there were a HUGE number of awards.

Results

24:18,  7:49.3 pace
Overall: 47/362
M: 39/165
M 40-49: 12/39

2018 Race Recap #16: F.I.T. Challenge

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That means I finished 3 laps, not that I came in third…BUT pretty slick swag nonetheless.

What can I say about this race? What I’ve come to find about small and/or local obstacle course races is that they’re generally low-rent, or just poorly executed. There are some  that are well considered and crafted with love, but just aren’t challenging.

The Wason Pond Pounder (Chester, NH) for instance, is lovingly crafted, and well done. The non-profit that runs the race, gives as much back to the community as they can without compromising the quality of the race. It’s a family oriented race, and a lot of people spend a lot of time planning it. But, it’s just not all that challenging – it’s not designed to be.

Similarly, The Samurai Sprint (Westport, MA) is a fun course and is well executed, but it’s “fun.” There were some elements to it last year that I found challenging, but overall it wasn’t designed to be anything more than fun.

The FIT Challenge, though. This is a challenge. It’s tough. The course is approximately 5k distance (plus or minus…well, plus), its 30-odd obstacles will test your meddle, oh and there’s the small matter of about 1400′ in elevation gain. That doesn’t do it for you? Ok, well, you can do multiple laps for $10 more.  Its probably the only smaller, local race that should be considered in the same conversation with Bone Frog or Spartan – to this point: who was at the starting line today? Norm Koch. The designer behind the early Spartan Races.

F.I.T. is a acronym. Fortitude. Integrity. Toughness. The race doesn’t demand you complete an obstacle under penalty of burpee, only that you give it a good faith effort. No mud for mud’s sake. Fortitude to take on a very difficult challenge. And of course, the Toughness to keep going when you’d rather not.

It plays out thusly. 30 obstacles. In 3.5 or-so miles.  Let that sink in. Essentially, if you’re not climbing s trail (remember – 1400′ of elevation gain), you’re climbing a wall…or a rope…or a peg board… you get the picture.  Suffice to say, I’m a fan on FIT Challenge.

This year I was determined to get- in 5 laps. It wasn’t long into my first lap that I realized that 5 wasn’t going to happen today. Robb, the race director, was very clear in his communications out that multi-lappers could assert a limited right of way, but I felt like such a dink asking to go ahead that I didn’t ask.  That’s on me. Now, the one criticism I have is that there are some difficult obstacles that require a reasonable time commitment…and on a short course, with multiple waves (no matter how hard you try to space them out) you’re going to get a log jam.  So, if you’re really going for time, you can get frustrated.

It was about 3/4 of the way through my second lap that I knew 4 would be a stretch. I was really fatiguing from climbing and was really starting to fail obstacles as a result. By the time I finished lap 2 I held out some hope I could get 4 in, but about a mile into lap 3 I knew that it would be my last one. I was failing obstacles I had done easily on my first go around, and struggled through on my second.

These things are placed rather deliberately to be challenging. Upper body, followed by a log carry, over to a rope climb, to a peg board…

There was a 5-hour cut off for multi-laps. Meaning that you had to start your last lap before 5 hours expired. In this case, I finished my 3rd lap with about 30-minutes left – I COULD have gone for 4…could have except I’d have wound up pissing everyone off because I’d fail everything and would probably be a menace to myself on those pretty technical trails.

No automatic alt text available.One of the frills of the FIT Challenge is the swag. A shirt, a head buff, finishers’ medal with pins for each lap complete, and if you do three or more laps you earn a block that Robb makes by hand.  The rarer ones are, of course, nicer. Those “5” Lap blocks are pretty spectacular. My “3” block…less so. But – going back to the beginning here, where I talk about being crafted with love – they’re each unique, put together by hand by a guy that really cares about the product.

There were some obstacles that broke mid course (sand bag hoist) and I’m pretty sure that can happen at any event. Frankly with the abundance of other obstacles, it was nice to take a pass on that one. Last year one of the floating walls was out of commission for a bit, which caused a significant back up on the lone remaining one.  The thing is with a short course, and a relatively small race (there were about 900 participants today, as compared with the several thousand that go through a Spartan Sprint), there are only a couple of stations for each obstacle (I think there may have been 3 sand bag hoists) and when one or two get 86’d the entire obstacle goes down and given the ethos of the race, obstacles are tough. So it takes a while to complete them…which causes lines…

I hate to suggest taking obstacles out – FIT has some ridiculously innovative ones and I love that he reinvests into the product – but some could be reconsidered. Lines at the inverted cargo net get pretty long. This is so clearly a labor of love, that I think I’d rather suggest making the course even longer and perhaps placing those time consuming obstacles at the top of a hefty climb to keep the group thin, but consistent.  Or spread the waves out even more.  Hard to say; I’m pretty sure it’s a work in progress and there are worse things to be vexed by.

So, results? Pretty much par for the course. 50 percentile.

Results

Multi-Lap:
2018: 63/126, 4:30:07
2017: 128/161, 5:06:38

Single Lap:
2016: 619/983 1:58:20

An improvement over last year on a more challenging incarnation of the course, and I feel better than I did last year afterward.

2018 Race Recap #15: CMS 52-Week 5k

I’m just going to say it: today was not going to be a great race day for me regardless. It was perfect weather, if a touch cold. There was a bit of a headwind for the first mile and for the last .2 mile, but that wasn’t it. I haven’t felt quite right since last weeks’ trail race – a few dings, and dents – and I promised my boy that I would run with him today.  Today was basically going to be some time on my feet with my boy, nursing some sore parts.

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He really doesn’t dig selfies.

And so it was.  My watch recorded a 9:11 pace: the first mile was respectable enough, but at about 1.5 miles I realized I had gotten a little far ahead and one of my running club friends on his way by – because, that’s his MO – said something about me throwing the kid under the bus, so I realized I needed to do a better job of running with him.

I played cat and mouse for the rest of the race, and for the last stretch I waited for him – even giving up a finishing position!! – and we sprinted to the finish.  Officially we finished 17 and 18.

I’ll take that experience with him over running my best.

Counter Clockwise (Last 5):

March 31: 28:33, 40 degrees, windy
March 10: 24:11, 32-degrees, windy
March 3: 24:30 40-ish degrees, cloudy
February 17: 24:22
October 21, 2017: 25:13