After 7-months of not racing, I had the truly good fortune to have back-to-back weekends where I got to do just that. Last week, New Hampshire hosted the New England Half Marathon. This week Connecticut hosted “Tackle the Trail.”
This race they offered “On Ground” and “Virtual” options – as though the “Virtual” folks don’t actually run on terra firma – but yeah the idea is there. Additionally, there were options between “Individual” and “Relay” teams. My squad chose various flavors of relay. I ran the full 20-miles.
This is a cool thing to participate in, not just because it’s an actual race – we’re midway through October and I’m talking about Race #6 here, so this is a big deal to me – but it raises money for students at Quinebaug Valley Community College. I’m led to believe roughly $100,000 was raised.
By my Garmin, it was a little more than 700′ in elevation gain, so not overly challenging. Segment 2 was “technical” trail…technical as compared with the fire-road/rail-trail the rest of the race was run on, which is to say, not technical. However, I’m always slower trail running, and because it was a relay, there were more opportunities to stop: I took off my windbreaker at one point and left with with a volunteer (as the course looped back there, so I could pick it up), I stopped to tie my shoes, pick up my windbreaker, give the windbreaker to a friend to hold, etc. I may have goofed up a bit on the on-course directions as well. This said, it wasn’t my slowest trail half marathon (in fact, I reckon it would be my fastest were it a half), wasn’t even my slowest road half marathon.
I seemed to get faster and stronger as the race went on in the later miles, which was nice. I was concerned with making the 4-hour cut off time, but finished in a little more than 3.
The course was well manned, and well marked (except for the runner brain in me that misunderstood a sign, but that’s okay). The COVID protocols weren’t quite as rigid as last week’s race – of course it was a smaller race, and a trail race – so it was a rolling start, start when you start as opposed to start at x-assigned time. That said, they did have protocols around spectators, gathering, etc. It was appropriate given the size of the race.
It’s been 7 months and 10 days since my last race. 3 half marathons canceled. 2 marathons. A 50k. 2020 has been a difficult year in a great many ways. Today was at once a throwback to the “before times” — before the world shut down, before we had ever considered such a concept as “social distance,” before we came to see being together and being close as dangerous — and at the same time something new, perhaps alien, but definitely the way we go forward for the immediate future.
Today was a glimpse into what races look like now. It was different, but familiar enough to feel like a race.
After 7 months of not racing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it wouldn’t be what I’ve come to know, but wasn’t sure how it would look. Millennium Running put on what I could consider a masterpiece of COVID-era events, and I’m hopeful others will see the blueprint here. It wasn’t the start we’ve come to know, but they more than made up for that.
In the days leading up to the event, Millennium emailed participants with very detailed directions. Parking in Concord, NH vs. being dropped off. Specific shuttle assignments, physically distanced queuing for the shuttle. Specific groupings based on self-reported projected pace. The physically distanced starting order – time trial format -was taken as an opportunity to give each runner a shout out and a few seconds in their own spotlight.
I was super impressed by the organization and the commitment. Well done.
Now, before I get into the race specifics, while it was a real race, with real people running – en mas and competitively – and while it was a USATF certified course, it was also officially 510′ of elevation gain and a whopping 984′ of loss. Meaning that it’s not like it was a truly difficult course. 13 miles running all out is always difficult, but let’s just say running 13 miles where it’s almost 2:1 down to up stacks the deck differently. Contrast this with the Clearwater Half Marathon where the elevation gain was 344′ with a loss of 367′ and I ran it in 1:56.
Each hill up was immediately preceded by a significant downhill, so you could see the incline, and it always looked worse than it was. Except for mile 10, where the course took you up by the local hospital, and then along an old rail trail – complete with asymmetric rocks and defects in the trail which tripped me up a bit; I came that close to rolling an ankle – that mile was my slowest of the race 8:19.
From a running experience, it was odd to be out there solo from the start, but I think I quickly adapted to the Ragnar accounting of “Kills” until I lost count – right about mile 9 or 10, there was a group of us all bunched up and I was trying to keep track of how many people I passed vs. having been passed. Ultimately I lost count, but that didn’t matter because the competition was it’s own reward. It was an actual race. To this point, I wound up finishing perfectly tied with some guy who likely started half hour or so after me, and whose butt I’d kicked pace wise across the three check points, but he crushed me in the last mile or so.
Were this the “before times” competition I’d have been chasing him head to head, or something close to it. I think this is pure age discrimination straight up.
I generally make it policy to not sign up for races that take me longer to get there than it will to actually race, thankfully in this case while it came close it didn’t cause a policy violation. However, had it, I’d have gladly surrendered the policy to race today. I needed this, and this race delivered. Oh did I mention, it was a Personal Record?
This was a bit of a change of pace for me. For a number of reasons, I wasn’t available to follow through with my original plan for this weekend, but sometimes – when you put yourself in the right position – things work out. This was one of those times.
Earlier this week, I just happened to find a Facebook message hanging in suspension because it came from someone with whom I’m not connected, so it didn’t show up flagged. It turns out it was sent a week or so previous asking me if I’d be interested in running a relay race.
Honestly, I thought my opportunity had passed but as it turned out it was still open – as it happens, all the fast people I know are all the same fast people other people know and they were all committed. Suffice to say, I was the fastest person still available – which is to say, my team was scraping the bottom of the barrel when picking me up off the bench.
I don’t mind
I’m a middle aged dude whose found running really late. I do okay, but I’m never ever going to be anyone’s speed demon. I just like that people think I can contribute. That’s all. And that’s what this was, but man…I thought I was competitive. Not so much.
The race is 27 +/- miles from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lawrence, Massachusetts, including some of the same course as the Bay State Marathon, I ran the first leg. 5.6 miles. Roughly 200′ of elevation gain. I haven’t been running well so I wasn’t sure I knew what to expect from this leg. Or any leg really. My running has been really labored and really slow; I’ve suspected it was a combination of a few things not the least of which were dehydration, sleep, and poor nutrition. Since I couldn’t really do much about the nutrition thing so soon, I decided to control what I could control. I got a good night sleep, eazed off the beer, hydrated appropriately, and ate well.
It was 5-degrees when the race started. at 8 AM That’s cold, for the uninitiated. That temperature probably helped me out, if I’m honest. I maintained a 8-minute pace for the leg – a pace I hadn’t kept in some time – and my heart rate was well under control too. I’m sure that the issue was my hydration because my average HR was substantially below what I had been doing, with shorter mileage and slower pace over the last week or so.
I felt generally pretty good, although I was cognizant that I was working hard, but I feel like that that was the external pressure of running a race versus a training run. I knew my leg was 5.7 miles or so, so when you’re less than 10-minutes into the race and figuring, “Oh, I have less than 5 miles to go..” it may be a long day.
For a guy my age, my heart rate was high – but not obscenely high – and I maintained a 7:56 min/mile pace for my leg. I’m pleased with that – even given that was one of the slower marks for my leg (and perhaps for the race, I’m not sure). This puts me at exactly 1947 miles for the year – 72 miles from my secret goal of 2019 miles; my stated goal of 1600-miles was surpassed back on October 7 with a 5.6 mile run. According to my spreadsheet I’m on pace for 2071 miles – over the last couple of months my averages have dipped; there was a point at which I was averaging close to 2100 miles.
My knee has been bothering me since the TARCkey Trot, so I’ve been easing up on that, but I really want to be sure I’m keeping my fitness level up. If 2019 has been the year of doing badass things, I want 2020 to be the year of doing an increasing number of badass things. Longer races, Longer training runs.
2019 has kicked ass.
My team “Friends of Wormtown” finished 64/185. Definitely not last, in 3:17:23 Literally seconds slower than the Assembly Square Animals and the Bionic Women. I like to think I helped here.
It’s been a week since the race, so I figured I should probably get something written before I forgot everything. First, it was freaking cold, and really just uncomfortable if I’m being honest.
I was feeling pretty crummy about how many miles I got in – I mean it was only a few weeks ago I smashed 31 miles at the Joe English 6-hour, and here I was with roughly 21 miles. The big difference wasn’t really the weather, but the elevation gain. 400′ per 5k loop. Joe English gave me 2897′ of gain over that 6-hours and 31 miles. This course gave me 2988′ over just under 22 miles. Not an easy race.
A week on, my knees are still giving me grief.
I was miffed with myself that I decided I didn’t have one more lap in me – I may have pulled it off, I may not have, the timing was pretty close. I felt like I should have at least tried, but the way my body responded over the next two days – DOMS from hell, I was literally 95 years old – told me I’d made the correct decision.
The course itself was beautiful, a gem really. Who knew that in the middle of Arlington/Winchester/Lexington, MA there was this little gem of hills, and trails, and goodness? It was a 5k loop of hilly, wooded trails. Challenging, but not overly technical. What made it more difficult for me was the fact that because it’s fall in New England, leaves coated the trails, obscuring what may lie underneath. That’s not to say I’d have been faster or gotten further, it’s just to say that since I wasn’t familiar with the trails and couldn’t see, I was probably overly cautious in attacking large swaths of the course. That said, the weather leading up to the race was really favorable so there wasn’t any real moisture/slipping on the leaves.
The best part though was running with friends. We had a big contingent of folks running – and hanging out to watch – which really made for a fun event.
TARC does such a nice job coordinating their races too. Super low frills, low entry fee, “Fat ass” type vibe with the aid stations – bring something for the station please! I can’t say enough good things.
It is not generally considered to be good race preparation to run an ultramarathon the week before you run a marathon. During this training cycle, I ran 20+ miles three times – this is generally considered to be good training practice, but the thing is I ran 50k trail ultras as 2 of those runs…and they were within the last 3 weeks.
So, that’s a thing. I’ve decided I’m fully overcome by madness at this point.
I’m sure the descent into madness began slowly. So much so that it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly when it began. Perhaps it was the first time I attempted to run an ultra-marathon with my friend Rich…in a blizzard. Or maybe it was simply the result of so many gateway “52-Week 5ks” with Central Mass Striders. Or long runs with Duke, training for nothing. Perhaps full psychosis began the weekend I ran two Spartan Beasts. Regardless. Five weeks ago, I ran a half marathon. A week later a 50k to a personal record. Two weeks after that (last week) a second 50k to a PR. Today, Baystate Marathon. To a PR.
It seems to me — and this may be the speech of madness speaking —that with age 50 screaming up to me faster than I care to admit, I have two choices because putting fingers in my ears and humming isn’t going to work. I can either walk dignified toward it, or I can scream like hell back and let Father Time and all who bear witness know that I am not going quietly. Today, I screamed like hell. Quite mad, indeed.
I’m so pleased with the consistency of my pacing throughout the race – a real Goldilocks pace. Not too fast, not too slow. I started to lose my bearings Miles 23 & 25, but overall it went well.
I was really happy to have been running with friends – it was great to have people you know with you, to keep me accountable and to help keep accountable. Kristina and I relied on each other for most of the race – I wouldn’t have come close to my time without her having been there. Eric started out too fast and blew up later on, but we did get to run together for a bit.
It was also super important to have support on the course too. Derya came out to watch the three of us at several places along the course and Mrs Mo and Junior were waiting at the finish for me. Nothing like having the support of your people.
This was the time result I was hoping for from Boston those months ago, for whatever reason that didn’t happen then. Today, I’m actually thinking I could qualify for time at some point. I need more work, but there remains that possibility. Were I competing in the F50 age group, it would be a BQ…but alas, not so much.
The course itself was super flat – by my Garmin there was 538’ of gain. To put that in context, running around super flat Cambridge, Mass for 7 miles earlier in the week netted me 335’.
There were ample water stops and enthusiastic volunteers, both of which were appreciated. Some points were more easily run than others – squishing down to essentially only the breakdown lane in spots to half a street in others. The finish chute was a little awkward to navigate but the finish festival was solid. Would’ve been better with a finishers beer, but can’t ask for too much I guess.
It was a good course – not my favorite but good enough. The organization was good and the overall experience was on point.
Races against the clock. I’m not really sure how to categorize them really. I mean I’ve done a 6-hour trail race before – “To Hale and Back” and lasted 17-miles or so before I decided it was too cold and pulled the plug. Hard to call 4-hours/17-miles an “ultra” anything.
The flip side is that I’ve also done a 12-hour race, where I lasted roughly 9.5 hours before I “finished” (the requisite number of laps) and therefore quit for the day and drove home to sleep (helpful hint: don’t do that). I ran about 40-miles in that event, but I honestly don’t know anything about how long it took me to do any of it.
So I’m in this funny place, because this was my best 50k – I love that I can say that…the N>1 and it’s “my best one.” – but my second 6-hour so it technically doesn’t count toward a 50k PR. Screw it. It counts. Gee that was easy.
It turns out that by my watch, this had roughly 100′ more of elevation than the TARC Fall Classic a couple of weeks ago. The Joe English course is an equestrian trail, so it’s not technical at all, but there are a few spots where the course takes you DOWN quickly and then UP…if I had to guess before hand, I’d have said the TARC trail had more gain, but…here we are.
The course is a 2.6 mile loop, the challenge is to run it as many times as you can in the 6-hours. My goal was 12 – I wanted the 50k mark. My friend Mark also set his goal at 12. My friends Derya and Jen both were shooting for the marathon distance of 10.
I stayed with Mark for the first loop, and part of the the second before he scampered off. I ran into Derya at the end of my third loop and we ran together the rest of the evening, particularly important as her phone died suddenly and since that was her light source it was kind of important for her race that she could see. Were it not for my wheels coming off, she may have had a shot at 12 loops as well.
We caught up with Jen once or twice and some other people I knew who were running as well – I love this event, and I love seeing people I know on the trail as well, even if I don’t know them very well, it’s nice having a few minutes to chat.
I was able to hit 12 loops in just under the 6-hours. Mark went looking for Derya and me, so he eeked out a 13th not much before the 6-hour mark clicked off. Jen, Derya and I were there to see him come in, which was great.
Jen got her goal, Derya got 11, I hit my 12 and my PR 50K, and Mark did his longest race AND hit 13 – he finished 4th and second male.
I love this event – it’s the first one I’ve done now for 4 consecutive years – and I’m so happy to have shared it with friends. So, second 50k in two weeks, second 50k PR in two weeks. Onward and upward!
This race was one of my first few ultras back in 2017. I did three that year: The TARC Spring Classic, the North Face Endurance Classic, and this one. And for the last two years, it was that race that remained my personal record. Now, the North Face is unlike the TARC races – where TARC is designed for experienced and beginner ultra runners, NF is designed to suck the life and spirit out of all.
In 2018, I only did the North Face and again, while faster than my first ill-fated effort, it wasn’t anywhere close to as fast as my Fall Classic time. They may both be 50k, but they’re as different as a sensible Toyota Corolla and a Tesla Model S with a death ray package.
This was my third 50k this year – unlike 2017, I’ve run 2 since NF. The East End Trail Race last month was an abomination. I finished just shy of 8-hours on a course that never should have taken me that long; not only was the course not technical, but to finish it 40-some-odd minutes faster than NF was just wrong.
My goal today was 6:00:00. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off – I know my usual trail race pace is somewhere around 14:00 – I’m decidedly not fast, but I thought I had a good shot. It was going to be generally cool for the majority of the morning. I got a good night sleep and was ready.
The course is a quick loop around a cornfield and then three loops around the Great Brook reservation trails. Things started sub-optimally when just before the race, my headlamp quit. Turns out, the batteries were corroded. *SIGH* A few miles into the race, I got stung by a bee (wasp more likely) on the big fleshy part of my calf. Then for giggles I fell. I ran reasonably well that loop, BUT I had a bit of a time bomb brewing and I needed to take care of it.
Fortunately for me, I was able to hold out until I got back to the start/finish area, where I was able to (just in time) avail myself of the porta-potty. So that took a few minutes (mostly the time was spent struggling to get my shorts back on) and then to get my hydration vest on.
While I very clearly lost a step on the second loop, nothing much happened of note…well, I got stung again, but at this point it didn’t really matter. The last loop was really difficult; I had to really push through some adversity – nothing race threatening, but just the overall experience. My knees really started to bother me when they never have before. Where normally it’s just exhaustion/fatigue getting the best of me, today it was my knees. No matter how hard I pushed, it was the knees. For the first time in ever, going up on the trail felt better than going down.
The course was super well marked, professionally timed. TARC does such a nice job with these races. Everyone brings something for the aid station, whomever marks the course takes great care – it’s obvious it’s a labor of love. And you can’t beat the entry fee – $25. They do a great job. If you’re into awards or swag, this isn’t your race, but if you like running trails and a challenge you’re in the right place.
So, 50k #7 – and third in four months (WOW! North Face was 4 months ago? Really??) and a PR by 40-minutes. I’ll take it.
This wasn’t quite a last minute thing, but it hasn’t been on my radar very long. Choosing the “no swag” option, saved $10 off an already super reasonable entry fee, and needing a long run – and preferably a long race, as I’ve been running long solo and a few group runs, but without the competition to push me harder – it seemed like a good idea.
The course incorporates a lot (most?) of the Black Cat race course, so I was familiar with running it without having run this specific race previously. I was hopeful that I could hit a good time – after the Kelley Half last month, I really wanted to test the proposition that it really was the heat that day that doomed my race.
Now, bearing in mind low entry fees typically indicate spartan accommodations – and since this is the same race management company that does the Black Cat, I knew what to expect – I wasn’t disappointed: the starting line was a white spray painted line.
Today’s weather was expected to be warmer than seasonable, and it was: almost 60-degrees at 7 AM and well over 70 by the time I finished. Given this, I was concerned that I may not do as well as I had hoped.
To the race: I started out entirely too fast, an utterly unsustainable pace, but for roughly the first half of the race, I kept a sub-8 minute pace going. I started thinking that I had a shot at besting – or at least coming close to – my Horseneck Half time earlier this year. And then…the hill I had forgotten about. Damnit. That slowed me down a bit, but not too much. From that point I got progressively slower and as I got slower, I got progressively more negative in my internal conversation. The old saw that you run the first half of the race with your legs and the second half with your head? Yeah.
By mile 13, I was really scuffing, but I knew it was close so I picked up the pace. That post 13 stretch (my watch clocked in at 13.3 – as a USTF certified course, I should have expected a longer than advertised distance) was among my fastest of the race. My official time: 1:48:23. Respectable, mid-8 pace, but given that my pace through half of it was sub-8, it really lets you know how much my pace fell off. Learnings? Well Horseneck was consistently about 7:40-8:00 pace. This was 7:11 to 9. Start a little slower, stay fast: my heart rate spiked too high and I had to slow down, had I maintained a slower pace I could have held onto it longer. All things I already knew, but sometimes have to be reminded of. Also, I need to do more hill work; running around Cambridge, MA has shown me that I can maintain pace, but I am missing the hills of Worcester.
I love this area and the course is great: down through downtown Salem, along the harbor in Marblehead, around Ocean Boulevard and back. Salem is awesome. Marblehead is beautiful. I really did like the race. I was disappointed that I didn’t do better, but heartened to find it was a personal top 3 finish. In fact, really pleased that my Top 3 Fastest Halfs, have all been this year. #OlderAndBetter
It seems I say this with every recap of late. Race day was not my day. I sucked. It was horrible and I hated every minute of it. Last week I ran a half marathon and then a 50k the next day. On both I wrote more than a few excuses. For this race, there was no excuse. I sucked.
I ran terribly. I failed almost every obstacle there was to fail. I actually accepted a leg up on one obstacle (“The Box”) that I’d never seen before. I’ve run probably 15 Spartan races and there was stuff I’d never seem – this is generally a good thing – but it told me that I’d not done what I needed to do.
I signed up for the 10 AM heat because it was advertised as a SGX Coached Heat. I knew I wasn’t going to “race” it, for years now I’ve been dealing with a rotator cuff injury and rather than getting it surgically repaired, I’ve been taking a wait and see approach – I mean, in my day to day life, I do just find without having had my rotator cuff repaired. In a fine example of “how to show your customers you really don’t care,” there was no SGX coach. The MC was desperately calling for someone, but there wasn’t anyone on site. No one. They didn’t care enough to have someone there. That pissed me off and started my day on the wrong note. (as an aside, as of this writing, Spartan has not responded to my comments above on the Facebook event page).
Not that having a coach would have substantially helped my race, but honestly I was really hoping for the coaching and Spartan couldn’t have cared less – they didn’t have a coach on site. Unforgivable in my opinion. An epic fail.
I’m not a fan of the facility. It’s a motocross track and while there’s a lot of wooded area, the RD basically takes the track and uses tape to direct traffic. There is plenty of opportunity for the motivated cheat to cut the course. If you’re charging $150 to run a race, you need to do do better. I paid $50 on a coupon I got because I ran the Super last year so perhaps I shouldn’t be so pissed off. And yet, here we are.
My running hasn’t looked very good lately, and I’m sure it has to do with my recent job change – my commuting time having exponentially increased – but I also know I haven’t done the upper body work I should. This race was such a train wreck that I don’t even want to talk about it. I failed so many obstacles that I should have conquered I’m actually embarrassed.
Another day perhaps, but my shoulder is still not right – it may never be right and I should probably take that lesson. I know I said last year that I was probably done with OCRs, but did want to give this one a shot. With this in the rearview, I am pretty sure I’m done except for the one off Sprints.
Okay, first things first. Yes, I ran an excruciating half marathon this weekend, but I didn’t run it to race. I looked at it as a training run. It was hot, and challenging, and I did 13 miles. Fine. It’s all the things I didn’t do during the week that did me in today – and much, much less about yesterday. Now, would I advise following this weekend’s routine? Not a chance. That said, I didn’t sleep well, didn’t hydrate appropriately, didn’t actually train well. I was a disaster waiting to happen.
As it happened, a disaster didn’t happen, but a lot of things could have gone better for me today. Like, everything could have gone better for me.
This is a solid race. They seem to have done it right – a 10k (one loop), a 30k (three loops), and a 50k (5 loops). Now, let’s be honest. The 10k loop is closer to 6.5-miles – not a big deal in trail racing, but add that over 5-times and all of a sudden you’ve got 33.5 miles. Those two miles matter big when you’re struggle bussing those last two to the finish.
The venue was great. The organization was great. They could not have done anything to make this a better experience for the runners. Down to the fact they had cooling towels at Mile 4 and the start/finish. Best. Thing. Ever.
Curiously enough, I don’t have much to say for the race recap only because it was the same one race 5 times. It was challenging without being difficult for the sake of difficulty. It was mostly runnable track, except for the fact that I was toast and basically walked where I should have been running.
I expected better of myself. Over the first 16. 4 miles (what an odd number, you might be forgiven for thinking – it’s because my watch died there), there was 740′ of elevation gain. SO basically 1500′ of gain for the race, which shouldn’t have been an issue. I expected to finish in 6 maybe 6.5 hours. I finished in just under 90 – seconds away from DFL, until some rando came running from the woods and claimed that spot.
Building blocks. I get it. I know it was my mind more than body that got to me today. I will be working on that.
That said, this was my 6th 50k and it was my 3rd best – despite being almost DFL. So, not a terrible day. Right? I am disappointed that two months ago I ran North Face a little less than an hour slower – on a mountain with a substantially more technical course. So some backsliding I’ll have to work on before my next Ultra in September.