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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The thing I really love about TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) races is the vibe of the thing. No matter what distance you’re running for a given race, it’s like $22 to enter: Oh, you’re doing the 5k? $22; You’re doing the 6-hour? $22. The whole scene is really chill too: you’re asked to bring some food for the aid table, donuts or oranges or whatever. Today I was offered a quesadilla, a pulled pork taco, and a couple of donut holes.
Hale Reservation is an educational organization with about 1100 acres of property. When I was a kid, my parents would buy a summer membership and we’d spend time at the membership beach. They had these aluminum docks demarcating swim lanes or something along the beach, and my sister and I would bring our buckets out and catch some of the ubiquitous sun-fish in them. As I was reflecting on that, I actually said to myself “Man, that seems so long ago…” when I quickly snapped back to reality: that’s because it was a long time ago. The last little round window decal I remember was from the summer of 1978 – 40 years ago, there kid. That IS a long time.
There’s a really good synopsis about this years To Hale and Back winning efforts at irunfar.com about half way down the linked page (sorry, there doesn’t seem to be any HTML anchors or anything to send you to the exact passage.) The first paragraph says everything you need to know for my purposes:
Four late-season snowstorms slammed New England in recent weeks and assured that the To Hale and Back 6-Hour Ultra–the Trail Animals Running Club’s season opener-would be a challenging affair. The snow-packed and often sloppy course conditions at Hale Reservation ensured that course records were safe, but they didn’t prevent Joe McConaughy and Elise DeRoofrom delivering winning efforts.
I remember the last time I was there – not as a member as my family had stopped going years before, but my friends family was a member in the early 1980s and invited me along for an outing. I got so sunburned, I remember feeling like there were bugs crawling under my skin like some kind of addict going through detox. I remember it as a great day, but a horrible afterward.
Now, the region was just hit with its 4th winter storm in as many weeks earlier this week, so I knew the trail would be snow packed and generally gross. I wasn’t quite sure I knew what else to expect from the trails – I hadn’t seen an elevation map and frankly this was my first trail outing of the year so beyond the unfamiliar terrain and snow, I had several months of cobwebs to shake off.
My hope was to get in 20 miles – about 6 or 7 laps, it’s so hard to tell with the trails – but my goal was at least 15. I’ve done TARC 50k trail races in just under 7 hours, but given the snowpack and generally unconditioned self I set expectation low for a 6-hour accumulation.
It was pretty warm – about 34 degrees – at the start and was projected to continue getting warmer throughout the race, so I did layer up. This was a solid move as after my first lap, my nylon windbreaker and knit hat came off. That was my last solid move as far as gear went though: I made the cardinal sin of wearing a pair of shoes I’d never worn before out today and in the end that’s what did me in.
Long about my 4th lap, I realized I had a pretty significant blister building on my left heel. I was going to pull the plug after that, but I was pretty sure I had another lap in me so I went for it. It was slow going, but I did in fact have that lap. I may have had another lap left in the tank, but I just couldn’t do it and pulled the plug after 5. According to my watch, that was good enough for 17.2 miles. According to the official records, that was good enough for 16. Grrr. The vagueries of trail courses will do that to you. That said, I do know there were some modifications made to the course to account for snow and treacherous conditions, so maybe that added more distance than was given credit? I’m curious to see other folks’ data, but for now, I’m sticking with my 17.2 (my GPX data was pretty consistently showing me a 3.4 mile loop).
So, I called it quits with somewhere around 90-100 minutes left. Which bums me out, but I’ll file it under “lessons learned” and go from there.
End of day, I finished 68/93 – and, not that I’m the least bit salty about it or anything, you’ll see that I’m officially credited with 16 miles (even though the course was actually 0.2 mile longer than they’re saying), but it was 0.2 miles longer for everyone so it doesn’t affect the results…just the official distance…which I’m not salty about at all. Or anything. More disheartening is that I finished near the bottom of the men.
I do wish I had taken one more lap, but as I sit here writing this post, my legs stiff, my blister throbbing, and ready to fall asleep, it’s probably for the best I didn’t.
Registering for this one was a bit of a lark. I’d just finished the Celtic 5k earlier in the day and was feeling pretty good about myself. So I started noodling around with upcoming Half Marathons (because that’s a thing most people do, right?) and found this one. It’s not terribly close to me but it did fit the parameters of my customary rule (don’t take longer to drive to a race than it will take you to run the race) and the extended forecast seemed like it would be a good running day. I was hung up on the late entry fee and was desperately seeking a discount code.
If I joined USATF, I could get a $25 discount code – membership is $30, so it would’ve been a net increase of $5 which I was considering – but then I happened upon a 501(c)3 charity partnered up with the race organizers: Donate $60 to the organization and get a comped race entry. Perfect. Made even more perfect is that the Arredondo Family Foundation does some really good work.
Their mission is to empower military families in the prevention of military related suicides and to provide support through education, financial relief and support services.
So, on Sunday night with about 30-minutes left in the online registration window, I pressed “submit” on my race entry. I was in. Now, what was I in for?
Well, according to at least one online write up, it is a good course: scenic and flat-ish, but with a couple of “significant” hills…the second at mile 12! Oh c’mon. Known for it’s blustery conditions, they said it can be challenging. Oh great. I then click on over the the course map (who cares, I don’t know what I’m really looking at) at the bottom of which was an elevation map. THAT’s what I was looking for. Kind of a mixed bag for me. Most of the gains are at the start of the race, then about 9 miles of descent or flat streets. I figured if I could just lump my lard-butt past the first three miles or so, I’d be golden.
Which is pretty much how it played out. The weather was just shy of perfect – a bit of a wind, but not often pushing against me, mostly blowing me sideways. The sun was out, it was on the cool side (low 30’s) but overall pretty nice.
A good group of people from my running club showed up and it was nice seeing them along the course. One guy who’d just returned from a European jaunt of what seemed like a couple of months (I mean like back on Friday…jet lag must’ve really been doing a number on him), passed me a couple of times. The first time he informed me that he stopped at a porta potty but couldn’t get anything going, so he wasted that time. About 45-minutes later he ran by me, telling me that he stopped and pooped in someone’s house. Not the usual conversation, but I’ve learned that runners are generally pretty open about such things. What blows my mind about this is that he continued on and finished a couple of minutes ahead of me. He’s a really good runner and was already convinced he’d have a “crap time” (his words, not mine, although it does ring a little true after telling this vignette, doesn’t it?) Funny, his crap time is my personal record, but hey. Everyone runs their own race.
By the 10k split, I was thinking I had a really good chance to PR – that split was my fastest 10k time.by quite a bit: 50:31. I bested my 10-Mile time by about a minute as well, and by that point my internal dialogue was pretty much talking about keeping moving, keeping a steady pace. Mile 12 was pretty much what I thought it would be. That ascent grabbed about a minute off my pace, I slowed down quite a bit, but got through it. I’m quite sure the cold weather helped me out there: at Clearwater back in January, a similar situation at mile 12 really bonked me out. I was much less well prepared for that race than this, but doubt creeps in: that’s why controlling that internal dialogue is so important.
With maybe 0.2 mile give or take, one of my friends from the running club was on the corner taking pictures and saw me. She got all wide-eyed and yelled at me that I still had a really good chance to get 1:50:00. So I pushed just a little harder, and around the corner was a slight downward hill, so I sprinted as hard as I could that last it of distance to the finish. I’m not really sure exactly where I found the juice, but I did.
My gun time was 1:49:19, but my chip/net time was 1:48:57 – either way I beat that 1:50 time with just a little urging on from someone in the right place at the right time. A little further away from the finish and I may not have pulled it off, a little closer and it wouldn’t have mattered. Serendipity and luck combined with appropriate training and a few friends never hurt anyone.
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
I haven’t been “into” 5k’s very much in some time – I run my running club’s weekly 5k races, but other than that I haven’t been seeking them out. I’m trying to be more of a longer distance runner — I’ll choose a longer distance over the shorter most times. I was asked to run with the primary sponsor, Sneakerama, so why wouldn’t I do that?
As an aside, Sneakerama is a small, local business that just does some really great running centric stuff: Steve sponsors a lot of local races, does a free weekly “fun run” from the store, packet pick ups for races. Things like that. And look at the Yelp and Google reviews. Steve conducts his business the way you would hope a business owner would: he gives back to the community, and doing good by the community is always good business.
The Celtic 5k is part of a trifecta of “St. Patricks Day” races in the area, and there’s usually a pretty big turn out so they do a nice job of swag. It’s a fun take. The best part of the day was that the family got involved too: the kids both registered and my wife volunteered giving out the Celtic FC stylized shirts.
It’s a very simple, flat(ish) and fast, out-and-back course. As a large race, it caters to runners of all skill levels and abilities: it’s more about the party than the race itself, and that’s fine. As I said earlier, it’s a good time. When you’re finished, you get some finisher swag, a bottle of water, perhaps a banana or a slice or two of pizza if you want it. Beer? Hell, yeah. This is Worcester. There are no less than 15 official after-parties and a beer garden.
A quick warm-up around Worcester’s Elm Park and I was ready to go. Good as clockwork, the National Anthem played, and at 11 AM sharp, the horn sounded.
The first mile was smooth. I thought it would be more difficult getting past some of the slower folks that some how decided it was a good idea to crowd the finish line, but it didn’t play out that way. Dodged and weaved, ultimately finding some clear running room. When my watch buzzed after a mile, I couldn’t believe how fast a pace I was running: 6:58. Mile 2 was a little less speedy, about 7:2. I was struggling a bit as the first mile and a half or so was a slow ride down hill, a turn around to start the out and back meant that the distance we’d been running slightly downhill was now slightly uphill…although when I’m going up, it always seems far more significantly up than it was going down. #Perception.
Now into mile 3, I was definitely feeling it and were I not racing I would have slowed, walked, or maybe even paused the Garmin, today I pushed through. Where yesterday I emotionally gave up, today I doubled down. I was angry with myself after the race yesterday and I was determined not to be that guy again today. I was far too close to a personal record that I was not going to give it up.
Over that last mile, I went back and forth with one of the guys from my running club. He usually bests me and the fact that I was even close to him was exciting (and yes, he’s in his 60’s and crushing it on a regular basis. He went by me at the turn, I went by him a little before the second mile marker, he came up behind me and offered some encouragement as he went by, and just past the Mile 3 marker, the finish line in sight, I pushed through, passed him, and crossed the line in a personal best 22:46. My goal was to beat yesterday’s time, and get as close to 23-Minutes as possible. I was suffering at the end, I mean it took a LOT to push that last 0.1 mile, but it happened for me today. Who knows if I’ll ever run another 5k that fast, it’s not easy for a squat guy with stubby legs to move that quickly – a runners’ build I do not have – so I will cherish the feeling of today.
Where the course direction usually alternates between Clockwise and Counter-Clockwise, this was the second straight week of Counter Clockwise running. It’s a safety issue the RD puts into place when the course has snowpack or otherwise sketchy conditions: when the course isn’t fully clear of snow, it makes sense to run against traffic to be sure cars can see you, and you them, when there’s a spot on the course that may result in some last second corrections.
Such as it was today after a pretty hefty snowstorm Thursday.
It was pretty cold this morning, chilly – upper 20’s, low-30’s – but the wind…oh, the wind was blowing just making it very chilly to be out in running clothes. I did a couple of one-mile warm up runs around the Worcester State campus: nothing too fast or strenuous, but just enough to warm up the muscles, wearing a warm up jacket to get used to the wind and cold.
And then, almost just like that, it was 9 AM. Runners’ set! Go! And we were off. While I wasn’t thrilled to be out there running this morning, I set off at a pretty good pace – I ran the first two miles faster than I have run any two miles: 7:16 and &7:28 – but consistent with the approach I’ve been taking lately with these short races (go all out for as long as I can and just try to keep pushing it), long about mile 2.7 the wheels just came off. I actually marked the point on my watch so I knew the point at which I had pretty much given up. The first .7 of that mile I was running at 8:03 – which, had I kept my mind on, I would have crushed my first sub-24 minute time on this course. The rest of the course I ran at an 8:29 pace. Worst? At the very last second, the guy behind me came and sniped my place. I deserved that, and frankly had I realized he was there, it wouldn’t have changed anything: I was beat. Coming around the last corner and down the final 0.1 mile stretch, there was this headwind that combined with my relative exhaustion made it feel like I was moving in slow motion.
Positives: I’m very close to cracking that 24-minute barrier on this course. Today I came 11-seconds short. 11 flipping seconds. Gah. All because I was satisfied with what I had done to that point. I couldn’t push it further for 0.4 more mile. That’s going to sting for a bit, but will hopefully motivate me for tomorrow.
Counter Clockwise (Last 5):
March 10: 24:11, 32-degrees, windy
March 3: 24:30 40-ish degrees, cloudy
February 17: 24:22
October 21, 2017: 25:13
March 18, 2017: 24:42
February 11, 2017: 26:17