Man, I was killing this course – KILLING IT – until I got to the last mile and a half. Seriously, my wheels came flying off and that ended it. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, shall we?
In terms of Spartan Races, the Boston sites – in this case Carter & Stevens Farm, but also the Boy Scout Camp in Rutland that Spartan has used for Sprints the past couple of years – are pretty flat, fast courses. In comparison, the Palmerton Super was some 4000′ of elevation gain, versus todays’ 1400′. It’s a very nice facility – wide open, wooded, muddy AF, all kinds of things that make for a good obstacle course. It’s a cow farm, right? I mean, it’s flat, it’s muddy. Spartan also does a really good job of compensating for that in terms of obstacle selection and spacing.
The fact that it is August 11 and 70-degrees, overcast, kind-of-crummy really didn’t hurt.
By and large, this is a trail run with some obstacles thrown in there, and I was KILLING IT. This is where the whole compensation thing comes into play, though, I finished in a little over 2 hours, 35 minutes – on a course measuring 8.6 Miles by my watch. Thing is though that were this a 7-mile course, I’d have finished in just under 1 hour, 45 minutes. Seriously. That last 1.6 miles took me over 50 minutes to complete between the obstacles, my faulty wing and the burpees. I’ve had a messed up shoulder for a while, but that means that I’m basically going to fail a bunch of obstacles I should otherwise complete, like monkey bars for instance.
Pretty much everything was stacked toward the end: I failed the spear throw (a 50/50 proposition for me anyway) and everything else: multi-rig, monkey bars. I usually get the Herc Hoist, but between my sore wing and the rain soaked bags that did me in. I got the rope climb by some virtue, but otherwise I sucked that stretch.
I was really pleased with my performance for the most part, but that last stretch really messed me up. On ward and upward.
Today was a bit of a lark. I wasn’t sure I would actually run the race, but I did have to get my miles in. We have house guests this week, one of whom I’ve been running with: he is into Nordic walking, so while I run, he does his walking and it works out well. Recently, the running club has promoted a “walking” aspect to the race, actively seeking walkers to do a timed walk of the course. He was down with the idea, so he and I went down to Worcester State to do the 5k.
While they’ve been here a few days, I seem to have gained about 5-pounds which is definitely an unhappy development – especially since over that time I’ve run 16 miles. We may have stayed up a bit later last night than would generally be considered appropriate training regimine, and with that in mind I figured today would be a train wreck.
It wasn’t. Well, not really. It still wasn’t great – better than the last time I ran it last month, with the closest comparator being last November’s 24:55 time. It’s 11-seconds faster than last month which is a positive, but in re-reading my description of the race (nagging injury, conditioning) and my action plan (increase mileage, more frequent long runs) I see that really hasn’t done too much – enough to get me 11-seconds, but not much else. I went out HARD in mile 1 – a 7:01 min/mile and despite my best efforts, I realize that was entirely too fast – it was a fast group today, and to my detriment, I tried to keep up with the big dogs. I’m not sure of my actual pacing after that, as my watch lost the satellite connection midway through the second mile and for some reason when it reconnected, it decided that I had run an additional .3 mile. I know about where that happened based on the map it drew, but as far as doing the math to figure out what my actual pace was for that mile, it’s going to be lost to history. But, what I do know the time translates to about an 8:02 pace for the overall race, and given that I know my first mile was 7:01, it’s not really hard to figure out that at least one of the following miles was pretty disgraceful.
I have noticed this past month or so running in the heat and humidity — prior to this year its something that to this point I have not done with any consistency either due to injury or motivation — I am a big sweaty mess. Almost as if someone poured a bucket of water over my head. Today, I had to wring out my headband. Just. Gross. I don’t know why this is or if it’s normal to get that disgusting, especially after a short race like a 5k. I don’t know if that’s my body telling me that my conditioning is terrible, or if it’s normal, or what. I do think, though, that it reflects the effort my body is putting out and that it means I’m working far harder (at least on these hot, humid days) than my pace would suggest. So, perhaps come October, when the weather is cooler and far less humid, I’ll be in far better condition to go back to tearing up these races.
Last week’s race was canceled due to extreme weather: lightning, flash floods, the whole deal. It was a drag because I really had expected to be able to run this race, but like most things it’s important to have a plan B in place: It rained a good portion of the morning so when the weather broke, I went for a run around the reservoir that engulfed my hometown some 120 years ago.
It’s been a week of really odd weather. Rain. Sun. Humidity. 3-seasons in each day odd, really. Where last Tuesday had me up and running at noon to get my 4+ miles in, today was a bit of a weak effort. I basically counted on this happening, despite the continuing odd weather. This time it paid off…which is good because I would have let myself down otherwise.
Taking a step back, away from the race recap, I’m working on a running goal of 1500 in 2018 – a 50% increase over my goal of a year ago. Now, I follow a bunch of cats on Strava who are not only killing that, 1500 miles is well in their rear view mirror. I have to work a lot harder to stay on task. Running is not something I particularly like nor does it come particularly easy to me. And, not without some consideration, I have a job that requires some consistency and presence. In other words, I have to take the opportunities when they’re presented and make a conscious effort to make those opportunities. There are only so many hours in a day to make it happen.
Fast forward a week. I went for a 5+ mile run Monday morning, went to fitness bootcamp at noon, and did another 5+ mile run Monday evening. I woke up today from a fitful sleep, just an anxious, sleepless evening. My legs and abductors were sore all day from the bootcamp work out. Basically, my body was giving me every reason not to succeed. The humidity was high. The temperature was high. I hadn’t done very much today. All kinds of reasons to underperform for this race.
So, I decided to do what I did last week: Do a mile or so warm up, and go all out the first mile and see where that left me. Duke wasn’t running this week, but I still took his admonition for a 24-minute race to heart. And guess what. It turns out last week the course was about .04-mile longer than this week, and controlling for that, I ran pretty much the same race. Technically, this one was faster – by two seconds a mile. Last week I ran a 7:58-mile pace; this week a 7:57. My mile breaks were almost exactly the same:
Mile 1 – This week 7:23, Last Week 7:32
Mile 2 – This week 7:55, Last Week :7:54
Mile 3 – This week 8:36, Last Week: 8:28
The saving grace for weekly improvement? Mile 1. I was comparatively faster on mile 1 this week over last, than I was last week over this week on mile 3. That slightly shorter distance gave me a 20-second advantage over last week, but otherwise it was pretty much the same race. I’d likely have come in slightly faster had it measured out – I was accelerating downhill across the finish – but it was basically the same. I’m pretty sure the difference in mile 3 was not feeling the competition of having a friend to catch up front. My other running buddies are either ridiculously fast and had long since finished or were behind enough that I wasn’t feeling the pressure to push harder —- to my detriment.
So, there it is. Essentially the same race I ran two weeks ago. A little faster on the first mile, a little slower on the third. My heart rate was exactly the same for both. It doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, but since I’m really kind of searching for a positive here, I’ll take it.
This was an interesting day: when I went to bed last night, my plan was to go for a run in the morning, hit my bootcamp workout at noon, and maybe do yardwork or something. Then I woke up later than anticipated and I decided that I would just stick with my usual morning routine. I looked at my work schedule and realized bootcamp at noon wouldn’t work, so I decided to run instead and then I’d hit bootcamp a little later in the afternoon or evening.
As part of my usual routine, I walk down to a local coffee shop, get a coffee – perhaps a breakfast of some kind – and peruse Facebook for a bit. Well, one of my friends had posted something about this race; I had done it a couple of years ago and thought it would be a good thing to try again. Alas, it was sold out, and when I commented on her post that I was bummed, she suggested that they usually do transfers. In turn I emailed the race director, who to his credit responded quite promptly and said they would transfer. Perfect, now I just needed to find someone to transfer. I could try bootcamp if my meetings ended soon enough or just lay low at noon and do the workout later on in the afternoon.
I posted the question on my running club’s Facebook page, but by noon hadn’t seen any comments, so I decided to go back to my second iteration of a plan and went for a 6-mile run at lunch. By this point, I came to find someone had responded and offered a bib. I hadn’t planned for this, but it was time to roll — I bagged bootcamp plans and made plans to race. One thing I forgot though was to make plans to actually meet the person who had the bib. That small issue aside, it was a perfect New England summer evening for such a race.
The course is an out-and-back along a rail trail in Marlborough, MA. The trail crosses a couple of streets, down through an office campus, and back. It’s predominantly downhill for the first half, and then it’s all climb on the way back.
This evening was low-humidity and about 75-degrees. Just a perfect evening. The start was a little rocky, a narrow street with the expectation runners would stay on the sidewalk until we got to the rail trail, and with cars parked on the side of the street, it made for a little congestion, but once on the trail it was clear. Given the elevation profile of the course, I knew the first half was downhill, so I decided to go out quickly to be sure I got some benefit from the downhill. I knew from my Monday night training run using another local race course as practice, that my hillwork needs…well, work, so I figured I’d throw my fat body down the hills and do my best to not die on the way back up. Monday’s run was about 387′ of gain, tonights was about 262′, so I figured I could weather it as long as I didn’t use all my fuel.
This more or less worked to my advantage. A couple of times on the way back, I slowed to a walk – my heart rate was really up there and I knew it would be difficult to keep moving at pace, a comfortable few seconds of walking to get that under control and readjust. Surprisingly enough, that turned out to be a pretty good strategy for maximizing my race pace.
Two years ago, I ran this race to a then personal record 10k time of 56:30. Tonight, I ran 51:00. Now, it’s a USATF certified course which means that the course itself will usually be a little bit longer to ensure the distance qualifies as a 10k. I clocked it at 6.3 miles, the same distance I got when I last ran it. For a 6.3 mile run, my self-timed pace came in at 8:06 minute/miles, officially its a tad slower at 8:12, but the total time that’s a constant. 51:00. I’m very happy.
This completes my third Spartan Trifecta in the last three years. Something I considered almost impossible when I started my fitness journey in 2016 has become somewhat routine. Perhaps routine is a little too blasé, but it’s something I’ve come to expect of myself and use to push myself toward more. Of course, it’s also something Spartan uses to push for more sales…but no reason to go down that road. It’s about delivering whats advertised.
Last year, I missed the opportunity for a few Sprints – I’d registered for the Boston Sprint, but couldn’t do it due to injury and finished the trifecta with the Fenway Spartan Sprint. A little weak, frankly. So, it was kind of important to get a little redemption this year. As it turns out, redemption has its own hazards that are outside the scope of this recap.
A Spartan Trifecta is the completion of a Sprint (3-5 miles), a Super (8-10 miles) and a Beast (13+) in the same calendar year. Now, there are specific rules around completing these – can’t do multiple, same day laps and what not – but otherwise reasonably straight forward. So, it turns out a Stadium Sprint (the Fenway Sprint I did in November, while it counted as a Sprint for the Trifecta, was a little more than 2 miles…not really heavy lifting) counts. Not all races classified as Sprint, Super, Beast are equivalent.
My first trifecta in 2016, I ran the Killington Vermont Beast – widely regarded as one of the hardest of the Beasts. (At least according to this list, I’ve done top three of the 5 hardest courses…irrespective of length). Last year and this, I bagged off Killington because I’d done it once and went to Vernon, NJ instead. I’ve done the Super in Barre, MA twice – it’s a cow farm. It’s relatively flat, and frankly almost the distance of the Sprint that’s also held on the farm. An obstacle race of any distance is a challenge, but matched up against the Palmerton Super I did today, it just pales.
The FIT Challenge matches up very well in terms of difficulty — elevation gain, number of obstacles, challenge of obstacles — in fact I’d say it exceeds almost anything Spartan offers, particularly in terms of price. The Multilap FIT Challenge stacks up well against today’s Palmerton Super, but I will say today’s race was the only one I’ve done that I would compare FIT unfavorably against Spartan.
There are a couple of reasons for the difficulty of today’s race not attributable to the race itself – I slept terribly, I hydrated terribly this week, the shoes (that I’ve worn for 65 previous miles) were ridiculously narrow (perhaps the heat?) and blistered both my feet, the promised hotel “breakfast” was an urn of coffee and a pre-packaged muffin (“That’s it?” “Yeah – that’s it”). All of those are controllable variables and ones with any sort of attention to detail can be overcome. There are reasons fully attributable to the race that made it more difficult – it’s July vs. April, it took me just a little longer to do 11+ miles at FIT than it did for me to do 9 miles today, FIT was 4100′ of gain, today was 3500′, and burpees. Perhaps it’s just the recency effect, but this felt subjectively more difficult.
I accomplished obstacles I’ve failed previously; I failed obstacles I shouldn’t have. Same story as usual, really. The one I’m most proud of? The goddamned Spear Throw. Seriously. I wrenched my gimpy shoulder earlier and the fact that I could even lift my arm was victory enough. That wrenching came back to bite me elsewhere, but at that point, hitting Spearman was victory enough.
This was definitely a Spartan Race I’m happy to have completed, and to have used to complete a Trifecta. I’ll be happy to not do this race again, however. In fact, after having wrenched my shoulder again – I’ve had difficulty with my rotator cuff for no less than the last 6-years – this may well be my last go at obstacle course racing. I’ll do the Super in Massachusetts again in a month to complete my “unofficial” 2x trifecta (for reasons explained about my second Beast attempt and because of that I set up my second Sprint on the same day as my first — remember, same day multi-laps don’t count — in a remarkable twist of pretzel logic to avoid deep regret), but other than that I may well have raced my last OCR. Which saddens me, I mean it’s OCR that I latched onto as the reason I wanted to get in shape, but I’m really worried that my shoulder may well have to be surgically repaired and if so, it would mark the first time I’ve run into the “at my age” syndrome where “at my age” I can’t really afford the time to rehabilitate. On that note, I guess we’ll see, but as of today I’ve completed a Spartan Trifecta on one of the hardest courses offered, not by literally sliding into home at the friendly confines of Fenway Park.
Another mouthful. The Lake Park Summer Fitness Running Series is a weekly 5k my running club holds on Tuesdays in July. It seems like an overly long title for a mid-week race, but whatever. It’s a legit race, probably moreso than the 52-Week 5k Series the club offers on Saturdays. It’s $5 to enter if you’re not a member, free to members, and it turns out CMS members really like free stuff. As it happens, it was seeing this on the calendar that initially had me join the club in the first place: $20/yearly dues and if I did these races it paid for itself; also of note, the 52-week 5k price drops from $5 to $3 for members, so for a guy that was into running a truckload of races that year, it made all the sense in the world.
I seem to miss at least one of these races for some reason or another. Last week, it was a vacation. Last summer, I think I may have done one race coming back from falling down a mountain and it was pretty ugly – my time last summer was mere seconds slower than the first time I ran. The first year I did three of them.
This is the third year I’ve been running to any magnitude. The first year, I didn’t know what to expect from running in summer, didn’t do enough and just rode the struggle bus through it. Last summer, I spent June and most of July on the DL which left me out of condition and still unaware as to how to run in heat. This is the first time I’ve been able to actually put any real concerted effort into running in heat and humidity.
I can tell immediately that I’m not hydrating myself nearly enough, and I’m finding it’s my willingness to exert myself in less than ideal conditions that is getting in my way — like most things it’s the head that gets in the way more than anything else.
As it turns out, my head got in the way again this evening – just not for the whole race, so I guess that’s progress.
It’s a generally flat course – my GPS recorded a 2′ elevation gain overall: a loop around Worcester’s Lake Park before exiting the park, down a few blocks and back into the park to finish where it starts. There’s generally a pretty good turnout – usually more than 70 or so runners – and the club does a small cook out featuring under cooked hot dogs and Polar seltzer water. Hey, what do you want for “free?” It’s truly a gem of a race, powered solely by an active group of volunteers.
I did a quick mile warm up which wasn’t pretty. I struggled through it at a moderate pace and I could feel every bit of my bootcamp workout from yesterday – nothing like jump squats to really let you know what for. The big difference tonight, beyond attempting to not let my head get in my way, was my running buddy Duke showed up at the last minute after having been stuck in traffic. He challenged me to a 24-minute race, I said I was going to go all out for the first mile and see where that left me, but that I hadn’t seen sub-25 in some time.
And so it goes: I went out as fast as I could for the first mile and played it by ear from there. Going back to the volunteers, it was super helpful that they were all out there at apparently strategic points to direct traffic, but it turns out just as I was wanting to quit I would see a friend of mine and obvi didn’t want to look like a wuss or that I couldn’t handle it in front of my friends…and of course once by them, I had to get a safe distance away so they couldn’t see me wussing…but then of course I’d see another friend. If the antagonist getting in my way is my head, sometimes it’s helpful that circumstances conspire to use that antagonist against itself.
It wasn’t my best race, but it was my best race in a while. Basically, it’s what I needed: I got over the hot weather hump, I exerted myself, pushed myself and showed myself that performing in hot, humid weather doesn’t have to mean a half effort. I finished a full minute (and almost a half!) faster than any previous effort – it didn’t have to be my best race to be a good race. NOTE: My self time of 24:42 seems to be off from the official 24:35. I know I didn’t stop my watch as soon as I crossed the line but I didn’t think I had waited 7 seconds, so I’m not sure what’s up there.
First, please excuse the late posting for this. I’ve been away and frankly, haven’t wanted to go out of my way to post. This was THE WORST race ever. Hands down. I mean the course was beautiful, but the result – ugh, for more than a few reasons it was terrible.
At the start of the race — 6:30 AM — it was 73 degrees, and I’m guessing no less than 85% humidity. I was already feeling a tad under the weather during and after the TVRC race on Thursday, but on Friday it hit me full on. I was huffing and puffing for the 5-miler, and I’m not at all convinced I didn’t slurp down some wonderful allergens and/or mold spores or something because Friday I woke up with a 100-degree temperature and coughing up lungies like you might read about. I spent the night on Friday coughing and gakking and wishing for sweet death.
This was going to be a S-show of a race and I really only had two options: DNS or just do it. I chose “Just Do It.”
Leading up to this week, my goal was 1:50. I was feeling pretty confident that after all my tweaks and dings and dents I was at the other side and could pull off a decent time here. With the phlegm and general lack of ability to breathe on race day, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen but I was still hopeful that I would best my worst half time, I mean this was a pretty flat course, ocean front with a generally cool breeze, but no. The combination of the humidity and the sick-death-pneumonia-black-plague I was suffering wasn’t going to allow anything remotely resembling a respectable time.
I started with the 1:45 pacer and quickly fell behind. That said it wasn’t until perhaps the 9th or 10th mile, where there was a turnaround in Colt State Park that I saw the 2:00 pacer on the other side of the street heading the opposite way that I realized I was completely screwed.
My running dynamics were reasonably on point – 172 spm average is not far off where I wanted to be at 180, but my stride was terrible and my heart rate was terrible and life was terrible and everything sucks.
ALL OF THAT SAID, My time was my worst half ever. Straight up. No doubt. No excuses.
BUT, it turns out that comparatively, I didn’t have as bad a day as I may have. I mean I have some mitigating circumstances — so does everyone else — but despite my shitty time, I finished about where I would normally finish percentage wise, perhaps a little slower than I may have expected, but overall Dead in the middle. 50.6% for my age.
I had a shitty race. No doubt. But it looks like a lot of other folks had a shitty race too, and I have to imagine not all of them were sick. My race buddy Mike, who was shooting for a 1:45 finished with 2:01, so I know I don’t completely suck.
This will be a redemption race next year, I’m sure, but for now, the humiliation of having put some 3000 miles on my odometer since my first half and this one and finishing 6-minutes slower stings. Worst. Half. Ever. Redemption will be forthcoming.