2019 Race Recap #24: Joe English Twilight Challenge 6-Hour

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.

Back row is me, Derya, and Mark. Jen is in the middle row on the far right.

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.

Sweet swag..although I hate to tell them that “Find Your Wild” is also Ragnar’s tag line…

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!

Results

8/29, M 6/21, 6 12 laps, 05:49:49.12 , 31.4 Miles.

50k History

Joe English Twilight Challenge, Amherst NH10/12/20195:49:49
TARC Fall Classic, Carlisle MA9/28/20196:08:18
TARC Fall Classic, Carlisle MA9/30/20176:48:39
TARC Spring Classic, Weston MA4/22/20176:56:46
East Side Trail Races 50k, Easton MA8/4/20197:51:45
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA6/8/20198:42:03
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA6/9/20189:50:48
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA6/10/201710:11:19

2019 Race Recap #23: TARC Fall Classic 50k

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.

Let he who hath understanding reckon the number of the kind-of-beast, for it is a human number. It’s number is six hundred and sixty…three.  Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.

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.

Results

33/76 6:08:18.1

Previous 50k Results:

TARC Fall Classic, Carlisle MA 9/28/20196:08:18
TARC Fall Classic, Carlisle MA9/30/20176:48:39
TARC Spring Classic, Weston MA4/22/20176:56:46
East Side Trail Races 50k, Easton MA8/4/20197:51:45
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA6/8/20198:42:03
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA 6/9/20189:50:48
North Face Endurance Classic, Princeton MA 6/10/201710:11:19

2019 Race Recap #17: East End Trail Race 50k

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.

Results

26/27. 7:51:45

2019 Race Recap #14: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

In terms of my commentary about the race itself – course markings, watch issues – I don’t think I could say anything differently from last year. This is a very well done event, easy registration, good festival area, good course markings. There were a couple of times this year I found the markings a little wonky, but I think that was more me than the course itself.

What I really want to talk about is my experience of the race. 31 miles is a significant distance under the best of circumstances. This race covers roughly 6000′ of elevation gain – more than a mile going up. It’s quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve now done it three times.

Last year I finished in 9 hours, 50 minutes. Since last year, I’ve run 2 road marathons. The distance, while still quite significant, doesn’t feel quite as daunting. I also ran the 7-Sisters trail race, a race that while shorter by 2/3s was more technical and were it longer, and probably not much longer, I would likely say IT was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. So, I feel like I was reasonably prepared for this race.

Truth be told, I hadn’t hydrated well enough over the preceding days. I now know that, but otherwise I was ready. I felt good through the majority of the race. There was a couple of points where I could feel some cramps coming on but was able to hold off any real difficulty until after the mile 26 check point. At that point, however, it was clear to me that my running for the day was pretty much over. Sad really, as there were some imminently runnable downhills that would have been nice to crush.

The thing about technical trail running for me is that it is hard on the body, you really have to stretch yourself, but more importantly than that it’s refreshing, revitalizing. Here’s what I mean by that: in a world where your attention is monetized, you cannot afford not to be paying full attention all the time out here. The odd rock, or root, or decent all demand your attention or you will trip. What’s that person behind you doing? Should you let them pass? Are THEY paying attention?

When I’m running on a road, there’s the occasional car to be mindful of, but otherwise there’s a lot of room for internal dialogue to creep in. I wear headphones and listen to music most of the time to drown out that negativity. On the trail, your mind don’t have that luxury – it has to be focused on the task at hand.

Today, I woke up sore, with a few dents and dings, but mentally quite refreshed. Like spending the day in mediation, being present. It’s hard to do that in modern life, so I’m thankful for having had that time.

I wrote last year that I was bummed about failing to have foresight enough to grab a selfie at “Redemption Rock.” ✅

I took well over an hour off my time from last year, but when you look at my official splits you can definitely see where the cramps really started to affect my race. All in all, a solid effort that I’m pleased with.

RESULTS

2019: 113/164, 8:42.03
2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

2018 Race Recap #26: North Face Endurance Challenge 50k

No automatic alt text available.If the The Great Inflatable Race was a lark, and the Newport 10-Miler was all business, this…this was pure [expletive deleted] hell.  No, seriously. I hate this race. I’m never doing this [expletive deleted] race again. Which is exactly what I said last year when I finished it: I fell down at mile ten, broke my toe and took a bunch of stitches in my arm.  And maxed out my insurance deductible.

This year the course was changed a bit: they added an extra hour to the cut off, but according to my GPX data they added about 500′ of gain to the course. Whats really interesting is that last year AND this year, they said GPS watches were inaccurate, etc., but I have to say, while my watch did not align with the watch as a whole, it was off by literally 0.1 mile from last years.  If the course actually IS 31 miles, then my watch is consistently inaccurate, so at least I have that going for me. I get that consumer GPS is going to be less accurate than government data, but don’t gaslight me thinking that I somehow screwed up.  Ya know?

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Honestly, this was the best I was going to look all day, at the first summit

The course was incredibly humbling: a couple of friends from my running club – these women are incredible runners – bagged out at mile 15. Trails aren’t for everyone. The elevation gain is front loaded at the first 10-miles: of the 6000’+, a good 3300′ are up front, leaving about half over the remaining 20-miles or so. Gets those legs all good a rubbery for the rest of the course.

The course takes you to the summit of Wachusett Mountain twice, then down and into the state park. Were I actually conditioned for this, it wouldn’t be that bad – there are stretches where the course is downhill fireroads – which should make for a good pace. The problem is that by the time I got to them, I was so drained I literally could not move any faster than I was: I tried to pick up the pace a few times, only to be met with muscles telling me they would cramp if I did.  I spent more than a few minutes along the course stopped, stretching out my back or pulling my legs out of a cramp.  I really thought I had properly prepared myself with nutrition and fuel but clearly that was not the case.

Relive ‘North Face Endurance Challenge 50k’

One take away I have from this is just how beautiful the area is.  I took the time to stop and take a few pictures along the way – by clicking the “Relive” link above you can see the course and the pictures are geolocated on the map.  You really just don’t appreciate how steep these trails can be without actually seeing them.

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Probably not the steepest, nor the least accessible, but then again if it were less accessible I probably couldn’t have taken a picture.

In the end analysis, the distance was pretty much on point from last year, the elevation increased with some modifications to the course. I give the organizers a lot of credit: organizing a 50-miler, 50k, marathon, marathon relay, 10k and 5k and doing it really efficiently. Course markings were good – color coded ribbons matched to your race – and aid stations generously positioned on the course.

I did what I came to do – redeemed by performance, or mishaps, of last year.  While I had not forgotten the theme – redemption – I did forget the course takes you by “Redemption Rock” and had I my wits about me, I’d have taken a selfie there as a reminder. It wasn’t a fast race and all of the same things (sans falling down the mountain) that plagued me last year got me this year – something about training or something sounds vaguely familiar.  BUT I accomplished it, I finished, and unhurt.  That’s a win.

Results

2018: 149/175, 9:50:48
2017: 176/185, 10:11:19

A 50k Punch in the Mouth

Image result for 50k decalOn April 22, I hit a milestone I never anticipated, nor expected, to hit.  I ran a 50k.  That’s 31+ miles.

A year ago, I was focused on running a number of races.  By this point last year – April 23, 2016 – I had run 14 races.  14 5ks (actually 13 5ks and 1 3-miler).  Today I ran a 50k trail race.  Put another way, in one day, I had eclipsed 10 of those 5k races from last year.

Interestingly enough, this was race 18 on the year.  I’ve run 9 5ks, and a bunch of others: 5-Milers, 10-Milers, 15k.  Fully half of what I’d run to that point was far more than I could have imagined a year ago.  On May 1 last year, I ran my first race of more than 5k.  A 10k.  Or one of 5 loops I did for the 50.  To think I’d upped my capacity from 5 to 50k.  Unfathomable.

Now, make no mistake, on that last 10k I did far more walking than running.  I had no business being out there.  I finished the marathon distance in 5 hours 20 minutes.  I finished the 50k in just under 7 hours.  But I made a few promises to myself this year.

First, I’m punching 2017 in the mouth.  Taking no prisoners

Second, I’m committed to trying 5 things I don’t know that I can finish this year.  This was the second.  The first was a January DNF.  The next one is also a 50k, but a far more technical and difficult one.  I’m not sure just yet what the other two will be, but I’m working on it.

Last, I was told to make my race for my dad.  I got back up one more time than I quit on this day, and I did so because I was out there for my dad.  It’s really hard to quit on your father.

This isn’t to brag on myself, please believe me that I have a great deal to be humble about.  Rather, it’s about taking stock.  Stopping along the path, looking around and taking stock of where you’ve been, but also how much farther there is to go.  So as I write at the 40% point of the year, I’ve completed about 43% of my running goal for the year.  I’ve done something I never thought I would, and I’ve tried 2 things I wasn’t sure I could actually finish.  It’s about growth.

I’ve grown.  And I’m punching 2017 in the mouth.