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
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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

2019 Race Recap #10: 7-Sisters Trail Race

I was already put on notice regarding just how difficult this race is when they start putting emergency numbers on the front and all my personal emergency information on the back. I’m pretty sure the only information missing was my Blue Cross member number and blood type. These people are not fooling around.

This isn’t a 10-miler. Not a half marathon. Something in between. But it’s definitely among the most difficult things I’ve done. Somewhere between 11 and 12 miles, the official website says the elevation is “over 3500′” (I got about 4700 on my watch in just over 11 miles). It’s highly technical single track trails on an out-and-back course, which means then that there are some interesting intersections when the fast guys are coming back.

I had it in my head that it would be similar to the “Vulcan’s Fury” trail race in Pawtuckaway NH. That’s roughly the same distance over slightly less technical trails, but upon reflection when I did that race in 2017, I clocked in a little over 1800′ of gain. Sooo, like not like this race at all, basically.

Before the races last weekend, I hadn’t run a trail in quite some time, so one can easily imagine what was going through on that first mile when I realized just how out of my depth I really was. Combined with the rain over the last couple of weeks, this was something else.

To give some context as to just how out of my league I was, over the last 3-miles or so of the race, I was going back and forth with this guy who had started after me (his bib was in the 400’s and the waves went out numerically) who was wearing what looked not wholly dissimilar from a track suit and street running sneakers. Let that sink in: highly technical, glacial-rock and exceedly thick, muddy trails and this cat is rocking a pair of Under Armours for street running….and we’re competing for time. So, yeah, it wasn’t my best performance. For a really good description of the race, here’s an entry from RunnersWorld that helps you get a feel for it (and perhaps some of the psychos who run it).

On a clear day, the views would be amazing: across western mass, likely into New York, Vermont and Connecticut. Sadly though, with the low hanging clouds still stubbornly hanging around (there was a light rain earlier in the day, with the weather hanging around at least into Sunday) the only thing to see was the gray.

My friend Jen also ran the race and didn’t die. Here we are celebrating not having died.

Results

Place GUN

CHIP
PACEGENDERAGEAGE PLAGE GRP
3564:01:594:01:5920:09M4992M40 – 49

Full results

2019 Race Recap #9: Blue Hills Trail Races Fox Trot 10-Miler

Cameron: “I’m dying.”
Ferris: “You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.

My favorite descriptor for a negative situation is “Dumpster Fire.” I laugh every time, it’s just such a funny mental image comparing an event or happening to a flaming container of trash. Urban Dictionary contributor Guitarist1234 nails why I start this recap thus:

I knew upon registering it wasn’t going to be a stellar performance, given the race the day before was also going to be of some distance, but after having run that race, I knew how badly out of trail condition I was. I’ve never been a particularly good trail runner, but I’m at least generally competent, and that day I was marginally competent.

Sometime later, I knew it was going to be something substantially below “not a stellar performance” when I realized that I was also going to the “Awesome 80’s Prom” the evening before. So to recap: Trail Half Marathon, 80’s themed night out, 10-mile trail race.

The question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do.”

So at the appointed time Sunday morning, I met my friends at the registration table, and picked up my bib. I had paid $12, I was going to run this race (despite having protested the evening before that I had only paid $12 so it’s not like I HAD to run this race…) I was moving on approximately 4-hours sleep, a can of Monster, and certainly had a head a little larger than usual with a decidedly greenish-hue to my complexion. Dumpster fire.

This course was shorter than the advertised 10-miles. My watch clocked in at roughly, but I have some questions about the watch’s trail accuracy there. Other folks seemed to come in at somewhere between 9.4 and 9.5. The half marathon the day before came in at 13.9, where others’ came in at about 13.4 so I know something’s hinky with the calibration there. BUT what I do know is that it is calibrated with itself, so I feel confident saying that on Saturday there was roughly 1200′ of elevation and Sunday – on a shorter course – there was about 1425′. My point here is that I felt like this was a harder course and it would seem to be backed up by that, despite my having spent the majority of this post discussing why I was such a… dumpster fire.

The race director was clear that this was the wettest he’d ever seen the course. Fantastic. And I can tell you for sure, it was wet. Muddy, at points it was almost a river race. It started on a car road heading up, and my friend Tom who had just said that he wasn’t in condition to race for 10-miles, took off like he had been shot out of a cannon as soon as the horn sounded. So I knew I was clearly out of my element.

I started off “okay” enough, but the wheels came off pretty quickly. My first couple of miles were respectable enough, but by mile 3 the wheels were completely off between my lack of proper preparation, and increasing elevation gain I was toast. From there, I varied between sub-optimal and poor performance wise. I did finally catch up with my friend Jen to come in ahead of her by about 30-seconds, but that was only because of a net elevation loss on that stretch.

For what it’s worth, Tom finished roughly a half hour ahead of me. Meaning he ran a trail race 10-miler with 1400′ of gain at slightly slower pace than my best 10-mile road races.


Results

90/112 1:58:08

2019 Race Recap 8: Wallum Lake Half

I hadn’t really run a trail since September of last year. I’ve messed around on the trails near Mt. Wachusett with my friend Tom a couple of times, knowing that I’ve registered for the North Face Challenge again (not bad for a race I’ve said twice now that I would never do again), but nothing to the point that I should have to just jump in.

Winter is a tough time to run trails in New England if you don’t like snow (Tom does, so he does run trails then…then again, he likes running generally and trail running in specific so there’s that too), and my focus since January has been training for my last race. So, this was going to be a fairly significant kick in the pants anyway, but honestly I was unprepared for just how much it did kick me there.

I honestly think it was more a mental challenge than physical, but I was clearly not where I needed to be. It was about 1200′ of elevation gain, but it felt much worse. There weren’t many if any severe climbs, but my heart rate monitor/Garmin app tells me that I was working it hard…and it still took me 2:38:01 to complete.

The course is a roughly 6.5 mile figure-8-ish track – so the half is two laps. Mid-way through the second lap I was questioning whether I had gotten off course because I couldn’t remember seeing certain things, but would be reminded again either by physical evidence (footprints in the mud) or geologic marker (flat, glacial rocks). It’s been unseasonably rainy the last few days, so the course was ridiculously muddy as well, with several areas flooded out requiring either full-on attack through, or some pussy-footing around – more often than not I pussy-footed around until the later stages when it was very clear to me that there was nothing more to be gained by skirting the issue.

I really thought I was behind everyone by the time I was coming to the final mile or so. I was beat, and could barely will myself forward. Over the final…we’ll call it .3 mile, I could see another runner just walking and I figured I could probably catch him if he didn’t pick it up. For a fleeting second I wondered if he had already finished and was waiting on someone, but I needed something, anything to motivate me to finish stronger than what I was heading toward, so I pushed. It turns out he hadn’t finished, and I was able to run by him and grab a higher finishing slot. I finished almost a full hour AFTER the winner had. Remarkable considering I don’t run street half marathons at 1:39:00 and this was substantially harder than a street.

Results

39/67

2:38:01.1 +58:46.2

Previous Half Marathon Results

2019: 42nd New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:45:58
2018: 41st New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57 
2017: Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56 
2018: Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon 1:54:11
2018: Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
2018: Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29 
2017: Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
2016: Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48
2018: Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32 
2017: Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
2019: Wallum Lake Half Marathon (Trail):2:38:01.1

2018 Race Recap #45: Rugged Maniac New England

It’s hard to call an untimed event a “race,” but it is still an opportunity to go out an challenge yourself. Even better when you can do it with your kids.  The thing I love about this race is that it’s designed to be attainable, it’s not about consequences for not completing an obstacle, but rather about the joy of participating. It’s just fun, and if you fail an obstacle, it just means you get a little more wet.

We bought the additional laps – RMX – and I had hoped to get three laps in, but time constraints only allowed for 2, which, as it turned out, was more than enough – I was ridiculously sore the rest of the day for some reason. You might think that after having done, I don’t know, 8?,  obstacle courses this year I wouldn’t be as messed up basically playing in the mud, but here we are.

The course this year clocked about 3.5 miles. It’s held on a BMX track so there’s some decent elevation changes that can be challenging. There’s nothing really innovative about the obstacles – essentially the same from previous years – but that’s okay, because they’re just fun: trampolines, inflatable water slides, hanging on a rope and sliding across water.  It was great seeing some first timers out there, having fun and pushing themselves.  25 or so obstacles packed into the course ensures that it’s never too long before you hit one.

It’s reasonably priced, fun, and a good time to be out with friends and family. This is my fourth time running this particular race at this venue and I keep coming back because it’s fun, affordable and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Here’s their sales pitch on the RM website:

Picture this:  You arrive at Motocross 338 on September 29th or 30th with a carload of your most adventurous friends.  As you step out you notice the people around you admiring your group’s coordinated “Avengers-in-bathing-suits” costumes and your on-point Hulk-green body paint. In the festival, people are already riding the mechanical bull and playing beach volleyball (Rugged Maniac is definitely more than just a mud run), but you’re more interested in the stein-hoisting contest on the main stage.  You make a note to sign up for that and the pie-eating contest after you run.   You see obstacles in the distance – mud-covered people jumping over fire, bouncing on trampolines, rocketing down a huge water slide – and your surging excitement confirms what you already knew: Today is going to be awesome!

Now, by virtue of the fact the race is untimed, there are no “results” per se. My self timing of the two laps netted about 7-miles in 2-hours and a couple seconds.  The plus side of a mid-morning heat is that by the nature of the marketing (above) the majority of folks come out later on, yet the day’s temperature is perfect. By the second lap, the course was pretty full, which meant delays and bottlenecks at some obstacles – there would be people waiting at the fire jump for the course to clear, then they’d go, and at the end of the jump, they’d stop and gather creating a bit of a hazard for those in the jump and of course exacerbating the bottleneck. A little supervision by the volunteers would have been helpful there.

All in all, though, it remained true to the reason we did it: it was fun, lowkey and a good experience together.

2018 Race Recap #44: Joe English Twilight Challenge Marathon Relay

I love this race. This year is the third time I’ve run this event, and it was a special one for me: this year my daughter was my relay partner.  She even let me name the team with a dad joke: “A Running Joke.” A ridiculous and terrible pun, but I think it’s funny.

42394668_10216654802864611_7820868900345610240_n
“A Running Joke”

The Joe English Challenge is a host of different events all held on the same 2.6-mile loop course at Freestyle Farm – a horse farm in Amherst, New Hampshire: a 6-hour, marathon, marathon relay, half-marathon, half-marathon relay. I was planning to run the 6-Hour Ultra (afterall, I AM training for a marathon and I need the long run) but then I asked her if she would consider doing it and she said yes – she’s running a half marathon in a few weeks so the training is important for her too. I’ll take a shorter run for the partnership of my daughter any day.

It’s an equine training facility, so the trails aren’t technical. There’s some up- and down, rolling hills. The course itself is great: volunteers have bonfires along the course and cheer you on. The start/finish festival area is a big old horse barn where you can spread out a blanket, bring chairs, picnic, whatever. AND they have a great spread of food, up to and including vegetarian options.  Just a super, thoughtful, well done event.  Proceeds go to support the Amherst Land Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving open space in the town. Additionally, there’s another event they do earlier in the year that I’ve thus far failed to do, but it’s been my intention to do it.

joe english
Clearly, this was before the race started.

I didn’t realize how much better a runner I have become over the last year: while I’ve fought through some injury this year, I’ve not had anything that’s laid me out quite the way it did last year, and with that healthy time I’ve been doing more and varied running…and exercising in general.  Last year my fastest pace was slower than three of my five loops this year and even on the two that were slower, they were slower by 8- and 4- seconds respectively.  My fastest pace last year was the only one that compared to this years’ running…and I ran a race this morning!

think“Find Your Inner Wild” is a slogan for another race too, but you know I don’t think anyone is going to confuse this event for that one.

There were 5 marathon relay teams this year: the first couple of years I ran this event there were maybe 3, but consistently mine is the only two-person relay team so I like to think there’s something special about that.  The first two years I ran with my friend Andy: in 2016, we actually WON the event with a time just over 4-hours. I’ve never won anything before nor after.  In 2017 we were actually faster than the year before and finished second (third was only about 40 seconds slower overall!!). This year, my daughter and I finished 4th with a time of just about 4:17:00 or so – I didn’t think to take a picture of the results and it’ll be some time before the results are posted online but I’ll update when they’re posted. The winners actually finished in just over 3-hours. Preposterous.

I’m super proud of her, and super happy for having had the experience. Maybe, she’ll see fit to run with her old man again next year.

Results:

2018: 4:15:52
2017: 3:54:09
2016: 3:57:36