This week was a little different weather wise from last. Today wasn’t quite as hot, but my goodness it was humid; it must’ve been like 1000% humidity and it was total swamp weather. Gross. I sweat like a pig any way, never mind when the air is essentially water. I look like someone has dumped water over my head.
Fact is the it rained most of the day – at various intervals it misted, poured, stopped, poured…just one of those days – but by about 5:30 PM it had stopped for good. BUT the humidididididity. Holy smokes.
The rain probably tamped down attendance – it certainly seemed like it, but there were maybe 38 runners this evening and 39 last week so perhaps it was just perception. Not bad, really, for a Tuesday evening race without adding in the nasty conditions. Since it’s a trail race, rain does have a deleterious effect on the track and with the rain the park festivities were canceled (no band, vendor tents and such) so perhaps it was just the lack of an event going on around the race that made the race seem smaller.
They’ve been running this race since August 2003 – 15 years of Tuesday night trail races…in Massachusetts’ second largest city (and alternately, between Providence RI, New England’s second largest depending on population – it seems to go back and forth). I think it’s pretty cool that you can run a trail race in the middle of a city.
371′ of gain, up and around the trails behind Doherty High School. Kinda muddy, wet. To be sure, I had my opportunities – I’m sure I could have pushed myself harder, but didn’t. There were a few times I was surprised at the pace my watch was recording, figuring it was glitchy or something. That last mile was slower than I would have thought, so perhaps it was glitchy, but I know there was one pretty significantly large hill that it felt like was forever and I know it slowed me down.
Overall, I generally felt pretty good about this race on this evening. I didn’t kill it, but it didn’t kill me and I could definitely see improvement over last week. Last but not least I got to talk to a friend of mine who is running the Anchor Down Ultra on Friday with his son – such a great experience and I’m so happy to be a part of that.
August 14, 2018: 27:13. Mid-70’s, 1000% humidity, and generally rainy most of the day. (17/39)
August 7, 2018: 28:15 82 degrees, and swampy humid (20/39)
August 22, 2017: 30:21 Clear, muggy and 82 degrees. (27/47)
August 15, 2017: 29:56 Mostly clear and 72 degrees (37/49)
August 8, 2017: 32:52 Clear and 72 degrees. (39/46)
Where Tuesdays in July hold the “Lake Park Summer Fitness 5k Series,” August holds the “Newton Hill 5k Cross Country Series” for the Central Mass Striders. The races support the Friends of Newton Hill at Elm Park, an organization that supports the trail improvement in this area of Worcester behind Doherty High School.
Last year the course was modified due to construction around the park, but this year it’s back to it’s usual course. It is more or less the same – although I’d argue that the detoured course last year was probably less challenging or so it seemed: I’m looking at the elevation gain between the two courses and it looks like there may have been an additional 60′ of gain last year. Of course, it’s self serving for me to claim this course was more challenging this year.
Today’s weather was BRU-TAL – 81 degrees, 74% humidity, heat warnings. Just gross, awful swamp weather. I took a quick warm up run and I was basically wearing wet clothes.
The course measured out on my watch at 2.99 miles and 344′ of gain. Last years modifications yielded about 2.94 miles and about 410′ of gain. I’m sure the longer distance makes up for some of the difference in gain, but probably not the totality. I’m mindful though that trail running is inexact so everything is “approximate” anyway.
Now, last year on August 8, I ran this race at 32:45 – my worst 5k run in forever. I remember being so angry with my performance, but in my defense it had only been a few weeks since being able to run again so my conditioning and endurance were completely compromised. The next week, I ran it 29:56 – less bad, but still bad. I remember feeling pretty good about it, having showed some improvement. The following week, I went back down to over 30-minutes again. I was so angry with myself I didn’t stick around to collect up the shirt you get for doing three of the races. In retrospect, that evening was the closest to this evening of the three races.
There were a few times this evening that I disappointed myself – taking a few moments to walk to recover my heart rate. A few times I should’ve kept going and I let up on myself. Maybe the right move, maybe not. Hard to know beyond giving myself something to improve the next time. All of that said, I think I did really well tonight – finished about middle of the pack, right about where I usually am. Which means my 28:17 time is pretty much par for the course, but vastly better than anything last year.
August 7, 2018: 28:15 82 degrees, and swampy humid
August 22, 2017: 30:21 Clear, muggy and 82 degrees. (27/47)
August 15, 2017: 29:56 Mostly clear and 72 degrees (37/49)
August 8, 2017: 32:52 Clear and 72 degrees. (39/46)
Phew. That’s a mouthful. The Woodland Trail Series is a 3-part series of trail races through the West Hill Park in Northbridge, MA and Tri Valley Front Runners is a local (predominantly) trail running club. My club never seems to do well at these events because, well, we’re not trail runners as a group. BUT the registration fee for these races (3 for like $16) is just too good for any of us to pass up. It’s pretzel logic, but it’s logic.
The race itself is not comparatively difficult: I came less than prepared for GPS and therefore had to use my FitBit, which is more or less accurate, which registered about 300′ of elevation gain. It was in the mid-70’s but HUMID. Holy smokes, was it humid. It stopped raining just before the start of the race, which it’s hard to say whether or not that was a good thing. It’s lightly technical; we started a single track for a bit, but otherwise it’s fire roads and hiking trails. If you’re conditioned, it should make for a pretty fast course. If you’re not…not so much.
I did a run on Monday, that felt pretty good overall, but woke up Tuesday with some seriously sore muscles meaning I’ve been slacking a bit on my pacing and was feeling it. That and I’ve been hacking up a lung as well. So I know this was going to be a tough run. My friend Dukie told me I was busy looking for excuses, and perhaps I was, but I knew it was going to be a rough run. It was. I wish I could tell you it was a self fulfilling prophesy, but I don’t think so.
I’ve done this particular race three times now: I ran it once each of the last two years. Last year I finished about 20 seconds slower than the year before, but I tell myself that was because it was one of my first races back after falling down the mountain. This year, I finished about 30-seconds faster. Roughly 2500-miles run over the last two years between running this course and I’m 30-seconds faster. Worst? My pace was faster those times because the course registered longer. I’m so angry with my performance. I can blame the humidity — I literally had to wring my shirt out — and I can blame respiratory issues, but at the end of the day, I just wasn’t ready. Maybe next month. Or maybe not. July and 9000-degrees? Ugh. Onward and upward.
June 2018: 50:58.39
July 2017: 51:54
July 2016: 51:38
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Saturday, I completed race 46 of my goal 46 in 2016. The Ragnar Trail Run is a three loop trail race, completed with a team of 8 with each runner completing all three loops, and in this case it meant covering about 15 miles over the course of however long it takes one’s team to complete the circuit. Except my team was short runners…and half way through, we had an injury.
My 15 miles became 24, 19 of which were run in the second 12 hours of the race. It was a monstrous race.
I’m a street runner. I’m an obstacle course fan. Elevation gains and long distances arent my thing. Coming down that last trail – the longest, highest elevation – running, running, running…almost unable to stop, with quads screaming to stop and yet not being able to – it was a feeling like I’ve never had, truly something alluding to what I have to believe hell must be like. Being Ragnar, and being the last runner, as I came to the transition area to complete the race, my team joined me to cross the finish line together. It was an amazing, awesome conclusion to the race, but a fantastic way to mark the completion of my 46 race goal.
These were folks I had met only for the race. I didn’t know any of them. Not one. I responded to a Facebook post looking for team members. Their only interest in me was that I was filling a slot that would have otherwise gone unfilled.
And, yet, by the time we crossed the line together, this was their goal too. It was important to them that they were a part of this for me. I heard them talk with pride about the fact this was my 46th race on the year. I kept the bib. It was important to me, and it was important them. That meant so much to me that over 28 hours, we went from strangers to friends bonded by the completion of a goal.
It was a powerful experience; not just the completion of my original goal, but how these strangers came together to care about my goal. Years from now, I will look back at 2016 and I will remember this experience fondly.
This year has helped me be fearless about setting goals. Fearless of taking on unknown challenges. Fearless about pushing myself for more, to be better, to compete in the unknown. And this has made me powerful. I’ve taken chances. I’ve lept from safety and pulled the ripcord, not knowing where I would land.
I honestly thought it would be more difficult to accomplish than it was, but as I look back I realize I’ve relied upon my old friends, stepped out of my comfort zone and met new friends, and have joined strangers who have become friends. It’s been a fantastic year and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds.
I met one person in March by happenstance who has become a solid race buddy. I met another guy who responded to my call to join our Ragnar Relay team with whom I’ve now run a couple of other races and recorded our #Kill22 pushups together at the Providence City Hall. I jumped into a pool of ice water in the middle of February just because I was asked to, to raise money for a kids’ camp.
I feel incredibly powerful for having met my goal. I feel incredibly blessed for having met so many wonderful people in my year of running. I already know how ridiculously blessed I am for having such a fantastic peer group of old friends supporting me. My family has been so loving and supportive. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I’m living proof.