Saturday, April 6, 2013

Trails & Ales -- Leg 4

Tuesday, April 2nd

Daily totals:

- 11 miles (7AM/4PM - all trails!)
- Spider Bite First Bite (Pale Ale)
- Spider Bite Boris the Spider (Russian Imperial Stout)


An hour's worth of morning miles in one of my favorite trail section at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum. Lush Rhododendron groves, mossy paths, natural tree root staircases all tucked into a small nature preserve along the wetlands on the banks of the Connetquot River. In total, there's just about 3 miles worth of lopping trail in this section, but the diversity of terrain and setting in each corner is so great that it makes it easy to get lost in there for hours, just "playing" in the woods. The morning jaunt in the trails here served as a location scout for the afternoon's film shoot, which would be taking place on the same pine needle paths and mossy landings of this hidden gem of a training ground. That run/film session would expand into yet another section of my beloved Greenbelt Trail system, but I'll save the verbal description of that beautiful landscape and provide some visual stimulation, courtesy of what the lens captured. Video coming soon, but in the meantime here are a few still frames from that ethereal sunset session in the trails of relentless forward motion...


A double serving of the same trails should only be matched with a pair of craft concoctions from the same micro brewery -- The choice of the evening: Spider Bite Beer Co. (Holbrook, L.I.)

First Bite Pale Ale
5.5% ABV

This Pale Ale packs a punch of great flavor, decent hop character, and goes down quite easy. Though it weighs in above the 5% mark, I'd still consider it a very sessionable beer. It's surely one to be enjoyed on at the dinner table, a cool spring evening, and even the hottest of summer days. First Bite would cater to a wide array of palates and taste buds -- a solid ale from a fine brewery who has made the image of a spider somewhat likable again. TRY THIS BEER.

Boris the Spider (Russian Imperial Stout)

This delicious sludge is not for the faint of heart. At first pour, I thought my friend had handed me a bottle of Aunt Jemima as some sort of joke. A thick, blacker-than-black, liquid flowed slowly from the mouth of the bottle, creating a carmel-colored head atop it's midnight body. When my nose first breach the aroma that escaped from the abyss I was certain I would not be a fan of this one. "Trust me," said a fellow craft beer enthusiast. "You'll enjoy it." WOW. Not what I was expecting. This powerful stout was like nothing I've ever had before in it's category. I myself am a big supporter of Guinness, but this glass of dark stuff was in a league of its own. Tangled up in a web of rich, complex flavors and amazing maltiness, Boris the Spider is a real treat for lovers of the dark stuff out there. If you like Guinness, or if you want to take your taste buds on an adventure, there's a discovery awaiting in the glass if you do so dare to depart into the depths with Boris the Spider. RECOMMENDED FOR STOUT LOVERS LOOKING FOR AN 8-LEGGED KICK.

**Notable mentions from beyond borders: Alchemist Heady Topper (An incredible Double IPA from Warren, VT. I have no words, other than "GET ME ANOTHER ONE!)

Also from the Green Mountain State, Lawson's Fine Liquids Kiwi Double IPA (simply HOP-tastic!)

Hit the trails and discover some ales...

Stay Relentless, folks!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Trails & Ales Tour -- Leg 3

Monday, April 1st

Daily totals:

- 4 miles (1mi trail/3mi roads)
- Brooklyn Lager
- SixPoint Bengali Tiger

TRAILS (roads):

A short, condensed outing -- Lots to do today, so I had to eek out a quick pass through a nice little trail section called Paradise Island. While the name sounds majestic, it’s merely a tiny system of nature trails just off the Bayard Cutting Arboretum. Still, despite being a spec on the grid, it’s a beautiful little getaway from the roads. It’s about 1.5 miles away on the streets before you get to the hole in the chainlink fence that is the gateway to such a place. Although I could only fit in a quick miles worth on the soggy pine paths, it’s always an amazing feeling to get in the trails, no matter the time or distance. Besides, a shorter day likely worked in my favor with a couple of big days ahead...

Tomorrow should bring a double (2 runs, A.M. & P.M.) with some trails in the morning followed by a film and photo shoot in the Greenbelt system with the folks at Red Vault Productions. Stay tuned for updates on that! In the meantime, check out their incredible work at


Since the road-to-trail ratio weighed heavily in favor of the asphalt today, I figured it was only right to welcome a fine Lager into the Trails & ALES Tour -- a familiar and refreshing one, at that.

Brooklyn Lager (Brooklyn, NY -- Yes, it’s part of Long Island)
5.2% ABV

Touted as Brooklyn Brewery’s flagship beer, its Lager is a true masterpiece among the others in its category -- and that’s coming from a “hop head.” While Lager’s are not known for their hoppy character, this brew doesn’t disappoint in it’s malty flavor. Easy-drinking, great taste from start to finish, and the perfect beer to enjoy while watching the NY Mets pound the Padres 11-2 on Opening Day at Citi Field, located in the neighboring borough of Queens, not too far north from the brewery itself.

SixPoint Bengali Tiger IPA (Brooklyn, NY)
6.2% ABV

Ah, yes. A fine IPA for the palate any day of the week. This beautifully crafted variety also hails from Brooklyn, and unlike the stuff from their neighbors, all of their beers are only available in cans (and on tap, of course). While canning continues to grow among our nation’s micro breweries, Sixpoint was one of the first to pack the shelves with this 16oz. aluminum greatness. In my opinion, one of the better IPAs out there (and even better on tap, if you can find it) with it’s burst of flavor, slight caramel maltiness, and hop-tastic attack on your taste buds from beginning to end, courtesy of the dry-hopping technique Sixpoint uses in this wild animal of a brew. I definitely recommend this beer for the fellow IPA freaks out there, and to anyone who is looking to “step up” to the hoppy goodness of a smooth IPA that won’t leave you on the floor after enjoying a few of them.

Stay tuned for Day 4 updates on the Trails & Ales Tour -- coming complete with behind-the-scenes action of the film and photo shoot with the adventure filmmakers at

Follow the Trails & Ales Tour as the journey unfolds #trailsandales

Instagram: @RunningOnBeer
Twitter: @robriccardo

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trails & Ales Tour -- Leg 2

Sunday, March 31st

Daily totals:

- 6 miles (5mi trails/ 1mi road)
- Blue Point No Apologies (Double IPA)
- Blue Point RastafaRye (Rye Pale Ale)


A fairly "short"day in the trails, but I'd rather run 5 miles with my dad than 50 miles by myself any day of the week. Getting my father out on the trails was especially great since he hasn't run much, or really at all, since he had surgery on his legs just one month ago. With no plans to tackle a set distance, "Big Rob" and I hit the fire roads and dirt paths at Heckscher State Park, a local spor perched on the Great South Bay with some decent trails wrapping its outer edges. With the park being so close to my home, just a 5 minute drive away, it's always served as a local escape and venue for some backyard exploration ever since I could walk. Hitting the park with pops served as a great bit of nostalgia, as we trekked over familiar grounds in a way that we haven't done as a duo ever before. Despite his recent time under the knife, his legs held up well and I so kindly pulled the mileage "trick" on him -- simply telling him he had gone only 2 miles when he was already a full 4 into the day. He likely knew I was full of it, but I was determined to pull him to a nice rounded 5 miler to round out Easter morning. In the end, we tackled the task on the trails without issue and reached that unmatched sense of freedom one finds when being out in the elements. With the morning both a success and an enjoyment, I no longer felt sorry for pulling that "mileage trick" on dad -- and to that, I say "No Apologies," which brings us to a proper beer to fit just the occasion...


Blue Point No Apologies (Patchogue, L.I.)
10.0% ABV

That's right, NO APOLOGIES. This rare small batch Double IPA packed a punch of amazing flavor and a huge hop character, as expected with a Double or Imperial. Carmel malts balanced well with its 93 IBU and seemed to cover up its very high ABV. Blue Point is just one of many great local Long Island breweries, and is one of the closest to my house. I've tried dozens of their varieties over the years, every one of them pleasing and satisfying in their own way, but I had never tried the No Apologies D-IPA before, so it was a perfect compliment to what the day on the trails brought to my father and me: Discovering a new, unfamiliar variety together with the help of a very familiar venue/brand. And of course, what a way to break the NO IPA Lenten promise... Double style. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BREW!

Prior to having this Blue Point Imperial, my favorite Double IPA had been Ruckus Brewing's "Hoptimus Prime" (PA), but I can say with confidence that No Apologies has taken the top spot with my palate, and dad agrees. A bias towards Long Island beer over others? I say no, but if it truly is, I'm not sorry (as the beer itself notes).

**Some notable mentions (from Long Island, and our friends from beyond borders):

- Blue Point Rastafa Rye (7.5% ABV, a fantastic and strong Rye Pale Ale, with Bob Marley on the label)

- Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA (7.2% ABV, an incredibly well-balanced and happily hoppy serving from this San Diego, CA brewery)

- Firestone Walker Wookey Jack (8.3% ABV, one of THE BEST Black Rye IPAs out there. Full of flavor, with a nice carmel-flavored and colored head that satisfies even the most stubborn palates)

**Day 3 of the Trails & Ales Tour ahead, but it's sure to be a condensed version thanks to METS OPENING DAY -- Next stop: CITI FIELD!

Happy Trails & Hoppy Ales, folks.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Trails & Ales Tour -- Leg 1

Saturday, March 30th

Daily totals:

- 18 miles (14 trails/4 roads)
- Long Ireland Pale Ale


A beautiful day for Leg 1 of the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour. Mid 50s, bluebird skies, light breeze, and endless trails. For the inaugural outing, I chose to hit up my favorite door-to-trail route from my house in Oakdale and into the Greenbelt Trail -- my “home trail system.” The Greenbelt Trail actually stretches from the South Shore to the North Shore of the island, starting in Heckscher State Park and ending in Cold Spring Harbor.

Living on the South Shore, I’ve run in what I call the “Lower Belt” dozens of times. It takes some road crossings to link up the trailheads, but once inside Connetquot State Park you have plenty of miles of branch-out trails to enjoy. Today I ran the 1.5 miles from my door to the trailhead that picks up along Montauk Highway and carries north into CSP. Two of my favorite “homemade” routes exist on this path, which I’ve taken the liberty to name: “Home-to-Hatchery” and “Totem Point Out-and-Back.” Without veering off into any branch-out sections, these routes cover roughly 7 miles and 10 miles, respectively. With a few more days of trail miles ahead, I’ve chosen to set out each day on the “Tour” with no planned mileage. Rather, I’d go off of feel and keep in mind that I’d like to be rested and good to go for the next day. So today, upon passing the trail intersection I call Totem Point, I continued to the northernmost part of CSP and decided to link the trailheads by crossing over one of the few highways that break up the Greenbelt into sections from north-to-south. I’ve never run any of the ‘middle belt’ sections, which I now refer to as the “Belt Buckle” of the Greenbelt system, mainly because the access to them is broken up by said highways. In the past, I’d typically hit the end of a section, and instead of looking for a link-up, I’d pull a 180 and make a new route on the sections I had just covered. After all, when the trail ends just turn around and watch it start again. But this tour is about rediscovering the familiar and discovering the new, so I gladly opted to take my footfalls into some unfamiliar terrain and explore the beginning of the Belt Buckle.

The newly found trails in this section took me across creeks, through pine needle paths, over root covered single-track, and over boardwalk sections of my native Long Island that I would have otherwise never discovered if I didn’t choose to take that “Trail less traveled.” Cliche through its literary use, but many things are cliche for a reason because they hold simple, undeniable truths (just like a good beer!).

The day’s run took me all the way to Lake Hills, just north of the busy Long Island Expressway -- a far shoot from a somber nature trail with runners, hikers, and horses. This section seems to continue across a few miles of streets before one can link up with the next trailhead to continue the journey to Cold Spring Harbor, but after seeing it is indeed possible to connect the trail sections, I can see a full Greenbelt crossing attempt in my future. I’ve already run from the South Shore to the North Shore on the roads (Ocean to Sound 50 mile race), but making an out-and-back journey along the coveted Greenbelt Trail would be a fresh adventure that would likely fill an adventurers void.

I always go back to this one credo that I came up with in Ireland (where I studied abroad in Spring 2009 and ‘re-discovered’ my love for running, which has grown into what is is today) -- that credo: “There is a Beauty in the Unknown.” I think I revisit that sentiment quite often because it rings true in so many occasions in life. The Unknown is embraced when taking leaps; whether it’s a big, life-changing one, or a “small” and simple one -- like choosing to break the crossroads and leave a familiar trail for the chance of entering a new one. These decisions may not always yield a positive or awe-inspiring result, but when they do, one can truly discover a newfound level of “pure bliss” -- one of the many beautiful things that shows its face when we choose the make the Unknown “known.” Today, I did just that over several miles of once unknown trails, and to honor that in hand-held form, I’ve chosen to do the same with the day’s beer selection on the Trails & Ales Tour...


Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite beer is, I tend to fumble for a concrete answer. That is largely due to the fact that there are just so many out there, just like the trails, that I haven’t yet discovered. Sure, I do have my favorites, but I like to keep my options open and recognize the opportunity for an endless journey. So, instead of leaving others hanging without a proper answer, I almost always grab my canned response, albeit more vague, and broaden the terms to include my favorite KIND of beer. “I’m an IPA guy,” I usually tell anyone who wants to know. “I’m a huge ‘hop head.’” India Pale Ale = Lots of HOPS. I love them. That bitter goodness. The aroma that escapes as you crack the cap off that masterpiece of a bottle. The beauty of watching the amber elixir pour into the glass, knowing that there are a sizable amount of IBUs awaiting your palate. Ah, yes, what a fine pour it is -- a perfectly balanced body-to-head ratio. And before your taste buds reach an unmatched level of ecstasy, a fresh, unmistakable smell sends a soothing tingle to your nose as crosses the rim of the glass. Like a fine wine, you know there are a few ounces of goodness in the very hand that feeds. And then, the first sip -- SMACK! Right in the face, you’re hit with that wonderful hoppiness that you had set out to experience, enjoy, and, if it’s a new beer you’ve chosen to try, discover.

That all may sound like an embellishment of something as simple as drinking a micro brew, but fellow craft beer enthusiasts would likely agree about those simple complexities that come with enjoying a good bottle of something that brewmasters -- true artisans in their own right -- spend countless hours perfecting. Now, I do love varieties other than IPAs, but I bring this issue up because today, the day before Easter, is the last day I am ‘banned’ from enjoying my over-hopped treat. That’s right, forty days ago I had chosen to give up my beloved IPAs for Lent. All kinds of them, too: regular IPAs, Double/Imperial IPAs, RyePAs, Black IPAs, and every other ‘color’ IPA that may exist out there. Silly, yes. Incredibly challenging, you bet. Challenging, not because I am an ‘alcoholic’ -- not at all. Rather, when friends and family had selected a brew to enjoy from the local craft store or neighborhood bar over these past 5 weeks, the hop heads many of them are almost always chose an IPA. My options, however, were limited to other ales, stouts, and lagers as I watched a friend enjoy a finely crafted artwork known as Blue Point Hoptical Illusion -- my ‘favorite,’ as of now. Nonetheless, I’ve taken my Lenten promise as a chance to “play the field” with a few other varieties of beer. I love Pale Ales, many of them just shy of a good IPA, especially when brewers ‘dry-hop’ them. That said, on the final day of “anti-IPA,” the ‘Ale Trail’ has taken me to the local beer wholesaler where I picked up a brew from a local L.I. brewery that I for some reason never before tried: Long Ireland Beer Co.’s Pale Ale, and what a perfect choice it was.

Long Ireland Pale Ale (Riverhead, L.I.):
6.2% ABV

A well-balanced beer with a notable hop character for a standard American Pale Ale. It sipped well and left a nice amount of bitterness in the aftertaste. Though its ABV is above that of a session ale (5.0% ABV or fewer), it’s 6.2% test level blended perfectly with its other components. Easy-drinking, full of flavor -- citrus and grainy undertones. Though I only had one, I’d say its one of those great crafts one could have a few of without becoming ‘bored’ with taste or getting knocked on your butt for “accidentally” having too many of them. I’ll definitely buy this Pale Ale again and I am eager to try other varieties from this fine local L.I. Brewery. I RECOMMEND THIS BREW!

-- Lots of IPAs ahead to make up for the past few weeks! Happy Trails, Hoppy Ales... and miles to go. Stay Relentless.

Follow the Trails & Ales Tour as the journey unfolds #trailsandales

Instagram: @RunningOnBeer
Twitter: @robriccardo

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Thaw -- a look back before the steps ahead

It’s been roughly six months since my last race, six months since my last post, and six months worth of yet another lesson in running. Following my last 50 mile race back in late September I bounced back rather quickly. Within a few days I was feeling great and ready to go. No sign of injuries other than a few minor tweaks that are sure to arise after cranking out 50+ miles in less than 9 hours on a hilly course. But, sure enough, I denounced my plans to take 2 weeks completely off from any running or high impact activity to give my body the full recovery it needed, whether I was feeling any lingering pain or not. Enter the recipe for disaster. Under-recovered and overworked, I slipped slowly and quietly in an injury that would frighten me like never before. It started with a twinge in the back of the right knee. It spread to a tingle down the lower leg. And come to think of it, that tenderness in my hamstring never fully healed since I had crossed the finish line just 6 days prior. Still, I carried on and cranked out a hard 15 miles less than a week after the race -- completely disregarding the recovery plan. Moving forward, those tweaks and twinges and lingering aches turned into a problem that would soon send the notion of an electric shock down my right leg. In the first bout, I pushed through it for a mile or so, but the intensity only grew. Eventually, the pain increased to a nearly excruciating level. For weeks I’d go on battling the pain, only stopping after just a few miles simply because my right leg wouldn’t and couldn’t move without the feeling of a thousand volts shooting from my lower back, down the back of the upper leg, and finally ending in the middle of my shin. My leg was going numb each time I stepped out the door to move freely in my passion. The diagnosis: Sciatic nerve damage. The thought: Was running being taken away from me?

The worst part of the mess is that I knew I was the only one to blame. I’ve always been a huge advocate for recovery. Proper rest is a key part to any training plan. Bill Bowerman, the legendary coach of the University of Oregon track team, said it best: “Stress. Recover. Improve.” A solid 3-step mantra that has no effectiveness if you skip any of those key stepping stones along the way. Therefore, my state of pain and panic had simply come to life because I failed to welcome enough recovery. Now agitated and deflated that my stubborn self would not be logging 10 hours in the trails each weekend for awhile, I needed to find a release and a way to get myself back and ready to go for the spring racing season. The one good thing about this injury was the timing. I usually take it a bit easier in the winter to allow some downtime, but in my mind I was already prepping for longer, new ultramarathons -- Not something one can do when his leg is filling with an electrifying pain before going numb after just 1.5 miles.

After spending too much time in a state of panic for 2 months following the initial injury (with some “pitifully” low mileage weeks), I finally realized that if I didn’t take this winter to really cool off and focus on low-impact cross training and maximum rehabilitation, then there could be a chance I’d never run an ultra again. In the end, I’ve spent the last 4 months on the bike, in the pool, and limiting my running to just 30 miles per week -- a far cry from my typical 70-80 mile weeks. Less running, more cross training, skipping a spring 50 mile race, and getting plenty of acupuncture (something I swear by, ever since my first treatment back in 2011) seems to have brought me to where I am right now: BACK and ready to fly in the Long Island Greenbelt 50k (31 miles) on May 11.

To honor my successful injury rehabilitation, I’m continuing to keep my mileage relatively low each week. I’m still hovering around the low 30s on average, with sufficient time getting in plyometric/bodyweight strength workouts (another practice I’ve always strongly advised and have always enjoyed much more than hitting a weight room) -- not to mention throwing in stair climbs up to my 11th floor apartment after each run, whether it’s after a 3 mile shakeout or a 20 mile long run. The weekends have been still consisted of a good long run or two, mainly in the trails, which I can never get enough of. Weekends away from the concrete City for some trails, trails, and more trails. Some roads -- to get to the trailhead, of course.

Nothing beats a few hours and many miles of “playing” in the woods, discovering new paths in my own wild “backyard” (thanks to Connetquot State Park) and later reflecting on the day’s run with a solid micro brew in front of the bonfire (thanks to my actual, immediate backyard)...

That said, it gives me great pleasure to announce a fun and tasty new project I’ll be starting tomorrow and posting about daily here on Miles ‘til Midnight: the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour -- 5 days of pure bliss courtesy of L.I.’s endless trails and craft beer. A “stay-cation” for the sole, soul, and taste buds, the “Trails & Ales” tour will come complete with a daily writeup on the blog -- full of thoughts and ramblings from the trail, followed by a nice beer review or two (or more) highlighting the local micro brews I plan to enjoy each day, preferably fireside.

For endless reasons -- and many more unknown -- craft beer is a huge part of the trail running/ultra running community. For one, I believe it is the simple, community-driven aspect that both of these niche passions have formed close ties over the years. Many trail runners are probably just as versed in the complexity of the frothy treats as the brew masters themselves. For those of you that do run and compete in trail and ultra races, you are probably well aware of this beautiful relationship between good beer and endless miles. But for those of you that have a disconnect to the sport, I can assure you that there are countless reasons as to why some of our nations finest micro breweries sponsor our races. Both establishments, racing and brewing, thrive on the camaraderie of other runners and artisans, respectively. In that notion, I believe the two institutions have become tethered and continue to grow at a notable rate as more and more people fumble upon the discovery of an endless trail or a hoppy delight. With this next week off, I vow to embrace the freedom and ability to immerse myself in rediscovering these two American beauties -- THAT simple availability is the impetus behind the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour; a morning in the trails, an intermission consisting of whatever else the day brings, and a refreshing elixir to wrap up a day among my family and friends -- all courtesy of L.I.’s finest creations.

Long Island Trails & Ales Tour*

(*occasional Roads and Lagers welcome)

Stay tuned... the Tour kicks off TOMORROW! Check back here each night for a recap (to keep up on-the-go, follow instagram @RunningOnBeer ... #TrailsAndAles for some visual stimulation as it happens).

Happy Trails and Hoppy Ales...

...Stay Relentless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Lessons in the Act of Attrition: Ocean to Sound 50 Mile Race Report

(It seems a few months off from racing has lead to a few months off from writing anything new here. So, as in the past, an ultra-long hiatus from jotting down my thoughts calls for an ultra long blog post...about ultras).

In any ultramarathon, some kind of unworldly doubt seems to want to follow you like a proverbial dark cloud above, or some arrogant demon lurking always in your own shadow below. No matter how many times you've tackled the distance, the seemingly insurmountable task of racing 50 miles or more tends to awaken the same unrelenting force in favor of anyone but yourself. This intangible predator is always more fierce than your human competitors. You can't see it, but you know it's there running with you, always at your pace, tracking you like you're some kind of prey. After awhile, you get to the point where a 50 mile race/run is not so daunting to think about, but simultaneously, you learn to respect the distance, revel in the unknown, and greet the demon at the doorstep. Sometimes, its presence is weak the whole way through, while other occasions can leave you shaken in the early miles. Regardless of when, indifferent to why, there's at the very least a minimal level of pain and suffering -- the price you pay for charging through 50 miles of bliss. Call me a masochist, but one of the greatest attractions to setting off on an ultra -- be it a competitive race or a weekend training run -- is that intangible beast that tries to knock you down as it plays its siren songs akin to the tune of "just quit, you've gone far enough. what's the point? 'Easiness' is not even one step away, just stop running." That said, in the face of attrition, we must discover the upper hand, ignore that dark cloud, and break down the demon. It'll try and try and try some more to wear us away. But every step forward, every positive thought process can tear those walls of doubt to the ground. Little by little, stride by stride, moment by moment, we eliminate any negative compulsion. Many times in races, and just as well in life, we can build instant strength by just wearing out our challengers. In an ultra, you push on: responding to low points with a blank stare, hell, sometimes even a smile. Through sheer determination we can transcend the skeptics by simply staying relentless -- more common than not, our best strengths are found in these acts of attrition.

Pushing through the last leg in the Ocean to Sound 50 Mile. Shameless shoe plug: The Hoka One One Bondi B served me extremely well on the road course.

50 MILES 52 MILES on my native Long Island

Missing a turn and going roughly a full 2 miles off course at the Ocean to Sound Relay on Sunday maintained my personal record of doing such a thing in every ultramarathon I've run so far in my early, and hopefully long, 'career' as an ultra runner... and I wouldn't change that if I had the chance. This is not because of the extra bonus miles I stole from the race directors (oops! I only paid for 50), but rather the circumstance that unfolded due to my navigational mishap. To my defense, the turn was not clearly marked for me AND the other handful of runners that plowed forward towards some "free" mileage of their own. However, I move forward with no regret in what unfolded, as you'll soon learn.

Since it was a relay, the majority of the runners out on the course were part of an 8-person team, each running a single leg of anywhere between 5.4 miles and 7.0 miles. I, however, was one of the few people running the entire 50 mile race solo. From the starting line at the Jones Beach boardwalk, I knew of only a few of the other guys setting out to tackle the distance in the hopes of bagging another 50 miler. Just minutes before we set out, I saw the competitor I had only just learned about the day before at the packet pickup. Sparing the extensive details of this seasoned veterans running resume, this guy is the stuff of legends. He may not be like the boys tackling 14'ers out West, or any of the elites from the european contingent, but this New York native has put down impressive top 10 finishes at races like Vermont 100 and Badwater (a 135 mile battle through the base of Death Valley, climbing in 120+ degree temps towards Mt. Whitney), just to name a few. Needless to say, he knew what he was doing, and I knew I could learn from someone of that caliber. I set out next to him, running shoulder to shoulder at what felt like a sustainable clip through the flats, but I decided to step off the gas a bit and follow close on his tail. We cut past the first mile marker at a low 7 minute pace... damn fast for a 50 miler. I had to smack myself to reinforce my mantra of running my own race, and not to go out too fast. I slowed up since I knew it would pay dividends late in the day.

I told anyone who asked in the weeks prior to the race that I wasn't going to leave anything out there in this one. My first 50 miler was a bit of a different story, and a much different course. My approach to that mountain race down in beautiful Virginia was to focus on learning, seeing what worked in my training and what I was capable of in much more rugged terrain than a flatlander is used to. This past weekend's Ocean to Sound race however was such a unique challenge. It was really a race against the clock and against myself since it was not a typical race where everyone in the field runs the entire distance. I told friends and family that I'd be going for broke, well aware that this course is designed to make you break if you're taking it on sans teammates. The entire race is on roads, not a lick of trails, and the first 20 miles or so is almost completely flat. This calls for speed, but it also creates a constant pounding on the same muscles over and over again since the constant terrain fails to create variety in your running gait. Go out too fast and you can really beat yourself up without realizing it, all just in time for the rolling hills courtesy of Long Island's North Shore. Those hills are no switchbacks in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but late in the game a 3/4 mile climb up a "douche grade" slope can put a dent in your plans of busting out a sub-8 hour 50 miler... Even if you do stay on course.

That navigational mishap occurred somewhat early on, around mile 15. Shortly after some other navigationally challenged folks and I (yes, I'm in that category too) back-tracked our way back on course, a shorter and older runner who had also missed the turn fell into pace with me. "Running the whole thing?" he asked. Now, I've already answered said question three dozen times at this point, but I was happy to respond with an excited "yes" along with an energetic smile. "Yeah, so am I. Good thing we decided to run that mile or 2 out of the way." I responded with my canned answer to the given situation, "Bonus Miles!"

Now running shoulder to shoulder with a fellow ultra runner, the typical conversation between two strangers in the act of pursuing a similar passion ensued. In every race it starts the same way, with the simple introductory questions like "Is this your first 50?" ... "Have you run this race before?" ... "How long have you been running ultras?" It usually goes back and forth like this, and it can be some time before you finally ask "Oh, by the way, what's your name?" Before we got that one out of the way (his name is Jay, for the record), I discovered that the solo runner leading the race -- the stuff of legends I mentioned earlier who survived the trek through Death Valley -- was his good friend and main ultra running mentor. He had also been a fairly experienced 100 mile racer, with everything from strong finishes to torturous DNFs out west, as well as a crew member and pacer in races like Badwater and Western States. Now I was hooked. The miles we shared as we raced in stride became more of mobile classroom. Yes, I'm a runner, but I'm always eager to learn from the guys and ladies who ran the races I one day want to run. They've experience more pain and suffering, more highs and lows, and more euphoric bouts of bliss through some of the toughest, unforgiving terrain... all by their own choice. It's these lessons and this amazing camaraderie that I love the most about racing ultras. Thanks to going off course, I've made yet another connection to a fellow runner and shared some priceless miles on a beautiful course. We'd separated for a dozen or so miles, but eventually met back up in the closing miles to push each other through the breaking points, little by little, in that act of attrition.


My one-man race was supported brilliantly again by my one-man crew: my dad. This race, being all on roads, allowed my dad to use his pickup as a mobile aid station. I carried my pack with some gels and CLIF Bars and water, as the Man had a fully stocked cooler (more water, coconut water) and my go to 50 mile fuel sandwich consisting of almond butter, banana, blueberries, and agave nectar (delicious and the perfect real food for when your stomach is rejecting GUs after mile 38). Big Rob kept me on pace the whole day through, tossing the goods at me and snapping some pics along the way. Though I'm lucky to have gotten through without any real nutritional low points, the biggest blow came at mile 44. After power hiking a big climb, I dabbled with the idea of slogging a death march the rest of the way to the finish. The roads really beat up my knees, even more than the time in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which was more of a quad-busting experience. I knew I was finishing, but to push the pace to get a sub-8 hour 50 mile was almost out of the question. I started doing the math, figuring out what mile pace I could get away with to still tackled a sub 9-hour finish at this point, which was still a solid time, and one of the fastest one that course for a one-man team. My dad stocked me with the final sandwich, I chugged some water, and popped a few more Tums to break up the stiffness in the legs (due to the calcium in the pills) -- a trick I learned too late in my last 50 miler, but quite a useful one at that.

I was inspired by my dad's unrelenting work out there all day, an incredible reason to push on hard. I could have walked the rest of the way in, but I knew a strong, hard finish would make me ions tougher mentally, despite how beat up I became physically. In the final miles, Jay caught up with me and he told me just what I had told myself. "If you push this hard through the finish, you're going to be really tough for the next race." Can't argue with that, so we talked each other through to the finish at a pretty aggressive pace. My dad said he was driving to the finish line, and that we were almost home free just as my uncle, who ran the race as part of a team, jogged along with us to tell us the same. It felt great to know I'd put another hard fought 50 miler in the bag. A hard effort, fast-paced, and new lessons learned from both other runners and the course itself. I have one hell of a crew, too, and I am grateful for having my dad's support on the course. It all culminated with even more support as the finish line came into site. The clock was still under 9 hours and my parents, friends and neighbors waited near the finish as I crossed it in 8 hours 55 minutes. If that feeling was something you could taste, I'd say it would hit the lips like a finely crafted IPA, such as a Hoptical Illusion from Bluepoint Brewery... Oh wait, that actually happened, too...

Whatever your inspiration, find strength in your stride, discover true power in will. Sometimes transcendance lies in the Act of Attrition... Stay Relentless...and miles to go...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Western States 100 Predictions

With Kilian out, (and a few others from last years top 10) this already packed race is anyone's to claim. Pair that with this years unusually mild conditions and the stage is set for one hell of an ultra running show. Quick predictions below:

If Mike Wardian doesn't get lost and hi PF doesn't act up, I think he can sneak into the top 5. Erik Skaden will be the dark horse (and top 3 masters finishers) in the top 10 -- his course times on the standard course in previous years has shown that running the ridges must be his specialty. Ryan Sandes, my money is on you... but I wouldn't be disappointed is Timothy Olson took the win. I think he is fully capable, as long as his PF niggles stay at bay, the kid can push through a ton of pain with a smile on his face. Ian Sharman and Jez Bragg will be hammering it out for the UK, but Jez is due for a higher finish after his misfortune at TNF 100 Australia. His splits were only second to Sandes. Finally, is temps stay cool -- especially in the canyons -- Dave Mackey will take the masters win. However, I think Kubaraki can close better. It will be interesting to see that unfold, if it does, from Rucky Chucky to the finish. Predicted winning time: 15:48:37

WS 100 Top 10 M/W predictions


Ryan Sandes
Mike Wolfe
Nick Clark
Timothy Olson
Jez Bragg
Ian Sharman
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki
Erik Skaden
Dave Mackey
Mike Wardian

(Dylan Bowman – 11th)


Nikki Kimball
Ellie Greenwood
Lizzy Hawker
Kami Semick
Krissy Moehl
Meghan Arbogast
Elizabeth Howard
Rory Bosio
Joelle Vaught
Pam Smith

(Amy Sprostan – 11th)

Tsuyoshi Kaburaki
Erik Skaden
Dave Mackey

Nikki Kimball
Kami Semick
Meghan Arbogast