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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Running with 'El Venado' (preview)

That's the alarm. It's 3:15 a.m. It's Tuesday. I'm wide awake. The coffee is already brewing, sputtering in the kitchen as it spits out the morning's fuel. From the window near the coffee maker I can still see the faint red lights on top of the World's Fair towers, blinking like beacons across the East River until they're replaced by the light of a burning sun. This is a familiar scene during race training: Get up well before the sunrise and fuel up before setting out on a weekend ultra run, an upcoming race consuming all corners of my mind. But today that's not the case. This morning is a different story. There's no big race on my calendar for at least another month or two. So why I am awake? ... At 3:15 a.m. ... On a Tuesday?

It's time to run with an icon. Log miles with a legend. The late Caballo Blanco called him 'El Venado' -- The Deer. And today, he's dashing through my neck of the woods.

Scott Jurek stands larger than life in the pages of Christopher McDougall's 'Born to Run,' but as he walks across 42nd street, dwarfed by the United Nations building standing behind him, he seems every bit of human as you and I. I'm about to find out just what the legend is like in the flesh -- free from the pages of books and online articles, speaking louder than in the interviews in podcasts and documentaries.

the rest of this article soon to come... now get out and run!! HAPPY NATIONAL RUNNING DAY!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just another checkpoint -- Long Island Greenbelt Trail 50K RACE REPORT

Don't be alarmed.. I'm still here and I'm still running.. But I took a bit of a hiatus from updating the page since my last race report (Bel Monte 50 miler) so what better way to break the silence than with my recent top 10 finish at the Long Island Greenbelt Trail Race... and the unexpected path that prepared me for it

After the Bel Monte 50 miler I took 6 days off running completely. Despite not being able to walk too well for a few days after that effort, I was still itching to get back on the roads and trails. But despite the woods calling my name, I knew that a solid week of rest would do the body good while simultaneously giving my mind a chance to reflect on the spirit of running and the passion I have for tackling long distances, new courses, and discovering the seemingly undiscoverable. After months of hard training and dedication to pushing my body to new limits, I knew I was flirting with a possible injury, but nonetheless my stubborn ways were going to get the best of me. I knew I was going to dismiss a few extra days of recovery and hit the ground running -- albeit with some tweaks and twinges plaguing the legs. All it took was a week back on the feet before my immune system took a rare crash and I became sick for the first time in a few years. There I was, forced to take another 6 days off. It wasn't easy on the mind or the spirit, but it definitely did wonders for the legs. It also let me fully reflect on my goals and where I currently was in my personal ultra running endeavors. I feared burnout -- both physically and mentally -- so it finally hit me like a headwind in the winter... The new plan: for the next month I would run ONLY when I wanted to run. If I got up in he morning and felt like doing NOTHING, then I wouldn't feel guilty about hitting the snooze a few more times. Then there would be the days where I'd be raring to wake before dawn, fuel up, and head out for a cool 15-20 miles before work. I have always been an advocate of "doing what works for you" and that's probably the biggest thing I have learned about ultra running. The sport -- and life itself in most instances -- is an incredibly individualized endeavor. Listen to your body and respect its decisions and you'll reap the rewards that you're currently capable of. So thats what I did. I hit the roads when I wanted to, for however long I wanted to on the days that I truly wanted to do that and nothing else before starting my day. With that credo, the last month and a half hasn't changed much. My mileage definitely dipped about 30%, but I was running 75-80 mile weeks during peak training, so I've learned to get used to 45-55 mile weeks, with some 7 day stretches even dropping into the 30 mile range. What did I learn? Well, I learned that running I've salvaged my live for running, by not overdoing it, and by letting the passion speak for itself. Every effort out the door was pure bliss under my new-found mantra. It was working so well that I even decided to approach my next race in the same way. I was ready to race again and I was going to do it in the laid back, stress free manner that running had transformed into for me. Afterall, if it's something I love to do, then why approach it with any form of mental stress... I leave that at the foot of the door.. I don't carry it with me to the head of the trail.

Long Island Greenbelt 50K -- L.I. Trail Championships.

I didn't register until the very last remaining hours before the registration price went up, which was exactly a week before the start. Once I was officially set to go something turned on inside me. A rush of adrenaline shot through me and I immediately set aside a solid portion of my mental real estate to focus on the race. The difference between this time and my last ultra, besides the 19 miles, was that I was attacking in in a more competitive manner, Something built up inside and delivered complete confidence that I was going for a top 10 finish -- a nice place to end any ultra race. I only had 5 days to let those thoughts further construct themselves around my confidence, so I reminded myself to stay focused, but at the first sign of stress dismiss any thought of the race being something more than a way to celebrate my 24th birthday weekend.

Ah yes, my birthday was just 2 days before the 50K championships -- a recipe for potential disaster. In short, that Thursday night's festivities were a doozy (thanks to my idiot/epic friends), and the next day -- Race day Eve -- was not my best day. Couple that with only a few hours sleep on Friday night after traveling back to my home town to head out for the next day's race and you end up with a Saturday morning pre-dawn wake up feeling barely any better than you did the day before. I had to suck it up. I not only told myself I was taking a top 10, but I may have also told some friends I was going to leave some people in the dirt as I tore through some hometown trails. I immediately knew I was in for trouble, but by the time I got to the starting line my focus kickstarted my competitive nature and set me back up to where I needed to be.

7:30am and it was already heating up. The forecast called for temps around 80 degrees and I didn't doubt it. With only a couple of gels and 2 handhelds filled with water I was off with the front of the pack on the opening couple of miles on the road until we got to the trail head. 31 miles on the North Shore section of the Greenbelt (I live near the south shore section -- much flatter). The course was a hilly, root-filled double out-and-back, which is something I was not looking forward to mentally, but I was confident it would pose some advantages in the later parts of the race when I knew what to expect of the terrain ahead of me as my legs were screaming for mercy. After just a few miles I began to feel like crap. The remnants of Thursday night's birthday bash decided to show their face yet again, this time in the form of a sudden headache and a heavy uppercut to my iron will. By mile 5 I had lost the lead pack and immediately changed my goals to just simply finishing strong and not worrying about my placing. I was out there for the experience and camaraderie of racing before the competition anyway. I also knew it would be a great chance to experiment with more mid-race nutrition strategies since I had arrived with only those 2 gels -- long gone and burned through at this point. Something I learned at my 50mile race was that the junk food calories (oreos in particular) worked for me later on in races. So with those in sight, I ate a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at every other aid station until, with some samplings of other things that even included trail mix with M&M's. I kept the Clif Bars and Bananas to a minimum as these tend to bother my stomach in the heat, plus I eat enoguh of those on a daily basis as it is. Nutrition-wise I was in check. No bonking al race. Hydration was dialed in and so was my electrolyte intake -- taking a few endurolytes each hour.

The first setback however came in the navigation department. I was talking with another runner when he and I thought we missed a turn. We back tracked and made the climb up a steep hill only to find no markings at the top. Certain we were going the right way, I decided to storm down the other side of the hill. Speeding down the sandy single-track, I came to a dead end. Wrong way. Go back up. I'm lost. Turns out it was a poorly marked section of the course and I had been going the right way before backtracking up the hill to my current location of no-man's land. I lost close to 10 minutes and probably 8-10 places by the time I got back on trail. It killed my mentality, but I still had more than 20 miles to go. I know a lot could and would happen -- be it in my favor or not -- so I just slogged along and ran my race. By the first turn around I had lost a solid 20 minutes on the lead runners. They all looked fresh while I was still yet to break free from my funk. Sticking to what I learned from Bel Monte, I was certain that the race really didn't start until mile 16. I kept telling myself that as I inched closer to the halfway point. By mile 15 I started to feel better. By 15.5 I ditched one of my bottles with my drop bag at the aid station, filled up, and said out loud, "the race starts NOW." I was in it. I was tackling the now familiar hills with a vengeance. At the turnaround, 2 people in front of me had already dropped. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it just wasn't their day. Regardless of the cause, I was now places closer to the top pack and every footstrike put me closer to the finish.

After a few miles I remembered an older guy that I was lapping telling me "hey, good job. You're in 17th place." At first, I shrugged that number off and told myself it was just NOT my day. But now after feeling resurrected, I started to subtract from that number every time I passed a runner in front of me. At mile 20 I stopped to refuel at the aid station and noticed a runner from the lead pack munching on some cookies and gatorade. I had run the first few miles with him until he took off earlier in the race, so we kind of knew each other's race situations. "You're already on your way back?!" I was shocked, but he shrugged and said he was dropping. He went out too hard, too fast, too soon in temperatures that were too hot to do so. That's another place closer to the front. I was off for the final turn around. At mile 23 I grabbed the last big servings of PB&J's, filled up the bottle, gave the legs a quick shakeout and after less than 4 minutes I was back up the hill to hammer out the remaining 8 miles that I knew so well at this point. There I was... CRUISING. slowly picking people off and setting my sights on a top 10 and a now sub 5:30 finish. Around mile 26 I spotted this older guy in a blue shirt that was currently the dividing line of an 11th place finish, based on my math. The last steep climb was ahead of him before the flatter sections of the course and I knew what I had to do. A Geoff Roes at 2010 Western States-like predator mentality took over and I blocked out the fire in my quads to sprint the ascent. It gave me an incredible surge of hidden energy and I utilized it for the next mile as I struck closer and closer to the last aid station.

Then, it happened again. Flying down the single track, I noticed I hadn't seen any markings along the trail in quite some time. Was I off course? I couldn't be. There was no way. The road I eventually got to begged to differ. 4 miles to go and I ran almost a solid mile off course. I froze for all of 10 seconds. I had 2 choices. Back track at a slow pace, give up a shot at top 10, and try to laugh it off OR make up for my navigational error (number 2 of the day) with ridiculously fast and painful miles until I found myself back on course. I went with the latter and started pushing. HARD. After about 5 minutes I found the hi-viz orange trail marker I had missed 15 minutes ago and turned back on course to the finish just as the old guy in blue was making the same turn. Anything I gained on him was lost in the act of that unfortunate missed turn. My hopes at a sub- 5:30 were now desperate please for a sub-6. I dug in and cranked out another hard mile until I approached one of the runners that was in the lead pack for most of the race until now. He was walking now. Struggling and clearly in pain, he slogged along the pine needle path with his head staring down at his feet until he heard me coming up from behind him. He turned his head in shock as I asked him if he was doing alright. He said he was fine, so I took that as an invitiation to play head games and up the speed, racing past him until he couldn't see me up the switch backs. He chased after me for a few minutes, but I knew if I kept him out of sight it would kill his spirits and a another place closer to the top of the field would be mine. I felt cruel for all of 2 seconds... then I came to the trail head. Could it be?! a half mile on the road was between me and the finish line. My watch had me at 5:47. I put my head down and cranked out what was close to a sub 5-minute mile pace until i crossed the line at 5:49:04. 10th place. Feeling awesome. SUCCESS.

In all, a HUGE thanks to everyone who helped organize such a great event. What a day to tackle some trails on my native Long Island. One thing that can never be outrun is the camaraderie and community that is so apparent during ultra races. That is, by far, the main thing that keeps me racing. In the coming months I'll be picking out my next big race while gearing up for a solo run at the Ocean to Sound 50 mile Relay in September. If each day is filled with the same attitude of running when and if I want to run, then I am confident that the fire of passion for such a sport, such a lifestyle, shall never burn out. When there is love, there is no question. Now get out and run! (only if you want to!) ...And miles to go...

Stay Relentless.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

RACE REPORT -- Bel Monte 50 Mile

I hit the starting line with the rest of the runners around 7:30am Saturday morning. The sun had just come up over the Blue Ridge Mountains that surrounded us, although visibility was still pretty low due to the weather. A steady downpour, thick fog and slate gray skies would serve as the conditions for at least the first half of today's race. As I waited for the Race Director to verbally start the ultra I tried to remind myself one last time: "don't be an idiot and go out too fast." I'm notorious for doing such a thing, and this being my first ultra I knew I ran the risk of trying to speed to the top of the pack early on, only to fade out before the 3rd aid station. I wouldn't do that this time, so I started in the back of the pack and as the race started about 7 minutes after 7:30, I gave me dad (my crew for the race) one last fist bump and set out for the 50 mile trek through the mountains.

The first 2 miles were a nice out and back on a dirt road that was cut into the side of a mountain. Fortunately, it wasn't foreign to me since my dad and I had driven the road the day before when we got lost in search of the race start. That was just part of the journey we ended up taking as we visited each crew checkpoint ahead of time so he would know where to meet me and what to expect as far as the terrain went -- a plan that ended up working out really well on race day.

After that out-and-back it was onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles enroute to the first aid station at White Rock Gap before heading into the trails. I was itching to get into the woods and leave the roads behind so I picked up the pace, bypassed the aid station and began to hammer it in the technical trail section that would bring the runners to Turkey Pen, before making the tough climb up to the top of Mt. Baldy. Once I entered the trail head I immediately began to feel at ease. I was so pumped up to be in the thick of the woods, maneuvering through the roots and rocks on rolling terrain. After some climbing, I was up on the ridge and the trail below me became almost entirely rock. Seriously, I don't think I ever saw so many rocks in my life. This was no New York City trail and it was clearly more technical than any pine needle path I've run on in Long Island. After passing by several runners -- some of them 50Kers and the rest 50 milers -- I soon discovered that my strength was navigating over the roots and rocks as most of the other runners slowed down. I was floating through the gnarly downhill sections as if it was a smooth fire road, claiming no misfortune as each rock became more jagged and increasingly slippery as the rain continued to fall. It was over these nest few miles that I realized how much I truly loved trail running. The terrain served as a playground for me and I could feel the huge smile across my face as I continued to hammer the pace through the rocky ridge. "This is beyond awesome," I told myself as I made a short climb before descending back down towards the second aid station. I reached Turkey Pen with plenty of time to spare before the cut off, filled up my bottle and headed for another out-and-back section where I would see my crew for the first time. At the turnaround I decided I needed a second handheld just in case I ran low on water in between aid stations. My dad tossed me the second bottle and I powered back along the flats to the second visit at Turkey Pen before the push towards Mt. Baldy. I chatted with a 50k runner at this point who knew the course fairly well since he had run the Bel Monte events in he past. Despite this years course changes, he said the climb coming up was still the same and it would be extremely beneficial to preserve myself for the switchbacks that made up the 2,000 foot elevation gain ahead. Having not hit any low points yet (approx. at mile 16 at this point) I figured it would be smart to not take anything for granted and begin adding in some power hiking on any of the uphills that lay ahead through the ascent to the next aid station.

The next spot was where it became much harder. Around mile 18 or 19, and after several creek crossings, I banged my right foot and stopped for about 5 seconds to readjust my pack. During those 5 seconds, I realized 2 things: my stomach was in a fair amount of discomfort and I was about 85% sure I lost a toenail. After I decided that I would not make myself puke I carried on and slogged up the switchbacks to Mt. Baldy and filled up my bottles at the aid station. I soon realized my weakness was power hiking the steep uphills. You would think walking is something anyone could be good at, but that proved to be far from the truth. Two people passed me on the uphills with what looked like a moderate hiking pace. I thought I was moving just as fast, but as they faded away in the distance it was soon clear that I would have to rely on my decent speed on the flats (which there were not much of on this course) and use my strengths of blocking out physical pain and hammering down technical downhill sections if I wanted to pass more people. I stuck with this plan and came through Kennedy Ridge (approx. mile 26) feeling pretty good and still well ahead of the cutoff. This was another aid station where my crew (Dad) met me. I was heating up so I ditched my rain jacket with him and planned on staying wet, yet cooler as the rain had still not let up. It was at this same time where I heard some positive news that would actually end up hurting me. One of the aid station volunteers thought it was a good idea to inform me I was within the top 10 and I was still looking really fresh. Needless to say, that information amped me up and I rushed out of Kennedy only to soon find that my quads were more thrashed than I had previously thought. The next few miles was a steady pace along Coal Road, a gravelly access road that has several trail heads coming off the side of it. Despite the growing pain in the thighs, I pushed through to Stony Run at about mile 29, seemingly still in the top 10 since only one person passed me on Coal Road. I took 5 minutes to refuel and then headed out for the second climb up the back of Mt. Baldy. Little did I know, my wheels were about to come off...

This section of the course, in my opinion, was the hardest. At this point, the weather took a ridiculous turn. The rain stopped, the clouds broke, and out came the sun to crank up the heat to around 80 degrees. Did I mention this was during the 2,000 foot climb to the top of the mountain, with almost a full 9 miles until the next aid station? It was here where I would hit the lowest of lows and begin a death march that would last much longer than I had planned. For the first mile or 2 of the climb I had some company. Two runners, with several ultras under their belts, had fallen into a low point as well and we decided to go into hike mode together until we felt better again. I was getting increasingly worse. The quads were tightening up, my bottles were already low on water, and I noticed the watch on my right wrist getting tighter -- My hands were swelling which means I was dipping into a bout of hyponatremia: not good. I pounded a few Endurolytes to get the sodium back up, just a bit of water, and then decided I would hike for another 10 minutes before pushing back up at a steady pace. After 15 minutes I was back in the groove, until I looked over the ridge at the other peaks and realized the trees in front of my were kind of dancing, moving in an Alfred Hitchcock 'Vertigo' sort of effect. Crap, now I'm probably running the gamut of dehydration -- my thoughts at this point in time, 33 miles in. This is where my training really came to help me out. Over the last few months, my long back to back weekend runs may no have fully prepared me for mountainous climbs, but they absolutely built up my mental ability to power through the toughest situations and fight the low points that are inevitable in the world of ultrarunning. I dug deep, kept consuming calories, and fought my way back up to Mt. Baldy.

According to my Garmin, I only had about a half marathon distance left between me and the climb to the finish line. I'm certain that what made everything easier for me was that I accepted the fact that my legs weren't going to feel any better than they did. They were only going to get worse, but my mind had the ability to get tougher. Once you can conquer that distance between your ears and use your brain to your advantage, then a DNF is usually out of the question and a trip to the finish line is in sight. I left the aid station at mile 36 with this attitude and continued on with the plan of hammering it down the technical descents to make up for lost time on the climbs. After missing a turn at Torrey Ridge, I put my plan to use and blocked out the excruciating pain that shot through my quads like lightning bolts smothered in Sriracha sauce (simply on fire -- an internal inferno, if you will). I came out at White Rock Gap to the aid station where my dad was waiting for some moral support as I headed towards the final 10 miles that separated me from the finish line. "Pain is an understatement," I told him. I had lost a lot of time on the hard climbs so I was going to have to push through the next 5 miles of rolling roads on the Blue Ridge Parkway since I knew there was a steep 3 mile ascent up the access road to the finish line. I caught up with a runner and his pacer after slogging for a few miles on the parkway and soon realized it was one of the many runners I had chatted with along Coal Road before I lost him when we hit the death climb at mile 30. We jumped right back into our previous conversation about his experience at Western States and his finish at the Leadville 100. We geeked out about Tony Krupicka and all things ultra before I finally asked him for advice to help me conquer the final low point before the finish line. His words served me well. "It's true what they say about pain being temporary. You're hurting now and you'll hurt tomorrow, but in a few days you'll look back and be happy that you didn't walk it into the finish." I saved those words for later consumption and met up with my dad for the last time before the finish line at the Reed's Gap aid station. Mile 45 (but everyone's Garmins were already reading 50 miles). I filled up the bottles and grabbed a surprising food choice at the aid station. Given my healthy nutrition I had not had one in a few years. But after 10 hours in the mountains I couldn't stomach another Clif Bar or banana and certainly not another GU. There were no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at this stop -- a childhood staple that had become a life saver on the trails -- so I told myself to grab whatever my mind wanted. Just something to bring me back from the dead before that final climb. There it was, staring me down on the table. I grabbed one, scoffed it down, and told me dad that it was the best thing I had tasted all day. Thanks to that single OREO I was able to hammer out a sub-6 minute mile down hill to the access road and begin the 2 mile death climb to the final trail section that separated me from the ski slope that lead to the FINISH.

"Relentless forward motion," I repeated in my head, then out loud, and then practiced what I preached. I was making up almost no time during that push up the Wintergreen Resort access road. Something had to be done. I had to make some kind of drastic change to make more headway. I knew I was well under the 13:30 cut off, but I really wanted to hit that sub-12 hour mark that I had my mind set on ever since that last climb up to Mt. Baldy. My legs felt like garbage in the quad department when I pushed uphill, but I took notice to how surprisingly fresh my knees felt. As the clouds darkened and the lightning lit up the horizon, I made the rest of the way up to the trail head by running BACKWARDS. I immediately felt nostalgic as this reminded me of the warm up drills I would have to do during my baseball days in high school. Once I hit the trail head there was a volunteer waiting to make sure no runners missed the turn. He had passed me on the way up the access road and, given his ridiculous amount of experience in ultrarunning, he knew exactly what would help my quads over the last mile. "Take these," he said as he handed me a small zip-lock baggy. No, not drugs, you fool. It was a bag of a few Tums that he had left over from his 50k race earlier that day and he suggested I scoff them down before heading into the trail. "The calcium will do you good. Those stiff legs will loosen up in a bit." I took the advice, took the Tums, and hammered the downhills until the climbing creeped back into my life. It was getting darker much sooner than usual due to the approaching storm. I looked at my watch and say I had about 20 minutes to cover less than one mile if I wanted to break 12 hours. On a slow day I'll do a mile in 8 minutes or so. My normal mile pace is in the low 7's and my flat out single mile pace is around 5:40 -- however, in that final mile of a 50 mile race through the mountains in the rain heading uphill in the trails, it would take everything I had to finish that last mile in under 20 minutes. I climbed. I pushed. I thought of the finish. "If I can get to the parking lot by the 11:56 mark that will give me enough time to fly down the ski slope in time to make a finish still within the 11 hour window." That's what I told myself and that is what I did. I hit the parking lot of the resort at 11:56 and change and pushed hard until it flattened out. There it was -- the entrance to the slope. I was excited for the finish, but just as happy to be able to sprint down through the snow (yes, there was snow on the slope) into the finish. I was flying. I heard the cheers as the rain continued to fall and the lightning flashed in the distance illuminating the peaks of the Appalachians that filled the horizon. The finish line was in sight, and as the thunder rumbled I crossed the finish line in 11:58:37. I was ecstatic to have finished my first ultra and my dad -- the best crew -- greeted me at the finish with a big hug before we dove into a celebratory pint of Fat Tire Ale together. My first Ultramarathon in the bag... and many more to come.


Now, as I sit back in recovery mode and reflect on this incredible experience (with only one blister and just one black toenail to my name -- success!), there are a few things that I have come to realize. First off, to say that I love running is a complete understatement. Within seconds of finishing, there was not a doubt in my mind that I'll be doing several more ultras this year alone, and I also undoubtedly want to tackle a 100 miler in the near future. There is just such a synergy out there in the trails that dances the line between friend and foe that I really have come to enjoy. There are parts of the course where you're almost working together like a tag team, but then before you know it the trails can become pretty devilish, looking to beat you to bits an you're fighting demons of your own. The rise and fall of emotions can't even come close to the seemingly similar changes in elevation. It's all so much to take in, but when you're done you just cannot get enough. That;s how I feel right now and that is how I want to feel everyday. I'll be taking the rest of the week completely off from running, but I honestly am frothing at the mouth waiting to be fully recovered so I can get back out there and log some good quality miles. As for training, I would do it again by doing less overall miles and added more hiking and mountain/trail specific things in for better results. I've become such a volume junkie, but now I have something to train for, new personal goals to achieve, and hopefully a Western States lottery qualification to bag in the near future. The month of April will be a time for me to run when I want to run (which I can assure you will be quite often) but not go too crazy with making sure I hit a certain number of mileage. I loved running before and I love running now, and as long as that doesn't change, then I am a happy man ready to hit the roads of my future. It's also clear that I need and enjoy having a race always in the near future... So I cannot think of a better way to spend my birthday weekend in mid- May than running an ultra on my home turf -- Long Island Greenbelt 50K, here I come. Until then, Stay Relentless...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Race-mas Eve... tomorrow's the day.

'Twas the night before Bel Monte, when all through the room
I sat in reflection, since the race was so soon.
My trail shoes were waiting, to set out and go
to run through the highs and slog through the lows.

The shot blocks were packed, the Clif Bars were too
Filled up my bottles, and stashed extra GU.
The aid stations studied, one-man crew was all briefed
on which checkpoints I'd need him to offer relief.

the forecast was calling for thunder and hail
high winds in the hills and waterlogged trails.
the course would be tough, no walk in the park.
A challenge indeed, I'd fight it 'til dark.

I've put in my training, so much time on my feet
logging miles and miles through the trails and the streets.
Any doubt that amounts, and lingers beneath
I'll beat it with heart, when I can't feel my feet.

The distance is long, those mountains are steep.
like the words of Frost: lovely, dark, and deep.
Tomorrow's the day... My mantra will show:
Relentless I'll stay... And miles to go.

Monday, March 19, 2012

RACE WEEK -- 5 days 'til Bel Monte

737 miles. Over 115 hours -- merely numbers behind the last 3 months of my time on the roads and in the trails. From early morning tempo runs along the East River to weekends comprised of back-to-backs long days -- crossing state lines and breaking mental barriers. More than 100 packets of gels, at least half as many Clif Bars, and God only knows exactly how many minutes I've spent in front of the computer each night reading up on and feeding my appetite for all things ultra-running. All of that time, all of those miles, all of that focus for one ultimate reason: the Bel Monte Endurance Run - 50 miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's really hard to look back on all the time and effort I've put into these past few months in an objective manner, but I can't help to be anything other than the simple subject of my own actions. But on this morning's short easy run up the esplanade I began to grasp everything that's now behind me and the one thing that lay ahead. The Bel Monte Endurance Run this coming Saturday is sure to be an experience like no other. A technical course filled with absolutely stunning views (from what I hear and what I've seen in pictures) will make for the venue of my first of what I hope is many ultramarathons. The training is in the bank, and with just one or 2 progressively shorter shakeout runs left before a few days of complete rest, I can finally say that RACE WEEK IS HERE.

I remember signing up for this race the same as I do for every other race over the past few years. Regardless of the distance the entire experience of picking and preparing for a key race is always memorable. To me, that is only a small part of why running is so special. It's much more than just a passion of mine or the main way I stay fit and healthy. I have been known to have an addictive personality to the point where I find something I like, make it something I love, and then see if it can be taken even further. Relentlessly persistent someone once said -- actually that someone was me and that one time was about 4 seconds ago. Friends and family members, co-workers and complete strangers, they all seem to ask me at some point why I run. Then, after they find out how much I run or what races or personal distance goals I have planned, they follow up with my favorite question: Why on earth do you run that long/far/much?! My first reaction is always a smile and then usually the vague response of "Because I love it and it is one of the few things I find complete happiness in. 'Pure bliss,'" I always tend to tell anyone who asks. But then, after explaining that there are much 'crazier' runners out there who go farther and faster than I can dream of conquering in the near future, I usually find myself asking myself the same initial question I just thought that I answered.

Okay, so I run because I love it, but for something that takes up so much of my time and a decent amount of real estate in my thoughts, it must be deserving of a more detailed answer, right? Ironically today, on one of the shortest runs of my current training block, a moment of clarity caught up with me and I enjoyed its company for a few miles. Why do I love to run??

Well, the truth is that I did answer the question, but how much of it did I exactly answer? Many times, especially during my peak training weeks when I'm out there for four, five, or even six hours at a clip, I find myself looking out into oblivion asking myself what am I doing? why am I doing it? and is this all so real? None of those questions are garnished in doubt and there has NEVER in any way been an instance where I've considered hanging up the shoes and leaving the roads to the cars and the trails to the horses. Sure, I'm always wondering about my undeniable passion for the sport and the lifestyle I've come to embrace, but it is always nothing short of satisfaction and a smile coming from deep within. However that still doesn't mean that I'll never stop questioning my running. Perhaps it's really more of a self reflection than a recurring game of 20 questions with myself. In short, what I'm getting at is that it seems to be built around a two-tiered response- A: Yes, I love to run first and foremost because I enjoy it. The feeling of this simple, organic movement of the self over any kind of terrain and at any pace you please is more than mildly amazing in my opinion. And B: I honestly discover a new additional answer to that same question every time I lace up my shoes and head out the door. The fact is, for something so simple like running, pinpointing all the reasons as to why it's such an integral part of my being is a truly complicated thing.

So today, my newest additional response to that simply complicated question -- Why I love to run: because every mile behind me has formed what I am right now... And what I am right now is all I can give to the roads and trails of my future.

Right now, what I am is ready for 50 unrelenting miles of Virginia trails. 5 days 'til Bel Monte. Stay Relentless.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Taper Talk -- 12 'til Blue Ridge

Ahh, yes. Another week of tapering in the bank. But as the weekly training volume continues to shrink, the anxiety starts to grow. Just 12 days to go until I find myself deep in the woods of the George Washington National Forest, pounding the trails with the rest of the racers in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I feel ready, I know I am ready, and thanks to modifying my taper, the minor tweaks and twinges have seemed to disappear -- for now. So yes, the plan to have a modified training week before my originally planned 3 week taper is paying off, but I can't continue without giving thanks for the advice I received from not one, but THREE of my favorite podcast hosts/ultrabloggers/fellow runners. When the knee twinges first arose after a hard 75 mile week of training (and 3 months of dedicated time on the feet already in the bank) I started to freak out. Nothing horrified me more than the thought of getting all the way to Virginia and toeing the starting line with battered goods -- legs less than ready to run, nonetheless race, through 50 miles of technical trails and 11,000 feet of elevation change. In my panicked state, I shot out an e-mail to Bryon Powell of -- a well known ultrarunning website and forum that caters to the ultra freaks. Within 24 hours, a response from Bryon reassuring me that my training was in the bank and that an early taper would help rather then hurt me left me feeling much more at ease. That feeling of reassurance only continued as I received almost identical responses from Tom Williams of MarathonTalk (great podcast out of the UK) and Eric Schranz of Ultrarunning Podcast (coming out of Auburn,CA -- the "Endurance capital of the world" thanks to Western States 100). So with all of them chiming in to the early taper/modified schedule, I did a bit of a training shakeup and took a look at it all from an objective point of view. I'm a notorious overtrainer and completely stubborn and relentless by nature, which can be a recipe for disaster when logging high weekly mileage. That aside, I stopped to think of the main goal of getting to the start line healthy and decided to take an extra rest day and then go completely off of feel for the remainder of my training leading up until race day. It was a bit touch and go at first, but 4 weeks out from the race ended somewhat successfully with a 45 mile week in total with the Saturday long run topping out at 21 miles pain free. Following that, as much as it hurt me mentally, I took 2 days off completely and finish out the rest of the week with easy morning runs between 5 and 7 miles. Then there was the weekend, this past Saturday, that recharged my batteries completely. It would be my last chance to visit home on Long Island before the race, so i set out for Oakdale to get in a mid-morning training run in on my favorite set of trails. I found pure solitude as I pounded a solid pace through the pine needle paths and rhododendron lined single track just a couple miles from my house. With a 16 miler in the bag and the legs feeling fresh, I knew all I had left was a 2 hour run in the city on Sunday before the remainder of the days would include runs of no more than 90 minutes in length, with plenty of rest days and time in the saddle on cross training days. Needless to say, yesterday's easy 2 hour slog trekking through trails and pounding on pavement ended well - as did another 45 mile week which puts me right back where I initially aimed to be in the tapering period. And now, with today's "rest day" in full effect, it's time to get on the Cannondale and cycle some nerves away along the East River esplanade. 12 days 'til Bel Monte. Stay Relentless.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Farewell February... Hello Race month!

Well, it's here. March. You know what they say: "in like a lion, out like an Ultra." -- or something to that effect. With the winter season fading (hopefully) and Bel Monte approaching, here's a look at the total weekly/monthly training volume - in miles and time - for the first 2 chapters of the year. Turning the page and tasting the start line - I think I can even see those Blue Ridge Mountain peaks on the horizon. Stay relentless.

2012 by the numbers

Jan 2-Jan 8
66 miles / 10hrs 33min

Jan 9-Jan 15
70 miles / 10hrs 26min

Jan 16-Jan 22
60 miles / 9hrs 39min

Jan 23-Jan 29
51 miles / 7hrs 32min

Jan 30-Feb 5
72 miles / 11hrs 37min

Feb 6-Feb 12
74miles / 12hrs 36min

Feb 13-Feb 19
61 miles / 9hrs 42min

Feb 20-Feb 26
70 miles / 11hrs 37min

January totals: 257 miles / 39hrs 51min

February totals: 270 miles / 44hrs 23min

...and miles to go...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Let the taper begin...

The penultimate day of February -- so it's time for the ultimate blog update after a bit of a hiatus... or is it?  Long story short, after an absolutely leg smashing, mentally masochistic ultra training run on Saturday (38miles, self-supported, non-stop), I put the feet up to rest, and the hands down to get to work.  There I was at home, typing away to end a month long break from my last blog post.  The plan was to cover everything -- from 2012 weekly/monthly training volume to gear updates, training reflection, to a nice long (ultra long) rant on the day's successful 38 miler.  I started out strong, finishing even stronger -- a negative split in the world of blog writing, if you will.  And then, the "post-run" defeat -- Roughly 3,000 words ready to be made public, GONE.  The browser on the iPad hiccupped, the webpage went blank, and I went MAD.  Completely defeated.  My natural high from the day's long-run log was virtually depleted.  This occurence easily having the equivalence of running a marathon, only to find out that your timing chip never worked.  All that hard effort, all those miles logged, and nothing to publicly show for it.  Ultra blog update -- ULTRA BLOG FAIL.  So now that this rant is out of the way, I suppose it's time for a real update -- barring any "blog day blowups."

Still on a rest day after Saturday's epic run, I've had time to refelct on all the goals of March's ultra run, and all of the training that I've already logged.  The plan was to end the string of back-to-back long runs and mix up for the second to last hard week with a 60km training run, mainly in the trails of my Native Long Island.  So this past Saturday I loaded up my newly acquired Salomon S-Lab hydration pack (new gear mention #1) with a couple of Clif Bars (duh), plenty of GUs, a pack of Clif Shot Bloks, some almonds and plenty of water.  After lacing up my Saucony Peregrines (new gear mention #2) I hit the road, heading for the trailhead. The goal: 6-7 hours all alone on the trails (and the roads leading up to the trail head)  Attempting to tap into my new found ability to battle with those long run demons and push forward, even when all you want to do is curl up into a ball in the woods, claim full glycogen depletion, and wave the white flag in defeat -- for the day at least.  This being close to my decision on the latter part of a back-to- back weekend a few weeks prior, I've come to learn that pushing through those tough times and digging deep (even deeper inside my bag to grab an emergency Clif Bar -- my personal exilir out on the trails) will get you through, back to your doorstep physically while getting through to a new level of masochism mentally.  I noticed this mental strength at mile 18 on Saturday.  I was feeling good.  Having just hopped the fence to leave the red trail in Connetquot State Park for a mile on the roads, I was at a complete sense of ease.  The rare decision to use music on this run (which is usually only the case about 5% of all runs I do) left me in an state of mental bliss, rocking out to the vibes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (running band of choice, by far).  It wasn't until mile 18.5 when a sudden twinge in the right knee make a surprise cameo.  Sonuva!, this little chondromalacia (runner's knee) had plagued me in the past, but after successful and injury freem training through the NYC marathon and up until now, I was free of any major ailments.  Now I faced the tough choice of turning back, cutting this long run short at what would end up as a 24 miler based on how far I was from my house, or suck it up, work through the minor ache, and use that mental strength to push on.  As "Can't Stop" rang in my ears for the 3rd time already (nothing better than 10 RHCP songs on constant loop) I opted for the latter and decided to see what the day would bring.  With the original game plan being a 35 mile run I was able to tell myself I was more than halfway to the day's finish line, merely marking yet another checkpoint in my training.  "Ah yes, Rob. Just head back into the softer trails, see how the legs feel after a few miles and then tough it out."  Sticking to that newfound mantra, I was back into the horse shoe marked pine needle paths of the park.  Stuffing down a couple hundred calories of nutrition to keep the energy levels up, I did the only thing I knew how to do: Relentless Forward Motion.  One foot, then the next.  That will add up over time.  Time itself will add up over, well, over time.  I've got this.  "Just 4 weeks from now I'll be in the thick of the Blue Ridge Mountains, battle the race day demons waiting for me in Charlottesville," I told myself.  Long story short (ultra story short?), I ended up turning the 35miler into a mind-blowing 38 miles of relentless forward motion.  Thanks to the food in my pack, then thoughts in my head, and the start of my first Ultra race nipping at my heels, I made it home feeling fairly fresh, albeit quite hungry and a little sore around the right knee.  Ah, that right knee, which brings me to the Rant in this ultra-rave...

Part 1 of the inititial plan was to run this ultra distance training run, test all my gear, nutrition/fueling strategies, and my mental strength.  All that went extremely well.  But that right knee twinge was coming back with a vengeance.  Part 2 of the plan was to follow up this run with a rest day on Sunday, followed by the usually planned Monday rest day.  Those in the books, no problem.  But now it is Tuesday.  No morning running as I have told myself to learn from my damn mistake that have kept me off my feet for up to 7-9 days in the past.  A 3rd consecutive day of rest?!  I can't!, Can I?  I must.  The primary race day goal for anyone should be getting to the start healthy.  We all know this, but we all tend to dismiss it as it is constantly overshadowed by nailing a Personal Best, a course record, a race day win, or even simply a strong finish under the cutoff time for that matter.  My legs are shaking just writing this right now.  "let me out! I need to hit the road.  Rest days are over, you bum!"  --Yes, my legs can speak, can't yours?  Anyway, with a training schedule calling for this week to be that final hard effort before the 3 week taper, I find myself in the tough position of choosing how to approach the next few days.  Do I hit the road when I get home tonight for an easy 10km?  Therefore, not missing a single beat in my training.  Hmm, maybe I'll take off 5 full days and then jump into the final weekend of long back-to-backs.  Or, the third option. take it easy and begin the taper one week early.  Oh decisions decisions, how you plague me.  Right now, it is up in the air.  So tonight on the walk home from work the decision will be made.  Unless I cannot get to the computer to rant or rave about my choice, expect an update.  26 days til Bel Monte -- SUCK IT UP!

Fast forward a few hours until now... Look at the blog title... The decision is made. Early taper it is. The 75 mile weeks are behind me and the race month is ahead. I've got promises to keep...and miles to go until I sleep.

Footnote: endurance never sleeps.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

REST DAY READER: Catching up... and recharging

The last few weeks have been extremely busy -- work and traveling -- so it's time for a quick catch up. This is the first installment of what I like to refer to as a REST DAY READER -- rants and raves during those days of recovery. Enjoy (or don't)...

As far as training goes, many miles have been logged over the last 3 weeks, including a tremendous 31 mile training run -- crossing state boundaries and back -- on one of those rare 60 degree winter days in Manhattan. I must say, recovery time after these long runs, all of which have been followed by a semi-long or even longer run the day after, has been incredible. I should probably attest that to my nutrition and quality of sleep. However, after the last 3 weeks of hard training, I am pretty relieved to take advantage of this recovery week. A common training tactic that has worked for me in the past, these recovery weeks come every 4th week of training after 3 intense weeks of race specific running. I usually despise these 'recovery' weeks because I just love to be out there logging miles (for the long races) or getting speed work in (for those shorter summertime races I like to do in the hotter temps), but this time I am confident the recovery week has come just in time. After a Florida 'vacation' 2 weeks ago, I realized how much of the last few weeks has included at least SOME sacrifice. You see, when I say I love running and training for an upcoming event I do truly mean it. That sentiment is yet to change, however, my recent Florida trip -- which was noted as a "vacation" from work -- seemed like anything but that. Each morning I was up at 4am to get the coffee going, the oatmeal cooking, and the calories in before heated long runs up and down I-95 and 'round and 'round the quiet roads of my grandparents' retirement community (very boring runs for the most part as far as scenery goes and, damn, Florida is FLAT!!) Afterall, I had to fit in the runs before setting out for the days other, non-running activities. In short, I did love it very much. That feeling of getting up in pitch dark, fueling up and then packing my essentials for the long run has always been a great feeling, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to take one extra rest day... That brings us to today: An extra rest day! Why? well first off, this is a recovery week, so I will be tapering a bit on the mileage, tacking off about 15-20 miles from my currernt weekly average of about 70 miles per week. Secondly, Tuesday's 10 mile trail run was slippery in the North Woods after all that snow started to melt and, I being the idiot, decided to wear my road shoes in the trails. I paid the price with a slip that kind of tweaked the right knee a little bit. Definitely felt it during yesterday's usual easy mid-week run (about 5 miles). So instead of hitting the road today, I'm happy to claim that I HAVE LEARNED from past mistakes and I will be taking an ADDITIONAL rest day instead of pulling myself out the door to create a new injury. One extra rest day won't kill you (Friday is a normally planned rest/easy day leading up to the weekend's back to back long runs) but one extra injury very much can AND will. So, as of now the side of the knee seems back to normal, but another night of full sleep and this extra day off the legs should keep things on track for the weekly back-to-back long runs -- which are also shorter this weekend a la said recovery week. Third and also just as important, an extra day off keeps things fresh, mounts more motivation, and recharges the batteries before ramping up the mileage as I head towards peak training volume. So Saturday I'll head out the door for 2 hours, followed by another 2.5 in the trails on Sunday, and then it's back on another hard week of running upwards of 80 miles per week! It feels good to recover. Afterall, the ultimate goal is the race, and in order to push yourself to maximum potential, one's batteries must be charged at the right times. The way I've come to think of it is that there's a difference, in training especially, between pushing yourself (GOOD!) and pulling yourself (NOT SO GOOD!). Pushing promotes progression and fights your personal limits in a positive light, but it's that pulling yourself, which walks a close line to the former, that potentially ignites injury and increases time on the recovery couch instead of on the open roads and trails.

So, to sum it all up: I LOVE YOU, RECOVERY WEEK!
(Two Months 'til Bel Monte!! Check out the race site:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Week Summary 12/26 - 1/1

Mon - Cycling

Took the feet off the ground and onto the pedals today for an easy 10 miles just to shake the legs out after a weekend of solid back-to-backs. Feeling good.

Tue - 1:22 PM

Wed - 1:12 AM

Thurs - OFF (rest day)

Fri - 3:13 PM

Took advantage of the day off from work and made the trip up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. I’ve been planning to get up there and today’s perfect weather was ideal for a long day in the trails. Great climbs and some decent technical features in the trails. That place kind of feels like upstate NY if you get deep enough into some of the woods. I know VCP is nothing like the Blue Ridges, but it is definitely better/more challenging than the North Woods in Central. After all, you have to be creative when you’re living on island of the concrete! Thanks, VCP... Definitely utilizing you for my modified trail training grounds when time allows for it.

Sat - 1:58 PM (half marathon race run, followed by a few easy miles of cool down)

Despite feeling pretty beat up from yesterday’s afternoon tackling some technical trails, I happened to feel great after a few minutes on the road and made the decision to race hard for 13.1 miles and see if I could grab a personal best on a self made race course. So it was on from the Upper East Side all the way into Astoria Park in Queens and back. and, according to my Garmin, I PRed by almost a full minute! Definitely satisfied with that, considering the out-and-back included a climb over the Queensboro Bridge two times. Slowed up a bit on the slog up the bridge on the way back, but it was great practice for gunning it on the descent to make up the lost time. I couldn’t believe how good I felt racing it hard and all on dead legs. I’d say it was the perfect way to say “goodbye” to 2011 and wrap up a solid year of rave runs and races. I’m pumped to see what next year has in store for the runs -- I’m dubbing 2012 the “Year of the Ultras” (injuries, you are not invited).

Sun - :30 PM (recovery run)

Planned on taking today off after doing my back-to-backs on Friday and Saturday, but figured I just couldn’t start out 2012 with a rest day -- a perfect reason to put on the shoes for a recovery run and kick off the year with some relentless forward motion. Happy New Year!

Week Totals: 8h 15m

Overall, a good week of running with a slight decrease in training volume (pulled back a couple hours for the recovery week after a solid first training quarter of building for Bel Monte). I’m hoping the small bit of rest gives me a big boost for the upcoming weeks of some heavy back-to-backs. The schedule is set to be quite busy for the next 2 weeks, so I’ll have to get creative in fitting in the longer workouts and adequate time in the trails. Bel Monte, I’m coming for you.

NYC's version of a peak -- Standing atop the "summit" during an afternoon in the trails of Van Cortlandt Park.
Friday, Dec. 30, 2011