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.