Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week in Review: 21-27 August, and Fall 2011 Preview

I realize this post is coming late; I wanted to wait until I could confirm a little bit more of my "fall preview" before I posted. So, with minimal ado, first, here was what my last week of running looked like:

Sunday: 1 mile easy (10 minutes); post-BoB shakeout at Patterson Park

Monday: 15 miles (110 minutes), out to the Fed Hill group run and back, meandering here and there to make up miles.

Tuesday: 1 mile warmup/warmdown (10 minutes), with 4 miles of treadmill hills (35 minutes, 1615 feet of gain) in the middle

Wednesday: 10 miles (70 minutes), along with the Wednesday Night Canton Run crew

Thursday: 1 mile warmup/warmdown (10 minutes), with 4 miles of treadmill hills (35 minutes, 1658 feet of gain) in the middle, followed later by 15 miles (110 minutes) of hilly running on York Road towards Towson, followed by pontificating about ultrarunning over a Slurpee to a stranger in a 7-11 parking lot

Friday: 13 miles (95 minutes) "early" morning, around the Inner Harbor/Fed Hill; later, 6 miles easy (60 minutes) around Patterson Park/Canton

Saturday: 7 miles pre-hurricane-Irene (50 minutes), out to Hopkins Bayview and back, and that felt like enough.

Total Time: 640 minutes
Total Distance: 77 miles

All of which leads me to an interesting point about this past week, before I move on with the aforementioned fall preview. If you replace this past Saturday with the Saturday prior (when I ran Beast of Burden), my 7-day miles over that period total 177, which, as far as I know, is a new high for me. Funny what a difference a day makes, because otherwise, it sounds like I had a sub-par 77-mile week. Just more evidence that 100 miles per week is pretty arbitrary (but at the same time, not something that will convince me to change my strategy as far as that's concerned).

Okay, finally, on with what I REALLY want to write about, which is my schedule for this fall. If you've been following this blog at all, you know that I've had probably more than my fair share of failures in the fall. This is partially due to my typical training cycle (which tends to lead to a mid-to-late summer peak), combined with the fact that, for whatever reason, fall seems to be an emotionally difficult time for me. From where I am now, though, I think that my training has been consistent enough throughout the year to put up some good performances this fall, and emotionally, well, as far as I can tell, things are at least trending better. This weekend kicks off what I'm calling the "Fall 2011 Redemption Series," where I attempt to take on every race over the past couple of years that's gone poorly for me, all in one season, and at least better my previous attempt (if not be very competitive, depending on the race). It all starts this weekend, and goes down something like this:

3-4 September - The Ring ( - a 71-mile circuit around the Massanutten Mountains on the "orange" trail. Last time: I got lost and didn't finish.

9-10 September - pacer, Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run ( - Along for the ride as motivator, photographer, and companion, as Dave Snipes runs the final race in the 2011 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning.

17-18 September - North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run ( - US 24-Hour National Championship Race; enough said. Last time: Stopped at about 50 miles, due to sore feet and general burnout.

24-25 September - SURPRISE (I'm still toying with a few things here, but I promise it will be awesome, whatever it is.)

1-2 October - Another wild card. (If 24-25 September is a bust, maybe this one will be something cool instead.)

7-8 October - Grindstone 100 ( - Debatably the hardest 100-mile race on the east coast. Last time: Stopped at around 25 miles, due to everything was wrong.

15 October - Baltimore Marathon (pacing 3:20) - Support the hometown race. :)

22-23 October - Wild Card #3. Surely something fun will come along . . . ;)

29-30 October - Halloweeny 50K ( and Fire on the Mountain 50K ( - Because 30 is a big age (maybe), celebrating twice on my birthday weekend, with two races that are just over 30 miles.

5-6 November - Wild Card, part 4.

12 November - Richmond Marathon (pacing 3:10) - Because really, why not?

19-20 November - Hmm . . . let's make this one a Wild Card for now, too. ;)

26-27 November - Tamest wild card of the bunch; seems to be a quiet weekend in general.

3-4 December - Wild card, at the moment. ;)

10-11 December - Hellgate 100K ( - That 66.6-mile race that starts at midnight. Last time: Did not finish due to all sorts of problems.

Rest of 2011 - "Off" (maybe . . . ;) )

I think the above schedule (which, of course, is subject to change, and has a fair amount of change built in, anyway) ensures that I hit all of the major races (save Oil Creek, which, unfortunately, is on the same weekend as Grindstone this year) where redemption is required, while still allowing for a fair amount of flexibility to throw in some new stuff, and perhaps to even nab a few PRs at shorter distances (in my quest this year to PR at EVERY DISTANCE).

Of course, brilliant ideas are always welcome, particularly those that are a new sort of challenging and/or stupid . . . ;)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Week in Review: 14-20 August, and Beast of Burden Race Report

Okay, numbers first:

Sunday: 4 miles easy (30 minutes), Canton/Fells

Monday: 11 miles (75 minutes) at some random place off of Route1 in Nottingham.

Tuesday: 2 miles warmup (15 minutes), 5 miles of track intervals (really complicated workout that I can't exactly remember -35 minutes), 2 miles warmdown (15 minutes)

Wednesday: 10 miles (70 minutes), on the greatest Harbor Promenade run ever (end of a rainbow what?)

Thursday: 6 miles easy (60 minutes)

Friday: 1 easy mile (10 minutes)

Saturday: 100 miles. Beast of Burden. 20:15, 3rd male, 5th overall.

Total minutes: 1510
Total miles: 141

Okay, now, Beast of Burden:

It should be no secret that after my 100-mile PR (16:19) at Beast of Burden, I thought that this year's edition of the race would be ripe for a 100-mile PR. Add Valmir Nunes, the Badwater record-holder, to the mix, and we were in for a fast race.

After a bunch of photos of me and Valmir with various people for personal use (minor celebrity what?), we lined up ready to rumble. The horn sounded, and we were off, super-fast. I stayed behind Valmir's suicidal pace, already feeling as though I was going to have to concede first to him. Everything hurt and felt wrong, and I was sweating profusely (it was hot at the start, as Valmir demonstrated before the start by rubbing his finger on his wet shoulder. So I soldiered along, completing the first 25-mile loop in just under 3:40 - behind last year's pace.

So it was to my surprise to see that Valmir was only about a mile and a half ahead of me. Considering how awful I felt, this was a minor miracle. Still, I wasn't focused on winning - I was trying my best to enjoy the course, which included jumping up on the drawbridge as it was descending for the crossing (it was randomly timed to be coming down just as I was approaching it).

I reached the end of my otherwise uneventful second lap to frantic claims that Valmir was in trouble, and that I could pass him and take the lead. At this point, a little over 50 miles in, I had finally found my stride, and I began to chase him down. I nearly caught him just past the unmanned aid near one of the bridges in the first segment of the loop, but when I came close, he looked back, and I instanty felt my stomach get sick (not sure how coincidental it was) and I backed off.

I maintained the chase, and it was getting exciting, because people passing on their way back were getting excited and telling me how close he was. Finally, I reached the aid station at mile 62.5, and, knowing that he had mentioned that he liked 100Ks a lot better than 100-mile race. I figured that this was a good time to pass him, as he was just sitting at the aid station (somebody asked him if he liked the summer version of the race, or the winter version of the race, which he won last winter, better, to which he responded "I don't speak English.")

As we left the aid station and crossed the bridge, I subtly slipped ahead of him, and now, after 63+ miles of chasing, I was finally in the lead. As if my water bottle knew it, it shot off a spurt of pale orange water (from the peach Endurolyte fizz that I had put in it at the previous aid station).

But the celebration was premature, because Valmir was not about to give up without a fight, and so, after holding the lead for only about 15 minutes, I suddenly lost control of my stomach and started dry-heaving. Valmir, gunning hard from behind, passed me. I hadn't eaten enough at the aid station, and I was feeling weak, sick, and out-of-it. I struggled to the next aid station, where I lay down for two hours, trying to get myself together. Between being pushed to my physical limits chasing Valmir, and being in a strange place emotionally, at least in part because less than two weeks ago, I had broken up with my fiancee of three years, I needed this time to get myself together. I didn't want to give up - I couldn't sleep, and my mind was still on the race. But my body wasn't ready yet, and I was still emotionally disheveled. There would be nobody there to give me a kick in the ass and make me move; I would have to do it on my own.

So finally I did, resolved to finish the race and to enjoy the beautiful night, the view of the Erie Canal, and the opportunity to be there, doing this ridiculous race. I started out at a walk, but quickly graduated to a run, and soon I was at the finish, ready to set out on my last lap, armed with the news that Valmir was again having trouble. Comeback, maybe?

Alas, not in the cards. I was getting sleepy and chafed, and still having trouble eating enough to sustain a solid pace. So I ran a lot of the way out, but when I saw Valmir at the 8-mile mark on the way out (still 6 miles ahead of me), I decided to just enjoy, and practice my powerwalk on the last 12.5 miles, channeling my best Badwater climb up Mt. Whitney. Of course, the course wasn't finished kicking me in the teeth just yet - it started raining with about 5 miles to go, which was hell on my chafing. I waddled several miles before the rain thankfully stopped. I walked across the finish line in 20:15, happy to have finished.

It turned out that I was third male, 5th overall, and the winner had run 17:52, not close to the course record of 16:19 that I set last year, which was some consolation. I was thankful to have finished, and jonesing for some A&D ointment to soothe my chafing.

So yet another "moral" victory, which you and I are probably sick of, but nevertheless, there were a lot of great things about the race, not the least of which was the emotional purge that my final dry heave catalyzed. Having come into this race in a weird place, and having spent so much of it on the brink of disaster chasing down Valmir (who didn't win anyway; as it turned out, we beat each other up so much that an uninvolved third party, with no dog in our fight, stole the victory), I needed my "slow, miserable" last lap to prove to myself that in spite of circumstances, I am still strong, and I can still finish an ugly race on my own. Not to mention there was some pretty sweet lightning to look at on the return trip.

So now that that's over, and I've lived to tell the tale, it's onward and upward to new adventures. My September is 90% set now, and I'm ready to keep churning out the 100-mile weeks, as this race, save for the chafing, has left me remarkably physically intact. On to a new week . . . :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Week in Review - 7-13 August 2011, and Semi-Shabbat Run Recap

It's that compelling list of numbers you've all been waiting for:

Sunday: 5 miles (35 minutes) on the east side, starting at 0630, then another 10 miles (70 minutes) after church on the west side

Monday: 15 miles (105 minutes) out to the Fed Hill Monday Night Run and back. Some of this was at upwards of low-to-mid 6-minute mile pace

Tuesday: 4 miles of treadmill hills (35 minutes, 1532 feet of gain), then drive to the Gilman Track for 2 miles of warmup, 5x300m @ 58 seconds (100m walk rest), 400m jog, 1x1100 (supposed to be 1500, but wasn't going well, so I stopped with a lap to go), 4 miles of barefoot running around the track, 2 more miles of warmdown (entire workout: about 60 minutes), then one more mile before bed for good measure (10 minutes)

Wednesday: Slow, lazy 2 miles (20 minutes)

Thursday: 4 miles of treadmill hills (35 minutes, 1615 feet of gain), then 15 miles around the Canton/Fells/Inner Harbor/Fed Hill area (105 minutes)

Friday: 8 miles (60 minutes) in the general vicinity of the Hopkins Homewood campus - feeling "whatever" about this, so I cut it short.

Saturday: 17 miles (120 minutes) out to Essex and back via Eastern Avenue, with detours of arbitrary interest thrown in here and there. Followed up with a very late night 9 miles (65 minutes) in a light rain around Canton/Fells/Inner Harbor.

Total Time: 720 minutes
Total Distance: 100 miles

In my last "real" week before Beast of Burden, I made it to 100 miles, although not without some figurative kicking and screaming. The last 9 miles were technically completed early Sunday morning, but since I was running from a little after 5 a.m. to a little after 6 a.m., and I didn't start logging miles for this week until 0630 on Sunday, this was technically within the 1-week window, and since 100-mile weeks are nothing if not a technicality, I'm counting it. (I ended up running another 4 miles later on Sunday, which will count towards this coming week.)

Of course, all of that obscures the real story, which is the 127-mile 7-day period from the previous Wednesday to the Tuesday described above. This was not at all on purpose, and it was only when I seemed to be tanking on Tuesday that I took a minute to count the miles, and realized that my volume was way over the top. This is the biggest 7-day period I've ever run that didn't include a race longer than 50K. The ragged last few days of this week are a testament to the aftermath of that, but I guess that's what happens when the dividing line between calendar weeks in no way constitutes a line of symmetry for your training.

Now, not that every run isn't an adventure in its own right, but seeing as to how, for the last couple of weeks, I've had a race on Saturday to carry on about ad nauseam on here, I needed to do something just for fun this week, not just for the sake of the blog (not hardly, really), but also (and mostly) to keep things fresh. I batted around a bunch of ideas, but when Saturday came around, the thing that made the most sense was a sort of running shabbat (thanks, Tel Aviv, for this great idea). Or, I would do whatever I wanted to do all day, run whenever I wanted, whatever I wanted, feel comfortable, and stop when I felt like I had enough.

So, in that spirit, I sat around for most of Saturday, eating cereal and watching King of the Hill and a documentary on the JFK assassination on Netflix. I listed to vicious thunderstorms pound on my skylights all afternoon. Finally, at around 7:30 p.m. (oddly enough, nearing sundown), I decided that it was time, and I headed off down Eastern Avenue, towards Essex.

The direction and destination of travel are relevant here, because they hearken back to the fall of 2008, just after I had met my former girlfriend and fiancee. Earlier this week, we broke up, and in some ways, it's been like a return to that fall (albeit a month early). There was a lot of beauty in that fall, and there was a lot of beauty in this running route, which I discovered that fall, and which I re-lived this weekend. For those of you who insist that beauty while running can be found only on a trail, I submit the following, taken on the bridge to Essex on Eastern Avenue:

Admittedly, man-made mayhem (such as this car crash that I saw on the way back) is a constant environmental hazard:

But man also makes some pretty cool stuff, like this fountain (be patient, and watch the whole thing, or skip to about 20 seconds in if you can't . . .):


So in the end, beauty is where you find it, but in order to find things, you have to look for them. You don't have to do much looking on the trail to find what typically passes for beauty. But in the city, you have to be open and adventurous and aware, because, for the most part, beauty doesn't just come up and smack you in the face (unless you consider being mugged a beautiful thing).

And sometimes, if you're looking hard enough, you find some really amazing stuff, like this mix CD I found on the run, containing, among its 18 unique tracks, "The Seed" (The Roots/Cody Chesnutt), "Sell Out" (Reel Big Fish), and "Otherside" (Red Hot Chili Peppers), twice:

Upon a few more runs through, I am now at least momentarily infatuated with Rise Against. :P

All things considered, it was a good run (both the literal one described above, and the relationship), and it's always sad when these things are relegated to memories. But then again, memories serve a purpose, too, and sometimes, that's where things need to be. Time to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and embrace whatever may come. :)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Week in Review: 31 July - 6 August, and Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K Race Report

Okay, the numbers:

31 July - 13 miles (95 minutes), in the evening, Patterson Park/Canton/Fells/Fed Hill. (Was only planning on doing 10 miles, but felt oddly fine, so I went a little longer . . .)

1 August - 4 miles (30 minutes), at APG (lazy lazy)

2 August - 1 mile (10 minutes), at APG (super lazy)

3 August - Treadmill hill workout - 1698 feet of climb in 4 miles (35 minutes), plus 1 mile total warmup/warmdown (10 minutes), followed up a few hours later with 15 miles (105 minutes) around Baltimore City, in circles that seemed endless, except for the parts where I sped up to chase down other runners (ad hoc speedwork?).

4 August - 5 miles easy (35 minutes) from SURVICE Engineering, Belcamp on my lunch break, 15 more easy miles in the evening around Baltimore City (105 minutes)

5 August - 10 miles (70 minutes) around White Marsh Mall, plus, I found a really awesome power line cut:

6 August - 32 (?) miles (50K plus a little), Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K, 4 hours, 10 minutes, some-odd seconds (250 minutes), 6th place overall.

Total Time: 735 minutes
Total Distance: 100 miles

Okay, now the race report:

"Fresh" off of last week's 6-hour run adventure in Astoria Park, I found, after a few low-mileage days this week rid me of the delayed-onset soreness in my quads, that the wanderlust had me again. So I hit up the trusty website for suggestions for the weekend, and lo and behold, the system works: Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K. Although there was some indication that the terrain was iffy, at least it would be flat (on account of being a rail trail), and perhaps a chance to re-PR this year at 50K (my previous best being the 4:19 that I ran at Seneca Greenway in early March). Maybe even (dare I say it) a chance to pull out a win - although 50K isn't my strongest ultra-distance, the fact that the course was relatively flat, and the course record, at a shade over 3:50, relatively "soft," meant that barring some superhuman competition coming out of nowhere, I would be in the mix for one of the top spots. The promise of a barbecue after the race was enticing, too. :) Anyway, all good enough for me to get up at 3 in the morning and make the 2-ish hour drive down to Dahlgren and the Caledonia Nature Zone, or whatever they call it. (If nothing else, the early-awake thing was good for randomly running into a lost cat outside my house, which rubbed up against my leg and emitted the most well-enunciated "meow" that I've ever heard a cat make. Delightful. :) )

I was first in line for race-day sign-up, and was pleasantly surprised to see how organized their operation was. After a briefing at 6 a.m. that warned us of the "bullet impact zone" on the western out-and-back, we all milled about uncomfortably for about 15 minutes until it was time to line up and wait for the gun.

The gun went off, and I went out slightly in the lead. My legs were feeling surprisingly okay, considering that I had run 50 miles in the past three days, a substantial portion of which was not particularly slow, so I hung on where I was across the field, out to the road, and down the steep hill to the rail trail. I bombed down the short single-track stretch so fast that even though I had clearly turned in the direction of the arrow, I put so much distance on the pack so quickly that I wasn't hearing footsteps, and was temporarily concerned that somehow I was running the wrong way. A quick turn of the head confirmed that there were a few other runners hard-charging after me, so I thought it best to turn around, keep sipping my Gatorade and downing my Endurolytes, and concentrating on running strong on the sloppy terrain.

It is at this point that I should mention that, on paper, this is a PR course, because it is so flat. In practice, this is no NCR Trail - it's ragged, littered with gravel, rocks, downed branches, all on a sandy bed. Nice cushioning, but not exactly built for speed. It takes a fair amount of concentration to achieve road-like speeds on a surface like this, which, except for maybe a mile total (intermittent throughout the race), never lets up. So, in all fairness, this really is a trail race (unlike races on the NCR . . .)

I reached the eastern turn-around in the lead, with runners gunning hard just behind me, but I managed to maintain through the next aid station, at around 7 miles. When I stopped to fill my bottle, one guy passed me, then another, and another . . . For whatever reason, I was hitting a rough patch, and struggling to keep my pace. I put my head down and soldiered forward, and, to my surprise, I pushed through, and by the time we were about three miles into the western turn-around, I was back up with the leaders, and feeling somewhat better. We made the climb up the single-track re-routing around the gun club (which seemed pointless at the time, but was a nice break for the muscles that were handling the brunt of the work for the majority of the race), and down the gravel road back onto the trail, and continued towards the western turn-around point.

It was somewhere about 3 miles from the western turn-around that thing started to fall apart. The fatigue from the past three days of heavy volume, the humid heat (80-ish degrees, 75% humidity), and the ragged terrain turned my stride from smooth to struggle. Four people passed me. Now in fifth place, I did what I did the last time that this happened: I soldiered ahead, albeit at a slower pace, and concentrated on nutrition/hydration. At about a mile from the turnaround, I stopped losing ground at an alarming rate, but I came into the turnaround feeling wrecked, and concerned about the 11 or 12 miles that I still had to run to complete the race. I took about a minute at the aid station to eat half of a banana, drink some Coke, and generally collect myself before I started walking from the aid station back down the trail. After about 5 minutes of walking, I decided that this was no way to end the ordeal quickly, so I began to run again. After a while, I slowed to a walk for another couple of minutes, and that was when Karsten Brown caught me. Sixth place now, but determined not to throw in the towel, I kept pushing forward, with the occasional walk break, but I limited myself to a minute or two, except for the climb around the gun club, which was now alive with the sound of shooting. Bullet impact area, indeed - fortunately, no impact on me.

This continued for a while, until the end of the race. Okay, that sounds stupid, but seriously, in the last five miles, my legs were tired - not so tired that I couldn't run, but tired enough that I felt like I didn't have the extra gear that I needed to mount a chase. I still managed a finishing "sprint" for show, crossing the line in just over 4 hours and 10 minutes, with Paul Jacobs less than a minute behind me, although I had no idea at the time (had I known, perhaps I would have tried to make the latter portion of the race less lazy). For my efforts, I got a glass imprinted with the race logo, for alcoholic beverages (probably), and the option to swap out my green t-shirt for a purple 2011 t-shirt (which I exercised). Oh right, and there was a barbecue, but it was hard to enjoy, because with all of the Gatorade, Coke, bananas, and Endurolytes, combined with the humidity, killed my appetite. So I mostly sat there with Chris Avedissian, a friend who had come out to the race, talking about nothing in particular and greeting the other finishers as they stumbled in to Shelter A. After far too many hours of that (when I left, the clock was at 7:30; the race time limit was 8 hours), I packed up what little there was to pack up, and went home.

Overall, I'm pleased with my effort. Since the "soft" in the course record turned out to be more in the trail surface itself than the time, I didn't feel too bad about my finish (hey, it was a PR), although I did feel a little bad when it turned out that the winner was "only" about 15 minutes ahead of me, and third place was just a few seconds under 4 hours. Considering that the last 3 miles took me about half an hour for no good reason (other than being tired and adopting a "training run" mentality at that point), that was 6 minutes lost right there. At any rate, for last-minute, un-tapered effort, it was another good call, another good training run, another fun adventure, and . . . another pile of swag: :)