Monday, November 29, 2010

Looking Ahead

This is the time of year when I normally reflect on my running accomplishments (and failures) during the past 12 months. Although 2010 started out with some very good race results through April, injuries kept me out of the game for most of the summer and fall. Since most of this year involved no running at, I'm going to avoid looking back but instead focus on the future. Having such a disappointing year has motivated me to come back stronger than ever and establish a lofty goal for 2011.  Initially, I thought about running my first 100 miler but realized the motivation behind that was more from external sources than from a burning desire within. To attempt such an undertaking without being 100% committed is foolish at best and I sense I would find little joy in it. 

However, I do enjoy running long distances, and more specifically running ultra races, so I came up with the idea of running an ultra for every month of the year.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  That's 12 ultras in 12 months in 2011.  I like to call it my "12 in 12 in 11" plan.  To some, this may not seem to be a difficult task nor lofty goal.  But I have never run more than two ultras in one year so it is a stretch for me. On the surface this appears to be a very unrealistic goal seeing that I'm still injured and haven't run a step since Stone Cat in early November.  But I recently read a book that encouraged me to dream big and I think I can pull it off with a little bit of luck (ok, a truck load of good luck), something I've been lacking of late.

What it may take to be successful is training less, not more. I usually train about 30-35 miles per week when I am healthy but training at that level and running an ultra every month will likely lead to over training and injury.  If I reduce my mileage to 15-20 per week it should allow for adequate recovery between races.  It also means that I will suffer greatly during each race as I will be woefully under trained for long distances. Given my recent injury prone history, I think it's the only way to go.

Running ultra races is a costly endeavor in terms of entry fees, fuel costs, miles driven and time away from family.  In order to minimize these costs, I have tried to pick races that are either Fat Ass events or have low entry fees and/or are relatively close to home. Fortunately, I was able to find races that matched my criterion without too much effort. With that in mind, here in the plan for 2011 (subject to change and subject to me regaining good health of course).

January - GAC Fat Ass 50K
This is a no-brainer.  It's nearby, free to enter, has tons of good aid station food and also happens to be the only game in town.  Plus it's a G.A.C event and they know how to host an ultra race.  If the course is covered in soft snow like the past two years it will a tough day.  WIth little training before Stone Cat and none since, this could prove to be the hardest race for me to finish all year (if I can even make it to the starting line).

February - TBD
This will be a hard month to find a race.  The only February ultra in New England is the Frozen Fat Ass 50K on Cape Cod.  I like the fact that it is free and not too far away, but the course is run entirely on the beach.  Running two loops in soft beach sand is something my sacro-illiac joint can't handle. 31 miles in sand would put a serious hurt on me. I may just have to host my own Frozen Fat Ass to meet my February ultra requirement.  How does "Breakheart Dan Does Bradley Palmer" sound?  I'm talking about the state park, not the wealthy attorney long since passed.
March - Fells Trail Ultra Vernal Equinox Edition 32M
The RD for this race, Steve Latour, is a bud of mine and my partner in this "12 in 12" madness. He claims to have suggested this to me over a year ago but I fail to recollect that conversation.  Steve's a self-professed cheap bastard which means he wouldn't think of charging an entry fee to his race.  That's good for me, another free ride (except for all the running up and down rocky technical trails that is).  Can't beat the fact that it's a 25 minute drive from my house.  It is the Fells though, and I hate running the Fells! :-)

April - Don't Run Boston 50K
This was a hard decision for me. Last April I ran the Traprock 50K in CT.  I loved the race and vowed to return in 2011.  The only problem is that it's on the same weekend as DRB and I obviously can't run both.  DRB is much closer to home and is a Fat Ass event so it wins out over Traprock.  This past winter I ran several times in Blue Hills with the Trail Animals Running Club who host Don't Run Boston. Blue Hills is a very challenging place to run with a lot of big climbs and rock scrambling.  The TARC's motto is, "No animal will be left behind."  Well it didn't always work out that way but I did manage to find my way back to civilization.  No hard feelings though.  

May - GAC Mother's Day 6 Hour Run
I'll have to get permission from the wife to run this one.  After all, it's her day not mine.  I'm certain a precedent much have been set somewhere, sometime for celebrating Mother's Day on a Saturday.  If not, there's always Wapack. Yikes!

June - Peak Ultra 50M
I'm told this is one of the toughest 50 mile races in the U.S. with 14,000 feet of elevation gain and some bushwhacking to boot.  After running an easy course at the Mother's Day race the timing will be right to take on the serious challenge at Peak.

July - 24 Hours Around the Lake Ultra
I'm not really sure about this one. It's a 5K loop around Lake Quannapowitt which is less than 10 miles from my house. My only issue with it is the course itself.  It's on pavement or concrete sidewalk and I can't run more than a mile or two on pavement because of my long-standing plantar fasciitis.  I'm fairly certain half the loop can be run on a narrow path of dirt next to the sidewalk but I have to confirm that before committing to this race.  The race starts at 7PM and the idea of running throughout the night does appeal to me.  I've never done that before.

August - 24 Hours of Waterbury
Race Director and ultra runner extraordinaire, Josh Katzman claims this is the hardest 24 hour race in the USA.  Here is a description from the website. "This is a genuine trail run - it is tough, but beautiful and rewarding.  The trails on Perry Hill are maintained by the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA), and they do a really spectacular job at it.  The 15 miles of trails are quickly gaining national attention for being awesome!  There are some tough climbs, some technical sections, and some really smooth, runnable sections of carpeted pine needles that will be very welcome, especially as you get closer to the 12 and 24 hour marks.  We will be running loops, using 8.4 of the trails and will have about 1,550 feet of elevation GAIN per loop.  Yeah, that's a lot of uphill!"  It sounds like a "must do" to me.

September - Pisgah Mountain 50K or Vermont 50K
Two great races one week apart.  Not sure which one I'll run but if RunninRob decides to do Vermont I told him I'll be his wing man.

October - Bimbler's Bluff 50K
I've had my eye on this race for two years now but was never able to fit it into the schedule.  2011 will be the year.  The Bimblers Bluff 50k runs through several inter-connected woodland preserves in southern Connecticut. Consisting entirely of rolling forest roads or single track that can be extremely rocky, the course provides a true test of a runner’s fitness and mental stamina.

November - Stone Cat 50M
This is another race that is within a 30 minute drive from my home and has a reasonable entry fee. It's also one of my favorite races with an abundance of single track, great volunteers and aid stations and almost a 100% guarantee for getting your feet wet.  What more can you ask for?

December - Fells Trail Ultra Winter Solstice Edition 40M
Same RD and course as the spring edition of the Fells race but likely to be more difficult after running eleven other races during the year.  Unlike the spring race, I'll be shooting for 40 miles instead of 32.  I must be insane!

Well, that's the plan.  Simple to design, difficult to execute.  I just need to start training, and soon.  I want to get in at least four weeks of training before the GAC Fat Ass in January and I'm running out of time.  If my neck issue prevents me from starting soon I'll have to postpone the start of my racing season.  But whenever I do start, my goal will be to run one ultra race a month until 2011 comes to an end.

Wish me luck.  I'm going to need it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours.

And I’m not taking about the weather.

The elation I felt after finishing the Stone Cat marathon was short-lived. Two days later, I injured my neck doing something stupid (I’ll leave it at that) and had a return of the neck pain, muscle tightness and head and facial numbness and tingling I first experienced three years ago when I first injured my neck. It’s the worse pain I’ve had in two years and resulted in a week off from work. I guess every cloud has a silver lining but I can think of better ways to spend a week off from work. I’m feeling slightly better now but still far from well. It looks like I’m facing more down time. So what else is new? On the plus side, this will give me more time to rehab my IT band and the plantar fasciitis that flared up during Stone Cat. I’m not going to let this get me down because I’ve set a lofty running goal for 2011 (more about that in my next post) and I’m not about to give up on it before the new year has even begun. Still, I feel like the deck is stacked against me. Just another obstacle to overcome and I have plenty of experience doing that.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Stone Cat Marathon Race Report - My Race From The Rear, Or How Running A Personal Worst Can Be So Rewarding.

For those that know me, this hasn't been a great year for me running-wise.  I've been dealing with a very stubborn IT band that has kept me from training much during the past six months.  When I registered for Stone Cat a few months ago I thought I would be over this injury come November.  Well, race day arrived and my ITB was still misbehaving but this was one race I refused to record as a DNS [Did Not Start]. 

Having done little to no training in the months preceding the race (12 miles per week average with one long run of 15 mile) I decided to start the race at a very conservative pace, as in walking.  This would serve two purposes.  First, it would allow me to loosen up my IT band and hopefully prevent, or at least delay, it tightening up and causing knee pain.  Second, it would allow me to spend some time catching up with Trail Pixie.  She also has been injured and was going to walk the entire 26.2 miles.  Or so she said. Funny how pre-race plans often change in the heat of battle.  (She walked all but seven miles and still finished in six hours!)

After taking a ten minute detour due to a road closure, I arrived at the school gym to pick up my race number.  It was still early and I had plenty of time to talk with several good folks from the Lynn Woods Crew and The Ultra Gang.  I spent most of my time with Karen G who was running her first 50.  I think she had some pre-race jitters but hid it well. Turns out she had nothing to worry about and completed the 50 mile race feeling fine and enjoying the company of owls. Seeing so many familiar faces is another reason why Stone Cat is one of my favorite races. 

Some of the Lynn Woods Crew (photo credit: Team T.)

A few of The Ultra Gang before the start. (photo credit: Streph T.)

As we walked into the cold darkness for the start of the race I drifted to the back of the pack.  I was getting cold standing around and wanted to get moving.  I never heard the "Go" command but when the crowd in front of me starting to move I knew the race was on.  Emily was not nearby but I caught up to her when runners starting stacking up trying to go from the open field into the first single track section.

Minutes before the start.

A light stream of runners. (photo credit: Keith Magnus)

Emily and I walked together for the first 20-25 minutes as runners drifted away into the woods, the small specks of light from their headlamps bobbing in the darkness. Emily is a very fast walker and I had to work to keep up. I didn't feel like we were losing that much time to the runners who had to deal with wet, slippery rocks , roots and leaves with very little light.  Once I felt like I was adequately warmed up I said goodbye to Emily and began to run slowly.

Because I started dead last, or close to it, there were about 300 people ahead of me.  It was fun catching up to runners, chatting with them for a while, and then moving on to chase down the next group. Because much of this race in on single track trails there were many times when I could not pass as quickly as I wanted and had to run the pace dictated by the lead runner.  I think this helped me in the long run since it kept me at an easy pace for the first half of the race.

Chasing after the early morning train.

As I made my way through the first loop I got a chance to run with many friends.  Although my stay with them was brief in most cases, it helped the first loop pass quickly. I also had a great time grazing at the two aid stations on the course.  When I arrived at Al Cat' Lounge it was still very early in the morning so I decided to have breakfast.  I looked for the pancakes but couldn't find them. I settled for bacon.  It was so good I grabbed four more strips and continued on my way.  It was the first time I ate bacon during a race but it won't be my last.

Feeding frenzy in the early morning fog.

There was a section of trail between two swampy ponds that was mostly under water.  Many runners tried to keep to the side of the trail to stay dry but I knew from my previous runs here that it was a waste of time.  It slows you down quite a bit and you end up getting wet feet in the end.  I just blasted through the river of water as quickly as I could so I would not prolong the suffering.  In all honesty, I actually liked running in the water even though it was very cold.

What are you afraid of? It's only water people!

Yeah baby, that's what I'm talkin' about! Steve T. walking on water, well, almost. (photo credit: Team T.)

This made me think of green smoothies but I'm sure they taste better than they look.

I finished the first loop feeling very Strong and after some chicken noodle soup I headed back out for the final 12.5 miles. By now, the field of runners had spread out and I ran alone for long stretches at a time.  Along one of my favorites sections of single track Ben Nephew came hammering by me and was out of sight in a flash.  He went on the set the 50 mile course record in a very fast 6:24:47.  A short time later, someone behind me asked if I was Dan.  It was Josh Katzmam (second place overall) who I know by name but we had never met.  He told me he checks out my blog occasionally and I told him I was aiming to run his race in VT next summer.  His stride was gazelle-like and soon, he too, was gone from view. 

Lapped by Ben Nephew soon after taking this photo.

Rich, Streph, Bill (first 50 finish!) and KZ.

I was expecting my IT band to bother me at some point but I guess my walking warm up did the trick . I didn't have any issues and it felt fine the entire race.  What I didn't expect was a return of my plantar fasciitis which had been in check for the past few months.  But at mile 15, I started to feel pain in both feet.  My left foot wasn't too bad but the right foot got worse with each passing mile.  By mile 20 my right foot was very painful and it was effecting my stride.  I tried running different ways, landing on my heels, mid-foot and toes but nothing helped.  I just had to suck it up to the finish.  By the time I made it back to the school with the finish line in sight, I was hobbling like an old man.  Well, I'm sort of old so it was kind of fitting that I finish the race looking like one. 

At 5:03:08 it was by far, my slowest marathon ever but I was not disappointed.  In fact, this was one of the most satisfying finishes I've ever had.   First, I never expected to race again this year because of my injury. It was awesome to run with the gang again.  Once I did made it to the starting line, I thought I would struggle with the distance due to lack of training.  That never happened either.  Although I slowed over the last 2 or 3 miles I felt very good during the race. Finishing Stone Cat definitely rescued me from a very bad year.  For that, I am most grateful.

Thank you, Stone Kitty.
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