Monday, April 25, 2011

TARC Spring Classic 50K (32.75 miles) Race Report - Déjà vu all over again.

The TARC Spring Classic was held this past Saturday under less than ideal conditions. Unfortunately, the meteorologists got it right this time and the rain, wind and cool temperature arrived as predicted.  That didn't stop this inaugural event from being a complete success.  Close to 200 runners in four different races ranging from 10K to 50K (50K measured in Crowley miles) enjoyed the pine covered forest trails of Jericho Woods in Weston, MA.  And let me not forget to mention the mud and water which increased in depth and viscosity with each passing loop.  The harsh conditions proved to be the undoing of many 50K runners as indicated by the 68% finishers rate.  That's more reflective of a 100 mile race than it is for a 50K.

Pre-race gathering - Rob, Me, Emily, Steve. (Photo credit: Unknown Runner)

TARC mascot fires up the ultra crowd! (Photo credit: Steve L)

I made the drive to Weston with my friend RunninRob who was looking to bag his first ultra finish.  He couldn't have picked a worst day to attempt it.  Actually, he could have but why would he?  Rob ran a strong race (I knew he would) and officially joined the ranks of "Ultra Runner."   His journey to the dark side is now complete and there will be no turning back.  Congrats man!

Rob, #25 was all business and got it done. (Photo credit: Kevin Z)

I, on the other hand, was not expecting to break any records.  I have only been running three days a week averaging 18 miles per week during the past two months.  This was not done out of laziness but more out of concern for my ailing IT band.  I was hoping by keeping my mileage to a bare minimum I would be able to run pain free.  This worked well when I kept my runs under 10 miles but I have experienced some knee pain during my long runs on the Bay Circuit Trail.  I was certain the pain would return at some point in the race. I just wasn't sure how early, or late it would occur.

Since my bud Steve L. trains even less than me but still manages to finish 100 mile races, I figured I would try to hang with him during the race for as long as possible. This worked out very well as both of us were very comfortable running the same (ridiculously slow) pace and with taking walking breaks as needed.  Our friend Paul, who started the race a little late, caught up with us and ran a few miles with us before disappearing off into the woods.  I manged to miss a turn on the first loop even though it was clearly marked with multiple flags and tape.  I didn't realize my mistake until we ended up in someones back yard.  Yay, bonus miles!

 Steve and I should take these races more seriously but then we wouldn't have as much fun. (Photo credit: Kevin Z)

Snack time. (Photo credit: Emily T)

My running mate for the day. (Photo credit: Kevin Z)

The rain held off during the first of five 6.55 mile loops but started soon after Steve and I began loop two.  At first it was light and steady but soon became heavy.   I'm not sure if this motivated us to move faster but loop two was our fasted split of the race.  We actually ran very consistent split times, except for the last one which was our slowest.   The slow final loop was a function of fatigue, more mud than previous loops and seriously aching knees, mine and Steve's.

By the third loop my knee pain had become pretty severe and was effecting my stride.  I was expecting some difficulty with it but not this early in the race. Steve's knee wasn't doing much better.  I was a little bummed about the knee but decided there was no way I was taking a DNF.  I knew Steve was thinking the same thing even though he did mention the word "marathon" once.  I'm sure he was just testing me to see if I would bite.  No way Stevo!

One of the few climbs. (Photo credit: Rob Mac)

It was almost one year ago to the day when I first noticed symptoms of ITBFS while running in the Traprock 50K in April 2010.  I skipped Traprock this year even though I had registered for the race.  I wanted to give myself an extra week of rest before taking on a 50K.  It's sort of ironic that had I run Traprock last week I would have had the severe pain return in the same race that it started in. April is not a good month for me.

After many hours of running side by side, Steve and I battled it out for the title of "Dead Last Ultrarunner."  In the end I was victorious based on my incredibly slow time and the fact that "S" comes after "L" in the alphabet.  Hey, I'm not proud. I'll take a last place finish any way I can get one. Take that Steve!  Oh, and thanks for pulling me through loop number four.  You were moving so fast I was sure you miscounted and thought you were on your last one.

The last two finishers.  We received loud cheers from all the volunteers.  They were so thankful we finished and they could finally get out of the rain and go home! (Photo credit: Rob Mac)

Co-Race Directors Bob Crowley and Josh Katzman and all of the volunteers did an amazing job of marking the course, staffing the aid station and having someone on the course directing runners.  Events like this can't happen without the support of many people willing to give up their day so that we can play.   If you've never volunteered at an ultra event give it a try some time.  You'll find it can be just as rewarding as running.

Super crew of volunteers!  (Photo credit: Kevin Z)

Thanks to all for a super day!.......Hey, where's my ice pack?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail Run, Section 2 - Boardwalks And Water Crossings Galore

My original plan for the past weekend was to run the Traprock 50K in CT. During the week I was having a bit of knee pain so I reluctantly scraped that plan.  I did not want to risk damaging my IT band further with 31 miles of steep climbing and descending on the rugged trails of Penwood Forest.  As a backup, I decided to run something shorter with less elevation.  Section 2 of the Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) was the perfect substitute. 

Earlier in the week I received emails from Emily and Rob who after reading about my plans to run the entire BCT, wanted in on some of the fun.  I told them I would be heading out for the second leg of my journey and they were eager to accompany me.  We met at Prospect Hill in Rowley on a cold, windy and cloudy Saturday morning.  I'm not sure what I was thinking but I was way under dressed for the conditions.  Em was kind enough to let me wear her sleeves and it made a huge difference.  It was time to rock this thing.

Section Two starts in Rowley and ends in Boxford for a total of 18.5 miles.

This section had more elevation gain than section one but still generally flat.

Overview of the two sections completed. Total miles = 30.5

Start of leg two.

We started out on a flat dirt road but soon found ourselves climbing up the steep trail to the Summit of Prospect Hill. This would be the high point of the run at 239 feet.  The trails through the Prospect Hill section were a bit of a mess with many downed limbs and some large trees.  I missed a turn early on but the mistake only added a few hundred meters to the run.  A later oversight would cause us to run an additional 1.9 miles.  So far I am two for two, going off trail on both of my BCT runs.  I guess that's just part of the deal when you take on a new trail.    

Rob powering up Prospect Hill.

Emily following behind.

From Rowley the BCT enters the Pine Swamp section of Willowdale Forest in Ipswich.  We ran on some of the same trails used for the Stone Cat Trail Races but we were going in the opposite direction.  All the snow from two weeks ago was gone and the trails were dry.  That would change later on in the run.  When we entered the Hood Pond section of Willowdale the trail was carpeted with a layer of pine needles. Running here was very gentle as the needle cushioned our steps.

Entering Cleveland Farms Forest we ran along a narrow esker that dropped off steeply on both sides.  Soon we encountered the first of many water crossing on the day.  We would have to get our feet wet crossing the swollen Mill River.  The water had dropped a great deal in the past two weeks so the crossing was not as difficult as I had anticipated.  This first crossing was a preview of what was waiting for us after we crossed over noisy Interstate 95 and entered the tranquility of the Georgetown-Rowley Forest.  Although there were many boardwalks to keep our feet dry, there were just as many times when wading through cold, murky water was the only way to continue forward.

Traveling along an esker.

Rob makes it across safely.

"How am I going to do this?"

An abundance of boardwalks.

And underwater trails as well.

The entire 18.5 miles of trail on the BCT were very well marked with white rectangular blazes.  This didn't stop me from running past a clearly marked right hand turn and adding another 1.9 miles to the run.  Luckily, Rob noticed that we had returned to a spot that we had already covered so my mistake was not as bad as it could have been.  If I was on my own it probably would have taken me longer to realized my error.

With our energy levels dropping like the afternoon temperature we were all very happy to leave Lockwood Forest and cross Middleton Road to Boxford Wildlife Sanctuary where our vehicles were waiting for us.  We didn't get to spend much time together after the run.  Emily had a track meet to officiate and it was too cold for me to stand around in my short-sleeved T and running shorts.  Still, we got to spend several fun-filled hours together on the trail.  It's amazing how fast time passes when you're having fun!

Good luck to all the Boston Marathon runners today!

More photos can be viewed HERE.

Stats:
BCT Leg 2: 18.5 miles
Surface split: 16.7 trails, 1.8 roads.
Elevation gain: 890 feet
BCT Legs 1-2: 30.5 miles
Surface split: 20 trail & dirt road, 10.5 pavement
Elevation gain legs 1-2: 1297 feet
BCT remaining: 169.5
Start Point: Prospect Hill, Rowley
End Point: Boxford Wildlife Sanctuary, Boxford
Other towns: Ipswich, Hamilton, Topsfield, Georgetown
Green spaces: Prospect Hill, Willowdale State Forest, Cleveland Farms State Forest, Georgetown-Rowlet State Forest, Lockwood Forest
Hydration: 3 liters Heed, 20 oz Water
Fuel:  Gu gel (2) PB&J crackers (4), Cliff Bar, Em's home-made goodies
Footware:  Brooks Cascadia 5 and Injinji performance socks

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail Run - The Journey Begins

The Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) is a  permanent public recreational trail and greenway, linking parks and open spaces in fifty-seven Boston area communities, 200 miles from Plum Island in the North to the Duxbury/Kingston shore in the South. I first thought of running the length of the BCT a few years ago but nothing ever came of it.  It was placed on the back burner until the Channel 5 show "Chronicle" aired an episode last year about the trail and it's driving force, Alan French.  My interest was once again piqued but injuries prevented me from doing much running.

I planned to attempt this 200 mile journey in 2012 but after a recent meeting with Mr. French (he prefers to be called Al), I was inspired to give it a go this year. Al is a super nice guy and offered to assist me in making this dream a reality.  I feel very honored to have Al on my side.  He has through-hiked the BCT twice and completed it in sections perhaps another five times by his estimation.  He had a vision and he made it happen. 

 Course Overview

Elevation profile

I began my run from the beach sands of Plum Island on a cool and sunny morning and headed west towards the lift bridge.  Running roads in not my idea of a good time but all journeys must start somewhere and this one started on pavement.  Vehicle traffic was steady and the noise unpleasant, but this stretch over the Joppa Flats was only two miles long and soon I was running in more tranquil surroundings.  I passed the Plum Island airfield and skirted my way around the runway, cutting through tall grass and onto the fields of the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm.


The journey begins on Plum Island.

 Cold, blue water running under the bridge.

I don't think you could get me in this plane for a million dollars! 

Boardwalk to the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm.


I immediately felt like I was transported back 200 years in time to a simpler way of life.  The commotion of the causeway seemed to disappear and there was calm all around me.  I stopped here to visit with some of the farm animals and talk with a women doing her daily chores.  I would have preferred to stay longer but I still had 10 more miles to cover and much more to see. It was time to move on.

 Old farm house.

What a porker!

More farm friends.

It wasn't long before I came upon Tendercrop Farm on Route 1A.  The farm is home to the only buffalo on the BCT.  I could not pass without stopping in on Buffy and her llama friend.  A quick hello and I was off again leaving busy 1A for a detour on some quiet side streets.  As I passed a dome house on my left I looked for a green gate that marked the entrance to the Old Town Hill Reservation and some dirt trails. Yahoo!

 That's a big girl.
 
Although there were not many trail markers overall, the turns were clearly marked and following the trail was easy.  I was enjoying the single-track running a great deal and didn't want it to end but after a mile or so I came out of the woods to another quiet back road.   I wasn't paying attention to the trail map as I entered the road and turned left when I should have gone right.  This error added a mile to my run but it was all good.

 I wished for more of this.

Boardwalks were bountiful in Old Town Reservation.

 And they were needed in some spots.


I ran across an extensive salt march that surrounds the Parker River and approached Old Town Hill which was the high point of my run at 179 feet. This was the only climbing I did on the day as the remainder of the course was flat.  All the trees atop the hill were destroyed by winter storms and were in the process of being removed.  What a shame.  From the hill I had sweeping views in three directions.  I only wish I had a better camera to take some panoramic shots.

Trail to Old Town Hill.

View of Newburyport.


After descending the hill I ran a long section on Route 1A.  Al warned me about this stretch and he was right. It was unpleasant but at least it had a soft shoulder to run on which spared my plantar fasciitis of any unnecessary abuse. I turned onto a dirt road that reminded me of the VT50 (without the hills) and met my only running companion for the day.  It was a chubby pooch who followed me for about a mile.  The poor dog looked very thirsty so I tried to give it some water from my CamleBak.  That seemed to frighten the dog and he wouldn't take a drink.  I was happy to see the animal head back for home as I was about to turn back onto busy 1A for the final push to the finish.



My new running bud.


The final miles on 1A seemed to go on forever but eventually I turned onto Route 133 and was back to Prospect Hill in Rowley were I had parked my trunk for the drive home.  I had run 13 miles including the extra mile caused by the wrong turn in Newbury.  I felt a liitle fatigued, likely caused by the rising temperature in the later stages of the run and general lack of conditioning.  My IT band didn't give me any trouble except for a few twinges of knee pain around mile 11. 


It felt great to complete this first section of the BCT. There's still 13 more sections of varying lengths to run but I'm happy to get one done so early in the season.  With three ultra races planned for the next four weeks it will be a while before I can hit the BCT again.  With good health and a little luck, I should realize the dream.  Thank you Al.

More photos can be viewed HERE.


Stats:
BCT Leg 1: 12 miles
Surface split: 8.7 paved/3.3 trails & dirt road
BCT remaining: 188 miles
Start point: Plum Island, Newbury MA
End point: Prospect Hill, Rowley MA
Other Towns: Newburyport
Green Spaces: Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, Old Town Hill Reservation
Hydration: 80oz H2O
Fuel: Gu gels (2)
Footware: Cacadia 5s and Injinjis

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail Run

Conventional wisdom and common sense would call for a runner to gradually increase mileage after a long layoff or returning from an injury.  I recently told an ultra running friend of mine to take it slow and easy even though she wanted to pump up the distance of her runs.  I should have listened to my own advice as a nagging ITB injury would come back to bite me on my run along the Bay Circuit Trail. After a four month hiatus from running I have logged long runs of 6, 16 and 18 miles during my first three weeks of running.  Not too bright. 

I have never run the Bay Circuit Trail but I had RunninRob as my trail guide for the day.  He has logged many miles along this section of the BCT, even at night. We started our trek in Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield, wandered through Willowdale Forest in Ipswich and reached our turnaround point in Rowley where we refilled our water bottles at Rob's apartment before returning along the same route. The route was mostly flat but the terrain varied enough to make it an enjoyable run.


18 miles out and back.

Flat but fun.

Evidently, Willowdale did not get the word that spring has arrived.  When we crossed the road into the forest we immediately encountered snow and ice on the trail.  There were many sections that were snow covered and others will low hanging or broken tree limbs.

Good opportunity for a walking break.

The only other obstacle we faced was a washed out section of trail due to beaver activity in the area.  We attempted to build a walkway over the water with downed tree branches but eventually gave up and took a detour around the swollen pond.

Beaver hut.

There should be a trail here.

Rob crossing our first homemade bridge.

It was a great day to be out on the trail.  The air was cool, the sky was blue and the sun was shinning brightly.  Rob and I were so happy to be running we started to get a little goofy.




After I shot this video I started to get some knee pain brought on by my chronic ITBFS.  I manged to hobble for the remaining 45 minutes and made it back to Bradley Palmer.  When we sat down to refuel and rehydrate I was pleased to see I had drawn my first blood of the season.

I didn't feel a thing.

Now it's time to rest, stretch and ice this annoying IT band.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to go the full 50K in few weeks but I'm certainly going to give it my best shot.  I'm my own worst enemy.

Good times :)

More photos of our BCT run can be viewed HERE.
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