Monday, November 16, 2015

The Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Race Report

To be honest, I had no business entering this race. The chronic musculoskeletal condition that kept me from running for 42 months has limited my training to 1 - 2 days per week over the past two and a half months. Averaging just 13 miles a week and having run between 2 -3 hours only 3 times does not prepare the body to run for 6 hours. But the Ultra goddess is a temptress and I found her siren call impossible to resist. I stood at the start line of The Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Ultra determined to go the distance, or in this case, do the time.


My first ultra race bib since the 2011 Wakely Dam Ultra.

The race consisted of three miles (1.5 miles out and back) on the New Boston Rail Trail along the south branch of the Piscataquog River, and one mile of dirt roads around the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, creating a lollipop loop course. The rail trail section was basically flat, although it dipped in the center creating a very slight incline/decline in both directions. The fairground section had the only hill, which was short but sort of steep, taking you to the high point on the loop before dropping back down the the start/finish line in the center of the fairgrounds.


That's a sad looking lollipop but you get the idea.



Elevation profile or my EKG during the race?

I'm usually not a fan of out and back, multi-loop races but I actually enjoyed this course quite a bit. It was interesting to see the race leaders (making it look easy) and other runners lap after lap, offering encouragement, a smile or a just slight nod of the head as the hours wore on. The views and sounds of the rushing river offered a distraction along the rail trail and the hill in the fairground provided an opportunity to work the leg muscles in a different manner. Plus, it's comforting knowing what to expect lap after lap when you are out of shape and in over your head!

My friend Wendy cruising to a 28 mile finish.

The rail trail section parallels the Piscataquog River.

Looking upstream from the rail trail.

I knew I would have to use a run/walk system in order to go the full 6 hours so I settled on a 0.7 mile run/0.3 mile walk ratio. I thought if I could keep moving for 6 hours I would have a shot at completing marathon distance. Once the race started I began my 0.3 mile walking segment through the fairgrounds and was dead last in no time flat! When I got to the rail trail section I was disappointed to see the trail surface was crushed stone. Ugh! Not having seen the course I made the incorrect assumption that the rail trail was an unimproved dirt rail bed. I had to quit a run on a crushed stone rail trail a few weeks ago when it caused considerable plantar fascia pain so I felt like my race was over before it even started. 

What evil lurks beyond this sign?

Leaf covered rail trail concealed my nemesis.

Damn you crushed stone!

After running the first 0.7 mile segment I knew my feet wouldn't survive for long if I stuck to the 0.7/0.3 run/walk plan. I would have to walk the entire three mile section of rail trail and run the one mile loop on dirt roads around the fairgrounds. I felt discouraged knowing it would be impossible to reach marathon distance running only 25% of the course. It was better than quitting though so I pressed on. I completed the first loop in 54 minutes despite walking more than planned. 

As I started my second loop I thought why not flip the run/walk split and go with 0.3 run and 0.7 walk on the rail trail section? Although not ideal, it was far better than walking all of it. From this point on I ran approximately 50% of the distance covered in the remaining 5+ hours. This run/walk ratio proved very effective as I ran very consistent splits for the next four loops.

Loop 2: 52 mins
Loop 3: 52 mins
Loop 4: 50 mins
Loop 5: 52 mins

Energy conservation was on my mind. It was the only way I would survive.

As I was nearing the end of my 5th loop I started getting severe pain in my right knee. I knew immediately it was caused by my tightening IT band, a chronic problem that hampered my running throughout 2010 and 2011. With 20 miles down and another hour and forty minutes remaining in the race, I had no thoughts of quitting. After refilling my water bottle I headed out for my 6th, and possibly last loop.

The pain in my knee seemed to affect my stride and I felt like I was running with a slight limp. At least I was still running, albeit even slower than usual. I needed to do some running no matter how painful if I wanted to have enough time on the clock to go back out for a partial 7th loop so I could reach my goal of 26.2 miles. Although slowing to 58 minutes on loop six, I had about 42 minutes left to run or walk the 2.2 miles needed to complete a marathon.

My knee pain worsened and I was forced to walk most of the final miles. The weather conditions, which were pretty brutal all day, had not bothered me at all earlier in the race. Now that I was walking, a wind chill temperature in the thirties and occasional snow had me questioning my decision to run in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. It did made me walk with a purpose! I caught up to a woman using trekking poles who was doing her first ultra. (Sorry I didn't get your name.) She was having a great time and we talked the remaining mile(s) away. As we approached the end, I could see many runners who already completed the race standing at the finish and cheering us on. It was an awesome sight to see. My new found friend convinced me to "run it in" and we crossing the finish line together in 5 hours, 58 minutes. I'd say we got our money's worth.

Oh, and I "ran" 27ish miles and received congratulatory hugs from three young ladies to boot! Not too shabby for the oldest person in the race. 

I can't thank RD Bill and his enthusiastic volunteers enough for making this a great experience for me. I highly recommend The Hamsterwheel to newbies looking to run their first ultra and to experienced ultra runners looking to lay down some serious miles.

OK, time to rest.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Race Plan

Even if half my brain cells were operational my plan for the Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Run would be to skip it entirely. Looking at my last four weeks of training, and I use the word loosely, shows that I have only run seven times in the past 28 days for a total of 60 miles. So what makes me think I can survive a six hour run? The reality is I don't think I can. But why try doing something if the outcome is certain? Where's the adventure in that?



Saturday, November 7, 2015

Salem-Beverly (Grand Wenham) Canal Run

I was looking to get in one last training run before The Hamsterwheel 6 Hour Run next weekend. The race is on The New Boston Rail Trail so I wanted to mimic race conditions by doing a run on flat terrain. After spending a little time on Google Maps I was able to find an ideal location close to home. A place I have passed several times but never knew existed. The Salem-Beverly Waterway Canal, also known as the Grand Wenham Canal was constructed in 1917 to divert water from the Ipswich River to augment the dwindling water supplies in the cites of Salem and Beverly. Although I like learning the history of the places I visit, I was more interested in the two mile long dirt path along the canal that passes through the Wenham Swamp.  

You may think running for three hours on a two mile out-and-back, pancake flat dirt path would be boring. Hell yeah it's boring but that's the point! If I couldn't manage the monotony of a three hour training run, I probably couldn't handle it for six hours on race day. Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm and humid day did me in after two hours. OK, maybe I was bored out of my mind too.


Starting out on the Wenham end of the canal.

A beacon of color reflected in the calm water of the canal.

A recently constructed bridge spans the canal.

View of the canal from the bridge.

This link trail at the Topsfield end of the canal connects the canal path to the Topsfield Linear Commons.

View of the Ipswich River at the canal entrance.

Three spillways allow the canal to drain into the Wenham Swamp when water levels are high.

 Pumping station in Wenham.

It was obvious to me that at least one dog owner didn't get the memo. I'll spare you the evidence.

I haven't been feeling good since I started running more than 5-6 mile training runs. My body has been rebelling ever since and I have been ignoring it for too long. Once I get through the Hamsterwheel, I plan to stop running for a month or more to see if my symptoms improve. It will be a good opportunity to focus on hiking and completing the final 53(?) miles of the Bay Circuit Trail before the snow arrives.

Big snow is coming.

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