Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekly Training Update: Sep 15 - 21

Last week I recorded my highest weekly total miles and completed my longest run of 2008. I also ran my first track workout in over a year. My training is going well but there is still more work to do as I prepare for my first marathon since 1987 (Boston Peace Marathon - 2:58:42) as well as my first trail marathon ever.

Weekly Recap:

Miles Run: 46

Long Run: 22.5
# of runs: 5
Avg. Miles: 9.2
Trail Miles: 63%

See you later…..

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You've Got To Have Friends

I ended the week with a group long run in Lynn Woods Reservation. It was cool, almost cold when I arrived at the park gate at 7:45am. I was joining Jay and Dan on their final long run before the Vermont 50. We waited a little while to see if any other Lynn Woods regulars would show. After a few minutes Sal drove into the parking lot. Greetings and jokes were exchanged and then we headed into the woods for a pre-run run.

The four of us would do an easy 45 minute out and back course in the woods so we could return to the start by 9am. A few more runners were expected to join us at that time. On our way back we ran into Dennis who is a college cross-country coach. The pace seemed to quicken once Dennis joined us. I was feeling good with the pace so far. Maybe I wasn’t awake yet. Coming back to the parking lot we could see a few more cars there. It looked like we would have more company on the next loop.

Liza, Jose and Kevin were waiting for our return. Jay, Dan and I refueled while the new arrivals got themselves together. The group was deciding what trails, and how long we would run for the second loop. We settled on an 8.5 mile loop that is a favorite with the group. It’s a mix of dirt fire roads and rocky single track, some of it running along the banks of two reservoirs that supply the City of Lynn with drinking water. Jose and Kevin wanted to do a shorter run so they went off on their own. Liza is married to Sal and they were sharing their parental duties by splitting their time between running and watching their two adorable, young children. Sal got to run first while Liza watched the children. Now it was Liza's turn to run. What ever happened to women first?

Anyway, Liza must have been in a real hurry to get to the woods because she forgot her trail shoes. Sal suggested she go back home to get them while he did the 8.5 loop. By the time he would be done, she should be back. Liza didn’t have much of a choice so she left for home to retrieve her shoes. Dennis was done for the day so Jay, Dan, Sal and I began the next loop. There was much discussion among the four as to whether Liza actually forgot her running shoes or if Sal had somehow “misplaced” them to extend his time running the trails. Sal claimed no knowledge or responsibility in the case of the missing footwear.

I had not run this trail for over a year. The change of scenery was a pleasant break from my usual stomping grounds. The group speed was faster than my solitary runs but I felt good at this pace. It always seems that the bigger the group the easier the running. The banter among the four of us also helped to make the 8.5 miles pass quickly. We completed the run at a 10 minute pace which is pretty good for the trails we covered. The two runs gave me a combined total of 13.2 miles. I was looking to do 20 so I still had some running to do.

Back at the parking lot Liza was waiting with Liam, another member of the Lynn Woods crew. Liam wanted to preview a 15K course he laid out for a race he was promoting to raise money for the Stone Tower restoration project. (You can make a donation here.) Liza was game but I was doing some quick math, 13.2 + 9.3 = 22.5, yikes! I said what the heck. Running 15K with two very nice people is a lot better than running 7 miles with my grumpy self.

Jay and Dan were cutting their run short with another 2.5 mile loop so we said our farewells and went our separate ways. Although I have seen Liza and Liam many times at the weekly cross-country races at the woods, I have never run with them before. It was great to get to know them on a more personal level. They are very genuine people. The type of people that typify most of the trail runners I have met.

Liza and I followed Liam’s lead since he was the only one that knew where we were going. After a few miles we saw a runner coming down the road. It was Mike, another long time Lynn Woods regular. We invited Mike to join us on our Stone Tower restoration run and he happily accepted. Liam continued to lead us on the course he mapped out. He did a great job of capturing the essence of Lynn Woods. His course is an interesting, and at times challenging mix of terrain with great views if you have the presence of mind to take them in. The race is scheduled for October. I’ll post the details here when they become available.
The effects of the miles and the increasing heat were starting to wear me down. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one in need of a rest. We took a few walking breaks over the last few miles. I was out of fluids but Liam was kind enough to share his. We were getting close to the finish and Liam wasn’t sure if we should make a detour over the dam or go directly to the parking lot. I was beat and loudly repeated parking lot, parking lot. It was good that my plea was granted as we crossed the finish line with 9.31 miles on my garmin. You can’t get any closer than that for a 15K!

I had a great time running with all these wonderful people. I never could have made it through the 22.5 miles without them. This was my longest run since May ’07. It was important for me to hit the 20 mile mark this weekend and I did it. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do at Stonecat.

Until next time, share the trail…..

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Return to the Track

In a departure from my usual lunch-time run around the park close to where I work I thought I’d mix it up a bit and do a few intervals at the track there instead. I haven’t done a track workout in over 14 months due to my injuries but you have to climb back on the horse sooner or later. My feet, neck and back problems have improved enough that I was finally willing to take a chance at running a little harder.

After an easy mile warm-up in 9:40 I arrived at the track. Now, don’t assume this is some fancy suburban, synthetic track. The track I’m running is a lumpy, bumpy, cinder track at a city park. Today it was complete with horse dung, dogs and other obstacles to avoid. But running around, over and through obstacles are what trail runners are all about. Why not have a few at the track too?

I decided to run 3 mile repeats with a quarter-mile jog in between. I was shooting for 8:15 – 8:30 pace for the mile. I know that sounds so incredibly slow for a track workout but since most of my runs are in the 9:30+ range it would still be a speed workout for me. Also, my goal race for this year is a trail marathon and the best I can hope for there is probably around a 10 minute average pace. If I start doing some 8 minute miles once a week, the 10 minute pace at the marathon should feel fairly easy.

Off I went on the first mile. I decided not to check my quarter-mile splits wanting to test my internal clock to see if I could sense what the intended mile pace felt like. It was obvious I had no clue what an 8 minute mile felt like. I came through mile 1 in 7:17. Wow, didn’t think I could feel that good running that fast. I jogged around the track for my rest lap. I would slow down for the 2nd mile.

After finishing my rest lap in 2:25 I was off again. This time I backed off the pace. It still felt like I was running too fast but again the pace felt easy. Mile 2 was completed in 7:28. Yeah, I slowed down, barely! Once again I jogged a rest lap. Since I totally blew the 8:15-8:30 pace plan, I would just run the last mile like the first two. I finished my rest lap in 2:20.

Running the last mile felt as easy as the first two. Don’t get me wrong, I was breathing a little heavier than usual and my heart rate was faster but still under control. Saving the best for last, I ran mile 3 in 7:15. I finished the workout with a mile cool-down and then it was back to work. Ugh!

I was very pleased with this workout. The effort it took to run this pace was much less than I would have expected. I am going to make this a weekly routine up until the week before the marathon. Not only should it result in a faster marathon, it will break up the monotony of all the slow running I’ve been doing. Also, it just feels good to run fast!

To quote “ultrachick” Kelly, “If you never go fast, you’ll never go fast”.

Until next time…..

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekly Training Update: Sep 8 - 14

“Two out of three ain’t bad” - Meatloaf

Monday – Ten Under Ten – 10.1 miles, 1:33:19
I began my run at a very comfortable 10:25 pace for the first 2.5 miles. Then I began thinking how all my training runs of late have been at a 10+ minute pace. I wondered if I could even run sub-10s on the trails anymore. I decided to push the pace from here to see what I could do while still running comfortably. I was pleased to hit 5 miles at a 9:30 pace. This pace felt easy so I figured I would now try for a negative split. I turned up the heat the last two miles and finished up the last 5 miles with a 9:00 pace. It felt great to run 10 miles at a 9:15 pace with not a whole lot of effort. Maybe all the long, slow runs have improved my strength if not my leg speed.

Wednesday – XC Surprise – 5.75 miles, 46:13
Bill Mullen hosts weekly cross-country races at Lynn Woods from May through September. It’s a fun way to get in a faster paced workout (or race) with fellow trail runners. This week was an out-and-back course on fire roads. I ran the first half in 24:30 and the second half in 21:43. Another fairly easy effort and another negative split run! My overall pace was 8:03. I haven’t run anywhere near that pace all summer. A good sign that I still have some speed.

Saturday – Long Run Letdown – 16.2 miles, 2:54:54
All good things come to an end and so too did my days of running with ease. I set out to do anywhere from 16-20 today but my real goal was closer to 18-20. Knowing it would be a long effort I started out very easy and covered the first 2.5 miles at a pedestrian 10:45 pace. Everything was going fine until about 1:45 into the run. My legs started to feel heavy and climbing hills was getting more and more difficult. I knew then that 20 miles were not happening today. Another 30 minutes of running and I started thinking 16 miles was in jeopardy. I really struggled the last hour of running and took several walking breaks. A 10:48 pace for 16.2 miles is not very encouraging considering I have a marathon coming up in less than two months. I still have some work to do.

Now for the numbers:

Miles Run: 40
Long Run: 16
# of runs: 5
Avg miles: 8.0
Trail Miles: 80%

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wrentham Forest Challenge - Race Report

This was a planned rest week for me so I dropped my long run and total miles down this week. The schedule called for a 12 mile long run so I decided to run it at the Wrentham 20K Forest Challenge. I had no intention of racing. I just wanted to have some company. It turned out I had some great company. I meet a very nice runner named Streph who is a high school math teacher. We ran together for about 7 or 8 miles of the race. We also meet a couple of younger guys from Rhode Island. The four of us, along with a fifth runner, formed a tight group and settled into a good pace. We ran all the flat, downhill and small uphill sections of the course but walked the long, steep hills. Unfortunately, there were many of them.

The Wrentham course was very challenging with a lot of hills. Hills were the last thing I wanted to see after running 4.5 hours over the mountains of the Wapack trail. I got lost twice during the race due to my poor powers of observation. I also have several near falls on the rock outcrops along the course. My Merrell Overdrives did not give me any traction in the wet conditions. Even walking did not prevent slipping on the many rocks.

The extreme humidity brought here by topical storm Hana really wore me down. I also did not carry enough calories with me and I crashed major league around 9 - 10 miles. During the last 2 miles I had to resort to a mix of walking and slow jogging but I still managed to run under 2.5 hours.

View Larger Map

Until next time...

Weekly Training Update: September 1 - 7

Going into the fifth week of my fall marathon training I decided to lower my weekly mileage goals. I feel I set them too high initially. I still believe they were attainable but now I’m thinking probably not necessary to run a decent marathon. The more I looked at the schedule, the more it looked like a 50K training plan. Maybe I will use it for that purpose next year.

As you can see I was right on target this week.

Actual vs. Planned
Total Miles: 24 - 24
Long Run: 12 - 12
# of Runs: 4 - 4
Avg. Miles: 6 - 6
Trail Miles: 50%

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wapack Trail Race Report

Run approximately nine miles on rock and root covered trails over four mountains, each one nearly 2,000 feet high, scramble up and down grades as steep as 40%, stop, turn around and repeat. That, in a nutshell, is the Wapack Trail Race. Oh, did I mention 4200 feet of calf cramping elevation gain and the same amount of quad busting elevation loss? Why would anyone want to subject themselves to this torture on a beautiful Sunday morning? I pondered this and many other unanswerable questions as I plodded my way from New Hampshire to Massachusetts and back again.

Wapack Race Elevation Profile
Excellent Topo map of the course: HERE
I had no idea what I was getting myself into making the 90 minute drive to New Ipswich, New Hampshire for the start of the race. I read and heard that the Wapack trail was difficult, but I really didn’t expect it to be ridiculous. Crossing the MA/NH border along RT 119 offered a clue of what was to come. Level road on the MA side turned into a three mile stretch of roller coaster hills once I crossed into NH, all the while gaining in elevation. I had to downshift on the steeper hills to maintain momentum. Hmm, this can’t be good.

I arrived at the Windblown XC Ski area surprised to see many cars already in the parking lot. I guess I’m not the only fool, I mean adventurer. I quickly got my race number and went back to my truck to get my gear together. Although there were two aid stations on the course I wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible. I didn’t want to eat or drink anything in the race that I hadn’t already tried on my training runs. I estimated it would take about 4 hours to complete the race. Being out on the course this length of time would require a lot of calories and fluids. I decided to use my Camelbak hydration pack instead of my usual two bottle waist pack. The Camelbak could hold 70 oz of water vs. 40 oz in the two water bottles. I also stuffed 4 GU gel packets, 2 packages of shot bloks, a small baggie of pretzels and 4 electrolyte capsules into the side pouches of the Camelbak. I think that should do it!

The race was about to start so I hurried down to the starting line. I met my friend Eric who was already waiting there. The RD explained what to expect on the course, where the aid stations were located etc. He indicated the course had very little supplemental markings and that we would have to follow the yellow triangles blazed on the trees and rocks. I wanted to run the race with Eric if I could. He ran here in 2006 and I thought it wise to run with someone with knowledge of the course. No need to be taking any unexpected detours.

This race started like most other trail races I have run before, uphill! Why is that? Is a flat start too much to ask for? I mean, I’m getting older and I need some time to loosen up. And I’m not about to run a warm-up knowing I have four hours of running ahead of me. Anyway, off we went. I immediately settled in near the back of the pack. I wanted to run the first half very conservatively. If I still felt ok at the turn around point, I would try to pick up the pace. That was my plan for the day. A simple but great plan I thought to myself. Unfortunately, Wapack had its own plan for me on this unforgettable day.

On the first long climb I saw a runner leaning against a tree trying to stretch out a tight calf muscle. I immediately recognized him from his backwards facing ball cap. It was “Sherpa” John. John is a talented, young ultra-runner from New Hampshire. He’s been the youngest finisher in several major 50 and 100 mile races, the Vermont 50, the Grand Teton 100 (WY) and the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 (VA) just to name a few. John is also a gifted writer whose ultra-running blog, “Sherpa John”, offers advice, insight and inspiration to runners of all abilities. I introduced myself to John. We shook hands and exchanged greetings but we didn’t linger. We had a race to run so off we went together, up the side of Barrett Mountain.

Up, down and over Barrett Mountain I went, following Eric and a long line of runners along the narrow, single track trail. Even though I was feeling fine at this time I was already thinking about all the uphill running. I am a very bad climber and I knew all the elevation gains and steep inclines would eventually wear me down and slow my pace to glacial speed. I didn’t dwell on the negative for long though. Eric was a great trail guide and he would point out great views and vistas when we got to any high points on the course. He also had a remarkable recollection of the course considering he only ran it once before and it was two years ago. I found this knowledge to be very helpful.

God's Country
(More Wapack Trail photos courtesy of UltraSteveP: HERE)

The next two miles over New Ipswich and Pratt Mountains were very similar to the first two. More single track, more rocks and roots, more ups and downs and more great views. When we got to the top of Pratt we came upon a small group of runners that appeared to be lost. Three or four women were standing around and shouting (how typical) to a male runner coming up the mountain from a different trail. He had run down the trail then decided it was the wrong way and turned back. They were definitely lost! Eric and I stopped to talk to them. Three of the women were from Arlington, MA and running the race together for the first time. Ana, wearing her Garmin GPS, told us we were at four miles and 57 minutes. Holy crap, 14 minute pace!! I didn’t need to know that. Did I ask you for a progress report? I’m just kidding. Ana was very sweet and she had a wonderful accent. I was clueless where to go but Eric got all of us going in the right direction very quickly.

We descended the mountain on a very steep trail complete with loose rocks and a few downed limbs. The footing was pretty bad making running nearly impossible. A careful walk down the mountain was the best I could manage. These long, treacherous downhills added a lot of minutes to my finishing time. In most races I can make up time on the down hill sections. At Wapack there was little advantage in running down hill. After this long descent the terrain leveled out and we made our way to the first aid station at 5 miles. Once again Ana announced the time. “One hour and 12 minutes”. That meant it took us 15 minutes to run the last mile and most of it was down hill! See what I mean. We all lingered a little too long at the aid station. Every one of us enjoyed a fresh home-made cookie and a cold drink of water or Gatorade.

After a few minutes we were running again. The next two miles were on a dirt fire road. The running here was easier than the past four miles of single track. Notice I said “easier” not “easy”. The road was a mine field of rocks of all sizes and shapes. Erosion had cut deep gouges into the road. On top of that, it was all uphill. Luckily, it wasn’t steep but a long, gradual climb instead. Eric and I picked up the pace on this fire road section. It actually felt good to run a little faster than we had for the past 5 miles. I was able to open up my stride and loosen up a bit. We put some distance between us and our new found female friends from Arlington. Alas, all good things must come to an end and so too did our fire road. Looming ahead of us was Mt. Watatic.

We were climbing to the top of Mt. Watatic when Ana caught Eric and me. I welcomed her back and told her I knew we would be seeing her again. She said she was slow on the flats but good on the hills. Then she made her most shocking statement. “I really thought this race would be harder than this”. Say what? Did I hear you correctly? Eric and I looked at one another and grinned. To her credit, Ana was VERY good on the hills. I think she was just staying with us because she didn’t want to get lost again and Eric knew the course. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Going down Watatic to the half way point was difficult. It was very long and very steep. Even worse was knowing that once you finally made it to the bottom you would have to turn around and come back up!

At the bottom of Watatic we ran a short distance to the aid station located at the turn around point. I checked my watch for the first time. Two hours and two minutes. I was on pace for a 4 hour finish IF I could maintain this pace on the return trip. A helpful volunteer offered to refill my hydration pack while I took a bathroom break in the bushes. Soon Ana’s two friends and Sherpa John and his friend were at the station too. I checked my watch. It was now at two hours and five minutes. Again we had stayed too long at the aid station. Was it because we really didn’t want to go back the way we came? Soon enough we refueled and began our journey back to the finish line nearly 9 miles away.

View Larger Map

Heading up the side of Mt. Watatic it was obvious I was in trouble. I immediately started falling behind Eric and Ana. Ana was moving extremely fast and it wasn’t long before she was out of sight. I didn’t see her again until after the race. Eric pulled away slowly but he was close enough when I crested the mountain to catch up again. We both caught up to another one of the Arlington women whose name escapes me now. The three of us stuck together for the next few miles. Strength in numbers.

Back again on the long dirt fire road the running became easier. The long, gradual downhill offered a little respite for weary legs. We stopped at the aid station for a drink and a little rest. Five miles to the finish. I purposely avoided looking at my watch. As we snacked at the station Sherpa John and his friend arrived. John is running the Vermont 50 in September and he was trying to convince me to run. I told him I was not ready for that distance so he said. “Just run the 50K then”. JUST the 50K! I’m wondering how the heck I am going to run the next 5 miles!

John and his running mate left the aid station with Eric and me soon to follow. We were now faced with the long and extremely steep (as in 40% incline) ascent to the top of Pratt Mountain. This is where I totally lost it. I did my best to maintain pace with Eric but he was much stronger than me. He was soon out of sight. I took several short breaks on the way up. In the meantime I was getting passed by several runners that were good climber. I lost six places on this hill alone. Not that I cared at this point. I just wanted to be done with this damn thing. My only concern now was not making a wrong turn and getting lost. That would be very demoralizing at this point in the race. Eventually I made it to the top of Pratt. I was thinking, just one more mountain Dan, just one more.

Through the trees I got a glimpse of Eric up ahead. I tried to keep an eye on him and the trail at the same time. I didn’t want to lose sight of him but I didn’t want to take a tumble either. I worked my way back to Eric once again and also caught up to a runner named Kevin. I met Kevin at two races I ran earlier this year. He was having a major problem with cramping in his quads. The three of us worked together over the final three miles. We kept thinking the finish was over the next hill. Wishful thinking on our part. There were several more hills to climb and descend before we made it to an opening in the woods. There was the dirt road that would take up back to Windblown. We’re almost there!

Once Eric hit the road he was off like a cannon shot pulling away from me and Kevin. I picked up my pace a little as well with Kevin right behind me. It wasn’t long before I came to a top of a long downhill with the finish line in sight. I couldn’t run very fast because my quads were sore and my hamstrings tight as the strings on a violin. So there I was taking baby steps to the finish line. I looked at the official clock as I crossed the line, 4:24:04. That is the longest time I have ever run. Yeah baby, a new PR! Hey, I’m trying to be positive. I don’t want to think about the 14:50 per mile pace I ran.

This race was difficult for me. Would I do it again knowing what I know now? I don’t think I would. But I AM happy that I did it. I learned a few things about myself that I wouldn’t have on an easy run. I learned that even though I’m older and slower than I once was, I still have the inner strength and determination to accomplish what I set out to do. I can remain positive when the going gets tough and things are looking grim. Most important, learned that trail runners are a special group of people, friendly, encouraging, helpful with a camaraderie not found in other sports.

Yes, I may not be the hare I once was, but a tortoise can finish the race too. To all you Mr. and Ms. Slowskies out there, keep on plodding along. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

August Re-Cap

August was a month of continued improvement from my injuries. I slowly increased my mileage and did weekly long runs. I ran two races in the Grand Tree Trail Race Series, the Oxford Dam Race and the Wapack Trail Race. The first was a fun romp through the forest, the second a lesson in survival. On the down side, my weekly totals fell a little short of my mileage goals set in my Stone Cat Marathon training plan. I think they are a bit lofty anyway and I am considering revising them downward for September. Here's how the numbers broke down.

August Re-Cap:

Miles Run: 163
# of Runs: 22
Avg. Miles: 7.4
Trail Miles: 65%

Tentative race plans for September:

9/06/08 Wrentham Forest Challenge 20K

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wapack Prelim Race Report

I’ve been pretty wiped out since running the Wapack race on Sunday. I haven’t had the energy or the motivation to write a full report so this will have to suffice for now. This race was on the most difficult trail I have ever run, and it showed. A lot of walking on the many long, steep up hills really slowed me down. I finished near the back of the pack totally exhausted from the effort. This week will be an easy one so I can fully recover from the beating Wapack gave me. I'll write a full report later this week
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