Friday, November 11, 2011

Stone Cat Marathon Race Report - Season Salvaged (Sort Of)

My 2011 race season started off much like it did in 2010 with a 50K race in April.  And just like last April, I ran this year's spring 50K with a good deal of IT band related knee pain.   I thought a winter of stretching and strengthening had put the issue to rest but I was wrong.  Under trained and hurting, I finished the 50K "Dead F'ing Last" with my running bud Steve L, the original Deal Last Ultrarunner. So went the rest of the 2011 ultra racing season. Poor performances, a few DNSs (Did Not Start), an couple DNFs (Did Not Finish) and bouts of off and on again knee pain. It has been a pretty disappointing year to say the least.

It wasn't all bad though.  In April, I embarked on my journey to run the entire Bay Circuit Trail beginning on Plum Island in Newbury and ending on the shores of Duxbury/Kingston.  The full distance is 200 miles and includes a mix of roads and trails.  I made it half way before my ITB problem forced me to abandon the quest, as least for now.  In July I ran the Wakely Dam Ultra, covering 33 unassisted miles in one of the most remote locations in the Adirondacks.  The stream crossings were a blessing on that 90+ degree day.  And the fresh blueberries!  My friend KZ saved my ass in the final miles. I just wanted to walk. He made me RUN! 

Now on to the Stone Cat.

This GAC race is a fall classic and one of my favorites.  I don't think I'm the only one that feels this way.  The 50 mile race and Marathon both reached their limits in about 36 hours!   Snooze, you lose.  Fortunately(?), all my dorky (in a good way) ultra-running friends were posting all over Facebook that registration was open and I manged to get into the 50.  Yes, I said 50.  My original plan was to run the 50 but decided to drop down to the marathon after experiencing a good deal of knee pain on my final 20 mile "Candy Corn" training run two weeks before Stone Cat. 

Dork Convention (photo credit: lil Roy)

Race morning was cold, about 30 degrees. My kind of weather.  Before the start I decided to go out with the Lynn Woods Crew instead of hanging back and doing my usual slow crawl until I warmed up.  The LWC folks are faster than me but I felt like I needed to prove something to myself after having such a crappy year of running.  I figured I would just hang on to them for as long as I could.  If I crashed and burned, so be it.  I didn't.

Dark and cold. Let's get the party started.

Sarge took it out faster than I was expecting but I said to myself, "Stick to the plan."    The first 45 minutes of the race was run in total darkness and even with a headlamp it was a little difficult to see well in the woods.  Once we hit the single-track it was difficult to stay with the group.  Mike D and I got stuck behind a group of timid downhill runners while the rest of the LWC pulled away.   I was getting a little annoyed with my inability to find a good passing opportunity so I just rode it out until we dumped onto a stretch of carriage road. After getting on the road Mike and I were soon back into the fold.

Deb T (aka Sarge) sets a fast early pace.

Much of the pre-race talk was on the topic of THE water crossing.  This year's race didn't disappoint as it was long and deep.....and COLD!   After plowing right down the middle of the trail turned stream, my feet were numb and it felt like I was running on stumps.  It took a while to get the feeling back but it wasn't as bad as the second time around.  For some strange reason It felt even colder when I passed though there on my second loop.  I wonder how bad it was for the 50 milers who had to negotiate the water four times?

River running? (photo credit: Chip Tilden)
Cold swamp water adds to the fun. (video credit: Rob Mac)  

Hitting Al Cat's aid station around 5 miles into the race, I stopped just long enough to top off my water bottle.  I didn't want to stay too long out of concern my IT band would tighten up in the cold.  The Lynn Woods Crew lingered, enjoying the trail side buffet. Who could blame them. Stone Cat has awesome food and amazing volunteers!  I had to keep moving so we parted ways here. 

Bill M in the pre-dawn darkness.

The first loop went by quickly and without incident except for a fall I took when I slowed down to talk with Karen G who was running the 50.  My toe caught a root and I went down, seemingly in slow motion, kicking Karen in the butt on my way down.  How ungentlemanly. As I regained my composure and pulled away, another runner started up a conversation with Karen.  Then I heard a loud thud.  He too, had fallen.  I'm not sure if Karen was sending us marathon wimps some bad mojo or not but I picked up the pace to get of range as quickly as possible. 

Entering the last section of single-track in the loop I could hear a siren and lots of cheering up ahead.  When I got to the junked Chevy I was greeted by the Stone Cat and his side-kick/bartender/bar patron/cheerleader.  Seeing them really raised my spirits (although I declined the real thing) and I let out a loud trail animal howl.  Before long I was crossing the soccer field, completing my first loop in 2:11, not including the 11-12 minutes it took to run the mini-loop around the school.  After dropping my headlamp and towelling off a bit I headed out for the final 12.5 miles.

Don't mess with the cat.

Don't drink and drive. (photo credit: Rob Mac)

Up until now my IT band was behaving and I had very little discomfort, but I knew things could change in a heartbeat.  I was still feeling strong, running all the uphills as I did during the first loop. Yes, I was breaking a golden rule of ultra running but I was only running 26.2 miles so run I must. Then it hit me on a downhill with about 10 miles to go.  A stabbing pain in my right knee so intense it brought me to an abrupt halt.   I walked a few yards and the pain eased so I began running again. 

The rest of the race when pretty much this way for the final 10 miles.  Intense pain followed by a short walking break, follow by more running and more pain.  Even though my pace was slowing I was still passing many runners.  I'm sure many of them were 50 milers but I know some were not.  Focusing on catching anyone ahead of me kept my mind off the pain.  Well, not really.

During the second loop I hadn't checked my watch so when I finally looked at it with a little over a mile to go I realized I had a chance to break 4:40.  Talk about shocked!  With my lack of training I thought I would be lucky to break five hours.  I tried to pick up the pace but my legs were shot.  I was able to increase my speed a little, but not enough to stay close to the woman ahead of me who was now pulling away.  When I reached the soccer field I put it in another gear but it was too late.  I crossed the finish line in 4:40:27.  My second loop was 2:17 so I didn't slow down as much as I thought. Even with all the walking breaks.

I was super happy with my time and very pleased to later discover I was the first male finisher over 50 years old.  Where were all the fast guys?  This finish definitely helped wipe away some of the bad memories I've had since early spring when the wheels starting coming off.  It may sound crazy but even though I completed three 50K and two marathons in 2011 I'm disappointed with the year I've had.   I was expecting bigger things.

Maybe next year.....


  1. Awesome job, Dan! First in the 50+ category? I think this is just the beginning of an awesome 2012 season.

  2. Dan, considering the year you had, SC was an AWESOME race for you! Happy I got to see you out there! Actually, I am simply happy you WERE out there :)

  3. Nice race, I like the cat ! Congratulations for a great job well done. It was a great and interesting race. Looking forward always.

  4. Way to go Dan. BTW the fast guy was the guy who finished 1st in the 50-59 year old age category. Enjoy!!!

  5. Dan,

    Glad to hear you finished the marathon! I was looking for you during the 50, and was hoping everything was alright. See you on the trails sometime soon!


  6. I'm with you, Dan. NEXT YEAR!!!!! Maybe some hills this winter?? Amazing finish to the season. I wish I could have been there to see you flying by. (Next year..........)

  7. Pam, you were missed at SC. Yes, let's get in some hill work this winter. I'm doing therapy on my IT band right now but looking to "hit the hills" once I see some improvement. I'll keep in touch.


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