Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I won't run Unite Half Marathon again, New Brunswick, NJ. 4/13/14

I paid $120 for this race. I paid for the convenience of Race Day pick up.  I will not return to this race.

The race is too big and staff can't deal with runners kindly.  In general, the course was well-marked. The aid stations were well-stocked.  Parking seemed fine.  Porto-potties were plentiful.

The bulk of the course was incredibly boring and at times ran through streets with warehouses or highway ramps. It was absolutely not worth $120 or even the $100 original fee.  I only went because it was part of my race series and I thought I could collect some points to help my score.  There are many better ways to spend that kind of money.

My problem is not the boring course, but rather the fact that when interacting with staff at this race, my experience was terrible and because of that I will not return.  This just tells me that the race is too big for staff to be in control of their own emotions and frustration tolerances. When dealing with runners, it shows.

I take responsibility for leaving my ID in my car 1.5 miles away from where I needed to pick up my bib.  I run 40+ races per year and pick up my bib almost weekly, without ID.   Out of habit, I left my ID in my car, which was parked at the finish area. I jogged to the start 1.5 miles away.  As I saw the massive size of this race (a few 1000 instead of a few 100), I realized I may have a problem since I didn't have ID.  I proceeded to the pick up area.  I asked along the way if  staff checked their ID at bib pickup, some said YES, while others stated staff did NOT check ID at bib pickup the day before.  I had less than an hour to deal with this and hoped it might work out.

There was a chance I did not need my ID, but I expected to be told that I did.  That part did not upset me.  Instead I was frustrated by the extreme rudeness I encountered when dealing with staff.

I ran Boston last year.  I just left the finish area minutes before the Bombs went off.   Michele and I had to drive back into Boston to pick up John while the chaos was happening, during news reports of multiple devices being found and how the JFK library has also bomb and was now on fire.  We were terrified that more bombs were going to blow up while we were trying to find John to remove him from the city.  I understand security is now the norm.

When asked for ID, I said "My ID is in my car.  I am afraid I will miss the start if I have to run back. It is a 3 mile round trip to get it and I just ran 1.5 miles here.  Is there anything I can do here to get my bib?"  

I really wasn't sure what could be done, but in light of me listing a lot of personal information on my bib maybe I could tell them my address, my emergency contact person's name and phone number… anything to show them I am me… I know a lot of runners in my local community.  Maybe someone could vouch for me… I didn't know.  I was just exploring solutions before sprinting back to my car.

"NO ID, NO Exception! It is really not my problem if you miss the start. There is nothing I can do to help you."  (At this point, I understand Rules are Rules, but just s TINY bit of politeness would have been appreciated, even if it was only for the sake of being polite as a person representing the face of the race).

I asked about the advertised shuttles. "Do you think I could catch a shuttle back to the start?"  Trying to think of a solution.

The irritable response: "I have no idea.  I don't know what to tell you.  I can't help you!"

Ok. Now all that is fine, but the tone need not be so nasty.  I was simply asking a question and trying to find a resolution, even if it was MY fault my ID was in my car.

So off I go, racing back to my car.  I got there in less than 12 minutes.  I found some safety pins, was grateful my ID fit in my tiny pocket, I pinned it shut, and raced back to the starting area.

It was 7:40 now. Gun time was 8:00.  I walked to the wall that lists names and bib numbers.  I find my name and my number and got online. I still needed to pee and I was concerned that I would not get into the starting corral in time.

I stood behind a young guy and observed the person handing out the bib ask him for ID.

He pats his pockets, throws his hands in the air, shrugs and says "Don't have it"

He was then asked, "Ok, What is you first name?"

He tells her his first name and she says "OK, here you go!"

I admit, in less than a stellar moment and with a lack of self-restraint, after covering 4.5 miles with 3 at race pace, I exclaim "Ok, this is bull.... I just ran 3 miles to my car and back to comply with the very strict Security Rules that have NO EXCEPTIONS.  It is really frustrating to see that I really didn't need to do any of that."  

The response I got, "Well, I really don't care!" (And this response is the reason I won't come back).  This may sound petty but if she had said, "I am sorry that happened" I think I would feel a million times better about returning to this race … but at least she was honest.

Up until that point, I considered this problem my doing, for not thinking ahead and being unprepared.  I understood that some people feel they need to be firm and it can sound nasty.  So I even excused the first woman as just doing her job. I understood that my "punishment" for being unprepared was that I needed to run 3 miles to fix this.  I was grateful I had the time to do it.

I told person, who really didn't care, who was now giving me my bib that she doesn't need to do anything to fix my problem, but she should not be so rude. I told her that races are getting too big to be enjoyable.  Race staff seems only to care about the money and not about being considerate to the people who pay a lot to be here, who train train to race, and hope to have a good experience.

I asked for her name, not knowing why I wanted it, but mostly to address her by name when I planned to indicate that  kindness really does goes a long way, even if you don't really care about someone else's problem.

Rather than give me her name she said "Oh, I didn't mean I don't care about what happen.  I mean I don't care if people have ID or not. I just give out the bibs."  

Ugh. So really I ran 3 miles to comply with absolutely Make Believe security rule. Why do this to people?  Real rules, I can understand.  Fake rules makes me frustrated.

I showed them my ID explaining someone better check it since I ran to get it.  I got my bib and left for the port-o-potties.  Very annoyed.

I did manage to get into the starting corral and worked my way all the way to the 7 min pace group just before the gun.  I watched them drift away from me as I really was not in the best mind set to have a great race. I tried to focus, but by 7 miles into the run I was feeling a bit tired… and I new those extra three fast  miles really did take a little out of me. It didn't ruin my race. I am trained to run far.  I didn't want to sprint 3 miles before I tried to race a half marathon, but it happened.

In summary, I understand I caused this to happen by leaving my ID in my car.  I can do better next time.  But this is not an open invitation for people to be rude.  Race staff truly should have some consideration for the runners they interact with. They should realize that even if the race staff does not care whether one runner in 3000 gets their bib or gets to the race on time, that one runners does care and simple politeness really can make a huge difference.

Now whenever I think about the Unite Half… all I will remember is the staff's attitude of "I really don't care!"

This is why I like smaller races. People tend to be nicer when people know each other's names. And to be clear, when I say "nicer" I don't mean anything more than considerate and polite. I don't expect special treatment.  Just the absence of nastiness and extreme apathy.

AG Place: 3F

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guest Blogger: Stephen Bandfield, Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, April 5-6

I am quickly learning that main difference between training marathon runners and training ultra runners is the hazard … to my eyes!  I have yet to be sent photos of mangled toes by any of my marathon runners, yet Steve had no trouble clicking "Send" after attaching a lovely photo of the excellent work he did out there to his big toe and the neighbor along side.  This is likely retaliation for me showing him my bloody shoe at Two Rivers Marathon.  I am not saying that marathon runners or half marathon runners don't mess up their toes.  I know they do. I have. They just don't send me photos of them! ;)  (That reminds me… I have a few gnarly toe photos of my own to send back to Steve soon). :) Maybe if Steve allows me, I will include his photo at the end of this post.

For now, I would like to brag a little about the amazing work Steve did over the past many months in preparation for what would be his first serious 100 mile attempt. He was the epitome of commitment. He was committed to working with me.  He was committed to his training.  But most of all it was clear he was committed to himself.  Before I was even awake and having coffee at 5 am before my earliest training runs, Steven had already been up hours earlier training alone in the dark in the middle of the night before heading off to work.  Steve did everything I asked of him, not just the running part of the plan, but also the communication with me about his training part and the logging of his workouts part.  I ask for A LOT of communication because I want to make sure I am able to make fast, yet seemingly minor, interventions if needed so my runners don't get hurt.  But Steve is a machine. He needed very little beside a clear plan.  He made things really easy and he should be incredibly proud of what he was able to accomplish in training and then on race day.

Congratulations Steve! What a great run!

Without further delay, I would like to share Steve's race report from Umstead (also posted on his own blog at http://tyedyerunner.blogspot.com):

Umstead 100 race report

The Umstead 100 mile race was one I had been training for since the end of last year. I hired a coach who trained me harder for this race then I ever had. I Pushed myself beyond what thought was doable. 100 + mile training weeks with a PR marathon run at the end. It was to be my first big deal 100 miler ( a Western States Qualifier). It had all the elements I was looking for ..non-technical trails, some elevation ( I think it was like 10,000 feet of incline for the whole course) in fairly decent weather and one My girlfriend and I could make a bit of a destination journey of it. She as a dear friend who lives just 20 minutes away from race course, this just worked out perfectly.

I got to the race site The William B. Umstead State Park on Friday Night for registration. Saw a few familar smiling faces and felt at home. At the pre-race briefing given by the outgoing RD Blake Norwood I heard these words “ Our job, is to get you to the finish..” and I knew I was going to be taken care of by the aide crews ( I wanted for nothing during the entire race..they even had SNOW CONES. ) Jackie ( My girlfriend, crew,Support team..who kept yelling at me each lap “Get out there !!! Hurry up!!..while bringing me stuff from my bag..got a love a woman like that...lol) and I got on line for the pasta dinner and by the way they served the 150 or so people quickly and efficiently it was obvious, they had their system down pat.

“It was the best of times,it was the worst of times…… We were all going to Heaven,We are all going direct the other way.” Charles Dickens

So after getting a reasonable night sleep, we head out to the park . We get there as the gates open, 4;45 am and drive with a long dusty caravan to the race HQ and the start of the race. I leave a drop bag with few Items ( shirts, Ensure,hats.MT Dew…) on the Drop bag truck ..setup my stuff just a few steps off the course. The race started at 6:00am. It was still dark, so I used a small headlamp for the start ( there was so much light from everyone else headlamps ..I wound up turning mine off after the first mile.) Jackie and I wandered around a bit. I got into the starting area and thought “ Oh my god..what Have I gotten myself into..” Boom ..and we are off.

The course consists of eight 12.5 mile loops.the first few miles are fairly flat..little inclines ( which seem to get much bigger as the race wore on...lol). and a couple of good descents. After about mile 3.5, is where the course begins to roll. Fairly long downhills followed by long uphills ( all my hill training came in handy) after about mile 5 you get off wider bridle trails and head into the interior of the park. Lots of shorter rolling sections . Mostly up and down between 5 and 6.5, where you have a second aide station.fully stocked..more food then you could want, along with drop bags ( full compliment of medicines..some of which I used later.) From here, you return to the interior of the park..with more big long up hills and down some longer downhills for about 3.5 miles. Then, you return to a section you started off with some more bigger up and down hills ( get the picture...lol) and travel back to the start. the last half mile in fairly large gravel downhill section, where many of the runners set up there stuff and crews await their arrival. it was definitely a party spot all night long. The cheers from the crews has I came down that hill each time definitely brightened my spirits. when you finally climbed the dozen steps to the end of the loop.you were rewarded with cheers from more crews and and aide station that wanted for nothing ( They even had SNOW CONES !!!)

I had 2 goals for this race; One is a sub 24 hr 100 miler or 2nd is to simlpy finish in 30 hours.I had a plan. First, I was going to try to run as much of the first loop as possible..get real feel for the course. Second, no music till after first loop (I’m a distracted runner and feed off the beat) and Third to shoot for 10:30 50 miler and then hang on. One of the reason I chose this race was the runnability of the course..it”s packed or slightly loose gravel. makes for fast times and little worries about footing ( didn’t fall once during the race). So off I go..feeling good..running comfortably, not really looking at my pace. Thinking , “Am I breathing hard? , No, okay..keep it up.” got to the first long down hill. , then the first long uphill..ran that, got up a on steady pace. The next few sections had some more bigger hill sections and decided , maybe I should walk a little and did. I tried to run the next big hill, found out I was breathing too hard and said “ that was a mistake” and backed off . Got to Aide station 2 felt great.. took a gel ( I also planned no solid food till at least the 50 mile mark,,so it was Gu’s Ensure Water and Gatorade for the first half). After that, the course is more up then down for a while..ran most of it, walk a little but still cruising..There is one long downhill from mile 9 to 10 ( Downhills are my friend) and I hit it hard. this leads to another long up hill ( up and down,,up and down..that’s the course..lol) and to a rolling section. finish up the loop and feel great. I look at my time and think way fast. 2Hours 6 min..

So I decided it’s time to take it easy..Walk the hills..attack the downhills.. Put on some Tunes ( Stevie Ray Vaughn ) and just cruise . I’m using a hand held water bottle at this point..The weather is about 60 degrees..I’ve taken off my arms sleeves that I started with and ready to run. So the second loop just feels great. Easy, but pushing on those down hills. it was pretty uneventful just I nice run in the woods. I’m still moving faster than I should be, but it feels good. I’m about to finish my 2nd loop when I feel this twinge in my knee.I think oh ,a little niggel..it will pass, but it doesn’t but I finish my loop, take and Ensure and get back out…..This lap was about the same as my first..with way more walking. 2hrs 7min.

I went out for My 3rd loop , changed music, GreenDay and this little knee problem got bad really fast. This happened to me at my first 100 miler at mile 87 and I had to walk in the last 13 miles...THIS WAS MILE 25!!. All I could do was walk .Any kind of running was incredible painful..so I just started walking. I kept walking..a few miles of pretty flat trail. I thought to myself. “ So this is how all the training ends..With a walk,.....a long walk . I don’t to be walking another 70 + miles. Maybe, I should just bag it. I keep walking.I know from past experience that Ultra have Highs and lows,,BIG SWINGS. I figured out that 100 milers have a moment ..whether you quit or finish, just wasn’t expecting mine so early. So I say to myself..” What Can I do.,,Not What can’t I do.” I know this is going to hurt alot..but you have to try something. So I come a upon a downhill sectiom around mile 3, and I start to Jog and It hurts like hell..but I can to do it and the longer the downhill lasts,,the less it hurts.So I keep up this strategy..and I’m finding I can run the downhills ( painfully…) pretty quick and survive the ups and a little painfull running on the flats at the the 2nd aide station I get something to drink and a couple of Ibuprofen ( lifesavers), an Ensure and go on. (Another Strategy I followed..know what you want before you get to the aide station..get it and be gone).I got through the second half of the loop which has much more up hills and couple of long down hills. I continue to struggle,hurting but moving. Just finish this lap. I’m walking a lot..but still moving. Finish the lap..put on a knee brace that I had ( Thank GOD) grab some Ensure and Gatorade ( not everyone tastes,,but it works) and off I go walking through the next lap. 2hrs 31 min.

I'm going out on my 4th loop and I’m hurting,,,but I’m moving. and I looking at my Garmin and it’s telling me that I’m almost an Hour ahead of my goal 50 mile split time, So I keep up with the same strategy.. run the downhills,walk the ups and do what I can on the flats. I’m definitely slowing. but I’m moving and I’m not falling off the pace by that much. I’m doing this..I finish lap 4. I see Jackie , who has just come back to the course. she ask What I need, I tell her my knee is killing me. She gets my stuff, I grab a Mountain Dew ( a treat I’ve been saving up with a week long caffeine fast,) She give me my stuff..Tells me “Get out there,,Hurry Up..” and kisses me goodbye, Ain’t love Grand…………………….. lap 2Hrs;50Min , 50 mile split 9hrs34min

So laps 5 and 6 were pretty similar.This was the hottest part of the day,temps in the high 60’s maybe low 70’s but it never really bothered me. At one point I tried putting Ice in my cap as a cooling method..it was just more annoying than anything else ( I’ve used the technique in another desert race,,but that’s another story, ) I just stuck with Plan,,I just kept trying to keept at that 12:30 per mile cumulative pace. Run the downhills , Walk the up. It was nice to see some of the same face on each loop, this told me I was on the same constant pace they were. Sometime ahead, sometimes a little behind,,but always around them. I had switched to a race vest with two water bottles that I was having filled at each of the two manned aide stations and was eating a liitle bit ( peanut butter and jelly sandwichs,,simple easy food)at each of the aide stations.My knee was actually begining to clear up a little bit on the 6th loop and I had some period when running wasn’t a painful chore..and lap 6 was faster then laps 4 and 5. Laps 2Hrs53Min and 2Hrs47mins

So lap 7 is when things begin to slow up a lot.It’s night. I’m running ( walking limping,...) in the dark which by itself will slows me down. My knee pain returns,I had take some Tylenol at the begining of the loop.Still eating. (As I left,each loop Jackie would make Sure of it..lol) but the run to walk ratio is less less run and more walk. My garmin is saying I’m still slightly ahead of a 21 hour pace for the 100..if I can keep hanging on.I’m thinking I’m going to fade but maybe 22 hours is possible. I just about get to end of my loop when My garmin battery dies. I set the chrono on my watch at the start so I know my elapsed time. I'm pretty sure I’m going to beat my sub 24 goal but hoping for that Sub 22..I walk my way to the top of the last loop, grab an Ensure .some more MT DEW,a turkey sandwich. a kiss from Jackie and I’m off think of a line told to me by a friend “ Suck it up Buttercup”.......lap 3HRS23mins.

A famous Ultra runner once said that ” A 100 miles is not that Far..” what he didn’t say was that The last 10 miles when your dying can take forever. My mp3 dies..bummer. My knee is screaming at me every time I try to run now. Of the first couple of miles I might have only run a ½ mile . Then I was mentally screaming whila couple of te running the longer downhills..but still really slowly, By mile 5 I began to develop some sever pain in my right arm and I couldn’t move to swing for a run stride. Probabaly a result of using a handheld bottle for too long. ( In my slight delirium, I was thinking I might be having a heart attack due to all the caffeine I was ingesting after going on caffeine taper for a week..LOL) So, here is the picture.. My left knee won’t bend to run and My right arm won’t move to swing..Sad shape..but I know I can finish this.So I do what I can. I walk side up hills almost dragging my leg to get it up the hill. I keep going. I’m losing Perspective of time..I’m thinking. “ Oh my god..I only have 2 ½ hours to go 6 miles..will I make it?” The hills that were easy are now mountains that go on forever. Downhills stopped being a friend and became just taunting areas to my falling apart body ( Okay..getting a liitle Melodramatic,,but that’s what I was like at 94 miles,,lol) I’m getting passed ( I ‘m glad didn’t know I was third in my age group at start of loop , it would have made the suffering worse.) I just think, keep moving. Walking down the last big hill..almost there. last ½ mile walk down the hill . A woman who I’ve been running around me all day passes me..Oh well, I’m almost done. Last few stair steps to the top. I call out my # ...“ 88” the RD come out and shakes my hand, gives me My silver Belt Buckle 100 miles ..One day. I let a scream “YEAH!!!!!... Lap 4hrs10min ..

Finish: 22hrs 47min 9 sec. 
45th place … 
5th in age group 50-59

And this is what feet that traveled 100 miles look like :) 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How NOT to run a 10k, Cherry Blossom 10k, Branch Brook Park, Belleville, NJ. 4/6/14

"Cherry Blossom"
Stained Glass by Lettieri
Original Art by Quinn
Sunday was the Cherry Blossom 10k in Belleville, NJ.  This race took place in Branch Brook Park.

This race, this park, brings up some significant feelings for me.  When I was 9 years old, my father almost died there. I always wonder where exactly.  He is alive and well now, but back then he was working as a police officer. He was shot while trying to apprehend a car thief.  I remember my mom, being no-nonsense sometimes, telling me in the morning, "Time to get up. Your father's been shot. He is ok. Go to school. I will take you to see him later." He was very lucky. Two bullets. Point blank. Criminal trying to shoot him in the head.  He got his arm up in time. One bullet hit his wrist bone and somehow ricocheted up and out the top. The second bullet simply stopped dead in it's tracks, lodged in his arm.  What are the chances?  So every time I run at this park, I remember that morning and then sitting all day in school, not being able to concentrate on anything else but when I will get to see my dad.  It is hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago.

Recently, my friend and training partner Dave Lettieri has posted some art online.  In the spirit of the Cherry Blossom theme, I wanted to share my favorite stained glass creation made by him.  He has been turning artwork submission made by children into stained glass keepsakes. This one is my favorites, most likely because it looks like it is made with candy. This piece is called Cherry Blossom. It is a stained glass replication of a drawing created by Quinn, age 6, who also happens to be the son of Rick and Jennifer McNulty, the RD's NJ Trail Series. Visit Lettieri Glass to see his amazing work.  As soon as I signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10k, I knew I wanted to use the race as an excuse to share this picture, since I really do love it.

Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Racing...

So this race would have been a wicked success in perfect pacing… had I run the splits in reverse.  :) Unfortunately this was not what happened and instead I present to you the picture of a perfect crash and burn!

I wish I could blame the course, but the truth is this was primarily uphill on the way out and then downhill on the way back.  It rolled through out so there were some inclines to deal with both ways.  The only real obnoxious part of this race was that the wind kicked up on the way back and I am not good at holding my pace in wind.  But even the wind wasn't too bad.

The reality is I showed up tired.  I ran a triple training run on Saturday. The first run was 11.2 miles with Lettieri, where we ran the first half easy and then crushed the return - at paces ending in the low 7's.  I generally do not train that fast before a race, but this race was not a goal race and I need to work a little harder right now.  After that 11.2, I drove to another park where I met a new client to train with. We ran a lovely 4 mile run together, sorting out all the details of our future work together.  THEN as soon as I got home,  Enzo started begging me to take him out.  He was right.  It was a gorgeous day and the pup needs his miles, so off we went for about 3.5 more.  I ended up with close to 18 for the day, but I feel like all the starts and stops made those 18 mile extra exhausting.

In addition to showing up tired, I am still carrying extra weight. And despite "the Guy in Blue" (from a prior race report) running up behind me, and commenting that I don't look like I am carrying any extra pounds  (LOL, you are lucky I like you "Guy In Blue") I still know I am and I feel it.  But I am not too concerned because training is getting better and I am already seeing a small drop in my Body Fat.

I started tracking all the lovely lies, I mean data, my new GoWise Scale provides.  I don't believe a word it says but I am tracking it anyway.  According to my scale I weigh 120.4 lbs, I am 20.4% body fat, I am comprised of 57.6% water, I am 33.6% muscle, and I have 10.4 lbs of bone.   When I add up all the percentages and pounds, that adds up to 144 lbs.  I am sure the BF%. the Hydration%, and the muscle% a have some overlap, but I still would like to think that I am carrying less than 24 lbs of body fat.  But this gives me hope.  Imagine how fast I could be if I lost just a few of those useless pounds?  Since I am barely  5' 2", 120 pounds is clearly not my ideal racing weight.  I am going to try to lose a few pounds of body fat in the next few months and see what happens.

For now, this is what a 10k looks like when I am racing heavy:

Here is a link to the start (video taken by Ben Teixeira): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UHKfxs2N2k&feature=youtu.be 

I have to say the weather was absolutely gorgeous.  It was chilly at packet pick up, but by the time the race started, I was down to a sports bra and shorts.  I had already got rid of my arm sleeves and regretting wearing the calf sleeves.

We start going uphill and I recall getting lulled into a false sense of security as I looked at my watch, notice the pace was mid-6 minutes per mile and thought, "This really doesn't fell bad… I can't go faster and hold this, but this is not killing me."  Lies… all Lies… :) M1 - 6:36

Maybe this was because I had not raced a 10k in a while and I forgot what I am doing.  6:36 on an uphill start is clearly too fast for me right now.  But man is it funny how it doesn't ever feel too fast when you have only covered .5 of the first mile.

I tried to settle down in mile 2, hoping to run under 6:50 for the day and knowing that the steepest hills were to come in mile 2.5-3.5.  I tried to remind myself that this race is set up for a negative split, with more downhill in the second half than in the first.  But the truth is, the course is just rolling so we do have hills in the second half as well, just not as steep as what we see in mile 3.  M2 - 6:45

The worst of the course is here, as we go up to a bizarre, double-coned turn around where everyone but Jim O took the first cone, with Jim taking the second, further cone.  Why put two cones (appearing to possibly create a lane that runners need to run between or possibly demarcating which side runners should stay on before running around the second cone???).  Next time it would be very helpful to simply place a course marshall there to give instruction.  Jim gets extra credit.  He said he new the course and that the second cone was it.  Personally, I followed the crowd assuming Jim was just a lunatic ;).  It was only a matter of feet, but still it would be nice to know what the cones were suppose to mean?   M3 - 6:58

As Jim comes back past me, getting a little crap from others for running "too far", he made me laugh when he called out "Yeah, I am going to stop in the Church next." :)   Jim had a great run out there and I wish I had the pep to try to stay with him.  But today was not my day.   After the final significant uphill section and the last turn around, we got what could have been a blazing fast descent if I had anything in my legs at all.  I was toast and just happy to hold my pace.  M4. 6:58

The last two miles were not terrible, but all I can remember thinking is "Wind… Ugh." It was as if I just petered out and ran out of Umph… Two miles to go and I just wanted to be done.  My legs felt heavy and in general I was just tired.  I did what I could to hold my position.  I had nothing to dig into today for any thing resembling a kick except for what I mustered up in the last .23… M5 7:11, M6 7:10, and Last .23 1:26 (6:22 pace).

Last .2.  photo by Ben Teixeira

So not my best race, but I am still happy.  I ran hard the day before. I showed up tired.  I ran 31 miles last Sunday.  I started track work this week. And still managed to get a sub-7 minute 10k done.   I have no complaints.

Time: 43:03 (6:55)
Place: 12th OA Female
AG: 2nd 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

BUS 6 Hour, Alley Pond Park, Bayside NY. 3/30/14

photo by Yuri Esperson
Overall I am starting to feel better and working hard to find a way back to better racing fitness.  This weekend I was hoping to build mileage and have a great time simply running, but the weather was against me.

I started my Saturday run at 7 am, planning to get in as many miles of my 14-15 mile run before the rains came.  At 8:30 am, the rain that was predicted to linger through Monday started and this meant that my Sunday 6 hour race was going to be extra challenging.  I was not looking forward to running for 6 hours in the rain.

A few days ago,  I invited John P to come along… well, really I challenged him to another round of Race Chicken. Race Chicken is a ridiculous game where I find races that challenges most peoples' common sense and physical comfort and then "invite" John to join me on little-to-no notice.  Once we both agree to race, if one of us then bails out before the other, the Chicken is then subjected to mockery and name calling forever… or something like that.  We aren't sure. We are still working out the rules, developing some type of a scoring system, and there was also some talk about a chicken suit that the loser needs to wear. John was all for a rewards system, but I was planning to keep Race Chicken a purely punitive game. :)

John was promptly at my house at 6:45 am.  Despite the deluge we experienced all day Saturday and the fact that it was supposed to rain all day Sunday, he did not cancel on me.  I was impressed!

photo by Yuri Esperson
The BUS 6 Hour is a wonderful event. I am particularly fond of 6 hour races, especially the BUS 6 hours.  This one kindly started at "approximately 8:45" as per the instructional email.  (This is the first sign that a race will be awesome, is when the start time is given as an approximation).

A few other reasons to run a Broadway Ultra Society Event are (1) the courses are certified, with aid, and they are generally fast! (2) The RD does a great job organizing the events so they feel like friendly group runs complete with amazing performances. (3) The RD offers to provide rides for those runners taking the train (who does this?!).  (4) While the scores are tallied, the runners were offered a warm dry field house, lots of pizza, pans of warm food like pasta with vegetables, eggplant parmesan, salad, hot chocolate, coffee, etc...  (5) Every runner that ran over a marathon was presented with a very unique award. (6) Tech shirts were included in the packet, at least for those pre-registered in actual men's and women's cuts. (7) Finally, the cost was $37 for BUS members and $45 for non-members.  This just cannot be beat and even when I know I am not in great shape or if I have to leave an event early or if I am certain it will be a tough day, I still try to make it to as many BUS Races as my schedule allows.

Everyone who ran over a marathon got one!
Today was one of those races that I knew was not going to be awesome but I knew I could get a good training day out of it.  Since February, I have been feeling like crap and have been reporting how I cut back training to feel better.  The last few weeks now I have slowly started to feel better.  I was ready to give this a shot and see how long I could hold on if I went out solid.

I ran this course in December 2012, when I won the BUS Fat Ass 50k at just sub- 8:00 pace.  I knew the course and I knew it was hilly. I knew when I ran there before, I was much better trained and a lot leaner and lighter.  So day I went out at 8:15. :)

Did I mention that this course is hilly, mostly at the start with a step uphill for about .4 of a mile.  Once up the steep part, we roll upwards still for a few more tenths.  Once past a gate, we are offered a long middle stretch that is comfortably down. This was the stretch of the course where you can catch your breath and regain some confidence that the entire loop is not going to be complete torture.  After another short uphill just past the half way part of the loop, we get another fast decline and loop around the bottom of the park and head back up the hill, out the end of dead end road, and down a .7 mile decline back to the start/finish for a 5k lap.  There was one aid station at the S/F line. We do this for 6 hours… well in my case just under 5 hours.

I had a great start and was comfortable early on.  I was happy to see the weather was holding off and despite some light misting, we did not get pummeled by bad weather.  In small races, I end up running a lot myself.  I am always surprised, still, by how much faster I can run in a race setting and feel like it is easy, even when running alone, than I can in training.  Lap after lap, I was slowly fading from my original 8:15 pace.  I knew I wasn't going hold an even pace this time and hoped the fade would not be too bad.

By lap 5 I started to walk the uphill at the start because I clearly getting tired.  I was grabbing gatorade and Coca Cola at that start/finish area, but I failed to bring gels with me.  Thinking back now, I know I took gels when I ran my 4:10 (two gels).  I should have brought some but I thought I heard there would be gels at the aid station.  I didn't see any. I don't spend a lot of time at aid stations.  I almost try to not even stop. I also don't ask a lot of questions so I never asked for any.

I was feeling good until about mile 23, when suddenly I realized "Oh man, I am hungry!"  I had grabbed some cantaloupe on the lap before but it was just no as satisfying as cantaloupe has been in the past for me.  I keep running hoping to find a gel the next time I finished a lap.  I thought I had pack some but I thought I left the in the car and I was not going all the way to the parking lot.  As I passed the aid station at the end of lap 8, I didn't see any, grabbed a chunk of chopped up chocolate power bar instead and it was not working out for me at all.  I couldn't chew it well enough to get it down, ended up spitting it out, and on that 9th lap, I hit the wall incredibly hard.  I was walking more and running less.

I managed to catch up to John and realized that, at that time, I done for the day.  My achilles were starting to get tired and it was not worth the risk today.  I was completely and utterly depleted.  I felt that I ran enough for the day and was ok with stopping.  John needed one more lap for his "more than a marathon" finish and I needed one more for a 50k.  We decided to take a leisurely cool down loop and call it a day.

Final lap with John, photo by Donna Sajulga-Tabios  
We ended up finishing just under 5 hours and despite not having a great race, I was so very happy with my performance.  Sure I messed up fueling, but honestly I don't think there was a lot I could do to have a great race, except feel better and train more.  I am working on that.  I wanted to stop running at a point in which I new I could continue to train well this next week and that is exactly what I did.

I also wanted to try out a new pair of racing flats, the ST5 Racer.  I have to say they were awesome.  My achilles were a little achy, but they have been angry with me for some time now.  I think they are begging for more training and for me to lose about 3-5 lbs. Once that happens I know I will feel awesome.  I can tell that I am coming out of my funk and headed in the right direction.

After the race, I was planning to stay for awards ceremony for the NYUR series where I won an award for 1st in my age group.  It was nice to show up for a decent day of training and take home a few awards :)
Age Group Award for New York Ultra Series, photo by Yuri Esperson

50k - 4:56
Place 5th Female

Monday, March 24, 2014

Miles for Music, USATF Team 20k Championship, 3/23/14

Part of my new Team
photo posted to the Clifton Club page by Ben Teixeira
Today was the first day I raced for my new Running Club, Clifton Road Runners.  It was a hard decision for me to change teams.  I was running for the Do Runners in the past, a team captained by Mark W, the president of the United States Streak Running Association and a person who inspired me to do more than I thought I could.  I liked running for Mark's team, but the reality is their training location was well over an hour from me and I had made it to a group run all of 0 times in the last two years.  At least Clifton trains at locations I actually train at when I go north for training, giving me a chance to socialize and possibly become friends with the runners I race alongside. I have always enjoyed being a part of a team and I was hoping to run well at our first race.

This winter has been very hard on me.  Physically I have been beaten down a bit. I have been posting about how I have just not felt great lately and accordingly I had cut back my training to try to feel more rested. I hate to cut back, but it has helped and I feel like things are starting to turn around now.  However, the lower mileage and the chronic inflammation I experience when my immune system checks out (and the extra junk food I tend to eat when I run less) caused me to show up at the starting line a few pounds heavier than last year.  

Last year I had a phenomenal race (at 6:53 pace) and surprised myself.  But I was also running 100 mile weeks in February and just ran a PR 50k the week before.  This year I have been running much less, had a not so great 50k race a few weeks ago, and just snuck in under 8 minute pace at a marathon last week.  I was happy to have been able to log those long races, but I was not confident this race was going to go well. 

The weather was about the same as last year ("feels like" low 30's), despite the race being two weeks later this year.  I believe the wind was bit milder at the start, but it picked up as the morning progressed.  I started off with a t-shirt over a long sleeve tech shirt, capri pants, gloves, and my bloody racing flats from last week.  I had a hat and neck warmer on but just before the race I stood with John P (who ran an awesome race!) and told him "I know better than this!  I know I am dressed appropriately for cold weather races after eliminating enough layers to allow me to reach the point where I start to feel miserably uncomfortable standing around… then I am ready."  The hat and neck warmer brought me some comfort…. so I took them off and threw them in my bag. 

Off to the start, I was very worried about my toes. Last weekend I had a toe nail incident that left me one short with a shoe full of blood.  I wore those same shoes and felt like a different toe was now feeling uncomfortably snug.  I realized later that it was simply just very cold and numb.  Once I started running I was fine. 

Not sure how fast I could run today, I decided to start out similar to last year's pace (sub-7) and see how long I could hold it.  In January I ran a 1:30 half (6:55 pace) but I was lighter then.  Fat isn't fast.  Please do not be mistaken. I know I am not "Fat"by any means but I am carrying more Body Fat that I was in January when I was faster and that is a fact. I believe I was closer to 117 and now I an about 121. Add 2 seconds per mile per pound over ideal racing weight, or so the rule says, I was pretty sure I wasn't running a sub-7 pace today. I had to adjust my expectation downward until I get back to my ideal racing weight (which for me and for most runners actually falls right in the center of what is considered to be the healthy BMI range, not at the bottom of the range).  In consideration of what I know, I would be very happy if I ran between 7:00-7:15 today (really hoping to be low 7's). 

Me and Rich T. cooling down after. Photo by Elaine Acosta
Gun Goes Off.  I don't want to get to ahead of myself.  Rich T. (also a Clifton Runner and a persons I accidentally ended up running 9 additional miles with when I first met him at at training, increasing my moderate run of 12 to a lovely long run 21) and I start off  together, checking in with pacing for the quarter mile or so. We settle in to just sub-7 and it feels ok to me. He lets me pull ahead over the next few miles. M1 6:54

The course is a multi-lap course that started with an incline, that we would do three times, so I knew this was the best I would feel when headed in this direction today.  There is nothing hard about this course except, possibly, the mental challenge of running multiple loops.  Between 1 and 1.5 was the steepest of the inclines but most of the next 2 miles were declined.  I was not feeling comfortable at this point in the race and confident that I would not be holding sub-7 for the entire duration.  M2 6:57.

I missed a split at Mile 3 but basically I was just trying to stay as close to 7 minute pace as possible on the way east the for this first lap, hoping the wind was not too bad on the way back west.  M3 and M4: 13:57 (6:58 pace).

I tried to tuck in with groups but didn't find anyone moving at a speed I was comfortable at.  I felt like I ran most of the race alone.  Mile 5 was into a slight wind.  It was not bad, but it was enough to make me notice.  M5 6:59 

Soon, I was feeling my effort and becoming a bit concerned as we headed back up the slight incline. I was not thrilled with the idea that I had to do this entire loop 1.5 more times.  I needed to slow down or I was going to fall apart.  So that is what I did.  M6 7:08 & M7 7:08. 

photo by Elaine Acosta
Here I decide that if I want a shot at not completely coming unraveled, I should take that gel in my pocket. The course also had a nice decline with a little bit if a mild wind assist, so there is no reason to not use it. Funny what a little sugar and favorable terrain can do. M8 6:57

Rich T, who had allowed me to pull ahead earlier starts to reel me in and at just about 9 miles passes me.  Based upon how I was feeling it was too soon for me to start pushing to stay with him.  I haven't done the type of training that allows me to have a strong finish so I needed, instead, to try to hold steady until the peak of the incline at 10.5 and hope to find a kick on the way down hill to the finish.  M9 7:05 & M10 7:08. 

Ok, I tried… but I just had nothing left past 10 and started to fade hard like I feared.  I am sure part of this had to do with there being no women close enough behind me to try to hold off and none close enough ahead for me to try to catch. I simply became complacent. M11 7:09 & M12 7:08. 

With a decline finish, and my placement secure, I decided I really did not want to see a 1:28 on the clock. So I kicked. I was pleased to be able to find a gear I have not used in months and I was happy to see it was still there. Last .43  2:54 (6:42 pace).  Ok, that gives me something to work with. :)

Now that I am starting the upswing of feeling better physically and discovered I haven't completely lost my speed, I am now ready to refocus, build my volume back up to as high as I can handle, and add in some faster paced mid-week running to help me burn off the few pounds that I need to lose in order to be in better racing shape.  I have no plans to rush weigh loss, since forced dieting and high volume training really does not work for me.  Instead I plan to just run more, eat better, and let my body take care of the rest.  

Time: 1:27:35
Gender Place: 15th Female
Age Group Place: 2nd
Open Women Team: 4th 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Two Rivers Marathon, Lackawaxen, PA. 3/16/14

Had I been in good marathon shape, this race would have been on my radar for a PR attempt.  But I am not in good marathon shape right now. This year the RD offered two marathons (one on Saturday and one on Sunday). I decided to head out on Sunday to register for it and run it as long training run the day after running with my TNT marathon training group on Saturday.  I offered to bring John P with me if he was interested in doing his long run at a marathon.  Once he agreed to come with me, I knew I couldn't change my mind… even after seeing how freaking cold it was going to be.  Ahhhh, the joys of "Race Chicken"… :)

So I hoped to run about a 3:30 or better since my marathon split at the 50k two weeks ago was a 3:39.  This is a newer race.  I ran it two years ago, in it's first year when only 16 others were there.  I don't recall the course being off that year, but we finished in a different place this year (just across the street) and I suspect we may have deviated from the original course at some point between 8-12 miles.

Brrrr!  :)
Despite Saturday being a beautiful day. I knew Sunday was going to be rough as the weather dipped back into Winter rather than feeling more like Spring.  It was 20 degrees w/ wind making it "feel like 8".  It was damp and chilly and I hate racing in tons of layers.  

It was not going to get much warmer during the entire run, so I planned to race in my fleece lined tights, a long sleeve tech shirt with a sleeveless tech shell and a light jacket. I had a hat, cotton throw away gloves and a fleece neck warmer. 
In the wind sections I was cold.  In the windless areas when the sun was shining I was hot.  I could have gotten away with less on my legs.  

During the 2 hour drive over, I ate a banana on the way up, drank some Gatorade/Mt. Dew and took a gel before the start.  I fueled with two gels at 8 and 17.  Drank about 4 oz of gatorade on the course and the rest water.  I believe gatorade was out there, but if I didn't see it right away I just grabbed whatever I saw first, mostly water.   Some Aid Stations were unmanned.  Some had volunteers that looked like they were freezing their but off.  The first cup of water I was handed had ice chunks in it and it reminded me of Albany Winter Marathon.

Net down hill doesn't mean No hills, but this is a FAST course. 
The course is a net downhill.  It does have hills in the first half that can be a surprise to those who expect Net Downhill to mean "we run down the entire way." No, we don't.  It also measured short… significantly short this year.  I don't recall it being short two years ago. 

It is a fast course, even if it was lengthened to reach 26.2 miles, primarily because it is a net downhill race.  We are bussed 10 miles from the finish to the start, which is at the highest point of the race. We run a slightly rolling but primarily super-fast descent for about 1.7 miles until we level off a bit. Then we spend the next 9+ miles meandering along on narrow roads with minimal traffic. We tackle some hills in this section, two of which felt significant to me, with the larger one around mile 8.  Some people, from hillier terrain, may not find these hills as significant as I did.  However, I am not in great shape right now and they were noticeable to me, slowing my pace and requiring me to focus on getting up them, but not so significant that walked crossed my mind as a real option, although I am sure some people did. 

Just before mile 8, my nose felt runny so like any good marathon runner, I blew a snot rocket. That is where I discover my nose is not running it is bleeding. Again. And A Lot.  Awesome.

Top of course is first half.  Red area is the finish
after out and back along the river.
After we crest the last hill, we cruise in towards the finish area before starting the second half of the course. Up until this point, the mileage on my Garmin was about .2 off. It was slowly creeping to the short side during the rolling hills.  However, this is not unusually and may not mean the course is off. It could simply mean the distance from the ascents and descents hills are not being accounted for since the Garmin is known to read measurement as if reading across a flat map.

My white gloves help me keep track of my nose bleed and whether it is slowing down. By the time get to the point where I would have the option of turning in early, the nose bleed has slowed down enough for me to not stop.

But as we pass the left turn towards finish area and turn right to head out where the half marathoner turn around and the marathoner do the long out and and back. Here is where my watch starting dropping its signal, showing no pace data or paces such as 10+ minute pace then bouncing back to a more true pace.  When I hit mile 12, my reading was almost 0.6 short, showing me 11.4x. 

The next section of this course involved a gradual inclined climb against the flow of the river, along a windy, curvy, quiet road.  Picture gentle S curves that follow the river's course.  On the way up, the miles remained the .6 off, showing no increase in it's shortness besides that huge error at mile 12.  

After Caumsett 50k two weeks ago I had damaged a pinky toe nail.  I had suspected it would become irrupted again during this race so I tried using a blister pack latex band-aid.  This is truly a great product.  The rubber band-aid adheres strongly and molds around the shape of the toes creating a soft rubbery layer of protections.  I have various versions of these bandages and use them on other places too, where ever chafing will be an issue. (For example. I alway placed a rectangle shaped latex bandaid where the band of my sports bra rubs and severely chafes my skin during marathons and ultras and it completely resolves that issue).

Today, I also made a decision to wear my thickest socks because 8 degrees and thin shoes equals numb painful toes.  I have been wearing the Brooks T7 (or some version of them) sine 2007 and rarely have trouble with the shoes. But, I never wear thick socks with them. 

When I hit the turn around and turned back, I still hit mile 19 at 18.4, showing no increase in distance lost during the entire out section of this part of the course. However on my way back, the same way I came up (and I used the entire road, hugging tangents as best I could), I then started to drop my signal again and started loosing mileage when it would pick up.  I can only imagine the curvy turns along the river may have caused the signal to cut off turns when it picked back up.  It just makes little sense to me to have the miles be correct on the out and then short on the way back.   

The combination of the extra thick socks, plus the added thickness from the bandage in a shoe that was already snug, was a horrible combination.  For the first half of the race, I could feel my toes felt extra tight, but that passed so I wasn't concerned.  But as I was cruising up the out and back along the river, at about the 16-17 miles mark, suddenly felt a sharp searing pain to my little toe.  I looked down and saw a dime sized area of blood and knew the toenail had lifted up off the nail bed.  I tried a few more steps and it was not happening.  Each step was excruciating.  I could walk on it, but not run.  I could turn back and walk it in and DNF, but the turn around was only about 1.5-2 miles away.  I came this far and I didn't want a DNF!

I was holding 2nd place.  There were no ladies in sight.  So I stopped running, pulled off my shoe and peel off my sock.  This is where I discovered the bandage had bunched up after adhering to the lose nail, lifting it off the nail bed.  I ripped the bandage off, pulling off the dangling nail from where it attached to the nail bed.  From the time I stopped running it took less than 2 minutes total for me get the shoe, sock and nail off and then put the sock and shoe back on.  

My bloody toe at the end of the race. 
As I ran, I watch the blood stain grow but the pain was a million times less.  I knew I could finish.  But the question was, could I hold 2nd.  If I was challenged to race it in, I felt that I couldn't.  Not really because of the toe, but mostly because I was tired and not in marathon shape right now.  I am heavier than I should be. My training has not been ON and my purpose for being out here was to use the race as training to get me back on track. 

I was looking forward to hitting the turn around because we had been running slightly up hill the entire time along the river and I hoped to feel some gravity assist on the way back.  Unfortunately, the return trip was not as refreshing as I hoped it would feel.  I had a head wind on the way back down that simply made running down feel like I was running up.  

I noticed two ladies about a mile behind me, so I knew if I could just keep running, I should be able to hold 2nd. 

I was watching my splits, wondering if the mile markers were off and I would end up making up that .6 or more, I lost earlier or if the course would be short completely.  At this point, I just wanted to stop running and take my shoe off and a short course would be a blessing for me.  I truly just wanted this to be over. 

By the time I got to the finish I was less than a mile off. 25.3x.  So to be fair I am adding about 8 minutes to my time, even though I don't really believe it was a entire mile off.  I will call this a sub-3:30 and that feels about right and in line with what I expected.

The RD did report the course was reported to be short the day before and to correct this he added .8 to the marathon course by moving the turn around cone further out for the marathon runners.  This just tells me that the course was very very short on day one and by day two we got a little closer.

The race only gave awards for First Overall and Age Group awards to others.  The RD handed out awards immediately upon runners finishing.  This made me happy because all I wanted to do was get in my car and pull off my shoes.  The Awards were definitely unique.

photo of awards from Fast-Finishes FB page

Time 3:22 (really sub-3:30) due to short course
Place: 2nd Female

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

USA-TF 50k Nationals: Caumsett Park, LI, NY 3/2/14

Photo by Enrique Sallent

This is one of the longest periods of time I have gone between racing and posting reports.  This is because I have been feeling very unwell and trying to not stress my immune system any more than necessary.

Thoughts about the Impact of Rocky Raccoon
I should have never attempted to Rocky Raccoon.  I do not fully regret my decision.  I was trained well enough to justify the attempt. I have run good 100-24 hour races in the past.  I took a year away from long efforts to give my body a chance to get stronger and possibly become better able to manage the stress of the long race on my system.  It was the 100 Mile Nationals on a fast course in what I hoped would be ideal weather for me. If there was ever a 100 mile race for me to try to run, I decided it should be the 100 Mile Nationals so if I had a great day, it could have resulted in something quite meaningful to me.

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tabios
Had the race gone well, I would not reflect back on my decision to go as such a big mistake.  Unfortunately that race was not successful and it left me needing a week to recover at a crucial time in my 50K training. I anticipated that would happen. Due to some lingering mild achilles tendon ache, I must have begun over compensating with my right side because my right piriformis became chronically tight over the last month.  But those recovery issues were the least of my concern and they will resolve.

My Autoimmune System 
The real trouble for me is that after Rocky,  I experienced a crash of my immune system that left me feeling exhausted with achy inflamed joints everywhere.  My entire body has been struggling. The joint in my hands now hurt.  The muscles across my chest are tight and painful. It hurts to take deep breaths. My right shoulder through my armpit is painful and I can't lift my arm up to change my shirt.  My fingernails have gotten brittle and all have split.  My skin has broken out in raised patches of skin (mostly on my face and legs) that feels like a sunburn and a few days later it even peels. Each issue on its own is minor and tolerable, but collectively I feel like I am 100 years old. Running fast has started to become really hard to do. This is what happens to me about 3-4 times per year.  I am lucky that since running higher mileage regularly, I have no longer needed to visit the emergency room for the swelling and hives. (I really have no idea about whether the higher volume helps me stay well or whether I am getting stronger each year beyond my treatment and able to tolerate higher mileage?).

I am not looking for opinions about what is wrong.  I am just documenting my experience.  I know what is wrong.  I have an autoimmune system disorder that manifested after my cancer treatment and is likely a result of the chemotherapy and immunotherapy I received for 1.5 years to treat my cancer.  I have gone to 8 years worth of doctors.  I know that when I feel unwell, I need to simply rest more until symptoms resolve or get so bad that I need medication to treat them.  Running hard does not trigger the immune system crash as long as I run regularly and stay on a routine. Running hard after the symptoms start, feels impossible.  Haphazard running (with no regularity) at lower mileage is more likely to trigger a reaction than regularly running high miles.  I can run 100 miles per week and feel better than I do if I run 30 miles per week, as long as I build up to 100 carefully and my body tolerates its well.

In my experience and observation, my immune system crashes when additional stress is added to my life that throws off my sleep schedule or increases my fatigue. This hard winter, with lost of shoveling snow, with lot of stress about how to get to work on dangerous roads, with regular exposure to really cold temperatures, and also the addition of some life stressors have contributed to my immune system melt down.  My sleep has been horrible for the past 3 weeks.

Poor sleep in the most common factor I see related to when my immune system falls apart.  This is part of the reason I have stayed away from longer races, that go on over the course of the night.  Not only do they throw off my sleep for the night of the race, the next few days in a row are also disrupted and I tend to have an immune system melt down a week or so later.

This is exactly what happened after Rocky. I build my mileage carefully back up to 105+ miles prior to Rocky.  I tapered a bit and felt prepared to at least finish.  I ended up have a bad day.  After a few days of recovering from a 60 mile run, I was feeling strong enough to run far. I managed an impromptu 21 miler, but my immune system started to crash and that last run was the best run I had for the past 3 weeks.

Two weeks leading up to the race:
I simply wasn't able to get my mileage back up.  I tried to rest more to stop the fatigue from getting worse.  I tried to find a balance between maintaining a training schedule and resting.  I stopped doubling.  I lowered my peak mileage goal.  I drastically tapered as the race approached, knowing that training hard the week before would do nothing, but extreme rest could help.

Caumsett 50k:
The weather reports were making people crazy.  The crazy cold snowy winter had resulted in reports of another major storm heading in our direction for the weekend. Thanks to Sidney's flying, I learned that the most (only) reliable weather report is what you get when you step outside and look up.  As a rule, I never check the weather until the night before. People tend to either freak out about it or get excited then disappointed because it changed. It always changes.  I know it is winter.  I own a wide range running gear that can handle any condition.  I can guess what it will be like in 10 days as good as the 10 day forecast can. I find that I avoid a significant amount of distress and disappointment by not watching the weather until I absolutely need to check it (- either when I am packing for a trip to a race, or the night before/morning of the event).

The weather was significantly better than last year.  The temperatures were in the mid-30's from the start and stayed that way.  The wind was predicted to remain about 6 mph.  Precipitation (wintry mix) was predicted for the afternoon, hopefully not falling until after I was done running and hopefully after I got home.  It was easy to over dress.

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tabios
What to Wear:
I chose a long sleeve tech shirt with a t-shirt over the top, capri pants with calf sleeves, and my T7 racing flats.  I added a hat, gloves, and neck warmer to start. I had a jacket over the shirts, but knew better than to start with it so I left behind just before lining up.  I pinned two gels to my shorts (flipping the over the waste band to allow them to stay put).  I carried nothing.  I drank water and gatorade while on the run.

The Race:
I was concerned about how the race would go, but I knew I would try my best no matter what the outcome.  I truly did not want two DNF's in a row and figured I would just do what I needed to do to finish, unless I felt I was doing some significant damage.

When I arrived at the race, I was thrown off because they changed the course.  It was still 10x 5k, but run backwards with a change to the side-spur. This threw me off a bit, but it was really no big deal.  I liked the old course.  It was good to me.  But I knew this year, I was not going to run great, so clean slate make it feel like I was starting over and I was ok with the.  I liked the idea that I could no longer directly compare my present self to my past performances.  I think that helped.

Even knowing I felt horrible, I still planned to start off at a competitive pace. I rarely show up and start a race slowly.  Today I started about 7:45 pace.  I came through the first lap in 24 minutes even.  That was just where I wanted to be if I wanted a PR… but I knew today was not that day. There is just no way I should run any where near a PR, when I consider how hard I trained to run a 4:03 last year.  I knew I would fade and it started in lap 2.  I was ok with that.  I was just trying to find a comfortable niche.  The truth is, today, nothing felt comfortable.  I felt sore and tight from the start and nothing loosened up.

At 3 laps out of 10 laps I was afraid I would not make it to 5 laps.  My achilles was tight as was my piriformis. I hoped they would loosen or at least not get worse. I know myself well enough to know that if I am feeling horrible by the half way mark, I am likely to drop by 2/3rd's into the race. But if I can get to 2/3rds feeling decent, no matter how crappy I feel in the last 1/3 I will likely finish it off.  Since I was already worried about dropping at lap 3 of 10, the DNF was looking more likely to happen.

I took a gel when I started to feel concerned about getting to 5 laps and it did help me refocus.  I like to try to trick myself at time.  When I take Gels I try to imagine them being like little magical packets of turbo fuel that will absolutely give me renewed strength and energy.  I know I get a good placebo effect from this, because I can convince myself I feel better as soon as I take it (knowing that nothing has actually digested).

Photo by Donna Sajulga-Tabios

Once I got to 5 laps, I started doing bad math on purpose, again thriving off tricking myself.  I focused on thinking "4 to go!…. after this one" just to make it sound like I had less left that I did.  At this point, I was doing anything I could to do stay in this mentally when physically I was falling apart.

At the start of lap 6, I got more confident that I could finish. I am just hoping to keep it under 4:30. I had no pep and the tightness I felt limited my stride length. When I try to pick up the pace, my chest hurt and that concerns me. (I have a leaky heart value, but it really doesn't impact my running)  I realized that I had forgot my inhaler in my bag. (I have asthma, but I don't find this to be an issue until I try to run faster than 7 minute miles in hot humid weather).  I just move as fast as I can without risking a DNF by pushing too hard.

With 3 laps to go I can't stop the fade.  My feet are starting to get tired and a little sore.  This is also to be expected. This is the first long race in just racing flats without my orthotics.  I was afraid I could do some damage out there, but I am so happy to report that I did not and my feet feel good!

I mentally check my "systems." Even thought I have a few aches, nothing is truly hurting me to a level of concern except my chest when I tried to pick up the pace, so I don't pick it up.  I know if I just stay steady, I will finish this off. As the laps passed I started to become so grateful that I fought to stay in it.  

As I start lap 10, I have a conversation with my grandmother.  This is unusual form.  I don't pray, but I do talk to my grandmother some times.  I don't often ask for anything.  Even when I had cancer I did not "ask" for divine help. I have a weird sense of guilt about asking for things.

As I started to reach the end of the loop, I reflect upon my prior 8th place and then two 7th place finishes at this race.  I thought about how happy I would be to finish today, but how it will feel a little bitter sweet to no longer be in the top 10 at a distance I considered "my event".  I remember saying to my grandmother, "I tried really hard today.  I know I didn't run my best race, but I worked harder than ever to not give up on myself.  I just want you to be proud of me... Any chance for a 10th place finish today to remind me why it is important to stick it out when I want to quit? How about you hook me up, Grandma? Ok?  LOL!"

But I knew that was a joke.  There were fast ladies here and I was sure the top 10 and more were already done.  I was over 20 minutes slower than last year, when I took 7th.  I was truly just grateful to finish it and not have to drive home heartbroken with my tail between my legs!

I crossed the line, saw Dave (and congratulated him for being awesome) and we went to get some soup.  I stopped with him for a photo and we started to walk back to the heated tent.  As I walked pasted the timing tent, a woman called out "Shannon, don't go anywhere.  Make sure you get your medal.  You were 10th Female!"

I turned to Dave and said, "OMG, I think I might actually cry!"  I believe he initially thought I was disappointed and saying I might cry because I didn't feel that 10th was good enough.  I quickly clarified that this meant so much to me.  I felt so sick and had no faith I could actually finish, I really fought hard for this. I told him that I was really proud that I stayed in this, even at a slower pace than last year, and that I talked to my grandmother and jokingly asked if there was shot at me getting a medal for sticking it out and not giving up…. and here it is!  That medal is a gift from my grandmother!"

I know a 4:25 is not an amazingly fast 50k in comparison to what the best ladies can do or what I have done.  I also know an 8:31 paced 31 mile run is still a really good race, feeling sick or not.  This is not a statement about what is good for all people, but rather a statement about what is good for me based upon my history of performances and personal abilities.  I would have liked to have been much more competitive at this race than I was this year.  I also know that because I was sick, I was really not competing with anyone else out there but my own perception of what I am capable of doing when I feel broken.

Even though I have run faster and placed higher, this medal is meaningful to me.  When I look at it, I don't have same feelings I get when I reflect on the times I trained smart and hard and then showed up to perform and pulled it off! Those medals will always remind me of what I can do at my best and I am very proud of those performances.

This medal is different and will remind me that even at my perceived worst, I am actually better than I think I am. It will remind me to remember to have faith in myself, to forget the ego and slow down so that I can just stay in the game… because sometimes even on a "bad day" the universe and possibly those who occupy the heavens above (or in my heart) might find a way to show me they are paying attention to what I do and they might even find a way to remind me that they are proud of me.

Time: 4:25
Place 10th Place Overall Female

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What to Wear in Winter Weather, by Shannon McGinn

Photo by Stephen Bandfield while on one of his beautiful winter trail
runs on the Paulinskil Trail.  Stephen recommends gaiters
for conditions pictured above
Here in New Jersey, it has been a bitter, snow-filled winter. Yet, running in a snow-covered world is truly a gorgeous, serene, awe-inspiringing experience and simply must be done by anyone who calls themselves a runner.

The challenge of winter training is not only about "being tough enough"to brave the relentless cold (that is the easy part), but rather it is about finding safe places to run when our normal routes have become unnavigable, have unsafe footing, or have become too dangerous for safe travel.  In some cases, I feel it is more important to run appropriate training paces than it is to brave the elements. Even though I can tolerate the cold, I have run many miles inside this winter for both safety and for training pace purposes.

Many new runners fear that winter training means being miserably cold for hours.  That is simply not true.  Once a runnable route is available, the most uncomfortable part about winter running is the start. I have timed how long runners training with me take to feel comfortable on the coldest days.  Depending up how cold it is, the appropriately dressed runners report feeling comfortable between 3 and 10 minutes from the start and, barring worsening conditions, they remain comfortable for the duration of their run. That's it. About 5 minutes of being cold was the norm for those with appropriate gear. Therefore, if after 1.0 to 1.5 miles the cold is still a problem then your gear needs to be evaluated and weaknesses addressed.

At the start of each winter season, I notice that very few new runners dress properly.  Runners are either woefully underdressed, usually because they simply don’t own appropriate winter running gear, or they overcompensate with gear more appropriate for the ski slopes. It takes a few runs in the cold, in the wrong gear, to learn how your body feels after it generates its own warmth. Keep in mind that erring on the side of overdressing can make a run equally miserable by causing you to feel oppressively overheated or sometimes chilly from sweating too much before removing layers. The goal is to find lightweight warm-enough gear that eliminates the bitter sting of the cold while allowing you free range of motion, the ability to remove layers as needed, and the ability to sweat off the heat your body is generating even on the coldest days.

When dressing in the winter, consider what you might wear if you were standing around outside, not running, and the weather was 20 degrees warmer.  I always look at the “feels like” temperature not the actual temperature. Windchill and humidity can make a big difference in what I wear.  Pace of the run matters as well.  If you plan to run as fast as possible at a race, plan to dress lighter than when you plan to run a slower paced training run in the same weather.

A fun, effective tool called What to Wear is found on the Runners World website. You can personalize some factors to generate some appropriate options. This tool can help you not lose your mind the night before your first marathon when the weather is predicted to be 38 degrees with 10 mph winds from the north, and you have no idea if that means you should wear shorts or tights. 
Trail Shoe: Notice the Lugs 
Road Shoe: No Lugs

The last time I was out running in "feels like" 5 degrees, I made some notes about what I wore.  Thanks to my sponsorship by Brooks, I have acquired a lot of wonderful gear, most of it from their Utopia Thermal Line. I am sure there are other brands that offer comparable products, but I love what I use and have not needed to look further. I hope my list helps others more quickly discover what they need to feel comfortable during the long winter runs necessary for great spring races. After all we still have 28 more days until Spring to deal with.

Shoes: If I am running on roads that I believe will be cleared of snow, I chose road shoes.  However, I prefer trail shoes for running long periods of time on completely snow covered terrain (either trails or road/path that has not been maintained). Trail shoes have lugs which allow better traction as well as encourage the snow to fall away with each step. 

Since toothy traction is not needed for roads, road shoes tend to have ridges cut into the sole. Muck and snow tend to adhere to road shoes and make the shoes very slippery. 

Trail Shoe: Tight Weave
Road Shoe: Loose Weave
Trail shoes also have a tighter weave of the upper to keep out grit. This also helps to keep out snow, moisture, and even cold air. Duct tape over the uppers of your road shoes can be a good solution to help your feet stay warm.

Gaiters:  I don't own gaiters.  I have never gotten enough grit into my shoes to compel me to purchase a product meant to keep the junk out.  Some runners have more trouble keeping debris out of their shoes and gaiter are aimed to resolve that problem.  Trail runners are more familiar and have more use for gaiters than road runners do.  One of the runners I am working with, Stephen, highly recommends wearing gaiters when training in the snow.  I recommend taking his advice since he has repeatedly proven that snowy days don't stop him for getting his training done.  I have heard wonderful things about Dirty Girl Gaiter and if I were to purchase a pair, I would start with them.
Dirty Girl Gaiters

Shoe Traction Accessories: I find that trail shoes work great for me and I no longer use any accessories to help me with traction. But as a rule, I avoid running on ice for extended periods of time whenever possible. Unlike others who abhor the treadmill, I am happy to take my run inside if the conditions outside are likely to be unsafe and frustrating.
Yak Trax
If you decide you must navigate an icy route you should think about traction accessories. Yak Trax are one option. The are convenient since you can take them on and off when needed, but some report that they do break over time.

Many people also swear by screw shoes. You will need sheet metal screw with hex heads and a power-drill (to make fast work of this). If you choose this option, I recommend you carry a dime in your pocket.

If it was 1984, you could use that dime to call home when your screws start to get a bit unruly. But it is not 1984, so instead the dime can be used to loosen or remove screws as needed. If you run long enough (i.e. many hours), you will find that your shoes do compress significantly and depending upon the placement of your screws, you may start to feel them poke through and that can make running less fun.

Personally, I find that screw shoes work well for shorter, unavoidably icy runs. But if you are running a hybrid course of road and ice for a long time, the teeth of the screws do wear down, ultimately adding  slip, rather than grip. You should always check the status of the screws before each run and change the screws as needed.

Photo of well-placed screws
After two seasons of playing around with screws, I stopped using them for a few reasons. First, they poked me on my long run and I did not like that.  Second, they were necessary or appropriate for all terrain I traveled during my long runs. Finally, if you plan to stop anywhere (e.g. out to breakfast after the run) you need to remember to bring an extra pair of shoes unless you are ok with sounding like a tap-dancer and/or don't mind if you scratch up someone’s floor. For those who like to make mid-run pit stops for drinks or the bathroom, screws may be a bad choice.

If you do thinks screws are for you, aim to place them in a manner that will allow them to grip when needed, but minimize the chance that they will be felt through your shoes. Along the outside edges work best.

Drymax Sock
Socks: I use Drymax sock exclusively. I wear the maximum protection socks for all my winter running. They are warm enough to make my road shoes comfortable in the cold and add cushion to my trail shoes that feels nice.  I wear the lighter versions Drymax offers in the warmer months.

Pants: Brooks Utopia Fleece Lined Tights and Brooks Utopia Thermal Pants are my winter running options. I really cant say enough good things about these, especially the fleece-lined tights. On very cold days, where I plan to run long and slow and expect a lot of wind, I will wear them together. If the temperatures are over 15, I will just wear the tights. A note about what to wear under tights, I prefer some type of comfortable bikini brief or even boy short cut type underwear under tights since they do not have liners like shorts so. Some guys like compression shorts. Choose undergarments that don't result in riding up or chafing and you should be good.
Utopia Thermal
Fleece-Lined Tights

Tops: At 5 degrees, I needed many layers on top to stay warm. I have learned that if I want to keep my finger warm, I need to think about my core and keep that very warm first. If my upper body is too cold, my body will start conserving heat not allowing warmth to reach my extremities. Sometimes cold hands are more about needing more layers on the core than better gloves on my hands.

When it is very cold, I always start with a sleeveless tech shell over my sports bra and then layer a long sleeve thin tech shirt over that.  If it is particularly windy or extremely cold, I will add one more layer over the those (usually a tech-T shirt) and then add a jacket. I lots lots of light layers to capture warmth and to allow me to adjust.

Material matters.  Technical fabrics are much more comfortable, breathable, and warmer than cotton.  Cotton holds moisture and makes winter running very uncomfortable both due to chaffing as well as creating a chilling effect when you stop moving or slow down and you are covered in sweat.

Utopia Thermal
I have two jackets to choose from that work very well for me. I really like my Brooks Utopia Thermal Hoodie for the coldest days. It is breathable but with a tight enough weave to be wind-resistant. A second, lighter jacket option that I also really like is my Brooks Nightlife Jacket II, which has since been replaced by the Nightlife III. I like both of these jackets because they both are wind resistant, but not waterproof, offer sleeves with thumb holes that can cover my hands (I don’t prefer elastic around my wrists) and they have pockets that zipper shut.   

Face covering: In very cold weather I need to have something to cover my face and neck. For years I have been using a thin fleece buff (a tube of fleece). This piece of gear is invaluable to me. When I have something to cover my face, I feel a lot more comfortable. Without it my experience would be exponentially more unpleasant.  Recently, Alanna gave me a new larger, thicker fleece Buff that is best for the coldest day.

Hat: A warm wool hat works very well for me. I prefer a hat that covers my ears over just a head band/ear warmers type thing. If I get too warm, I take off the hat and slide my neck buff over my head to cover my ears if needed.

Between the hat and buff, the only part of my face that is exposed is my eyes. Sometimes this is still uncomfortable. You know it is cold when you contemplate sunglasses for warmth. I cant wear glasses with the buff because the warm humid air from my breath gets directed up from the buff, fogging the glasses. So for me, it is either the buff or the glasses and the buff wins.

Inner Glove of 3-in-1
Outer shell of the 3-in-1
Gloves/Mittens: After trying many types of glove, I finally conceded that the only covering that keeps my hands warm are mittens.  My hands are very sensitive to the cold. My fingers go painfully numb in temperatures that should not make that happen. The only gloves that work for me are the Brooks Utopia 2-in-1 Mittens. They are now called the 3-in-1 Mittens. My 2-in-1's are two layers of mitten. The new version has an internal glove layer and I am not sure how I feel about this change.  I like having my fingers touch each other sharing warmth. Both have an external mitten that is windproof/waterproof. The double layer seems to make a huge difference for me. Since getting my mittens, my long runs no longer are cut short due to my painfully cold hands. 

Many new runners fear that running in the cold will be too miserable to tolerate. My experience is quite the opposite. I have figured out what I need to neutralize the cold.  Since finding the gear that works best for me, running in winter weather has become a challenging but pleasant experience, preferable to hot, humid, summer running where it can become impossible to run at comfortable temperature.  Besides, nothing makes you feel more like a running machine than training in temperature so cold that everything around you is frozen solid and the thought of cutting your run short doesn't even cross your mind.

No write up about winter weather would be complete without the famous quote from Bowerman, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"...  but I think I disagree.   Instead, I think there is no such thing as bad weather, just crappy gear.

Shannon McGinn is a RRCA Certified distance running coach and owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is a life long runner,  who found running to be a great tool in her recovery from cancer when diagnosed in 2005.  Since completing treatment in 2007, Shannon started over as run/walker and grew into an accomplished ultrarunner, specializing in the 50 km and 50 Mile distances.  Since December 2011, she has been Streak Running, currently averaging 9.5 miles per day.  Shannon also placed 3rd Woman Overall in the 2013 USATF-NJ Long Distance Running New Balance Grand Prix, a year long 5k-to-Marathon distance Road Racing Series held in NJ.  Shannon offers Private Coaching (Online anywhere in the country and In-Person locally) and volunteers as a Coach for the Monmouth County Team in Training Chapter as well as the Ulman Fund’s Cancer to 5k At Home program. You can follow Shannon’s Race Reports and other writings posted weekly here on her blog, Creating Momentum!.