Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Semi Wild Pineland Races

Sometimes things don't necessarily go as planned. It's amazing when things don't go according to plans and yet the results are much better than anticipated. I went into the weekend Pineland Farm Trail Races with plans on not pushing myself and just enjoying the trails, atmosphere, family and friends. I came away with all the pleasure I was seeking as well as one PR and falling just short of another.
Heading into the race weekend, I was fortunate to be assigned to man the L.L. Bean tent during the packet pick-up along with A.G. Gillis, as our company had become one of the race sponsors this year. I was pleased to meet many new faces and pass on a little first hand experience as this would be my ninth year running the event.
Saturday morning, the family jumped into the mini-van along with Wild as he would be leading me in the Canicross 5K. As we pulled in, the Triffits pulled in right behind us. Neither Ryan nor Danielle would be running that day. I accused them of being my Strava stalkers. We were all happy to be there but especially Wild. He could barely be contained wanting to greet all the other competitors. Some of them weren't all that friendly and he wisely kept his distance from those.
After walking him around for awhile, hoping he would take care of business, we finally headed into the starting corral. It seemed similar to lining up horses for a race, the excited ones waiting almost for the last moment. I kept us a little toward the back as I didn't want to be in the lead. Part of that was strategy as I knew how much he liked to catch up to and pass other dogs.
Sure enough as the race began, Wild was soon darting past many fellow canines. Although he was in a harness with the leash around my waist, I still took hold of the leash as the pack was thick and he didn't understand that although he could run under other leashes that I didn't quite have the same clearance as he.
We were doing quite well advancing until one other husky turned around and came towards us. The lady began to apologize, saying her companion was a lead dog on a mushing team, and then the next thing I knew our leashes were wrapped around one another's. I grabbed Wild's harness and unhooked him from me, untangling the leashes losing some time. Soon enough we were back on our way with Wild eager to make up for lost time.
His pace only quickened, and although I worried that would affect his pace later in the race, it was too much fun to try and get him to slow down. I managed to quickly glance at my watch which had us at under a six minute mile pace. He didn't even slow down for the first couple of small hills.
Wild did slow his pace once we were past the main pack and there weren't as many dogs in front of us. When we got to the first aid station, I spotted some water bowls kindly set up for the pups and had him stop to take a drink. He drank more than I expected, costing us a little more time but I was more concerned about his health than beating the field.
The weather was just about perfect, a little warm but not so bad that I was greatly concerned about his thick husky coat. Still, he just had to stop at a couple of other puddles to re-hydrate. Luckily there were a few more dogs in front of us to catch before we started the climb back up to the starting area.
Coming up the hills, we were running all alone, surprising considering there were over one hundred and fifty contestants in the race. As we neared the top I could see one team in front of us, hoping that Wild would see them as well in order to have him pick up the pace. We did pass them once on the flats and I started giving Wild lots of encouragement knowing the finish line was just up ahead.
I greatly enjoyed seeing the finish line and hearing the crowd. I was more pleased to spot my family cheering us on and I continued to encourage Wild to the finish line.
We crossed the line in 22:22 and I immediately lead us to our gear where I poured Wild a tall bowl of water. He had given it his all and lied down as he drank from his bowl, practically sticking his entire head in his bowl. I was surprised as he turned down some treats and focused on his water. I sprayed some water on him with a mister and then sat down with him letting him know how I proud I was of him. Last year we had managed to run this race in about twenty four minutes in monsoon like conditions that had made the trails like a mud pit. That race was lots of fun, but it was nice to walk away with a PR and a dog that made the whole family proud.
We made a couple of stops on the way home where I eagerly awaited watching the European Champion's League final. At halftime, Maggie and Quinn helped me set up the tent in our backyard, and then they proceeded to play with the neighborhood kids while I enjoyed the overtime of the game. Not thrilled about the outcome, but pleased the match didn't end in penalty kicks.
After a pasta dinner, the kids, Wild and I headed out to the tent giving Mo the house to herself for the evening. Wild still must have been tired from his race as he settled in pretty well. Even the kids were asleep at a reasonable time and I myself enjoyed a good night's rest.
I arose about the time the fifty milers were beginning their day's journey at Pineland. It was a relaxing morning and I took off for the race shortly after Mo' got home from her run at Wolfe Neck State Park.
I was pleased to catch up with some fellow Trail Monsters before the race, especially pleased to be able to congratulate Ian Parlin on the birth of his daughter Iona who was at home with his Bad Ass Running Mama Emma. There was no need to warm-up, rather than just get ready for 25K. In my mind I was going through my race strategy, which was to go slow, reason being that I have a much BIGGER race coming up in a couple of weeks and there was no need to punish my body when I had greater goals in mind. I have run a race at Pineland every Sunday of Memorial Day, so this was nothing new and I had no intentions of goal setting. I even said so as much to another runner as we were lined up in the starting corral waiting for the race to start. It was probably the first time I had ever said out loud, "I want to set a personal worst today!" I just wanted to enjoy the course. I even packed my camera in my waist belt along with some grape Cytomax and a few Honey Stinger chewies.
I set myself sort of in the middle of the pack and made no effort to move up in position at the start. Well, I did start to pass some runners after I had run slightly off the main path in order to get my shoes a little muddy. I took the first couple hills with little effort and then broke out my camera for a few shots. I noticed the battery was low, something that I hadn't bothered to check on before I left home.
I intentionally splashed in another puddle after crossing the road, trying to enjoy being on a trail rather than pavement. One runner said I was a little crazy and I replied that I needed to get muddy in order to prove to my wife that I was actually in the race and not just escaping domestic tranquility for a few hours.
Back into the woods and I just kept moving at a comfortable pace, intentionally not checking my watch. I was feeling fine by the time I came into the first aid station for a quick drink of water and then off through the fields. Usually the sun beats down pretty hard on runners on this part of the course but there was a slight overcast and the air felt cool enough so I wasn't dreading these fields as I usually do.
As I approached a big climb, I spotted a man named Martin who had told me during packet pick up that he was attempting his first fifty miler. I had ran near him for awhile a couple of years ago and noticed he didn't wear a watch. Kind of a strange thing in this age of GPS technology, but as I was catching him on the hill, as he began to walk it,I noticed that he still was watchless. I slowed to his pace and checked in on him. He looked and sounded good, and I told him as much but peeled away from him as we headed downhill and I decided to attack the climb that immediately followed.
Another stop at the Yurt station for a little more water and then back to the woods for once again more climbing. I felt fresh, so I slowly ran up and tried to maintain a steady pace upon hitting some more gentle terrain. I was a little back and forth with another runner and as we came out to another field we struck up a conversation. Mostly about being a parent and a runner. Not an easy thing to do, especially if you are running races other than local 5K's.
The hills continued  to come and I felt little discomfort running them. So after another stop at the Yurt I began to challenge myself by picking up the pace on the hills and running comfortably on the infrequent flat sections. I did occasionally check my watch but did not bother on any calculations as to when I would finish.
Another aid station after some more fields and back into the woods. It would be a couple miles to get to the starting area and some big climbs. I was catching some runners, not thinking much of it until I recognized a couple of runners ahead of me. It was highly unusual to see Jim Dunn and Stephen Wells running together. Usually Stephen would be well out ahead and Jim would be somewhere slightly behind me. I told myself I must be having a decent race by pacing myself behind Jim and not breaking down my body. I knew that Stephen hadn't been training very hard but I was still pleased to catch up to a runner of his talent.
I was even more pleased that I felt fresh coming into the starting area after some good ups and was more encouraged to have some Monsters cheering me on. As I crossed the road to the Glouchester Hill side I gave my watch a serious look for the first time. I was at just under an hour and half and quickly calculated that if I was able to keep up the effort that I had a shot at a PR. I tried to shake that idea out of my head, as that was far from my original goal but damnit I felt good. I felt really good. Usually I dreaded this part of the course as it would take away any energy I had left, but I didn't feel like that was going to happen today.
My pace did increase as the course was not quite as rolling and I was catching up to some other runners who I thought were moving along quite well.
One guy said he hated downs just as I caught him and soon we were on one of the steepest downs on the course. I let inertia take over and cruised on the ensuing flat area and then up another small hill. I was surprised that some of the people I was passing were wearing white race bibs, indicating they were also running the 25K. I started to see more and more longer distance runners as my pace did not falter nor did my body. One that I was pleased to catch up to was John Rodrique who has so kindly agreed to be a pacer for me in my upcoming race. We exchanged pleasantries and encouragement, he even gave me a small pat on my back and I felt that I really had to now give all my effort to finish this race in the best possible time that I was able to.
My body did now start to feel the efforts that I had been putting forth, but my mind was stronger and I was right around the two hour mark coming into the last aid station. A big loop through a field and a road crossing were all that stood between me and the finish line now. Really I knew that I would practically have to sprint if I were to beat my PR. I passed a few other runners and told one who was huffing a little that we only had one more hill. It was on that hill that I glanced at my watch indicating 2:04 and that I would fall short of my PR. Still, I kept forth the effort and the Triffits were the first to give me cheers as I spotted the finish area. I told Ryan to get ready for John, as Ryan would be pacing John on his final lap towards fifty.
I'm usually not one to sprint to the finish line as it doesn't really matter in distance racing, but I had the energy and now wanted to get the best time possible even knowing I would not PR. So I came in at 2:05:31, about a minute off my PR but feeling so much fresher than any previous efforts. 
I continued to hang around the finish area with other Monsters enjoying the food and beverage supplied to the runners. The sun had managed to break free completely by now, something that was becoming evident in the latter stages of the race. I wished I could have hung out there all day but I had family waiting at home and actually had to be at work in a few hours. So I walked, not limping, back to the mini-van which had an engine light come on after I started it up. Apparently, it was not feeling as fresh as I was at the moment. Still, whatever was wrong was not enough to prevent me from getting home. Maybe I'll have to make note of that before my next race, that there is still always enough left in you to get to the finish even when warning lights appear. Until then, I'll keep remembering this day's philosophy of fun, enjoyment of the course with friends and family and who knows maybe there will be something greater than a PR at the end of it all. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Indiana 50 mile trail race April 26, 2014

Let's face it, whenever you run 50 miles sooner or later you are going to feel awful, I mean really awful. For me running the 50 mile Indiana Trail Race that feeling came much sooner than I expected. I will give away the ending a little bit and say that I am thrilled that I overcame that feeling and was able to get my body across the finish line.
You're probably wondering how I ever ended up in a race in Indiana? Well, my lovely wife is a Hoosier and so the family unit went to the heartland to visit with family over April break. I always look for a race while I'm out there as I enjoy running on flat ground for a change, compared to our Maine hills. So I kind of stumbled upon this race which runs simultaneously with a hundred miler. Not a real imaginative name for the race but the point gets across quickly that you'd better be in shape when you register.
The race was at the tail end of the week that I spent visiting with family and sites around Indianapolis. I even got to go to a Pacer playoff game, sadly they got blown away. The tough part about being with the in-laws was watching what I ate all week. I was able to find enough pasta to carbo load and resisted the french fries on my kids plates most of the time.
As I told my relatives where the race was to take place, none of them were able to say that they had ever been to the Chain O' Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana. So you know, the park lies a little northwest of Fort Wayne, and as you might have assumed, it is in the heart of farmland. A small part of the appeal of signing up was that I had lived for a few years as a kid in Albion, Maine which is also farmland.
Since Albion was a couple of hours from Indianapolis and we were supposed to be driving back to Maine after the race, my brother in-law Bruce White agreed to drive up with me the night before and then my family and his wife would drive up the next day. That meant a relaxing evening and I didn't have to worry about my wife entertaining the kids at the park for nine hours while I was running.
Shortly before we got to the park on Friday for packet pick-up, I mentioned to Bruce that the landscape was a little more rolling compared to the flat farmland that I had been gawking at for the past couple hours. Certainly no mountains looming over the horizon but there were parcels of land not suitable for fields of corn.
After pick-up we headed back south less than half an hour to Columbia City where I had booked a hotel. I had spent sometime online looking for places to eat and discovered a couple spots where I could order up a deep fried hamburger. Sounded pretty good but not before a race, and we had to settle on a Pizza Hut in order for me to get some carbs. I told Bruce that when the waitress asked him whether he wanted a 16 ounce or 20 ounce beer to go ahead and order two 16 ouncers. He was happy with a bottle of Bud. Another table of runners close by were quite frustrated by the lack of beer selection (Bud, Bud Light or Coors Light) and the waitress explained they used to have better selection but no one ever ordered the 'good' beer.
The hotel was very close and I prepped all my equipment and was able to crawl into bed at a reasonable hour. I will admit I had some pretty vivid running dreams that night mostly involving pre-race activities. So when the wake-up call came at 4:15 I was quite glad for reality to slap me across the face.
The temps were quite nice as we got to the park that morning. I had packed for almost any condition but was happy all that I really needed were shorts and my Trail Monster shirt. Of course it was still dark and Bruce told me sunrise would be about forty five minutes after the start of the race. So I reluctantly donned my headlamp that I would only need for a few miles on the 16.7 mile loop. Time came to line up in the chute after I told Bruce that I would see him in a few hours.
All the runners started together, so it was impossible to tell who would be running back into the dark. I had placed myself slightly toward the back not wanting to be fast on the first of the three loops that I would be running. I figured somewhere around three hours for the first loop would mean that I didn't push my body too hard and didn't go too slow.
I had actually turned off my headlamp in the starting chute, not wanting to blind other runners and at the start discovered that I didn't need it as I could mooch light from others just like I had back at the Stone Cat Marathon. I wished that I could have mooched some of the enthusiasm from other runners as well. I felt like a bag of wet sand coming out of the start as I listened to frogs chirping in the nearby swamps. I always have a nervous stomach at the start of any race but this time I was feeling like I was going to hurl whenever I coughed even in the first mile. And I certainly was coughing as I was still kind of in a recovery mode from a bout with the flu a few weeks before that culminated in an ear infection a week later. The fluid in my ear had not totally drained and so my head was not quite in proper equilibrium. UGH! This had all forced me into an earlier and longer tapering period but I had been able to get out for a few runs while in Indy. So when the pack I was trudging along with slowed down to walk a hill, one that back at home was smaller than some frost heaves, I slowed to a walk as well.
It was about four miles to the first aid station, which I made to shortly after enjoying a beautiful sunrise. I put away my headlamp while I waited for a vacant porta potty. I grabbed a little water, passing on any food as I had plenty already with me.
I was still feeling awful after my first stop and had to hit the toilet at the next aid station about four more miles away. I found myself roughly around the same group of runners through most of the first loop. Someone might go ahead or fall behind for awhile but we all moved about the same eleven minute mile pace and of course even slower up the small hills. I was getting frustrated with myself for running so slow for me and not feeling any better. Sadly, thoughts of giving up were crossing my mind as my unbalanced head couldn't contemplate running forty more miles. I knew those thoughts were so completely foolish as I really couldn't have a much better running day as the temps were only slightly rising and a light breeze dried any sweat that seeped out of my epidermis. Besides, the trail conditions were spectacular. Roots, rocks and mud, I don't believe they exist in Indiana. Okay, a little mud but my shoes have gotten dirtier walking the kids to school.
At the last aid station, which was at the same location as the first, I was pretty dejected and seeing a runner taking off leaving the first meant that he was already seven miles ahead of me. Sure, I didn't know which race he was running, but to know you are seven miles behind does not encourage you when you're mustering up all you have just to feel 'normal.'
Miraculously, somewhere between the last aid station and the start area I had a transformation. Maybe it was when I finally passed the lady wearing the purple tutu and other highly decorative clothes while running up a hill instead of walking it that I began to feel like a runner for the first time all day. There were a couple other small hills that I decided to run up, not at full pace, rather than walk and soon I began to see that my pace was not in double digits anymore. I still hit one more toilet just before that start area. I signaled to Bruce where to meet up with me so I could reload my bladder bag.
I turned down food resupplies from Bruce as I still had plenty, even though I had been doing a better job than usual in taking in some calories. Someone stepped up to help me fill the bladder bag and I was taking off for my second loop before the 3:10 mark. Slower than I expected but at least I was feeling stronger and looking forward to making up some time on the second loop.
The frogs were still croaking as I slowly began to pass a few runners I had seen near the start. I enjoyed seeing the landscape around me that was obscured the first time around. It wasn't really that pretty as spring hadn't really sprung in that part of the state. Back in Indy, many of the trees were beautifully blooming while here in Albion you could gaze for long distances through the stark forest.
My focus turned more to my pace than the scenery and as I got to the first aid station I was thrilled to find some potatoes all ready for consumption and also that I didn't need to drop the kids off at the pool. I followed some strong looking runners out of the station and although I walked the hills with them we continued to pick up the pace. Soon it was just me behind two others and one asked if I wanted to pass. I wasn't quite yet ready to set the pace and so I stayed behind for another mile or so until we caught some others and then I moved on past over one of the few rough areas of trail.
There were a few minor sections of road running involved on the course, the longest stretch coming into the second aid station, certainly less than a mile but long enough to get into a solid pace and hold it without having to think about any obstacles. I felt even better coming into the aid station as Bruce was there to support and encourage. I grabbed some more potatoes and water walking as fast as I could eager to get back on the trail.
All continued to go well and every time my watch beeped marking another mile I made sure to drink from my bladder and grab something to eat every second mile. My head was still slightly off and I knew there was really nothing I could do about that other than see a doctor when I got back home, but more importantly my legs felt good, my stomach felt good and I had less than a lap and a half to go.
Sadly, on the part of the trail where I began to feel good the lap before, I now began to feel rotten again. Oh crap, I thought, did I wear myself out pushing the pace when I should have been saving energy for the last lap? Bruce moved to the same spot near the starting area as I came in at the end of lap two. I had finished in less than three hours but now I began to realize that the mileage on my watch was wrong as it read over thirty four miles. Bruce grabbed my pack to refill the bladder while I grabbed some more potatoes.
This was it, there was no stopping me now. I really didn't care what it would take to complete that third lap, I was determined to finish. Sure I wanted to stop and hurl my guts out but I didn't want to drive all the way back to Maine wondering what if. Four miles to the next aid station and about forty minutes if all went well.
It was hard getting back on pace, the small hills were now mocking me a little but I could still take some of them down without feeling any worse for the wear. In my head though I was saying to respect these hills as there were still plenty ahead and that although small they could still suck away whatever energy I had left.
There was also a road leading to the first aid station, and I got a kick watching other runners and myself running on the loose dirt that had built up on the shoulder. Plenty of nice even pavement to run up the hill to the aid station but we all just had to run on whatever dirt there was to be found. More potatoes, now washed down with some Pepsi. No Coke, we serve Pepsi here.
I was on the tails of a young woman coming out of the station and after I caught up to her on one of the hills I asked if she was running through the night. Somehow I thought that was a better way to ask someone if they were doing a hundred or fifty. She said all night and would only have her mother pace her for a few miles. She was running strong but I hoped she wasn't wearing herself out as I now was feeling again like a runner and back under double digit pace. I left her behind before I hit the road and promised another runner that there was wine, women and song just up ahead. Well there really wasn't that, but at least Bruce was there again. I got some Ben Gay like cream from him as my right knee was getting a little sore and fueled up just as before. I didn't care about the pain. I knew that if I could keep up the effort I would be rewarded with a finish under nine hours. That was the goal. Nine.That was my safe number, my state school college application. My Harvard acceptance letter would be closer to eight. Now, I was feeling really good about getting through that first lap and still achieving a nine hour finish. To do that I just had to continue to push myself.
There was around six or seven miles to the finish from this aid station, and jokingly Bruce told me to take it easy as my family was about a half hour away from the park. I was excited to know they would be at the finish and I greatly looked forward to seeing them all.
The light pain in my knee didn't have any effect on my pace and I was now catching runners who I was pretty sure were still just on their second lap. I passed one guy who was actually talking on his phone. Nicely he did move aside and did say something nice to me. I was unplugged except for my watch and had very few tunes in my head all day. A little Tom Petty with some Indiana lyrics but otherwise the only thing in my head was the built up fluid still in my ear canal.
I did have one flashback to my Albion childhood as the odor of manure from a nearby field made it's way past my blocked nasal cavity. Ahhh, the sweet smell of cowshit, you can't have corn on the cob without it. Pass the butter please.
I passed one guy and another who had blown past me earlier in the race, the former stayed with me a little. We discussed finishing in under nine and how I thought it was totally possible as I had a little less than five miles left according to my watch. He said his watch indicated more. Whomever was right, I was more motivated knowing that I might not make nine.
I caught up with another guy, with only one arm, who did say he was doing the hundred and agreed we could make fifty in under nine. I stepped back the pace slightly to talk with him and also because my upper right thigh was getting quite sore and I was finding it difficult to lift that leg. We got to the last aid station together and I downed a couple Mountain Dews.
The one armed gentlemen,Tony, was back to the race before me, as I also asked about the mileage, which was 2.7 to the finish. Tony was running really strong out of the station, but I kept him in sight and kept a close eye on my watch.
I don't know exactly when my watch beeped for the fifty mile mark, but it was not that close to the finish. I managed to catch back up to Tony and told him that he looked really strong. He encouraged me and now I was pretty sure about beating nine. Then suddenly, from around a corner in front of me I spotted my wife Mo'. She said she would run with me and asked a little about my finish. She soon understood that I was on a mission and as much as would have loved to run more with her I had a time to beat. Soon up ahead were my kids and sister in-law Kay, Bruce's wife, and the kids also wanted to run with me. Mo' was now well behind and I told the kids they would need to keep up and they did for a short while but they were just too far from the finish for me to take their hands and cross the finish line with them.
Waiting for me at the finish line was Bruce. I was glad he was there to celebrate, he deserved  to be there as I did beat the nine hour mark by less than two minutes. It's kind of crazy but after nearly nine hours of running, it is kind of hard to stop. Just to end it by trotting under some balloons and stepping across mechanized timing mats after so much effort to be suddenly done was a slightly surreal feeling. Maybe I was really wasn't looking forward to the long car ride home back to Maine. Running for another nine hours might be easier than sitting in a Kia for sixteen hours.
It was also hard to believe the race was over as my kids came running to me, not to congratulate me but to tell me how excited they were that I bought them The Goonies to watch on the ride home. There were other movies but this was new and well, it is The Goonies one of the greatest pirate treasure hunting movies ever made!
I slowly walked around, eating a couple of bananas and made my way back to the car. In less than half an hour after my finish we were on our way back to Maine. Of course I spent most of that half hour thanking Bruce and promising to crew for him whenever needed. I even volunteered to be his porter should he and Kay decide to head to Machu Pichu. Actually Bruce himself was to run the Mini Marathon in Indianapolis the next weekend even though he was dealing with a very sore hip. He was doing some marathons and the Mini when I first started racing, and I thank him for inspiring me as well as supporting me. Raise your glass to Bruce!
I was driving the next morning somewhere still in Western New York, as we had stopped for the night outside of Buffalo, when I looked at the clock and saw it was almost ten o'clock. I told Mo' that the hundred mile race was coming to an end if someone hadn't already finished. How I wished for anyone left on the course that the finish line was in view and that their family and or friends were there to cheer them on the finish.
Fortunately the drive home from there was less than the time I spent on my feet the day before. Still, that is no way to recover from an ultra. Next time around I want to stay much closer to the finish line for at least twelve hours. Until then, it's time to train again with hopes for strong support from my crew and family, fair weather, good food, cold drinks, and to feel better later than sooner.