Sunday, December 20, 2009

This weekend DC got hit with about 18 inches of snow that fell between Friday night and Saturday night. We hardly get any snow let alone big storms in December, so this was quite a surprise. Take that global warming!

Obviously I had to celebrate by running an unnecessarily long distance. We had a flight to Chicago at 1pm, so I headed out early to hit my favorite 14 mile loop around DC (as opposed to all the other 14 mile loops).

The loop is about half single track trail and half road/paved trail. Man, it was one awesome run! The trail sections were absolutely beautiful. Talk about a winter wonderland. They were also pretty tough, as I was slogging through a LOT of snow.

I just kept on chugging though, and it all went well with the exception of a run in with a stream around mile 4. I foolishly thought the ice would hold me up for the short, 10 foot crossing. It didn’t. The stream was really shallow, but nonetheless I was still over ankle deep in freezing water. All I can say is thank you Smartwool!

I was definitely pretty tired out by the end of the run. The snow running really took it out of me. When I got back home my shoelaces were frozen completely solid thanks to my stream encounter. After flailing around like a beached whale for about 15 minutes I FINALLY wrestled them off.

Despite the fact that it was just shy of 10am, I decided to celebrate with a hot shower and a cold Sam Winter. Maybe on the early side for a beer, but I think it was warranted after 2.5 hours of running the snow and maintain it was a great decision.

We don’t get snowstorms like this often in DC, and I sure am glad I was able to take advantage of it. I also wanted to take more pictures, but the battery ran out, so sorry about that!

Stay tuned for the 2009 roundup post coming shortly.

(Looking out of our balcony before I started running early in the morning)
(Arlington still hasn't figure out how to plow snow. They seem to like the huge piles in the middle of the road)

(View of Georgetown from the Key Bridge)

(Frozen over tow path)

(Just getting on the trail)

(I slid down the "stairs" to get to the trail)

(The infamous stream that bested me)

(View of Rock Creek as I started climbing up to Dumbarton Oaks)

(Climb up to Dumbarton Oaks)

(Cool looking stream that I actually didn't fall in)

(31st street heading down the Georgetown. Good luck to the people digging out of this)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12/12/09: Magnus Gluteus 50K

Man, it’s been a while since I posted!

First off, I have some bad news. I DNFed at JFK 50. I had thought I was ready and had finally figured out stomach issues. My stomach was again the problem, but I think it was something different this time. My stomach was really bothering me when I woke up, and it only got worse throughout the day. I think I may have gotten a stomach bug or something.

The good news is that I ran really well for the 30 miles I covered even though my stomach was rumbling and feeling terrible. Two years ago I ran the Appalachian Trail section in just over 10 minute miles. This time I ran it in something like 8:50s no problem. I’ve definitely become a much better trail runner. It was still a bummer to DNF but good to know that I’m in good shape.

One other quick note is that at mile 27 I witnessed the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my short ultramarathon career. I was coming up to an aid station and heard Van Halen’s solo on Eruption. I was thinking that it was awesome that someone got a boom box out to the trail! I turn the corner and see a 10 year old kid ACTUALLY PLAYING the solo on his guitar. Note for note. Perfect. Nothing more awesome than a 10 year old kid melting your face while you’re out there racing!

After the JFK DNF I kept training hard and had a lot of really great runs including a blazing 30 mile run in Chicago two weeks ago and back to back 20 and 25 mile fast runs last weekend. This weekend I ran the Gluteus Maximus 50K that the Virginia Happy Trail Running Club puts on.

I was thinking this would be a fun race at the end of the year and wasn’t planning to take it too seriously given it would be shortly after JFK. Coming into today I was still planning to take it easy and really hoping just to feel good and finish. I didn’t taper at all and had a crazy week at work with lots of travel and late nights, so my expectations weren’t too high.

Well man, I felt fantastic! My stomach was perfect, my legs were feeling good, and it was a beautiful day out on the trail. I ended up winning the race and cut 10 minutes off my 50K PR.

The day started off pretty cold in the high teens. We started off down the trail, and I tried to tuck in not too close to the front so I didn’t go out too fast. I was probably somewhere around 15th after getting through the initial bunching as we got on the trail.
I quickly moved up to 10th or so and settled into a really comfortable pace. Once I warmed up from a few miles of running, I was feeling good and really enjoying the beautiful day and clear blue sky.
On the first major climb I quickly passed a few people and moved into 5th or 6th. There was an aid station at mile 6 that I blew through and as a result quickly found myself in a lead pack with three other guys. Now I really didn’t want to be pushing hard this early, and these guys were definitely going faster than I wanted to.

Normally I would have backed off the pace. But this wasn’t quite your typical race course. You go 12 miles out, run a 7 mile loop, and then run same 12 miles back. That 7 mile loop is on meandering trail, much of which isn’t marked, and much of which doesn’t qualify as a trail at all. They call it the “Do Loop”, and it is virtually impossible to navigate without someone who knows where they are going. In our pack of 4, 2 guys knew the route, so I figured I’d have to try to stay with them.

I was definitely starting to feel the fast pace and took a bit of a spill when I tripped on a hidden rock or root. Then I realized that I hadn’t actually eaten anything yet, and it was about 70 minutes in. I took a gel and came back to life a bit. I caught back up to the lead 3 guys after my fall and wasn’t having nearly as much trouble staying with them.

The next few miles passed pretty uneventfully. We arrived at the park that started the infamous Do Loop. I checked my watch and realized we had averaged somewhere around 8:30 miles over the first 12. Definitely faster than I had been planning on going, but I was feeling pretty good at that point.

We hit an aid station about a mile later. I stopped to refill water and ate a few shortbread cookies and some Pringles. Normal stomach! Woohooo!!!

The Do Loop was simply laughable. Even the guys who had done it 5+ times really didn’t know exactly where they were going. We were wandering around and trying to follow a few scattered trail markers for a while. At one point our leader announced that we were lost. Lost didn’t really look any different than how things had been before, but we certainly weren’t anywhere close to a trail. We crossed a stream, which involved getting my shoes wet. Booo! We bushwacked for a while until we found something that looked marginally more like a trail.

After our meandering, another pack of guys caught up to us, which took our group to 8 or so guys. They knew the way fairly well and soon we encountered runners started the loop as we got close to finishing it, which made the path easier to follow.

The Do Loop was certainly an experience. It could have been frustrating to wander around lost and trudge through the woods, but I chalked it up to part of the experience, and we laughed our way through it. At one point I foolishly asked what “Do Loop” actually meant. Our fearless leader said that it’s because you do the loop. Then you get lost. So you do the loop again. And again. And so on. Guess it was a silly question.

So we were getting close to coming out of the Do Loop, and I was really feeling strong at this point. At some point I took an S-cap and Clif Shot Blocks, and my stomach was still holding up really well. I knew I’d hang with the pack until the loop was finished, but I had been starting to think that I may be able to make a run for it after the loop. Of our original pack of four, I knew one guy from before the race. He came in 3rd in the national championship 24 hour race recently and is a really strong runner. I figured he’d bring it home hard and that I’d have a shot at 2nd.

He and I opened up a bit of a lead as we started pushing the pace coming out of the Do Loop. We came back to the same aid station, and I stopped only to quickly to refill my water bottle. I guess he must have hung at the aid station a bit longer, as I quickly found myself alone on the trail with no one in sight.

I certainly hadn’t been expecting to be leading this race, but I was really feeling great. I really opened it up at this point and stretched out my legs. I hit the Bull Run trail which marked the last 12 miles and started clocking some fast miles, some of which were in the 7-8 minute mile range. I was still climbing well and was really hammering the downhills hard.

I was starting to feel the pace but kept pushing hard. I hit the aid station about 6 miles from the finish, quickly refilled my water bottle, took another e-Gel, and also grabbed a Sugar Cookie for the road.

Before I knew it, I turned off the trail for the 1.5 miles to the finish. It was all uphill, but I still had some pep in my legs and ran the whole way up. I finished in 4:48, which was a 10 minute 50K PR for me. I was especially happy with this as my PR had been set on a slightly easier course, and the ridiculousness of the Do Loop certainly cost me some time as well. Even better, I still had plenty in the tank at the end and was still feeling strong.

The VHTRC is unparalleled in what they provide at these free events. They had some beer waiting for us, so I indulged in a Sam Winter. Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, pizza that the VHTRC had ordered arrived! Three slices later I was feeling pretty good.

All in all it was a great day. I felt great, had lots of fun, and put in a solid performance. My stomach was fantastic all the way through. I also realized that I’ve come a long way in my trail running, particularly in technical and downhill sections. I used to get ROCKED on downhills, but I definitely held my own when running with the lead pack and could have pushed even faster.

On Sunday my legs weren’t even too sore, and I got in another 12 miles or so. I’m really looking forward to continuing my training and hopefully having some great races in 2010!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

11/15/2009: Ready for JFK 50

A few weeks ago I would have told you JFK would probably be a disaster, but I've whipped myself into pretty good shape very quickly.

Before Marine Corp Marathon, I think trying to train for both MCM and JFK ended up with me not really training effectively for anything at all. But the disappointment at Marine Corp got me pretty focused.

Yesterday I ran a fantastic last long run. I headed out for 22 miles on local trails, some of which are very technical and hilly. I can't remember ever running this loop in less than 3:15 and was hoping just to match that.

I prepared for the run by drinking heavily the night before with Princeton friends. It was Rita's birthday and ended up being a really fun night. We haven't hung out with that crew in too long, so it was great to see everyone.

I finally dragged myself out to run around 2pm the next day. I didn't bring a watch but did check the time on the way out. I was planning to push pretty hard and see what happened.

I felt solid throughout the run and brough it home hard with a big kick at the end. I checked the clock when I got home and saw 2:55. Damn! 20 minutes faster than I've ever gone on that loop. Sub 8s on pretty technical trails.

In short, I'm ready for JFK. The last 3 weekends have been:
  • 16 miles on trail followed by tough 50K race
  • 11 miles followed by 37 miles in the Massanuttens with ~ 7K climbing
  • 22 trail miles in sub 8s

So here we go! Wish me luck at JFK. Hopefully my stomach will hold up. If it does, I'm ready to push really hard and try to post a fast time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11/12/09: Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading the work of Henry David Thoreau. My high school English teacher Mr. Keating was quite influential in many ways. He taught me how to write, instilled a deep importance in maintaining cultural awareness, and introduced me to all sorts of excellent literature. He was also a badass runner with a masters 5K PR in the low 17s.

Thoreau is a very interesting figure who I can certainly appreciate now more than when I was in high school. He was an abolitionist, a naturalist, a tax evader, an anarchist, and environmentalist, and an individualist. Recently I’ve been re-reading Walden, Thoreau’s great experiment when he spent two years on his own in the Massachusetts wilderness. I challenge anybody to read Walden and not want to spend some time in the woods.

Much of Walden is more philosophical and intellectual, but it is also infused with countless passages extolling how much Thoreau truly loves nature. As an example:

“This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the strong shore of the pond in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled.”

I think a big part of why I and other ultramarathoners do what we do is a deep love of nature. I fondly remember hiking and camping with my dad when I was younger. I never thought about it much as a kid, but I’ve always loved the mountains and being out in the wilderness.

The million dollar question is if I really just love nature, is running ridiculous distances really necessary? Wouldn’t a good hike or simply sitting outside suffice? That’s a fair point, but there is something about running that lets me enjoy nature even more. I seem to just be more in tune with what’s around me, and running helps me clear my mind to better enjoy my surroundings. That still doesn’t quite get to why such long distances are necessary, but I suppose that covering more ground does let me see all the more of my surroundings.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

11/8/2009: Back in Business

I headed out to my usual spot in the Massanuttens for a final long run before JFK. I had a great day and ran 37 tough miles in 6:45.

When I started out, it was a mere 32 degrees. By the end of the run it was almost 80 degrees. That's a big swing!

I knew it was going to get warm, so I started out in just a sleeveless shirt and shorts. I was freezing my cahones off for about 10 minutes, but the monster gnarly climb to Sherman's Gap warmed me up quickly. I've written about this climb before, but each time I'm surprised at how tough it is. I'd guess you climb 1,500 feet over 3.3 miles, but the tough part is that it starts out very flat and gets progressively steeper. My legs felt pretty good though, so the climb went well.

I descended back down to the valley and decided to take a new trail. The next 9 miles or so (18 total with the out and back) was all new to me. I was up on the ridge the whole time. While this lets you avoid the long continuous climb up from the valley, it has its own challenge of non-stop steep descents followed by steep climbs, as the ridge is consistently rolling and never flat.

Running is also more technical up top with lots of rocks. The massive amount of leaves on the ground didn't help either. I had to slow down a bit and really lift my legs higher than I'd like to avoid the visible and hidden rocks.

I hit the turnaround in 3:10. I was still feeling decent, but it was starting to get warm! I've been running in colder weather for a while, so it was a bit of a shock for it to be over 70 degrees. I started drinking a lot more and soon realized I'd run out of my 90 ounces of water I brought with me.

I had to slow down on the way back both because I was getting tired and conserving energy since I didn't have as much water as I'd like, but I still made pretty good time. I was mostly out of water with 4.5 miles to go, but I ran across some friendly mountain bikers who hooked me up. With some fluids in my system, I pounded down the mountain to finish the run strong.

For the first time in a long time, my muscles were cramping at the end of the run. Part of it is that this is by far the longest run I've done since Tahoe. It also doesn't help that I haven't been doing much mountain running. The rocks/leaves combination certainly played their part, too.

Nonetheless, I finished with more left in the tank, which is always a good sign. I drove myself over to Mcdonalds (which I do try to avoid) and did some quick refueling with a big milkshake and their new snack wrap.

As you probably realized from the Mcdonalds stop, but stomach held up really well. I do think I finally figured things out and have a good system going now (fingers crossed).

JFK 50 is up next, and I'm pretty pumped. Training hasn't been ideal, but these last two weekends will really help a lot. I'm a bit worried about having enough speed to post a fast time, but I think sub 7:30 should be doable (I ran 7:51 two years ago).

It's good to be back and feeling good!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

11/6/09: JFK 50 Prep

This fall has definitely been tough for training. I’ve been travelling a ton for work, Jen and I have been gone a lot of weekends, and I was a bit sick a few times. However, I’ve still had some great runs, and I do love running in the fall. Temperatures have been awesome for running, and foliage in DC was actually much better than usual this year.

I’ve been focused primarily on getting ready for JFK. There were a few parts to that plan:
  • Focus in the early fall on getting faster while keeping a good mileage base
  • Run Marine Corp Marathon in a decently fast time
  • Cram in some long runs to finish JFK prep (Potomac Heritage 50K on 11/1 and long run on 11/8)

Early fall training was tough due to time constraints mentioned above, but I got in decently good marathon shape. Unfortunately, the Marine Corp Marathon was a terrible disaster. My stomach seized up at mile 10, I violently threw up at mile 14, and I eventually pulled out at mile 20 after running 6 miles literally on empty. I’ll hopefully post some more on my recent stomach issues, but I think the main problem was that I massively overhydrated (go figure). The good news was I ran the first 10 miles in 6:50s with no problem. I also got to see the mayor blow by me while I was throwing up. He was definitely having more fun than I was.

This last weekend I ran the Potomac Heritage 50K. I had a blast! I was coming off a big training week and ran 16 miles the day before, so my legs were far from fresh, but everything went well in the race. My stomach finally held up really well (I think I may have figured out at least some of the issues now). I love the trails that the course covers, which are all my hometown trails. I also got more adventure than I could have hoped for. It rained leading up to and all during the race. This made for some slippery mudfests, some dicey creek crossings, and a thigh-deep crossing of a fast moving stream. I finished strong in 5:14.

The last piece of JFK training is a big long run in the Massanuttens. I’m hoping for something in the 35-40 mile range if all goes well. After that it’ll be drinking taper time.

I haven’t been able to train for this race as much as I’d like, but hopefully I can at least beat my time from 2 years ago.

In other news, I’m officially signed up for the Boston Marathon now. Duh-Fitz will be running with me, which will be so much fun, I may just pee my pants.

Monday, September 14, 2009

9/20/09: Fall Running

It's taken me a litte while to get these pictures up, but I went running out in the Massanuttens again last weekend. It was my first mountain run since Tahoe. Boy did it kick my butt! I ended up doing about 25 miles with somewhere around 4.5K to 5K feet of climbing. It was one tough run after a lazy last few months!

It was absolutely beautiful, though. I was amazed to see that fall had hit the higher up ridges. As I climbed up, the leaves changed color, and it was full foliage up top. Lots of great views.

I've been trying to put in some solid training for Marine Corp Marathon and the JFK 50. I've been hitting the track with the DC Road Runners when I can and joining them for faster long runs on Saturdays (at least faster than my usual ultra training long runs). Two of the better long runs were 18 miles at 7:15s and 25 miles at 7:30s. I've also been trying to put some distance in to keep in shape for JFK, too.

I'm absolutely loving the fall weather here in DC. In fact, it's time to go run again! Hopefully I'll do a 14 or 15 mile easy trail run to loosen up after yesterday's harder 25 miles.

I recommend that every gets out there to run, too!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I've been pretty remiss in my blog posting recently. The goods news is that I have lots to talk about! One reason I haven't posted is that Jen and I just came back from our trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Man was it amazing! There is a lot I could talk about, but this is after all a running blog, so I'll focus on the running parts.

I got a few spectacular runs in. The best by far was in the Swiss Alps. Jen and I spent two days in a small mountain town called Davos. It is home to a few ski areas and a paradise for hikers, runners, bikers, and all who love the outdoors.

Jen and I arrived around lunch time. After settling in to our hotel and getting some food, we headed out for a hike (at lunch I think I set the record of most pizza eaten in Switzerland by someone who weighs 160 pounds, but that's neither here nor there).

Mt. Jakobshorn was right behind our hotel. Davos is situated at about 5,000 feet, and the peak of Jakobshorn is at 8,500 feet. Mt. Jackobshorn also happens to be a ski area (and looks like a pretty freaking amazing one at that).

Jen and I planned to hike up to the top of the first ski lift at about 6,500 feet, loop a little further up and over to the other side of the mountain, descend to the town next door called Clavadeler, and then hike back to our hotel. All told it would be about a 9 mile hike.

I had an amazing time, and I think Jen did too despite me acting like a puppy dog with way too much energy. We certainly had plenty of fantastic views. The trails were also amazingly well-maintained and marked. "Nordic walking" is actually really big over there, so all through the Alps there are hundreds and thousands of miles of beautiful trails that are well cared for.

They also farm on the mountain during the summer. There were these big cows just hanging out on the mountain, sometimes just a foot away from the trail. They've got to be the happiest cows on earth.

After the hike, Jen and I enjoyed the town and wrapped up the day with a bottle of wine on our balcony looking out at the surrounding mountains.

The next morning I woke up just as the sun was starting to come up to try to run to the top of Mt. Jakobshorn and back. It would be about a 16 mile run that started with a 3,500 climb straight up. I didn't want to keep Jen waiting too long, so I planned to motor as fast as I could and try to make it all the way to the top.

Man, it was definitely one of the best runs of my life. The 1,500 feet up to the first ski lift isn't too steep and is on wide double track trails and fire roads. I made good time on this section and then launched into the steep, single track 2,000 foot climb from the top of the first lift to the top of the mountain.

I ran all of this part except for just a few of the steepest sections and was having a blast. I was feeling good, and it was just a great feeling running up above the tree line in such a beautiful place. It was a clear, brisk morning with temperatures in the upper 40s or so, and the sun warmed me up as it climbed over the mountains.

I hit the top of Mt. Jakobshorn in 1:25. I was planning to turn around at 1:30 to get back to Jen, so luckily I made it to the top with 5 minutes to spare. I used my extra minutes to hang out at the summit and just take in the views. It was one of those days where everything clicked, and I felt like I could run forever.

But soon enough it was time to head back down. I motored down the mountain and was really flying when I hit the flatter, smoother section close to the bottom. I made it home in about 2:40. What a way to start the day.

The first set of pictures below are from when Jen and I climbed up the first day. The second set picks up from where we turned around and is from the second part of the climb when I was running the next morning. The last set is from when Jen and I descended the first day. When I was running, I only took pictures on the second half of the climb, so hopefully combinging the two sets of pictures will give you a good sense of the full route from the base to the top and back.

Hope everyone is doing well! Stay tuned for more blog updates soon.

(Start of the run. Jen's rocking the treking poles!)

(Start of the climb)

(Looking out at Davos as we climb up)

(The trail the top of the first ski lift was incredibly well maintained)

(You can see the lake in the background)

(There were all these really cool waterfalls running down the mountain)

(Just about to the top of the first ski lift)

(Big smiles in a beautiful place)

(Jen's getting ready for ski season!(We're climbing up above the first ski lift. There were a bunch of cows just hanging out up here at 6,500 feet!)

(The happiest cows on earth. At night we heard the cowbells from our hotel balcony as the cows came down the mountain to the barn for the night.

(View of Davos right before Jen and I cut over to start descending)

(This is from the next morning and picks up from where Jen and I left off int he previous picture. The second half of the climb was mostly single track trail, though still well-maintained.

(It was cool seeing the mountain on the other side of Davos get lit up as the sun was rising.

(That's the building at the top of the second chair lift than I'm running towards.)

(The ridges at the top were really cool looking)

(At the top there was another trail going off to another mountain peak. It was a rocky, gnarly, dangerous looking trail. In case you were wondering, high heels are not recommended for that trail.)

(Approaching the top of the mountain. The spire toward the top right is where I'm going.

(Looking back on the final ascent at the trail I just climbed up.

(The ridge heading east of Jacobshorn. You can just make out the trail snaking across the top of the ridge.)

(Looking all the way down at Davos)

(There were some big mountains off in the disttance. You can just make out the snow on them.

(You can just see the top of a chair lift. I ran by that on the way up.)

(Close up of the snow fields in the distance.)

(Now we're back to when Jen and I traversed over and started our descent. Talk about green
(The views coming down the other side of the mountain were even more spectacular)

(Down below is the small town of Clavadeler on the other side of the mountain. We came down into Clavadeler and then hiked over to Davos.)

(Jen and I took a walk around the lake after I cleaned up post-run)

Video from the top of Mt. Jakobshorn: