Sunday, December 30, 2012

12/30/12: 2012 in Review

2012 was an interesting year of running for me. In prior years I focused heavily a few big races and stacked a large number of smaller races throughout the year. 2012 featured a more relaxed approach with less focus on my races, fewer races, and more downtime.

The year started with marathon training for the Rock N Roll USA Marathon. Unfortunately I did not have a good day and suffered badly on the back half, exacerbated by unusually high temperatures for mid March (3:09 finish time). One bright side was a great race at the hilly, small, local George Washington Birthday Marathon, where I clocked a 3:04 on a “training run”. I am hoping to return to that race this February.

After Rock N Roll USA it was back to the trails and the ultra world. The Ice Age 50 with Big Papa Fitz was a highlight from all the races I have run, and it was lots of fun to run with Dylan and have the family there supporting us.

My only DNF of the year came 3 weeks later at the Laurel Highlands 70. I dropped at my 46 after struggling mightily with nutrition. It was a bummer to have this long-standing problem happen again, but I’m happy that this was my only issue in 2012, and my nutrition was spot on with every other race.

A week later I jumped into the Mason Dixon Longest Day Challenge 100K. After the DNF I was out to prove something. I certainly had ample opportunity at this race, which can only be described as one tough mother. The course was unmarked and difficult to navigate, there were only 3 aid stations over ~65 miles, I was running unsupported, and parts of the course were extremely tough. At mile 9 I took a nasty fall that left me bloodied and with a badly bruised hip. Add in being lost for over an hour, and it indeed was a long day. But I stubbornly pushed on, giving Jen a call every so often saying, “No I have not finished yet … yes I am still alive … yes I promise I will finish eventually.” I definitely proved something to myself, and this will always be a memorable challenge for me.

After that race I decided to let my body and mind recover and uncharacteristically did almost zero running the entire summer. I however keep my passion for adventure alive with some unbelievable hikes, but more on that soon.

In September I fired myself back in gear and started whipping myself back into shape. I had signed up for the Marine Corp Marathon planning to cruise through it as a fun, local race. Without any real planning, preparation, or tapering, I lined up deep into the crowd and started out slow. It ended up being one of those days where everything clicked, and I pretty comfortably ran a very surprising 2:58.

Following MCM, I ran my second fastest 5K in 17:55 at the Flemington Turkey Trot and set a 50K PR of 4:37 with a 1st place in the MGM 50K.

Overall it was a great year despite being less structured and planned. I ran roughly 3,200 miles this year vs. closer to 3,500 the past several years.

2012 also featured some quite spectacular hikes. Jen and I were lucky enough to do a Rim to River to Rim Grand Canyon Hike, the 4 day Salcantay trek through the Andes to Machu Picchu, and about 65 miles of Alta Via 1 through the Dolomites. 

adventure is out there!: Grand Canyon 2012  DSC01178adventure is out there!: Trek Day 2  adventure is out there!: Hiking Day 3 Scotoni to Scoiatolli

I hope you all had a wonderful 2012 and got to experience some good adventure.  Here’s to more adventure and fun in 2013!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

12/16/12: MGM 50K

This was 4 years straight at the Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50K, a race I have really come to love.  I have been fortunate to run better each year and ran 4:37 this time, which was good for a PR and 1st place. 

I followed my new perfect pre-race routine that consists of carbo-loading with beer, zero planning, and nearly missing the race start.  I had a work happy hour the night before the race and then met up with one of my best friend's from college who was in town for the weekend.  Dinner consisted a large amount of delicious fried food.  Perfect pre-race prep.

I was much less than excited to wake up at 6am and get to the race.  I slowly got my things together and chugged some coffee to wake up.  I was already running late, which was made worse when I realized I went to the wrong trailhead, which was a good 25 minutes out of the way.  Woops.

I rolled up at 7:50 and made it to the start line just in time to be a bit late for the official start.  I quickly caught up to the lead pack and finally started to relax.  My stomach was growling at me from dinner the night before, but the legs were feeling good, and I was rolling along.

Two first-timers were running up front and asked how hard it would be to navigate the Do-Loop by themselves.  I said it would be "pretty impossible" but then amended my statement to "just plain impossible."  They did not heed my warning and shot off on their own.

I ran on my own for a bit until another first-timer caught up with me.  He was a really nice guy and asked if I would mind him tagging along for the Do-Loop.  This sounded a bit like the blind leading the blind since I still don't really know the Do-Loop very well, but I made him sign a waiver absolving me of any blame and said I would do my best.

We came off the Bull Run trail at mile 12 in 1:42, and I felt great.  Apparently the two guys who shot off in the front got lost in the parking lot and did not make it even one foot into the Do-Loop.  The guy behind me scooped them up while they were wandering around the parking lot and took them through the loop.  Just goes to show - don't mess with the Do-Loop.

I took it a bit easier in the first part of the loop to make sure we didn't get lost.  Fortunately they actually had a few streamers marking a couple of key turns.  Boy I just felt spoiled.  It was still tricky, but we made it through just fine.  On the way back out I started picking it up and moving well.

I came back onto the Bull Run trail 1:04 later.  I didn't know for sure what happened to the two guys in front, but I was fairly sure I was out in front at this point.  The first 6 miles back on the Bull Run trail weren't too bad.  I was fading on the uphills with tired legs, but I was still moving really well on the flats and downhills. 

The last 6 miles were a grind, but I managed to hold a decent pace.  At the last aid station 5.5 miles out, I grabbed some Coke and  Fig Newtwon, which perked me up a bit.  I kept counting down the miles and knew I would break 4:40 as long as I didn't fall in the river (hey, you never know).

Just over a mile from the finish, I ran past a husband / wife out hiking on the trail and soon after tripped on a rock.  I caught myself and fell relatively gracefully, but my calf cramped up as I was falling.  They looked back to see if I was ok, and there I was rolling around on the ground trying to unlock my calf.  I think they thought I having some kind of seizure, so I yelled out "I'm good ... calf cramped up ...  carry on, I'll be fine."  I hauled myself up and immediately started running to the finish, I'm sure leaving this couple wondering what kind of crazy pills I was taking.

I turned off the trail for the climb up to the Hemlock lodge and saw somebody not too far back on the trail.  I finished in 4:37 just a couple of minutes ahead of 2nd place. 

It was a great day and a great run.  I look forward to hopefully keeping the MGM tradition alive!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

11/25/12: Turkey Trotting

We kicked off Thanksgiving this year with the Flemington Turkey Trot 5K.  Jen and Dad both ran this year, and Steve continued our semi-tradition and joined us as well.

This race has continued to grow over the years and ballooned the 4200 finishers this year.  The start line is like a carnival.  A crew showed up wearing lederhosen drinking beer out of giant steins.  A guy wore nothing but a speedo and some chest paint (it was about 35 degrees).  Gangnam style was blaring.  At the last minute Steve showed up.  The start line was jam packIed, but he hulked his way into the front so we could catch up a bit before the race started.

I planned to try very hard to go sub-18.  It was a stretch given my fitness, but I figured it was a good goal.  Everything went as I had hoped, and I ran 17:55 for my second fastest 5K ever  (the fastest was 17:48 at this same race 2 years ago). 

The first mile was 5:35, which was spot on.  Mile 2 was slightly slower than I hoped at 5:52, but it also is mostly uphill.   I was in a lot of pain by the end of mile 2, but I knew sub 18 was reachable, so I dug in and pushed on.  I was pleased to hold pace with a 5:53 last mile.

Everyone else had good runs, too.  Dad is just now coming off his injury and has not yet been able to do much speed work, but he still ran a nice 23:19 for 6th in his age group.  Steve was a little behind that and apparently had an excellent time run with turkey costume guy.  Jen again showed how easy it is for her to break 30 minutes despite having to walk a bunch of the beginning with the huge crowds. 

It was a great way to kick off the holiday, and I am glad the semi tradition lives on.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

11/17/12: Western States? MMT 100?

I have been pondering what races I would like to do next year.  Life is certainly full of difficult choices, and my thinking has been all over the map.

Since Ice Age 50 and the Mason Dixon Longest Day 100K, I have not done any ultras or much serious trail running.  I of course did lots of amazing hiking in some of the world's most beautiful mountains this summer, but my running has mostly been shorter and road focused.

Part of me wants to switch gears now and buckle down to whip myself into shape for a tough 100 mile run in mountains.  But there is also a big part of me that has enjoyed the speedier running.  It was an incredible feeling to "comfortably" go sub-3 at Marine Corp Marathon, and that left me hungry to take another crack at a PR or sub 2:50.  I have also been running more and  more of my track workouts and fast runs with co-workers and / or neighbors.  These types of runs are so much better with good company, and I would love to keep up the workouts with these fun people.

So what should I do?  I need to decide ASAP, as all of the races I am considering are lotteries or fill up quickly.  I have decided to take it out of my hands and leave it to chance.  Time to roll the dice!

Today I put my name in for the Western States 100 lottery.  The Big Dance.  I almost certainly will not make it past the lottery.  I figure my odds are 5-10% or maybe worse.  But if I somehow have my name drawn out of the hat, I will toe the line in Squaw Valley and see for myself what all of the fuss is about.

On December 1st I will also throw my name in for MMT 100.  Held out in Virginia's Massanutten Mountains, it is my home course and generally regarded as the toughest 100 in the east (though the Grindstone 100 now vies for the title).  100+ miles, 18K feet of climbing, and more rocks than you possibly imagine.  I have run numerous 25-45 mile training runs out there on parts of the course, but I have never been brave enough to put my name in the hat for this one.  It is about time.

Odds are slightly better to get into MMT, but the most likely outcome is that I will not make it into either.  If that happens, I will focus my sights on somewhat shorter races.  I will likely go for a fast marathon early spring (maybe the Rock N Roll Marathon in DC in March) and a later spring 50 (maybe head back to the North Face 50 for redemption).

I at least kind of have a plan now, and it is actually fun to have it be a surprise based on the lottery outcomes.  Whatever happens, I will be excited about the races I end up running.  For now though I will keep on training and wait to see where the chips fall!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

11/3/12: Dolomites Day 5

I planned on running the Potomac Heritage 50K for the 4th time this morning, but I bagged it last minute.  I ended up running the  Marine Corp Marathon  harder than I had expected.  Recovery has been great, and I did a bunch of easy runs this week, but it would be foolish to go out there and run a 50K 6 days days after running a 2:58 marathon. 

I really love this local race and am sad to miss it, but I am still looking for to the MGM 50K in December and some serious Turkey Trotting later this month.   Since I did not run at all today, I also had time to post more Dolomite pictures.  Hooray! 

Day 5 in the Dolomites was seriously eventful.  Highlights included:
  • Jen's birthday!
  • Covering two full stages
  • A sweet chair lift ride
  • Getting stuck up high on the mountain above treeline during an insane storm with lightning and torrential downpours
  • Beautiful high alpine lake
We started off by hiking past the Pelmo and then into some dense forest.  Thanks to our guidebook being about as easy to read as old school VCR instruction manuals, we did not realize that we were supposed to take a diversion from the true Alta Via trail.  This would have been a shortcut and would also have kept us up at a steady 2,000M.

Instead we plunged down over 500M in the other direction and popped out at the base of a ski area.  We had a brief lunch / snack at the lodge and then started doing some serious thinking.  We had been getting increasingly concerned about the length of the last day of hiking and how late we would get into Venice.  We decided to make this a big day and cover two full stages to leave only about 2 hours for the final day.  Given the huge amount of terrain we had to cover and the unintended detour, I was uncharacteristically enthusiastic about taking the easy way and riding the chair lift to skip over 300M of climbing.

On the way up a light rain started.  Luckily we had waterproof jackets and rainflys for our packs.  Look at us being so prepared!  Fortunately there was still tons of climbing left after the chair lift as we went up to about 2,400M.

Rifugio Coldai was at the top of the climb.  It had a fantastic view and was where we had planned to spend the night.  It was close to 1pm and we planned to do another entire stage of hiking, so we blew right by the Rifugio and motored along.

Shortly after the Rifugio we hit a beautiful alpine lake.  The weather was turning sour again, and we had to bust out the rain jackets and make our way into the cold, wet wind.  We could not even see the lake at all since we couldn't see more than a few feet in front of our faces.  But as we looped around the lake, everything miraculously cleared up!  We were treated to some most excellent views and stopped for a sandwich and some pictures.  Ahh, good times. 

Right after we left the lake, things got real.  Very real.  We literally saw the front coming in and the storm just erupted.  We were way above tree line, and there was lots of lightning.  Not good.  We hit a fork in the road, and there was a route that continued on high ground and one that descended steeply down.  We couldn't see anything and did not know what way was actually right, but we knew we had to get off the mountain with all of the lightning. 

We headed down the mountain, and Jen ... was ... flying.  It was all I could do to keep up!  She damn sure was not about to get hit by lightning on her birthday, and she was hauling ass towards safety.  The lightning died down, and it just absolutely poured.  We might as well have jumped into the lake.  I was trying to take everything important (e.g. our maps) and stuff it in the pockets inside my waterproof jacket to protect things as much as possible.

Just as soon as it started, the downpour stopped.  There were huge white cliffs to our left, and it was amazing to see these waterfall rivers run down the mountain after the rain stopped.  Pretty soon it was back to beautiful blue sky, and we started working to get everything dry.

With wet clothes and gear hanging all over our packs, we pushed on along.  This next section was really beautiful with towering white cliffs, lush green cow pastures, and great views in the distance.  Other than a few close encounters with some large bulls, the rest of the trip was uneventful.

As we made our way towards the Rifugio, we came to a clearing with the most stunning views of the south side of Civetta D'Ampezzo.  Luckily we had this same amazing view from Rifugio Vazzoler for Jen's Birthday.  We made it there around 4:30 and some nice time to relax, dry out, and celebrate Jen's birthday.  I had stashed a Twix bar that I picked up several days before, which made for quite the b-day present.

The mountain left of center in the distance is the Civetta.  We would end up on the other side of this mountain formation at the end of the day.

Our trusty Rifugio Citta di Fiume

Jen and the Civetta

Getting ready to go cover tons of ground.  Sleeves optional.

The mountain formations way in the distance are where we came from the day before

Descending down into the forest

Chair lift up from 1,500M.  It had just started to rain.
At the top of the chair lift but with plenty of climbing waiting for us in the background.  We would basically go right up and over the mountain.

Up, up, up!

Looking down at the top of the chair lift

Getting close to Rifugio Coldai. One more big climb.

The weather cleared up for just long enough to get some great pictures!  This is Lake Coldai.

We climbed over the pass in the top right and circled around the lake

What to do when hanging around an alpine lake?  Eat a sandwich.

This was after the monster storm.  Just a little bit wet.  We came from the pass up in the top left and moved REAL fast coming down the mountain.

Very wet.  Very sad.

It cleared up quickly, and pretty soon we realized we were in a beautiful spot flanked by the high white cliffs.

Looking out over our route for the next day

Starting to climb down to our Rifugio

Wow.  Hard to believe we were stuck in torrential rain 30 minutes earlier.

I think I want to move in with these cows

The mountains were just the amazing bright white

View as we came up to the Rifugio.  This is the back side of the Civetta.

Good lord

Do you see that?!

Next morning we will climb down through the pass to a bus station

Happy b-day Jen!

Rifugio Vazzoler

View from our dinner table of the Civetta

Exactly what you need after tons of hiking and a big storm

Monday, October 29, 2012

10/28/12: Marine Corp Marathon Race Report

Hello there BTR fans.  I apologize for not providing you updates in a while.  I know it must have been rough.

I am pleased to report that I have finally discovered the ideal race strategy.  Train inconsistently, do not taper at all, drink a few beers the night before, and run late on race day morning and nearly miss the race.  This ideal recipe led me to what is in many ways my best and most fun race ever.

I never fully geared up my training after taking much of the summer off.  My long runs were sparse, and my weekly mileage was much less than usual.  I did run some great speed workouts and some decent 5Ks, but that contributed to tweaking my hamstring and having to take some time off.

Moral of the story, my expectations were lower than a presidential candidate before a debate. I did not bother tapering or undergoing any sort of preparation.  I expected something around 3:15, and the plan was to go out slow and cruise along until I fell apart.

I started further back in the corrals and got stuck behind tons of people, which was just fine with me.  My first mile was almost 8:00, and my second was 7:20.  I was weaving around large crowds, and my legs were feeling a bit tired and stiff.  So far expectations were being met.

Mile 3 was downhill, and I could finally stretch the legs out.  I ran a 6:40 mile comfortably, which started a series of 6:50ish miles for the next hilly section.  Mile 8 was another great downhill mile in just under 6:40, and the next stretch coming up would be incredibly flat.  I was just enjoying myself so far and suddenly realized I was feeling pretty fantastic.

After not paying close attention to pace, I locked into steady 6:45s.  The crowds were thick at this point as we ran by the national monuments, and I was having lots of fun.  Around mile 11 I passed a big group of people blaring gangnam style.  There is only one thing to at this point.  Bust out the dance.  Oh yes, that's right.  There is always time for gangnam style.
I have never felt this good approaching the half marathon mark and started to realize that I might end up having a pretty good day.  I was still worried about the distance though.  With almost no long runs under my belt, I assumed I would hit the wall at some point ... hard.

Mile 13 confirmed my fears.  I slowed down this mile and figured that would be the start of a trend.  This four mile stretch through Hains Point has almost zero fans since it is nearly inaccessible.  The last 2 miles were also right into a big headwind thanks to oncoming Hurricane Sandy. 
I hit the halfway point at 1:31, which I was thrilled about given the lack of planning and slow start.  I was pushing through the headwind but despite that clocked a fast mile 14.  Something just clicked, and I made a decision.  It was time to drop the hammer. 

Mile 15 was also quick. I ran about 6:40 into a headwind.  Shortly after I saw some co-workers who came out to cheer. I was fired up and announced that I was going to run sub-3.  Probably not a wise promise with 11 miles left, but oh well.

We had another out and back with some serious headwind, and I kept clicking off 6:40s or faster.  I was dialed in and pushing hard.  We ran up and down the national mall for the next 3.5 miles.  I was starting to tire, but I still felt way better than I ever have before as I approached mile 20.  I was running strong and decided to lock into this 6:40 pace for as long as I could.

The miles kept clicking by, and I kept staying a bit under 6:40 pace.  I can't explain how miraculous this was.  In all of my prior marathons (including my 2:55 PR), I ran way over 7:00 in the last 10K.  Here I was with little preparation or expectations clicking off sub-6:40s into the late miles.  By mile 23 I was sure my watch was malfunctioning or that someone had switched the mile markers on me.

I finally started to feel it at mile 24 as we ran uphill into a headwind, but I was so close it didn't matter.  The race ends with a cruel uphill to Iwo Jima Memorial followed by a short straightaway.  I pushed hard up the hill and felt my legs on the verge of cramping.  I hit the straightaway and was greeted by the most lackluster marathon finish crowd I have ever seen. Come on people! I raised my arms in the air to pump the crowd up (they finally got their act together) and sprinted over the finish. 

Finish time was 2:58:10.  I got my medal from a Marine and started walking to find Jen.  I felt good.  Too good.  My legs were tired, but for the most part I was 100% fine.

I ended up averaging under 6:40 pace for the final 10 miles and miles 18-22 were run in 6:32.  I ran the back half 4 minutes faster than the front half.  Who knew?!

I have always gone out much faster in marathons and then died at the end.  I assumed that dying towards thet end was inevitable and that "time in the bank" would be a better strategy.  Today definitely proved that theory wrong.  Aside from the slow start due to weaving through crowds, I do not think I could have paced better or run faster. 2:58 was an insanely good run for me right now, and this was by far my best race performance ever given my fitness level. 

I also just felt really good all throughout.  It was so much fun to speed up throughout the race rather than kill myself early and slow down later.  Hopefully I can achieve this recipe for success again in the future!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

9/29/12: Dolomites Day 4

Day 4 took us from Cinque Torri over to the Rifigio Citta di Fiume, which was right at the base of the Pelmo.

The standard route from Scoiatolli would have taken us up a few hundred meters and then down a long, treacherous descent that would require harnesses and helmets.   Since we did not have those items or a desire to perish that day we diverted around this section.

We started out hiking through rolling fields with lush grass.  Soon we plunged down a steep cutout in a cliff and then went through a number of shorter climbs and descents until we met up with the main path.  This section had been very scenic and had the added bonus of keeping us alive, so we were pretty pleased at this point.

We quickly had a good view of our route over the next several hours and went through more fields and cow pastures.  At about 11:30am we hit a rifugio, but we only made a short stop for the bathroom and to pick up some delicious chocolate.

The next stretch was one of my favorites.  We popped into one side of a saddle that looked out all the way to Cortina.  We found a real comfy looking rock and paused to enjoy the view and get a bite to eat.  An ultrarunner looking dude then bombed down the mountain with his little daughter along for the ride in a backpack.  When he reached a level section, little daughter was placed on the trail and started doing some serious hiking.  She was barely 3 years old but looked up and said "Ciao" to us as she motored on by.  Pretty much the cutest thing ever.

We trudged up a long and steep climb but had more breathtaking views up top at the saddle.  It was about 1pm, and for the next few hours we would stay up on the ridge and continue to have fantastic views.  Along the way we passed what must have been thousands of sheep, who were surprisingly noisy.

We wrapped up with a nice descent that looked out onto Cortina and made our way closer and closer to the Pelmo.  The Pelmo is a distinctive white giant rock face that juts up right from our rifugio, and it was an awesome sight to behold.

After we got to the rifugio, I was inspired to go for an ~5 mile run and made my way part way up the scree field of the Pelmo before turning around and getting mildly lost below the tree line.  We finished up the evening by watching the wild horses graze.  There was a herd grazing and a little filly basically came up right up to us.  Another amazing day in the books, and still two more to go!

Hiking across the field looking back at Rifugion Scoiatolli.  You can see two  hikers silhouetted against the massive peak in the background.

Faint path we we were following through the field

To Passo Giau!

Enjoying a beautiful morning.  You can still see Scoiatolli in the background.

Looking back at Cinque Torri

Steep descent off the side of the mountain.  I thought this was the easier route?

We descended right off one of those cliffs

Looking back at the cliffs with Cinque Torri behind them

Last view of Cinque Torri and Jen hiking up the last stretch to Passo Giau

Looking south out of the other side of the pass.  In the top left you can see the saddle we would hike through in the early afternoon.

Beautiful fields leading into the rifugio

We could see Cortina off in the distance

About to drop into the saddle.  We were looking off towards the west could and could see the Marmolada again.

Loved this stretch of hiking through the saddle.  Lush green vegetation all around, cliffs all around us, and Cortina clearly visible in the distance.

Looking out of the saddle towards Cortina

Jen taking the high road on this stretch

Picture of me taking a picture!

Our excellent comfy rock.  We were about to climb up to the saddle in the very top middle of the picture.

Still looking very happy before the big climb

At the top of the climb we crested the saddle and looked out onto these green mountain peaks

We traversed up high at about 2400 meters for the next couple of hours.

We followed the base of the cliffs to the left

It was hard to tell where the sheep ended and the rocks began

Wow, that is a lot of sheep

There was another mountain pass that provided a huge, expansive view of Cortina and the surrounding mountains

Looking down the trail that climbed up from the Cortina valley to merge with our trail

We had started descending down to Rifugio Citta di Fiume.  Doesn't his look kind of like that Windows background?

The Cortina mountains stretched out to the east as we descended

Our rifugio with the Pelmo towering over it

The was close to where I turned around on my run partway up the Pelmo.  A little left and above center  you can actually see our rifugio.

Looking up at the Pelmo from Citta di Fiume

Jen getting a picture of me in the distance as I returned from my run

The wild filly that was grazing right by us that evening