Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pumpkin Carving

On Sunday I got together with my extended family for our annual pumpkin carving party and I took the opportunity to work on my entry for the Wicked Creepy Halloween Trail Run this upcoming Friday night. There is no fee to enter this race, but registered runners are asked to bring a carved pumpkin to the MidCoast Multisport store in Brunswick the week before the race. These pumpkins will be placed on the course to illuminate the trail during the race.

Although it was a beautiful day I didn't manage to get a run in until after dark. I decided to do a lap of Back Cove taking the long way from home which works out to be an even 6 miles round trip. I ran a 7:35 pace for the first 5 miles which felt great, the last mile was slower because it included 120 steps up to the 7th floor of the USM library to visit Emma who was there studying all day.

Now it's time to taper for the marathon. I'm not sure if racing during a taper is a good idea, if fact I'm pretty sure it's not, but the race on Friday is only 4 miles. How much damage can I do in 4 miles on a dark unfamiliar trail?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

2 Hours @ Pineland

Finally a run that went to plan. Blaine, Brett, Sara and I set off at 8 from the YMCA, and then half a mile later picked up Chuck who had arrived just a little late. We followed the usual route which is as the race goes minus the fields.

I tried to keep the pace a little more sensible than last week and I think we did a good job of that, it felt comfortable the whole way through. The weather was perfect for running, cool but not cold. About an hour into the run I started to feel a mild discomfort in my knee but nothing that could be classified as pain so I didn't feel the need to make any adjustments to my plan for an even two hours running.

With an extra lap of the Pownal Trail Blaine and I returned right at the two hour mark. Ok, my watch said 1:59:42 and I ran around the parking lot for 18 seconds to get to my two hours. Brett and Sara were right behind, and Chuck had finished earlier without doing the Oak Hill loop.

time: 2:00:00
distance: 13.36 miles
pace: 9:00

Since I'm hoping to do a little better than a 9 minute pace for the marathon in two weeks this was a good run. The pace felt very comforatable the whole way through and hopefully I can maintain it for another 2 hours. We'll see...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pleasant Surprises

This afternoon I got a surprise visitor at work, Bob "The Screenprinter" Baiguy. Bob did the screen printing on the shirts for Pineland and all the Bradbury races as well as the Trail Monster singlets. He does great work and is a pleasure to work with, he's a cyclist, and not that that has anything to do with his ability to print shirts but it seems to help that he gets the whole race thing. The purpose for Bob's visit was to drop off a few Panther Vision hats for me to try out to see if they'd be any good for night running.

The hats have two super bright LED lights mounted on the front edge of the brim and are made of some lightweight technical fabrics.

I took the hat out for a run around Back Cove to see how well the light worked, but it was hard to tell with all the street lights. The real test will be to go to Twin Brook when it's really dark to see how much light it really puts out. One thing I could tell is that the hat throws light straight out in front of you, which may at first seem like the right place to point it, but I like to have light on the ground 5-10 feet ahead of me so I can see where I'm putting my feet. The only way to get the light where I want it is to pull the hat down over my eyes so I can't see, or tip my head way down. I like to keep my chin up when I run because I think it helps me keep better posture and makes it easier to breath.

So this hat may not be the best for night running on trails, but would probably be better for dark streets and for letting people know that you're coming rather than illuminating the area right in front of you. We'll see how it works in the real darkness of TB. I thought it was a bit odd that the hat says "do not wash" on the tag. I understand that the wires and lights and batteries don't want to get wet but everything I wear running starts stinking eventually and hats are no exception. Bob tells me that I can remove the batteries and put it in the dishwasher. I didn't tell him that Emma is my dishwasher.

As for the run it went really well, and I was surprised to find that my IT band wasn't causing any pain at all. There was a slight sensation that there once was pain, but no sign of it returning during this run. I initially wanted to go out for 8-9 miles but decided not to push my luck and kept it to 5.5 miles. My splits went something like this:


I'll save the longer run for Saturday and hopefully get in a solid 2 hours at Pineland, as long as the knee pain doesn't return. I'm thinking about doing the Trick or Treat Trail Run on Sunday at Lost Valley in Auburn. It's only a 5k so it shouldn't interfere with my recovery/training/taper - whatever phase I'm in right now - but I'll leave that decision until after I run on Saturday to see how I feel. It's too close to the marathon to risk hurting myself now - two and a half weeks!

As for the Stone Cat marathon I've been trying to decide how to pace myself. It's always hard with a trail race you've never done before to know what kind of time to expect. Even though I did the 50 miler last year and I kinda know the course I dont know what to expect when I run it at marathon pace. What is my trail marathon pace? I'd like to try to run 9's or better. That would get me in solidly under 4 hours. I don't want to try to run much faster than that though, Emma ran a 3:52 there last year and I don't think I'm in better shape now than she was then. Although she did say she knows she could have run faster last year.

And speaking of marathons I'm starting to get the road marathon bug. After reading endless blog postings by Jamie, Ryan and Danielle about the MDI Marathon I'm starting to think that I want to do one too. My first thought was to do one as soon as possible, Hyannis in February. But February is a crappy time of year to be running really hard for a long time on a road and I haven't heard many good things about the race, except that Jamie is going to be there. I'm leaning more towards the Sugarloaf Marathon in May. That's where Emma ran her marathon PR (3:13:01) in 2005. I'd like to shoot for a new PR. I've only run two road marathons before, Loch Ness in 2003 (3:49) and Maine in 2004 (3:28). I've learned a lot since my last marathon and think I could do much better, like 1/4 the finishing time of Robert Phillips in the 2006 Stone Cat 50. That's my goal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

IT Hurts

If you ever wondered what your IT band looks like check this out:

Mine hurts. It started about 40 miles into the VT 50, but wasn't really that bad. Or it wasn't any worse than the the way the rest of my body was feeling. Since the race it hasn't bothered me, until this weekend. I had originally hoped to get in 15-18 miles as a long training run for the Stone Cat marathon, but had to cut it a bit short.

Saturday I arrived at Pineland at 7 and met Dave and Lily, it was too cold to hang around waiting to see if anyone else was going to show (and I wasn't expecting anyone else) so we promptly headed off to run onto the Oak Hill trails to begin the run. Maybe it was because we were all a bit chilled but the pace immediately seemed pretty quick for the distance I was hoping to do but I didn't say anything because at least it was keeping me warm. About three miles into the run as we made our way up the first steep climb on the Pownal Trail Lily asked if we were going to keep this pace up. I was relieved to find that I wasn't the only one who thought the pace was quick, Dave also agreed and we all said it would be a good idea to slow down. However, as the grade leveled out the pace snuck back up.

This was just one of those days where the air is cool and fresh, the sky is bright, the leaves are brilliant and you just can't cant hold back. We finished the Oak Hill loop in about 37 minutes, that's a guess because I forgot to start my watch, and then headed onto the Campus Loop to bring us back to the parking lot at 8. We got there right on time and found Don, Tiki, Brett and Sara waiting.

We learned that there was a cyclocross race starting at 9am and agreed that another hour of running would be plenty for everyone. We started out back on the Campus Loop and then headed out along the River Loop to the Yurt, ran the Valley Farm Loop and then took a short cut across the fields to bring us back up to the YMCA.

The three miles of downhill running from the YMCA to the Yurt (the long down on the elevation profile below) really started to make my right knee ache. More of an annoyance at first, but eventually it turned into a real pain. The uphills provided some relief and luckily the company helped to provide a pleasant distraction.

As we neared the Pineland campus we encountered bikers warming up on the course and it was clear that it was time for us to get off the trails. I got in a total of (approximately, because I started my watch late) 11.8 miles in 1:42, that's an 8:38 pace. I stuck around long enough to see the first (cat 4) cyclocross race, which was my first time seeing the event live. Pineland lacks some of the more difficult obstacles of other courses but probably makes a good place for beginners, but I don't know much about cyclocross.

There is something about the sport that is very appealing, I think it's the mud and the running. The only downside is the $1,000 + bike.

I spent the rest of the day helping Erik with his 50mile/50km race in Brunswick. This race is on a 4 mile road loop, not my cup of tea for running but I was glad to help.

Saturday night I spent a lot of time on the foam roller working on my IT band thinking that was the basis of my knee pain. That just seemed to cause more pain, which I think is actually an indication that I had found the source of the problem. Sunday my knee definitely felt better and I headed out in the evening with the hopes of getting in 8 to 10 miles. Again I decided to cut it short because the pain returned and only got in 6. Back to the foam roller.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Running with Bats

Tonight at Twin Brook was our first time meeting at the Greely Road entrance to avoid getting busted by the Cumberland Police as we ran after dark. Jim, Floyd, Jeff, Alan and Chuck all found their way there and we ran a modified version of our usual route which ended up being a little shorter than when we park at the Tuttle Road Entrance. I got 5.2 miles on my Garmin, but Jeff and Chuck both reported 5.4.

I came up with an 8:40 pace but it felt a lot quicker than that, even if my data is off a little bit it looks like we ran each mile progressively faster which turned out to be a good workout. I'm glad to say that I'm feeling very good and mostly recovered from the 50 miler just over two weeks ago. I need to be careful not to do too much training even though I feel good, I'm sure there is still some more recovery to do and I don't want to go into Stone Cat - less than 4 weeks away - feeling tired.

About 5 minutes into the run we came across a bat flying along the trail, after a few dive bombs I assumed it would fly away but it actually went right down the trail ahead of us and we followed it for about half a mile. It, or another bat, appeared later in the run as we were almost finished and again it seemed to lead the way along the trail. In an attempt to find a video with bats I came across this little gem:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

First Week Back At It

A few minutes after crossing the finish line at the VT 50 I said to Emma "Under no circumstances are you to let me sign up for Stone Cat. Not even the marathon." I was not feeling very good.

On the drive home a few hours later I said "I think I'll just do the marathon, is that okay?" and like a good Trail Monster wife Emma told me I could. So when we got home that night we filled out our entry forms, Emma for the 50 and me for the marathon, and we mailed them the next day. So here I find myself, six weeks between a 50 and a marathon trying to figure out how to recover from one and train for the other.

Hopefully I can shed the black toenails before the next race.

We decided to take at least a week off after VT to recover, no major problems but we definitely needed some rest. Saturday we went for a nice long walk at Bradbury and then Sunday I got up absurdly early to help out with the Maine Marathon. I met Erik at 3:30 am to help set up all the aid stations on the course and then got back to the start line just in time to get ready for my next volunteer job. I spent the rest of the day picking up trash with the fine folks from Atayne.

Atayne is a performance apparel company founded by a couple of nice guys who are good runners, with a great idea about making clothing from recycled materials. Jeremy Litchfield and Michael Hall (Atayne's founders) coordinated a massive effort to clean up the Maine Marathon by separating recyclables at each of the aid station, as well as the finish line, and to do a sweep of the entire race course picking up all trash whether or not it was generated by the marathon. My job involded working at the 11.5/14.5 mile aid station in Yarmouth picking Gu packets out of the paper cup trash barrel for a few hours. I then ran from there back to Portland along the course with Jeff (Trail Monster) and Mike and Paige from Atayne taking turns pushing a baby stroller rigged up as a garbage carrier and running with trash bags. The highlight of the day was the Soy Sauce Sluts DVD that Mike found, and I think that went right into his pocket rather than into the trash. Other memorable trash items included a toilet seat and several McCain/Palin signs.

I got a really sweet shirt out of the deal (and all that satisfaction stuff about leaving the world a better place...) All said and done I got in almost 12 miles of slow running, like 3 hours slow, and I was totally beat. And I'm sure I smelled pretty bad too.

Monday was a rest day and Tuesday night I returned to Twin Brook for the first time in like three weeks. There was a pretty good turnout that included Blaine, Erik, Floyd, Jim, Shauna and Kathy. I forgot to bring a watch but I think we got in about 6 miles at a pretty good pace, nothing special but by no means slow. Felt good.

Wednesday we did a little wife carrying practice at the Western Prom. Thusday I ran from work with the intention of doing 2 laps of back cove, but Emma had found that pushing herself a little too much too soon left her in pain, so I decided to stop after one lap while I was still feeling good. No need to prove anything this week, besides, I was sort of saving myself the wife carrying competition.

Saturday we met Jim and Shauna (aka Fezzik and Buttercup) and headed up to Sunday River for the North American Wife Carrying Championships. I like saying the full name of the event because it makes it sound like we're going up against the best in the continent. We got there early enough to walk the 278 yard course before hand, including a practice run over the hurdle, a careful wading through the water pit and a run over the dirt pile. We were feeling pretty good about the preparation we had done this year, but as the start time approached we both got a little nervous. Based on when we registered for the event Emma and I were assigned number 7 which means we were scheduled to go in the fourth round of head to head competition against couple number 8. Unfortunately couples 1,2,3,5 and 6 wussed out and didn't make it to the start line so all of a sudden Emma and I found ourselves lined up as the first team to go.

This kinda sucked. I really wanted to see at least one team go through the course before us. Without much preparation the race organizer shouted "saddle up!" and before I knew it we were off and running. Not knowing what kind of time I had to beat I took off like a bat out of hell, I just wanted to get to the log hurdle first since that's where we got hung up last year. It was at least 150 yards up a gradual slope over very uneven terrain before we got to the first obstacle and I got there miles ahead of our competitors. We made it over cleanly and picked the speed back up again briefely before we hit the water pit. It was a steep and slippery descent into the freshly dug water pit and my pace slowed to a walk as the water level came up to the full height of my inseam (brrr...)

Not sure if our competitors were closing in or not I attempted to start running again as soon as we left the water. I leaned forward to gain momentum, forgetting that I had the weight of 90 beers (the prize if we should happen to win) on my shoulders and I stumbled forward dropping Emma. In a flash she was back on my back and we were off to tackle the last obstacle, a 6 foot hile pile of dirt. In a panic to hold onto our lead I took off running up the steep incline but as soon as the ground started to slope away on the other side the momentum got the best of me and lurched forward launching Emma ahead of me down the wood-chip covered slope. Feeling completely humiliated at having dropped my wife twice I got Emma back on and made a careful jog to the finish line. We managed to finish a full 5 seconds ahead of our competition but with the time penalties that would be added for the droppage I knew I had completely blown it.

Last year's winning couple returned to defend their title and it just so happened that Jim and Shauna got paired up against them. I'll just say that Jim ran a good race, Shauna held on tight, and last years winner was escorted off the course with his arm in a sling.

After the competition we got some beer, had lunch and then went for a nice easy run on the trails at the nearby XC ski center. None of us had much energy and we all had bellies full of food so we did a little under 4 miles before calling it quits.

On the side of a mountain we had the choice of going up or down to start with, not sure if we picked the right way.

Sunday morning we headed up to beautiful Lewiston, no really, it was a gorgeous day and right along the Androscoggin river with all the trees in full blaze it was quite pretty. We joined our friend Linda as she embarked on her first road race. Linda's son Chris was a Trail Monster who died in a car accident earlier this year and we decided to dedicate the Bradbury Scuffle race to Chris. Chris' parents Linda and Jerry were a big help at all the Bradbury races and Linda was inspired to take up running to carry on an important part of Chris' life.

Like any good adventure Linda found herself in some rough patches but she fought through it with a determination that would have made Chris proud, and Emma and I were glad to be a part of it. Linda just barely missed winning an age group prize, she finished 5 seconds behind first place and 4 seconds behind the second. Next time they better watch out!

Feeling a little single-track withdrawal I headed to Bradbury this afternoon to get in another run. My timing was probably pretty bad, about 2:30 in the afternoon and the place was infested with leaf peepers. My plan was to run a modified version of the Breaker course, skipping the descent on South Ridge and the climb of the Summit Trail, and I wasn't going to let any slow moving Mass-holes get in my way.

On my second lap I heard a small child say "daddy, isn't that the man we saw before!" I didn't stick around long enough to hear the rest of the conversation but I imagine it went something like this:

dad: "yes Billy, it is the man we saw before"
kid: "daddy, can you run that fast up a mountain?"
dad: "no son, your mother and I are fat and lazy and this 1.5 mile hike is just about killing us!"

7.75 miles at an even 9 minute pace. It was hard work but felt good. A few more runs like this and I'll have that big toenail completely dislodged.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vermont 50 - Race Report

3:30 am – Where am I and why is my skin so soft?

5:15 am – I step out of the car in the field where all the runners and riders are parking and get the first wet foot of the day. No use fighting it. It’s surprisingly warm and I can tell right away that it will be too warm for the sleeves that I brought, too bad because they look so cool. Somehow in the darkness I spot Carrie and Adam who I’ve met at other races. Lucky to see them actually since runners are outnumbered 3 to 1 by mountain bikers who are going to hit the trails in waves before the runners to make sure there is a consistent distribution of churned up mud on the trails (as well as race numbers, water bottles, Gu packets and fat asses scattered around).

We check in, bump into a few other folks we know like Tom, Meg and George and wait for out turn to line up. As the sun starts to rise we get confirmation that the sky is overcast, no immediate threat of rain but the cloud cover is like a lid holding in all the humidity from the previous two days of rain. For a late September day it’s surprisingly warm and humid, looks like hydration and electrolyte intake will be more of an issue than I had previously thought, but I’m prepared for that.

At 6:42 am we’re off on the only paved section of the race course, but it isn’t long before we turn off onto a dirt road that seems so familiar after having done the 100 miler in these parts just two months ago. The first few miles are all downhill and just seem to fly by. I’m a little concerned that the pace is too fast, but remind myself that I’m shooting for a massive PR at this distance so of course it’s going to feel fast. There is something different about this race, for the first time in an ultra I’m not running just to finish, I want to do well.

We hit the first aid station at 4.2 miles in under 40 minutes and move through with just a quick pause for a drink. A little quick math tells me that we are on target for a sub 8 hour finish at this pace, but that was after 4 easy miles, things are going to change real quick. The course moves onto the first serious trail section here featuring a long uphill climb, single track and mud. Nice.

To my surprise we end up running pretty much all of the uphill, that’s what I get for letting Emma set the pace. Midway through this first climb I get stung by a bee just at the top of my right Achilles but I can’t let that slow me down, the last thing I want to do is hang around to get stung again. The hill keeps going and we keep the pace brisk. When the course turns to more rolling terrain we find ourselves in a back and forth rhythm with several runners who are really opening it up on the downs and taking a more conservative approach to the ups. I hope our strategy works, knowing that the course is mostly up in the first half and mostly down in the second I don’t want to wear my quads out too early in the race. At the Bull Run Run in April my quads were destroyed by 35 miles and every downhill after that was torture.

The Skunk Hollow aid station at 12.3 miles is where we pick up our first drop bags. In an effort to make this stop as quick as possible we move at a frenzied pace which has us running the risk of forgetting something important. Our feet are soaked but we don’t bother to change shoes or socks, they’re just going to get soaked again anyway. Valerie and Ryan are there waiting for their relay runner to come in and they lend a hand refilling my hydration pack. We head off with Emma struggling to get her salt tablets and gels back in her bag, I try to lend a hand but a little bickering ensues. “Sounds like you guys are married” says a voice from behind. The voice belongs to Billy who turns out to be from Poland, Maine who is here attempting his first 50 miler. We run together and chat for a little while until we hit the next big uphill and Emma starts pushing the pace again. For now I’m hanging on but I’m starting to become aware that this is not a pace I can maintain all day.

The next few aid stations are more spread out with 7.1 and 6.5 miles between them which is good in a way because it’s the stops that slow us down. Between 12.3 and 25 miles there is over 2500 feet of elevation gain so we need to keep the momentum going. This is the part when we start to encounter a lot of mountain bikers, the slow ones who aren’t any good at riding up hill and who are pretty lousy at pushing their bikes up hill too. Most are considerate when it comes to passing us back on the downs but there are a few who fly by without warning. “See you on the next uphill fatty!”

I had heard about the highest point in the race, which comes about halfway through and the views are meant to be spectacular. After about 45 minutes of steady climbing I knew we must be getting close and when I spotted a group of worn out mountain bikers lounging on a hillside clearing ahead I knew this was the spot. Thankfully there was enough of a break in the cloud cover for the view to be appreciated, but not so much as to make me say “well that makes it all worthwhile”. So it was eyes back on the trail for the 25 mile rolling descent that would make up the second half of the race.

The downhill running wasn’t bringing the relief I was hoping for, it still felt like work, and it certainly wasn’t all downhill from here. The next big milestone in the race was to reach our second and final drop bag at the 30.2 mile aid station. We finally hit it after about 5 hours and 20 minutes of running and I suggested to Emma that we take our time here to be sure that we didn’t forget anything important. I hadn’t been able to eat much during the run so far and I was worried about my energy fading so I took a drink, ate a little and downed an Ensure. My stomach was pretty annoyed at having to deal with so much all at once and when I started running again it let me know. Emma seemed to be improving as we checked the miles off and it was becoming clear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her for much longer. At about 32 miles I finally made Emma stop, I kissed her goodbye and told her to run her own race. With a little reluctance and sadness Emma pulled away chasing down Sherpa John who had just passed us. Got get him!

I’m not giving up here, but it’s time I run my own race. I can still get a PR even if I don’t break 9 hours.

The course is approximately a 60/40 split of trail and dirt road, but it’s the trail sections that are the most memorable and inspire the most enduring memories of this race. Unfortunately most of the trail is on private land and access is only allowed during the race so we can’t go back to enjoy it any other time, and these trails are so nice that I would consider driving 3.5 hours to run them again. I guess I’ll just have to do the race again next year. These next few miles featured some of the most beautiful New England single track I’ve seen and I felt truly lucky to be running here.

Over the next 10 miles I bounced back and forth with a handful of bikes and small group of runners. We were all tired and there wasn’t much conversation but we quietly helped move each other along. After a relative low spot I got back into a good groove and maintained a consistent pace thanks to the people around me. My feet were sore, hamstrings very tight and my calf muscles felt like they could seize up with every step but I was too close now to give up. The downhills hurt the most because of the increased impact on my feet and the long extension of my hamstrings, I savored the few remaining climbs for the change of pace.

The last aid station was at 45.4 miles and I seized the opportunity here to break away from the pack I had been running with. Less than 5 miles to go, surely I can do that in under an hour. Just as I tried to put a little extra kick in my step we came into some of the most incredible mud I’ve ever had the pleasure of running through. There was one section of single track that looked like 75 yards of ankle deep chocolate pudding, glorious. Before long I could start to make out features on the mountain ahead that identified it as the ski mountain that would bring us to the finish.

Soon there were signs along the trail with phrases of encouragement that meant I was getting close. 1.5 miles to go… 1 mile… and then I heard Emma shouting “Go Giant!” I saw her up ahead and then looked down the mountain to see the finish area half a mile below. I really put the hammer down and managed to pick off one runner, then another along the way. I could hear footsteps behind me but wasn’t about to lose a place at this point in the race. I remembered how I felt at the beginning, this is not just about finishing today, I want something more. I was disappointed not to have been able to keep up with Emma but I still want to make her proud. The final descent was severely steep but my legs held out long enough to get me across the finish line. Just then it started to rain and I laid back in the grass and let the cool water rinse the mud away.

gIANt - 9:27:06 NEW PR! 42/158 male finishers

Gnarls- 8:54:09 3/41 female finishers, first in age group

Wife Carriers Beware

Emma and I went to Bradbury this morning to meet the TMR group, we actually never had any intention of running since we promised ourselves a complete week off after the 50 miler, but thought that a long walk would be good. The only other person to show up today was Lily with her sidekick Echo. Lily also felt more like walking than running so we did a nice long loop on the west side trails. Views from the top of Bradbury were spectacular and we could see out to Casco Bay and what I think is Bustins Island off the coast of Freeport.

The Boundary Trail has a lot of wet/flooded areas that need some work and even though we will not be able to make the trail maintenance day at the park tomorrow I plan to organize our own trail day to take care of a few bad spots on this trail. Some of the problems with flooding have to do with poor drainage but we were able to figure out ways to help improve the situation in several locations. I would also like to work on rebuilding some of the old stone walls along the Boundary Trail that have experienced rock migration over the years.

Afterwards we went to my parents house in Freeport to practice for the North American Wife Carrying Championships next weekend at Sunday River. My parents have a great yard with some gradual hills and we were able to set up a hurdle to practice climbing over. This will be our third year of participating in the Wife Carrying competition and I think it will be our best. We've mastered our carrying technique, developed a good race strategy and have practiced on the hurdles. Of course it's hard to compete against the professional cyclist or olympic skier who have won in recent years, so we don't expect to win, but it's definitely going to be fun.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vermont 50 - Pre-Race Report

WARNING: I am about to ramble on endlessly about all kinds of things other than the race itself, so if you want to read about the race wait for the next post.

Two days after the Vermont 50 and I’m still in a lot of pain, worse than yesterday in fact, and I occasionally find myself wondering why I did this. The decision to run the Vermont 50 was an easy one though, that Emma and I made several months ago. At the end of May we found out about the death of a friend of ours, Chris Douglass, and when we learned that he had planned to run the Vermont 50 this year we immediately agreed that we would do it for him. At the time running a 50 mile race 10 weeks after a 100 miler seemed like a completely reasonable thing to do, and it was easy to remind myself that Chris was the kind of guy who wouldn’t think twice about running major races without much time in between.

In hindsight I can say that 10 weeks is plenty of time to recover from a 100 mile race, however training for a 50 miler at the same time as recovering is a tricky balance and I don’t think I got it quite right. But I’m still relatively new to this ultra running stuff and I’m learning as I go. It doesn’t matter how much advice you get from other people about these things, the only real way to know what you’re capable of is to go and try it and hope that you’ve done enough in training to prepare you for what comes up in a race. One of the challenges of ultra running is that the difference between a training run and a race is vast, and sometimes you encounter things 6, 7 or 8 hours into a race that you never did in training and you need to be able to deal with it and keep going. I suppose that’s part of the appeal, unlike most other races where you know you can finish and the only question is how fast, in an ultra there is always going to be unknown factors and the potential for a DNF looming somewhere out there.

One aspect of this race that made it special for me and Emma is that this was the first ultra-marathon that we have been able to run together. And by run together I mean line up at the start line together. Emma has been running much longer than I have and there has never been any question in our household about who is the better runner, but I was the first to make the step up to ultra running last year. When Emma decided to try her hand at ultra running this year we picked different races because of our different work/school schedules and our training schedules never aligned. But the Vermont 50 was the first major race since the 2004 Maine Marathon where we trained together and toed the line together. The difference this time was that I thought there was a chance I might be able to keep up with Emma. We agreed to stick together for as long as we could, but I made Emma promise that if I couldn’t keep up she would go on and run her own race. I had ambitions of running under 9 hours and I thought that with Emma setting the pace I would have a pretty good shot at it, as long as I could hang on for the whole distance.

Saturday morning we packed up the GreaseCar and set off for Vermont with a full tank of veggie oil and a whole lot of energy, after a 2 week taper we were both craving a long run. The drive was uneventful despite the rain and we talked about the potential for incredibly muddy trails which we both liked the sound of. No one runs ultras because they’re easy so to have another challenge, like 50 miles of mud, thrown in just makes it more of an adventure. We stopped in Newport, New Hampshire for lunch at a nice little diner called the Country Kitchen and had some fantastic omelets and hash browns. Unfortunately we almost brought the lunch back up on our way out when we noticed photographs of George Bush in the diner.

Even more evil than previously thought: George Bush eat’s kittens! Fortunately kittens were not on the menu at the Country Kitchen.

It was a short drive the rest of the way to the Ascutney Mountain Resort where we went to pick up our race numbers, this would also serve as the start/finish area of the race the next day. We immediately bumped into race director Mike Silverman (who gets our vote for most stylish RD of the year) and had a nice chat with him. When picking up our numbers the volunteers wanted to see if our ID’s actually said Giant and Gnarls and they were disappointed to find that they didn’t. Instead of t-shirts everyone got a nice green canvas bag this year with the race logo printed on it. My first thought was “cheapbastards!” but the bags are actually very nice and quite useful. I didn’t like the idea of having to pay extra for a shirt but in the excitement of it all I ended up buying a $40 hoodie and Emma picked up 2 t-shirts.

No sign of Chuck, but after meeting up with fellow Trail Monsters Valerie and Ryan who were going to be doing the 50 mile relay with their friend Judy we left our drop bags and headed off to Killington to find out hotel. For reasons that were hard to remember we chose a hotel that was about an hour away from the race start, and just as I was about to start cursing our own stupidity we came across the most magnificent structure in all of Vermont. The Long Trail brewery! There was a brief moment of hesitation, then a hard U-turn and before you knew it we were sipping Long Trail Harvest Ale. Mmmm… Ale

Back on the road to Killington, I was expecting the Comfort Inn that we booked to be a real dump, that’s the kind of luck we have with hotels (because we pick the cheap ones) but this place turned out to be pretty nice. Our “room” was actually an efficiency about the size of our apartment, but more efficient because you don’t have to deal with annoying things like walls and doors getting in your way as you move from place to place. I remember why we picked this place, so we could cook our own all-you-can-eat pasta dinner. And take a bubble bath. We went to bed feeling really good about the race the next day.