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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Recovery... nope, progression run

For a few hours after yesterday's 20+ miler I felt pretty burnt out. I pretty much just laid around the house and ate. I have realized that I'm not fueling well enough on my long winter runs, although I bring plenty of food with me I don't actually eat much. Last year I started eating a lot of trail mix on my long runs, but it's hard to eat that stuff when you've got gloves or mittens on. For all of yesterday's efforts I only had one gel and one package of Power Bar Energy Blasts. My breakfast helped set me up to be fueled during the run but as soon as I stopped running I crashed pretty hard. I wasn't sure how I'd feel today but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn't any significant soreness when I got up in the morning. The only issue worth mentioning is a little ache on the outside of my right foot, between the heel and the ankle bone, probably the result of rolling my ankle at some point (or multiple points) during the run yesterday.

I went out in the morning for an hour long walk with the dogs on Blackstrap Hill. It was a good way to loosen things up in my legs, and it also confirmed that I didn't want to try to run any of my local trails today. Lots of ice. So after bouncing around a few of the local road loops in my head, ranging from 5.5 to 10 miles, I came up with a new route I had never run before that worked out to be close to 11 miles, and deliberately included some good hills. The intention was to go out at an easy pace and see how things felt.

Things felt surprisingly good, so after 4 miles the run turned into a bit of a progression run (helped by a few downhill miles near the end). Miles 5-10: 7:54, 7:50, 7:43, 7:35, 7:13, 6:51.

A great way to end a pretty solid week. I started the week with a few easy runs to deal with a strained calf muscle resulting from the combination of last weeks long run, snowshoe race and then an unexpected plyometrics workout. Luckily the calf wasn't an issue at all this weekend so I was able to get in two quality runs.

time: 1:21:31
distance: 10.7 miles
pace: 7:37

weather: upper 30's, windy

gear: Brooks Cascadia (from 2008), shorts, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, 2x gloves, hat

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beautiful Loop + Lunchbreak Hill Repeats

Last week during the run on the Beautiful Loop with Zak I had the sinister idea of running the BL (15+ miles) and tacking on repeats up and down Bradbury Mountain at the end to bring it up to 20 miles. It was kind of a joke, like what's the most difficult 20 mile route I can come up with from Bradbury in the winter. I never expected so many people to think it was a good idea, or to tag along despite the fact that it clearly wasn't a good idea. Especially in the conditions we had today. Not that anyone knew what to expect, but given the conditions we had over the past few weeks I figured it couldn't be any worse. I was wrong.

Near perfect conditions for the first 5 miles

Fezzik, Crux, J-Rock, 6-Pack, Tenacious-Z, Scout and Squirrel (I just made up a few of those) were all at the park this morning and everyone seemed up for at least the BL, with most planning to tack on the hill repeats at the end. Things started innocently enough, and the combination of good firm snow conditions and 6-Pack up at the front lead to a pretty quick pace for the first five miles. But when we got to the power lines things went downhill pretty quick. The reason we only run the BL in the winter is because along the power lines the trail is dependent upon swamps and rivers freezing solid and being buried under many inches of snow. The recent warm weather we've had has caused both of those typical winter attributes to be non-existent.

The first watery challenge
For the entire 7+ mile stretch along the power lines we were constantly faced with puddles, slush, postholing, stream crossings and booby-trapped collapsing ice. All hopes of keeping our feet dry were soon lost and we pushed ahead at as quick a pace as we could maintain, we needed a little speed just to keep out wet selves warm. Of course, with all the obstacles we faced our pace wasn't actually quick at all, but the effort was certainly there. The first deviation from our normal course came at about 5.5 miles when we discovered the trail was completely submerged for at least 100 yards. The detour was along a less-well-traveled snowmobile trail through a swamp.

The usual route was severely flooded
Next up was the big river crossing at 7.5 miles which I knew was going to be a problem. Luckily we were able to bushwhack a route along the rivers edge until we came to a road that crossed the river not too far from the power line trail. This only required about 1/4 mile of breaking trail through 6" of crusty snow.

The past two weeks we were able to run across this river, but obviously not today
The hilly parts of the route were in pretty good shape, but every low spot was wet with frigid water lurking below a deceptively thin layer of ice, or free flowing water. At about 9 miles we deviated from the normal route in order to avoid what I thought was going to be another swamp, and this seemed like a good choice until we came to a stream at least 6' across. The banks were overgrown and supported a thin ice shelf that collapsed as you tried to leap across making it impossible to avoid water up to at least mid calf.

Water crossings became frequent and it was impossible to maintain warm feet
By about 10 miles into the loop 6-Pack decided he had enough messing around and needed to get back to the park, this run was taking too long, not to mention the unpleasantness, so he headed back along the roads. A mile and a half later Fezzik realized the wisdom of 6-Pack's decision and took another road back to the park. Squirrel and Scout were a ways behind so the four of us that remained together kept a tight group until we reached the School at the base of Lunchbreak Hill. We all agreed that runs like these would be no fun if undertaken alone, but as a group we're able to both push each other and find the fun in what could be seen as difficult circumstances.

Thermometer read 30 but it felt warmer, by the time we finished the run it was definitely in the high 30's

As if the first 14 miles of our run weren't enough of a challenge we paused at the bottom of the hill before undertaking what we all knew was going to be a brutal finish to this long run. Four times up and down this 3/4 mile hill, that climbs over 300 feet, would give us the mileage we needed to get over 20 for the day. We agreed to take the hills each at our own pace and regroup at the end, and not surprisingly Crux took off in the lead while J-Rock, Tenacious-Z and I stayed pretty close together.

The first time up we were breaking trail but most of the climb was runnable with only a few fairly short sections requiring walking due to the combination of a steep grade and crappy footing. Much to our dismay the trail had many wet spots and keeping warm feet continued to be an issue. At least working hard up hill generated enough heat to stay warm, the trouble for me was keeping my feet warm on the way back down. I ran as quick as I could on tired legs on the way back down, which actually became harder as the temperature rose and the snow became more slushy and slick. I think it was on our second time down that we bumped into Scout and Squirrel on their way up for the first time. I was impressed that they had toughed it out for the complete BL and had begun to tackle the hill repeats with smiles.

SportTracks calls the total elevation gain 1,900', RunningAHEAD calls it 3,100'
Despite the fatigue we managed to keep our uphill splits fairly consistent: 12:00, 12:30, 13:00 and 12:00
I wasn't hitting the lap button on my watch so this is an estimate based on the GPS data. That sounds about right based on the way it felt, a bit tougher for each consecutive climb from 1-3 and then we pushed it hard, or Tenacious-Z pushed us hard, on the last one. By the time we made it down to the parking lot I was totally done in. Absolutely nothing left. But it actually felt good in a way to push myself to the limit without ever crashing during the run. Crashing afterwards is OK. That's what Edna & Lucy's is for. The hot capicola sandwich, french fires, giant homemade doughnut and coffee, helped bring me back to life, although I was walking pretty funny for a while afterwards.

A few modifications to the regular route were required due to flooded areas and unfrozen rivers
Unfortunately the boys and I left E&L's before the girls showed up so we couldn't swap tales of our struggles, I'll just have to read about them later.

time: 3:43:55
distance: 20.85 miles
pace: 10:44

conditions: atrocious! some decent snomo trails, lots of postholing, water crossings, swampiness and slush

weather: lower-upper 30's, sunny

gear: Inov-8 Oroc 280 with screws, sock liners, wool socks, tights, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, 2x gloves, hat, Nathan HPL #020

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bradbury Squall Race Report

I arrived at Bradbury just before 8 AM to help mark the race course, it was about -5 degrees. At one point I had visions of running the course as I marked it, and even though I felt pretty good following yesterday's 3 hour run I opted to walk the course as I set out the arrows at all the trail intersections. This was a good final preparation for my own race since it gave me the opportunity to see exactly what kind of conditions we'd be racing in later.

Considering the amount of snow we've received so far this winter the conditions looked great. There had been enough traffic on the course to define the route without it becoming too hard packed or any wider than single-track. Snowshoe racing is the most fun when it's on narrow trails, otherwise it's just hard work. When the trails are narrow and you've got deep powder on either side you really have to race strategically, think carefully about when to pass, when to surge and when to relax. Of course, there really isn't any relaxing in snowshoe racing, it's all hard work. In Jeff's race report he talks about trying to find the sweet spot between redlining and falling off the pack.

Ryan and I finished the course marking around 9 and had plenty of time to get everything else set up. It wasn't long before our dedicated crew of volunteers showed up, undeterred by the frigid temperatures, and all of a sudden we were ready for a race. It has been great to see how Trail Monster Running has grown over the last few years, I'm lucky to be part of such a dedicated group of runners and to know that I can count on my fellow team mates to come out and help make our events successful.

One of the great things about having so many competent volunteers, not to mention the fact that Ryan is the race director for the snowshoe races, is that I actually had time to relax before the race, and get out for an easy warm-up run with Emma. The warm-up was much needed since I had been outside for nearly three hours, and even though it had warmed up into the 20's I was feeling a bit chilled. When I got back from my warm-up I had a few last minute things to attend to and I actually forgot to pin my number on. At least the volunteers at the finish line know who I am.

Due to the lack of snow recently there hasn't been much time for snowmobiles to get out and pack the trails, and even though we prefer to run on narrower trails it's nice to have a wider area to start. We lined up on a section of snowmobile trail about 5 feet wide, and with a few more runners than last year I knew that it was going to be a crazy start so I positioned myself in the second row behind Judson Cake and Matt Lunt. All around me were my bad ass training buddies, Andy, Jeremy, Chuck, Jeff, Jamie... this was going to be a fun race, but these guys were going to make sure I worked hard.

photo by Kate Hanscom
The first 1/3 mile of the race course is on a flat and fairly wide trail packed by a little snowmobile and a lot of foot traffic. Perfect for a race start to allow for a little jockeying for position. I was in third place for the first 100 yards but soon got passed by Jeremy and then Andy. That seemed about right, I didn't really expect to be ahead of either of them, I just hope that the rest of the pack didn't come up on me so quickly. The next 1/10 mile starts to climb and remained well packed, but before the half mile we were on single track and continuing to climb. Krista's trail had only seen about three passes through the fresh snow before the race so this was without doubt the most sluggish part of the race. This is also where there is the potential to totally blow your wad if you go out too hard, it's so easy to redline when you're running uphill through deep powder, and so hard to recover from that over the rest of the race.

Judson, Matt and Jeremy were out of sight, but I was starting to close the gap on Andy. I could also hear someone right on my heels and I soon learned that it was Chuck, we exchanged a few words and I announced when we had reached the highest point on the course, about halfway through the Krista's loop (just past 1 mile into the race). I was right on Andy's heels and I had been thinking about passing him but this was one of the most difficult places on the course to overtake another runner. Passing meant stepping off the beaten path into 7" of unpacked powder, not at all easy to accelerate through. I have seen failed attempts at passing in snowshoe races, it can be pretty ugly if you get it wrong. I needed to make a move soon because Chuck was close behind and I knew he wouldn't be afraid to make a bold maneuver now that we were on a downhill stretch. The trail twisted back and forth between trees and buried rocks, there was a lot more than just powdery snow to contend with when you tried to plan a pass. When I saw a slight clearing up ahead I knew that was my best chance to go for it. I called out "On your left Andy" and took a few giant strides to surge past. The downslope helped carry me forward and I managed to get around Andy and back onto the trail just before a large pine tree that could have ended my race had my timing been off.

I knew it was going to be hard work trying to stay ahead of Andy, but I figured that running single track is one of my strengths so I really pushed the pace throughout the rest of Krista's to try and get some distance between us. Once on the Tote Road I eased up a little, the next half mile or so was flat and pretty straight which makes it a lot easier to catch and pass people so I kept an ear out for the sounds of anyone coming up behind.

By the time we hit the Boundary Trail, just after 2 miles, I could tell that someone was closing in on me but I didn't dare look back to see who it was. We were now on a long downhill stretch and the last thing I wanted to do was take my eyes off the trail. I thought this downhill stretch might be another opportunity to put some distance between myself and whoever was right behind, but that didn't happen. On the big steep, icy drop on the back side of the mountain I opted to stay left and cross the rock wall that paralleled the trail in the interest of avoiding the ice at the bottom. I heard Chuck say something about my choice of route and I could tell there was someone else right there with him. This turned out to be a waste of time and energy and my chasers almost caught me.

Knowing that there was about 1 mile left in the race I worked hard to make up for my mistake. There was one last climb ahead and this was where I got passed by Stephen Wells at last year's race. I was determined not to let that happen again. I scrambled up the hill as fast as I could manage, and as soon as the ground leveled out I really put the hammer down. There was heavy breathing behind me but it started to fade, or perhaps was being drowned out by my own gasps for air.

After a few little ups and downs the course comes back to the Northern Loop trail where the race started and we returned to packed snow for the last 1/3 mile. The trail remained flat to the finish so I put on an early sprint and hoped I could maintain it to the end. There was no way I could hear anyone coming up on me over the sounds of my own footfalls and breathing, and if anyone had come up I don't think I could have managed to give anything more. Luckily it was enough and I managed to hold off the chasing pack by about 30 seconds.  I didn't even have a chance to catch my breath before a steady stream of Trail Monsters came in. A good day for the team.

splits: 10:05, 9:15, 8:57, 7:35 (pace for 0.62 miles)

time: 33:00
distance: 3.62 miles
pace: 9:08
place: 4/40


conditions: packed powder, mostly single track, still a bit soft

weather: mid 20's, sunny

gear: Inov-8 F-lite 300, Atlas Run snowshoes, sock liners, wool socks, tights, long sleeve top, short sleeve top, gloves, mittens, hat

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Beach Run

Today's run on the Beautiful Loop was kind of like running on a beach. Except it was 10 degrees, and snowing. But the snow was the consistency of beach sand. I guess since most people were planning to run the snowshoe race tomorrow there wasn't a very big turnout for our Saturday run this week. Just Zak and I, and luckily we had the same plan.

The Brad received about 7 inches of snow on Thursday night, and I assumed that the snowmobiles would have been out on Friday to get the Beautiful Loop packed down for us, but the snomo community kinda let me down. Many parts of the loop were only packed by one or two snowmobiles, and a few short sections hadn't seen any traffic at all. It made for another very challenging run, I estimate that in good conditions we could take at least 1/2 hour off our time for the loop, or about two minutes per mile. Compared to last weeks run it was at least less painful running, no postholing through a layer of ice with each step, but the softness of the snow required a lot of extra energy and our time was only a little faster than last week.

It did occur to me during the run that despite the lousy conditions it could have been much worse. I wondered how many different snowmobilers had to come out and ride various parts of the Beautiful Loop in order for the whole thing to connect. I'm fairly certain that no snomo'er starts at the park and completes the loop they way we do, so I'd guess it takes at least a dozen different people riding different parts of the loop to make it complete. And they pretty much did this within 24 hours of the last snowfall which is pretty darn good for us.

There were only three areas along the route where the packed track diverted significantly from my planned route, and at least the snow was light enough that it wasn't too hard breaking trail through 7" of fresh powder. The result of course was that my feet did get a bit wet, and despite wearing gaiters the snow managed to work it's way into my shoes and collect around my toes. I've realized that the Roclite 295's are a little too porous for snow running. I wasn't aware of having cold toes during the run, but once I changed in to dry socks and shoes afterwards, and the blood started flowing again, I could feel the burn that indicated a mild case of frostbite. By the time I got home and took a shower the end of one of my big toes was black and quite painful. Last year I got mild cases of frostbite on several occasions and it seems that the more it happens the more likely you are to get it again.

Speaking of cold... I found a neoprene sleeve for my CamelBak hose that Chuck gave me a few years ago, and it seemed to work pretty well to help keep the hose from freezing during the run. I also filled my bladder with hot water, and after each time I took a drink I blew a little air back into the hose to clear the water out. The only issue I had was that there was just enough water in the mouthpiece for it to freeze right away. I tried to take my first drink about 8 minutes into the run and it was already frozen. I stuffed the end of the hose down the front of my jacket and this was enough to thaw it out and keep it from re-freezing during the rest of the run. Maybe one day Nuun will make an antifreeze drink mix and I won't have to go through such lengths to keep my drink from freezing on such cold days.

The worst part of the run, or best part of the training depending on how you look at it, was the run up Lunch Break Hill at the end. Snowmobiles only go about 1/4 of the way up so most of the climb we were breaking trail. Killer. The run down the Terrace Trail from the summit was fun, not much foot traffic so it was a little slippery but I love running fast down that hill, especially in the snow.

Now hopefully I didn't overdo-it before tomorrow's snowshoe race. I never planned to taper, but I certainly don't want to suffer through it any more than one normally suffers in a snowshoe race.

time: 2:57:15
distance: 15.71 miles
pace: 11:18

conditions: loose, light snow, on not-well-packed snowmobile trails

weather: overcast & snowy, light wind, single digit temps

gear: Inov-8 Roclite 295 with screws, sock liners, wool socks, tights, long sleeve top, short sleeve top, jacket, gloves, mittens, buff, nathan HPL #020

Friday, January 20, 2012

Breaking Trail

Part one of preparing for the snowshoe race that I'm not really training for was running the course 4 times in two weeks, part two was getting out and actually running in my snowshoes. Yesterday's run almost doesn't count as a snowshoe run because the snow was so hard packed. Today was a different story thanks to about 6" of fresh powder falling overnight.

So I say that I'm not training for the snowshoe race, I guess all that means is that overall my training is leading up to something much bigger, and there will be a number of smaller races along the way that I'll do as part of my training for the Peak 50 miler in May.

There's no such thing as an easy workout when you're breaking trail in snowshoes. Although my pace was slow the effort was significant. I parked at my local Hannaford and jumped onto the River Point Trails, and I wasn't the first person to get out there today but I did make it farther than the other tracks I found. And in this kind of snow one set of tracks doesn't constitute a packed trail.

It was a fun run and felt good to get my local trails packed down a bit.

time: 46:45
distance: 3.77 miles

conditions: fresh light powder over a crusty base

gear: Inov-8 F-lite 300 with Atlas Run snowshoes

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another Double Squall

I met up with Jeremy today at the Brad for a run on the Squall course. The plan was to do one lap in snowshoes and the other without. With the limited snow we've had so far this winter and recent rain Ryan and I were uncertain about the status of this weekend's snowshoe race, so a little course recon was called for. I also wanted to get in another couple laps of the course to help prepare myself mentally for the race. Over the past year I've had a handful of PR's and I attribute that largely to being better prepared mentally.

We decided to run the first lap in snowshoes, I guess to get the hard stuff out of the way first. The trails were packed from a lot of foot traffic in the park so snowshoes weren't really needed. Even on Kirsta's which received very little traffic (Danielle & Mindy were out earlier in the week and were likely the only ones to set foot on the trail since the previous snowfall) the snow wasn't very deep and there was a layer of crusty ice on top of the snow. We kept the pace pretty easy and conversational and talked a bit about our race plans. Since both of us are training for ultras in the spring we both agreed that while we planned to do all the races of the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series they were really just part of the training and not major goals in and of themselves.

We finished the first lap in a little under 44 minutes, a little fast for an "easy" snowshoe run but like I said, the trails were so well packed that snowshoes weren't even needed, so it was just like running with a little extra weight on our feet. We took a few minutes to switch into regular shoes and then headed back out for another lap. This time around we maintained about the same effort and finished the course in about 42 minutes. It's a good thing snow is expected tonight, the course really needs it.

Now that I've run the Squall course 4 times in the past two weeks I feel pretty good about how to race it, I just hope I've got some energy left after my planned long run on Saturday.

time: 1:18:26
distance: 7.32 miles
pace: 10:43

weather: sunny, low 20's

conditions: hard packed snow, ice

gear: Inov-8 F-lite 300 w/ Atlas Run snowshoes lap one, Inov-8 Roclite 295 with screws for lap two.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Local Snomo Trails

I had thoughts about doing a double today. It was Mindy's fault since she suggested doing hills mid-day, even though we didn't end up running together I still got out around 11:30 with Jeff, James and our dogs. Since the weather forecast was calling for rain later in the day I thought it would be a god idea to get the dogs out while it was still nice and sunny. We headed over to Hardy Road to check out the snowmobile trails on Leighton Hill (part of Blackstrap Hill).

We got in a nice 5.5 mile lolipop loop on mostly well-packed snowmobile trails, at a nice easy pace. As the afternoon progressed and the weather got worse the idea of running for a second time today, in the dark and rain, became less appealing and I easily convinced myself that it wasn't necessary.

I recently starting using RunningAHEAD as my training log, but I still miss some of the features of Sport Tracks which I had been using for years. The interactive maps from RA are pretty cool, as well as the ability to schedule workouts, and share training logs online. I miss the elevation profiles from ST though, the one on the map above needs to be refreshed each time you look at it in order to display something closer to reality, the default display is way off.

time: 56:19
distance: 5.49 miles
pace: 10:16

conditions: snowy trails packed by snowmobile traffic, loose under foot

weather: low 30's, mostly sunny

gear: Inov-8 Roclite 295 with screws, wool socks, tights, 2x long sleeve tops, gloves, hat

Monday, January 16, 2012

Road 15

I decided to join Emma for her long road run again this week, 15 miles at as easy (8:30-ish) pace. I had a little lingering tightness in my calves following Saturday's run, and due to the absurd cold on Sunday I decided not to bother running. An easy paced run in warmer weather (mid 20's) seemed like a good idea. Since Emma was once again recovering from an overnight shift at work and only got 4 hours of sleep before the run I was pretty sure we'd be able to keep it slow.

Most of the first three miles are a pretty substantial uphill on the route I had worked out, so there wasn't much risk of going out too fast. For some reason our trip to Scotland last November messed with my Garmin and everything got reset. Since then it hasn't been indicating my mile spits, and generally I don't really care so I hadn't bothered to figure out how to get the split thingy turned back on. Today I did want to try to keep an eye on our pace so I was left to do it the old fashioned way, but I've never been good at doing math on the run. I got as far as three miles, when I noted that we were averaging just over an 8:30 pace. After that I lost interest in trying to do the math and just tried to run at what felt like an easy pace.

Emma and I chatted as we ran, and I would hear her Garmin beeping at the splits but our two watches never coincide with distance (my piece-of-junk 405 is always shorter that her 305). We never actually discussed the pace, just both seemed content to be running together. Although I'd rather be on trails I'll take what I can get with Emma, and these days she doing most of her runs on the road as she's training for a road half marathon this spring. 

I decided to wear my Brooks Cascadias today, they've got the biggest heal of anything I own right now which seemed like a good idea to reduce the strain on my achilles and calves. While most of my running is in shoes with a fairly low heel-toe differential (6 to 9 mm) I'll try to run in something beefier if I feel like I've over-worked my achilles. It seemed to work since the pain I had been feeling before the run disappeared quickly and wasn't an issue at all during the run. I bought the Cascadias in June, 2008 to wear for the Vermont 100. I actually bought 3 pair of them in 2008 so I could change out of my wet ones during the race. Even though I did a fair amount of training in them in early 2008 I've hardly worn them since the race so 2 of the 3 pairs still have a lot of life left in them. These days I like to use lighter, lower shoes on trails so the Cascadias have become my back-up road shoe. At this rate I should be able to get another 3+ years out of them.

Somewhere around 11 miles into the run Emma passed me and although she didn't say anything I got the distinct impression she thought I was going too slow. She's always been much more consistent than me and I'm pretty sure she wasn't trying to speed up, just trying to keep me from slowing her down. When we got to 13 miles we crossed Rt 302, and with just over 2 miles to go there was a noticeable increase in Emma's pace. Nothing outrageous, but I knew what she was up to. When we hit 14 miles there was another little injection of speed, and this time I responded by opening up my stride and pushing a bit more. I was surprised that after a 12.5 hour overnight shift and only 4 hours of sleep Emma was able to kick it in at the end of a long run. Wait a minute, that shouldn't surprise me.

The last mile came in at a 7:15 pace which was just what we needed to drop the average pace of the entire run to just below 8's. What I was truly surprised about was how good we both felt throughout the run, up until the last two miles it was really pretty effortless running. Of course having each others company provided a pleasant distraction along the way. Sometimes road running isn't all that bad.

time: 2:00:33
distance: 15.1 miles
pace: 7:59

weather: cloudy, mid 20's

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Oxymoron Loop

Due to crappy weather and the realization that I hadn't given myself much of a recovery from last weekend's 50k I decided to take Thursday and Friday off. Nothing was feeling bad, just seemed like the right thing to do. We got about 6 inches of new snow on Thursday, but then some sleet and freezing rain that created a hard icy layer on top and left things in a bad condition for running. I was hopeful that snowmobiles would have been out before our Saturday morning run and that we'd be able to do the first run of the year on the Beautiful Loop. I had seen some snowmobile traffic on my local trails so I left the house early this morning to do a little reconnaissance near Bradbury. The first few spots where snowmobiles usually cross the road were free from any tracks, but I found some tracks across Pownal Rd so I was hopeful we'd be able to make it around the 15 mile loop.

Shortly after I got to the park Alan came in from running a few miles on the East Side trails and reported that he hadn't seen any snomo tracks, and that gaiters were a good idea. D'oh! It never occurred to me to bring gaiters, but Alan was right, it turned out they were needed. Jeremy, Ben, Zak, Nathan and Alan we're all up for giving the Beautiful Loop a try, and Mindy & Val planned to follow our tracks as long as they could. No one knew what to expect, but we were all up for some adventure.

Each step broke through the crusty layer of ice and sunk into a dry, sugary snow beneath. The edges of the ice holes we created were hard and jagged and scraped the hell out of our ankles. As much as possible we were trying to follow the footsteps of whoever was breaking trail out front. It took about 2.25 miles and almost a half hour before we eventually hit the snowmobile tracks, which unfortunately only lasted about 1/2 mile. After another stretch of unbroken snow we got back onto snomo tracks around 4.5 miles and then had a decent stretch of about 3.5 miles of well packed trails.

At 7.25 miles we hit Chandler Brook, the only river crossing without a bridge. This river is the reason why we only run this loop in the winter, unless you want to swim there is no other way across until it freezes, and given the relatively warm winter we've had so far I was doubtful that we'd be able to make it across. It looked pretty frozen at first, but we walked to the edge and could see open water up stream, obviously not a good sign. We all agreed it would be stupid to try to cross the thin ice so we turned back to look for an alternate route. A minute later I heard someone exclaim "holy shit! Alan's on the other side." We all looked back and saw Alan waving from the opposite side of the river. That probably wasn't a good idea, but we all followed his lead and one at a time made it across the sketchy ice.

By mile 8 we ran out of tracks to follow and were left to break trail on our own. I kept hoping we'd pick up another set of tracks but it never happened, and the terrain was getting worse with more hills and more unexpected things lurking under the ice and snow. At each road crossing I offered up a bail out option for a shortcut back to the park, but Alan (who had already got in a few miles before the rest of us arrived and was suffering from some cramping) was the only one to accept. It was pretty clear that we were all struggling a bit, but no one wanted to be the one who suggested we take the easy way out. I call these types of runs "character building workouts," when you're running in conditions that are (hopefully) far worse than you'll ever encounter in a race, and you're not only getting a good physical workout but you're really pushing yourself mentally. In training I like to put myself in situations where I have a choice of taking the easy way out, or to keep pushing on despite the conditions. In a long race you'll often find yourself in a situation where you want to give up, it's good to know that you have experience pushing through it. We had a good strong group today and we all helped each other stay motivated and positive.

The elevation profile doesn't accurate reflect the perception of hills on this route, the second half definitely feels like it has a lot of tough ups. That surely has to do with the fatigue we were starting to feel from breaking trail for so long. The one thing that the elevation profile does appear to get right is the big friggin' climb at the end. About 350' in just over a mile. It was brutal. But we were SuperBad...

After the run we regrouped at Edna & Lucy's to refuel and relive the experience. Mindy and Val came in shortly afterwards and we had fun catching up with their experience on the Beautiful Loop. It really wasn't pretty, but we all agreed that it was a fun adventure and a hell of a workout.

time: 3:05:49
distance: 15.55 miles
pace: 11:57

weather: mid 20's, cloudy and breezy

gear: Inov-8 Oroc 280, wool socks + sock liners, tights, 2x long sleeve tops, gloves, mittens, hat, Nathan HPL#020

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Westbrook Half Marathon

Emma is training for a road half marathon in a few months and we had planned to go for a run on the course this Thursday, but with the impending snow storm we decided to get the run in a day earlier and stick to local roads. Emma had worked an overnight shift the night before, so after about 3 hours of sleep we headed out on a route through Westbrook that I had mapped out, with the intention of this being an easy paced run. I'm thinking about jumping in the race with her, although I haven't committed to any real training for it yet. My bigger goal is the Peak 50 miler in May, and I don't see the point in spending too much time doing faster road runs as part of my ultra training. I'll probably just end up going along to support Emma.

The temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up throughout the course of our run so we ended up picking up the pace just a bit in an effort to keep warm. A few decent hills along the way also helped to keep us warm, at least the uphill parts. The down were pretty chilly.

We kept the pace conversational and were both surprised to be ticking off the miles at right around an 8 minute pace. It was a little faster than we had expected but the level of effort felt right so we went with it. I hope that Emma is able to get some of her speed back, so far things are shaping up pretty well for her.

I think it's about time for me to get some new road shoes, I've been doing most of my road runs (not that there are that many) in a pair of Saucony Grid Sinisters I bought back in January 2009. The only other pair of road shoes I've bought since then are Saucony Type A4, I think back in the summer of 2010, but they're a little too light and breathable (6.4 oz) for winter running. I think I might check out the Saucony Kinvara, I've heard a lot of good things about that shoe from other folks.

time: 1:45:42
distance: 13.16 miles
pace: 8:02

weather: upper 20's, temperature dropped and wind picked up

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday Nights Faster

Our Tuesday night runs at Pratt's Brook Park in Yarmouth are getting faster every week. I don't think it's intentional, at least not on my part, but that seems to be what's happening. I guess now that we're all starting to get to know the new route it's easier to move faster.

I was surprised to find that there weren't any significant lingering effects from my previous weekend's running (45 miles in three days) so I was happy to move along at what felt like a fairly quick pace. I've been bringing both my dogs out on Tuesday nights recently, so maybe it's their fault for setting a faster pace. I had run the route with them a few times during the day before taking them out at night in hopes that they would learn the route and spend less time out ahead exploring during our night time runs. They seem to do well following the route, it's the rest of us that need to be on top of things to make sure we go the right way. Despite running there for about two months now we still make wrong turns every now and then.

All in all a great run and I was really happy that the jump up to a 50k didn't kill me.

time: 47:35
distance: 5.35 miles
pace: 8:54

weather: upper 30's

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Double Squall, hold the snow

Following yesterday's 50k I knew I needed a nice easy recovery run to shake out some of the tightness that lingered in my legs. Somehow that's not exactly what I got.

Emma was uncertain about doing the Bradbury Squall snowshoe race in two weeks so she wanted a guided tour of the course. Since we haven't done much trail running together over the past few weeks I wasn't about to turn down an invitation from her to run at Bradbury. After a miserable nights sleep (I rarely sleep well the night after an ultra) and a sluggish start to the morning we got to Bradbury a little after 12:00 and set off at a very crippled looking pace. The first mile is all up hill so it's not surprising that it was pretty slow, not to mention that the single track of Krista's can be hard to follow when there is a dusting of snow on the ground. For the most part conditions were pretty good, a little snow cover here and there, but not much ice.

Once we got to the Tote Road the running was easier but the pace didn't reflect it. Lucky for me Emma was having some stomach problems so she was happy to go at my recovery pace. The downhill on the back side of the mountain helped to loosen things up for me, but some of the steepest parts were covered in ice which forced our pace to be very cautious.

Once we got back on to the Northern Loop trail for the last half mile we were both feeling a lot better and cruised along at a blistering 10 minute pace. By the time we finished the 3.5 mile race course we felt sufficiently warmed up to take another spin around. This time Emma lead the way to see how well she paid attention on the first lap, and not surprisingly she pushed the pace more than on the first lap. That's not to say we were going hard, just that everything seemed to be in good working order for both of us and a slightly quicker pace felt good.

Despite some pretty significant elevation this was just what I needed to loosen up my tight legs. Snow is in the forecast for later in the week but I don't know if it will be enough for the snowshoe race. Ryan has decided to hold the race regardless of the snow conditions which I think is the right decision. If we don't have snow it will be a trail race.

time: 1:20:14
distance: 7.14 miles
pace: 11:14

weather: upper 30's, sunny

First Week of 2012

2012 is off to a good start for me so I thought it might be a good time to get back in to writing about my running. Things have been going well for quite a while now, but I got out of the habit of writing and have found it difficult to get back into it. Looking back at 2011 I wish I had documented my training better, in hopes that I might be able to repeat certain aspects of it and improve upon others. 2011 was the first year that I documented all of my running, although I did little more that just save the data recorded by my Garmin.

Even though I don't have complete data from any of my previous 12 years of running I'm fairly certain that 2011 was my highest mileage year at 2,122.5 miles. I spent a little more than 402 hours running, which works out to an average of 5.8 miles per day at an 11:23 pace. I guess singletrack, snowshoe and ultra running makes me slow, not surprising really. I only ran 272 miles on road, the other 1851 miles were on trail and I didn't set foot on a treadmill once.

Back to 2012, the first full week of the new year included PRs at both a road 10k as well as a trail 50k. I have to admit that I didn't see either of these coming. I don't do much road running, and even when I do it's not particularly fast and, like most of my training, is pretty unstructured. The Hangover Classic 10k in Salisbury, MA is a race that Emma and I do every year, mostly so we can join the crowd jumping into the ocean immediately after the run. This is the only 10k I have run in the past 4 years and my times have been all over the place depending on obvious factors like training, and then other factors like how late I stayed up on New Year's Eve and how much I had to drink. This year's pre-race alco-loading included moderate quantities of champagne, wine, beer and whiskey, and a bed time around 1:00 AM. Luckily the race didn't start until 11:30 AM so I was still able to get a reasonable amount of sleep. The course is totally flat, but features quite a few tight turns which I actually like a lot. All the single-track trail running I do seems to translate well to making tight turns on the road without losing speed. The temperature was warm for January and perfect for a short race, sunny and high 40's. I didn't look at my watch at all during the race so I really didn't know how I was doing until I approached the finish line and could see 39:xx on the clock. I've never broken 41 minutes in a 10k so I was psyched to cross the line in 39:46. I'm not sure that I've run a 6:23 pace for even one mile of my training on 2011 so I don't know how the hell I managed to do it for 10k. Must be a short course.

Since I had run 19 miles the day before the 10k I took Monday off, I definitely needed a rest day. Tuesday was the regular TMR Tuesday Night Run at Pratt's Brook in Yarmouth. 5.35 miles at a 9:14 pace which felt pretty brisk for that (icy) terrain (in the dark). I blame Nathan for pushing the pace.

Wednesday was another day off, knowing that I'd be running 50k (hopefully) at the GAC Fat Ass on Saturday I wanted to be well rested going in. Thursday morning I took the dogs with me to meet up with Mindy for some exploration on Tryon Mountain, a little bump to the north of Bradbury Mt. We spent close to 2 hours wandering around, getting lost and then found. Although we only covered a little more that 6 miles it was a lot of fun and a nice easy pace to keep things loose.

I'm not sure what got into me on Friday, but I decided to do some hill repeats on the roads. We received close to 2" of snow over night, and I feared that the trails would be treacherously icy, and not that the roads were much better but I figured that running up and down a cul-de-sac in my neighborhood was pretty safe. Seven times up and down seemed like enough, and hopefully not too much to hinder me on Saturday.

For some reason I was on the fence about doing the GAC Fat Ass 50k this year, I guess in part because I hadn't done much long running since the Stone Cat 50 miler in November. The month of November was intentionally my lowest mileage month of the year at 125 miles. I wasn't happy with my performance at Stone Cat and knew that I needed some significant rest time before I got back into training. Even though I was considering the 50k on January 7th and I had a steady month of running throughout December, I didn't have many significant long runs. Only three long runs between 18 and 20 miles, and an average weekly mileage in the high 40's. I felt strong and consistent, but not really what I would consider to be fully trained for a 50k race. The good thing about a Fat Ass 50k is that it's not a race, and with the multi-loop format it's easy to stop early if things aren't going well.

When I eventually decided that I was definitely going to take part I still wasn't convinced that I'd be able to finish the full distance. My goal was to run consistently, and slightly faster than a relaxed pace, but certainly not pushing it. I had pushed the pace early at Stone Cat and paid the price by slowing down quite severely.

With temperatures at the start in the upper 30's and predicted to reach 50 there was a huge group of runners, well over 100. There was a big contingent of Trail Monsters in attendance this year, but everyone had different plans/goals so I wasn't sure if I'd end up running with anyone.  This was the first year that I've seen this event without snow cover, and conditions were ideal for allowing good times. Our group stuck together fairly well for the first mile or so before breaking up a bit and I settled in with Jim and then caught up to Jamie. We finished the first lap together in 53 minutes, Jim and Jamie waited while I hit the restroom. We set off on lap 2 together but first Jamie, then Jim pulled off the trail for bio-breaks and by mile 10 I was running alone. But not for long, when I finished the second lap I was in time to meet up with Nate who had been just a bit ahead of me but stopped at the aid station, so we set off together.

The one aspect of my Stone Cat approach that I chose to carry forward was to run with as much food and drink as I could reasonably carry to balance efficient running without needing to stop at the aid station for breaks. This strategy seemed to be working pretty well for me, although in hind sight I think I would have benefited from eating and drinking more of what I had with me.

Lap 3 turned out to be the fastest of the day for both Nate and I, and when we finished he took a few minutes at the aid station while I kept cruising. I figured that I had enough water in my pack to get me through another 10k lap. My pace was looking pretty good at this point, fairly consistent and on track for a good finish time, but I knew that I still had over 12 miles to go and I was starting to feel the miles already under my belt. At this point I felt pretty confident that I could complete the full 50k distance, and I just hoped that I could keep myself from crashing. My energy level was good but there was a lot of tightness in my right side from my glutes through my hamstring and into my calf. This has been on ongoing issue for me over the past two years and I began to realize that the race at the beginning of the week, and perhaps the previous days hill repeats were causing the issue to flare up again.

Luckily that tightness didn't cause much of a slow down on lap 4, and after a quick stop just to add a little more water to my bladder I was off to finish this 50k. I had run all of lap 4 alone, apart from passing a few folks and I was sure that lap 5 would be even more lonely. This was part of my downfall at Stone Cat, after a summer and fall of running with Emma and so many of my Trail Monster friends I found that I lacked the ability to really push myself when I was alone in the later stages of a long run. I let myself mentally quit at Stone Cat, but I was determined not to let that happen today.

My legs were getting tired and the tightness on the right side was getting worse. I felt like I had to work a lot harder just to maintain the pace I had been doing. I felt like I was slowing down, but it was hard to tell. My watch read 3:30 at the end of the fourth lap, so I set myself a goal of running this last lap in under an hour so I could break 4:30 for the full distance. It seemed reasonable but based on how much I've seen myself slow down in the past I knew that breaking an hour was somewhat optimistic.

Even though I didn't have anyone to run with there were still a lot of people out on the course and I frequently found someone to chase down. I picked off a few runners who were ahead of me and started lapping runners who were on their 4th lap. This helped keep me motivated and distract me from the growing discomfort in my legs. With about 1.5 miles to go all the (little) hills and technical terrain (not that there was much of that) were out of the way and I attempted to pick the pace up. I think the reality is that I began to slow down at a slower rate, which is kind of like getting faster.

I didn't check my watch until I was almost at the end, and I was so relieved to see that I was going to beat 4:30. It's not like I had that goal for a very long time (exactly 1 lap) but it was part of my larger goal to run with consistency. I crossed the line in 4:25 which was good enough for a new 50k PR on trails.

Finished 13 out of 80 who completed the full 50k distance. RESULTS

Lap 1: 55 minutes (53 minutes plus a 2 minute bio-break at the end of the lap)
Lap 2: 51 minutes
Lap 3: 50 minutes
Lap 4: 53 minutes (52 minutes plus a 1 minute stop to refill bladder)
Lap 5: 55 minutes

That's about as close to consistency as I can get, granted, it's not a 50 miler but I feel like it's a step in the right direction. And two PR's in one week is a heck of a way to start the year.