And It Creeps In

And It Creeps In

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Me and Ginny Dog.

I’ve been clear of it for sometime now. I pushed all the desire out of my brain. There was a inkling, a tickling in the back, but I had discipline. I knew it would do me no good, and so I pushed on. Lately, though, it’s become more difficult to keep the imagination at bay. To be honest, it didn’t take much.

January and February were both near 30 mile months. A pittance of what used to be, but a considerable amount more than the zeros that filled all but a handful of 2016’s days. No doubt, it’s too soon to tell, but I’m slowly starting to ramp up some miles. A push day here, a day off there, a patient waiting for the aches and stiffness to return to the Achilles. Much to my pleasure though, the Achilles hasn’t felt like anything. It’s almost returned to just another body part I’m only aware of when I consciously think about how it feels.

Over the past week, I’ve increased not only my mileage, but frequency. Probably a bad call in retrospect, but it’s one I almost can’t help. Last week I had a plan to push mileage on Friday. Things had felt good, and I had decided it was time to push mileage a little and see how the body reacted. So I laced up my Simply Shod huaraches, got the Ginny Dog and ambled over to the local wildlife management area (WMA) – a 5500 acre parcel essentially human-less outside of hunting season. Surrounding the WMA is more privately owned land and a multitude of old woods roads and atv trails ready to be explored.

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This is what I missed.

I didn’t explore as much as I wanted, and was cautiously slow – although, it was probably still too fast as I am rebuilding from essentially zero base – but I still managed to get in 5 miles. What Joy! I know nature is beautiful. I know the gifts and blessings that lie in the quiet and solitude of woods devoid of humans. Of course with this little adventure, I went to bed Friday night filled with joy despite being resolved that Saturday morning would bring stiffness and aches. But when I rolled out of bed Saturday morning, there was nothing. No stiffness, no ache, no twinge. It was good.

Saturday took some discipline. I wanted to get back out into the woods, but I pushed it off. I waited until Sunday and went for another – shorter and slower – three mile run. Again Monday morning, no pain, no discomfort. And while I didn’t do anything on Monday, Tuesday was an easy, quicker two miles that led to zero pain on Wednesday morning.

It’s not much, maybe I’ll get 12 miles this week over the course of three days. The struggle is between an over-cautious fear of re-injuring my Achilles and being out even longer, and an over-zealous desire to get back into things.

I’ve avoided ultrasignup for the last two years, and I really should continue, but last night I caved. In truth, there’s no telling where I’ll be in November. In fact, I probably shouldn’t even be considering anything of ultra distance this year. I can’t help it. As I sat at the computer, perusing the semi-local races, I couldn’t help but map a 45 mile run utilizing the two bridges that cross the local river. I’m not sure why. I can’t help it; though I suppose, the mind can be over-zealous so long as I don’t let it drive my body. Sitting out all those months was the hardest part of this injury, but the slow wade back into things is proving to be difficult in it’s own way.

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Pipe Dreams.

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Goldilocks Would Have Been A Runner

Goldilocks Would Have Been A Runner

Trying to recover is almost as much work as trying to train for a fast marathon: it requires much discipline, it takes time, cross-training helps. I’ve never really been a huge fan of cross-training. In my mind – most of the time – if you want to get better at something, you practice specifically at that one thing. If you want to get better at math, you don’t practice spelling. Running is a little different than that analogy, but not totally off. Sure biking helps leg muscles, and maybe weight training helps with posture and form late in a race, but the question is whether or not the time spent on the bike or in the gym wouldn’t have been better spent on the trail. The catch is that for some of us, there is no choice. We put work in on the bike or at the gym because our bodies couldn’t handle it if we put that time, effort and work into running. I know for me, my Achilles would quickly return to it’s broken status.

In an attempt to keep the Achilles safe, but still put some miles and work on the muscular and cardiovascular systems I hope to once again push, I’ve taken to cross-training. I’ve done a little weight stuff here and there but most of my cross-training has been time spent on the bike cruising at a whopping 18 mph, or power walking at a killer 12:00 minute mile pace. In truth, I don’t altogether mind the biking or walking; it gets me out the door and can even help me break a sweat, but after a time, there is only so much one can do.

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White lines and asphalt.

I know I’m not traveling that fast on the bike. In fact, I’m pretty slow, but all the same, it’s too fast. Pedaling down the road, pushing down the hills, even crawling up the hills, it’s too fast. For the most part, I ride with my head down, looking slightly forward. My view includes asphalt and a white line for the duration of my ride. Sometimes, I can catch a sight or two out of the peripheral, but if I actually turn my head away from the road ahead to glance at something more interesting, I find myself drifting towards those yellow lines in the middle of the road and I don’t foresee that ending too well. So instead I keep my head down, and follow the white line.

I don’t just run for the health benefits, I run to explore as well. Biking doesn’t allow for this. I suppose it could, but that would require another bike and trails upon which to ride. I’m not buying another bike, and I can’t really build a trail network. I could however explore on my walks. And so I’ve gone to the woods to do my walking, but while the bike is simply too fast to appreciate the natural beauty, a walk is too slow. Trees can be a magnificent installation on the landscape, but after staring at the same piece for a while, it’s time to move on. Walking img_20170214_114747doesn’t provide this, at least for me not quickly enough. While I enjoy getting out and getting the heart rate up a bit, I find myself almost bored with how long it takes to get from point A to point B.

For me, running is where it’s at. It’s just fast enough to keep things fresh, but not so fast as to require a helmet and all of my attention. I can explore at will. Running seems to be quick enough and technical enough to free my mind of any thinking, but at the same time, allow for it if I want. Walking is too slow for mental freedom, and the bike too basic. I suppose when I get healthy again, I’ll still do some cross-training, but I don’t ever foresee a replacement for just-rightness of running.

New Home

So it’s been a while, that’s okay. Life has been busy. Since I last posted, I hosted another kick ass fat ass. Sixty-five plus people that all astonished me. Some awesome volunteers who braved the cold and stood around outside making sure people knew where they were going and were happy.

I’ve also managed to keep plugging at 20-25 miles per week mending my achilles. It’s long and slow, but I think things are getting better. Think.

I’m also hosting – sort of – another ultra on 8/22 in Paradise Park in Windsor, VT. Just a six hour, but a hell of a 2+ mile loop. Lots of up and down, technical trails, some not so technical. Should be fun. Register here: Six Hours in Paradise.

Unfortunately, I won’t actually be there to put it on. I’ll be in my new home in Dublin, GA! We finally did it. Not that we didn’t love Vermont, but between the price tag of Vermont Life and the dismal weather, we decided to go elsewhere. (Don’t worry, Six Hours in Paradise will still go on, I just won’t be running the show directly.)
water tower

Hopefully, I’ll be keeping up more with this thing. Sharing new adventures and red dirt. Hoping to host some ultras down here, and start to find a new community. Woooo sweat!

New England Weather, Snow Plows, and 130 Laps

A month or so ago, I was alerted to a marathon happening in Hartford, CT. I’d only run two marathons before, and since this was an indoor marathon, it seemed like a good chance to go for a long run and give the Achilles a nice little test run. Sure I could go for a long run and see what happens, but it just made more sense to do it when the furthest I would ever stop from the start would be a tenth of a mile.

All the stuff.

All the stuff.

Gearing up I didn’t really have a plan. I had an idea, but no real plan. My hope was to go out, run some seven minute miles and see how things felt. If nothing else I could slow down, but ideally I wouldn’t go faster than that. But of course, as things go, this would certainly not be the case.

As race day approached, the forecast started warning of a snow storm for the Hartford area Friday night into Saturday. As Saturday progressed, the snow was supposed to worsen. It sounded like getting to the race would be easy enough, but coming home might be a struggle. I checked the weather the night before and figured two-and-a-half hours for a normal two hour ride would be fine. It was all down at least two-lane interstate and I wasn’t supposed to hit snow until at least halfway there.

The 'clean' roads of Massachusetts.

The ‘clean’ roads of Massachusetts.

About a half hour into the ride, the snow flakes started falling. Not heavy, but they were coming. As I got closer to half-way, the snow really started coming down. Speed slowed from 80 to 40. At points I couldn’t see the lanes – 6:30/7:00 on a Saturday morning, no plows in sight. At a couple of points I almost turned around, but convinced myself that I had already paid my money and things couldn’t get that much worse. I was sort of right.

Vermont does something funny with their roads. I’m not sure what it is, a lack of salt, sand, no plowing, something; for as soon as I hit the Massachusetts border, the roads cleared up. What was once unidentifiable as a road quickly became a skim coat of slush on top of pavement and we started driving a little faster. We were still going slow, but I still had almost two hours until race start. I was a little behind schedule, but would be okay.

I’m not sure where I was when it happened, I recall seeing a sign for Hartford, CT 44 miles, but don’t’ know if I was infront or behind. Slowly traffic in front of me started building and we started slowing down quickly. It reminded me of rush hour traffic getting off of NYC. As we got to a long downhill, I could see the hold up, three plows across two lanes of traffic driving 20 MPH. There was no way around them and it looked like they were making the roads worse. As I rode behind the snow plows it started to dawn on me that I would not make the race on time. I convinced myself it was okay. It was just laps.

Lap Number...

Lap Number…

Finally the plows pulled off at an exit and I was on my way to Connecticut. Not having clocked mileage I had no idea how far it was to Hartford. I knew the exit, but no mileage. And of course, the kind folks in the Connecticut DOT don’t feel it’s necessary to put up those signs, so once again, I was driving blind with a timer running out and no sense of how far I had left to go. Finally about five minutes before race start, I pulled off the exit. The arena, which I assumed would be well marked with road signs, was not. As I looked skyward to the top of the buildings, I saw a big ‘xl’ on the side of one, surely that was the xl Center. Wrong. But they did give me directions to the right xl Center.

At 9:15 I showed up, grabbed my bib, got changed and hit the track. The adrenalin from rushing around and being late had managed to push all sense out of my head. My 7:00/mile race plan vanished. There were people everywhere on the track and I just went. I clicked off the first couple of laps in 1:20 (it was 5 laps to a mile) and knew I was too fast. I tried to slow down and I managed to for a few laps here and there, but it was a constant battle. I had found a rhythm and with people all around and a DJ who thought he was hosting a roller skating dance party in 1994, it was all but impossible to break out.

When I run, I talk to myself. Sometimes I whistle or sing. It’s all out loud. Usually outdoors, this doesn’t matter, I’m relatively alone and no one can hear me. Inside is a different situation and I got more than a few looks as I tried to talk myself into slowing down, mostly by cussing myself out and using a litany of derogatory terms.

I rolled through the first half in a 1:27ish and knew I was going to be hurting by the end. I could keep the pace for a while longer, but I wasn’t sure how much longer. By mile 17 I had stopped carrying my Orange Mud Handheld for a couple laps at a time and carried it consistently. By mile 20 I was shot. My quads were beat and I knew I was done. I stopped at the water station a couple of times and chatted to the girl while she filled my handheld. All sense of urgency was gone and I was hitting 8:00 miles.

It was the first time I used Gatorade during a race. Usually I’m just a rinse and spit kind of guy, but as it was indoors, there was no spitting. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind it, and while I didn’t feel any difference in energy, it did taste good.

SKORA Form, Orange Mud duffel and Handheld. First time my name is on a bib!

SKORA Form, Orange Mud duffel and Handheld. First time my name is on a bib!

I ended up finishing third in an official time of 3:19:52 but if I had showed up on time, or if the clock started when I started it was a 3:06:28. Given that I’ve been running 30mpw since July, I’m pleased. I will add that the DOMS are killing me. I recovered faster after the Joe English 6hr than I did this marathon.

The Forethought: VT100 Part I

This is Part I. Part II can be found here. Part III is here.

In The Beginning

A few months ago I decided to sign up for the VT100. At the time, I hadn’t yet run my first 50 miler but with some running background, I thought it would be a good idea. April came and I ran my first 50. My legs hurt and recovery took a little longer than anticipated, but part of me was still excited for my first go at 100 miles. Soon enough, July 19th came and my first attempt at a 100 was underway.

Of the many things I remember from racing – be it true or not – is that the sleep you get two nights before a race is more important than the night before. I tried, and I think I did a fairly decent job getting in bed early and racking up a decent eight hours or so of sleep. The night before the race was a totally different story for a number of reasons.

Leading In

On Wednesday my father came out to help me put siding on our house. Over the last year we have connected two shed dormers and raised the roof line on our house; the siding was the final step. Consequently, the three days prior to the race were predominately devoted to finishing the house and not preparing for Saturday. All my final packing, planning, making food, got put on hold until Friday night. Friday itself was spent trying to register and finish the siding.

I showed up to registration, got my packet and weighed in – 156.6 pounds and a blood

The tents on Silver Hill.

The tents on Silver Hill.

pressure of 137/78 (whatever that means) – I moseyed over to register my vehicle on foot and was told that I actually needed the vehicle to register it. Oops. I figured knowing the license plate would be good enough. Wrong. Not a big deal, it just meant that I’d get home, and come back to register the car before the 4:00 PM meeting. Unfortunately, what is normally a 10 minute drive was more like 20 with all the local road closures to VT100 traffic – thank you cranky neighbors… So instead of having a few minutes before the meeting and after the siding was completed to get my stuff together, it meant I was going to do it after the meeting, which meant after dinner, which meant after my wife got home, and more than likely meant after the kids got to bed around 8:00PM.

The Strategy

To say that I had no strategy for this race would be a lie, but to say I had any realistic idea about strategy would also be a lie. The previous 50 miler I ran was on similar roads – though no trails – and I managed to run that just under seven hours. I knew that to try and run an equally fast opening 50 would be stupid and that I should go out conservatively, but as to what conservative was, I had little idea. I knew I could run ten-minute miles for the first 50 fairly easily and probably roll through the 100k at the same pace. It sounded manageable; I was sure I would blow up, so the idea in my head was to push that out as close to the end as I could. The problem was that ten-minute miles means an 8:20 50 mile, or a 16:40 100 mile, or in other words, way too fast. Regardless, anything faster than 10:00 was not on my agenda.

One of the big dilemmas I was having concerning building a strategy was the idea of a DNF. I’ve had a couple of DNS’es thanks to over zealous race choices and a bit of a drinking problem, but I’ve never DNF’ed. Dabbling in the ultra world, I’ve come to grips that a DNF will eventually occur, but I’m not ready yet. Running my first 50 I knew I would finish. I was confident in my conditioning and ability to push through, sure 50 miles is far, but it’s not that far, even if I had to walk it in for a 15 hour finish. A hundred miles was a whole different beast. The idea of not finishing was an actual reality, especially if I went out too fast.

In the end, I ended up writing down a number of aid stations on a piece of paper with different arrival times based on pace. Ideally, I would go through the first 50 no faster than 8:20 and just hang on for as long as I could and hope that could get me back to Silver Hill of my own volition.

The Crew

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

Yes, I affixed a deer skull to the grill of my Man-Van. Just for the race, mind you.

For me, one of the most stressful things about this whole thing was organizing my one person crew. I managed to rope my brother into driving around all day and helping me out. I first planned to meet him at the Stage Road station about 30 miles in. I could estimate a ball park as to when he should plan on being there, and even estimate times for the next two or three handler stations, but after that, I had no clue. It would be a waiting game on his part. A time to kill some forced boredom. Even when I could tell him where to be and when, I had no idea what to tell him to be ready to do. I gave him a laundry basket stocked with things I might need: extra shirt, shoes, sun hat, band-aids, food, drink, even a camera if he should decide to capture a sliver of what I was attempting on some sort of digital film. In the end, I think a couple of drop bags could have replaced my crew as I didn’t use him much at all. And I’m willing to guess drop bags are probably cheaper and come with less guilt.

So It Begins

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory 'poop' bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits...).

All my stuff: SKORA Fit, Orange Mud Vest Pack, Generic white shirt, camo bandana, and of course, the mandatory ‘poop’ bag just in-case (these were provided by the race due to previous participants unrully poo habits…).

I set the alarm on my phone for 2:45AM, enough time to perk a cup of coffee, grab a quick shower and get to West Windsor by 3:30AM. Between the hourly, startled wake-ups searching for the cell phone to reinsure me I hadn’t slept past the 4:00AM start, and the cranky toddler who kept waking up proclaiming to all that she was apparently dieing of thirst, my potential 6 hours of sleep turned into something less.

The drive to the start was less than memorable and I ended up parking in the far lot and walking down Silver Hill in a strung out crowd of strangers, all moving towards the din emanating from the giant white tent below. There were like minded runners, with tired faces, emotions still asleep, chipper crew members  in their street clothes downing their coffee and laughing at inside jokes, and sleeping babies resting on mother’s shoulders, completely unaware of what their parent was about to embark upon.

Despite the headlamp induced, shadowed faces surrounding me, I recognized a few people I knew, and as we congregated 30 yards behind the starting line, the conversation turned to everything but what we were about to do. Eventually the starter began talking and everyone’s focus began to shift.

Post-Partum: VT100 Part III

Checking In With My CORE

Peek-a-Boo

Peek-a-Boo

So, a few weeks ago I got a pair of SKORA Core in the mail and was super excited. Running in the PHASE for a while, I was a little apprehensive to try a new shoe, after all, the PHASE worked, so why change it up? My feet are rather wide – and I think I like wider shoes anyway – so I’m always leery trying a new shoe, that said, the PHASE and the CORE are built on the same platform, and being made of leather the CORE is supposedly ends up being about a half size wider.

The mailman delivered them a day early which was a wonderful surprise – he neglected to come Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day so my cards were late, again. As I opened the box I was slapped with that wonderful leather smell of a high end boutique. That, too, was quite pleasant. I put them on and walked around the house as any runner with a new pair of shoes who can’t get a run in right away will do. They were comfy. Comfy and roomy.

Typically the first thing I do with a pair of shoes is to unlace the bottom one or two eyelets to let my forefoot expand, with the CORE, I didn’t need to. It held my foot nicely and there wasn’t a lot of tension in the forefoot area.

Not quite animal print, but still sexy.

Not quite animal print, but still sexy.

Usually, I also like to wear a shoe for 200 miles or so before I decided to make any decisions, and while I haven’t hit 200 just yet, I have worn them in the rain, on the track, trails, and asphalt, as well as raced in them, so I feel fairly confident I’ve put in enough diverse miles to make a judgement call.

One of the big things with this shoe is that it is made of leather, which means that it is more durable than the mesh upper of the PHASE, but it also means it retains water a bit better, which is not a good thing. Before I got any chance to run in a real rain storm, I took them across some fields just after it rained. There weren’t big puddles, but there was definitely a fair bit of residual water still in the grass. My feet did get wet, and the remained moist a bit longer than they would in the PHASE, but not nearly as long as I expected. It also didn’t seem to add as much weight as I expected. The leather did stay damp through the evening and into the morning while the PHASE would have dried, the moisture didn’t seem to wet the feet at all. Though, the first time, the dye ran and turned my toes a mottled blue color.

The next big thing was getting these guys out on the trail. I’m not a big trail guy – I prefer dirt roads – but I do venture into the woods occasionally. Being that these two shoes are built essentially on the same platform – there is a slightly stiffer piece of rubber under the metatarsals on the CORE – I wasn’t expecting much of a difference on the trails. And, as it would turn out, there wasn’t much of a difference. The leather of the CORE feels (and probably is) a bit more durable than the PHASE and feels a little more protective on the trails, but I assume this is just perceived.

To this point I had fallen in love with my CORE. They are an awesome everyday running shoe, and I’m even contemplating getting a pair for non-running (I never wear shoes…). Then came the real test – a race (or some speed work on the track). On the track they felt good, but maybe a little loose. I worked on tightening them down and it seemed to help some. I then wore them for the Covered Bridges Half Marathon. Again, they felt awesome, but they felt a bit loose. It wasn’t an uncomfortable, unwearable loose, but for quicker events I think I like my shoes to fit a bit snugger – i.e. the PHASE.

Super comfort.

Super comfort.

At first, I thought the PHASE and the CORE wouldn’t have much difference. They’re built on the same platform. I was wrong, the leather upper of the CORE makes for a very comfy and somewhat roomy feel. The CORE also has a stiffer piece of rubber on the sole – I assume this adds some durability as well as protection. Some people mention that the ankle collar on the PHASE can be less than comfortable when new, this is not the case for the CORE. The CORE has a comfy piece of sheep skin around the heel that works well with socks, I can only imagine how comfy it feels sockless.

These shoes have quickly become a favorite for me, and I’m looking forward to getting more in the future. The only problem I’ve found is the tightening aspect. I think because they are made of leather, the last will stretch a little and in the beginning, the stretching is more, meaning you need to tighten the laces from time to time. I’m not sure I would wear them for races shorter than a marathon as the PHASE has those distances covered.

If you have further questions, or want to know more, connect with Skora on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram, or on their website. They have a plethora of running related information, and a crackpot customer service team that is beyond helpful.

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SKORA Phase

I’m Famous!!

Almost. Sort of. Okay, not really, but it is as close as I will ever get.

Back in November, I got the harebrained idea to put together a Fat Ass 50k/m race where I live. The town next door hosts the VT100 and the VT50, so why not us? I decided to call the race the Twin State 50 because it would traverse through both New Hampshire and Vermont. Also, based on my running philosophy, I wanted it to be free. That is essentially what a Fat Ass race is, a free race supported by the participants. There are no awards, some aid stations and maybe a timer. I also wanted my race to somehow stand apart from the multitude of other Fat Ass races. Yes, the TS50 course goes over the longest covered bridge in America, twice, but I wanted a little bit more.

I decided to toss in some awards. I have no budget for this race, and so decided that awards would come from my pantry and consist of something I either grew in my backyard or foraged from the local forests; this is what made me kind-of-sort-of-not-really famous.

Although lengthy, it is an interesting article getting into the direction of Ultra running regarding big race sponsorships and prize money.It comes  at an interesting time when races like Leadville, Vermont, and Umstead – staples of the Ultra race scene – all sold out the day registration opened.

You can find the article here. To find the reference to the TS50, just do a text search, or scroll down to the bottom. It’s right before the Anton Krupika quote.