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.

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Moving Forward

It’s been a little while since my last post, and not for any real lack of things to say. I hosted a little Fat Ass and got some much-needed help from VT Trail Girl in some abominable weather conditions. I got a chance to see 100:Head/Heart/Feet. I consciously neglected registering for one of my favorite half-marathons. And as the end of December came, I realized my mileage had seriously fallen off and I would be eking through the year on heavy miles put in early in the year.

Last year, when the New Year rolled around, I made a list of goals. As I look back, I achieved a good number of those goals, and while I should be happy, I’m not. I missed the most crucial goal: stay injury free. Last February I buggered up my Achilles and continued to run through it. It didn’t hurt to run, but over time, the stiffness as I got out of bed started to last longer into the morning. I knew what I was doing, but could only focus on running my first 50 and going on to complete the VT100. While I managed to do both of those things, my performance at VT was sub par for what I had hoped, but I still got it done. Part of the sub par performance was due to the Achilles finally catching up and hampering my training: lower miles, little to no speed work, and a bit of mental angst.

Since VT I’ve been hitting 20-30 miles per week with the exception of a 6hr race in October. The reduced mileage and slower pace has certainly helped. My Achilles, while it is still swollen, is not nearly the size it was back in July. Most all stiffness is gone in the morning, though my miles are still low. If I hit more than 7 or 8 miles, it’s sore the next day. There’s still some awkward pinching, and I know the end is not near. Consequently, my plans for 2015 have taken a huge change.

I mentioned that I neglected to sign up for one of my favorite half marathons and while cost is certainly a factor, there is also the knowledge that I would be heavily under-prepared and if I want to go for a 13 mile run, I can do so on my own. I was also planning on running the Lake Waramaug 50m or 100k this April, but that too has been sidelined for next year. And while I could probably putter my way through, it wouldn’t be wise, or fun. The next event quickly approaching is registration for the VT100. I’m not entirely sure yet if I want to run the 100m or the 100k, I can figure it out as the day approaches. However, with the Achilles, I’m not even sure I want to sign up. $250 is a lot of money to waste, and I’m kind of afraid that with a race picked out that far into the future, I might try to push before things are ready to be pushed. Do I register and cut my financial loss if I’m just not ready? It’s 6+ months into the future, I should be good to go, but can’t be sure of it.

Perhaps I’m being over-cautious after giving my self some serious issues, or maybe I’m just trying to protect my ego. Hopefully by September/October I’ll be trained and ready to hit some fall ultras, but we’ll see. Just lots of rehabbing in the mean time.

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Indoor Laps

I’m kind of in the ‘planning-for-2015’ mode, but haven’t gone all out yet. I have some key races in mind, but a lot depends on the Achilles and how it’s recovering. Of course it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped running. I still train lightly and have been perusing the race listings.

One of the problems with New England is that the winter has next to zero races. There’s a few frozen 5ks here or there but for the most part it’s a snow shoe race or a XC ski race. Not my thing. (There’s also the Winter Wild Series, which I think I’ll try out this winter.) The other day, I was turned onto the Arena Attack event happening down in Hartford, CT. There’s a handful of events happening at the Arena Attack, including a half-marathon, a marathon relay and a marathon.

Unfortunately, I was too late for the marathon, and all that’s left are slots in the half-marathon race. I emailed the RD and have had my name put on the wait list – #7 – not too bad, but as I perused the open slots, I noticed that the 11:15 half-marathon had a three hour time limit (the earlier one was a 2:10 time limit). Of course my wheels start turning, and I asked the RD if I could use the entire three hour time limit to run a marathon. He replied and told me I could, and that he’d feel hard up making me stop at 3:00 if I only had a little bit to go, but he can’t give me too much extra time because vendors will start charging. How awesome is that!?! I have no plan of taking anymore than three hours. If I hit the marathon in three, awesome, if not, it’s no big deal. The plan is to use this as my first real long run and sort of a test run (to see how a 3:00 marathon feels) once I’m back from the off-season. 130 laps, here I come!

The Answer in My Hand

When my love affair with Orange Mud earlier this year, I was quite intent on the Hydra Quiver being the only hydration system I would need. I had no idea that Orange Mud would continue to pump out phenomenal products and that I would find a need for all of them. Soon enough I found myself gearing up for the VT100 (Parts I, II, III) and realized I’d need something with a little more storage room and a bit more in terms of fluids. Que the Vest Pack. Sadly – for my wallet – I loved the VP and couldn’t imagine utilizing orange mud’s awesome return policy. While the VP isn’t my everyday goto, it is supremely useful for longer treks.

My Orange Mud.

My Orange Mud arsenal.

Being content now with both the Vest Pack and Hydra Quiver, I thought my journey withy Orange Mud would be done. Of course, I was wrong. Not too long ago they released their version of a handheld. Unlike packs, handhelds seem to have more of a polarized following. People can take or leave a pack, but a handheld is different. You either love handhelds or you hate them. I put myself in the camp of the latter.

I can’t really explain why, but for some reason I like to have my hands free. My wrists clean of any accoutrements. Bracelets fluster me. If I hold onto something for longer than five or ten minutes, my fingers start freaking out, screaming at me to let go. I want to wiggle them and free them from their bonds. I imagine my hands feel like someone suffering from claustrophobia stuck in a coffin. So for me, a handheld was a no brainer bad idea.

Sweaty October.

Sweaty October.

Of course, after reading some reviews, and knowing how much I love my VP and HQ, I had to give the handheld a try. The price was right at under $30, and I knew if I wanted to send it back I could. (I also knew if I didn’t want it, I could probably sell it to someone who did.) And here we are today.

I got the handheld specifically for shorter-long events. For times when it might be nice to have a drink, but not necessary to carry a whole pack. When it first came, I was a little skeptical. It’s just a strap and a water bottle. But when I put it on, I realized the folly of my ways. It wasn’t just a strap, but a glove. It fit nice and snug around my hand, but let my fingers wiggle and move. The trapped, suffocating feeling I was dreading didn’t exist.

The mighty Mt. Ascutney.

The mighty Mt. Ascutney.

Knowing that I had a Six Hour coming up that I wanted to use the handheld for, I started using it on every run. I practiced switching hands mid-run, and even tried to fill it on a few occasions still stuck to my hand – not the best idea.

It holds my watch for me!

It holds my watch for me!

Taking it on a six hour was the first real test. I’d have the chance to fill it every 2.62 miles, and grab any food I’d need. At first, I just grabbed a couple of cookies, but I eventually ended up shoving a couple of Cliff Bar Gel things in there (they were foul…). In the end, I couldn’t have been more pleased with it. I like to run minimally, with just the basic things I need. On a 2.62 mile loop, I didn’t need much some water, and a bit of food, and the handheld did just that. It probably would have worked for me on longer loops too. I filled the bottle with water once every hour or so, and if I wanted, I could have used a bigger bottle.

To be frank, I’ve fallen quite in love with my handheld. The strap wraps around the meat of your hand and is connected to a gigantic pocket that holds the bottle. Your fingers are free. It’s genius and kind of deceiving, after all, your hand isn’t really doing any holding on.

If you’re a handheld kind of person, it’s time to give the Orange Mud Handheld a try. And if you’re scared of handhelds, this is the one to break you in.

2014 Goals

Yesterday, I recapped some of my 2013 goals. All in all, I felt it was a pretty good year in terms of running strong. 2014 will see me running some new distances so setting goal times might be a bit of a trick, but I will try. And again, I hope to remain injury free and listen to my body.

Streaking

A streak is not my main goal. It is something I have going and I like. It is a good tool to push. However, it is only an aside and if I need a day off because I killed myself hitting a race goal, that is acceptable. I do not want a streak to end because I was lazy. Certain important days – birthdays, anniversaries, etc – but not travel days or cold days. No real time goal, but at 100 days, I would like to see how far I can get.

Mileage
Last year I hit around 2250 miles. For 2014, 2000 is my absolute minimum and I think I should have no problem hitting it. My stretch goal will be 2500, and my dream goal will be 3000 miles. I am pretty confident I can hit 2500, and 3000 should not be too hard, but still might be tricky.

Half Marathon

This year I should be pretty fresh for Covered Bridges. Coming off last years 1:16:22 at CHaD, I am fairly confident I can go sub-1:16 at CBHM. I would love to get sub-1:15, but I think that might be a bit of a stretch goal. In terms of place I need to finally crack that top 3 if not faster.

Marathon

I am not even really sure I will run a marathon this year. If I do, it will probably only be one and it will be in February. Not ideal, but the course is pretty flat, and if weather permits I want to go sub-2:50. I do not really want to concentrate on the marathon, but I need to get my marathon time down in-order to get my 50 and 100 mile times down.

50 Miler

Two 50 miles lined up for this year. Twin State in April and VT50 in September. No real ideas for time, but I would like to go in the 8 hour range for TS50 and down into the 7 hour range for VT50. I feel confident these are obtainable goals, but having not run one before I cannot be certain. I think a top-10 at VT is also doable.

100 Miler

Another race I have never run before but will attempt my first in July at the VT100 and maybe again at Ghost Train in late October down in NH. Finishing should probably be my main goal, but that sounds too easy… I think finishing is probably my base goal, while finishing sub-24 would be a push goal. A total stretch would be sub-20 and my dream goal would be to go sub-18 and finish in the top-10. Dreamy yes, attainable, maybe. It is called training… If I do Ghost Train, I will figure out goals as that approaches.

Race Directing
Kind of ridiculous to have this as a goal, but… 2014 is the first year of the TS50. It is a goal that it goes well and continues on to next year. I would also like to establish another race sometime later in the year. I am not sure the distance, but I am thinking a 6 hour could be interesting. I would love to establish a Fat Ass Slam in the next two or three years.