Thursday, November 20, 2008

Solos and brotherhood

I've only had 2 runs in the past week. Things are crazy at work, and I've been getting ready for the Mexico trip. The good news is they were both great runs...not great in terms of distance or effort, but just great runs. You know, the type of run where you have an adventure or catch up with friends....

Last Saturday, I decided to run some single track on the Metacomet trail. I ran out to a local crag to check on some of the recent climbing activity there. It had just rained, so there were no climbers out. I was inspecting some new routes that were developed. It was cool. The running was very slippery with all the wet leaves. I tried out a new pair of shoes, and explored some new trails. It was cool to explore... and not be training for a specific event. I wasn't concerned about pace or time or effort. Just out to enjoy the scenery. I love running single track!

Today, I met Tim and Bill at the club. There was a time when I was a regular at the club, but then my work location changed. I miss running with the guys. We did an easy 5 and talked the whole way. The group fluctuates in size from day to day and year to year. Members come and go, but the core group remains the same for the most part. We are getting older though. There's still a group of older/retired guys that run at the club, and we can take solace in knowing that they are still the "old guys". God help us when we become the "old guys". It was good to see some of the old crew. Paulie gave me some meds for my trip to Mexico. His wife is expecting any day now, so I'm guessing he won't be climbing mountains for awhile. It was great to see some of the guys and it's always so much fun to run with others. The miles go by so much faster, and it feels good to laugh with my buds. I hope I can find an excuse to join up with them again soon.

So, two solo and one with friends....two great races, no pressure...just running because it is such a cool thing to do...'nuff said!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Have some turkey and stuffing for me...I'll be climbing Pico de Orizaba on Thanksgiving Day if all goes according to plan. I'll be at 19,000 feet and will likely be higher (in terms of elevation) than anyone else in North America on that day. How cool is that? I was the first to see the sun rise in the U.S. on New Years Day (St. Croix) and now this. What a year it has been! I picked up a new camera, so will be posting lots of great pics when I return! Eat some pumpkin pie for me too :-)



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stone Cat Ale 50 miler

First, I must congratulate my good buddy, Kevin (the Goat), for running his first ultramarathon in great style. Kevin finished 39th in 9:39 having previously never run a race of more than 5 miles or so. Congrats dude!

Stone Cat is a very good race. The weather was perfect for an ultra. The temp was comfortable enough at the start to wear shorts and T-shirts, yet it never go much warmer. It was cloudy all day, but no rain until after we finished. The course was rolling with a lot of single track. I wish I would have trained on single track because my body sure paid the price.

A couple weeks before the race, I started having some right knee issues which I chose to ignore. Since this was Goat's race, I really wanted to be there to support him. Even 2 days before the race, my knee was feeling really bad - pain below the knee cap, ITB tightness, etc. I reminded myself that I usually have some ache or pain before a race, and it is never an issue in the race.

The race started around 6:20AM and it was already light enough to run without headlamps. The course is 4 laps of 12.5 miles. On the first lap, I felt like I was going a bit too fast, but settled in to run with the eventual women's winner, Christine Daly. We finished the first lap in 1:50, and I thought it would be awesome to hold that pace for 4 laps. Unfortunately, I could feel my knee causing problems already. The ITB was starting to ache. From what I could tell, we were in the Top 10 and likely in the Top 5 or so at that point.

On the beginning of the second lap, I saw Mark, Scott, and Keith less than 10 minutes behind me, and then Kevin right behind them. Wow, we're all going too fast, I thought...or maybe I'm just out of shape (yikes!). I ran a good portion of the second lap with Christine, but started to pull ahead after awhile (I should have held back). At the end of the second lap, I was at around 3:50, but I was really feeling beat. My ITB was really hurting and my quads were sore. I felt like dropping, but knew I had to finish. My pace was slowing. I went back out for the 3rd lap, and saw Mark still less than 10 minutes behind me. Damn! He's running strong.

I really struggled on the 3rd lap and started taking ibuprofen for my knee. Mark caught up to me about 7 miles into it. At this point, I was doing a lot of walking especially on the single track. My knee was really getting bad. As long as it didn't lock up, I knew I could deal with it and finish. Mark tried to run with me a bit, but I told him to go ahead. My energy level was not great either. I had taken a minimalist approach to this race to see if it would help my stomach ailments. I used Heed and hammergel on the first lap, and only hammergel on the second lap. I wasn't getting the fuel I needed. Time to start eating some fruit.

I had been wearing a lighter pair of Asics (2100s) for this race because it worked well for me at Pineland Farms. Unfortunately, I think these shoes added to the knee issues. At the beginning of the 4th lap, I changed into the Kayano's and it seemed to help some.

The 4th lap was all about finishing. My energy level was improving since I decided to experiment with different foods to see what tasted good. I ate bananas, cantaloupe, and PB&J. It was all good. I also took some salt pills. Keith caught up to me about halfway through the last lap. We ran together a bit, but I told him to go ahead. He looked strong and I didn't want to slow him down. There were times that I just had to walk due to the knee pain.

He went ahead for awhile, and then I caught up to him with less than a mile to go. I tried to push him to finish ahead of me, but he was having a rough patch. I ended up finishing a couple minutes ahead of Keith in 8:43 (19th and 20th overall). I was just happy to finish.

Mark was waiting at the finish. He placed 10th in 8:07. Amazing run! Scott finished at around 9:15 with a PR. Goat, of course, was 9:39. Everyone seemed happy.

I learned a lot from this race:

1. I didn't respect the distance or the course and paid the price. I need to train more seriously if I'm going to try to run up front.
2. I wore the wrong shoes.
3. I need to train more on single track. I've gotten lazy about running the same old course at the reservoir.
4. I need to pace myself better and hold back during the first half of the race.
5. I do better with some solid food especially fruit.
6. I still need to figure out the right mix of salt for me.
7. Need more strength training for this course.

Lots of good data points from this one. I'm excited about finishing my 3rd ultra of the year. It's another first. It was great to see so many runners out there, and great to see Jamie (The Maine Runner) after each lap as he was volunteering on this day.

I'm heading down to Mexico in a couple weeks to climb 2 of the big volcanoes (Ixta and Orizaba). We'll see how my body handles serious altitude (19,000 feet). It should be fun!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Changing Seasons

They say peak foliage has past. The leaves are falling and it's more cold than not these days. The end of October and the changing of the clocks generally signifies the end of climbing season and the beginning of running with long pants. To be specific, I call it at 45 degrees. Below 45 degrees and I run with long pants....Below 45 degrees and I can't feel my fingers on the cold rock....and so another year starts to wind down.

Like the animals prepping for the long winter, climbers scurry to get in every last pitch of outdoor climbing to help get them through the winter. Sure, there's ice climbing, hiking, mountaineering, skiing, and even ski mountaineering. They are great activities, and I love them all, but it still doesn't change the fact that dancing up the rock is nearly over for the year. Similarly, the racing season is coming to an end. The NYC marathon was run this weekend, and it's usually one of the last of the year. Like it or not, winter is upon us.

This weekend was a weekend to savor. Savor every bit of good weather, and enjoy every bit of sunlight. With the Goat and I tapering for the Stone Cat Ale 50 miler next weekend, I was only planning to run for around 90 minutes, so there was time and energy for other stuff this weekend.

I headed to the Gunks on Saturday to meet up with old friend, Scotty, and get in some much needed climbing...possibly the last day at the Gunks this year. The day started out cool, but promised to be a great one. In my excitement to get in some climbing and to team up with Scotty again, I elected to jump on a tough, but moderately rated crack climb. I had climbed it once before and it felt challenging but fairly straight forward. This time, however, I could barely feel my fingers on the cold rock, and I got a couple moves out of sequence. I tried to down climb, but could not feel my fingers, and popped off the rock. I only fell a couple feet, but it was a discouraging and embarassing start to the day. Scotty was my partner when I took my worst climbing fall about 4 years ago, and I was starting to think it was a mental thing for me.

I decided to forget about it and savor the day. Scotty decided to lead a climb called Gorilla My Dreams for which I know an interesting variation. We did my variation, and Scotty enjoyed it thoroughly. We ran into some guys from Montreal who were also trying to savor the last bits if the climbing season. We talked briefly, but knew we all wanted to get back to climbing.

We proceeded to the Mac Wall - one of my favorite parts of the cliff. As usual, it was crowded there with so many great climbs in a 100 foot stretch. There is a very thin face climb called Higher Stannard that I particularly enjoyed when I led it a few years ago. It's very intimidating because the holds are very small and there is very little protection for the first 20 feet or so of climbing. The climb is consistently hard, but I remember really enjoying it. While I didn't feel particularly "on my game" on this day, I love the look and feel of this climb. It's a fairly risky start, but I know I can do it. I'm known as a fairly bold leader compared to others, but I don't feel overly confident. Scotty patiently waits for me to decide, and I say "Let's do it". The entire time we are roping up, I'm thinking about doing an easier climb, but I'm committed at this point. I'm thinking of the fall I took this morning, less than 20 feet from the ground.

No room for error....don't listen to the horde of people around you. Focus on every single tiny crystal of rock that you need to boulder up this face. Do it quickly, but don't you dare make a mistake. Pull, smear, crimp, crimp, get your feet up, move... I get to the first horizontal and get a small nut in for protection. I try to get a tiny cam in and get it stuck with only half the lobes engaged. I can't get it out, and my stance is too precarious to yank on it. I clip it and go...Now, I have to go another 10 feet with questionable protection. I keep my head and press on. I finally get 2 good pieces of protection placed and let out a sigh of relief, but there's a long way to go. Damn, this is one thin climb. I move up and place a very questionable nut, but it's better than nothing. This is the crux, and I'll take any protection I can get. I crimp hard and work my feet up until I can grab something solid. Throw in more pro and now I'm feeling better. I move up further, but now nothing looks familiar. Scotty checks the book, but it doesn't help. I know I'm off route, but don't want to down climb. I decide to hand travers across manky lichen covered rock, but soon I'm back on route. Up and through a couple overhangs and I'm finally at the anchors. Yee haa! Life is good. Time to celebrate.

Scotty cleans the gear from the route, and we move on to easier climbing. We enjoy the weather, talk about life's challenges, inspect the damage from a recent rock fall, and savor every bit of time we have there. Another classic Gunks day!

Sunday brings cooler temps as Dawn and I head out for a morning run. The long pants are on for the first time this year. We're wearing hats and long sleeves. It takes a couple miles to warm up, but the sun is great. The views are wonderful, and you can see what the leaves have hidden all summer. I savor the sun and the run. These temps will soon feel warm when we look back in January.

Goat and I are heading up to run Stone Cat on Saturday. This is his first ultramarathon, and he's never run a race longer than 5 miles. Of course, he paced me for 30+ miles in Vermont, so we know he can do some serious distance. I'm psyched for him and excited to do another race. This will be my 3rd ultra this year (50, 100, 50) which is completely new territory for me. I don't feel like I'm in peak condition, but the 1:25 in the 1/2 marathon shows I have pretty good fitness. It will bring an end to an incredible running year, and give some time to re-group for next year. My plan, of course, will be to savor every mile of it!

All the best!