Thursday, January 14, 2016

2015 in Review and 2016 Goals

Presidential Traverse, August 29, 2015

2015 in Numbers
Total Mileage: 2,350 miles (3782 km)
Time Spent Running: 415 hours (17 days, 7 hours)
Number of Races: 27
Number of Marathons + Ultramarathons: 11
Personal Bests Set in 2015
Pace (min/mi)
   1 mile

The Year of the Ultramarathon: 2015 Highlights
While my first two ultras were back in 2014, it wasn't until 2015 that I had my first "good" ultra races. Between these big races, I had plenty of shorter events and some challenging training runs. Here are some of the more memorable runs.

Watchung Winter 50K (1/3) was a huge turning point for me, because it was the first time that I was able to finish strong in an ultra. On a mild snowy day, I started out at a conservative 11:00/mi pace on the smooth single track trails of the Watchung Reservation and finished with a string of 8:30 miles and plenty of energy in reserve. Suddenly, 50K didn't seem like that long of a distance - huge confidence boost.

NJ Marathon (4/26) reminded me that marathons are still tough. Although I set what was then a PR (3:34:50), my pace slowed from 8:00/mi to 9:00/mi over the last 10K and I felt like death at the finish line. Respect the distance, Ry!

Mayapple 100K (5/30) my first ever win at any distance! On a sunny, humid, 85 degree day, I slogged through 65 miles of hilly, rocky trails. By the end, every other 100K runner had dropped out, leaving me to claim 1st place in a spectacularly mediocre time of 13:44:00. Incidentally, this was the NJ 100K trail championship, so I got a sweet gold (plastic) medal. The lesson here: if you can't be the fastest, you should be able to out-suffer your competition.

Holding my NJ 100K trail championship medal. Sweet farmer's tan, bro!

The Great New York 100 (620-6/21) my first 100 mile race. An emotionally and physically draining experience, but probably the race that I'm most proud of. For all the gory details, see the race report in my previous post.

Wildcat 100K (8/15) was essentially a carbon copy of Mayapple. Temperatures soared into the mid-90's during the middle of the day, and the humidity was unbearable. At every opportunity, Alex and Julie filled my hat, arm warmers, and neck handkerchief with ice, but my body was still threatening to shut down after 50ish miles. After a stern pep talk from Alex and some clutch pacing by friends Elaine and Tom, I managed to finish the last 10 mile loop and win the race in 13:53:00. Among the 7 people who started the 50M and 100K races, there were only 2 total finishers.

Presidential Traverse (8/29) was not a race per se, but it was my favorite running experience of the year. On an absolutely beautiful day in the White Mountains, I covered 19 miles of the most rugged terrain in the country in 7.5 hours (an average pace of almost 24:00/mi!), crewed by Alex, Chris, and Sandy. While I didn't come close to the fastest known time (4:34:36 by Ben Nephew), the views were spectacular and the weather was perfect (see picture above).

Barkley Fall Classic 50K (9/19) lived up to its expectations. Ask any ultrarunner what that hardest 100 mile race is, and you'll hear one of two possible responses: (1) The Barkley 100 or (2) Barkley doesn't count because blah blah blah (i.e. it's too difficult to compare to the rest). The BFC is the 50K(ish) version of the Barkley, featuring classic off-trail climbs like Testicle Spectacle, Meth Lab Hill, and the infamous Rat Jaw which climbs 2,000 feet in about a mile. Did I mention that these climbs are all covered in something called a saw brier? Needless to say, this was a friggin' awesome experience! I even got to chat with legendary race director Lazarus Lake (who commented on how smelly I was at the final aid station). I already signed up again for 2016.

This is me crawling up Rat Jaw on all fours. Not too many ultras require crawling. Or shin guards.

Bucks County Marathon (11/15) was where I finally figure out how to run a marathon. Until this race, I had crashed hard at mile ~20 of every single marathon I had raced. At Buck's County, I  was able to increase my pace from 8:00/mi to 7:30/mi for the last 10K and finish with a 7:09 mile, setting a huge 10 minute PR and winning my age division.

Frozen Fools 50K (12/5) was my redemption for a bad race in 2014. In the 2014 edition of FF50K, I took a wrong turn and ran an extra 10K. Distracted and disappointed by my mistake, I stopped eating, my energy levels dropped, and my pace plummeted. I walked most of the last 10 miles of the course and felt miserable afterwards. This year, I stayed on course, fueled well, and won the race in 6:10:58, the sixth fastest time in the 6 year history of the event.

50 Mile Track Run (12/19) was another non-race. Just a crazy-ass workout that I decided to run as both a tribute to Zach Bitter's 100 mile world record attempt at Desert Solstice and as a way to PR in the 50 mile distance. I ran 201 laps around a standard 400 meter track in cold and windy conditions. I was self-supported and only briefly shared the track with a sprinter who was doing a short workout. It was frigid and lonely and mindbogglingly boring, but by the end of the day, I had set new PR's for the 50K and 50M distances.

2016 Goals
I'd say 2015 was a success. I ran some cool races, I won a few things, and I feel like I figured out pacing up to about 50 miles (my 100K+ races all got pretty ugly toward the end). So what's next?

As the philosopher Emeril Lagasse famously said, "BAM! Let's kick it up a notch!"

Goal 1: Finish all three 100 milers I'm signed up for (NJ Ultra Festival, TGNY, and Grindstone). The NJ Ultra Festival will be my first trail 100, and I'm curious to see how my legs hold up on 100 miles of varied terrain. At TGNY, I'll be looking to improve on my 9th place 22-hour finish from last year. Lastly, Grindstone will (hopefully) be my qualifying race for the Western States and Hardrock lotteries. It will probably take a few years before I get into either of these races, but you have to start somewhere!

Goal 2: Stay healthy. This goes hand-in-hand with my first goal, but it bears emphasizing. I've been lucky to avoid serious injuries so far in my running career (a few ankle sprains from playing ultimate frisbee and a bit of plantar fasciitis in 2015), and I would like to keep it that way. I'm going to keep an eye out for overuse injuries and place more of an emphasis on recovery (foam rolling, stretching, icing, rest) than I did last year.

Goal 3: PR in all race distances again. This is becoming a yearly goal of mine because it gives me concrete times to aim for, and the mix of distances keeps my running interesting.

2016 Race Schedule
(*denotes tentatively scheduled, 100 mile races in bold)

Hangover Run (done!)
Pre-Game 4 Miler
Febapple Frozen 50
Lenape Trail Run
Tammany 10*
NJ Ultra Festival
Breakneck Point Marathon*
NJ Marathon
Mayapple 100
Revolutionary Run
Pikes Peak*
Hot Diggity Dog
Barkley Fall Classic
Buck's County Marathon
Frozen Fools

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition

Hey there friends, acquaintances, and random internet people. I thought I'd start this little blog to keep everyone updated on my running activities.

To start things off right, I figured I'd repost a race report from my first (and so far only) 100 miler. Stay tuned for further race reports, training logs, and whatever else pops into my head.


TGNY Starting Line (look at how young and naive we all are!)

This past weekend 6/20-6/21, I fortunate enough to participate in the 4th running of The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition. This was my first 100 miler, and the long rambling post below is an attempt to organize my thoughts about the experience. Most photos were (shamelessly) stolen from Henning Lauridsen's race report which can be found here. Enjoy!

For the first few months of 2015, I loosely followed Pfitzinger's 18/70 plan to prepare for the NJ Marathon in April. After that race, I stopped doing speed workouts and ran a few tune-up races, including The North Face Bear Mountain 50 on 5/2 and the Mayapple 100K on 5/30. This was an ambitious training plan, but (a) I like racing ultras and (b) I tend to recover pretty well after races.

The Course:
Urban ultras tend to consist of multiple loops around well-controlled areas. But race directors Phil Mcarthya and Trishul Chernsb had other ideas. The course for TGNY100 is a massive single loop, covering 4 of the 5 NYC boroughs and following sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and bridges throughout the city. The course was marked with yellow arrows spray painted on the ground, and runners were given turn-by-turn directions to follow from the start. The course was not blocked off from traffic, so we were encouraged to place our safety before our time. Getting lost would be part of the adventure, or so the race directors told us.
TGNY Course (clockwise along red route)

My Plan:
As I mentioned, this was my first 100 miler, so I was reluctant to have a goal time other than the 30 hour cutoff. However, I wanted to have a loose schedule for my pacers and support crew to follow. I settled on a plan to run positive splits, which is typical in 100+ mile races. The idea is that 12 hours of running is tiring regardless of your pace, so you should get the miles in while your legs are fresh. This meant that I would run an 11-12min/mi pace for the first 50mi, and then slow to 13-15min/mi for the second 50mi. This gave me a projected finish time of 20-24 hours. I would pick up pacers after the 100K mark, which I hoped would help with my motivation and navigation. Since few of my pacers had experience with long distance running they split the final 40-ish miles into 5 mile sections between aid stations, and they each ran one or more section with me.

Miles 0-26:
The weather in the week before the race was hot and humid, hovering around 85o F or more. On the day of the race, the gods of ultra running would smile upon us and provide 68o - 72o F and cloudy weather from start to finish. Things were already looking promising.

We got to the starting line in Times Square around 4:30AM, which is a fascinating time of day to be in Times Square. There was a stark contrast between us racers, in our bright spandex gear and hydration packs, and the hundreds of still-drunk people milling around after their nights on the town. One guy in particular, standing in the bathroom line at McDonalds,c seemed especially amused with the water bottles on my race vest and apparently thought that I had worn it to a club ("Look at this dude! Now he's ready to go.").

At 5:05, after waiting for a backhoe to roll through our intersection (already a unique experience), we were off! The eventual race winner took off like a shot at an 8min/mi pace. A few people tagged along close behind him, caught up in the excitement. I held back as much as possible, but still ran a few sub-10min miles. Oh well. I settled into a more reasonable 11min/mi pace as the sun came up and the course worked its way north through Central Park, past Grant's Tomb,d and under the George Washington Bridge.

Somewhere early in the race when I was still happy
The course continued northward into the Bronx, meandering through a wonderfully soft trail in Van Cortland Park before heading back south on bike paths through Bronx Park and then eastward to Pelham Bay Park. Miles 22-26 were an out and back section to Orchard Beach where I had an opportunity to see the runners ahead of me and behind me. During this whole time, my support crew was hopping from one aid station to the next, filling my water bottles with Tailwind, pouring flat Coca Cola into dixie cups, and getting gingerbread cookies ready for me (seriously, if you guys haven't tried gingerbread during long runs, you're missing out).

Miles 26-62:
At mile 35, we crossed the RFK (formerly Triboro) Bridge from the Bronx to Randall's Island and ran under the approach to the Hell Gate Bridge, which looks like a giant cathedral from underneath. We then got back on the RFK and headed eastward into Astoria Queens. This bridge crossing, though acrophobia-inspiring, offered my favorite view of the day. To the right was the Manhattan skyline, shrouded in low hanging clouds. To the left were the Randall's Island sports fields and Astoria Park. Directly below was 140 feet of air and the ultramarine waters of the East River.

Crossing the RFK Bridge from Randall's Island into Queens
I was still plugging along at my 11min/mi pace and feeling good as we ran eastward through some uninspiring sections of Queens, past LaGuardia Airport, along Flushing Bay, and next to the Cross Island Parkway. Near mile 50, we went through Alley Pond Park, which was a welcome relief from the noise and traffic of the preceding 15 miles. I hit mile 50 at about 9h20m, (11:12/mi), still feeling good and well within the goal pace that I had set for myself.

I should mention that up until this point, I had not gotten off-course at all. I should also mention, that I always get off-course. As a matter of fact, my wife was so worried about my route finding abilities that she spent hours and hours making direction bracelets for me to wear while running (similar to pace bracelets, but with the turn by turn directions written on them). Now back to the race, where your narrator is smugly congratulating himself for not getting lost.

The course worked its way back west into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, former home of the worlds fair.e I got off course for a few minutes in the wide, meandering pathway leading up to the Unisphere. Luckily for me, it's easy to spot a 140-foot-tall globe in the middle of a park, and I eventually got back on track. Unfortunately, there was a music festival in the park, and the resulting tents, stages, etc. covered up a bunch of the precious yellow arrows leading away from the Unisphere. Worse yet, the course went through a roped off area, and I was forced to find my way around. At this point, I ran into Bradford, who is a certified badass and has run Badwater 135, Brazil 135, and many 100 milers. He was having a bad day, having slipped from second place to ninth, and we chatted while we slowly figured out the course. After a few slow uphill miles, we reached the 100K aid station in Forest Park at 12h07m (11:43/mi), where we each met our pacers.
The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Park

Miles 62-90:
As with every other aid station, I swapped out water bottles, chugged some Coca Cola, and munched on whatever looked appetizing (mostly just watermelon at this point). Unlike other aid stations, I got to bring a friend (my first pacer Julie, a marathon runner and my awesome mother-in-law) with me for the next section. And just in time, because my legs were starting to feel pretty tired. I was able to run for a few miles at a time, but walked every uphill section. I also began to redefine what I considered "uphill" (this bump in the sidewalk is a hill, right?). Julie and I trotted through 4 uneventful suburban miles heading south through Queens before I picked up my second pacer, Kate and crossed the Addabbo Bridge. In training, I had run across this bridge and wondered if the strong smell of fish would make me nauseous. As it turns out, my own stench was much stronger, and I believe my sense of smell shut down in protest. Lucky me. Poor everyone else. (Kate is a doctor, and would later tell me that my smell was comparable to a rotting corpse. Sorry Kate!)

At mile 70, I switched pacers again and finally got to run with my favorite pacer, my wife Alex! She was thankfully feeling much more cheery than I was. As we ran, she regaled me with stories from earlier in the day, updated me on the other runners, and informed me that I was miraculously in 9th place out of 67 starters! With renewed vigor, I decided I was going to shoot for sub-20 hours. That plan was short lived. At the next aid station (mile 75) I stood around for a little too long and my -everything- tightened up. Hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, everything suddenly felt like hell. I stretched for a minute and then hobbled away to cross the Marine Parkway Bridge at a snail's pace. After a staggering through few 15+ minute miles with my new pacer Julie, I told her to call the support crew and tell them that we would be late to the next aid station and that 20 hours was off the table. We slowly made our way to the mile 80 aid station at Sheepshead Bay.

Coney Island at night. The slats in the boardwalk are deceivingly uneven.
My pacer for the next leg was my mom, who is legendary for her story telling abilities. Although I was in a lot of pain at this point, the miles seemed a little quicker with her talking to me. We were made our way down the Coney Island boardwalk, when she tripped in what seemed like slow motion and almost face-planted. From the ground, she laughed and said she was okay, and I trotted ahead while she got to her feet. She was right in the middle of describing her fall when whumph! she went down again. Again came an "I'm okay" as I trotted on. To onlookers, I was the worst son in the world, running ahead while my mom was lying on the ground. A young Hispanic guy came running over saying "Ay mami, are you okay?" We found this hilarious as we continued onward.

For miles 85-90, I ran with Derek, a college buddy who I knew I could depend on for tough encouragement (and since we were in Brooklyn, possibly for protection). We ran/walked on a dark bike path along the shore parkway and under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge while we talked about life and beer and whatever else popped into our minds. Derek had joked earlier that this was actually a 40 mile relay and I was the baton. We found this endlessly amusing in the dark. This would be the last leg of the course where I did any significant running.

Miles 90-101:
After picking up Julie for her third and final pacing leg, I decided to just power walk the rest of the course. My legs were shot, and my feet hurt from the constant pounding. I found that I could maintain a consistent 16-17min/mi pace just by walking. I set a new goal for sub-22 hours, and some quick race math showed this to be just barely within the realm of possibility. As we walked north along the bustling streets of Brooklyn, I was passed by two runners in race vests and a biker, who I assumed was their pacer. So long, top ten finish, I thought as we made our way to the Columbus Park aid station at mile 95. I asked Julie to run ahead and tell the support crew to get my water, food, etc. ready so I wouldn't have to stop. My legs had been tightening up whenever I stopped, and I wanted to avoid the usual aid station inertia anyway.

This plan worked well, as I picked up Alex again, and we made our way toward the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked up to the apex the bridge, and I managed to break into a feeble run going down the other side. My run ended when the bridge did, and we walked up Centre Street, slowly climbing northward back toward Times Square. Every 5 minutes, I asked Alex how much distance was left and what time it was, and then my tired brain tried to figure out what pace we needed to keep moving. Each time, I got more and more optimistic that I could break 22 hours. With 1.5 miles left, we turned onto Broadway with almost 30 minutes until the 22 hour mark. I'm sure we passed many famous landmarks, but they were all a blur as we surged (very slowly) ahead.

With less than a mile to go, the lights in Times Square came into view. Each passing city block became a new victory. With a few blocks left, I started to run again, clenching my fists so tightly that they hurt. My GPS shows that I was briefly under a 10min/mi pace, but it felt like a dead sprint. It might as well have been the final lap of a 1500m race. The finish line finally came into view and, in a spectacularly anticlimactic ending, I had to wait at a cross walk (did I mention the course was not blocked off from traffic at all?). I was champing at the bit, and when the last car finally passed, I sprinted like a madman toward the finish, smiling and crying and just generally looking like a mess.
Waiting at a crosswalk 200 feet from the finish line

I crossed the finish line at 21h53m in ninth placef and immediately began sobbing into my wife's shoulder while she celebrated for both of us. I sat at the finish line for 30 minutes watching the next few racers come in while I ate a glorious slice of pizza (my first real food in almost 24 hours) and iced my very swollen feet.

Relieved to be finished!
Two days after the race, I posted the following message to the TGNY Facebook page, which I think sums up my thoughts on the race.

TGNY100 was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have never felt that tired, sore, and emotionally drained in a race. I slept all day on Sunday, and I'm still having trouble walking and forming coherent sentences. I guess what I'm saying is this: when does registration open for next year's race?
[note: I am now signed up for TGNY 2016!]

Partial GPS logs of the race can be found here and here.

This race was made possible by my pacers and support crew, a small army of friends and family whose responsibilities I outlined thusly in their pre-race instructions:

  • Alex - crew chief (pacer for 10 miles) - has final say in all race decisions; occasionally kisses me
  • Kate - medic (5 miles) - in charge of keeping me not dead
  • Derek - senior morale officer (5 miles) - in charge of "boy encouragement" and music at aid stations
  • Mom - co-hydration/nutrition specialist (5 miles) - prepares food 'n shit; throws wet rags at me
  • Julie -  co-hydration/nutrition specialist (15 miles) - see above
  • Dave - crew transportation technician (drove the support vehicle) - oversees navigation and coordination of crew vehicles

Thanks guys! It takes a village to get a runner through 100 miles and you were all fantastically supportive, both physically and emotionally.

I would also like to thank Phil and Trishul for organizing this crazy-ass race, as well as Tommy Pyon (the 2013, 2014, and 2015 race winner) and Grant McKeown for leading our training runs.

  • Watch - Suunto Ambit2 S
  • Pack - Ultimate Direction SJ Vest with two 20oz. UD bottles
  • Nutrition - Tailwind Endurance Fuel (unflavored, 200cal/hour)
  • Shoes - Altra Paradigm 1.0
  • Socks - 4 pairs of Injinji synthetic toe socks


a Phil is the American record holder in the 48 hour timed run, covering 257 miles at the Three Days at the Fair running festival

b Trishul holds many top 10 all time performances at multi-day events, including 6-days, 1000 miles, and 3100 miles

c If you ever have the opportunity to use the McDonald's bathroom in Times Square at 4:30AM on a Saturday, don't. It's not pretty in there.

d Question: Who is buried at Grant's Tomb? Answer: No one, the tomb is above ground. Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

e Which inevitably reminds me of this scene.

f It turned out that, of the three people who had passed me earlier, two were pacers. The racer was a member of the German national 24-hour run team, i.e. a very good runner.