Friday, August 12, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Runny

Holy cow, it's been a while since I updated this blog! Since we last met, I've done a smart thing, a dumb thing, and some running things:

  1. Smart thing: I finally finished my PhD! After almost seven years of grad school, I defended my thesis and officially became Dr. RyRuns.
  2. Dumb thing, part 1: I challenged Alex to race me up a downward-moving escalator the day before the NJ Marathon and Half Marathon (her A race for the spring).
  3. Dumb thing, part 2: On the last step of the escalator, I gave her a playful push from behind and sent her sprawling out on the razor sharp steps. Her big toe took the brunt of the impact. Hilarity did not ensue (she's okay though).
  4. Running things: It's been a busy couple of months - NJ Marathon (5/1), Mayapple 100K (5/21), Tough Mudder Philly (5/22), RVRR "Train"ing Run (6/4), Goat Butt 10K (6/12), TGNY 100 (6/18), and Revolutionary Run 10K (7/4).

Here's a quick report on the highlights...


NJ Marathon (5/1)

After a fitful 3 hours of sleep in a smoky motel room, Alex, Julie, Dave, and I arrived at Raceway Park around 6:30am. The weather was a mild 50 degrees and overcast - perfect running weather for someone like me. After my vicious escalator attack the previous night, Alex was nervous about running with a sore toe. On the other hand, I was feeling weighed down by my guilt. So in a way, we were both victims.


My goal for the race was 3:20 (7:38/mi), which would be a 5 minute PR and a 15 minute improvement over last years NJ Marathon time. After a mad dash from the porta potty line, I settled in behind a 1:40 half marathon pacer just before the national anthem began. At 7:30, the elite wave left, and two minutes later I crossed the starting line.

Miles 1-6: 7:30, 7:21, 7:38, 7:33, 7:27, 7:33

The first few miles of a marathon are always... interesting. After a two week taper, my legs were feeling fresh and my breathing was easy. However, my last two speed workouts had been terrible, and I began the race with lingering doubts about my ability to run "fast" miles. After a few miles, these thoughts began to subside and I got into a decent rhythm, running just ahead of the 1:40 pacer.

Miles 7-13: 7:31, 7:30, 7:24, 7:29, 7:27, 7:29, 7:33

I was in a pretty good groove in this section despite the fact that we seemed to be running directly into the wind the entire way. Somewhere in here, it began to rain, and I was glad to have my arm sleeves keeping me somewhat warm. I crossed the half way point in about 1:39, a minute ahead of schedule.

Miles 14-20: 7:45, 7:30, 7:30, 7:25, 7:23, 7:15, 7:22

The half marathon group peeled off and finished their race, leaving me to run by myself. My first solo mile was a bit slow as I attempted to set my own pace. Still feeling good, I regained my rhythm and rattled off a series of sub-7:30 miles. The rain and wind both became more intense, but I loved every minute of the cool weather. Mile 19 marked the end of the out-and-back section of the race, and we turned northward for the final stretch. As I neared mile 20, I was conscious of the fact that the final 10K of the marathon was historically difficult for me. I was anxious to see how my legs would respond to the dreaded "wall."

Miles 21-26: 7:21, 7:29, 7:14, 7:23, 7:13, 7:09

Once I hit mile 20 feeling strong, I decided to push the pace a bit. Now running with the wind. I opened up my stride and hammered out my fastest miles of the race. A few miles from the finish I felt my right hamstring starting to tighten up, and I decided not to increase my speed any further. A brief, but amusing internal dialogue went through my head:

"My legs hurt. Maybe I should slow down."

"Oh yeah? Well at least no one tripped you on an escalator, dumbass!"


Despite all this, mile 26 was my fastest mile of the day, and the last few tenths of a mile were under  a 7:00/mi pace. I crossed the finish line in 3:17:09 (7:31/mi) and 163rd out of 1,953 finishers.

Still feeling strong at the end of the race!

Thoughts: If I ever had any doubts that I'm a cold weather runner, this race sealed the deal. The temperature at the finish was 47 degrees with driving rain, and I felt fantastic. This was also my second consecutive marathon running negative splits, so I feel like I'm finally figuring out the distance. Most importantly of all, Alex's toe didn't bother her during the race, and she finished with a huge PR. Disaster averted! Julie and Dave also ran strong races despite the nasty weather. A good day all around.


Mayapple 100K (5/21)

This was my first run as a PhD, so I felt like I needed to prove that my degree wasn't weighing me down. As the only finisher of the race last year, I also felt the need to defend my humble title (and amusingly enough, the NJ 100K trail champion title that came with it).

The 100K division was a small but experienced field. Aside from myself, there was Shawangunk Ridge Trail 70M course record holder Jason Berry, ultra veteran Joe Limone, obstacle course racer Billy Richards (who was running while carrying a full sized American flag), and the ever cheerful Roger Jones. In the pre-race briefing, the race director singled me out as the previous year's only finisher. While I was proud of the accomplishment, I didn't like the idea of having a target on my back for the rest of the day.

Milling around before the start while displaying my typical race-day intensity

The course consisted of three figure-8 loops of about 21 miles each. We would run through the start/finish area at the beginning and middle of each loop, meaning that I only had to carry 10 miles (about two hours) worth of food and water.

Loop 1: We set off at 6am in cool but extremely humid weather. The 2015 edition of Mayapple had featured 90 degree heat, which sapped my energy over the course of the day. I was hoping for a solid performance in the relatively mild weather this year. My expectations changed quickly as I had to scurry into the bushes not once, not twice, but three times in the first 15 miles to answer the call of nature.

My day was very literally starting out shitty.

Nevertheless, I finished the first 21-mile loop in 4:17 for an average pace of 12:16/mi. This loop also included a three minute intermission while I and several other runners couldn't find the course markings, which were either removed by vandals or were never put up in the first place (we didn't ask).

Crewed by my wonderful wife (who ran the 10 miler and made it back just in time to help me), I made quick work of the aid station and headed out for my second loop. Thankfully, my digestive issues subsided, and I found myself running alone with no idea what place I was in. Perfect! This allowed me to zone out and just enjoy the run for a bit.

Starting loop two by myself

Loop 2: The next 20 miles were fairly uneventful, and I remained blissfully unaware of my standing among the 100K competitors for the entirety of the loop. Running mostly alone, I was able to relax and enjoy the semi-technical single track and rolling hills of South Mountain Reservation. The weather was pleasantly cool, hovering in the mid-60's all day, and the sky was overcast. I finished the second loop in 4:12 (12:00/mi) still feeling strong. Now 2/3rds into the race, I asked Alex if she knew what place I was in. She wasn't sure (due to some "creative" tracking by the race organizers), but she had a sneaking suspicion that I was in first.

Loop 3: I had another quick turnaround at the aid station and headed out, determined to maintain my lead. My legs were starting to feel tired, but this was the part of ultrarunning that I loved. See, I'm not fast by any standard. But I have an incredible ability to suffer (thanks grad school!).

One by one I grinded out the remaining miles, forcing myself to run all but the steepest climbs and pushing the pace on the flats and descents. With a few miles left, I pushed the pace even harder, determined to get the very best from my tired legs. I crossed the finish line in first place for a total time of 12:51:31 (12:15/mi) and a 4:22 final loop (12:29/mi).

Posing with my second USATF medal

Thoughts: This was the strongest I have ever felt at the end of a 100K+ race, and a good indicator that my training was going well. Funny enough, it was also my third win out of three 100K's. That's right folks, I am undefeated at the 100 kilometer distance. Ha!

I tested my post-race recovery by running the Philly Tough Mudder with Alex and her family the next day. I hobbled a bit at the start as my muscles and joints warmed up, but ended up feeling pretty good all day - a good sign for my 100 miler in 4 weeks.


The Other Races

RVRR "Train"ing Run: After two weeks of recovery, I ran a 34 mile "Train"ing Run with the Raritan Valley Road Runners, which followed the length of the Delaware-Raritan Canal Path from Trenton to New Brunswick. The goal of this event was take a bunch of runners of varying abilities and have them all finish the run together. Starting times for 34-mile pace groups were staggered with slower groups starting earlier than faster groups. Each pace group then formed a "train" which would stop at designated points along the path and pick up more runners.

I felt bold and signed up for the 8:30/mi pace group, which ended up being myself and one other runner. Neither of us knew the course very well, so we got off course and were almost immediately 5 minutes behind our scheduled arrival times at the "stations." We tried to make up for it my running 8:15-8:20 miles, but the added effort made me hit the wall hard. My last five miles were all around 10:00, and I learned a valuable lesson about pacing. On the other hand, the food and beer at the finish line were fantastic. So, all around, not a bad day!

Goat Butt: With a week left before TGNY100, I decided to get one last trail run in. Goat Butt was a 10 miler through the forests of Mendham, NJ. To be honest, the main reason I signed up was for the awesome shirt, designed by local ultrarunner Elaine Acosta.

I mean, how can you not sign up for this?

I pushed the pace hard on the first climb up a paved road before permanently losing the lead to Paul Denunzio (who would go on to win the race) as we left the road and followed a powerline cut. The course climbed continuously for the first three miles, and I wound up running in fourth, just a few steps behind the third place runner. Unfortunately, we took a 15(!!) minute detour on the wrong trail after missing a switchback (are you sensing a theme here?). In an ultra, this would be a small mistake. But in a race this short, there was no time to recover. I finished in 1:48, twenty-six minutes off the lead and three minutes behind 3rd place. Oh well.

TGNY100: Race report coming soon!

Revolutionary Run: My annual pilgrimage to Washington Crossing State Park to celebrate the birth of my country by wearing outrageously short American flag shorts.

Sky's out, thighs out!

This would likely be my only chance to race a 10K this year, so I wanted to make it count. I went out aggressively with a 6:34 first mile, but faded a bit with splits of 6:45, 6:51, 6:53, 7:00, and 6:55. I finished in 42:44, just 46 seconds faster than my previous best. Coming only two weeks after my hundred miler and having done no speed work this year, I'm pleased with the result.