Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2016 Roundup, 2017 Resolutions, and More

Well, we've completed another trip around the sun, and that means it's time for me to get all retrospective about my running over the past 12 months. Here goes!

Starting off 2017 with the Hangover Run 5K
(yes, I was actually hungover)

Tidying up the loose ends

Before we get to the good stuff, here is a quick(ish) recap of my last few races of 2016.

The Bucks County Marathon was five weeks after Grindstone. Although I wasn't fully recovered, I wanted one more shot at a marathon PR before the end of the year. On top of that, New Balance was offering a free pair of shoes to anyone who ran a negative split in a marathon (i.e. second half faster than the first half) between 10/9 and 12/4. And on top of that, I wanted a shot at breaking my half marathon PR, which is well over a year old and was set on a tough hilly course. To accomplish all of these things, I came up with time goals of 1:37 (7:24/mi) for the first half and 1:35 (7:15/mi) for the second half. That would break my half marathon PR by 2 minutes and my full marathon PR by 5 minutes, as well as give me a 2 minute negative split. Easy peasy, right?

On the morning of the race, the weather was perfect. Temperatures were in the mid-40's with scattered clouds and no wind. At 9am, the starting gun sounded and we were off. Within the first few miles, I began to have doubts about how my race would go. My legs were having trouble maintaining the "conservative" starting pace that I had planned, and I struggled to get into a rhythm. I told myself that my legs just weren't used to going fast since I had almost exclusively trained for ultras all year.

I have to go how much farther at this pace!?

By the half way point, I was a minute behind schedule (1:38), but not too worried since I was still on pace to meet all of my goals. Meanwhile Alex, my mom, and Julie were stopping to see me every few miles and cheer me on, so my spirits were high. However, by mile 19 the familiar "wall" was creeping up on me. My mile splits slowed from 7:30 to 7:46 to 7:54 to 8:20. With each passing mile my legs felt a little heavier, and my goals slowly slipped away. I spent a few miles in self-pity mode before realizing that I was happy to be out running on a beautiful day with my family cheering me on. I crossed the finish line in 3:22:25 with a big dopey smile on my face and none of my goals accomplished. There's always next year!

Looking back through my GPS data, I found that my heart rate maxed out at 180 right around the time my pace started to fall off. My typical heart rate for a marathon is 160-170, so something was definitely off. It would turn out that I was just starting to get sick on the day of the race. I would spend the next few days feeling achy and low on energy. So hopefully my meltdown was just related to a badly timed cold.

Post race chicken broth and belly rubs. Aww yiss!


The Frozen Fools 50K is a race near and dear to my heart. Following the Appalachian Trail from the Delaware Water Gap to Stokes State Forest, it's a tough, hilly, rocky mofo of a course. There are unmanned water stations at two points on the trail, but otherwise runners are responsible for their own nutrition and navigation. Back in 2014, it was the first 50K I had ever run. I got horrifically off course that day, neglected my nutrition, and finished just ahead of the course sweeper/race director Dan O'Keefe. It remains my worst performance on Ultrasignup by a good margin. In 2015, I redeemed myself and won the whole damn thing, finishing 3 hours faster than the year before. So 2016 was a tie breaker of sorts. Who would have the last laugh?

At 7am, 11 runners set off from the Dunnfield Creek parking lot and began the long rocky climb up to Sunfish Pond. I had set a goal of sub-6 hours and was determined to push hard to get it done I quickly put a gap between myself and the rest of the field and began to wonder if I would be running alone all day, as I had done in 2015. Within a few tenths of a mile, I heard footsteps coming up behind me. This turned out to be the trio of Jason Friedman, Ryan Espulgar, and Sean O'Connor, who are all very solid trail runners. Since it was early in the race, I didn't worry too much about keeping up with them. They slowly pulled away over the course of the 1,000 foot climb.

Elevation profile. Just a few hills

Around mile 4, I missed a tricky turn in the trail and got off course. I only realized it when I saw Jason running back toward me (he had gone off course too). This cost me 3 minutes and jeopardized both my time goal and my chances of catching up to the other runners. Then it hit me. No, not an idea. Severe intestinal distress. I waited until the coast was clear and made a quick pit stop. Then I made two more over the next few hours. In all, I lost about 10 minutes to various diversions during the race. Although I was running faster than the previous year, I was losing precious time.

I caught up to Ryan Espulgar around mile 25. He was still moving well, but was starting to lose energy after his quick start. I let him know about another tricky turn that was coming up and pulled ahead. Somehow, I had managed to stay ahead of Jason all day, leaving only Sean in front of me on the course. By mile 26, Sean was still not in sight and I had 50 minutes to run the last 5 miles if I was going to break 6 hours. I pushed hard, getting my heart rate up into the 160's. I ran the last full mile in 8:12 (my fastest of the day) and crossed the finish line in 5:58:31. Sean had beaten me by 15 minutes, so I wouldn't have caught him even if my race went perfectly.

Hanging out after the race might have been the most fun part of the day. I sat by the finish line and watched the rest of the runners come in while replenishing my energy reserves with beer, sandwiches, and cookies. All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Strava data
Official results


The Christmas City Classic 5K was my last chance to PR at a short distance this year. Again, I'll mention that I did almost no speed work all year. My legs literally don't know how to go fast any more. Nevertheless, I wanted to cap off the 2016 with a good performance. My old 5K PR was 19:26, or 6:15/mile, so that became my target goal for the race.

Mile 1 was slightly downhill and it clicked off in 6:11. So far, so good! Mile 2 was a flat out and back section. My lungs were already burning from the effort and my heart was red-lining. I came through in 6:26. Crap! I would have to push hard to set a new PR. However, Mile 3 was back up the hill that we had come down at the start, and it slowed my down significantly. My last split was 6:59, and my total time was 19:48. Again, not the race that I was hoping for, but still pretty good considering my lack of speed training. On the plus side, I finished 5th overall and 1st in my age group! Hopefully I'll improve on this result with some on the track in 2017.

Finishing up my last race of the year

Strava Data
Official Results

2016 in Review

For you stat nerds out there, here's how my year looked in numbers:

Total Mileage: 2,519 miles (4,053 km)
Miles Per Week: 48
Time Spent Running: 456 hours (19 days, 0.5 hours)
Total Elevation Gain: 283,131 feet (9.75 Mount Everests)
Number of Races: 17
Number of Marathons + Ultramarathons: 11
Personal Bests Set in 2015:

     Distance      Time      Pace
     10K              42:41     6:52
     26.2M        3:17:09     7:31
     100K        11:37:58   11:14
     100M        19:39:50   11:41

My main goal in 2016 was to finish the three 100 mile races that I signed up for. In this sense, the year was a spectacular success! Here's a quick summary:

     Race                          Time       Place/Finishers
     NJ Ultra Festival       26:31:29        1/1
     The Great NY 100     19:39:50        3/34
     Grindstone               25:39:07      33/180

Most importantly, finishing Grindstone qualified me to enter the Western States and Hardrock lotteries. I didn't get into either race this year, but my lottery tickets double each year as long as I continue to qualify. So eventually I'll get in and run my dream races. Woo!

My secondary goals for 2016 were to stay healthy and to PR in all race distances. In those regards, I was not as successful. Only a few weeks into 2016, I developed a nagging case of achilles tendinitis which prevented me from running for two weeks in January and an additional week in February. I stayed in shape by riding a stationary bike at the Rutgers gym every evening, which, needless to say, was amazingly boring. That was enough incentive to take recovery and injury prevention more seriously. Thankfully, I have been injury free since then.

2017 was also the first year that I failed to PR in the 1 mile, 5K, and half marathon. Mostly, this can be attributed to the fact that I didn't race these distances as often as in the past. For example, I didn't run a half marathon (other than Breakneck) all year. However, the other important factor is my total lack of speed training all year since I was focused instead on my 100 miler goals. I would like to get back to more speed-based training in 2017 and continue to improve my shorter distance race times. Hopefully, any fitness I gain will benefit my longer distance races as well.

2017 Goals

My 2017 racing schedule is a little less set in stone this year. I signed up for Vermont 100 as my Western States qualifier, and I may do Grindstone again to try to improve on my time from last year. Assuming I run both of these, they will be my 'A' races for the year.

Some of the most fun events on my calendar are not organized races. Alex and I are also planning to run a "Softrock 100" in late June, i.e. a 5 day hike/run of the Hardrock 100 course. Basically we'll explore the San Juan Mountains all day and stay in the towns that we pass through. More updates to come on that. At some point in the year, I also want to take a crack at setting the fastest known time on the 70 mile NJ section of the Appalachian Trail (or the NJ AT FKT if you like acronyms). I'm also hoping to take a trip up to the White Mountains and run another Presidential Traverse (or double traverse) if time allows.

Lastly, I'd like to improve my marathon time and work towards qualifying for the Boston Marathon (which requires a 3:05 marathon for my age group). And of course it would be nice to set some new PRs at shorter distances. My 1 mile PR is now almost 2 years old, and my 5K PR and half marathon PRs are 15 months old. Something must be done about this!

Here's a rough idea of my schedule for the year. Happy running everyone!

2017 Race Schedule
(*denotes tentatively scheduled, 100 mile races in bold)

Hangover Run (done!)
Febapple Frozen 50
Lenape Trail Run
   3/18Looney Leprechaun
Tammany 10*
Breakneck Point Marathon
NJ Marathon
North Face Bear Mountain
Tough Mudder Philly
RVRR "Train"ing Run*
Manitou's Revenge
   6/??Softrock 100
Revolutionary Run
Vermont 100
Escarpment Trail Run*
Presidential Traverse*
NYC Marathon*
Frozen Fools