Monday, February 19, 2018

Race Reports, 2017 in Review, and Resolutions

Wow, I'm way overdue to post some race reports! To be honest, Grindstone left me feeling a little burnt out, both in terms of racing a writing. I ran a few other late season races to close out the year, but my heart (and legs) were just not into it.

This post will recap my final races of the year, break down my 2017 racing season, and outline my plans for 2018. Feel free to skip around if you're not a total numbers geek like I am.

The New York City Marathon

The NYC Marathon is the largest marathon in the world, boasting over 50,000 competitors in recent years. And at a hefty $295, it also has the distinct honor of being the most expensive race I have ever run. Consequently, I felt obligated to give this race my best effort despite not being fully recovered from a tough Grindstone 100 only four weeks earlier. This meant trying to break my personal record of 3:15 (7:26/mi) and get a little closer to a Boston qualifying time (sub-3:05).

After an early wake up to make it to the 5:30am shuttle bus (sorry Alex!), I arrived at the starting corral at 6:30. Just in time for my... 9:45 start time. Okay, three hours of standing around seemed a little excessive, but I guess the logistics of getting 50,000 runners onto a mall island and then closing every road makes things complicated.

This left plenty of time to post pictures to social media

Thankfully, I was able to meet up with Jaeson Winter, a childhood friend of mine who was also running. After being inseparable in elementary school, we hadn't seen each other in 15 years, and had coincidentally drifted into the sport of marathon and ultramarathon running. He was coming off a badass performance at Tahoe 200 (yes, really, 200 miles!), which made me feel better about my own lack of recovery time. Catching up on more than a decade of our lives made the time fly by, and before I knew it, I heard the last call for my corral.

The starting gun went off just before 10am. I was seeded in the first wave of runners in the "local competitive" group, which felt pretty cool. That meant that I was only a few minutes behind Meb, Shalane, and all the other elite runners at the start of the race.

Miles 1-6: 7:45, 6:19, 7:22, 7:02, 7:11, 7:17

The first mile climbed up the Verrazanno Narrows Bridge, and I struggled to get into a comfortable rhythm due to the grade and the sea of runners around me. I knew that my first mile split would be slower than my 7:14/mi goal pace, but I figured I could make it up on the ensuing downhill. I ended up being right, as a speedy second mile quickly got me back on track.

The early miles felt a little frantic as the runners sorted themselves out, but eventually I settled into a steady pace. The crowds in Brooklyn were loud and enthusiastic despite the chilly weather and the rain spitting down on us.

Miles 7-12: 7:11, 7:17, 7:13, 7:03, 7:12, 7:06

The Brooklyn/Queens section of the race was pretty flat, and I felt good despite pushing hard. I settled in behind a young woman wearing an Oiselle brand singlet and amused myself by counting how many times the spectators misread/misunderstood her shirt and yelled "Good job Giselle!"

Somewhere in here, I was expecting to see Alex, Julie, and my mom. They spotted me at mile 8, but with thousands of other spectators cheering, I didn't notice them.

Feeling strong at mile 8

Miles 13-18: 7:23, 7:26, 7:14, 8:05, 7:20, 7:22

I was starting to get a little tired at this point, and my pace suffered a bit. Running up the Queensboro Bridge cost me 30-45 seconds, and I was unable to make up this time on the downhill side since the crowd of runners was so dense. Such is life in a major marathon! Seeing my crew at mile 16 was a huge boost, which got me through the next few miles.

Hurting but happy!

Miles 19-26

As the oh-so-familiar feeling of "the wall" crept in, I struggled to hit my 7:14ish splits. Gradually my A goal of sub-3:10 slipped away. Then, after an emergency pit stop at mile 21, my B goal of sub-3:15 also slipped away (but at least I felt much better after that!). I decided to take my foot of the gas pedal and just enjoy the last few miles. I soaked in the energy of the crowd, smiling and high fiving spectators whenever I saw an opportunity. As I entered Central Park, I spotted my crew again. I stopped and planted a big wet kiss on Alex's lips for the first time in a week (she had been sick and didn't want to infect me). So that was pretty nice.


I crossed the finish line in 3:23:33 (or 3,602nd place of 50,646 for those of you keeping score). Though my time was well short of my goals, the NYC Marathon was an amazing experience. The crowds were phenomenal, and it was so cool to reconnect with Jaeson. I'd love to go back next year as a spectator and enjoy the crazy race atmosphere again.

Reunited and it feels so good!

Frozen Fools 50K

If Grindstone has left me feeling a little burnt out, the NYC Marathon had poured a bucket of cold water on whatever smoldering embers of competitiveness were left in me for the year. Despite this fact, I was looking forward to the annual Frozen Fools 50K. A local point-to-point fat ass race held on the Appalachian Trail, Frozen Fools always attracts a colorful and friendly assortment of local ultrarunners. I promised myself that I wouldn't race this event, and that this was just an opportunity to enjoy some trail miles with a fun group of people.

About 10 runners met at the finish line at 6am on a frosty December morning, and then packed into Marcus Jones's SUV to carpool to the start. On the ride, I caught up with RD Dan O'Keefe and a few other runners about our various adventures since last year's race. Then, just before 7am, we poured out of the SUV and into the parking lot which served as the starting line for the race. I said a quick hello to Harry Uberti and his wife Eileen, who had paced and crewed me on these trails during my FKT a few months earlier. After a quick briefing - and a warning not to get lost like I do every year - we were off!

Course map and elevation profile
26 miles on the AT, followed by 5 miles of asphalt and fire roads

The Early Miles

The first three miles of the race took us up 1,000 feet from the Delaware Water Gap to Sunfish Pond. I was able to run most of the climb, but had to stop a couple times to stretch my tibialis anterior (shin muscle), which had been bugging me for the last few weeks. I didn't realize it at the time, but my calf strain from Vermont 100 had caused me to change my running mechanics, which led to further muscle issues down the line. Live and learn, I suppose.

By the time I got to Sunfish Pond, I was firmly in 3rd place, with Chris Rice and Michael McDonnell well ahead of me and Chris McGovern a few minutes behind. Sunfish Pond is the rockiest section of the entire race, and I danced along the top of the jagged boulders with the energy of someone who is only 10% of the way into a race. I struggled to get into a rhythm over the next few miles, stopping several more times for a bathroom break and more stretching.

Stalking in a Winter Wonderland

The views along the Kitatinny Ridge were pretty, but a gray sky hinted at the snow that would soon be falling on us. I shuffled along by myself, my only interactions being with Eileen and Marcus at aid stations for the first few hours of the run.

Around 10am, it started snowing steadily. The ground quickly became slippery, and the white blazes of the AT became harder to spot. As I skidded wildly along the rocky ridge line, I regretted not bringing my microspikes as Alex had suggested (she's usually right about these sort of things). My pace began to slow. If I'd had any delusions of running a fast time on these tired legs, they were now totally crushed. Regardless, I was having a good time, as the snow became a fun additional challenge after several years of running the same race.

As the snow grew deeper, I began to spot footprints from the two runners ahead of me. Despite not wanting to "race," I had fun trying to guess whether I was gaining or losing ground on them. I figured that every runner has a similar cadence (160-180 steps/min), so the distance between footprints should be a good indicator of speed. I counted the number of footprints I passed, and noted than for every ten steps I took, the other runners were taking eleven or twelve. Some quick math told me that I could be gaining a minute per mile on the other runners.

After a few miles of this, I also noticed that the footprints were becoming more detailed, which meant that they were more recent. I must be gaining ground! Despite my supremely nerdy sleuthing, I decided to stick to my self-made promise not to race. I kept my speed consistent and focused on maintaining efficient running form in the poor conditions.

The Exciting Conclusion

Finally around mile 20, I caught up to Michael. We exchanged a few words of mutual support, and I pushed on ahead, now in 2nd place. The course dropped down of the ridge at mile 26, and I once again saw Eileen waiting for Harry on the shoulder of Rt. 206. She informed me that he was doing well despite the slick conditions, which I was delighted to hear. I decided that I would turn around at the finish and come back to find him.

With six inches of snow now covering the ground, the final few miles of asphalt and gravel roads were slow and wet. I again regretted not taking Alex's advice to wear waterproof socks (are you sensing a pattern?). At mile 30, the course exited the woods for the final time, and I was down to my last 1.2 miles of pavement. With less than a half mile to go, I spotted Chris a few hundred yards ahead of me. The instinctive urge to sprint flashed through my mind, but I realized that - thankfully - there was not enough time to catch him. I jogged into the finish in 6:22, three minutes out of first place.

Covered in snow and loving life

Bonus Miles

After a quick change of clothes, I grabbed a pack of pop tarts from my car and set off to find Harry. I did my best to scrape some arrows into the snow with my feet, marking the course for the other runners. When I reached 206, I spotted Harry at Eileen's mini aid station on the shoulder of the road.

"Are you insane!?" Harry asked as I reached the car.

"Uh... yes?" was the best response I could muster.

Harry's course directions had disintegrated in the wet conditions, so he had been nervous about navigating the tricky turns in the final 5 miles. Hearing this, I was happy that I had decided to go back out. We spent the next hour running, swapping stories, and catching up on life events, before pulling into the finish line around 4 o'clock. A great ending to a busy 2017 racing season!

2017 in Numbers

Whew, what a year! Here are the final stats for 2017:

Distance Run: 2,517 miles (4,051 km)
Distance/Wk: 48.3 miles
Time Spent Running: 474 hours (19 days, 8 hours)
Total Elevation Gain: 380,368 feet (13.1 Mount Everests)
Number of Races: 14
Number of Marathons + Ultramarathons: 11
Personal Bests Set in 2017:

    Distance     Time    Pace
      10K           41:19   6:39
      13.1M    1:35:05*  7:15
      26.2M    3:14:51   7:26

*half marathon split en route to marathon PR

For the first time in my short running career, my mileage did not increase from the previous year.  However, my elevation gain and time spent running increase by a bit, which shows my increasing preference for mountain races. While I didn't set many PR's in 2017, that's mostly because I ran harder races than previous years. I also did not race a 5K or half marathon for the second consecutive year, and didn't run a road race longer than a marathon. At some point in 2018, I'd like to get back to some short road races to see if I picked up any speed over the past couple of years.

As an additional bonus, I was also voted 3rd in the East Coast Trail and Ultra Runner of the year rankings, which just goes to show that with a little hard work and an army of Russian trolls the support of friends and family, cool things are possible!

Rather than recap my whole 2017 race schedule, which can be found here, I'll simply list a few lessons that I learned this past year:
  1. I am not Mike Wardian. As much as I would like to, I can't race every weekend and expect my body to recover in time for the next race. Hard efforts require some recovery time.
  2. I am also not Jim Walmsley. I can't take long loping strides in my workouts and expect my calves and hamstrings to react well. Short runners need to take short strides!
  3. Running form actually matters! After months of honing my ultra shuffle on rocky trails, I ended up with an inefficient running form, which probably cost me some time in the NYC marathon. I'm working on this during my winter base building.

2018 Goals and Schedule

2018 is going to be the year of the mountain race for me. With the exception of a handful of road races, this year's events will primarily be on steep rugged terrain. I am learning that these are the types of events that I enjoy the most and perform the best in.

Once again, my top priorities in 2018 will be a pair of 100 mile races. Fat Dog 120 miler in August will (hopefully) be my longest run ever, as well as my first west coast race and first international race. And the inaugural WTF 100 in October will be a Barkley style event with most of the course off trail and minimal aid. These events will both be a significant step up in difficulty from anything I've done before, and I'm excited for the challenge.

2018 Race Schedule
(100 mile races in bold)

   4/29NJ Marathon
WTF 100