Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Endurance”

Race Report: Umstead 100

I relish in the logistics involved in planning for a 100 mile race. I’d almost go so far as to say that I’ve grown to love the build-up so much that it negates any nerves I might have leading up to race day. That was definitely the case this time around as I spent the week prior forcing myself to fully taper with short, comfortable runs to keep the #chasing42streak going. After the trials and tribulations of Grindstone last fall, both the epicurean and I were due for a relaxed, pleasant race experience, and Umstead delivered in spades! The location was wonderful, the weather was gorgeous, the day ran smoothly, and the volunteers and race staff were fabulous. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better race experience 🙂

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We packed up the car on Thursday after work, dropped Baxter off at daycare, and piled into the car with Looper. I knew we’d hit some rush hour traffic heading south on 95, but we wanted to tackle a portion of the drive that night so that our trip down to Raleigh the next day would be relaxed. We made our way down to Fredericksburg, VA and settled into a hotel for the night. It was pouring rain when we woke up the next morning, and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to my water-logged trek at Grindstone. However, I stayed positive and we headed down the interstate and made our way to Raleigh, NC and to Umstead State Park. We arrived around 1pm, checked in, and found our way to the cabin I had reserved. It’s rustic charm was bolstered by the fact that it was literally steps from the race course. Having the indoor space to spread out everything and get settled made the evening that much more relaxing. We found a late lunch in town that afternoon, and then made our way back for the pre-race meeting. Afterwards, we made our way back to the cabin and sat out on the porch, watched the sun set, and then settled in for an early bedtime. I was quite pleased to be able to get a full night of sleep before the race!

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The alarm went off at 4:30AM the next morning, and I quietly got out of bed so as not to wake the beautiful epicurean. I began to get my pack squared away via the light of the headlamp, ate a small breakfast. We made our way up to the starting area around 5:45AM and the the camp was buzzing with pre-dawn excitement! My training block leading up to this race had been the strongest I had ever had, and I was filled with the excitement of possibility. After a brief moment, the RD sent us on our way into the darkness for the first of eight 12.5 mile loops. The shorter distance meant I’d be returning to see the epicurean regularly and she could relaxing at the cabin with Looper in the interim.

Loops 1 & 2

Going out too fast has always been my achilles heel, but I was committed to being patient and getting a sense of the course. I rode the slight rolling hills and let my breathing guide my pace as I ticked off the early miles. I was able to switch off my headlamp after 30 minutes or so, and watching the sun rise over the wooded landscape was a breath of fresh air. The entire course is made up of relatively wide biking and running dirt paths and my fears of the previous days rain creating a muddy mess were quickly alleviated. the first decent climb popped up around mile 4, and I was happy to power hike up it, and was greeting to a small lake near the top of the rise. There were several unmanned aid stations sprinkled throughout the course, which meant I only had to carry my hydration vest with one 500mL soft-flask. It was refreshing to not be weighed down by a full bladder and I knew I’d appreciate it even more later on. The mid-loop aid station emerged at around mile 6.85, and the full spread of food and drink that greeted me was a beautiful sight, as were the wonderfully helpful volunteers. After my first visit, I left with added confidence and a smile on my face. Several smaller but steeper climbs followed along the rolling path, and I forced myself to walk them and saved my energy for the downhills and flats. This strategy served me well and I was making the final climb up Cemetery Hill before I knew it. I made the turn down into the camp, and the epicurean’s smiling face greeted me. She quickly refilled my water bottle with Tailwind, tossed me another pack of honey stinger chews, and collected my headlamp. Efficiency was the name of the game, and she was on her game! I rolled up to the start/finish area and logged my first loop in 2:06, which felt well within my ability for the 12.5 mile loop (1000 feet elevation gain).

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The second loop was more of the same as the cool forest air whispered through the trees. I was focusing on keeping a calm and relaxed demeanor and really enjoying my time out on the trail. I had been training for this race for the last 3+ months, and this was the reward. This loop sent us back out of camp the way we came, and down and out-and-back flat spur for the first 3 miles or so. This would be the route we would take for the rest of the race so I had plenty of time to bond with the nuances of the trail. Ironically, I would come to resent this flat section and wish for the rolling landscape that would follow. Who am I, and what did I do with the flatlander?! The remainder of the loop flew by without incident, and I felt like I was out for any other Saturday morning run. I rolled into the start/finish at 4:12 elapsed and feeling great with 1/4 of the race in the bag. I stopped to visit the epicurean and she topped off my water while another nice spectator randomly offered to help me apply some sunscreen. It was a reminder of just how much of a family the ultra community truly is, and I rolled out for my third loop with high spirits!

Loops 3 & 4

The relatively groomed trails on the course meant full-blown trail shoes were overkill of a sort. So, I went with a lightweight, comfortable pair of Hoka Clifton 2s. Once I added my trusty dirty girl gaiters, my feet were quite happy. Luckily, this happiness persisted for the entirety of the race, and my feet were blister-free by the end. What a pleasant surprise! The temps did begin to rise a bit towards the end of the 3rd loop, and during the 4th loop, and the sun added some heat in the low 70s, but it was far from uncomfortable. I was focusing quite a bit on hydrating and made the decision early on to drink at every aid station, as well as cool my wrists and head if need be. This proved to be an excellent strategy, and the ice cold water at each of the aid stations was a treat I looked forward to every time. The volunteers were clearly refilling the coolers with ice pretty frequently, and I was thankful for their dedication. Aside from the heat, everything was firing on all cylinders, and the next two loops flew by rather smoothly. I arrived at the half-way point in 9:01, and my legs were still feeling really good. I was alert, had plenty of energy, and wasn’t feeling overly hungry or thirsty. In other words, I was in a best-case scenario at the half-way point, and was doing my best not to get too excited or get my hopes up. I still had 50 more miles to go, and a lot could happen in that time!

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Loops 5 & 6

By this point, I had mapped out the route pretty well in my head, and knew the distances between key points on the course, including the aid stations. This made it really easy to set small goals between these points and focus on my running during those intervals. The sun was on it’s downward path by the 5th loop, and the temperatures slowly began to cool. I had definitely settled into a rhythm at this point, and I knew when to walk and when to power hike without really even thinking about it. This would normally be the point where my quads begin to get a bit tight, but my legs were still feeling relaxed, and my feet were quite pleased with my shoe choice. Although my nutrition was still working, I was definitely reaching a saturation point with the honey stinger chews. Ironically, I had moved to using them when I dialed back my sugar intake and GUs and Cliff Shot Blocks began to taste too sweet to me. Now the Honey Stinger chews were beginning to taste too sweet to me as well. Luckily, I had plenty of solid food options at the aid stations, and began to eat more fruit, salted potatoes, and cookies. This, combined with my trusty Ginger Ale, made for a strong nutritional combo. My pace was slowing somewhat, but I was still moving really well and feeling confident. I completed the 6th loop around 8:15PM, just as the sun was setting. The epicurean was in high spirits as she checked in to see what I needed. I claimed my headlamp, along with more Tailwind, and some ginger chews, and set out once more. I was only a hair over 14 hours in, but only had 25 miles left to go. My energy was  high, and it became a bit harder not to get overly excited.

Loops 7 & 8

After a mile or so, I flipped on my headlamp and set out into the darkness. This was a far cry from the exhaustion as I set out on the second night at Grindstone, and I was at a loss. At this point, the 250+ runners were spread out pretty well along the 12.5 mile loop, and I found myself mainly running alone. However, I had a very pleasant conversation with a badass blind runner and his guide as they expertly navigated the terrain. We shared some great stories over the course of a few miles, and we arrived at the mid-point aid station together. After a quick refueling, I bid them good luck, and headed back out as they took a moment to rest. This would normally be the point at which the smaller climbs begin to seem more daunting, but I was still climbing swiftly and bombing down the descents at a pace I probably had no business going. I had spent the last few months focusing on training on the downhills and strengthening my quads, and it was quite gratifying to know that the work had paid off. I made my way into the start/finish at 17:20 at the end of the 7th lap, and I let the excitement of the final loop begin to well up inside me.

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My legs were definitely tired as I made the climb out of camp for the final time. I resented the flat out-and-back more than I should have, but gave myself permission to walk a few segments, encouraged by the fact that I wouldn’t be returning. I was counting down the miles more now than ever, and allowing myself to enjoy this final victory lap of sorts. I crossed the small bridge at mile 4 to begin the climb, and quickly realized that my headlamp was the only breach in the dark in all directions. I never once felt tired, but I began to hear sounds in the woods, and I sent my headlamp into the darkness where it was met with numerous pairs of glowing orange eyes. I was power-hiking up the long climb and trying not to get too freaked out by whatever was clearly tracking my movements. I didn’t have the energy to move any faster, and I “may” have let out a few screams into the darkness to try and scare away whatever had taken an interest in my movements. I eventually moved past this section, but the irrational fear stayed with me for much longer.

I rolled into the mid-point aid station for the final time and treated myself to some delicious broth, which was equal parts warming and hydrating. Luckily, I was moving quickly enough that I never got cold, and remained comfortable in my short sleeve shirt the entire time. I set out on the final 5+ miles and was energized as I crested the top of each hill and ran down each descent, my quads still feeling strong. I rounded the corner into the final straight-away, stopped briefly at the last aid station, and then pushed on. Plenty of folks were passing me in the opposite direction, heading out for their next loops, and it was nice to see more people again. I reached the camp, and began to slowly run down towards the finish as hearty volunteers cheered me on in the dead of night. The camp was lit up, and the cheers energized me as I made the last small climb and crossed the finish line.

I was all smiles and quickly spotted the epicurean, who reminded me to turn off my headlamp 🙂 The RD came out and handed me my buckle and I was a bit in shock. I crossed the finish line in 20:26, which was well beyond what I had hoped for, and a PR by more than 2 hours! I happily took the opportunity to make my way inside hear a warm fire and it felt glorious to sit down for the first time. The french toast was delicious, and the hot coffee was long overdue. After resting for a bit, the epicurean and I slowly made our way back to the cabin. i gave myself a quick wet-wipe bath, and then curled up in my sleeping bag. It was 3AM, obviously late, but I was lying down to sleep. I had no expectations of being able to do so, and it was an opportunity my tired legs relished!

I was sore the next morning as we loaded the car, and made the 8 hour drive (damn traffic!) back, but “20:26” kept popping into my head and I couldn’t stop smiling. You never know exactly how a race is going to play out, and I’ve come to expect the unexpected, which made this smooth, comfortable, and challenging race that much more special. This was truly what #chasing42 is all about, and I have the buckle to prove it!

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My Rogue Boston Marathon Adventure

Over the years, I’ve improved my race PRs at just about every distance. I’ve seen my marathon times drop by more than an hour, and I’ve reduced my 5K times by almost a third. My commitment to speed work and tempo work in my training has been sporadic at best, but the sheer volume has also done wonders for my overall speed. However, I’m fairly certain that a 3:10 marathon isn’t within reach for me any time soon. This time is significant because it just happens to be my Boston Marathon qualifying time. My views on the importance, for me, of running the race itself have shifted someone in recent years but I certainly still view it as a cultural running experience I would very much like to have at some point in my life. I’ll never focus all my attention on qualifying for it, however, and am much more apt to get excited about the opportunity to run Western States, Hardrock, or UTMB. All three of these races definitely take precedence for me. However, I look forward to my Boston Marathon moment nonetheless.

Since that moment won’t be occurring any time soon, I decided to take advantage of a recent work trip to Boston and taste a bit of what the Boston Marathon has to offer. My flight landed in Boston around 9:30AM on Friday, we made our way to the hotel with relative ease, and I was getting into the cab to take me to the starting line in Hopkington by 11:00AM. The driver was rather amused when I told him where I was heading and what I was doing, but didn’t seem all that surprised. After all, the marathon is as much a part of the culture of Boston as anything. During the 40-minute drive, we had a lengthy chat about Boston sports, including the Patriots recent Super Bowl stunner, the future viability of Tom Brady (he definitely has a few strong years left), and the prospects for the Red Sox this season. He had lived in the area his whole life, and was even at Game 6 of the 1986 World Series! We arrived at the town square around 11:45AM, I thanked him, he wished me good luck, and I stepped out into the quiet mid-day sun.

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It was just “The Starter” and I at the start in Hopkington. 

I surveyed the area, and could feel the energy surrounding me. Aside from the iconic bronze statue nearby, it looked like any other small New England town square. However, there was no escaping the history that filled the air I was breathing. It brought a smile to my face, and I eagerly looked at the map a final time before starting my personal #RogueBostonMarathon. I took it easy as I ran through town, passing quaint coffee shops and other small businesses. The sun was peaking through the clouds, and the temps in the low 60s made for perfect running weather. After a few miles, I was starting to warm up and beginning to hit my stride, when I seemed to be getting closer to the interstate. This didn’t seem right. Why would the marathon course take this route and deal with the chaos of on-ramps and off-ramps? I pulled out my phone again to check the map and my location, which is when I realized what had happened.

The course DIDN’T deal with on-ramps and off-ramps! My horrible sense of direction, despite looking at a map, had struck early. I had run two miles in the wrong direction! There was nothing to do but turn around and backtrack to the starting line. I tried not to be too annoyed. It was a beautiful day, after, and this was already quite the memorable experience. I made it back to the starting line after a nice 4-mile warm-up, and began my journey out of Hopkington, in the CORRECT direction along the marathon course.

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It was a “farm to table” course, if you will. 

Running on state highways through small towns is not nearly as scenic or eventful when you aren’t in the middle of an actual race. I figured this out pretty quickly as I made my way through the series of closely situated towns along the course. I realized pretty quickly that this isn’t the most exciting or scenic course by any means, and the appeal lies much more in the history of the race. It is The Boston Marathon. My legs felt pretty good, and I was moving at a comfortable clip as I ticked off the miles, passing by historic New England houses. It was a refreshing reminder to be in such a small town environment despite being so close to the city.

I made sure to pause regularly to take in my Tailwind calories, which I was supplementing with Honey Stinger chews. The scenery got more interesting when I reached the outskirts of Wellesley College and began to pass by the beautiful grounds and classic architecture. I’m easily sucked in by a beautiful campus, and it made the miles go by that much faster. After a somewhat sketchy jaunt through the on/off-ramps from I-95, I made it to the turn up Commonwealth Avenue, which promised to be a much more enjoyable visual tour.

The sidewalks were wide, and I was able to spend most of the time running on a side street that ran parallel to Commonwealth, which allowed me the chance to tour the historic neighborhoods as I passed. At some point during the unanticipated stop-and-go nature of running up a large city street with numerous stoplights, a bit of fatigue began to creep into my legs. I remembered that this was the furtherest I had run on the road in quite some time, and your legs do take a special kind of beating. You can add that to the many other reasons I prefer to spend my running time on the trails!

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Certainly a nice addition along Commonwealth Avenue…blurry- perhaps like I felt? 

I saw the iconic CITGO sign, and made the turn onto Boylston Avenue that I had watched others make so many times. It was nearing the end of the work day as I made my way up the final two miles or so, and the sidewalks were beginning to exude locals and tourists alike, all absorbed in their own little world. As I played my own personal game of frogger to avoid an awkward collision, I couldn’t help but smile at the secret I was running with as I passed them and neared the now un-marked finish line. I had just run the Boston Marathon (route) (in a way, at least!) and none of them had any idea. It was my experience, my memory, and my course. I didn’t have to qualify, I didn’t have to deal with the crowds (well, not as bad at least), and I ran my own race. My #RogueBostonMarathon experiment was a success.

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Then it got dark. And my phone died. And I realized I wasn’t quite sure how to get back to my hotel. I knew I needed to cross the Charles River, and I knew generally which direction the river was in, so I made my way towards the river, and eventually made it down to the running path along the river. There were plenty of other folks out doing their evening training runs, confidently navigating the city they lived in. This was not me. I’m pretty comfortable getting lost at this point. I’ve certainly done it more than a few times, and I knew my legs would take me wherever I needed to go. After running 30 miles already, it’s a pretty amazing feeling to know you can keep going in order to find your way back, and not be worried.

I ventured down along the river, knowing that I would eventually get to a bridge and be able to cross. Sure enough, I found a bridge (don’t ask me which one), made it to the other side, and headed back up the road towards my hotel. During a brief dip in misplaced confidence, I asked for directions from a very helpful doorman in an apartment building, and eventually ended my foot tour of Boston. In total, I had covered 38 miles. I ran into my colleague, whom I had told I would be out running, as I got back into the hotel, and she knew exactly what had happened despite not being able to reach me on my dead phone. I suppose #chasing42 is about the joy of getting lost along the way too. They are all bonus miles in the journey, right? 🙂

 

Exploring Shenandoah National Park

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. Living on the east coast certainly has its perks when it comes to proximity to trails. So, when the beautiful epicurean told me she needed to make a trip to the University of Virginia for work, I was eager to tag along and run some trails in nearby Shenandoah National Park. I was able to set aside my dislike for UVA due to my Virginia Tech alumnus status, and embrace my time in Charlottesville, VA.

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We made the 5 hour drive on a Thursday afternoon, leaving me enough time for a shake-out run around campus before dinner with friends. Upon returning to the hotel, I discovered that I had forgotten the cap for my hydration bladder. This certainly didn’t bode well for what I hoped would be an extended trip to the park. I considered duct tape my best option after a quick search revealed no nearby stores with new bladders. I stayed positive, and got everything squared away for a long jaunt in the woods the next day.

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I had planned to wake up early to make the 45 minute drive to the trailhead, but need to wait for stores to open so I could find some duct tape. After my first stop was a bust, I found myself at Walmart and surprisingly discovered a cheap bladder that seemed like it would fit in my pack with some creative adjustments. It certainly wasn’t ideal, and the cheap valve ultimately ended up slowly leaking and wetting out my shirt, but it worked well enough that I was able to focus on the adventure at hand!

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I arrived at the Old Rag Mountain trail parking lot around 10am after a winding but uneventful drive. There was a couple getting ready to venture out on a hike, but the lot was empty otherwise. Temps were in the 30s with a slight breeze and overcast skies, which no doubt kept more people away. Over the course the day, I maybe saw 5 people, and seemed to have the entire park to myself, which was just fine with me! After a few confusing minutes, I found the trailhead and even managed to accurately use a compass to send myself in the direction I had planned. If you know how directionly challenged I am, then you realize what a big deal this was for me!

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The route I had originally mapped out didn’t involve summiting Old Rag Mountain. However, I’d heard more than a few amazing stories and seen plenty of pictures of the views, so clearly I needed to climb! I took the more runnable trail up to the summit with little issue, and bagged some serious elevation gain in the process. The views at all stages of the climb were as incredible as promised, and I was quite thankful I had decided on the detour. I’ll let the pictures tell the story!

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After Old Rag, my next destination was Lower and Upper White Oak Falls. As I navigated my map and the trails I was running, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how well I’d been able to follow the map I’d laid out for myself. This no doubt seems pretty trivial to most folks, but it seemed like a major accomplishment for me. I took in the gorgeous scenery along the way, stopping for pictures and I made sure to pause enough to appreciate the silent, still winter beauty around me, minus the snow that the park had clearly not seen as of late.

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In all, I wandered to the tune of 22 miles or so, complete with over 6,000 feet of gain, which made for a quality training run. More importantly, however, the opportunity to explore a new national park and further remind myself of why I love being out on the trails so much. I probably could have spent the rest of the day and all night out there and been perfectly happy, but my empty hydration pack and lack of additional nutrition made for a logical end to the day. Plus, I had another delicious dinner in Charlottesville waiting for me when I got back. All in all, it was the perfect opportunity for #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 71

The chase continues! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but that’s what keeps things interesting, right? If you follow politics even remotely, then you’ve had plenty of opportunities to shake your head, roll your eyes, and let out a sigh of sadness, confusion, or utter frustration. It’s about this time of the year that the higher education professional in me begins to feel the stagnation of the semester, as do the students. This is a bit mitigated now that I’m working at the University of Delaware, since the spring semester doesn’t begin until February, but students still get antsy very quickly. I’ve been adjusting to my new schedule this semester, and the changes to my workouts as well. However, the clock continues to count down towards the Umstead 100 so I will continue #chasing42!

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A weekend getaway to Virginia meant some quality time in Shenandoah National Park. 

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Run: It has been an incredibly busy and adventurous two weeks of running and I have the numbers to show for it! I’ve clocked in around 150 miles and 14,000 feet of vertical gain in the last two weeks as my training reached a peak weekend yesterday and today. Getting up early on Mondays and Wednesdays to run a few miles has proven quite the unique challenge but a necessary evil since I’m on campus both evenings teaching. The flip side this semester is that with my Tuesday evenings free, I’m able to make it to the track workouts and get in some speed work, which I certainly missed during the fall. So, not only is the streak alive but I’m feeling really good about my training as I head into a busy spring filled with plenty of work trips and responsibilities, and some exciting races. Did I mention that it was 70 degrees and sunny this weekend? This is normal February weather, right?

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Nature’s beauty rarely disappoints. 

Thought: Don’t worry, folks, climate change isn’t that big of a deal. There’s nothing to see here. The strange weather patterns, melting glaciers, and disappearing species are a perfectly normal part of the natural world.

Well, at least that seems to be the messages many of the financially motivated, administratively inept and otherwise corrupt members of our new governmental regime would have us believe. It’s absolutely unbelievable to me that despite the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the impact of humanity on the global climate, we are still debating it. We are still arguing over putting in place measures to preserve the dwindling natural environment around us, secure the clean water sources that give us life, and protect the species that keep our ecosystem in balance. We should not need to host data collection parties to preserve scientific research before it disappears from government websites. We should not find ourselves needing to protest the destruction of our environment by corporations seeking to irresponsibly develop protected lands in an effort to make money by producing goods that nobody needs in the first place. Don’t start lecturing my on the nature of capitalism, either. This isn’t capitalism. The benefits (if there are any) do not outweigh the costs. Those in power continue to demonstrate their inability to act in favor of the greater good, and not what’s good for their re-election campaigns.

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Appreciation and action go hand-in-hand. 

The more time I spend on the trails, running and hiking, the more I think about how fragile the beauty around me truly is at the hands of man. The gorgeous mountain top views, flowing streams, and rushing waterfalls have been around for millions of years, existing in harmony with the flora and fauna they support. It’s sad to realize that in the blink of an eye, our species has managed to destroy so much of that beauty, and replace it with concrete jungles and fossil fuel pollution. I know I have a role to play in that, as a consumer, and as a steward of the land I explore, but it’s hard not to throw up my hands in disgust. It’s hard to fight when what you believe is so seemingly logical and rationale, and yet pushed aside in favor of fleeting notions of personal wealth and comfort. Sometimes #chasing42 feels like chasing my tail. Still, we must continue to #resist!

Daily Chase: Vol. 70

January was a bit of a blur in many regards. The University of Delaware offers a 6-week winter term for students, of which a small percentage partake and an even smaller percentage are on campus. The result was an incredibly calm, quiet, and productive month that was nothing like the rest of the year. I’m typically juggling quite a few projects, so January was a wonderful opportunity to get a lot of uninterrupted work done, as well as tackle some meetings that would typically be much more difficult to schedule. Since I wasn’t teaching yet in the evenings, it also meant a much more consistent and easy-to-follow training calendar. The consistently mild temperatures meant I was able to really start the year off right, and my 325+ miles in January are proof positive of that. I know things will be getting much busier beginning on Monday with the start of the Spring semester, but I’m ready to return to a more fast-paced schedule. I’ve always been someone that thrives when I have more on my plate, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the buffet line on Monday!

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Chasing42 Log: 20170129-20170204

Run: It was another solid, consistent week of training, helped in part by the fact that I finally put together my training plan for the first 6 months of the year. Although I love to just go out and run, I know that I need to be a bit more regimented with my schedule so I don’t burn out, and I can truly enjoy the races I have coming up. This past week was my last opportunity for Monday and Wednesday evening runs for a few months, as I’ll be teaching those evenings during the Spring semester. This likely means attempting to get up early to squeeze in a run before work. This is a prospect I am far from excited about and uncertain as to how effective it will be. All I can do is try, but waking up is already a challenge during the week! After some sound advice, I made my way over to the UD football stadium earlier this week, and was pleased to find out it was open and I could venture in for a very rewarding stadium stairs workout. I followed this up with the first of six club hill workouts on Thursday, and my climbing was in solid form heading into the weekend. I capped off a solid week yesterday with a strong 27-mile effort on the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park, and I couldn’t be more happy with how well my legs are feeling. It’s time to hit the semester running and #chasing42!

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Thought: I have declared that this is the season of downhill training. I know, after quite a few experiences, that the downhills are the bane of my existence late in a race, and I’m determined to have more strength for those late race downhills this year. This means I’ve been hammering the downhills during my hill workouts, and pushing upward more methodically. It’s a strange reversal for me, but it seems to be working already, based on yesterday’s long run. I can only hope that my quads are ready for the Umstead 100 in April and Laurel Highlands in June. I have every intention of training hard so I can push those downhills while I’m #chasing42!

Race Report: PHUNT 50k

When a friend messages you to let you know he found a bib for an upcoming race for you, you don’t ask too many questions. This is even more true if it’s a race you wanted to run in the first place. I suppose distance does play a part in such decisions, but I happily added a last-minute 50K to my early season race calendar. The PHUNT 50K/25K is a race I had been hearing about since I moved to Delaware 18 months ago, and I was eager for the chance to toe the line!

The Trail Dawgs Running group is a fantastic local group of trail and ultra runners who put on a number of great races in the area, including a marathon I did this past May. In general, the running community in Delaware/Maryland/Pennsylvania is fantastic, and the Dawgs are a big reason for that! So, I knew this would be an enjoyable, laid back, and well-run race with a bunch of cool folks. Of course I wanted to spend a few hours out on the trail!

Packet pickup on Friday night was a breeze, not the least of which because it was only a 10 minute drive from my office. For a very low cost race, the Nathan water bottle and waist pack, along with some other items, amounted to a surprisingly great set of swag. I couldn’t resist picking up a new winter hat as well 🙂

The unusually late 9AM start time, coupled with the easy 25 minute drive, meant I was able to sleep in on a Saturday morning, which felt rather strange! I had time to relax, have some breakfast, get read, and still arrive in plenty of time to wait in the short porta-potty line. I’d certainly call that a win! One of the reasons I love small trail races so much is for the ease and convenience, and this race definitely worked that aspect quite well. The large activity hall at the Fair Hill Recreation Area, right next to the start, provided more than enough warm shelter for runners prior to the race, and proved a great location to meet up with friends before the race. Did I mention the convenience?

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The trail signage was fantastic! Photo Credit: RunningMadPhoto

Around 8:55AM, we wandered outside and made our way towards the starting area, and at 9AM sharp, the RD unceremoniously sounded a starting horn and we were off. No corals, no timing mats, no waiting around for waves. It was all about going out on some beautiful single-track trails and having a great time. The course was two 15.6 mile loops, with aid stations at mile 3.8, mile 7, and mile 10.8. I didn’t need my hydration vest by any means, but wore it anyway so I could easily carry my phone, nutrition, and the all-important TP. The forecast had called for rain and snow earlier in the week, but it pretty much all held off, with the exception of some light sleet, so the trails were for the most part in great shape.

I had no intention of racing this event hard, but of course the adrenaline of the first race of the year got the best of me, and I went out and ran the first mile in about 8 minutes. I knew the course didn’t have any significant climbs, but I wasn’t sure about total gain. However, I knew I had gone out too fast, but my mile 1.5, I figured I’d push it a bit and see what happened. The 50K and 25K runners started at the same time, but the pack still spread out pretty quickly. I was moving really well on the comfortable terrain, and found myself latching on to several different runners for pacing over the course of the first loop.

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All smiles out on the course! Photo Credit: RunningMadPhoto

I spent minimal time in well-stocked and energetic aid stations and saw it as an opportunity to practice efficient transitions for future races. The temperature was hovering right around 30 degrees, and I quickly regretted the running tights. I know I run hot when I’m racing, so I should have known better. I was moving really well, and eagerly tackling the short climbs on the rolling terrain. I had committed to running this first loop at all points, and I enjoyed the challenge those first 15+ miles presented. The first loop flew by rather quickly and I rolled back into the start area after about 2.5 hours. I realized around mile 12 that the other runners I was latching on to were probably only running 1 loop (25K) but I rolled with it and kept pushing.

My legs were a bit tired at the end of the first loop, but I had been hydrating well and taking in a decent number of calories, so I was feeling good. I spent a few minutes at the aid station enjoying some Coke and GU waffles, and then launched myself back out onto the course. The crowd on the second loop was obviously a lot more spread out, and I almost felt like I had the trails to myself at times, which was fantastic. The trails were still in really good shape, even after 500+ runners had trampled them on the first loop, and my feet were feeling really good thanks to my Altra Olympus 2.0s.

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Look up and you’ll go down! Photo Credit: Mark DeNio

I kept expecting to hit some sort of wall on the second loop, but thankfully never really felt any sort of bonk, despite pushing it a bit hard on the first loop. My pace did slow somewhat, and I walked up a few of the hills, and lingered at the aid stations a bit more, but still felt really good for the most part. It began to sleet a bit at this point, but the tree cover provided plenty of protection, and it created a nice natural forest chorus as it struck the foliage around me. I was able to set small targets for myself during the second loop, which was helpful as well. That’s definitely the advantage of a looped course, and one of the reasons I enjoy them so much…as long as it’s an enjoyable loop!

I rolled into the finish line calmly in around 5 hrs 29 min (16th place, 6th in my always tough age group!) and would have happily gone out for a 3rd loop after such an enjoyable race! My quads were a bit sore, but nothing out of the ordinary, and I was overall really pleased to have such an early 50K under my belt. I collected my medal and unique finisher’s plate, and relaxed for a bit as I waited for others to finish. The environment, support, love of running, quality trails, excellent organization and aid stations, and energy that this race had is what trail running is all about. I can think of no better way to begin #chasing42 in 2017!

Race Report: Philadelphia Marathon

Well, it feels like an eternity ago, and I could pontificate on the variety of reasons why I haven’t written this review sooner. It’s the holiday season. The semester was coming to an end. Darker days sap my energy. Blah. Blah. Blah. At any rate, the reasons are irrelevant. The race may have taken place over a month ago, but the memories are still there so I wanted to share!

Most folks are probably on the verge of being thoroughly entrenched in their holiday plans, balancing increased opportunities to eat with decreased opportunities to run, and not even thinking about races in 2017 just yet. December is always an interesting time for runners, especially those in cooler climates. The weekend before Thanksgiving is always a wild card when it comes to weather, and is typically about as late as you can push most longer races unless you are committing to the cold, or happen to live in Florida. I was actually a bit surprised that the Philadelphia Marathon was as late in the season as it was, but it provided me with a nice racing bookend for my season. I probably wouldn’t have even considered it, but for the fact that a good friend from Iowa decided to fly out for the race and end her season on a high note as well. I couldn’t say no to that!

The epicurean and I made our way up to Philly on Saturday to pick up our packets in the afternoon before meeting our friend for dinner. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a larger race expo, and I found it interesting that the mystique of the experience definitely isn’t there for me anymore. If there was any question about whether or not I was a trail runner at heart, it was put to rest at the expo. I love the simplicity of a trail race, the community, and the environment. The expo just seemed overly commercial by comparison. Luckily, it was very well organized and we were in and out pretty easily. After a nice dinner, we parted ways and headed home for the night. In retrospect, it would have made much more sense for me to stay in Philly with my friend that night and not have to drive back up in the morning, but that didn’t occur to me for some reason. Hindsight is 20/20, eh? On the drive home, the temperature drops rather significantly, and the freezing rain began. Yikes! I could only hope that the weather system would be gone by morning, or the race would be brutal.

City Hall was all lit up early…the race began with the sun!


I woke up on Sunday morning at a rather ungodly hour, and went through my pre-race routine in a bit of a haze before hopping in the car. I parked near the finish area, and walked to meet her at her hotel before the race. We procrastinated a bit to limit the amount of time we’d be standing around before the race, and then headed over. I was thankful I had worn a sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pants I could toss before the race, because the temps in the low 30’s and the 30-40 mile wind gusts made for a chilly morning. Those winds wouldn’t let up in the least bit over the course of the race, and they proved to be a challenge for many folks!

I had no intention of truly racing, but rather wanted to go out and enjoy myself, and cheer on folks throughout the race. Thus, I decided to commit to dialing things back for the first half of the race, and then seeing if I could conjure up a negative split. I went out rather conservatively, and stayed closed to the 4 hour pace group. The cold wind, and my lack of warm clothing probably pushed my pace a bit more than I had planned, but I still managed to run well within myself. The crowd support throughout the race was phenomenal and the route through the city was visually entertaining. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Philadelphia. I’ve always seen it as being a bit too dirty, and lacking the character and charisma of someplace like New York or Boston. However, as I’ve spent more time in Philly, I’ve grown to appreciate it for what it is and stopped hoping it would be something different. The history is obviously important, but the character of the people and the energy they bring to the city is equally important. Philly is a city of hard-working folks who go about their business, don’t try to be too flashy or outgoing, but still establish themselves as worth of their position as a World Heritage site, among other accolades. I was reminded of this subtle significance as I calmly tackled the first half of the course.


I meandered through the course, sticking to my slower pace and trying to stay conversational, even if I wasn’t actually conversing with anyone along the way. It’s a relatively flat course as far as I’m concerned, but trail and ultra-running has arguably skewed my perspective a bit. Over the course of various other runs, I had become familiar with a majority of the course as well, which helped me feel quite comfortable throughout. The few hils of consequence that do exist along the course are conveniently located in the first half, around miles 6 and 8, which made slowing down a bit that much easier. The route passes the Philadelphia Zoo around mile 8.5, but sadly the animals weren’t lining the streets with the crowd to cheer us on. I would have appreciated a clapping monkey at the very least! Around mile 10, after a bit of climbing, the route passes the “Please Touch Museum”, and I had to giggle as I heard a few folks wondering if this was the art museum, and hence the end of the race (for the half, I presume). They sounded a bit sad upon realizing they still had a few more miles to go, but it was a mostly downhill route to the finish of the half marathon so I’m sure they survived.

I hit the half-way timing mat in 1:55, which was a few minutes ahead of my modest 2 hour target, but still very comfortable. After a few hours of calm running, I was excited to pick up the pace a bit and really stretch my legs. Around mile 14, you pass near the finish line as you head out along the Schuyukill River for an out-and-back segment. Years ago, I probably would have been annoyed at being so close to the finish line, but I was simply excited to pick up the pace along the river. I’ve run along this stretch of the river on a number of locations, and the route has a particular urban beauty to it as you progress along the shore. If it had been earlier in the fall, you would have seen crew teams out practicing on the river. As it was November, we had to settle for the wicked 40 mph winds indecisively alternating between blowing us along and bringing us to a standstill. 

Over the course of the next 4 miles or so, I pushed myself a bit and enjoyed realizing how much pep I had in my legs after 13 miles. In some past races, it has taken me a solid half marathon to even warm up and hit my stride, so I was definitely aware of the endurance training at work. I received a small ping of happiness each time I passed someone, and it helped me forget just how cold I was with very little to break the wind or protect myself from it. The route continues down the river until around mile 20, where you reach the turn around point and naively hope that reversing directions will help with the wind. It did not. However, it was fun to see so many runners with the out-and-back segment and be able to cheer people on. After mile 18 or so, I pulled up a little, having passed the 3:45 pace group faster than I anticipated. I was comfortably in negative split range, and sought to maintain a decent pace the rest of the way that would challenge me but not exhaust me. 

I may prefer smaller trail races, especially due to the family atmosphere, but there is still something special about a large urban marathon. I’m always keenly aware of the folks out there pushing themselves, running the distance for the first time, or attempting a new PR or a BQ. The extrovert in my loves cheering people on, and feeling as though I am sharing their their triumphs and struggles. It was that energy that propelled me back along the river towards the finish line as the final 10K ticked off. The crowds weren’t heavy along this stretch, but they were consistent and you never felt alone. I made a point of stopping briefly at each of the well-staffed and well-stocked aid stations and thanking the volunteers, and surprisingly managed to keep myself properly hydrated the entire time. The race finishes near the famous Art Museum steps immortalized in the Rocky movies, and the spirit of the marathon is certainly characterized by that particular brand of grit and hard work. 

I crossed the finish line in about 3:39 as the Garmin flies, and locked in a solid negative split in the process. I have never run a negative split during a marathon so it was a nice feather in my running cap. I finished just a few minutes behind my Iowa friend, which made it easy to find her amidst the crowd. We collected our medals and space blankets, and shuffled our way through the finish chute towards some snacks and water. Had it been a warmer day, I would have loved to stick around and cheer others on. However, we began shivering pretty quickly so our priority became heading back to the hotel for a hot shower and some more substantial food. As I walked back, I was subtly aware of how good my legs felt, which brought a smile to my face. This marathon was all about the human element, and the celebration of our sport, and I couldn’t have been happier with the smiles I logged along the way while #chasing42!

Delicious waffles make a great post-marathon treat!

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