Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Endurance”

Race Report: Labor Pains 12-Hour

Since beginning to run longer and longer distances, my idea of a training run has changed considerably. My sense of anticipation has also shifted quite a bit, to the point where anything less than 50 miles doesn’t really trigger any of my pre-race jitters or antsy feelings. That was certainly the case this time around as I approach the 3rd year of my birthday run tradition.

I went to the Labor Pains 12-Hour race last year because it looked like a fun way to spend my birthday, and I knocked out 40 miles in the heat and humidity, and enjoyed every minute of it. The weather was considerably different this year, but the goal was the same. September typically marks the beginning of the fall racing season for me, and luckily the weather shifted to accommodate, with cooler temps and light rain/ overcast skies. This was less than ideal for the epicurean’s relaxation and reading plans, but it proved to be excellent running weather…mostly.

We arrived about 30 minutes prior to the 7:30 start time, parked in almost the same location as last year, and I made my way to packet pickup. Other than the weather, the biggest difference this year was having company for part of the day. Michelle, a local friend, decided to make the drive up and use the race as her long run for the weekend, and it was great to have a familiar face to run with for a good chunk of the day. Our paces are very similar and we run a lot of miles together in general, so it worked out quite well.

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lap after Lap…ticking them off. 

To refresh your memory, the course is a 5-mile loop with close to 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Runners complete as many loops as they want, stop when they want, and start again if they want. There is an aid station at the mid-way point, and the trail is mainly wooded single-track. All the rain this year added mud to the equation in copious amounts, and I did plenty of sliding around throughout the day.

In general, my legs were feeling really good, and my pace remained relatively consistent throughout the day. Michelle and I ticked off the miles pretty smoothly, running the flats and downhill portions, and walking a few of the larger uphill sections after the first few laps. She ran the first 25 miles with me (plus the extra 1.2 for a marathon finish), and it made the time just fly by having someone else to run with consistently. After we said our goodbyes, i kept on moving and knocked out my final 3 loops with relative consistency.

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Such a great way to spend a birthday…chasing42! 

As usual, it was a very well-organized race, the aid station at the start/finish was nicely stocked with a variety of snacks, and I made sure to help myself to the beer at the half-way point during the last few laps as well! The weather may have been soggy and less than ideal for relaxing outside (sorry, beautiful epicurean!) weekend day, but it still proved to be an enjoyable day. I still have a few more years before I need to head back out for a 9th lap, and I will continue to return to this race as my birthday run tradition continues. I’ll keep #chasing42 for yet another year!

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Daily Chase: Vol. 79

I am still alive. The streak is still in play. I’m beginning to sound like a bit of a broken record. Life has a funny way of shifting and adapting to fit the space that it’s in, and that has meant having considerably less time for the assessing and reporting on my various running-related endeavors. However, I’m still squeezing in the training, and the love for running and the trails only continues to grow! I can’t promise consistency in my posting this fall, but I can promise consistency in my running. That’s what we’re all here for after all, right?

crab

Sometimes you kayak to a beach where wild horses roam…

Chasing42 Log: 20170813- 20170915

Run: The fall racing season is in full effect, and my running has continued to stay steady, although perhaps not with the same amount of vertical training that I would like or I was able to get during this period last year. In the last month, I’ve had some amazing adventures in the woods, logged plenty of tedious road miles, and kicked off my own fall racing season. I celebrated my 38th birthday with my 3rd Annual Birthday Run at the Labor Pains Race again this year (9/3), and logged another enjoyable 40 miles in Reading, PA. The weather was damp and cool this year, which was refreshing to say the least, and I had some wonderful company for the first 25 miles, which made them fly by too. It’s a tradition I’m looking forward to continuing well into the future.

mushrooms

These don’t look edible! 

This past weekend, we traveled up to Cook Forest State Park in northwestern PA, and relaxed by the fire, next to a river and a trail head with some wonderful single-track. I got to play in the woods plenty, and it certainly made my heart happy!

Tomorrow, we are heading up to New York for a long day in the woods as well, so I’ll have more information to come!

Thought: More people need to get outside and disconnect. I know this isn’t a terribly profound statement, and I’m far from the first to utter it. I also know that the conflict reports on the “impact” of screen time on socialization, learning, and other forms of behavior are far from conclusive, so I’m not making any claims about the adverse impact of decreased social interaction and connection with nature. However, I continue to experience enough anecdotal evidence in my own life to suggest that if more folks just took a step back from their lives and tried for a brief moment to put things in perspective, we’d all be much better off. With that being said, #optoutside seems to be far more important than it was even initially intended to be. We are all #chasing42 differently, but I sure hope your chase causes you to step back and listen/look more, and type/talk less!

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Amazing trails and amazing company…what more do you need?!

Daily Chase: Vol. 78

Where has the summer gone? I feel like the game never changes, and yet I seem to find myself in the same situation every year! The summer presents itself in all its opportunistic glory, filled with a multitude of time for all the desired projects, and then it’s gone in a blink of an eye 🙂 That’s certainly how I would describe the last month, which has flown by at hyper speed.

At any rate, the running has continued, the streak remains in play, and the rain and humidity has controlled my life far more than I would have preferred. Not only has it meant some very damp and hot runs, but it has also meant a quick 3-day landscaping project has taken several weeks to complete! We finally bit the bullet and decided to dig up the asphalt in our backyard (who paves their backyard!?!?!?!?!). The end result will be a much more beautiful and usable space, but first it has to stop raining for more than a day so we can actually finish spreading the top soil and plant the grass seed. I’m pretty sure it was bone dry for two month, and then has rained every other day since we began this project…ugh!

droplet

It looks so innocent, right?

Luckily, we made our yearly trip to Minnesota to visit family and do some exploring. It’s always fun to get back home and visit old and new haunts. We were able to spend a lot of time with my sister and nephew as well, which was a blast! I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of running, and explored some areas I had never seen before, despite growing up there. Everything just looks different when you are a runner!

Adams

Chasing42 Log: 20170710- 20170812

Run: The miles have been hot and humid for the past month but they’ve also been consistent. I’ve been really happy with the track and tempo workouts I’ve incorporated during the week, and the solid trail miles on the weekend. I’ve been keeping my weekly mileage fairly consistent around 70, and trying to incorporate as much vertical gain as I can along the way. I managed a comfortable 26 miles this morning and feel like I’m about as acclimated as I’m going to be at this point. Soon enough, classes will begin again, and my running schedule will change.

The #chasing42streak continues and now sits at 631 days. 

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#traillove

Thought: The history of lawn/turf management and landscaping in this country is fascinating to me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as our project’s extended timeline has given me plenty of time to stare at the piles of dirt in our backyard. Why do we spend so much time on our yards/lawns? We waste untold millions of gallons of water to feed grass, we spend millions of dollars on mulch, dirt, and plants, and we invest hours upon hours working to keep things up. We compete with neighbors, we pay homeowners associations, we adhere to landscaping policies, and it’s all to live a lie. Just think for a moment how much more time and money you would have if you weren’t tossing it into the ground so you don’t get judged negatively by others. What other interests or hobbies would you pursue? How much more running would you do? How much more time would you spend with your partner or significant other?

How much more time would you spend #chasing42?

Ok, time to head outside and mow the lawn. Again. Why won’t it stop growing? Zero-scaping sounds better and better by the day!

Laurel Highlands Race Recap

I’m fully aware that this review is long overdue. As is usually the case, the summer seems to have gotten away from me amidst the various projects, work and home-related, taking up my time. With that being said, the Laurel Highlands 70.5-miler was an amazing race experience, and certainly worthy of a #chasing42 review!

I try to be very respectful of the beautiful epicurean’s time and energy, and not drag her along to every single race I run. She has been overwhelmingly supportive from day 1, and I cherish that support. Since the Laurel Highlands 70-miler was a relatively local race, being just a 4 hour drive northwest into PA, I agreed to make the trip myself. The race took place on Saturday, June 10th and I took off Friday the 9th from work and made the drive up in the afternoon. The race is a point-to-point course, starting in Ohiopyle, PA, and running along the Laurel Highlands trail north to Seward, PA. As I was traveling alone, it didn’t make sense to bother with a hotel room for a few hours of sleep, so I decided to park my car at the finish and sleep in it Friday night.

LHT-3

My sleeping accommodations. 

I got up to the campground around 4PM and got a quick lay of the land and made sure I knew where to park when I returned, and then I headed into Johnstown for packet pickup and the pre-race dinner and briefing. 2017 marked the 38th running of the race and they certainly have the logistics ironed out very smoothly. I showed up, collected my bib and shirt, and found a seat for dinner. The pasta dinner was quite good, and I was pleased and full as I left, having a much better sense of the course, and feeling content as I headed back to the campground/ finish area. I pulled out my packable camp chair and relaxed with a good book to enjoy the remaining sunlight before curling up in my sleeping back in the car to catch a few hours of sleep. The benefit of sleeping “outside” is going to bed when the sun goes down and not worrying as much about staying up late!

I wouldn’t say I slept great, but I still got a decent amount of sleep before my 3AM alarm woke me from my slumber. Other folks had begun to arrive and park around me to secure their place at the finish area before the buses arrived to shuttle us down to the start. The buses cut through the darkness promptly at 3:30AM with their school bus charm, and we boarded silently in the dark. The drive ended up taking much longer and was much more winding and bumpy than I had anticipated so additional sleep was out of the question. We arrived at the starting area with very little time to spare, and everyone made a beeline for the bathrooms. I took care of business and walked up to the starting area with a few minutes to spare. The morning light was just breaking through in the park, and there was an air of calm anticipation running through the crowd as we waited for the signal to start.

LHT-4

The falls in Ohiopyle made a great starting line! 

I opted for poles in addition to my normal Salomon pack, soft flasks, and various nutritional needs. The course itself has over 11,000 feet of vertical gain, and the jagged elevation profile left me confident that the use of poles would be a good choice. I was certainly correct! After a short jaunt on the road to the trailhead, we hopped on the Laurel Highlands Trail and didn’t leave it for the next 70 miles. The trail itself was consistently technical, beautiful single track with some spectacular views. I told myself I would actually stop at least once to take in the views this time, and I eventually did make good on that promise. The first aid station at mile 11.6 made for a bit of a longer first section, but fresh legs and plenty of Tailwind, along with the energy of the race and the people around me made the miles tick off pretty quickly. There was no shortage of climbing, however, and I had accumulated well over 2,000 ft. of vertical gain.

The next section was filled with shorter but more frequent climbs, and I was starting to have flashbacks to the Georgia Death Race and the constant climbing and descending. I had heard that a majority of the climbing for this race was in the first 20 miles, so I was prepared for it, and my legs held up really well. All of the climbing I had been doing in training was certainly paying off. I didn’t spend long at the aid station at mile 19.6 and got back out on the course to keep my momentum going.

I should have known better, but for a brief moment as I was leaving AS #2, I actually thought the course would get easier. It didn’t. The aid stations were further apart than in many other ultras, and I enjoyed the old school feel of the race. It forced me to pay more attention to my hydration and nutrition, and plan accordingly for the longer chunks of miles.

LHT-5

Beautiful views. All. Day. 

Things started to heat up, literally, by mile 30, and the crowd of 143 runners (70.5 distance) had begun to thin out quite a bit so I was spending significantly more time by myself. The climbs kept coming, and the rocks and roots continued to make the trail a formidable companion. My head seemed to be bouncing between the trail and the views as I tried to simultaneously not trip and enjoy the gorgeous landscapes laid out before me along the trail. I should note that this is not a bad problem to have, and the constant distractions made the miles and climbing much easier as I continued my relentless forward progress.

Eventually, I made it to the mile 46 aid station and eagerly anticipated access to my drop bag. This aid station experience was one of the best I’ve ever had thanks in large measure to an amazing volunteer that helped me from start to finish. I was pretty darn hot, had run out of water, and was soaking wet from sweat so a cold rag and ice water on my neck and back felt amazing. He grabbed my drop bag, refilled my bottles with Tailwind, and I put on a clean shirt and a fresh pair of socks. By the time I left the aid station, I felt like a new man. The drudgery of the previous 7 miles (after AS #4) was a distant memory, and I headed back out on the trail with renewed vigor and excitement!

I made it to the next aid station at mile 57 with ease relative to the previous miles, and was in really good spirits. At this point, I was determined to see how far I could get without using my headlamp. I rolled in, fueled up, and pulled out my headlamp in anticipation of using it soon, but I still had some light in the sky. I danced with the setting sun almost as far as the next and final aid station at mile 62, helped in part by a short stretch of dirt road up to the AS that I could navigate with very little light. I was all smiles as I pulled into the final aid station, took a few shots of Coke, and struck out for the final stretch.

It got dark pretty quick, but my headlamp cast a nice wide beam so I had no trouble navigating. After about a mile, I found myself running nearby to another runner, which hadn’t happened in quite a while. We got to talking and humorously discovered that we followed each other on Strava, and lived miles from each other but had never met in person. We ended up running in the final 7 miles together and talking the entire time about a whole host of topics, which made the time fly by rather quickly. We both had been thinking about the possibility of breaking 18 hours as the finish line grew near, and we began to push as hard as we could with 5 miles or so to go. We kept looking down at the clock and knew it would be close, especially since we weren’t entirely sure how much we had left as the finish grew near. We made the final push and “sprinted” across the finish line in 18:03.

LHT-1

All finishers received a beautiful wooden “trophy”, which was a small replica of the permanent stone obelisk trail mile markers along the Laurel Highlands Trail, and I was quite happy to claim mine. I hung around the finish area for a bit, sipping on soup, and cheering on other runners before eventually making my way back to the car around 12:30AM. I was exhausted, and my wet wipe “bath” didn’t really cut it, but I was too tired to care and I climbed into my sleeping bag for a few hours of restless sleep as my sore leg muscles began to repair themselves. I predictably woke up with the rising sun, briefly enjoyed the cool morning air, and then hopped in the car for the 4 hour drive home. It was a whirlwind weekend, as so many race weekends are, but I absolutely loved the course, the volunteers, and the overall experience. I collected my second Western States qualifying race as well, and fully embraced the #chasing42 spirit along the way!

LHT-2

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 🙂

Umstead-7

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!

Umstead-6

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).

Umstead-3

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!

Umstead-4

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.

Umstead-2

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!

Umstead-5

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.

Boston-4

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!

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