Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

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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? 🙂

 

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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!

Vertical 5K Fun

A week ago, I felt adventurous and eager to try something new. The result was the inaugural Vertical 5K (as it shall henceforth be named)! I felt it was worthy of it’s own shout-out Daily Chase-style post due to the hilarity and suffering that ensued.

Chasing42 Log: 20160919

Run: I was feeling antsy, and found myself thinking about all the climbing I had coming up at Grindstone. After a relatively restful weekend, my legs were feeling really good and I wanted to push things a bit harder. I had been out to the Newark Reservoir on several previous occasions and had enjoyed running the perimeter, hoping onto the nearby trails, and doing a few repeats on the enormous hill that stretches from the parking lot to water level. However, I thought it would be fun to take it to the next level, and see how many repeats I could complete.

The hill itself is grassy, and sits at about a significantly steep incline. There is a paved path that winds around up to the water level more gradually, but enough people take the shortcut that the city has found it necessary to redirect traffic up slightly different paths in the grass to avoid erosion. This made the .08 mile climb that much more challenging, and added to the fun! I began my ascents by pushing pretty hard and feeling my pulse jump as my heart and lungs were called on for a more intense experience. I was wearing relatively light weight road shoes unfortunately, so the run down did not offer nearly as much reprieve because I needed to be overly cautious of my footing so as not to do my best Jack impersonation.

The distance accumulated incredibly slowly on the steep incline, and my quads were burning pretty quickly. However, I loved watching the elevation gain increase much more quickly than the distance, with 80-90 feet of gain over each summit. I lost count of my repeats fairly quickly, but started paying attention to the distance and decided after about a mile that I would push for a full 5K. The final runs up involved quite a bit of pushing, but I hit my goal, and relished running down the hill one final time and taking a lap around the parking lot to shake out my legs. I was drenched from head to toe, and no doubt looked like a mess, but it felt incredibly. After 3.3 miles, I had gained 1,772 feet. This won’t be my last time tackling this hill and #chasing42!

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Daily Chase: Vol. 40

You might have been tempted to think that my #chasing42runstreak was in jeopardy based on the lapse in Daily Chase information, but you can let out a collective sigh of relief. The streak is still in play, and more importantly, my legs are fully recovered after my epic GDR adventure. Lord knows my quads were shredded after 40,000 feet of elevation change, but I feel like I’ve bounced back nicely 🙂

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Run: My legs were feeling much fresher this week, and I was able to incorporate some more tempo and speed work back into the mix. It was also spring break at the University of Delaware, so I had a bit more flexibility in my running schedule, which meant I was able to spend a bit of time taking in the early spring blooms at Winterthur. All-in-all, it was a great running week and I’m looking forward to the 36-mile Brandywine End-to-End on April 9th!

Such vibrant colors, even this early in the season! The daffodils filling out the "clouds" on the hill in the background are amazing :)

Such vibrant colors, even this early in the season! The daffodils filling out the “clouds” on the hill in the background are amazing 🙂

Thought: The debate between workout approaches seems to be never-ending, with some folks extolling the benefits of hill work to cover strength and speed, and others focusing on specificity. The physiological evidence might be mixed, but the mental evidence seems to be pretty clear for me. Even if I could benefit the most from focusing on one time of workout and one surface, the reality is that I would still need to mix things up. The variety is as much about mental stimulation for me as it is about the physical benefits. I’ve perhaps fallen into the ultra-bug trap a bit too much lately, and found it hard to justify shorter races when a training run will suffice. However, I am hoping to be more mindful this spring and summer of the mental benefits of pinning on a bib for overall training readiness. Distances from the 5K to the marathon each offer me different challenges, and will ultimately benefit my ultra efforts. If the path #chasing42 was straight, it wouldn’t be much fun, right? 🙂

Daily Chase: Vol. 39

Phew! It’s been quite a week. Rest assured that the streak is intact and all miles are present and accounted for as it currently stands. It was a whirlwind weekend traveling down to Georgia for the Georgia Death Race, and I’ve been playing catch-up since I got back. Thus, the delay in my reporting! You can expect a full race report very soon, but for now, let me just say that the weight of the spike was with me!

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Run: There’s a lot of running to report, but I’ll keep it brief. I was traveling on Friday, so my mile was tackled near the hotel in Dahlonega, GA after I checked in and got myself situated. Apparently there was an amazing gold mine nearby, but I wasn’t terribly concerned with sightseeing 🙂 Over the weekend, the Georgia Death Race consumed my entire existence, and the running stretched across both Saturday and Sunday, as I knew it would. The race certainly lived up to the hype! I crashed hard Sunday night (and Monday night for that matter), and my quads were trashed, but I managed a mile around the block on Monday. It might have been one of the more painful miles in recent memory. I’ve been taking my recovery relatively seriously, so I stuck to my mile on Tuesday, and tossed in two miles yesterday. My legs were finally beginning to feel somewhat normal last night, and my morning run today left me feeling great and at around 80%, which I’m quite happy with only a few day post-GDR. My legs could tolerate rolling beginning on Tuesday, so I’ve been hitting the R8 pretty hard since then, and it seems to be helping!

Thought: I’ve given more thought to the entire race cycle while training for the GDR than I have in quite some time, and it’s been rather refreshing. I gave myself a legitimate taper after a full cycle of race-specific training, and now I’m focusing on intentional active recovery. I’m noticing the difference, and feeling good about returning to a greater sense of intentionality in that regard. For the past few years, I’ve done a lot of racing and simply kept running throughout the process. It’s absolutely worked well, but I feel like making the effort to truly taper, and truly recover takes an extra level of commitment in some way, and that brings a smile to my face. I’ve always enjoyed running because of the never-ending barrage of goals it hurls at me, and it always feels good to meet those goals. That’s what #chasing42 is all about!

Daily Chase: Vol. 38

It is most definitely the 11th hour, and I have things as planned and organized as I possibly can before leaving for Georgia. Living on the east coast means direct flights are now much more possible, so my flight from Philly to Atlanta will be rather quick and ultimately much more convenient than attempting to drive the 12 hours south. I’ll have some time tomorrow to get things squared away once I check into the hotel, and then hopefully get a bit of rest before a 3:45AM wake-up call on Saturday morning!

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Run: I’ve kept my runs nice and short this week and truly respected the taper, despite some beautiful weather that has had me itching to spend much more time outside! I kept my mileage low all three days, and left myself time to take care of all of the other ins and outs that come with leaving for the weekend.

Did I mention there will be some climbing involved?

Did I mention there will be some climbing involved?

Thought: I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the weather. This weekend should be no different. the forecast is calling for intermittent rain during almost all of the race. I have no problem with a light drizzle or misting, but I’m certainly hoping that it doesn’t get any heavier than that. Ultimately, I’m hoping I still get a chance to take in some of the amazing views that were part of the reason I signed up for this race in the first place! Either way, it’s going to be an experience like no other, and I can’t wait to get things started. This weekend will be a true #chasing42 challenge 🙂

Daily Chase: Vol. 37

It’s race week, folks, and you know what that means. The taper gremlin has emerged from his dark hole in the recesses of my mind and situated himself squarely in my sights! I’m juggling quite a few different balls at the moment, so I haven’t been able to engage is quite as much advanced planning as possible, but I still have plenty of time to cross all my t’s and dot all my I’s as I prepare to head down to Georgia this weekend. I’m doing my best to give my legs the rest they need to they are ready to roll on Saturday morning, and I’m rolling the heck out of them. My newest torture device might be my favorite recovery tool yet, and it has quickly become something I use every single day. Meet the “rolling vice”! You can expect a full review in the near future, of course 🙂

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Run: The streak continues as I have now entered full-on taper mode! I ventured out for a quick run after work on Friday, and it was just enough to stretch my legs. I stuck to my Saturday morning routine, but made sure to dial back my pace, pay attention to my breathing, and enjoy the trail time with friends during a “shorter” long run. On Sunday, I dialed things way back and went out for a few quick miles but nothing more, and spent extra time on rolling and stretching. Yesterday, I met a new friend for a nice, easy run around a local park as we chatted about all variety of topics.

Thought: I’m doing my best to keep the taper gremlin at bay, but it’s no easy task. I think I’ve simply been thinking about the Georgia Death Race for so long, that I’ve built it up quite a bit in my mind, and now I’m obsessing over all the details. Logistics are a strong suit for me, so this bodes well for my organization, but it also means my mind is on overdrive for extended periods of time, and stopping to take a deep breath becomes harder and harder. However, I can honestly say that I’m simply excited for the experience, no matter how the actual race goes. I’ve never run in Georgia, let alone hit the trails in North Georgia, so this is going to be a new and exciting way to keep #chasing42!

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