Chasing 42

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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!

MD H.E.A.T. 50k Race Report

The race may have occurred several weeks ago, but make no mistake…the heat is very much still a factor in Delaware. Of even more consequence is the consistent 80-95% humidity, which leaves me wondering if it’s about to rain every day! I was talking with a friend this past weekend about the need for rain because the ground was so dry locally, and it occurred to me that I didn’t even realize it had been so long since a solid rain. The humidity leaves me feeling like it’s always damp and sticky outside. This feeling was the backdrop for my second consecutive running of the MD H.E.A.T. 50k on August 27th.

Last year, this race was my first stab at an east coast trail race, and the 6,000 ft. of vertical gain served as quite the wake-up call. It may not sound like much, but it was quite a bit for this Midwestern transplant. Oh, what a difference a year makes! The course was virtually the same this year, aside from a few adjustments for washed out trails, but running it felt entirely different this year. It was a nice reminder that I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the past year to increase my leg strength and climbing ability.

This year, I was lucky enough to have a friend from Iowa fly out to join me for the race. Ben has been training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October, and naturally saw his first attempt at the 50K distance as a perfect training run to test his endurance. It’s always nice to know I’m not the only one with a backwards logic 🙂 As I did last year, I woke up around 3:30am on Saturday morning, and hopped in the car for the quick drive down to Patapsco State Park in Maryland, where we loaded onto the bus around 5:45 for the short drive into the closed park.

I found Ben on the bus, we exchanged our groggy greetings, and we got settled near the start. The RD called everyone together a few minutes before 7:00AM for some quick announcements, and then we made our loop around the start/finish area and onto the trail for the start of the race. We fell into a comfortable pace/rhythm pretty quick during the first of two loops, and the small group of entrants spread out enough that we weren’t tripping over each other on the mostly single-track course.  I had a very visceral memory of the course from last year, and went in prepared for the hilly, technical nature. However, before I knew it, we were 5 miles in and moving along really well. The well-stocked and enthusiastically-staffed aid stations came up quickly, and we focused on moving quickly between them, while still maintaining a comfortable, conversational pace.

My recap of the race and the course itself last year provides plenty more detail regarding the various twists and turns, stream crossings, and steep climbs that awaited us. The memorable Grist Mill climb (all 47% grade of it) was waiting for us around mile 5.8 again, and I relished the experience in a much different way this year. I’m pretty sure Ben cursed my name for celebrating the climbing opportunity, but it was much more fun this year!

We hit the giant stone wall around mile 15 feeling pretty good, and gingerly tackled the climb and descent, managing not to face plant in the soft, muddy ground near the Patapsco River, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. We paused for a few moments at the start/finish to re-hydrate and take in some more calories. Ben’s shoes happened to be water proof, which might make the stream crossings more manageable, but also did a lovely job of keeping in all the sweat on this warm, 90& humidity morning. He was able to ring out his socks before putting them back on, while I pulled out a dry pair of socks and was never more happy to have remembered to pack them! I was much more familiar with the course this year, so I skipped my larger hydration vest, and opted for a bottle and smaller waist pack, which definitely contributed to my not overheating as much.

The second loop was, as expected, a bit more crowed due to the 25K race that had started around 9AM. We completed the first loop in a little under 3 hours and were feeling pretty good, so we kept the pace going. I had been worried about my pace prior to the start of the race, knowing that Ben is considerably faster than I am, but it would seem I have indeed developed a bit more speed myself in the past year. We were both running comfortably, and still able to carry on a conversation, which is exactly what I wanted out of the race as a solid long training run. I excitedly pointed out to Ben at the 26.3 mile mark that we had now run longer than he had previously gone, and it was fun to think back to my first 50K in D.C. at the Northface Endurance Challenge in 2011. We kept pushing along, and were both happy to get through the halfway point of the second loop, since the climbing was definitely front-loaded.

The time continued to tick by, and we moved along, enjoying the beautiful morning. I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to be able to venture out into the woods like this and explore so freely, and it served as a good reminder of my desire to keep my running sustainable. As we ran the final few miles, the reality of the distance caught up to Ben a bit, but he pushed on very well, and we were greeted by children with water guns as we crossed the finish line. At that point, we were both soaked through anyway, so washing off a bit with clean water was a welcome relief!

The post-race spread was impressive as always, and a cold beer tasted quite good after running 31 miles! We lingered and filled up a bit on the excellent spread, before deciding to call it a day and head back to the cars. The epicurean and Looper had stayed home this year, so I was on my own. Based on how I probably smelled after the race, I’m guessing she was happy she didn’t spend a few hours in the car with me afterwards as well. I ended up finishing almost 30 minutes faster than last year, and more importantly, felt much stronger the entire time. It was once again a great race, and certainly nice to see a familiar race and be a part of his first 50K experience. I have no doubt he is going to kill it at the TC Marathon this year, and I’m definitely feeling much more confident about Grindstone as well. All told, it was a great way to spend a Saturday, running the trails, and living the dream. Keep #chasing42 everyone!

 

Daily Chase: Vol. 12

There is plenty to think about, and plenty to do today, in observance of MLK Jr. Day. For those of you that have the day off, I would challenge you to look for opportunities to educate yourself on the issues facing this country. Racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, poverty, and educational divides are all tearing that the threads that hold our country together. When you head out for a run or workout today, use that time in the zone to think about what matters do you, what you need to know more about, and how you can better inform yourself as a citizen. Engagement in the future of this country must take place more than once every 4 years. You wouldn’t head out the door for one solitary run and consider yourself ready for a race (well, some folks might!), so why would you limit your social engagement so drastically?

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Run: As a typical rest day, I popped outside in the chilly morning air for a quick run before retreating to the warmth for my morning coffee. I busted out a pair of running pants and a jacket for the first time today, which felt a bit strange, but it was still nothing like the negative temps our friends back in Iowa and Minnesota are experiencing. Stay warm and stay safe out there, friends!

Thought: Endurance is mental and physical. This is something that every endurance athlete recognizes pretty quickly as they begin to wrap their head around some of the longer distances on the race schedule. Goals get bigger, dreams expand, and passion powers us through some of the darker times. At the heart of everything is a level of commitment that has the ability to overcome quite a bit. However, that passion, commitment, and endurance is minute when compared to that of the many social justice leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who sacrificed everything for something they believed in. We are much further from realizing Dr. King’s dream than anyone could have predicted 50 years ago, but the work continues and it is only through both mental and physical endurance that we will make the changes that are so badly needed in this country. So, as you get set to train for your next race, remember that you have the ability to commit that level of passion and endurance to other aspects in your life and issues that will change the world for the better. As athletes, we have an insight into what it feels like to push ourselves past a breaking point and keep pushing. It’s that level of commitment that is required to achieve so many other goals within the social justice movement. With the election season upon us, it could not be more clear how substantial the ideological divide is in this country. As passions heat up, the real contest begins. We are at mile 90 in this country, and the last 10 miles are anything but a victory lap. Keep pushing, keep speaking up, keep learning, keep educating, keep believing, and keep #chasing42!

Yo Adrien! Rocky 50K Run Report

There is a time and a place for a routine workout that you’ve completed in the past, and you have the luxury of knowing benchmarks that you can work to improve. Truthfully, not every training run can be an exciting adventure filled with new experiences and memories. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out those experiences! One of the joys of living in a new part of the country has been exploring and experiencing new running routes and locations, and meeting new people along the way. In all honesty, the fact that I have been bombarded with so many new experiences to input has almost made up for the friends and running partners I miss back in Iowa, and the significantly disproportionate number of solo miles I’ve logged in the last six months.

So, when I read about a Rocky-themed fat ass run through Philadelphia a few months back, I knew I had to put it on my calendar and check it out. I had traveled to Philly on several occasions prior to moving out here, and although I had enjoyed running in a new area and had fun exploring, I generally found the city itself to be less than thrilling. Aside from the amazing historical significant tied up in the city of brotherly love, I always found it lacking some of the energy and charisma that New York, D.C., or San Francisco possess. I also felt like the environment lacked a sense of pride in home, based on the lack of cleanliness and overall disrepair in many areas. Now, I realize that every city has these characteristics, especially once you leave the tourist-centric areas and head into the everyday world outside. However, there was always just something about Philly that never gave me the same excitement or eagerness to explore. I’d be lying if I said this most recent 50K running tour improved my perception of Philadelphia, but it did change my perceptions. Much of that change was the result of getting a better sense of the people make up the community. After completing the Rocky 50K run, Philly was no longer just a destination. It was a community, and one that I am looking forward to becoming more a part of in the future.

When the alarm went off at 4AM, I began to immediately second guess my plan to drive 45 minutes north for what was essentially a large group run with a bunch of people I didn’t know. 7AM starts are hard enough close to home, but I sucked it up, got dressed, and was out the door by 5:30AM. I had printed out the turn-by-turn directions for the run ahead of time, and since it was a point-to-point, I decided to park near the finish at the Art Museum steps, and run to the starting area ahead of time. I found a meter near a Whole Foods about a 1/4 mile from the museum and got myself situated. It was 3 miles to the start, and I had 30 minutes to get there, so I thought I would be fine. However, I didn’t anticipate needing to use a restroom, of which there were none to be found as I ran through random dark neighborhoods I’d never visited before. Luckily (I think), I passed a port-a-potty in a small construction site, and did my best breath hold and hover before getting back out on the street. I managed to make it there a few minutes after 7, and there were plenty of people still lingering so I was in good shape.

Many folks had busted out the gray sweat suit and red headband for the run and the energy of the group immediately lifted my spirits. I started out again almost immediately, and the run was underway. My intention was to take things pretty slow and easy, and use this run as training for the Across the Years 48-Hour run at the end of the month. As is typically the case when I’m surrounded by folks I don’t know, I slipped into race mode a bit, and began passing some folks and jumping ahead to other groups who had headed out a bit earlier or were running a bit faster. Eventually, I fell in with a group of runners who were moving at a comfortable pace, and I took to enjoying the experience and taking in the sounds, sights, and smells of my new environment. Regardless of what I might have thought about Philadelphia before the run, it’s safe to assume that many of the areas I went through on the route would not have been places I would have visited otherwise.

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That’s me on the left…someone on the interwebs captured me!

We made our way to the downtown area relatively early in the run, and once we passed City Hall (an area I was familiar with from previous exploring), I was in completely uncharted territory. I was moving at a comfortable pace, and feeling good about the day. This being a fat ass race, I packed all of my own supplies, and was wearing my Salomon S-Labs 12L vest. I decided to conduct another nutritional test, so I filled my 2L bladder with Tailwind, and used it exclusively for the entire run. Not surprisingly, it worked like a charm and kept me beautifully hydrated and fueled for the long slow miles!

After about 20 miles, I found myself separated from most of the other runners, and was navigating on my own via the directions I printed out. The route took us through some neighborhoods that left me more sad than anything else. The area wasn’t inherently bad, but it was clear that the city had long since stopped investing any significant resources into maintaining the buildings and the streets. The sidewalks were littered with trash and other less savory discarded items, buildings were in need of repair, and cars found their way into awkward angles on sidewalks and in yards. It was a stark contrast from the clean, historic, and proud buildings of the downtown area, and it gave me pause. These impressions were contrasted by the amazing volunteers who had come out on the route to cheer us on, ask if we needed anything, and randomly hand out water and other snacks. This was a fat ass race, but these amazing folks wanted to be a part of the event, and this is how they chose to do so. They took pride in their community, and in the broader Philly running community, and it was contagious.

Our own world views are so often shaped by information given to us by others, and not information we gather ourselves. Not surprisingly, the information we receive is the result of different motives and views, and is never truly objective. The same is true of most road races. Think about the road marathons you’ve run, and the routes you’ve taken. You’d be wrong if you think the route was decided at random, or simply the result of what was “easiest”. Sure, race organizers want to show of their city, but there is also a lot of motivation to keep us from seeing many aspects of the real city. Each race is a narrative written by someone else, a work of fiction we are meant to enjoy (and spend lots of money in, hopefully). The Rocky 50K run was different. This route was a story written the year I was born, when the city was much different than what it is now, but also one written for a different purpose. The result was a very reflective run on this cool, comfortable Saturday morning in December.

Gotta love those stairs!

Gotta love those stairs!

Eventually the route led down to the Schuylkill River and followed a path towards the museum that I had run previously. It was refreshing, after 20 plus miles, to be on a dedicated running path, and be able to check out mentally a bit more. As if to tease us, the route past right by the museum, and then headed back into the downtown area for the final 5 miles or so before looping back. With a few miles left, I caught up to another runner wearing a Salomon pack, and my TAUR-dar kicked in 🙂 Sure enough, he was an ultra-runner from just across the river in New Jersey, and we got to chatting about different races we’d done, and how much we preferred trails to roads. It was a refreshing way to end the run as we headed up the final stretch towards the famous museum steps. I was feeling really good, albeit a bit more tired than I had planned, probably because I had gone faster than I had intended. I hit the base of the steps, and my final kick hit as I tackled the stairs two at a time and reached the top in no time. There was no finish chute, no medals, no mylar blankets or cheering crowds. There were a few other runners who had finished, along with some folks taking pictures, but they were simply interspersed with all of the other tourists who had come out that day to check out the steps, and hopefully head instead to enjoy the museum’s wonderful collection.

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The low-key nature of the morning suited me just fine. I downed a bottle of water, paused for a few minutes to take some pictures and rest, stopped by the Rocky statue, and then headed back to my car for the drive home. I ended up with just over 36 miles on the day. More than that, though, I left with an appreciation for the community of Philadelphia, which is the true appeal of the city, and I can’t wait to become even more a part of that community!

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Guest Race Recap: Crooked Road 24-Hour Race

As as part of the #chasing42reports series, I present to you a fantastic tale of a great friend’s first 24-hour/ 100 mile experience. I was excited from the moment he let me know he was planning to tackle the distance, and would have been out there with him if it didn’t coincide with the JFK 50-Miler. As it turns out, he had a fantastic race, and the details below sum things up rather well!

Race Date: 11/21/15

Race Location: Rocky Mount, VA

Distance: 24 Hours

Website: http://www.crookedroadrunning.com

Race Summary: This is the 5th year of the Crooked Road 24-Hour Ultra hosted by the Crooked Road Running Club (CRRC) and located at Waid Park in Rocky Mount, Virginia. In years past, runners would run on a mostly flat certified 0.950423-mile loop within a section of the park. This year however, the course was changed to a certified 1.1815-mile loop. They offer ample parking and free camping for those who desire but there are numerous hotels at a great price in the town of Rocky Mount.

The registration fee is only $40 and instead of a shirt they gave registered runners a camping chair — something to sit on between running. Packet pick up is offered the afternoon before the event or the morning of. There is one aid station located at the loop check-in area with water, Gatorade, soft drinks, fruit, PB&J, and this year they provided hamburgers for lunch and pizza for dinner. Because of the newer venue, they got rid of the port-a-potty and we were able to use the indoor bathrooms.

They also have great race support via all the volunteers along the course. The greatest support came during the long stretch of night running when there is typically lower runner energy. I could hear the cheering from 3/4 of a mile away … even at 3 and 4 in the morning when we were all cold and weary.

It was difficult, at times, to continue on because of the “hobo fire” they started along the course. It was nice to warm up the body for a bit but really tough to get back on the trail.

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Best Moment: The people; volunteers and runners alike, are amazing. Some of the runners stopped at certain times of the race and worked as volunteers, then got back on the course to run more loops. There were numerous stories from talking with other runners and walkers on the trail as well. I spoke with many people …

There was a 10-year old boy who was out to break his PR (which happens to be the Virginia record for his age group in a 24-hour race) of 17.5-miles. He was afraid another boy was going to beat his distance and decided to run/jog/walk 28-miles in order to maintain his title.

Another man on the course had never run more than a 5K but wanted to do something big in his life, something he could tell his kids about. When we spoke, he was just a couple of laps away from 50K. He said his body never hurt more and he had never had blisters on his feet the way he did that night but he wanted to finish strong.

Another woman appeared to have back issues and was a bit overweight but the only time I was her stop speed walking was when she was cheering on runners at the check-in tent from midnight to 4:00 a.m.

I asked about one man who was walking with an empty stroller. It turns out he was in an accident and they did not think he was going to walk again. They were wrong and he walked a 50K before midnight, took a nap, then started again in the early morning hours until the horn blew at 8:00 a.m.

There are many more people who deserve notice but I think runners just need to go, talk to other runners, and experience the stories for themselves.

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Brief Bio: This is my first 24-hour event and while I thought it would be difficult to run a 1-mile loop for 24-hours, it really was not that challenging to stay mentally focused. Nutrition was also a big concern of mine. As a vegetarian, it is sometimes difficult to attend events like this and find calorie rich foods. This time I brought my own vegan friendly nutrition and it worked out perfectly!

Tailwind – 1,400 calories of Raspberry Buzz (w/ caffeine)
Tailwind – 1,400 calories of Naked
4 Dates stuffed w/ raw coconut
2 Dark mini-chocolate bars (85%)
2 Huma chia energy gels (cappuccino and mango)
2 Sweetish fish candies (vegan according to PETA)

My race splits for this event are as follows:
1:39:58 – 1/2 Marathon
3:40:54 – Marathon
4:35:19 – 50K (PR)
8:06:22 – 50M (PR)
11:06:05 – 100K (PR)
19:35:00 – 100M (PR)

Congrats to Stefan on an amazing race and a WIN!

JFK 50 Mile Race Report

I’ve always been an eager student of history. The world is a strange and fascinating place, and there are more stories out there to explore than can be held in a single lifetime. That’s a large part of why “America’s Ultramarathon” has intrigued me for so many years. I first learned of the JFK 50 shortly after starting to run, long before I really had any grasp of the idea of an ultramarathon. I was fascinated by President Kennedy’s call to action of sorts, and the challenge of meeting the same physical requirements that President Roosevelt had held military officers to at the turn of the 20th century. Although numerous 50 mile races popped up following Kennedy’s call to action in 1961, the JFK 50 Mile race is still the only 50-mile footrace continuously held each year. The storied history has seen many great champions, and the military roots have remained strong and influential throughout it’s now 53 years.

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With the pull of history in the back of my mind, the race became the first thing I registered for when the epicurean and I decided to move to Delaware for a new life adventure. I’ve had a rather busy fall race season, but have been looking forward to this longer than anything else, and I can say without a doubt that the experience did not disappoint. I drove west to Hagerstown, MD on Friday for packet pick-up and to check into my hotel room. I was flying solo, so I went for the cheapest room I could find, which proved to have considerable drawbacks but I made the most of it. I set everything out on Friday night to make the early morning wake-up call that much smoother, and actually got to bed at a decent hour, which is typically not my forte.

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A 7AM race start meant waking up at 5AM to get ready, eat a light breakfast, and drive the 15 minutes to the start in Boonsboro, MD with enough time for a final “system cleansing”. I had hoped to make it to the pre-race meeting at 6:20, but ended up waiting in line for said cleansing a bit longer than expected. However, I still had just enough time to warm up in the high school, and then walk down to the starting line a few minutes before the gun went off. It was a brisk 27 degrees when the race started, so I was happy to have remembered arm warmers and gloves, along with my Buff for my head and neck (seriously, such a versatile piece of equipment!).

It was a chilly start!

It was a chilly start!

I knew from studying the elevation chart and reading the course description that I was in for some climbing in the initial miles, but that really hadn’t quite sunk in. However, it only took about a half mile to realize that we were heading straight up. The first 2.5 miles were on the road out-of-town, before meeting up with the Appalachian Trail for a quick mile and then onto a fire road for two more miles. In those first 5.5 miles, we gained over 1,700 feet of elevation, which my quads could definitely feel. I managed to hold myself back a bit more than usual, however, so I was feeling good when we stepped onto the AT again at mile 5.5. This was the first race in quite a while that I had succeeded in not going out too hard, and recognizing that brought a smile to my face.

The next 10 miles or so were all along the AT, and luckily along a good portion of the trail that I was familiar with after my hiking adventure in October. Knowing what was coming didn’t make the trail any less challenging, however. Additionally, running along the rocky, rooty section was far more challenging than hiking, and I was definitely as focused as I have ever been during a run. It was still early enough in the race that the pack had not completely thinned out, and I tucked into a pack of runners the entire way, which meant I had much less room to stop or slow down much. Luckily, I’m fairly certain that the past 6 months of increased trail running in Delaware definitely paid off, and I moved along really well. I never once lost control of my footing, and only slightly slid a few times despite the leaf-covered ground hiding the roots and roots underneath.

I knew the last section of switchbacks was coming because I had hiked down them several weeks ago, but they still gave me momentary pause as I began the speedy downhill assault. Dropping over 1,000 feet in such a short period of time, all while running as hard as I could, was quite the exhilarating experience, and I loved every moment of it. When I reached the final few stone steps, it was clear to me why so many people talked about yelling joyfully after making their way down unscathed. This area was also a major meeting point for spectators and crew members, neither of which I had waiting for me, so I kept rolling along the trail towards the C & O Canal towpath.

Hmmmm...I wonder which section was along the AT?

Hmmmm…I wonder which section was along the AT?

In retrospect, I wish someone had been waiting for me, because I would have benefited from trading out my Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s for a much lighter pair of Hokas for the long, flat towpath section. However, this was not an option, and the Altras were still holding up beautifully and comfortably, as they had done countless times before. The towpath section stretched for just over a marathon (26.3 miles), and was a beautifully flat, crushed gravel trail. This meant I could zone out a bit more and just let the miles tick off. I had planned on making up a bit of lost time on the towpath, but I still managed to run the AT section a bit harder than I had planned, so my legs (especially my quads!) didn’t have quite the pep in them that I thought they would.

The towpath miles were ultimately more of a blur than anything else. I moved along pretty well for the duration of the segment, and made sure to take walk breaks every so often to make sure I had some energy left in my legs for the final 8.2 mile stretch. The biggest motivational aspect by far proved to be the aid stations along the way. This was without a doubt the best supported race I’ve ever run, and each aid station (and they were about every 2 miles!) continued to outdo the one before. Between Star Wars, Christmas, and a myriad of other themes, the volunteers really went out of their way to make everyone feel welcomed and supported. By the time I had made it onto the towpath, the pack had spread out considerably more, so I saw far fewer runners along the way. It was a treat to know there was an aid station every 2 miles that I could zero in on when I was pushing myself from one point to the next, and it made the long section that much more enjoyable.

It's never too early for Santa, right?

It’s never too early for Santa, right?

That being said, I was still fairly bored with the towpath by the end, and very excited to leave it at the 41.8 mile mark, and hop onto the road for the final section. Those final miles were rather hilly and rolling, but the beautiful landscape made it easier to forget. Aside from some random aches and pains every once in a while, my legs were feeling good and I was excited to know I was so close to the finish. Reaching the final aid station brought a huge smile to my face, and I picked up the pace a bit, knowing I only had 2 miles to go. As I entered town, I could hear the announcers at the finish line, and that gave me the final push I needed to eek out a final kick to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 8:45:35, ultimately good for 129/794 overall, and knew I had earned the medal that was placed around my neck.

After lingering at the finish line for a bit to watch a few others come in, I made my way into the nearby school to wash up and get some food. As I sat for a bit and people-watched, I was reminded of just how much I love this community. This race definitely lived up to my expectations and exceeded them in many regards. I was certainly tired when I boarded the shuttle bus to take me back to the start and my car, but I was surprised by how much energy I still had. I knew others were still out there, and I sent them my extra energy to power them towards the finish. I probably could have stayed the night, but it was only a 2.5 hour drive, and I was much more interested in getting home and sleeping in my own bed. The drive back was a breeze, and the hot shower and hot soup (and cold beer) were a wonderful treat when I got home that night. History takes place around us every day, and many events often go unnoticed or forgotten. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of history on Saturday, November 21st, 2015, for the 53rd Annual JFK 50.

JFK-5

Army 10-Miler Race Report

Running a 50K in the woods makes for a perfect warm-up the day before a 10 mile race, right? After Stefan and I returned from Prince William Forest, we headed over to the D.C. armory to pick up our packets for the Army 10-Miler. I’ve been hearing about this race for the past several years, largely as a result of Stefan and Jamile being nearby and various friends visiting the to run the race. Thus, I was quite excited to have the opportunity to share in the experience myself this year. The expo itself was larger than many marathon expos I’ve been to, and it was clear that the size (35,000 runners), location, and notoriety of this race made it quite the high-profile event. We spent some time wandering around the expo, but were eager to head home and get cleaned up and find some food!

All smiles where delicious food is concerned!

All smiles where delicious food is concerned!

As it turns out, this was the first race expo I had been to since beginning my part-time job at the Delaware Running Company. I’ve learned an enormous amount about the specialty running industry (shoes, gear, apparel) in a short amount of time, and the result seems to be my viewing expos “sales” with an entirely new light. I’m far less tempted now that I know what times retail for, and when they happen to be a discontinued or updated product. It made it much easier to walk out without purchasing anything!

We headed back, met up with Jamile and the epicurean, and wasted no time leaving for dinner. An amazing gluten-free Ethiopian feast awaited us at a little restaurant around the corner. It had been entirely far too long since either of us had been to an Ethiopian restaurant (not a cuisine you see much of in Iowa), and we were elated to re-acquaint our pallets with the delicious earthy flavors. The GF injera was an added bonus, and tasted remarkably similar, and even better than the gluten-laden conventional Americanized variety. Then we made our way back home (after stocking up on some delicious ciders and micro-brews) to relax for the remainder of the evening and prepare for the race the next day.

ATM-1

The race began at 8AM, so we arrived around 6:45am at a parking spot within walking distance of the start outside the Pentagon, and wound our way through the crowds and security to the start. Others had said the security bottleneck had been atrocious in previous years, but they clearly made some changes because we wandered through with ease and began making our way through the various corals. I had underestimated my pace quite a bit, and was initially assigned to a slower coral, but was able to make my way further up, and Stefan and I settled in around the 7:30/mile mark.

A view from the start...

A view from the start…

Even thinking about moving along that fast was a mental contradiction of sorts. After my training this summer, I knew I was capable of holding that general pace for the full 10 miles, but my mental image of myself hasn’t quite caught up because it still seemed like an intimidating pace. Nonetheless, it was a calm, cool, sunny morning and I was feeling good so I wanted to give it a go. Luckily Stefan has a very similar easy-going attitude and felt like hanging out with me for the race despite his ability to hold a faster pace. I was certainly happy for the company and motivation!

The pre-race ceremonies were well done, and everyone seemed to be a good spirits when the gun went off. We were far enough up that I didn’t need to do much weaving through crowds, aside from the woman who was walking with heavily swinging arms and landed a light blow a bit too close to my groin for comfort! We took off at a pretty good clip, and were close to 7:00 minute miles for the first few miles, which wove through D.C. amid large crowds of spectators. I was feeling really good and trying not to get too excited about my pace, which was even a bit faster than I had hoped. My breathing was dialed in, and my legs felt fresh and strong despite the 50K the day before. I had elected to wear my Delaware Running Club singlet for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of folks who recognized it and shouted words of encouragement. I guess I was indeed on the east coast now!

At the half-way point, I was making amazing time and sitting at a 7:12/mile average. I knew that holding that pace was probably not possible for the next 5 miles, but I figured I would simply push as hard as I could, and see how long I could hold it. As it turns out, I had about 8 miles in me at that pace before I began to pull back out of necessity. I was finally able to convince Stefan to push it a bit more, and he began to pull away, but I kept him in sight. the final two miles went over the Potomac, and then turned around and headed back towards the other side of the Pentagon. The final push took all the energy I had left, but I held on to finish in 1:13:56, which was a definite PR!

ATM-2

It took me about 15 seconds to down a bottle of water as I made my way through the finish chute, after I caught my breath a bit, of course. Stefan had finished just ahead of me, so it was easy to find him, and we made our way into the after-race area, where all of the different branches of the military from various parts of the country had their own tents and were handing out food and other goodies. We made our way through the light crowds (the benefit of finishing rather fast) and collected a nice haul of snacks and other fuel, along with some other swag. The epicurean and Jamile met us in the finish area, and stopped to chat with some folks before heading out. It was an enormous race, and certainly lived up to the hype, and I was quite pleased to have had the experience. Another amazing running weekend was in the books, and I had a blast #chasing42. I do love the fall race season!

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