Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Dreaming Big: the 2019 Blessing of the Fleet (Race Review)

“Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!” 
-- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

*****

Previous times at the Blessing of the Fleet:

2013: 1:16:30, 7:39/mile
2014: 1:17:30, 7:45/mile
2015:1:17:27, 7:44/mile
2016: 1:23:06, 8:18/mile
2017:1:23:03, 8:18/mile
2018: 1:27:50 8:38/mile (from Strava)

*****

Had a rough couple of weeks leading up to the Blessing of the Fleet. I've run the race six times before and I had honestly wanted to set a new PR for the distance, but I will admit that due to a heat wave and several social obligations my nutrition wasn't on point, and I didn't feel like my training was going to do much for me. I opted for a four mile warm-up at home (typically I warm up with anywhere from 3-5 miles.)

My wife decided that she wanted to attend the race, and bring the kiddos, so we left the house a bit earlier than usual. I picked up my packet, and then we found parking near the finish (which was made a bit more complicated than it needed to be by some of the race volunteers.) We walked the mile back to the race start and spent some time playing with the kids while I got ready to run.

About fifteen minutes before go-time I got in line, pushing myself further up in the chute than I usually go. There's not any real sort of pace seeding in the Blessing corral, so you just do the best you can. In the past this means that I set myself too far back and end up fighting my way around much slower runners. There was still some of that this year but not nearly as bad.

The race course is just lined with people in the early (and late) miles, which is really fun, but I had a specific time in mind so I was working really hard. Leap frogging with some folks but mostly passing folks, I was in the 7's on my watch and pretty happy with the pacing in the first few miles. It was hot in the sun, but there was lower humidity and the breeze we'd occasionally get was nice. Additionally there are always tons of water tables at blessing, and this year I actually took a bag of ice from one of the nice folks along the route to keep me working.

I had to redirect my focus several times -- which I know sounds stupid, but I spend a lot of time running engaging in internal dialogue and it can be costly as it's too much internal chatter. Just narrowing the focus and getting it done has really helped pull me through the last few races I've had.

I came through the finish in 1:14:51 (gun time) 1:13:58 (chip time!) and was overjoyed to see the result. Spent the remainder of the evening playing at the carnival, sitting in traffic home, and then eating Chinese food after the kids had gone to bed. I took it easy Saturday, but got up on Sunday and ran 16 miles of trails in the Big River Management Area. I had no idea I'd be able to do that on dead post-race legs, but I was even more proud of it because of that condition.

I'm in training for my first 50k race, which will be in September at Mt. Pisgah 50. I'm following a training plan -- but I'm allowing myself a little flexibility because I'm also working on a run streak, and I have a marathon in October that I'm getting ready for at the same time. Right now my goal is to do most of my long runs on the trails, but my shorter runs are on the roads. I may shift that ratio a bit in August to see what I can get out of it, but I won't really know how it has done until I've run a few ultras to see what works best.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Two June 5ks: Gaspee and Coyote (Race Reviews)

I'm a bit late on writing race reviews for the two 5ks that I ran in June. It's been a very busy month between parenting, work ending for the school year, meetings, training, and racing. I've been pretty active on the Instagram I've started, and posting after races or other events.

I'm going to reference rabbit here, a couple of times. I don't usually endorse brands specifically on the blog (even though the readership isn't really huge) but I've joined rabbit's Runners and Dreamers (RAD) squad for the 19-20 season. Part of that team has meant putting more content out featuring rabbit's stuff, which I'm OK with because I like the stuff.

I'll be writing another post this week to check in with my goals as Q2 of 2019 wraps up. It's been a long year with an amazing bulk of miles, but I'm feeling fresh mentally and physically in a way I haven't in years.

*****

Gaspee Days 5k

This race took place on my "Ongoing Run Streak, Day #200"

The Gaspee Days 5k is a footrace held to celebrate the burning of the HMS Gaspee in one of the first acts of defiance by American colonists that led up to the revolution. It takes place before the Gaspee Days Parade, and uses the same route. Being a Rhode Islander the event always holds a special place in my heart so I've run the race several times. Here are my past finishing times (from Strava, so maybe not accurate to my official times):

2014 -- 21:50
2015 -- 22:20
2016 --22:09
2017 --23:31
2018 -- 23:27

Generally speaking these times are pretty consistent, and being one of the only 5k races I run I've never really given it an all-out kind of effort. I see myself more as a long distance runner. I feel like I had to make a choice a bunch of years ago on "longer v. faster" and I chose to go longer.

That said those are not slow 5k times, and I've always been very aware of how close to that 2014 time my PR is at the distance. It's a tough race to pace mentally, because it is an out-and-back that goes downhill, and so it's steadily climbing through rolling hills on the way back. My basic strategy for pacing the thing was to not look at my watch and see what I had in me. I figured if I could handle a 5k at about a 21-minute finish time I'd be in pretty good shape heading into the summer, because I'd like to see what I can do about bringing a really solid effort to my 10-mile race in July.

I started of with an easy jog around, and a little jog with my toddler. I did about one and a quarter miles warming up, just trying to get things loose. I had some caffeine and hydration stuff, and I'd had a bagel with cream cheese earlier in the morning. Stomach felt good, legs felt good.

I put myself closer to the start in the chute, because I know from previous years that the start chute at this event can be kind of a kerfuffle. The race always has a massive field, and the elite runners are usually running sub-5 pace, so it is really hard to figure out where you should be. Usually I'm too far back, and I end up fighting though a crowd. This helped with some of that.

Went down the first few hills feeling strong, definitely putting in a solid effort. I did not bother looking at my watch -- I was pretty confident based on the look of the field around me and the feeling in my legs that I was putting in a good effort. Got to the bottom of the hill at the turn around and knew that the game from then on was keeping my focus, and not letting my mind wander into a "you can't do this" head space.

Ended up climbing the last hill, rounding the corner, and coming through the finish @ 20:19.5, way ahead of where I expected to be. It was an amazing feeling, a 6:32/mi pace I had no clue I had in my legs. Faster than my previous course PR by more than a minute. That was an amazing feeling.

The next couple of days I was bone tired and sore in a way I haven't been after racing for a long time. I took a solid nap after the race, but mostly I chalk the tiredness up to the fact that I just don't race that fast. Must have pulled everything I had in my fast-twitch fibers out of me. I was still very happy with the performance and it's given me a bit more interest in racing the distance. I feel like I've learnd something about focus and how easily my mind wanders, as well as the true potential of taming it.


*****

Coyote 5k

Race took place on my "Ongoing Run Streak, Day #207."

The Inaugural Coyote 5k was held to benefit the Charles D. Looff Carousel at Crescent Park. I have fond memories of the carousel from my childhood, and have enjoyed bringing my girls recently. The carousel has this excellent band organ, a Ruth and Sohn 38, and we've even taken a trip to the New England Carousel Museum to see some of the horses being restored.

Charles Looff built the carousel as a gift to his daughter on her wedding, and he hand carved all the horses himself. Dad respect.

Picked up my bib (#30) and got stuff setup while the family walked around the park. Warmed up with a mile around the neighborhood -- I train here a lot and this specific neighborhood was real fixture in my long runs a couple of years ago.

The race had a small field (maybe less than 150 runners.) I lined up at the front of the pack, after knowing my previous performance at the Gaspee a week prior I was sure I had another 20 minute and change 5k in my legs, and I didn't want to limit myself by setting too far back. I'm also very aware of hubris so I stood back from the starting line as not to jinx myself.

I heard some of the runners talking and one of them was a kid who goes to school in the city I teach in. After the national anthem we started off and I had already mentally reviewed the course so many times I found it pretty easy to drop a decent pace from the get-go. The course for this 5k is shaped like a Coyote -- it starts by the Carousel, heads into a neighborhood before meeting up with the East Bay Bike Path and coming back around to a neighborhood by the Carousel for the finish. I knew if I could give it a strong first mile heading to the bike path I'd really be able to drop the hammer there because the remaining road is extremely flat, with very little variation at all.

Mile one had some little foothills, and the pack broke up. I knew I was in the top 5 heading into mile 2.  I ended up shouting to that kid to keep him on course as he almost missed a turn. Strong runner, though, and I talked to him for a bit after the turn. I mean I was having a conversation keeping a 6:30 pace. That was pretty bananas. I refocused myself for the bike path and just focused on putting as much energy into it as I could. I didn't give myself head space to focus on the "what ifs" or even the local landmarks I know. I think that was pretty critical because this would have been the easiest place to get distracted.

I came out of the bike path and thanked the cop watching traffic as I made the left towards the Carousel. Had a brief run through a neighborhood where I almost missed a cone (someone parked in a way that obstructed the view of the course.) There was another runner quick behind me, and just as me rounded a corner (maybe the last quarter mile) he passed me. I could hear the finish line announcer call out "Here's finisher number 2 and 3!"

I came through the chute in 20:14, 3rd place overall and 1st place 3039. I talked to the 2nd place finisher at the end who thanked me for pushing him towards a new PR. We got our medals, took a picture together as the top 3, and then my wife and I ended up talking to the kid from the race and his dad. It was a really nice group of runners. I'm not used to so many positive interactions at races, because at the middle of the pack everyone is working hard, and generally very focused on their own thing. That's great, but it's not a social thing, and it can be tough for an extrovert.

Additionally, I felt super strong after this race, and I wasn't nearly as tired as the week before.

*****

The day after Coyote was father's day, so we went out for donuts. The donut shop we went to is this nice little local place where they make fresh donuts, and you pick toppings and glaze. Anyone who knows me knows that I love junk food. I made three donuts (we got six): a chocolate glazed topped with potato chips, cookie bits, and bacon, a hazelnut glazed topped with espresso powder, and a chocolate glaze topped with peanut butter cups and cheet-ohs. That combined with some wicked strong coffee and I was ready to run laps around the building.

I had wanted to do some trail running that day, and maybe do some of the running with my toddler so that we could get some pictures of us running together. She's a pretty good little runner and we've been having fun running around and "racing" after my races.

It rained really miserably, so we still went out to the local trails but we only did about a half a mile. We did have a little race on a strip of asphalt that runs along the reservoir, so I still got some pictures. It was a really great day punctuated with an 11 mile run through some of the worst humidity (but during a break in the rain.)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Angry Unicorn HM 2019 (Race Review)

Third time running the Angry Unicorn Running Festival.

Had set a goal this year not to PR, but rather to finish stronger than I started. Strava had a "Last Mile" Challenge, which incentivized the goal by offering a donation to charities that support Youth Running. I thought it would be a good motivator, and keep me moving through the run streak I've been working towards.

As we had a friends' wedding on Friday, Saturday became dedicated to travelling home and recovering. Lots of naps with the kids, and then handled bedtime without much incident. I got in a brief three mile run late, and threw in a lot of speed towards the end. Ate a calorie dense meal before going to bed.

Woke up early Saturday. Angry Unicorn starts at 7:45, but the packet pick up starts at  5:45. It's about 45 minutes from where I live, and I don't like to take the travel time too much for granted. In getting ready, I was less prepared than I usually am for races. Normally I'm sort of type-A about setting all my stuff out the night before. Because I was so worn out from travelling, I decided not to worry as much about it and get as much sleep as possible before heading out. The long gap between packet pickup and race start also made it evident that I would need to do quite a bit of race prep at the start.

So, anyway, all that is to say that I decided to go pretty light. Wore a singlet and shorts, with a super light weight rain coat (as it was supposed to rain) that I could shuck and carry if needed. Had a hydration belt that I bought for the NYC marathon as a backup to my usual gear. Couldn't find my running band, which was a real bummer because the jacket didn't have pockets, and that belt can't accommodate my phone. Meant I had to carry my phone the whole way.

On the way down to the race start I picked up a coffee and bagel, and after parking put together my hydration and other pre-race stuff. Got all my gear in place. Talked to the race director a bit in the parking lot -- I've run a bunch of his races before, and the events are good, the RD has a positive attitude, and puts a lot of thought into the safety of the runners. Around 7:45 we got going, in a consistent but not heavy rain. Did my best to dial in 8:30 miles for the first four or so -- ended up with a 9 minute split because I stopped at an aid station.

Around mile 4 I fell in with a group of runners, who were moving pretty strong. On my watch they were anywhere from 8:10/mile to 7:50/mile. I still wanted to hang back at around 8-8:15 just so I didn't add on too much too fast. I decided to keep them in sight at least until the turn around.

At the mile 10 aid station that group started to break apart as some of the guys had trouble holding pace. My plan at that point had been to get to mile 11.75, shuck my coat, and open up my pace aiming for an even 7 minute split. I passed a couple of folks, and then put the plan into motion. Managed to get down an energy gel just before mile 12, too, which I think helped a bit. The first half into mile 12 was at a 6:24 pace (according to my watch) but the last half had quite a bit of hill, so I ended up with an even 7min split just as planned. Elated, I kept the pace up to the finish. At 1:46, it's not my fastest half or anything, but I learned a lot about the mental focus it takes to pace.

*****

Onto my Run Streak Day #168. Had a nightmare of a time finding my motivation today, and I'm hoping it is back tomorrow. 

I broke a tooth the other day, so I had a dentist appointment to have the addressed. I hate going to the dentist, but, I need to set a good example for my kids, so I know part of that is modeling positive interactions with medical professionals. I'll need to start going more regularly. Dentist appointment went well -- and I'm hoping to make some more positive changes to my health there. A bit of work to be done as I'm due to get a crown on the broken tooth, so hopefully that will be motivation to being the last huge amount of dental work I will have.

Went to a local playground and then out to dinner last night. Late Spring evenings are excellent, when the weather is nice. I'm hoping that we have more days like that in the next couple of weeks because the time with the kids is so restorative to my soul. I want to get the toddler out and running in the woods for a bit this weekend, too.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Q2 Goal Check-In

I set a bunch of goals for myself, including some that I didn't really write about here before.

I've been working to run a full year (I'm on Day #148 of my streak from Thanksgiving) and beyond that, I'm aiming to run 2,019 miles in 2019.  The volume has been incredible, so far, and I don't feel weaker or broken down 600 or so miles into the challenge. I'm planning to run smarter over the next few months -- slower runs for bulk, to maintain some quality in the workouts.

I've also signed up for a challenge on Strava, which is unlike other challenges on there. The goal is to run the last mile of a half/full marathon as the fastest mile. I've never really tried consciously to do that, so I'm going to give it a go at Angry Unicorn on May 5. That is currently my half marathon PR, and I think partially because the course has some rolling hills, so it has an element of challenge to it. I'm hopeful that the difficult nature of the course, combined with my past experience there will give me an added bonus. I'm also going to toss in a couple of speed work workouts over the next 20 days or so, so maybe that will give me an edge.

Fatherhood-wise, all is going well. The baby is almost one year old! She is working on learning 'hi' and babbles (with quite a bit of speech patterns) at us constantly. The 3-year-old is a lot of fun, and very creative. She hates to sleep. But, she loves to run and we have gone on a couple of hikes which have been a lot of fun. I'm hoping to go for a trail run on Father's Day, and I would like her to join me for the last little bit of it. She likes running through the woods, so I don't think it's a hard sell. But, she's probably only going to be up for a quarter to a half mile. Hey, you've got to start somewhere?

Brand new race calendar up on the side. Sadly, looks like no Run with the Beavers this year, which was also one of my favorite events of the year on technical trails in George Washington Management Area. In lieu of that, I'm hoping to get out and run several segments of RI's North-South Trail. I love that trail, and one of these years I've love to run some big sections of it, if not all of it.

There's also a 25k relay being run by one of my local race organizations, and some friends and I may try to put a group together for that. I've never run a relay before, but it could be a fun change of pace.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Eastern States 20 Mile: Race Review

The Eastern States 20 miler is the first pillar of racing year, every year. Except for the one year I missed it, I've run the event five out of the last six years. The distance isn't typical, the course is lovely, and the timing of the race means that the New England weather is often unpredictable.

I trained pretty hard through this winter (keeping my run streak alive, but also striving for a goal I will talk about in a later post.) This led me to a bunch of weeks where I was running 40 miles -- quite a bit more volume than I usually do in the lead up to the ES20. I had not covered this kind of distance in one run, but I've run the event a bunch of times so I was trusting that my mental toughness would offset that.

Woke up early the morning of the 24th and drove up to the high school. Have to say I love the new parking space at Winnacunnet HS. Ample parking, less exposed to high winds where we used to park near the Casino in Hampton. Had my pre-race breakfast of polenta and poached eggs, loaded up my gear and my check bag, boarded the shuttle.

The shuttle took awhile to get going. Always a thing because by that point I want to go use the bathroom. Anyway after awhile we got going to the Traip Academy. Checked in, went through my pre-race routines. Brought a bottle of water for my hydration tabs, and then a slow release carb shake. I brought a few gels with me, which I was a little concerned about because I hadn't been training much with them.

Race got going at around 11 am. It's a late start for a race so I download a couple of audio books for the wait. Last year, listened to Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" and this year, Shakespeare's "the Tempest". Felt pretty strong in the first few miles, and I wasn't really looking much at my watch. I have a history with this race (because it's a 'heavy lift' as the first race I do every year) of not caring much about the time. I always expect to cover the distance in a little under 3 hours.

Felt strong through the first fifteen or so miles, with a couple of walk breaks injected here or there. I was pretty impressed that as I started running out of those walk breaks I felt pretty fresh. I was able to cover the last mile with more consistent running than I usually get -- which led to a whole bunch of PR medals on Strava.

This year I covered the distance in 2:44! Which is my fastest time at the race. I recovered quick, too, and the streak has continued. Feeling strong this year, and looking forward to seeing what else I have in me performance-wise.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Parenting Aid Station #1

Big week here.

The toddler had a second dental treatment to seal up a cavity. She handled that well, and my wife took a day to go with her. I haven't taken as many days, but fully prepared to take days when the kids inevitably get sick. I spent a lot of the week feeling like I did not see my kids enough, though. Just tough this time of year.

Valentine's Day is always a minor holiday, but one that we mark in our family with cards and a nice family dinner. I'd gotten cards for my wife and girls (and one for my wife FROM the girls) during a mini errand during the week. Got home on Valentine's day, and my wife went out to pick up some things. I set into starting to make the house ready when the 3 year old got sick, and immediately started showing signs of stomach flu. I went into full adrenaline mode and calmed her down, cleaned everything up and got laundry started after getting her into new clothes.

I told my wife I would take care of the toddler, as the baby is still nursing and she's also in a phase of not wanting to be separated from her mom. I knew I signing up for a long night, and of course it was. The kiddo was sick a couple of more times, and was shivering. We alternated between my cuddling with her, and her deciding she wanted to sleep in a fetal position on the rug. I got about three hours of sleep, but I expect she got four or five.

The next day I stayed home with her, and spent the morning trying to get her to keep down water and some bland food. There's a big learning curve for the three year old and basic how-to-be-sick skills, which seem like they should be inherent. They aren't. And I mean I've studied child development, so I should know that. But I'm stupid sometimes, too. So we had lots of talks about what stomach pain means, how to know when you're going to vomit, where to go and what to do if you're going to vomit. Overall the day was pretty good in terms of recovery, and she took a good three hour nap. She later decided to go to bed around 5:30 pm, and woke up totally recovered.

So thankfully that was a short stomach bug but it would still be fair to say I learned so much about parenting in that 24-hour period. Highlights include:


  • Separate sleeping spaces for the sick kid and whoever is caring for them. Very important.
  • Layer towels for easier cleanup in sleeping area. Your shirt, or a large camping tarp will also do.
  • An actual trash can should be in that space, along with some cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer.
  • A bidet is such a nice to have when your toddler has to go to the bathroom every ten minutes.


I messaged a friend who has a little one, as well, and found out that his five month old spent the entire day screaming for (apparently) no reason. We had a good talk about how we handle that, and I completely related to that from my own kiddos.

The experience got me thinking that what we need is a sort of parenting "aid station" like you'd have in a race. Just a place to come in from working out in the wild, and get some help, to check in and make sure you're OK to continue. That's a decent metaphor for what community is, I guess. My ideal parenting aid station would be filled with warm confident people who have been thrown up on, seen some truly horrible shit, endured no sleep, and kept going. They'd offer you a glass of bourbon and a hammock so you could grab 20 minutes before getting back into it.

Because there's no god damned finish line. And it's work -- and it's also delightful. It's a challenge that makes you grateful for help, but not expectant for it. No judgement. You're doing this shit.

Out for eight and one half miles on the trails this morning (Run streak day 87). A decent amount of ice and mud, leading to an exciting few stumbles and falls. Came home to prepare waffles, whipped cream, and strawberries, which is a favorite of my wife's.

Running has been going well, actually. 40 miles covered with pretty relative ease this past couple of weeks. Forced work stoppage this week means that I'll have more time to run, as we are going to put the kids in daycare at least a couple of those days. I no longer entertain the idea that we'll come out of a break like this ahead of the game -- that's an illusion. But for sure I'll use the time to get some good work in, see some new trails, spend time with my family.

I may even clean the van (@*&k.)

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Onward, into the Year

The year is going slow -- which isn't a bad thing. I feel like in a lot of ways all the tracking I'm doing in terms of running has caused me to really pay attention to what is happening. My running is scheduled out ahead of time, with some variation for the weather (because it's freaking cold this time of year.) I'm tracking on Strava, another web page, my dry board, and a calendar near my desk. I found back during training for the Big Sur International Marathon that this was really useful in maintaining a consistent plan.

Have been working through audio books, focusing on the theme of resilience in January. I've worked through one and a half books so far, just in listening while running. Also read about a half of a book of Taoist philosophy (OK, I admit I've read it before, but not in many years.) I want to read more this year, as to set a good example for my toddler who sees us staring at screens more than I like.

Went out to breakfast this morning with the toddler. My wife and I have both been running low on sleep, and she let me sleep early last night (after the toddler went to sleep) so I figured I'd try to repay the favor. We had a good time, and for a three year old that kiddo is pretty good in restaurants. Came home and she played with clay while I took down the Christmas Tree (finally) and cleaned up the living room.

The baby never did let my wife sleep. But I mean, I tried. It was an effort. The baby is doing well -- very smiley, and chatty. Loves her sister. She isn't crawling yet, although she manages to move quite a bit. She seems to really want to stand up.

Nap time ended up being later, which we decided is OK because it's the weekend. I'm off to go running in a bit -- planning on a 10km or so as the sun sets. Tomorrow will be quite a bit warmer, so I'm planning to go run some trails at about mid day. It will probably be kind of muddy. I'll wear shoes I don't love. 

The trail running has been really good for me lately -- and I run them once a week. The same trail loop, about three miles, but often I run more than one loop. As the weather gets nicer I'm hoping to go run some different trails to get used to some different types of trail. I want to do more trail running this year, and perhaps even my first 50km. So preparation will be important. I also am doing enough volume that it makes sense to me to sign up for a spring marathon. I haven't picked one -- yet -- but I'm keeping my eyes open for one. I'm running everyday anyway, and I'm actually getting faster while taking it easy, so I may as well.

I've also been doing a lot of stretching and foam rolling -- much more than I typically do (which is none.) It's been very helpful so far in reducing the pain I had in my right hip, and piriformis muscle. So that's a good thing. I'm also up in terms of weight, even though I'm still watching what I eat. My legs look particularly muscly, so I'm hesitant to cut more calories for fear that I'll burn the muscle. But I'm going to try some stuff, because I'm worried about carrying all the weight with the volume I'm trying to run over time. Truth be told, I don't actually have any idea what I should weigh, or what I'm carrying and how. So maybe I shouldn't care anyway.