BURCS Free to Run Race Report

Yesterday I had the privilege of running the BURCS Free to Run Half Marathon.  The course is a 12.5 mile loop and is run in a 1/2, Full, and 50 mile distance in Pittsfield, MA.  I’ll admit I was running this race purely to finish the BURCS Badass challenge and get my buckle for the year.  I hadn’t really paid attention to what the Free to Run group was about and what the race was benefitting.  After a VERY inspirational talk by two of the young women impacted by the FTR program and what they went through, I realized I should have paid more attention.  I suggest checking out more info on the FTR org here:  https://freetoruntrailraces.com/55-2/

That said, I VASTLY underestimated the course.  I knew it was hard… people joked about how hard it was.  I’d even seen an elevation map, but to me that was just numbers on paper.  That would turn out to be a mistake :).  As I said on Facebook, this was step for step the hardest race I’ve ever been a part of.  A half marathon run took me 4 hours 41 minutes, almost 2 hours longer than a traditional half.  And I earned every inch of that time.  Just check out the chart below:

chart

That’s right, of the 4 hours 41 minutes I spent staggering around the course a whole 9 minutes 43 seconds was on flat ground.  The rest was spend either going way up or going way down.  That 3000+ feet of ascent was killer, but just as killer was the descent!  The course was largely single track with a few sections of gravel round and blessedly a small piece of pavement.  Going up one of these Rachel grabbed me from behind while I had my headphones in and I shrieked like a little girl 🙂  I MAY have thought it was a bear.  In fact here’s a good example of one of the tracks we “ran” down:

path

I was using my new Ambit 3 Peak watch and had set up the data fields but like a moron I hadn’t put total distance as one of the fields to display!  I had NO idea how far we had gone.  We were told after we reached the peak we would have a view of the Berkshires.  Stupid me, I thought this was that moment:

skyline

Yeah, not so much.  Right after this we reached the first aid station and found out we were maybe 3.5 miles in.  In an hour and a half.  And we were staring at another huge climb (see the elevation map at the 1:30 mark).

elevation

I won’t lie, that climb broke me.  My hips and ankles were just thrashed, and my knees didn’t feel so good either.  We staggered along the tops of the ridges for a while with some sections that were joggable but still way too many hills.  Finally we reached the second aid station and got treated to this view:

peak

It was stunning, but what really lifted our spirits was finding out we were about 8 miles in and not the 6 I had feared.  From the second to the third aid station was a relatively gentle 3 miles but I was well-worn by then.  The rocks, leaves, and uneven terrain made it incredibly hard for me to work up any speed and my bad ankle and foot were screaming.  The other ankle was tweaky and my knees were just done.

We blazed through the last aid station and stumbled towards the finish.  We were told it was all downhill from there and it certainly was.  A long, painful, completely unrunnable to me downhill.  I’ve never had a problem with downhills before but I’ve never faced anything quite like this one.  At least a mile of relentless, painful downhill.

I got really punchy in this section.  I kept joking that the trees were out to get me with their roots, and started calling them Tree Assassins.  I swear they were lurking out there, waiting to water their roots with my blood.  It was very frustrating, all downhill but I lacked the ability to even slow jog it.

Finally we could hear the crowd and managed I managed to lurch my way through to the end.  I have never worked so hard for so little mileage.  I ran the last 4 miles of a trail marathon on torn ankle cartilage and it felt better than this.  This was unrelenting, unforgivingly brutal.  And yet some crazy people ran that loop FOUR TIMES!  I am in awe.

As we went through the finish our mantra was “Where’s Ben?  We want our buckles!”  Little did we know we would get to be the first ones he got to give out this year.  Most real BADASS runners were running the longer distance.  I don’t care, I’ll take it! 🙂

buckleThanks to all the volunteers who made it a very good day.  Despite the miserable time I felt a deep sense of accomplishment with this race.  Will I do this one again?  Not without a LOT more hill training.  If I hadn’t been such a physical wreck on the last downhill I could have cut some good time off.  This morning I actually got up early because I was having a hard time sleeping due to the pain.  It’s better now that I’m up and moving (and medicated!) but it’s still really unpleasant.

At this point I have 7 weeks until NYC.  I had a dream of sneaking in the Hartford Marathon just for fun but I don’t want to screw up my NYC run.  I’m going to need a few days to recover from FTR as it is 🙂

Equipment and food used:

SJ3.0 vest and soft bottles
4 scoops orange tailwind
5 dixie cups of coke
3 Oreos
2 orange slices

Yeah, I way under-ate.  That was a part of what went wrong by the end.

Gearing up for the FTR

I’m running the BURCS Free to Run Half on Saturday.  While it’s got some nasty incline, in general this should be a good shake-out run for me.  I’ve been feeling the miles lately, and with 7 weeks or so until the NYC Marathon I’ve got to get myself ready to go.  In fact my coach has assigned me 5 MORE miles after I get home from FTR.  Sadist.

Part of me looks forward to the end of my scheduled races with NYC.  Part of me dreads that, because I will have to make some decisions about what to do next.  I really don’t want surgery.  I also really don’t want to hurt anymore.  We will see what wins out.

Anyway I’ll post a race report when I’m done Saturday!

Welcome to September

So I’ve been negligent in posting, mostly because not much was going on.  After Sweltering Summer my foot was kiling me and my miles low.  That all changed a little over a week ago when I went on a business trip to Vegas and ran up in the mountains there.  Beautiful territory that I was totally unprepared for!14089040_10210627038301856_9087211700239794953_n

For starters I got there ahead of the sun cresting the peaks.  This was a little later in the run, but to start it was in the 50’s.  I had come from 100+ degree heat all week and was FROZEN!  My hands were actually super stiff.  It warmed some later but I should have expected that.

And of course I also had to deal with the elevation.  I live at about 390 feet or so normally.  The trail STARTED at 8800 feet and quickly climbed above 9200.  I was sucking wind big time trying to get a breath.  Running was out of the question for the first part, I was just trying to move one foot in front of the other!

14067624_10210627037621839_7454873592243143744_nStill the view was amazing and I was enjoying myself… mostly 🙂  I was due to do 12 miles which would have meant doing the loop twice.  Given my pace I would have been out there a long, long time.  Mistake number two was I had nowhere near enough food and water for that so I was resolved to do a single lap and then get more miles in later in the day.  I was definately feeling the pain!

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About 2 miles in I fell.  Now, I fall a lot.  But falling in New England usually involves a relatively soft forrest floor maybe with some roots.  Falling here?  All rock.  Very sharp, very painful rock.  I avoided banging my head but I cut up a knee and banged my arm (more on that in a sec).  I was also getting very dizzy I assume from the elevation and was seeing spots.  I said screw it and turned around, choosing the shorter 2 miles back to my car rather than the 4 miles to finish the loop.

About 10 minutes later I was actually moving pretty well down hill.  I was beating myself up for my decision to turn when I happened to glace down at my forearm and said… what the hell??? I had a GIANT lump on my forearm.  It was just weird, and I kind of wondered if I had broken it or something.  I kept heading back to the car and over the next 10 minutes ANOTHER huge lump appeared and my whole forearm looked like a mess!

14191922_10210627035821794_6072440828000917928_n

I thought for sure I’d broken it.  I was in a panic and trying not to hyperventilate.  I made it back to my car finally, and went down the mountain all ready to drive to the emergency room.  After a while driving reality set in.  I could fully move the arm.  It hurt, but it was a bruised hurt.  And the swelling was starting to go down!  By the time I got back to my hotel it was still swollen but no longer looked broken.  So I lived with it.

A week later I hurt and still have a small goose egg but it isn’t too bad.  I suppose I still might have cracked it a bit, but whatever.  The immediate swelling was scary but I’m guessing was something to do with the elevation.  I really wish I had gutted it out and finished the loop.  Have to wait a year before I am back in Vegas to try it again!

14107892_10210627036141802_5695377836509890332_o

Sweltering Summer 8 Hour Race Report

13908970_10208912869992495_8335691095411822504_oThe Sweltering Summer 8 Hour lived up to it’s name… for maybe an hour and a half 🙂  In between we had overcast skies, a nice rain shower, and a pretty consistent breeze.  This race was made for me to finally get my 50k in and I was READY!  Well, as it turns out, not all of me was.

I was meticulous in my planning.  I had my bottles prepared, I had enough food to feed a small army, I had my homemade ice bandana… you name it I was good.  I even had my new BURCS Badass hat, which I really like.  The night before we stayed in the “scenic” Berkshire Inn, a motel that on the outside gives off Bates Motel vibes but was actually quite nice.  We were 2 minutes away from Clapp Park, so waking up Saturday morning and popping over was a breeze.

Rachel and I brought a shelter and chairs, figuring we would need it for the sun.  Ultimately it was more useful to others needing to get out of the rain!  Check in was a breeze and the swag bag had fun stuff.  I picked up my “I got Clapp” bumper sticker and settled in for the start.  The area filled up pretty quickly with over 100 runners doing the combined Marathon/8 hour start.

We got off a couple minutes after 7 and I felt good for the first couple hours.  I was on pace for 35 miles which was way more than I intended but I knew I would slow down.  There was a light misting early on which was good, and it stayed overcast until probably hour 5.  Unfortunately my good feelings were not to last.  About 3.5 hours in I suddenly had a spike ramming through my foot.  My Tarsal Tunnel was flaring up big time and I was in agony.

I walked a couple laps and then sat for a while and iced it.  I was still doing ok time wise and had a shot at the 50k, so I fueled up and got back out there.  But it was pretty apparent this was not going to be my day.  I got a few more miles in and honestly thought I was going to have to quit it hurt so bad.  I sat down and iced again with very little intention of getting up.  My wife was suffering too but she was hobbling through (and went on to walk 3.5 hours!!!).

I probably sat for 45 minutes in a funk.  I was depressed, in a lot of pain, and I felt like the other runners were looking at my thinking “You wuss.”  I know they weren’t, but I felt that way about myself.  I was also seeing Marathon runners finishing, and I felt like a failure for not at least going that distance.  I looked at the time and figured I could still make a marathon finish even with a lot of walking.

13887090_10208916085872890_6568389892444185783_nSo I strapped on my big boy pants and got moving again.  My first few steps were more like a stumble but I kept going.  And eventually I did it… 74 laps (the official credit is 75, and my Garmin says 27.6 miles, so who knows…) and I finished the marathon distance.  Rachel had staggered through a little more than a 50k, and we were both wiped.  So we called it there with about a half hour left and got our medals.

This one will haunt me a bit.  If I hadn’t had access to a chair and a shelter would I have just kept going on it?  I don’t know… I don’t think I could have far enough.  I have yet to earn the right to put a 50k sticker on my car, and that made me sad.  None of my remaining races will offer that chance so it’s going to have to be a next year thing.  And what do I do about my foot?  It still hurts badly today (and I am going to lose my toenail on my big toe) but otherwise I actually feel really good.  Legs are a bit stiff but nowhere near as bad as they were after Boston.13920664_10208916085472880_8687888930930538128_n

Calorie wise I made do with Tailwind, 2 UCAN bars, some salted potatos, a bit of coke, and a couple cookies.  Once I lost my rythym I lost track of my nutrition and hydration strategy.  My stomach was ok, just one quick bathroom break in there.  No gear worn since I passed my stuff every .35 miles so no need to carry anything.  All in all this should have been my perfect race, and it wasn’t.

I want to say a word about the organizers and volunteers… all absolutely the nicest people.  The bottle drop where they would refill for you was just a great thing to have.  I used that for my water, and must have had them fill my bottle 15 times. The food spread was great although I only nibbled a couple cookies, and the drinks were great too when I was flagging towards the end.  Thanks so much to everyone who took the time.

13925151_10208916086392903_8923271467493135933_n (1)I did run a marathon.  So I can’t knock my effort.  I just wish I hadn’t lost an hour to sitting and icing.  If I’d stayed out there I might have made my 50k after all.  I did get to wear this shirt after just to make my wife smile 🙂

5 days out from 50k!

In 5 days I’m tackling the Sweltering Summer 8 hour, and hope to top 50k.  It should be doable as long as my foot holds out.  And that really is starting to be the problem… every week it’s getting worse.  I am now popping Ibuprofin like it’s going out of style and ice soaking the heck out of it.  Doesn’t seem to be helping very much.  I can’t let myself get too beat up, I still have to deal with NYC in November and then I can rest.

It’s been a taper week so my mileage was down, just 18 for the week.  The weather has been nasty so I did a fair bit on the treadmill.  I’m leaving in a week for a work trip and then vacation, so I have to get on a plane 36 hours after running the race.  I’m sure that’s going to be fun 🙂  I’ve got to get everything together for the race, plus I have to get everything ready for my trip.  Fun times!  Next post will hopefully be a successful race report!

7-24 Week In Review

Well, I forgot to post last week 😉  Sorry!  Not that I think anyone reads this but who knows.  Anyway I am tapering down towards my 50k at the Sweltering Summer 8 hour in 2 more weeks, and yes I am very nervous.  I think I may finally have my food and hydration under control but we will see when it comes race time!  I do know my legs are fairly beat, so I am looking forward to the taper!

So a couple weeks ago I got a diagnosis for my ankle and foot pain that finally makes sense. For 3 years now I’ve been fighting pain in my foot and had diagnosis ranging from PF to Posterior Tib (never mind that my symptoms never matched any of them) and finally capped with ankle surgery to remove a chunk of cartilage floating around in there. Since the surgery I now have the joy of a far weaker ankle, a screwed up running gait that messes with my leg muscles and opposite shoulder swing, and still just have an almost constant level of pain. Fun is.

Anyway, talking with the doctor a couple weeks ago he said that what I have is tarsal tunnel syndrome… carpal tunnel but in my ankle. And that I have the choice of live with it or get an even more complex surgery that will mean I can’t run for a year and a half and may NEVER be able to run distance again. In fact it might not even help the pain. On the flip side he’s done this for other distance runners who have been able to come back better than ever.

So what to do… I won’t make decisions now, I still have a few races capped off with the NYC Marathon. But some day I’ll hit a point where the pain is just too much and I’ll have to get this damn thing done. It’s not a day I am looking forward to 🙁

7-10 Review Week

Another hard week under my belt, peaking out for my Sweltering Summer 8 Hour in 4 weeks.  I topped out at 24 miles on my long run with 42 total and now it’s time to taper which is good because I am so freaking tired.  I have never really felt like I needed a taper before but right now I am screaming for one.  Of course I “ONLY” have to do 18 this weekend.  Eeeks.

trackI did 16 of the 24 on a 1/4 mile track Sunday.  It’s just mind numbing to run in a circle that much, and yet it was only half of what I intended to do in 4 weeks.  I would have done all 24 but I forgot to tape my nipples and started chafing very, very badly.  Bleeding through a shirt chafing.  I highly recommend KT tape for covering the boys.

Otherwise I did well from a nutrition perspective.  I used Tailwind, salted boiled potatos, and a UCAN bar.  Not #NSNG for sure but for the first time in forever I didn’t get sick on a long run.  To me that’s a huge bonus.  The weather was pretty cold especially for mid July so I didn’t get to test out my hot weather strategies but I should have my ice bandana ready for next weekend.

The Week in Review

Rough week… we had to live out of a hotel with our 2 dogs all week because our floors were getting redone.  Did terrible things for both my diet and my running 😉  Diet because I ate out all week, running because the hotel treadmill SUCKED and I had to run outside at the hotest part of the day from a hotel that was on top of a big hill.  Starting out was easy, getting back not so much.

rabbitThis morning was fairly light, only 10 miles.  I had this little guy as my pacer for a bit.  Ironic given my leg tattoo of a running tortoise.  Next week is my peak (I think?) of 24, then taper down to my 8 hour timed event August 6th (Sweltering Summer 8 hour).  The goal is 50k.  I’ve been feeling terribly sluggish which could be tired legs or could just be my crap diet.  Also put on a couple pounds which is the wrong direction.

Nothing new on the gear front this week but I am going to be putting on some sleeves next week to try the trick of shoving ice down them.  Also making a nice ice bandana as per the instructions here.  Got all the stuff from Amazon, just need my lovely wife to stitch it together.  I am torn about whether to actually try a semi-duplicate of what my race will be and head up to the track at the high school.  Although shorter than my race loop (it’s like .35) I need practice with the monotony, as well as with having a cooler and all to stop at.  So I may give it a go.

Race Report – Vegan Power 25K

So I said I would write this blog… and I haven’t. Well, I’ve vowed to change that this summer and actually talk about where I’m at and where I’m going.  So my first real post in forever will be about last weekend’s race, the Vegan Power 25K.  I ran this race with my wife Rachel as the first leg of the 3 part BURCS Badass series and had a lot of fun!

raceThe race is run with 2 options, a 25K and 50K. The only difference is the number of loops you do (3 or 6) and the start time (7am for the 50k, 10am for the 25k).  I mention the start time only because it made it easier on Rachel and I to be able to drive up that morning from our home a couple of hours away rather than camp or get a hotel room.  So bravo for that!  This was the first race we ran since Boston in April and the first trail race since I tore up my ankle at StoneCat in 2013.  On the one hand I wasn’t terribly nervous about the distance at 15.5 miles, on the other trails still make me nervous because honestly my ankle is maybe 80% after surgery in 2014.

Another point I should make… I am not Vegan.  Rachel is and has been for 4 years.  I tried it for about a year and decided it wasn’t for me.  I make no judgements of anyone’s choices and I’m sure I was far from the only non-Vegan there.  The money raised all gets donated to worthy causes, and no one was looking to stone me as an outsider 🙂  I was told by my lovely wife I absolutely could not wear my “Give me all your bacon” shirt to the start line, which is fine I wouldn’t be that much of an asshole anyway… normally :).  I did line up with my TAUR orange tech shirt on which I really like the fit of.  No chafing issues at all.

The course itself this year started up the very steep paved road for something like .1 miles.  In other years I guess it has finished down that hill, but truthfully I prefer the immediate ascent.  On the other side once you turned off onto the trail it goes up a bit more then you get into some serious running space.  Well, I’m sure some of the runners were seriously running!  I was flailing like a madman and trying not to kill myself but it was a lot of fun going downhill.  You come out and cross the road at the bottom, then into the woods for what is probably the remaining 3/4 of the loop.

I say probably because I have no accurate measurements.  There are a TON of switchbacks and my Fenix 3 couldn’t remotely keep up.  Plus every time I tripped (more on that later) I kept accidentally pausing it and not noticing.  Midway through lap 2 I gave up and put it away.  I should have at least left it running as a timer but I was feeling kind of pissy about it :).  The one aid station on the loop to me felt like it was maybe 40% of the way in rather than say 50%.  Maybe it was mental but the second “half” beyond the aid station went by a lot slower.  Of course that’s also where I had to spend a fair bit of time walking the hills.

In terms of course marking it was VERY clearly taped on the side trails.  That’s a welcome relief, I run looking down too much and would have been lost without that.  There were also tons and tons of flags on the course.  My problem is that I am red/green color blind, and some of those red flags were invisible to me.  I was never in danger of getting lost it just made for a couple double takes to make sure I wasn’t steering myself the wrong direction.  I was probably the only person there affected by this 🙂

I went into the race knowing I had 5 hours to finish and not wanting to wreck myself.  That said I figured I would come in at 3:30 or so.  What I didn’t figure on were the roots.  Oh lord, the roots.  I fell twice on the first lap and 4 times on the second.  That doesn’t count the number of very close calls.  I lost a shoe at one point when it went flying in the air when I face planted and a nice fellow runner helped me track it down.  Another time I supermanned down a stretch of trail on my stomach and a fellow runner pointed out I had dropped my phone back in the pine needles 🙂  The final lap I managed to avoid actually hitting the ground, mostly because I walked a LOT more.

I was very fortunate in terms of injury… just a nasty bruised arm and some scraped knees. I can see how people could get hurt out there if not careful.  What astounds me is how FAST people ran that course!  The top 50k male ran it in 4:08.  For reference I ran HALF the distance in 3:47.  Holy hell.  Even if I could run that fast on pavement (I can’t… at all) doing that over those rocks and roots must mean you are half mountain goat.  Full respect for people who can do that.

On the third lap I caught up with my wife.  She had been experiencing some knee pain and was walking a lot.  It’s worth noting her walk was still almost as fast as my run.  So I spent the last 2.5 miles or so walking with her to the finish.  Could I have made my 3:30 goal if I had run?  Maybe… but I probably would have fallen more, so who knows.  I didn’t mind at all.  Looking back, the last comparable race I ran was Soapstone in 2013.  It’s 1k shorter and I finished very close to the same time.  Soapstone was an easier course to run (aside from the crazy assault hill up to the tower) so I wasn’t too disappointed.

So let’s talk food… I’ve been terrible on my NSNG diet lately.  My weight has held fairly steady but I have to get back on that horse.  I had a good breakfast before we left the house (bacon and eggs, sorry Vegans) and carried some UCAN and new gels I wanted to try.  Truth is I ended up eating like 8 Oreos, 10 orange slices, and that was it.  I drank a ton of water and did have some S-Caps but I think they upset my stomach.  Seems like it always happens 🙁  I have to figure that out ahead of my 8 hour later this fall.  One note, they did run out of potatoes at the aid station before I made it around the second time.  I suggest more potatoes!!!

After the race there was a ton of good food but I was feeling queasy and truthfully didn’t really partake.  We packed it up and headed home to Connecticut.  My calf muscles are completely thrashed, whether from the walking or tripping or hills or dehydration I’m not sure.  But man are they painful!  Next up is the Sweltering Summer 8 hour where I am looking to finally break 50k, and then the Free to Run Half.  Yes, I am getting a Badass buckle!

Will I do the VP25 again?  That’s really, really hard to say.  Not because I don’t like the people (I did!) or because I didn’t have fun (I mostly did) but because there are SO MANY races in this area and with the kids we have to pick our races carefully.  I hope to go back, and I hope to run the full 50k next time out.  I think I’ll make it.  And maybe next time I’ll eat more!

Gear Used:
Garmin Fenix 3 (useless)
Ultimate Direction SJ3.0 vest (love this vest)
TAUR orange tech shirt
Under Armor compression underwear
Trail toes spread liberally everywhere… and I mean EVERYWHERE to prevent chafing

Food:
Normal breakfast
8 Oreos (bad me)
10 orange slices (bad me)

Finding a running vest for a fat guy

So here’s the deal… because of the restrictions at the Boston Marathon I need a vest that a) is lightweight, b) has bottles and not a bladder, c) has room for my junk (nutrition stuff), and d) preferably has the bottles facing forward.  The truth is all this is NOT easy to find for a fat guy.  Over the next few posts I’ll be talking about what has an hasn’t worked for me!