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.

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 🙂

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)