Hello racing, my old friend. I’ve come to run with you again. Sorry for the delayed post here. Reasons.
May 2 and we’re on race #1 of the year. One of the more regrettable casualties of the COVID pandemic has been road racing. It seems that the science has been clear for some time that the risk of transmission outside is pretty low. Now, I get it – low isn’t none, and the science is not wholly conclusive as to what the risk is – but when we’re opening restaurants indoors, it makes little to no sense why racing has taken such a long time to get under way, at least in Massachusetts.
I wasn’t going to register for this race; I hated the way the organizers handled the marathon cancelation last year, and I can carry a grudge especially when being told that my $100 was being kept, but I could run a “virtual marathon” instead. I was convinced to register and in retrospect, I’m glad I did for all kinds of good reasons.
After 7-months of not racing, I had the truly good fortune to have back-to-back weekends where I got to do just that. Last week, New Hampshire hosted the New England Half Marathon. This week Connecticut hosted “Tackle the Trail.”
This race they offered “On Ground” and “Virtual” options – as though the “Virtual” folks don’t actually run on terra firma – but yeah the idea is there. Additionally, there were options between “Individual” and “Relay” teams. My squad chose various flavors of relay. I ran the full 20-miles.
This is a cool thing to participate in, not just because it’s an actual race – we’re midway through October and I’m talking about Race #6 here, so this is a big deal to me – but it raises money for students at Quinebaug Valley Community College. I’m led to believe roughly $100,000 was raised.
By my Garmin, it was a little more than 700′ in elevation gain, so not overly challenging. Segment 2 was “technical” trail…technical as compared with the fire-road/rail-trail the rest of the race was run on, which is to say, not technical. However, I’m always slower trail running, and because it was a relay, there were more opportunities to stop: I took off my windbreaker at one point and left with with a volunteer (as the course looped back there, so I could pick it up), I stopped to tie my shoes, pick up my windbreaker, give the windbreaker to a friend to hold, etc. I may have goofed up a bit on the on-course directions as well. This said, it wasn’t my slowest trail half marathon (in fact, I reckon it would be my fastest were it a half), wasn’t even my slowest road half marathon.
I seemed to get faster and stronger as the race went on in the later miles, which was nice. I was concerned with making the 4-hour cut off time, but finished in a little more than 3.
The course was well manned, and well marked (except for the runner brain in me that misunderstood a sign, but that’s okay). The COVID protocols weren’t quite as rigid as last week’s race – of course it was a smaller race, and a trail race – so it was a rolling start, start when you start as opposed to start at x-assigned time. That said, they did have protocols around spectators, gathering, etc. It was appropriate given the size of the race.
It’s been 7 months and 10 days since my last race. 3 half marathons canceled. 2 marathons. A 50k. 2020 has been a difficult year in a great many ways. Today was at once a throwback to the “before times” — before the world shut down, before we had ever considered such a concept as “social distance,” before we came to see being together and being close as dangerous — and at the same time something new, perhaps alien, but definitely the way we go forward for the immediate future.
Today was a glimpse into what races look like now. It was different, but familiar enough to feel like a race.
After 7 months of not racing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it wouldn’t be what I’ve come to know, but wasn’t sure how it would look. Millennium Running put on what I could consider a masterpiece of COVID-era events, and I’m hopeful others will see the blueprint here. It wasn’t the start we’ve come to know, but they more than made up for that.
In the days leading up to the event, Millennium emailed participants with very detailed directions. Parking in Concord, NH vs. being dropped off. Specific shuttle assignments, physically distanced queuing for the shuttle. Specific groupings based on self-reported projected pace. The physically distanced starting order – time trial format -was taken as an opportunity to give each runner a shout out and a few seconds in their own spotlight.
I was super impressed by the organization and the commitment. Well done.
Now, before I get into the race specifics, while it was a real race, with real people running – en mas and competitively – and while it was a USATF certified course, it was also officially 510′ of elevation gain and a whopping 984′ of loss. Meaning that it’s not like it was a truly difficult course. 13 miles running all out is always difficult, but let’s just say running 13 miles where it’s almost 2:1 down to up stacks the deck differently. Contrast this with the Clearwater Half Marathon where the elevation gain was 344′ with a loss of 367′ and I ran it in 1:56.
Each hill up was immediately preceded by a significant downhill, so you could see the incline, and it always looked worse than it was. Except for mile 10, where the course took you up by the local hospital, and then along an old rail trail – complete with asymmetric rocks and defects in the trail which tripped me up a bit; I came that close to rolling an ankle – that mile was my slowest of the race 8:19.
From a running experience, it was odd to be out there solo from the start, but I think I quickly adapted to the Ragnar accounting of “Kills” until I lost count – right about mile 9 or 10, there was a group of us all bunched up and I was trying to keep track of how many people I passed vs. having been passed. Ultimately I lost count, but that didn’t matter because the competition was it’s own reward. It was an actual race. To this point, I wound up finishing perfectly tied with some guy who likely started half hour or so after me, and whose butt I’d kicked pace wise across the three check points, but he crushed me in the last mile or so.
Were this the “before times” competition I’d have been chasing him head to head, or something close to it. I think this is pure age discrimination straight up.
I generally make it policy to not sign up for races that take me longer to get there than it will to actually race, thankfully in this case while it came close it didn’t cause a policy violation. However, had it, I’d have gladly surrendered the policy to race today. I needed this, and this race delivered. Oh did I mention, it was a Personal Record?
It’s been months since I wrote here. The recap for my last race, as it were.
This was going to be a year of ridiculously badass things. Marathons. Ultramarathons. Chasing Boston Marathon qualification. No one saw coronavirus coming.
It’s been a rough three months, and I have to say there is a lot of fraying around my edges. When things started being cancelled, I saw it as an over-reaction. Bummed out that the New Bedford Half Marathon had been cancelled, I set up a “Cancellation Running Festival” where the main attraction was a half marathon course (substantially more hilly than New Bedford), but since there had been so many other races canceled that weekend I added a 5-mile course and implored folks for design their own distance. More than a few people showed up.
After this, the world went to shit. This was literally the last best day of the year for me. I’m sad thinking it is further away from today than it was from January 1. Yet, here we are.
Stu’s was the very first long race I wanted to run. It’s put on by my running club and after associating with folks for long enough, and seeing the race swag, I set my sights on making running this race a goal of mine. This was my third time running the whole course – the first time I ran the race, I ran it as a two-person relay with a high school classmate; this is pretty awesome in and of itself, to share some personal accomplishments with people you’ve known for 30+ years and to do so on multiple occasions.
I wish I remembered what the temperature was last year, but judging from the picture on my recap it wasn’t warm. Today started at 28-F with a 19-F “feel” (whatever that means). I wasn’t quite sure what I should wear – I had my usual Sneakerama team shirt, and when I determined I would be miserable with only that, I wore a fundraising shirt for “4youIWillFight,” an ALS research charitable organization set up by a junior high school classmate of mine who has recently been diagnosed with ALS. As an aside, you can buy a shirt for $20 (+$6 for shipping) by Venmo to @4youIwillfight.
This year marks the third time I’ve been able to accomplish running this race. Last year I actually had the opportunity to run it twice – once as practice. To this point in the year, I’ve run about the same miles I did last year, but this year I’m actually working a marathon training plan. The miles I’ve been doing for the last 9 months or so have been largely in Cambridge, MA – just about as flat as you’re to find, as opposed to the hills of Central Mass. All arrows should have been pointing to not doing well on a course with 1100′ of elevation gain.
This weeks long run was scheduled to be 14-miles at a 8:40 pace, the goal being an 8:10 Marathon in May. While that wouldn’t give me a coveted Boston Qualifier (BQ), it would give me the confidence that I have a shot at one later in the year. So Stu’s was the long run in my plan and I honestly wasn’t sure how well it would go.
I had my music in tow – this is truly a must for me – but I had only a couple sleeves of Gatorade chews for quick carbs, quaffed down a couple bottles of Powerade Extra but that was about it for hydration and electrolytes on course (I did eat an entire bag of gummi worms and a couple of convenience store breakfast empandas beforehand). I felt rested and generally okay, not great, but was ready to go.
I spent the time at the starting line mingling with folks and what not, but for the most part caught up in my own little world. I got out to a respectable start, but after the first mile it was clear I wasn’t going to hang with the fast kids and my friends who actually are fast caught up to me, wished me well, and proceeded to frolic away from me as though I were running away from them. An older gentleman caught up to me, and we chatted for a minute or two, he asking me about the course and what not. He said I seemed popular, and I said that it doesn’t feel that way when all my friends are running away from me…at which he laughed a bit and then proceeded to run away from me.
For the majority of the race, I ran reasonably consistent miles – through elevation gain and loss. Mile 15 onward was a bit of a train wreck – then again, the longest training run I’ve done to this point in this training cycle was 14 miles so I consider that a personal victory, and even then the miles weren’t BAD, just not great.
I finished with roughly an 8-minute PR for the course, and an 8:15 pace (on a plan for 8:40 over 14-miles) although officially it’s an 8:20 pace because 30k is 18.6 miles not the 18.8 my watch registered.
I’m pleased with this and feel like it’s a positive building block toward my ultimate goal of actually qualifying for the Boston Marathon this year, as opposed to volunteering my way to it.
Racing is definitely becoming less important to me than getting good training runs in. I made a calculated decision some time back that fewer, higher challenge races was where I wanted to go. As a result, my race totals have consistently dropped over the last few years while my aggregated miles per year have consistently increased.
So, the Old Fashioned Ten Miler is a race I’ve done three times now. The first time I did it, it was a part of the “bad ass combo,” a 5k race they tack on before hand, which can be a bit of a challenge – I mean, 5ks are meant to be balls out, and then to run a 10 miler after, that is a feat. BUT, I’m kind of out of the business of getting medals for completing a high-cost 5k, so I’ve not run that in some time.
When I did do it the first time, it was a personal best…my 10-miler time was crap, but the 5k got crushed.
This is a race through the streets and back roads of Foxborough, Massachusetts. If you’ve ever watched a Patriots game, you’ve seen the rotary near the town center, with the town name on a sign. The course runs by there, down past a school, behind Gillette Stadium’s private access road. It’s a nicely organized race, starting and finishing at Schneider Electric and the Foxboro Company. And because it’s sponsored by Ashworth Awards, there is some SWEET Swag for finishing.
I haven’t been feeling great about my running lately, some of which is because I’m still in winter hibernation I suppose, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The fact that I haven’t been racing much at all – my first and only other race on the year was New Years’ Day’s Freezer Five – so all those slow, plodding and high heart race runs led me to believe it could get ugly out there.
As it happened though, the weather was just shy of perfect – about 40 degrees Fahreneheit.
Despite my new Age Group, and despite my lack of confidence going into the race, it turned out to be my fastest 10-Mile time, with my overall pace beating out my then-PR pace 5k time three years ago. My ten mile pace was faster than my 5k. There’s even a youtube of the finish line – don’t blink, you may miss me finish! The funny part is that when last I ran this race in 2018, I finished just 2 places (both overall and in gender) behind where I finished this year. Except the field was much, much smaller.
Another January 1, another Freezer Five. It’s the fourth one I’ve done now. Curiously, it wasn’t as warm nor as windy as last year; wasn’t as cold as it was in 2018. The course was in better shape despite the “winter weather event” we had the previous two days than it was in 2017. More people showed up than in 2018, fewer than last year, roughly equivalent to 2017 though fewer.
It’s the first time I’ve ever had the #1 bib – due only to the time of registration, not actual seeding or anything – but it was kind of fun. Of particular note to me because this will likely be my last race in the M40-49 Age Group. Not sure what to make of that.
In comparing my year over year, I see that last year I found I struggled between miles 2-3. This year it was at the end of 3-and into 4. Nice to know that my struggles are getting progressively further from the start. Depressingly enough, I was maybe 0.4 Miles from the finish when I stopped to check my heart rate – that hurt. You’ve just run 4.5 miles, the finish in sight and you can’t pull yourself together. Ouch. The big difference though, was my actual splits:
Basically even when I struggled I still beat last year – except for Mile 5 and then only because there was that wild tailwind last year that pushed me uphill.
Last years pacing was so much more interesting, Miles 1 &5, 2&4 more or less matching up and then that dreadful mile 3. This year I clearly went out too fast – I perhaps would have last year as well, but for the headwind – but I wonder how well I’d have run if I could have had the same conditions as last year.
This was the 11th time I’ve run the course – 4 as a race, and 7 as recreation/workouts – and it was the fastest yet. I ran it in May and hit a 7:57 pace – a personal record for the course, and faster than my previous race times! So, doing this in less than 40-minutes in a race was a bit of a personal achievement. Despite my better time against the course, I actually finished slower against the field. I’ll chalk that up to the beautiful 50+ degree day last January 1 and more day of registrations.
I woke up today after a great night sleep, but still roughly 7 pounds heavier than I really want to be, so I’m pleased for the pace and the result. As always it’s a great way to start the new year, by going out and kicking some ass on January 1.
I remember a car accident I had in 1989. It was late spring/early summer: I remember that because this kid was going to his high school graduation. It was raining pretty good and it was mid-afternoon in Needham, Massachusetts. I was leaving my summer job to go to my regular part time gig in Franklin, Massachusetts, so it was rush hour. This kid and his mom driving her brand new Camry was trying to turn left across 5 lanes of rush hour traffic. I was in the left lane and the giant Ford Explorer on my right stopped to let them out from the side street as they made their attempt to cross traffic.
I could see the nose of the car moving into my lane and I stuffed my foot onto the brake as quickly as I could, but wound up driving my 1974 Chevy Nova directly into their left front fender. Hit it so hard that the hood buckled and pulled the other fender in.
I could replay that moment over and over again. Slowest 2 seconds of my life. And yet it happened so fast.
We often fail to see how things are developing, but see it all come together in slow motion. Just like that car accident.
Funny that accident should have happened 30 years ago, a few months before the dawn of the 1990’s. Bill Clinton, Nirvana, Windows 95. 2019 came at me fast, and yet I saw it in slow motion. Not unlike the decade itself.
I knew my work life was set to change, but didn’t know when or how. It came down to the wire, but I not only maintained employment continuity, I think I found myself an even better opportunity I never would have sought out had I not been pushed to it. It took me the entire six months I was given, as my former employer transitioned to become another company, but in the end the stress paid off. It comes with a fair amount of consequences and I wrestle with how long I can keep everything in balance. I’m eternally grateful to have been afforded the time to transition. I knew the change was coming, but not unlike that accident, it was slow to develop and when it hit, it did so with a crash.
That transitional change changed a lot in terms of my plans and expectations. It has caused quite a bit of disruption in my day to day. I have less free time so I have to make it all work. I see less of my running friends, but I make the effort to see them when I can. I’ve experienced this loss of community as an actual loss.
One of the direct consequences has been that I’ve actually done more running than I planned to. Because I leave for work so early in the morning to beat traffic, I get there so early that there’s no one actually there. So I can run. Coupled with the shower, it’s perfect. I can often get 7, 8,9, 10 miles in. It’s time I can use to get right in my head and be ready for my day.
My boy started High School. I’m so happy that he took the opportunity to take the path his dad did and go to parochial high school. I want for him the experience I had. Thusfar he seems to be flourishing, actually played football and is getting A’s. I couldn’t be any more proud of him.
My girl, she’s starting to thrive on her own. I hated to see her leave, because I knew she wasn’t coming back, but she’s building her life and I’m so happy for the time she was here under this roof. It’s funny, life isn’t unlike that car crash. All the little things you don’t notice eventually come together and hit you with impact. I could see it happening, i knew when she left this last time she was striking out on her own. I just wasn’t really ready for that. She’s got herself a career path job and finding her own way. It’s sad to look out and see your job as a parent has transitioned to a much different place than you were ready for.
I can’t believe 2019 is at an end. A decade is at it’s end. Back in 1977, Mrs. Flynn asked her first grade class what they thought the year 2000 would be like. At that moment, 2000 seemed so far away. I was expecting the final Star Wars installment to be released. My mind was blown that I would be 30 when that happened. As it happens, I was almost 50 when Episode IX happened. Hell, Episode I wasn’t released until 1999. (And if we’re being honest, it kinda sucked.)
At the end of 1989, I wanted to make a new start with the new decade, a decade in which I rightly figured I’d graduate college, get married and start a family. I did all those things, but not really according to plan. And in 1999, at the turn of the millenium, I was starting over.
We plan on getting married, buying a house and having a family, what we don’t plan for is that marriage not working out and keeping the rest of your family together. I am a lucky man. I was able to pull the pieces together, and have a vision for getting married, buying a house and growing my family.
At the end of 2009, I was mourning the loss of my dad, and realizing that at some point I’d grown into middle age, questioning so many things. The end of the last decade was really, really difficult. It also set into motion the relationships that helped define this decade, relationships spanning the globe and influencing my family for what I hope is years to come.
The last 10 years have been nothing if not transformative. Trial and tribulation at home. Delivering one child to adulthood, another on his way. Dispensing with bad habits, creating new good ones. I like to think that I’ve embraced mid-life and created the me that I wish I had the good sense to create back in 1989.
I’ve had two jobs in the last 10 years, and I’ve loved them both. How many people can say that? I’ve gone from being morbid obesity to…well, regular obesity but with the potential to run a half marathon in 1:43.
In the latter years of this decade I’ve probably run 200 races. It astounds me that I am that guy.
2019 has been the culmination of so much work. My fastest 3-half marathons were this year. I ran the Boston Marathon, something I never knew I wanted to do until I realized I did. I have an truly interesting and aspirational group of friends; people I can ask to do dumb things with me and they say…yes.
I am thankful that I’m going into 2020 healthy and happy. Something not everyone can say. My family is whole and strong, and thriving. And something I’ve not always been able to say, I actually have a strong social network of people I care about and who care about me. I’m forever thankful for that.
The 2020’s will see their challenges: I lost my uncle – my dad’s classmate – this year, and I’m sure this decade will see more of my childhood pass into memory. I’m hopeful, though, that there will continue to be more good than negative. I hope to see my boy graduate high school and go to college, perhaps marriage and a family for my daughter.
Overall, I’m going to look back at these last 10 years with a significant fondness. The people who have meant the most to me at the start of the decade, continue to mean the most to me. I’ve spent the decade adding to that cadre. That seems like a very, very good thing.
Have a wonderful and safe new year. Happy 2020. Bring it on.
Literally the 4th 5k of the year – after all, this was the Year of Being Badass, so 5ks aren’t typically considered badass. BUT this was an opportunity to run full bore in a way that I 1) don’t usually and 2) haven’t in some time.
This wasn’t really even a planned thing, it just kind of happened. So, I wasn’t at all sure what I should expect. The holidays are always really tough for me: I always put on weight, my training suffers, winter messes with my brain. The last 5k I ran, I ran slower than the year over year by 10-seconds a mile. Now, the Canal Diggers is notoriously a “fast” 5k because it’s a short course, but 30-seconds is a lot to make up. I wasn’t at all sure how I’d compare year over year here.
The weather was warmer than last year, may be a blessing, may be a curse. Not wholly sure. The field of runners was smaller by about 200 – so I’m not sure what that was about. Given that there was race day registration and that it was significantly warmer than last year, it’s hard to know why fewer people showed up. MY tribe was all there, and that made the difference for me.
The wind. Oh my goodness the wind. I went out for a mile warm up run and watched a guy chase his touque across a parking lot at least as long as a football field. This information would come in handy later on though. And as sad as I am that he lost his hat, the lesson I learned was “it’s windy out there, buckle up.”
So I compared my splits year over year. Last year I was ridiculously fast the first mile and then progressively faded. This year I was ridiculously consistent. Mile 2 I slowed down and actually walked but ultimately paced out nicely. End of day, I beat my last years time by…
Now, the last one I did year over year was the Canal Diggers, where I lost 30-seconds, or 10-seconds a mile. At that point in the year, I was feeling okay about my conditioning, so this was a bit of a reality slap. To finish 5-seconds faster in December? Bring it.
Comparatively speaking, I finished slower against my groups except for my AG. Easily explainable by the fact there were fewer guys my age running. By a lot. That said, next year I level up and those old bastards had better be looking out for me.
The headwind was tough, and that cost me not so much in the stretches were there was a headwind, but later on after I’d been working so hard against it. PHEW!!
It is not generally considered to be good race preparation to run an ultramarathon the week before you run a marathon. During this training cycle, I ran 20+ miles three times – this is generally considered to be good training practice, but the thing is I ran 50k trail ultras as 2 of those runs…and they were within the last 3 weeks.
So, that’s a thing. I’ve decided I’m fully overcome by madness at this point.
I’m sure the descent into madness began slowly. So much so that it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly when it began. Perhaps it was the first time I attempted to run an ultra-marathon with my friend Rich…in a blizzard. Or maybe it was simply the result of so many gateway “52-Week 5ks” with Central Mass Striders. Or long runs with Duke, training for nothing. Perhaps full psychosis began the weekend I ran two Spartan Beasts. Regardless. Five weeks ago, I ran a half marathon. A week later a 50k to a personal record. Two weeks after that (last week) a second 50k to a PR. Today, Baystate Marathon. To a PR.
It seems to me — and this may be the speech of madness speaking —that with age 50 screaming up to me faster than I care to admit, I have two choices because putting fingers in my ears and humming isn’t going to work. I can either walk dignified toward it, or I can scream like hell back and let Father Time and all who bear witness know that I am not going quietly. Today, I screamed like hell. Quite mad, indeed.
I’m so pleased with the consistency of my pacing throughout the race – a real Goldilocks pace. Not too fast, not too slow. I started to lose my bearings Miles 23 & 25, but overall it went well.
I was really happy to have been running with friends – it was great to have people you know with you, to keep me accountable and to help keep accountable. Kristina and I relied on each other for most of the race – I wouldn’t have come close to my time without her having been there. Eric started out too fast and blew up later on, but we did get to run together for a bit.
It was also super important to have support on the course too. Derya came out to watch the three of us at several places along the course and Mrs Mo and Junior were waiting at the finish for me. Nothing like having the support of your people.
This was the time result I was hoping for from Boston those months ago, for whatever reason that didn’t happen then. Today, I’m actually thinking I could qualify for time at some point. I need more work, but there remains that possibility. Were I competing in the F50 age group, it would be a BQ…but alas, not so much.
The course itself was super flat – by my Garmin there was 538’ of gain. To put that in context, running around super flat Cambridge, Mass for 7 miles earlier in the week netted me 335’.
There were ample water stops and enthusiastic volunteers, both of which were appreciated. Some points were more easily run than others – squishing down to essentially only the breakdown lane in spots to half a street in others. The finish chute was a little awkward to navigate but the finish festival was solid. Would’ve been better with a finishers beer, but can’t ask for too much I guess.
It was a good course – not my favorite but good enough. The organization was good and the overall experience was on point.