Monday, November 20, 2017

Ghost Train 100 miler 2017: What a Journey

Crew & pacers! Missing Chris & Amy. PC: Josh Katzman

“The journey is more important than the destination.”

I heard this quote a few days before Ghost Train Rail Trail 100 in an Usain Bolt documentary and it was bouncing around my head come race day.

I decided to run Ghost Train back in January knowing that it would be my second 100 (if I finished Vermont 100 which I did). I had no idea how the recovery from VT would play out and how to exactly get back into training after my VT break. With some advice from Amy Rusiecki, I simply backed out my VT 100 training plan six weeks and got to it. I felt strong during my two big build up weeks of 73 and 77 miles.

I assembled yet another cracker jack team of sighted guides and crew and was ready to roll come race day. I was aiming for a sub-24-hour finish and was hoping to run consistent loops (Ghost Train is a 7.5 mile trail out and back so each loop is 15 miles).

Loop 1
Chris, who crewed me during VT, gave me a ride up and was my first guide. This was Chris’s first time guiding but because the trail is runnable I wasn’t too nervous. We arrived around 8:00AM which gave us plenty of time to set up our stuff, get my bib, and eat before the 9:00AM start. I decided to start a bit closer to the front than last year to avoid the huge bottleneck for the first few miles.

The Yeti howl went off at 9:01 and we headed out. The goal was to run about a 3hr:15-minute loop and head out for the next loop by 12:30pm. We started with my friend Keith, who has been a guide with the Coastal Athletic Club and was running his first ultra (congrats on finishing 45 miles!!!). After the turn-around I tried to fist bump Keith as he passed and mistakenly punched some guy in the chest jamming my fingers! Sorry, sir. We also shared a few miles on the way out with Chris Wristen, who writes Mass Ultra, which was a treat.

We hit the end-point at the Milford DPW, quickly topped off my water and Tailwind bottles, and headed back within a minute or two. Chris was nailing the guiding including the one technical section around mile 5 (on the way out) in which there is a small climb up then back down. We ran by ourselves the way back and I was constantly trying to slow down so my splits were in the 10-minute range. We cruised by the mid-point aid station and sailed into Camp Tevya and the start/finish point in 2 hours 44 minutes. We were a bit ahead of schedule but I wasn’t too concerned. Not stopping at the AS played a factor.

Elapsed Time: 2:44 (not counting aid station)

Loop 2
Kim M., who guided me for a loop last year when I ran 60 miles, was up next. We walked out of Camp Tevya to give me time to eat half of a homemade egg and cheese burrito to make sure I was getting in enough calories. My next guide and informal “coach” Amy was already texting to make sure we slowed down so Kim and I took it easy. She maneuvered the trail easily including a new, very steep, set of stairs at one of the road crossings. I tried my best to keep our running pace in the 10-11-minute range while knowing that the small climb up would make for naturally walking breaks.

The temps climbed into the high 70s so I focused on taking a few salt tabs and staying hydrated. I was craving something cold coming into the aid station at CT and Jim Roche, who was guiding me later in the day and volunteering, hooked me up with a tasty popsicle! That hit the spot.
W rolled back into Camp Tevya still ahead of schedule and I was feeling good.

Elapsed Time: 6:13

Loop 3
This was also the second year that Amy R. was guiding me and this year she upped the ante with two loops. We left a few minutes before 4:00pm and I knew I was entering some tough miles. I was focused on getting down as much food as possible.

Thankfully, Jill and Lucy had arrived and made sure I ate pickles, changed my socks, and I left with pockets full of fuel.

The first trail section out of Camp Tevya is arguably one of the toughest stretches b/c the running lanes are just slightly off-camber. Amy and I settled into a decent jog and I let her know that I would be walking coming out of the mid-point aid station.

Amy was stoked to see the section where they pulled out/put crushed gravel over the old rail ties which were magnets to trip over. This new section was incredibly flat, smooth, and fast.
We shared a few miles with Shane from the Somerville Road Runners. Shane mentioned that he listened to the Ultra Runner Podcast episode with me which was a bit embarrassing. I think Shane was gunning for his first 100 and he was running strong.

On the return trip we went up and then down the small climb. Coming down is tough because there are a ton of rocks and the big roots create awkward steps. As a sign that I was tiring, I feel over moving slowly and banged my knee and elbow on two big rocks. Those were going to hurt in the morning.

I was still distracted by the hill and took another spill on a flat section. I immediately rolled over to pop back up and found myself on top of a stick perfectly placed in a spot that it should not have been.! This got me to my feet in a hurry J

I fell 4-5 times during GT even though it is a very runnable trail. This has nothing to do with my guides seeing that every time they were calling out the obstacles. I am actually proud that I fell because this showed that I was running hard. Sighted folks frequently fall and as I tell my daughter while skiing- “If you do not fall then you are not pushing yourself.”

Elapsed Time: 9:46

Loop 4
It was around 7:30pm and time for our headlamps. After fueling up and saying good-night to Lucy (she and Jill were sleeping in a tent!) Amy and I headed out. About 5 miles in we passed the 50 mile mark! Time to count down but boy was I already feeling it. I was lapped yet again by the leader Patrick and this time his guide Greg, who Amy coaches, was playing some tunes on a portable radio/phone. Amy impressed me with her knowledge of old-school hip hop.

I am the first to admit that running with guides for the entire race is an advantage when it comes to having someone to talk with (Ghost Train allows pacers after 30 miles). For the first time (Amy guided me for 15 miles at VT) Amy and I had enough time to really chat and covered such topics as race mgmt, young girls growing up, and sports. This made the miles click by.

Elapsed Time: 13:44 (still on pace for 24-hr finish)

Lap 5
Jill set her alarm to wake up to help crew which was awesome. I said my good-byes to Amy (she was heading to the DPW to volunteer!) and took off with Jim Roche. Jim is an incredibly accomplished ultra-runner (completed the infamous Grand Slam this year) who I know from Facebook and met in-person at Vermont 100. When we took off I knew this was going to be a fun yet long lap. Jim did an outstanding job calling everything out and we quickly synced up our paces. I basically told Jim to power-hike and I would try to keep up with a slow jog! I let him know that there would be a fair amount of walking and I was struggling mentally to figure out a sustainable pacing plan.

My stomach was starting to get tired of the Tailwind and food I was eating so I began to get nervous about getting in enough calories to keep moving. I used my new re-usable bowl to take in some broth/soup as frequently as possible and kept mixing in ginger ale.

We ran into the women’s leader Clare at the mid-point aid station and for some reason I got a burst of energy. I ran up beside her (she was on mile 96) and I offered to “pace” her. We chatted and learned that one of her triathlon friends has guided my friend and super athlete Erich Manser. About two miles out she pulled away and cruised to victory!

The trail seemed to get longer and longer especially the last stretch before hitting Camp Tevya. I kept asking Jim if we were close and he kindly said to keep moving.

We got back to Camp Tevya right at 2:30AM which is when my pacing chart called for me to be leaving for my next loop. However, I had built in a 30-minute cushion so I was OK. We were heading out for our coldest loop and unfortunately my two long-sleeve shirts were not going to cut it. Thankfully, Jim had an extra layer and light-weight jacket-thanks man.

Elapsed Time: 17:27

Lap 6
My final full lap and my good friend Michelle was now guiding me. My stomach was not nauseous but my appetite was pretty much shot. I was trying to force down pickles, broth, and potatoes. Jill gave me a good pep talk prior to leaving to stay positive. I was trying my best. I was pain free but my body was tired. Were the quicker earlier miles coming back to haunt me?


I trudged on and was trying to take the trail in sections: get to the first road crossing, cross the wooden bridge and amazing lit up pumpkins, etc. But everything seemed longer.

We came up on Melissa from Newton near the steep set of stairs and I got to chat with her for a bit. Such a treat getting to meet so many runners and good people. Unfortunately, I was doing a fair amount of walking even though Michelle was working hard to keep me motivated.

We rolled into the DPW for the final time and Amy R. rushed over to take care of me. All of the volunteers are amazing!!!
On the return trip I began doing a 6/2 routine-6 minutes running, 2 minutes walking which got me in a decent rhythm.

We headed out and began the slow trek back to Camp Tevya. A mile or two out the sun came up which is always a boost.

I averaged 19 min miles on the way out and 18 on the way back which for the first time put me over the 24-hour pace (approx. 14:20 minute miles).

Elapsed Time: 22:09 7:08AM which put me at about 45 minutes to an hour off pace.

Lap 7 (5 miles out and back)

My spirits were down knowing that a 24-hr finish had slipped away. Jill pushed me to figure out a plan B which I hadn’t done for Vermont 100 (except for finishing). I thought back to post-Vermont and how disappointed I was in myself for essentially mailing it in and simply wanting to finish.

Michelle and I walked out of Camp Tevya for the final time while I was eating some soup. We hit the trail and I started to immediately run. I told Michelle I would run to the big road crossing (about two miles), walk a bit, then run to the aid station.

While walking I took time to take in the foliage and beauty of the trail. I took the first picture of me on trail in this nice overlook. I told myself how lucky I was to be out there which helped to pull me out of my funk.

We came up on the mid aid station and the hardcore volunteer jumped up to help me but I kept on running. His atta-boy cheers lifted my spirits. The 15 milers, who started at 8AM Sunday from the DPW, started to run by us in the opposite direction which was a nice distraction.

5 miles to go!!!

We finally hit the orange cones that marked the 5 mile turnaround. Only 5 miles to go!!!

We were now running in the same direction as the 15 milers and this gave me a boost of energy. After a much needed porta-potty stop at the AS, I took off and kept telling Michelle to pick up the pace. I was in full blown manic/4th wind mode and even began yelling (sorry about that) at the 15 milers to move aside as we passed them. Ride the energy for as long as you have it, right! We cruised through the super runnable section where the rail-ties were removed (thank you!) and kept pushing.

I walked a bit and at that point I realized I could finish under 14:30. For some reason 24: twenty something sounded better than 24:thirty. My pace slowed a bit but I kept running. After another short walking break I ran the last 2 miles to Camp Tevya. I hit the pavement and kept asking Michelle how much time we had. In my mind we were flying. 

We cruised past the aid station and I told Lucy to wait for me there. I was running hard and nervous about negotiating the covered bridge turnaround with the 15 milers. Thankfully a few kind runners stepped aside to let us pass through. I was back to manic stage breathing hard and kept asking Michelle for the time.

Lucy was waiting for us about 200 yards out (she was still in her footy-PJs and rain boots) and we crossed the finish line holding hands.



24:25:39! We ran the last 10 miles in 13:40 pace to finish my second 100 of the year!

100 miles. DONE!

Reflections & thank yous
·         Jill and Lucy-thanks for putting up with yet another big training block and for coming out to cheer/crew me. You being there keeps me happy and moving.
·         Chris, Kim, Amy, Jim and Michelle-what a dynamic team of guides who took time out of their weekend to support me. Thanks so very much.
·         All the runners: so many people said hi and shared words of encouragement, many of who knew my name (being a runner who is visually impaired tends to make me stand out) but I did not know there’s. And I met many Facebook friends in person which is so cool. The trail running community is the real deal.
·         Volunteers: there is no better feeling than being able to roll into an aid station and have volunteers wait on you. Especially throughout the night in cold temps etc.
·         Although a much easier course, I am happy to have shaved close to four hours of my VT 100 time. Even more so, I am proud to have rallied late (I found out later that I passed two 100-milers) and pushed for that second goal.
·         I struggle with being a runner who is visually impaired and often just want to be a “runner.” This is on me to figure out and work through. But I finished Ghost Train exactly in the middle of the pack (29th overall) which gives me tremendous self-validation that I am an average trail runner, regardless of my vision. I am committed to working with race directors and supporting my fellow runners with vision loss to be active in hopes that it will be a normal thing to see us out on the trails and participating in ultras (and all races for that matter). 
·         I had no idea what to expect going into Ghost Train. My body felt recovered after Vermont but I didn’t know how it would hold up. Thankfully, things worked out.
·         Thanks to Josh Katzman, the Trail Running Animals Running Club crew, and the long-time community members for putting on a wonderful race.

Gear
·         I wore one pair of shoes the entire race! Topo Athletic Terraventures. Thanks Topo for your support.
·         I rotated between two Nathan Sports packs both with front bottles. I also appreciate Nathan’s support.
·         Garmin 220 watch for 50+ miles then Michelle wore my old Garmin Forerunner for a few hours.

Post-Race Beer

Barreled Souls Brewing quad at Picco Restaurant

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Vermont 100 Race Report: A Long Run in the Woods

Guides & Crew (minus Jill, Lucy, & Maggie who had to leave early) Photo: MassUltra
This will be a short report (for me) partly because I was fortunate enough to recap my race on Ultra Runner Podcast, which is my favorite running podcast. They also previewed my race here.

A couple of general thoughts and thank yous seeing that many people contributed to this race:

Chris cleaning me up with Jill supervising.

My team was absolutely amazing and so on-point the entire weekend. My crew (Jill & Lucy for the first 50, Jeff for the second 50, and Chris for the entire 100 miles) brought their A-game. I knew it was going to be a solid day when I rolled into the first aid station with crew access at mile 21 and my crew had everything all laid out and ready to go. This continued throughout the entire race including the tough evening hours in the dark. 


     The team of six sighted guides and two pacers were flawless. Amy Rusiecki, who took a break as the VT100 RD to guide me, set a great tone and pace for the first 15.5 miles. First time trail guides Elaine (1st overall time guiding!) and my Team Nathan ‘mate Maggie (she has guided on the roads with Achilles Philly) did not miss a beat and crushed their miles. My trusty seasoned vets Samantha (she also paced me for six miles later in the day) and Michelle got me through some tough miles. And rising super-star guide Nicole showed that her 31 miles at Pineland were not a fluke. She guided me through some tough technical sections and always kept me moving forward. And Karin Lee George paced me for the final 23 miles and kept me smiling, motivated, and in as good spirits as my tired mind and body would allow. I am beyond honored to have the support and friendship of my guides and crew. I will never forget finishing the race with my guides and crew who were still in town.


Guide transition (Amy Rusiecki to Maggie Guterls)
at mile 15.5

·      Looking back on your training plan is always a case of hindsight is 20/20 (pun intended). I knew going in that the climbs were going to be tough because it was hard getting in a ton of elevation. More than that, I think I was more focused on “quantity” and not “quality” miles. I was hitting my mileage goals but I think my effort and intensity of training could have been more. Something to improve upon going forward.

·         My A+ goal was sub-24 and B goal was 26 hours. Finishing was my third goal. I tend to get stressed about time and hit a low if I fall off it during the race. Jill was super supportive leading up to the race making sure I stayed positive regardless of the time outcome. I am very thankful for her sage advice and tried my best not to let this impact my overall race experience.
Coming into Camp 10 Bear aid station. Elaine is on my right & Samantha on my left.

Maggie selfie as we were climbing up the "Sound of Music" hill.

·       For better or worse, I didn’t stress out about falling off pace somewhere around mile 60. In fact, I would describe the entire day as “average energy and mindset.” I never hit a super low nor did I get amped about my pace. I just didn’t have that “fight” and sense of competiveness that I’ve had in previous races. Maybe an awful three nights of sleep leading into race day contributed to this. Or perhaps in the back of my head I was already resigned to the fact that my most important goal was to simply finish. I never once considered dropping but after mile 50 there were a lot of thoughts about just wanting it to be over. I am a very “wear my emotions on my sleeve” type person so this is interesting to me.

the medic volunteers did an outstanding job taking care of my blisters. 

·         My left knee started to ache pretty early on especially while running the downhills. I wonder if this was a result of changing my stride due to the blisters on my left foot? I saw Amy R coming out of the mile 30 AS and as I walked up to her and my friend Laura B. I told Amy I was dropping bc of my knee. You should have seen her face! I quickly told her I was joking as I jogged off with Samantha. Luckily Amy wasn’t close enough to whack me J  But I already knew my knee was going to make for a long day esp on the downhills.

Without a doubt, I am incredibly proud of finishing my first 100-mile race. I am proud that I put in the training time and had the support of so many friends and family. Although I did not “race” VT 100, spending 28+ hours continually moving forward toward a goal is no joke.

Finally, a humble thank you to Jill and Lucy for supporting this crazy idea. At peak time, I was running 7-11 hours on the weekends and adjusting our already hectic family life to squeeze in 20-25 weekday miles. I do believe that running and training for these type of races makes me a better person, father, and husband and I am thankful that Lucy and Jill support me in creating the space to make this happen.


Small buckle for my first 100 finish!

What’s next? As long as my knee holds up, I have Ghost Train 100 in October with a likely rune-up 50k in September.

See you on the streets or in the woods!

Gear
Topo Athletic Runventures & Terraventures
Nathan Sports HPLw/ b;adder & soon-to-be released pack w/ front bottles
Note: I took no gus/gels this race. Definitely helped my stomach but maybe contributed to my low-energy levels?
Garmin 220 & Forerunner

Post-Race Beer
I had a big Russian Imperial Stout the night of (thanks Andrew Becker)

The next night Jill and I enjoyed a 2014 Trillium American Wild Ale-delicious! 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nothing But Love for Trail Running Community: Pineland Farm 50 race recap

Sometimes the races in which we give up our pace goals are the ones we receive so much in return.

I headed into the Pineland 50 with two loose goals 1) Aim for a sub 9-hour finish 2) Do not destroy my body so I could resume training for the Vermont 100 by Thursday or Friday. I achieved one of those goals.

As is often the case in trail running, the day was defined by so much more than goals, pace, and splits. Years from now I will remember the immense amount of support I received and love I have for the trail running community.

Pineland has been on my radar for a few years partly because the trails are not technical and therefore very runnable. Last year, I emailed Erik Boucher, the race director, letting him know I would like to run it with a few sighted guides. He replied immediately and said “Yes, and let us know how else we can support you.” They even printed “GUIDE” and “BLIND” bibs for me and the team. Perfect and much appreciated.

Pineland Farms is in Maine so I knew I would need to recruit a few guides outside of my current network (who I am asking to travel to VT to guide me). Nicole Ponte was the first to respond and even though she had never guided before she volunteered to take on two of the three 25k loops. Really?! Well alright then.

Amy Rusiecki, who first guided me at Ghost Train, jumped in a few weeks before the race when the other guide who kindly responded to helping me out got injured. Even though Amy was already committed to pacing a friend, she said yes to my request. What a beast.
Nicole and I did a short shakeout/practice run Saturday morning while Jill was running the 10k and declared ourselves ready to roll.

About five miles into the first loop, Amy and I started chatting with a few runners about the Vermont 100. I cracked a joke about how I heard negative things about the race including the race director. Amy concurred in the affirmative (#realnews-Amy is the VT 100 RD). One of these runners was a guy named Nat who was also using Pineland as a VT 100 training run. We casually chatted for a few miles in which I learned Nat is a two-time Ultra Ironman finisher. I’ve heard about these people but I didn’t know they ACTUALLY existed! Complete bonkers. As I was running behind Amy, Nat would here and there call out a few rocks/roots and let me know if I was drifting too close to the trail edge. With no training Nat was a natural at providing guiding support.

After a few what Nat and I ended up calling “Amy Flats” (hills that Amy was trying to pass off as flats and get us to run up instead of hike) we stopped at an aid station. With Nat out of earshot and knowing that guiding 30+ miles is both mentally and physically challenging, I mentioned to Amy that it would be so cool if Nat would join us for the second loop.


As we neared the end of the first loop I floated the idea to Nat and he quickly agreed to hang with us and to soak in all the “positive vibes.” We swung back to the start/finish line, thanked and wished Amy well and took off on the second loop. I was 10-15 minutes off my 9-hr pace and knew I worked hard to get there. So I decided to bail on the pace goal and simply enjoy the run.

I’ve trained over 50 sighted guides through my day job with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and United in Stride as well as guides for my own runs. Not every guide is created equal. I am always blown away when someone jumps in with such eagerness and willingness to help and absolutely nails it. This is what Nicole did. And as Nat and I joked throughout the day, she did it with a smile ALL day long. You could hear her love and enjoyment of the trails in her voice and guide calls.

Embrace the mud! PC: Nat


The Pineland trails are sweet. A nice mix of 10-12 foot wide dirt trails, grassy farm land (soaked in water and mud due to the rain), with very few roots. We passed a few small waterfalls and every runner we met was having a great time.
Nat did in fact hang with us the entire time and was incredibly helpful complimenting Nicole’s guiding. I often run behind my guide on single track trails and sometimes veer off trail a bit. Nat was invaluable in running behind me and subtly suggesting when to stay left/right.

We chatted about work, other trail races, and the beautiful scenery all around us. We ran with a guy named John (I think that is his name) from Maine for the last five or six miles. It was great to see John pull away from us during the last mile and finish strong.

I finished in just over 11 hours. Not where I wanted to be but the experience, friendship, and trail love far outweighs any time.

I am thrilled that Amy has yet another race experience as a guide and is ready to not only direct VT 100 but also guide me for the first 15 miles. Nicole is now part of the sighted guide family and may even help at VT 100 and I hope more races in the future. Although no lead guide experience, I would feel more than comfortable with Nat as my guide. And I cannot wait to see him in Vermont and soak in as much of his positive energy as possible.

The people are what make trail running such a special sport and is why I love being a part of it.
My memories of Pineland are not about how fast I ran (or didn’t run) nor my finish time but the people I shared the trails with. I will forever remember Amy saying as we neared the first section of mud “We are going straight through it and will have the most fun playing in the mud today.” And Nicole telling me to run left and right for over 30 miles and effortlessly climbing all the hills. And rounding numerous corners to hear Lucy cheering me on and rocking the cowbell. Although nasty, Jill helped me pull off my mud/water soaked socks mid-way through the race.  And coming through the start/finish area and soaking in the crowd’s cheers and energy. And Nat getting absolutely jazzed when I taught him the “3, 2, 1, jump” method when we can upon a raised water culvert (I swear that culvert got bigger as the day went on).

Finally, thank you to Jill and Lucy for your unwavering support. You got up well before 5:00AM to get me to the start line, ran to numerous aid stations to cheer me on and help with fuel, and crewed me at the transition points. Thanks so much.

See you on the trails!

GEAR
Topo Athletic Terraventures
Nathan Vapor vest
Injinji toe socks

Post-Race Beers
Mix of Maine local beer including Mast Head, Liquid Riot, Lone Pine. 

Finishing w/ the entire team! L to R: Amy, Nicole, Nat & Lucy



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Double the Fun: My Boston Marathon Adventure

You know you had a great day when your biggest ongoing issue is your shorts continuing to ride down on you!

Sometimes we need to do something different to keep things on track. I decided to do the “Boston Double” (BD) for a couple of reasons. I wanted to experience the Boston course in another way and wanted a long run to test my endurance as part of my Vermont 100 training. But mostly, I wanted to deliberately slow myself down (aka not worry about pace) so I could truly take in the magic of the Boston Marathon experience. This race report is a big thank you to every person who supported me pre-run and during the race (and bought me numerous post-race beers!).
An amazing team! Guide L to R: Michelle, Samantha, & Kevin















The Support

Achilles Boston crew at the finish (aka start) line! 

I am incredibly thankful to have a very supportive wife and daughter and a team of guides who did not bat an eye when I asked for their support. My training, especially weekend long runs, often wakes my family up and results in numerous hours away from the house. I am also grateful to have such wonderful friends and sighted guides who I both trained with and ran with on Monday. Although a bit more logistically challenging than I anticipated (transportation back to Boston for my first guide, getting through the start line security, and fuel for the run back without being able to use a hydration pack) everything worked out. My guides were on fire the entire day. Samantha crushed the trip from Boston to Hopkinton. This included early miles in the dark, dodging large race vehicles setting up the course, and even avoiding college students on roller blades drinking (I assume alcohol was in the red solo cups). Kevin and Michelle had a list of tasks for when we arrived at the Team With a Vision building in Hopkinton. They sat me down, fed me, gave me my extra gear to swap out, arranged a quick interview with WGBH radio, and got me to the start line right on time. They were a beacon of efficiency!

 
Out-Bound Trip
Samantha and I heading to Hopkinton

Big thanks to Samantha’s husband Jeff for waking up SOOOO early and literally dropping us off at the finish line (our start line) on Boylston St. We got our first surprise of the day when two members of the Achilles International Boston chapter were there to cheer us on. And Laura even had a pre-recorded good luck message from my Nathan teammate and all around great guy Zach Miller. That is a better pick me up than coffee. John Kemp and Greg Soutieu, who I know through Facebook, were also there.

We were joined for the first 13 or so miles by John, who I only met that morning but quickly learned is the salt-of-the-earth nice. And what an incredible runner. Our friend Skott Daltonic greeted us as we turned off Comm Ave onto Rt 135 which was super cool and Jill’s co-worker Jim also came out to say hello and snap some photos. For anyone considering running this, please note that from the start to the Fire House we pretty much ran in the street against live traffic. Due to the increased traffic on Rt 135, we ran on the sidewalks through Newton Falls and most of Wellesley. Samantha was outstanding on the sidewalks and I felt completely at ease.

The Boston Double crew. I assume Greg is taking this picture.

Around Wellesley we were joined by Greg, his friend Jesse, Annie from CT, and Brian B. from Altra. These miles clicked by albeit at a quicker pace than I should have been running. Samantha and I stopped to hit the super clean porta-potty’s and the group continued.

As we entered Framingham I got excited to see Jill and my daughter Lucy. They mentioned taking the train out to cheer and seeing them would be great. Sure enough, as we neared the MBTA Commuter Rail station I could hear my daughter screaming my name. I instantly got the chills. We stopped briefly to say hello, snap a few pics, then Samantha and I plugged along.

We were also joined by fellow ultra-runner Paul and his friend who were out on their morning run. So nice of them to join us for a few miles.

It was at about this time that we started to feel the race course waking up. Volunteers were getting aid station tables set up, police officers were on the sidewalks, and spectators were setting up their chairs. It was so neat to be able to experience the marathon from this perspective. We talk all the time about how amazing the volunteers and spectators are but I never knew just how early they were out there. Thank you.

The streets toward where Framingham turned into Ashland were closed so we were back in the streets We started to pass the first of many Armed Service members who were walking the race. We stopped to say hello, asked what branch they were in (Army), and thanked them for their service. They were in full uniform so I was thankful to be wearing shorts and my Topo Athletic singlet.

At about the mile 2 mark we began to pass the runners with Mobility Impairments. Man, they are an amazing group of athletes. I was stoked to see fellow Achilles International Boston athlete John Young making his way to Boston. John-I loved being able to give you a high-five.

Then we saw, or rather heard, the athletes in push-rim wheelchairs fly by us. Wow, I have seen push rim and hand cyclists on flat road courses but to see them tearing down the first mile decline is one of the day’s highlights. It also got me thinking-how do they go over the timing mats? Are all the mats strategically placed on flat sections? I had 26 or so more miles to ponder this question.

My goal was to arrive in Hopkinton at 9:32 just as the elite women were starting. We were there at 9:29 so we stepped off the course on the right and watched the elite women take off. So cool! All the race personnel were very supportive of us running in the “wrong” direction. If we stayed to the side of the road when the athletes were coming they were fine.

We got through security with no issues and a few words of encouragement.


The Official Race
The biggest unknown going into this was how my body would hold up during the 70 minute “transition.” My doctor confirmed my PF and likely bone spurs in my heel the week before so I was very concerned how my foot would respond to the down time.

And after a few start line photos we were off. My friend Thor, who had done the Boston Double in 2013, warned me about how tight my body would feel for the first five miles or so (thanks Thor for ALL of your support and advice). Luckily, my body and legs felt great which put a big ‘ol smile on my face. We were having a grand time which was only boosted by sharing some time with fellow runners Erich and Maribel and seeing my friend Hilary at the start.  

Kevin, Michelle and I heading to Boston! 

I was tethered to Michelle and Kevin, who had an official bib but kindly offered to help guide, was on my right. Michelle called things out while Kevin helped to create space and grab us water. I could not stop grinning and dancing (in my head) to the music because I was feeling good. The first five miles clicked by at about a 9:30 pace and I was taking a salt stick and bar/gu every 45-60 minutes.

My stomach started to get a little upset around six miles so I was concerned about taking in calories. I just needed to get to mile seven where Topo staff would have a nice fresh PB&J sandwich waiting for me. We rolled into Framingham at a solid pace and Kevin quickly spotted the Topo crew. We took the first of many pics, stuffed the sandwich in my pocket, filled my Nathan Trail Mix fuel belt with more water and Skratch mix (I used Tail Wind on the first leg), and took off.

The People
I walked a few minutes with Alain Baird, owner of Race Menu which is super supportive of runners who are B/VI. Alain broke his leg/ankle a month or two ago during a race so he was covering (his 13th Boston?) on crutches. I will never complain again about nipple/thigh chafe after imaging what his armpits went through.  

Next up was Michelle’s friends/family around mile 10. See what I did there? I was trying to turn this long day into a trail/ultra type race. Move forward and get to the next aid station/crew spot. This made the miles incredibly manageable. I was thrilled to see Michelle get so excited to see her family, including her niece.

The crowds were jumping and the music was pumping so I rode the excitement for all it was worth. I planned for some walking breaks mostly to take in food. But I told Michelle and Kevin not to let me walk where the crowds were deep and not on the downhills.

Somewhere around this point we ran with Grant, a MABVI charity bib fundraiser, for a few minutes. He was killing it-congrats man and thanks so much for supporting the Massachusetts Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired (where I work). 

Although I was trying to take as few gus/gels as possible, my stomach was not in the mood for anything of substance so I was nervous about eating real food. I took a gu around mile 12. I figured that and the Wellesley women would get me through a few tough miles. The Scream Tunnel was jamming and so much fun slapping hands. I considered handing out a kiss but was nervous that I would misfire and result in an even more of an awkward situation.

After climbing over the 95/128 bridge and riding the long downhill (this hill sucked on the way out) I heard someone calling my name. Oh my, I totally forgot my Aunt Cathy and cousin Caitlin would be on the course. We exchanged big hugs then I almost lost all the food in my stomach. I tried eating a banana but after two bites I stuffed the rest in my pocket. If you’re curious, I now had a half-eaten banana and PB&J sandwich, two bars, a few gus, and chomps in my short’s pockets and more fuel in my Nathan trail Mix belt. I have no idea why my shorts were continuing to ride down on me! Jill and Lucy do not call me “pocket boy” for no reason. I re-filled with cold water and as I was walking away I had to lean over thinking I was going to puke.

We walked for a minute or two so I could breathe and then started running at a slower pace. A few burps freed up some belly space and I picked it up a bit.

Yeah, Cory caught up to us! 

Suddenly, my good friend, frequent training guide, and MABVI charity bib runner, Cory G was next to us! I was so hopeful leading up to the race that Cory, who started in the wave behind me, would catch up to us. We updated each other while picking up the pace. Right around here I made a quick turnaround to give my friend Angela K a hug. We then stopped to say hi to Cory’s friend Nicole who bravely ran out in front of us in flip flops to snap some “action” shots. Well done, lady.

I could feel the sun on my back so we stopped at a med tent to apply more sunscreen and lube. Out of nowhere a TWAV runner who is B/VI and from Japan came into the tent by himself. We quickly learned that his only guide cramped up a few hundred yards back. This athlete travelled across the world to run Boston and it was going to be heartbroken if he didn’t get to finish. I asked Kevin if he was interested in guiding and before I could finish Kevin was grabbing the guy’s tether and trying to get on the same page (the gentleman spoke very little English and although incredibly worldly Kevin does not know any Japanese). I was also touched that Cory was also open to guiding him. This is what makes runners so awesome.

Note to the Boston Athletic Association: this is why it is so important to allow two guides with a runner at all times. Please consider changing the rules to allow this.

We quickly came upon Michelle’s aunt and mother and they made me the perfect grilled cheese sandwich (I LOVED how soggy it was!). Grilled cheeses have become my favorite long distance food so I was craving this for a few miles. With renewed energy and a settled stomach, we took off with purpose. For me, that meant giving out as many hugs and high fives as possible.

Right around here we met Heidi, another MABVI charity bib runner. I was a bit silly by this point and may or may not have sarcastically yelled at Heidi to speed up :) Thanks Heidi for supporting MABVI and congrats on finishing Boston.

First up was Cory’s and my friend Jen who was volunteering at the Boston Tri tent. It seemed like Cory was also excited by the wall-to-wall crowds because he dropped us just as we turned onto Comm Ave. He trained so hard for his first marathon so I was thrilled to see him get his groove back on. We found Jen, hugged, and climbed the hills.

We came up on my friend Randy who was having some balance issues. He is a beast and was more than determined to keep moving forward, even if he fell. Congrats man on finishing. I was excited to see my alpine skiing community cross into my running community when we saw Bob Golub, one of my ski guides at Mt Sunapee and the New England Healing & Skiing Association.

I stopped at the NP water stop to say hello to fellow trail runner Matt. Matt did me a solid by letting me know the second half of my grilled cheese was falling out of my pocket. So, clutch. Thanks, dude.
Next up were the Achilles folks at the 30k mark. Laura (yup the same one who was cheering for me at 5AM!!!) hooked me up with a nice turkey and cheese s’wich. It was also nice to see friends Jeff and Liane cheering with the Achilles folks. My pockets were at capacity so I “had” to walk and eat the turkey s’wich.

It was about this time when I told Michelle not to let me drink any beer before the finish line. Less than five minutes later someone was cheering our name so we made a quick u-turn to say hello. My Topo Athletic teammate Hannah made the trip down from VT and guess what, she had beer. I managed two quick sips before Michelle grabbed it out of my hand. Ooops 😊 Thanks Hannah, that was tasty.

We came up to friend and fellow skier/runner Joyce C who is one of the nicest people I have ever met. Joyce dropped us on the hills as I was yelling at her to slow down :) 

On we went with full pockets, stomach, and my heart filling with happiness with every person we saw. This is EXACTLY what I wanted. We saw my friends Allie and Ari on one of the hills. They were at the wedding we went to Saturday night. Even though I stopped drinking at 9:30pm, they were leaders in getting going an after-party that pushed back my bedtime. I teased them about almost ruining my run and took off after some big hugs. Love the Beantown Rugby Club community!!!

Next thing I knew my buddy Miguel was next to me and we chatted about local politics, his upcoming wedding (congrats to you and Seth) and running for a mile or two. Heartbreak Hill was up next and I conveniently had to take in some fuel to get through the last leg. So, we walked Heartbreak, giving out high fives, chatting with a few runners, all while chomping on my sandwiches.

I don’t know how it happened, but my stomach finally settled, my body had a ton of energy in it, and my legs were feeling great. About 46 miles in.

We tore down the rolling hills toward Boston College, I tried to play hype man by getting the Eagles to make more noise, shared a few minutes with a first-time Boston runner who was hurting but grinding it out.

Going into a long run like this I never know just how it is going to play out. Which is part of why I love doing longer runs. There is so much that can happen to your body, nutrition, nagging existing injuries, etc. So up until then I just wanted to focus on the moment. But now I knew I had it. A few more mostly downhills and I would see Jill and Lucy as well as the TWAV cheering section.

Michelle guided me over the Cleveland Circle train tracks (reminded me of trying to jump over roots toward the end of long trails runs) and we were on Beacon. I had mentally prepared for this longer than always expected section but I was feeling good. I couldn’t stop smiling, whooping out loud, and telling Michelle we were almost there. This was Michelle’s first marathon distance run and she was not only crushing the guiding piece but she was running strong.

I saw Erich again and it was so cool to share some time with him. Erich is a tech guru and in addition to having a human guide he was being supported by Aira Google Glass Technology. Mind-blowing stuff.

The heat (it got close to 80) was taking its toll on runners so Beacon Street was tough to maneuver on but Michelle kept us moving forward.

Then I heard what every parent running a race wishes for-“Daddy, Daddy!” There was Lucy and Jill, back in Brookline after schlepping out to Framingham earlier in the day. I am so lucky and try my best not to take their amazing support for granted. I joked that I wanted a beer but Jill was more concerned about me finishing and I could feel Michelle's piercing look at me :). We crossed the street to give out hugs to the TWAV crew. Yup, absolutely no concern about my pace/time and it felt wonderful.

Mile 25 has been my mental mile for Boston but I could care less so we slowly ran up and then down the bridge. My buddy Mike, who guided me the second half in 2015 (Michelle guided the first) was there with his family so we said a quick hello. Then we stopped to say hello to Michelle’s husband and a bunch of her friends.

We took off and ran with Thomas Panek, who works at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, for a few minutes under the Mass Ave. underpass. Then the infamous right on Hereford, left on Boylston and we were there. The crowds here are insane. Nothing I have experienced before. 

Unless you know exactly where someone is, you will never hear them call your name. But suddenly I heard people chanting “Kyle, Kyle, Kyle.” What?! Am I at my 13-yo Babe Ruth All-Star game or something? Who are these people? We turned around slightly (anyone else retrace their steps on Boylston Street .2 miles from the finish?!) and there was my friend Stephanie. She is an outstanding MABVI volunteer and Delta Gamma alumnae, which provides a ton of support to MABVI/TWAV. She is so smart that she got people standing next to her to start chanting so I would hear them. What a perfect way to end a magical day. Thank you, Stephanie!

We crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon and Michelle and I hugged. As always, I insist that my guides, especially those who guide the entire way, get a medal.

What a day! 52.4 miles and except for a one low-point brought on by stomach issues, I had an absolute blast. I am not fast but years ago I said I could not imagine not racing a marathon especially one as prestigious as Boston. Now I cannot imagine doing it any other way. Whether you run the Boston Double or not, I truly recommend taking one Boston Marathon and put your pace/time goals aside. Take it in for everything that we say is so beautiful about Boston, especially the volunteer and crowd support.

That said, two months ago I set a small goal to run both legs, minus the downtime in between, in under 10 hours. I ran the first leg in about 4:23 and the official marathon in 5:05.

Thanks to Topo Athletic for keeping my feet comfy and blister free in my Ultrafly. I stayed hydrated with my Nathan HPL pack on the way out and Nathan belt on the way back in.

Thanks again to Jill and Lucy for supporting my running. I know I train a lot and talk about running even more so thanks for your patience😊

My guides and Boston Double teammates. Kevin, Michelle, Samantha-you all rock. Thanks for your support and helping make this happen.

Thanks to everyone who handed me food and gave me a hug.

Congrats to every runner who toed the start line and who crossed the finish line.

I run for many reasons one of which is because of the community and how happy it makes me. Marathon Monday brought me so much joy which I will never forget.

Keep pushing yourself and see you on the streets or in the woods.


 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Getting There: Cambridge Half Race Report

I don’t really “race” especially on the trails. I certainly set goals and have a plan for how I approach a race but I I’ve never considered myself actually racing a race. Based on my recent speed/track work and Houston Marathon (January) goal, I decided to race the Cambridge Half Marathon. In its first year, the Cambridge Half was kind enough to create a Visually Impaired Division and truly supported all runners.

About six weeks out my friend Thor strongly encouraged me to run the half as hard as I could. Between his advice and the support and racing knowledge of my guide Alina, I set the following goals:
A+       7:30 pace  1:38:19
A         sub 1:40
A-        7:45 pace   1:41: 35
B         sub 8 pace    1:44:39 or below
C         PR (current half PR is 8:17 pace at 2015 Run to Remember)

I’ve been running Yasso 800s so I was anxiously excited to put my race pace to test. I fully tapered for the run and also came down with a nasty sore throat and cold the week leading up to the race.

Start line selfie with Alina & Cory.


The runners who are Visually Impaired (VI) were invited to start at the front with the elites to help with the crowds. I was thankful for the opportunity and very cautious not to go out too hard. Alina was my main guide (giving verbal cues etc) and my guide Cory, who was officially registered, volunteered to run with us to help with the traffic and water stops.

Neither Alina nor I could get our watches to sync but thankfully Cory’s was working. My plan was to run at 7:40/7:45 pace for the first 3-5 miles then evaluate from there.

It was a fast start but I did an OK job of keeping things in check. We averaged approximately 7:27 (Alina’s watch gave mile splits but no other data) which was a tad hot and I was putting out a bit more effort than I wanted to. My legs also didn’t have their usually post-taper spring to them. Maybe I was still recovering from my late October 60-mile run? So we dialed it back a bit closer to 7:40.

Around the three-mile mark Thor bombed by us. Thor has been struggling with a serious health issue the last year or so and is just starting to turn the corner. I was stoked to see him hammering it out there and we agreed to meet for post-race beers.

Around mile four (ish) my buddy and homestay mate John Chan pulled up behind us. John is blazing fast with a recent 3:26 (give or take) marathon a month or so ago and he had also run the NYC Marathon the weekend before. My goal from the start was to hang with John for as long as I could. John didn’t start at the front so I wasn’t sure of his exact time.

We wound through a bike path section that made things pretty tight. Alina did a wonderful job guiding me around numerous obstacles and Cory provided a much needed buffer from other runners and help with the water stops.

While running by a small crowd I heard an onlooker say "Oh look, they are running connected with a string. HOW CUTE!". We all got a chuckle out of that.

Around mile six or seven we entered into Belmont then began to head back toward Cambridge and the finish. We ran by the Team with a Vision water stop, which was staffed by an amazing team of Boston University Delta Gamma members. They were super loud which provided a nice pick me up.

We were incredibly consistent in the middle with a few 7:33 miles and two 7:40s. John and his guide Tommy, who is one of my regular guides (and who just BQ’d at NYC with a mind-numbing 3:01 !!!) continued to run behind us. However, after a water stop I noticed (I have extreme tunnel vision with about a 3-5% field in each eye but corrected 20/40 vision which is why I can read bibs) a “GUIDE” bib about a hundred yards in front of us. I wondered out loud who that was. At some point John passed me and even though an old calf injury was bothering him he was looking strong.

Around mile nine or 10 we had a decent hill that wasn’t necessary steep but kind of dragged on. I leaned on my glutes and powered up at an even effort. I was stoked when we crested and knew the fun was about to begin.

The only time split I memorized was the 10-mile mark. I needed to be at 1:15 to hit my A+ goal and Cory said it was 1:16. Not terrible but not where I wanted to be. Cory was dealing with an injury issue so we knew prior to the race that it may become an issue. Shortly after mile 10 (maybe 11) Cory had to back off and Alina and I powered on.

I had already taken two Gus but was still running on fumes. I truly wanted to walk for a few hundred yards but I knew if I did I was done. I started to think about all of the pain and hard work I put into the speed work (I’d rather run 25 miles than do track work). I kept on looking at my watch (it turned on at some point so at least I could use the current pace function) to see my pace. Still holding steady.

I caught up to John for a few strides but I couldn’t hold it and he pulled away.

Alina took on the additional role of motivator and coach at the perfect time and kept me moving. At one point she said “it will hurt more if you go slower” which took my tired brain a few minutes to figure out. I pushed as much as I could but the final kick and burst of energy never came.

Alina and I around mile 11 or 12



We made the final turn and there was a LOOONG straight-away to the finish. I dug as deep as I could and pushed. A few runners passed me and I passed a few. Finally, I could see the clock and it was in the 1:38s.

We crossed the finish at 1:39:25 so I hit my “A” goal!!! Although I was toast, my final three miles were my fastest of the day (7:25, 7:23. 7:24, which also represents my fastest 5k ever). I didn’t have it in me to catch John so I placed second in the Visually Impaired Division. John pushed through the pain which is a tribute to what type of person and runner he is. Congrats, brother!

Final push! 
With less than a minute to spare to get under 1:40, I am so grateful for all of Cory’s and Alina’s support. Every second counted and they helped me run as an efficient and strong race as I could. I am so grateful to them.

Also, congrats to Jill for completing her third (maybe fourth?) half marathon of the year.

I am thrilled with my time and increased speed. Now onto the Houston Marathon.

Big thanks to Eddie O’Connor and his team for putting on an amazing race. For a first time event the logistics were on-point and I am so appreciative of the support they provided Team With a Vision.

See you on the streets (or in the woods).

Gear:
Topo Athletic Ultrafly
Garmin Forerunner

Post-Race Beers: there was an incredible after party with locals Notch Brewing, Bantam Cider, and Slumbrew. I am very proud to say that Jill, John, and I closed the party down so we had a “few” local beverages! :)