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).

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! :) 

Monday, November 7, 2016

What a Ride: Ghost Train 2016 Race Report

It is hard to imagine a race day playing out better than it did for Ghost Train. I signed up for Ghost Train (GT) in August with plans to run 45 miles (the trail is a 7.5 mile out and back so runners can choose any variation of 15 miles). However, during the Vermont 50 weekend I learned that the Vermont 100, which I plan to run in 2017, requires a 50 miler qualifier. After swapping a few emails with Amy Rusiecki, the VT 100 Race Director, I bumped my mileage up to 60. I didn’t give much thought to this until about a week later when it dawned on me that I was going to run 60 miles!

I had a strong VT 50k run and my legs felt decent the last few miles and the week following. So although only 32 (the course had a 1-mile bonus!) I was hoping to bank on a nearly flat and runnable GT trail to allow me to essentially double my mileage. Mind over matter, tight?
I got in a few road long runs after VT 50 and also cranked up my weekday mileage. This combined with 2-days a week of physical therapy for my ankle had me feeling pretty optimistic going into GT.
I lined up four amazing sighted guides, rested the week before, and set my three goals. A) sub 12-hour (picked rather arbitrarily but it sounded cool). B) under 15 hours for VT 100 qualifier C) get to 60

My only small concern leading into GT was my guides. I had run with two of my guides before but neither of them had guided on trails. And Amy Rusiecki stepped up big time to guide me but she had never guided before. Thankfully, all three are super strong runners and very quick learners.

Jeff Dusek and I arrived at Camp Tevya in Brookline, NH around 8:15AM for the 9:00AM start. Jeff and I have done a few shorter runs together and he has a ton of guiding experience through Achilles Internal Boston. Unfortunately, I kind of forgot to get a bagel and coffee on the way up so two bananas were my only pre-race food. We tucked my bag under a tent someone had kindly put up, hit the porta-potty (always a nice physical & mental relief), and were lined up with plenty of time.

Numerous trail runners told me that GT is incredibly runnable. It is mostly an old rail trail, with a roughly ¼ to 1/3 mile of single track that was technical and also represented the only true climb. There was also a section of old rail ties sticking out to keep you honest.

My goal was to run all four “loops” in just under three hours. We lined up closer to the back than front to help keep me in check. Unfortunately, this resulted in a very crowded trail for the first mile or so. Jeff and I ran tethered side-by-side and he did a great job navigating the terrain and a ton of people in front of us. About ¾ mile in we found a few seems, passed a couple of runners, and shortly things opened up a bit. I was planning to keep the pace around 9:30 to 10 min miles. The first two miles were closer to 11 due to the crowd but that was OK.

The first few miles were flat and except for a few small driveway and road crossings very runnable. I was starting to get excited about being able to keep up a good pace. We blew by the mid-point aid station and came into what I think is the most beautiful section of the trail. The forest was perfect-big trees, pine needle covered footing, with just a few roots and rocks. So quiet out there.

Of course the first runner who knew me actual knew my daughter Lucy! We shared a few miles with Paula, who volunteered at the TARC Blue Hills 12k and Lucy hung out with her at the registration table. Paula looked strong the entire day.

The first loop was a chance to check out the terrain so we were keeping the pace manageable. We came across a hanging skeleton which pointed us sharp right and we began to hit the first and only real climb. This was nothing compared to VT 50 and the terrain was not too technical. We power hiked up, ran a small flat section at the top, then slowly walked a pretty technical section coming down. Overall I think this was 1/3 to ½ a mile. We began to run again and I knew were pretty close to the turnaround.

We shared a few miles with Davina who was also running the 60 miles plus two more to get a 100k. I really enjoyed chatting with her and it was nice to say hello to her throughout the day.

We hit a few road crossings here including one that had steps going down and back up and one that was a pretty steep down. Very short but something to be mindful of as the day continues on.
We then came upon the infamous “culvert” which we ran through (it passed under a road). There were a few big steps into and out of the culvert then you could run the 100 feet or so. There was always a nice echo so I got to practice my famous beat-boxing skills!
Somewhere around mile 13 the 100-mile leaders passed us on their return trip. Man, they were blazing fast!

A few short sections of trails and we came across a very narrow (maybe two feet wide) asphalt dam/path that had water on both sides. All I could think about was falling into this at some point. I stumbled onto the path, walked behind Jeff while holding onto his shoulder, and we were across!
The Culvert
The Narrow Bridge

This led into the turn-around station so it was nice to see a bunch of folks. I needed to catch up on fuel so I grabbed a few cheese sandwich squares while Jeff re-filled his hand held. I had a 2-liter Nathan pack filled with Tailwind so I was set on hydration. Overall this was a quick stop and we headed back on the loop.

We continued to make good time on the way back and had a better sense of which spots to push it on. We stopped at the mid aid station looking for coffee but no luck so we kept on running. A mile or two after that I started to get really tired and I could feel a low point setting in. The fact that I was about 11-12 miles in was alarming. We slowed the pace a bit for the pesky rail ties and Jeff did a great job calling them out.
Jeff & I (back to photo) on the first loop.

However, this section seemed to drag on forever and I kept wondering when we would get back to the start. We passed a random orange cone so I knew we were getting closer. Finally, we came upon the lake, hit the pavement, and ran into the start area. We ran through the timing tent, called out our number, and were instructed to continue on for a couple of hundred yards, run under a small covered bridge, do a 180 around another orange cone, and ran back to the start/tent where my stuff was.
We finished the first loop in 2:37 so we were right on pace. Jeff filled my pack while I greeted and updated my next guide Kim McCraken. I left out the part about me feeling so shitty.

Kim and I took off for our second loop and eased into light conversation. I met Kim through the Coastal Athletic Association in which Kim guided me for the Ragnar Reach the Beach run. We logged 34+ road miles together so I felt pretty comfortable running with Kim. We ran the first two miles much quicker than the first loop so this combined with the chatter was a nice distraction. I was planning to skip the mid aid station but I needed caffeine so we stopped for a quick cup of joe. The aid station volunteers rocked all day/night long.

We walked a few hundred feet while I drank the coffee and within a few minutes I was feeling better. I was trying to take in a Clif bar or gu every 45-60 minutes to compliment the Tailwind.
We hit the small climb, cruised along the flat section, had fun in the culvert, then arrived at the turnaround. I grabbed a handful of food, a cup of steaming hot broth, which I ingested while we walked cautiously back over the concrete dam.

Other than it starting to rain, the return trip was uneventful and very disciplined. We fell into a nice rhythm and held a steady pace the entire way.

A few miles out Amy R. was there ready for her “sighted guide training!” I was now running behind Kim so Amy ran alongside Kim to get a sense of what she was calling out and when.
Kim, Amy, Lucy and I coming in after loop 2. 30 miles down. 

As we came into Camp Tevya my wife Jill and Lucy were there cheering us on. Lucy jogged with us for a hundred or so feet while I gave her and Kim instructions on what gear to pull out. As Amy and I passed the timing tent I saw Randy and Tracy Pierce on the side cheering us on. What a wonderful surprise and pick me up. We circled back around to my drop bag and I was a wee bit manic. I needed dry socks and shirts as well as a complete fuel overhaul. For the only time during the race, I sat down to change while simultaneously getting updates from Lucy about her morning soccer game and chatting with Randy and Tracy.

We completed two laps in 5 hours and 32 minutes so we were right on pace. Which was good because this pit stop was going to eat up a few minutes.

I filled my pockets with Gus and bars, a baked potato, and PB and banana wrap. I was still a little cold from the rain so we grabbed a cup of broth on the way out. The aid station worker was kind enough to cut up my potato so I could soak it in the broth. Seriously, these folks rock!

Amy and I took off running side-by-side on the pavement and wide dirt path. I had swapped a number of emails with Amy regarding the VT 100 and met her at the VT 50 start line but we really didn’t know each other all that well. We had 15 miles to change that. We settled in to a solid pace and I immediately felt comfortable with Amy’s guiding. She was spot on with the step up calls and left/rights. I was at the mile 32-33 mark so I was trying to conserve as much energy as possible so my feet were getting a little extra lazy than normal.

We came upon a long straight-away with a small bridge and volunteers were out lining the trail with jack-o-lanterns.

We entered the rail tie section which I had begun to dread. Amy stepped up her calls and notified me of upcoming ties. However, my legs were still dragging so the next thing I knew I was face down in the dirt with a runner coming the other way asking if I was OK. I hoped up, brushed off my hands, and kept going. The thing with guiding is that the sighted guide is only responsible for letting me know what is coming up, which Amy did. It is my job to respond and actually pick my feet up. So this fall was on me.

We plugged along chatting about other races and Amy’s work. Amy is a ridiculously accomplished runner and coach so it was great to pick her brain about running.

After the mid aid station, we both agreed that the second half was so much more enjoyable than the first half. There are so many landmarks/smaller sections (the climb/technical area, culvert, smooth fast section) that makes that section click by.

The rain was still coming down a bit so the climb was a bit muddier and therefore trickier than before. We passed this section and were on our way to the turnaround.
At some point we shared a few miles with Matt who like Amy was from Western Mass. Matt was gunning for the 100 and looking strong. So strong that I busted out my regular “hey, so you want to give me a piggy back” joke.

At the turn-around I looked at my knee and was surprised that my knee and leg were covered in blood. It looked like just a few scrapes so nothing to worry about.

We were cruising on the return trip and right on pace for another solid and consistent loop. The trail picked up some more mud in a few sections but not enough to slow us down.

My watch battery ran out during loop two so Amy was incredibly patient with my numerous pace/time requests. I grabbed more coffee at the mid aid station and kept moving forward. By this time, I was starting to feel incredibly surprised on just how strong I felt. I was working hard to keep on pace but not to the point where I was breathing heavy and using a lot of extra energy. I kept reminding myself that there was plenty of miles to go.

I took another spill on the rail ties (again, my fault and not Amy’s) and landed in a nice mud puddle. A little mud in your mouth will not hurt youJ

Around this point Amy started to coach/encourage me in addition to guiding which was perfect timing. I trusted her pace and just vowed to stay behind her. A few miles out, as the sun was setting, I yet again asked her what the pace was. She laughed and said “Do you really want to know?” Well, now I do. We were at 9:15 minute pace for that mile. I felt good so we kept at it.

We arrived back at the start at 5:34pm which was right where I needed to be. When you factor in three start aid stations/gear swaps each loop was exactly 3 hours. I had a small cushion form my first loop so for the first time I thought I could finish under 12 hours. Jill did a great job making sure I grabbed my stuff as quickly as possible and got back out there.

Michelle Becker, my fourth and final guide, and I started the fourth loop at 5:50pm. We had 3 hours 10 minutes to run 15 miles. Totally doable.

I had my headlamp on and Michelle was decked out in her reflective gear. I slid behind her and we took off. I felt fine energy wise but could kind of feel that the first few miles were a bit slower than previous. I think I was getting complacent and not pushing. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t trip over the rail ties or other roots. 

All of the jack-0-lanters were lit up which made for a majestic sight. The rail trail scenery is a beautiful mix of water, deep forest, and pine needle trails.
Photo Credit to another runner. 

Shortly before the climb Michelle called out that is was “smooth sailing” for as far as she could see (not very far seeing she had a headlamp on) so we pushed the pace. I caught a second (third?) wind and we really pushed that section to help bank time for the climb. I was tired and slower than normal going up but I kept moving forward. We passed a number of runners going the opposite way and the 100s were looking strong.

I made a commitment to not ask Michelle about the pace and just go off of feel for the final loop. I am not that good on this so I think I may have run a bit slower than previous loops. I was also 50+ miles in so there is that.

We came upon a few volunteers near the culvert who had a radio playing dance music. I broke out a very slow “running man” for a little dance party action. I may have done a few loud woo-hoos running through the culvert, too.

I needed something warm and ginger ale at the turn-around but wanted it to be quick. An aid station volunteer said it was exactly 7:30 which confirmed the slower pace. I was too tired to do the math but knew I had 90 minutes to run 7.5 miles. I can do that.
We walked over the narrow dam bridge for the last time (unless I go for another loop…) and we saw Matt again. He was looking strong and in good spirits. He wanted to run with us so the three of us took off together.

I was in full blown manic mode and told Michelle to go as fast as she thought was safe. I did not want to barely miss my 12-hour goal and felt like I could hang on for 7 miles. We cruised to the hill, slogged up that shitty section. I was moving slow and a runner came up behind us and joked that he too was benefiting from Michelle’s guide calls. It turns out that he ran the VT 50 miler and passed me right before the finish (yup, he finished before I did my 50k). He looked good and I’m sure he got his hundo.

We hit the sweet, smooth section and went for it. We were passing runners (most of whom were running the 100 so huge props to them) and I was doing all I could do to keep my headlamp on Michelle’s back guide bib. My narrow field of vision allows me to see a very small tunnel but in the dark I have no sight at all. I was so nervous that I wasn’t moving over enough when passing runners and I was going to run into and hurt another runner. It was kind of like the Days of Thunder scene when Tom Cruise has to just drive on through the crash scene in hopes of not hitting another car. Thankfully, I have complete trust in Michelle and we crushed it.

I needed a small sip of ginger ale so we flew into the mid aid station, quickly filled a cup, and I slow jogged while drinking it. Then we were back at it.

My legs were still feeling strong but I knew the rail tie section was coming. I asked Michelle to slow down a bit but go faster than the out trip. I whispered my first “Let’s Go Robidoux” and high stepped it like I was in high school football high-step rope. We made it through, were mesmerized by the long stretch of jack-o-lanterns, and the countdown truly began. The miles clicked by as I continued to ask Michelle if we passed the orange cone. Finally, we passed it and now every 15 feet or so I asked her where the camp cottages were.

We were laying it down now (my last mile was 8:46 which is the fastest mile of loops 1,2, & 4-I don’t have loop 3 data-and likely my fastest all day.
We hit the pavement, heard people starting to cheer, blew past the timing tent, did the small little loop, and back to the timing tent to say I was 60 and done! I couldn’t hear the time so Michelle went over to ask a second time.
Michelle & I. 60 miles & done!!!

11 hours and 53 minutes!!! We did it with very little time to spare.
There are so many things I am proud of from this race:
·         My guides were incredible. They drove all the way there, guided and at times paced me, helped me get in and out of aid stations quickly.
·         I ran incredibly consistent loops. When you factor in the start aid stations, every loop was within a 10-12 range.
·         I was not exhausted which I think is a testament to my pace, fueling, and training.

I was surprised to learn a few days afterward that I placed fifth overall on the fourth male for the 6-0-mile race!

As always, TARC put on a first class race. Thanks to Steve Latour, the RD, for your support from day one and all of the pre, during, and past race volunteers. Simply amazing people. Biug thanks to Jill and Lucy for schlepping to yet another race (partially in the rain) and cheering me as well as helping with aid stations etc.

Bring on the Vermont 100! So ready to dive into the training (hills, hills, hills) in preparation for my first hundred.

See you on the streets or in the woods!

·         Topo Athletic Runventures trail shoes for all 60 miles!
·         NATHAN Pack
·         Clif energy gu & Tailwind

Post-race beer: Bissell Brothers Reciprocal

Monday, October 3, 2016

Vermont 50 race report: Fun in the Woods

I love trail running. I completely adore being outdoors, running through the woods, the sounds of nature, cooler temps, and opportunity to meet other runners. I also get very frustrated with trail running because unlike road running, my lack of sight directly impacts my ability to run some terrain. So I decided to run the Vermont 50 shortly after I ran the TARC 100k last October. I was looking for a somewhat runnable course and numerous trail runners recommended VT 50, including one of my eventual sighted guides.

In July I rolled my ankle pretty good while trail running on the Oregon coast and ended up spraining two ligaments in my left ankle. I took three weeks off from running, focused on PT and strengthening my ankles, and downgraded to the 50k. I knew the VT 50 was hilly with about 5,600 feet of elevation so I focused a ton of training on steep hills and multiple hill repeats. Thankfully, I have some super supportive guides who not only helped with transportation out to Blue Hills but also trudged up numerous hill repeats with me.

The weekend before VT 50 I participated in Ragnar Reach theBeach with an ultra-team and logged approximately 34 miles. I ran a bit harder than I had planned but had so much fun running with my teammates. So much for a taper. I ran four miles the week leading up to VT 50 in an attempt to give my body a chance to bounce back and to rest my ankle.

After a long Friday night at my house hosting six of my daughter’s friends for a slumber party (they woke up at 4:30AM!), we arrived in Vermont late afternoon Saturday. My guide Steve was kind enough to host us and a number of other runners and bikers. His house is about ¼ mile from the start/finish. We hit packet pick up, got to meet Mike Silverman the amazing race director and chat with some folks from Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports. Proceeds from VT 50 benefit Vermont Adaptive, where I skied with sighted guides for the first time, so I was super stoked to see and support them. We had a nice potluck dinner at Steve’s house, met a ton of new friends, and called it a night around 9:00PM. Jill and I slept in a tent while Lucy scored a bunk bed inside.

My alarm went off at 6:03AM (wasn’t really sleeping) and I casually got dressed and ate my pre-race meal (two bananas with Vermont Peanut Butter and a bar) . We lined up a few minutes before 8:00AM and it was so nice to see/meet a number of Trail Animal Running club (TARC) runners. I also got to meet Amy Rusiecki, who is the Vermont 100 RD and an incredibly accomplished runner (congrats on your 2nd place finish!).

Dane Leblanc, Kyle, & Steve Collopy. Nothing but smiles pre-race! 

Steve was my lead guide with Dane running behind us. The first 1.5 miles were on paved road so it was nice to stretch out and warm up a bit. I cannot predict race pace on trails but my goals were 1) to finish under 9 hours 2) not come in last (much respect for all finishers) 3) and try not to further damage my ankle. My plan was to run the dirt roads hard, power-hike the climbs, hold a 11-12 min pace on the runnable trail sections, and keep as strong a walking pace as possible on the technical sections including single track.

Close to 1.5 miles in we hit the first big climb and joined all the other runners in power hiking up it. The temps were in the low 40s so it was a nice way to warm up and get the blood flowing. We transitioned onto a wide ATV/snowmobile trail and began to run the subtle incline and downhill. Steve was like clockwork on the guiding and having Dane behind letting me know when I got through the technical stuff was very helpful.

I was running with my NATHAN Sports 2L pack so we blew through the first aid station just under the 4-mile mark. My legs were fresh and my ankle felt stable and dare I say strong (thank you Scanlon PT). We switched between a few trails and dirt roads for the next couple of miles with some elevation mixed in to keep us honest.

At around mile six or seven a huge pack of runners passed me on the first technical section. Having to stand on the side of the trail while they passed really pissed me off and at times I let the “damn my eyesight” negative thoughts creep into my head. Thankfully, we popped back onto a dirt road and I could see the group a few hundred yards in front of me. My ego and emotions got the best of me and I really wanted to catch them as well as bank some much needed time. Dane and I took off and hammered a low 8:00 min pace and we caught up to and passed the group. I’m not going to lie-that felt good. I also know that some folks may have questioned my “going out too fast” pace but I knew that sooner or later I would have some walking breaks due to the technical terrain. We rolled into the Margaretville aid station at mile 11 (same crew that works the VT 100 station) feeling good and right on pace. Dane re-filled his bottles as I slowly walked down the 50-mile road and not the 50k (oops-thank you volunteer for turning me back around!).

Steve, Dane and I left M’Ville and headed up a dirt trail that cut through a farm. I should note that many of the trails are open just for the race as they cut through privately owned land. Big thanks to all the landowners for providing access to your gorgeous trails/front/back yards.
Only 2.5 miles to the next aid station where Jill and Lucy were with fuel and smiles which kept me moving.

We now shared the trails with the mtb so my guide out back was responsible for alerting us of any oncoming biker and letting us and the biker know which way to pass. This was somewhat easy on the wider trails but tough on the single track. Steve, who has participated in all the race disciplines incl running and biking, was acutely aware of how to manage these situations and set a great tone for the rest of the race.

Around mile 12 we (not really me!) noticed that we were off course. We followed a biker and/or runner or two and a few more followed behind us. As my guides and others were trying to figure things out I kindly helped out by saying “What, are all of you blind!” Apparently a few of the other riders/runners looked at me, saw my Team With a Vision “BLIND” bib, and didn’t really know how to respondJ We back-tracked only a cpl hundred yards, found the nice arrow pointing us in the right direction, and carried on. Up a very steep climb!

Dane, Kyle, and Steve coming into Greenall's. 

We came screaming downhill on this sweet grassy field section into Greenall’s aid station. I was on cloud nine because of my pace and so excited to see Jill cheering us on, Lucy standing there with my drop bag, and a ton of spectators, including Tommy from VT Adaptive, cheering everyone on. Jill and Lucy, my crew and asst crew chief respectively, filled my pack while I hit the porta-potty. I grabbed more Clif bars, Gus and chomps, a baked potato w/ salt (I was taking a Salt Stick every hour), swapped out my guide Ray for Steve, gave Lucy a big hug, and headed out.

We came into Greenall’s at about 10:30AM which I was thrilled about. This is just over an 11 min mile (total race was just over 16!). I ran the last three miles of the course two weeks ago with Steve so I knew they were technical and slow. But I was feeling it and knew that 9 hours was doable.

Man, was I in for an awakening which is the case with most trail runs. I set my expectations very low for this race not knowing all of the terrain but the first 13.4 miles had me feeling optimistic. We came across some very technical sections almost immediately into the woods and I quickly switched into walking/power-hiking mode. Mile 16 was my first 20 minute mile. I kept hoping for things to open up a bit with either dbl track or dirt roads but it was mainly technical single track. My pace moved into the low 20s as Dane, who was now leading, and Ray did a marvelous job guiding me. My lead guides essentially call out every single step especially on the technical stuff (big root up, turn left, rock on your left, turn right, root and step down 6 inches, on and on). When you add in the tight mtb trails and constant switchbacks these technical sections are so tough, esp mentally. The guides are so focused and constantly talking and communicating which is simply amazing. I often feel that guiding on trails is as tough as me running them.

Overall, I stayed positive but my mood and energy level took a small dip. I knew that there were some very runnable sections right before Johnson’s aid station around mile 27 and every step forward got me closer to these sections. I rolled my ankle somewhere in this section for the first time but after a few steps (and angry curse words) it felt pretty good and surprisingly strong. Yes!!!
I knew that the last four trails were going to be tough so I told Dane and Ray that I really wanted to push the pace on any and all runnable sections. Ray took this to heart and kept a great pace on some gravelly-type downhills and smoother dirt sections. Ray is a former Vermont 50 AG placer so I was in good hands throughout these sections.

We also shared a mile or two with some badass 50k and 50 milers. I chatted with two people (I think they are a couple) from Salem, MA who I highly encouraged to check out the new Notch Brewing brewery in their n’hood (I joked that I had session beer in my pack!). It was also nice to meet Liv Gauthier during this section-congrats on your finish!!!

We cruised through another aid station and Dane was eager to run in this next section. The scenery was breathtaking as it was new growth trees mixed in with pine-needle laden trails. I get so excited and have a ton of fun on the trails that I can actually run on. I took a small fall somewhere around here while running, popped up laughing, and kept going. I was so happy that I fell while actually running and not just walking. Everyone falls on the trails so I was excited to share this badge of honor with everyone else (and it is no fault of my guides when I fall). Like I tell my daughter when skiing-if you don’t fall then you are not pushing hard enough.
We ran through some rolling farmland and meadows and came onto what I knew was the last dirt road before Johnson’s. I was ready to go and with Dane and Ray both guiding we hit it hard and held a strong pace for a mile or two.

We popped onto Rt 44 for a couple of hundred yards, passed the aid station parking lot and a big crowd of spectators (thank you for being out there) and power-hiked up the long, steep dirt driveway to the aid station. Jill and Lucy were there ready to get me fueled up and on my way. It was exactly 3:00PM and Dane was confident we had sub-9 hours in the bag.

Walking up the steep driveway into Johnson's aid station. 

We headed out of Johnson’s with Dane leading and Ray behind. Due to the re-routed course, Johnson’s was 4 miles and not the usual 2-3 from the finish. We started out in a beautiful meadow running slightly uphill on matted grass. Dane, who rips off 100-mile races every month or so, was in full pacer mode in addition to guiding. His subtle “ready to run” kept me moving. We ducked into the woods and I was mentally prepared to walk and somewhat physically ready, too. But Dane and Ray kept me moving at a slow run (w/ some shuffling mixed in)) whenever possible.

Dane, Kyle & Ray about 3 miles out!

We began to climb up a rocky trail head when I hear “Let’s go Robidoux, get running!” To my pleasant surprise my guide Steve had rode his bike up to cheer us and other participants on. That was a nice pick me up. After endless mtn switchbacks (I completely Gronk blocked a nice tree in this section-guiding in such tight trails is not fool-proof esp when I was getting tired and lazily cut a few corners). I could also hear the finish line music for the first time but knew we still had some work to do.

Finally, Ray called out the 2-miles to go sign so we were almost there. More runners and bikers were passing us so I was getting anxious about my goal of not coming in DFL (dead fucking last). We hit this small rolling hilly section in which we passed a few mtb on the uphill only to have them pass us on the downhill, crossed the first Mt. Ascutney ski trail, back into the woods, then the 1-mile to go sign magically appeared.

Only one more wooded section (of course over a big rock surface) then a few downhill switchbacks on another ski trail and super off-camber trail. Dane, who ran the entire race with me as an official registrant, was determined to get us there as quickly as possible.

We plowed toward the finish on grass and a bit of gravel. There were a number of quick down then ups on the grass entering into the finishing chute and it was super loud. I couldn’t hear Dane’s guiding calls so I was holding on hoping not to tumble in front of everyone. I saw Jill and I think I heard the Salem folks yell “Salem is cheering for you.” Lucy joined me a hundred yards out so it was special to cross another finish line with her.

Finishing the Vermont 50!

WE DID IT! Finished in 8 hours 20 minutes and felt pretty good. My nutrition was on point and all of those hill repeats, esp the downhills, left my quads feeling pretty good (not the case post-race but it is a good sore). Steve, Dane, and Ray rocked it as guides. Their generous support allowed me to participate in this race and achieve my goals. Thank you.

Sincere thanks to RD Mike Silverman. I emailed him months prior to signing up letting him know I wanted to run with guides and he was so supportive throughout the entire process. RD’s that create such a supportive and inclusive race are special people.

I loved running in my Topo Athletic Runventures. They held up on the technical sections and climbs and are light enough to hammer the flats and downhills. And thanks to the wide toebox I still have all of my toenails!

Aid Station and Race Volunteers: amazing group of people! The course was well marked and every volunteer had a smile and was willing to help out.

Vermont Adaptive crew: thanks for ALL of your pre, during, and post-race support. I loved seeing everyone this weekend and am so happy that you are part of the VT 50 family. I can’t wait to ski with you all this winter!

Jill & Lucy: thanks for supporting all of my running-training runs, incessant talk about goals etc., driving me to VT to practice, driving back up for race day (on Lucy’s birthday), and for being the best cheerleaders ever. I love sharing this experience with you two.

We did it! The best crew & team of sighted guides a runner can ask for.

I achieved all three of my goals. Additionally, this was the first trail race that I truly felt that I “ran.” Sure, everyone has to walk during an ultra but there was enough runnable terrain (and not just on the dirt roads) that I felt engaged and happy the entire time. I cannot wait for my next race!

See you in the woods.


Post Race Beer: Lagunitas Stoopid from Dane and Switchback (appropriately named!) Marzen. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Loon Mountain Race Report-Tons of fun running uphill

I cannot remember who told me or posted about the Loon Mountain Race but boy, do I have some choice words for them!

The Loon Mountain Race is the USATF Mountain Running Championships held at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH. So the field is stacked (many runners from out west), the hills are steep, and the entire community is super rad.

This past winter I participated in a International Paralympic Committee ski race at Loon so I was stoked to be back for an "off-season" race. Albeit running uphill this time. 

First, my hat is off to the entire Acidotic Racing crew. In addition to putting on a fabulous race, they supported me from day one. I always send race directors an introductory email before signing up letting them know I will be running with a guide etc. Chris Dunn, one of the RDs, replied immediately and essentially said “we would love to have you, let us know what we can do to support you.” This good vibe carried over to race day.

This was my first official mountain run and the course climbs 3,200’ feet (essentially to the top of a Loon peak) in 10k. I put in a fair amount of hill training including some Blue Hills repeats and a lot of road hills. That said, I had no idea what my pace would be heading into race day. That was kind of refreshing and added to the overall excitement.

My three race day goals: 1) Do not get lapped by the women who started an hour behind the men 2) Finish before my ½ marathon PR 3) Do not cry on Upper Walking Boss. I achieved two out of three.

I met my guide Pete Houde around 7:30AM and we did a quick 1-mile warm-up on the course to sync our guiding goals and loosen up our legs. Pete is an experienced guide (thank you Randy Pierce for loaning him out!) so I felt very comfortable with him.

We lined up toward the back of the pack and started right at 8:00AM. There was an immediate almost u-turn at the beginning so it was cool to see the elite men charging up the hill. We started on a dirt cat track with about 200’ climb. I was thrilled to see my Topo Athletic teammate Laura Kline (who had a stellar race) out there cheering runners on and snapping photos. Pete and I ran about halfway up the hill then power walked the rest.

Photo Credit: Laura Kline

The first two miles or so were a mix of dirt paths that were a bit washed out. Pete settled into guiding and we were feeling good. This ended pretty quickly when the path took us into the woods on more of a cross-country trail with single track mixed in. Also, due to the heavy rain two nights before, the trail had some huge puddles. Pete tried to guide me around the puddles (I teased him that he didn’t want to get his new shoes all dirty!) which became too challenging so I just decided to walk/run through them. That was fun! My Topo Runventures were up for the muddy challenge and pretty much drained and dried out within a mile or so.

Due to the mud and terrain (a fair amount of roots) we did more walking on this section than I anticipated. Therefore, a number of runners passed us and I ended up in my usual trail race position-dead last.

We hit the aid station (thanks volunteers) around 3.5 miles and settled into a pretty good climb on a dirt path. We began to run on a nice, somewhat even in terms of terrain path and my legs and body were feeling strong. The views of the White Mountain were breathtaking.

The remaining miles were pretty much uphill. 

I was passing a few runners on the hills then being passed on the more technical terrain which was fine. I was also conserving energy, especially on the uphills, knowing that Upper Walking Boss was looming around the corner.

The second to last climb for me was tougher than Upper Walking Boss, especially psychologically. It was about a .9 mile incline that climbed roughly 740’ and at every corner and false summit kept going up. My back (thank you weak core) was killing me and my quads were not thrilled.

Thankfully, about 200 feet from the top I saw Jill and Lucy walking down to greet us. I may have actual run for a few steps. Pete was really encouraging me to run this section and in addition to being my guide was super encouraging. We shared this section with Pete’s Coastal Running group mate which made for good conversation.

Lucy ran ahead to refill my water bottle at the aid station and I gave Jill a very boring recap (about as boring as this one).

Cresting the 2nd to last hill. Photo Credit: Laura O'Brien
We finally peaked and ran by the Gondola and cheering crowds. It was nice to see my friend Laura O’Brien and her Dad out cheering and taking pictures. We tore (meaning I was actually running) down a long grassy decent and turned the corner onto Upper Walking Boss (UWB).

Photo Credit: Laura O'Brien

Zombie ants! That was my first reaction to looking up UWB. There was a long line of runners slowly marching uphill. UWB is a kilometer long at roughly 45% grade (the standard treadmill maxes out at 12%). We crossed the timing mat and began “power” walking. My goal was to keep moving forward which for the most part I did. There were a number of trenches carved into the Black Diamond ski trail to help with drainage. Pete did a great job calling these out-“sloping down and now quickly back up!” At a few of the steeper sections the “back up” actual rocked me backwards and the poor runner behind me must have thought I was coming for him. We passed about five runners while walking up and proudly did not get passed by anyone.

Pete was kind enough to call out the 400 meters sign and we told each other-one lap around the track. Uphill at 45% though! I thought we were almost done when we passed the 250-meter sign. Buzzkill.
All of a sudden we heard people cheering and screaming for us and encouraging us to run. I thought we still had a little bit to go so I kept on power-hiking. Then we crested the hill, Pete started yelling that there were these huge rocks and we crossed the finish line!

My finish time was 1:50:04 and UWB split was 15:01 (to put in perspective, the top male, who also had the fastest UWB time, crushed it in approx. 7:20).

Overall, this was a super fun race. I did not come in last and I reached two out of my three goals-my finish time was about 4 minutes slower than my ½ marathon.

By the time we walked back down to UWB the elite women were just starting up UWBJ
Pete did a fabulous job guiding me while being tethered as well as single file running up and down the hills. His positive attitude made all the difference. The Coastal Running Club post-race tail-gating was the best way to cap the morning.

Thanks again to the race crew, all of the volunteers, folks who came out to cheer, and Jill, Lucy and Laura for your support.

Definitely going to do this race again and I encourage anyone else who enjoys well run races, challenging trails, and a fantastic time to check it out. 

Happy Running!

Topo Athletic teammate & superstar Laura Kline.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Train Hard, Race Smart: My Boston Marathon 2016 Race Report

The Boston Marathon is more than a race. It is an event that combines the world’s most prestigious marathon that convenes such a strong running community. This was my third year running Boston and although each one was special this year was simply magnificent.

I decided to run Boston in November while knowing that I also planned to have a very busy ski racing season. So first, thanks to my wife and daughter for supporting both endeavors which certainly created a busy schedule. Due to my skiing, I was able to train four days a week with a few five days mixed in. I decided to run a long run every weekend day I wasn’t skiing so I ended up doing four or five 20+ miles run. For the first time ever I also did weekly track/speed and hill workouts. So I felt fit going into race day.

However, I pushed myself in my final long run during the Eastern States 20 miler (21 miles b/c we got a wee bit lost) which left me with a very sore left hamstring leading up to Boston. Thankfully, I stopped by Acumobility’s booth during the expo and the amazing Brad Cox and their mobility ball helped me pinpoint the knot and work it out a bit. I also had a minor earache and sore throat two days before the race but I knew I could push through those.

It was also a special experience because this was my first Boston running as a TopoAthletic Ambassador. To make it even sweeter my guide was fellow Ambassador Francis David, who lives in California. Topo was kind enough to document our partnership through these three short videos. Francis and I met on Saturday, did a short shakeout/guide training run, and we declared ourselves good to go.

This was also my third consecutive year running with Team With a Vision, which is my work’s marathon team. TWAV brings together a huge cadre of runners and plans out a full weekend of events. Getting to catch up to my running peers and their families as well as meet new athletes is such a joy.

I got on the TWAV shuttle bus at 6:00AM at Park Plaza and we arrived at the swanky offices (indoor plumbing, coffee, oatmeal and ton of food, TVs) of the Hopkinton Vision Center around 7:30AM. So we had some time to relax and prep for our 10:50AM start.

I set a goal to PR this year at Boston. I did the same last year and I tied my time of 3:50:18. I was determined to finish under 3:49:59. This goal became more of a reality when my friend Michele Liguori, who had a similar start time and same finish goal time, offered to run with me. Michele is one of the smartest runners I know so this was going to be a huge help. Michele mentioned as we were applying sunscreen just before we walked to the start line that she wanted to negative split (run a faster second half than the first) which is tough to do for Boston because of the Newton Hills. I wasn’t confident I could pull this off but more than willing to try.

Francis, Michele & Kyle at start line.

Francis, Michele and I made our way to the start and took off a few minutes before 11AM. I can become obsessed with my mile splits so the only two time goals were a 1:54 half and I wanted to complete 24 miles under 3:30 as to leave me some time to get through my Boston nemesis aka Mile 25. Michele reminded me to keep the pace at a steady 8:44.

The first few miles of Boston can be a nightmare due to the crowds but Francis did a great job keeping us on pace and not stressing me out by feeling like we needed to pass everyone. Around mile 2 we passed a very rowdy bar on the left and I let Francis know, who had never run Boston, that people are loud and wild most of the course.
We kept a steady pace and I felt my legs begin to waken up and stretch out a bit. I could feel my hamstring but nothing I could do about it then. 

We hovered right around our goal and hit the 10k mark at 54:35 for an 8:47 pace. I felt good about this.
Around mile 8 we hit downtown Framingham and we passed Francis’ family and the Topo Athletic crew. This was the perfect pick me up I needed heading into the stretch before the halfway mark.

Due to the warm temps I decided to hit every water stop and take a salt stick every hour. I knew that this would cost me a few seconds but it is always easier to make up a few seconds while staying hydrated. Francis did a wonderful job guiding me through the water stops making sure I got my water then taking care of himself.
A few times my Garmin had us running at an 8:20 pace and I was excited how strong my legs felt at this quicker pace. Around the 10-mile mark, somewhere in Natick, I was still feeling good and if not for Michele’s insistence on keeping a steady pace I would have likely pushed for lower mile splits. Still a lot of race to run and the sun was pretty strong.

Around mile 12 I started to hear a faint roar. With a smile I asked Francis what he thought that was. “A train?” Oh, just wait my friend. Soon enough we were at the Wellesley Scream Tunnel and taken over by raw emotions. The screaming, energy, and sense of history of this section is Boston at its best. It is also nice to know that we are almost at the halfway point.

We picked up the pace a bit and completed 13.1 miles in 1:54:26. Right where we wanted to be with a total pace of 8:43! Now we begin to count down.
We hit the long downhill stretch in Wellesley (maybe Newton Hills?) and the gradual decline can put a beating on your quads. We rode the “free speed” train while keeping things in check.

At about this point I realized that I missed two small, yet very important spots, with my body glide. C’mon really!!! I let Francis know to keep his eyes out for some Vaseline (a guide’s job is all encompassing!) and luckily we came upon a stash (thank you volunteers!). I reapplied around mile 15 and continued moving forward. This was my first my with a 9 minute pace (9:03) but considering the trade-off I’ll take it. Note that Gatorade stings WAY more than water when it splashes on those tiny sensitive spotsJ

The heat was starting to take a toll on me so I began dumping water on my Topo Athletic hat every chance I got. I still felt some spring in my step which was what I needed for the next stretch.

We began to climb over the 95 bridge which is the first of the four major Newton hills. Shortly thereafter, we turned onto Comm Ave. and were greeted by the throngs of supporters. I told Francis earlier that this is where the fun and magic happens so he was prepared. We began to climb and I felt OK. Francis and Michele kept repeating to stay focused, calm, level breathing. I dialed it in, leaned back on my glutes, and went for it. We were not fast but I was surprised by how many people we were passing. I was also concerned that I was exerting too much energy getting around people so at one point I asked Francis to stay put. Definitely a challenge trying to stay smart and not get overly anxious. I tried to peek at my pace but couldn’t see it. Probably a good thing.

We banged out the first couple of hills and I was confused if we had already done Heartbreak. If you have to ask then you haven’t done Heartbreak, yet. We rode the downhills waiting for Heartbreak.

We completed 30k (approx. 18.6 miles) in 2:43 for an 8:46 pace. So we slowed down a bit because of the first couple of hills but I was OK with that.

We climbed Heartbreak at the same steady pace. I thought about all of the painful hill repeats and numerous times I ran up and over Mission Hill, Summit Ave, and the Arboretum hills. This moment is what I suffered all those times for and I was tapping into this RIGHT NOW! When we crested I knew I was in good shape. I had to work but I felt decent and more importantly I knew I had some gas in the tank.

A small climb at Boston College and we were upon the big sweeping turn onto Chestnut Hill Reservoir and then over the train tracks onto Beacon. Francis was prepared for the simultaneous big turn, loud noise, and train tracks and his verbal cues were on point. Historically, I tend to get a little too excited at this point and run way too fast. So I told myself to pick the pace up a little bit but be smart. Michele reminded us that we still had some miles to cover.

I often feel like guiding this section along Beacon Street is tougher than the start; Beacon becomes pretty narrow, everyone is really tired, and you begin to come up on some walkers who are giving it their all to finish.

It was super loud and as we began to want to open up a bit we were often stuck behind a wall of runners. I could feel my anxiety and heart rate begin to rise.

With 5k to go Michele said we were at the 3:25 mark. I knew I was close to my goal but I was too tired to do runner's math. So my only option was to just go for it and run as fast as I could for the next 3.1 miles. My quads were shot, my hamstring had been barking and grabbing me for miles, but I just needed to grind it out and hang on for a little bit more. And not slow down.

It was loud and I yelled at Francis (in my outside/cranky voice) that he needed (yes, I was regrettably a bit demanding at this point) to keep me off of other runners because if I trip I’m going down. Thankfully, Francis handled this with absolute grace.
I told Francis to let’s go for it and we picked up the pace into the low 8s and high 7s. This only made the task of guiding even more difficult. Francis was finding some seams and spots for us to pass. But my legs were tired so shooting the small gaps became a lot more challenging. We cranked through Coolidge Corner and I knew at mile 24 we would see my family and the TWAV cheering section. We came upon the final water stop and I decided to run through it. If I couldn’t make it for two more miles without some water then lesson learned.

We stuck in the middle of Beacon and unfortunately couldn’t get over to give my wife and daughter (and Francis’ family-wife, daughter, sister & brother-in-law) a hug and hi-five. Almost at this point we passed the very loud and rambunctious TWAV crew on the left. Combined this was the motivation I needed to keep me going.

Mile 25 has taken me down psychologically the last two years so I was determined to keep focused. I was dreading the small yet sneaky hill over the Pike. We crushed that hill, continued to push, and all we had was the dip down then rise up under Mass Ave. At some point Francis said we had our goal time but I just kept pushing and gritting my teeth to hold on. I was leaving everything on the course.

We turned right onto Hereford and I took a peek at my Garmin-I could only see the first number which was a 6 so I knew my short little legs were turning over at a good clip. We took the left onto Boylston and Francis began to cheer me on and said for me to push it. I laughed out loud and said “dude, that’s all I got! J Francis slid us over to the right of Boylston and for the first time all race we had an unobstructed seam to the finish.

Crossing the finish line!!!

We crossed the finish line at 3:48:51-WE DID IT!!! I put my time and goals out there leading up to Monday and I made good on my promise to run my fastest (and smartest thanks to Francis and Michele) marathon. My three fastest miles all day were my last three in which I averaged approximately 35 seconds faster than my eventually finish pace. And I negative split the Boston Marathon by 1 second!!!

My legs were toast so it was only fitting that I had to lean on Francis as we made it through the (really long) chutes and collected our medals.

Francis more than earned his medal. Outside of a 16-mile practice run, this was Francis’ first time guiding in a race. He was so stoic, confident, reassuring when needed, smooth, and fun to run with. It was a blast seeing his confidence grow each mile we completed and how he not only share his sight as a guide but kept my confidence up the entire way. This was a team effort.

Also, thanks to all of my training guides who put me in the position fitness wise to accomplish my goals. Alina, Cory, and Michele-you all rock!

Congratulations to all my Topo Athletic and TWAV teammates who ran Boston and all of the guides who supported the 30+ runners who are Blind/Visually Impaired.
And another thanks to Jill and Lucy for always supporting my running (and ski racing)!

Gear: Topo Athletic Magnifly, Garmin Forerunner
Post-Race Beers: Notch Left of the Dial, Lost Nation Gose, and a few othersJ

Keep Running Happy & Strong.