Craicfest 5K 2015

March 16, 2015

Craicfest 5K
Cambridge, MA
Sunday, March 15, 2015

Results
18:30 (5:58 pace)
12th place overall
1st Master (40+)

Race Report

craicfest-2015-finish

My goal coming into this race was to see where I was at speedwise in my quest at ridding myself of dead legs. Plagued with the well-earned dreaded dead legs for the last two years, it had gotten much worse last May after stockpiling marathons to get to number 100 and then doing a June 100 miler. My legs — and the speed in them — were dead, long gone. I not only could not spin the legs up fast like I used to, but even a 4 mile run felt like 8. Since running across the Grand Canyon this past October, I’ve been doing all of the right things in attempts to correct the problem. A month ago, finally, I started getting life back in my legs. I kept working on leg speed and was hopeful of at least getting under or near 19 minutes flat for the 5K. However, in the last two weeks leading up to the race, I had some key workouts that felt smooth, my pace was solid, and I was running on top of my feet, something I hadn’t done in a long time. When I’m running on top of my feet, my legs are spinning fast and I’m feeling smooth, I’m running fast or at least on the faster side. Because of this, in the week leading up to the race, I secretly hoped I could get down well into 18’s, perhaps even to 18:30. Even though I had a target number that would tell me where I was at, I would race this all out and not leave a second on the course. So although I had a time that would tell me a lot about where I was at, I didn’t have a target because I was going to run as hard as I could and see where the chips fell.

After pinning on my bib (race bib #1 — it’s a long story) and stripping down to shorts, I got out on the course to insert some strides. Although I did not feel smooth, I was getting on top of my feet. I eased into the strides due to a hammy that had been grabbing since the Tuesday prior. After roughly a mile and a half of strides, I squatted down on the side of the road and did 20 jump squats. I’ve found jump squats are great at aligning and stretching the muscles in the legs, especially for me with dead legs. A few more strides and it was time to get into the gates.

In a field of 1500 runners, I lined up three rows from the front. I figured worst case I was a top 25 finisher, so I had no problem bellying up there. In previous years without dead legs, I would have moved up a row or perhaps even two. But there looked to be some fast guys. I’d be lucky if I could get a top 15 or 10.

The starting gun cracked into the air and off I went. On top of my feet powering as fast as I could, I had a good enough jump and pull that there was no elbow bumping. I was focused on staying on top of my feet, assessing my hamstring, maximizing spring off my feet through my arches and onto the hammies, and being as smooth as possible. I knew that many of the 25 runners in front of me would come back. After 30 seconds, many came back. Another 30 seconds and I was in top 20. Another 30 seconds, now a quarter mile into the race, I was top 15.

Mile one came in a tick under 6:00. I had found a smooth pattern at top speed that kept me motoring but also kept the hamstring at bay. Uneven pavement would often throw me off. I would maintain a quick turnover even though I wasn’t getting much string in my stride until I found that pattern again. By then I had moved into top 15. The field was strung out and there was very little to no passing.

Mile 2 came in a tick under 6:00 pace. I was very happy that I was not falling off pace. And I was very happy that I was under 6:00 pace, something I honestly did not think would happen. Up the road I saw a collection of three guys and decided I would catch, pass, and finish ahead of all three. I bore down, focused on running as fast as I could, and varied leg speed and strength based on the terrain to maximize my stride, spring, and pace. I closed the gap to those guys, with one dropping back. I passed that guy and closed the gap farther. I could still see the lead vehicle, a police car, not too far up the road, and at that point I knew I was having a great race with the goods I had. I moved into 12th place, which is where I would wind up as I crossed the finish line in 18:30, which was good for 5:58 pace. At the time of crossing, I wasn’t sure of my placement in the old man category, but I could not remember seeing any grey hairs or bald guys up ahead, so I was hopeful of a Masters win. An hour later the RD, a friend of mine, found me to show me the results. I took the win.

This was a great race for me. I honestly ran hard, smart, and efficient. I didn’t feel as smooth as I would have liked, but I think that was more the hamstring than my dead legs. Half way through the race as I was sucking wind and listening to my lungs wheeze with some soon-to-be-sickness from one of the kids, I could not help but give smile because, truth be known, I really missed racing, being a part of a race like this, and running fast and well. It’s an amazing feeling that keeps me coming back. And it keeps me doing what I need in order to get the zip back in my legs.

craicfest-2015-team-notch


Providence Marathon Race Report

May 6, 2014

Providence Marathon
Sunday, May 4, 2014

This is what a Boston Qualifier looks like!

Randy and Thor crossing the finish line of the 2014 Providence Marathon, a performance that netted Randy a Boston Qualifier!

There is a popular saying in running that goes, “You get out of the marathon what you put in.”

Having recently completed my 100th marathon, running them in every imaginable way – racing hard to my potential, running for fun at easy pace, pacing friends, and even drinking beers each mile after 20 – I should know. Because it’s true. You get out of the marathon what you put in with your training.

As if a cup to fill, one marble for each quality training session, you add more and more to the contents of the cup right up until race day. Then on race day when you toe the starting line, you start extracting from the cup one marble per mile, assuming you have been smart on pacing and hydration and with other in-race decisions. Two or more come out at a time for each mistake you make. Push mile 10 too hard and two come out. Fail to drink enough in the first 8 miles and three come out. If you have little in the cup to begin with, you have even less to take out. These will not be there for later. They are now gone, you left with fewer marbles.

If the time comes when these withdraws from the cup are forced upon you two and three and even four marbles at time, this is when you learn the most about yourself as an athlete. These are the moments where that flight or fight survival instinct is triggered. Some runners fight on. Some shut down. If the goal is in your core, and if you are fully committed to it, you push through that pain. If the goal isn’t as clear, you will likely cave in on yourself with an avalanche of negative thoughts that, in the end, take you to your knees beside the road, your race over.

I have played witness to survival instinct in myself many times through my running career. Just last June, when I attempted my first 100 mile race, things got so tough for me after mile 83, when my knee gave out, forcing me to drag my wounded leg behind me in a quest at that goal. My emotions had spun so far out of control that I gave up on myself time and time again. I tried to drop out. I even dropped out! But somehow I got back out there, in the race, and kept going. I sat beside the trail, in complete darkness, ready to call my day done. When all I wanted was to lie down and even plotted to do it, somehow, some way, I got back up and kept going. I owe much of that to my buddy pacer who stayed with me over that last 25 miles. That night, I had a glimpse into my soul, deep into my core, to see exactly what I was made of. And you know what? I actually liked what I saw. I gave up on myself time after time, but each time I got back up and kept going. I refused to be defeated. I would not quit.

Randy digging deep as Thor guides him toward a Boston Qualifier!

Thor guiding Randy at Mile 18, when the going would get very, very tough. Pictured is Randy digging very deep while Thor kept on an efficient run-walk pattern.

I was reminded of all of these complicated feelings this past weekend, Sunday, May 4, 2014, to be precise, at the Providence Marathon as I teamed with Randy, a runner friend with 100% blindness, to Guide him in his quest at qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Randy and I met two months ago through Running Eyes, an organization connecting folks like me – a runner wanting to volunteer to Guide – with a Visually Impaired runner looking for a Guide. At the time, I had several races on my front, so we promised to stay in touch until my schedule freed up. We did. We connected so well that, when my schedule opened, Randy asked if I would Guide him at the Providence Marathon. Feelings were mutual, so I had no problem saying, with great enthusiasm, yes! We did a 10 mile training run together, where I guided him 10 miles on the Nashua Rail Trail, and decided to give it a go.

After that short training run with Randy, I had a good idea on his pace and what he was capable, but I was also made aware of how little training he really had. I know he knew this, that he was under-trained, so instead of harping on the negative (I’m a glass three-quarters full guy), I instead derived my energy from the fact that he was fully committed to this goal, he was driven, and he had a background hiking mountains – all 48 4000-footers in the Whites – in his pocket. If there is a will, there is always a way.

And when it comes to marathons, if the shit ever hits the fan, there is only one way through to the finish, and that’s through will. So although I had my reservations on his fitness, I knew he had what it took to do this. I saw it in his character. And since I knew the ultimate goal was to qualify for Boston, I took out a pace chart, looked at various paces and times, for both the first half of the race, when I knew we’d be running, and again for the second half, when I assumed we’d be walking a lot; then I thought about what I gathered Randy for in terms of pace and how long. Through it all, I came away with the confidence that I would get him qualified for Boston. The only question would be: how ugly would it get?

I would find this out when race day finally came, but I would also see a bit of myself in there, a confirmation that my pal and I were cut from the same cloth.

Early Sunday morning of race day I met up with Randy, his guide dog Autumn, and his wife Tracy at the convention center in downtown Providence. We moved through registration swiftly. After leading Randy to the bathroom for a last potty break, the four of us made our way over to the race start outside on the street. As we neared and the crowds of runners got bigger, Randy handed over Autumn to Tracy and we were off to the starting line, just Randy and I, connected by a tether. 5 minutes later, it was announced the national anthem was coming. Randy asked me which way the flag was. “To your right”, I said and then settled in silent prayer for our nation’s song. Within a minute, the race was started!

The race had a total of 1000 runners in the marathon. Since it was so crowded, and because I had us line up near the back of the race, near the guy holding a 4:15 finish time pace banner, it took us two minutes to cross the starting line.

Respect for each other kept the train rolling.

Randy digging very, very deep. One of the reasons our teamwork was so effective was that we both totally respected each other.

Once across the timing mats – “bump for timing mat”, I called out – it was crowded but we always found space to run. In the first mile, I tried to stay on the outside so that I could guide Randy around all of the turns and zigzags. Posing more technical than I liked were cones in the road marking the line we should take so that we can share the road with cars. With so many people still near us, I made a conscious decision to stay away from those, as they came upon us very quickly due to them being so low to the ground and concealed by runners.

Randy likes to use what is known as a hard tether. A hard tether is merely a sighting stick. I hold the grip end while Randy holds more loosely the other end. This allows for Randy to shift up on the stick when he needs to get tighter behind me (command “Tight behind”) and for ebbing and flowing of running and pumping arms and normal movement with two people running together.

Because we were passing people in these early miles, and because it was still crowded, we had to stay pretty tight and on heightened awareness, something that for me would never end, not until many hours later. Coming through the crowd from behind them, people were a bit surprised to hear me call out “on your left” or “coming through,” especially when there was enough room for one person. They showed a look of surprise until they saw that I was guiding a blind person; as soon as they saw this, they realized we needed a bit more space than just single file and then showed a different look of surprise. And once this happened, the energy and applause were unmistakable and much needed for my rock star friend.

We motored along comfortably, with us chatting with each other and those around us. As a Guide, I am constantly interrupting the flow of conversation to point things out, so although it could appear rude to those around us, everybody respected us and understood what was happening, even when it was a friend of mine who came by our side to chat.

Around mile 8, as I guided Randy along a busy, bumpy and very uneven suburban street, with cones narrowing our path and cars to our left, I saw up the road, on the other side of an intersection, familiar faces. It was Tracy and Autumn, Randy’s wife and dog. I told Randy immediately, as they were still out of earshot. As we neared, I saw the emotion in Randy and heard it as his voice cracked with love. What was so special was that we were not expecting to see them until mile 18, but here we were, barely into the race, showing support. In hindsight, this was the beginning of Randy starting to falter, with the day getting hard. The display of raw emotion told me this. When the body gets fatigued, those feelings come out more readily. And Randy was just starting to get there.

Immediately after seeing Tracy and Autumn, we entered a neighborhood and squirreled through streets to an out and back section that featured a u-turn marking mile 9. I warned Randy about the turn in advance. As we went into the turn, I called, “slowing, turning in three… two… one”; I did this as I applied pressure forward and in the direction we need to go on the tether to guide him around the tight curve.

Out the other side of the u-turn, Randy suddenly stopped short. The 180 degree tight turn threw off his equilibrium. His eyes were rolling in circles, and he was wobbly. I came up beside him to help him find balance. This happens to him every once in a while. It’s par for the course for being 100% blind, even to light. Where some blind people see some light, Randy’s world is one of complete darkness. Light, as you could imagine, and especially shadows, help orientation, but Randy doesn’t have that luxury, so this is what happens. After a minute we were walking and then back to running, Randy now with a stable equilibrium.

The course was a combination of city streets, busy suburban streets on the way out of the city, neighborhood, and bike path. I learned very quickly that all of the changing surface types and navigatables made this a very technical course to guide someone through. But I was up for the task, constantly calling out potholes, uneven pavement, steering through manhole covers, pylons on the bike path, and around runners, more potholes, cyclists, cones, police cars, aid stations, and much, much more. Because I was 100% in the moment being a Guide, the day actually went very quickly. At least it was that way for me. But it didn’t appear that way for Randy. Randy was slowly sliding into the hurt box, a function of his training. He was now getting out of the marathon what he put in through training, which meant it was getting ugly and about to get uglier.

"We did it!"

Immediately across the finish line, the mission complete and the goal accomplished. Thor is bringing his hands down from having raised them in a victory celebration.

Mile 12 was when Randy took his first forced walking step, where his body said no more running, not right now. His training had taken him comfortably enough to 10 miles. After that, his breathing got erratic, and then he fought on for two more miles, where we were now. In spite me forcing us to go slow, there comes a time when there are too few marbles in the cup. To that point we had been very efficient in our forward progress, and I knew we could walk plenty from here to the finish, and still get the Boston Qualifier of sub-5 hours. I didn’t panic even when Randy kept asking how much time was left; this just told me that it was on his mind, which told me he was hurting yet more. Even so, to this point, Randy didn’t complain. He was holding strong mentally even though his body was betraying him.

By mile 15, the going got very tough. Randy was quiet more than not. He also started coaching himself out loud. “Come on, Randy,” I’d hear him say to himself. “Get with it. You can do this. Snap out.” Sensing darkness, I used this as an opportunity to take even more control. I forced him to keep his mouth shut – “no talking back; let me talk at you. You need to conserve”. Randy spoke back. “You mean I should shut up,” he asked in a joking manner that wasn’t exactly looking for a response back. “Yes, Randy,” I said, “shut the fuck up.” We both laughed, and Randy, ever the student in whatever he does, took the lead and shut the fuck up. From there we fell into a nice run-walk rhythm. I based our cadence on his breathing. I kept him focused on staying in the moment, and I kept reminding him of all of his supporters. This helped him motor on. And every once in a while, I reminded him, “Conserve… Don’t talk back. Let me talk at you. You need energy for the last 10 miles.” And Randy followed suit.

One the reasons I think Randy and I teamed so well in this endeavor is because we a keen mutual respect for each other. Randy leaned on me in the first place because of my experience in the marathon. For me, I knew what he had done to live a healthy, full life with blindness, and I had seen how he climbed whatever mountain was in front of him. Tracy, his wife, said after it was all done, that we probably worked well together because Randy does well with engineers. I don’t know the reason, but I know respect of each other drove our teamwork. And now it was Randy’s time to lean on me, and he did.

To this point, my mouth was non-stop running. Before you say, “yeah, of course it was, blabber mouth,” know that the words spewing from my mouth were nearly all Guide commands and information, such as “uneven pavement, no trip hazards”, “speed bump ahead, step high in three… two… one,” and so on. I was 100% focused on being a guide. I had to. Any relaxing of the brain could mean a trip and fall. Although I told a few stories, the truth is that playing guide, especially on this course, took all of my attention.

During our time on the road, it wasn’t uncommon for runners to talk to Randy and send him along with inspiring words and “That a boy’s!” But what also stood out was that many runners would actually come up to me to thank ME! I was a bit perplexed and always kept deferring attention to Randy, as he was the brave one, the one doing the hard work. Sometimes I don’t see things the way others do, and I only come out of this more ignorant state when someone uses certain words to get my attention, to force me to look at it differently. For me, I was out there doing something cool, giving back to the sport I have extracted so much out of, and helping somebody achieve a long standing dream. It was nothing more. It’s just what you do. I have a gift, and I am paying if forward. It’s what you’re supposed to do. It was no big deal. I thought that way until this one woman runner got my attention. She came straight up to me, ignoring even Randy, and said, “Thank you for giving your time to guiding your friend.” She went on by saying, “He,” meaning Randy, “is an inspiration to everyone out here… and it’s because of you.” She ended with, “I’ve been behind you for the last few miles and see the work you’re doing and see how awesome you’ve been calling things out. This doesn’t happen without you. Thank you.” Those words, and the sincerity of them, sunk in. I got it. It took a while. But I got it.

After the woman got her message through to me, I thought back to all of the other people and what they had said along our journey so far. That’s when I connected the dots to the realization that this, right here, was my reward for helping Randy get his Boston Qualifier. I smiled to myself — called out yet another pothole, “watch your footing” — and thought of Heather and my boy back home. For a while I have had the feeling that I am in the best part of my life. And this just further confirmed it. I don’t think I could love my life any more. And that includes my love for both of them. Perhaps this is why I am ultimately in the right place to give back in this manner. It feels so right that it is no big deal.

This boost of emotion came at a good time, because the day was getting hot, Randy was struggling even more, and my energy needed to stay high because not only was I playing normal guide duties, but I was now also playing drill commander, feeling out when to run, when to walk, and keeping him focused and motivated and moving forward. Because although I still felt confident on a Boston Qualifier, I knew that only happened – the ultimate goal achieved – if I kept us motoring forward, and that included running as much as Randy’s body would allow.

With mile 18 came a nice boost when we came upon Tracy and Autumn, Randy’s wife and dog. Since I knew to expect them at that point, starting at mile 16 I kept reminding Randy that we would soon meet them again. This proved well because it got Randy to focus on a small milestone. If he wasn’t thinking about how much farther we had left in the race, he was in the right spot. This I knew. So I broke up focus to goals we could realize within a half hour, for at that point anything farther was, simply, too far for a beat up, tired body to process.

Tracy and Autumn did not disappoint. They came at a perfect time, just when Randy was slipping further into himself.

After that boost of energy, we went back onto the bike path. The path was mostly straight, wide open from trees or brush, and running parallel to the ocean. This wasn’t ideal. As the wind swept off the water, it came blowing at a steady 25 mph or more directly into our left side. This proved challenging for Randy, because as the wind shifted him, it threw off his center of straight. I learned very quickly that to help best guide I needed to always keep pressure forward on the stick, as if I were tugging him forward. But since I did not want him to use that as a cue to speed up and thus burn him out, I told him, “Follow the stick. I will keep pressure on it forward to keep you straight. But do not speed up. Just make sure you always feel the pressure. But do not speed up. Stay light on your feet. Short strides. I got you. You are good.”

Randy, in complete trust of my guiding, forged on. And on. And on. It wasn’t pretty — in fact it was downright ugly — but he followed every single one of my commands, both in guiding and in keeping him running and forcing him to start running agai. I made sure we ran light and easy — and I forced the pace very slow so that we could last running even longer — until his breathing ran out of control. That’s when I would force him to run just a bit longer and then walk. I forced these in, all with his full support, around natural landmarks, such as hills, all of which we were now walking, to maximize his time running, and his time walking, so that we would be most efficient in moving us toward that Boston Qualifier.

"Finish line in three... two... one!"

Randy and Thor team to get Randy a Boston Qualifier!

Not once did I worry about getting in under the 5 hour wire. My buddy was a fighter, and I knew he’d fight through this, even now when his legs were seizing on him. You get out of the marathon what you put in, and his work was paying him back in not a good way. But with his spirit and will working overdrive, I still felt comfortable that even though his cup was losing marbles, running toward empty, what he had inside him would help him string out each marble to get him farther yet along the course. Randy stayed focused and worked through the hurt.

When we reached mile 23, I knew again it was a slam dunk, though in his tired body and mind, Randy kept asking the time. I would tell him but get him back to focusing on staying in the moment. We carried on this way, fighting into a stiff head wind, me applying a steady pressure forward on the stick so that he would know which way was forward, so that the wind would not throw off his center. Meanwhile, other runners were joining us. At times we had a small army of runners around us, each listening to my words and commands, “short stride, not fast, just short steps, slow down, short steps, breath, stay in the moment, focus only on my words and your breathing.” We did this through mile 25.

At one point Randy came out of battle armor to make an announcement. To this point I had him on a nice walk-run cadence, running when his breathing was back under control, and stopping running when his breathing started getting too deep. I said, “Randy, we’re going to run in 30 seconds,” he said, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” As I assessed when to next run to give Randy the breathing he needed, he perked up with renewed energy and said, “I lied to you. I told you before the race that I’d follow all of your orders, and I just went against that. I lied. Let’s go. I’m ready.” I laughed, told Randy that he didn’t “lie” to me, and said, “Okay, if you’re sure you can give me some run, we’ll go in 10 seconds.” In 20 seconds – I gave him a bit extra – we ran again, and again Randy dug deep within his soul to see what was there, and what he saw was that he would not quit. Even when he wanted, even when his body was shutting down and muscles seizing, Randy would not let himself quit. I smiled at his pain in a way of showing mutual respect. This right here must’ve been what it was like for my pacer, looking into my soul, when in my 100 mile race the year before I too was in a dark, dark place, giving up on myself yet still finding a way to keep going. Randy was a true warrior. He was living to fight this day – not another day!

As we moving beyond mile 25, Randy, hearing by sounds of cheers the crowd growing thicker and louder, cheers reserved especially for him in his battle — both those on this day and that of a lifetime – Randy asked “where are we?”, referring to where were we on the course. “A half a mile, tops!” I told him. He perked up, “I want to run the rest of the way.” I knew this was still a long way, but I knew he would give me his all, and I knew that all we had to do was to get a little farther and the crowd would suck him right into the finish line.

Run we did. I got Randy to stay slow, to not race himself, and then painted the picture of what I was seeing. “The course bends left up ahead. I see other runners turning and picking their heads up. The finish line is down that road. This is the final turn.” But I still needed to coach, “I want you to stay at this pace. I will tug you around the bend. The road is uneven from here until there. Pothole. More uneven pavement. Pothole. Give me a high step in three… two… one.”

Meanwhile, the crowd, seeing my Randy, was now going mad; it was deafening. To command Randy, the only way he could hear me was for me to turn my head around toward him so that my mouth was pointing at him.

“Turn coming in three… two… one… feel the stick, I’m pulling you left around the turn… feel the stick… Randy, the crowd is three deep. They see you. Feel it, brother. They see you. Those are for you. Pothole. Another pothole. Dip. Rise. Uneven pavement. I now see the finish line. There it is, Randy. You did it. There’s a big finish arch spanning above the road. That’s the finish line. You did it. Another 50 yards. You did it. Pothole. More uneven pavement.” Randy, so excited, was pushing the pace. I could feel it on the stick. “Easy,” I said, “stay easy. 40 more yards. There it is, a big arch, people everywhere. They’ll all looking at you, cheering for you. You did it.”

Just then Tracy, along with Autumn, jumped into the road. “Randy, it’s Tracy, I’m right beside you,” Tracy yelled out to Randy. “I have Autumn with me.” As this played out, I glanced back to see a joy on Randy’s face I will never, ever forget.

Guide duties called, even down a finish line chute. “Dip,” I called out as I whipped my head back to Randy again to alert him to an indentation in the road.

“Dude, I have my hand in the air.”

As soon as I said that last line, I let out a holler and looked back again to give another command. Immediately after calling out a pothole, I processed the sight of Randy, hearing from me that I had my hand in the air, thrust his fist in the air and keep it there.”

“We did it. We did it.”

Randy was aglow in victory. I was too. And so was Tracy and Autumn.

“10 yards, Randy.”

“Wide open street. Uneven pavement the rest of the way. You did it! Here it is. The finish. Coming in three… two… one!”

Randy still had his fist in the air, as did I, when we crossed the finish line. Time on the clock was 4:42. We did it. Randy qualified for the Boston Marathon.

It would be a day neither of us will ever forget.

Immediately across the finish line, Randy and I embraced in a hug at the battle just had. He fought one hell of a fight, and he won it because he believed in himself and me as a Guide. Our teamwork was unmatched in its efficiency.

After we let go, Tracy and Randy hugged. Tracy then took Randy over to the side, away from the crowds, to connect Randy back with Autumn, his guide dog. This moment struck me in a profound way for a lot of reasons. Now that Randy and I were untethered, and that the goal was now complete, I felt a strong sense of relief, even freedom, that I could now let up on that heightened awareness I had held for the previous 5 hours. Freedom was walking without looking for tripping hazards. And pride, for seeing Randy through to this goal and getting a glimpse into his soul. Like with my own glimpse, the one into my soul, I like what I saw in Randy’s. It didn’t escape me that he had this fight in his because he was the ultimate warrior to get to where he was today, a marathon finisher and an entrant in the 2015 Boston Marathon!


TARC 100

June 24, 2013

Friday, June 14, starting at 7 pm, I toed the starting line of an 100 mile trail race. It was my first race at this distance and a long, long dream of mine that, honestly, was never a goal because, well, I never thought I could or would ever want to challenge myself in this way. However, life, as it does, changes, and I found myself with goals and dreams. And so at 7 pm this past Friday, I, along with 200 others, set out in attempts to run 100 miles in the bounds of 30 hours.

TARC 100 – Due to a month of heavy rains, including a deluge the two weeks prior, the trail conditions turned into a painfully slow shit show slop fest in the mud and pooled water.

You might ask: how can you possibly run 100 miles? And what do you eat? Very few people actually run 100 miles straight. In perfect conditions, I have run, without stopping, over 50 miles. But 100 is too much, especially when it is trail, which contains rocks and roots and elevation change, all of which wear on you even more. The only way to power yourself for hours on end is to fuel and hydrate. I eat every 20 minutes and I sip on water so routinely that it is second nature — probably taking a gulp of water every two to three minutes.   Our bodies are engines, and so in order to power it for a long, long time, we must fuel it and keep it hydrated. There’s more to it, but that’s the essence.

Conditions on the trails were very, very, very bad. A rainy month preceding the race, not to mention the last two weeks in which we received more rain than we typically get in three months, made the course dangerous, slow, and very difficult to navigate. Water pooled over so much of the course that you had no choice but to wade through. Common was having water come up to my knee, sometime my hip. No joke. And you can’t run through the puddles like you can on streets, because you don’t know what’s in the puddle. Run through, hit a rock or root you can’t see, and your race is over.

TARC 100, Lap 1 – Still smiling, still feeling good, and shoes still mostly clean

The first of four loops (25 mile loop we did 4 times) was very slow, but I was still in good spirits if not far more tired than I should  have been. I was starting to get worried about how tired I was this early in the race until when I completed the loop I saw hordes of people dropping out of. I was later told that 25% of the field dropped out after the first lap. It was that brutal. I was slightly buoyed by the fact that I was not alone in wondering why I felt like I had run 50 instead of just 25. Either way, I kept going. It took me about 6 hours to complete the lap.

TARC 100, Early on in Lap 2 – Leaving aid station in the darkness

The second lap was, like the first, in complete darkness. It was sloppy and slow and I started to fatigue. I even considered dropping out, but I went on. I thought I hit lows, and I did, I just how no idea how low a low can really get, at least not just yet. By the end of this lap, with me now 50 miles in, I was just over 13 hours into the race. It was 8:30 am. I thought I’d finish these two laps in under 12 hours, but since this was one of those epic type races, I didn’t pay attention to how fast or slow I went. My goal was to finish. Speed didn’t mater. My energy was renewed with the notion that my pacer would be joining me for the next lap. In races this long and grueling, the race permits you to have a pacer to run with you. They keep your spirits up and, more importantly, stay with you during a time when, well, things can happen. I mean, running a 100 miles isn’t a healthy thing; it takes a tremendous toll on the body. Health conditions can arise quickly.

TARC 100, Lap 3 – Part way into Lap 3

The third lap was when things got very difficult. I was now joined by my friend Hank, who would be my pacer from mile 50 through 75. I had turkey sub to get me off to a good start and was feeling good again. I call out the turkey sub because it — and other food items like it — is what is considered “real food” — real as opposed to Power Bars and Gels. Real food gives back more energy but is difficult to carry, so we often opt for gels and bars packed with energy. Not long into this third loop, things got very ugly for me. In my head, I dropped out a few times, but each time Hank kept me in the game. I told Hank before this event that his goal is to make sure I do not drop unless I have a physical, real medical issue where I just cannot move on. Blisters, not feeling well, and being tired are not reasons to drop.

I knew I’d go through the emotions, so I told him up front to never let me drop out. And he, thankfully, drove that role better than I could have even hoped. He kept me in the game when I myself gave up. This lap was spent running and walking. By then I wasn’t able to run for long periods, mainly because when the terrain would get technical or tilt up, I had nothing in me to run. This is normal. But I was still able to run on the flats and downs. Troublesome was the fact that my left and right knee, each at separate times, started to give. Although I was still able to run, I knew that feeling, and I knew it wasn’t good. It always means that eventually it will get bad enough where I will no longer be able to run. As we were finishing this lap, there’s a two mile section that contains roughly 1.5 slow miles of wading through mud and pooled water covering the trail. It reminded me of being in the Amazon. It was during this time when my energy levels dropped very low. Beyond low. Hank kept me going even though I was now moving slower. This lap took 7 hours. We com

pleted it around 3:30 pm Saturday. I had now been running — or, really, moving forward with both running and walking — for 21 hours. If I could keep going, I was on track for a 26 to 28 hour finish. If I could keep going…

The fourth and final loop was brutal. It started with me being buoyed with another turkey sub and the fact that my other buddy, Andy, was joining me as my pacer while Hank was now leaving. Andy and I have run together for nearly 15 years. He, like Hank, is a great friend who knows me very, very well. I felt bad because he, being so fresh and spry, was getting me at a very, very low point. But that was also his job. I had told him the same deal I told Hank: don’t let me drop out unless it’s an emergency.

TARC 100, End of Lap 3 – Grabbing a turkey sub before heading out with Andyman on Lap 4. The ugliness was about to start.

After gobbling up the turkey sub over the first mile of this final lap, Andy and I got back to running. For 10 minutes. Shit hit fan again. I was trashed, beyond tired. My legs were cooked. My lungs were tight. My heartrate was high. And my energy and spirits were low. Poor Andy. We walked the rest of that segment, three miles worth. As we were walking, I came up with a plan: I was going to drop out. After mulling this over in my head for an hour, I finally told Andy. “Dude,” I said, “I’m really sorry, and this has nothing to do with you, but I’m done.” Andy asked what I meant. “I’m thinking about dropping out. I’m done. I have no energy. I can’t even power hike. That’s the part that worries me. I can’t do this for another 20 miles.” I was walking so slow. I was like a 98 year old man who’s always 25 paces behind his more healthy and younger wife. Andy asked me if I was sure. He reminded me that he wasn’t supposed to let me drop out. That’s when I told him, “Look, I’m done. But I’ll be fair to myself here. Once we complete this 4.5 mile segment (each 25 mile loop was a 4.5 mile loop that came back to the start/finish area, plus a 20.5 mile loop, so we were on that 4.5 mile loop, with me at mile 79.5 and coming back to the start/finish, where I had a cooler, chair, and bag of clothes, gear and food)… once we complete this 4.5 mile segment,” I said, “I’ll be fair to you and to me. I will sit down for a while, have a turkey sub and coke, take some salt, and reassess then. But if I’m still lacking energy, I’m done.” Deal. We got back to the start/finish area, with me now at mile 79.5, and I grabbed a seat, had my sub, and nursed a coke. “I think I’m done,” I said to Andy. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He was new to this type of racing, so he didn’t really know that he had to get me out of this funk by trying to help me figure out why I was feeling so low. He didn’t yet know that there is always a reason — always an answer to get you back going. After a half hour, I finally stood with defeat in my eyes. “Andy, I’ve put this off for a half hour.” Andy knew what was coming. He did his best to remind me that I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. “If it were easy,” Andy told me, “I would be doing it.” I laughed. But I was done, defeated long ago. “I’m handing in my timing chip.” Before Andy could catch me, I walked away. I hobbled over to the timing station, my legs so stiff that my knees wouldn’t bend, and went up the race director. “Josh,” I said, “I’m dropping out.” Josh, the race director, asked if I really wanted to drop. He said to sit down for a while. He reminded me that I had plenty of time before cutoff. I said I already did sat. I want to drop. Are you sure? I don’t know. I’m defeated. That’s when his friend jumped in. He said, “The next aid station is in 2.5 miles. Just go there. You can do that. Get some food in you, grab some salt, and go to the next station. If you want to drop out, then drop out there. We’ll send a buggy to come get you.” No, I’m defeated. But in the back of my head, I didn’t want to drop. I wanted to keep going. But I had nothing. That’s when Josh said, “You’ve come so far already. 80 miles. You can’t just quit. You look good. You’re healthy. You have to go on. Here’s what I want you to do. You’ve been sitting for a while, so I want you to walk with really long strides down this grassy section. Long strides. Stretch the legs. Then when you get to the pavement (parking lot), try to run. Even if it hurts. Break up the junk in the legs. Take high steps.” I stood there as I processed what he was saying. He was right. I was in a funk. I needed to somehow break out. And maybe this would work. One long stride after another, I walked the grassy path, and then when I hit the parking lot, I started running — like really running — and then did high knees, bouncing on my feet, renewed. I ran back to Josh and his friend and Andy and said, “Andy, I’m in. Let’s do this!”

Andy and I set out toward the next aid station. I was feeling far better, and I was running again. And I was dreaming again about finishing this race. I marvele at the ups and downs — extreme downs. In decent time, Andy and I got to the next station, at mile 82.5, and kept going. For a half mile. My right knee, holding on by a thread, finally gave. I tried to numb it out by forcing a run, but it would take it. I had no choice. I would have to walk the rest of the way. Assuming the dark times stayed at bay. Unfortunately, they did not. Again, I came up with a plan to drop, but each time I went to tell Andy, I somehow fought off the urge, and I kept power hiking. Each time, Andy sense my negativity, figured out I was slipping into a dark place, and got me back out. Wading through water and mud didn’t help the knee or my energy. By mile 85 I couldn’t even power hike. I was reduced to a slow walk, dragging my leg behind me. My knee was done. I was done. But Andy, now having learned that those dark periods come and go and that it’s his job to make sure I keep going when it gets dark, kept me going. And going. My knee got so bad that at times I had to stop and sit for 5 to 10 minutes to get it back to the point I could walk again. I knew these periods beside the trail weren’t good. Time was running out. In between those periods, I was back to that dark place — no energy, no power, barely walking. But Andy kept me going. One of the things I learned was that after 75 miles, Power Bars and Gels no longer gave me energy. They did nothing for me. So it was at the aid stations, where I could get real food, when I would get real energy. Because of this, Andy, back at the mile 80 aid station, where I almost dropped out, grabbed a Ziplock bag and stuffed it with pizza (three slices) and turkey sandwiches. So every twenty minutes, when my watch would beep signaling it was time to eat, Andy would rip a slice of pizza in half for me to eat or he’d give me a turkey sandwich. He joked that I was the real Dean Karnazes. This worked well for a long time. But it didn’t always work. I still found that dark place. Not able to talk, for it took too much energy that would take away from moving forward. I was surviving. Barely. It sounds gruesome. And it was. Dark and ugly. But Andy kept me moving forward. I learned long ago that in endurance sports, when dark times come, the only way to keep going is to block out all thoughts, especially when they turn negative, and stay in the moment. You focus on the here and now, not the finish, not anything else. Breath, feel it, step, repeat. I barely heard the frogs croaking and the coyotes howling in the darkness. On I forged.

After what felt an eternity, we finally, and I mean finally, came to the aid station at mile 90. I was now under 10 miles left. It was 10:30 pm Saturday night. I had been running for 28 hours. I had 2 hours and thirty minutes to hike 10 miles. Could I do it? I knew the answer. I would not make it. I couldn’t. I could barely walk. Running was out of the question. I tried running time and again, hoping the pain would numb out, but each time after two paces, I was reduced to walking. At one point, desperate to keep moving forward, I ran a pace, walked five, ran one, walked five, with each run pace on my left leg, the one with the good knee. I was no faster. And then reality hit. Another dark period came. My knee was wonked, and I had no energy. By this point I had to sit on a rock beside the trail every half mile. Wading through the mud took too much out of me. Each time I sat, I saw time slip away. I had to finish by 1 am, which was no less than two hours away.

By the time we got to mile 89, I knew I would not make the 30 hour cut off in the race. So tired and beat, I no longer cared. There was nothing more I could give; that much I knew. I also knew that as long as I followed Andy’s step, listened to his words of encouragement, and stayed focused in the moment, I would go through many more dark, dark periods where I’d want to drop, but I would get through them, keep moving, and finish this thing.

And that’s when things started to change. For the bad. And these bad things were completely out of my control. Not in my head, and not in my body. As Andy and I made our way in complete darkness, the path lit only by our headlamps, with me now moving forward for 29 hours over the course of three days — three days! — and 95.5 miles, two runners came the other way, these two, a runner and his pacer, on their way toward the finish only two miles ahead of me. As their headlamps came near, the pacer said, “Are you Thor?” Yeah, I said while wondering how and why they would know my name. I knew a lot of people on the course, but I didn’t know these guys, and yet they knew my name. Was someone looking for me, and why? The pacer went on, “Two guys behind us are looking for you.” Looking for me? Were they just concerned about my safety? Or was there more to it? I would soon find out.

As I made my way toward the next set of headlamps in the darkness, a familiar voice called out ahead: “Is that Thor?” Yeah, it’s me. “We’ve been looking for you.” As they came near, I realized it was Paul, a runner friend who had volunteered his time on the course at the aid station. But it didn’t yet occur to me that there was a reason he was looking for me. As Paul and his volunteer friend joined Andy and I, they turned and walked with us. Paul said, “You sound good. But your knee doesn’t look good.” I was dragging my leg behind me. Paul didn’t have the heart to say what he was really there for, why he was really looking for me. Instead he went on. “I got a beer for you at the aid station.” I laughed. Paul knew me well enough to know that I like my craft beer. “Ha, I’d love a beer but I have 5 miles left. A beer would knock me out right now. But thanks for the offer.” Just then Paul realized that I didn’t get what he was trying to but never quite got around to saying. “I’m really sorry, Thor,” Paul finally said with straight honesty, “you didn’t make cut off into the aid station (at mile 95.5). You missed it by 15 minutes. I can’t let you go on.” And there it was. My race was over. I made it 95.5 miles in 29 hours and 20 minutes.

Many people are saying sorry, offering that it must be bitter sweet, suggesting that it wasn’t fair. There’s nothing bitter sweet here. I gave it my all. I kept going when even I gave up on myself. I quit 20 or more times. But each time I got knocked down, I somehow, some way got back up and kept going. And going. And going. Why? I don’t know. I really don’t. I thought a lot about this. Maybe it’s ‘Just because.’ It’s the best I got. And in this race, I gave it the best I had. I am in awe, as it if were someone else, at the stubborn fight, the never quit approach, in me. I mean, I was left for dead time and again. But I kept getting back up. I took the fight to the battle. They had to yank me from the course. I would not let it defeat me. And I didn’t. I didn’t.


Training Week 4/22

April 29, 2013

Training for the week 4/22 to 4/28 was about recovering from the Boston Double as well as getting mentally and physically ready for the TARC Spring Classic 50K.  Although I never got to the point where I felt recovered from running 53 miles over the Boston Marathon course on Marathon Monday, I didn’t have a choice, as the weekend came anyway. Normally I would have bailed on this spring 50K, but since I am committed to making my summer race, the TARC 100, happen, I showed up with a smile even though my body just was quite ready.

I got exactly what I asked for. The Spring Classic 50K was slow for me, and it hurt more than it should, but it was fun and certainly a good notch in the old belt in my preparations. It was good to log so many quality miles on trails. And my, these trails — in Weston, the exact location (but different course) of the TARC 100 — were as sweet as you get here in the rock and root filled northeast.

And so now I will spend the upcoming week recovering from BOTH races!🙂

Week 4/22

Mon: 4 miles, easy – road
Tues: 5.65 miles, social – road
Wed: 11 miles, quick/sub-tempo – trails
Thurs: 4 miles, easy – road
Fri: 4 miles, easy – road
Sat: TARC Spring Classic 50K, logged 32 miles in all, 4:57 over trail 50K – trail
Sun: 1 mile keep-the-streak-alive run – road

Total miles: 62 miles

Quality Workouts

Wednesday: 11 miles @ Ward:
Loop 1 – 46:44
Loop 2 – 44:02
*Felt fatigued in body.

Saturday: TARC Spring Classic 50K
5 x 10K lap: 56:04, 56:44, 59:10, 1:00:38, 1:04:35
4:57:09, 21st place overall of 108

Next Week

Goal for the coming week will be to continue recovering from the Boston Double and TARC Spring 50K. Nothing more. Focus will be on stretching and trying to get back some zip in the legs. A middle distanced trail run mid week, too, if I’m feeling good. An otherwise rest week.

Beer of the Week

Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale – This Boulevard Brewing Company’s take on a traditional Belgian-style farmhouse ale has become my go-to Belgian when I want to reward myself with a good beer after a worthy occasion. I had Tank 7 when my son was born. I enjoyed Tank 7 again after my Boston Double. And I poured one again after the Spring Classic 50K. Weighing in at 38 IBU’s, a number that seems to be carried higher due to a “big surge of fruity aromatics and grapefruit-hoppy notes, the flavor of this complex, straw-colored ale tapers off to a peppery, dry finish.” And damn, at 8.5% ABV, this beer is one to write home about. Pick it up. You will love it.


Training Week 4/15

April 22, 2013

Training for the week 4/15 to 4/21 was about making an attempt at the Boston Double (Boston Marathon x 2 in one day) and then recovering. The week started exactly as planned, even going so far as to turn amazing, with me completing the Boston Double in well under 8 hours. Then it all turned tragically sad in an unimaginable way.

I rested the body the rest of the week, but the mind really took a beating for the obvious reasons. Boston — the marathon and the town — was just too near and dear to me. I felt violated, vulnerable, and deeply saddened that such evil would exist in this world.

By week’s end, thankfully, the asshole’s responsible for the Boston Marathon attacks were dead or captured. And although deep sadness still lasts for the innocent victims, it was like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. Free again.

It was a long week for everyone involved.

North Reading Patch did a few articles on me and my reaction:

Boston Double and Reaction to Attacks: here

Reaction to Capture: here

Week 4/15

Mon: 52.4 miles (Boston Marathon x 2) – road
Tues: 1 mile, keep-the-streak-alive hobble – road
Wed: 2 miles, keep-the-streak-alive hobble – road
Thurs: 2.5 miles, slow – road
Fri: 5 miles, easy, feeling better – road
Sat: 12.5 miles social (easy, slow) – road
Sun: 5.5 miles social – road

Total miles: 82 miles

Quality Workouts

Monday: 53+ miles in total including Boston Double
Finish Line to Start: 4:00
Official Marathon: 3:51
*It got ugly, but I remained in control and was never forced to walk.

Next Week

Goal for the coming week will be to continue recovering and get back out on the trails. TARC Spring Classic 50K is at end of week. Still deciding whether I go forward with it. If I do, I will take it easy.

Beer of the Week

Sam Adams 26.2 – Sam Adams crafts this beer in honor of the Boston Marathon. It is a drinkable session styled beer that is a cross between a wheat beer and a saison, in my opinion. I like it. It’s not one to go far out of your way for, but it does the marathon well. And it takes amazing after you have run 26.2 miles — or even 52.4!


Training Week 4/8

April 17, 2013

Training for the week 4/8 to 4/14 was about trying to get my body rested and ready for an attempt at what I call the Boston Double, which is running the Boston Marathon twice in one day, the first time from the official finish line to the start, and then jump in the official race for the run from the start in Hopkinton to the finish in Boston.

Although I never felt any better due to a nagging hamstring attachment issue, which makes the body feel more fatigued than it really is, I did lay low by resting and running only easy.

But honestly, I didn’t need the body to feel “ready-set-go” in order to take a shot at achieving the goal crafted several months earlier. I knew I could do it. The only question was: how much would it hurt, and could I do it on my own accord (without being forced to walk)?

Rest this week would give me the answer next week (answer: yes, it did!).

Week 4/8

Mon: 5 miles, slow – road
Tues: 5.65 miles, easy – road
Wed: 4.25 miles, easy – road
Thurs: 3.25 miles, slow – road
Fri: 4 miles, easy, finally feeling better – road
Sat: 2.25 miles easy, slow – road
Sun: 1.25 miles – road

Total miles: 26 miles

Quality Workouts

None

Next Week

Goal for the coming week will be to achieve the goal that is the Boston Double. Mentally I am ready. But phyiscally, will I be there?

Beer of the Week

Sam Adams IPL – Sam Adams doesn’t have a lot of knock-your-socks-off beers, though I want to make clear that this isn’t a knock on Sam Adams. Not only was Sam a key contributor in the craft beer revolution, but Sam also is a staple cannot-go-wrong ale. Sam makes good beers, it’s just that for craft beers, other smaller breweries do much better at the smaller scale. But Sam does make a few bright light type  beers, and for me, Sam’s new IPL, India Pale Lager, as opposed to IPA, is worth a shot. Hoppy enough to please some hopheads, and enough malt flavor to appeal to me, someone who enjoys both IPAs and ESB’s, this beer is one I will go back for.


Training Week 4/1

April 9, 2013

Training for the week 4/1 to 4/7 was about laying low, recovering, and staying out of the way of speed or anything else that might aggravate the hamstring attachment issue I re-injured a few weeks back at the Cupcake race on the beach.

For the most part, I did just that, though I didn’t exactly get myself to feeling any better in the attachment area. Another down week will hopefully get me back in order before the Boston Double on Marathon Monday!

I capped the week off pushing my boy in the jog stroller at Doyle’s Road Race. It was our first race together. We ran 37:57 for 5 miles, which was good for 7:35 minute miles. Not bad considering my first mile was 10 minutes and second wasn’t much faster, while getting stuck all the way in the back of the pack for this 1,600 runner field. Last mile? 6:05 minute miles! We were flying!

Also, stay tuned for something pretty cool. Hint: Boston Globe/boston.com… videographer… Boston Marathon!🙂

Week 4/1

Mon: 4 miles, slow – road
Tues: 6 miles, easy – road
Wed: 8 miles, easy – road
Thurs: 4.25 miles, slow – road
Fri: 5 miles, easy but better – road
Sat: 11.5 miles in 1:38:58, social – trails
Sun: 6 miles total, Doyle’s Road Race – road

Total miles: 45 miles

Quality Workouts

Sunday: Doyle’s Road Race, 5 miles, 37:57 (7:35 pace)
Splits: 9:47, 14:44, 7:13, 6:05
*Started in back of race, stopped once in first mile, once in second mile. Second mile split was probably 8:30, while mile 3 was likely 6:15. Four had climbing in it, hence the slowdown to 7:13, and five was flying down hill. I dreamed about mile 5 years ago before I ever had a kid.

Next Week

Goal for the coming week will be to lay low and get ready for the Boston Double!

Beer of the Week

Mayflower 5th Year Anniversary Ale — Mayflower Anniversary, a limited-batch release double IPA made with five distinct hop varieties, has to be among my new all-time favorite IPAs. Who doesn’t like a double IPA? And this one, weighing in at 8.2 ABV, is to die for. Head right now to your local liquor store and pick up a 22 oz. bomber of it. You will NOT be disappointed. I promise!