The miles seemed important as they piled up. I was certain I’d surpassed 1,300 miles for 2016, but upon reviewing the graphic below, it’s clear I fell a bit shy: 1,295 miles – still not too shabby. Continue Reading
Vermont in the fall is a truly spectacular place and time to be a trail-runner, especially when weather conditions are perfect.
I’ve certainly been blessed with ideal conditions during my two trips to the Vermont 50 – for the 50-mile race in 2015 and the 50K race this year on Sunday, Sept. 25. Not every year of the Vermont 50 is flawless – in fact, I’ve been told by many that it is notorious for challenging weather, be it extreme heat like in 2014, or heavy rain the year prior. In 2015, however, the course was dry, the skies were sunny, and temperatures ranged from 32 degrees at the start to the upper 60s by late afternoon. This year was even more fabulous, with temperatures ranging from the upper 30s to upper 50s, dry ground, and sunny skies that allowed the fall foliage to explode in color all around us.
As a guy who grew up in Kansas – a place known for its picturesque fall colors – Vermont makes me feel like I’m back in the heartland this time of year, except, of course, for the mountains. Continue Reading
FORKSVILLE, Pa. – The howl of cheering voices and clatter of cowbells in the distance echoed off the hemlock and hardwoods, joining the patter of raindrops and squishing of footsteps in the mud as the only sounds in the forest on this damp, dark night.
The finish line was less than a mile away; within earshot, it felt tantalizingly close. I’d be there soon, if I could just navigate this final windy descent.
“Chris! Be careful!” implored Alex, my girlfriend and pacer, who followed 20 feet behind me, watching as I slipped and stumbled along the muddy, rocky trail. The beam from my Black Diamond headlamp cut through a dense fog, revealing that the singletrack had eroded into half-track, with barely six inches of width available for foot placement. I grabbed trees to my left for support as the ground to my right crumbled and disappeared down the hillside.
I was running on fumes; drunk on Gatorade and exhaustion. This was the final – and most harrowing – battle with a course that had proven to be every bit the beast that I anticipated when I signed up back in January. I wanted to take on a race unlike any I’d ever attempted, with a course that would test me mentally and physically every step of the way and dare me to quit. I wanted to stare failure in the eye and see if I would blink. Continue Reading
It’s been nearly six years since I went for my first trail run, and it’s amazing to think back on what the sport has done to improve my overall health and happiness, as well as to help me feel younger as the years have gone by.
Of course, there are times where the sport makes me feel considerably older, too. That’s a temporary side effect that comes with running trail ultramarathons that deliver a prolonged beating to the body during a period of numerous hours on varying terrain. Sore muscles, a stiff back and achy knees all come with the territory.
I experienced both sides of that equation on Sunday when I celebrated my 36th birthday by running the Trail Animals Running Club’s “Don’t Run Boston” 50K at the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, Mass. I began the day with my legs feeling youthful, fresh and strong, bolstered by a few 20-mile runs during the past month and consistent weekly mileage in the 40s. I ended the day with sore calves and hamstrings, cranky knees, a stiff body, and a depleted system after almost 33 miles and nearly nine hours on the trail.
Young and old at the same time.
DRB was the perfect way to spend my birthday. I’m often at my happiest when playing on the trails in the woods, and DRB allowed for a full day of such activity. Alex and I ran the full race together, made wrong turns together, compared the map and course directions together, and crossed the finish line side-by-side. We got to experience most of the trails in the Blue Hills Reservation, some that we’d run before, but most which we had not. We got a feel for all the Blue Hills has to offer, from the wide, gravelly, rolling sections that accommodate running at a steady clip, to the steep, rocky climbs and descents along the rugged Skyline Trail that force you to hike and sometimes scramble.
Miles in the Blue Hills are hard-earned and rewarding, and there were plenty of them on Sunday. By going off-course a few times, we ended up running 32.85 miles and amassing 6,024 feet of vertical gain, according to my Garmin 910XT.
DRB marked my 13th ultramarathon finish, eighth 50K, and first ultra in Massachusetts. It also served as what will be my longest training day in preparation for the Worlds End 100K on May 21 in Forksville, Penn. That race, measuring 63.8 miles with 12,000 feet of vertical gain, will be the longest and toughest that I’ve ever taken on, and DRB proved to be a worthy test run.
DRB also served as ignition for my appetite. I felt ravenous by the end of the run, so Alex and I cleaned up and headed to one of my favorite restaurants, Mike’s in Davis Square, for a birthday dinner. I had a large calzone, she had a few slices of pizza, and we each enjoyed a large mug of Sam Adams’ special-edition 26.2 Brew – a light ale brewed annually in celebration of the Boston Marathon.
Perhaps it was an ironic choice, drinking the marathon’s signature brew after running “Don’t Run Boston,” but it hit the spot. Besides, a day later it would be the Boston Marathoners’ time to shine. My slightly-older legs needed a day off.
The saying “you get what you pay for” oftentimes rings true, be it for a race entry fee, hotel room, or purchase from a store.
The Merrimack River Trail Race 10-miler proved to be an exception.
At just $10, the entry fee was enough to entice me to sign up back in February. The event experience Saturday in Andover, Mass., was worth so much more than the bargain price.
Ten bucks bought entry into the race, aid station support, post-race grub, and a fun run. On top of all of that, the ten bucks bought a whole lot of joy.
From the moment we arrived at the Wyndham Hotel’s back parking lot (site of the start/finish), to the drive home, the day was filled with nearly constant laughter. That’s a tribute to Race Director Steve Peterson, a man whose combination of volume, humor, and enthusiasm had myself—and just about everybody else—laughing throughout packet pick-up, the pre-race briefing, and the post-race awards, followed by a truly epic raffle.
Steve provided a constant pre-race countdown by shouting updates at obscure timing moments (THIRTY-TWO MINUTES!!! TWENTY-NINE MINUTES!!! People on the highway, you have FIVE MINUTES!!!). He had everyone chuckling with his instructions, including “do NOT get hurt!” and “if you don’t see the flags marking the course, then you are NOT on the course.” There also was the ceremonial raising of the T-shirts (the starting line is marked by a clothesline displaying 25 years worth of race shirts), the centerpiece being this year’s 25th anniversary “Silvah Rivah” shirt.
Post-race, he presented winners with baked goods, commemorative “Silvah Rivah” gloves, and allowed them to choose a prize from a table full of leftover shirts from other races. The grand finale was the raffle, which consisted of about 25 items where each lucky participant whose number was drawn had to choose between two options (for example, pickles vs. toilet paper, or Rice-a-Roni variety pack vs. Twizzlers and Yoohoo).
The comedy show lasted all morning, save for during the actual running – which was plenty enjoyable in its own right.
The out-and-back course offered a nice variety of terrain with fast, non-technical running during the first and last three miles and some steep, challenging climbs and descents during the middle four miles. It was also fun to see the front-runners battling for position while crossing paths as they headed inbound, as well as being able to offer encouragement to other outbound runners once I hit the turnaround.
My race went well. I hadn’t planned to push the pace, but I got a little carried away during the first three miles and negative-split each one before the hills kicked in and I was slowed by the climbs and the two-way traffic. After clearing the hills on the way back, I again was able to push the pace and averaged about a 7:30 mile over the final two miles through to the finish line.
My official time was 1:21:41, good for a personal-best time at the distance.
After taking a few minutes to catch my breath, it was great to relax with friends and enjoy a solid half-hour of laughs courtesy of Steve’s awards ceremony and raffle before heading home with a smile on my face.
I’ve been running trails for almost six years and have raced in seven other states as well as in Canada. The Merrimack River Trail Race was my first trail race in Massachusetts, and it was a joyful event in all aspects. For just $10, I got my money’s worth and a whole lot more.
Temptation got the best of me on January 19. I was one week into a three-week running hiatus – the longest I’ve gone without running a single mile in years – when I pulled the trigger and registered for the Worlds End 100K, a race that had been beckoning me for months.
Two more sedentary weeks awaited me before my physical therapist cleared me to run again, but there I was signing up for the longest race of my life. I had four months to go from a standstill to toeing the starting line of a 63.3-mile mountain race in the rugged Pennsylvania wilderness. I wasn’t sure if it was a smart decision to sign up, but I couldn’t resist.
This race kept calling out to me, keeping me awake at night and tantalizing my mind with wonder. Could I handle this course? Could I go the distance? Am I tough enough?
I’m all-in on finding out.
Ten weeks have passed since registering, and the mileage has changed considerably. Zero-mileage weeks in January became 40-plus-mile weeks in April. In fact, last week’s result was a yearly-best 49 total miles with more than 7,300 feet of vertical gain and a 20.5-mile long run. Month-over-month, the numbers have climbed, too. A 43-mile total for January increased to 129 in February before sprouting to 173 in March – the second-biggest mileage month of my life (182 in June 2012).
At the same time, I’ve been a good PT patient, working hard in the rehab room and diligently doing my homework to heal my left posterior tibial ligament. The rigors of race preparation have kept the ligament from fully healing, but it has made tremendous progress and continues to get stronger as the inflammation fades away. In addition to treating the posterior tibial ligament, my physical therapist identified other areas of weakness, such as my right hip, which I’m now working to strengthen in advance of race day. He also has me doing balance work – lots and lots of balance work – to overcome a stability deficiency on my right side.
I haven’t had a training program for this race, opting instead to do what has worked best for me during the past two years and figure it out week by week, doing what I think I need to accomplish to be best prepared both physically and mentally when I get to the starting line while not being married to a rigid plan. So far, that seems to be working.
Tomorrow is the first day of April, 50 days before race day and the start of the final push. I have three races in the next five weeks, all of which are training runs for Worlds End. The first is the Merrimack River 10-Mile Trail Race on April 9, followed by TARC’s “DRB” Don’t Run Boston 50K on April 17 at the Blue Hills Reservation, and then (depending on how I’m feeling this close to race day) the Seven Sisters Trail Run – a rugged 12-mile trail race with 3,500 feet of vertical gain on May 8. After that, it will be time to taper for two weeks and then step to the starting line at 5 a.m. on May 21 – hopefully in good health and with a motivated mind – and find out what Worlds End is all about.
Maybe it’s the mountains, the remoteness of the course, or the ruggedness of the trail that caused the race to linger in the back of my mind for so long.
Or maybe it’s simply the name – the Worlds End Ultramarathon – that I found so alluring.
I was intrigued by the race last year, and then it returned to my consciousness in August while running hill repeats in Erie, PA, during a stop along my move from Kansas City to Boston.
Since then, I thought about it almost daily. The temptation grew stronger by the week. Registration for the 2016 Worlds End Ultra 100K opened in November, and I found myself browsing the race website and list of entrants every few days. The race was filling quickly, and by early January I knew I had a decision to make: commit, or wait until next year.
I think I knew my answer all the way back in August, but on January 19 I finally made it official. The 100K race—with a capacity of 150 runners—had reached 141 entrants. I claimed spot 142. Within 48 hours, it was sold out.
I’m in. A gnarly course awaits with 12,000 feet of vertical gain and 12,000 feet of quad-busting descent. Now the work begins.
The first step of race preparation is to get healthy. I haven’t run in two weeks while going through physical therapy to address a posterior tibial ligament injury in the right ankle/foot that has been lingering since July. In some ways, I’ll be asking for more out of my body during the next four months than ever before, so it’s critical that I take care of the little things early to increase my chances for success in the long-term. My physical therapist, Adam Paggi of Paggi PT, has worked wonders on me so far. The ligament is getting stronger, and I’ll return to running in the coming week.
Once I’m running again, I know I may have to deal with the harsh New England winter. We haven’t had much snow yet, but that could change in an instant with snowfall so deep that the trails aren’t runnable. I’ll log as much mileage as I can on the trails, but I’m prepared to go inside if necessary. In fact, even though mileage will be important, the greater focus of my training will be climbing. There’s enough rocky, technical climbing and steep vertical on the course that I need to be ready for numerous long, grueling climbs, followed by fast downhills that transition right back to more vertical gain. I’m developing some stairclimber/treadmill brick workouts at the gym to get my legs accustomed to the frequent shifts of pace and terrain.
I have 17 weeks until race day, and 15 weeks to actually train before taper time arrives. I’m nowhere near where I need to be to take on my longest distance run ever on what I expect will be the most grueling course I’ve seen. But I’m confident that I’ll be ready by 5 a.m. on May 21.
Worlds End has been tempting me for months. I’m committed. Now it’s time to get to work.