Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Breaking down, getting healthy, and getting stronger

Runners are, by and large, the most brutally honest people I know. From work-a-day hobbyjoggers like me to professional athletes, delusions of a better, faster, more capable self simply cannot survive the rigors of real life training and racing. At the end of the day you are what the clock says you are and if you don't like it then it is up do you to do something about it. But don't complain about it because nobody wants to hear your whining. Period. When you get dropped from the group on a hilly long run there is no way to sugar coat it. On that course, on that day, among that group of runners, that's who you are. Your PRs are your identity so you better work hard for them, make them count, and, above all, be proud of them. For the most part this type of honesty is very healthy and I truly believe it has made me better at almost everything I do in life.

This is not to say we are not capable of lying to ourselves like everyone else--it's just that we carefully pick our spots. We lie when it is the only way to keep moving forward, because at the end of the day moving forward is all we have--no matter what successes or failures we have in life or no matter what the universe throws at us, putting one foot in front of the other is the one thing we can always control. Just. Keep. Pushing.

So we lie to keep on moving forward. "Fast is easy." "I can still do this." "I'm not tired." "Your doing grate!" And my personal favorite: "It's not an injury."

But when brutal honesty and relentless forward motion collide it creates a sharknado of cognitive dissonance.
The NWS has issued a sharknado warning.
For more than a decade there were two things that I knew for sure--these two basic truths were the bedrock of my entire running worldview:
  1. Injuries are never random and are always due to a failure in training by the athlete.
  2. I don't get injured because I am way smarter than everyone else.
I still believe the first statement. Coming to grips with the fallacy of the second statement has, over the past 6 months, been a less than comfortable but necessary journey of personal growth.

Hi, my name is Mike and I am an injured runner.

But I am on the mend--physically and mentally--and I believe I can still be better than I have ever been. This is the story of how I figured it out, and how I'm fixing it.

I have had a left hamstring injury since at least January and probably since as far back as November of last year--I remember vividly how badly it hurt after the Great Stew Chase 15k in early February and how I could barely take a step the next day when I went out for a little shakeout jog. A month later, by Stu's 30k, it was worse and a little jog the Monday after that brought tears to my eyes. I managed my way through the next few weeks and somehow ran a 1:19:50 half marathon at New Bedford on March 17th but by then there was no denying it--I was broken. I had planned to use my training for that half as a nice base build for a Spring of doing hard workouts in hopes of busting a sub 17 5k but instead I had to take a couple of weeks of very easy jogging.

During this time, I started toying with the idea of jumping into the Vermont City Marathon (hey, I'm injured so I think I'll run a marathon!) I thought I might like to have a Boston Qualifier in my pocket for 2014 and easy mileage didn't seem to bother me much. Then Boston happened, and I made up my mind for sure I wanted to run in 2014 and so that was that. I managed to run an okay marathon in Vermont, then got sick, then after taking some time off being sick started running again and my hamstring was no better--it was worse.

I decided to figure it out. I had already been doing a lot of reading and a lot of it focused on hips and glutes as the primary culprit--I had started doing lunges and bridges to try and strengthen my glutes and increase my hip mobility but I wasn't clear on why that was important. Still it seemed to help a little. I kept stretching and rolling my hamstrings too, which basically made no difference. It turns out I was on the right track, just not really zeroing in on the root cause.

Then in late June or early July I picked up a copy of Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry and everything changed.
Are you a runner? Then read this book.
I have been reluctant to become too evangelical about a book that I only read 6 weeks ago but the thing is after reading it, my whole world suddenly makes sense. Jay Dicharry understands runners and why they get injured as well as what to do to not get injured. He mixes the anatomy and physiology with practical and real world exercises and self-assessments that make you go "oh of course!" Near the end there is a chapter on self-assessments and another (appropriately called "Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again") on corrective exercises. I can't summarize the book in this space and do it justice so I'll just suggest that if you're a runner and you want to recover from an injury, or avoid future injuries, you should read it.

The biggest issue for me--and a lot of other people it turns out--is that I have tight hip flexors from sitting too much. Over time this has caused me to become a quad-dominant runner, my glutes became too weak to maintain the position of my pelvis above my femur, and when I fatigued my pelvis would roll forward on my hips. This caused me to arch my back and my center of mass to move forward which caused me to over stride in front of my body to keep from falling on my face. Basically I was running in what Dicharry calls the toilet bowl of doom.
Here I am in the toilet bowl of doom in 2010
I think the combination of rolling my pelvis forward and over striding in front of my center of mass was what put too much strain on my upper hamstring and led to upper hamstring tendonitis. But at the end of the day the exact diagnosis is unimportant--that was one of a dozen things that could have (or should have) gone wrong the way I was headed, and treating the specific injury would have done very little good.

The answer was in increasing my hip extension mobility, strengthening my core and rewiring neuro-muscular system to run with correct posture. I had to rebuild my chassis.

So what am I actually doing differently now? It's really just a few basic things.

  • I think about and pay attention to correct posture all the time now, especially when I'm running.
  • Several times a day I stand on one foot, 30 seconds each foot.
  • I stretch my hip flexors for 3 minutes each after every run.
  • I walk around barefoot whenever possible, even more than I used to.
  • I've replaced all the drills I was doing with just 2 things: heel lifts and backward running.
  • When I do strides, I try to crunch my abs a tiny bit to try and bring my pelvis and my shoulders toward each other--this helps me maintain a perfectly straight back even while striding really hard.
  • I don't stretch my hamstrings at all anymore (but I still roll them a couple times a week).
  • I do a series of core and stability exercises--including a lot of glute max stuff--that take about 30 minutes, 3 x per week. Mostly it's specific bridges, lunges, squats, some stability ball stuff and some pushups and knee drives. I took a bunch of the exercises from the Humpty Dumpty chapter that I thought I needed most and that I could practically do in the space I had and with the equipment I had. After about 7 weeks, I plan to pare the list of exercises down a bit and not do all of them every session and get it down to maybe 15 minutes a session, 2 to 3 times a week for maintenance.
I honestly think the biggest and most immediate difference has been from simply thinking about posture. Until I read this book I have to admit I never actually knew what good posture was or what it was supposed to feel like. And so I couldn't have corrected it if I tried. After doing some really simple exercises and just teaching myself what good posture is, I can now feel it instinctively.

It took a lot of concentration at first to stay in good posture and keep my pelvis neutral throughout even an easy 6 mile run, but in just a few weeks it has become almost hard wired to where I don't have to think about it much at all. Very rarely now, I'll still catch myself arching my back and/or tilting my pelvis and I'll have to concentrate for a few seconds to get myself back to neutral--but those instances are becoming fewer and farther in between.

My hamstring pain is basically gone. I can still feel it every now and then the day after a long run or if I accidentally over stride for a bit but I would not really call it pain anymore as much of just an awareness of an area that used to be kind of tender. It went away so quickly that I'm sure the exercises had little to nothing to do with it and that it was almost entirely from just running with better posture--the exercises are just helping me to maintain posture and make good posture instinctive and natural.

At first my glutes were really fatigued from the combination of all the exercises I was doing and from actually having to do their job when I was running. But after just a few weeks that's gone and they have actually become a strength--I don't fatigue as quickly when running hills.

The biggest epiphany was only a week or two after finishing the book when I went out for a 12-mile run on a Sunday by myself. I had been doing the exercises and drills and giving myself something to work on in every run up until that point. That day I decided to just run and not really work on anything--no specific pace, no strides or drills. Just a run with good posture. For the first time in 6 months I made it through a run of that length without hamstring pain. When I stopped for water after about 11 miles and had to restart again I was amazed that there was no pain or stiffness. I had a pretty good idea I was on the right track at that point and it really helped my whole attitude. Since then I've gotten stronger, my hamstring has become less and less noticeable, and I've progressed to some big, hilly long runs that felt pretty good.

I've noticed that when I run with good posture, I carry my hands a little lower--it feels like I used to run when I was in highschool. I also don't get sore anywhere and I have basically no muscle knots or adhesions. I still roll my hamstrings and calfs and do a bunch of self massage, it's just that now I never find anything. Granted, I haven't really done any hard workouts other than a few long runs on hilly courses, but I still used to always have some kind of knot somewhere and now I have nothing.

Right now I plan to finish out the initial 7-week core-stability plan that I wrote out and then re-asses and develop a real, longer term training plan. I may add it some weight training in the fall but I am still undecided on that. I will definitely keep in the habit of doing some core and stability work at least 2x per week forever for maintenance. I'll still run a few races but I am putting all time goals on the back burner for now until I'm 100% healed and able to put in a real training cycle--I am excited to really be able to train with a fully healthy chassis and see what I can do. Get healthy, then get stronger.

A couple of months ago I felt like this injury cycle was the beginning of the end for me. Now I feel like I am in control again and that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Boston 2014 is the next race I really care about. Everything between now and then is just part of the process. Anything is possible and I am ready. It is going to be epic.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Un-retirement

I ran 2:56:06 at the Vermont City Marathon yesterday, roughly 31 months after having declared myself retired from marathons.

My goal going in was 2:55:00, which would have been the magical BQ-20, a.k.a. you get to register the first day Boston registration opens in September. But under the circumstances, I will take it. BQ-20 was just a nice round number to shoot for but almost 19 minutes under my qualifying time should more than suffice.

I only decided to run this race 6 weeks ago, and even convinced my buddy Dan Princic to do it as well. We both went back and forth with our wives on whether to try and make it a family weekend, but in the end decided to try and do it on the cheap. Get in, get our BQs, and get out.

So we drove up to Burlington on Saturday afternoon in a heavy rainstorm that mixed with snow at times. We got our bibs, checked into our dorm room (literally) at Champlain College, and then walked down the hill in search of food and the Bruins game.

Dan in the dorm room, pinning his number before making his bunk.

We found both at Manhattan Pizza Pub. After a good plate of chicken parm with ziti and a couple of very responsible beers, the Bruins were good enough to wrap up their game (and series) in regulation so that we were walking back up the hill to Lakeview Hall by a little after 8pm.

These are responsible beers.
In the morning it was still raining hard and the forecast had not improved. 42 degrees, rain and wind. We got up and shoved down some easy-to-consume calories before walking down to the gas station and back for coffee.

We got into our race gear, donned our ghetto ponchos made of black trash bags, and headed on out into the shizzle.

The start area was a cluster and a muddy bog but we found the gear check, dropped our bags and headed for the start. Just before the gun I ripped off my trash bag, and since the sleeves of my throwaway long sleeve t-shirt were already soaked, I tossed that as well. I was down to shorts, singlet, arm warmers, gloves, and the good old winter-hat-over-ballcap look. I was pretty styling. And cold.

There was bicycle parking, apparently.
And then the race got started.

The course is basically 4 out-and-back sections of varying length, through different parts of town, returning through downtown after each one.

The first 3-mile loop goes through some nicer neighborhoods near UVM and Champlain College. These were nice warm-up miles just to get the blood pumping. On the way back we headed through Church Street which had good crowd support in spots.

The second loop is an out-and-back on Route 127 for miles 4 through 9. This was boring, and cold with a headwind on the way out. It was nice to see the leaders go by before we made the turn. And it was nice to see the pack after we made the turn, but mostly I was just glad to get this section over with. We ran back through the start for mile 9 then got another trip down Church Street to get a little shot of adrenaline for the next loop.
Church Street
The third loop is through some neighborhoods in the southern end of Burlington for miles 10-15. The return section of this loop was all along bike path right against the lake shore and featured waves crashing onto the path. Good times.

Just after mile 15 we hit the biggest hill on the course which couldn't have come at a better time. Normally I would not want a big hill in the 16th mile of a marathon, but this one was what I needed to get my body temperature back up after cold blast along the lake. There was great energy from the crowds here too.

The final loop takes up the last 10 miles of the race. There were long stretches of running northwest on North Ave (straight into the wind) broken up by a few detours through neighborhoods that each gave a short respite from the cold headwind. On the final North Ave section, miles 20 and 21, the wear and tear of the cold, wind and general fatigue was taking its toll and I had the strong urge to curl up in a ball on the side of the road. I talked myself to mile 22 where we would turn back toward downtown and have shelter and/or the wind at our backs. But when I reached that point there was not much left in the tank and the surge I had been planning never really came. It was everything I could just to stay under 7 minute miles from 22 on. There was nothing left to do but keep pushing until it was over.

Mile 26. No longer avoiding puddles.

Eventually the hoopla of Waterfront Park came into earshot and I was able to let myself believe it was almost over. I must hand it to the crowds--as miserable as the weather was, they were out in force and they were boisterous and festive. There was an "S" turn at around 26 miles and then a straight shot on a grass field that was under 3 inches of standing water and mud into the finish. With 100 yards to go I took off my hat(s) and hammed it up for the crowd--flapping my arms, and pumping my fists and basically acting like a total idiot. Why not, I figured? I gave it a big exaggerated fist pump at the finish line and I was done.

I shuffled through the mud and crowd to find my dry clothes in the baggage tent and found Dan sitting in a chair changing shoes. "Crushed it," he said, "2:45." Fist pumps.
Dan. Crushing it.
Then there was the usual slogging through mud to the massage tent, going into shivering fits at times, getting wrapped in blankets to stop the shivering, scarfing down two slices of pizza, getting our one free beer each, etc. etc. The typical post-marathon stuff.

Life is good when you're dry(ish) and in the beer tent.
After the climb back up the hill to our dorm (with a stop at our favorite gas station for a 6-pack of Long Trail), I took the hottest shower in history. It was glorious.

Later Dan and I walked back down to Church Street and got a couple of great burgers, a bunch of good beers and had some lively conversations with a few of the locals. At about 8:20pm on Sunday night, the sun came out.

The sun!


Onward.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Onward

I guess I should say something about Boston.

It has been 11 days since the bombings and nearly a week since they caught "suspect number 2" hiding in a boat in a back yard in Watertown after a massive gun battle and siege of that city that we all watched glued to our tv's and computers. In that time, a lot of people more eloquent than I am have written a lot of words about the strength of our city, our region, our first responders and the running community. The families of Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier have memorialized their loved ones and begun the healing process. The wounded have begun their long roads toward recovery. Boylston Street has reopened for business and we have begun to move on as we do.

Personally, I feel tremendously guilty for not having been there. It seems a strange thing to admit but there it is. Having not run Boston since 2009 I spent the day tracking friends online and watching the elite race while having conference calls and answering work email. I was still a safe 13 miles away from the finish line, on my way out the door to go downtown for a post-marathon celebration with running friends, when the bombs went off. The next hour or so was a haze of trying to communicate with people near the finish line--several of whom I had been in touch with just minutes before the blast and then suddenly could not reach at all, as the phone networks were at first overwhelmed and then shut down to prevent any further remote detonations. All the while, friends and family were contacting me to make sure I was safe.

I self identify as a runner. It is a huge part of who I am. And yet on the biggest day in our sport, when our greatest event suffered its greatest tragedy, and we collectively went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, I was a safe distance away, watching helplessly on television like millions of others as the drama unfolded on that street I know so well, by that finish line I know so well, and on that sidewalk I know so well. Guilt was not one of the emotions I was expecting, but there it was...and here it is.

The fact that so many of the victims were spectators who did nothing but show up to be a part of such a great day and support the runners is very difficult. Almost all of us who have run a marathon remember being inspired by watching a marathon first. Around here, the marathon we watched was Boston--it is difficult to be anywhere near the Boston Marathon and not be inspired and overwhelmed by the energy coming from that long line of people surging toward the Citgo sign and beyond and hearing the roars from the crowds all around. The idea that someone would  attack that is nearly impossible to imagine.

Like thousands of other runners--and non-runners for that matter--I immediately resolved to be at the starting line in Hopkinton on Patriots' Day in 2014. Interest in the Boston Marathon is now at an all-time high for the 2014 race. I had already been toying with the idea, and had just 2 days before Boston, signed up for the Vermont City Marathon next month to try and get a qualifier for next year's race. "Just in case I decide to run it," I told myself.

Now, there is no more "just in case"--there is only do or die. I am blessed to still have two strong legs, a strong heart and a big pair of lungs. And as long as I am able, I can never again deny those gifts by not running Boston.

Onward.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat


At last, New Bedford.

After slogging through what turned out to be (and, continues to be as I write this) a fairly crappy winter, a lot of us were looking forward to this: New Bedford on St. Patrick's Day. In the same way that NASCAR holds its biggest race of the season right off the bat, this race always seems to draw the biggest, fastest field of the entire NE GP season. Granted, this is not the first race--that was Jones 10-miler last month--but it always feels like the start of the racing season when you can strip off your winter layers, show those pasty legs made strong from a winter of grinding it out on frozen hills, and let 'er rip. New Bedford in March is where you go to see how you measure up against the toughest and deepest running community on planet earth (probably) outside the Great Rift Valley.

I met up with some of the Southern Middlesex contingent of Greater Lowell, Chris Hancock, aka X, and Kevin Carnabucci, aka Bucci, in Melrose to carpool down. The weather looked decent--windy and cool, but sunny--and we were all in pretty good spirits. We got to downtown NB, went to the Y to pick up our numbers and met up with EJ, and then went back to Kevin's car to strip down and go for a fairly pointless warm-up jog. It was too cold to really warm up. Downtown New Bedford, which is likely pretty quiet on a normal Sunday morning in late winter, was ajitter with activity. Along with the race officials, police, EMTs etc. there were under dressed, skinny people skittering around like ants in all directions.

Bucci and X wandering through downtown New Bedford
We got lined up, met up with our GLRR teammates and other notable personalities from the NE running community, and listened to the announcements and national anthem. I made sure to stay near EJ. I think we both figured we would pace together for as long as possible since we had pretty similar goals--EJ was looking to improve on his PR of 1:19:18 set here last year. I would have considered that a great day for me, but not entirely unrealistic. I figured if we aimed for that at it wasn't there I should still be able to get under 1:20 for only the 3rd time in my life--I would consider that a win.

The first couple of miles as we ran northwest from downtown, were into the cold wind. It felt much colder than I thought it would but I just kept telling myself once we turned at about 3.5 miles, the wind would be at our backs for a good 4 or 5 miles. Miles 1 and 2 went in 6:03 and 6:05, and then the uphill miles 3 and 4 were 6:09 and 6:14 when we reached the top of the hills and turned left to head south back toward the water. EJ had almost dropped me on the 2nd hill but I didn't let him break the string and he let me catch back up once we reached the top in the 4th mile.

Once we got our legs under us, we started rolling on the slightly downhill and downwind section through miles 5-7. The crowd support is good through here and the cheers of "Go Lowell!" and whatnot definitely helped pick me back up. There are many advantages to running with EJ, but not the least of which is that so many people know him and even many who don't tend to cheer for him--especially when he breaks out the Flag of Ireland shorts on St. Paddy's day.

Rolling a 5:46 7th mile with EJ. Whoops!
The NB course layout demands that you be aggressive in miles 5-7, but maybe not quite as aggressive as we were, going 5:46, 5:54, and 546. That might have been a just a few ticks too fast for me--but it would turn out it wasn't for EJ.

The lonely miles 8-10 along the water went 6:03, 6:01 and 6:08 which put us at 10 miles in 60:06, or a full minute faster than I ran the Jones 10-miler a few weeks ago.

At just before mile 10 we had turned almost directly into the wind again. I (like most people) struggled here. EJ did not. He started pulling away from me and there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it at that point. I wasn't losing ground to anybody else, really, and in fact I was gaining on and passing people throughout miles 11 and 12, (despite running about a 6:27 mile 11 into the icy wind) it's just that EJ was walking away from me. Those were some difficult miles.

I was relieved to see the hill that starts at just before the 12 mile mark because it meant we were back downtown and out of the wind, and that the end was near. It was all blood and guts at that point, grinding all the way up the gradual hill to the KFC that signals the second to last turn. On the slight downhill before the final turn I actually was able to gain back some turnover and pass a few more people, and at the 13 mile marker the clock read 1:19:17. While I was glad do know what I needed to do to break 1:20, it was a little bit heart rending  to know it was obviously going to require a pretty painful finish. I kicked with whatever I had left for a 1:19:50 for 142nd overall (tough field!) and 19th M40.

EJ had done it again--a PR in 1:19:05 for 6th M50. We met up with the other Angry Chickens who were in ahead of us: Justin Patronick, Andrew Downey, Cody Freihofer and, Top Chicken o' The Day, James "The Kid" Sullivan with yet another breakout day: 1:13:42. James Deluca, running on a bad wheel, came in shortly after me with a big PR in 1:20:50. Then a wave of Angry Chickens came in with impressive performances.

Sully, EJ, and me. Irish Flag shorts for all GLRR runners next year! You can't argue with the results.
It didn't take much time standing around to start to get really cold, so I shuffle jogged to Bucci's car and tried to get the key from under one of the wheel wells, which was a lot harder than it should have been and involved getting face down on some cold pavement and almost not being able to get back up (long story.) Eventually I got the car open and started throwing layers of clothes on as fast as I could. As I did, X and Bucci showed up with a couple of new PRs. We got ourselves dressed and then headed to the Y for our chowder and fish sandwiches, and then a couple of doors down to the Cat Walk Bar for some beers and catching up with the GLRR crew. Another tough but great day in the Whaling City.

Give me a Guinness!
I feel pretty good about my race--about 75% pleased and about 25% wondering what I might have done if I'd been a little less aggressive from 5 through 7. At any rate it is only my 3rd sub 1:20 ever, and possibly ranks as my 2nd best HM considering that my 1:19:11 at Wilmington in 2010 was on a course that almost everyone agrees is about 150 meters short. This is the fittest I have ever been in March in a year when I wasn't about to run a marathon in April, so I've done what I wanted to do when I started this buildup last fall: I have given myself a chance for an honest try at the 5k this Spring.

The one nagging worry is my left hamstring which has been a problem in the late miles of the the last three long races I have run now--Jones, Stu's and now NB. And it was very tender the day after when I went for a little jog. I've been doing a lot of reading up on the whole hamstring/glute/hip system and I have a semblance of a plan to deal with it, but it is there in the back of my mind. We'll see. Like most runners, in addition to being a part-time meteorologist, I also dabble in orthopedics and physical therapy so I think I can manage it and keep it from becoming a real injury.

Onward.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stu's 30k, a.k.a. the EJ show


The siren sounded to start the race and we all started running, nice and easily at first. There was none of the chaos of last Sunday's Jones 10-miler. EJ and I, and the rest of the 250 odd runners including several Angry Chickens, headed on down the road at a fairly comfortable (to start) pace. My plan was to take the first 5k at about 6:40 pace and then gradually ratchet up the effort from there. I had managed to convince EJ that if he stick with my pacing plan--which for me was more about the workout than the finish time--he'd get the sub 2 hour finish he was looking for.

We talked to a guy named Tom who works at Marathon sports--he had won a 10k where EJ had finished 2nd last year. It was a nice day for a run and we were rolling along without much effort. Our first 5k wound up a little slower than we planned, more like 6:45 pace, but there was plenty of time to fix that.

Running a long race with EJ is an uplifting experience. He makes a point to thank every volunteer and every cop directing traffic. He cheers for the people on the side of the road who are supposed to be cheering for us, or taunts them into cheering louder. This is contagious too--at one intersection around 3 or 4 miles into the race I waved and yelled "thank you!" to a cop on the other side of the road and EJ said, "Oh, thanks Mikey, I almost missed that one."

Maybe EJ loves whole running scene so much because he found running later in life. Or maybe I should say running found him. Sometimes it seems as if the sport of running sought out EJ because it needed him, and he took to it like a fish to water. At any rate, we're all better off that running found him.

Our 2nd 5k was a bit faster than planned, around 6:20 pace, and so it went for the next hour or so--I should have known trying to do a progression run on that roller coaster of a course was hopeless. We continued to turn up the effort and I tried not to worry too much about pace, which yo-yo'd with the hills--the trend was in the right direction. At one point we lost our buddy Tom.

We rolled along for a while and the miles peeled away--grinding the uphills and trying to roll like water on the downhills--catching someone once in a while but mostly having the road to ourselves. There were some snow flurries but the ground was dry and it wasn't too cold.

After about 15 miles my left hamstring was noticeably barking at me and I began to rethink my strategy of dropping the hammer and running the last 5k of the race with my hair on fire to try and get in under 2 hours. I was okay to keep banging out the 6:20-6:30's we were doing, but I felt like trying to do much more than that was going to put me into a level of effort I really didn't need a week after Jones and 2 weeks before New Bedford. But I could tell EJ was feeling pretty good and wanted to roll. We could see Reno Stirrat up ahead of us, along with a guy in a black CMS singlet.

Finally, I said to EJ, "If you're feeling it, go ahead."

EJ was feeling it.

He practically left a vapor trail as he took off up the road. Before I knew it he'd caught Reno and the CMS runner and was moving on to the next targets. It was a weird feeling to see him pulling away so fast because I could have sworn I hadn't really slowed down at all (and my splits would later show that I hadn't.) But in the 10k race pace that EJ was now dropping made the 6:20's we had been running look like walking.

By the time I made it through the town of Clinton and turned onto that last bitch of hill, EJ was no longer in sight. I crested the hill and began to turn my legs over again and and wound up finishing strong and feeling good. I finished in 2:01:17 and I was just fine with that--I accomplished what I wanted.

EJ had finished in 1:59:39.

I had run almost a 2 minute negative split and EJ had crushed that. His last 3+ miles went 5:52, 5:56, 6:20 (up the bitch of a hill) then back down to 5:50 pace for the last 3/4 mile. It was one of the most impressive finishes I've witnessed up close. Part of me wonders if I should have gone with EJ and tried to let him pull me to a sub 2 hour finish but make no mistake; I wasn't beating EJ today no matter what I did. He was a beast (you might say AoW.) And it was fun to watch.

Onward.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jones 10-miler

SOMEWHERE IN THE 413 -- The first stop on the 2013 USATF NE Grand Prix tour took us to Amherst, MA for the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club's (a.k.a. SMAC) Jones 10 miler. Who would pick a hilly 10-miler in February in Western Massachusetts as their Grand Prix 10-miler? Apparently we, the voting members of USATF New England would, that's who.

After two weekends of hellish snow in a row, the weather prognosticators really felt like they had their groove on and were trying hard to hype this weekend's minor winter weather event into something it thankfully did not become. The storm of the century turned into a bit of a nuisance with some rain, some snow and mostly just some wet roads. However, due to the threat of biblical weather, the race was pushed back from its original start time of 11am to 1pm, which, it turned out, was probably unnecessary but better safe than sorry.

I got to drive the cool kids car to this race--I made a couple of stops picking up GLRR teammates EJ Hrynowski and Kevin Carnabucci in Stoneham, and then Liane Pancost, Marli Piccolo and Ally Maslowski at the GLRR meeting spot at Drum Hill rotary in Chelmsford. Once everyone was on board, we were off to the 413. We got there plenty early so had time to pick up THE LARGEST RACE BIBS EVER, sit around, go to the bathroom a bunch of times, do a warm up jog, fret over what to wear, take pictures (see below) and hobnob with anyone who's anyone in  New England running, etc.

As it got near race time we left the warmth and comfort of the middle school to the start of the race about a quarter mile away in the driveway of the high school.  After much fretting, I had gone with just a singlet, arm warmers, gloves and hat. I was cold walking and standing around at the start, but that was probably about right. Once we got rolling I was fine.

The start, like all Grand Prix race starts, was pretty chaotic. I buried myself a few rows deep to keep from going out way too fast but that meant getting caught in the wash for the first few hundred yards. After about a quarter mile, Jason Bui and James DeLuca, my GLRR teammates I figured were going to run closest to the same time as me, were about 30 yards ahead and I was boxed in behind a big group. I had to do a little NASCAR style racing for a bit, but got out of the traffic and around the group so I could catch up to Jason and James--I figured if I had let them go there, I would have never see them again. It was a good move as we got into a good group that was rolling along nicely. I never saw a 1 mile marker but at mile 2 I had about 11:51 on my watch, which was okay given that the first couple of miles were net downhill--I had looked at the course profile and I knew we'd give it all back on the big uphill from 2.5 to 3.5 anyway.

The Hill starts on the straight stretch of road in the 3rd mile and goes on for a while but then you make a hard right turn and realize that it keeps going up for a while more, and gets pretty steep near the top. I tried to just stay relaxed here--I let Jason and James go a bit, knowing I'm not the best on the uphills and not wanting to get into any real difficulty so early in the race. There is a nice downhill to catch your breath and then the road flattens out a bit before becoming a dirt road. (Somewhere in here a GBTC woman spit on me--she apologized. Eh, we were all wet and about to get really muddy anyway.)

The dirt road could have been a lot worse. It was wet, there were a lot of puddles and there were a few sections near the reservoir where the where the snow was sticking and turning into a brown, soupy, slushy mess--but it was fairly runnable. Throughout this entire flat section I was reeling in Jason (and James to a lesser extent.) Somewhere on the muddy section I pulled alongside Jason and when we hit the pavement again at around mile 6 (maybe?) I asked him if the rest of it was paved--he confirmed it was which was a big relief. 

Miles 7 and 8 and the first bit of 9 were really nice--rolling, gradual downhill. I was running 6 pace or just under and making back some of the time I had given up on the uphills and muddy section.  At this point I pulled away from Jason a bit but he later told me I never got more than about 15 yards away. James wasn't getting any closer--he was running really strong up ahead--but I was catching and passing people through this whole section so I was okay with how things were going. Still, I knew there was a bitch of a hill looming just before mile 9.

When that last hill came, I figured at least this means we're getting close. My legs were actually getting cold  and I was glad there wasn't much left since I knew it wouldn't be long before they started cramping. I just put my head down and tried to grind away at that hill for a mile or so. Once I got up and over, I started letting my legs run and trying to turn them over again as fast as I could--Jason yelled for me to let it go and just then the finish came into view. On the downhill, just before the turn into the school you can see the finish loop and people finishing right in front of you and there is lots of good energy there.
Ouch! (photo credit: Krissy Koslosky)
I saw Sully (James Sullivan) looking like he'd been done for a while on the corner cheering for us and tried to bear down as much as I could at that point. I made it around the two hairpin turns and to the finish in 1:01:09. I'm fairly happy with that given the course and the conditions. I wound up 93rd overall and 14th M40 and 1st M40 runner for Greater Lowell, so not a bad day's work for a Grand Prix race. James DeLuca was in with a nice new PR at 1:00:30. Jason was right behind me in 1:01:13. EJ scored down to be 2nd master for GLRR and 1st for our M50 team, which took 2nd. There were lots of other great performances as well--too many to name. In the overall team race, Western Mass Distance Project cleaned up on their home course.

The star of the day for GLRR, though, was Sully who ran a massive, eye-popping PR of 56:22 for 30th place.

After rehashing for a few minutes with my teammates I started to get cold fast and was pretty eager to get inside and get some dry cloths on. Everybody got some food and we even sang "Happy Birthday" to Liane, who won her age group on her birthday--pretty cool.

The ride home was mostly uneventful and we seem to have beat the wort of the weather--as I type this it is snowing like a bastard out my window and has been for a couple of hours now. The winter that wouldn't die.

I'm not sure what my race tells me about my fitness for New Bedford--I think I can run a faster pace there than I did today, I'm just not sure by how much. There are still three weeks of training to go, and that will have something to say about it. But all in all I feel pretty good about my race. Onward.

Monday, February 11, 2013

And then we had a giant nor'easter

Maybe one or two of the dozen or so of you who actually read this space don't live in New England and have cut yourselves off from all media so as to be blissfully unaware that this area experienced a major snowstorm on Friday and Saturday. Apparently there's some debate among weather geeks about whether it was technically a blizzard but I'll leave that to them. And I'm sure as shit not going to validate the Weather Channel's vain attempt to remain relevant by trying to name snowstorms. But here's what I know--it was BIG. By all accounting, it was at least a top-5 snow storm all time in Boston and the nearby suburbs. I don't know the official total for my exact location, and I'm not even sure how you'd measure it since I had everything from drifts as tall as me to bare spots in my yard, but the reports from mine and all of the towns around me are that we got 25-27 inches of snow. A shit-ton, in other words.

I realize that for a lot of people who live along the coast and had flooding, or trees fall on their homes, or who still don't have power, this was a much bigger deal than for most of us who just have sore backs today from shoveling and I don't want to make light of that. But since this is a running blog (of sorts) I thought I'd chronicle how one hobbyjogger dealt with it.

The storm impact for me really started on Thursday evening. With no GLRR workout due to the Lexington field house closed for a school event, and the RMHS track having just enough snow on it to make it useless, I emailed my Thirsty Thursday crew to see if they wanted to meet near Lake Quannapowitt to do a warmup around the lake, then some hill repeats. The only taker I got was my buddy Chris and he wanted to get the workout done early so we agreed to try and meet at 6pm.

In normal rush hour traffic, my office in Burlington is at most 15 minutes from my house, so I figured I could leave at 5:30, swing by the house to change into running gear, and drive the 5 minutes to the lake by 6pm with no problem. Unfortunately people feel like they need to do SOMETHING in anticipation of  an over-hyped snowstorm and that thing is GO GROCERY SHOPPING!!!. I've  never understood that whole phenomenon and I could do a whole post just on that but not today. The bottom line is my 6-mile commute took me nearly an hour, and then it took almost 20 minutes to go 2 miles to the softball field by the lake.  WHAT THE FUCK PEOPLE?? Anyway.

It was 6:45 by the time I got to the lake--Chris rolled in right after me. We did an easy 3+ mile loop of the lake with the grid-locked traffic all around us and then did 6 repeats of a nearby hill loop before Chris called "no mas." I had 5 miles in the books from the morning so with about 6.5 miles for the evening workout, I had a decent mileage day already and was ready to call it quits whenever he was. Chris had to get home so there were no post-workout beers like a normal Thirsty Thursday.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was working from home on Friday and since school had already been called off in my town the kids didn't need to be anywhere either. That meant I didn't need to get up and out on the road before dawn to get in an easy 8 miles in the calm before the storm. This was actually one of the best runs I have had in a while--it was daylight, not too cold and there was hardly any traffic on the roads since everyone was already hunkering down. It was snowing lightly and the wind had picked up a little, but it was nothing compared to what was to come--the center of the storm was still somewhere off the coast of New Jersey chugging steadily northward. I wound up doing a little inadvertent progression run as my first mile was about 8:15 (shaking out the hill workout from the night before) and my last was about 6:55.

On Friday night I just hung out with the family and played some board games. Once everyone went to bed I watched some college hoops with the dog. After the sun went down, the winds had really picked up and the snow was coming hard. By the time I went to bed it was raging pretty good outside.

Right before I went to bed on Friday.
I didn't sleep great as the wind was just hammering away, rattling the windows and shaking the whole house at times. At some point, my dog was so scared of the wind that he managed to work open the door to the stairway from the kitchen and make his way upstairs (we give him the run of the first floor but keep him locked downstairs at night). He jumped up on our bed, trudged right up in between Gina and me and stood over me shivering--looking at me with his nose about an inch from mine as if to say, "Pleeeeeeeease, Daddy, can I stay up here tonight??"  I didn't have the heart to say no so I shoved him toward the foot of the bed where he did some circles and eventually laid down and went to sleep.

On Saturday, we woke to a world transformed. There were a couple of feet of white stuff on the ground with crazy drifts and snow formations of all kinds. It was supposed to snow until about mid-day in our area but by about 9:30 I was pretty antsy to get outside and start the long process of clean-up. I wasn't looking forward to what I knew would be several hours of back-breaking work, but like anything else the anticipation is worse than the doing so I wanted to get started. I got my old, decrepit snow blower running and started trying make my way down the driveway but, as I had feared, the snow was too thick and wind packed for that thing and it kept choking on it. Eventually I got sick of struggling with the damn thing and just went to the good old shovel. My next door neighbor was struggling with his (much newer and better) snow blower and like any hyper-competitive runner, I took it as a challenge to clear my driveway faster with my shovel than he could with his machine. It was close, but I think he got me with a lean a the tape.

Ole' Yella. My trusty steed.
Gina and the girls helped some--actually my oldest, Allie, helped quite a bit and did most of the front walk which was a huge help. But outside the one strip I made halfway down the driveway with my snow blower and the bits that Gina and Allie did, I did all of it with my good old yellow shovel. The town still had not plowed our street by the time I was ready to quit at about 4pm, so I shoveled about halfway through the snowbank at the end of the driveway and walkway and left it as a barrier so the plow wouldn't fill it back in. I hated to leave it not completely done but with a driving ban still in effect and my road covered in more than a foot of snow we weren't going anywhere anyway.

At about 4:30 I finally stripped off my warm clothes, put on some shorts and went down in the basement to see if the crappy old treadmill I keep for just such emergencies would still run. It did, and I got in about 6 very easy shakeout miles while watching Miami put the boots to North Carolina in hoops. Afterward I did some stretches and lunges and whatnot on the living room floor to try and work the kinks out of my back, hips and hamstrings that were all torqued up from a day of manual labor. It had been an exhausting day.

That night I traded some email with my Reading running crew on what to do for Sunday's long run. Patrick was looking to get in about 14 miles, which I figured in light of everything would be fine for me. Everyone had either family related or storm related scheduling issues--no word from Chris and Dan wasn't sure he could make it so in the end Patrick, Mark and I agreed to meet at 2pm at the high school. That would give the DPW some more time to improve the roads, let us finish our own snow work, and let it warm up a bit. Well it seemed like a good plan at the time.

When I got up on Sunday I still had a wall of snow hanging over my head and I really wanted to get it over with. I started with a gentle warm up by clearing a path to my deck, digging out the grill and the sliding door from the kitchen to the deck, which had been jammed shut by the snow. Then there was no more putting it off--I had to tackle the end of the driveway.

My Sunday morning chore.
My neighbor, Sean, was back at it with his snow blower which was making a lot of noise but otherwise it was actually kind of pleasant work to take on the snowbank at the end of the driveway and walk. The sun was out now, the winds had calmed down and the temperature was rising fast. After a few minutes I had shed my jacket, hat and gloves and was working in a hooded sweatshirt. I needed a spade to break up the concrete-like plowed snow but a lot of it came off in big blocks that I could then pick up with Ole Yella (lift with your legs, not your back!) and move to the side.

Inch by inch.
At one point a runner made her way up my street and I really wanted to trade places with her but I also wanted to get the job over with once and for all. She was wearing New Balance running shoes with no yak-tracks or any other traction aids that I could see. (Of course I checked. Duh?) You go, girl!

A lone runner makes her way up a snowy Ellis Ave.
By the time I finished, it was probably 11:30, so it was a good thing we had planned to run in the afternoon. I still had no idea how bad the road were outside of my little side street and at that point I was better off for not knowing. I had time to eat a decent lunch and let it settle before it would be time to meet Mark and Patrick at the high school for a run.

Freedom!!
At about 1:30 I was in running clothes and ready to go when I got a call from Allie who was at a friends house and looking for a ride home. Still having no idea how bad the roads were I agreed to go get her--what should have been a 10 minute round trip turned into 30, plus another 15 to the high school to meet the guys. The scenes around town were of Armageddon--the town had completely screwed the pooch on snow removal this time. Later it would be revealed that they had started their mass effort too early and once the workers had gone 36 hours straight they needed to give them 8 hours off--so on Saturday when they were most needed, none of them could work. The town was (and actually still is) a disaster.

I finally met up with Mark and Patrick at the high school and we talked about where to go. Absolutely nothing looked all that passable so we decided to just try and avoid busy streets as much as we could and wind our way around town. There was every manner of bad footing--hardpack snow, slushy snow, deep snow, mashed potatoes snow, brown slush puddles, narrow roads and high snowbanks. We did a sloppy loop around the northern end of town, through the Wood End school and back toward the highschool for about 7 miles. Mark was getting over the flu so he was done at that point.

Patrick had been wearing yak tracks but they weren't helping much so he ditched them when we dropped Mark and we headed back out onto the shitty roads. This time we did a couple of half mile loops around a small block that had no traffic and just hard packed snow. We actually debated looping that block about 19 more times to get the miles in but it was slow going and boring as hell so we decided to head out and wind our way over to the west side looking for better traction. There was none, but at least by looping around through neighborhoods we passed the time faster. Eventually we were way over near my house and both of us about ready to be done but we still had to get back to the high school. There was no good way to get all the way back over there without using some semi busy streets, so we took our lives in our hands and battled the motorists a bit and  did it. Afterward I mapped out the crazy winding route we had run on RunningAhead to find it was just about 13 miles--about the hardest I've had to work for 13 measly miles that I can remember.

The hot shower after that slog felt good, but my day wasn't done and there was no time to put my feet up...it turned out that another dad and I were driving and chaperoning Allie and a group of her friends to the Passion Pit concert at Agannis Arena! I like Passion Pit and it was a pretty good show and the fact that the roads in the city of Boston were nearly as bad as Reading made me feel a little bit better...but I really, really could have used a beer and a couch instead. Alas. It was midnight before I dropped off the last kid and made it home.

Ahhh, such is the life of a work-a-day hobbyjogger. I hope you found a way to get your miles in too, friends. Onward.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Great Stew Chase 15k

Photo credit: Krissy Kozlosky
Not that I had been avoiding it but somehow this New England classic race had never made it onto my calendar before this year. But since I hadn't raced since my track races in December and I had strung together about six really good weeks of training, I was more than due for a longish rust buster on the roads.

With my goal for Spring not until New Bedford, I didn't want to take my foot off the training gas at all and wanted to go into this with tired legs. I more than accomplished that mission with a fairly big workout on Thursday night that capped a 15 mile day. Still, I thought I might be able to bang out a good time and in my head was thinking 56 minutes. Wrong.

It was good to meet James DeLuca, one of my new GLRR teammates. He was wearing the red singlet of Wicked Running club (his other club) since it was a north shore race, but he recognized me. We had similar goals for the race--unfortunately mine should have been a couple minutes slower based on how heavy my legs were. I ran with James for the first couple of miles, but then had to let him and his buddy go and try to regroup for the back half of the race.

Excuses abound. There was mostly a headwind on the way out, and it was net uphill and, addition to my heavy legs, I was pretty congested and having some trouble breathing and the headwind was making my nose run and exacerbating the whole thing. It was a fairly uncomfortable first half. I was actually cold. The good news was the 2nd half started with a nice big downhill and had a tailwind most of the way. Even though I wasn't having  a great race and any time goal was out the window, from about mile 6 on I just tried to relax and roll at a nice half marathon pace. I even dropped a couple of sub 6 minute miles for 8 and 9.

I wound up at 57:57 for 10th overall--not a bad day's work all things considered. James was up the road in 7th place with a really solid 56:42. We did a couple mile cooldown on the Lynn Woods trails before heading back to the KofC where I had time for a quick bowl of stew before getting out of there to get home for my daughter's family birthday party. Onward.

Results.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

300

I got home from a work trip to beautiful Mahwah, New Jersey late last night having driven a rental mini-van through a driving rain with 2 of my colleagues all the way to Worcester, and then my car from there. I was pretty worn out at breakfast when I looked at my running log on my phone and noticed that I had 285 miles for the month and that it was January 31st. So I looked back through my log to find that my last 300-mile month was back in September of 2010, the month before Baystate.

That was it.

I went out for an easy 7 and then headed to the office knowing that based on the workout I had planned, I would get around 8 in tonight's Thirsty Thursday workout.

Tonight was 3 x 1.5 miles (2400m technically) at half marathon pace. Or at least that was the plan. My morning run had been in shorts and a t-shirt with temperatures in the mid 50's. By the time I got to the RMHS track at around 6:30pm the temperature had dropped about 20 degrees and the wind had shifted to the west. As soon as I got out of the car I was regretting my decision to stick with shorts. Chris was already there and warming up on the track. I fell in next to him and as we made our way around the first turn the wind hit us straight in the face and I knew this was going to be no fun. I pulled my hat down to fully cover my ears but it didn't help much--the wind was cutting right through my long-sleeve shirt and slapping my bare legs.

After a few more laps, Mike and Dan both showed up--both of them, like Chris, were dressed more appropriately for the weather than I was. It became pretty clear to me that I was never going to fully warm up so at about 20 minutes I decided to just get into the workout and get it over with.

Dan (who was getting over the flu) Mike and Chris all opted for 400 on/offs so I was on my own for my workout.

Something about doing track workouts in the dark is always a little spooky. Jogging around when you can barely see the lane lines in the faint light that reaches the track from the parking lot and street lights is fine, but going fast takes a little bit of faith, at least for the first lap or two until you settle in.

I was doing 6 laps (not quite 1.5 miles) per rep and just wanted to be right around half marathon pace, which should be about 6 pace at this point. All I needed to do was run just under 90 second laps. Simple enough but with the icy 35 mph headwind on the back straightaway it seemed a little daunting. I guess I shouldn't have worried about it--my first 400 was in 85 and even though I tried to slow myself down I wound up hitting the first 2400 in 8:41 or 5:50 pace. That would have been a nice time for the 3rd one, I thought, but I knew it meant the next two were going to be harder than they needed to be.

I jogged a lap in lane 3 for recovery (about 2:13) then rolled into the next one. I just tried to relax and run as smooth as possible (not easy when you have to actually lean into the wind for half of each lap) and didn't look at my watch on the laps--it was a pain in the ass to find the button under my sleeve to hit the backlight each lap anyway. The second one went in 8:50 (5:56 pace), then a 1 lap recovery jog in lane 3 (2:11), then the third 8:44 (5:52 pace) and I really never struggled. Makes me wonder what I could have done without the wind and with temps maybe 10 degrees warmer.

I did a mile cooldown jog with Mike and Dan. The cooldown was fairly pointless since about a minute after finishing the last rep I was already freezing, but since I needed less than a mile to get me over 300, a little mileage whoring was justified.

Afterward we broke routine and went to Bertucci's instead of Grumpy's because there was a volunteer appreciation party for FORR going on there. As it turned out, though, I never made it to the back room where the party was. As soon as we finished dinner at the bar I had to go pick up Allie from band back at the highschool. That was probably for the best since if I'd bumped into Pete aka "Mr. One More" I would probably still be there.

I have to say I'm in a really good groove right now and just don't want to do anything to screw it up.

Onward.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hitting reset

It's 2013, yo! We're on the other side of the fiscal cliff, it's cold outside, and, for those of us who log our running mileage and didn't get up early or stay up late to do a "first run," we're staring at a big ole zero on our year to date totals.

Personally for 2013 I am thrilled to have a new job, a new running club (Angry Chickens!), a healthy family, a roof over my head, a lawn too frozen for my dog to dig holes in, and a new pair of snow boots.  I'm also thankful to be 43 years old--an age that holds particular personal significance and one I hope to honor by making a good honest go at some lifetime personal bests.

I wrapped up my 2012 racing campaign with a solid 9:50.92 clocking for 3000 meters at the 3rd BU mini meet on the 29th in only my second track race since high school and first time racing that distance. It was a great way to wrap up what turned out to be a much better year than I could have hoped for back in about June.

And so we keep on running, because that's what we do. I will see you all out on the roads, trails, track and hills. Onward.