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.

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 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.