Monday, February 22, 2016

Run for Ray trail races

Amie, Greg, Makayla celebrating their respective 2nd place finishes

Had the pleasure of once again competing this year in the Run for Ray Trail races at Brunswick Nature Park in Winnabow, NC. I ran in the 9 mile race and finished 2nd overall, and was awarded a super cool, artisan made skate deck (see photo above). These hand painted decks are arguably the most unique and coveted race prizes in the Wilmington area. Blessed to have been able to run, and race a solid race.

Close to 300 athletes converged on the back-woods rural park last Saturday morning to test their trail running mettle out on either the 3, 9, or 18 mile courses.  Was a beautiful day, with start time temperatures nearing 60 degrees under sunny skies, with light breezes. Contrast that to years past where I and others have been huddled in our respective vehicles to stay warm, and/or dry until moments before it was time to run.

Run for Ray is annually one of my favorite races to attend. Not only because it is a unique, picturesque trail race, but the proceeds go directly to the Ray Underhill Foundation, which helps cancer patients and their families. Ray was a professional skate boarder who lost his life to chordoma cancer several years ago. Hence the awards, which are only given to the top 3 males and females in each distance.

The 9 and 18 mile courses start out on a dirt logging road for about 1/2 mile or so before transitioning to single track trails, snaking predominately through a dense, swampy deciduous forest. Per usual, I tired to not start my race out too fast, but wanted to get ahead of most of the assembled field before we all converged into the woods, where it's much harder to pass.

First part of the race. I'm smiling!

Once on the single track I did pass a few more of my fellow racers, while trying to settle into a comfortably hard pace that I hoped to sustain for the remaining miles. The trails are quite technical in sections... mud slicks, roots, twigs, ruts, sharp/ tight turns, little mogul like jumps, some quick/ short elevation changes. Divine fun and a challenge for sure!  Even the most gifted and experienced trail runners can take tumbles on the unforgiving terrain.

From about miles 3 thru 7 I ran with another guy right behind me. We talked a little, mostly I relayed what miles we had just finished per my garmin watch beeping, and about how pace per relative effort was skewed, and also possibly way off per gps error deep in the woods. I didn't know exactly where I was in the field (can't tell who is in 9, or 18 mile race), but figured I was close to the front and was in a pretty good position to snag a cherished board.

And I have learned, especially through race experience of late, that I tend to run my best when being hunted, as opposed to being the hunter. Periodically I could sense either visually (the trails snaked and switch-backed a lot) or audibly several runners just behind me...and in my mind they were setting me up to reel me in. This healthy, if a bit irrational fear tends to serve as an extra little jolt of motivation to help push me thru physiologically some of the inevitable rougher patches in races.

Up ahead was a solitary runner I kept trying to reel in. Slowly, painstakingly I (we) were able over the span of maybe 2 miles to close the gap up to a few precious seconds, or say 20-30 feet worth of single-track trail.  But I couldn't seem to bridge that last gap. Simultaneously I was trying to pull away and shake my new friend behind me. His breathing was quite labored at points, yet he kept hanging onto me. And I was pushing about as hard as I possibly could, fully aware that I still had to survive another 3 miles or so.

Left, right, straight, up, down, around, thru we continued to run until I heard a bounded thud behind me, which I knew instantly meant my fellow racer had fallen. I called out without looking back "you ok?" and he responded "yeah."  Right after I decided to absorb the brief shock I knew would come, and do what I needed to do to get myself in lock step behind that runner just up ahead. I figured my fallen comrade would not be able to get right up and be able to run hard enough to make it a threesome; therefore putting myself in better position as we neared the last stretches of the race.

And I turned out to be correct. Running and racing can be a bit cruel at times, but such is the nature of our beloved sport. When their is a thin margin separating us, any unforeseen turn of events must shamelessly be exploited. But if anyone of us would become seriously hurt, many a racer, myself included would stop to assist without thinking twice.

I was able to latch on, stay with and just somewhat mindlessly follow the runner in front me for the last mile or 2. At one point my garmin beeped and I called out the mile but he didn't respond, or didn't hear me. Or didn't want to know. I mentally clicked off 1/10s of a mile, each one getting me closer to the end.  His breathing sounded quite normal, like he was just cruising along so I guessed that he was in the 18 miler. However I formulated a plan to sit right off his shoulder as we got close to the final 30-40 meters, and try and out kick him to the finish line if such actions became warranted. But they did not, as I was right and he continued forth after saying good job to me (he eventually won the 18 mile race). Was happy to hear as I got close to the finish line that I was the 2nd male finisher to come back home, and out of the labyrinth of trails and vortex like woods.

Great day to run and compete, and I hope god willing to be back again next year-

Exhausted, but happy as I approach the finish


Start line: 9, 18 milers

Friday, February 19, 2016

Racing on the Track

Had the pleasure of competing in the Without Limits City Wide Winter Track meet last night.  Official times were 2:24:89 in the 800m Boys/ Adult Open race, and 5:35:55 in the 1600m Boys/ Adult Open race.

Was the first time I had run such a track double since my last track & field meet in high school, close to 23 years ago. It was arduous, a bit tortuous, and tested my physiological mettle; but I loved every minute of it. Periodically we as competitive runners and athletes need to step half blind into the breach; for it is in such tenuous, uncomfortable moments that serendipitous discoveries can sometimes be found.

Tonight I discovered that when pressed up against my current fitness limits, I did not back away from the challenge. To paraphrase one of the Flyers runners I coach who also competed, I stepped up to the line with courage and confidence, and accepted the venture at hand.

In both races I was lined up on the "pole position" or the inside of lane 1 on the waterfall start. I think perhaps this was done per age, me being the oldest entrant, and in fact 1 of only 2 adults in the 800m field. But in the 1600m race, there was a guy there in his 60s, so who knows. Nonetheless, it was somewhat amusing to me, and also slightly disconcerting at the start of the assembled 1600m field which included several young bucks considerably faster than myself.

Before any of the races got under way I took two of my Flyers charges on a warm-up run outside of the stadium. Neither of the Perry boys had ever competed in a track meet, so I discussed some basic elements of and strategies with them such as staying in lanes in the 400m versus cutting in after the 800, 1600m starts. And passing on the first piece of track running wisdom I was provided by my first track coach Dick Semmel, which is to not pass on the turns.  (I even briefly brought up centrifugal force to Isiah... though at times I think I just like the sound of my own voice).

Was a cold night too so I counseled the boys and took the advice myself to remain clothed until moments before the beginning of each of our respective races. Was glad I threw gloves in my bag at the last minute. Got in a few shorter striders with them on the infield grass before we were summoned to the start area for the 800m race.

Joe Harty was lined up by me in the 800m, I've known him on and off the past few years thru his running and helping coach at Ashley High School. He said he was aiming for a 2:15 800m; I told him that was too rich for my blood. Oh to be 20 again-

We were all commanded by the meet starter to step forward to the start line on the Set command. Those are the most mentally agonizing few seconds in the sport of's a suspended universe that doesn't conform to the natural laws normally governing us humans. Everything goes weightless and time itself stretches out real wide, like the tick of a second can be broken down in to innumerable requisite sub units. Sounds are diluted. The runner's field of vision narrows to the few feet of track directly in front of them. Somewhere in a far recess of my mind I was cognizant of not flinching over the line and false starting.

And then an instantaneous cosmic flash we are off and barreling into turn 1.

I settled into 3rd behind Joe and a younger HS age runner. And followed the two of them all around the track on the 1st lap, about 2-3 strides behind. In an 800m race there is no time to relax, or at no time in the race does one settle in to some pace that has any modicum of what could be considered "somewhat comfortable".  No, the 800m requires a perpetual hard, grinding effort which quickly throws its aspirant into some degree of oxygen debt, whereby the race becomes an anaerobic test of willpower to simply sustain pace, while trying to gobble of precious meter after meter of track.

Coming off turn 2 on lap 2 I was slowly losing contact with my two compatriots, but knew I had to keep the gap somewhat reasonable and not completely lose contact. Which I was able to do down the back stretch, as lactic acid flooded my churning legs, and the cold air threatened to burst my lungs wide open and spew pieces of my innards all over the rust colored track. The poet John Donne once wrote "no man is an island."  I can safely bet he never found himself 200m from the finish of an 800m race.

At this point each step is a laborious exercise in sustaining velocity and forward motion. The whirling rush that consumed my head for the most part of the past two minutes or so had all but it exhausted itself, starved of its own source of energy. Life itself becomes so elemental. And strikingly alluring, like a shining diamond unearthed in a sea of black mass below the earth's surface. For in that brief window of existence, all internal effort is unequivocally focused on one singular objective. And that objective is to reach the finish line.

Which I finally did. Utterly exhausted, and coughing like crazy, and unable to walk in a straight line as us finishers were moved up the track to record the results. But I was happy. Happy that I had stared into the abyss and had not blinked. Instead, I ran straight through it.

About an hour or so later I ran the 1600m. Another fairly solid and respectable effort, as I crossed the finish line in a little over 5 and a half minutes. Enjoyed watching some of the next generation of track runners challenge themselves and each other as well. Our sport is assuredly in good hands for the foreseeable future. The smiles on the faces of those I am blessed to coach paint a picture worth more words that I can write out today.

Such a gift to be able to compete, and share the journey with others young and old-

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Capping the week

Headed out on the trails
Wrapped up a 57 mile week this weekend with some runs in the Carolina Beach State Park.  Highest weekly mileage total since last August, when I was training for the Iron Mountain 30 mile ultra. Did some calculations year to date: Averaging 6.18 miles/ day. 43.2 miles / week. Which is about right where I wanted to be heading into 2016. (And per my previous blog, at this rate I would end up with 2,254 miles for the year). Ah the numbers-

Friday ran a couple harder miles, at least effort wise on the soppy trails, and in damp, windy conditions. Legs were feeling the fatigue of all the hilly miles in Pennsylvania earlier in the week, plus the 580 mile drive back on Thursday. But I always enjoy being back in the state park on such days since usually there is hardly anyone else there. And the vegetation has more of a primal, earthy look and smell to it when wet.

Saturday morning met up with some of my fellow Flyers coaches, and a few of the kids and parents. Was a cold, crisp morning with temperatures below freezing coupled with a piercing, icy wind which kicked up near the end of our hour ramble in the woods. Always look forward to getting together with most of the usual Saturday morning gang for a run.

Topped of the week running 8 miles with Amie Sunday. Part of which we ran on the roads, but the bulk of the run was done back in the State Park. Quite frigid again, and even windier than Saturday. Swampy parts of the park, and spots where this is still standing water was all iced over, something one doesn't see too often around here.

Have been experiencing a little pain above my inner ankle on right leg. Even iced it a few times Friday, and have also found that some light stretching in what looks like some kind of yoga pose (right leg straight, with back leg flailed out, and I reach down towards planted foot with right arm, while holding left arm out for balance) has helped. Hoping its just a minor "hot spot", as knock on wood I have been running fairly pain free in 2016.

Getting the 'ol rumble in the belly excitement for some upcoming races, first of which will be this Saturday, the Run for Ray 9 mile trail race in Brunswick Nature Park. A few of our Flyers kids raced Saturday afternoon, a 5k in Carolina Beach as did coach Amie. And we continue to prepare for the upcoming Track & Field season.

Run on my friends-

Friday, February 12, 2016

Quick trip home to PA

Bundled up and loving the snow

Went back to my hometown of Lehighton, Pennsylvania for a few days this week. Lived the life of a running Spartan, as I stayed for 3 nights in an unfurnished apartment which my friend Paul owns. But the world outside the front door is my running oyster, and I took full advantage of a break at work, and the hospitality offered to get in a whole bunch of hilly, snowy, and cold miles in.

Late Monday after the 8.5 hour drive up I met Ryan by the old high school. (A few days later he texted it was like meeting up in 1991 for XC practice, since that's about where we would gather beforehand). We got in about 5 miles crisscrossing through town, and also through the current high school grounds where we stopped to look at the construction of the new football field, and all weather track.

I noticed and remarked how it's only 6 lanes, except on the front stretch where the sprints would be run there are the customary 8 lanes. Also ran through the big cemetery off of 4th street. Ironic since I seem to run through it often when I'm home, and Ryan said he has a knack for, and enjoyment of running thru cemeteries as well.  I joked at one point we should be carrying an Army Track flag with us. (we were teammates from 3rd- 8th grade on Army)

Had shucked my long pants before the run after some debate, and my legs ended up being half frozen by the end of the run. Would be the last run I did up there in shorts. We talked about how we are both data and numbers junkies with running, and log all the miles we do. Both of us always calculating things like average distance per day, then multiplying by 365 to get a snapshot of how many miles in the year we'd end up with at such rate. He also looks back at specific days and runs done the year before, and sometimes will duplicate on the exact date the following year. And of course compare. I told him I have yearly logs saved from the last 7 or 8 years.

Tuesday and the running and nature gods blessed me with some light snow. Headed into the Mahoning Heights up Beaver Run Road, after a loop through town which included the Ochre Street hill (see pic below). It had been several years since my last run in the snow, and I figuratively speaking had a grin ear to ear the entire run.

Up in the heights I fell almost into a trance enjoying the tranquil and serene beauty of the snow sticking to the trees, and lightly blanketing parts of the road. It was one of those runs that I felt completely blessed to be right where I was at that particular moment in time. I would not have traded it for anything else. I was in my own little snow globe- kid like in the joy I was feeling in my heart. And I ran on, up and down the hills I have run on innumerable occasions in this lifetime of mine. My thoughts reflected for a moment on the writings of Emmit Fox, how he states that the only thing that matters is to get our present thoughts correct.

During my runs, and also at times when driving I like to look at the distant ridge lines. And think about how perhaps in a few miles I will be on top of, and/ or catch site of the next ridge line and think about how I did a run last year that took me all the way up and over that particular hillside or small mountain. Some of the views I get while running in PA are just stunning, as I make my way on foot up and down ridgelines which parallel each other in areas, and also slope down towards the valleys where the Lehigh River, or Mahoning Creek flow through.

Such as when I was coming down Jamestown Road and descending off a ridge towards the Lehigh River, I was presented a spectacular view of the mountain dusted in snow that is perpendicular to where I was, beginning just on the other side of the river. Each day, each run, each summit opens up new vistas. It never fails to fully capture my imagination. Sometimes I like to try and find contour maps to look at online as well.

Went for another long run Wednesday morning. 2 hours, or 13.7 miles. Purposely sought out and ran up as many hills as I could, including 4th, 7th, and 9th streets in town. Got back earlier on the run past the Ukranian Homestead (or the Ukes as we call it). Have to always hit Spring Hill at least once when I'm home. My watch just happened to roll over to a new mile half way up, and I observed how my pace went from 8 something per mile, to 14, 15 something per mile on the crazy steepness that makes Spring Hill the little monster that she is.

Had a flashback to early in the season high school track practices when all the athletes would have to do the Ukes run, and how one coach would always park and be at the bottom of Spring Hill (Mr. Brophy?), and another coach would be waiting at the top of the hill (Mr. Bisbing?)

I'm like a surfer chasing after the waves out here, and it's why I love to come back up to my old home and run, run, run. And run some more. I dig the highs, and there is something out here which fills up my running soul, something I can only get on those hills, ridgelines, and valleys. (And come better weather, the woods and innumerable trails).

I hope all my running friends can find their happy places as well-

View back up Ochre Street

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A couple pleasant runs

Somewhere off River Road near Wilmington, NC
Friday ran 11+ miles in the Shallotte vicinity . Came up with a new route which took me out the back way of my Dad's neighborhood, then to the Copas Road loop. Added in the mile or so long nature walk along the small lake which borders a golf course about a mile or so from the Atlantic Inter-coastal Waterway. Looked for gators as I ran beside the waters, but figured they are all buried under mud and hibernating at this time of year. I'll see a few of them I imagine again next summer. Did startle a few ducks.

Stayed mostly off to the side of the road in the grass/ mud as I am wont to do on the country roads I run near my Dads. Easier on the legs as I've written about, and it's easier to avoid become a tragic causality of traffic, which tends to sail especially along Copas Road.

Started out a fairly benign and comfortable pace, before winding it down into the mid 7s/ mile range consistently after the 1st 3 miles. Felt much better than I did Wednesday, both physically and mentally. Enjoyed the challenge of maintaining the effort and pace as the miles ticked off one after the other through the slightly rolling countryside. Finished fairly strong at a mid/ hi 6 min/ mile pace the past quarter to half mile.

Saturday morning met up with my Cape Fear Flyers clan (see picture above) to run on some new trails (on and off road) that my fellow coach and friend Peyton recently discovered. Got close to 6 miles in on a chillier, raw morning. Ran the last 2 with Riley, and helped her achieve a PR for the longest distance she had ever run. She was thrilled, and I was happy for her... and felt like I was right where I was supposed to be running wise at that given moment in time.

Sunday and heavy rains/ wind swept in from off the coast, forcing me to cancel my weekly long run with Amie. One of the good things is when as a runner I'm not on a specific schedule, training for an upcoming long race like a marathon.  And can afford to ditch a workout due to circumstances beyond my control, such as the weather.

Plan to head north up to the homestead in Pennsylvania Monday. Run wise looking forward to traipsing the well shod grounds I have become so infinitely familiar with again the past several years. Hitting the hills while bundling up in the cold. Revisiting other places on foot like the towpath that I've run/ walked/ fished along since I was a young kid. Places that are much more than pieces of land... they get inside of us and become pieces of our running souls.

Until then-

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A "Bad" Run

Some days we just don't have it.  From what could be a combination of factors, we are unable to run how we would like to run. Perhaps we can't go fast enough, or far enough, or long enough. It's just not there. But I have also learned through experience a few things. First and foremost, it's ok. In fact it can be a blessing in disguise, since the particular run affords us the opportunity to look at our training with fresh eyes, and perhaps see either mistakes we may be making, or find aspects of our overall training that we can improve on. Second, if we run long enough we'll come to the realization many times over of the inevitability of having "bad" days. And can minimize and accept them as such.

This happened to me yesterday. My plan was to run 3 miles at an easier, warm-up pace, then run 25 minutes at a steady state pace somewhere around 6:40-6:45.  I must point out too, that I use the McMillan calculator on Coach Greg McMillan's website to calculate paces such as steady state to use in not only my own workouts, but of those I personally coach as well. Simply enter a recent race time like a 5k, and it will spit out pace ranges to run at for everything from 200 meter intervals to recovery runs.

For steady state runs (which as an approximation pace wise is what one would run if they raced all out between about 1 hour+ to 2 hours+) I find it a bit amusing that such pace is termed as "easy medium" on the chart. Since I have never found said pace range to be "easy medium" when attempting to run. Though one may argue that this could also be indicative of where my strengths and weaknesses lie as a runner. If I find such pace "harder" to sustain, then this type of running is a weakness for me; whereas I tend to be able to handle speed-work type paces a little better than the average competitive runner. As a good friend and runner once advised, always work on your weaknesses.

Yesterday was also an usually warm and humid morning for mid winter here in southeastern North Carolina as I set out to do my workout on the Copas Road loop by my Dad's house in Shallotte. I enjoy the 8.5 mile course, since a good bit of it winds through country roads which remind me somewhat of where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. (save for the absence of big hills).

After 3 miles at an 8+ minute per mile pace, I upped the tempo considerably as I began the steady state portion of the run. But I could tell a couple tenths of a mile later that the effort I was exerting as evidenced by my breathing, was not equating to a corresponding pace which I needed in order to do what I wanted to do. Or, it was too much harder than it should be to even get down under 7 minutes/ mile pace.

I did manage to gut out 2 miles at a hi 6:40s pace before I decided to amend the run. I have learned too, and have written about before, that some days we have to cut our losses and re-focus on making the best of the situation. It is better to get part of a work-out or run in, then to blow up in the face of adversities we feel we cannot overcome on a given day. In this case too, my soaked thru T-shirt was a clue that it was much more humid than I had anticipated, and I had made no effort to adjust accordingly. After a short rest and easy jog I added in 2x 1/2 mile at about 6:20 pace, with a 1/4 mile easy recovery jog in between. So all told, I still managed to get 3 harder paced miles in.

Of course there are days and workouts where it's essential that we do attempt to smash through the wall. This is something a bit intuitive, and subjective... and there are no definitives as to what days workouts fall into either category. Personally, I look at my own training holistically, and in relation to goals and /or upcoming races. As a general rule of thumb, I would be more apt to concede a workout such as yesterday when I have been running fairly well overall, and may be best benefitted by "saving it for another day."

Had a pleasant 5 mile run with my Dad the day before on the Brierwood Loop. It is good to see him running healthy, and enjoying getting out and getting some miles in. The last 2 days also served to remind me how lucky and fortunate I, and we are in the most primal and simplistic sense when we can lace up our shoes and head out the door. For every "bad" run is also a precious gift.

For I hope I never forget the times I would've seemingly given everything in this world for just one more chance to get outside and go for any run... no matter how fast, slow, long, short, good, or bad it may have ended up being.

Enjoy each day of this wonderful journey we are on my friends-