Monday, August 29, 2011

What, No Famine or Locusts?

The challenges Mother Nature presented while training in DC this past week most likely will never be repeated. Tuesday offered up a 5.8 earthquake, and Saturday/Sunday gave us Hurricane Irene. There were reports of tornadoes touching down inside the hurricane too, but thankfully none of them were in DC. I mean really, a tornado inside a hurricane? That's a bit much, right?!  Even with Nature's curveballs, I was able to plan and adjust my runs accordingly to get them in...and even though about 52 of my miles this weekend were covered while 100% soaked, I'll just consider that good "rain training" in case a monsoon hits Greece next month during the race.

In the end, despite all the surprises, my third peak week of intense training (of six total) for the Spartathlon went perfectly with another solid total of well over 100 miles. I'm not one to go much over 100 miles/week too often in training, but things have been going so amazingly well recently that I've just taken advantage of all the (many) extra miles as they've come so easily. We all hit stretches like this in training every now and then when our legs feel bullet-proof and our energy seems limitless, and I can't say how lucky I am to be riding one of those waves in my training for Greece right now. I'm noticing the parallels to my last similar stretch of running like this (Oct '09 to May '10), and knowing the successful runs I was able to put together in that period has me champing at the bit to get out to Athens start the race!  Of course, I'd be foolish not to take advantage of upping my fitness even further with 3 more weeks of peak training, so there's that to be settled first. ...Back to the grindstone!

Before I get back to work, a quick and hardy congrats goes out to my friend Nick Pedatella who rose above a million challenges out in France/Italy/Switzerland over the weekend and ran a brilliant race at UTMB. In a beyond-loaded field of world elites (and tons of American studs), Nick finished in an awesome 14th place overall (2nd American)! Between the 5 hour delayed-start due to horrible weather, a mid-race course re-route that almost none of the runners knew about, and the 32,000+ ft. of elevation gain over the 100 mile course, Nick was steady-as-he-goes all day and night out there. It was a blast watching him climb from 99th place at the first check-point all the way to 14th at the end. He informs me that he is now doing his best to support the pastry industry while relaxing in Chamonix this week, and that sounds like the perfect reward for such a brilliant race!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Goodbye and Hello!

As a few of you already know, I've decided the Spartathlon will be my last race for quite some time. I'm not sure exactly how long "some time" will be, but it'll most likely fall somewhere between the length of the average Professional Boxer's "Retirement" and the 23-year hiatus of The Cars. There are a couple reasons why I have made this decision, but the biggest (and happiest) of all is that my beautiful wife Elizabeth and I are having our first baby this winter!
Lizzy + 1!
Our first published Family Photo!
I've always said running (and ultra running in particular) is a fairly selfish pursuit when you consider all the time you spend out on the trails/roads by yourself while family/friend/work obligations take somewhat of a backseat, especially during peak training. It's easy to become obsessive about "getting your miles in" or planning to use all of your vacation time to run races all over the country/world. While friends who have met me at races (or via this blog) may describe me first as a "runner", I like to think those who know me best would think of me first as simply a "nice, normal guy" and not a one-dimensional running freak. That being the case, as soon as I found out Lizzy was pregnant, I immediately wiped my running plans for the next year or so clear while I focused on what really matters most to me: My Family. I'm so excited about being a daddy, and hopefully some of my hard-earned endurance fitness will help me through the long days and sleepless nights that will undoubtedly follow!

Once the Rose Family has the new routine of life as a trio down pat next year, I'm sure I'll pick up a nice running stroller and start slowing getting my self back into ultra shape every night while giving Lizzy a nice quiet break at home. When I do come back, my focus will involve far fewer organized races than I've run in the past. When I daydream about running, I always envision myself running on a trail somewhere with no watch or aid stations or crew. I love running for the simple enjoyment of running, so most (if not all) of my future runs will be similar to trail adventures like I've done in the past (Horse-Shoe Trail, Long Trail, etc.). With a big ol' country full of woods, my options for adventure runs will be plentiful: I'll get myself back out to the Grand Canyon and do something fun out there...When they finish the Cowboy Trail across Nebraska, you bet I'll saddle up my shoes and run that too...the options are pretty limitless out there on the trails.

When I do come back to the sport, I'll happily reclaim the title of "ultrarunner", but no matter how far or wide any future runs take me, my new title of "Father" will always be the most important to me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dahlgren Heritage Trail 50k - Race Report!

What a great weekend down on the Northern Neck of Virginia! Running the Dahlgren Heritage Trail 50k was the occasion, so Lizzy and I made the drive down to Colonial Beach on Friday afternoon where we met up with my running buddy Andy and his family. My awesome in-laws let us use their place down there for the weekend (perfectly situated 20 minutes from the race course), and we couldn't have had a better time!
Andy and I admire Luke's impressive skills with Jenga blocks. This little dude has unbelievably steady hands. "Cool Hand Luke", indeed!
Luke's little brother Noah mugs for the camera with his mommy on the deck.
Coming into the race I was a bit wary of my ability to pace a 50k properly since I almost never run "short" races like this. I figured if I went out somewhere in the 7:30/mile neighborhood, I'd be able to hold that steady through the finish and feel like I put in an honest effort. The trail itself didn't have much to worry about in terms of hills, so I saw the race as perfect chance to exercise some steady-pacing skills.

Things started off easy enough as Andy and I joined 100 fellow runners and we made our way down the trail at 6:30am. The early morning start meant humid air, but surprisingly reasonable temps (anything below 90 has to be considered "reasonable" this time of year here). Right from the gun, four guys I didn't know (I assumed marathon guys) took off down the trail ahead of myself, Brad Hinton (3rd place here the past two years), and Karsten Brown (last year's winner). The RD mentioned he was adding a bonus $100 for a new course record this year (on top of the winner's purse), so I'm guessing the four lead guys were motivated to grab a little extra scratch!

After a couple miles I realized I was running 7:10s and figured that was probably a little too hot of a start, especially since the extra effort it took to run quickly over the loose trail rocks meant it felt more like running 6:30s. I quickly learned that running much of this course was a bit like an exercise in running through sand...only it was really "big" sand in the form of loose railroad stones. Basically, you got about a 90% return on your effort with each step you took in many sections of the trail. About 4 or 5 miles into the race, I figured out it was useless to fight the rocks in the worst spots, so from then on I just let the trail tell me how quickly I could run at any given point.

Around mile 10 Brad was ready to make his move to reel in the Gang of Four ahead of us. We could see they were about 150 yards ahead of us in a semi-solid pack, and while Brad felt it was time to go get them, I knew my best chance for success on the day was to play it steady and hope they came back to me by the end. It's pretty hard to fight the urge to use your fresh legs and speed up to hang with the leaders, but I know I'm more "endurance trained" than "speed trained" right now, so blowing my chances in this race by dropping a couple 6:00/miles to catch up at that point didn't seem like the right call. Instead I settled in with my 7:20s and focused on drinking/salting properly to fend off the 90% humidity's draining affects.

As it turned out, I leap-frogged Brad at the next aid station (I didn't stop, he did), and shortly thereafter around mile 13 I came up on the guy in 4th place who wasn't enjoying the rocks much at all. We exchanged pleasantries and I moved passed him, leaving just two in the lead about 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me. Just before the mile 19.9 turn-around, Brad caught up and pulled ahead again, putting me in back in 4th. This aid station was my only refill point all day, and I didn't even need to break stride as Lizzy handed me a full Camelbak on the fly as I gave her my empty one. This speedy transition meant I leap-frogged Brad again, but he quickly caught up and was ready to make his big move to reel in the top two guys. I believe I said, "Go get 'em!", and he was off!
Erin awaits Andy's arrival at the mile 19.9 turn-around while Noah practices early ultra-fueling skills with his container of Goldfish crackers.
I, on the other hand, was content with my pace (which I was checking regularly thanks to the existing 1/2 mile markers along the rail trail part of the course). I was still running my 7:20s, but it was starting to feel like it took a little more effort to hold them. That was enough for me to ignore the urge to push hard too soon and just hope my steady plan would pay off before the last 10 miles ticked by. Patience, patience, patience....

As it turned out, I slooowly reeled in the third place guy with about 4 miles to go, and with the finish so close from there, I figured that would be the extent of my progress up the standings. The course was technically long for a 50k (about 31.9 miles instead of 31.1), but I knew I needed it to be about 5 or 10 miles longer to have the other guys come back to me (especially a vet like Brad). Even though I didn't think catching the two ahead of me would happen, I kept pushing hard to keep my 7:20 pace out of fear of Karsten blowing by me in the end (he's got 2:39/marathon leg speed!).The next mile or two went by smoothly (I had definitely figured out the rocks at this point), and with just a couple miles to go I was surprised to see the #2 guy just head of me as I turned a bend. He was definitely hurting, so I passed him quickly.

At this point I couldn't see Brad ahead of me, but was definitely still afraid of Karsten reeling me in with his leg speed, so I just kept my head down all the way to the final turn-off toward the finish (about .5 mile to go from there). As I popped off the trail to cover the only section of pavement on the course (1000ft stretch of road), I saw Brad up the hill making his turn onto the final stretch of trail. Since most of this final section was uphill (and with a couple momentum-killing switchbacks), I didn't think it would be possible to catch him, even with an all-out sprint. Still, I gave it my best up the final trail section, but by time I popped out on the field crossing I knew Brad had run a great tactical race, and I had run out of real estate!. I cruised in for second place 18 seconds behind Brad in 3:54:29 (about 3 minutes off the course record). I was happy to have put in a solid and even effort all day long (7:21/mile pace), and proud that it was my buddy Brad who beat me with a great race plan (Full results here). Also, the rule is: 'Any day you get paid to run is a good day', so there are no complaints on my end!
Lizzy's view of the finish line just before...

Brad sprinted through for his big win...
...and I pulled up 18 seconds later.

Well done, Mr. Hinton! Brilliant race!
With Brad a little later on. You'll notice he cleaned up a bit, like a proper Champion does!
Luke shows the camera what place I finished...
...then it was off to the picnic benches for some serious super-hero coloring time!

The excitement waiting for Daddy built to a fever pitch!
We were too busy cheering for Andy to get a finish line photo of him, but here we are right after (with my golden railroad spike award). Andy had to deal with some hamstring issues in the 2nd half, but still toughed out a solid top 30 finish. Well done, Mr.Gingrich!
...and later that evening, even happier with a little bourbon in our great new glasses...
Talk about a brilliant finisher's award!
All in all, I'm happy with my effort out there and even happier that my training for Greece has ramped up successfully enough for me to reach the "peak training" period which begins tomorrow. I'm 100% healthy and ready to rack up some intense miles over the next 6 weeks before my taper. I'll be laying low in terms of no races or other distractions between now and Sept 30. For the past 14 months I've been repeatedly swallowing the bitter pill from my disaster in France at the World Championships, so I'm viewing the Spartathlon as my chance to make amends for that. In addition to racking up the big miles each week, I'll be studying every section of that course to devise the best race plan for my legs to follow. No doubt many in that field will be far more talented and accomplished than me, but with the right game plan and execution, I know I can surprise a few people!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Surprise! It's Race Week!

I've been so focused on training and planning for the Spartathlon lately that I keep forgetting I have a race coming up this weekend! Sure, a 100-person 50k isn't quite on the same end of the race spectrum as the international spectacle that is the Spartathlon, but I will honestly point out that the 50k (31 mile) distance definitely scares me more than that 153 mile race across Greece. Yes, my weekly long run is always at least 50k in my normal training cycle, but "racing" that distance is a whole different beast...especially when my focus in training has been working on looooong slow n' steady miles and not lung-busting speed. Regardless, all of my worries will go away at 6:30 a.m. this Saturday when the gun goes off for the Dahlgren Heritage Trail 50k. As long as I survive the first 8 miles (which I understand are somewhat rugged), I'll settle in nicely for the rest of the race as I've previously run that part of the trail in training.

I should have some good company along the way as well with my friends Brad Hinton and Andy Gingrich also in the starting field. Brad has grabbed 3rd place in each of the previous two years at this race, so it may end up being a fist-fight between the two of us over my usual 3rd place finishing spot. We'll see how that plays out. Lord knows any race to the finish with Brad is an all-out effort. If you haven't seen the video of his last second win at the North Country 50 miler last year, check this out!  Of course, since there's prize money in this race, that probably also means some marathon speedsters will show up to blow us all away. Man, I hate those guys and their lactic thresholds!

Regardless of how the race itself goes, it'll be a fun time all-around with members of my family and Andy's family all coming down to cheer us on. Sure, they might just be there for the race BBQ, but when I pass them late in the race I'll suppress thoughts like "Wait, are they eating ribs?...and why does the water bottle they just handed me have BBQ sauce on it?!", and convince myself they're only there to cheer me on. They say Ultras are 50% mental, and "delusion" makes up a huge part of that 50%!

Time to lace 'em up!