Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bushido Challenge 2

When I lined up at the inaugural Bushido Challenge earlier this year I realized that for the first time since I started running at the age of 8 I didn’t know a single person that I was competing against.  Now 6 months later lining up at the start of this weekend’s Bushido Challenge I not only was acquainted with most of the competitors but I was competing on a team with college buddy Jordan Whitlock as well as David Magida, Dakota Pellman and Chris Hass, friends I had made since my foray into the world of OCR.  On that first starting line I had been uncertain of what was ahead, now with my friends beside me I felt confidant and strong.  In running races nerves had long since become a thing of the past, the pre race butterflies had abandoned me sometime in high school, and never resurfaced until that first OCR start line.  Now my stomach was calm again.  Smoke bombs landed on the ground in front of us and with a shout we were off, tearing through the green smoke and into the woods!
Getting out!
Reliving the cross country days!


Even though this race was smaller than some of my previous OCR’s it took out every bit as fast.  David Magida and I settled in together behind a couple of early rabbits.  David had run me down in the final few meters of the first Bushido Challenge, and although we were teammates this time around we still knew where our true competition was.   The differences in the course were immediately apparent. For one thing the new venue, Belvedere Plantation a farm in Fredericksburg, was flatter and for another the course was marked like a Cross Country race with ribbon and paint making it almost impossible to leave the course.  In the first go around the course had been marked primarily with bamboo sticks, which matched well with both the race theme and the tall grass covering most of the course.  Deviations from the intended path ensued.  This time around we didn’t even have to think about looking for course markings and could concentrate on the race.
As we came to the first obstacle, a 6 or so foot wall about a quarter mile in David and I came up on the two front runners.  We flew over the wall, where I may or may not have kicked him in the head, and when our feet touched the ground on the far side it was clear running ahead of us.  I felt strong so I kept the pace FAST!  David hung with me though and our gap on the field increased rapidly.  Over the next mile, the course dropped in and out of a ravine, which was fun to navigate, and across a two small traverse walls connected by boards that were traversed by hand.  I gained a small lead on David but lost it on the traverse.  We hit the next obstacle together, two sloped slippery walls traversed by placing your feet on one side and your hands on the other, another improvement from earlier in the year, where the walls were slightly closer and had no slippery surface making it quite easy to just run through with your feet on opposite walls.  On the far side of the obstacle I kept the running pace high and finally felt David give a little.  He is a STRONG competitor and has got the better of me a couple times this year but the course on Saturday definitely suited my cross country back ground better than most OCR races.  The next mile had a fire jump into water, which was freezing as there had been ice on the puddles earlier in the morning, some upended logs about two feet tall to step across, and a crawl under spiked bamboo.  This was probably the fastest portion of the race for me and I had a comfortable lead coming into the tire flip, the only obstacle that I was somewhat apprehensive about. 

There were three huge tires that we figured were for the men and three smaller but still large tractor tires that we thought may be off limits to us.  I had flipped lightest of the three large tires on the warm-up and while I knew ten flips wouldn’t be a problem for me to complete I figured it would take some time and energy on my part.  But as I entered the tire area I was told to choose any tire for my flips.  I immediately went to the larger tire already mentally prepared for the challenge, then with a quick thought to our team, scored on cumulative time, a switched back to the small tire and began flipping.  I finished just as David arrived with no one else in sight.  From here on out the course was pretty flat.  The monkey bars, fashioned out of rope slowed me a bit as they kept sagging.  Earlier in the year I had been next to David and his weight kept the ropes taught for me.  The first half of the obstacle went SLOW before I changed my technique and finally gained some momentum at the end.  After that it was short run to an obstacle with a sledge hammer and a log, and then a pool full of water with buckets surrounding it.  When the volunteer said to fill up two buckets I knew things were about to get tough.  My apprehension was short lived once I was directed to attach the buckets to opposite ends of a pole.  I knew once I had them on my shoulders that carrying them would become much easier for me. 
The unexpected obstacle however came in the form of latching the carabiner on the end of the pole to a metal ring on the bucket!  My first bucket went on smooth but the second one I just couldn’t get.  Finally I clipped it only to have it fall off when I tried to pick up the pole.  I clipped it again.  It fell off again.  Finally I relaxed and made sure to clip it securely. As I lifted them to my shoulders David was already filling his buckets with water.  My comfortable lead was gone, so I took off up pretty much the only hill on the course as fast as I could without spilling water.  As I had spent much of the previous month running/hiking with my little one in a back pack it turns out that I have become somewhat adept at a quick smooth shuffle, good for keeping an infant from bouncing as well as keeping water in my bucket!  20 or so seconds up the hill I managed a quick glance back expecting to see David closing.  Instead I saw him back at the buckets struggling with the same issues I had just been through.  I kept my jog/shuffle however adjusting the pole so that the weight balanced well on my shoulders.  I reached the top of the hill, looped around a stand of trees and then descended back toward the water pool.  The downhill proved slightly harder for water management but I was soon at the pool and emptying my buckets.  The finish was nearing now, with just a few efficiency obstacles left. 
The Final Obstacle!

I cruised through the cargo net, followed by two seven foot walls.  Some technique work over the past few months had made huge improvements on these types of obstacles since my Spartan Race in August.  Then it was through the void and onto the final straight!  Right before the finish line was a 12 foot wall with a rope assist and a Tyrolean traverse strung from the top.  I hoisted myself over the wall and grabbed a rope.  Hanging beneath it from my hands and feet I started to traverse to the other side and the finish.  It was my first time on this type of obstacle and it started slow.  My feet kept crossing each other slowing me to a creep.  Halfway through I finally discovered that I only needed on foot on the line at a time and my pace more than doubled.  Seconds later I slapped the log on the far end, dropped to the hay below and trotted through the line.  David was already mounting the final obstacle as I finished and I welcomed him at the line.  A couple minutes later George Becouvarakis finished in third followed shortly by Dakota and our final score, proving my worries about the team race unfounded.  Jordan and Chris finished not long after and we set out for a cool-down.  The farm was a perfect venue with a lot of fun stuff going on and our cool-down turned into a tractor race with pedal powered tractors on a go-cart track.  I lost but I plan on being back in the spring to avenge myself!
Getting the hang of it ;)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BattleFrog Pittsburgh

Props to BattleFrog for putting on an amazing event!  The course was awesome, challenging both physically and technically while still working plenty of good old trail running into the mix.  The mines added an aspect all of their own and was a completely new experience for someone who has been racing since they were a little kid! The course was perfectly marked, no way to go wrong out there, and the volunteers were the best I have encountered even rivaling my favorite aid station with just a few miles to go at The Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain!  Well done on all fronts!  Now for the Story!
 Often times the best adventures are the ones that fall into your lap last minute.  In this case it started on Thursday afternoon when I found out about the BattleFrog event in Pittsburgh just two days away.  I am new to the sport of obstacle racing but was confidant I could bring home some money, plus the event looked completely epic.  I committed and posted a promo for the race with a 50% off code on my facebook and within minutes my solo adventure had turned into a road trip with my brother Andrew and brother in-law Doug who immediately signed up for the race as well.  For them it would be their first OCR event and only the third for me so we set off for Pittsburgh full of enthusiasm and inexperience.
                We arrived at the venue race morning ready to go after a short night in a cheap motel.  It was chilly but quickly warming up. We grabbed our packets and stood around a fire while we prepared to go.  Drew and I were in the Elite heat of the 15k so the start came quickly.  We got to the front of the line on the left side and I looked up to right to see a few familiar faces from the two other OCR events I had done as well as Ryan Atkins, the obvious favorite fresh off his runner-up finish at the Spartan World Championships.  We had met earlier in the year at a trail event and I was excited to see how I would stack up with some obstacles thrown in.  From what I could tell it was a fast race with BIG obstacles.  Walls, nets, pyramids, monkey bars, lots of climbing and very little carrying and while I had been working on the carrying since my Spartan race in VA this type of course definitely favored my strengths more.  I planned on taking the race out FAST and gaining some great experience from watching Ryan take on the obstacles and hopefully run fast enough that I could hang with him through the tougher obstacles.  That plan went out the window the second the race started. 
Following Ryan through the creek bed early on.

The starter who stood a short distance in front of the racers stepped directly into my path as soon as he set us on our course and I collided with him.  Just like that I was behind 40 or so other runners.  I sprinted through their midst and fought my way through the first mud pit moving halfway through the crowd.  I could now see Ryan clear of the field and flying over and under the first set of walls.  I cruised over the walls and kept on the gas.  As I came up to the next mud pit I could see 10 or so people struggling through it.  I jumped as far as I could and prayed I wouldn’t land on a rock.  I cleared most of the pit and landed running, Coach Jimmer my old steeple coach would have been proud!  I came out of the water in around 10th.  Then we hit the 12 foot ladder wall.  There were several people on it already and I scaled it as fast as I could.  I reached the top to see the competition climbing down the opposite side and I jumped.  I hit the ground hard but now there were only 2 other people besides Ryan ahead of me.  I passed one just before we entered the woods and hit a rocky creek bed.  The next ½ to ¾ of a mile were in the creek bed and it was gnarly!  I got stuck behind one runner for a little bit and Ryan disappeared out of sight.  As soon as I got a clear lane I flew into second and the sounds of pursuit soon faded.  Over the next couple of miles I slowly gained on Ryan who looked to be moving comfortably as we shredded some ATV trails scaled walls.  I gained a little bit on the big cargo and then lost what I gained on a 20 foot tall pyramid shaped obstacle called The Delta Ladder.  My goal was to catch up before the Jerry can carry.  It didn’t look to be too heavy but I knew if it was the Ryan would destroy me on it.  Just as I had caught up enough to be in almost constant visual contact we descended a hill and ran straight into a mine cut into the side of the hill.  A volunteer handed me a headlamp and I entered into blackness.
The Delta Ladder

 Almost right away we scaled a short wall before turning deeper into the mine.  The trail through here was well marked with cones and glo sticks but visibility was still very low.  I slowed a bit keeping Ryan’s light in sight through the switchbacks for the next half mile or so.  This part of the course was definitely the most unique section of race I have ever run!  Then all of a sudden the tunnel was blocked completely by water.  A volunteer gave me the option of swimming or grabbing a tube.  I plunged in and the air was immediately knocked from my lungs by the frigid water. I struggled through the chest deep water running and paddling with my arms, my warm breathe contrasting with the cold water and throwing up a cloud of white in front of my face.  Just as I thought I was reaching the end the tunnel turned 180 degrees and I saw I was only halfway done.  At this point my shins had had enough of the underwater obstacles they had been colliding with and I began to swim.  The swimming actually felt much better and I made it to the exit in no time.  I cambered out of the water and slogged my numb body through an entrance into a dark room with glowing targets.  A volunteer told me to hit the ground and I saw a row of paintball guns at my feet.  I dropped to a prone position and grabbed the gun.  It was too dark to see the sights but the paintballs glowed so I used my first shot to guide my second and hit the target.  I then moved to my left and did the same thing from a kneeling position, then to my left again and the final shots from a standing position.  This gun Jammed and wasn’t shooting paintballs.  The volunteer cleared me anyway and I sprinted off, knowing that I had lost at least 20 seconds on the last gun.  I exited the mine into what now felt like warm air and took off sprinting.  I had been careful to keep a moderate pace early on and not push myself but now I knew that if I was going to see Ryan again, and the chances were slim I had to MOVE. 
The swimming section of the mine.  It was pitch black when we raced through it.
There was a quick climb and descent that I hammered and then we climbed up some trusses and into a barn.  In the barn there was a rope climb and once I rung the bell I dropped and jumped out the opposite side of the barn.  As I exited I caught a glimpse of Ryan dropping off of the monkey bars about 30-45 seconds ahead of me.  Maybe I did still have a shot.  I took off and reached the monkey bars to see that the bars had been mostly replaced by rock climbing holds.  I grabbed the first hold and swung out.  After the first hold which was easy to grab the holds got smaller.  I made it to the first set of bars to see one measly rock hold between me and the next set.  I was not too confidant in my ability to hang onto it so I decided to swing and jump for the platform.  I didn’t fully commit though with the last second fear of smashing into the platform and I missed and landed in the water.  I tried again and almost made it but again failed, then a third time.  As I came out of the water for the fourth time third place showed up at the “bars”.  He failed too.  Soon there were 20 men from the elite trying and falling into the water. A kid with a fit rock climber’s body finally passed and moved into second.   An official announced that after 10 tries you were done and had to surrender your arm band.  I had already tried at least ten times but he gave me one more.  It didn’t matter. After being in and out of the water so many times I was shaking with cold and had lost any of the already insufficient grip strength I had.  Battle Frog has a “must pass” policy to obstacles for elites.  If you can’t complete and obstacle you surrender you arm band.  You can still finish the race and be in the results but you are no longer racing for a cash purse.  I heard a bit of grumbling about this policy at the time and later on in the day. Obviously an alternate punishment would have benefitted me on this day but I support either approach.  Either way the failure is on me.  After almost succeeding the first couple of times I approached the obstacle the same way each time instead of trying to find a different approach to get through.  I spent the rest of the day thinking about this obstacle and have come up with several different techniques that I am sure would have gotten me through, mainly facing sideways and using my feet on the parallel rock grips.  I also enjoy the challenge of the harder obstacles as they expose weaknesses in my training and force me to add different exercises to my routine making me a fitter and more well rounded athlete, and I would like to see more obstacles like this replacing monkey bars and traverse walls.  I will be ready for them next time!
The monkey bars. Don't know how Ryan got through so fast.
  I surrendered my band just as a third guy made it through.  I started off towards the inverted wall disappointed but also ready to take that anger out on the rest of the course.  But then I stopped.  I was no longer in the money and wasn’t sure I wanted to interfere with the racers who were competing for a check.  I also looked back to see my brother on the bars.  He doesn’t run but had still decided to tackle the challenge, and on top of that was killing it!  I realized that this was probably the only chance I would have to race and finish with him so I hung out until he was done with the bars and then we took off together.  Over the next several miles we tackled hills and obstacles together.  Neither one of us running hard just moving steadily and enjoying the adventure.  We moved steadily though and soon popped out of the woods and into the finishing straight.  This finishing straight was epic!  First there was the tsunami!  A 20 foot half pipe with roped to aide in the climb and a slide down the backside, then out of the water and straight into 12 foot wall with a rope aid and another slide straight into the Normandy Jacks and the finish.  Drew and I cruised through side by side passing a few people who couldn’t get up the walls on the first try.  We crossed the line together capping off a day that was far different than what I had come for yet rewarding in other way’s than I had originally intended it to be.  We hosed off, grabbed some fire time and then headed to the tsunami to see Doug finish up his 5k.  By this time people were piling up on the two walls and we had a good time cheering them on.  Doug got over the tsunami on his first try and then hit the last wall.  He had more trouble on this one but once he got over we met him at the finish, grabbed our beers and T-shirts, and watched more people tackle the finishing straight as we told battle stories of our day out on the course.
Sliding down the backside of the tsunami!

Friday, August 29, 2014

My First Spartan Race! Getting Educated

Going into this weekend’s Spartan Super at Wintergreen resort in VA I had high hopes and few expectations.  Having never done a race remotely similar to this I really did not know what I was getting into.  As I toed the line I knew it would be hard, I knew the competition would be tough, and I knew I would suffer.  That was the extent of my knowledge about Spartan Race. Over the next 2 hours I would get beat down, mentally, physically and emotionally, and get a complete education on the sport of Obstacle Course Racing from some of the sports best athletes.  If you are not interested in reading the whole long story, and yes it will be long, I will start with a few quick takes from the weekend.
1                                  1.  As a first time racer I have never been met with more encouragement and advice from my competitors. 
2                                 2.  Coming from a mountain runner, this was a TRUE mountain race.  Plus obstacles.
3                                 3.   Being a good runner can only take you so far in Spartan Race.
4                                 4.  I have seen in Spartan Race adds where they claim that you need look no further to find the most challenging event on the planet.  While I believe, having competed in many different challenging endurance events that this is an impossible claim to make because there are too many factors that go into it, I will admit that Physically and mentally the challenge to keep moving during the Bucket Brigade, matched any low moment I have had in any ultra, mountain race, track race or adventure race that I have ever competed in.
5                                  5.   I was definitely NOT prepared for this type of race and that is already changing by the time this blog is being read.  I will return to a Spartan Race and I will succeed this next time around.

Now for the story:

I arrived at Wintergreen Resort late Friday evening.  The drive was sunny and warm but by the time I was halfway up the mountain fog was already clinging to the mountain.  The plan was to get in a shakeout run, find a good place to camp near the racer parking, about 15 minutes from the resort, sleep in my car and get up ready to run in the morning.  I was just finishing up my run in sight of the finishing area for the next day’s race when a guy came up to me.  I could tell immediately that like me he was a trail runner.  He asked if I had seen any of the course and I let him know what little of it I had happened upon during my run.  We introduced and after a short jog found out that both of us were attempting our first Spartan the next day.  We talked a bit of trail running and before I knew it I had a place to stay at a Condo 400 meters from the start!  No worried about parking and a shuttle in the morning!

                After a quick dinner we both went to bed early and woke up equally early, and ready to go.  Fog was not clinging to the mountain side but rather engulfing it as if swallowing it whole.  We met up with my friend and personal good luck charm Jordan Whitlock and got ready to go. The 7:30 start got delayed and after standing around until 8:15 an official finally said he would announce the a few top athletes before allowing the entire Elite Field to enter the corral.  To my complete surprise my name was the first to be announced.  I felt awkward hopping over the Spartan wall and into the starting corral completely by myself.  I was relieved to hear names being called out quickly behind me and was joined at the line by the Spartan Pro racers.  After that it was a few quick intros, the national anthem and a pump up speech and then we were off.  After a short downhill we were met immediately by our first climb up a Ski slope.  Strategy became tricky immediately as I found myself out front.  I was hoping to key off of a few of the guys and see how they tackled obstacles but I also knew that the first half of the race was mostly running with few obstructions.  I decided I wouldn’t exceed my normal climbing pace on a training day and if that put me out front then I would deal with it.  I also hoped that it might drag Matt Novakovich out with me and hopefully I could key off him while separating from Hunter McIntyre who I knew would destroy me in the Bucket Brigade later on if he was anywhere close.  This was the one obstacle I was really worried about.  The first several miles were simple over under obstacles with plenty of climbing and descending.  I ran comfortably and went through the obstacles easy without trying to do anything fast and fancy on the wet surfaces.  I built a small lead before making a short wrong turn.  I ran with Matt after that and felt more comfortable.  We hit the Pancake carry together, which was good because I initially was trying to climb over the walls with the 40lb bag on my shoulder before he let me know you could set the bag on the wall as long as your hand didn’t leave it.  We were talking but at the top of the hill his pace quickened as he noticed Hunter closing on us.  I stayed with him despite a fall, where luckily my bag never touched the ground.  Then it was a short climb followed by descent through the woods.  The descent was technical and I gained a slight lead again, although I hyper extended my knee which worried me slightly. I was the first to reach the tractor pull and was slightly surprised to see Hunter right behind me.  He must have descended faster than matt.  I grabbed the chain and started to awkwardly drag the cement block up the ski slope. I was QUICKLY passed by both hunter and matt.  For a few seconds I desperately pulled harder on my chain before I finally observed their technique.  Both were holding the chain with both hands extended behind them.  I grabbed the chain the same way and with a slight forward lean found all the stress transferred to my quads.  This was home for me.  I power-hiked easily just trying to stay even with them and not waste any energy.  I dropped the weight about 20 seconds behind the duo and set of running, resisting the urge to sprint back up to them. We had descended for a while and I figured we had some climbing ahead of us.  Over the next mile and two obstacles, an over under in the water, and the atlas carry, I caught back up.  We hit another steep ski slope and Matt and I drew slightly ahead of hunter.  I kept an even easy climbing pace edging slightly ahead of Matt, I glanced at Hunter power hiking only a few seconds back.  The dude could hike! Matt and I hit the monkey bars together with Hunter right on us. I started steady afraid of slipping on the wet bars.  Matt started swinging like he was going to jump and skip the high bars but I think the wet metal deterred him and he began hitting every bar.  Hunter swung past and into the lead with Matt and I dropping off the bars just behind him.  We ran the short distance to the next obstacle three wide. This was where things went south for me.  The Hercules was the first real mans obstacle and I was immediately in trouble.  To my left Matt and Hunter were hauling on their ropes halfway done in no time.  I joked that the bag was heavier than I was but as I looked at Matt I knew he wasn’t that much bigger than me and he was beasting it.  Just as they were finishing I found a bit of technique and my bag started cruising towards the top.  I was in too much of a hurry though and with only a foot to go my hands slipped on the wet rope and the bag fell to the ground.  30 burpees for me.  I knocked them out quick and headed down the mountain next to another smaller athlete who introduced himself as James.  I descended a little quicker than he did and reached the dreaded bucket brigade in third.  I knew I would lose time here and figured my chances of catching Matt and Hunter were not much better than zero but I hoped to still hang on to a podium spot.  I grabbed my bucket and ran to the furthest right corner of the rock pile.  I didn’t want to carry that freaking bucket one step further than I had to.  Right off the bat my hands, flat on the bottom of the bucket started slipping.  I curled my fingers beneath the small lip and they found purchase but with all the weight on my fingertips my forearms were burning in seconds.  I put the bucket down.  So did James and we both got passed. I looked over and saw Hunter and Matt on their way down.  I was surprised to see Matt sticking close to Hunter still although I could tell he was pushing harder. The next ten minutes were a brutal blur of pain.  By the time I reached the top of the slope I had been passed by 7 people and was in 9th place.  Each person grunter encouragement as they passed and I returned it when I was physically able.  David Magida passed me as I lay on the ground finding the determination to get back down the hill.  By the time I was halfway down he had already moved all the way to third and was finishing the challenge.  I was moving 2o feet at a time and setting my bucket down, forearms mashed to jello.  Finally near the bottom of the slope I found that if I wrapped both arms slightly over and to the front of the bucket, I could grip the lip with one hand and grip the first hand with the second.  The weight transferred to my biceps and the bucket seemed to drop half its weight.  I cruised the rest of the way to the bottom and dumped out my rocks.  The spear throw was immediately following the bucket brigade and I walked over shaking out my arms.  I picked my spear gripping it as best I could in my shaking hand and threw.  I didn’t put enough wrist into the throw and it tilted back slightly but miraculously stuck, hanging by some unseen thread.  I glanced at the race official and he gave me the thumbs up.  I sprinted off down the hill before my spear could fall forcing me into 30 more burpees.  Over the next mile the course tumbled down the mountainside through a creek bed, strewn with rocks, logs, and since it was raining plenty of muddy water.  My knee was getting tender so I didn’t push this section although I slowly reeled in the pack ahead of me.  Just as we left the woods I passed James and moved into 9th.  Then it was a log flip and we headed straight up the ski slope.  100 meters in I suddenly started getting hope back.  The trail was STEEP, one that I may not have been able to run a couple years ago, yet here I was running up the mountain.  Everyone else had adopted a strong power hike and as I moved up the mountain I moved up in the field as well. 8th,7th,6th,5th!  Nearing the top I caught sight of 4th, and David Magida’s red shoes in 3rd!  All the sudden the podium was back in play.  I reached the top scaled a wall and headed down the mountain yet again as the 2 ahead of me disappeared into the fog, which like the course showed no signs of letting up.  Seconds into the descent the trail pitched downward and I was out of control.  I stayed on my feet until the ground ahead looked grassy and then I slid.  My foot caught on something and then I was rolling, I regained my feet scratched and bruised but still moving.  I slowed knowing that the course climbed to the finish and thinking I would make my move then.  I reached the tire pull just in time to see 4th heading into the woods below me.  I grabbed my robe and hauled.  I slid down the hill.  I tried again and still could not move the tire.  I moved to the next one just as 6th came sliding in next to me.  He tried to show me how to pull with my legs braced on the pole that the rope was fastened to but I couldn’t budge the tire far enough to even get there.  After trying for too long I races down to the trail to do my burpees.  This set was TOUGH.  My knee had apparently swollen and although I didn’t feel it while running I couldn’t draw it to my chest and my burpees became an awkward flop to the ground followed by a push up to one leg and then a hop.  I got passed two more times during the burpees and I was back in 8th.  As I left the tire pull I put my head down and charged.  I entered the woods on the service road and saw almost flat trail ahead of me when out of the corner of my eye I saw tape to my right.  My heart sunk as I saw the course climb up a steep loose dirt slope and into the woods.  The next section was a real climb!  An off trail scramble through boulders and plenty of briars.  I pushed hard and expected to see competitors ahead of me, coming back like they did on the last climb, but the woods were empty.  I pushed harder.  I exited the woods and into a small clearing with an 8 foot fall.  I scaled it and sat on the top for a second looking down the mountain and still seeing no one.  Then I descended.  Another steep ski slope, another slide and roll and then I was at the log carry.  I eyed some very light looking logs before being directed to a section of big round pine stumps with black E’s on them.  So much for running this section.  Still, this was home. Growing up we heated a sizable house in the Northeast most corner of NY on nothing but wood, and if there was one heavy object I was efficient at carrying it was a log.  I lifted the sticky hunk of wood and positioned it on center of my shoulders where both arms could reach over my head and steady it.  I am sure it was an awkward looking position but it was efficient and left little work to be done by the arms.  I set off down the slope at a job looking to my right for my competitors who would be climbing the other side of the slope.  I saw no one.  I reached the bottom and my job became a hike.  I was pushing HARD at this point. No more saving my legs.  I reached the top completely wasted but having never set my log down.  I knew Ryan Kent was close behind me but I was sure I had put a little cushion in here and felt slightly redeemed after the bucket brigade.
I'm ready to put this thing down!

  I walked as I took in water and then started jogging, I hit the traverse wall and keeping my body close in just like I would if I was climbing I made it through without a slip, by the time I hit the barbed wire crawl I was almost recovered from the log carry.  I started crawling and was getting nowhere but once I found a good rhythm of pushing through the open spots and rolling through the tight spots I cruised through the rest and hit the rope climb.  
The barbed wire crawl is a military style obstacle. I look more like a prisoner escaping from a concentration camp than a warrior storming the trenches!

I flew halfway up and then my forearms started giving out.  I couldn’t draw my right leg up to grip the rope and I dropped into the water.  30 more awkward burpees and I crossed the line bloody, muddy and tired in 8th place.  It wasn’t what I was looking for but I couldn’t help but be somewhat satisfied in my effort.  With no real specific training I had still hung in there and competed.  I learned the Matt had edged Hunter in a hard fought battle and that David had held on for third. Luke finished not long later after cramping up on the barbed wire crawl.  We hung around the finish discussed what went right and wrong and planned our training for our next attack on a Spartan race.  It won’t be long, and we will both be ready this time!
Finally done.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Old Rag FKT.. by the skin of my teeth!

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not that much of a planner.  But even if I was the opportunities for me to get out for a day to attempt an FKT on Old Rag Mountain were slim, so with my wife and son at the beach with her family and nothing to do until my 6pm track practice I figured today would be as good as any.  I woke up a little later than I would have liked to, ate some breakfast, threw my mountain bike, inflatable kayak, and slackline in the car, in case I had some free time after the run, tweeted about my attempt and took off for the mountain at around 9:30. The first thing I heard on the radio was that it was going to be mid 90’s and I cringed.  Heat has never been my friend.  Still I felt confident that the 39:50 ascent and 105:49 full loop that Neal Gorman had run in the fall of 2012 were well within my reach. 
The Ridge Trail on Old Rag.  A seriously fun run!

I had wanted to make this attempt for a while.  I had spent a remarkable amount of time on the mountain when I lived close by a few years ago before I knew that record times existed for runs like this, or that people even ran them, so I was well acquainted with the trail, and very sure of my ability and that, on a Monday the trail would be clear.  When I pulled into the Nethers parking lot however it was nearly full with at least 60 cars.  I stepped out of the car and began sweating immediately.  I renewed my yearly park pass, grabbed a couple water bottles and my GoPro and headed up the road to the trail head.  The climb to the trail head on the road was exposed and though I was running easy I was hot and having doubts.  I thought of calling it off. But then I remembered my twitter post. Freakin twitter. All 7 people that saw my post knew I was out here.  I was locked in now.  When I reached the top parking lot I veered right down a narrow path on the opposite side of the lot from the trail head.  At the bottom of the trail was an ice cold swimming hole and I planned to dip before I ran.  I stashed my bottles and camera in the woods by the swimming hole, downed a honey stinger gel, hopped in the water and then put my shoes on as quickly as possible so I could get a couple miles in before I dried off.  Back at the trail head I slipped a soaking wet buff around my neck, a soaking wet hat on my head, donned my sun glasses, started my Garmin, tagged the cement post that marked the trail head and started running. 
Trail head
Pre run selfie


 My legs didn’t feel amazing but the opening mile went a little quicker than anticipated in 9:41, traffic at this point was light, and although I was getting warm I felt easy so I maintained my effort.  I hit the first overlook at around 2 miles in 20:30. I knew from Neal's blog, which also provides some great info on the mountain and it's running history, that he had reached this point in 22:17.  It was then that things started to fall apart.  The trail left the woods and undulated over under, and through massive boulders that were already baking in the sun.  Normally my favorite part of the run, I immediately became miserable in the heat.  Traffic also picked up and although I didn’t have to slow down much, I knew that after passing ten or so people I had to be losing ground to Neal’s ghost runner behind me.  Previously, I had in the back of my mind, hoped to break an hour, that goal was off the table now and knowing I had small cushion I tried to enjoy the gnarly rock scramble and stay within my limits.  I felt tight and slow.  Years ago when I spent a lot of time on the mountain I knew every rock and step,I would FLY through this section.  Today I felt myself baby stepping.  Still I was climbing well and figured I would reach the summit around 37 minutes barring disaster.  Disaster struck in the squeeze, a narrow steep section between two rock walls.  It’s always wet and slippery and halfway up a large triangular shaped rock about 5 feet tall presents itself as an obstacle to climbers.  It’s often bottle necked with people and as I feared when I entered 5 guys with packs and basketball shorts from the 50’s were trying to squeeze themselves between the top half of the rock and the right hand wall.  The 3 at the back stepped aside to let me pass but for a painful minute I stood watching the other two straddle the rock and struggle, legs kicking and balls scraping, to the other side.  As soon as I could politely move I went straight over the top of the jutting rock and was back on my way.  The trail was immediately clogged with more people, and with respect to all hikers and runners, I passed with care and a thank you!  It wasn’t long until the trail opened up into a large level ridge of boulders.  With more maneuvering room I quickly made my way to the other side and soon was at the summit.  I veered right from the post that marked the top and made my way to the highest rock on the mountain.  I slapped the top with my palm not taking the time to pull my whole body up.  My watch read 38:26, an ascent record although I am relatively sure I have run it faster in the past. I shook out my legs and headed down. 
Negotiating the squeeze with  Leah, Josh and our dogs back in 2009

One of my best runs ever on the mountain back in 2010!

                The next few miles of descent flew by.  The trail down is technical but very runnable and knowing I had a cushion of 1:24 I relaxed and let gravity do the work.  I was halfway down, entering my last “danger zone” a narrow section of rocky trail formed into steps, that passes between two boulders when I saw the line of people.  I recalled seeing a white bus in the parking lot and knew this must be that group.  There was hardly room to pass so I walked until I made it to the front of the crowd.  I glanced at my watch and knew it would be close.  I forgot about running relaxed and bombed the remaining single track.  I reached the fire road at 52:39 only 29 seconds up on Neal.  From here he had averaged 5:14 pace.  This was well within my reach but as the mercury passed 90 I wanted nothing more than to stop. The air grew thicker and I started getting a little dizzy.  I backed off the pace and let my legs turn on the downhill.  When my watch beeped for the next mile at 5:15 I knew I had it in the bag.  I was uncomfortable but not pushing hard enough to risk a blow up.  I kept the cruise on through the next mile in 5:05.  As my watch clicked past 1:05 the trail leveled out and then rose up to the finish.  My legs felt like lead as I took the climb but I knew, although close that there was no losing the record now.  I tagged the cement marker for the second time and then stopped my watch.  105:17!  I felt more relieved than excited.  
Spent after my effort.

I immediately grabbed my stashed water bottles and headed to the swim hole.  The bottles had been meant for another loop of the ridge trail or maybe a run out to cedar falls where I could huck myself off the rocks into a clear water hole.  But I knew as I sat in the gloriously cool creek that my running was over for the day.  I wouldn’t even run back to the car.  Later I would head over to the Shenandoah River, pump up my kayak and float to some cliffs that I could reach without having to run there.  Then I would jump and float staying in the water and away from the heat for as long as I could. In Neal's blog he mentiones the chance of possibly running sub 1 hour which I think is within reach. I would love to come back on a cooler day maybe in the evening and maybe with a few other guys to push things out there and give it a shot!  Anyone in?
Swimming holes make everything better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Art Of The Stroller Run

It’s funny how your life can change so dramatically yet so seamlessly that you don’t even take a second to notice how different your daily routine is.  That is until that one little thing catches your attention and it all becomes comically clear.  Then you have to laugh.  For me that moment came halfway through packing up the car for a little running outing with my son.  Aside from his stroller, and diaper bag, which were already packed I was stuffing a diaper, blanket, zip lock bag of wipes, zip lock bag of Gerber puffs, 4 oz of mommy's milk, blue teething foot, apple juice, and binky, into my The North Face running pack, next to my Pomegranate Honey Stinger Gel and waffle.  That’s when it hit me that a year ago that’s all I would have carried.  A couple gels just in case I decided to go long and maybe a 10 oz water bottle if it was hot.  Those items would have been tossed alongside my running shoes onto the passenger seat of my car and I would have arrived barefoot at the trail head somewhere between the time I was now going through the last items on my nearly endless gear check, doing the last minute diaper change and strapping my kid, loaded with toys so that he might stay occupied until we get the end of our street, into the back seat and as a last minute afterthought remembering my running shoes.  As someone who has always had a quite minimalist style when it comes to gear I had to laugh at the fully loaded car.  All that gear and I was only going out for 9 miles!  Training has changed too!   Now if I haven’t lost you with this overly long introduction to my new routine, I will now proclaim to you that while I am somewhat new to this father son run routine I believe that I have become quite proficient in the art of the stroller run! Follow these simple steps and you can be too!
Some of my modified running kit.

 1.       Destination.  First pick a destination that your kid will like.  This is not hard.  Kids are easily impressed.  I kicked a balloon out of my way the other day and sent the little one into a fit of laughter.  However examples of places that my son loves are as follows.  Creeks, large rocks, small caves, the old broken down bull dozer at the logging site, and his personal favorite, the fire tower. Next make sure that this destination is accessible or nearly accessible (my personal favorites include a little bit of hiking) by some nice dirt/gravel mountain road.  If the road to the destination is tough, all the better for your fitness.  You are not running 20 miles today like you were a year ago so you may as well make it hard!
Chilling at the creek!
Playing on the dozer.

2.       Bring everything you might need!  These things include but are not limited to, stroller, a favorite toy, binky, teething foot, juice, formula/milk, water, diapers, wipes, powder, sunscreen, sun hat, kids pack if your destination includes some hiking, blanket, change of clothes, cell phone, bike lock and because nothing entertains him more bring the dog.  On that note bring a towel or two as well.  Pack the essentials, bottle of milk/formula, bag of puffs, diaper and wipes into a running pack, you may as well include a snack and drink for yourself as well, and load it all in the car.
Kilian on the mountain top with his dog.

3.       Final preparation!  You have now arrived at your destination.  Your kid may be asleep so take your time loading your running pack, and his pack into the stroller along with that blanket, while the dog runs around chases animals and rolls in poop. If you were smart you have parked by a creek therefore insuring that your kid is as happy upon return as he was at the actual destination.  You can also give the dog a bath.  Your kid is now awake so load him into the stroller, which he loves, and buckle him up, which he hates.  Start running IMMEDIATELY!  This will make him forget about the buckles and he will be happy again.
Rockin in the stroller

4.       The run!  Congratulations! You are finally moving.  This part is not too much different than it used to be.  Just slower.  Although if you feel like running hard go for it!  You are not running that far, and you will have a significant amount of rest halfway through!   If you chose a destination that included some hiking lock the stroller or if you forgot the lock ditch in the bushes, throw the kid in the front pack and throw the running pack on your back, and ruck it the rest of the way to your destination.  This is the best part of the day!  Hang out and play with your kid as he laughs at whatever amazing outdoor wonders impress him at the moment.  Spread out that blanket and eat your snacks. Enjoy life to the fullest.  These are the moments we live for and I guarantee that you will find more gratification at the top of that fire tower, rock or old bull dozer than you did atop whatever peak you were on a year ago! Eventually work your way back to the stroller, haul back down the mountain.  Don’t crash. Wash the dog in the creek, hope you brought that towel!  Load the car back up and head home.
Snacking at the fire tower
Fun above the trees!

5.    Nap! Your kid woke up at 5:30.  It’s your day off.  He is tired.  You are tired.  Put him and yourself to bed and sleep!  He may sleep 20 minutes or 2 hours so enjoy every second of that rest!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bear Mountain Take Four!

No matter what the outcome of a race is I always analyze my performance, my on course decisions, what I did right and wrong, what I ate drank and how I could have gone faster.  I don’t do this to pat myself on the back for what I did right, or make excuses for how I could have gone faster or why I got beat, I do it because I believe it makes me a better athlete the next time around. While I can find some small mistakes, In my analysis of my race this past weekend at The North Face Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain NY, I can’t find any scenario in which I make up the almost 13 minute margin between my second place finish and Dylan Bowman’s Impressive winning time, that doesn’t involve traveling back in time and overhauling my training leading up to the race.  He was easily the strongest runner on that day and it showed.
The race started much like last year for me.  I forgot my headlamp, again, and so I placed myself at the front with Andrew Siegmund, and Jeff Gosselin who have been kind enough to light my way these past two years.
The early miles!
  The opening miles were easy and flew by.  A solid group remained at the front of the race until the second aid station, Dylan ran through while the rest of us grabbed some quick snacks and drinks.  By the time we caught Dylan there were only 5 of us left, Jeff Gosselin and Florent Bouguin with The North Face Canada, myself and The North Face teammate Mike Wolfe, and Dylan Bowman, who being sponsored by Pear Izumi was the only one not wearing bright green.  The five of us hung together over the next 10 miles as we scrambled and splashed our way through the rolling rocky New York wilderness just 30 minutes away from one of the largest cities in the world!  During this section of the race the course deviated from previous years.  A few technical climbs and descents were traded for less technical but still rocky double track and some road sections.  The other major difference was the water.  Much of the race that was dry rocky run off in previous years was creek after the week of preceding rain.  After the first few miles of attempting to avoid puddles we all gave into the inevitable wet feet and just sloshed through any water in our path.  Somewhere near the Halfway Point the course deviated again and instead of rocky single track we found ourselves on solid park road, and double track.  The pace quickened slightly and pretty soon it was just Mike, Dylan and I at the front, and pretty soon we started to string out as well.
Technical terrain wakes you up early one in Bear Mountain!

Coming into aid station six Dylan led Mike and I by a few seconds.  The course left the road about a hundred yards before the aid station, we got our bibs marked and Mike and Dylan headed down the trail.  I was low on water and made a split second decision to run to the aid station and back.  I figured the minute or so wouldn’t affect me in the long run.  When I got back to the trail I was by myself.  I hadn’t encountered either of the Canadian’s and Mike and Dylan were out of sight.  At this point I made my only real mistake of the race.  Instead of staying steady until the technical downhill sections later on in the course, which is what I should have done, I ran the next mile way faster than I should have to try and catch back up immediately.  I managed to catch back up in sight of Mike before my stomach flipped.  I have a weak stomach when I run so puking is part of my normal routine, this time around however I was taking a digestive enzyme pill and had yet to have any trouble.  However my foolish sprint changed that and I threw up, losing everything I had taken at the aid station.  The inevitable low that followed came at the worst possible time.  I found myself barely moving up a mile long section of road that I knew Mike and Dylan were crushing in their bids for the win.  By the time I left the pavement I had recovered and I figured the damage was limited, maybe 3 minutes to Mike and 5 to Dylan.  When I rolled into the next aid station I found I was correct on one account.  Mike was only 3 minutes up on me, Dylan however was another 6 minutes off the front of Mike.  I thought only briefly about how fast he must have been running before I set my mind to the next section of course.  Being mostly downhill and relatively technical I had always been strong on this section, I had my energy back, and was ready to roll!  When I tried to go however my legs just were not there.  I fought through the next five miles and stayed even with Mike but didn’t gain a second.  Dylan earned another 3 minutes on us and barring a disaster I knew neither of us was catching him.  I didn’t know how far either of the Canadian’s or Brian Rusiecki was behind me so I put my head down and ran out of Anthony Wayne to face the final ten miles.  Over the next two mile climb I surprised myself with how strong I ran.  My legs were still heavy and constantly spasming but my pace didn’t show it.  I caught Mike coming into the next aid station and we hiked through Timp pass together.  With three miles to go I got away from Mike on the last ridiculously technical downhill, he was hitting a low point and seemed to just be in finishing mode.  I thought of running with him but I knew if I crashed again and he rebounded he would easily drop me again.  From there to the finish my legs felt strong but heavy. 
As I came through the familiar tunnel and headed toward the finish my family started cheering for me, surprised I think to see that I had caught Mike.  As the Finishing banner came into sight my wife handed me my son and I carried him toward the finish as people cheered.  With a few feet to go I set him down and as I held his hands for balance, he’s seven months old and can’t walk on his own yet, he kicked his little feet to run across his first finish line!  I may have had greater moments in my life but I couldn’t remember one at that moment! 
Kilian's first finish line!
Dylan had maintained his 12 + minute lead over the last ten showing strong finishing speed himself and was there to congratulate me when I was done.  Minutes later Mike came through also carrying his 3 month old son, proving that kids don’t end your days of competitive running and adventure! Florent, Brian and Jeff finished shortly after as part of the strongest field Bear Mountain has ever seen! 
Following the finish I sat with my family on the grass talking to other competitors and soaking up the atmosphere.  Loud cheers announced the arrival of Rory Bosio as she crossed the line to win the women’s race, instantly surrounded by camera’s and fans.  Behind her runners finished their respective races pain, pride, and accomplishment etched on their faces as the crossed the line and medals were draped around their necks.  “Are you going to be back next year?”  I turned my eyes away from the finish to answer in the affirmative.  All the Endurance Challenges are amazing events but for more reasons than I could write in this blog this race and place are special to me, and no matter where I am in life, the trails and people here always feel like home.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best of 2013 (Pic Edition)

Best Moment:  Without a doubt the birth of our son Kilian! Although every mile stone seems almost as amazing!
Honorable mentions: buying our first house, and Leah graduating Nursing School! It's been a big year!
Best Race:  From a performance standpoint St. Patricks Day 8k in DC.  That finishing kick suprised me as much as everyone else!
Photo Credit:SwimBikeRunPhoto
Photo Credit:SwimBikeRunPhoto
Favorite Race: Rothrock Challenge.  This was a tough choice, but because it was new to me this year and because this is what trail racing is supposed to be Rothrock wins out!

Honorable Mentions:  Cayuga Trails 50, Picture says it all.  ECS NewYork, This is a best every year!
Photo Credit: Endurance Photos

Photo Credit: Steve Gallow, Steven Gorgos

Best Trip:  Columbia.  While the race exposed my weaknesses it was a true challenge.  But it was the people who really made the trip!

Most inspirational people:  Mike Wardian and Justin Ricks.  These guys have full time jobs, are amazing runners and awesome fathers.  As I look forward to the coming years having a kid, and hopefully more, has given me new perspective, and I hope to be able to not only balance but mix responsibility, family, and some good outdoor fun the way that these guys do!

My best picture of the year:  Since photography is a bit of a hobby.  This one I took of Brett on Old Rag!

Have a great 2014 everybody!