Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Hyannis Half Marathon

I imagine my progression to running a half-marathon was an uncommon one. Despite having completed three full marathons, including a Boston qualifier, and more ultras than I want to count, I just never really got around to doing some of the shorter distance stuff. Some of this springs from the fact that I started running with the aim of being a better long distance hiker and some of it stems from not wanting to spend more time driving to a race than actually running it. But lately I've begun to see value in adding a little higher intensity activity to my training, especially considering that I'd like to set a new personal best at the Boston Marathon in a couple months. So when my wife wanted to run the Hyannis Half Marathon on Cape Cod I decided to sign up as well. I could be there for her finish and it would be a novel way to mix the weekend up - seeing how fast I can cover 13.1 miles.

Despite dozens of race starts over the last few years I still get tense and anxious at the start of every one. Standing in the packed corral I looked down at my heart rate monitor, something I've just started to toy with, and was surprised to see a reading of 110 bpm and I hadn't even started moving yet! Anyway, the actual start felt slow as I wove through the crowd but once the field began to thin out and and everyone found their pace I was able to get up to a comfortable speed. It felt strenuous but sustainable until we passed the one mile mark in 5:58.

Crap! 5:58? That's faster than I've run a single mile before. I tried to get my adrenaline under control and slowed down to a safe and sane 6:20 per mile. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I've hit this pace. It felt OK but I was in totally unknown territory. Ultimately I decided to just roll with it - go big or go home - and slipped into a pack of about 6 other guys doing a similar speed.

Being held on Cape Cod, which is more less a big sandbar in the ocean, the course is largely flat but even the tiniest uphill grades felt like mountains at this effort level. We hit a few open areas where a hard wind came in off the Atlantic and I began to struggle to keep up. My pace started creeping closer to 6:30. Doubts crept into my mind and slowing down to a walk was so very tempting, but I reminded myself that this was what I'd come here for.

With only 3 miles to go our little group began to fall apart, some powering on ahead and others falling back. I held strong, focusing on keeping my form and speeding up a little, but my sides were beginning to hurt and I was making funny gurgling noises when I exhaled. The little bit of Gatorade I was able swallow a few miles back - most of of the cup had ended up on my face - started trying to come back up in burps. After what felt like an eternity I rounded the last corner and kicked with everything left to cross the finish line.

Final time was 1:22:58 for an average pace of 6:20 per mile - not bad considering my goal was 1:25. I really gave it 100% this time and can't really come up with anything I could have done to go substantially faster at my current fitness level. This might even qualify as a personal breakthrough.

After drinking some water and staggering around for a couple minutes I headed back out on the course in reverse until I met up with my wife who I escorted to her own finish. It was a nice little bonus to be able to share something like that and I'm proud of her.

It's funny that when a marathon or half marathon comes up in conversation, people almost always say some thing like "that should be a piece of cake for you!" I find myself responding with the same phrase much of the time:

If it's easy, you're not trying hard enough.

I think that sums up my experience last Sunday pretty well.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Winter Pemi Loop - 2/18/2012

How many times can you do the Pemi Loop before it gets old? I'm not really sure, but after 8 rounds (in 10 attempts) I'm still having fun. One way to keep things fresh and interesting, as if any trip over Mt. Bond could be dull, has been to make the trip in winter. It's kind of fun to experience all the same trails and peaks at half speed on snowshoes, and something that's only been done in a day a handful of times that I know of.

So with nothing better to do on a February Saturday, I joined my friends Farmer and DangerGirl for yet another lap of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We departed Lincoln Woods some time around 7:00 am and headed out on the Wilderness Trail.

A couple hours later we popped out above treeline in somewhat breezy and foggy conditions at the infamous  "Hillary Step" just below the summit of Bondcliff. This fearsome 15 foot rock scramble has inspired more than it's fair share of discussion on hiking message boards in the past. Is it class two? Class three? CLASS FIVE ROCK CLIMBING?!?! All I know is that my dog bounds up and down it without assistance.

It's a low snow year, but we did get to jog through some soft powder down to the col on the Way to Mt. Bond. In order to better fit in when we go to Colorado in July, Farmer, DangerGirl and I decided to practice some bro-lingo. Yeah, we're droppin' some freshies down a rad chute into some sweet pow, brah. Shred the gnar! I instantly felt like a total tool and swore never to talk like that again.

The view back to Bondcliff.

We decided to split up for a bit, so while my two companions made the side trip to West Bond I continued down the snowy Twinway on my own.

Still pretty socked in on Mt. Guyot.

After crossing over the summit of South Twin, I made an easy 2.7 mile side trip to North Twin. Apparently someone got a little carried away while painting blazes this summer.

Back on the Twinway I got a good view of Mount Garfield a few miles away; my next stop, after another side trip to Mount Galehead.

By the time I got to Garfield's summit the clouds were beginning to lift a bit and I could see back to the Twin Range where I'd just been. By now I'd been on the move for about 7 hours and I was hit with the realization that if it were summer I'd be back to the car by now.

Somewhere around Garfield Pond I caught up to my friends. The long climb up to the Franconia Ridge looms ahead.

Garfield Ridge Trail in winter just wouldn't feel complete without some trail breaking.

The last bits of sunlight begin fade out on back on the Bonds.

Darkness began to fill the valley below as we near the top of Mount Lafayette.

And we got a semi-cloudy sunset over Cannon Mountain. 

The ridge to Mount Lincoln in twighlight. Several miles ahead, our last peak for the day, Mount Flume is visible left of center.

Farmer and Dangergirl coming up Mount Lincoln with Lafayette behind them. Shortly after this we put on our headlamps and dropped back down into the trees.

From Mount Liberty, the lights of the town of Lincoln down in the valley below. Hot food only a few hours away.

From there on out we just had an easy 5.5 miles of downhill on packed trail under the stars, arriving back at the car around 9 pm. Not a bad way to spend 14 hours with friends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hardrock Thoughts

Last December I came down with a mild case of the blues. This is not all that unusual or serious and the sudden drop in activity after a busy and successful ultrarunning season probably played a large part in it. All my life I've thrived on looking forward to things and without anything major on the horizon, I felt a little adrift.

All that changed one day when I came in for some lunch after catching up on some neglected yardwork. There was a message waiting for me from my friend Nate, something along the lines of "Congratulations, you lucky bastard", and at first I couldn't figure out what he was talking about. Then, I remembered that this was the day of the Hardrock Hundred entrance lottery. For a good 60 seconds I frantically pounded away on my keyboard trying to see if he meant what I hoped he meant. It was true,  my name was one of the first drawn at the lottery. I was in. The most coveted hundred mile race in the country, where many apply and only a lucky 140 are drawn. My chances for this one were low, but I hit the jackpot.

I just sat back and let the news sink in for a minute but once that time was up, I was just about bouncing off the walls with excitment. My dog looked at me funny and the cats skittered off in a panic to the basement. It wasn't because of the race's exclusivity, though I did feel fortunate to be one of the lucky few, but because Hardrock is my kind of race. If I could choose only one event of any length or location to do in 2012, this would be it.

My running strength lies in the mountains. The more elevation gain and the more technical the trail - the more fun I have and the better I perform. Thousands of feet of sustained climbing, steep pitches, gnarly descents, rough techical trail, weather and navigational considerations - oh please don't throw me into the briar patch! Hardrock has all these things in droves with 33,000+ feet of climbing, plus mind blowing scenery at elevations up 14,000 to feet.

Oh yeah, the altitude... about that. This is my biggest concern, simply because unlike elevation gain and tough footing, I don't have a really good way way to prepare for it ahead of time. I can only take solace in the fact that I've been active at similar altitude in Yosemite, Leadville, and to a lesser extent, Wasatch with exactly zero issues. This is of course a whole different animal and I intend to treat it with respect.

Speaking of respect, this a race that genuinely scares me. When I look at the course map that's been on my wall for two years, with it's tighly bunched contour lines, I get a little shiver and the urge to go run some hills. Fear and respect will drive my preparation for the next five months. 40 base miles per week got me to my first hundred mile finishes, 50 base miles per week brought me into the top ten; I can't wait to see what 60-70 does. There's going to a very healthy emphasis on elevation gain over the toughest terrain the White Mountains have to offer and along those lines, I've got lots of training adventures on tap.

Of course, there's a whole lot more to preparation than just training. Frequently Hardrock seems to be a race of attrition, and people of all abilities are routinely humbled by the course. Often, as with many ultras, these mistakes are preventable, but this goes doubly for Hardrock. I will have no excuses for getting lost, blistered, or chafed because I didn't thoroughly know my equipment or study the course. Many of my nights are spent with Google Earth, maps of the San Juans, the course description, online race reports, and YouTube. There's a wealth of information here to be absorbed and it helps give me somewhere to direct my energy, as well as possibly saving me from a costly detour.

My travel and crew plans are also starting to come together nicely. I've got an enthusiastic and capable support team signed up and I know I'll be in good hands. Travel arrangements will likely involve me flying out alone two weeks before the race to spend time acclimating at altitude and relaxing, along with a good opportunity for some course recce and brain-picking of the veterans. My wife and crew will arrive a bit later and we should be good to go.

When race day comes in Silverton I plan to be as ready as can be. While certainly not the fastest or strongest person out there, I'll do things at my own pace and just see how it goes. Hopefully I'll be as lucky in the race as I was during the lottery and things will go my way. If not, I'm ready to slug it out for as long as it takes.

And now, I have a something to obsess over again.

Photo: Blake Wood