Friday, December 12, 2014

Mill City Madness

            The Mill Cities Relay is a 5-leg, 27.1 mile foot race from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lawrence, Massachusetts. But, that information alone doesn’t even begin to convey what MCR really is. The Mill Cities Relay is quite possibly the biggest, single-day team event in the country!

MCR began in 1984 as a way of celebrating the end of the local road racing season and determines bragging rights among 21 participating Merrimack Valley area running clubs. The race kicks off not with a starting gun, but with the drop of a ceremonial mill city brick. The mileage for the five leg distances are 5.6, 4.8, 2.5, 9.4 & 4.8. And, points are awarded to teams in each of 18 different divisions – male and female aged 18 to 80. Teams finishing in the top 3 in their respective division get a trophy brick with a small plaque on it. However, the trophy that everyone covets is the one they bestow upon the running club that scores the most overall points in the race. This amazing trophy was painstakingly assembled with a working gear from an old mill building, set upon a finely crafted four-sided wooden base and crowned with a “winged-victory” trophy top. The base of the trophy has engraved upon it the very history of the race! With a running list of the first, second, and third place clubs for each of the 31 years it’s been run. It’s a sight to behold and hold. And, it’s quite possibly the heaviest trophy in all of sports, weighing in at just over 40 pounds! Yes, more than 6 pounds heavier than the Stanley Cup!

Speaking of which, in order to compete at the highest level, professional hockey teams must have a roster filled with 23 men. The NBA needs just 15. Major League Baseball has 25 players per side. And NFL teams are made up of 53-men squads. But, if an MCR club hopes to take home the title (and the trophy) they must field 18 full teams – for a whopping total of 78 runners! Add to that the number of alternates necessary for a team of that size and you’re talking about a minimum of nearly 90 men AND women required to fill a competitive Mill Cities Relay roster!

Now, there are certainly other quality relay races out there. The late, great Winnipesaukee Relay looped for 65 miles around New Hampshire’s biggest lake. The Hood to Coast Relay travels 195 miles from Mount Hood to Seaside, Oregon. And, the Reach the Beach Relay takes a 200 mile journey from Cannon Mountain to Hampton, New Hampshire. All of which are pretty substantial distances to cover in just one day. However, for an 18-team MCR club to finish this race, their runners must travel an incredible 425.4 total miles on the day! That’s more than 16 marathons!

So, just what does it take for a running club to hoist the immensely heavy (but oh-so-satisfying) Mill Cities trophy? Well, it takes speed for sure. But, that alone won’t get it done. It takes size. But, MCR history shows us that the club with the most members rarely takes home the top prize. So what is the difference maker? Quite simply, in order for a club to have any chance at all at winning this event, it must be the one that has the best T-E-A-M.

I began coordinating MCR teams for the Gate City Striders in 2004 and, in the beginning, it was like pulling teeth to get runners to "buy in" to this race. It occurs very late in the season, when most are enjoying some much needed time off and don't want to be bothered with getting up for a cold, windy, and early run on the river. But eventually, after enough annoying phone calls and e-mails, people started showing up and began seeing how much fun it could be. Word spread throughout the club and soon everyone wanted to be a part of finally breaking through and getting that elusive Mill Cities victory for GCS.

Gate City steadily climbed the MCR standings over the next 3 years, but managed only to get as high as third behind perennial Mill Cities powerhouses – Winners Circle & Merrimack Valley. Finally, in 2008, something clicked and the club broke through for their first victory in eight years. Actually, the “something” that clicked was that instead of people putting together their own teams (with runners and legs of their choosing), they allowed the club to assemble the MCR teams for them. That selflessness, on the part of our runners, enabled us to build the team rosters in such a way as to maximize potential points.

Last year, the Gate City Striders had just one division winning team - the Men’s 40+ squad. But GCS still won the Mill Cities Relay by a record 17 points! How was that possible? Because the club wealth was spread around to ALL the GCS teams so that every one of them finished in the top 5 - and most landed in the top 3. This year, with the same team-building guidelines in place, Gate City won its 7th consecutive Mill Cities Relay title – tying the historic record set by Greater Lowell. And, setting new MCR records for total points (145), and margin of victory (19) in the process!

So, if you want to win the country’s biggest (and perhaps best) single-day team event, you better bring your speed, you better bring your size, and you better bring your TEAM.


…Anything less, and you’re just spitting bricks!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rough Draft

Hi there! Sorry, it’s been a little while since I posted anything. I’ve been kind of busy.

Part of what’s been distracting me is the 50k trail race I ran at the Middlesex Fells last weekend. My TARC Winter Ultra race report will be coming soon, but the reader’s digest version is: It was cold, it was rainy, it was slippery, but I survived!

Another thing that’s been on my plate as of late is that I’m in charge of putting together (and keeping together) the Gate City Strider teams for the Mill Cities Relay race. And with 39 teams (and 181 runners) it was a lot more like herding wild cats, than anything else. I’ve been doing it for 10 years now and it’s without a doubt the most fun/stressful job I have with the club. My synopsis of this year’s race is also coming soon (I promise) but long story short: It was cold, it was windy, it was slippery, but we survived! …Actually, we did a little more than survive. We won our 7th straight team title. Setting new point and margin of victory totals in the process!



Finally, what’s been taking the majority of my time lately is my book. Yup, I’m writing my
first book! I know. Crazy, right? Well, it’s going to be a collection of stories that I’m stringing together in (hopefully) a cohesive manner. It’s about friends, family and ultra-running. In short, all the things that currently make my life worth living!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Turn the Page

It’s hard to believe that it’s been four weeks since my 100 Miler and even harder to believe that it’s been one full year since I decided to make it my Goal Race for 2014.

Looking back, it’s been a truly incredible year! And, I can’t really think of anything that I would have changed. My first attempt at a 100 mile training plan exceeded even my wildest expectations. I went the whole year without losing any time to injury. My races, turned out great - with only a couple minor exceptions! I spent a bunch of time having fun in the mountains. And, I was able to add meaning to my miles by helping raise money for a very worthy cause! In fact, the season went so well, I very much doubt that I could ever replicate it. So, I’m not going to.

Instead, for 2015, I’m going to do things just a little bit differently.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lessons Learned

The incredible journey that I was fortunate enough to take, in both training for and running a 100 mile race, taught me many valuable lessons.

Here are 20 of them, in no particular order:


Friday, November 7, 2014

One Hundred









Shit! ….this can’t be happening!

…I said while rolling down the windows of my car, desperately hoping the fresh air would keep me from falling asleep at the wheel while driving to my first 100 mile race. I took another swig of Pepsi while wiping back the tears that had already started to come. All that hard work wasted because of my stupid pre-race anxiety. Anxiety that saw fit to keep me tossing and turning for three straight nights before my 24 hour adventure in the New Hampshire woods. Damn. This is not going to end well.

A mile, and a few more swigs, later. I began to formulate a plan, because that’s what I do! I would start the race, as scheduled. Then, when I got too tired to run any further, I would just nap in the car for a little while before finishing up. I had expected to finish in around 22 hours, and the race had a 30 hour cut-off, so I could literally take a 6 hour nap right in the middle of it and still finish this thing with time to spare! And now, with my new plan in place, I resumed feeling good about my chances at the Ghost Train 100 Miler.

Turns out, this “plan” was just the first of many tricks I’d have to play on myself that day (and night) to keep moving forward.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

I Was Wrong

Last week, I wrote in this space that I thought there were three things required to finish a 100 Mile Race. "Hard work, patience, and faith".

This week, I'm here to tell you that I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Please don't misunderstand. Those three things ARE all very important, and I wouldn't want to toe the line of any ultra (let alone my first 100 miler) without them. But, if another critical item is not there with you as well, then those first three things are far less meaningful.

...and, that magical fourth ingredient is "support".

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Leap of Faith



Hard work, patience, and faith.

That’s what it takes to finish a 100 Mile Race. Or, at least that’s what I THINK it takes to finish a 100 mile race. Since I’ve never actually run one. Oh, I’ve done the training. And read the best books on the subject. And spoken to plenty of people who have gone the distance. But, the furthest I’ve ever run at one time is 50 miles - which barely gets me half way!
So, what makes me think I can do it?

Hard work, patience, and faith.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taper Time

So far, 2014 has been a very busy year…

I’ve logged 2829 miles through 41 weeks - for an average of 69 miles per week. Or, about 10 miles a day! My weekly average is 9 miles per week more than my biggest year. And, 17 miles per week more than I’ve averaged over the last 5 years. Which works out to one extra long run, every week! Speaking of long runs, my AVERAGE long run this year has been 24 miles.

That’s like running a near-marathon every week, all year long!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dream Team

A few weeks ago I put out the call for Help, and that call was answered…

On Saturday October 25th, I will be running my first 100 mile race. And I’ll be doing so with the help of 7 wonderful people who will be pacing me (in shifts) for the last 70 miles of the race. So basically, from early Saturday afternoon until early Sunday morning, I will have a team of runners whose sole purpose is to make sure I get to that finish line. I feel so very fortunate to have so many great friends who have absolutely nothing better to do than run back and forth with me through the woods.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce my “Dream Team” of pacers for the Ghost Trail 100m and a little  info about what makes each of them so special...


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October

"October.  And the trees are stripped bare, of all they wear.  What do I care?”

Autumn is a season of decay. The grass turns brown, the flowers wither, and the leaves fall off the trees. The bright warm days of summer are long gone. There is a chill in the air, a frost on the ground, and a foreboding sense that winter is right around the corner. Traditionally, this time of year is a melancholy one for me. As the weather gets colder, and the days get shorter, my thoughts turn darker – like the days ahead.

This year feels different, though. This year I feel hopeful. And, I’m not sure why.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mine Falls Fifty

When I mapped out my 2014 Race Schedule back in November of last year, I had originally planned to run the Pisgah 50k as my final tune-up race before Ghost Train. However, those plans changed when I became aware of a low-key, 50 mile run taking place on the same day in my “home woods” of Mine Falls Park. 50 miles in Mines?! I gotta be a part of that, right?

Of course, there were other reasons (besides proximity) which ultimately lead me to choose the Mine Falls 50 over Pisgah. And they mostly revolved around a single question: “Which race will better prepare me for Ghost Train?”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mindset Makeover

Those of you who know me, know that I am not a patient man.  Particularly when it comes to running. I started running in 1998 and my first road race was the following spring when I bandited (sorry, not sorry) the Boston Marathon! So, yup. Zero to 26.2 in less than a year! If that’s not an impatient (stupid?) runner, then I’ve never met one!

For a while, my impatience served me well. Pushing me every day. Trying to finish my next training run faster than my previous one - every single time out. It worked well and I got quick, quick. But, after a while it began to wear me down and burn me out. So, I soon realized that if I wanted to keep doing this “running thing” long term, I’d need to add easy days to my hard days. This has worked for me with varying degrees of success.