Friday, January 30, 2015

Unrequited Love

Have you ever been in a relationship where all you do is give, give, give and get nothing in return? You pour your heart out on a regular basis, and receive little more than a cold shoulder for your troubles?  Well, that’s the way it is between me and Boston. I love the Boston Marathon. But it does not love me.

             I’ve participated in more than a few 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons over the years, but the primary focus of my running career has always been marathoning. More specifically, Boston Marathon-ing. Like many other runners who grew up in New England, Boston has always represented the Holy Grail of running goals. Not just an average everyday goal, but an all-out, full-blown obsession!

              I suppose it started back in High School when my best friends decided it would be a neat idea to do Boston. I wasn’t a very good runner back then. Saddled with the deadly combination of athletically challenged genes, ill-timed growing pains, and adolescent lethargy, I chose to cheer rather than run. So, when I picked up the sport again as an adult, the idea of doing Boston pushed its way to the front of my mind and became my ultimate goal.

              When I officially started “training” for Boston I didn’t know anything about the science of marathoning. All I knew was that in one year’s time, I needed to find a way to run 26.2 miles, and that I should probably trade in my Nike “high-top” basketball sneakers for some real running shoes! Eventually, after building up my mileage slowly over the course of the year, I got my long runs to 16 miles and proclaimed myself “ready” for the 1999 Boston Marathon.

              On race day, I started at the back of the pack, with the rest of the unqualified bandits, and began what turned out to be an arduous, 26.2 mile slog from Hopkinton. More than 4 and a half hours later, I crossed the finish line on Boylston Street a bruised and bloody mess. I staggered to the curb, crumpled to the ground and exclaimed to no one in particular, “Never Again!”

             Since then, I have run the Boston course (aka - the one way street from Hell) no less than 16 times (9 while training and 7 while racing) and it has yet to satisfy my needs. During that period, I’ve raced 13 other marathons in an average finishing time of 3:17. My average finishing time for those 7 Bostons? A soul crushing 3:41.

            Remember the 2004 Boston? The hottest race since 1976 (86 degrees at the finish) causing a record number of heat-related illnesses? I was there. And it resulted in my first ever race DNF. How about 2005 when we trained through a record cold winter only to be greeted by “unseasonably warm” 70 degree temps at the start? I was there. And who could forget 2012, when there was a brain baking high of 89 degrees in Framingham (10K mark) by mid-day? Yup. I was there for that one too!

           In fact, the only time I’ve ever run Boston under reasonable weather conditions was in 2008 when it was 53 degrees and we had a slight tailwind. That year I was in sub-3 shape but only managed to run a 3:12. I ran 6:50 pace until Mile 16 and then the wheels came off (as they always do) and could only manage 8’s the rest of the way. One year, I even biked it instead of running and STILL couldn’t keep up with the leaders on Heartbreak!

          So, “What’s the big deal?” you might say. “Just fall in love with another marathon, and leave Boston behind.” Well, that’s the problem. As much pain and suffering as I’ve endured over the years, I just can’t find a way to quit her. I’ve tried many times to turn my back on Boston, but it’s an abusive relationship that I just keep coming back to again, and again, and again. All those miles, misery and (yes) heartbreak. Yet, for some reason, I still want more.

        Which brings us to this year. For the first time since the “scorched earth” year of 2012 (when I stumbled home in 4:09) I decided to run the course with some friends to celebrate New Year’s Day. This time, in a rather ironic twist of fate, it was a mere 10 degrees at the start with a biting wind chill that took it down below zero. Despite just having had one of the warmest Decembers on record!

           Of course, I should have known from mile one that it was not going to be “my day” when the stomach jostling from the early steep downs had me off to the side of the road – dry heaving. I guess I hadn’t fully digested my breakfast by the 6am start time. I restarted again and, a few miles later, I felt that “all too familiar” feeling in my lower abdomen. Uh, Oh! I needed to find a bathroom. Quick! Luckily there was a Dunkin Donuts not too far away and I was able to take care of business.

          Another mile later, same deal. This time, it took me a little longer to find the next Dunk’s. Agony the entire time. Two more miles, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Well, it was like that the whole way. I’d leave one “pit stop” and almost immediately I was looking for another one. The list of “depositories” read like this: 3 Dunkin Donuts, 2 Starbucks, a Hospital, the woods, and some bushes in front of a dentist’s office. It was like “Poop-a-palooza” out there!

          Eventually, even the toughest runner needs to know when it's time to throw in the towel and that moment came for me right when it usually does – at Mile 16. I walked (with sweat freezing on my already exhausted body) to the Green Line T-Station at Woodland (Mile 17) where I took the “ride of shame” back into town and my car. Beaten down by Boston once again!

         Which leaves me with this one final question: Have I had enough? After all these years of abuse, am I finally ready to move on from Boston? And the answer is: I’m not sure. See the thing is, with all that I’ve been through, I still love this course and everything about her. Sure she may not be the prettiest one around (see Framingham, Speen Street and the Haunted Mile) but I love her all the same.  Hopkinton Green, the Nursery, the Biker Bar, the Train Tracks, Lake Cochituate, Wellesley College, the Fire House, Boston College, Cleveland Circle, Citgo, Kenmore, right on Hereford and left on Boylston. I love it. All of it!

And maybe someday, if I catch her in the right mood, she’ll feel the same about me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Delinquent Blogger

Sorry. It’s been a while since I wrote anything in this space.

The problem isn’t because of a lack of ideas. Despite not having raced in over a month, I still have at least a half dozen stories that I want to get out there. At some point. The problem is that life just seems to be getting in the way of me carving out the time required to write them. Between the holidays, preparing for my clubs awards dinner, sick kids, my traveling wife, and the work involved in getting a brand new MARATHON off the ground, it’s been a pretty busy few weeks.

The other thing that’s been taking the majority of my “free” time is the writing and editing of my first book. The working title is: “Never Again – Adventures of a Veteran Dad and Newbie Ultra Marathoner”. I’ve been getting some great feedback on it so far, and I’m very excited about how it’s turning out. That being said, it’s been a bit of a grind and it’s seemingly sucking up all my creative juices.

Anyway, the point of this post is to let everyone (who’s still reading) know that I haven’t forgotten about you, or this blog. And, as soon as things start loosening up, I plan to continue to post regularly. My goal, as always, is one new story per week.

My only question is: Does this one count? :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Ends

January Hike
I started 2014, with a January 1st sunrise summit of Mount Monadnock. It was dark - about 6:00am. It was cold – about zero degrees. It was windy – about 40 mph at the summit. And, it was snowy – about 1 to 2 feet of fluffy base to trudge through. It took me about 4 hours to summit and return via the 4.5 mile long Pumpelly Trail off Lake Road in Dublin.

So, when I signed up for a Presentation at Keene State College for the last weekend of 2014 (and my travel plans took me right past the ‘Nock) I figured why not end the year the way I began it? With another Pumpelly trip to the summit. A "bookend" hike, if you will. Well, as it turns out, the conditions couldn’t have been more different!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Drifting Away

With all my goals pretty much met for 2014, the TARC Winter Classic 32m was all about having fun. The 8 mile Skyline Trail in the Middlesex Fells is no joke, even for just one lap. So, 4 laps would be a pretty sizable challenge. But one which, given my results from this year, looked like something I could handle with ease.

Then the rain came …

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!

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!