Monday, March 20, 2017

On Going "Old School"

The drab, grey, winter morning in Upstate New York was nothing to write home about. As I coasted along the shoulder of the asphalt, I'd sometimes veer over a little onto the two-foot-wide stretch of dirt alongside the campus road. The feel of some dirt underfoot, combined with a little imagination, helped to mentally transport me to some faraway singletrack—away from the cars and the parking lots and the generically designed state office buildings. The daydream would only last a few seconds. Sometimes it was the sudden impact as my feet returned to pavement, and other times it was a 25 mile-per-hour blast of wind to the face, that would snap me back into the present moment. Whatever the reason, I'd find myself back at the University of Albany in the midst of another five-lap jaunt around around the campus roads.

2017 was my fifth time at the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Winter Marathon, and the first where I was able to wear just shorts and a long-sleeve base layer shirt. Another year, another 26.2 miles around a campus with zero scenery in less-than-ideal running conditions.

Somewhere during the second lap my mind began to wander as I actively searched for a reason why I continued to run this marathon year after year. The only scenery is a bunch of brick buildings and some highway traffic and the occasional a glimpse or two of a middle-class residential neighborhood. There's not even a significant hill to mix things up a bit.

I considered the race registration process—paper forms only, by mail or day-of. Normally I'd mail my entry fee of $25 and save five bucks, but this year I splurged a little with the $30 race-day registration. At $1.15 per mile, that's not a bad deal for a road race these days.

I considered the swag. A long sleeve cotton t-shirt with the race logo on it—nothing more. And for the finishers' awards, a paper certificate printed with the race information and each runner's name and time handwritten at the bottom. No fancy medals, tech shirts, or bags full of sponsors' freebies. No post-race beer, concerts, or parties at this one. Just the usual assortment of fruit, chips and cookies, along with some amazing vegan quinoa soup. The mid-loop aid station consisted of two parents with their kids, handling the cold like pros while passing out cups of water and Gatorade from the back of their Ford Windstar.

I considered the starting line. I overheard just before the race that the marathon had 26 entrants, down from the usual 40-60. (A few years ago, they had just over 100—the highest turnout in the race's 44-year history.) The low numbers this year may have had something to do with the marathon getting postponed by two weeks because of horrible weather conditions, and the fact that this year the runners club was hosting 10-mile and 20-mile races concurrently. There are 19 marathon finishers listed in the 2017 results.

I imagined marathons as they were during the 1970s running boom. I hadn't even been born then, but I've heard strange rumors about how computers, smart phones, Go Pros, and GPS watches did not exist 40 years ago. Back then, race lotteries were rare, average finishing times were much faster, entry fees much lower, and swag and amenities were minimal, if anything. Races didn't draw recreational runners by promising to make participants feel like rock stars, nor did they charge exuberant registration fees.

Running is a simple sport that has been made overly complicated by all the fanfare, production, and technology that have evolved as a byproduct of the sport's popularity. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I am quick to point out that all of the aforementioned characteristics provide an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the sport. Awards, social media, and exciting race courses keep many people active and interested in running. However, I enjoy taking a break from all of that once in awhile and just running a race to run it. And sure, I could just do a 26-mile solo training run anytime and not pay an entry fee, but the race against the clock certainly adds to the appeal of an organized event. Also, it's nice to sometimes take a break from the trails for awhile. Road running still has a certain appeal to me as well, particularly in the winter.

It struck me then and there, how, to me, the most appealing aspect of the HMMRC Winter Marathon is the perception of an old-school flavor. That morning, I ran just to run. I ran to test my fitness over 26.2 miles. I did not run for a memorable experience or any tangible reward. Ironically, it is the complete lack of an experience that is the most memorable. I enjoyed the complete and utter simplicity of running five identical laps alone, free of spectators, cameras, and other characteristics of big city—and even small city—road races. Today, it is probably the closest I'll ever get to experiencing a marathon in the footsteps of our road running forefathers. And that's why I'll be back in Albany next February.

Thank you to the HMRRC and the course marshals and all the other volunteers who spent their morning out in the cold to keep us runners safe! 

Mile 0.3. PC: Bill Meehan.
Let's blame Cormac McCarthy for the liberal use of conjunctions without commas in this post. After reading a few of his novels I just couldn't help it. ; )

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour

It is a crisp, clear morning on the second of February. In a rural Pennsylvania town, a large crowd gathers around a nervous rodent, anxiously awaiting the critter's claim. A claim that may or may not clash with opinions of the country's top scientists. Confined to his tiny cell throughout most of the proceedings, the rodent is released from imprisonment by his caretakers—an elite group simply known as The Inner Circle. For the 131st time, the age-defying Punxsutawney Phil is placed atop a stump on Gobbler's Knob. It may be the truth, or it may be "alternative facts" drawn up to serve the self-interests of The Inner Circle—no man can say with certainty what the groundhog sees or does not see, and some may dispute how much of a shadow must reach his line of sight—that leads to an official decree across the land. To the rejoice of some, the dismay of most, and in contradiction to many a meteorologist, it is officially declared that winter will extend an additional six weeks.

So why the hell am I telling you this?!!

The Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour Snowshoe Race has a few quirky rules, making it unique from a traditional timed race. The course is a 2.5-mile loop around Black Creek Park, located just west of Rochester, NY, in the town of Chili. The loop is pretty flat, with only 100 feet of gain. Like all timed races, the objective is straight forward—cover as many miles as possible within the allotted time. The low-key event is put on by Goose Adventure Racing, a race production business and adventure racing team based out of Rochester. The Goose guys can be heard on episode 41 of the Running Inside Out Podcast, where they discuss, among other things, their disdain for roads. In fact, Goose AR's website happens to be

Two days before the race, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his cage and was declared by The Inner Circle to have seen his shadow, resulting in a longer winter. This meant the Cast-a-Shadow race was extended as well. The race rules state that partially completed loops do not count towards a runner's mileage, but any loop started before the clock hits six hours will count in the standings. Conversely, if the little rodent failed to see his shadow—resulting in an early spring—the race would be "shorter," and only loops finished before 6:00 would count. In other words, finish a loop in 6:00:01 and you're SOL—no whining allowed.

I bought a pair of snowshoes back in early December as a way to manage some cross-training and spend time on the trails while my Achilles tendon healed up. I was looking at running the Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour, provided I could get myself in snowshoe shape by early February. Otherwise I'd sign up for the FLRC's Super Frosty Loomis Snowshoe 10k, held on the same day as CAS. As race day drew nearer, I found myself lacking in snowshoe mileage due to low levels of snowfall in the Ithaca area. I only managed a few decent snowshoe training runs, the longest being about two-and-a-half hours. As luck would have it, the trails at Black Creek Park were low on snow as well. Two days before race day—Groundhog Day—it was announced that CAS would be a trail run. Although I was hoping to make my snowshoe race debut, I was relieved I could stick to my main discipline and not beat my body up while trying to manage a marathon on the shoes. (Hammond Hill had plenty of snow, and the Frosty Loomis remained a snowshoe race.)

The timed loop format was new to me, as was the 1:00 p.m. start time. My original goal was to complete at least a marathon—that is, 11 loops of 2.5 miles each—on snowshoes. I wasn't too sure how well my body would hold up after four months of pretty low training mileage. I'd managed a string of four consecutive 50-mile weeks throughout January, trying to build a solid base without any major fitness gains. Once it was announced CAS was a trail race, I decided 13 loops for 50k seemed pretty reasonable, but I wasn't going to destroy myself getting there. I'd get as far as I'd get.

After some deliberation, I decided to go with the Lone Peak 2.0s on my feet. Yeah, they're old, but they haven't seen a ton of miles and the traction was still solid on the trails' hard-packed snow.

Frosty start. PC: Eric Eagan
The six-hour event consists of a solo division and a three-person relay team division. Both races start at the same time, and with such a short loop it was hard to tell my place in the standings. Shortly after the start I picked out a guy in front of me, vowing to keep him in sight as long as the pace felt pretty relaxed. I was surprised to learn after the second loop that this was the leader for the solo division, which meant I was in second place by only a few seconds. It was also a stark reminder I'd probably started out too fast. Oops. Time to back off.

From the race headquarters at Sunnyside Lodge, the course follows a wide trail briefly through the woods before popping out along side an open field dusted in a uniform layer of fresh snow. The absence of tree cover allows for a nasty, biting headwind to make things a little less fun. The open section is short lived, however, and soon runners are back amongst the trees. In most sections, the trail is 10-15 feet wide, making it easy to pass and avoid congestion. One little section of narrow singletrack makes passing tricky and forces runners to be patient. The final stretch runs along the bank of Black Creek, before taking a hard right back toward the timing tent adjacent to the lodge. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Around the fourth loop—after gnawing a frozen Honey Stinger Waffle proved to be more trouble than it was worth—I realized I'd have to slow down to actually have a decent race. It was here that the leader slipped out of sight and I caught up with Cole Crosby. The winner last year, Cole was working at the race as a rep for Nathan Sports this time, and decided to get some training miles in while "banditing" the course. We ran my fifth loop together and he kept me going as I could feel my energy starting to wane.
Chasing Cole. PC: Eric Eagan

I finished my eighth loop and hit 20 miles a few minutes past the three hour mark. My pace had dropped from 21-23 minutes per loop to nearly 30 minutes on loop 8. I took a quick break here—the halfway point—to sit a minute and mix up some Green Tea Buzz Tailwind in my handheld. The sugar and caffeine combo woke me up and kept me moving for the next four to five loops. Before I knew it, I hit the marathon distance in about 4:10 and 50k in something like 5:07. After the headlamp came on around 5:30 p.m., I felt like I was cruising, despite running at a slower pace than I'd started with.

I hustled on loop 14 to finish before the clock read 6:00, and along the way I was lapped by the leader for the second time. As I neared the timing tent, I could hear the RDs egging people on, telling them they'd better get moving so they could earn the pleasure of running one more loop. A few runners looked less than thrilled for the opportunity. I passed through and called out "I'm starting my cool-down lap!" In half an hour I was back, having officially finished 37.5 miles in 6:25, good enough for second place. (Men's full results with lap splits.)

Hopped up on Tailwind. PC: Eric Eagan
It was fun catching up with a bunch of Rochester trail runners I've gotten to know over the past few years, many of whom I met at Ithaca trail races. It's easy to get to know people when they show up at all the same races as you. Receiving many a high-five from Mike Valone, and then getting heckled repeatedly by Dan Lopata, were a few of the more memorable moments throughout the race. Goose Adventure Racing put on a pretty sweet event, complete with a very boisterous awards ceremony in the lodge immediately afterward. I look forward to hopefully running some more of their trail races in the near future. Thanks guys!

My mileage total was much better than I'd expected, given the limited amount of training. As it turns out, my body held up really well and I felt pretty good the entire race, all things considered. Cast-a-Shadow is a great example of how building a solid base over a long period of time is key in any endurance activity. The longer the distance, the more important that base fitness becomes.

As I type this, evidence of Punxsutawney Phil's accuracy is abound just outside the window. Much of the Northeast got hit with significant snowfall overnight. Ithaca got about three inches, with a few more inches expected tonight. Six more weeks of winter? As Dr. Emmett L. Brown famously asked, "Since when can the weathermen predict the weather, let alone the future?"

And with that, I predict a snowshoe run in my immediate future.

On the snowy banks of the Black Creek. PC: Eric Eagan

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Lesson in Attitude

[I originally wrote this in January of 2016 as a guest post for another blog, but it ended up never getting published. I've decided to publish it here, during the 2017 running of the BoB. My full race report from the 2016 race is here, along with some New York State history.]  

I never thought running 50 miles would be easy. Ever. But when the course is a pancake flat, double out-and-back towpath, it can't get much easier.

Just past the first turnaround, only 13 miles in, I already felt my strength slipping away. I knew that running out of gas was imminent, but to slow down so early by so much was almost embarrassing. Even the amount of effort it took to avoid slowing to a walk felt unsustainable. A mere three weeks into the new year and I was already about to fail at my number one running goal for 2016. Completely frustrated, I wanted this to be over after it had only just begun.

Let's back up a bit. Over the last several years, I've had the same primary goal for each year regardless of fitness level, training schedule, or race plans. That goal is something I write down every January 1 in the beginning of my training log, and reads as follows:

1. Remember to have fun with running.

People are innately competitive when placed in a demanding situation where they will be judged or scored against others—a timed foot race, for example. However, I wish to continue making running a part of my life for as long as I am enjoying the sport. While competition can motivate one to push harder that he or she would otherwise, sometimes it's best to let that competitive drive take a back seat to the simple act of enjoying the activity for what it is. That means not taking things overly serious or holding a grudge against oneself for failing to achieve a goal.

On a chilly Saturday morning in mid-January I traveled up to Lockport for the Beast of Burden Ultramarathon 50-Miler. I was interested in a new type of challenge—one that involves battling the patented Upstate New York cocktail of snow, ice, and wind for the better part of a day. The 50-mile race is a double out-and-back along the Erie Canal Towpath between Lockport and Middleport, while the accompanying 100-miler is a quadruple out-and-back. In the lead-up to race day I felt pretty confident I'd land a 50-mile PR by a huge margin. As it turned out, the "easiness" of the course left me overconfident, my mind and heart not really in the right place for a stellar performance. Although two months of race-specific training had gone pretty well, I had failed to give The Beast the proper mental focus I'd given to other "A races" in the past. Suffice to say, I simply wasn't prepared.

The burden of The Beast began to weigh me down shortly after the aid station at the 12.5 mile turnaround. I struggled to keep moving over the next several miles as I was passed by runner after runner. It was difficult not to continuously look at my watch and see the minute-per-mile pace rapidly slowing. My goal time was already far beyond reach, and my core temperature was dropping along with my speed. (How could there possibly be a headwind in both directions?!) Everyone else on the course appeared to be moving swiftly, and with ease. I never wanted a race to be over with as badly as I did at the Beast of Burden.

It was during this low point when I encountered Ithaca ultrarunner Chris Reynolds passing by in the opposite direction. We slapped hands and exchanged a few words before going our separate ways. I immediately thought of the other times I'd encountered Chris during a race. Never one to shy away from a trail race, she routinely runs in the back of the pack and always has a kind word and a huge grin on her face. As a serial trail racer, she beats herself up time and time again and smiles and laughs about it the whole way. She consistently does what I was failing to do at that very moment. That is, focusing on the positives and remembering to enjoy my time out there.

As I slowly made my way along the inbound path toward to halfway point, it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. For the previous three hours I'd been concerned with nothing but pacing, forgetting that things don't always go as planned. In this rugged sport, bad days happen but you have to adjust and roll with the punches. I suddenly felt blessed to be out there on a winter's day with 100 other like-minded runners, on a historically significant, 200-year-old canal path.

I'd be lying if I told you the rest of the day was all fun and games, but my mind felt much clearer and my legs much stronger for the remaining 30 or so miles. I continued to guzzle nut butter packets, Tailwind, and gels over the next several hours. Heading west down the 12 mile homestretch I had the pleasure of watching a beautiful sunset over the Erie Canal. Running by headlamp through two inches of snow with a full moon blazing overhead in all its glory made for a unique experience. It's sad to think that without the change in attitude I would not have appreciated all Mother Nature had to offer on that fine January day. Eventually I cruised happily into the finish tent well behind my original goal time, but still a 50-mile PR by over 30 minutes.

I passed Chris two more times along the canal, and last I checked she was still all smiles!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Race Schedule For 2017

With the huge spike in ultrarunning popularity, many races now fill up quickly and one must sometimes commit to events up to a year in advance. Planning race weekends and training blocks eight to twelve months in advance can be a daunting task. Fortunately, Upstate NY and the surrounding regions have a nice variety of events to choose from, with new races popping up every year. We're lucky to no shortage of beautiful and scenic courses. 

Jamaica Pond in Boston, during a New Years Day run.
2016 was a really solid year of running for me, with the race season ending on a very high note at the Oil Creek 100 in early October. The last two months of the year were kind of a setback, as I was slowed by Achilles tendinosis and didn't get to run much in November or December.

Getting back into a good flow in late December took a few weeks, but now I'm starting to build back up and capitalize on the strong base fitness that I had worked toward during Oil Creek training. I don't think I lost a ton of fitness during those two monthscross training and strength training served as damage control. Now I'm looking to gain some strength and speed for the upcoming season. Here's what's on tap for the year.

February 4: Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour Snowshoe Race

I've yet to run a time-based race, a Rochester-area trail race, or a snowshoe raceso why not check off all three off in a single day? This is contingent on getting a few more solid snowshoe training runs in before then. The course is a two-mile trail loop that's run continuously for six hours, with some weird rule about extra time added if the groundhog sees his shadow.

The day I'm writing this, January 11, I was planning on a long-ish snowshoe training run but everything began to quickly melt when the mercury topped 50 Fahrenheit. My backup plan is to run FLRC's Super Frosty Loomis Snowshoe 10k, held the same day as Cast-a-Shadow. For Cast-a-Shadow, the goal is to run at least marathon distance in the given six hours.

April 1: Springletrack Fat-Ass Trail Marathon (hopefully)

My friend Adam invited me to come down to the Gunks and run this with him like we did in 2015. The course is a scenic tour of the Shawangunk Ridge from the Mohonk Preserve to Ellenville. As a true fat-ass run, there's no scoring system or entry fee, and runners are self-sufficient. Mike Siudy has been organizing these runs for years and really knows how to plot a challenging and beautiful course.

April 9: Skunk Cabbage Classic Half Marathon

This is the Ithaca area's biggest and oldest road race, and I'll be running it for the fifth time overall, and third after I don't have to work the graveyard shift the night before. I don't really have a goal in mind yet, but if I can work on leg turnover enough during the next three months I might go for a PR. Either way, and all-out effort won't be ideal because...

April 15: Breakneck Point Trail Runs 42K

April is when Mother Nature finally breaks free from that winter funk, and for some of us that makes for a busy race schedule. I'm heading back to Breakneck to try to improve on last year's 7:00 effort, now that I know the course and will be in better shape for all the steep and technical climbing.

April 30: Seneca7 Relay

The Seneca7 is a seven person, 77.7-mile road relay that starts and ends in Geneva, NY, and circles Cayuga Lake in a counter-clockwise direction. Hayley and I are on a team with five friends. Each team member runs three legs. This will be my first relay of any kind, and the fact that it's ultra-distance around a lake makes it sound that much more awesome. Plus I haven't been back to Geneva since Hayley and I got married there on the lake front over two years ago.

June 3: Cayuga Trails 50

We have a stellar ultramarathon with national class competition right here in our own town. Once again, the race serves as the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship. This will be my fourth run at Cayuga and third in a row where I try to break 10 hours. Last year didn't go too well, so this year I'll try to remain more focused and dial in the nutrition right from the start.

June 24: Many On The Genny

Letchworth State Park, also known as "The Grand Canyon of the East," is home to this new 40-mile trail race. The course circumnavigates the park down one side of the Genessee River and up the other. I've no goal in mind for this race, but suspect it will feel much easier than Manitou's Revenge did last year only two weeks after Cayuga. Many On The Genny is a first-year race created by #TrailsRoc co-founder Eric Egan. The race sold out quickly and I registered for the waitlist, but it only took about two weeks to get accepted into the starting field.

August 12: Eastern States 100

In only its fourth year, Eastern States has really grown in popularity and sold out in three days. I was considering this last year but the timing didn't work out, but fortunately I got on in for 2017. Aside from Cayuga, this is my other big goal race for the year. It looks like a super challenging course with some nice scenery, and a finish wold give me two tickets in the next Western States lottery.

December 9: Millinocket Marathon

This road marathon in Maine has really taken off over the last year. The marathon and half were created in 2015 to bring extra tourism dollars to Millinocket's struggling economy. Race entry is free, with the promise that every runner will spend money locally on food, lodging, etc., to keep local establishments in business. In 2016, there were over 500 finishers between both distances, and there are now over 1,500 regiustered for the 2017 races. It was Hayley's idea I sign up for this—neither of us has ever been to Maine before. Millinocket is also pretty close to Mt. Katahdin and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

What's next? 

The first half of the year looks pretty loaded. I'm not ready to commit to anything big after Eastern StatesI know that one will take a lot out of me and require plenty of recovery time. Fortunately there's a good number a fall ultras in the area, so hopefully I'll be up do running a few of them. I'd really like to focus on a 50k PR at Water Gap, and/or run the JFK 50, but I doubt it would happen this year. Additionally, I'd like to fit in at least one bigger adventure run, such as the Presidential Range Traverse in New Hampshire or the Cranberry Lake 50 in the Adirondacks.

The off season the best time planning out the year. What races are you running or volunteering at?  Does anyone have advice on Eastern States?

Sunday, January 8, 2017


(Turn and face the strange)
Don't want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

-David Bowie
January 8, 1947 - January 10, 2016.

At the risk of coming off as "all about me," I'll keep it brief. 

It was late August when I managed a huge, positive lifestyle shift in the form of a new job. For two and a half years I'd been commuting from Ithaca to Binghamton and back five days a week, working overnight every third weekend and sometimes getting home at 1:00 a.m. on weekdays. All that time in the car was beginning to take its toll, so I consider myself fortunate to have landed a job as an x-ray tech at Ithaca College's student health center. My schedule there is exclusively Monday to Friday day shift, and the 60 mile commute has been reduced to three miles.

Additionally, I started working as a sales associate at Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co., the locally owned running specialty store in the Ithaca Commons, around the same time. Both jobs are part-time, with full-time hours between the two. At FLRTC I've had the chance to meet a bunch of Ithaca area runners and learn about some cool new products, particularly running shoes and apparel. It certainly helps having broader knowledge while shopping for running shoes, and it's been enjoyable helping customers find the shoes that are right for them.

One of the "perks" of my new job situation is the freedom to have extra training time for upcoming races. The job change coincided well with my peak training block for Oil Creek, and likely contributed to my performance. Eliminating two hours a day behind a steering wheel may have had something to do with it too.

One other positive, running related, aspect of changing jobs is that my new schedule allows me time to attend the monthly Finger Lakes Runners Club board meetings. With some of my newfound free time, I've been getting more involved with the club as their Social Media Coordinator, viz. professional Facebooker / Twitterer / Instagrammer, and as a member of the newly formed Finger Lakes 50s race directors committee. I am also officially a FLRC board member as of January 2017, meaning that I can vote on club bylaws, referendums, etc., and become a much more active club member. 

In conclusion, the second half of 2016 has seen a huge decrease in stress for me, November election results not withstanding. While volunteering time and energy with a local running club won't exactly save the world during this extreme shift in political climate, it is a start. A start that provides at least a little fuel to kick off the year on an optimistic note. Here's wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!

P.S. Happy 70th birthday to David Robert Jones, better known to the world as David Bowie. Gone but certainly not forgotten.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Look Back at 2016

Another trip around the sun, another 366 days of running full of ups, downs, plateaus, and everything in between. Overall, I had a good year with noticeable improvement in the longer stuff and a few PRs on the road. This entry is a brief recap of each race I ran during the year. So without any further ado, let's dive right in to one of those good ol' Year In Review posts. (Disclaimer: Since this blog is mainly about running, it will remain free of any political rhetoric, social commentary, or pining over our beloved lost celebrities. I actually found it difficult not to mix in any opinions about things unrelated to running.)

January 10: FLRC January Track Meet 5,000m and Winter Chill 5k #1

After ending 2015 with a two second PR in the 5k, I was still in the speedwork spirit come January. With that in mind, I ran my first ever track racethe 5,000mat the Finger Lakes Runners Club's January Indoor Track Meet. I suffered hard through 25 200-meter laps to finish last in my heat in a pretty unremarkable time, at least for me. Deciding I needed some more tempo work that day, and not wishing to resign myself to the indoors, I drove across town to Cass Park for the first of four FLRC Winter Chill 5ks. So I ran my second 5k of the morning in the pouring rain, and managed to finish one second faster than I did on the track.

January 23: Beast of Burden Winter 50

The first of three goal races this year, The Beast turned out to be tougher than I expected. Race day was the coldest day yet in an unusually warm winter, but the bottom line is that I just wasn't fully prepared to tackle my goal time of 8:30. I struggled to a 9:28 finishstill a PR for the distance but far from my potential. However, I did accomplish my goal of running an all-day race in the dead of winter. (Winter Beast full race report.)

January 31: Winter Chill 5k #4

So did I mention that the FLRC's Winter Chill Series consists of a 5k every Sunday in January? I ran this fourth and final series race as a shakeout a week after Beast of Burden and actually felt pretty good, running only 15 seconds slower than Winter Chill #1 when I had fresher legs.

April 10: Skunk Cabbage Classic Half Marathon

One of Ithaca's oldest road races, and only $20, this one was too good to pass up. I managed a pretty solid time on the hilly course, especially considering that I stopped to tear off two-thirds of my clothing around mile four after overheating. (Skunk Cabbage full race report.)

April 16: Breakneck Point Trail Runs 42k

Only a week removed from The Skunk, I headed down to the Hudson Valley for the second running of the Red Newt event. This one was a trail marathon packed with 10,000 of vertical, including a straight up 1,000-foot rock scramble around mile eight, and some sweet views of the Hudson River. I figured the rocky terrain and steep grades would be good prep for Manitou's Revenge in late June. I had no goal time herejust to finish. However, I did buckle down and run hard near the end and was somewhat dismayed to miss a 7:00 finish my only a few seconds. Despite the three hour drive from Ithaca, there were tons of Ithaca runners at Breakneck and it was a great atmosphere all around. (Breakneck full race report.)

June 4: Cayuga Trails 50 / USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship

Cayuga was my second A-race of the year. I narrowly missed a 10 hour finish in 2015, and knew I could do it this time around. Unfortunately that goal was out the window not long after the ram's horn signaled the start. I forgot to take in enough electrolytes early and crashed around mile 15. By the time I recovered, I was so far behind sub-10 pace I decided just to finish, however long it took, and save something Manitou's two weeks later. I managed my second best time at Cayuga in three finishes. (Cayuga Trails full race report.)

June 18: Manitou's Revenge

Two 50-milers two weeks apart was something new for me. So was treacherous a point-to-point run across the Catskill High Peaks region. I definitely felt the the Cayuga miles in my legs pretty early on, but even on a good day this monster would still consist of mostly hiking. After wasting 45 minutes by going off course, I managed to finish in 18:26long after dark and just before midnight. I'm definitely looking forward to giving Manitou's another go a few years from now. (Manitou's full race report.)

July 10: Boilermaker 15k Road Race

Hayley was really exciting for her second run at the Boilermaker and convinced me to sign up too. By now I was recovered from Cayuga and Manitou's, but starting to ramp things back up for Oil Creek in October. I ran the Boilermaker as a tempo workout and managed to nab a 27 second PR for the 15k distance. This was my fourth time running Utica's iconic road race, and has the biggest and most competitive field of any race I've done.

June 17: Forest Frolic Trail Run 15k

Back in 2011, The Frolic was the first trail race I ever ran, and I'll credit it for getting me hooked on off-road running excursions. I've run the low-key 15k every year since, and will continue to do so for as long as possible. My time was sub-optimal, but was my second fastest over six finishes.

August 2: FLRC August Track Meet

I decided on another track meet for some speedwork, although this time it was outdoors on the 400-meter track at Ithaca High School. I had signed up for the 5000m and 1 Mile events, and ran both as workouts. My lack of track aptitude became apparent went I was out-kicked in the final 200 meters by two middle schoolers from the Auburn Pulsars Youth Club. My friend Gerritt, who'd also run the mile and 5000m, convinced to fill an empty spot in his 400m heat. I had no idea how to go about such a short race but went for it anyway. Ultimately Gerritt edged me out in our friendly competition, with a lower combined time among all three events. The track meet was also my lifetime 100th organized race.

August 20: Monster Marathon

Since early spring, I'd been hoping to run the Twisted Branch 100k on August 20, but was unable to because of a family commitment. I instead settled on a shorter, local trail race, with the plan of racing to place as high as possible.The double out-and-back format makes it easy to see who's in front of and behind you, and by how much.

The Monster is unique in how it allows handicaps, ie. earlier start times, based on age and gender, yet the final standings are the order in which runners cross the finish line. My starting time was in the final wave, so that meant I had to make up a lot of time over those in front of me. The morning was soon blazing hot, and all I could think of was the Twisted Branch runners who's skin would be melting off all day long. I ran hard the entire race to finish sixth overall in 4:25. This was a trail marathon PR for me, although I think the course was at least a mile short. (Monster and Lucifer full race report.)

August 21: Lucifer's Crossing

A day after The Monster, I went back to Robert Treman State to run the 6.66 mile Lucifer's Crossing on some of the same trails. I ran as hard as I could without risking injury, and definitely struggled up the Treman Gorge Trail in the first half. The second half was mostly downhill singletrack that I ran with Jim Devona, each of us pacing the other.  In the end I managed a pretty decent time, all things considered, finishing just before a downpour. Red Newt Racing provided a burrito buffet from Gorgers Taco Shack, so it was well worth running the race. (Monster and Lucifer full race report.)

October 8: Oil Creek 100

Finally, the biggest day of the year for me, as far as racing goes. I'd been gearing up all year for my second 100-miler. Everything somehow went perfectly and I ran 22:57good enough for eighth overall and well ahead of my sub-24 hour goal. My stomach, my brain, and the weather all cooperated to avoid any disasters. Inexplicably, I felt great all day and found myself running uphill around mile 90, despite going sans pacer and crew. I'll be studying this race for years to figure out how to replicate the effort. (Oil Creek full race report.)

November 6: 5k Chili Challenge

I felt pretty well recovered from Oil Creek by late October, so Hayley and I both decided to run this 5k for fun. It's basically a cross country course with a turn-around in front of a 215 foot waterfall. I raced hard and felt good, but finished a few seconds slower than 2015. Meanwhile Hayley managed a 5k PR. RD Gary Cremeens always puts on a good event, and the run didn't seem overcrowded despite a huge turnout.


Immediately after the Chili Challenge, my friends Dan and Steve convinced me to run back down to Ithaca with them via the newly finished Black Diamond Rail Trail. It was 12 miles from Taughannock Falls back to my house. Big mistake. It was toward the end of this run when my right Achilles tendon starting acting up, and the beginning of a long and frustrating month and a half. From then on, I felt a dull ache in that Achilles during every road run, but it was much less pronounced while on trails.

The injury turned out to be mild Achilles tendinosis. I plan to write a future post about the injury and recovery in a future post, so I won't elaborate on it here. In short, the last two month of 2016 were spent cross-training with yoga, spinning classes, and indoor cardio machines. I had been toying with signing up for the Mendon Ponds 50k on November 5, the day before the injury was noticeable, but thankfully I resigned to better judgement and passed on that race. Hayley and I also both planned to run the It's a Wonderful Run 5k in Seneca Falls in early December, but we both opted out due to injuries.

I had the fortune of scoring a decently priced pair of Tubbs Oddysey 25 inch snowshoes from the Old Goat Gear Exchange booth at Cornell University's COE Annual Gear Sale. I'm not a cold weather aficionado by any means, but snowshoeing has given me a reason to look forward to some heavy snowfalls this winter. Some snowshoe runs replaced road runs while my Achilles healed up, and I found I really enjoy being out there on trails that I couldn't run on otherwise due to the snow. I'm hoping to do a snowshoe race sometime in early 2017.

Racing aside, I had some pretty cool adventure-type runs throughout the year. I managed a few longer, point-to-point runs on the Finger Lakes Trail, covering trail sections I'd never been on before. In May, I went down to the Catskills and ran the Slide Mountain Wilderness loop, with an out-and-back to the top of Panther Mountain. I also went down to Oil Creek State Park in early September for back-to-back long runs on the OC100 course, and spent a full day hiking around Letchworth State Park with Hayley.

In November, a bunch of us carpooled up to Rochester for the Trail Running Film Festival. Watching people from all walks of life overcome adversity of one form or another really put things into perspective. Seeing films about incredible feats of human endurance made my Achilles issue pale by comparison, and I realized how incredibly lucky I am to be able to do some of the things I do.

Despite the overuse injury to end the year, I was pleased with the way 2016 turned out in regards to my running performance. With Oil Creek, I closed out the year on a very high note, and that gives me confidence going into 2017 and beyond!

How was your running in 2016? Did you accomplish any big goals or learn by making mistakes? What's on your agenda for 2017? Let me know in the comments below.

N4N (Numbers For Nerds):

Number of Races: 17
Miles Raced: 362.41
Total Miles Run in 2016:  2341.3 (My count, different from Strava's.)
Strava Stats:

Some 2016 photo highlights. Apologies for the wonky formatting, but it's the best I could do with Blogspot's limited capabilities. (All photos my own unless otherwise noted.)

Post-race at Beast of Burden.

Rusty and me slogging through the Breakneck 42k. PC: Joe Azze/Mountain Peak Fitness

Fun run at Taughannock Falls with ultrarunner / one of my favorite writers / certified badass Mishka Shubaly. PC: Mishka Shubaly.

Seen on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh.

Running around Pittsburgh. #NoFilter
Cayuga Inlet crossing at Cayuga Trails 50. PC: Nancy Hobbs/ATRA
Deep in the Cayuga Trails pain cave. PC: Melissa Weiner

One of many big climbs at Manitou's Revenge, and one of my favorite photos. PC: Joe Azze/Mountain Peak Fitness

Plane wreck on Stoppel Point along the Manitou's Revenge course.

Boilermaker expo...

...and Boilermaker Post-race.

Lucifer's Crossing. PC: Nona Swanson Bauer
Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park.

Mile 14 at the Oil Creek 100. PC: David Potts
Oil derrick replica on the Oil Creek course.

Finish line of the 5k Chili Challenge, right before my Achilles started acting up. PC: Dan Elswit

Yassine Diboun introducing the films at the Trail Running Film Festival.

Compilation shot at Robert Treman State Park.

Compilation shot from around the Cornell Campus.

Modelling some Run Local apparel with Vinny at FLRTC.

Fireworks over Boston Common to close out the year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Latergram: A Retrospective Look at the 2016 Breakneck Point Trail Runs

Looking back toward early 2016, I realized I never wrote any kind of a race report about the Breakneck Point Trail Runs back in April. By now, seven months later, my foggy memory will have distorted the experience more than a heavily filtered Instagram post. When registration went for Breakneck 2017 went live a few weeks ago, it was a stark reminder of just how incredible that course is and how enjoyable the marathon was this year. It was by far the "longest" marathon I've done, and the only one that crams 10,000 feet of vertical into 26.2 miles. (There's also a half marathon option.) Rather than write an erroneous race report, I've decided to just post a bunch of the pictures I took from race weekend. Enjoy!

The first few are from a hike the day before, near the east bank of the Hudson River, directly across from Storm King State Park.

In the evening, Adam and I did a short hike up and down Mount Beacon. The marathon would climb the same steep trail around mile 22. The climb is something like 1,000 feet in a mile, and has no cover from the trees. Adam warned me it would crowded with hikers when I arrived here during the race. It was helpful to know ahead of time what lay in store before the finish line.

At the start of the race, the course seemed to ascend gradually as the crowd thinned out over the wider section of trail. Things were only mildly congested when the group I was in reached the lumpy, rocky singletrack.

Just before the 7 a.m. start.
After a half mile of paved road, about eight miles in, the course suddenly turns up a rock scramble. Halfway up the near vertical section I could hear the droning of a bagpipe. Atop the ridge stood a lone bagpiper in a kilt and full Irish regalia, belting out what sounded like funeral music as we nearly killed ourselves reaching the top of the scramble, high above the banks of the Hudson.

I think this was from the rock scramble up Breakneck Ridge, but I'm not sure. 
The scramble.

PC: Mountain Peak Fitness

I spent several miles running with Rusty, another Ithaca guy. PC: Mountain Peak Fitness

The next several shots I took myself, but I can't remember where along the course they came from.

Finishers award - A sugar cookie with an image from the race course. 

Here's a race video from Red Newt Racing: