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.

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