Sunday, December 14, 2014

TNFECS - Washington, DC - December Update

Last week the 2014 The North Face Endurance Challenge Series (TNFECS) season came to a close in California. This race always showcases the best of the best in the ultra running world. It was an exciting race which saw the men's title go to Sage Canaday and the women's to Magdalena Boulet. Both ran stellar races in quite tricky conditions. A full recap of the race by Exploring Endurance can be viewed here.

For many athletes, TNFECS California is one last get together to see friends before the end of the year. Undoubtedly, the question many ask after this race is, "What races are you running next year?" For me, the next ultra I'm running in 2015 will be the season opener for the TNFECS in Washington, DC. I cannot wait for this race! It will be a great event to kick my trail running season off.

While my training for this race won't get going in earnest until the new year, I was hoping to get in some nice trail runs before the holiday. Unfortunately, I had a bad fall a few weeks ago on a trail run and broke my arm. Since then, I've been resting but I'm hopeful to get back to some light running before Christmas. This forced rest period hasn't been a whole lot of fun, but I've been taking it in stride.

Needless to say, I can't wait to get back on the trails and do what I love most. I know I will ready to go by race day on April 18th! Speaking of race day, all race distances are still open for registration, but will likely reach capacity, so don't wait. The next fee increase for race registration is on January 25th, so take advantage of the lower pricing. I promise you will not be disappointed if you sign up for this race!

I plan to get out for some runs on the Potomac Heritage Trail and in Great Falls at some point in January or February so I can capture some photos of the course for everyone. I'll be sure to include them all in a future blog post. I hope everyone had a great 2014 and here's to many more great miles in 2015!

Call for comments
  • What was your favorite race in 2014?
  • What races are you considering in 2015?
  • What are your 2015 goals?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Forced Rest

A couple weeks ago I was out on an early morning trail run with my friend Mike when I had a pretty bad fall. I tripped stepping over a large rock and fell hard on my left arm. I knew right away that something wasn't right. It hurt much more than a usual digger. My first thought was that I jammed my elbow really bad (if that's even possible?). Mike asked me if I was alright and I said I thought so. Still being a couple miles from our cars, I got back up on my feet and we continued on.

As we started running again, I felt better and thought that I was probably fine. However, when I got back to my car and examined my arm a little more closely, I realized I had a bigger issue. My left arm below my elbow was very swollen and I couldn't bend my arm without a lot of pain.

After a fun visit to the ER I found out that I had fractured my radial bone in two places right below the elbow joint. Luckily, the bone wasn't displaced. Had it been, it would have needed surgery to pin it back together. Whew!

The following morning I went to an orthopedic where I was given a beautiful full arm cast. Like any injured runner, I wanted to know when I could get back to running. The orthopedic told me it was not advisable to run while I had the cast on. This came as a pretty big disappointment, but I understood. In hindsight, after wearing this cast for about two weeks, I realize that it would be pretty difficult to run with it anyway, not to mention how smelly it would become with all my sweat getting inside of it. I don't want to be the stinky guy at work.

Getting injured is a runner's worst nightmare. We do everything in our power to prevent an injury from occurring because we know how important running is in our daily lives. However, we know we're not invulnerable. Injuries happen in running. It's part of our sport.

I take comfort from knowing that what happened to me could have been a lot worse. I could have broken my arm to the point where I would have needed surgery. Or, when I fell I could have hit my head on a rock. All things considered, I feel very lucky. Being laid up for a few weeks with a broken arm isn't the end of the world. Sure, I wish it didn't happen, but I'm doing my best to take a positive from a negative. I know this forced rest period will do my body some good. (At least that's what I'm telling myself, haha!)

I constantly preach that we should never take running for granted. This point doesn't ring more true than now. Running is a gift. We don't have to run, we get to. I know when I get back out there I’ll be carrying an even larger appreciation for it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Race Recap: NYRR NYC 60K

When I first heard about the NYC 60K, I was immediately drawn to it. An ultra in New York City? Count me in! With only 300 runners, this wasn't your average NYRR race. My friend Jocelyn had expressed interest for sometime about running an ultra. We had been searching for a race that would work for both of us and this race ended up being the perfect fit.

Heading to the start
Bib pickup was held race morning at the NYRR Headquarters. The start (in Central Park) was just a short walk from there. Jocelyn and I met up at NYRR and hung out in the warmth of the building until the race started (it was in the low 30s). She had a little concern about how this run would go, but I knew her marathon conditioning would be a strong base to get through the 60K (37 miles).

The course was a 4 mile loop in Central Park, which we would run around 9 times. In additional to the main aid station at the start/finish, there was an additional water stop about halfway into the loop. We were also allowed to stash our own food/drink bag at the main aid station, which was nice.

The sun was just starting to creep over the tall buildings that surround Central Park as we set off. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and we were treated to beautiful blue skies all day. After a quicker first lap than intended, we settled into a comfortable pace. While some would find running a looped course to be boring, I don't mind. Each lap I noticed something new. The fall foliage in the park was gorgeous which made for a picturesque setting.

As the race progressed, the park came to life with other runners, cyclists, and hansom cab rides. Jocelyn and I talked about anything and everything during the race. It's kinda funny how easy it is to open up during a run. Our steady conversation made the laps pass quickly. I was under strict instruction not to tell her how many miles we had left. The only numbers I could say aloud were the number of laps to go.

During the 4th lap I bumped into a fellow Nuun Ambassador and Hood to Coast teammate, Eric. He told me he was gonna try to come out and say hi and it was nice to see him.

Eric and I (Photo Credit: Eric)
As we came into the closing laps, I could tell Jocelyn was starting to hurt. I joked with her that this is where the real fun begins! She told me I could run ahead, but there was no way I was gonna leave her side. I've been in her position before I know how much it helps to have someone next to you. Besides, she was still running so strong!

During last lap, Jocelyn was pretty quiet, but I understood why. The hills of Central Park started to feel more like mountains, but she powered up each one, refusing to walk. Finish line in sight, we gave it one last push. We finished in just over six hours with a 9:48 min/mile average! I was beyond impressed. She ran such an amazing race! Watching someone graduate from marathoner to ultra-marathoner is pretty awesome to see. Oh, did I mention she had run the NYC Marathon two weeks prior?!?! #beastmode

After the finish, I saw Mary Wittenberg (CEO of NYRR) and went up to thank her. She looked at me and said, "I think I posted a picture of you guys finishing on Instagram." She pulled out her phone and showed me the picture and sure enough, she had. She asked me what my email was and sent me some other photos she took of us finishing. You rarely get that kind of personal touch at a race and it was coming from Mary, no less. Pretty cool!

Jocelyn and I crossing the finish line (Photo Credit: Mary Wittenberg)
Last, a BIG thank you to the volunteers. They were absolutely incredible. It was definitely chilly out there and having them come out to help and support us was fantastic. I don't think there was one volunteer that didn't cheer us on as we passed. I was blown away. I loved this race and would definitely run it again in the future!
Garmin Upload
Mary, Me and Jocelyn

Monday, November 10, 2014

The North Face Endurance Challenge Series - Washington, DC

If you're anything like me, as the year comes to a close you're already looking ahead to 2015 and the races you want to run. As trail races continue to grow in their popularity, it is becoming increasingly harder to settle on which one(s) you want to do. To make your decision a little easier (especially if you live in the Mid-Atlantic region), let me recommend to you the The North Face Endurance Challenge Series event in DC (ECSDC).

A celebration of trail running...that's the best way I can describe the ECSDC. Spanning the entire weekend, the ECSDC offers race distances for runners of all abilities. A 50 miler, 50K, marathon and marathon relay is on Saturday's menu. On Sunday, you can choose from the half marathon, 10K, and 5K. For those with little ones, there's a kid's run both days. The North Face ECS staff pour their hearts and souls into providing the best race experience for you. You will not be disappointed if you sign up!

I've run the ECSDC half marathon, marathon, and 50K. In 2015, I'm going for the 50 miler! While this won't be my first 50 miler, I very much look forward to checking this race off my list. I was set to run the 50 miler in 2013, but due to illness the week of the race, I had to sit it out. However, I was able to defer my entry to the 50 Mile Championship in San Francisco, so not a bad trade off all and all.

An important note for the 2015 ECSDC is that the date has changed. In years past, the ECSDC was held in early June. However, this year it will be held the weekend of April 18-19. Personally, I'm all for the date change as the June event was usually pretty hot and humid. April weather in the DC area is typically in the 40s to 50s, which will make for ideal racing conditions. For more information on the ECSDC (including registration information), be sure to check out their website here.

I'm stoked to be partnering with the ECSDC crew to help promote this awesome event. In the months leading up to the race, I will be writing blog posts on different topics, such as course previews (with lots of pictures), trail running tips, and progress on my training for the 50 miler. I'm excited to share my experience with you all and I hope to meet many of you at the race! Also, be sure to follow The North Face ECS (@thenorthfaceECS) and me (@DougCassaro) on Twitter. Tag your tweets with #ECSDC and #TNFECS to join the chatter!

Happy running!


Call for Comments
  • Which Endurance Challenge Series event are you planning to run in 2015? Have you run any in the past?
  • Will the ECSDC be your first trail race?
  • What type of topics would you like me to cover in future blog posts?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Race Recap: Baltimore Marathon

I can sum up my Baltimore Marathon in two words: deceptively hilly. Friends had told me this course was hilly, but the elevation profile didn't seem too intimidating. Given the weather forecast and how my legs had been feeling on recent runs, I thought I would give this race a good effort and attack my PR. While in hindsight I would have been better off saving a PR attempt for another day, I have no regrets trying. Overall, I had a great weekend in Baltimore with friends.

Friday afternoon I met up my friends Kristy and Cathy and we grabbed a train from DC to Baltimore. After checking in at our hotel we went straight to the expo, which was located conveniently across the street. Bibs in hand, we headed to Baltimore's "Little Italy" for a delicious pre-race meal.

The following morning Cathy and I hung around the hotel until about 30 minutes prior to the start. The hotel was only a few blocks from the start line, which was nice. We wished Kristy well (she was running the half) and made our way to the start. Cathy and I were running different paces and after sharing words of encouragement, we headed to our respective corrals. It wasn't too long after I got into my corral that the race was under way!

Note: My thanks to Cathy for all her race photos!

I started off around an 8:30 pace with the goal of inching down to an 8:15 pace by the half. I struggled to find a balanced rhythm from the moment the race began. My pace was jumping all around. I was able to keep my average pace on target, but I never found my groove. I remember saying to myself around mile 7 or 8 that a PR wasn't gonna happen unless something turned around.

Gorgeous sunrise at mile 5
Course-wise, the first half of race was pretty nice. Mile 3 through about 5 went through the zoo and many zoo keepers were out cheering us on. A few of them even had some of the animals with them. I remember seeing a couple birds and a baby penguin. With the exception of running through the grounds of Under Amour Headquarters around mile 11, miles 10 through 13 was a rather bland out & back section of the course.

I ran the first half in about 1:50 which gave me a little boost of confidence that I might just be able to pull a PR off. However, the heaviness of my legs and knowing that there were more hills to contend with later didn't give me a very cozy feeling. Nonetheless, I kept pushing because like many of us, the desire to PR outweigh the doubt.

Mile 12 and my bright laces
Meanwhile, the half marathon started almost two hours after the marathon and around mile 15 the half course joined up with the marathon course. This turned the rather cluttered free marathon course into a traffic jam. I knew that half runners were gonna join up with us, I just forgot how many of them there were. For me, it felt like the beginning of the race all over again as I jockeyed with the other runners for running real estate.

Lake at Mile 20
By mile 20, my legs were pretty toasted. The effort I put in on the hills to maintain my pace took the life from them. I knew then and there that a PR was off the table. I struggled the remainder of the race to maintain a sub-9 pace. It was certainly frustrating, but that is part of running. Some days just aren't yours. I finished in 3:46:10 hurting, but grateful. Grateful that I got to enjoy a beautiful day doing what I love most...even if at times I was cursing at myself or the course.

Mile 26 went through Camden Yards
We don't run marathons because they are easy. We run them because they test the limits of our endurance. We run them because of the emotions we get on the days when we exceed what we think our limit is. However, on the days when things don't go our way, we have one of two choices: we can either feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses or we can finish feeling proud of what we accomplished and learn from our mistakes.

The Baltimore Marathon was my 39th marathon. You'd think by now that I'd be a pro at these things and know everything there is to know to about running them. But, the fact is I don't. Each time I toe the line of race, whether it be a 5K or a 50 miler, I'm always learning. That desire to learn more and turn my goals into reality is what drives to continue to push myself and click "Register" on that next race entry form.

Garmin Upload

Kristy, Cathy, me and Erin

Friday, October 10, 2014

Race Recap: StumpJump 50K

This race should have been called StumpRock, as there were many more rocks than tree stumps to contend with on this mega 50K course. Trail running is about exploring. It's about seeing new places and challenging yourself on different terrain. StumpJump was exactly what I needed to shake things up. It made me fall in love with trail running all over again.

I didn't know what to expect on the course. I heard that it was pretty runnable, but with 4,400 feet of vertical gain (which actually turned out to be more like 5,600), I knew there would be some power hiking tossed into the mix.

My weekend started out with traveling to Atlanta on Thursday to meet up with my friend Cathy, who was also running. On Friday, we drove up to Chattanooga and headed straight for the bib pickup. The pickup was suppose to be held at a park, but due to the threat of severe weather, they opted to move it indoors at a retail store. As it would turn out, all the forecasted weather blew out by midday. However, I think the decision to relocate was a smart move. Cathy and I made up for it by checking out the park after we picked up our bibs.

Nice to see some Nuun at bib pickup!
Where bib pickup was suppose to be held
The race didn't start until 8am, so we didn't have to get up too early the following morning. The start line was buzzing with excitement, albeit a bit chilly (not that I minded). There were a couple fires going so I stayed near one to keep warm.

A high five to Cathy to wish her well and we were off! I had no time goal for the run. I was just hoping to run strong throughout the day and work on my downhill running. It was pretty cluttered at the start which led to big running congo lines for the first half of the race. It was frustrating to be stuck in these long lines, but in hindsight it was for the best as it kept me from running too hard at the beginning.

Start Line
The course was a lollipop design, with the stick being about 10 miles and the delicious candy loop measuring in at just under 10. The stick was along the Cumberland Trail and the candy loop was on the well-known Mullens Cove Loop. Having never run the trails of Tennessee, I didn't have many expectations. Yet, what expectations I did have were blown outta the park! The trails were absolutely gorgeous. There were some fall colors, but for the most part it was still a very green and vibrant forest. In fact, the forest was so dense in some parts I wasn't sure what time of day it was anymore. Mullens Cove was full of beautiful, lush ferns. For whatever reason, I love running through them. Some rocks on the trail were coated with moss so I always had to be on my game. I caught my toe many times on the rocks and roots along the trail and finally took a nice digger around mile 24.

A good section of trail was along a ridge line near the Tennessee River. Unfortunately, the thick tree line covered most of the vantage points. I tried to sneak peak were I could, but taking your eyes off the trail for too long only spelled trouble.

The beautiful course scenery (Photo Credit: Wild Trails
The stick of the course had the most vert, but was still fairly runnable. Mullens Cove gave me a nice opportunity to lengthen my stride and punch in a few faster miles. The aids stations were stocked with the usual ultra fare and enthusiastic volunteers. My only complaint, the serving cups for liquids were very small (dixie cups). I'm not sure if this was in the race's effort to lower its environmental footprint, but my feeling is, if you're gonna put cups out, might as well use bigger ones. I had a water bottle full of Nuun and was wearing my hydration pack, so it wasn't much of an issue for me.

In addition to working on my downhill running, I'm trying to learn how to get through aids stations a bit more effectively (read: FASTER). I find that I can waste a lot of time at aid stations during trail races. At StumpJump, I felt I was doing a good job getting in and out quickly. However, this came back to bite me when I forgot to stop at my drop bag at mile 19 to restock my pack with Gu and Nuun. I realized my mistake shortly after leaving the aid station, but in my mind I was too far to turn around and go back to it.

I felt great for about the next 3 miles, but then I started to hit a wall and had no nutrition to fend it off. I never was able to dig myself out of the low I was in which made the last few miles of the race pretty rough for me. However, I find running through the lows is good practice. You're not always gonna feel fresh as a daisy on a run, so it's good to learn how to run through the pain and negative thoughts.

Soon enough I emerged from the trail and back onto the paved road that led to the finish line. I remembered from the start of the race that the finish was about a half mile from the trailhead, so I pushed hard and was able to sneak past a few runners in the process. I crossed the line in 6:21:07 tired, but satisfied. With the exception of forgetting to stop at my drop bag, I felt I ran a smart race. The course was a little short (not that I minded), but I feel the extra vertical made up for the missing mile or so.

There was nice BBQ at the finish and to my delight, they had veggie burgers! The only thing that was missing was a beer garden. Cathy came burning into the finish about an hour later looking super strong. She had only run her first ultra a few months prior, but I definitely think she has caught the ultra bug!

Overall, I was very impressed with StumpJump. The race staff was great and the course was beautiful. I highly recommend it!

Garmin Upload

50K fueled by Nuun
On a somber note, about a week before the race, UVU Racing Team Principal Basti Haag tragically lost his life doing what he loves, mountain climbing. I carried his name with me during my run and I'd like to dedicate this run in his memory. While I didn't know Basti well, his love and passion for the outdoors and his determination and drive to push his limits is something I admire. May he rest peacefully. UVU Director Gerhard Flatz wrote a beautiful eulogy for him and I encourage you to read it if you have a moment.

I also learned shortly after the race that a runner had collapsed on the trail. No runner ever likes to hear news like that and my heart sank after I heard of his passing. The runner's name is Eric Jacks and if you go to Wild Trails Facebook page, you can read a beautiful message written by one of his family members. RIP, Eric. The running community mourns with your family.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Race Recap: Reverse Goofy

I make a lot of stupid decisions. Like running a marathon. That was stupid. Then, I had the bright idea to run an ultra. Also stupid. So, leave it to me to be more stupid and run and marathon and a half marathon in the same weekend.

Okay, maybe I don't think any of those things are stupid. Perhaps I'm a masochist? A stupid masochist.

So, the reverse's like Disney's Goofy Challenge where runners complete the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday, only I did it in reverse. Why? I don't know. Boredom? Curiosity? Adventure? A little bit of all 3?

The two races I decided on were the Abebe Bikila Marathon and the Parks Half Marathon. The marathon course was on the C&O Canal towpath; a flat, stone crushed trail that is wedged between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The Parks Half was a point-to-course in Maryland that started in Rockville and finished in downtown Bethesda.

The marathon set off at 9 under overcast skies. The temperature was pretty good (somewhere in the 70s), but the humidity was high and that was the real killer. I ran around a 9 min/mile pace and didn't plan to stray too far from that. I was aiming for a sub-4, but whether that happened or not didn't really matter to me. I just knew I needed to run easy so that my legs weren't completely toasted for the half.

I love when a marathon start line looks like a 5K
I found a nice rhythm and settled in for the 26 mile journey. Aid stations were abundant and I made sure to stay on top of my hydration. The course was a 6.5 mile out & back [insert fart noises here]. Out & backs are not my favorite and knowing that I would have to do it twice sucked, but whatever. I did my best to appreciate the scenery around me. The C&O Canal carries a lot of history and many of the old canal locks and lock houses are still standing, which is cool to see.

Towards the end of the first out & back, a light rain began to fall, not that I minded. I was already drenched in sweat. I finished the first out & back in under two hours and I was feeling good. I decided to up my pace just a touch, but was still being mindful of the next day. However, it was hard to ignore the competitive spirit during a marathon and holding back on my pace was an on-going challenge.

In hindsight, it was good I ran this race easy as many runners were suffering from the humidity. In fact, around mile 24 I came across a runner lying on the trail. I stopped to ask him if he was alright and he said he was very dehydrated. I unfortunately wasn't carrying any water, but he told me some other runners went ahead to the next aid station to tell the volunteers to bring him some. He was very coherent, but a little pale in the face. I asked for his name and told him I would make sure water was on the way. Not five minutes later I saw aid station volunteers running towards me with a gallon of water. I described the runner to them and continued on.

I crossed the finish line a few minutes under 4 hours and immediately went into recovery mode. I started stuffing food in my mouth (very cold pizza and a bagel) and pumped my body full of Nuun deliciousness. My legs were pretty stiff, but after a solid stretch session they felt better.

After the race I drove straight to the half marathon packet pickup to meet up with my friend Janine who was also running. I was still in my running shorts and when I went to pick up my bib, the check-in volunteer asked me if I had run to the pickup. I told her I didn't and that I had run earlier in the day. She then said, "Well, I hope you didn't run too far that you ruined your race tomorrow." All I could do was chuckle.

When I got home, I slipped on my compression socks, propped my legs up, ate, watched college football, and ate some more (I may or may not of eaten and entire bag of Sun Chips). I even indulged myself with a delicious fall beer. Beer has carbs too, you know. I also made sure to get up and move around often to keep my legs loose.
With a start time of 7, I was up and at it early for the half. My legs were definitely a bit stiff when I got out of bed, but nothing too crazy. I met up with Janine and her fiance kindly drove us to the start line.

The weather was much nicer for the half. The humidity was gone and the temperatures were in the 50s. I was looking forward to this race. Much of the course snakes through some really pretty park land. I wouldn't classify the course as flat or hilly, but it has a few rollers. The sun was just creeping over the horizon when I headed off.

I knew my legs would feel better once I started running and after about a mile they came to life. That's not to say my quads/calves weren't yelling at me, cause they were. But, in a way, it felt good. I feel a bit more alive on a run when I'm in a little bit of pain. Remember, I'm a stupid masochist.

I held myself back a bit during the first half of the race to gauge what amount of effort I could put in. In my head I was thinking that I would run around an 8:30 pace, but as mile 7 clicked off in 8:17, I knew my legs had a bit more life in them. So, I decided to give it a good go for the second half.

The last 6 miles were very enjoyable. I was doing what I love and feeling great. The weather was awesome, the birds were chirping, runner camaraderie was high and the course was gorgeous. I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to run. It's so easy to take the gift of running for granted.

Finish line in view, I gave it one last burst and completed my 39.3 mile weekend! The reverse goofy was a lot of fun and gave me a good taste of what stage racing would be like. While doing something this stupid might not be for everyone, I encourage you all to find something that presents a challenge and get after it! It keeps running fun and fresh.

Finishing up the half
The Breakdown
Marathon: 3:57:10 - Garmin Upload
1/2 Mary: 1:47:43 - Garmin Upload
Total Time: 5:44:53 (8:46 min/mile avg.)