Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A (brief) message to those running Western States

“Life had been reduced from a highly complex existence, with a thousand petty problems, to one of the barest simplicity in which only one real task remained – the achievement of the goal.”

That is an excerpt from the 1959 novel, Endurance, a book I highly encourage everyone to read. As soon as I read that line, my mind immediately drifted to the feelings I have at the start of a race. I felt it eloquently described a runner’s mindset as they toe the line. The hard work is over. The long months of training are behind them. Race day is finally here! As soon as that gun goes off, the daily scattering of thoughts and worries evaporate and they are left with only one focus, achieving their goal.

Good luck to all those running Western States this weekend!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My thoughts on nature and John Muir

"I'm glad I'm not great enough to be missed in the busy world." John Muir wrote that in his journal, which later became a collection known as My First Summer in the Sierra. That statement stayed with me long after I read it. How could Muir, now recognized as one of the great trailblazing pioneers, think so little of himself? Certainly, a man of Muir's stature in today's society, would be missed. Yet, in the summer of 1869, long before the very trails he was hiking on were named after him, he felt free; unbounded by the demands that call so many of us back home.

To bring some context to Muir's statement, he was referring to an encounter he had with an old friend, Professor Butler. Muir bumped into the "Professor" (as Muir called him) near the famous North Dome of Yosemite, and spent the rest of the day visiting with him.

That evening, Muir tried to convince the Professor to camp with him in the high Sierra. However, much to Muir's surprise, he learned that the Professor had to return back to civilization due to his obligations. Muir would later write that he pitied "the poor Professor, bound by clocks, almanacs, orders, duties, etc., where Nature is covered and her voice smothered..."

Over the years (and I credit much of this to my discovery of trail running) I've found myself more connected with nature and its peaceful solitude. As I read Muir's words, I often find myself saying, "YES!" It is very easy nowadays to get comfortable in our routines. But, more often than not, if we stay comfortable for too long, we grow uncomfortable. John Muir's journals and essays remind me that while I can't ignore life's everyday demands, I'm not bound to them. His words have shown me that when I'm starting to feel drained by the stresses in my life, a little dose of nature is all I need to restore my energy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Race Recap: Weekend Double - Fountainhead Half Marathon and Capitol Hill Classic 10K

On Saturday, I ran EX2’s Fountainhead Half Marathon, a race I had run last year. EX2 races are always well managed and the race director is super friendly. Minus the staggering humidity, it was a great day for a trail run. The race was held at Fountainhead Regional Park along the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail (a place I train often). I would classify the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail as a mostly non-technical, well groomed single track with some rollers to keep your quads honest.

Coming into this race I had an A, B, and C goal. My A goal was to place in my age group. My B goal was to finish under 2 hours and my C goal was to beat my time from last year - 2:05:31. I knew achieving at least one of those goals would be possible, but I secretly wanted to land my A goal. Since The North Face 50K last month, my training has been going really well. My legs have felt good on my hard days and I’ve been recovering quickly. I’ve also been better about incorporating more speedwork and hill training into my runs. But, I mostly blame that on the fear The Rut 50K (11,000 feet of vertical gain) is already instilling in me, and that race isn’t until Labor Day weekend! I digress.

I went out hard at the start with the front runners to avoid the mid-pack congo lines on the single track. The first half mile of the course was on a road, so by the time I reached the trail, things had stretched out nicely at the front. I dialed back my pace, fully expecting to get picked off by some of the runners behind me. But, to my surprise, I was able to maintain my position.

Around the halfway point of the race I noticed I was running all alone. At times I would question whether I was off course, but then I would spot a piece of pink surveyor tape dangling from a tree branch. Those solo middle miles were really enjoyable for me. The morning birds were chirping, the trees around me were lush and full of life, and I was in a good rhythm.

About 3 miles from the finish, I ran past a race volunteer that told me I was 16th overall. That motivated me to keep pushing. Near the end I caught up to and passed 3 runners to finish 13th overall in 1:58:55. According to my Garmin, the course had about 1,500 feet of vert, which made for a nice mix of flat and rolling sections. I wasn’t sure if I finished high enough to place in my age group, but to my delight, I achieved my A goal by placing 3rd!

The following morning I met up with my friends Chad, Kristy, and Carolyn for the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. The humidity was even higher for this race and the skies were full of rain clouds that never came through with some much needed relief. My legs were feeling fresh from my half so I decided to give this race a good go too. I started around a 7:30 min/mile and didn’t stray too far from that throughout the race.

The race started in Stanton Park and after running between the Supreme Court and The Capitol, the course followed East Capitol Street all the way to RFK Stadium. Beautiful trees and homes line East Capitol, which made for a scenic race setting. After looping around RFK, the course returned to East Capitol and then onto the finish back at Stanton Park.

I finished in 46:26, happy to be done. It was so humid! Chad, Kristy and Carolyn all had great races too! Afterwards, we walked back to Kristy’s place and stuffed ourselves full of eggs, blueberry pancakes, doughnuts, coffee and mimosas. All in all, it was a great weekend of running!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Race Recap: The North Face Endurance Challenge Series DC 50K

This past weekend I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K race in DC (well, it’s near DC…the race is actually held just north of DC in Virginia). Once again, I was not disappointed. Seriously, this race series is awesome! With events also in New York, Utah, Wisconsin, California and Canada, you’re bound to find one close to you. If you’re on the fence about running one of these races, just sign up. You’ll have a blast! The courses are beautiful, the race staff is stellar and the volunteers support is top notch. I can’t say enough good things about the Endurance Challenge Series.

This was the fourth time I’ve come out to run the DC race and my second time running the 50K. Being my first trail race since October, I was extra excited to get out and enjoy a day on my backyard trails. The weather couldn’t have been nicer on race day and with spring just starting to open up, the course was absolutely gorgeous!

Photo Credit: Exploring Endurance
The race started just as the sun was rising over the Potomac River. Having run this course before, I used my familiarity of it to my advantage. I set out at a comfortable pace and after a few miles I found a nice rhythm. The course only has about 1,300 feet of vertical gain (according to my Garmin) and when you combine that with fairly non-technical trails, it makes for a very runnable course. The course was a bit muddier than I expected for the first few miles, but I didn’t mind. It’s a trail race; you’re supposed to get dirty.

The first 13 miles seemed to blow right by. Many sections of the course went through lush forests full of spring flowers blossoming. Add to that the powerful Potomac River flowing alongside of you and it had all the ingredients that make for a scenic course.

I felt great heading into the Great Falls section of the course (mile 13ish). However, things went a little south for me after the Great Falls aid. The food I ate at the aid station wasn’t settling well with me and it left me feeling pretty nauseous. For the remainder of the race, it was hard for me to take down fluids and food without feeling like I was gonna barf. As a result, my pace started to suffer a bit and after finishing the Great Falls section – which is about a 5 mile loop – I really had to grind it out the last half of the race.

Great Falls
Photo Credit: 
Exploring Endurance
I definitely didn’t feel as strong as I made my way to the finish, but I was able keep myself from taking walking breaks. I just focused on getting to the next aid station. Breaking the race into chunks instead of thinking of how many miles you have left always helps. As I neared the finished, I tapped into whatever reserves I had remaining and pushed my pace. At this point on the course you have a lot of running traffic. The marathon relay utilizes the last couple miles of the 50K course, so I was receiving a lot of encouragement from the relay runners which was very much appreciated.

I finished strong in 5:37:32 and shattered my old course record of 6:23:22 that I ran back in 2012. After lying out in the shade and resting for a while, I grabbed my free post-race meal and soaked in the energy that was radiating from the finish line. The North Face Endurance Challenge is one huge party that celebrates trail running. It’s a great place to get your feet wet if you’re new to trail running and an awesome proving ground for those looking to better their previous trail efforts. I’ll be back next year for sure!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Book Review: Meb for Mortals

Ever wanted to get inside the head of a world class runner? In Meb Keflezighi latest book, Meb for Mortals, you will get just that! After accomplishing his lifelong goal of winning the Boston Marathon, Meb decided it was time to share all his race and training secrets.

After reading Meb’s first book, Run to Overcome, I was eager to get my hands on Meb for Mortals. Thanks to the awesome folks at Runner’s World, they sent me a copy to read and review before the book’s release on April 7th. At just under 200 pages, it’s a quick read that will certainly be a welcomed addition to your running library.

The book covers a wide range of topics that Meb has found crucial to all his success. Meb for Mortals will show you how to think, run, train, race, eat, strengthen, stretch, cross-train, and recover like Meb. While Meb touches on all distances, I think marathon runners will appreciate this book the most – especially those looking to improve upon their PR performances. One thing I liked in particular was all the visuals in the book. It’s packed full of pictures of Meb demonstrating running drills and strengthening/stretching exercises.

Meb emphasizes the importance of being a “student of the sport.” No matter how experienced of a runner you are, you can always be learning more. Up front he touches on how to set proper running goals. Then, as you read on, you will find that the rest of his book serves as a blueprint on how to achieve those very goals. Meb drives home his “prehab, not rehab” philosophy...take care of your body while training/racing and you will increase the longevity of your running career. If you read this book, it will provide you the all tools you need to ensure you spend less time injured and more time doing what you love, running!

To pre-order a copy of Meb for Mortals, click here. Also, be sure to follow Meb on Twitter and join the discussion using #MebforMortals.

Monday, March 30, 2015

TNFECS Washington DC - Course Preview

The North Face Endurance Challenge Series DC event is just weeks away! For those of you running the 50K and 50 miler, the course goes through a beautiful network of trails in Great Falls Park. This past weekend I ran the Great Falls loop to scope out the trail conditions and take photos to share with you all. The trails are in great shape and should provide excellent conditions on race day.

Below is a map of the Great Falls loop from the course guide, which you can download from the race website if you have not done so already. I will use the numbering on this map to describe the various sections of the course. The trails in the Great Falls loop are fairly non-technical with about 500 feet of vertical gain, according to my Garmin. However, it should be noted that I ran the 50K loop, which a slightly shorter than the 50 mile loop. Between sections 7 and 8 on the course map, the 50 mile runners will run an out and back on Matildaville Trail before running along River Trail.
50K Loop
Section 1 to 3
Shortly after heading out of the Great Falls aid station you will join Old Carriage Road, which is a wide fire road. After a good chunk of single track running leading up to Great Falls, this part of the course will give you a nice place to stretch out your stride and break out into song and dance, if you desire.
Old Carriage
Section 3 to 4
At the end of Old Carriage you will turn left onto Ridge Trail. At many points along this trail you will be able to catch some nice views of the Potomac River below you. 
Ridge Trail
Section 4 to the turn around and back
At the end of the Ridge Trail, you will bear right onto Difficult Run. This part of the course is a lot of fun because you are already running downhill as you come off Ridge Trail and then you get to bomb down Difficult Run -- but keep in mind you'll have a moderate climb on the way back up. At the bottom of the decent, you will parallel the Difficult Run Stream all the way to the turn around at the now repaired washout.
Difficult Run
Difficult Run washout repair. Trail crews did a great job!
Section 4 to 6
After running back up Difficult Run, you will turn left onto Ridge Trail and follow it all the way to the next aid station, Old Dominion. Once you're done refueling at Old Dominion, you will turn around and head back down Ridge Trail until you reach the Swamp trailhead.
Leaf-covered Ridge Trail near Old Dominion aid
Swamp Trailhead
Section 6 to 7
From Ridge Trail, you will turn left onto Swamp Trail. Shortly after starting down Swamp there is a fun switchback-esque decent, but watch your footing as there are roots begging to catch your toe. After the decent, you will continue on Swamp until it reconnects with Old Carriage Road. You will turn left onto Old Carriage and stay on it briefly until you reach Matildaville Trail.
Swamp Trail
Section 7 to 8
From Old Carriage you will turn right onto Matildaville Trail. If you're a 50K runner, don't get too cozy on Matildaville because you will soon turn off it and run on along the River Trail.
Matildaville Trail
Section 8 to Great Falls Aid
In my opinion, River Trail is the most technical (and beautiful) section of the Great Falls loop. This section of the course has great views of the Potomac River, but be careful not to look too long or a rock will catch your toe. Best to take a little breather and enjoy the view! The River Trail will lead you back up to the Great Falls aid station to complete your loop. If you're a 50K runner, congrats, you can start making your way back to the finish. However, 50 mile runners will need to complete this loop two more times before you head back. 

I hope you've found this preview to be helpful. Wishing you all a great race!!!

River Trail

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Race Recap: Shamrock Marathon

After a very long off season from racing, I finally completed my first race of the year. The winter season is usually a time for me to log some solid training miles as I prefer to train harder in the winter than in the summer. However, my body had other plans for me. If you read my blog, you know that I was sidelined for 7 weeks (from late November to mid-January) due to a broken arm and a banged up knee. After easing back into running on a treadmill, I was able transition to the more unforgiving road in February. Returning to training didn’t come without its aches and pains, but thankfully my body responded well.

While running the Shamrock Marathon marked my returning to racing, that wasn’t what this race weekend was all about. The Shamrock weekend was more about hanging with friends, trading stories, laughing and relaxing. Back in the fall I proposed to my friends Chad, Kristy and Carolyn that we should go to Virginia Beach and run Shamrock. Shortly thereafter we were booking our beach rental and registering for the race!

Friday evening we all piled into my car and headed for Virginia Beach. Chad's husband Jon joined us for the weekend as well, so it was a packed car! We arrive pretty late that night and after a quick trip to grocery store to gather our weekend rations, we went to bed. After some breakfast and a shakeout run by the beach Saturday morning, we headed to the expo to get our bibs. I swung by the Nuun booth to say hi to my friend Kim. We had a nice catch up and she shared with me some of Nuun’s plans for the Boston Marathon next month. All I can say is that if you’re going to be in Boston, be sure to stop by the Nuun booth!

Beach house
Shakeout run with Kristy and Carolyn
One of the perks of staying at a house over a hotel is that you can cook your meals. So, instead of eating out for our pre-race meal, I whipped up some of my homemade pasta sauce and we had a pasta dinner. Pre-dawn rise times the following morning meant we were in bed pretty early.

At 5AM alarm clocks were going off. Chad, Kristy and Carolyn were all running the half which started at 7. The full didn’t start until 8:30, but I got up with them and had an early breakfast. After Chad, Kristy and Carolyn left I relaxed and started to think about my race. My plan was pretty straightforward, finish. I had an underlying goal of going sub-4, but my main goal was to just go out and see how my body would hold up for 26 miles. My fitness was not exactly where I would have liked it to be for a marathon, but I knew I was healthy enough to give it a crack.

Race day sunrise
In many ways, Shamrock felt like my first marathon. Butterflies filled my stomach as I slipped into my corral. But, I must say it was a nice homecoming. I missed the racing atmosphere. The blast of a horn filled the air and I was off. I started around an 8:55 pace and didn’t waver from that for the first half of the race. Runners shot past me earlier on and the excitement of racing filled my legs, but I remained committed to my race plan and held my pace. I constantly repeated in my head, “Run your race.”

After working out some little pings of pain here and there during the early miles, I settled into a nice groove. Every mile I soaked in the environment. I was so happy to be running a race again. While injured, you have those days when you fear you’re never going to get better. For me, that was the hardest part. Those dark days weren’t fun but that was now all in the past.

As I neared the halfway point, I allowed my pace to creep down ever so slightly. I felt strong and was ready to push myself in the second half. As each mile passed, I got a little faster. By mile 20, I was running 8:30 miles. My legs were beginning to bark at me, but knowing that my pace was much faster than I thought I’d be able to run gave me all the incentive I needed to keep pushing. Bring on the pain!

The last 6 miles definitely hurt, but it was a hurt I missed. I knew I was right on the edge of my limit, but those are the moments I crave. That feeling of being right on the edge, but not out of control, is such a rush!  About 2 miles from the finish line I passed a group of people partying/spectating in front of their house. They were passing out small cups of beer and I grabbed one and took a little celebratory swig…sorta like what you see during the last stage of the Tour de France when the yellow jersey drinks some champagne with his teammates. I knew I was going to finish this thing!

A couple hundred yards from the finish line I saw all my friends cheering me on and that gave me a little extra boost. I crossed the line nowhere close to my PR time, but it felt every bit like one. I left everything I had in me out on the course. I was exhausted, but so freaking happy.

As I walked through the finisher’s chute, emotions started to flood in. I thought back to those dark days and the path it took to get me back to this point. I thought about my dad and all the strength he has given me. I thought about the race and how stoked I was to run a 3:50:32. I thought about how good it felt to be back doing what I love.

For icing on the cake, after meeting up with Chad, Kristy and Carolyn, I learned that they had all PR’d their half! Massive CONGRATS to all of them! Rockin' our Shamrock finisher hats, we headed to the awesome post-race party and sipped on some well-deserved beer! It was a good weekend to be with friends.

Post race beers on the beach with Jon, Chad, Carolyn, Dan, and Kristy