Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tussey Moutainback 50, 1st 50 Miler

Big Smiles for Course, Perfect Weather, Gorgeous October Foliage. 

It's Still 50 Miles!!

I had been fantasizing about running a 50 miler for awhile. When my running budding Kevin asked if I would be interested in running a 50 in October, I was charged up. He mentioned Tussey Mountainback (nicknamed Tussey Out N Back) and I looked up the elevation profile. All hills, not flats on gravel mountain roads, with 5500 ft of gain/loss. I was sold. My kind of course!!

So many reasons to smile! :-)
Given my summer training was focused on running a Boston Qual in early September, I didn't really concentrate on the 50 miler until after the marathon. I did a 6 + 12 + 20 mi one weekend and a 12 + 20 the next, my extent of back-to-back runs.

Tussey is also the home of the USATF 50 Mile Road Championship, so it does attract some top talent.
Along with the 50 mi ultra, Tussey offers a relay race, drawing 150 relay teams. The teams start later than the ultra runners and their team vehicles drive the course, going between aid stations/transition zones. Later in the race, these extra runners helped populate some of the lonely miles.

Leading up to the race, I had created a nutrition plan, targeting 250 - 300 cal/hr, with gels and hand held bottles of Hammer Perpetuem. Since the ultra runners could do drop bags at various aid stations, I made up 3 bottles and 3 bags of refills to get me between drops. Arriving at the hotel on Saturday afternoon, I realized the bottles were still in the fridge at home. Oops! Kevin and I scrambled to buy one bottle and find energy drink mix. The nutrition plan would now alternate between Accelerade and Perpetuem.

Race morning brought with it some great weather, 40 degrees and clear. Though chilly, it would be perfect running weather. Kevin and I relinquished our drop bags to the proper aid station deliveries and tried to keep warm.
Kevin ready to rock n roll n climb.
The sun had not come over the mountain when the 7am start rolled around and we started into the receding darkness.
Waiting to start, before the sun.

Most of the course is on gravel packed access roads, offering easy running, with some road pitch challenges, especially when the relay team vehicles drove by.

The first major hill begins about a half mile in, a 3 mile climb with a 6 % grade. Not knowing if my legs would last much past 30 miles, I decided to run by heart rate, picking a less than red-line value for walking hills. The first hill I ran entirely, smiling all the way up.

First climb, waiting for the sun.

Climbing thru October's canvas.

Explosions of color and human kinetics.

First climb in the bag!
The course was in a wooded area and the October canvas was a spectacular burst of yellows, reds and fading greens. So exhilarating to run under. The early miles rolled away easily, enjoying views and lapping up the hills with none a flat spot to be found.

Lake at Whipple Dam Park, mile 11.
At mile 20, changed my shirt, reloaded bottles, refills, gels and consumed a PBJ sandwich. Then set out to concur the largest hill of the race, stage 6, a 3.5 mi climb, with 1300 ft of gain and 6.6 % grade. This time the HR threshold was breached several times and I walked until it dropped 25 ppm. I was able to run the last mile to the top.

John having a good time on stage 6, the big climb!
Relay runner Barb, drops me with fresh legs & big smile
View from the top, mile 24

The next 10 miles or so was mostly down hill and easy cruising took over, while trying not to trash the quads. Miles 32 - 35 brought on another climb and my legs started to grow tired. This was new territory for me, with my longest run until now being 50K.

What goes up must come down.

The gravel road became asphalt, for several miles, at mi 40. Though a flatter grade, the legs protested the loss of softer footing. Nutrition wise I was doing OK, was trying to hold together the mechanics and was still running OK.

Open road and beautiful tapestry at mi 40.

Cheerful Aid Station 10 family of volunteers.
Stage 11, mi 41 - 45, had the last big climb, with a very steep last mile to the top. My GPS watch had warned of low battery at mi 38 and I had to shut down the GPS tracking to save on power. This last hill didn't require a HR threshold to tell me to walk. Just needed to get over it so walked most of mi 45 and said hello to the hill.

The last climb! Almost there.
Coming into AS 11, at mi 46, with just over 4 miles to go, all downhill, I realized I could break 9 hrs (originally was hoping for under 10 hrs) and for the first time I started to worry about splits. 10 min miles on a nice 4 mi downhill, I could do that, right? At mi 48 I had to stop to stretch a cramping left quad, watching the clock, as the growing uncertainty started to creep in. Turned on the engines again and slowly rambled toward the finish, with my left quad and knee singing in soprano, yet still running and maintaining some form. (I probably looked worse than I allowed myself to think.) Surprisingly, I crossed the finish in 8:57, ecstatic to have completed 50 miles!!

More exciting to me than the time was that I was able to run the entire race, no death shuffle here. Really unexpected. Learning I took 3rd in my age group was a plus. I guess going out slow, walking on hills when HR triggered and not running for a time goal helped save the legs.
My buddy Kevin, who has competed at the Iron Man Championship in Hawaii, crushed his first 50 miler, turning in a 7:35 time, good for a top 20 finish. Outstanding!.

Still standing, legs working after 50 miles.
Matt Flaherty blistered the course, setting a new record in 5:28 and took the USATF 50 mi National Championship. Cassie Scallon also shattered the record in the women's race with a 6:24 and easily took the Championship.Joshua Finger captured the men's masters title with 6:33 and Connie Gardner took the women's Masters in 7:42.

A pleasant surprise after finishing, I met elite runner and ultra running blogger Scott Dunlap, who decided to run the race somewhat last minute. Check out Scott's professional race review at

Saying hi to elite runner and blog celeb Scott Dunlap

Scott turned in a PR with a 6:35, 6th overall and 2nd Masters. How does he take such good pics while running so fast? The apres race party included some beer on tap from Elk Creek, a local craft brewery. Their Brookie Brown Ale was delicious, and helped wash down some pizza and pulled pork sandwiches.

The Tussey Mountain Back 50 Miler held the perfect combination of challenging, yet runnable course, beautiful scenery, perfect weather and was staffed by experienced, helpful aid station volunteers. Being the USATF 50 Mile Road Championship is a plus. RD Mike Casper ran a well organized race that makes you want to come back again. The race is a great first 50 miler for those, like me, who get excited about running up and down mountain hills..

The sun sets on a gorgeous day and outstanding race.

See you next year.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Lehigh Valley Via Marathon, Small Town Special With a Side of BQ's

As my one and only attempt to qualify for the Boston 2014 Marathon, I decided to run the Lehigh Valley Via Marathon. It was held on Sunday Sep 8th, the day before registration would open for Boston 2014. Cutting it that close was somewhat risky and quite exhilarating. The race brags that greater than 24% of their finishers achieve a BQ, placing the LVVM in the top 5 of races for BQ percentages. Would conditions be right for me or would they run out of BQ supplies before my order was filled?

LVVM has a small town feel, allowing only 2500 runners for the marathon. It runs through much of the old eastern Pennsylvania steel belt, starting in Allentown, winding through Bethlehem and finishing in Easton. Much of it is along a shaded tow path next to the Lehigh River. A half marathon starts in Bethlehem, at the same time as the marathon, meaning no mix of full and half marathoners. The course is a net downhill of over 200 feet, with no real hills to mention (yes a disappointment for me, still found reason to J ), though there was some small rises over the many bridge crossed on the run. Bart Yasso aided in designing the course, and the tag line “a course designed by a runner for a runner” is advertised.

Net Downhill GOOD!

The expo set the tone, as it was held at “Steel Stacks” in Bethlehem, an iconic row of rusted 4 story steel furnaces and equipment used in processing ore into steel. Bethlehem, proud of its heritage, has converted this site into a cultural center, with an Arts building, upscale shopping, an outdoor performance venue and a local TV station. The contrast between the “Stacks” and the modern design of the Arts Center was striking and just made me smile. 

Steel Stacks, a tribute to the proud heritage of Bethlehem Steel

The Art Center. Modern blended with the past
Bart Yasso was at the expo, providing info on the Runner’s World Half Marathon, as well as posing for pictures.

Getting tips from the course designer, Bart Yasso
The night before the race I decided to forgo the traditional carbo-loading and had a burger and fries at Bethlehem Brew Works. I was so tempted to indulge in their brews, but I held off (mostly) and ordered a sampler, taking only a sip or two from each. The Devious Imperial Pumpkin Ale was outstanding.

The race start was well organized and had plenty of parking, being in a hospital parking lot in Allentown. The mid 60s to low 70s projected temperatures and overcast skies were not much of a concern, being that most of my training was executed in 85-90 degrees and high humidity.  

25% of them may BQ.

Bart Yasso was there to rev us up and send us off.

Are You Reaadddyyyy to RRRUUUNNN?!?

The Sun came out to start the race for us. 
Almost immediately after the start I had my first panic. My camera started to jostle out of the back pocket in my shorts, forgetting to zip the pocket. Just as it fell out I was able to reach back and catch it. Unfortunately, my license popped out with the camera. It took me a few strides to realize it was gone. After looping back to kick it to the curb, I must have looked absurd trying to grab it up as hundreds of runners trampled by. Luckily all my fingers are still with me. I had to fight hard not to sprint to make up the lost time.
After a loop through local streets, mile 2 brought a 130 ft sharp downhill with some rolling bumps to follow.

Down we go!
Then a little up, then down again
Mile 3 produced a covered bridge and some paved road alone the water, followed by some small foot bridge crossings.
The first of many water crossings.

Rambling over the water

Mile 4 – 7 were on streets, then up, over and down along the Lehigh river. Soon the tow path started, dirt and crushed gravel, sandwiched between the river and a canal. The next 5 miles were under the shade on the path, allowing you to easily find your pace and hold it. 

A nice tow path for crusing along

Dirt and crushed gravel, easy on the legs

At mile 12 the course detours off the path and does a 1 mile loop in Bethlehem. Included with the loud crowd was a high school cheerleading squad, waving their pom-poms high in the air. Then it was back onto the tow paw. 


Somewhere about mile 16 the path became a bit monotonous, having me longing for some hills or dips. The miles were clocking off quickly though. Most of my training I had used a combo of heart rate and pace gauges. This race I was focusing mainly on pace, trying to keep each mile within a 10 sec window.

At the 20 mile mark a much desired brief incline appeared as we came off the path, up and onto a gravel road. The next few miles were on a mix of dirt, gravel, and paved path. By this time the traffic of the sometimes narrow tow path had given way to a much more spread out field. Maintaining pace in the last 3-4  was getting difficult, as the legs were getting tight and some muscles fell asleep on the flats. After a slight slow down during miles 23 -24, an effort was made to get 25 and 26 back in line. Still along the river, the course comes up and over the water one last time and into downtown Easton for the finish. 

Bridging to the finish

My official time was 3:27:23, 2 & ½ minutes faster than the needed BQ! More exciting to me was this was my best marathon time in 9 years and my first even split race. (First ½ vs second ½ was only off by about 30 sec.)

YES, BQ!!!

The finish area was a party zone with bands playing and a Travelers Beer for each marathon finisher. I tried my first Shandy, a beer with lime citrus flavoring.

Rocking the finish in Easton PA

Melissa's new way to Rock & Roll

Traveler Beer traveled from Vermont

Shandy: Light, Crisp and Strong Citrus Influences

Waiting on the line for the bus back to the start, it was good to trade stories with the running brethren who traveled from Maryland and Vermont to attempt BQs.

As I write this I am waiting to learn if my BQ was good enough to get me into Boston 2014. The first week of registration, for those 20, 10 and 5 minutes faster than BQs, consumed 17K of the 22K spots allotted for qualified runners. The remaining 5K allowed me to register this week (signed up 10 am Monday morn). All of the week 2 entrants will have to wait until next Wednesday for entry results. The BAA will rank order all their qualifying times and take the fastest. There is already over 8000 this week who have placed a bit for the remaining 5K spots.

Its up to the numbers now. Still hopeful, still smiling at the thought of saying hello to Heartbreak Hill again.

Remember our Past, Eyes to the Future. Boston 2014

Epilogue. On Wednesday, September 25, the Boston Athletic Association informed me that my registration for the the Boston 2014 Marathon had been accepted. See you in Boston in April.

Monday, June 3, 2013

To BQ or Not to BQ

A popular destination
Since the horrific attacks at this years Boston Marathon, I, like most of our running community, have been dealing with a range of emotions and thoughts. Wanting to do something, to stand up against the assault on what we hold in high esteem, freedom and personal achievement, I have a strong desire to run Boston next year. I want to qualify and run again this revered course.

After running the 2011 race, which qualified me to run in 2012, I made the smart decision not to push hard at last years race, due to the brutal heat. I was OK with the almost hour slower time, thinking I would run another qualifying marathon during the year. Instead, my fancies were directed towards several trail races and a BQ for 2013 never materialized. Now, two years down the road from my last competitive marathon, I find my self wishing again to run long and fast, to grab the brass ring, so I can line up with the best next April.

Due to a combination of personal and family issues, I had to forego any attempts at a BQ these last two months. Now I must look into the stern face of summer and plan my efforts to run a 3:30 qualifying time by September. Am I fooling myself, diluted by the memory of 2011, when weather was perfect, training was solid and I raced well?

Mike Metlitz and I enjoying Boston 2011 (photo provided by  M. Metlitz)
When the fastest marathon time ever was recorded by Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02).

Mutai blazing a record setting pace (photo provided by  M. Metlitz)
So forward I must move, again focusing on long, speed and tempo runs. Ramping up the miles, pushing back the ebb of age, to once again perform as my memories so fondly depict. Can I ignore the voice of doubt, who whispers my best races are behind me? Most importantly, can I maintain the motivation to put in the required efforts to tune my body to cover 26+ miles at a desired pace? Then redo it all again to be ready for the starting line in April? I think I can, though with less certainty than before.

As I have thought about this, I took the liberty of rephrasing some famous words to better express what is at stake. My apologies in advance to Mr. Shakespeare.

To BQ or not to BQ, that is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The strains and aches of outrageous training,
Or acquiesce to these difficult efforts,
And by denying, end them? To quit, to ease,
To train no more, and by ease we end
The muscle aches and thousand run miles
The body is subject to, tis a choice
Longingly to be taken. To push not,
To meander and only dream success. There is the rub,
For in the ease of quit, what regrets may come,
When we have hidden the athlete’s form,
Must give us doubt, where’s the respect
That victims of attach who’s lives deserve?
For those who bore the impact and scorch of blasts,
The fanatics’ wrongs, their unrighteous cause,
Their attach on freedom, on achievement,
The hurt of lives disrupted, goals thwarted,
The pain and anger, unwanted, remains!
When we ourselves desire, not in vain,
To stand together, through efforts bear,
To grunt and sweat under a runners life.
And the dread of guilt if we to quit,
The undesired place of whose burden
No runner enjoys, pushes the will
And makes us want to bear those steps we have,
Than to face the results of slackened drive.
Thus conscience does make champs of us all.
And thus the native push of resolution
Is engaged over the pale cast of laze,
And enterprises of great breath and movement,
With this regard, our weakness turned away
And loosen their grip of doubt. – Strong you now!
Oh epic Marathon, Boston, in thy judgment
Be all my runs remembered.

Once again? For Boston Strong.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rockin Rabbit Half, My Escape from Vegas

Rockin Rabbit Half Marathon

Every April, the industry in which I work has a huge trade show in Las Vegas and I get to spend a week there. Some would think that's fantastic. I, on the other hand, find it a huge grind, just waiting for it to end. Each day is a 10 hr marathon of booth duty, mostly standing, talking, hyping my company's latest wares,  greeting customer, discussing their issues, suggesting solutions, and ultimately losing my voice in the dry air. This is followed by late night dinners with clients and business associates, then back to the hotel for an hour or two of email. (Doing email is a poor substitute for real work. It does, however, make you think you've done something.) Then there's the time shift from the East coast, so I wake up 3:30am Vegas time for 3 or 4 days. As you can guess, my running definitely suffers during Vegas week.

Running with Blue Suede Shoes
This year I decided to start the week off with some real fun before all the trade show hoopla began.  So I was fortunate to find the Rockin Rabbit Half Marathon, in Boulder City Nevada, about 30 min east of Las Vegas. It offered me a brief escape from the Vegas madness and helped to rev up my batteries.

Rockin Rabbit Half is a  small, local race that is run to help raise money for a charity called Hope4Lives. It certainly has a good dose of fun personality with several quirks that set it apart from your typical half. The race was quite enjoyable, meandering through open red rock nature, providing wonderful views of Lake Mead and even runs through some old railroad passes cut through mountains.

 Starting point, landmark Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino
The course is a point-to-point, mainly along parts of the River Mountain Loop Trail, a paved trail that circles some mountains west of Lake Mead. The first four miles gain about 700 ft, the the next six miles are down hill, dropping about 2000 ft. The last 5K is an out and back along dirt trail that was an old railroad pass. The 7am start offered a mid 60's temperature with a warm breeze.

The very bunny Start director

Race Rabbits?
The pre-start entertainment (and at the finish) was provided by DJ Switch, as well as a live rendition of the national anthem. The racers were then led in a warm up routine by fitness trainer Nancy Dickinson. Her business CoreHore Fitness provides training and coaching to endurance athletes and those wishing to become one.

Nancy Dickinson gets everybody moving
Nancy is also a serious triathlete and took the women's first place spot with a time of 1:29. At the finish she and several other Extraordinary Trainers provided massages to the runners.

What a great name! CoreHore.
We started running east as the sun was rising. It was quite warming and gave me a relaxing feeling as I ran.

Follow the rising sun

The path slowly curved back and forth next to the rocky hills. This seemed to prevent you from noticing any of the incline in the first few miles. It was such easy running.

Amazing views behind us.
 As I came upon the first water stop I had good laugh at the port-o-pot. Never saw one quite like this before. Pink! Guess it was a charity related thing.

Where's the men's room?

The volunteers were cheery and full of smiles.

Hawaiian skirt Nevada style

Boulder City's version of Hollywood Hills

The first 4 miles went by quite quickly. When mile 5 rolled around the course immediately started the decent. At times is seemed steep and you started to pick up speed. With the downhill came the first views of Lake Mead, which seemed far off in the morning sun.

Lake Mead in morning light.

Getting closer to to the lake
Since I was taking pictures on the go, it was very difficult to see the screen in the bright sun. I decided to stop and to take pix then run start running again. Good thing I wasn't worrying about pace. The frequent stops had an odd effect. There were several people I passed multiple times, then they would pass me when I  was pretending to be a photographer.  Kimberly Clark and I rubberbanded most of the race, passing each other at least 15 times.

Kimberly, my passing partner, says hi

As we descended towards the lake, we zigged up towards the hills for about a mile and I was surprised to see some houses tucked high in the rocks. The brief up hill felt good after 4 miles of decline.
Houses with lake views.

Again the down hill slant started and it was easy to pick up the pace. Not for too long as I stopped for some more pics.

Brief shade in the rock canyon
After 10 miles the course leaves the River Mountain trail and picks up the Rail Pass trail, This is a dirt trail that was at one time the railroad that led to where the the Hoover Dam was built. We were joined by 5K runners who had started here. The trail brought us above Lake Mead with the best views of the day.

Hemenway Harbor on Lake Mead

We got to run through two of the five rail passes carved out of the rock mountain, before turning around and heading to the finish.

Warning! GPS devices may loose signal

And now I am a tunnel runner

After the turn around it was a slight down hill to the finish. I put in a 1:46 time, with Kimberly coming in soon after me. Though not a fast time, it was good enough to capture a 2nd place age group award. Ahh, the small race surprise! (The 1st place in my age group was 1/2 hr faster!).

Kimberly finishes strong
The finishers bling was a nice Rockin Rabbit circular metal and the age group trophies were also quite unique.  The blue tech shirt provided to every runner has the Rockin Rabbit front and center. It makes you feel fast when you where it.

Rabbit awards for the fleet of foot
DJ Switch was at the finish line pounding out motivational pop hits. After a brief massage from Extraordinary Trainers, it was time to start heading back to my hotel. I had a blast running the Rockin Rabbit Half. My escape from Vegas was over. Time to have my morning Starbucks and start the week's whirlwind of activities. Refreshed and ready, I left with a smile on my face.