Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 Catoctin 50k Trail Run - Race Report

A few guarantees for a trail race in central Maryland in late July:  The weather will not be cool and dry. The course will not be smooth and flat. The finish will not arrive quick and easy.

I recommend that if you are indeed planning to run a trail race in Maryland in late July that you make it the Catoctin 50k. Here's why: It's a race with no hype, no frills, and no BS. No t-shirts, no medals, and no goodie bags. The race website says it all, "a wink, a handshake, and a smile" is all you need at the finish. As well as the prestigious CAT card:

The drive South on route 15 in Maryland provides the runners a parallel view of the out and back course. As we whisk by at 65mph Shawn and I get an  idea of how long and challenging the race will be. The ridge seems endless and the unspoken question in our minds soon becomes an audible statement of disbelief. Man, that is a long way to run!

Run we did. Jason took the win. I finished tied for 5th. And Shawn completed his first ultra marathon.

I enjoyed the company of running with Sage (1st female finisher) during the middle 10 miles of the race. She helped me stay focused when my hip flexors were cramping and seemed to know everyone on course, eliciting cheers as we soldiered on.  It's amazing how quickly the time goes when you are enjoying upbeat conversation during the middle of a race.

I was excited when the exuberant Greg filled my bottle with ice at aid station #4.  Cold water has never tasted so good. And the popsicle at the 5th aid station almost blew my mind. Were they hiding a freezer in the woods? The volunteers were incredible.

The last 5 miles may have been 7 miles.  All I know was that they were not flat miles and they were not easy miles; rather they were miles that challenged every step. The quads protested on the descents. The heart disagreed on the climbs. I caught up to Scott and we grumbled a bit about the heat, the humidity, and the fact that the finish line was still too far away. But we pressed on glad to have someone to commiserate with and to keep the focus on making it up the last climb.

As we crested the hill and felt the breeze blowing up from the valley below, the pain vanished and the spirits lifted.  I checked my watch: 5:56. I said, "let's finish this" and we turned on what little speed was left and hit the parking lot sprinting, finishing in just under 6 hours.

The rest of the day was spent eating some of the best race food you can imagine and hanging out with good people.  Grilled chicken, black been burgers, a raspberry and lime dressing, avocado relish, potato casserole, and popsicles were plentiful as the lawn chair beckoned.

I look forward to running the Catoctin 50k next year.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Zucchini Fritatta - No recipe needed.

The zucchini plants are booming. It's amazing how quickly a small, tender, not-quite-ready zucchini can transform itself into a green behemoth of a vegetable. Turn your back on the garden for a day and the zucchini's look more like a green version of fat red wiffle ball bat present at the back yard home run derby. 

A simple zucchini fritatta: Zucchini, swiss chard, onions, garlic, eggs and whole milk. Saute vegetables. Add whisked eggs and milk. Cook until it looks right. Top with shredded cheddar and put under the broiler to melt/brown the cheese.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Double Trouble 30k Race Report

I would love give a down-and dirty-critique of the overall race experience at the "Double Trouble" but will leave that for a different day. That said, if you are looking for a unique race that covers all the bases, this probably isn't it.

After my performance on July 4th which I was happy with until I saw the race results I was looking to finish strong on the second loop of the "Double".  After all, getting passed by a barely breathing guy pushing a jogging stroller around mile 3 of a 5 mile race is a sad statement. Being beaten by at least two 40+ women means only one thing; I need to work on my speed.

The double trouble fit my training schedule perfectly. You don't have a training schedule? Perhaps you should. Or you can continue to training for the sake of training and wonder why your legs aren't responding.  I had taken the week easy except for the short (and slow) race on Wednesday. My volume was down and the legs were feeling fresh.

Robert Lyden in "Distance Running" suggests that the concept of training through races is much maligned and has a negative effect on the athlete. He says it "makes a muddle of the acquisition process". In short, hard training makes hard racing, impossible. He believes that racing should be saved for the tail end of an easy week. A reduction in training stress allows the body to both stabilize and consolidate the potential that was created with that 2-4 week training stress. A competition at the end of this "worthwhile break" allows the body to realize the improvement. Potential must be realized as performance before the athlete can be confident that the training is working as planning. And according to Lyden the only way to realize potential is to allow the body to acquire this potential through a 7-14 day break prior to competition or time trial. 

It just so happened that I was at the end of a "worthwhile break". My body was poised to realize the potential created over the previous few weeks of training. Based on my previous results over similar distances, I should be looking at a top 10 finish.

The start was chaotic. The 30k went one direction and the 15k another. In about 1/4 mile both groups of runners merged onto a gravel path and immediately the slow clashed with those not wishing to hike up the hills. I got stuck behind a mass of slow runners who immediately put on the brakes with the first hill. I took to the weeds and poison ivy to make headway up the first gradual incline. 

After that it thinned out and I ran a steady race. This was boring woods running which is still better than boring road running but there was nothing spectacular about the trail.

The course had a few run-able sections of uphill and a few sections of downhill where time could be make up. You can see my first lap took 1:20:05 and I averaged 166 bpm (heart rate is the red line). Aside from the start I conserved energy and was content to follow. 

The second lap (highlighted in blue) was a much more concentrated effort at the edge of my limit. I ran it in 1:17:41 and averaged 175bpm. I passed 7 runners within the first half of the second lap and finished the last 4-5 miles running solo. 

The post race party was disjointed, as many 15k runners had hit the exits and only a hodge-podge of food remained. I ate some tootsie rolls and a hot dog and snagged the last two bananas.  I was soaked and dripping with perspiration and was glad for the cold, makeshift shower that was set up in the grass. Lane and crew were hanging out and we all chilled until Shawn rolled in. That was it. 5th place finish is my best to date.  Turns out racing after a "worthwhile break" has its benefits.

Seems Peca thinks she won an age group award.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ephrata Firecracker 5 Miler and 4th of July Festivities

The running of the Firecracker 5 miler is a 4th of July tradition of my in-laws family and friends. I had avoided participation for years due to chronic IT band issues.  This year, however, I had no excuses and toed the line anxious to get my first road race out of the way.

I started smoothly and tried to keep my heart rate in check over the first two miles. As things started to settle down I began to think about turning up the effort.  As I crested the largest hill around mile 3 I knew I had something left to finish strong. I increased the pace and starting looking for the carrot down the road.  I picked off a female high school cross country runner, then I galloped past a group of middle school looking runners on the downhill (I’m starting to like running downhill) through main street. My target, Ben Snyder, was cruising about 200 yards ahead with his family cheering as he passed by and turned onto the old railroad grade.

Ashley digging in to catch the lead female.

Once I reached the old railroad grade, I paced myself up to and then drafted off of two gentlemen running side by side. They appeared to be running on the edge of their ability and I didn't want to lose ground. As we passed the last aid station with less than 1.5 to go I skipped the water and went around them, slowly starting to move reel in my quarry.  I timed it perfectly, reaching Ben on the final drag up to the stadium.  I quietly tucked in behind him and stayed that way as we entered the grass of the outfield. As my heart rate recovered, I knew I had enough to go around. We hit the final turn and I made my move, surprising him and crossing the line with room to spare.

Although my overall time and placing showed that I have room to improve, I was happy with how my strategy played out. I paced myself well in the heat and made up quite a few places in the last two miles. 

Closing the gap to Ben.

Dave picking up the pace after assisting a passed out runner.

Brandi feeling the heat.

The race was perfect preparation for the festivities to come: food, badminton tournament, and more food. A great day with great people.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Dinner

Spiced Pork with tzatziki sauce, grilled summer squash, white bean, artichoke, and cucumber salad with lemon vinaigrette.

Running in the Dark

Last night a group of runners met on the Conestoga Trail in Lancaster County, Pa for a night run up and down the rocks and hills along the Susquehanna River. Being a night run I left all photo gear at home. What's to take a picture of in the dark on a sticky, sweaty night run? Big mistake!

As 15 of us crested a rocky outcropping bathed in moonlight and wide open views of the river we were treated to a 4th of July fireworks display that was in full swing. The river was dotted with boat lights blinking and bobbing. The sky was illuminated in reds, and whites. The air was full of the sounds of the woods broken with the crack and pop of the fireworks which we viewed on a level gaze. We paused to admire the surprising scene and revel in the unexpected. As the display faded everyone seemed to silently exhale: What a great night for a run!

The night was complete with the occasional rock and roll music floating up the valley from partying campsites below, a Conrail freighter making its way North as we ran above, a humidity breaking breeze at the Pinnacle overlook, and grilled sausages provided by Chris McDougall at the finish.