Thursday, May 12, 2016

as expected

Isn't it nice when things work out the way you expect? I sure think so. In fact, predictability makes up a large part of my job responsibilities. As you undoubtedly expect, joy of fulfilled expectation applies to running as well.

All too often, I begin a morning run with certain performance related hopes, goals and expectations, only to be disappointed. A slower pace, reduced distance or sometimes some kind of pain often get in the way.

But not today. Or even yesterday. Both yesterday's speedwork and today's new subs 11 miler went just as I wanted them to. And even through the AT is still talking to me (I had a lot of pain after RTR), I am fairly well pleased with  myself, thank you.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Rock the Ridge

I’ve always loved this video of runners at the Western States 100-Mile and other mountain ultramarathons. I may never do the ones shown, but I am inspired to run in beautiful and challenging places.

Debbie and I at check-in
And I have. It’s been my good fortune to have had the opportunity to experience running in some wonderful locations, some of which are even close to home. Mohonk Preserve and adjoining Minnewaska State Park in New York, home to Rock the Ridge, would prove to be second to none in terms of spectacular beauty and overall challenge. This video shows it off well.

My friend Linda Rafalski first called my attention to the race when she told me that her son Doug had signed up for Rock the Ridge and asked if I’d be running it too. I provided my usual response to nearly all questions these days: “Huh? What’s that?” But I did look into it and quickly became fascinated.

Fast forward through months of training and anticipation to race day. Doug, who came up from Philadelphia, had an entourage of family and friends to support him, and I had wife Debbie. Debbie would spend the day with the Rafalski clan, and that would make things easier, especially if Doug and I would be running fairly close to one another.

RTR Trail Map

Back to the challenge. Here are some actual excerpts, that I am absolutely not making up, from the course description:

  • By the time you’ve finally caught your breath from the climb up Lenape Lane, you’ll meet with another one – this time up and over Guyot Hill … the route steers toward (and then past) the remarkable Bonticou Crag, a rock formation that is perhaps the most noted in the Preserve, and a veritable treat for the eyes.
  • As you leave Spring Farm, you will climb yet again, first somewhat steeply, and then more gradually. … you’re now heading south toward the lands of the Mohonk Mountain House, where you’ll ascend to the Skytop Tower, the highest point in the first half of the course, and arguably the most scenic viewpoint of anywhere along the Shawangunk Ridge.
  • As you stop to experience the beauty of the most scenic waterfall in the ‘Gunks, take a few deep breaths, as it is time to begin the most difficult climb of the entire Rock The Ridge course. From the base of the falls you will climb over 400 feet in less than one mile to the shoreline of Lake Minnewaska. Just smile and remind yourself how much you love hills.
  • And with that climb accomplished, suffice it to say that the best is yet to come, as you will spend the next four miles ascending another 500 vertical feet to Castle Point. Along the way, you will drink in another brief view of Lake Minnewaska before gradually seeing more and more of the eye-popping views of the Palmaghatt Ravine, Gertrude’s Nose, Hamilton Point, and the Lower Hudson Valley 30 miles in the distance.

None of that, the challenging climbs or the scenic beauty, was exaggerated. The entire event was very much as advertised.

Gatehouse before the start  Greg Rafalski photo

The start from the historic Gatehouse was great, as was the initial tree-lines lane. Soon the climb began. After a couple uphill miles, I began to walk the steeper sections, trying to conserve energy, as Doug ran up ahead. I knew he’d trained hard, but I didn’t know whether running hard up these initial hills would take too much out of himAnd even though I was slowing, I wasn’t so sure about my own ability to continue with this much vertacality.

The start  Greg Rafalski photo

I continued up the “carriage roads”, which are surfaced with crushed stone and are narrow for roads but wide for trails. They’re fairly soft and not technical, so they make a really great running surface. And the weather could not have been better: it was partly to mostly cloudy and seasonably cool for late April.

I saw Doug at the first aid station, but then I lingered, trying to fortify myself for more climbing. I eventually made it up to Skytop tower. Although I’d been admiring the great views all the way up, this was simply spectacular. I could see nearly the entire ridgeline, and also Mohonk Lake, the famous Mohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park in the distance. Someone later told me that several different states could also be viewed from here.

There were some gentle downhill sections before the course leveled out a bit. A little past half-way I entered Minnewaska State park, where I’d be running for the next 13 or so miles before returning to Mohonk Preserve. I looked at my watch, and determined that I was averaging a bit over ten minutes per mile.

Awosting Falls  Greg Rafalski photo

After famous Awosting Falls, there was more serious climbing. I saw Debbie and the Rafalski crew at about mile 27. That was a sight for very sore eyes. They would stay here to see us after we looped around Minnewaska and were heading back. Debbie told me that Doug looked great. I, by implication, I said, looked like crap! This thing is uphill the whole way, was all I could say.

Just after some aid  Debbie Horvath photo

There was more climbing yet to be done. This entire ascent, begun around the 22-mile mark, continued past mile 30, where I reached Castle Point. Like the Skytop Tower climb, this one was also beautiful the entire way up, but the panoramic scenery at the top was about as spectacular. And at about 2,600 feet above sea level, this was the highest point on the course. It occurred to me that I would now descend about 2,300 feet in these final 19 miles. Except, that is, for one more smaller ascent at mile 45 and the uphill final mile. No worries, thought I. The tough part is done.

Doug at Castle Point  Greg Rafalski photo

My pace improved a great deal, now that I was back back down and around this nine-mile loop. I saw Doug ahead of me for a couple miles, and we wound up at the 36-mile aid station at about the same time. There we were able to see, and get assistance from, our joint crew, for the second and final time. Debbie informed me that I looked better now.

The great scenery continued as I returned into Mohonk and ran along the rock climbing area. As I reached mile 40, my Garmin watch informed me that the battery was low. It died completely in a couple miles. Doug and I were now running together for the first time since the early miles. I was my usual talkative self, even talking about being talkative. Doug indicated that he preferred silence, so I shut up.

The ascent at mile 45 was tougher than expected. I slowed, and then walked, and watched as Doug floated away. That was okay, I thought; I would recover and pick it back up again, as I’d done time and again during this run. Those final five mostly downhill miles would be a piece of cake.

I did pick it back up, and I felt great doing it. I grew stronger and stronger and finished with a super sprint. I was thrilled with the relatively fast overall time. After the run, I was only a little sore.

Absolutely nothing that was said in those previous four sentences is remotely true. After Doug pulled away, I struggled mightily to get up that big hill at mile 45. It seemed to take forever. I was so sore and beat up that I was incapable of running smoothly again when the course did begin to take me back down. I wound up doing a painful ultramarathon shuffle for virtually all of those final five miles. It was indeed wonderful to finish, and especially to see Debbie and everyone else – Debbie even ran a little with me as I came in. But that time – 9:02 – was painfully slow. Doug (who done really great for a first ultra!) and Paul, a guy I’d run with most of the way, finished at about 8:39, a time I would have been very happy with. What a difference a strong finish makes!
The Finish!    Debbie Horvath photo

Now my Achilles Tendonitis is as bad as it’s ever been, and I think that may have been a major factor in my poor final miles, as it contributed to the shuffling. I can only hope that this latest AT setback won’t hang around too very long.

Overall, Rock the Ridge was a fantastic experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was every bit worth the effort to run in this beautiful and challenging place.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Hay is in the Barn

I have heard this phrase before, also in relation to having done the training but waiting for the race to happen. And happen it will: Rock the Ridge will occur a week from today.

Multiple weeks with totals above seventy miles - check. Back to back long runs - check. Some hill training (but maybe not enough - check. One more medium-long run on the towpath with friends - should be checked in a couple hours. Race started and completed - no check just yet.

Check back with me in a week.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Attack From Above

It was only a mile and a half into my run. I was on the all-purpose trail, deep in the woods, minding my own business. And then I felt a little scratching on the top of my head. Instantly, several thoughts occurred to me:

  • That felt a little strange. It was like someone was playing a trick on me.
  • Was it a branch? It felt like one. But (after a quick look around), I realized it wasn't.
  • I quickly looked around and above, and I saw it. An owl!

Now since I was wearing a hat, and since it was only a little scratch anyway, I would suffer no permanent damage. But Mr. Owl did spook me a little. It landed in a nearby tree as I shined my headlamp his way. Then it took off and swooped down at me again! As you may imagine, I hightailed it out of there.

I made it out of the woods alive. The strange thing is this:

It was the second time I was attacked by that guy (or gal). The first was a year ago when I was running in the same area, also donning a hat and headlamp. That time I didn't see the owl, but something rearranged the hat and headlamp enough to make it shine sideways. Since, as with this time, there were no nearby low branches, I could only conclude that it was the owl.

And the even stranger thing is this:

It was the second time within the week that I'd encountered an Attack From Above. The first time had actually only been a couple days ago. There was some planning, and some cause and effect involved.

To prepare for my upcoming Rock the Ridge 50-Mile run, I had originally planned to do back-to-back 20-Mile runs for this past weekend. It had been a long time since I'd done anything like that, but it seemed like a good idea. Further, the first long run could be on the towpath in Brecksville or Peninsula before work on Saturday, and the second could be the 20-Mile Drop, a race I'd done last year. Unfortunately, the weather got in the way.

Several days out, I began to notice that the forecast did not look to be conducive to comfortable long runs: Heavy snow was predicted for Saturday, and extreme cold (for April, or actually for anytime) was predicted for Sunday.

I changed my plans. Instead of taking Friday off, I ran that day, managing to get enough miles in to make my 70 for the week. I would take Saturday off, and did not register for Sunday's race, (re)planning instead to run long close to home. It's often the drive that's more of a concern than the run when the weather's nasty.

Sure enough, Saturday's snow was indeed heavy. Did I mention that this was April? Per my revised plan, I didn't run. The snow was beginning to subside as I drove to work. I was on route 82 in North Royalton, heading under the Ohio Turnpike overpass, when I noticed a snowplow on the bridge above. Little bits of snow were falling over the edge of the bridge, onto 82, and I realized, too late to do anything, that it would also fall on my car. Had I thought quick enough, I would have stopped just before the bridge, letting the plough go by first. But I didn't think that quick.

The snow and debris did indeed fall on my car. Only a little at first, but then a lot. A real lot. Right on my windshield. Enough to bust it up badly on the passenger side.

Enough attacks from above now. Enough!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Joy of Failure

There have been instances where I go out for a run with high hopes for a great, or at least a good performance, but for some reason the thing ends as a miserable failure. I revel in these Miscarriages.

I've posted about training failures before: as far back as 2007, and as recently as a week ago. Of course some of my races turn out to be stinkers too.

But not all that many. Most races turn out more or less the way I expect them to. Chalk it up to experience, preparation, or what have you. Actually, I do have something: allowing for failures during training so that they (hopefully) do not occur during races. So an occasional stinker of a training run truly doesn't bother me... Just so it doesn't happen too often.

On the other hand, it's a real confidence booster when a run is beginning to turn south, but I'm able to somehow right the ship. This was the case for Sunday's long run on the Lester Rail Trail. I started extremely slow, then picked it up nicely for the middle miles as Will Bertemes and Harold Dravenstott joined me, and then struggled mightily to get the final 6 of the 24 on my own. Yet I did manage to get through them. I paid the physical price the rest of the day, but that was a small price to pay for the added reassurance that I can do it when I need to.

Wednesday's run was definitely more of the letdown variety. I ventured into the dark park with a plan to do my usual 10-mile route. A good solid pace, despite the hills would have been nice. But I started so slow on the downhill section, that I was never able to recover. I only did 6, and I was happy when it was over. Today's run was better.

Only a month to go now. Rock the Ridge is just around the corner.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

When Does it Get Easier?

I am fond of telling new runners who lament the difficulty of running only a few miles that it gets easier. I lie. After over forty years of running, I'm still waiting for this to occur.

Got my second consecutive 70-mile week in. Now I only have about four more to go before Rock the Ridge. Hey, maybe at some point it really will get easier... Nah!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Anatomy of a Bonk

In my mind, a critical success factor for the successful completion of a 50-Mile race such as Rock the Ridge is to run a lot. I define a lot as several consecutive 70-Mile weeks, beginning about.... wait for it... now! Am I making the grade, you ask?

For 70-Mile week numbero uno (which was actually last week), I did a 21+, an 8+, three consecutive days of my fairly hilly park 10-Milers, topped off by a 10 from home on Friday. Saturday would be off to spend time with the family as Valerie is visiting.

I started those 10 started fairly slowly, but then a funny thing happened: I got slower and slower so that by the end of the run, I was barely crawling. I figured that I had done something that I hadn't done in a while: I bonked. This was likely due to following my fast diet the two previous days and getting relatively few calories before heading out, not to mention still recovering from the change to daylight savings time. But I made it; I capped off a slow week with an even slower Friday run. Yes, 70-Mile week number one was in the books.

Today would be different. I needed a 20-mile long run. Didn't I? Aren't long runs part of the same critical success factor of running a lot? Yeah, I think so too.

This time it didn't happen. I crashed again, but worse this time. Why, you ask? Probably too much fun and merry-making with the family. Sort of the exact opposite of Friday's bonk. I'll call it an un-bonk.

So now with a 10 instead of a 20 today, I'll have to step things up for the rest of this week. Time to start the big push.