Tag: trail race

Sweet Agony

Guest blog by Michael Wade

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.09.45 AMEvery runner knows that there’s a certain emotional ebb & flow associated with the  experience of running. Runners “Highs” and “Lows” are just part of the give & take nature of the beast. Whether it’s the supreme joy of suddenly (and effortlessly) running your daily 6 mile loop a minute faster than you’ve ever run it before, or the slow (but oh-so-sure) death of bonking hard halfway through your Sunday 12 miler, the peaks & valleys of a run are what we’ve grown to love (and also hate) about our sport. And never are these ups & downs more dramatic than when a “run” becomes a “race”.

Such was the case for me Before, During, AND After this year’s Bear Brook Trail Marathon. Immediately after I ran the inaugural 2012 race I thought to myself, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again!” Then, after giving it a bit more thought (and giving my throbbing legs a bit more ibuprofen) I figured, “Eh, it was a cool event, but I think once is enough. I’m not sure I want to put myself through that kind of suffering again”. Later, when nearly year had passed and the 2013 edition was quickly filling up, I said, “What the heck! Let’s go for it!” Later still, when I re-read my original race report in the days before the race I cried, “What the @#%* was I thinking?!” You see, I was already on the BBTM Emo Rollercoaster, and I hadn’t even laced up my racing shoes!I think the nerves I felt before this year’s race were directly attributable to knowing EXACTLY what I was in for. Last year, I started blissfully unaware of what racing in the woods (over fallen trees, around mud puddles, across rock slides & through thorn bushes) for 26.7 miles would really feel like.  I ran it easy, and enjoyed most every part of it until the end (or nearly the end) when all I wanted to do was die.  This year, after all the trail running I’d been doing, I hoped to do it exactly the same way – but faster. No problem! Right?

Making that lofty goal a little more difficult to attain was the fact that, this year, the course would be run in reverse. So, everything I had learned (or thought I’d learned) about the course from last year was right out the window! AND, the wet spring/summer we’ve been having caused the bushes to be bushier and the mud to be muddier! AND, due to the relocation of a couple of the Aid Stations, it was now going to be a ½ mile longer – 27.2! You don’t see that combination of digits on many oval bumper stickers!

I did, however, have a few things in my favor this year. Rather than driving from an hour away on the morning of the race, my family and I would be camping at the Bear Brook Campground – just down the road. AND, at about the 19 mile mark, the course ran right by our camp site, so I’d have the emotional boost of seeing my family help propel me through the last 8 miles! AND, I decided to go with a smaller, 16oz hydration pack rather than the 50oz monster I carried last year. So, not only was I fitter, I would also be lighter!

After my usual restless night sleep in our camper, the 6:30am start came not a moment too soon. The temperature was a little bit warmer than the previous edition, but still very reasonable for this time of year. Soon the Race Director sounded the siren, and we surged down the gravel road. I felt ready to run. At least until we hit the first of three early climbs! Last year, these climbs almost killed me. They came at a point in the race where I was at my weakest – the end. This year, we’d get them out of the way early and be able to cruise the last (flat) 8 miles to the finish. At least that’s what I hoped!

About a half mile into the race, the course took a sharp right turn and we headed straight up Catamount Hill. Not surprisingly, on fresh legs it seemed a LOT easier than I’d remembered it. Still, I decided to let the “conga line” of runners go on ahead and just run a steady and controlled pace. Included in that line were my friends (and fellow GCS teammates) Danny Ferreira and Rich Lavers. Danny had mentioned that they were planning to run easy today. But, as they quickly pulled away, I realized his “easy” pace must be right around my “suicide” pace.  So, I let them go.

Coming down off the second of the three climbs I suddenly felt nauseous. Within moments I was off to the side of the trail – retching loudly. I guess I must have had a bit too much Gatorade sloshing around in my stomach. Anyway, after starting again I immediately felt better and reeled in the handful of people who passed me while I was stopped. We soon came to the new out & back portion of the trail leading to the first Aid Station so I had an opportunity to see most of the people ahead of me – heading the opposite way. Danny and Rich offered me encouragement to catch them, but I held back. At least for the moment.

After a quick “splash and go” at AS #1, I was back on the trail. 39:06 was my time for that first section, a plodding 11:30 pace, but not nearly as slow as the 14’s I crawled through there with last year. The next section, although rather wet, was quite flat, and I started to move up through the field. I ran next to Dima Feinhaus for a while, which was surprising on two counts. Firstly, he’s usually pretty far ahead of me by this point. Secondly, he’d just run two back-to-back 100 mile races over the course of the last two weekends. Which, come to think of it, might explain the first surprising part!

Anyway, I rolled into AS #2 in 42:15 (9:00 pace) and a minute per mile faster than last year. It was still early, but I was starting to get in a groove! As I arrived, Danny and Rich were still there and after a quick refill of my water bottle, and a piece of power bar, and a couple of chips, I was on my way – just ahead of them. Eventually they caught up and we ran the next section as a group. But it quickly became evident to me, that Danny was holding himself back to run with us, because as we climbed the slight hill up to AS #3 Danny was chatting away, and all Rich & I could do was grunt, smile and nod. Plus, I was starting to feel dizzy. Excellent!

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.10.02 AMOnce again I went through the Aid Station with a maximum of efficiency. Water, Heed, Go! At 3.2 miles, Section 3, was the shortest of the race – and I ran it in 31:29. A bit slower than I wanted to, but still 10 seconds per mile faster than my time on it last year. Coming down onto the Mount Hall Marsh portion of the race, I felt a sudden, but all-too-familiar feeling in my lower abdomen. Within moments, I was crouched (deep off the trail) relieving myself.  I suppose I shouldn’t have had those 3 campfire hot dogs for dinner last night! About a mile later, after gaining back most of the ground I had lost, I was off the side of the trail again. Crap! This was quickly starting to become the BM marathon!Eventually I “righted the ship” and caught back up with Danny and Rich just before the climb up Hall Mountain. Rich looked like he was suffering a bit, so I bid them adieu and set off after the four folks just ahead of them. It took some time, and effort, but once we reached AS #4, I had put all four runners in my rear view.  My time of50:47 for that loop was a full minute slower than last year. But, still not too bad considering I’d made two unplanned, and messy, pit stops!Immediately after leaving Aid Station 4 I found myself running alone. And, it pretty much stayed that way for the next 5 miles. I could feel myself slowing down, but as I rounded Beaver Pond I used my family as a magnet pulling me towards the finish. I shed my hat, shirt and hydration pack at the campsite and raced towards them at the camp playground. After a kiss, a couple high fives and some much needed Gatorade, I was on my way. AS # 5 loomed just a couple “easy” miles ahead and I couldn’t wait to get there!

By this point, the heat of the day (and, with it, a slight case of dehydration) had really started to get to me. I began focusing on holding my form together as best I could and keep moving forward. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a runner came up on me and went quickly past – First Female. I tried to stay on her tail, but it was no use. And as I passed by a lush field of wild blueberry bushes, it was all I could do to keep from stopping and partaking of their plump and juicy goodness.

Thankfully, I soon arrived at AS #5 and guzzled all the water I could stomach. My split for the last segment was still a fairly reasonable 48:36 (9:55 pace) but well off the 9:30’s I’d run there last year. I was quickly losing time! Back out on the trail and it was less than a minute before I heard the next runner arrive just behind me. I had to get moving! Unfortunately, my legs had other ideas. Re-starting after stopping for any length of time is one of the most painful parts of long-distance running. And I was certainly feeling the pain!

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.10.14 AMAt some point, a mountain biker passed me, going the opposite direction, and told me I was in 20th place. I was both pleased and pissed with this information. Pleased, because I was a lot further up the leader board than I originally thought (Top 20!) and pissed, because now I felt obliged to work at staying there. So, I put the pedal to the metal. Eventually, after stopping yet again to “mark my territory” I gave up that spot. But not without a fight. Or, at least what felt like one, anyway!

Fortunately, over the course of the last two rolling trails, I was able to make up ground and get that spot back – and then some. I’d gone miles without seeing anyone, now it seemed like I was passing runners at nearly every turn! I guess I wasn’t the only one who was suffering out there. One guy was hobbling just ahead and then stopped abruptly to stretch. I implored him to keep moving, which he did. Right by me!

I caught him again at the next little hill and after he went by once more, I tried to pick up the pace and stick with him. Unfortunately, once I attempted to go that little bit faster, my right calf started to cramp up and I had to slow down to a glorified shuffle again. Much to my frustration, I just couldn’t take advantage of those last “easy” few miles like I’d hoped. I guess after violently expelling most of the liquids from my body over course of the previous 4+ hours, I should be grateful just to be standing – let alone running. Soon I could hear the shouts and applause coming from the finish area just around the next bend. I pushed up the final hill (calf in full-on seizure) and crossed the gravel line in 4:34:25. I’d run the last 6 miles in just over and hour – 1:02:09 (10:20 pace) and it felt like the longest hour of my life!. I crawled over to a shady spot to lie down and watched in dismay as my calf did the rumba right before my eyes.As was the case before the race, the emotional ups and downs during the event itself were really quite amazing to behold! From feeling so good at the start, to puking 20 minutes later. From passing a ton of runners, to nearly passing out. From slowly losing ground, to rapidly gaining it again. The full spectrum was certainly on display that day. And, as I sipped my coke (while sitting still for the first time in 4 ½ hours) I could only laugh at the sheer incongruity of it all. Running is such sweet agony!Sweetness and Agony. I guess, if you’re doing it right, racing should be a little bit of both!

Postscript: My overall pace of 10:05 per mile was quicker than the 10:22’s I ran last year, but due to course being half a mile longer my Finishing  Time ended up being about 2 ½ minutes slower. On the plus side, I did finish in 17th place overall, 4th in my age group, and got a sweet BBTM beer glass and tech shirt for my troubles. So, now that I’ve done the Bear Brook Trail Marathon twice (once in each direction) what do I have to say about it for next year?  “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again!”



Follow the Rock n Runner on his most excellent blog for all the latest on his racing and training adventures.

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Running Rusieckis: IAU World Trail Championships

Guest blog by Amy Rusiecki

July 6th dawned with a bit of heat but plenty of enthusiasm.  It was finally the day of the World Trail Championships – a race that I had been dreaming of and focusing on for months.  As us athletes got ready for the race, it was amazing the similarities in pre-race rituals among nations – from passing body glide around the team to applying sunblock on each other’s backs.

Team USA pre-race rituals

I had a few goals for the race. Most important, I wanted to race strong – I’ve raced enough to know when I’ve given a good effort or not – and I was determined to finish the race without regrets or anything in the tank.  Part of that was that I didn’t want to get sucked into the quick initial pace that would inevitably burn me out.  The course was a 1km road climb to get to the trails, and then 5 laps of 15km around a rolling circuit (with climb for the first 4 kilometers, then rolling for the next 8 kilometers, and a screaming downhill for the last 3 kilometers), followed by 1km down the initial road section after all 5 laps are complete.  With the opening several miles being uphill, I needed to go out easy and relax for the first hour.  My secret goal was to not get lapped by any USA runner, and certainly to not get lapped by Brian [Editor’s note: Brian is Brian Rusiecki, the author’s husband.]! We were called to the staging area a few minutes before the race, and we marched in by country to the start area, as each contingent was announced.  Knowing that Tracy is similar paced to me, we lined up together.  As we worked our way behind the fast guys, we commented on how close to the back we were – this was definitely different for me.

Team USA heading to the start

After the entire first climb was completed (about 5km), I could still see Tracy, and I was able to stretch the legs out on the first downhill of the day.  I looked up, saw an amazingly sweeping view of the hills of Wales, and felt my pace quicken.  I passed Tracy, and encouraged her to run strong – I was convinced I would see her again.The race took off hard, the initial 1km road climbing didn’t seem to slow folks down much.  I tried to relax and not go into immediate oxygen debt, but I tried to stay in contact with Tracy.  Michelle had taken off at the gun, but we knew she had the potential to podium, so I figured I wouldn’t see her again.

Amy, passing through the lap/aid zone

Still, the first lap felt a bit aggressive for me, so I worked to settle into a sustainable pace for the 2nd lap.  I was amazed by the caliber of athletes here, as well as the volume of incredible runners.  I’ve never done a race with that many females around me – or where I’ve been in contact with so many other athletes.  Everyone was here to race their hearts out.  At one point, I stopped at an aid station to grab a cup of water and was quickly passed by several females, then we would hit a short section of single track and I would surge past other racers, only to be quickly passed once we reached the runnable jeep trails by the ladies with better leg speed. Halfway through the first loop, I caught up with Beverly Anderson Abbs – a true ultrarunning legend.  I was pleased to keep stride with her – not only because if I could keep up with her I knew I could run strong, but also because she could speak English and was super encouraging.  I also knew that she is very experienced, and running near her gave me confidence that I was running a smart race and not getting sucked into too fast of an early pace.  She and I would trade places and at times work together through the first 3 laps.

Brian and Ben, representing the USA and New England

As I passed her, I was very aware that I was now the leading USA runner.  The weight of that was heavy as I worked hard to do my country justice – but it also added some spring to my stride as I swelled with pride that I was leading the USA team.  I visualized my training buddies and trail friends sitting at home in the US, sipping coffee, and cheering for me from afar and jumping for joy that I was racing well.  The enormity of it helped me to push hard and stay mentally focused through the 3rd lap.  Towards the end of my 3rd lap, I lapped US team member Stefanie, who was having a rough day and was going to drop out.  All I could feel was sorry for Michelle, who now was going to have to run/hike over 30 miles on a gimpy leg…but if anyone could handle that, then it was Michelle – she proved to be tough as nails. By the start of the 3rd lap, I was settled into my pace and slowly catching folks who had gone out too hard.  Surprisingly, on the top of the climb I caught and passed Michelle.  I power hiked with her for a minute to see what was going on – seems her ITB was flaring up and she was in some serious pain.  When I asked her what she was going to do, she responded that she would keep moving forward until she wasn’t scoring for the USA team anymore – what a true champ.

Amy, taking advantage of a downhill

As I started my last lap, folks were guessing I was around 20th place, so I worked hard to pick off as many folks as I could.  I felt strong, and I felt inspired by my USA teammates, my training buddies back home, and the numerous runners and family/friends who donated their hard earned money so Brian and I could be here.  I felt their support and used it to give me energy.  I ran with all my heart.  I surged with everything I had, and was picking off runners.On the 4th lap, I was running scared, passing folks and imaging that Tracy might be closing in on me.  Now that I was leading the US contingent I wanted to stay there!  I ran strong and focused on racing aggressively yet leaving enough in the tank to surge for the last lap.  The course was starting to deteriorate a bit, but luckily my Lite Trail Drymax socks in combination with the Inov8 TrailRoc 255s proved to be light yet aggressive and kept my feet happy through the worsening mud as well as the steep ups and downs.

Brian, running strong and steady

Brian ended up having a great day, finishing 2nd USA runner and 17th overall in about 6:25.  Considering he doesn’t think of himself as a ‘speedy runner’, he did respectably well.  I was also pleased that Ben Nephew finished 3rd USA runner and 19th overall, just a few minutes behind Brian – that meant that all 3 New England runners ran strong and were scoring members of the USA team.The last 1km down the paved road to the finish was emotional – I was finishing my first World Championship race, and I was finishing strong.  I left it all out there.  I ran with complete pride in the USA jersey.  I lead my team, finishing 15th female in 7:24:25.  This time is a new 50 mile PR for me, and considering it was a bit hot and humid on race day, and the course featured 9,000 feet of climbing, I know it’s an indication that I have faster in me.  Tracy ended up having a rough day, battling GI issues for most of the race, but still finished in around 8:30.  Michelle held true to her promise, and finished around 9 hours – earning her finisher award as well as the respect of the rest of us there.  I was completely honored to call these two ladies my teammates, and proud of our humble 10th place team finish.  I know how much passion and pain went into that result.

I do need to offer some thanks – because Brian and I would never have made it to Wales without the support of the New England trail running community.  While everyone’s contributions made a huge impact, a few that stand out are Dr. Weiss and Performance Health Center (always encouraging my dreams and keeping me healthy enough to chase them!), 413 Trail Runners (who keep me company for miles on the trails), Western Mass Distance Project (who get me out of bed to log some miles), Snenipsit Striders (the most active group in the area to get Brian and I support), and Steph Robinson (who house sat, cat sat, and transported us for this journey).  And of course, my sponsors who support my passion and give me the tools to do it successfully: Inov8 shoes, Drymax socks, and Gu Energy.

This was actually part three of a three part series about the Rusiecki’s experience at the world trail championships. To get the full story, check out their blog Running Rusieckis.

Loon in the Rearview, Cranmore on the Horizon

Josh Ferenc on Upper Walking Boss, courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

Josh Ferenc on Upper Walking Boss, courtesy of Scott Mason Photo.

By now it’s not really news that Eric Blake and Christin Doneski both won (convincingly) at Loon Mountain. But what is new is our race highlight/interview video, which is now ready for your consumption. Along with that we decided to go a little deeper into the results to point out a couple of noteworthy items:

– Doneski was the top woman overall. She probably won’t like us pointing out her age every time, but we just find it very impressive to see a masters runner accomplish that.

– Todd Callaghan was the top masters runner for the men and just edged out his rival Dave Dunham (50:17 to 51:27).

– In the senior bracket, Jacqueline Shakar was the top lady and Robert Cipriano beat out E-j Hrynowski. But did Robert really have a better day than E-j?

That’s a tough question and it depends on how you define ‘better’ in this case. Robert’s day was faster and easier, so in that sense he did have a better day than E-j. Somehow there was some finish chute confusion and E-j kept going after finishing, so he went on to do Upper Walking Boss twice. Okay, maybe that still doesn’t mean he had a better day than Robert, but we’re pretty sure he ran his way into mountain running lore with that effort. They say there is no safe word at Loon, so even if he wanted to “drop out” once he realized the mistake, it may not have been an option.

With Loon in the books, our attention turns to the Cranmore Hill Climb. This year the Cranmore race doubles…nay, triples, as both the USA and NACAC championships, along with being the last leg of the USATF-NE Mountain Series. The top 6 men and 4 women (that are USATF members and US Citizens) will be selected for the US Mountain Team and will go on to compete at the World Championships in Poland.

The course itself was designed to emulate this year’s course in Poland and will be a down/up type of race. The women and men will have separate races first, with the ladies going first. The ladies will do two laps and the men will complete three. So what exactly is a lap? A lap is a trip down the mountain and then back up to the start. That’s right, they’ll be climbing the mountain multiple times. Each lap is 4 kilometers long, so (using an abacus…) that would mean a total of 8 km and 12 km for the women and men, respectively. Rest up, all you competing have your work cut out for you!

We think that E-j Hrynowski would be the early favorite to lead Team USA into Poland. After all, he did bravely take on UWB multiple times. Who better to take on a race course featuring three trips to the summit?

Online registration closes on July 17th, but you can also register on race day at the mountain. Day of reg is a little more money, so sign up now to save yourself a few bucks.

We’ll publish the list of elites later in the week as we get closer to race day.

Blake, Doneski Roll at Loon

Eric Blake (La Sportiva) continued on his impressive roll in the mountains on Sunday by breaking his own course record at Loon Mountain. On a hot, humid day Eric dipped just under 45 minutes (44:58) and left the competition shaking their heads. Perennial mountain forces Josh Ferenc and Brandon Newbould were 2.5 and 3.5 minutes behind him, respectively. That’s just how dominate Blake was.

After the awards ceremony, but before he could sneak away, The Level did what nobody else could that day…catch up to Blake. Here’s the interview:

Sadly, we missed getting a good interview with Christin Doneski (Whirlaway), so we put in some highlights of her at the end of that clip. Here’s an old fashioned text based interview with the women’s champion:

Is this the toughest Mt race?

NO this was not the hardest of the mountain races, at least not for me. I can only speak for me and I will explain why. I thoroughly enjoyed the Sleepy Hollow course, but bonked late in the race (mile 5ish), barely holding off the second place woman. At Mt. Wachusett I was in the lead for women all the way up the mountain, but again bonked close to 5 miles and this time could not hold the lead. I came in third only 20ish seconds out of first. That drove me to my doctor to find out what was going on and I found out I was anemic. Unfortunately that takes time to correct so both Bretton Woods and Ascutney were run while I was anemic. I have been taking iron for the past 6 weeks and what a difference a few red blood cells can make. I felt great at Loon and to be honest it was the race in the series I have enjoyed the most and found the easiest. I prefer trail races to road races and I found all but Upper Walking Boss completely runnable at Loon. I made it almost half way up UWB still running and regret allowing myself to hike. The moment I did the blood seemed to rush to my legs and my breathing became more labored. I think my body would have been better off sticking with running regardless of the speed.

In short, I would say Bretton Woods was the hardest of the races for me. The first descent was so long and so steep that my quads were already sore before hitting mile 3 and there were still some tough miles to come.

Did you see Dunham’s FB post this morning about you locking up the series with that win? How does it feel knowing that your effort on that mountain not only got you the win that day but the win for 2013 as well?

I have not seen Dave’s FB post so I heard the good news from you. Thank you. Great way to start my day this morning. I can not tell you have excited I am to think I could win the Mountain Series. I have never truly understood the way they award points so haven’t had a good idea of how close the next woman was to me. This is my first time running the mountain series and I can’t begin to tell you how much I am enjoying the purity of this sport (everyone out there is running because they love the challenge and the sport, not for money or prizes) and the community. Everyone appears to be there for the right reasons and it’s a very welcoming and supportive community. I was a little anxious about the “fell race” concept but was blessed to have a runner I had met earlier in the series, someone I now would consider a friend, share his intended route and plan with me.

What was the toughest part of the course for you?

The toughest part of the Loon course was definitely the second half of the Upper Walking Boss. Not only is it steep but you have to see the entire thing, no way to play tricks with yourself that you are almost there! There was not a soul on that climb with me still running and I think that impacted my decision to hike as well. Sometimes it’s better not to see so much!

What are your expectations going into Cranmore?

I am really looking forward to Cranmore. I feel like I have NO pressure (and I would have said that this morning before you gave me the good news about the series). I know it’s the USA and NACAC championships and that there will be impressive and amazing athletes there that I will feel lucky just to see and be allowed to toe the line with. Knowing I am not going to win or place is a huge relief, now I can just run my own race without all the anxiety. I still intend to run the best I can, the hardest I can. I expect I will have a tough time competing with Abby and Christina as they are both really strong down hill runners (that is my weakness) and there is a lot more downhill on the Cranmore course. My only concern for Cranmore is where to stay as my race starts early and I have to catch the chair lift even earlier and it’s over two hours from home. I’m looking forward to it.

Which do you prefer, the mountains or the roads?

I love the trails. I thought Sleepy Hollow and Loon were two of the best (most enjoyable) races I have ever run.

Full race coverage coming this week, including more race footage and additional interviews, so keep checking back. Feature photo (on the main page) courtesy of Scott Mason Photo. Check out his gallery from Loon, and why not buy one for yourself?

World Trail Championships

Not too long ago we posted something about Amy Rusiecki going to Wales to run in the World Trail Championships as part of Team USA. Well, that event has come and gone (where did the time go?), and we are happy to report that Amy and her Team USA mates have done quite well. Here’s a quick update from Amy, with the promise of more detailed recap to come later:

The New England runners at the opening ceremonies. USA! USA!

The New England runners proved how gritty and tough we are, and represented USA well.  Brian Rusiecki was 17th overall and 2nd USA male, finishing the approximately 50 mile course in 6:21.  Ben Nephew followed up quickly to finish 19th overall and 3rd USA male, crossing the line in 6:25.  These two men helped the USA men’s team place 4th place in the team standings, just off the podium.  I was the first USA female finisher, crossing the line in 7:24, good enough for 15th place. (I haven’t seen team results for the ladies to know where we finished, but know we were off the podium).
I’m proud that all of us New England runners had strong days, and were able to place in a scoring position for the USA teams.

We’re quite proud too. Great job by Team USA in Wales, and we can’t wait to hear the rest!

In The Moment: The TARC 100

A Renner’s Experience at the TARC 100

by Thor Kirleis

Friday, June 14, starting at 7 pm, I toed the starting line of an 100 mile trail race. It was my first race at this distance and a long, long dream of mine that, honestly, was never a goal because, well, I never thought I could or would ever want to challenge myself in this way. However, life, as it does, changes, and I found myself with goals and dreams.

Conditions on the trails were very, very, very bad. A rainy month preceding the race, not to mention the last two weeks in which we received more rain than we typically get in three months, made the course dangerous, slow, and very difficult to navigate. Water pooled over so much of the course that you had no choice but to wade through. A common occurrence was having water come up to my knee, sometimes my hip. No joke. You can’t run through the puddles like you can on streets, because you don’t know what’s in the puddle. Run through, hit a rock or root you can’t see, and your race is over.

The first of four loops (25 mile loop we did 4 times) was very slow, but I was still in good spirits if not far more tired than I should  have been. I was starting to get worried about how tired I was this early in the race until I completed the loop and saw the hordes of people dropping out. I was later told that 25% of the field dropped out after the first lap. It was that brutal. I was slightly buoyed by the fact that I was not alone in wondering why I felt like I had run 50 instead of just 25. Either way, I kept going. It took me about 6 hours to complete the lap.

Thor at the aide station 50 miles into the race.

Thor at the aide station 50 miles into the race.

The second lap was, like the first, in complete darkness. It was sloppy and slow and I started to fatigue. I even considered dropping out, but I went on. I thought I hit lows, and I did, I just had no idea how low a low can really get, at least not just yet. By the end of this lap, with me now 50 miles in, I was just over 13 hours into the race. It was 8:30 am. I thought I’d finish these two laps in under 12 hours, but since this was one of those epic type races, I didn’t pay attention to how fast or slow I went. My goal was to finish. Speed didn’t mater. My energy was renewed with the notion that my pacer would be joining me for the next lap.

The third lap was when things got very difficult. I was now joined by my friend Hank, who would be my pacer from mile 50 through 75. I had a turkey sub to get me off to a good start and was feeling good again. I call out the turkey sub because it (and other food items like it) is what is considered “real food” as opposed to Power Bars and Gels. Real food gives back more energy but is difficult to carry, so we often opt for gels and bars packed with energy. Not long into this third loop, things got very ugly for me. In my head, I dropped out a few times, but each time Hank kept me in the game. I told Hank before this event that his goal is to make sure I do not drop unless I have a physical, real medical issue where I just cannot move on. Blisters, not feeling well, and being tired are not reasons to drop. I knew I’d go through the emotions, so I told him up front to never let me drop out. And he, thankfully, drove that role better than I could have even hoped. He kept me in the game when I myself gave up.

This lap was spent running and walking. By then I wasn’t able to run for long periods, mainly because when the terrain would get technical or tilt up, I had nothing in me to run. This is normal. But I was still able to run on the flats and downs. Troublesome was the fact that my left and right knee, each at separate times, started to give. Although I was still able to run, I knew that feeling, and I knew it wasn’t good. It always means that eventually it will get bad enough where I will no longer be able to run. As we were finishing this lap, there’s a two mile section that contains roughly 1.5 slow miles of wading through mud and pooled water covering the trail. It reminded me of being in the Amazon. It was during this time when my energy levels dropped very low. Hank kept me going even though I was now moving slower. This lap took 7 hours. We completed it around 3:30 pm Saturday. I had now been running — or, really, moving forward with both running and walking — for 21 hours. If I could keep going, I was on track for a 26 to 28 hour finish. If I could keep going…

75 miles deep

75 miles deep

The fourth and final loop was brutal. It started with me being buoyed with another turkey sub and the fact that my other buddy, Andy, was joining me as my pacer while Hank was now leaving. Andy and I have run together for nearly 15 years. He, like Hank, is a great friend who knows me very, very well. I felt bad because he, being so fresh and spry, was getting me at a very, very low point. But that was also his job. I had told him the same deal I told Hank: don’t let me drop out unless it’s an emergency. After gobbling up the turkey sub over the first mile of this final lap, Andy and I got back to running. For 10 minutes, before the shit hit the fan again. I was trashed, beyond tired. My legs were cooked, my lungs were tight, my heartrate was high, and my energy and spirits were low. Poor Andy. We walked the rest of that segment, three miles worth.

As we were walking, I came up with a plan: I was going to drop out. After mulling this over in my head for an hour, I finally told Andy. “I think I’m done,” I said to Andy. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He was new to this type of racing, so he didn’t really know that he had to get me out of this funk by trying to help me figure out why I was feeling so low. He didn’t yet know that there is always a reason — always an answer to get you back going. After a half hour, I finally stood with defeat in my eyes. “Andy, I’ve put this off for a half hour.” Andy knew what was coming. He did his best to remind me that I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. “If it were easy,” Andy told me, “I would be doing it.” I laughed. But I was done, defeated long ago. “I’m handing in my timing chip.”

Before Andy could catch me, I walked away. I hobbled over to the timing station, my legs so stiff that my knees wouldn’t bend, and went up to the race director. “Josh,” I said, “I’m dropping out.” Josh, the race director, asked if I really wanted to drop. He said to sit down for a while. He reminded me that I had plenty of time before cutoff. I said I already did sit. I want to drop. Are you sure? I don’t know. I’m defeated. That’s when his friend jumped in. He said, “The next aid station is in 2.5 miles. Just go there. You can do that. Get some food in you, grab some salt, and go to the next station. If you want to drop out, then drop out there. We’ll send a buggy to come get you.” No, I’m defeated. But in the back of my head, I didn’t want to drop. I wanted to keep going. But I had nothing. That’s when Josh said, “You’ve come so far already. 80 miles. You can’t just quit. You look good. You’re healthy. You have to go on. Here’s what I want you to do. You’ve been sitting for a while, so I want you to walk with really long strides down this grassy section. Long strides. Stretch the legs. Then when you get to the pavement (parking lot), try to run. Even if it hurts. Break up the junk in the legs. Take high steps.” I stood there as I processed what he was saying. He was right. I was in a funk. I needed to somehow break out. And maybe this would work. One long stride after another, I walked the grassy path, and then when I hit the parking lot, I started running — like really running — and then did high knees, bouncing on my feet, renewed. I ran back to Josh and his friend and Andy and said, “Andy, I’m in. Let’s do this!”

Andy and I set out toward the next aid station. I was feeling far better, and I was running again. And I was dreaming again about finishing this race. I marvel at the ups and downs — extreme downs. In decent time, Andy and I got to the next station, at mile 82.5, and kept going. For a half mile. My right knee, holding on by a thread, finally gave. I tried to numb it out by forcing a run, but it would take it. I had no choice. I would have to walk the rest of the way. Assuming the dark times stayed at bay. Unfortunately, they did not.

Again, I came up with a plan to drop, but each time I went to tell Andy, I somehow fought off the urge, and I kept power hiking. Each time, Andy sensed my negativity, figured out I was slipping into a dark place, and got me back out. Wading through water and mud didn’t help the knee or my energy. By mile 85 I couldn’t even power hike. I was reduced to a slow walk, dragging my leg behind me. My knee was done. I was done. But Andy, now having learned that those dark periods come and go and that it’s his job to make sure I keep going when it gets dark, kept me going. And going. My knee got so bad that at times I had to stop and sit for 5 to 10 minutes to get it back to the point I could walk again. I knew these periods beside the trail weren’t good. Time was running out. In between those periods, I was back to that dark place — no energy, no power, barely walking. But Andy kept me going.

One of the things I learned was that after 75 miles, Power Bars and Gels no longer gave me energy. They did nothing for me. So it was at the aid stations, where I could get real food, when I would get real energy. Because of this, Andy, back at the mile 80 aid station, where I almost dropped out, grabbed a Ziplock bag and stuffed it with pizza (three slices) and turkey sandwiches. So every twenty minutes, when my watch would beep signaling it was time to eat, Andy would rip a slice of pizza in half for me to eat or he’d give me a turkey sandwich. He joked that I was the real Dean Karnazes. This worked well for a long time. But it didn’t always work. I still found that dark place. Not able to talk, for it took too much energy that would take away from moving forward. I was surviving. Barely. It sounds gruesome. And it was. Dark and ugly. But Andy kept me moving forward. I learned long ago that in endurance sports, when dark times come, the only way to keep going is to block out all thoughts, especially when they turn negative, and stay in the moment. You focus on the here and now, not the finish, not anything else. Breath, feel it, step, repeat. I barely heard the frogs croaking and the coyotes howling in the darkness. On I forged.

After what felt an eternity, we finally, and I mean finally, came to the aid station at mile 90. There was now under 10 miles left. It was 10:30 pm Saturday night. I had been running for 28 hours. I had 2 hours and thirty minutes to hike 10 miles. Could I do it? I knew the answer. I would not make it. I couldn’t. I could barely walk. Running was out of the question. I tried running time and again, hoping the pain would numb out, but each time after two paces, I was reduced to walking. At one point, desperate to keep moving forward, I ran a pace, walked five, ran one, walked five, with each run pace on my left leg, the one with the good knee. I was no faster. And then reality hit. Another dark period came. My knee was wonked, and I had no energy. By this point I had to sit on a rock beside the trail every half mile. Wading through the mud took too much out of me. Each time I sat, I saw time slip away. I had to finish by 1 am, which was no less than two hours away.

By the time we got to mile 89, I knew I would not make the 30 hour cut off in the race. So tired and beat, I no longer cared. There was nothing more I could give; that much I knew. I also knew that as long as I followed Andy’s step, listened to his words of encouragement, and stayed focused in the moment, I would go through many more dark, dark periods where I’d want to drop, but I would get through them, keep moving, and finish this thing.

And that’s when things started to change. For the bad. And these bad things were completely out of my control. Not in my head, and not in my body. As Andy and I made our way in complete darkness, the path lit only by our headlamps, with me now moving forward for 29 hours over the course of three days — three days! — and 95.5 miles, two runners came the other way, these two, a runner and his pacer, on their way toward the finish only two miles ahead of me. As their headlamps came near, the pacer said, “Are you Thor?” Yeah, I said while wondering how and why they would know my name. I knew a lot of people on the course, but I didn’t know these guys, and yet they knew my name. Was someone looking for me, and why? The pacer went on, “Two guys behind us are looking for you.” Looking for me? Were they just concerned about my safety? Or was there more to it? I would soon find out.

As I made my way toward the next set of headlamps in the darkness, a familiar voice called out ahead: “Is that Thor?” Yeah, it’s me. “We’ve been looking for you.” As they came near, I realized it was Paul, a runner friend who had volunteered his time on the course at the aid station. But it didn’t yet occur to me that there was a reason he was looking for me. As Paul and his volunteer friend joined Andy and I, they turned and walked with us. Paul said, “You sound good. But your knee doesn’t look good.” I was dragging my leg behind me. Paul didn’t have the heart to say what he was really there for, why he was really looking for me. Instead he went on. “I got a beer for you at the aid station.” I laughed. Paul knew me well enough to know that I like my craft beer. “Ha, I’d love a beer but I have 5 miles left. A beer would knock me out right now. But thanks for the offer.” Just then Paul realized that I didn’t get what he was trying but never quite got around to saying. “I’m really sorry, Thor,” Paul finally said with straight honesty, “you didn’t make cut off into the aid station (at mile 95.5). You missed it by 15 minutes. I can’t let you go on.” And there it was. My race was over. I made it 95.5 miles in 29 hours and 20 minutes.

Many people are saying sorry, offering that it must be bitter sweet, suggesting that it wasn’t fair. There’s nothing bitter sweet here. I gave it my all. I kept going when even I gave up on myself. I quit 20 or more times. But each time I got knocked down, I somehow, some way got back up and kept going. And going. And going. Why? I don’t know. I really don’t. I thought a lot about this. Maybe it’s ‘Just because.’ It’s the best I got. And in this race, I gave it the best I had. I am in awe, as it if were someone else, at the stubborn fight, the never quit approach, in me. I mean, I was left for dead time and again. But I kept getting back up. I took the fight to the battle. They had to yank me from the course. I would not let it defeat me. And I didn’t. I didn’t.

Living The Dream

Amy Rusiecki, along with her husband Brian, has been selected to the US Team for the IAU World Trail Championships. The race will be held in Wales this summer. Since Rusiecki is her married name, some of you may know her by her maiden name of Amy Lane. Still others may be more familiar with her nickname of Amy Fucking Lane, as was revealed in her profile in the October 2012 issue of Level Renner (There Will Be Blood, pgs 14-17). That name would seem appropriate for a bad ass character in a Tarantino flick and is quite fitting here given the reputation she has developed as a tough-as-nails runner.

Here’s a firsthand account from Amy herself about being selected to Team USA:

When I was young, I remember driving in to Ashland and watching the Boston Marathon. I would cheer on every athlete out there, because they were amazing to be out there, running Boston. Running that far seemed so incredible, and it didn’t matter to me where they finished…they were inspirational to be doing it. It inspired me to be a runner, and started the dream of someday achieving something as incredible as the marathon.

Courtesy of Scott Livingston

Courtesy of Scott Livingston

I’ve run for most of my life, and while I’ve enjoyed races of all distances and all terrains, I found my true passion with trail running and ultrarunning. Perhaps I’m a masochist, because the longer the better…the tougher the better…I crave adventure. I’ve won the highly competitive Seven Sisters Trail Race, I’ve completed four 100 mile races (with two more coming this summer), I’ve twice raced a 6-day 120 mile stage race over the Colorado Rockies, I’ve won numerous 50k and 50 mile trail races throughout New England. I enjoy pushing my limits and continuing to learn about myself through distance running. I feel at home in the community that trail and ultrarunning provides.

Running has given me so much – it has given me an outlet for my energy and passion. It has given me a community of training buddies and Western Mass Distance Project teammates that inspire and motivate me. It has given me confidence in myself that I lacked for so long. Several years ago it found me my husband and gave us common ground to share. Most recently, running has given me the opportunity to represent my country and race on an international platform at the IAU World Trail Championships, fulfilling the dream of my youth to wear USA across my chest and run for my country. Even better, it is allowing me to share this opportunity with my husband, Brian Rusiecki, who has also been selected for the US Team.

The USA Team selection is coming off many successful years of ultrarunning competition for myself and my husband. Brian has been a dominating racer in New England over the past 4 years, but 2012 was his most successful season.  He won more ultra races than anyone else in the country (an honor I obtained in 2010). He dominated races up and down the east coast, ranging in distances from 50 mile to 100 mile, and was voted #6 on the ‘UltraRunner of the Year’ by UltraRunning Magazine. I had my best 100 mile finish (finishing just 2 minutes shy of the female winner), won the storied Vermont 50 mile race, and finished 2nd in the 6-day, 120 mile TransRockies Run stage race. Coming off that success, Brian and I are both honored to have been selected for the US Trail Running Team.  It is the first national team selection for either of us.

The World Trail Championships, taking place in Wales, will be a 75k technical trail race in early July. The 10-person team includes three New England runners: myself, Brian, and Ben Nephew (CMS).  I think that the technical rocky terrain we play on in New England will serve us well when we race this challenging course in Wales, and played into the selection heavy on east coasters.

I think my feelings on this are summed up well by Sabrina Little, who recently competed on her first US team at the World 24 Hour Championships:

“There are some exclusive clubs that are difficult to gain access to, but once you get in, life is easier. You can relax. Take Ivy League institutions, for example. A U.S. National Team is not like that. Earning the American singlet is difficult, and once you do that, more is demanded of you because running is no longer a singular pursuit. You represent your country—your coaches, your family, and your freedoms. It was weighty, so I was feeling anxious.” – Sabrina Little, US 24 Hour Record Holder, on her first US Team selection.

Note: The USATF does not support the US Trail Running Team at this time. To support Amy and Brian’s effort, click here.


Guest blog by Josh Ferenc

Editor’s Note: I was talking to Brandon Newbould ahead of the Sleepy Hollow race this past weekend and he alerted me to an amazing performance by Josh Ferenc, and said his blog post was a ‘must read’. It was, and here it is. We’ll have coverage of the Sleepy Hollow race coming this week, but here’s a post from Josh about his Muddy Moose 14 Miler to get you primed for it.

Newbould, MacKnight, Ferenc, at the top of the mountain. Courtesy of Scott Mason.

Newbould, MacKnight, Ferenc, at the top of the mountain. Courtesy of Scott Mason.

Woke up alert and ready to be awake, so that was nice compared to the everyday sluggish feeling I have during the week. The plan: wake up, eat, pick Najem up, drive to Wolfboro, complete a tough 14 mile trail race, come home.

Seemed simple enough.

This would be Najem’s first trail race. Haha. We were going to meet up with fellow BAA teammate Jim Johnson and I was hoping on hearing what his race strategy would be. Najem and I discussed it on the ride up and we both had good plans. Najem’s was to sit and check things out, while mine was very similar, but hang as long as I could and try to be competitive. Jim wanted to work together and take it to Justin Freeman. This idea was fine by me, it was just figuring out what that would literally be. Finalizing a plan is tough for me, but I settled on hanging with the front as long as I could and if I felt oddly good, try and make a move.

This plan was instantly aborted the first step of the race. Doing what I do best (flying by the seat of my pants) I went with an old playbook option: get out of site early (and hammer!); they can’t see you, they can’t catch you. This really was a better option anyways. Current fitness and lack of racing led me to just kill myself and make it a quality effort day. And that’s what I did.

I took the lead and never gave it up and just pushed every step I could. I went out to pound that course like an elaborate gang handshake. The course fought back and was very tough. The mud was deep and was very unforgiving. I was zigging and zagging all over the trail trying to find the best line and best footing, all while telling myself, “they are going to catch you, don’t fall asleep, keep redlining, keep pushing…”

There were two righteous climbs with long gradual downhills to follow, which I tried to sprint when I could. This tactic led to me being very tired the last two insanely muddy, unrunnable miles and having to thrash and fight through the trail.

I was fortunate to hang on and secure the win.

Josh incredibly won by over seven minutes. Can’t wait to read about the showdown between Ferenc, Newbould, Johnson, MacKnight, et al.

TARC Spring Classic 50K Race Report: “Flat and Fast…”

Guest blog by Michael Robertson

On Saturday, April 27, I accomplished a goal that had been percolating in my brain since I read Born To Run: running an ultramarathon.  When I signed up for the race on January 4, I was essentially starting my running from scratch, having come off a long injury layoff.    I knew that it would be a tough goal, but with Rebecca’s encouragement, and some input from our good friend Alett, I was reasonably optimistic about pulling it off.

I picked the Trail Animal Running Club (TARC) Spring Classic 50K for my foray into the ultra world.  After getting out on the trails in the Middlesex Fells a few times with soem Animals, I was getting pretty worried about a 50K trail race, but I was assured that the race trail was much easier both in that it was a lot less technical in nature and everyone considered it “flat and fast.”  Now, SPOILER ALERT, after having run the race, it should be noted immediately that trail racers and road racers mean something entirely different when they say “flat and fast.”  Animals seem to forget that the implicit “for a trail race” qualifier that is necessary when saying “flat and fast” is not explicit to a newbie trail racer.  To me, the course could fairly be described as rolling with a couple significant, but short, inclines that popped up each loop.

We arrived at the race around 6:45 a.m., mostly because I wanted to be sure to get one of the custom t-shirts made by Animal Emily Trespas.  Totally worth it.  One cool aspect of the race, apparently in “fat ass” tradition, was that the aid station was stocked by the racers.  Everyone was asked to bring an item, for example I had the “salty” category and contributed some pretzels and Pop Chips.  Even before the race started, it was easy to see how different a smaller trail race is from a road race.  Everyone seemed to know each other and I got the feeling they were all just looking forward to a fun, organized, timed run together.  I was happy see my fellow Goons, Thor Kirleis and James Provenzano there, as well as Marathon Sports Run Clubbers Ryan and Bethany Couto.

Being firmly of the belief that if you look good at a race, or at least have fun with how you look, you’ll feel good as well, I broke out a new race day outfit, pictured below:


If you’d like to recreate this vision of green plaid, the shorts are theBrooks Infiniti IIIs and the top is the Race Day singlet.  I went with my Zoot compression socks and Brooks Cascadia 8 for footwear.  Thanks to Tom Poland of Greater Boston Running Company Andover for making sure that the singlet got in by the Friday before the race so I could rock it.

The Course

The race course is comprised of 5 10K loops, giving plenty of opportunity to get familiar with the terrain and come up with a plan for the miles ahead.  The first stretch of the loop featured, in my opinion, the two most challenging hills, not so much for their length, but steepness.  The second of these inclines was described by Animal Mike Saporito as “douche-grade,” which seemed very appropriate as it was tremendously steep, even if it was only 15 yards or so (or less even).  I did not even attempt a single running step on this hill on any of the loops, knowing it made much more sense to power hike it during the early loops and then just try to trick gravity into letting me up the hill during the later loops.  Maybe I was just really tired, but changing the laws of physics seemed easier during the 4th lap than walking.  Apart from those two hills, the course featured more gradual slopes that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow during, say, a 10K road race, but added up over 50 on the trails.  Thankfully the hills generally didn’t involve technical terrain on either the uphill or downhill.

Several runners described the course as “really runnable” overall, meaning you could spend a lot more time running and less time picking your way over rocks and roots, like one might in the Fells.  At least, that’s what I assume it meant.  I did manage to take a decent fall during the second lap when my mind started wandering, but it was on soft pine needles and there was no damage done.  There were only 3 sections I can recall that really forced me to tread carefully and walk, not because I was exhausted or sore (though I was), but because my trail running technique isn’t up to snuff yet.  All 3 sections involved “stream” crossings, or at least the crossing of water by virtue of rocks or logs.  On my first two laps I stepped directly into the water on the first crossing, misreading what was more solid mud and what was…less solid.  I did get the hang of it as the race went on, trying to find a balance between moving quickly enough over the rocks to avoid losing my balance and not going so quickly that I took a misstep and ending up in the drink.  Even though the last section was the most mentally taxing for me in terms of having to concentrate on each foot plant, it was also the most rewarding to get through because it meant the end of each lap, and then the race, was close at hand.

The Race

Going into the race, I had a feeling that the fourth lap was going to be the hardest one, both mentally and physically.  I was not disappointed.  I had zero, literally zero, expectations for what I was going to do in terms of pace and final time.  I figured I’d go out at a very comfortable pace and try to hang on for dear life.  I ended up at the start standing next to Luciana and Jayme of TARC, with whom I had run in the Fells a few weeks prior to the race.  I decided to start with them and see how the pace felt during the first loop.  At some point, feeling decent, I picked up the pace a little and continued on my own.  I hooked up with an Ed and Mike from Weymouth for a portion of the first lap and then again during the…third lap, I want to say.  Ed and Mike were good guys and I hope they finished strong.  I spent portions of the second and third lap with Ryan Couto, who is quite the accomplished ultra runner, along with his wife, but he passed me leaving the aid station and I never caught back up, finishing about 14 minutes behind him in the end.

It was during the fourth lap that my muscles started to rebel, first my quads, and then my calves.  This development meant hiking a lot more than I had the prior 3 laps in an attempt to avoid the muscles locking up completely, which I knew would spell doom for the remainder of the race.  I also knew that I had to hold back some during the 4th lap, not knowing just how much more energy I would need for the last one.  After a long slog through the woods, I finally made it back to the start/finish, where Rebecca helped me out greatly (again) not just by grabbing fuel from my bag, but in gently encouraging/urging me to get going for the fifth and final lap and not to loiter any further.  It also helped to see Thor finishing strong and cheering me on as I departed for my last 10K.  Maybe it was because there were some cool personal moments during the last lap, maybe my brain was just fried, but somehow the last lap felt much better than the 4th.  There was the moment early on in the loop where I knew for sure that I was going to finish the race and be an ultra runner.  There was the moment my GPS told me I had completed a marathon distance.  And there was the moment the GPS clicked over to 30 miles.  All these moments added up to help get me across the line, a moment Rebecca captured:


My final official time was 6:15:02, but here’s the story my Garmin told as well as the pace breakdown from it (I inadvertently restarted the GPS after the race, so the total elevation numbers will be off as well as the last mile stats):

GarminPace Chart

After finishing, I did my best to keep walking, and upright, not wanting a repeat of last year’s post-Boston experience of deciding it would be a good idea to lay down and then not being able to get back up again without feeling dreadful.  I did manage to get a picture in with Cesar, a great guy and an Animal.

Me and Cesar


This was probably an aspect of the race that could have used improvement, though I’m not entirely sure what I would have done better, specifically.  I used my Ultimate Direction Blaze Plus fuel belt to carry one flask of Gu Brew and another of water, which I refilled at each aid station.  I made it a point to drink at least every mile and then on occasion when needed as well.  I took an Accel Gel every 4 miles and a SaltStick cap every 10K (except before the last loop, when I took 2).  At the aid station I would generally grab a handful of pretzels to munch on along with some liquids.  I think I took one pack of Gu Chomps as well after Lap 2.  Although I carried Sport Beans with me, I never ended up using them.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any stomach issues during the course of the race.  That said, maybe my legs wouldn’t have started cramping if I had taken in more sodium.  All things considered, I was able to manage the cramping and would prefer that to stomach distress.


Doing a trail 50K race was an entirely different experience than anything I’d done on the roads, and not just because of the distance and terrain.  Letting go of self-imposed expectations for pace and performance was liberating.  Ironically, the distance made me less apprehensive about the miles remaining, like I might feel during a half marathon.  I think I could count on one hand the number of times I looked at my Garmin in between miles (I had a beep set up to alert me at mile markers so I could be sure to manager hydration), an urge that is sometimes hard to resist during training runs.  Moreover, I was able to run, and push myself, without any outside forces, at least when I wasn’t going through the aid station area where Rebecca, and our friend Courtney, was cheering me on.  Sure, for some stretches I would run with others, but I never felt that I HAD to, or that I needed music (or Joy The Baker podcasts) to keep me going.  Just trying to make it through the trail and across streams without falling kept my mind engaged.  When I didn’t have to fully concentrate on the trail, I was mostly just blank, not getting any deep thinking done, just being out in the woods and covering miles.

Will I do another ultra?  I honestly can’t say.  I don’t have the same sense of unfinished business that I do with the marathon.  I don’t have the compelling desire to keep lowering my PR like I do with the 5k-1/2 marathon distances.  But then again, maybe those are both the perfect reasons to want to do one again.

There are many people that helped me along the way in my training, and I thank you all.  I hope you know who you are, if you happen to be reading this.  You pushed me during tempo runs and kept me honest during easy runs.  Thanks to Brooks and my ID teammates.  Thanks especially to Coach Sage for the workouts and encouragement that got me to the end in one piece.  Thanks to my sister, Sarah, for the advice on injuries and just for being a great source of encouragement.  And, most of all, thanks to Rebecca for supporting and encouraging me during this crazy “journey” (he said while he stared meaningfully into the distance).

Run Happy!

To keep up with Michael’s training and racing adventures, follow along on his blog Once a Runner, Always a Runner.


Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked

It was just another Tuesday of #KeepingItOnTheLevel when an update from the GBTC popped into my newsfeed:

Is that for real? I can’t even comprehending pulling off a triple like that. This deserves some more attention, so here’s a Q&A with the beast himself, Sam Jurek:

Let’s recap:

10/14: Mount Desert Island Marathon – 2:38:59
10/28: Cape Cod Marathon – 2:37:37
11/3: Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race – 6:13:14

And you broke the previous Stone Cat course record by over 10 minutes, correct? On top of all the other “shorter” marathons? Really?

I have to start by thanking you for showing interest in my recent string of events. Having the support of the running community makes the training and the racing efforts that much more enjoyable and worthwhile.

You have all the information correct; 20 days, three races, fortunately capped off by a PR/CR at Stone Cat. Ben Nephew set the previous course record in 2010 at 6:24; this year there were three of us who dipped under that mark – thanks to ideal weather and dry terrain.

Okay, so…why? How many marathons/ultras do you typically do a year?

Why, you ask? That’s a simple, yet incredibly tough question to answer. In short, I love the sport. I don’t do it to lose weight, impress others, or compete, I do it because it’s enjoyable. Getting on the trails is a different aspect, just as the indoor track and cross country seasons have their own unique vibe. I’m not a creature of habit – I don’t think – so changing race distances and training regimens makes the sport interesting and keeps me from getting in a rut. I average 4-5 marathons a year along with 4-5 ultras; as of today, that means 50-kilometer and 50-mile races. Hopefully next year will afford me enough fitness to attempt a 100K and a 100-miler.

Was this something you’ve done before (and would do again), or was it a new experience (doing so many so close together)?

In the buildup to a 50-mile race, I like to run double long runs over the weekends. Two 20-milers is typical, with my peak training weekend including a 20-miler and a marathon. Until this past month, I never raced anything close to over 100 miles in a 20-day period. I was nervous thinking about it and training for it, but October came quick, and despite the less-than-ideal weather at MDI and Cape Cod, I think the races went well. I always have lofty goals, so coming into MDI I thought 2:30 was within reach. After finishing I realized I don’t have that speed in my legs right now, but sneaking under 2:40 twice within a couple weeks was still a huge confidence builder leading into Stone Cat.

What is the distance you’re training to race for?

I’ve always wanted to run sub-2:30 for the marathon, but I didn’t look at any of the three races as being the “goal” race; having a solid effort whenever toeing the line is typically all I concern myself with.

What did you do in between races? Rest seems like it’d make sense, then three weeks of rest with three big races mixed in might be hard to do.

After MDI I took a single day off, then resumed training. I only ran easy mileage between the marathons with two short speed workouts to keep goal race pace fresh in the mind, though I did still log over 75 miles the week following MDI. After Cape Cod I was pretty spent and could only think about the Stone Cat 50 being 6 days away. I took three of the next five days off, made sure to eat and sleep well, and simply hoped for the best.

What was your peak weekly mileage heading into these races?

Throughout the year I’m not able to sustain high mileage, relatively speaking. I might get 5 weeks a year in around 100 miles, but likely average 60-70 miles/week. I tend to find weaknesses often within myself, so cross- and strength-training have become a large part of my weekly routine.

What’s your marathon PR?

The past three years have been a long lull as far as my running is concerned. I ran my marathon PR in January 2009 at Disney World; 2:34:25 (I think), then didn’t touch sub-2:40 again until MDI this year. It’s good to be back in this range, but 6:13 was my 50-mile PR by 21 minutes, so at least one race distance is improving.

In the two marathons, were you just running those as workouts gearing up for the 50 miler? Your times are so close for those two races that upon first glance it made me think you might’ve just done them for pace work (real serious pace work!).

Haha…the marathons were looked at as more of confidence builders than anything. Since 2009, I haven’t raced frequently until this past summer, so they were needed more for a mental edge than a workout. It was a fluke that they were nearly identical in pace. I blew up in both races, opening up the first half of each in 1:17 and, well, you can do the math from there. I shouldn’t be as disappointed as I am, but as I’m sure you can tell with my redundancy, I really think 2:29 is possible for me, and I want it.

Was the plan to go for the course record in the 50 miler? or were you surprised to find that you felt good and went for it?

I run a lot of miles with Josh Katzman. He’s a popular ultra guy in the New England area and won Stone Cat last year. I picked him up around 4:30am the morning of the race and we chatted about strategy and possibly shooting for the CR. We decided to not be as ambitious as we were in 2011 when we ran the first 25 miles in 2:56. We practically failed in holding ourselves back and ran the first half of this year’s race in 2:59. I thought we would blow up again, but luckily held on for a solid second-half effort in 3:14 for me and 3:19 for him. I really believe that fueling and hydrating well is what keeps you in the game during an ultra; that came together for me at this race and fortunately paid off.

Again, simply incredible. A couple of quick take aways from this:

1.) Sam typically averages 60-70 mi/wk, but in the week following MDI he still logged 75 miles (on six days) when he was only at the beginning of the grueling 20 day stretch.

2.) His emphasis on strength- and cross-training can’t be overlooked. That could be the reason why he recovers so quickly in between races. If you’re not recovering very quickly after a marathon, cross-training could be one area of your training to investigate.

3.) “I do it because it’s enjoyable.” If you really love what you’re doing and are all-in, it’s amazing what you can do.

This interview is a companion piece to the article ‘Pushing the Limits’ in the Nov/Dec issue of Level Renner.

Note: Photo is courtesy of GBTC.

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