Sunday, October 8, 2017

Race Recap: Rise Up & Run 5k

I've gotten away from race recaps because let's be honest, they are usually pretty boring. Howevah...last weekend I ran a road race and since that happens about as often as the Whale beats Vancouver I figured it was worth a quick recap. Seriously, the last road 5k...maybe the last 5k I ran was this same race last year.

Rise Up & Run 5k | Walk Like MADD

After a few years of finishing at the 50-yard line of the Georgia Dome, this race moved next door to the outstanding Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The appeal of finishing at midfield of the new 1.6 billion dollar home of the Falcons and Atlanta United was evident in the fact that more than 7,000 people signed up for this 5k/1 mile event. Seriously 7,000+ for a 5k. That's more than double what they had for the same race a year ago.

To Atlanta Track Club's credit, they put together a really nice course this year. I've run this race three or four times and it's always had slight variations in the course due to construction. This year they really nailed it. The course started out on Falcons Landing and followed Andrew Young International Blvd out to Centennial Olympic Park before turning right past the CNN Center. The route continued up Marietta street then took a right on Forsyth St. past the Five Points MARTA station. A right on Peters St saw you through the first mile and then a long stretch of relatively straight road brought you to two miles and a looping right-hander put you on Northside drive for the final mile to MBS. The course followed the rollers on Northside before you entered the stadium and finished with 50 yards on the field after coming out of the Falcons tunnel.

I was a pretty straightforward route, which was nice. Last year, there were a few more turns and we had to run under the Georgia World Congress Center (a big convention center) and into the loading dock to finish, which meant a lot more rollers on Northside Drive. This course suited me well. With its long stretches of straight road I was able to settle in and run a good rhythm. I was also able to see everything unfolding in front of me. No one was ever out of sight.

I got to the race nice and early to avoid any traffic issues or number pick up lines. I was able to catch up with a few people from work and able to get in a good two-mile warm up. Having won the race last year and having everyone at the office see me run in the morning before training camp meant I came into the race with a lot of expectations...from co-workers at least. Based on my recent workouts I figured I would come in somewhere in the low 16 to 16:30 range. While I was warming up I saw a group of three or four guys from Atlanta Track Club that looked legit.

With this race offering the chance to finish on the field at a brand new stadium, I figured there would be a few fast guys in attendance. I told myself not to worry about anyone else and just go out and run. I told myself to let them take the race out and settle in. I figured my best shot at a strong finish would be to really work the last mile and a half. Turns out I was right.

The start was a little wonky for me. Arthur Blank took the mic to start things off, and I assumed he was going to say something beforehand. Nope. He picked up the mic and said "Runners set. Go." with a split second pause between set and go. My fault for not being ready. Hand up on that one. As I predicted, the ATC guys got out quick along with the usual fast start youngsters and a couple guys that I don't know but recognized from different races.

I told myself to relax and just stay awake. No need to be at the front this early. Once we made the first right-hand turn at Centennial Olympic Park the pecking order started to shake out. Two ATC guys were running stride for stride up front with another trailing just behind then myself and a couple others in a group behind. I felt okay and figured I needed to at least maintain contact with the ATC pack if I wanted to race versus just run tempo. I picked my way through some of the others and got on the shoulder of the third ATC guy where I settled in.

The two guys up front started to open things up as we ran past Five Points, but I decided to hold off on trying to close the gap until I got through the first mile. I waited exactly that long. We passed through the mile around 5:08 and while I wasn't certain I could maintain that pace I decided that the long stretch of road between mile one and two was going to be my best shot at moving up. I took over third place and started trying to pull back the two leaders.

I felt like I was running strong but I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to hang in the final mile. As I rounded the turn onto Northside, I could feel the guy in fourth closing on me and it didn't appear that I was gaining any ground on the guys in front of me. I went through two miles in 10:20. That put two things in my head. One, oh boy. Not sure I can keep this up for another mile. And two, I'm right on 16-minute pace, let's go.

Just as I thought the second thing, I got passed. That was a blow to morale. Fortunately, I didn't give up much ground and I was able to hang on until I got through that mental low point. Once I snapped out of it, I noticed that we had started to pull back the guy that was running in second. With about a half mile to go, I said 'Screw it. I'm going for it,' and surged. The move instantly opened a gap on the now fourth-place runner and cut into the lead of the second place guy. I kept closing and eventually moved into second. I tried with everything I had to make my move stick.

Unfortunately for me, the guy that I passed for second - Patrick Peterson - is a 4:02 miler and made the finals in the 800 at the 2016 US Indoor Championships. Try as might, I had no shot of out wheeling him.

Second place running away.

After the race, he said that I woke him up when I passed him. Smooth move Matt. I was really grinding the last 400 or so but I just didn't or - probably more accurately - don't have the gears to close like I used to. When we emerged from the tunnel, I knew that second place was gone but I also knew that I had been running well. I looked at the finish line when we hit the turf and I could see the clock ticking up towards 16 minutes.

Desperately seeking sub-16

The finish was like something from Alice in Wonderland. The clock looked huge in my mind and it seemed like the green and white turf stretch out for a mile in front of me. The finish line getting further away with each stride. The seconds ticked slowly 54, 55, 56. I crossed the line and hit my watch. I looked down and saw 16:00, but I knew I snuck under. I hit my watch well after I crossed the line. I was pumped.

The winner of the race went 15:42, so he was rolling. Peterson was 15:55 and I came across two seconds down at 15:57. I couldn't have been happier with the race. Going in, I didn't think there was a chance I'd run sub-16. I thought, on a good day, I'd go low 16, maybe dip under 16:10, but more likely I'd be 16:15-16:30. I don't think I was sandbagging going into it. I've had some good track sessions but the days when I've been able to run five-minute to 5:10 pace have been difficult. I have been feeling more comfortable at 5:20-5:30 pace. I figured this would be one of those days where you finish and feel like you could have run twice the distance at the same pace but there is no way you could possibly go any faster.

Not the case. It definitely helped that I raced. The early decision to follow the ATC guys, at least the guy that was running in third ended up making the race for me. If I had let them go. I would have run the time I expected but I probably would have been kicking myself for not going for it.

Here's what the race looked like on Strava.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Look Good. Feel Good. Race Good

The last month and a half has been a whirlwind. My wife and I spent two weeks traveling around New England at the end of July and then as soon as we got back to Georgia training camps started. That means I haven’t spent one second cleaning up anything or putting anything away since we left for Boston in mid-July. Naturally, we spent the majority of the final Sunday before football season starts cleaning the absolute fiasco that our house had become during that time. While cleaning, I came across a bunch of old racing singlets. As I was rounding them all up and trying to figure out where to put them – I wanted to display them but Amanda gave me a “you are a weirdo” look. I settled on rounding them up and a taking a series photos. It was really cool to think back on all of the different races that I’ve run in each of these jerseys. Some had great memories, some had rough ones but I ran hard in each one and had a lot of fun.

I’m missing the original Keene State championship red jersey. I know it’s somewhere in this house but I didn’t come across it the other day. Man, did I run well in those bad boys. These are the ones I did find with the photos to match.

 1 - OG Keene State w/ the old Owl logo on the back - I have some great memories in this one. Winning ECAC cross country was one of my best days in college and finishing sixth overall and sixth on the team in the conference my freshman year was pretty amazing too.

2 - v2 KSC Red – I had a meh race at my final DIII New England race in this jersey and ran so-so at Nationals but I ran a steeplechase PR a few months later. It’s a sweet looking jersey no matter what.

3 - Whirlaway – I ran with some really fast dudes on Whirlaway after college. I didn’t race a ton back then because I was working random jobs all over the place trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. That being sad, I ran awesome at Yankee Homecoming in Newburyport one summer and then ran terribly at the Ollie Road Race in Southie.

4 - Saucony Hurricane v1 – Ah, back when I was kind of sponsored and just getting into trail racing. I came across this program after working at Greater Boston Running Company and thanks to Jeff Caron, who was a Shadow Rep at the time, I got selected.

5 - Saucony Hurricanes v2 – This might be my favorite post-collegiate kit. I won the Georgia State championship at 15k on the roads down in Peachtree City. That race was so cool. All but two miles was run on the golf cart paths that cover the city. I broke away at three miles and soloed to a nice win and my first state championship of any kind. I also rolled to 53rd place finish at the Peachtree Road Race (60,000 total entrants) in a post collegiate 10k PR.

6 - Strava – I was on Strava before it was cool. I guess that makes me a Strava hipster. I still consider myself an unofficial ambassador, but this was a cool program. I met some great people and had a lot of fun racing for Strava. I also grabbed my first podium finishes at River Gorge & Tuck Fest.

7/8 - Wild Endurance – A few years ago, a former teammate, and one of my best friends, Josh Ferenc started his own club called Wild Endurance. In an effort to support him, I’ve been the Wild Endurance outpost in the south for the last couple of years. It’s less of a club and more of a ‘bunch of buddies wearing the same shirt’ but that’s always something we talked about doing back in college, so I think that’s kind of cool.

9 – XTERRA – I got selected to be an XTERRA ambassador this spring after running in the Georgia series for the last few years. I say few years but it’s been more like five or six. I can’t believe I’ve been in Georgia that long but I guess having awesome trail series to run in has made that time fly by. Not only is this a sweet looking kit, but I’m teamed up with a bunch of awesome runners of all ages across the southeast. It’s been cool to be a part of that larger family. There are some really inspiring athletes that are involved. I definitely get fired up when I see some of these folks getting after it. Also, I ran a solid half marathon and won my sixth XTERRA Georgia age group title in it. I like to pretend that I’m wearing the series leaders jersey when I’m racing XTERRA races in it, you know like it’s the yellow jersey or a world cup leaders jersey or something.

10 – Wild Endurance – This jersey is hot of the press from Josh’s home in Vermont. He handed it off while I was back home visiting and I’m looking forward to breaking it out for some races this fall.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Run Where I Got Attacked by a Fox

Everyone has a go to run. It's usually something simple. A run that you step out the front door and you're on your way. No fuss. It's familiar, you know every inch of it. You've run it 1000 times. You could probably run it with your eyes closed or at night with no headlamp at least. You've run it rain, shine, snow, all of those things from the Postal Service motto. I've had a go to run everywhere I've lived. Back home it was 'the Rez'. In Keene, the Trestle, the Kennel, or Yale forest. In Philly, I ran the Navy Yard loop pretty much every day. Now that I've been in Georgia for a while, I've carved out a go-to seven-mile loop from my front door.

Why am I prattling on about our everyday so-so runs? Think of all the times you've run your go-to run. What's the craziest thing that's ever happened on it? For me, nothing. This run is so automatic for me that I'm normally on autopilot for most of it. Not last week. I got attacked by a (probably) rabid fox. Needless to say, it was wild.

Gravel Springs is what I've called this run for a while. It doesn't really make sense since you are only on Gravel Springs road for like a quarter mile but whatever. I've run this run hundreds of times. I ran the same loop from the apartment we used to live in the only tweak I've made since moving is to switch the direction so I can run it earlier in the winter thanks to the street lights. It's a very basic run. It's got a couple of hills thrown in and you have to wait at one stoplight other than that smooth sailing the whole way.

I start out in my neighborhood then make my way towards the car dealerships that line Buford Drive - the main thoroughfare past the mall. I cut through the VW dealership and take a pair of quite backroads before jumping on Gravel Springs Road for a quarter mile. After three miles, I pick up the Ivy Creek Greenway - a half trail, half paved multi-use path that wraps around the mall then behind my old apartment before climbing up to the environmental center. From there it's a mile back to the house. Nothing to see here. Ho hum.

With about 2.5 miles to go, I rounded a corner and spotted a small red fox on the path about 35 yards ahead of me. I didn't think much of it at first. It was about seven in the morning, so still, that dawn hour down here and I've seen a few foxes around that time in before. I slowed up and paused for a second to watch it, figuring that as soon as it saw me it would bolt into the woods. It wasn't doing anything strange but it started rolling around and that's when I noticed the big wound it had on its side. It was pretty mangy looking and was fairly bloody, so at that point, I decided it would probably be best if I turned around and found a different route home.

That's when it saw me. Surprise, it didn't bolt into the woods, instead, it squared its paws and started to size me up. I thought maybe it had just been in a fight so I could scare it off. I tried clapping and yelling, nope it stood fast. I figured I had two choices. Turn and run or stay and fight. I don't know how fast foxes are, but I felt like if I ran there was a good chance it was going to catch and bite me. fighting didn't seem like a great option either since the only thing I could do was kick it.

I guess indecision made the choice for me because after two loud claps and a "get out of here fox!" shout, it came at me, bro. Fight then. Here we go. I decided kicking it was my best option, so I readied myself to send the poor thing out of the back of the end zone. I had a brief moment that I really didn't want to kick it, but the snarl it made right before lunging at my left foot changed my mind.

This thing was straight out of 28 days later. As soon as it lunged at me, I swung my right leg with everything I had and miraculously caught it square in the jaw. When I pulled my foot back, I wasn't expecting the fox to be attached to it. I thought 'it'll run away or I'll knock it out' those were the only two outcomes in my mind. WRONG. When I connected, the fox bit down and attached itself to my shoe. I swung my foot again and this time the fox went flying into the woods to the side of the trail. I didn't stick around to find out if it wanted to go for round two though. As soon as my foot was free, I turned and burned.

It ended up rolling out of the woods and snarling again but decided not to come after me. After about a 150-yard spring, I slowed down and tried to relax and calm down before continuing on. I stopped a group of mountain bikers to give them a heads up and flagged down one of the guys at the environmental center to see if he could call animal control before heading home.

When I was about a half mile from the house, I noticed that my shoe had a few spots of blood on it. Awesome, I thought. If it got me I'm in for two weeks of rabies shots for sure. I gingerly removed my shoes and socks when I got home and was relieved to see that my shoe got the worst of it. I had no bite, no scratches, no broken skin. Holy sh!t was I lucky. I called animal control to report it. Unfortunately, the first guy I talked to must have previously worked animal control in Pawnee, Indiana because he was no help. I think he thought that I was reporting the fact that I saw a fox.

There are a lot of people that use this trail so, I was a little concerned that it wasn't being taken seriously but then I got a call from a second guy that had a much better handle on the situation. I don't know if they ever found it, but since I never got a call back I'm assuming they did not.

All in all, I was super lucky. lucky that it went for my foot instead of jumping, lucky that I wore shoes with a thicker tongue and my thickest Darn Tough socks (marketing idea - Fox resistant socks). And lucky that it didn't come after me again.

It's like the Planet of the Foxes or World War Fox or something out here by the way.
Athens - Georgia
Winston-Salem - North Carolina
Southern Pines - North Carolina
Beverly - Massachusetts
San Marcos - Texas

I could go on. That's just from the last couple of days. I have to stop looking at these stories because I'm pretty sure this is how every zombie movie starts. I guess it's a good thing I live close to the mall. Speaking of which, I actually haven't done this run since that day. It's not that I'm afraid to, although fear probably played a role in not running that route the next day. I've biked it a couple of times since but we've had a ton of afternoon thunderstorms and it's been a little flooded. Happy coincidence I guess. It won't keep me from running there but a break from the same old run wasn't the worst thing.

All in all, now I've got a new story to tell about the craziest thing that's ever happened to me on a run. I used to think nothing would top the redneck that chased a group of us on a four-wheeler before crashing and breaking his arm. That was pretty insane, but it's another story for another day.

This was originally going to be another Trestle Run blog, but it turned out to be a pretty long blog, so I'm just going to leave it as a stand-alone story.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Trestle Run: Here We Go Again

Okay, let's see if I can't get this thing going again. I'd be great to do it weekly but I'll take once a month to start.

I finally got a long run in! It only took me like five months but better late than never. Actually, last weekend turned out to be a pretty solid couple of days of training for me. Amanda went back home on Saturday morning so I really didn't have anything else to do. Between running and biking, I think I got in about 40 miles, which got me to 100 total miles for the week (64 running | 40 biking). Before the draft, I started trying to get 100 total miles per week as a way to get double workouts in without over doing it. It worked pretty well in the early spring but things got a little off track with work and that limited some of my afternoon rides. I think doubling (run-wise) works for me but I like that mixing in the riding has taken some of the pounding off of my legs. I also just like to ride bikes, because I'm a 12 year old at heart.

Race Recaps
XTERRA Georgia Deep South 15k
Deep South is always a fun race, despite the steadily rising mercury this time of year. It's held at the Dauset Trails in Jackson, Georgia. A very cool, but very in the middle of nowhere spot about an hour south of Atlanta. The course is mostly made up of mountain bike trails but it treats you to a great section along a small river that is both fast and cool. Unfortunately, the last few miles mean climbing up from the river and back into the heat.

Things got off to an inauspicious start when I got my number. Nope, not 1 as has happened in the past but 666. I had to ask Tim and Linda (the Schroer family that puts on all these awesome races) if they were trying to tell me something, but nope just a funny accident I guess.

With both a 5k and 15k, the race went out fast. Mitch Novy (5k) took the early lead with a couple of fast looking high school kids right on his heels. I stayed relaxed and settled into a groove early on but eventually caught and passed both high schoolers before settling in behind Mitch. He was rolling, so I let him drift away from me a little bit around the mile mark - he would go on to win the 5k handily - and ended up running the remaining 8+ miles solo. All good by me. I did my best to push the pace where I felt like I could with the goal of getting under an hour for the race.

The first seven miles went very well, but like I said before the heat really makes the end of this race tough. As you climb up from the river, it gets hotter and it seems like the second you slow down you start to really feel that heat. It's hard to manage because as you start to feel that heat you think 'okay I'll let off the gas a little so I don't overcook it' then BAM! somebody opened the oven right in your face. Despite the heat slowing me down a little in the final couple miles, I ended up running 59:01 and winning by three minutes.

After the race, we headed back up to Atlanta and went to Bell Street Burritos for lunch before checking out the Summerfest festival in one of Atlanta's cooler neighborhoods (Virginia Highlands) before meeting up with some friends for dinner and promptly passing out from exhaustion as soon as we got home.

Dirty Spokes Haw Creek 10k 
Another hot one! Shocker, I know. Haw Creek was warm from the get go, but luckily the majority of the race is well shaded. The heat kept people from going out crazy, which I appreciated. The course is two loops (with a one loop 5k race taking place simultaneously) over rolling mountain bike trails. It's a quick course but they've slowed it down a little over the last couple of years with some new trails and reroutes. We also ran it clockwise this year after going counterclockwise the previous few years.

I liked the clockwise change up. It made a couple sections easier to stay in rhythm, which is always a plus for me. Like I said, things were pretty calm at the start. Mitch Novy took the early lead and I worked my way onto his shoulder after a few hundred meters. We ran side by side for a bit but I took the lead around 1200 in. I didn't really want to but there was a clear racing line on the trail where the combination of mountain bikers and heat had made a fast, hard-packed strip. The rest of the trail was fine in most spots but there was enough sand and soft dirt to make me want to get into the race line so I took over. To my surprise, we rolled through the mile at 5:51. I figured I'd see 5:30 or something like that, but I was happy with 5:51 and felt like I could maintain that pace.

I opened up a little bit of a gap around a mile and a half but Mitch pretty much held things at 5-10 yards for the entire first lap to cruise to the 5k win. I don't know my splits because me trying to do math while racing is a futile undertaking but I knew I was under six-minute pace. That's generally a fast day on any of the mountain bike trails down here. Haw Creek and Iron Hill lend themselves to running fast and anything sub-six is usually good for the win at this one unless one of these fast young guns shows up.

As you can see from this photo, the heat struck again. Out of the fire and into the furnace on the second lap. Before I got to the four-mile mark I realized I needed to relax a little or I was going to overcook it. I tried to use the downhills to recover a little bit and just roll out the flats. This was where the clockwise course helped as the start of the second lap had a good section of down-flat-down-flat before I got into the small rollers. I focused on my form over the next mile and just tried to flow through the course. Once I got into the final mile I opened things up a little bit. The last mile is relatively flat and the trail is wide. That combined with lappers (that sounds derogatory but I don't mean it to be) serving as motivation - catch the next one was my refrain - I was able to push through the finish in 36:27. I feel like the clockwise course should be faster, but I've definitely averaged a faster pace going the other way. I'm going to chalk that up to competition though, as I've raced hard against Jesse Rappole and a couple other guys here.

Regardless it was great to get another win and I picked up a free pair of La Sportivas. Not sure what I'm going to go with, maybe Helios or Helios SR, we'll see. I feel like I'm rounding into form. I don't feel like I have quite the snap that I've had in other recent summers but my endurance seems to be pretty good right now. I'm in that place where you can run long - half marathon/10 miles - at the same pace that I can run a 10k/5k. Good for the longer stuff but not quite fast enough for the shorter stuff.

Summer Gear Picks
I'm not going to turn this into a review blog but I've got a couple of things that I've really been enjoying lately so why not pass it on. None of these companies have given me anything so these are my opinions of things I've purchased. Of course, if someone wants to hook me up well that would be acceptable.

Go to shorts
Myles Apparel - Momentum Shorts
These shorts are awesome. Okay, that's probably obvious since I'm putting them in my gear picks, but for real. They are amazing. I've been eyeing Myles Apparel's Everyday shorts for a while after coming across them on Huckberry but I finally pulled the trigger when they released the Momentum Shorts a few months ago.

You know what, I'm just going to skip right to the game-changer aspect of these shorts. Two zipper pockets that sit right at the hip seems and are cut backward and down. Who knew pockets could have such a big impact but I'm telling you they are fantastic. They easily fit an iPhone 6 or 7 and have a headphone slot, if you are into that kind of thing. No liner, but that's hardly a deal breaker. They are slightly more fitted than Myles other offerings, which I find more comfortable for running. They are a great short for everyday training and they are really stylish which means you can go from running miles to running errands without changing.

Honestly, I wear them hanging out on the weekends just as much as I run in them. I wore them for the entire day at Tuck Fest, running, biking, kayaking, whitewater rafting so they more than pass the adventure test. I've also dressed them up with a button down while grabbing pizza and beers with friends. I've been a big fan of Eddie Bauer's Amphib shorts as my 'any activity summer short' but these have taken their place and you can actually run in them. They come with a standard 8-inch inseam, good for running but not too short to hang out in. They also come in a 6-inch cut if you want to flash those quads.

One more thing, these shorts are perfect for travel. I discovered them right before I had to spend a week in Indianapolis in late February/early March and they will be in my travel bag from now on. That pockets make it comfortable to carry your phone and the two pockets mean you can carry a room key without having your phone destroy it, which is huge for me given how much I travel for work. No more death grip on my phone while running across the Golden Gate Bridge for me. They are a little on the pricey side at 58 bucks a pop, but given how versatile they are you are basically getting two pairs maybe even three - I absolutely plan on using these as a bathing suit at the beach - for the price of one. To be completely honest, unless you are getting those BOA split shorts from Running Warehouse, you are going to pay at least 40 bucks for a pair of shorts nowadays anyway.

Running Shoes
Hoka One One Tracer
I've been intrigued by Hoka for a while now, but just recently pulled the trigger on a couple pairs. I picked up the Speed Instinct for some longer trail races (longer for me is 15k to half marathon) and they are solid, but I've been really happy with the other pair I bought, the Tracer. I snagged a pair on sale at Running Warehouse and they have been a great pick up. I've put about 70 miles on them between track workouts, uptempo runs, and one half marathon. They are surprisingly light and they strike that really nice balance of cushion and responsiveness that I like.

They remind me a lot of the first couple of versions of the Saucony Kinvara. A lightweight shoe that blurs the line between racing flat and trainer and sits in a 4mm drop sweet spot. The construction is very similar featuring a thin lightweight upper and a few welded overlays paired with a slightly thicker than usual midsole. They have that similar feel of a medium-high stack height but low drop which gives the shoe a plush cushion feel while retaining it's snappy responsive turnover ability. The Tracers are a touch lighter than the current Kinvara - 7 oz compared to 7.5 (the originals weighed 7.7 oz). I haven't run in the Kinvara 8 but I've run in almost every other version and the first is still my favorite so it's no wonder that I'm such a huge fan of the Tracer.

The one knock that I've heard about this shoe is that it fits differently depending on which factory it was made in, China or Vietnam. The pair I bought were made in the Vietnam factory, so I'll be keeping an eye on the durability but I don't really have anything to compare it to at this point. I'm a little concerned about my right big toe as it has a tendency to poke through uppers at will and at the points where the side of the shoe is glued to the midsole. Those have been trouble spots for me in shoes - especially the Kinvara - in the past, so if it starts to breakdown early that will be a bummer and change my outlook on the shoe.

The Hoka One One Tracers are still on sale at Running Warehouse, so if you are in the market for a new workout shoe for the track, something for those quicker days on the road, or a half marathon or even a full marathon shoe, I think it's definitely worth a try. Certainly better at $104 than $130. I do have one note for Hoka if they are listening. Throw a more aggressive sole on these bad boys and you've got a nice little trail racer on you hands.

What I'm Watching/Listening to/Liking
Ginger Runner - I came across Ethan Newberry a.k.a. The Ginger Runner on YouTube while looking for shoe reviews during the winter while I was trying to find a shoe for Dirty Spokes & XTERRA. He posts reviews on shoes and gear while also mixing in some vlogging and short documentary films - check out his mini-doc A Decade On about Brian Morrison's return to Western States after a heartbreaking DQ.

Newberry is a funny guy who doesn't take himself to seriously which makes him really likeable. He's just a guy that loves to run and make videos. He has some really interesting videos of others in the trail and ultra world but also throws in some cool stuff about his own goals and battles. He's also a very good videographer...cinematographer...YouTuber...whatever you want to call it. He gets some really cool shots for all of his videos and his Ginger Runner Adventure Club videos are just two minutes of running porn.

Human Race Podcast from Runner's World - I'm just getting into this one but I enjoyed one called "Tin Man" about a guy with an artificial heart and "Unknown Legend" about the world's longest urinal from the NYC & Boston marathons.

A post shared by Sarah Hunter || Phototique (@phototique_) on

Whitetail Bicycles and Coffee Shop is a 'local' - it's like 35 minutes from me - bike shop that doubles as a cafe. Amanda and I were in the neighborhood so we swung by to check it out a couple weeks ago. This place is awesome. Cool bikes and good coffee. The owner Sean talked with me about Cannondale Slates for a half an hour and when I save up enough to get one that will be my first stop. They also carry Parlee bikes, which I thought was kind of cool since they are based in Beverly. Cool little spot. Amanda made me leave my wallet in the car though...probably a good choice.

✔ Finished! Thankfully there was #onlyonehill 😆 Someone pulled me aside post race and told me I became the fastest combined time 4-time winner @ this race. Took me a moment before it hit me! After my first go at this race I would never have imagined I'd win 4 times consecutive. My first win came in 2014 when I broke Matt Carpenters best time and set the American Record. That was an eye opening moment for me as Carpenter had accomplished some great feats at this event. In 2008 I was 4th and struggled gravely. In 2016 after a #3peat I didn't think I'd return for a chance at a #4peat. I'm so thankful I came back to race a field that put 3 past winners on the line with 🇰🇪Kenyan star mountain runner and friend Francis Wangari. Congrats my friend for your USA debut! Also huge congrats to @sagecanaday and Eric Blake, they kept it honest and I always respect those guys! . . This was a special moment, one that has me on a high, I'm going to need a few days off to let it all soak in. #lifeisamazing . . . . Shout out to @joevigerphoto for the dope pic 🤘 . . #journeyofjoegeezi #AdventuresAbove #onlyonehill
A post shared by Joseph Gray (@joegeezi) on

Shout out to Joe Gray for picking up his fourth straight win at Mount Washington, a week after winning at the GoPro Mountain Games no less. He's got the best range of maybe any american runner. Pick a distance and this dude dominates it. Maybe Max King would be the one guy that could take that title? We need there to be a US wide All Terrain runner series. That would be awesome. I'd even pay NBCSN 30 bucks to stream all of those races.

Just a cool photo of the Golden Gate Bridge from Passion Passport. Running out in San Francisco, even if it was only one run, was easily one of my favorite places of the last year. It's insane how the bridge can look totally different over a matter of minutes.

Recovery Beer of the Week
Catawba Peanut Butter Jelly Time - Bringing it back. Also a good excuse to get the peanut butter jelly time song stuck in your head. I don't really know what to say about this one. It's an interesting beer. Like a raspberry wheat beer but with a little peanut butter finish. It's odd but refreshing.

Amanda and I went to the Catawba taproom in Asheville during the Spring and this was our favorite beer. It's weird because I want to say that it's a dessert beer but it's not not like Terrapin's Liquid Bliss chocolate peanut butter beer. I don't know. You have to try it.

Oh yeah...I almost forgot.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Race Recap: Georgia Peach Jam 1/2 Marathon

First "road" race of 2017 is in the books. I say "road" because Georgia Peach Jam is run pretty much entirely on the Big Creek Greenway, so it's a mix of pavement and boardwalk - road-like but not really on the road. Due to restrictions at the park, this race was moved to Memorial Day, which I think worked out pretty well. It sold out, so there were nearly 600 people in the 1/2 and another couple hundred in the 5k. If you live in this area, I would highly recommend checking this race out. It's a fast course - a.ka. pancake flat.

Going into this one, I knew I was missing the necessary long runs, but given how flat and straightforward this race is I figured I could settle into a good rhythm and run a solid time, somewhere in the 1:15 (great day) and 1:17 (solid day) range. Tim and Linda put the pressure on me early by giving me bib number one - I guess I earned it as the defending champ thought. They did packet pickup a couple days early at Big Peach Running Co. in Suwanee, which was great for me since the store is about 10 minutes from my house. I was able to grab my number on Saturday, which made Monday morning a little more relaxing. Of course, I took that too far and ended up getting out the door a touch late.

When I got to Fowler Park where the race starts I got a very quick warm up in before making my way to the track for the 7:30 a.m. start. The earlier start time was perfect as the temperature was comfortable with moderate humidity. That's the sweet spot down here this time of year. In the mornings you get lower temps - low 70s - with humidity in the 60-70 percent range. As the temperature climbs it burns the humidity off, but around 10 am you hit this rough patch where it's hot and humid, so the early start meant a lot of people finished just before it started to get brutal.

On the starting line, I recognized Andrew Catanese who had beaten me a few weeks before at the Harbins trail half marathon, so I knew I was going to be in for a challenge. I also spotted a young looking kid in a college singlet. Turned out to be from Augusta State - a D2 school down here. At that moment I started to think about when I was the mid 20s guy at these races. Now I'm the old dude trying to keep up with the 20-25-year-olds. I figured they would either take things out very fast like Andrew did at Harbins or they'd wait and try to feel out the first few miles. Guess which one they went with?

Yup, they hammered. After about a quarter mile I was 15 yards back and glanced down at my watch to see five-minute pace. 'Okay, this is too fast' I thought and I eased off a bit. I thought on a great day I could run 5:45-50, 5:50-6:00 on a good day and 6:10+ on a not so great day. With that in mind, I told myself to relax and settle in. If they were going to run 1:10, I was never going to see them again but there was a pretty good chance that if I ran steadily I could close some ground in the second half of the race.

I was still a little quick through the first mile, 5:28 according to my Strava splits. The first mile is a little bit downhill, so I brushed it off as being a fairly normal first mile that wouldn't adversely impact the later parts of the race. After that first mile, I did a good job of settling into my own rhythm and just running my race. The course following the greenway/bike path for about four miles before you hit the first turn around. I rattled off 5:49, 5:54, and 5:56 for miles 2-4. At that point, I knew that's where I was going to be all day. I felt pretty comfortable - even with nine miles still to go - and despite being down around a minute at the first turn around I felt like my best racing was still in front of me.

After the turnaround, the course retraces it's steps back to Fowler Park before continuing to the 10-mile turnaround. Bolstered by all the other runners cheering for me as I ran by them I ran 5:47 for mile five then 5:54 for the sixth mile. Shortly after I went through six miles, the course drops into a massive open field. I could see the two leaders ahead of me, still a long way off but I could tell that the young gun - Noah Hulett - was starting to drift back a little. I figured if kept plugging away I might be able to bring him back since we still had more than half of the race to go.

First race in the XTERRA kit but I'll always be Wild Endurance

I kept grinding my way through the next couple miles - 5:59 and 5:56 - despite losing sight of both guys up front after we crossed over a road and started winding through the woods and back along the creek. The race basically breaks down to quarters.

1 - Fowler Park to Bethelview Road (turn around one)
2 - Bethelview road back to Fowler Park (halfway-ish)
3 - Fowler Park to 10-mile turnaround
4 - 10-mile mark to finish.

The first half of the race is mostly concrete with some boardwalk mixed in, while the second half in mostly boardwalk with some concrete mixed in. The boardwalk is nice on the legs as the race wears on, you get a little bit of bounce from it so it feels softer on the body. I was enjoying the first long section of boardwalk when I caught another glimpse of Hulett up ahead. I couldn't tell exactly how far up he was but I'd definitely cut into his lead. I ran 5:56 for mile eight and 5:57 for mile nine. At this point, I could see I was really eating into his advantage all of the time.

I told myself to focus on staying in rhythm and thought that if I kept at it I could pull him back right around the 10-mile turnaround. Mile 10 was 5:52, so the chase was certainly on. I drew within striking distance just before the turnaround and moved past him about 100 yards after we started heading back for the final 5k. I didn't waste any time as I felt like my best chance to distance him was to try and keep rolling. I immediately moved past him and tried to put in a little surge. I thought that if I could carry the surge to the 11-mile mark that it would carry me home.

Clipping off the 11th mile in 5:42 was pretty much exactly what I was hoping for. I dropped Hulett and stretched things out nicely. I really wanted to keep pushing because I felt like I'd run a really smart race to that point and that I had a chance to make my last 5k the best part of the race. I was 5:51 for the 12th mile, so I slowed a little bit but my tempo was still better than it was for the majority of the race. At that point, all that was left to do was bring it home.

Once I got off the final section of boardwalk I started to really feel the effort. I think the switch to concrete was the thing that did it. This left me in full on grind it out mode in the last mile. I made the turn back onto the access path that leads back into the park and was greeted with the cruelest short climb. I've run this course a ton of times and normally Amanda and I will race up it at the end (she's on her bike) but something about 12+ hard miles on your legs made it seem a lot longer and steeper.

I crested the top of it and made my way onto the track for the finish, with my watch beeping 5:49 right as I started my final point one on the oval. I tried to open up the legs a little bit and crossed the line in 1:16:39 for a very solid second place. I ended up a little bit more than a minute down on Andrew (1:15:30) but two more than two minutes into Hulett over the final 5k (1:18:47).

Full Splits (according to Strava the total time was 1:16:42)
1 - 5:28
2 - 5:49
3 - 5:54
4 - 5:56
5 - 5:47
6 - 5:54
7 - 5:59
8 - 5:56
9 - 5:57
10 - 5:52
11 - 5:42
12 - 5:51
13 - 5:49
0.1 - 4:51

I was really happy with how the race turned out. I knew I wasn't going to be able to run with Andrew. That was obvious after Harbins, but I ran my race. I ran smart, smooth, and consistent and that allowed me to hunt down second place even when things looked a little bleak after the first quarter of the race. Sometimes it's tough to be getting older and getting worked by young dudes but it's nice to use a little veteran guile to show that I've still got it.

Here's what things looked like on Strava:

After the race, I hung out for a bit chatting with a few of the regulars. I ended up with a nice haul for second, getting some Bai Black, a $30 gift card to Fleet Feet, and a free burrito at Barberitos. When I eventually made my way back home, Amanda had made some homemade donuts, chocolate frosted and maple frosted. They were delicious. We pretty much spent the rest of the day hanging out and eating. After the donuts, I made some bacon cheddar burgers then zonked on the couch. Not a bad Memorial day if you ask me

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tuck Fest 2017

It took me a while to get my first real blog-worthy race of 2017. This year has been a little bit of a whirlwind. The Super Bowl run at work [insert 28-3 joke] meant that the season stretched and extra two months and while I am certainly not complaining about that, it did mean it took me a little longer to get both my offseason and running legs back under me.

The other reason this year got off to a hectic start is a little heavier. My mom passed away in March after a long but courageous battle with cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer four years ago and fought through some incredible challenges. The last time we talked, she told me her goal was to make it to Tuck Fest weekend so she could hear all about it from my brother and I. Prior to that conversation and in one of her signature surprise moves, my mom entered me into the Tuck Fest half marathon, bought three All-Sport passes for the USNWC, and booked hotel rooms and a flight for my brother, so we could all spend the weekend in Charlotte and enjoy the festival.

It was a little bit of a tough weekend for me because of all of this, but at the same time, I went into it knowing that she'd want me to enjoy every single second. That was my refrain for the weekend since I was coming into a very tough race underprepared. I'd run a few solid shorter Dirty Spokes races in the weeks leading up to Tuck Fest, which helped me mentally bounce back from a rough go at River Gorge, but as we made the drive to Charlotte from Atlanta I couldn't help but wonder why I felt it was necessary to run the half marathon. Maybe next year I'll opt for the shorter seven-mile race.

With the race on a Saturday morning, Amanda and I drove up to the Charlotte area on Friday night and met my younger brother Dann at our hotel. We grabbed dinner, burrito bowls at Qdoba - which I was little worried about at first but it was pretty plain so my stomach actually handled it fairly well. After eating we called it an early night and I started digging through all the stuff I brought to get my race gear ready.

Tangent alert! - I spent a lot of time during the winter and spring trying to figure out what trail shoes to go with this year. I ran Thrill in the Hills (half marathon) and River Gorge (10.2 miles) in a year-old pair of Montrails that left me with some wicked blisters on my left foot so I knew I needed a change up before Tuck Fest.

After weeks of research and hemming and hawing, I settled on giving the Hoka One One Speed Instinct a shot. They were my first pair of Hokas, but with a little lower stack height than some of their other offerings, I thought they'd be good for some of the longer trail runs/races on my calendar. While they tend to run a little hot, I'm a fan of this shoe. It's cushioned but still responsive and it has held up fairly well in the couple races I've put it through. It's not the most nimble shoe and I don't know that I'd wear it in a shorter race but it was a solid choice for this race.

Okay, where was I?

Following a restful night of sleep at the Hampton Inn, we packed up the car and headed over to the USNWC for the race and then a full day of outdoor activities, beer, and music. The start of the day and the race were fairly uneventful. I saw a few familiar faces on the starting line but outside of La Sportiva's Jason Bryant, I didn't really know what to expect from the field. My race plan going in was not to lead until we made our way through the first section of mountain bike trails. I have a good general knowledge of the course but all you really need to know is that it's long. Two laps are easily 14 and probably a little longer than that, but whatever the case, I knew going in it would be 50+ minutes per lap on a good day. I also know this course beats you up with a bunch of small steep climbs. No one single climb is too difficult but combined they make that second lap brutal.

Things looked like they were going to plan early as two guys jumped to the front at the gun. I've learned not to judge people by what they are wearing but one of these guys was wearing under armor boxer briefs. Not tights or compression shorts or something like that, actual boxer briefs like you'd wear as underwear on any normal day. Now, he was ripped, so I'll give him that but it was a little much. The other good looked comfortable running at the front so I settled in behind him and figured I'd hang there until either I fell off the pace or he slowed down. Either way, I'd stay relaxed for as long as possible. Or so I thought.

As soon as we came up on the entrance to the trails he swung way wide and I had to take the lead. That ended up being for the best as I just settled into my rhythm and started to string things out a little bit at a time. The first lap was pretty smooth. It's quiet on the trails and still fairly cool when you are running along the river. I made it about halfway through the first lap before I really felt like I was in a race. As I've said in previous blogs about this race, the quarter marathon (one lap) race goes off 30 minutes after the half, which means people everywhere on the second lap. I tried to use the first lap as a refresher of the course so I'd know what to expect for the second without having to think about it while dodging the other people.

Things went about as expected on the first lap. I rolled through the start/finish at 50:16 - turns out I was nearly three minutes up on Jason Bryant (52:58) - and tried to refocus for the 50+ minutes I had left in the race. One of the smarter things I did for this race was that I rationed my nutrition throughout. I only brought one Untapped packed but I took a little bit at a time every 15 or so minutes after the first 35 minutes. I'd always in the past just shot the whole thing at some point in the race between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the length. I don't know if it actually helped, but mentally it was good to know I had that little bit of a boost still sitting in my pocket.

The second lap unfolded as predicted. All the little up and downs and the building heat really started to wear on me about an hour and 15 minutes into the race. I was able to stay in control for the most part with one exception. As is customary with this race, someone went the wrong way. The past two years it was the same guy, cutting a big chunk off the second loop (12 minutes last year) and claiming he came in before me. This year, somehow the guy from the beginning of the race ended up out in front of me on the trails around nine miles into the race. I was so confused and so was he. I don't think he ran through the start finish. I think he missed a turn and ended up on the maze-like trails somehow. Anyway, that little bit of panic gave me a little bit of a shot of adrenaline and carried me through the next couple of miles before fatigue really started to set in.

Fortunately, I've hopped on the struggle bus in more or less the same stop the last two years, so I knew I just had to grind through a few more miles before I'd be done. I crossed the line in 1:43:21 to take the win ahead of Jason Bryant (1:50:31). My second lap was substantially slower than the first 53:04 but all that really mattered to me was that I got the win.

Here's what it looked like on Strava - yes my watch said 13.9, so there is no way this race is a half marathon. It's somewhere between 14 and 15. One lapper for me next time.

I didn't really care about the time or that fact that I ran slower than last year. I knew my mom wouldn't have cared about that. She would have been happy that I won, but she would have been happy that I gave it a go no matter how it went. The only real negative from the race was that I couldn't give her a call at the end of the day and let her know how it went.

After the race was done I met up with Amanda and Danny and tried to cool myself down. I made the mistake of sitting down, which meant everything locked up as soon as I stood back up. I ended up winning a $50 La Sportiva gift card to Outfitters, the gear shop at the USNWC which I used on a running shirt. It was cool that they had prizes this year but I would have been happy with a beer like last year too.

After the awards, we made our way over to the main section of the park to do some whitewater rafting. We had a great time, even though I was cramping up every time I shifted my weight to try and keep from falling out of the boat. Fortunately, we only had five in our boat so I could stretch my legs out when we were paddling easy, but yeah whitewater rafting like and hour after a trail half marathon...or 15-mile race...whatever.

We decided to take it easier for a bit after that and got some food and beers while we listened to the first band of the day. I felt a little bad that I had to bow out of the ropes courses and ziplining but I was legitimately wrecked. We walked around for a bit and saw some of the different vendors and did a Bell's beer scavenger hunt then we made a good call and went down to the Catawba River to check out their flatwater offerings. We got a couple kayaks and ended up paddling around and swimming for a while, which was I needed. Something nice and relaxing. Although in our two-person kayak I did most of the work while Amanda soaked up the sun.

We hung out for most of the night watching people brave the full force rapids. They have five turbines that create the rapids but normally only run four, so when they kick up the fifth it gets pretty gnarly. We stayed for the beginning of the last band of the night but then made our way back to the hotel to zonk out for the night. I didn't know any of the bands from Saturday, but the Revivalists played Friday night and Nathaniel Ratliff and the Nightsweats played Sunday (might have gotten rained out though).

We went back over in the morning but some nasty thunderstorms rolled in and put a bit of a damper on the festivities on Sunday. We grabbed coffee and walked around a little but ended up bailing to go get lunch at a cool resturant that had bowling and games before dropping Danny off at the airport.

We did find this cool iPad photo booth they had set up and got the above picture taken. As you can see this was when I had my sweet beard. To be completely honest, it looks way more legit in the picture than I remember it being. I might have to bring it back for the summer.

Tuck Fest was really fun this year if a little bittersweet. I was really glad to get to spend the weekend with my brother. I know my mom would have been really happy with how much fun we had. Tuck Fest is already on the 2018 calendar. Maybe next year I can talk my brother into the deep water solo climbing contest or some bouldering. Shoot, maybe we'll get up there earlier on Friday and do the obstacle race.

I've got what I hope are a few blog worthy things planned over the next few weeks, so hopefully I'll get this thing going again.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016 Review

I'm a little late on the 2016 recap, but I decided to do something a little different than just rehash everything I did. I've been using Adobe Spark for work, so I thought I would put one together that has some of my favorite pictures from the past year. I think it came out pretty cool. Enjoy.

Year in review

Alright, 2016 is in the books and we're on to 2017. I didn't write much about my running in the Spark, but 75 percent of the photos came from different runs that I did. I ended 2016 by accomplishing a lot of my goals - winning the Dirty Spokes and XTERRA series, I won Tuckfest, and I rode my bike more. Running wise it was a pretty successful year. I didn't end up running Loon or a PR in the half marathon, but hey there is always next year.