Minecraft Lessons in the Wissahickon

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The year had been going so well, but then came the slight dog attack, and the twisted ankle, and what I thought was the recovery from that, and then that long, easy, mostly downhill run during those two weeks between Dirty German and what should have been the start of my Boulder Field training, the easy run after which I thought my foot was going to fall off.

I haven’t run at all in two weeks as I was doing some physical therapy to strengthen the hurt ankle. The ankle had gotten pretty floppy. It was most noticeable when I would be walking down stairs, and my right foot did everything it was supposed to do and my left foot just sort of clunked down from toe to heel because there was no strength in the joint.

The last couple days, though, things felt normal, and after a walk up to the Target about a mile and a half from here a couple days ago, it felt like it might be time to go out and put a little stress on the ankle and see how it does.

So it was off to the Yellow Trail tonight with Lyra in tow. The 4+ miles we hiked would be the longest she had ever hiked all at once before, and she passed the time explaining in great detail things I never knew I didn’t know about the world of Minecraft. We took short breaks here and there to go over the finer points of trail etiquette. She said she loves being in the woods. She even bombed a little descent after I talked her into taking the steeper shorter trail rather than the longer flatter one. She smiled alot. I smiled too.

Not sure I’ll run this weekend, but it’s looking like Monday might be the day to return to some light running. Time to ease back into the easy workouts at the very least, even if I’m not yet up to handling the long workouts.

See you and the spider jockeys out there.

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Race Recap: Delaware Trail Triple Crown Half-Marathon, Newark, DE, April 29, 2017

My spring race schedule has been a bit of a mess since the cancellation of the Kent Island Metric Marathon. By default the Delaware Trail Triple Crown Half-Marathon became my big target race, and leading into it, I had a very good feeling. I was getting my miles in, getting my vertical gain in, and a week ago I had a really really strong 5k run, setting a new personal best by almost a full minute.

But I had been suffering from some chest congestion and some sinus stuffiness/runny nose, so I was not in the greatest health. But nothing too bad.

The night before, I went out for a light trot to loosen up. Felt good, went to bed early. Race morning, a crackin’-good thunderstorm woke me and everyone else up at 4:00 a.m., and hour before my alarm was set. I don’t think I quite got back to sleep, which wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t think much of it.

It’s a bit of a drive down to White Clay Creek State Park near Newark, but at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, there wasn’t any traffic and I got down in plenty of time to get my bib, get relaxed, and get ready.

The Course

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The terrain for the half-marathon is gently rolling single-track through dense woods and a few small meadows. There are three sections that are somewhat significant uphill stretches, with one significantly steep downhill, and the opening few miles are predominantly downhill. There were two creek crossings.

The trails in White Clay Creek State Park are a series of linked loops, and the course this year followed the loops counter-clockwise before looping back.

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The thunderstorms the night before left the trails a little bit muddy, but not terribly so. The footing was in general fine, and the trails were as technical as what I am used to running on…very few rooty/rocky sections. All in all, a lovely course with terrain that was just challenging enough to keep it interesting. This was, after all, a trail race, not simply a half-marathon through the woods.

The Race

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We started off running across a clearing in the Carpenter Recreation Area. I tried to get in the front 10 or 15 heading into the woods so that I wouldn’t get caught up in a queue on the single track. I did well, landing about 5th or 6th, and then we got into our first real series of short descents. I was going pretty well, I thought. My breathing was fine; my cough was not causing any problems, but my nose wasn’t behaving that well. Anyway, I carried on, the leaders ducking in and out of sight just up the trail. I thought I might be able to hang at this pace, around 8:30, for a bit until the uphills started.

Unfortunately, after maybe four miles, it was becoming clear that it was not my day. Even though the downhills had not been that severe, my legs were starting to go already. There just wasn’t any strength there anymore. I wasn’t gassed, I was just weak. I had a gel a bit earlier than planned, kept taking swigs from the bottle, and soldiered on.

It didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse and worse. I ran most of the first uphill, but the second two sections, running was out of the question, and even my hiking was getting slow. I got passed again and again, eventually sinking to maybe 35th or so in the field. It was tough, but I needed a good tough-it-out experience, and this was it. On the flats, I got back into my running gait and was able to keep up 8:45-9:15 pace.

It was hot, and I was downing a lot more water than I thought I would. I am certainly glad I decided to run with my bottle, despite there being ample aid stations throughout the course. I probably should have taken on some Gatorade during the race too, but I thought my gels and Cytomax would keep my nutrition in good order. Maybe not.

As the end of the course approached, I got a bit of steam back, and we hit a long, slow grinding uphill, which I usually do pretty well at. I was able to put the accelerator down a bit and pass a handful of guys who looked as if they felt about as bad as I felt, and then, coming across the clearing again in the recreation area, I was able to outkick one final guy into the finishing chute. Final time: 2:04:53, 29th place. For being a target race, that is pretty disappointing. Not so much the pace, which can be so variable in trail running, but rather the placing. I really wanted, and was well-prepared, for better.

What I Learned

I need to run uphill on trails more. I need to run fast downhill more. I don’t mind feeling gassed during a run; I know how to back off the pace and find my groove. I know how to suffer through a bad patch. But having the strength leave my legs? That was no fun. My mind and my lungs wanted to go, wanted to push. There was just nothing there. So I need to look at leg strength and how vertical training plays into that.

Next Up

I’m looking forward to a trail-running field trip with some new people this coming weekend. We’re heading into central PA to run Pinnacle Peak and Pulpit Rock. It’ll be refreshing to get out someplace new. And then, a week later, it’ll be the Dirty German 25k, on easy trails right here in Philadelphia. After that, some thinking about the fall.

See you out there.

Race Recap: Running With Team John at the Safe From The Sun 5k {Wayne, PA}

I’m not usually a 5k kind of guy, but this one was for a good cause and has a backstory to it that is very important to me.

Team John was formed in honor of a friend of mine who passed away at age 38 from melanoma. His wife has organized this team at this event the last four years, and this year, the team raised close to $5,000 for Melanoma International. The overall winner’s trophy is named after John, and Donna presents it. It was pretty special.

John was a great guy, and he was a running coach, too, establishing the cross-country team at the high school where we used to work together. So it was great to get out on a brilliant sunny day and put in three quick miles in John’s honor.

Based on a speed workout I did a couple weeks ago on the day when my first big race this spring was supposed to be held, I figured I could probably go in the 20:30 or so range for this race. The night before, I looked up the finishing times from last year, and lo and behold, the winning time was right around 20:30. So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance.

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The girls picked some flowers to give to me as I ran. Alas, they were on the walking course, and I was on the running course. I still got the flowers.

The course is at Wilson Farm Park in Wayne, and is a very gently rolling, easy, fast course on some road and some paved footpath. The forecast had, at some point, been for rain, but that was wrong. It was as close to a perfect spring 5k day as any reasonable person could ask for. I ran sleeveless and got the “Sun’s out, guns out” comment at the starting gate. And there at the start, it was easy to see that there were two guys who were going to run way faster than 20:30. You just don’t show up to a community 5k in an orange singlet and split-side shorts if you aren’t in general ambitious…as we started off down a gentle hill, I stuck with them, checking my watch at about 1/4 mile in. We were running a 5:30 pace and since I didn’t want to reduce myself to a quivering pile of dry heaves before the halfway point, I backed off and settled in to a far more reasonable pace.

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Really, not much else to say. The course was generally downhill for the first mile, generally flat for the second, and therefore just a bit uphill in the last mile. My pace shows it…ghastly positive splits as I never quite overcame the consequences of that first 1/4 mile.

I crossed the line 5th, and was promptly given a slip saying I had finished 6th. Chipped by the guy just behind me. But whereas my training run a couple weeks ago featured a 21:09 5k split, I finished this race in 20:11, which I am of course pretty jazzed about. 6th overall, and 1st in the 40-49M group. I’ll take that at this point.

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This is a huge travel mug. Age-group winners drink an awful lot of coffee on the go.

What I Learned

First, I need to speed train with a group of runners faster than myself. I suffer motivational deficiencies out there, and struggle to push myself much past 6:00 pace in my speedwork. But, as I was poking around the last couple days in various pacing apps and websites, it looks as if I should be trying to push my interval paces down into the 5:45-range. Which I might be able to do…I’m not sure, and I’m a couple months removed from short-interval track work. We’ll get back to that in late May.

Second, as I am looking into the future/next year or so, it is becoming more and more of a possibility that I will succumb to the inevitability of a road marathon. The actual plan is to jump to a trail 50k in the fall (I’m looking at you, Boulder Field) assuming the Dirty German 25k goes well in May. But I’ll also take a crack at another road half in the fall, and if the pace predictors know what they are talking about, then I might be in for a sub-1:32:00 time. I have said to others elsewhere that if I run 1:30:00, then I’ll enter a full marathon, and maybe 1:32:00 is close enough.

Third, the miles are helping. After Dirty German, I’ll write up a review of the training plan I have used the last two training cycles. But for now, suffice it to say that my schedule does not always allow me to run all the miles the plan wants me to run, but despite that, the legs are coming along nicely, and the occasional unplanned rest day, for example today when the to-do list was long and the rain was all-day, has kept me able to push things and stay a bit fresher. But yes. The miles are helping.

So.

I ran the race in memory of John. It was wonderful seeing his friends and family and knowing that I am part of that great group. It was wonderful running a good strong race with him on my mind. Thanks so much to all who ran, all who donated time or money, and all who work to beat melanoma.

The Race That Wasn’t

Back at the turn of the year, when I started planning out what I wanted to accomplish this spring, one small, odd race caught my imagination: The Kent Island Metric Marathon. It’s a 26.2 kilometer race, somewhere in the 17-18 mile range. It’s held on Kent Island, MD in the Chesapeake Bay, just by where my parents now live.

I was drawn to the odd distance. So many races are about a standard distance: 5k, 10k, 15k, 10-mile, 13.1 mile, 26.2 mile. I’ve always wondered why this is, why there aren’t more races that are simply races. Curses can get contorted and ungainly as they try to fit into a set distance that isn’t natural for the space they cover. Or you end up with yet another out-and-back on MLK Drive, just like every other race.

On the day when the KIMM was to have been held, there was also one of the world’s great cycling races, Paris-Roubaix (Van Avaermat! Yaaaaaah! You’re my new Cancellara). Point-to-point races are far more common in cycling. In fact, races of a set length are rare. It’s all about the course in cycling, and I like that. It gives each race something of its own, and perhaps because it’s about the course, there isn’t this impetus to race fast-and-flat, to notch up a PR on a fast course. Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders and E3 can luxuriate in the beautiful, poetic punishment of the cobblestones and not worry about what the record for the 10k is, not worry about attracting runners with the lure of a PR. Even though Van Avaermat’s race this year was in fact a course record, no one races Roubaix to set a fast time. They ride it to roll the dice on the cobbles. How many running races take this unexpected roll of the dice somehow?

Alas, the metric marathon was not held this year, and I find myself in this odd position of having designed my spring around this race and another road half-marathon which I also will not be able to run (it’s on Mothers Day…not gonna go there). Instead, I’m now falling back onto trail races, and I’m wondering what to do with all the speed I have been working on and all the rock-hopping I have been neglecting a bit.

Well, I found myself on Kent Island anyway this weekend, en route to a wedding, and I had the chance to get out for a run Saturday on the excellent Cross-Island Trail before I had to get to work. And how did the speed go? Well, it went. Once again, really a shame I did not race that day.

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Garmin tells me that I set new 1k (I don’t think so…I’m sure this is a glitch and I have gone faster before), 5k, and 10k records, although that should be taken with a grain of salt because this was an interval workout, and not a straight tempo, so there was rest in there. Still, it was a great morning of going out and hammering. Which am I more excited about…:09 off from a 21:00 5k, or going sub-44:00 for 10k? And this during a solo training run. No one pushing me but who I brought along in my head.

Gives me confidence for the next race, a 5k coming up in a couple weeks. Goal? Let’s say 20:30. I haven’t raced a 5k in about a year and half, and I’m keen to see what running in a fast pack can do for me. After the 5k is a little endurance stunt I’m looking forward to experiencing and writing a bit about. More on that later.

Until then, see you out there!

On The Routine Of The New Best.

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I’ve already written about my long run two Sundays ago, the one in Valley Forge where I felt so good over the course of 13.5 miles. I need to add something about that run that has occurred to me in hindsight: it was a breakthrough moment. I have been, at heart, a half-marathon guy. I really love the distance: long enough for a challenge, but not so long that it is a suffer fest or becomes simply about survival. I have not yet been tempted by what sometimes seems to be the inevitability of the marathon. I am, after all, a guy who likes speed work and is always working to run a distance faster. I would rather work hard to shave two minutes off my 13.1 time than slow the pace to run the full 26.2. I like notching up new personal bests. There have been times when those don’t come too often. But these days, new bests in both speed and distance are part of the routine. I love hitting them, but I also know that they are stepping stones toward other goals down the road.

But out there on the roads of VF NHP, I had a breakthrough moment. As I floated through the closing miles of the workout, it dawned on me: running like this is exactly why people enjoy running marathons. I had gotten myself to a point where distance didn’t really matter, and I didn’t really have to think about making the relentless forward progress of long distance running. I was just going, and going, and it was lovely.

This past Sunday was also a great day. I had some passing FOMO as reports of the LOVE Run started pouring in, but I had planned to spend the afternoon logging a long run, and that’s just what I did. Not just a long run–a longest run. Those 15.00 miles were the farthest I have run at any one time. A new distance personal best. And I felt great the whole time and recovered well, too. It was a really great day.

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I’ve been having a lot of really great days recently. I am having a really great training cycle, and despite the fact that a race I was really looking forward to, the Kent Island Metric Marathon, got cancelled, I am working toward two more races this spring: a trail half marathon in April, and a road half in May. I’ll write more about the training program I have been using later, but man is it ever paying off this time around.

So much so that personal bests are becoming routine. I like staying excited about accomplishments, and I am still at a point in my running where I have not hit full fitness or full potential. I am still growing into being the kind of runner I can be, and this training cycle has been about not just nudging the line forward, but really busting a wall down and realizing that there is a whole new area of development beyond what I have done over the last two years or so. I’ve hit a new plateau that I am just starting to play around on.

In the last couple months, I have run my fastest mile of my second running life. I’ve run the furthest, then run the furthest again, and then again. I’ve had some truly magical interval workouts. I’m feeling better, stronger, more confident, and running is just more enjoyable because of all of that. I know that this trend cannot continue forever. I will hit my races this spring, max myself out, and then back off for a bit before beginning to build toward the fall season. I know that summer runs will be hard and hot and slow and thirsty. I know that at some further point, my basic running development will max out and the fact of my age will start to slow things down, but I have at least a few more years before that should begin in earnest.

In two weekends, I’ll be out there again on the long run, and I will be setting a new personal best again. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that it is a matter of course, and not a question or a surprise, to push myself on toward the next goal race and goal times.

I should have raced today.

This morning: Woke up. Sat on the couch. Streamed the NYC Half Marathon. I really do love watching Molly Huddle run. Congrats to her on her third win. Where were the American men?

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Later: There’s one problem with my neighborhood. Well, I mean, there are more problems than that, but for the sake of this post, the problem that has been bugging me the last couple weeks is that my neighborhood is very narrow, wedged in between Wissahickon Valley Park and the Schuylkill River, so there are only so many ways to run out of the neighborhood, and when you are running six times a week, those only-a-few-ways can wear on you. So I’ve been itching to get out and run somewhere else.

Sunday is longrunday for me, and I got to thinking that I had not been out to Valley Forge National Historical Park for some time, and maybe today was the time. If you are not familiar with the park, you should make yourself familiar. Wide-open, rolling spaces, miles of road and trail, long views, running through history. It’s an all-around brilliant space, varied, beautiful, challenging. On the docket for today was something like 12 miles, and two loops of Valley Forge’s outer and inner loops would fit the bill nicely.

But the snow.

All of the footpaths were untouched from last Tuesday’s snow, which is good news for the cross country skiers and bad news for the runners in semi-permeable shoes. So it was out onto the road for me. Pro Tip: the park roads are great to run on. But once you hit the junction with PA 252, and then PA23, it’s really dodgy. Very little shoulder, and still lots of snow on what little shoulder there it. High speeds, heavy volume. Not a good time. Stick to the park roads.

So the workout was to do the first loop at an easy 8:45 pace, and then do a step-down for the second loop, ending up around 7:45 pace. Step-downs are a real challenge on rolling terrain, so I let go of the detail-orientedness, and just let rip on the second half, running anywhere between 6:50 on downhills and 8:10 on uphills. And, I felt great. I should have raced today. I have never felt that good after 13.5 miles.

Wandering Around In The Snow

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Five days ago, it snowed a little bit here in Philadelphia. While some outlets were calling for up to 18 inches, it all by way of sleet and wet yuck compacted itself down to about 4 inches of last-minute, fading-winter spoil-sportiness. I actually got out Tuesday for a run in the freshly-fallen density, and had a good little hill run that I had been wanting to try for a bit.

But that was five days ago. I don’t mind running through snow when it has been on the ground for just an hour or two. But when it’s five days later and there are still long stretches of sidewalk that are not cleared, when the bridge over the river is still closed, the snow untouched, when every place I try to run, every plan C I stitch together in the moment to get around the plan B that is snow-bound just like plan A, when every 3/4 of a mile there is an icy mushy mess…well. It gets my dander up.

Today was supposed to be six miles easy. I was going to go over the Manayunk Bridge. Blocked. So I decided to just go over the Green Lane Bridge. Unshoveled. Of course the towpath was also unmaintained, but that’s to be expected since it’s not paved. So I had to run on Main Street. Fine for a mile. Then, unshoveled. I figured I’d swing up Kelly Drive to Midvale. Unshoveled. So I’d just continue up Ridge to East Falls. Unshoveled. Maybe I could go up Schoolhouse Lane. Unshoveled. So I called it early, turned around, and got home via Ridge, missing out on about a mile or so. Oh well.

Tomorrow I’m heading out to Valley Forge NHP for 12 miles, which I imagine will also not be shoveled. At least it’ll be open and beautiful and a place I haven’t run in some time. See you out there.