The First Ultramarathon, Part 1: Getting to 60K

I found a spot against the wall, and settled among the other runners- fixing their bibs, attaching timing tags, finalizing their layers, and doing just about anything to delay their inevitable dip into the blustery fall morning. I would probably be outside for 7 to 8 hours, at least, that’s how long I guessed it would take me to finish the NYC60K. Seeing as how it would be my first ultra, and I have never ran more than 26.2 miles, guessing was all I could do.

Then, a thought popped into my mind, so obvious that to have missed it I suddenly felt like I had sleepwalked my way into that crowd of ultra runners.

“What am I DOING?”

The bib pickup was tiny by comparison of a typical NYRR race, but then again, this was no typical race.

For many, the NYC60k, formerly the Knickerbocker, slips by quietly since it falls about two weeks after the New York City Marathon. It consists of -a dazzling and mind warping- 9 laps around Central Park (1 five mile loop, followed by 8 four mile loops). In many ways, it is the antithesis to it’s five borough predecessor. Where the Marathon features a flashy course, unbroken miles of spectators,and nearly 50,000 finishers, the NYC60K sets you loose in Central Park until your heart is content (and then some), most of the spectators are actually also the course Marshalls, and less than 400 runners even begin the race, let alone finish it.

My first foray into ultra running came a little over 2 years ago when Charlie, aka Runner Brother, signed up for his first 50 miler- the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain.

I have no idea why he did it, but he did and it was brutal. B-ru-tal. Yet aside from the excruciating pain I witnessed, I will never forget my first glance at the ultra runners through the darkness that swathed their 5 am start. Their faces were mothers and daughters, brothers and grandfathers, but every calf looked like a tree trunk. To the uninitiated, such as myself, they looked like figures out of mythology, athletes beyond reason.

Two and a half years later, after crewing half a dozen ultra’s for my brother and completing three marathons of my own, I was ready to run my own ultra.

As I picked up my bib, I wandered back out into the hall, anxious to find a place to take advantage of the heat and get everything into place for the race.
I looked at the bib they had given us: some sort of thick plastic strip was stuck to the front with instructions on how to remove and secure the old timing tech. To me, it looked as intimidating as if I had just been handed launch codes. I looked at the runners around me. We resembled each other in neither age nor sex, and they all seemed to have attached their alien timing strips.

I paused, The Thought had struck me- “What am I doing?”

So simple. I had the race on my mind for months, and this was the first time doubt had crept into my mind. Doubt so rational that the fact it had never crossed my mind before that moment almost struck me to the ground.

Did I think this through? Am I sure I am supposed to be an ultra runner? Do I belong here?

And then, slowly, I recalled week by week each run- each footfall- that had brought me there.

trails ultra running cat's tail marathon

Catskills this summer. (two charlie’s pictured) Photo via Cat’s Tail Marathon

I remembered the night I ran home along the west side highway, trailing gently behind a duo of runners for security in the darkness while trying to beat the impending humid, summer rain.

I remembered the trail run where I joined a seasoned group of ultra runners to run once last trail check along a portion of (and for) the Cat’s Tail Marathon-my old cross country fears and (let’s face it) reality of always being near last seized me all morning, but I left the trail feeling free and empowered.

I remembered every early morning. I remembered every long run I could have stopped short, but instead chose another loop, another out and back, another couple miles.

Was I actually worried I might not complete the distance? I thought, no, not for a second. The trick now was to simply relax and not crash and burn out anywhere before mile 30. I could so that.

Never-mind “what was I doing here”- I belonged here.


Part 2: Going 60K

More Miles, More Shoes

Two marathons.

And all the miles in between and after.

It was time for new running shoes. Really time.

trump art running heads
Yesterday, I got out of work early, headed down to Paragon Sports to get some shoe guidance and make some decisions.

Two years ago, I bought my first pair of shoes there and they were awesome. The shoe wizard recommended the (then) new Adidias Energy Boost and it was love at first stride.

Then, before my first marathon, I found they were worn to shreds and I replaced them. By then they had the 2nd generation, but there was a tough plastic piece I didn’t like so I stuck with the 1st generation.

energy boost shoes best running shoes ever

This time around, my beloved 1st generation boosts were nowhere to be found. I decided on the Ultra Boost, which features a touch extra foam cushioning and a little big of a thus far strange fit on the heel, but my other options were a big drop off in cushioning which didn’t interest me since most of my runs are longer and on pavement. Also, this was the only color available:

new running shoes

I would like to note: of all three shoes pictured, each was probably my last choice for color and the only color left. Will I ever acquire a running shoe that doesn’t violate my eyes on a daily basis? Time will tell.

And then I was off! I jumped immediately into my new kicks and headed for the Hudson River Park to make my way home uptown (way uptown).

The last of the weekend’s heat wave was still lingering and when the sun came out in force about halfway thru, it was hot hot HOT.

It has been a long time since I ran along the Hudson though and there were tons of new sculptures and installations to look at along the way.
Hudson River Park Head ArtAll in all, I started out the week with some solid miles and I am stoked.

This run entailed: 1 1/2 mile warm up (to paragon) + 8 sweaty cruising miles =9 1/2 miles, probably my distance day for this week.

So far, right on course for 13 miles of pacing at the Beast of Burden Summer Utra! Can’t wait!

New York City Marathon Training: Round 2

nyc marathon entry 2015

new york city marathon guaranteed entry 2015

TCS New York City Marathon Training!

I’m back and ready for more miles.

I did a bit of running on and off the past several months, but between recovering from my knee injury last fall, planning a wedding, and recovering from planning said wedding, my consistency took a hit. It wasn’t until a few weeks after the wedding commotion died down, I suspected I was getting some summertime blues.

And then I woke up- the city was baking and I realized, guiltily, I’m behind being acclimated to the humidity. For god’s sake: there’s a marathon coming down the line and it’s time to make some moves!

NYC 2015: There’s a Sub-4 to Settle

Last year I stupidly, albeit mysteriously, injured myself three weeks out from the marathon and somehow hobbled through on race day without blowing anything out completely. So this year, my two main goals are as follows:

1.) Have an injury free training season! This means I need to:
a.) find and buy new running shoes immediately
b.) learn to take time for recovery tools, like icing and stretching.

2.) Fingers crossed- If I can stay injury free, I think I have a really good shot at sub-4 hrs. Before my late injury last year, I was right on track to finish around 4 hours, so hopefully I can get back to that zone.

That’s all I got for now! As I finish this, I am watching “Ultramarathon Man,” with Dean Karnazes. There’s a lot going on in this movie that could, and may be, talked about. But right now I think the main take away is Karnazes ordered and ate fresh pizza in the middle of his marathons.  Whikki-whaa?? (Record scratch) Make that my 3rd goal.




Pacing the Beast


This weekend I was originally going to run the Fred Lebow ½ Marathon, but I ended up swapping 13 miles in Central Park for 13 miles of pacing my crazy brother, Charlie, during the Beast of Burden 100 Mile Ultra in Lockport, New York- upgrade!

Charlie ran his first 100 miler during Virgil Crest  in September, but this was his first ultra on a flat course so we were eager to see how it would go.

Lucky for everyone involved, the races (25, 50, or 100 miles) kicked off at 10:00 am. The joke was that the former race director liked to sleep in and now it was helpful for Canadian racers who liked to drive down the morning of. We left the Finger Lakes around 7 am, got into Lockport around 8:45, and were ready for the pre-race meeting at 9:45.

The parking lot was filled with cars doubling as race-resumes with stickers ranging from the JFK 50 to the Musselman Triathlon and everything in between.  It was a great atmosphere; the daunting distance didn’t deter runners from donning their finest costume garb which featured horned hats and pink fur.

Ultra pre-race meeting 100 miles

At the pre-race meeting the race director went over all the final details, which included to option to change distances before the race began. He reiterated runners change it before the start, because “if anyone tries to change it during race, we have a special acronym for that called ‘DNF’.” Laughs all around.

And they were off!

Beast of Burden Ultra Start Lockport

It was an out and back course: 12.5 out, 12.5 back in, four loops to complete the 100. It was completely and utterly flat, winding gently along the bends of the Erie Canal.

Beast of Burden Ultra course race

For runners the aid stations were at Mile 1 (Lockport), Mile 7 (Gasport), and Mile 12.5 (Middleport). For Crew and Spectators, the main checkpoints were Mile 1, Mile 6 (Orangeport), and Mile 12.5, so my aunt, my mom, and I spent most of the day shuttling back and forth.

Runner soup aid station ultra

Fifty Miles on the Erie Canal: The First 50

The first 50 miles were pretty smooth. Too smooth maybe, since his times matched up with a lot of his shorter races of the same distance.

Miles 1- 12.5 = 1:45 (11:45 am)

Miles 1- 25= approx 4 hrs (2:00 pm)

Charlie took fresh chicken noodle soup from us at the 25 mile marker, but after that ate mostly from the aid stations which were STOCKED with pretty much anything imaginable: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, chicken broth, vegetable broth, salt potatoes, pizza, pretzels, chocolates, HEED, electrolyte tablets- the list goes on.

Runner aid station 50 miles 100 miles ultra

He finished the Miles 25-50 in about 5:17 (7:17 pm) and locked in a 50 Mile PR about 2 hours faster than his Bear Mountain finish last spring.

He had paired up with Ben from Cleveland some point after Mile 30, and the two had joined with Yak Hat sometime after Mile 37. Note: I tried to ask the third runner’s name but Charlie was to tired to entertain me.

So, Charlie, Ben, and Yak Hat- the three came in together at the 50, and set out on their third loop together.

ultra runners at aid station lockport

Miles 50-100: The Tough Get Going

By the time we met them again at Mile 62.5, Charlie was hurting. Bad. The three rested for a bit at the Middleport aid station before finally Ben and Yak Hat set off. Charlie’s legs had basically tightened so badly (most likely due to a combination of a mis-timed yoga class and the cold…maybe even the 62 miles he had just run?) that it was increasingly difficult to run at all.

But I supposed part of the point of a 100 Miler is that it is difficult, whether it is in the way you expect or in the unforeseen surprises that arise from even the simplest of things.

He set out again, and some time soon after my mom, my aunt, and I all swore we would never go to another 100 Miler. And some time soon after that we all recanted and set out again to follow around someone intent on torturing himself.

Charlie had decided I should jump in for miles 75- 87.5, so I was suited up and ready to go as we waited for him to come back in to the main aid station. When he did come in, he was hurting. Luckily, one of the volunteers, Dwight, happened to be a massage therapist and helped Charlie work out some of the knots in his legs. It looked excruciating, but Charlie said it was well worth the pain.

Beast of Burden Cold Ultra

photo_2[1]We set out just after 3:15 am. There were no lamp posts, so most of the course was dark, and we had head lamps, and blinking red LED lights on our backs. It was about 20 degrees and dropping, with 15-20 mph winds. With wind chill factored in, it felt like it was a frigid 5 degrees. Unfortunately,  Charlie’s legs were still too cramped to get running at this point. And so we walked. And walked. And walked.  You couldn’t see that much ahead of you or around you in the dark, and what you could see looked the same as the mile before it. The miles and the darkness of the morning stretched on and on like some hellscape that I imagine would drop off the edge of the earth before it reached a finite conclusion.

We reached my mom and my aunt at the 6 mile mark around 5:30 am and scrambled into the car. The idea was to warm up, and hit the road again. Then Charlie dozed a little and said 6. Then 6:15. Then maybe 6:30. It was a tough call. I literally shivered in the car for an hour before I began to feel warm again. I put on more layers. When I finished, I had on 2 long sleeve base layers, 2 long sleeve tech shirts, a hoodie, and a waterproof outer shell.

Finally, at 7 o’clock, Charlie made the call to push on. He was adamant he was going to continue the whole 100 even if he had to walk until just under the cut off, so we set out. After a few feet, he realized the cramps were starting to fade, but not enough to pick up running again just yet.  So we walked some more. The sun was just coming up through the trees, and for a few minutes the landscape looked not-so-barren. Within an hour, clouds had settled over again, but for a little bit, it was quite nice.

Beast of Burden Erie Canal Ultra

We also began to see more runners. While we were car napping, I didn’t see many people. But as soon as it began to get light, one by one the course began to come alive with more runners; we were like bears coming out of hibernation.

Charlie and I made it into the Middleport Aid Station, and again, we were chilled to the bone.

By the time we met Charlie at Mile 94, he had been able to start running again and had made up a lot of time. Who knew after 94 Miles things would be drastically better than ten miles before?!

Beast of Burden Ultra Finisher

As we waiting at the staging aid station/ finish area, we could see runners on the other side of the canal as they wound their way back the final two miles to the finish. We say Charlie and several other runners across the water all within 30 minutes of each other.

The volunteers here were incredible, and popped out of the warmth of the tent to lookout for finishers. When they spotted someone, everyone would grab a cowbell and run out to welcome the runner in. It was incredible, especially since many were running with out spectators or crew.

Then it was Charlie’s turn and at 1:07 pm, Sunday afternoon, he finished.

Beast of Burden Race Director Finisher Belt Buckle

It didn’t go exactly as planned. We asked Charlie how many other runner’s he saw, he said ‘Well there’s still a couple of people behind me’. And then we saw the results: 11th out of 30 finishers. He was one of the 2 youngest runners, possibly the youngest.

I’ve never run an ultra, yet. Charlie is working on changing that. But from the tiny sliver of this experience I shared with him, I can’t say with certainty that I would have chosen to go on after 75 Miles. I don’t know that even if I managed to make it 75 miles, I would head out again when every step was excruciating- and optional.

Charlie did. I’m not even sure if it was ever even a choice in his mind- whether to continue or not. And to me, physically finishing 100 miles pales in comparison to his certainty and determination that, one way or another, he would finish.