Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reflections on My First Fifty Mile Run

Several weeks have passed since I completed my first 50 miler and the glow of the accomplishment has somewhat begun to fade. Over this period I've had time to reflect on the achievement and some of what I perceive to be some of the keys to my success.

The Training Plan

I found a 50 mile training plan online and printed it out. The idea was to use the plan as a guide for recommended mileage and not to be obsessed with sticking to the daily/weekly workouts. In fact the plan was from the Santa Clarita Runners Club in Southern California. With the early stages of my training being during one of the worst winters we've seen in the Northeast it was pretty easy to see that a Southern California training plan was not going to be 100% compatible with a Spring Ultra in the Northeast.

I continued to use it as a guide and tracked  rest days and back to back long runs against it but I didn't do anywhere near the number of miles that the plan recommended. You also have to remember, the terrain is going to have a big impact on the number of miles you run. For all I knew, the Santa Clarita plan may not have even been designed for a trail ultra. Either way, I made sure I was (somewhat) consistent and that I spent a lot of time on my feet.

In the early weeks of the training, the trails were deep in snow so I did a lot of long road runs on the road and before that was possible I ran for time (not miles) on the treadmill.

Scouting the Course

For several weeks prior to the event I spent time scouting different portions of the beautiful course in The Mohonk Preserve. I realize this wont always be an option but it was part of the reason why I selected Rock the Ridge 50 Mile Challenge as my first 50 miler. Within a 40 minute drive, I would get up early on a weekend morning and drive to the trail-head. Over the course of 5 or 6 trips I managed to run most of the course in various segments, familiarizing myself with the terrain and most importantly gaining an understanding of where the big hills were. In my training runs I would build my strength by running the hills with a plan that on race day I would be walking them. The trail-head I used was at the start of the course and featured a 3 mile climb to the top of the ridge. In training I would "settle in" and run the hill knowing that on race day I would walk this bad-boy. I didn't want the excitement of race day to inspire me to attempt to run it (like a real man) with 47 miles still to go. There were several other formidable hills and I knew where they were and more importantly, I knew where they were not. On the final 12 mile stretch, I knew the path and what was in store for me as I wound my way along the ridge-line, slowly descending and working my way to the finish. This lifted my spirits as I was able to gauge how I felt and how hard I could push myself in the final miles.


During every training run I wore my Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Hydration Vest. At one time I debated whether to wear a vest or a single-bottle belt but I reviewed the course description and saw that some of the aid stations were a little far from each other, particularly late in the course, so I went with my gut and wore the vest that carried two bottles, my camera and enough bars and gels to get me through.

One of the stranger and more risky moves was a last minute change in shoes. I had been complaining about tired feet and an occasional blackened toe nail, so after a 20 mile run I was wondering how I would be after another 30 miles. So I decided I was going to try something different. I had always been told not to go changing things just before a big race, but I threw that advice out the window and the weekend before the event, but I decided I would trade in my traditional trail shoes and join the Fat Shoe Revolution. I went to the official equipment outfitter Rock and Snow and tried on a pair of Hoka One One Stinson Trails. I even went so far as to go a 1/2 size larger. I consulted some friends and online communities, I did one 4 mile training run (on the road) and I was sure I was going to wear them.

There was an aid station that we would pass two times (miles 24 and 38) that we could visit our drop bags. In my drop bag I had extra shirts, socks, cold drinks, bandages, a hat, visor, sunblock a couple of pairs of alternative shoe choices and a single-bottle belt. I stuck with what was working but I did stop to change my socks at mile 38. I've read how this is like a gift from heaven late in a ultra so I figured I would give it a try even though I couldn't say that I had any real need to do so.

I've been wearing Injinji toes socks which have been working out real well for me so I had a spare pair in my bag as well as a couple of other pairs of traditional socks. I struggled to sit on a rock and pull the toe-socks onto my feet. I probably could have saved 8 to 10 minutes if I chose the traditional socks as it was difficult to master the art of mashing my toes into the individual holding cells after running 38 miles. But I got them on and it felt  good.


All through my training I used Vega Sport products. Being vegan, their products are plant-based endurance products designed specifically to help performance. I found the Energizer to be a great pre-workout drink and their Hydrator and gels as my choice for nutrition during my runs. I would also mix in some of their energy bars for real food on some longer training runs. The only other nutritional product that I used was Cliff Blocks and/or Honey Stinger Chews. I found these to be great for late run nutrition when it's harder to swallow real food.

My weekend long runs were largely run on a very light breakfast. My plan was to train (into) a slight nutritional deficit so when race day came and I was properly fueled I would feel far better than I did in training.

Additionally, on race day I stuck to what my body knows. I carried my own hydrator powder packets and filled my bottles with water and mixed my own fluids deliberately  staying away from the highly-sugared Gatorade that was available on the course. My plan was to avoid the sugar highs and more importantly the sugar crash. I wanted to stay as far away from the emotional lows or "bad patches" that I've read so much about.

I sipped from my bottles frequently, and ate my gels a regular time intervals, when I hit an aid station I would munch down a peanut butter finger sandwich, and later when it was harder to swallow the dry sandwich the blocks and chews were my lifesaver. They seemed to work in magical ways. And oddly enough, I'm not repulsed by the thought of eating them again, which has often happened with gels or GUs after other events.

Have Fun

There are so many things in our lives that we are responsible for that we often rush through training runs thinking of all the things we need to do over the course of the day or the weekend. We get in the car and rush back to family, work or weekend chores. As the big day approached I repeated to myself "This IS What You Are Doing Today". This helped me to relax and have fun and enjoy everything that went into it and the experience that is forever.

Having a great support crew will make everything better and more enjoyable. In this case my support didn't have any pacing or other responsibilities but was solely there for emotional support. My wife Janine, was a trooper on my longest of days. She drove me to the event and rode with me on a shuttle-bus to the start and helped me stay calm as the start grew near. I saw her at the first aid station at mile 10 and again at the aid stations at miles 24 and 32. And of course she was there at the finish. I could see her as she cheered me on through my final 100 yards. It put a smile on my face to know she was there to share this great achievement with me.

I also carried a camera. I took some photos (when I remembered) but didn't let it become an obsession. As I look through the volunteer photos of the day, in every picture I have a big smile on my face. A testament to my preparations for this big day and the hard work of the volunteers, race directors and fellow runners.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

2014 Brewery to Brewery Run

Wounded Warrior Project
Just one week after my first 50 mile run I participated in the 2nd Annual Brewery to Brewery Marathon. Essentially an informal marathon relay from Newburgh Brewing Company to the Peekskill Brewery.

I told Paul Halayko (President of Newburgh Brewing Company) that as long as my feet weren't hamburger after last weekend's 50 miler, I was in.

I mean running and beer... what could be better? Two of my favorite things right? And I was asked to be a member of the Newburgh Brewing Company team. I think even if my feet were completely destroyed I would have found a way to make this happen.

The B2B Route
But the most incredible aspect of this whole adventure is that the event was a brainchild of Pat Mahady as a benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Pat put together a pretty simple route using MapMyRun that mapped out to 23.77 miles, just shy of the 26.2 mile marathon distance. We all got together for a meet and greet at Newburgh Brewing company at 11:00AM for a Beer and the 1st set of runners would head out at Noon. this was my 1st meeting with Pat and his extended family of charity runners and committed souls.

Pat had friends, family and his students in attendance, everyone was friendly and a pleasure to talk and meet with, especially Pat himself, there's no wonder that so many people were willing to help him.

We gathered in front of NBC and listened to Pat's last minute directions and words of inspiration and just like that the 1st leg runners were on their way. Sam Masotto of Team Newburgh was running 11 miles across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, through Beacon (we would wait for him at mile 5) and on to the 11 mile mark.

After checking in with him at mile 5 we shuttled up to a parking lot at Mile 11. We waited in a parking lot on Route 9D and before we knew it Sam arrived sweaty and brimming with enthusiasm. Today was in the low 80s and more humid than any day so far this year.

We exchanged brief runner pleasantries and Paul and I were off to complete the run to Peekskill where more cold beer was waiting.

We started out in the heat and humidity and waved to our crew (my wife Janine) and Sam as they passed. Sam was on his way to play the Best Man in Tony and Tina's Wedding and Janine was going to find a spot to wait with water and support.

Paul was leading the way, and let me say he is no slouch. I found myself having trouble keeping up with him. I hung with him for the first mile and then told him he should run at what feels comfortable for him.

Basically I blew up in the first mile and a half. The heat, humidity,hills and just coming off a 50 mile run the weekend before I was suffering. My radiator was overheated and I was red in the face to show it.

I struggled through 6 miles (praying for a cooling rain), made a corner and saw Janine waiting for me. She knew I was in trouble and insisted on shuttling me ahead.

At first I resisted and then gratefully caved to her demands and relished sitting in front of the cooling A/C vents in the car.

As we continued a steady climb (still in the car), I was grateful to get a lift, we passed Paul and shouted out barely coherent words of encouragement as he continued to look amazing on the long climb.

We found a quickie mart less than 4 miles from the Peekskill Brewery and we pulled over for me to continue the run to the beer at the end of the journey.

I had cooled off and was feeling better, still tired, but much better than when I got in the car. I muscled through some relatively boring stretches and came upon some somewhat dangerous crossings, including the Bear Mountain traffic circle. All of which brought to mind the old Frogger video game.

I successfully negotiated the traffic circle by running out in front of a slow-moving State Trooper SUV. I couldn't tell if he was slowing to assist my perilous attempt or if he was going to pull me over and read me the riot act.

On the other side I climbed over a guard rail to find a nearly abandoned walkway over Annsville Creek. The causeway led to a steep downhill to a Annsville Preserve Park, where volunteers were cleaning up garbage as part of the Great Hudson River Sweep.

I passed through a gate to the park and headed down a dirt road spotted with puddles and entered N. Water Street where I heard footsteps approaching from behind. It was Paul, perfect timing!

I had to turn on my turbo jets to stay with him and he and I hustled down the last few blocks and there it was. The brewery!

We exchanged high-fives, caught our breath for a moment or two and entered the 2nd brewery of the day for more socializing about running and the great experience... not to mention a few nice hoppy beers.

when we finished, my Garmin had just chirped 9 miles. A bit shorter than what I had anticipated but a great day nonetheless.

Some interesting facts about our Brewery to Brewery Run. Our Race Director pointed out (via email);
  • His ten year old granddaughter ran 2.5 miles with his daughter (who ran 8 miles total) who has rheumatoid arthritis.
  • His wife did 2.5 miles while undergoing chemotherapy.
  • His student Kara ran 5 miles with one lung...the result of childhood cancer.
  • His former cardiac patient ran the whole distance after losing 70lbs and having three stents.
These are special people and they drive me to pursue being happy by making other people happy. And as healthy runners we are ALL part of that energy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My First 50 Miler | 2014 Rock the Ridge 50 Mile Challenge Race Report

I heard about the Rock the Ridge 50 Mile Challenge  early last year and knew it was my opportunity to step into the world of the 50 miler.

I've done a few 50k runs but really wanted to test myself at the 50 mile distance

I begged my wife to let me register as part of my Christmas present. She agreed and it was game on!

We had an exceptionally difficult winter for ultra-training; I ran and ran as best I could. I used the treadmill when the roads weren't clear and I used the roads when the trails were too deep. I logged many miles and trained hard, while trying to keep focus on endurance.

Eventually the harsh winter withdrew and I was able to do some reconnaissance training at Mohonk Preserve. I put my weekend long runs at the top of my priorities and headed into the trails weekend after weekend. I explored the less populated northern reaches of the Mohonk Preserve. I came to enjoy the solitude of running for hours at a time and seeing less than a handful of people and an occasional canine companion.

Race day started to approach quickly, I took a few extra days off from work trying to avoid the coughs and sniffles that were going around the office (I had already missed one 50k due to illness). The nerves hit hard on Thursday but by Friday night I was relatively relaxed and totally committed to my game plan.

Arriving at the start the weather was perfect as the morning sun lit the Gatehouse to reveal a majestic grandeur.  The race started slow with a 1 mile warm-up before our first climb of the day. In all of my training runs I had run the 3+ mile uphill, but today I would walk it to conserve my energy for the remaining 47 miles.

When we reached the first fluid station at the top of the climb I was feeling quite good. I had met had some great people on the climb, we exchanged jokes, reasons for participating and strategies for the day, and when we crested the bridge one couldn't help but to take in the backdrop of the ridge and the gorgeous sunrise.

We looped our way along the Mohonk Mountain House golf course and through the northern trails of the preserve (Springfarm Road, Bonticou Crag and Guyout Hill). And before I knew it, the Springfarm Aid station (9.8 miles) was in view through the trees. A gradual descent to the pavilion and I topped off my fluids, had a salty handful of potato chips and a couple of peanut butter finger sandwiches.

As I started to leave Spring farm, I took in the million dollar view (looking to the lower Catskills) when my wife Janine, emerged from the field parking lot (just in time). We hugged, took a photo and with a wink I told her I felt great and only had 40 miles to go and I would see her in a few hours.

I headed out in the shadows of the western-side of the ridge on Cedar road. Having run this several times over the last few weeks it was easy to settle into a pace and let the miles pass me by. A few miles later and I was climbing my way up toward Skytop Tower. Views of the Mohonk Mountain House and the Wallkill Valley teased us as we made our way up the climb. I monitored my effort being careful not to get carried away as the excitement of the views teased me to the top of this climb.

I took just a moment for set of photos of Skytop Tower (15.1 miles) and the full beauty of the Shawungunk Ridge to the south and began weaving my way down and onto the next leg of the journey.

A nice descent and I was traversing the sun soaked eastern side of the ridge again on Forest Drive, Home Farm, and a long downhill on Old Minnewaska Road to an aid station at Rhododendron Bridge (19.4 miles).

I again topped of my bottles and added my own powdered drink mix (avoiding the sugary Gatorade) and set my sights on the next leg, a long gentle climb up the back of the ridge on Overlook Road. I passed the 20 mile marker and mentally patted myself on the back.

I crossed Trapps Bridge over Route 44/55 (mile 21.9) and proceeded to the lands of Minnewaska State Park. A few gradual uphill miles and I would be arriving at The Lyons Road Aid station (mile 23.9). Lyons road was a spot on the course we would hit two times so we had opportunity to have our drop bags shipped here.

I rolled into the aid station at a gentle jog and saw my wife waiting for me. We pulled some more nutrition (powdered drink mix and a couple of bars) from my drop bag. Again I said I was feeling good, we got some salty pretzels, and again topped off my fluids. I think I had a couple more peanut butter finger sandwiches and off I went.

From Lyons road I jogged a steady pace up the inclined path along the scenic brook that was fed by Awosting Falls (mile 25.7). The falls were roaring with power and energy. They provided inspiration as the path took on some incline as it climbed to Lake Minnewaska. Eventually this was a no brainer – time to walk. I took opportunity to drink more fluids and chew a few Honey Stinger blocks (which seemed to be my preferred source of energy today).

Eventually getting to the Lake Minnewaska aid station at just past the marathon distance (mile 26.4) I made sure I filled up on everything and gobbled a couple of extra Cliff Blox since we would be heading out on a climb to Castle Point the highest part of the course at 2,180 feet and we would also be circling back to this aid station, but we wouldn't see it for another 8 miles.

Things got a little tough for a bit, my energy was a low and it was just about time for my Garmin to die. It chirped its low battery call and I slowed to pull out my Battery USB charger and attached it to my Garmin so as to try not to lose any data. It chirped again, and one last time and died. In my haste I forgot to turn on the charger and struggled to flip the little switch. Now my Garmin was back recording again and receiving an infusion of energy.

I struggled around the climb to Castle Point (mile 30.2), each vista looking like the highest point only to find
there was one more step and one more vista beyond that one. This seemed to go on and on like some cruel Groundhog Day joke, when the terrain finally started to ease back down the elevation chart.

It seemed to be just what I needed as I began to feel more elated and motivated as I made my way down from the cliffs and along the views of Lake Awosting. Just four miles back to the Minnewaska aid station. At what I think was mile 32 I started to feel good again. My pace picked up and I ran my way through the warming sunshine into the Lake Minnewaska aid station (mile 35.2). I was feeling good and I was pleasantly surprised to see my wife there waiting for me. She had hiked up from Lyons road to meet me for one last time on the course. 15 miles to go and I was feeling I was going to do this!

I filled up fluids, had some more rocket fuel (Cliff Blox and Honey Stingers) and headed back past the roar of Awosting falls and the beauty of the gentle downhill grade of the path by the brook down to Lyons Road (mile 37.7). This time I thought I would change my socks for the last 12 miles of the run. I pulled out a fresh (ice cold) bottle from my bag and struggled to sit down on the hardest rock I've ever sat upon. I wrestled with the Injinji toe socks as the toes on my feet and the toes in the sock just wouldn't match up. Eventually I was up and on my way again.

It was warm but I was determined, I was being consistent and it was clear that I had the energy to push through. Crossing over Trapps Bridge and past the 40 mile marker on Undercliff Road, I knew I was going to be able to do this. And not only was I going to be able to do it, if everything held true, I would finish better than anticipated.

My training runs were paying off. My familiarity with Undercliff Road and the gentle grade back to Rhododendron Bridge (mile 42.2) was paying off and my confidence was building. I was running this thing…

I could sense the finish was within grasp and it was giving me strength as I wound my way back to Oakwood Drive and up to the last climb on Forest Drive. I ran at an inspired pace, it started rain a little as I wound my way around Duck Pond and back on Farm Road, emerging on Lenape Lane where this grand journey started.

On Farm Road I passed a runner and gave him a few words of encouragement. Those words seemed to have worked as he started up again and I pulled him along for about a mile of downgrade on Lenap lane.

I knew there would be a spot where I was going to need to walk it in as the grade started its last rise before reaching the final flat to the finish. I spotted a shadow just past a tree and marked that as the point where I would start my walk.

As I brought it down to my last walk of the day, the other runner joined me and thanked me for the motivation. We agreed to walk to the top and across the bridge over Butterville road. I spotted a set of rocks as our next point to start it up again and bring this run home.

The Gatehouse loomed in the distance and miraculously it did get closer and closer, I could see my wife waiting for me and then the tunnel of the Gatehouse and passing the finish line.

The timekeeper told me I finished in 11 hours and 18 minutes and Todd Jennings the Race Director place the medal over my head and congratulated me.

This was a day like no other… I have now run a 50 mile Ultra Marathon!

What a great event!  Thank you to all the volunteers, race directors & fellow runners.

Congratulations to all!

Rock the Ridge 50 Mile Challenge - Route

Rock the Ridge 50 Mile Challenge - Elevation Profile