Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Boys are back in town!

Summer time is the best running you'll get in NJ!  Mike Loenser agrees!  We were talking about it last night while we ran along the D&R canal, along with another former collegiate runner, Jacob(didn't get his last name).  But I always think about it, and every summer, the now graduated HS studs are free from their coaches(for better or worse), the college guys and girls are back in town, and the teachers who run/coach are way more available.  It's the densest concentration of speed you'll get all year!  Runs feel like training, because sometimes, solo runs just feel like a sleep walk.   The old guys want to remind the young guys they've still got speed, and the young guys don't want to get schooled too badly.  Having some fast bodies around you makes it feel a lot more real, and if you're a live wire(young or old), you'll toss a surge in there now and then to turn the screws on em'!

Enjoy the Thin Lizzy!
So, it's been nice to just catch up with people on some general purpose runs.  This past week I ran with GSTC teammates, two legendary EHS xc/t&f alums Rich Angelillo(96') and Steve Flynn(12'), RVRR folks, the group up in Jersey City and Metuchen at Runner's High, and the boys team at EHS.  It's good to have a big network of runners.  I've run along the Hudson River, at Holmdel Park, on the Middlesex Greenway, and the D&R canal, Beuchluch Park, streets in Edison, Metuchen, and right here at home in Highland Park.  I'm back in a nice groove.
One thing is for sure, I don't want to race a road marathon this fall. A few months ago, I thought that I wanted to run one.  Now, I'm sure I'd rather mix it up with XC and trail stuff.  Distances ranging from 5k-HM. Plans for trail ultra's are not out the window, just on the back burner, or at least I don't see something before me that I'm targeting yet.  Also, from what I see/gather, that preparing for the Ultra stuff really puts you into a different place mentally and emotionally.  For some, it's all zen and mild escapism from the week's bullshit.  While others put the running before everyone and everything. I'm looking to stay on my own wave length in between.  I'm a devoted person in many aspects of my existence, but running is my way of life, its a culture and a faith(in a calling, in yourself, in traveling the earth one stride at a time as often as you can) and people need to understand that.

Oh, and the past 2 weeks, I'm in the 50-60mpw range.  Moving right along, in a good place.  This is going to be a big base, my races this fall are going to be so legit'.  Looking forward, looking up. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fight until we make the top 7...or die!

For those of us who ran XC in HS, and found ourselves "on the bubble" as the 7th or 8th man, we know odd coupling of stress and motivation that was thrust into our training and racing.  Some rise to the challenge of the pressure to perform, others crack, crumble and shy away from it.  Some people just win, plain and simple their bodies developed into a natural state of readiness to run fast and win.  But this doesn't describe me.  I am not a born winner, I'm just a born fighter.  Maybe I've done so many things, simply because someone told me I shouldn't or couldn't or wouldn't believe I was good enough to beat them.  There is more valor is fighting than winning.  As winning is merely one half of the outcome, while the fight may be as masterful as it is tragically flawed.
My development as a runner has had plenty of valleys that followed some great peaks.  Maintaining the mindset of competing when you know, realistically, you aren't going to win against the best, can be daunting.  But that is a key aspect to sportsmanship, knowing that you should give it "the old college try" for yourself, your teammates, coaches, and your opponents.  Besides, pain doesn't hurt.  Sucking when you don't want to suck is what really hurts.
 So it's all kind of gone like this:
 Winter/Spring 1995'-weather kept all of my "training" indoors as a HS freshmen, and as the spring pushed on I realize I don't like getting my ass kicked by girls at dual meets in the mile.(Yes, they combined boys and girls together), so I learned to try hard at running, and I hit a 5:57 by season's end.
Winter 96'-I ran a 5:24mile, I got a Varsity letter for the first time, but I still get my ass whipped at most meets.
August 1997, After concluding that soccer wasn't working out, I was fighting for a Varsity Singlet on the Edison High School Cross Country team.(trust me, it was well worth the fight, the JV uni's were cheesy)  At the time this seemed tough, but I was in the mix, and after the first couple weeks of Captain's practices and then official team practices, I'd done it.  I'd pulled away from a couple of guys who have been with the team 3-4yrs.  I work my ass off, I travel with the team to all the invitationals and championships, and my spot was never safe.
August 1999-After a summer of rehab for a bad case of IT band syndrome(thanks crowned suburban roads!), I found myself fighting to regain enough fitness to be the #7 man on the Ramapo College XC team, the older guys on the team go easy for the first few miles of a run, but the back half always turned into a race(or so it seemed when you just can't hang with the pace).  I manage to slide into the 7 slot, and by late season I'm 6th and twice 5th.  But the whole season is a battle with the IT band and tenacious teammates ready to take my spot.  I make the trip to the Regional Championship and run my best race of the season, we place 25th(I seem to recall), better than Ramapo had done in a long time I'm told.
Fall 2000-04'-Each season is a battle for a Varsity spot, 00' was pretty good, 01' and 02' were a bit of a let down, I sat out 03' with stress fractures, I finish anywhere from 8th to 3rd in these yrs I'm on the team at Ramapo.  I allowed myself to be distracted by douchey fraternity "brothers", crazy girlfriends, and assorted shenanigans.  Got sick all too often from living in the dorms, and generally drank far too much.  I was mediocre at best, and at my worst, a bloated 170lbs of drunkenness.  As one of my coaches put it, in a season-end review, "Dedicated, but with limited Athletic ability".
Spring 05'/06'-I'm back home and the heavy drinking isn't so interesting anymore, running with some old teammates and competitor's, but nothing's too organized.  I also start running with Rartian Valley Road Runners, the only dedicated runners I know besides HS kids and my college teammates who are now too far away to run with regularly.  I join RVRR, and find some steady training partners there, as well as some decent competition on the NJ race circuit.  The battle has shifted more to an internal struggle of staying motivated and focused on good/consistent training.  I run my first marathon(lackluster, but still sub 3hrs), and I'm fighting the clock and a lack of self acceptance.
2007/08'-I run the Boston Marathon, I run the NYC Marathon, and the Philly Marathon along with some HM's and many other races, I kept getting PR's. I grew accutom to this.  Faster, Faster...aaand injured.
2009'-5months of not running from Dec 08' into the spring of 09'. I battle back, and ran some fast races late in the yr, much to my own surprise.
2010-Jan/Feb brang me some long overdue PR's in the 800m, 1mile, and 3k indoors.  I was truely surprised at my fitness in the short game, and I was thinking big things for the rest of the year.  The Boston marathon turns out to be an effort that I'm not sure I'll ever reproduce, getting a nice little PR and finishing inside the top 150, truly a great thrill.  In August-I hurt my lower back in a competitive trail HM, I finish the race 5th, but the damage is done, and now 2yrs later I'm still struggling with the aftermath of it.  But I still went to the Club National XC championship...and ran like crap, at least we had a good time in Charlotte, NC afterward!  The end of this yr brings about a sobering realization, no one is pushing me to be a better runner, and so, I switch to racing with GSTC.
2011-12-I run some good races in 11', no lifetime bests, but I'm in the hunt and racing with some very talented and dedicated teammates. In Sept I qualified for Boston and entered, but the 12' race wasn't blessed by the gods, to say the least. To end 11', I went to Club Nationals in Seattle, looking like the slowest of 6 men, but surprised some and ended up being the 5th!  So far this yr has been interesting, I've run a 20k pr that is faster than my HM best by a little bit, and so I've got a fighting chance for a spot on the Club National A Team, or so I like to think.

The law of diminishing returns has really been kicking me in the ass the past 4yrs, but I am in no way ready to lay down my arms.  New goals have gotten tougher to achieve, and thinking back, making the top 7 on the college and HS teams seemed hard, but it didn't take long at all.  I'm going full on Guerilla warfare on running!  And it just occurred to me, that I've always kept at it because I want to see if I can stay up there with the big dogs. So all these yrs later I've got the same goal as I did in 97' and 99', the pace and combatants are just way faster. The base building is under way, we'll see how I shape up this time around.  So, like Manowar, We'll to fight until we win or fight until we die! 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Altitude with Friends: Western States 100, Yosemite, and Sequoia

Filling You in since the last post: I didn't run the Road Mile, my back was not having it.  And the steeple at the USATF-NJ Track Championship didn't go well either(lower back probs), but I did run the towpath training run(34.2miles), and I didn't fall to pieces.  I'm fighting the good fight still.  And So, we went to Cali.

No, I did not run the WS100, my buddy Mike Dixon did.  I went along to watch/support, it was exciting and motivating to see people testing their endurance over such extreme terrain.  High altitude trail running is most challenging, Lindsay and I took an "easy run" with his helmet cam up the first couple miles of the race course later that morning to get a feel for what the racers all experienced, we went up 40mins and back down in 20, and I don't think we went very far(maybe 3miles up, and that might be generous). I want to run that race in 2014!
 The adventure of running trails is ever enticing, a whispering in my heart tells me, "go west young man", in an old-timey kinda way.  A strange guy with a ridiculous top hat and a big curly mustache is probably living inside my left ventricle.  Yeah, he's in there, and he's been slowly manipulating my thought processes for quite some time.
Just 3 drops of this magical elixir and you will recover from high altitude runs in mere minutes!
So, we rented a couple RV's.  Saw Dixon start the race along with several hundred other Mountain Goats, and then we slept a while until moving on to see him in Forest Hill at mile 62!  Everyone in town was very interested in the race, seeing all the action at the aid station was cool.  I enjoyed the opportunity to encourage every runner that came along as we waited for Dixon at Bath Rd.
  2011 start, check out the later part of the video as they climb. Note the goofball who false starts!

Quick Background: Dixon and I drove from NJ to Yosemite back in the summer of 2005, not to run, we mostly hiked, runs took place from motels in various states.  So anyway, this was a nice return to a place both of us, and our friends have been or wanting to come back to (for at least half of them it was actually their first visit there).
So, we went on to see Dixon again at mile 99, where we ran with him back to the finish at Placerville HS' track.  Surprisingly, he had a bit left in his legs and ran what seemed like a fast speed in the last 200m!  We also saw some other finishers coming in ahead of him on the run to meet him at 99, men and women both, of varying ages.  Endurance running really levels the field at a certain point.  Such incredible accomplishments for them all!

I caught 3hrs of sleep before rolled out to hit a trail head on the edge of the Yosemite Valley, we parked RV1 at the trailhead, where the other bunch could get it later that day. We backpacked in on the Big Oak Flat Trail to the top of El Capitan.

5:58am roughly, sunrisi on top of El Capitan!
Dinner time near El Captian with Lindsay Hamoudi, Mary Nguyen, not pictured are Kyle Spencer and Lauren Santonastaso

The next day, the five of us continued to the top of Yosemite Falls and took the Yo' Falls trail down into the Valley where the inhabitants of RV2 were waiting to pick us up.  Carrying 50lbs of gear down a steep trail is rough, the only medicine for this of course was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale!  
We drank plenty of this stuff!

We took a day off to recover and relax and hang with the whole gang(14-15people), and so the following day 6 of us hiked up to the top of Half Dome, a challenging and visually rewarding hike, 2 huge waterfalls(Vernal and Nevada) along the Mist and John Muir Trails, and climbing up the cables for an incredible 360 view!  Little Yosemite Village was along the way too, where we were able to jump into a calm/deep section of the Merced River on the way back down, that water was COLD!
Some other hikers ahead of us going up, looks scarier from below

Lindsay dives into the crystal clear/freezing cold Merced River
Lindsay and I did another run with his helmet cam in Sequoia on a series of trails that brought us by some of the Giant Sequioa's, ran through some controlled burn areas(a naughty decision).  Despite the smoke we did just fine, and took in a couple of  incredible views of some pks ranging from 12-13,000ft(Whitney was hidden from view).

My last run out there was a solo affair, started at Wuksachi Lodge and ended at the Lodgepole, here is a profile that was an out and back from Lodgepole, very similar, but the way I ran it was roughly the same distance with a small add on from the parking area to the trailhead itself.
The map of the trails themselves didn't appear well, so check out these stats.  The map indicated that it was 7.2 out from Wuksachi, and a bit longer to the Lodgepole. The last 2.6miles of the way up were tough.

This run was loaded with downed trees stacked over each other across the trail, so this was mega-technical.  It was a great challenge, makes me feel ready for more.  Now if only I can come to an agreement with the Snake Oil salesman in my heart...