Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ode to a Shirt

It wasn't until the summer of 2005 that I started wearing a shirt to go running in warm weather.  Before then, once the weather warmed to the point I didn't need to wear a long sleeve shirt I was running bare chested.  That was so long ago, I don't remember why I decided to start wearing a shirt.  Sun burn/cancer worries?  Protection against branches and vines?  Decency concerns?  Who knows.  I got a white sleeveless shirt by Hind that quickly became a staple on my summer runs.  The fit, the feel, everything about it was great.  I even wore it in the winter under my long sleeves as an extra layer.  A low estimate has it that the shirt has seen 9000+ miles, that's over a third of the circumference of the Earth.  It's been with me in heat, rain, wind, cold, snow and hail.  It's been with me through the desert, over several 10,000+ foot tall mountains, past piney southern forests and across wheat fields that appear as vast as the ocean.  It's been with me on easy runs, track workouts, the GAP/C&O trek, road races, and trail races including every 100 mile race I've done.

Wasatch 100

Leadville 100

Arkansas Traveller

Kansas Heartland

Oil Creek 100

As you can imagine, this shirt has acquired an odor through the years and it finally got to be too much for Gina.  I'm officially retiring the shirt.  I haven't actually thrown it out yet, it is still sitting on the shelf above my other running clothes, but Gina and I did pick out a new shirt.  The shirt we bought is similar, a lightweight white sleeveless, this time by Adidas.  I wonder what adventures I will take in it?   

I don't know if I will throw the old out. 

What do you do with old running shirts?   

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Finding Mile 0 (Revisited)

322 miles. 7 days.  Lots of time on the trail, lots of time on my feet.  It passed too quickly, though at times I just wanted it to end.  Now, back at home a week after finishing in Georgetown the Friday before last, I can finally start to feel my body nearing normality again.  The soreness is leaving, my fatigue is vanishing, the blisters healed and my appetite returning to normal.  I even ran 5 miles this morning averaging sub 10s.  There is still some time before I go tear out a hard speed session at the track, but my physical link with the voyage is fading, all that will remain is the mental and emotional link.  I need to get all those thoughts down, both the pain and the joy, before that fades too.

DAY 1: After driving down to Pittsburgh from Meadville and dropping Maia off at Camp Bow Wow, we parked by Point State Park in Pittsburgh at 8:00AM, earlier than I was thinking we would.  Gina and I walked over the park, apparently tradition has it that you are supposed to dip you bike tire in the fountain in the park to signify the beginning of your voyage.  Well the park is still under some construction, so the fountain is off limits.  I just choose a line in the sidewalk that looked as good as any other for the starting line and declared this as the official start.  Really, this was the "ceremonial start" as I was only running 3.5 miles along the Eliza Furnace Trail to the Hot Metal Bridge.  The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) has a "gap" in it here and Gina shuttled me to the "restart" off of Grant Avenue in Duquesne, about 9 miles away.  Here there is a small paper sign which unceremoniously announced that the trail is open to Cumberland and Washington.  The rain was just starting to fall, already I was one hour into our trek, half of which was spent in the car.  There's a long way to go...

The rest of the day sailed by, my spirits and energy level were high.  I cranked out the remaining 40ish miles without issue.  It rained aplenty to be sure, the most it rained any of the days we were on the trail, but neither the mud puddles nor soggy clothes mattered, I was finally on my way.  DC here we come!!

DAY 2: I knew that getting over the psychological hurdle of starting day 2, repeating what we had done the day before was going to be a major challenge of the trip.  The night before I was probably the most scared/nervous of any.  Is my chaffing too bad to go on?  Are those blisters going to be my downfall?  Did I eat enough?  Just how refreshed are my legs going to feel in the morning?  I'd run a multiday ultra before (3 Days of Syllamo), but never something of this magnitude.  The first two hours answered my questions definitively.  I kept clipping off 9 minute miles without a problem.  My feet felt fine, legs were motoring along, pace felt great.  The scenery here helped, this section took me through Ohiopyle State Park right along the Youghiogheny River, most likely the prettiest section of the entire trek.  After two hours though, I hit a pretty big low, I don't think I ate enough the night before and my fuel cells were feeling drained.  I took a couple of gels, walked a mile (I was a bit ahead of the schedule I had given Gina).  My stores recharged, I made it to Ohiopyle.  From here, Gina and I decided I would always carry a Power Bar with me whenever to prevent a repeat occasion.  On to Confluence, here I'd leave the Youghiogheny, a river I'd run next to for 70 odd miles and run along the Casselman.  Gina ran into meet me on the way to Confluence, it was great having a running partner for a bit.  As we neared Confluence, the three bikers we camped by the night before passed us.  These three gentleman were biking from Pittsburgh to DC and would end up camping by us for the first three nights.  We enjoyed their company, and I think they enjoyed us sharing our Oreos.

DAY 3: Last day on the GAP, also the last day with some uphill.  Not that the trail is ever steep, but from Connellsville to Deal, there is a steady uphill grade, after every bend in the trail you just see it rising and rising.  It would be good to get over the Eastern Continental Divide and start heading down.  More rain this day, welcomed as the trees were much smaller and opportunities for shade were fewer.  Through Big Savage Tunnel, the longest of the whole trip, across the Mason-Dixon Line (into a new state!) and down to Frostburg I ran.  Lots of cyclists on this section of the trail, good to see that it is getting use.  I waited out a down pour in Frostburg eating lunch in the car with Gina.  Gina rode up from Cumberland on her bike and was with me the last 7 miles of the GAP.  It felt good to finish one trail, tomorrow I'd start another.  From here on out, the miles would only get smaller and when they hit 0, I'd be done!  We got some ice cream in Cumberland and camped by the YMCA.  Great facilities, but you are nestled between train tracks and the freeway, it doesn't promote restful sleeping.

DAY 4: Starting a new trail, next to a new river, the Potomac, rejuvenated me and I was able to crank out some 9 minute miles again at the start, maybe two hours worth.  The three cyclists passed me again (for the final time although Gina would see then again over the next coupe of days as she drove ahead to meet me) and another cyclist that we had camped by for the last two nights passed me as well.  Traveling with her was her 15lb border collie that rode in a baby backpack carrier.  Too cute, that dog was on a mission and could care less about seeing me on the trail.  The C&O is flat and since the canal is no longer in operation, most of it is marshy, algae filled ponds and murky pools.   Not inviting at all, even considering the clouds moved out of the area and the temperature starting climbing.  A slight change in our camping plans that night.  We opted for a more expensive campground further from the trail as they had **showers**.  The routine:  I run a lot and finish wondering how I was going to run the next day, but then food (lots of it, any type, I was not picky, cold Campbell Chicken soup from the Can?  Mmm Mmm good) and more importantly a shower and I was a new man, ready for action.  How does it feel?  Well I gathered no moss.

DAY 5:  More miles... more miles... more HOT miles...

DAY 6:  More miles... more miles... more HOT miles... The temperature broke into the mid 90s and even with shade, I was being cooked, both inside and out.  There were some wells alongside the trail at the hiker/biker campgrounds that I used to rinse off and cool off.  Even with this and the wet ice cold towels Gina met me with, this day was by far the hardest.  I got a slight boost of energy after Harpers Ferry where the C&O and the Appalachian Trail share a trail for three miles.  I saw three through hikers and thought about my friend Josh and his through hike several years ago and all the stories he told me about it.  What an journey, my little trot cannot even compare.  Another deviation on our plans, instead of camping in Brunswick, we got a hotel.  After the scorcher of a day, I wanted AC.

DAY 7: This was it, the last time I would need to start.  I was glad to see day seven, but I knew that I had 55 miles to run on day 7, 9 more than the average.  We started an hour early (6:00 AM), but even so I knew that it would be 6:00 PM at the earliest when I would finish.  Still more miles left to go Matt.

They passed by just like the previous 250+ had, one foot in front of the other.  I was able to turn out the first six at 10 minutes per mile pace, the days of putting down some miles at 9 minutes per miles were over.  Gina planned on meeting me at several locations, that helped to break up the run into manageable pieces.  With the exception of the last 14 miles from Great Falls National Park to Georgetown, the longest I went without seeing Gina was 10 miles.  The clouds moved in the night before, keeping the temperatures lower than the previous day, but the humidity was still high and my batteries were still low from the day before.  By the time I reached Great Falls I was done, both mentally and physically spent.  I tried to keep my energy high by eating more gels than usual but the trip was taking its toll.  We took a 15 minute sit down break and then spent 15 minutes looking a the falls.  I had no idea this was here, really gorgeous.  I finally got going again after telling Gina it would probably take me 3½ hours to cover the last 14 miles (that's 15 minutes per mile pace, about what I'd done for the previous section).  I started running and committed myself to a plan 25 minutes of running followed by 5 minutes of walking, repeat 8 times then you're in Georgetown.  The first block went by and during the second a runner came up from behind and passed me.  I wanted the company so I sped up, caught him and we ran together for about 15 minutes (probably at 10 minutes per mile pace).  We chatted for a bit, I told him what I was doing, he told me about a good bar in Georgetown.  There wasn't anything special about the conversation, but I was motivated.  From here on in I pushed it hard, constantly repeating to myself, "Just stick with the plan, the plan will get you there."  Two hours into this segment I was already within 5 miles of the finish, 15 minute miles be damned, I'm going to finish this my way!  Gina rode in on her bike (she was able to maneuver through DC traffic at 5 PM on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, I think she deserves a big fat medal!).  I shouted "BOOMER!" at the top of my lungs, which she replied to "sooner."

"Weak sauce love, let's try it again."  I yelled  "BOOMER!"

She replied "SOONER!"  Yeah, that's more like it!  I took a final walk break, then slid my hat downward, no more talking, it was time to go to work.  I increased my cadence, drawing from whatever remained from my muscles.  I would cover this last section in 2:40.  As I passed Lock 1, only a ¼ mile from the end I told myself to savor this, this is an accomplishment and I won't have this feeling again soon.  Hooting, hollering jumping up and down, I think most people walking through Georgetown though I was crazy.  Well, that may be, ... but then ... mile 0!

My body must of known it was done.  That night, after a shower, I was completely finished, there would be no running the next day even if I tried.  Again?

I put all of my times on the various segments into a spreadsheet, check it out:


Also, I uploaded more pictures from the trip onto Picasa, here's the link:


The Allegheny Trail Alliance has a link on their website allowing you to make a certificate commemorating the voyage. The picture shows the Salisbury Viaduct (1,908' long) outside of Meyersdale, PA, mile 33 of the GAP. Not quite the same as a belt buckle...

Friday, May 21, 2010

The long road ahead

Around 15 hours from now I will be starting on the trail taking me from Point State Park in Pittsburgh where the Allegheny and Monongahela meet to form the Ohio to the beginning of the C&O canal in Georgetown. The trial covers a distance of approximately 335 miles (although a little over 10 in Pittsburgh in not completed yet so I have to ride in the car for this stretch).

Seven days of about 46 miles a day. Am I nervous? Yeah. Am I excited? Definitely. I've spent the last two days packing, getting maps ready, shopping and putting the final touches to our plans. This is the part of ultras I don't like, sometimes I just wish I would put my shoes on, run out the door and just go. But it's not that simple, I need to bring things with me and Gina needs to meet up with me at certain places so we have to be sure that we have things coordinated.

You can find my itinerary here: GAP Itinerary, or I've highlighted it below:

  1. Pittsburgh --> Adelaide (46 miles)
  2. Adelaide --> Rockwood (48 miles)
  3. Rockwood --> Cumberland (44 miles)
  4. Cumberland --> Little Orleans (43 miles)
  5. Little Orleans --> Williamsport (41 miles)
  6. Williamsport --> Brunswick (45 miles)
  7. Brunswick --> Georgetown (55 miles)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Don't you miss that?"

I came across a great passage in the current issue of Running Times (June 2010, issue 377) that I can really relate to, especially regarding my upcoming GAP run. It's a quote from a Q & A session with ultrarunning legend Charlie Engle.

Q: How do you inspire people about ultrarunning?

I spoke at a marathon recently and had people raise their hands based on how many they had run. It came down to one guy who had run 79. I asked him, "Is there any doubt in your mind you're going to finish tomorrow's race?" He said, "No, there's no doubt whatsoever." He said it with a certain amount of pride, and he should have. Then I asked him if he remebered his first marathon and if he was worried or concerned about being able to finish, and he said, "Absolutely. I was scared to death." And I asked, "Don't you miss that?" For me that feeling can only come from finding a new adventure, either from a longer distance or a course I'm intimidated by.

What are you missing?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pittsburgh Marathon

Miles 0 - 3

With 16,000 of my closest friends, I awaited both the start of the race and the decision of mother nature regarding the weather. We had record highs the day before, with temperatures in the mid 80's and now at almost 7:30 AM it was in the mid 60's and humid. Yuck. The race started and even though people were assigned corrals according to projected finishing time, people just line up where ever they want to (I guess they have as much of a right as anyone else?) and I spent the first two miles running through the Strip District dodging slow runners and potholes in equal proportions. After the first mile, I kept passing the mile markers too soon. I was sweating already in the humidity. Somewhere around 15 minutes into the race I felt the first rain drop.

Mile 1: 7:00
Mile 2: 6:46 (13:45)
Mile 3: 6:42 (20:26)

Miles 4 - 8

16th St. Bridge over the Allegheny River is the first of 5 bridges the marathon route crosses. As I ran over the bridge to the North Shore District, the rain started to pick up and by the time I got to the other side, the rain was coming down hard. Sweet. Well at least the humidity isn't such a factor anymore. Even though I was carrying a bottle and it was raining, I still grabbed a cup of water at the aid station to dump over my head. In hindsight I don't think I drank enough early on. Like swimming, it is so hard to tell how you are sweating in the rain. After about 10 minute though, the rain let up to a drizzle which continued for the remainder of the race.

A quick over and back across the Allegheny again on the Andy Warhol and Roberto Clemente Bridges at mile 6 then the course goes right next to Pittsburgh pride, PNC Park and Heinz Field. Somewhere here there was the first relay point for the relay runners and I think I passed the mile 7 marker without hitting my watch. At mile 8 we cross the Ohio River on the West End Bridge and great a great look back at ll the runners on the course behind us and a great look at Point State Park, my Mile 0 for my upcoming GAP run! I was still hitting these miles way too fast. I kept trying to slow down, but slowing down 10 seconds per mile is hard. Next time, I think I might walk after each mile to soak up the extra seconds.

Mile 4: 6:51 (27:17)
Mile 5: 6:43 (34:01)
Mile 6: 6:39 (40:39)
Mile 7&8: 13:31 (54:10)

Miles 9 - 12

Along the the south side of the river, the course has its first hill as we go under the mouth of the Fort Pitt Tunnel in front of the Duquesne Incline cars the ride the rails up Mt. Washington. For such a hilly city, the first 10 or so miles are pretty flat, they spoil (deprive of the fun?) the ½ marathoners. At mile 11, the ½ marathoners turn back to downtown, we pass another relay stop and turn to cross our final bridge, the Birmingham Bridge over the Monongahela River, and begin a mile and half long climb. Even up this climb I couldn't lower my splits. But that would soon change.

Mile 9: 6:44 (1:00:54)
Mile 10: 6:46 (1:07:39)
Mile 11: 6:50 (1:14:30)
Mile 12: 6:49 (1:21:19)

Miles 13 - 18

We topped out (or so I thought) in the Oakland area by the University of Pittsburgh. Finally, my mile split was slow enough. It only took a huge hill. This part of the course had my favorite scenery, but ever time I though the course was going to level out for a bit or start to descend, we'd climb another little riser. Awesome. I kept up with the splashing water on my head and by this time had needed to stop and refill my bottle a few times. Before the race started I don't think I was drinking enough and continued this for the first few miles, not wanting to have to stop and refill my bottle while there was a crowd of runners. We ran through a rich neighborhood, a little boy yelled out at me, "Go naked man!" (I was only wearing my red shorts, no t-shirt), then we ran through a not-so-rich neighborhood, a lady cat called my from her front porch. My splits started to fall off.

Mile 13: 7:12 (1:28:31)
Mile 14: 6:46 (1:35:17)
Mile 15: 6:55 (1:42:12)
Mile 16: 7:16 (1:49:28)
Mile 17: 7:15 (1:56:43)
Mile 18: 7:12 (2:03:55)

Miles 19 - 23

After I saw the Mile 18 sign, I took my first walk break, 20 seconds. I felt good and afterward I was able to resume my pace. But the wheels were starting to come off, I put the blinders on and got to work. Every mile I would calculate what I pace I needed to run to finish in under 3:10 (with the way I was feeling, even though a sub-3:00 was mathematically possible at this point, I didn't see it happening). Several runners and I leap frogged each other, they seemed to pass me on the uphills and I would pass them on the level and downhill sections. Just holding on...

Mile 19: 7:30 (2:11:24)
Mile 20: 7:33 (2:18:58)
Mile 21: 7:49 (2:26:47)
Mile 22: 7:30 (2:34:17)
Mile 23: 7:38 (2:41:54)

Miles 24 - 26.2

A huge downhill on Liberty Avenue and I could feel the end of the race. The race ends while 2 miles through the Strip District again, back along the road we ran almost 3 hours earlier. My pace picked up and I started feeling better. I was glad I was able to finish so strong after a few miles of drudgery.

Mile 24: 7:36 (2:49:30)
Mile 25: 7:02 (2:56:32)
Mile 26.2: 8:50 (3:05:22)


Monday, April 19, 2010

Forget the PR, Mohican 50K

Last weekend Gina and I ventured over to Ohio for a 50K at Mohican State Park. In one sense, it did live up to it's name, I didn't get a PR (although my PR is on a course whose measurement accuracy is definitely not certain). Challenging, yes - kind of, there were enough ups and downs to keep things interesting, obviously Ohio has limited potential for long ups and downs and I bet most of the longest ones are in this park. There was plenty of technical terrain (read: hand-over-hand root ladders) and beautiful landscape to enjoy. It is a very gorgeous park and the race course cut through the best of it.

The race course is best described as a 3-leaf clover with the starting point on the tip of one of the petals. We started just a few minutes after 8:00 AM on Sunday. 150ish runners took off over the dewy grass, around an orange pylon, onto an asphalt road for a short stretch an then we hit the trail section. Luckily, the RD's announced before the race his pet peeve: Mid to Back of the Packers starting fast then slowing to a walk on the first hill section. This can be a problem at some races, at Squaw Peak 50 in Provo, UT, I've ran the initial 2 mile bike trail at 7 minutes/mile and still hit a log jam once the trail section starts. Luckily, the RD announcement helped, I hit the hill on the trail section and just kept boogying.

The initial "1 mile hill" though from the pre-race instuctions did not quit live up to its name. It leveled out for long stretches in the middle and was never really steep, I mean it is designed for mountain bikers, there is only so much you can expect from that population. They cannot seem to build a trail that isn't somehow a Grand Prix loaded with tight unnecessary turns, log jumps and quick, short drops (they called these "dogs" in OK, I don't know if this was a OK thing or not). Anyway, I started in a pack of 4 runners, a group of 3 took off at the start and we never did see these guys again. Right before the 1st aid, I followed the runner ahead of me (Richard Cook, the winner of Oil Creek 100), who was following the runner ahead of him and we missed a turn. In about 10 feet we realized our mistake and made the quick turn around. I ran through the aid station for the most part, just pausing long enough to get my bottle filled, and left before anyone else from this little pack of 4. They left quickly too, but after another mile or so, I never saw them again behind me.

Aid station 2 is right at the center of the 3-leaf clover, the "vertex" as us math folk say. I crossed over a covered bridge, got my bottle filled again (all of the aid station crew were amazing, I never stopped, someone grabbed my bottle and filled it up whiel walking next to me, I've never seen such helpful aid station workers!) and helped out on petal #2. About a mile or so into this section, the trail made a left turn and started picking its way through a small creek bed, hopping over fallen logs, around boulders and to top out required a short hand-over-hand climb up a tree's root system that looked like a ladder designed for someone just in my shoes. A bit later, I popped out by a resort by Pleasant Hill Dam. There is a short (~¾ mile) loop around the resort before you start heading back to the central vertex. Right as I started the loop I saw the lead runner (who would eventually win) heading back. After I passed through aid station #3 and was heading back myself, I saw some of the group that I had been with before. I figured I had a bout 7 minutes on them, more than I was expecting, so I relaxed a bit as I didn't feel anyone breathing down my back and turned my attention to the three guys I knew were ahead.

Back at aid station #2 again, I started up the climb to the Fire Tower (aid station #4). I think this is the longest climb on the course, really the only time I felt like walking at all. When I pulled through the Fire Tower aid station, I was a bit disappointed as I still hadn't seen Gina and we had planned on her meeting me both at the Resort (which I cam through sooner than we planned) and at the Fire Tower. About ½ mile down the trail though I saw her waiting for me in a parking lot. It picked me up to see her, plus I could finally ditch the glooves and long-sleeve shirt I had been carrying around my waist for the last 8 miles. Of course, following a climb to something called Fire Tower is an equally long descent. This felt good and I worked the down hills, unfortunately, I didn't seem to make up anytime on the guys ahead of me.

One last time through aid station #2 and I had only a 4 mile segment left, mostly flat along side a creek. After walking for 2 minutes to let me legs get a break after the downhill section, I put my head down and went to work. I made it through the flat creek side section and got the cruelest part of the course, a steep ½ climb followed by an equally steep descent. Yeah, I walked most of this climb.

I finished in 4:31:30, a time I'm very happy with. My toes on the other hand, probably wishes I took the down hills slower, or moved up to size 11s.


Monday, April 5, 2010

GAP Itinerary

The itinerary is mostly done, I'd say about 95% complete. You can check it out with this link (it's a Google Spreadsheet):

GAP Itinerary

Looking at the itinerary I seesaw between thinking that I should run more each day and that I should run less. I guess that means things should work out. I figure that f I keep up a 5 mile per hour pace, that means I'll be running 9 hours a day. If I throw in a 1 hour lunch/snack break, that means 10 hour days start to finish. That doesn't really leave a lot of time left over. Still lots of mental game left to consider before the run even starts.

I realized over the weekend during an amazing run around Tamarack Lake, full of sunshine but with temperatures cool and in the 50's, that Forget the PR 50K is coming up in 2 weeks, the Pittsburgh Marathon in 4 and the GAP in 7. Spring is moving along full force.