Friday, January 2, 2009

2008 - A look back

The year was kicked off with the now semi-traditional Ocean plunge at the Winners Circle Hangover classic race. I guess this race is a classic; it has been around for a long time, but what is up with races calling themselves a classic? Shouldn’t it be up to the runners to decide which races are a classic? Not to go off on a rant but, I really don’t know how a first year race can call itself a classic; unless they mean it in the sense “Coke Classic” used it. Like a throw-back to the “good old days” of racing. Anyway, I survived the plunge this year and the lifeguard never had to get up (although he kept a close eye on me). Dave Quintal and I began a year-long battle that had us close in every race.

Later that first week of the year I trekked out to Albany and stopped for runs that encompassed eleven towns in Mass that I’d never run in previously. This was a nerve-wracking ride as the gas gauge was well below “E” (even when I crouched down as low as I could in the seat) and I ended up coasting on all of the downhill sections. I didn’t run out of gas but it was the closest I’d ever gotten.

The next week I went with Dan and Jim Pawlicki to the Dartmouth relays. This race IS a classic, going back to the Big Bang (and possibly further). I’d first run at Dartmouth as a Billerica High (go Indians!) Sophomore in 1981. On that day I’d finished in 6th place in 9:41, breaking Kevin Curtin’s school record. Fast forward 27 years and I was hoping to set a masters PR for 5,000 meters (not 5 km, which is for road running). While jogging around the track I introduced myself to Jim Johnson, which from his side of the conversation must have been funny as he had run with me back when he was at U-Lowell. I invited him to join me and Dan for our afternoon runs as Dan had noticed from Jim’s blog that he trained with some of the MVS guys nearby. Club affiliations have never been a big deal for us; we both enjoy training with guys from any club. The more the merrier. Double-J ended up finishing in second place, Dan got 4th and Jim and I had a nice battle with Jim taking me by a little less than 1 second. I did get my 40+ personal best with a 16:28. We were joined by Eric Morse, who drove down to watch but not race, for a nice warm-down. I was impressed with Double-J’s memory of events long past that I had no recollection of. He seemed enthusiastic about running with us, little did I know.

Al Bernier and I took some time out of our busy racing/training/hiking schedule to take a shot at the record for the fastest ascent of all of the county high points in RI. We actually started the day with a Mass county high point and finished with three Connecticut county high points. Sandwiched in-between we ascended the five Rhode Island county high points in 2:44:06. I’ve heard others call attempts to do this “Into thick air”. Very droll, I wish I had thought of it. On the same weekend I began an improbable winning streak in snowshoe races. I was the surprise winner at North Pond, Cobble Mountain,

Curly’s record run (with a great warm-down to the Highest Natural Body of Water in Mass), and Northfield Mountain. I was surprised with each of the wins. At each race there was at least one guy who I think should have beaten me. I guess that is why we actually run the races. My sister gave me a lot of grief at the Northfield race noting “It is so un-cool to win your own race”. In January I ran 419 miles which would end up being the best mileage month for me in 2008. As is often the case, the year starts out with oodles of promise but fizzles as injuries get in the way.

The snowshoe winning streak was broken when Kevin Tilton toyed with me at the Sidehiller four-mile and eventually beat me by 6 seconds. Kevin did some sort of all day XC-ski the day before, so maybe he wasn’t toying with me as much as just making sure he won. Prior to the race I bagged a New Hampshire fire tower with a run up/down Green Mountain in my favorite NH town name – Effingham. It sounds vaguely like a swear word. My training was going well, so I skipped snowshoe racing for a weekend to head down to Martha’s Vineyard for a long race. This was a build-up to running the 50 km national championships in March. Ken Tripp and I went together and had a fun weekend that included running to the highest point in Dukes County and vainly searching for a fire tower. We also checked out where some scenes from Jaw’s were filmed and I ate the heaviest pizza (cheese burger pizza weighing about 10 pounds) I’ve ever had. The race went well, with Ken taking fourth and me taking 7th. Unfortunately I tweaked a calf muscle which put a major damper on my training over the next few weeks. I ended up having to pass on the 50 km race and even four weeks after the injury could only “jog” through the New Bedford ½ marathon. It was a weird experience starting way back in the pack and coasting along. Running a race without pressure to actually race is something I’m not used to. I also hope to NEVER get used to it.

One of the early spring highlights was the 17th running of the Merrimack River trail race. Steve Peterson is the director and I help him out (as do a bushel of other people). We’ve pretty much got this thing dialed-in after this many years. Dan shows up on Friday and we run the course with him putting down a white line along the trail. Some of the white line lasts from one year to the next. Anyone who goes off course is generally laughed at. On race day this year it was raining like crazy and the skies looked apocalyptic. Right before we started registration the rain stopped and it actually turned out to be quite a nice day. Kevin Tilton had one heck of a race running a very fast time and CMS took the top five spots and 10 out of the top 13. Tim Van Orden (the raw food dude) stayed over the night before and I thought a jet plane was taking off when he switched on his industrial strength blender. I think you can use it to create mulch.

In early May I went up to Vermont for a race and a stop at Eric Morse’s house. On the way I bagged the summit of Mt Cardigan (NH fire tower) which was a very attention-grabbing run due to spring snow at the upper reaches. Eric and I then bagged the fire tower on Mt Elmore in Vermont. The hardest part was the last couple of flights of stairs up the tower as it swayed in the breeze. I was surprised to find someone (Eric) more nervous about falling than I was. The morning of the race we did a short run in Montpelier to check out the tower just above the castle, and then I was off to Ripton to race. This is a point to point course and in 2007 we had a decent tail-wind, this year there was a brutal head-wind. I guess things do tend to even out. The following weekend was just as busy with an XC race in Canterbury that I jogged through in anticipation of the next day’s New England 6 km championships. I got 9th in the XC race, just out-kicking the lovely and speedy Christin Doneski. I had hoped for a top 10 40+ finish at the 6 km and gave it my all and could only muster 13th and 48th overall. The aforementioned Tim Van Orden (or T-VO) joined CMS that morning and assisted our master’s team against the always strong Whirlaway team.

Earlier in the year I had secured access to Croydon Peak which is a NH fire tower and a County high point. The available date coincided with the 6 km race date, so Al and I packed up and drove to meet the rest of our group. It made for quite a long day with nearly four hours of hiking to bag Croydon and another peak. We did get the added bonus of seeing all of the wild boar, which are hunted on this private game preserve, come out at dusk.

The final weekend of May saw the USATF NE mountain series kick-off. It seemed like the fields were especially strong this year as many newbies were testing the waters in anticipation of running Mt Washington (which was the mountain running national championships). A very strong field ran the Wachusett mountain race and we had more than thirty people do the warm-down around the mountain. This had to be the biggest warm-down group I’ve ever run with. It was great to meet and chew the fat with runners from a bunch of different clubs.

In mid-June I headed out to Western NY with Al for the US 24-hour Orienteering championships. We went out a day early to bag a few County high points in NY; it probably wasn’t the best way to “rest” the day before a 24 hour race. The race itself was tough due to rain which was prevalent throughout the competition. When it wasn’t raining you were getting drenched by wet brush. Just after sunrise (19 hours into the competition) we both had enough and called it a day. Despite being out less than the allowed time we were still able to muster a 3rd place, covering over 49 miles and climbing/descending a little less than 10,000’. The following weekend was the race that I always aim for, the Mt Washington road race. We went to Atitash on Thursday and I had my closest wild animal encounter ever. While running on the trails near the Saco River, I stumbled upon a mother bear and two cubs. The cubs climbed a tree and the mother stood about 30 yards away (30 meters for the metric-minded). I immediately raised my hands above my head (to make me seem more menacing?) and started calling “hey bear, yo bear” as I backed away. The mother did a 10 yard charge and pulled up as I kept backing away. I kept up my “hey bear, yo bear” mantra the entire way back to the condo. I think my pulse was higher then than it was during the entire race. The race had the deepest field to date and although I snuck under 1:10 I as not in the top 30. That is one reason that place goals are rarely a good idea, stick with time goals. You can’t control who shows up and how they run; you can only run your own race. As Bob Hodge once said at Mt Washington “It is really a personal challenge. You are running against yourself more than anybody else. If someone went by me I wouldn’t give a damn”. Classic Hodgie!

The wildest weather for a race this year had to be at Cranmore Mountain. It wasn’t bad during our warm-up, but as race time drew near the skies opened up and not only was it coming down in buckets there was also thunder and lightning to deal with. I ran little loops inside the ski lodge to stay loose and tracked down Paul Kirsch to see if he was going to delay the start. Paul felt it wasn’t going to get any better, so I went down to the base of the lodge and told the crowd that we were starting on time. Someone in the throng said “what about the lightning” and as the thunder rumbled I declared “there’s no lightning”. The race went off without a hitch and the 2-loop version of the course seemed to suit people a lot better than the previous year’s 3-loop killer course.

Loon trio - me, double-j, Kevin T

There were some surprises the following week at the Loon Mountain race. This is one of my favorite mountain races; the course has a very European feel to it. It starts out easy and just gets more and more difficult. The signature section is the Walking Boss trail which averages over 30% grade for over ½ mile. The big surprises of the day were Eric Blake (US mountain team), Eric Morse, and Craig Fram showing up for the race. I ran alone for most of the race, but started passing the remnants of the early lead pack on the upper reaches of the mountain. The Walking Boss section was wild; I could see Justin Fyffe (who was leading and eventually would win the series) on ALL FOURS making his way up the slope. It was one of my best runs of the year; I took 5th overall and 2nd in the 40+. This also closed the gap on T-VO, giving me a shot to win the 40+ category for the series and possibly take third overall.

The series closed out in mid-July at Mt Ascutney. I traveled to the race with Double-J who was training quite a bit with me and Dan. He was also doing a lot of the races we were doing and often talked about his clubs lack of enthusiasm for racing. Eric Morse surprised again by showing up at this race, but he and others took it out so slowly that I (of all people) actually led the race for the short time. Order was restored to the universe and Eric powered his way to a new master’s course record with his win. I held on for third place and garnered enough points to hold of T-VO and win the 40+ in the Mountain series. We had another huge warm-down (or really a warm-down-up) as we ran up to the summit and climbed the fire tower on top. Most of the guys chose to run down to the base as well after the awards ceremony was conducted at the finish line (unusual). Rumor has it that the race will go to the summit and possibly use trails part-way through the race. I hope not, I like the road race aspect and don’t really care for the couple of sets of ladders you have to go up on the trail. I don’t want to test myself on those under race conditions.
I think it was pretty soon after this trip that

Double-J decided he wanted to run for CMS after the road Grand Prix ended in October. He was never pressured by me or Dan to join CMS.

At the end of July I started having some back/hip problems. I missed a couple of days running because it looked like it might be a stress fracture, which you can’t mess with if it is located in the hip (as opposed to other locations where it is okay to continue running?). Anyway, it turned out to be muscular, most likely a problem around the SI joint. I was a bit tentative running the Yankee homecoming 10 mile, partly because of my back and partly due to a migraine that hit me that day. The race itself went okay, just slower than hoped for. At around 5 miles I caught (who I thought was) the top woman. Soon after that I heard a spectator yell to her “Third Woman”. Yikes, so much for beating the top woman!

Just over a week later I ran my best Grand Prix race at the Bridge of Flowers 10 km. I had a decent run, especially on the big hill. T-VO and I had a good back n’ forth race, he ended up taking me by 6 seconds with most of that in the last 400m. The only people to pass me or Tim in the last 3 miles were Norm Larson who is a great 50+ runner and the woman’s overall champ who outkicked us both in the last mile. I finally broke into the top 10 with a ninth place finish in the 40+. The highlight of the day, beyond the race, was a great warm-down with a dozen guys up to the summit of Mount Massaemett to visit the only stone fire tower in the state.

Dan, Dave Quintal, Joe Shairs, and I decided earlier in the summer to take a shot at the Lynn woods relay master’s record. Dan and I have talked about this a few times over the last couple of years but getting four master’s to toe the line uninjured is a Herculean task. This year things fell together and we felt the record was “do-able”. Joe led off with a quick 13:18, followed by Dave kicking in strongly with a 14:04. Dan started slowly as is his wont, but ran the fastest last ½ mile of all of us, running 13:47 for the 2.5 mile trail loop. I was the anchor leg and kicked liked mad hoping to break 14 and coming up just short with a 14:03. We broke the old record by just over a minute. My course record (12:05) still stands from 1991. I finished off the day anchoring the DRC team’s relay and finished just as it was getting dark. Two days later I rolled my ankle badly at the beginning of a run with Dan and Double-J. I think that favoring my leg after that may have ultimately been the proverbial straw that broke my back.

Me and Tim on the summit of Mansfield

On the final day of August I was headed to a race up Mt Mansfield (the highest point in Vermont) and as I walked to the car my back started to hurt a lot. It got worse as I drove to the race and felt terrible warming-up. I couldn’t bail at this point, so I raced and ended up winning. By the time I was back in the car for the 3+ hour drive home my back was not feeling good at all. It was murder when I got out of the car at home and I knew it was not good. I couldn’t sleep because every time I moved (and I move a lot) it would be brutal. I got an MRI and the day I was headed to Switzerland for the World Mountain champs I got word that I had (another) stress fracture of my sacrum. Needless to say I was quite uncomfortable traveling to and from the World’s. I was very pleased with how the team performed, but bummed that I couldn’t even walk the course with them. Our top girl, Alex Dunne, took the bronze medal which was our first individual junior medal. On the boys side we took fourth place with Tim Smith leading the way in 5th place. The men’s team also earned their first medal with a great showing to take the bronze. These were great accomplishments for teams that are not supported by USATF.

By mid-September I was finally given the okay to start running in the water. Petey even joined me a couple of times for a “run” in the mucky waters of Hart pond in Chelmsford. In early October I added some walking to my “training”. We headed to Hawaii for the Family Vacation. It was doubly tough as we were on the Island with the Iron-man race and there were people running, biking, and swimming at all hours of the day (Lucky Bastards!). I spent 2+ hours each day running in the water in the pool. It made for an unusual site as I’d complete a lap in the deep end in about a minute. That meant I’d do about 100 laps in the pool. I had a few people ask what I was doing and my favorite comment from one was “that doesn’t look like fun” to which I offhandedly replied “it isn’t”. I added biking to my repertoire at the end of the trip and slowly increased the biking as I phased out the water running. The temperature in Stiles pond was heading south of 60 degrees and I’m not very good with cold water. The only unfortunate side-effect of doing this was that I brought back some posterior tibial tendonitis. Heck, I thought it was impossible to get an injury while not running. Then again I have crashed a stationary bike so I suppose anything is possible (though not probable). The high point of the trip, literally, was ascending the state high point at 13,796. The exploding Doritos™ Bag experiment was hilarious, bought at sea-level and exploded at 9,000’.

Finally after 8 weeks of melancholy I was back to running in November. I celebrated being able to get out the door again with a great couple of hikes with Al. We went up by Baxter State Park and had perfect weather for bagging a couple of 3,000’ peaks. I truly enjoy the adventure of going somewhere I’ve never been before. Some of the views were great but ultimately that isn’t what I’m out there for. I got back on the town-bagging wagon with a trip to Nantucket in mid-November. It was a very quick trip that included a round trip on the “fast ferry”, biking 30 miles, running 6 miles, a fire tower, the county high point, and a lighthouse. I only throw the lighthouse in there for Cath and Rose who have this unhealthy obsession with visiting lighthouses. I can’t imagine what it is like to be obsessed with stuff like that J

I got back to racing, even though I wasn’t really in shape to race, with a windy and cold run around the lake in Wakefield. Double-J won the race and I survived with a fourth place finish narrowly missing my goal to break 18 minutes. I followed that with a good old fashioned ass-kicking (I was on the receiving end) at the Andover XC race. The race attracts nearly 400 and is quite a run, with a mix of grass, cart paths, quick up/downs, and tight turns. I battle throughout with the top woman but couldn’t quite get her at the finish line. Little did I know that as I kicked with all I had, the second place woman was also kicking like mad and finished only a few seconds back. I’m not sure who said it, but someone mentioned that time is irrelevant in XC. You just have to go after anyone who is in front of you and not let anyone pass you. Cross country is team running at its finest.

I went to Reno (the biggest little city – whatever the hell that means) for the USATF convention. I believe that it was my 12th convention since 1993. They really should organize a delegate’s race I think only two of the conventions I went to have had a race, too bad it is a missed opportunity. The highlight of the trip was getting a great run in with Richard Bolt the New Englander living in exile in Oregon. We did a great 11 mile run that climbed 2,100’ to the summit of Snow Valley Peak. The views were spectacular and it was my first county high point (on the continent) west of NY. I also bagged my highest solo peak, with a run up/down Mt Davidson at 7,864’ which nearly doubled my previous highest solo.

I finished out the cross country season with the always tough Assault on Mt Hood. I think the title should be changed to “I was assaulted by Mt Hood”. I felt beat up for a week after the race. This was the third time I’d raced it and every year the course has been different, usually due to the footing. Last year there was snow, this year we were post ice storm and unfortunately a fair amount of the race was on paved cart paths. It was still a great challenging course that was listed as 3.5 but was much closer to 3.8 miles. I took tenth place and fifth master, but kept Dan under a minute ahead of me. I believe I have raced Dan more times than anyone else. He is going to end up with about 55 races this year and I’ll have 40, even though I missed nearly three months. We ended up in the same race 16 times this year with Dan beating me 14 times. One of times I beat him was Gilmanton when he was so sick he shouldn’t have run and the other time was Mt Washington where he has only beaten me once in 13 times. Anyway, lifetime Dan and I have raced 208 times with me beating him 113 times and him beating me 95 times. In the last 5 years I’ve beaten Dan 6 times and he has beaten me 69 times. The pendulum has definitely swung in his direction. He has got to slow some time, doesn’t he?
2008 Highlights
3, 506 miles or an average of 9.6 miles per day.
41 races covering 191.5 miles or an average distance of 4.7 miles.
Nine snowshoe races ties my all-time most in a year.
7 wins gives me a streak of 30 consecutive years with at least one win.
60 days off including 54 in a row starting on Sept 1 due to a stress fracture.
103 Mountains climbed this year from 111’ Sankaty hill to 13,796’ Mauna Kea.
29 County High Points
125 Mass towns bagged and only 33 to go and I’ll have run in all 351 towns/cities in Massachusetts.

Lifetime totals:
104,110 miles or 9.48 miles per day for 30 years.
1,471 days off or 1 day off every 7.4 days.
1,037 races over a total of 6,333.3 miles (average of 6.11 miles per race).
349 wins = a 33.6% winning percentage
Total races by type:
474 road
117 XC
109 Mountain
103 Indoor track
102 Outdoor track
68 trail
62 snowshoe
2 triathlon

No comments: