Death March – Trail Running, an Experience

Yes, you read that right. Death March is a Half-Marathon(ish) trail run through some dense woods along some gnarly hills and yet contains some of the most awesome views.  I was lured out to this adventure by my close friend and his girlfriend (now fiance) – two amazingly talented runners that for some reason enjoy this punishing trail of death.

Actually, I think they love bringing newbs like myself out to the trail and take sheer pleasure in watching us beginners try to navigate the obstacles a the while trying to keep a modest pace.

Regardless, I hated my life, but somehow enjoyed every minute of it.

The trail system is a unique trek along the Susquehanna River, that yields some pretty impressive views that require an equal amount of effort (if not more) to obtain.  The first 5 miles is a winding wooded trail system that has you traversing narrow passing, hoping over little creeks and crossing the same road a few times to screw up your internal compass.  I’ll admit the beginning was fast paced, if you would consider an average 14 min/mile fast, and my heart rate was elevated to match my level of excitement, fear, and wonder.

The views from mile 5 or 6 or something near there- give me a break I was experiencing Runner’s High

After the wooded trails you enter the thick of the woods that run parallel to the river.  It was here that I truly experienced some hardcore trails – consider this more of a spirited walk with extra pep. My heart rate at this point leveled off a little, mostly because the small snack break we took helped me calm down, and the sights we took in reminded me to enjoy the moment. It was also in this moment that I really felt like we were alone – the trail system runs along elevations that no one dare to domesticate.

I met the three sisters, the “mountains” we would spend the bulk of our mileage trying to conquer. First off, these sisters are jerks, it was at this point where I really started to hate my life and my choice to tag along.  We stopped at one of the sisters where I filled out a log book, cursing my friend and everyone on the trail that day for coning my into coming along.  During the stop, I paused my Garmin – only to forget to restart it about 3/4 of a mile from our brief resting post.

Hot Dog Hallow- a questionable Duck Blind in the middle of God-knows-where

It wasn’t until we crested the final hill and saw our escort vehicle that I immediately felt 10,000 times better. Just the sheer thought of having completed our journey sent a burst of adrenaline through my system, and it was at that very moment that I knew I was hooked.

I’ll be back, with more GU Energy Gels, a full Camelback Hydration Pak, Honey Stinger Waffles, and CLIFs bars!

Handful of Gu Energy Gels and Magical Sport Beans to help power me through the hills. And yes, those are Street Running shoes- not trial shoes.

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Hershey Half Marathon, a Wrapup

Well another year has come and gone and another chance to hit a PR was on the line. The Hershey Half Marathon is one of my favorite races of all time and continues to serve as a benchmark for the race season ahead. So how’d it go? Here’s the nitty gritty.

Did I PR? Why Yes, Yes I did!
I managed to snag a course PR… by 9 seconds. I guess I shouldn’t complain because a PR is a PR is a PR. My finish time was 2:13:51 and I’ll take it.  My goal was to hit 2 hours even, by the start of the race I was held up by some slight congestion with the mass of runners and the first two miles were averaging around a 9:30 pace.

I knew from the start that if I wanted a 2 hour finish I needed to dig deep and push hard.  Unfortunately my body had other plans, and rather than injure myself I decided to run at the race my body was telling me.  The first 5 miles I was running a comfortable 9:30 average pace and if I held that pace I knew I would hit a 2:04ish finish time.

Learning from Last Year:
Last year I had to stop twice to pee – which cost me precious time.  So taking a note from last years race, I made, what ended up being a crucial mistake, by deciding to not drink a lot of fluids the night before and the morning of the race.  I figured I’d carry my own water (infused with Nuun) and would make due on the course.

Mile 6-7 proved my no fluids tactic was dumb and my left leg revolted in the worst cramps I have ever experienced! I ran into some friends that could see the struggle in my face, however their encouragement pushed me to press onward and run through the pain.

I could feel the tension in my left calf muscle, but as long as I put most of my weight on my right leg it wasn’t horribly bad. And the fact that I had some friends nearby I felt the need to keep up. I held an average 10:30 min/mile for as long as I could. By mile 10-11, I knew the race was almost done, but my calf was just not in the mood. I slowed down, got to the side of the course and stopped- a cardinal sin in my book of running. I stopped and evaluated my situation, I ran both hands down my legs to make sure they felt the same. My thigh muscles and calf muscles were identical so I knew I hadn’t done serious damage. My left calf muscle just felt tense- so I took the opportunity and massaged it firmly while stretching it out a little. The brief stop was relief enough for me to bounce back slightly and maintain a 10+ min/mile pace.

As I rounded out the course there were kids from the Children’s Hospital there cheering us on and the emotional experience took my mind off the pain and I pressed on.

I finished the race, grabbed my medal, my snack bag and headed right for the infield of the stadium. I collapsed and immediately began stretching and massaging my left calf in an effort to rid the pain. After about 10 mins I got up and at that point noticed walking was out of the question- the stiffness was too great. Walking was out of the question, but as long as I kept my heel up, jogging back to my car was still in the cards.

As I jogged back to my car I overheard some people saying “that guy is still running- guess he thought this was a Marathon…” I laughed in my head as I returned to my car. I guess from someone else’s prospective it would appear that way- which made me stop and think for a brief second: Should I run a full marathon next?

Crazy right?

Half Marathon Training!

I’ve neglected to update this poor blog, so in an effort to maintain some level accountability here’s an update on training.  I recently discovered Matt Fitzgerald’s book “80/20 Running” and have taking stock in adopting the principles of slower running.  In a nutshell 80% of my training will be dedicated to slow run, like really slow running.  Running so slow that I’m slightly embarrassed to post my 5K runtimes in the 40 min range slow. Buuuuuuut, if it means I can crank out a Half Marathon under 2 hours, I’ll take it.

Speaking of a half marathon finish under 2 hours, will it happen in a few weeks?! Not sure, yet.  I have been maintaing weekly averages in the 10-15 miles range, and only as of lately strayed to scale things up.  I’ve got 4 more weeks until the Hershey Half, so I’m not going to get too strung out if I don’t hit my under 2 hour goal.

Week 1 (6 weeks until the half)
Training consisted of two (2) 3 mile runs during the week and ending with a 6 mile run on Sunday.

Week 2
Training consisted of one (1) 3 mile run, and one (1) 4 mile run during the week, ending with a 6 mile run on Sunday.

Week 3 (current week)
Training this week included one (1) 3 mile run durig the week, one (1) 5k Pumpkin Run Race this Saturday, and ending out on Sunday with an 8 mile slow run.

Next week’s training (week 4) will include 3 mile runs during the week and another repeat 8 mile slow run.  After that (weeks 5 & 6) will include light 3 mile runs during the week and then my long runs will increase from 8 miles to 10 miles on Sundays. The follow Sunday (week 7) is the Hershey Half and will end the week with a 13 mile run.

Garden Spot Village Half Marathon

Well, here it is, my Race Recap of the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon – and I have two words for anyone considering this race: THOSE HILLS! Yes, oh my God, now I’m saying it too.

When I told people I was racing in the Garden Spot Half Marathon, everyone said the same thing; “watch out for those hills”. I heard that so much so, that whenever I told people which race I was signed up for – I would interrupt them and yes, “yes, I know, hills – but I ran the Hershey Half and dealt with my share of hills”.  I was confident I had trained well and was prepared.  However I learned, confidence only gets you so far.

First off, let me start by saying Garden Spot Village (GSV) does a race right. The venue is perfect, the accomidations – awesome, the staff and support – out of this world.  My hat is off to GSV for putting together such an awesome event. I enjoyed every detail before the race, I enjoyed every mile during the race, and I thought post-race recovery was done right.  Kudos to their entire team and sponsors.

Now, let’s get down to business and talk racing. I woke up bright and early the day of the race and had a decent breakfast protein shake (Vega Vanilla and Greens, Banana, Quick Oats, Cocoa Nibs, Maca Powder, and Peanut Butter). After taking the pooch out for a walk I came home and donned my running gear.

Typical of my pre-race ritual, I arrived early.  In fact, I was the first runner to pull up to the empty parking lot at 5:55am.  The parking lot attendants clapped and yelped and told me to park anywhere I wanted.

Arrive Early: Check.
Score Amazing Parking: Check.

I waited in my car, meditated, rested my mind – it was hard since I was pumped up and ready to go.  I waited until about 40 mins before the start of the race to emerge from my car and hit the porta-john before flocking over to the tents and excitement. Not that these are excuses, but I had two setbacks I feel like I could have avoided had I done better preparing on my part. I did arrive early and I made sure to use the facilities when I got there, but I forgot to make one last pit stop before the race started. I wanted to make sure I was hydrated so that extra bottle of water in my belly would come back to haunt me. When the race started I immediately had to pee… ugh, not how I wanted to spend the next few miles.  Every two miles GSV had setup a water station and bathrooms, and of course, the first stop was already occupied. Other than having to pee, I felt pretty good, I was breathing a little heavier than I would have liked, but this was a race after all and I will keeping a good pace of 9:30 min/mile among the crowd.

Miles 1 – 4 are pretty uneventful, aside from having to pee the course was proving to be somewhat hilly and challenging, but nothing I couldn’t manage. As I wrapped up mile 5 into 6 and feeling good coming down a huge monster hill it dawned on me that I was going to be turning around at some point and running right back up the monster I just traversed. At this point my body was not pleased with my bathroom choices and forced me to stop at the next water station to empty what felt like a gallon of water – and of course there was a little wait so this added more time to the clock.

Once I exited the porta-john I thought I saw the turn-around and my spirits instantly lifted.  I popped some Honey Stinger snacks into my mouth and enjoyed the sugary high they brought.  My joy was very (very) short lived once I realized that what I saw was not the turnaround, but another hilly drop ahead, with the realization that the second leg of the race was mostly uphill. I made it to the turn around and starting noticing that evil voice in my head telling me to just walk for a few minutes to catch my breath before the hillclimb from hell started.  I did my best to ignore this voice – my average pace was right around 9:45 – 10:00 min/mile and the thought of beating my 2:14:00 finish was in sight… or so I thought.

Mile 7 was the kiss of death, I hit that first steep hill and slugged my way up it. I quicken my pace but then used what energy I had and gradually ended up slowing down faster than I expected. Walking, my own personal no-no. My pace went from 9:53, to 11:26, to 16:00 min/mile and I hit the 9 mile mark with a lap time of 14:24 min/mile.

More Honey Stingers. Check.
More Nuun Water. Check

From that point on my moral hit rock bottom, I tried to quicken my pace to at least finish with my same personal best of 2:14:00, but with each slow step the goal grew further and further.  I finished in 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 40 seconds – 13 minutes longer than my personal best. I wasn’t upset, but I wasn’t happy with that time.

So what did I learn? First and foremost – Not all half marathons are the same! And you can never be too prepared – next year I intend on beating my time as this was not where I thought I would end.  I left that race saying “never again” only to find myself saying “next year” a few days later. GSV Half Marathon is no joke, train for hills… serious hills.  Also, I’m not sure carrying my own water was necessary – with water and Gatorade stations every 2 miles, what was I saving myself by toting that extra weight? Next year, I need to ditch carrying so much stuff.  Pee, pee, pee – make sure you pee right before you race even if you have to force it, bathroom breaks kill me. Oh and arriving 2 and a half hours before the event started was awesome – but being so close to home, it was a little overkill, next year an hour extra should suffice.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the Hershey Half this fall, and I intend on beating my 2:14:00 finish – at least I know there won’t be the same hills as GSV. Now, back to training – The Hard Cider run is just two weeks away!

This Week in Running

Running Log Monday March 20th through Sunday March 26th
Miles Run: 13.3 

Well, I did it, I’ve officially began tapering for my upcoming 15K and 1/2 Marathon.  I’ve been keeping the mileage low to avoid injury and also, let’s face it – I’ve been slacking.  I’ve been struggling with finding the motivation to run lately – and trust me, it pains me.  I’ll jump on Instagram and see everyone’s running pictures and I’ll hear that voice in my head say, “you should be running” and I agree, I should be running…

But I’m not.  So let’s start with the not so good news.

Last weekend I decided to run in some new shoes, since then I’ve been getting wicked shin splints – an issue I’ve never had before. So I’ve been semi-nursing some sore shins while running, trying to “take it easy”.  To snap out of my funk, and while traveling for work in New York City, I thought I would take advantage and run along the East River.  The thought was awesome, but the logistics just weren’t in the cards (early morning start, long and late days).  An inside run in the treadmill would have to suffice, so before the rest of the guys were awake, I hit the gym and pounded out a little over 3 miles.  It was the longest 3.1 miles ever.

In better news, the weather has been cooperating and is fantastically warm outside so here’s the hoping a few outdoor runs are in order.

This Week in Running

Running Log Monday March 13th through Sunday March 19th
Miles Run: 15

This past week was a low mileage week – mainly for two reasons:
One, I am being extremely lazy (haha) and finding it very difficult to wake up in the mornings.
Two, my 15K is rapidly approaching, and the week after that is my 1/2 marathon, so I’m trying to dial back my training to not over do it and to hopefully keep injuries at bay.

Also, I’m in denial that I’m in a “runner’s rut” – for while I was pushing some good weekly miles, but lately I’m losing steam. New running shoes, new running clothes, all these thing “help” add motivation – I just think I need to see some sun.

Relay for Life

I am pledging to cover 50 miles for the Lancaster Relay for Life in honor of my family members that have been lost due to cancer.

I will be walking for Freemasons for a Cure in honor of the following Masons:

    • Kenneth C. Gowton- Member of C. Grant Brittingham Lodge F&AM No. 788, Woodside, Pa
    • Richard Barr- Member of Pine Grove Lodge F&AM No. 409
    • Matthew J. Barr- Member of Virginia Beach Masonic Lodge No. 274 AF&AM

I will also be walking for my family members who have passed away from cancer:
Aunt Gloria, Cousin Shana Geary, Aunt Gail Emmonds, and Richard “Pop” Neumeister (and I’m sorry if I forgot anyone)

Please feel free to donate any amount: Donate Here