Sunday, November 25, 2007

Turkey Times

Wednesday: I met up with Drew in Campton, NH at 9am. We rode together to the base of the Waterville Valley Ski Area. We laced up our boots and headed out on the sleet crusted trail and climbd 2.5 miles to the 4,003' summit of Mount Tecumseh. Aside from two other hikers who headed out ahead of us, we saw no one else on our journey to the top. The summit was encased in a blanket of clouds. We stood, chilled, in a sea of freezing fog. We then walked over to the ski area as the temps slowly rose to near 40 degrees. The wind was biting but not bitter. We enjoyed a wonderful walk down the ski slopes, even sitting to glissade a few times, to the base of the mountain. Drew gave me an early Christmas Gift, a custom made walking stick he made. I hope to give these same sticks to the finishers of the 200 Mile run in 2008.

From there I headed to Nashua where Sarah met me at my sister's house. I really enjoyed playing video games with my nephews and showing them who is STILL the best. ;) Its always nice to have some family time. My sister likes to keep the house cold at night, and as Sarah stole the blankets, I shivered for most of the night, getting little sleep.

Thursday: We woke up early Thursday to head to nashua South High School. St. Joseph's Hospital was holding its 3rd Annual Thanksgiving Day 5K Trail Run. The run took participants through the soft trails of Mines Falls Park. My nephews Kenny and Tmmy both ran in the kids 400 Meter Dash. Kenny (10) came in 4th Overall and 2 Male. My brother in law Mike (VT100 Crew) ran in the 5K and finished with a new PR time of 23:15! I ran with Sarah, who was participating in her first 5K race EVER. She had never even run this far before and she was determined to finish. With a time of 34:19, she did just that. A real thrill to run in the back of the pack with her and help her succeed at her latest goal.

We showered up and I headed to my mothers for a quick hello and to pick up some things. Then it was off to Sarah's families house for Thanksgiving Day. I enjoyed the usual quirkiness of her family, huddled around the days football games. The meal had all the fixings and desert was just as delicious. I ate WAY too much, but theres no better way to celebrate another year of activity. We played cards, Shanghai, and then off to bed. Sarah and I slept on the living room floor... another night of little or no sleep.

Friday: Woke up early and went to the old landscaping company to help rake leaves for 7 hours. Made some extra cash, headed home for a shower, then went back to EMS to work another 6 hours there. Long day.

Saturday: Pete met me at home and we drove to Gorham, NH where we began our hike for the day. We hiked Mount Adams in the Northern Presidentials. The 5,774 foot peak is New Hampshire's 2nd highest. We walked on snow from beginning to end. Ice was the name of the game on the Valley Way trail. Above the hut we picked our way slowly through the rock field to the summit as we negotiated a few snow drifts and rime ice (see photo above) latching onto everything. The summit temperature was 5 degrees with a windchill of 30 Below on the top. We looked like moon men all bundled up, wearing goggles to protect our faces from frost bite. Despite the sub-arctic cold, it was a picture perfect day up high and another great day for hiking. Blue skies and fair weather clouds, blowing snow and snotcicles... 9.8 miles total with over 9,000' of elevation change.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hiking The Hancocks

11.17.07: Hancocks
Adamiata and Sherpa Jihad
9.8 Miles in 4:38
Barebooted the whole way

I woke up at 5:20am and got ready for the day. Adam was meeting me here in Newmarket so we could carpool north. The plan was to meet Drew at the Zealandd Road trailhead for a walk out over Hale to Zealand and maybe a few of the Bonds. A long day planned ahead and a long day we had. As we drove north on Rte 16, we enjoyed great conversation as we typically do while catching up with each other. My car... is a POS. But lately it had been making a kind of whirring sound that I thought was a leaf stuck in a fan or belt. Turns out it wasn't. Sarah is in Ohio and I thought about taking her car just in case... and I paid the price.

As we reached the first big hill in North Wakefield, NH we heard something hit the hood of my car. SJ: "What was that? I hope it wasn't under my hood." Adam: "Well, I see something black bouncing down the road behind us." (DING! Battery Light On) SJ: "Well... I guess it WAS under my hood. Hope we can make it to Conway and fix the problem." (DING! Temp Light on.. Needle rockets to Red) SJ: "Or not." I pull over and shut the car off. We sit on the very top of the Wakefield Hill, looking at Chocorua and the rest of the whites. My car is done! Adam uses AAA an we call a tow truck and start planning for the rest of the day.

We discovered the problem was that the pulley for my belt tensioner wore out and broke off. This caused the serpentine belt to stop moving so the alternator stopped generating power and the water pump shut off. We got towed alllll the way back to Newmarket. We got in Sarah's car and drove to Exeter to buy the parts. $80 later we headed back to Newmarket where as I went to go get my tools in the apartment realized I had locked myself out. I remembered a few arguments with Sarah about locking the windows because it would be easy to break in. Well... low and behold she's still not listenning and I broke in. Got the tools and we started the repair. An hour later (damn near a miracle when it involves the S Belt).. we were hopping BACK in the car and driving north on 16.

We made it to the Hancock trailhead at about 12:30pm, laced up the boots and headed out in a fast paced hike in our attempt to beat the sunset. The trails out here are covered with about 2-4 inches of snow at most. Its a fine white powder great for kicking around. Plenty of flowing water in spots make it a slushy mess and even a few mud pits deep enough to sink your boot into. The water at the water crossings is flowing and a tad high but crossing without getting wet is no problem at all. The only REAK problem on this hike was the fresh snow covering the various slippery roots on the Hancock Notch and Cedar Brook trails.

It was a busy day on this trail as we passed quite afew folks heading out. Just before we hit the junction where you can choose to hit North or South, a lady who was hiking with her 3 daughters asked us, "You guys heading up?" "Yeah." We choose to do South First for a change and I think it was a great choice given the time of day. The toughest part of going up South peak was trying to maneuver through the glissading path. It made things a bit slick and some touch ice was evident beneath the snow. Even still, to glissade this early in the year must have been painful!

We took some photos of us in the rime up top and then carried on to the north peak. When we arrived there we stepped out onto the outlook to see the sun setting just above the Franconia Ridge. The bright orange glow illuminated the snow showers around and the white hills.. it was really amazing. We took it in before heading down the North side trail... which was kind of difficult in spots and I still... to this day... thing North to South is the safer, easier way to go.

We scurried out of there as fast as we could as the sun set and the world grew dark. We saw a couple speed hiking in as we were heading out. Adam and I stopped to comment at how much our perspective has changed... 2 years ago I would have stopped them and had a flurry of questions for them like, "You guys know its getting dark?" "Its dangerous once the sun sets, you plan on spendng the night somewhere?" Yadda yadd... Hey.. everyone hikes at different times and there are no "beasts" at night. We smiled at them and wished them well on their own adventure.

At one point Adam thought he heard voices, I was seeing headlamps in the woods... we saw or heard neither. Time to get to the car I suppose so we picked up the pace. We made it back to the kanc JUST as it was getting too dark to see without a headlamp.. we still hadn't taken ours out. We piled back into the now working car... and headed for home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

History In The Belknap Range?

Belknap Range Peak-Bagging Mission
Monday, November 12, 2007
Alspal "Dave Dunham", Kevin Tilton, Albee, Sherpa John
23 Miles in 8 or so hours.
Peaks bagged.. All 12 on the list.


According to the Belknap Range Traverse is described as: A strenuous peak-bagger’s adventure that visits nine peaks in the Belknap Range. The Belknap Range is an L-shaped string of small peaks that rise 1,800 feet to the west from the southwestern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. At the eastern end of the range, Mount Major, with its excellent 360-degree views, is one of the most climbed mountains in southern New Hampshire. At 2,380 feet, Belknap Mountain is the tallest peak in the range, which consists of fifteen named summits above 1,500 feet. This hike is a strenuous traverse from northwest to southeast, climbing over the summits of Mount Rowe, Gunstock Mountain, Belknap Mountain, Mount Klem, Rand Mountain, West and East Quarry Mountains, Straightback Mountain, and Mount Major. The hike involves substantial elevation gain and requires good route-finding skills, because there are many trail intersections on this route, some unmarked. It is also a one-way trip, requiring the spotting of a car at either end of the range.

Don Watson is the gentleman in charge of distributing the patches for individuals who complete hiking THE LIST of peaks on their compiled list. After what we accomplished on Monday, I won't argue the ranges silent difficulty. But had anyone ever hiked the list in ONE DAY? Dave made contact with JR Stockwell, a lesser known peakbagging "legend" in New Hampshire, who we thought would have been the guy to have done it if he had. But.. he hadn't and also expressed no interest in doing so. We made a few more e-mails to folks we know had some knowledge of area peak-bagging and turned up no results either. To their knowledge and our knowledge, NO ONE had ever hiked all 12 of these peaks in one day and it was our goal to be the first. IF someone has, it is not documented anywhere online (afterall.. EVERYTHING is on the internet) and those who hold the Belknap Range near and dear to them, offer no evidence as well. We do belive it COULD have been done previously, but it is highly unlikely given the ranges low profile as opposed to the 4K's to their north.

We spotted Dave's car somewhere along Belknap Mountain Rd and then carpooled in Al's car to Gunstock Ski Area. I had just run 50 miles on Saturday and in no way shape or form and I even remotely recovered or rested from the adventure. Yet here I am, sitting in a car with some of New Englands most decorated mountain runners, about to take on a traverse that is by no means "easy." I was worried and wondered if I should have just stayed home and let these boys do their thing. But hell.. it's time on my feet. Great mental training and time moving on tired legs. I was up for the challenge.

Kevin and Dave ran most of the way up the access road to the top of Rowe while Albee hung back and teased me along the mountains slopes. I was moving slowly, hemming and hawing, in tons of pain and barely able to climb. I thought about just turning back to the car but I don't know how to drive a stick (this make me less of a man?). My usual plethora of indiginities spurted from my mouth in comical displeasure as we climbed to and reach the top of Rowe. The views were amazing as Washington stuck out like cotton on the top of a Q-tip. We could see the snow covered twins, moosilauke, Franconia Ridge and all the ones in between. It was an aamzingly gorgeous, CRISP!, morning and we were in for a hell of a day.

We went from Rowe to Gunstock, maneuvering our way through the myriad of trails. Hiking in this range proved to be difficult mostly through the need of decent navigational skills. Trail markers often change color from white to yellow to red to pink to purple to blue to blue and red to... well you get the idea. And at times, ever finding a marker or following what "appears" to be a trail became quite a challenge.

We huffed over Gunstock and carried on to Belknap where Albee and Kevin climbed into the fire tower. They enjoyed views while I tried to move ahead given my slow progress. I could run the downhills great, muster my way through the flats with a walk/run scheme, and slowly and painfully crawled up and over every downhill. We came down upon a gorgeous spot called Round Pond. This is one of the prettiest places I have been in New Hampshire and enjoyed the shores immensly. We threw rocks into the pond, hearing it penetrate the ice and scatter like broken glass. Yeah.. it was COLD for sure!

From here we made our way over Klem at 2001', then West and East Quarry, two small humps that are a jumble of rocks and home to an old.. well, Quarry. (Go figure). The tops of these humps have been logged viciously by whome-ever, yet they had done well in trying to maintain the character of the trail. We appreciated this as we ran by and enjoyed the views from various tiny outlooks. From here, we ran over to North Straightback, taking the turn and heading for Mount Major. Mount Major was full of activity as its the most popular of the mountains in this range. We played, "Name the Peaks," with folks on the summit, pointing out various mountains off in the northern horizon. Dave reminised about how it had been 30 years since he was on Mount Major... his first mountain climb ever.

On Sunday, Dave had a huge party at his house where he ran his 100,000th mile of his running career which began in 1978. Thats 10 miles a day for almost 30 years. He holds the second fastest time for any American in the history of the Mount Washington Auto Road Race. He has competed in the Mt Washington Road Race 16 times between 1988 and 2005. He won three times including a one-second victory in 1989 over seven-time champion and teammate Bob Hodge. Dunham represented the U.S. in the World Mountain running championships from 1992 to 2000 and earned a silver medal in 1993. And Mount Major is where it all started. I really felt honored to be mountain running with a man of his caliber.

We left Major after some grub around Noon, and headed back to Straightback where we went over the South peak. From here we enjoyed some of the best running of the day on leave and pine covered single track that wove over and around Mounts Anna and Mack. We came out on a snowmobile trail that led us back past Round Pond where headed headed back towards Belknap, took a left and headed for Piper. The trail from here was horrible at times. The leaves covered the many loose and sharp rocks and roots that lay along the way. The single track was narrow and ice covered the rock slabs from time to time. As we made our way up the slopes of Piper, I was spent. Al asked me what my pain level was earlier on a scale of 1-10.. I told him 7. On Piper, I made it to 8 and even had to sit down. The guys were getting further and further ahead of me and I felt horrible for slowing them down, yet... I hung as tough as I could choosing to sing songs about my frontal lobe.

Piper was by far my favorite peak of the day. The views from and geology of this mountain were exceptional. I loved it and it was a great place for a short rest. We heard voices from the tp of Belknap and we hooted their way listenning for the response. Al and I headed off towards Whiteface while Dave and Kevin argued over the map (leave it to a surveyor and an orienteer to do that). The run down piper was steep and long along various rock slabs. In the col below Whiteface, Al spotted a porcupine and decided to play with him. We took a photo of the bugger and then climbed to the top of Whiteface. I struggled bad climbing this last pitch. My legs felt like lead as I dragged them along the ridge line. I was spent, yet glad this was the last peak of the day.

I quietly came out on the summit, too focused on the concentration required to keep moving forward. Great training indeed and in a sick way I loved it. From here, we took off down into the woods, bushwhacking down the side of Whiteface towards where we parked our car. We came out near a sand pit and logging operation about .3 from where we had parked. Our trip had been perfect on one hell of a perfect day.

HUGE thanks to Dave for his maps and route finding skills. In my opinion it really did take a good plan to accomlish the task at hand. In just under/over 8 hours, we had made history in becoming the first 4 people to ever hike all 12 peaks on this list in one day (unofficially). If anyone else has ever done it, I'd love to hear of their adventure as well. But until then, I can't wait to get my new patch AND... also get my Fire Tower patch as I also completed the 5 needed on that list as well. But for now, my legs are turning against me and much needed rest is in order.

Daves Pics:

Monday, November 12, 2007

RR: Stonecat Ale 50 Miler

Saturday, November 10, 2007
Stone Cat Ale 50 Miler
Ipswich, MA

Challenge: Something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc. About a month ago I accepted a challenge within, a calling onto myself, which asked if it was possible. Possible to set a personal best time at the marathon distance, and then set a personal best in the 50 mile distance, just six days later. I knew the task wasn’t going to be easy. After all, how dull would my life be if I didn’t set out to challenge myself beyond what seems attainable?

Six days before this race, I ran in the Manchester City Marathon. There, I set a personal best time of 3 hours 37 Minutes and 27 Seconds (Formerly 3:40:33). The course was amazingly challenging with many tough hills and a stiff westerly wind. This, I thought, would be the tougher of the two races to PR at, and I gave it my all in the historic Queen City. As I found out today at the Stonecat Races, I might have given too much.

All the racers lined up in one huge mass in the “starting area” ready to go. We all wanted to get moving with the hopes that it would warm us up. The temperature at the race start was a balmy 32 degrees and a light breeze blowing across the elementary schools ball fields. Runners wore tights, hats, gloves, and some even wore shorts. Whatever it was that you wore, the mission was quite simple. Marathoners were to compete 2 loops of the 12.25 mile course, and 50 milers completed 4 loops. I had many friends running in both races, and some working aid stations. There was tons of a moral support to go around and for this I was grateful. The race hadn’t even started yet and I was having a great time hanging out with everyone.

Loop 1: Miles 0 – 12.50

The first loop of any loop course should be spent “scouting.” Trying to figure the course out so that a plan can be devised on how to run the course. Sometimes, runners will arrive to the course a day or two early to run a loop to see it before hand, but many of us were seeing t for the first time right then and there. It wasn’t long after the race started that runners were still running like a bat out of hell. I watched 50 milers run up every hill before them. I was blown away, until I noticed that I wasn’t far off, running many of the same hills.

I was pushing myself and pushing hard. All I could think about was moving quickly. I wanted the PR so bad that it was all that I thought about. No real race strategy, just run as fast as I can. I tried running with some friends, but I felt like they were pushing me beyond a comfortable level. I ran with my good friend Paul into the first aid station (Al Cats Lounge) and I made sure I stopped long enough to gain some separation… and to have my hand held filled with beer… Thanks Al! Paul is a strong runner and knows his stuff in running ultra’s, even though this was his 3rd ultra. Unfortunately, he was moving much too fast for me and I knew I needed to find my own groove and run my own race.

I left Al’s on my own with the plan to settle into my own race. Ryan Prentiss was running the marathon and he had caught up with me. We ran an easy pace for a bit before he took off on a blistering pace as well. People began passing me left and right, I was pooped all ready. I had started out WAY too fast for fifty miles and was sucked into paces other than my own. I committed a HUGE mistake but wondered how it would even out in the end. And then… Nate and Jeff caught up to me and we ran together for a bit as well. Once again, I was sucked into a pace other than my own. The only good thing is, the folks that I had been running with are all great folks. I love their conversations, we all make each other laugh and I was having a great time.

We arrived at Fast Fred’s CafĂ© and I let Nate and Jeff run ahead. I kept forgetting that the last 3 people I ran with were running a race half the distance of what I was going to cover today. I finally settled into my own race for good and was amazed to see just how much of the last 4 miles of the loop one could run. The entire course is a mixture of single track and dirt roads. The trails are technical in that roots and rocks hang up on the course yet are covered by slimy fallen leaves. I rolled my ankle a few times but was good enough to keep moving forward at a good clip. Soon, I re-emerged out into the school’s athletic fields to complete loop 1. And I’m not too happy, the clock reads 2:10 and I knew that this was too fast by about 20 minutes.

Loop 1 Time: 2:10

Loop 2: Miles 12.50 – 25

After knowing I finished loop 1 a little too fast, I knew I needed to reel myself in, and figure out what the plan would be. From the start to Al’s is where most of the walking should take place, from Al’s to Fred’s is a good mixture of both, and from Fred’s to the finish is an extremely run-able section. If I could only hang on to this plan for the loop, I’d do just fine. As I ran out of the start/finish area, I began to “bread & butter” the other runners who were just coming in. It was neat to see who was on my heels all day… especially later when they all passed me. Everyone looked strong, including Ian Parlin and Eric Boucher who were both running their first 50. Eric had whipped himself up into some amazing shape and I was really rooting for him.

I continued onto the first section of single track and the first major hill, slowly walking and then running when I could. I noticed a guy had driven his pick up into the woods and he was cutting down what seemed to be every hardwood he could find in this softwood forest. Chainsaw in hand he went to work and I must say, in the time I took me to run 2 loops, this dude had amassed quite a pile of wood. I made it to Al’s and was feeling good again. I drank some chicken noodle soup, some soda and chatted it up with aid station workers again. Bob Dunfey is always a great source for a good laugh and another gentleman told me he reads my blog and enjoy’s it. That’s always a good pick me up.

I headed off to Fred’s. I was running mostly alone out here, but what else is new. Most times in these races its what I do. The only problem was, without company, it was much harder to keep my mind off of “natures calling.” But then again, I was able to run my own race and keep things simple. I got back on track, and ran into Fred’s where I saw Jason Patch. Jason was great in keeping me motivated throughout the day, just another one of the great personalities of the race staff.

I ran what of the final 4 miles I could, and as I ran towards the start/finish again, I watched Paul head back out and even noticed some girls from the high school my HS rivaled with. I had to jaw at them, it was fun back then and still is now. Turns out they know my uncle. My time for this lap was more like it, but probably should have been about 20 minutes slower. I knew I was in trouble seeing as my race strategy was non-existent. Plenty of mistakes here in the first half, and the cold was really doing a number on my all ready tight legs. It was time to dig deep

Loop 2 Time: 2:24

Loop 3: Miles 25 – 37.5

I took off on loop three feeing tired still but confident. Nature was certainly calling and two miles into the loop, I finally decided to answer its call. Off into the woods I went and when I returned to the course, I knew that some 6 to 9 runners had moved ahead of me. I felt rejuvenated now that I had finally “got the lead out” and decided to munch my way back up in the ranks. I passed a few of them by Al’s and a few more shortly after. On my way to Fred’s I was in a groove and feeling good.

I ran a long downhill section before noticing that course markings were scant… and I saw what appeared to be remnants of where markings had once hung. So I kept going forward until I came up to a long strand of orange tape across my path. I stopped, looked up and saw a runner in front of me whom I remembered as being WAY ahead of me on the course. He uttered, “Ha! I see you did the same thing I did.” I asked him how far back it was and he uttered not a single word, turned and left without an answer. “Ok FINE! I’ll find out for myself!…. ::grumble::” I turned around and hurriedly ran up hill and back on to the course seeing the turn I missed. And when I came upon the first runner that was ahead of me, I realized I had lost all of my positions again.

I was still feeling good. I stopped at Fred’s to talk to Jason again and a few others, included some guys who knew me from a hiking website I used to belong to. I was sure to issue a short but honest opinion before hurrying off. I ran as much as I could the last 4 in on the loop, walked briskly at times and felt great about my time. This HAD to be my fastest loop and I’m on track still!… Ian Parlin caught me and we ran together for a bit talking about the New England racing scene. He and Eric Boucher put on some GREAT races in Maine as they try to create some type of trail running scene in New Englands Largest state. I enjoyed my time with Ian, excited about the run, still feeling tired, we ran into the finish area. I looked up at the clock.. and it read a dismal 7:37. I now had 2 hours and 10 minutes left in order to PR at the 50 Mile Distance. The wind was let out of my sails but I was still running with all that I had, PR or not.

Loop 3 Time: 3:03

Loop 4: Miles 37.5 – 50

Loop 3 felt like my fastest loop when it was actually my slowest. My race had slowly fallen apart and I was an army of one. Per the normal at Ultra’s I was running alone now, enjoying my time and thinking of many wonderful things. I was moving much slower now. As I had run in to finish loop3 I saw Paul running out. Surprised that I was still close to him, I was quick to leave and try to catch up. As I ran through the first trail section, a guy came from the other direction and said, “You Sherpa? Paul said to hurry up.” I smiled and got moving.

I eventually caught Paul and once again we were running together with some of the other runners in our area. We ran into Al’s where I told a few jokes, ate some more soup and grabbed an Oatmeal Raisin cookie. I thanked the volunteers for their time and effort and was on my way. As I entered the woods, I saw Paul crest the small hill and never saw him again until the finish. I spent the last miles of the race trying to catch him and as many runners as I could along the way, only to be passed myself with never passing anyone at all.

Somewhere out on the course, before or after Fred’s, the trail sections get rocky and narrow. I had rolled my ankles MANY times today and stubbed my toes enough to wish they didn’t even exist. Each hill came and each hill was walked slower. I tried to run the down hills and did just fine, but running the flats was now a chore. I was running from ribbon to ribbon and tree to tree, whatever it took.

Soon, some of the runners who were behind me came flying up and passed me with ease as their pacers led them away. I was once again discouraged and demoralized and wishing that pacers were NOT allowed in 50 Milers. But it is what it is and each race is different for everyone. Today, was definitely not my day and I knew it. So.. I trudged along as the life was ever so slowly sucked out of me.

About a mile from the finish a man came running up the trail and asked me if I was ok. I told him I was very tired and very much disappointed as I held back tears. He told me Paul sent him to find me to make sure I was ok, and then asked what I was disappointed about, “you just ran 50 miles! Do you know how many people can’t or won’t ever do that? Be proud man.” I held back tears and took a few deeps breaths. In my mind I thought about what he said. I thought about Jeff Washburn, the race director, who suffered a stroke back in September. I wish Jeff had been there but alas he wasn’t and I realized that this stranger was right. Sometimes, even as runners, we take things for granted.

So finally I had a pacer and we moved briskly along the final miles of the course. I knew this was my slowest lap… or was it?

Loop 4 Time: 2:57

I finished the race with a time of 10:34, about one hour longer than I had hoped. Even though I felt very much disappointed by my time at the end of the race, I was very much happy that I got to PR at the marathon 6 days before and even have the ability to run 50 miles today. I cherish this race finish as much as I do any others because hey… 50 miles is 50 miles (well… 50.5 right?). At the finish line I hugged Sarah and told her I felt like I had just run 100 Miles. It had been a long time since I was THAT tired; perhaps I was just relieved that it was over. I’m very much glad I tried the double PR as it sparked great life into my running.

Supposedly 139 people started the 50 Miler and only 81 finishers. I came in 49th.

A HUGE thanks to the folks at Gil’s Athletic Club (G.A.C.). They put on one hell of a race. The aid stations were top notch, friendly and supportive volunteers and one tough hombre of a course. My feet and legs were killing me! I loved it! I got a tech shirt for entering and a new jacket for finishing that says “50 Mile Finisher.” Special thanks to all those runners who I got to yuck it up with out there. You guys are a great family and I had a blast. It’s the reason I really look forward to the races.

So… a marathon PR, 50 miles 6 days later.. time to rest right? NOPE! Two days later I ran 23 miles over 12 peaks in New Hampshire’s Belknap Mountain Range… but you’ll have to hear all about that later

Pictures Here:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Manchester City Miracle

There has not been a full marathon in Manchester since the old New England Marathon of Manchester in the 1930’s drawing all the big names, including Clarence DeMar, Tarzan Brown, Jock Semple, and Fred Brown. For nearly a decade, the old race was considered one of the premier events in New England distance running. Highlights of that race included Tarzan Brown challenging “Mr. Marathon” DeMar, falling just short at the very end. Brown won subsequent back-to-back marathons—in New York on Saturday and Manchester the following day--after a whirlwind overnight train ride. Thousands lined the highways for a glimpse of these legends.

The city is also where my grandparents on my father’s side came to work in the city’s legendary mills. It’s also where my grandfather on my mother’s side came to work at the International Paper company. What made the race so intriguing for me is that it takes place in my city of birth, and where I grew up. I signed up for the race expecting to take a trip down memory lane, and that’s exactly what I got. But I also had other things in mind as well. Seemingly there was no better place for me to set a new Personal Best Time for the Marathon distance than in Manchester. So far in 2007, I have set PR’s at the 50K and 100 Mile distances. I tried to set a marathon pr in Disney but came up 13 minutes long on Florida’s flat course. And then I thought, “Man, if I could only PR in Manchester and then PR at the 50 Mile distance 5 days later in Mass.” As typical for me, it’s a lofty goal and I had my serious doubts. I’m pretty confident I can run a sub 9:47 at the Stone Cat 50, but sub 3:40 in Manchester?? That’s a little much to chew on.

The course in Manchester is 26.2 miles of the biggest and longest hills the city has to offer. The night before the race my father told me he thought it to be extremely difficult for anyone to PR given the courses difficulty. But hill running is essentially all I have done. The marathon distance to me, is tougher than running 100 Miles. The sheer level of fitness one must possess in order to run 26.2 miles is testament itself to the level of commitment. I’ve spent the last year training to run 50 and 100 Mile races, a pace which is exponentially slower than a 3:40 Marathon. To do this, I was going to need a miracle for sure. I spent the last 2 weeks heading into the race focused on picked up the pace in some 10 Mile runs, scared that it was too little too late. There was only one way to find out.
Race Day

I met Hans on the corner of Elm and Merrimack Streets in Manchester’s downtown. He tried to fool me by wearing a Viking hat with horns, a grey beard and an eye patch. However, Hans is the only guy I know, besides myself, who would wear such an outfit to a race. We walked over to his brother’s vehicle where we did our last minute preparations. We took off for a 2 mile warm up stroll and tried to loosen up for the race. We then got down to our shorts on what would be a crisp 45 degree Manchester Morning. We headed to the starting line where we were almost late for the race start. We stood on the line as the mayor gave his speech and then Joan Benoit Samuelsson started us off. Hans and I were both wearing watches so we could closely monitor our progress.

The race wound its way into the city’s historic Mill yard first. We passed in front of the Waumbek Mill where my father worked at the young age of 12. I knew we had started off much too fast and tried our best to settle into a comfortable groove without blowing up. We passed the state armory and then ran past the Youth Detention Center and near The Derryfield School. We ran down the high priced houses of Union Street and then pushed ourselves up Webster Street and Smyth Rd Hills. These two hills are the toughest on the course. Thankfully, I spotted Sarah and my mom cheering from the side lines. I also ran past my dad and step mother Helen, who opted to be race volunteers and offered a hearty high five on our way by.

Hans and I were having a great time, mostly from the entertainment his Viking hat was attracting. Yeah, he took the beard and eye patch off, but kept the Viking helmet on. We heard it all along the way: “Nice Viking hat, nice costume, hey Lars, hey thor, hey Leif, hey Viking boy, go Vikings, Vikings rule, go mad bull, nice outfit, etc, etc, etc.” Hans made sure to acknowledge them all as we carried along. It must have felt nice knowing he made so many smiles on such a gorgeous day. And I’ll also admit that after awhile, it started to get old. Lol. We started running past places that jogged my memory. “This is where I used to go sledding, here is where I played on the swings, my dad and grandfather were club members here, this is where my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary,” and on and on. Hans was in disbelief that I remembered the city so well. But then again, it was knowing the city so well that helped me keep in mind what was to come. I was in constant running motion, thinking of the next turn in the road and what accompanied it. As we ran down Hanover Street towards downtown, the half marathon runners began to pick up the pace and I was mindful to not get caught in their trap and pushing too hard.

As we entered down town the wind finally picked up. Anyone who has lived in New England knows that the day after a Nor’easter is usually a day of high westerly winds. This was not good news. I felt fine after the first 13 miles assortment of Hills, but I knew the west side of town tended to be windier as the wind rushed down the Merrimack River Valley. The hills on the west side are longer too, and I started to become ever more doubtful of attaining my goal. As we crossed the Merrimack, we saw Sarah and Mom again, this time ringing cow bells. The death of my grandfather still rests heavy in my heart, and ringing cowbells at weddings is something he was best known for. While his passing lies heavily, it is also a source of great inspiration. Hans and I goofed off quite a bit in the first half of this race, and I felt like a PR was slowly drifting away. But in the moment I heard those cowbells.. I knew I had some work to do.

Hans and I got to work running our way up hill through the west side. We crossed the Kelly St. Bridge into Goffstown and started heading away from the city even further. We ran down Mast Road into a headwind that seemed to suck the life right out of our sails. Things were not looking good. At mile 20 I saw Crazy Judy who offered some support. I told Hans I needed to stop for a pee break. For the first time all race, I stopped. Hans continued slowly up the road and looked at his watch. As I caught up he gave me an update, “Ok.. We’re about 1/4 mile behind our goal… we’re going to have to start to dig in here.” That’s all I needed to hear.
We worked our way up the courses longest hill, a drawn out hill that leads to St. Anselm’s College. Around St. A’s I saw Sarah and Mom and again, took the last swigs of my handheld bottles and dropped them at their feet to take. Time to Push… we continued on, wound our way down hill and started running right past the graveyard my grandparents lay in. Immediately something came over me, and I was in the zone. As we began to near the inner city again, Hans mentioned, “John… this is unreal. We were ¼ mile back and now we’re getting ahead.. Relax.” I slowed it down and decided to rest for the next series of hills.

As we turned onto Main and McGregor Streets, I started to feel a bit sluggish. We ran across the river again and back onto the East side. We headed north on Elm, away from the finish and it wasn’t much fun. I needed to find some energy. Hans wrote in a post race e-mail, “You were more than a 1/4 mile behind pace when you took that leak, and I thought you looked heavy. I was concerned. But you freshened up really good all the way to 23 miles. Then that long gradual uphill and out of town was a bit demoralizing. We fell off a 1/4 mile in the last 2 miles. But you put on a real sprint to the line, and I was not expecting that ” I told myself on Elm that if I just took my time and kept moving forward to the top of this last hill, I could take the turn back towards the finish and take it home. I looked at my watch and knew it was going to be close… we were behind and I was ready to throw in the towel, but the answer to that was quickly no!

The biggest thing I have learned over the last few years is that there is something inside us far more powerful than science, conventional wisdom and training, something within our hearts that tugs at our souls and puts us into a call to action. “If you think you can, you can. Impossible is nothing. GET THE LEAD OUT.” These thoughts raced through my mind as we ran down Chestnut Street, I saw my dad, clapped my hands and gave him a high five. Two block later I saw Helen and repeated the high five and added, “I’m gonna make it!” Hans glanced at his watch as I kicked in, “Holy Cow John! You’re running 8 min miles, 7:30’s, 7, WOW!” We ran down the last few blocks and turned onto Hanover Street as Hans Yelled out, “Sherpa John’s gonna do it, LOOK OUT!” I sprinted onto Elm and eyed the finish line. I kicked my legs high and sprinted towards the end. I brushed my hands together as if to wipe them clean, I wiped my brow, threw the sweat and thought to myself, “piece of cake!” At no point during the race did I push myself to hard, I never breathed heavy and mostly through my nose, but here in the chute.. I was kicking hard. I crossed the finish line… simply shocked, shocked at what I had just accomplished.

The Manchester City Marathon is where I completed what I now call The Manchester City Miracle. I ran 26.2 Miles, through the wind, over the city’s toughest hills, in a time of 3 Hours 37 Minutes and 27 Seconds. My old PR of 3:40 is now a distant memory. I’m still not the fastest one out there, but am glad I can still be challenged by a marathon and pleased with the event at the same time. There’s only one part of this goal left and it will be settled on Saturday in Ipswich, Ma.. as I try to run 50 Miles in less than 9:47. People told me I couldn’t run 100 Miles, this year I ran the distance 3 times. People told me I was too slow to run 3:40 in the marathon again, I ran it faster. People told me it would be damn near impossible to PR at the marathon and the 50 miles in the same week.. I’m one step closer.

26.2 Miles in 3:37:27 (New PR!)
101st place out of 517 finishers
13 out of 28 in my div (M25-29)

HUGE thanks to my support crew. Sarah and Mom for being out on the course ringing those bells, Dad and Helen and the countless other volunteers on the course. Nate and Kathryn for joining me on weekly training runs and continuing to push me beyond my limits. Paul in Burlington, Jeff in Ark and Dave in Kansas for your continued moral support and inspiration. Moe, for teaching my at a young age to dig deep and find that fire within. Hans for his patience, foolery and guidance. And to the many runners who STILL wore their headphones after they were told not too, You missed a great day in New Hampshire’s Queen City.