Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ultra Gear (P2): Nutrition and Hydration

Welcome to Part 2 of my Ultra Gear and Performance Series.
If you missed Part 1 where we discussed clothing, you can view it by clicking HERE.

In this installment I will be discussing the different types of gear I used to carry my nutritional and hydration products with me during races. I will also be discussing what those nutrition and hydration products are and how I utilize them during a race and by request, how I use them in training. I hope many of you will continue to find this beneficial to your goals of training to run your first marathon or ultra, or to refine the way you all ready do things.

Please keep in mind that what you are about to read is what works best for ME. We are all an experiment of one and YOU know your body more than anyone else. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa, so take what information I spill with a grain of salt. Most importantly, enjoy.

Above is a picture of the gear that I use to help me carry my nutritional and hydration needs through races and through training runs. Nutrition and hydration is by far the most important part of any race. It is the difference between finishing or DNFing, and can often times lead to various medical issues which could come associated with rather unfortunate and uncomfortable side effects.

The Camelbak HAWG pack (2004). This pack has served me well on many training runs. The amount of gear I can throw in this thing is unbelievable. Its pretty easy to throw my rain gear (jacket and pants), some gloves, hat, fill the 3L bladder with water AND carry some gatorade. You can see the bottom webbing which is a flexible cord with draw string. Perfect for keeping a jacket stored on the outside. This thing has pockets everywhere. The only downside to it is that I'm often times known for overfilling it. Deciding what to throw in there is important especially if I am going to be hauling a load for an extended period of time. It fits comfortably on my back and bounces around very little providing I have adjusted the straps properly. Probably one of the best packs I've ever owned. I wore it during my first ultra ever, the 2005 Damn Wakely Dam Ultra-marathon. The race is a 32.6 mile run through the Adirondack Wilderness which has NO AID STATIONS. Runners must remain self sufficient through the entire course. And although it was indeed overkill and overpacked during the race.. I'm glad I had it as it saved the day. I've also used this pack and it is IDEAL for Pemi-Loops, The Presi-traverse or any other training runs in the whites. It is also good for a crossing of the Kancamgus Highway.

The Nathan 2V Plus waist pack. This thing is great. I used to own an Ultimate Direction waist pack that bounced around so much I'd finish runs with the worst chaff on my hips. However, this nifty little pack doesn't bounce around at all. There are some plus and minuses to this thing and I'm going to lay it all down for you. As I mentioned, the HAWG can be a bit big on some runs, this is a great next step down and is going to be great during races where its quite a ways between aid stations and HOT. The pack carries two 22 oz. hand bottles on either lumbar side. It has a zippered rear pocket for gloves, food or a flashlight. It also has two removable zippered pockets on the front sides for gels or any other goodies. It has Shock Cord tie-downs on the front for gloves, a hat or anything else you can zip in there. So these are all the pros.. let me tell you the cons. I'm not a big fan of the Nathan Bottles which I'll explain later. And the waist straps can be a real pain to tighten. There is a loop on the straps so you can kind of tuck the access away. If you are not careful while continuing to tighten the straps around your waist... these loops will get sucked into and stuck into the buckles. I've had to stop running on a few occasions to get them unstuck and in working order so I can appropriately tighten the unit. Pretty annoying but a small price to pay to have everything around your waist. The pack bounces very little if at all and comes in quite handy. I like it and highly recommend it.

The Nathan HOL #028 Race Vest. You don't even notice this thing is on you. If the HAWG is too much. If the aid stations are so close that a waist pack is overkill, then the HPL #028 is the next best thing on the food chain. This vest is featherlight and quite handy. It comes with dual front pockets. One is a zippered and the other has a Shock Cord. You can use either one for gels but the one with the shock cord is great for those who like to run with a camera. There is a power stretch mesh back pocket perfect for shoving hats or gloves into or even a small hydration bladder if you have one. This vest is probably one of the more handy things I have and works great in races like the VT100 where aid is never too far away and you only really need to run with one or two hand held bottles.

Hand Helds:
Lets start by talking about the Nathan Bottles. In the photo you'll see the 22 oz. bottles in the waist pack and the other on the far right (yellow) is the Nathan Thermal Handheld. This bottle fits comfortable on your hand and has a sort of koozy around the bottle to keep your drinks either warm or cold. The sleeve also has a zippered pocket on it for gels. Now here is my issue with the Nathan bottles. When you pull the mouth piece up, there is no "cut-off." What I mean by this is, when you pull up the mouth piece or bite on it, water comes squirting out of the top. If you are running with the bottle, the fluid will come out of the top. Not just a little fluid.. a LOT of fluid. Its kind of like the old school Gatorade water bottles you see at football games or soccer games where the athletes are drinking while standing still. Well guess what.. I'm a runner and I drink on the move. I HATE getting the sticky drinks all over my hands and face. I HATE getting my white shirt colored in red power drinks. I really find this to be an annoying design flaw. This brings us to the handhelds that I LOVE.

The Ultimate Direction Handheld Bottle with Kicker-Valve. The caps are leak proof. The kicker valve is leak proof, soft and pliable and VERY easy to open or close. The bottle has finger and thumb grooves. The verison of their bottle I like to use is called the FastDraw Plus. They come in 20 and 28 oz. The hand strap is made of Airmesh and Polyester baby Ripstop. It also has a large zipper compartment for your keys gels or whatever. The bottle is comfortable and functional for what we are doing here. I highly recommend this bottle over all others.

Also, keep in mind that I prefer to have CLEAR plastic bottles. This is so that I can more easily monitor my hydration by observing how much liquid is in my bottles. This is the best way to get a handle on how much I am or am not drinking in a race or on a run. Typically I run with two bottles at all times. One is filled with water (20 oz.) and the other (28 oz) is filled with my electrolyte supplement. In races where I am running through the night, I will dump the water out and substitute it for Red Bull. I've also been known to have Mountain Dew or Ginger Ale depending on the status of my stomach.

So now lets talk about what I'm actually eating and drinking during these races. Obviously the number one thing that we all need to drink during any activity is WATER. Not flavored water or water mixed in a drink.. pure water. Water is essential to your life. Your body uses it to regulate temperature, to flush out essential systems and to keep you sane. Your brain is made up of mostly water. So don't provide your body of what it purely needs. You can drink whatever you want but water is the most important.

Succeed! Clip 2. This is my main electrolyte drink. Since I started drinking Clip 2, my races and adventure runs have gone more smoothly, I have finished more comfortably and recovery has gone a lot better. SUCCEED! CLIP2 contains branched chain and other amino acids for Energy production, Prevention of muscle breakdown, Reduction of mental fatigue, Faster recovery after the event and Support of the body's immune system. It comes in a smooth raspberry flavor. Now, while it pretty mellow tasting and easy to drink, I like to kick it up a notch by adding Kool-Aid Mix. In the picture you see orange kool-aid mix.. its what we have in the house.. typically I add Fruit Punch cool aid mix to the Clip 2. This is my own little concoction which I just love. The main thing about Clip 2 is that it contains easily digestible carbohydrates. This is essential in long races. Complex Carbs take too much energy to break down and by the time you do break them down... you have depleted yourself and rendered the carbs useless. The simple carbs in Clip 2 are great. Your body absorbs them and uses them almost immediately. You will also see Glad Zipper sandwich bags in the photo. This is what I put every packet of mix with kool aid into. It makes it a lot easier on race day to handle and get into the handheld bottle.

While we are on the topic of Carbs, I also drink BOOST Strawberry Protein Shakes. At the Vermont 100 last year I drank 1 boost at every handler station. I really feel that this is what made my race. At McNaughton Park I'l be drinking one Boost every lap. Again, simple carbs and protein all rolled into one little drink. Easy to get down and not too chalky or frothy. There is 33g of carbs in one tiny 8oz bottle of this stuff. So Boost combined with Clip 2 and Kool Aid mix gives me a pretty good mix and source of simple carbs. The sugar in the kool-aid mix is also a simple carb which is broken down quickly for use by the body. Just think about it... ; )

Nuun. Nuun contains sodium, potassium, magnesium & calcium. Nuun contains NO CARBS and NO CALORIES. One Nuun tablet dissolves to create 16 oz of electrolyte replacement drink. While I do not use Nuun as my primary drink, it IS nice to have to mix things up late in a race when some things start to get really old. I mean.. how much of one thing can you possibly drink in a day before you need a change (sorry Succeed!)? While the drink contains no carbs or calories, I am still getting these much needed essentials from other products which makes Nuun a nice switch from the normal. The only downside of Nuun is that it contains sorbitol which is a diuretic. This can be good or bad.. I mean... how else are we going to get all the "junk" out of our systems in a race? I like it Nuun, it is refreshing, tasty, different for sure and a nice thing to have to switch things up. It helps prevent cramps and goes down pretty easily. I use it mostly in races pretty short in distance and on training runs where I don't want to waste my Succeed!. And even though I have a hard time personally with the Sorbitol, I don't mind having it in my system.

Red Bull. The ONLY time I drink Red Bull... THE ONLY TIME... is during a race, at night, when I am having trouble staying awake. It is an energy drink and it works pretty good at keeping me "wired." Taurine, Caffeine, Sucrose and Glucose.. yup.. all the good stuff you won't give to your kids before heading to church. I do not and will not drink this stuff anywhere else but in a race. It is BAD FOR YOU. But let me tell you.. if I'm crashing hard in an event. this stuff hits the spot and wakes my butt up enough to generate a better nutritional plan to get me BACK on track.

Succeed! S-Caps. One an hour.. EVERY hour. Two during hot events. S! Caps are made of 100% electrolytes. The S! Caps label lists sodium as the element, 341 mg per capsule. If you
want to compare to other products that list the sodium as sodium chloride, S! Caps supply 867 mg of sodium as sodium chloride. These little buggers alleviate cramping, stabilize the stomach and protect against hyponatremia. Sodium and potassium for muscle contraction. Phosphate and citrate for energy production these things are better than lava salts or any other ridiculous electrolyte supplement on the market. THEY WORK!

PowerGels. I use this as yet another source of simple AND complex carbs. 80% complex and 20% simple. This allows for optimal performance during a slow burn. (yeah.. its not always good to have everything all at once.. so why not slow it down too?) These little buggers also have electrolytes in the as well. I typically start off the race with my favorite flavor, Vanilla. They taste like Vanilla Frosting. I also use two other flavors. Strawberry Banana which contains 1x of Caffeine and the other is Tangerine which contains 2x of Caffeine. Both are great late late in a race where every little bit helps to keep me awake and moving forward. I typically take TWO gels at each handler station and I'll put one in each hand held bottle and take them every hour to hour and a half along the way. This breaks it down to a pretty good steady balance.

Cliff Shot Blocks. Meh...I got them for free. If I see them on an aid table though... I'll eat em. I really prefer Sharkies. Shot blocks are made from soy, Sharkies from organic Rice. But the sharkies are easier to handle and much tastier. Besides... how cool is it to eat sharks?! So fun! Both taste pretty good, both do the same thing... Electrolytes. You'll also see some UP Time on there. Just another organic supplement to keep me awake at night. In the Grand Teton race I took 3 at once the day before the race.. WOW.... I highly recommend you take only the recommended single dose. It is a "Super Food Supplement that helps provide the body with more than 50 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants and the complete B-complex." You'll also see some Hammer Recoveryte in the Nuun box. At the end of the race its nice to just drink one of these to provide your body with some protein to help prevent further muscle breakdown and to enhance the healing process. It begins.. right at the finish line so start early and start smart.

As you'll notice above I keep everything pretty Organized. All of my gear is store in small tupperware containers to make it pretty easy for my crew to get what they need. Everything is organized and easy to find. My Succeed! Clip 2 will go into its baggies and put into the same container as the Nuun. The Gels are all in the deep bin. The S-Caps go in with the Nuun and Clip 2. Everything has a place. Everything is easy to find on the fly. KEEP IT SIMPLE The quicker you can get in and out of an aid station the better. Go Go GO! IN fact.. everything is so organized that it all fits into its personal container and then slides right into our Kelty Binto Bar. (See Below) The Binto Bar keeps everything organized and even gives my crew a little table to make their own meals on, place their drinks, play cards whatever. Remember.. your crew is much more important than YOU. They are your lifeline. The happier you can keep them. the more hydrated and fed you can keep them.. the easier you can make it for them.. the easier it will be for you.

Lastly.. my post race celebratory drink.

Long Trail Brewery is located in Bridgewater Corners, VT and are makers of the finest micro-brew I have ever tasted. Every man dreams of being sponsored by his favorite beer company... well.. I can tell you guys, it IS all you dreamed it was. Above is a picture of their Double Bag Brew which is 7.6% alcohol by Volume! Thats outlawed in some states! I've been known to drink some during a few races where I was REALLY having a rough go at it (Pittsfield Peaks). The other brew of theirs I am known to drink is the Blackberry Wheat Ale. Oh so yummy and I highly recommend both for your post race toast.

This weeks Question:
Tom from Connecticut wanted me to touch base on what I use for training. When I was growing up playing soccer, my coach had this rule. "If you don't do it in the game.. don't do it in practice." For running I have reversed the rule, if you don't do it in training... don't do it in the race. What I mean by this is.. do NOT show up on race day having never tried your own nutrition and hydration plan during training. This is why the back to back weekend 20 and 30 mile long runs are important. Not just to get your legs up to speed and turning over while tired... but to train your body to eat and drink on the run. To get your body used to these ingredients and to figure out what does and does not work. Keep what works and get rid of what doesn't. If I am running anything 13 miles or UNDER.. I typically do NOT carry water or electrolyte UNLESS it is a really hot day. This is what I prefer because it helps me prepare for the event in where I run out of drink while on the course and am quite a long ways from the next aid station. I want to know what its going to feel like to be deprived and depleted.. I want my body to know too and I want it to get used to it. Conversely.. on the longer runs and during a race, my body really reacts to all that I give it to succeed at any distance. I know that all of the above products for me and they work optimally. I've tested them during training. I rarely have Succeed! on hand so I drink Nuun most times on the long runs. So again... 13 or under... typically nothing. Anything over that and I'm testing it all out to make sure it will work on race day and that it still works at all.

In Part 3 I'm going to show you all of the medical equipment I have on hand at races as well as button up any miscellaneous gear. I really hope you find the information provided here both helpful and encouraging and look forward to having you read next time.

To Continue to Part 3: Medical and Misc. Please Click Here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ultra Gear: The Outer Layer

As promised, I am going to focus the next few posts on the gear I use in running Ultra-Marathons, with specifics being centered around the 100 Mile and "+" distances. Now, this does not mean that I don't use the same gear in Ultra's of shorter distance, because chances are, all of the gear you are going to see over the next week or so, is gear that I typically use all the time.I will also answer some questions I've had from those of you who view the blog at the bottom as well so, read on and enjoy.

Today I'm going to focus on what clothing I wear during ultras and explain each piece of gear to an appropriate extent. It is simply amazing to look at ALL of the "stuff" you have once you lay it out on the floor for inspection. I can't believe it myself. However, I acknowledge to you openly that I actually do use each piece of equipment during every race. So without further adieu, I give to you the first set of gear in a photo. Please take a look at what you see. Followed by the photo is my "gear reviews/explanations" and feel free to go back and forth from the photo to the description or find a way more appropriate to your viewing pleasure. Sound good? Good... here we go.
Race Day Clothing

The Basic Essentials: Shirt and Shorts
My running shirt is made by the folks at They make quality technical fabric shirts that are customizable. On the front of my running shirt is the Team Sherpa Ultra-Running logo which I wear proudly along side my fellow runners for a cause. On the back is my own personal design which you'll see promptly at the next race I pass you in. ; ) Kidding of course. The folks at RB currently only make custom shirts in WHITE, which is NOT a bad thing. As we all know, the darker the color the more the heat of the sun is absorbed. That being said, not only does the technical fabric help wick moisture away from the body, it helps keep me dry, comfortable and COOL. My shorts are a pair of the Brooks Revelation Pacer Shorts. 86% polyester /14% spandex and features plenty of stretch to enhance fit and mobility, maintain the garment’s shape, and prevent cling; A built-in technical liner draws moisture away from the skin to keep you dry and cool. I currently own pairs in Orange and Black and hoping to get a hold of a new pair in red for this coming season. I LOVE these shorts.

The #1 Thing to Care For: YOUR FEET
The feet are oh so complicated an element to care for but I have done a great job in my running career. I've only had blisters of excessive discomfort once or twice and have never lost a toe nail. Before I get into the gear seen in the photo, let me just say something about the luck I've had with toe nails. The trick to toe nails is EASY. Buy shoes that FIT YOU PERFECTLY and KEEP YOUR TOENAILS CUT SHORT. Don't settle for a shoe because "It'll work." Your feet are what's going to get you across that finish line. CARE FOR THEM!

Socks(lower left - 2 Pairs)
On excessively wet course's I'll apply Vaseline liberally onto the entire surface of my feet in order to create a barrier between water and skin. I follow this up with the wearing of Injinji Toe Socks: Tetrasok Performance Series Mini-Crew. These socks are amazing because of their seamless design. The separation of the toes helps prevent friction which WILL cause blisters over the course of a long event. I then throw on a pair of Smartwool Adrenaline Light Mini-Crew socks. These socks keep my feet comfortable and warm. Made of 72% merino wool, they typically remain warm even when wet.

Gaiters(Lower Right Red/Black)
I then cover it all up with a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters. Dirty Girls are specifically designed to keep mud, grime, dirt, pebbles and other trail debris out of your shoes. It is amazing how much time you'll end up losing if so much as a tiny little pine needle or pebble gets into your shoe. This small problem will cause you to develop a hot spot or blister and you may find yourself stopping to untie your shoes, empty it out, retie your shoes.. etc. What a waste! Its all about time management when reaching for your ultra-goals so seal em up with the Dirty Girls!

Shoes: The Pickiest Item (Bottom - 2 Pairs)
The pair on the left are a pair of Montrail Hardrocks. These shoes are amazingly sturdy and comfortable. IN fact I use them on both roads and trails. Designed for midfoot support and pronation control, the TPU plate protects the foot from rough terrain and provides support on the long run. I adopted this shoe as my running shoe in the Summer of 2007 and have stuck with them ever since... until...

I bought a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 305's. "Lightweight Trail and Ultra running shoe with high levels of comfort and excellent underfoot cushioning. The patent pending Fascia-band aids propulsion efficiency of the running cycle. Ideal for hard compact trails, training and long distances." I'm looking forward to giving the shoe a try-out at the McNaughton 150 Miler. Its never a bad idea to diversify for your feet and don't be afraid to switch the models. Think about it... how many different tires fit your car especially through the changing seasons?

Head Wear (Up Top)
You can lose up to 75% of your body heat through your head alone. Not only that, but your head is the most susceptible to sun burn, as is your face. There is no telling what kind of weather you will encounter over the course of 24+ hours, so you better show up prepared. Above in the photo are my favorite hats. (From L to R). My NUUN Headsweats Visor is part of my sponsorship with the company, but beyond that the visor does an incredible job of providing shade to my face, wicking sweat from my brow and allowing my head to "cool" on those hotter race days. My Long Trail visor is a great pre and post race wear as it keeps my morale high as I think of that frosty brew to come at the finish line. My Mountain Hardware Red Micro Dome Hat is great in cold weather. Remember, even when wet, Fleece doesn't get cold! Red is also the color of victory so have at it. A great item to have for cold morning starts. Lastly is my favorite. My The North Face Classic V Hat. This hat is made of quick drying nylon, however, on hot days is great to dunk in a river or stream to soak and then enjoying a nice cooling drip down the back of my neck. I've been wearing one of these hats on my adventures since 2004 now.

Odds and Ends
Around my neck I like to wear my Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventure Club LLC, Buff. Even though I'm not really a member of the club, these folks do amazing things and I'm proud to support their efforts. The Buff works in many functional ways which you can read about here. ON hot days the Buff is great around my neck to keep the sun off of my neck. I can wear it as a head band to absorb sweat and on cold days it not only keeps the wind off my neck, but I can raise it above my mouth and nose to breath into in an attempt to warm myself up. VEry versatile piece of clothing, Highly suggested! (That and it looks cool)

Moeben Sleeves
I was given two pairs of Moeben Sleeves from the creator herself and let me tell you how grateful I am. These things turn any short sleeve shirt into a long sleeve shirt. Perfect on cold morning or cool nights. In the morning you can slide them off when it warms up or slide them on at night as things start to cool down. Comfortable and versatile. A small pocket on the arm allows for a gel pack or other items (Pack of smokes?). They come fleece lined for super cool times, or UV Protection for super bright times. A MUST HAVE!

EMS Wind-Pro Gloves: Need I say more? Not Bulky, Fleece lined, wind resistant... warm.
Lastly you'll see my Jade Necklace. Sarah bought me the jade stone while on he trip to New Zealand and I made the necklace out of rope. I always like to be reminded of who inspires me and who I run for. This is just one small way.

The final photo today (above) is a photo of my extreme weather gear. Its pretty basic and these items serve as the an additional barrier against the elements. I can tell you that of the 13 Ultras I have completed, the weather has been PERFECT in only ONE. The above gear might not always be essential but it certainly helps.

Upper Body:
I wear an LL Bean Fleece Neckwarmer on those crazily cold days where the buff just isn't enough. Again, Fleece (when wet) doesn't get cold. This little piece of clothing has saved my sanity on many winter runs and winter training expeditions in the mountains.

EMS Techwick Midweight Longsleeve Underwear Crew Shirt. I wear this under my team sherpa shirt (sometimes with another techwhick long sleece top) to keep me warm on cold days. Non-itchy 95% polyester provides enhanced breathability and wicks moisture away from the skin so you stay dry and comfortable; 5% spandex gives fabric a snug stretchiness that enhances wickability. Real comfortable, real nice to have. I also have matching bottoms for cold days.

Mountain Hardwear Conduit Rain Jacket. This Jacket is fully waterproof, breathable, super-light and has a Conduit Silk Laminate. Even if it's not raining, this jacket offers premiere protection in windy conditions. Many runs in New Hampshires White Mountains on windy and cold summer days were made pleasurable by the protection of this jacket. One of my all time favorite buys!

Sierra Designs Microlight Pant. Not only are they rain pants but they serve the same purpose for protection from the wind as my Mountain Hardwear jacket. These pants are light and easy to roll up if I'm heading out on a long adventure through the mountains, they also work well on a rainy Ultra-Course. I always have them handy. The Sierra Designs Microlight Pant is water and wind resistant for those cool days and it easily packs away into its own pocket.

Mountain Hardwear Cornice Gloves: Waterproof Gore-Tex: I got the gloves for winter hiking and they work wonders when I'm having trouble warming my body up from the effects of dehydration or extremely cold temps. I rarely use them during a race but I HAVE. While its great that I have and often use my EMS gloves, these gloves are obviously more rugged and for extreme cases. You just never know and they are great to have. I love em.

My Nike Thermafit Fleece Pants. The design of the Nike pants have evolved over the years, I've owned the pair you see above since 1998. These things are warm at all times. I love wearing them over my running tights and shorts. One of the best things I ever bought, only thing is that if they get wet they get HEAVY. Regardless, they stay warm and unfortunately are coming to their final days. The one item you don't see above are my running tights. I have omitted them from the photos in the hopes that I will not need them for McNaughton in 2 weeks. I'm sick of the cold and refuse to acknowledge the use of this item. However, I run all winter in a pair of Sugoi Firewall Fleece Lined Running Tights.
Today's Question comes from John Izzo of Vermont. Thanks John!
"So when you did (training miles) 12,12,18 how much time did you take between these? When you do the 20 then next day 20 what kind of times do you do and is it highway or trail miles?"

Great Questions John. I ran the 12, 12, 18 on consecutive days. 12 on Trails on Thursday, 12 on Roads on Friday and 18 on Roads on Saturday. The road runs were not really enjoyable but are great for training your feet to be pounded and tired. These runs are run in consecutive days in order to train my body to run on "tired legs." Kind of like trying to turn over a tired engine.

Last week when I did the 20/20 it was the same idea. Run 20 on Monday on Roads and 20 on Tuesday on Trails. Get your body used to turning it over on tired legs, get your legs and feet comfortable with "relentless forward progression." My time for the road 20 was 2:58:58 (8:57 Miles) and the trail 20 ended up being 3:20 (10:00) miles. Time is not the factor in these runs, the distance and varied terrain is. I would have liked to have gotten a 20/30/20 in instead of what I did get... but this wil work just the same. Good Luck John in your training for the Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge!

Next time I'll be bringing out the more technical gear that I used. Fanny packs, race vests, camelbacks, and handheld bottles. I'll even get into what I put into my bottles and talk about my nutritional plan.

To Advance to Part 2, Please Click Here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Break!

Yes.. it is indeed spring break for those of us who go to The University of New Hampshire. In the last 7 days I have run over 82.89 Miles! By the time this Saturday comes to a close, I'll have run 108.05 Miles in 7 consecutive days. Temps have warmed into the lower to mid 40s for day time highs which is actually warm enough to get me out and running in shorts! Today, I returned to the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Stoneham, MA to run 20 of said accumulated miles on beautiful rocky, rooty trail! I loved it all the way. I'm feeling great, let me tell you, after my 20 miles on roads yesterday and 20 more today on trails. My body STILL knows what autopilot is and it knows EXACTLY how to run on tired legs. Oddly enough while on todays run, I was chased by 3 vicious turkeys!

I was going up the gravel road leaving Sheepfold, when just before the tower area I saw 4 turkeys milling about. So I stopped dead in my tracks and ate a gel thinking I'd let them pass... the 4 birds started walking towards me. I stayed very still... they walked within 3 feet of me... as they got behind me by about 4 feet I saod "Ok.. I'll start walking slowly"... BAD IDEA. Three of these damn things started after me gobbling the whole time.. I ran as fats as I could up the hill and they followed! I clapped at them, yelled.. even kicked gravel at em... they were determined to kill I swear! What excitement though that on my 3rd lap... Mile 14 of the day... and Mile 34 of the last 2 days, I hauled ass up a hill trying to evade these delicious looking monsters.

So... as per the normal here in New England, a nasty snow, sleet and rain storm is set to move on in over the course of the next two days. I am definitely missing out on a few winter goals I had set out to accomplish: I never made it up Mount Washington this winter, I never completed a Cats-Carters Traverse, no Owls Head and Isolation in a day... hell not even Owls Head at all... and no Winter Pemi-Loop. Oh well though... the mountains are certainly not going anywhere. Winter, my most hated season, is coming to a close... and for the next two days, I have decided to retreat to my favorite vacation destination to enjoy my spring break.

While most of my fellow classmates have taken off to the Carribean, to warmer climates where they live, or some other lavish vacation their mommy and daddy paid for for them.. I am taking a trip to the always gorgeous... COUCH ISLAND!

Yes... wonderfully warm Couch Island where the temp is always at least 65 degrees and has been known to soar as high as 80. Above you can see me enjoying my first night on the Island with a tall Grape Kool Aid under my cabana umbrella next to the amazing palm trees. There is also so much to do here on Couch Island, never a shortage of entertainment just a click away, but I try to find some new and interesting adventures on my own. For instance, My favorite activity is the Afternoon Banana hunt. Check out the nice bunch I found near by!

But thats not all there is to do on Couch Island. I decided to take a stroll tonight to enjoy the sounds of the rushing water and arrived at the local pool. The pool is certainly amazing! There are awesome mixed drinks there with a full bar. Rum, Tequila, Red Bull, more Grape Kool Aid.. it truly is paradise having the opportunity to drink from a chilled glass with strawberry on the rim. Yum!

Activities by the pool and beach area are also very much a part of the whole Couch Island Experience. Tonight I enjoyed snorkeling! NO way right?! Right?! It was amazing.

While underwater we saw MANY interesting creatures (some I should probably scrub), but none more interesting than what I was able to take home with me! Like this awesome freshwater clam..


Yup.. its going to be an amazing few days on couch island. My mind and my legs deserve the break. Coach Karl says I'm ready for McNaughton and the next few weeks, I'll be kickin back and enjoying an active taper. But for now, I'll enjoy my all expense paid trip to Couch Island... hell... its the only place I can afford to vacation.
Happy Trails!

PS... So long old man winter!

Monday, March 10, 2008

2008 Pittsfield Snowshoe Marathon

Saturday, March 8, 2008
Pittsfield Snowshoe Races
Pittsfield, VT

It wasn’t until my lonely drive home on Sunday morning that I had any recollection or appreciation for what it was that a few hundred others and myself had accomplished this past Saturday in the hills of Pittsfield, VT. As in any endurance event, the race is more with yourself than that in which you run against each other. This time would be no different as I pushed my inner limits of mental toughness through the slush of Riverside Farm. A race that was challenging by far and enjoyable at best. A journey I will not soon forget.

I arrived in Pittsfield on Friday night to continue working as a member of the dedicated race staff. With a car full of 29 pairs of EMS snowshoes, I needed to unload them al into the Pittsfield General Store for those who are looking to score a pair of these loaners. One thing that makes our race so unique is the ability for individuals who have never done something quite like this before, the opportunity to partake in something above and beyond what they might not think possible within themselves. Is this not the essence of life?

As I worked in the store helping to check participants in and hand out loaner’s snowshoes, the rain began to lightly fall outside before turning to sleet and eventually snow. Yet another layer of snow was once again covering the ground during this never-ending winter in the Northeast. Last weekend the course was covered with 5-6 feet of powder. After the past weeks warmer temps and torrential rains, the pack was now down to 3-4 feet. Thankfully the nighttime snow was going to help us a bit as the course remained well packed and in excellent shape.

After your typical pre-race errands for Andy Weinberg, our spirited race director, I did one last check in town to make sure the shuttle was getting to all of our parking areas and bringing participants to the start. It seemed to be working quite well as we were grateful to Gramps for his donation. As the 200 or so participants, their families and friends, lined the soggy field for the pre-race briefing, whisps of breath were not the only thing rising through the air. There was also a bit of fear, excitement and adrenaline. We were all ready to go, prepared for the hell Jason Hayden had created for us and unsuspecting of what Mother Nature had in store.

As Andy let us go it was a surreal moment to look back through the meadow from the far side and see everyone strung out in one never ending line of adventurers. Fog had settled into the Tweed River Valley as temps rose into the low to mid 30’s. It was a nasty morning and the fog was freezing onto the tree’s making for quite the display of ice crust on everything. I tried running as hard as I could for the first 300 yards, staying in a fun filled 5th or 6th place before I gave up on it and started walking. I laughed childishly at my foolish stunt in trying to keep up with the likes of Paul Low and Leigh Schmitt. These boys are top athletes and its always cool to spend ANY time with them on the same trail even if for all of 12 seconds. But the moment of foolishness soon faded away as it was time to get to work. Up and over the meadow’s fence and into the woods where we were treated to our first insane climb.

The course, as designed by Pittsfield Local Jason Hayden, is 95% single-track trail used in our other races throughout the year. It also consists of what I considered to be 85% climbing with short and sweet descending sections. The 6.55 Mile loop boasted a torturous 1,700’ of gain on a collection of climbs where you would struggle to drag your foot forward late in the race. Early on I was truly enjoying the day, hearing the conversations of fellow racers, watching them smile and enjoy themselves. This is what makes it all worthwhile. The first section of the course is a series of winding long switchback, which finally dump you out onto a high climb which melts into an enjoyable traverse through a hardwood glade. At the end of the glade you make a final march uphill before turning into a 1.1 mile downhill run into the Tweed River Rd Aid Station.

The aid station was well equipped with snacks of all kinds. Chips, cookies, candy, fruits, apple cider, soup and a burning fire. It was hard moseying past the fire, especially on a cold and dreary day like today. From here the trail was littered with dropped M&M’s which lined the trail in a kaleidoscope of color. This was pleasant as we then began the switchback section, 32 of them, which led us into the “Magical Forrest.” Near the top of “Joe’s Hill” we entered into a forest so thick that it blocks out the sun on the brightest of days and is especially dark on days of inclement weather.

After more switchbacks through this enchanted forest, you emerge out into the open expanse of Joe’s Summit. On a clear day you can see 50 to 100 Miles north through the Green Mountain National Forest. At the very top of the hill is a monitors tent where our valued volunteer Kevin was sitting in wait for the second year in a row. His main goal was not only to ensure everyone made it there, but to give you the option of heading down hill with a sled or red saucer. This being my first loop of the day, I took a sled and crashed down the mountainside sliding almost all the way into the start/finish. To this day it is still the longest non-stop sledding run (.08 Miles) I have ever been on.

After a quick refill of my bottles and grabbing some treats I headed out for my second loop. My good friend Paul Kearney was just ahead of me in the meadow as I tried to catch up to him. Paul is training for his attempt at this years Vermont 100 Mile Run and is currently in some fine shape. I never caught up to him but enjoyed some short moments of various other competitors. As we entered back onto the hill, the fog was trying to lift as the winds picked up a bit and the temps rose. The freezing drizzle of loop one was now a light regular drizzle as accumulated ice came crashing down into the woods around us. I was soaked from head to toe, but enjoying every moment of the race. My concentration was on relentlessly moving forward to try and keep warm. I thought of it so much, that I mistakenly forgot other vital issues which plagued me on later loops.

Near the top of the first series of climbs I heard my friend Drew who was doing his part by hooting and hollering at as many competitors would listen to him. Drew is a master of antagonism and motivation. His style is both unique and undeniably useful. I love the guy to death as he always lights a fire in my soul. I tried to help La Sportiva Athlete Sara Montgomery motivate herself up the hill as she talked of dropping after loop 2. She mentioned the climbing was more than she expected and feared she couldn’t complete 2 additional laps. Although she was down and out, this amazing athlete continued to press forward on a course, which wanted nothing more than to give competitors their dose of Pittsfield Punishment.

I made my way down past the first aid station. The trail was turning into a sloppy mess of mud and slush. Think of a root-beer slush puppy and you have exactly what we were running through. My feet were soaked but thanks to my Injinji Toe Socks and a pair of EMS wool hikers, I managed to keep them warm and comfortable. The course was starting to crumble under the weight of over 100 still traveling over it. Postholes were starting to appear and it was increasingly difficult not to fall into a water bar. I found Joe Desena and followed him for a while as we approached the top of his hill for the 2nd time. This time, I opted to run down and found it to actually be faster!

Back at the start finish, I noticed the crowd was starting to get smaller. There wasn’t many competitors too close behind me and the meadow in front of me was empty as well. After refilling my bottles with Nuun, grabbing more food, I was on my way. As I continue my training for the McNaughton Park 150 Mile Race in Pekin, IL; I had no choice but to continue to push my limits. I would be all alone for more than 90% of lap #3 and as I headed through the field, the fog fell back into the valley and a steady rain began to fall.

Just beyond the groom’s barn, I started up the first climb. Not long into it, I felt both of my quads completely seize up. The force of the pull from the muscles in my legs was so tight, that it actually pulled my upper body forward. I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t walk or move my legs and I was in a LOT of pain. I forced myself to stand up and tried my best to stretch the cramping muscles. The combination of cold rain soaked legs, frigid temps and my absent mindedness of a nutrition plan had finally caught up to me. For the next 3 minutes, muscle contraction was non-existent. I popped Succeed! S-Caps down my throat and hurriedly drank Nuun. Just when I thought it all was over, took one step forward and repeated the same process over again. I never panicked, just simply worked it out, and soon I was once again on my way towards the finish on the pursuit of another tough accomplishment.

Back up and around the mountain, through the switchbacks, down the luge on my feet and crashing into the Start/Finish the rain was now of what seemed like biblical proportions. It came down in buckets, which felt nothing short of miserable at a balmy 34 degrees. I ate as much as I could and drank fluids in an attempt to jump-start my body’s temperature gauge. I gave Dot Helling a huge hug and thanked her for coming to check the race out. She told me Paul was doing quite well and I was so happy to hear it. Paul is working harder than anyone I know to accomplish his goals as a runner and I am very proud to not only know him, but to know he can do it.

I threw on my shell jacket, exchanged for a new pair of gloves and balaclava and headed out for loop 4. I had been slowing down quite a bit and knew I was going to be cold and soaked in the driving rain. Hopefully I had done enough to bundle up for the last 2 hours on the course. The course was now home to torrents of water in the waterbars. Every stream I crossed saw my foot sinking into ankle deep mud and rushing snowmelt. It was dangerous, treacherous and actually kind of fun. I did everything shy of crawling up every uphill section, stopping many times to recollect myself and push myself further. One moment I felt like I could go no further, and the next I felt like I could go for days. It was an interesting mix if mental limbo.

As I made it to the aid station one last time, Joe was there again with one of the Candians. “Hey Sherpa! This guy is hypothermic, want to walk him to the finish?” I responded with a mumbled, “That’d be fine Joe except.. I think I’m not far off from his state of mind myself.” I was cold and starting to shiver. My muscles on the verge of tensing up once again. I was tired, hungry and the clock was still ticking. The three of us marched and stumbled together to the top of Joe’s Hill. I’ll never forget our Pittsfield Death March to the top this time around because I knew that I was doing well given the course and conditions yet.. I was 100% spent. As we got to the top, the Canadian Ironman headed down the hill while I talked briefly with Joe. And then, I bid farewell to Joe in the driving rain as I crashed my way downhill. I passed the Ironman after checking to make sure he was ok before I continued on to the finish.

At the finish line it appeared as though all but 6 people had gone home. There was still plenty of us on the course. Well.. sort of. Of the 59 participants that started the marathon, only 18 of us finished. The rest bailed at the half and many of those who started the half bailed to the 6 mile fun run. Fun run.. all three races were a fun run. I ended the race by standing in a shin deep river of snow, ice, slush and frigid water. I was soaked head to tow, cold and on the verge of hypothermia. After 7 Hours and 20 Minutes of moving forward, I was glad to finally take a seat as one of the 18 who went the distance.

I encountered many inspirational moments on the trail during the race. The most vivid I will carry with me all the way through this entire year. If you’ll continue reading I’ll tell you…

On Friday Night, The Alvorado family had signed up for the event. I fitted them both with a fine pair of EMS’s finest rental snowshoes and wished them well. Mrs. Alvorado had participated last year. Mr. Alvorado had never been on a pair of snowshoes in his life. On my way down Joe’s Hill near the end of my third loop, I passed them making their way down the hill themselves. They were soaked from head to toe, sitting on sleds in the middle of a snow encased mud hole of winter deluge. As they heard me coming, they turned to me with the BIGGEST smiles I have ever seen during a race. They were laughing like school children, enjoying the ride of their life and relishing in their accomplishment. This one single moment is what makes it all worth while, and really brings it home as to what its all about. They accepted a personal challenge, they met it head on, the endured Mother Nature, they partook and had an amazing time. They smiled all the way t the finish line.. and at the Lobster and Shrimp Feast many hours later… they were still smiling brightly. This is what makes the work all worth while, and this is what also makes it worth while to share a trail with such amazing people. Not just the Alvorados.. but the 200 other’s who survived the 2008 Pittsfield SlushShoe Race.

Happy Trails!
(Photos Courtesy of Cronin Hill Photography)