Week six of my six races in six weeks schedule, which became a eight races in seven weeks schedule, and now may be down to seven races in six weeks. Geez, that's a lot of numbers. Anyway, today was the Baltimore Ten Miler. This is an interesting race, as it is completely separate from the Baltimore Running Festival that occurs every year in October. This race has also been recognized in Runners World as one of the best races for premiums, which you only get at the end of the race. My friend Mo convinced me to run this race with her and I did, not knowing anything about the course.
On race morning, I headed over to Mo's house and her and Matt (her fiance) and I drove up. We left Howard County at around 6am, for a 7.30am start, which seemed early. Until we got close to the race site. Getting off I-83 in Baltimore, we ended up in a parking lot...which was the exit ramp. It then took us close to an hour to go the remaining mile or so into Druid Hill Park for the start. Matt parked the vehicle and Mo and I began to speed walk to the starting area, with only a few minutes to go until the start of the race. We turned a corner and saw the starting line, right when they were calling Wave One to get ready (we were in Wave Two). We moved off to the side and they started the race, with Wave One running by us. As we moved back behind the starting line, Wave Two moved up so we just popped in, pretty early in the wave. About two or three minutes later, we were off.
Druid Hill Park, and the surrounding area, is hilly. Very hilly. There is another race that is held here called the Dreaded Druid Hills that celebrates this. So, the first three to four miles or so is all hills. At around mile two, I had to stop to use the bathroom as I had not had time to do so before the race and I held it as long as I could. While I was in the porto-toilet, my HR got really fast and I did not feel good at all...largely due to the heat (it was hot and the sun was glaring down) and the quick start we had to pull off. Once I got out and we started running again (Mo waited for me...thank goodness), I got things under control a little better but was still sweating at an insane rate; my shirt was saturated with sweat by mile two. At mile four (shortly after we were running in the area of the old Memorial Stadium), they had a water stop that was almost completely unmanned and unequipped. There were lots of water jugs, but no poured cups and one (yes...one) person working there. I'm not sure who dropped the ball here, but that was inexcusable...no one could get water. Very poor showing.
From there, we ran on a long, gradual, hill down to Lake Montebello, which is about 1.5mi around and the only flat part of this course. We ran into some friends around mile five and then ran back the Druid Hill Park, on the same course that we came out on...it's one big out and back course. The hills were just as bad on the way back, but the aid stations were well equipped and when we passed the mile four one again, there were lots of people there now, which was really good to see. Around mile 8.5 or so, there was an aid station and everyone was yelling how that was the last one, so we got some drinks (I had two cups of water plus one of Gatorade, which is the most I've EVER drunk at a running aid station at one time) and then started back running...until another aid station appear about 0.5mi later...WTF? Anyway, we got more to drink and then headed back with Mo constantly asking me if the hill we were going up was the last one...her memory of the hills was not as good as mine, apparently. At one point, someone yelled "Last Hill" and lots of people cheered, except for me who said "Liar" under my breath, as we turned a corner and encountered yet another hill. :) We had little left at the end for a sprint to the finish, but pulled something out and finished in just under 1h30min, with a final time of 1hr29min25sec. Mo's time was one second faster, which was somewhat annoying. :) That time put me at 1025/4199 overall, 709/1857 for men, and 135/318 for 30-34y/o men...pretty good since I've been racing so much recently without healing/recovery time. I've run 10mi faster before, but I'm happy with this time considering my past weeks, the heat and sun, and the hilliness of the course.
The race premium ended up being a "running vest" which looks very nice. It is, however, very thick, and cut very big (Mo traded her Large in for a Medium and then again for a Small). This is not something I would run in, but will absolutely wear when things get cold again, or in the office where my body's ability to regulate its temperature never seems to work right. We picked it up, had a celebratory beer, and walked back to Matt and the vehicle, where we waited a bit for the course to clear and then headed home (well, for breakfast at a diner first).
This race was pretty fun. The course is very hilly, that's for sure. And parts of it share the course with the Baltimore Marathon, so I've run it before. Nevertheless, it's a good run and pretty well supported, except for the mile four aid station. Hopefully that was a one-time fluke and will not happen again. I had a good time running with Mo, and both of us did pretty well. Kudos to the Baltimore Ten Miler for putting on a good race.
OK, week five in my six races in six weeks schedule (which has actually become something longer than this ... more about that at the end). This one is probably the easiest of the entire series, as the wife and I headed up to Newark, Delaware, to compete in the Tri-It Triathlon put on by Piranha Sports. Piranha runs a whole bunch of local races in the Delaware area that are all much smaller than the national Ironman and related brands. They put on DiamondMan every year, which was my first 70.3 race when I completed it last year. The wife and I enjoy their races and we think they put on a very supportive, very friendly environment. Tri-It is a coed version of the Delaware DiamondGirl triathlon that has been held over the past couple years but has since been cancelled. It's a super-sprint distance triathlon, with a 0.25mi swim, a 10mi bike, and a 2mi run. That's it. The wife has competed in it, as DiamondGirl, for the past couple years, so when that was cancelled and Tri-It was announced, we both signed up. I've never raced something this short before and had no idea how to race it, so I figured it would be an adventure.
We got up to Newark with plenty of time, checked in, got our transition areas all set, and then did the normal ritual of waiting in long bathroom lines. This race is marketed heavily to first-time triathletes and, with over 400 racers signed up, there was a huge range among the field. I saw a Cervelo P3 racked next to one of the folding bikes that people sometimes commute with. In line for the bathroom, I heard people who were very excited about their first race and multiple couples doing their first tri together. Awesome stuff with awesome energy. I lined up in the first wave and got myself a spot at the front of the beach off to the side (this is a beach entry start). The announcements came on and we were off. The course was, as expected at 0.25mi, very short. It was a stretch out to a buoy, a left turn with another stretch to another buoy, another left turn, and back in. I swam fast and hard and finished the swim in 7min30sec according to my watch. Wowsers, that's a short swim.
Happy with my time, I ran up to transition, struggled to get my cycling shoes on (lost about 30sec here) and took off on the bike. I was well in the front part of my wave (which had about 100 people in it) and pushed the bike the entire 10mi. I was in aero for 95% of the course, which was all flat. Very, very, flat. Perfect course for me. I ended up averaging about 21mph, which is really good for me, and passed a few folks with a smaller number passing me, so that's good. I was going neck-and-neck with some fellow riding a (different than the one I saw earlier) P3 and full aero helmet, and I ended up finishing in front of him...I'm pretty proud of that. :)
Racked my bike, struggled again with my cycling shoes (another 30sec lost here), and took off on the run. The run was on grass for a little while, then some pretty wide singletrack that went on for about 0.5mi, and then turned on to a road all the way to the turnaround point. Same course back and I ended up at the finish line. I passed three or four people on the run, with about equal number passing me, so I'm OK with that. The wife tells me that the run course was different than the DiamondGirl races and it did not used to include the trail portion...that would have been nice, especially from the pounding I took last week at the North Face Endurance Challenge. Oh well. I finished with a sprint in to the end and finished the race in 53min56sec. I had no idea what I would finish in and the wife gave me a 55min goal, so I'm happy with that.
After the race, I hung around the live results board while waiting for the wife to finish. I ended up 5th in my age group out of 14, a solid 2min behind the 4th place finisher. I did end up 42/384 overall, which I'm pretty proud of. I was especially happy with my bike leg, where I ended up 46th overall, very good considering this is usually my weak point. Overall, I'm really happy with the race and had a great time. I had no idea how to race this distance, so just went all out the entire time. Looks like I'll need to push myself a little more in order to get my place up...but I was really happy with my time and loved racing the Tri-It. I'll be back next year.
In other news, the six races in six weeks schedule has become a eight races in seven weeks event. I signed up for the GBMC Father's Day 5K next Sunday, the day after the Baltimore 10 Miler. Me, my dad, and my sister run this race every year, so I could not pass this one up...we shall see how I do after the 10mi the day before. In addition, the wife found an open water swim in National Harbor in DC. This Swim-A-Thon goes from anywhere between 400m to 2mi...guess which distance we are going? Earlier today, I was really thinking about how nice it will be to have a weekend without a race of some kind. Then I looked at my calendar for July and saw all my weekends as clear and thought "I need to find some races..." What is wrong with me? :)
Week four of six races in six weeks brings The North Face Endurance Challenge. This is a nationwide series of trail running events that has an event here in the DC area (pretty close to where the Jim McDonnell Lake Swim that I did last week was, near Dulles Airport). I ran this two years ago, in its 10K form, and loved it. That was my first trail run ever so I did not know what to expect. It ended up being very flat, on a gravel path for a good percentage of the run, and had some singletrack that was pretty wide, which was very nice as the course was out-and-back so no one ran into each other when you have runners going in both directions. I remember falling once but it was not a big deal. I ended up loving the run and also set a (for the time) 10K PR. Last year, there was a schedule conflict so I was unable to do it again, but this year was wide open so I registered for the half-marathon distance (they offer 5K, 10K, half-marathon, full marathon, 50K, and 50mile events!). Thinking that the course would be a lot like the 10K version, I was psyched for this race. I didn't expect to break my PR or anything, but figured a 2hr performance on a trail 13.1 sounded good. So bring on race day ... and the shattering of all of my preconceptions about this race.
I woke up early and drove down (by myself...today was the wife's day to sleep in) to the race site, about an hour away. There was a little rain on the way down but it was clear where the race was and I was ready to go. I took the shuttle from the off-site parking to the starting line (very well organized shuttle service!), picked up my race bib and chip, and hung out for a little while until it was time to line up and head out. 600 people had registered for the half-marathon and 566 started (with 559 finishing...that's really good!). The course began just like I remember the 10K, on a gravel path (the Sugarland region) that felt fine. It was once we moved onto something different, 1.7 miles into the run, that things got real. :)
The second section of the run is on the Potomac Heritage Trail and is pretty nuts. This is composed mostly of singletrack and gets very narrow. Some sections go through tall grass (up to my waist) with only a very thin path cut out. One we got into the forested section, there were a lot of little dips and tons of turns, with lots of branches hanging down, lots of logs blocking the path (one was up to my thighs and required some climbing), and tons of slippery regions. While there were a few breaks in the very thin format of the trail, there were not many. This meant that your place in line was your place in line and you ran at the speed of the person in front of you, and you best keep up with them. Most of the course was very flat, except for one very steep climb that went up about 170ft over less than 0.1mi. This was very unpleasant and very challenging. There was also a river crossing that you had to wade through with tons of mud of both sides that prevented any sort of traction. As I was getting close to the halfway/turnaround point (this is an out-and-back course), those in front of me started heading back and this is where the very thin singletrack got really complicated so you had folks running in both directions on a path that was just barely big enough for one. I saw a bunch of shoulders colliding but I only ended up bumping into one other guy which was not a big deal. Once I got to the turnaround point in the Frasier Reserve, I started heading back and did the exact same course again from the other direction.
Here is an elevation profile for the course.
This course was crazy. The very thin nature of the trail made things very difficult...very different than any road race I've done. I fell eleven (yes...eleven) times due to not-quite-missing a log, slipping in mud, my ankle twisting on non-solid ground, etc, and two of those eleven were faceplants. Both of my ankles ended up twisting multiple times in every possible direction you could think of and I was scrapped and battered throughout the race. Once I turned back onto the gravel path, with 1.7mi to go, it was so hard to keep running. Not from a lack of energy, but because I just didn't want to fall down any more. Every part of my body was sore from twisting and turning, supporting my frame on unstable ground, and from falling down so many times. My ankles felt like they were ready to just give up. I trotted along, in a good deal of discomfort, and finally made it to the finish line with a time of 2hr18min, which was nowhere near the 2hr goal I had, but something I'm really happy with as this course was brutal for me.
After I was done, I picked up my shirt and water bottle (no medals!) and walked by a grilling station on the way to pick up my checked bag. The first thing I did was walk up and buy a hamburger, which was amazingly delicious...I NEEDED a hot meal at this point. I got my free beer from the beer garden (Michelob Ultra never tasted so good...) and walked around a bit, crazy sore. I got the shuttle back to the parking area, had a good conversation with the girl next to me on the bus who had flown in from somewhere in the mid-West for this race and felt just as beaten up as I did, and then made my way to my car, where I promptly took off my (now disgusting looking) shoes and shirt for the ride home...so happy to not be running any more.
So, North Face Endurance Challenge. This is a very well named event. I'm not a trail runner...not at all. Running on a course like this is nothing like running on the road and now, over 24 hours later, I am so much more sore than I've been after a half-marathon is a long time. The challenges of supporting myself on unstable ground beat me up pretty bad. Nevertheless, this was fun. I'm very glad I did it and it was a hell of an experience. The folks I ran with/around were all very supportive whenever anyone would fall (and very sympathetic to the one guy who lost his shoe in the river crossing and finished the back half of the race barefoot!) and the North Face people there ran an excellent race, that was well organized and well supported. I'm very proud of having finished this (and still within the first half of all finishers!). It really was an endurance challenge...and I'm proud of myself for having endured.
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