Trying new things is often what life is all about. Even if your new experiences don’t go quite the way you had hopped they would. In my running and in my photography I enjoy trying new things. Sometimes things work out sometimes they don’t. Every year since I ran my first official 5k I have tried at least 1 new thing in my running.
The more people you meet the more new things you learn about in running. When I learned about the Sunfish Shuffle I wasn’t sure it was the kind of event I would be into. But the more I thought about it the more it intrigued me. The race is a timed race. So the race is over when the allotted time has elapsed as opposed to the race being over when you run a certain distance. The layout for the race was a 1 mile loop. Runners run as many laps around the 1 mile loop as they can in 3 hours. I had never run a race where the time determines the en of the race, nor had I ever run a race where you ran short loops around a course the whole time.
I began to think that this could be an interesting event. I could use it to gauge my fitness towards a possible road marathon in the future. I’d like to run around 4 hours, so I could see how many miles I could get to in 3 hours. I really wasn’t sure if I would enjoy running around the same 1 mile loop over and over, but thanks to the amazing location of this race, Sunfish Pond County Park in Canton, PA, there was gorgeous scenery to enjoy during the race.
Another added interesting point about this style of race is the very fact that you are running loops. Everyone who runs with their friends understands that you don’t always run the same pace. So, often times when you go to a race together with your friends, unless you specifically plan to run together, you don’t necessarily see each other during the race. But when you are running loops you get to see your friends as they pass you by or as you catch up to the, or as you converge at the aide station. The aide station at this race was amazing by the way.
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
My plan was to run out relatively hard at my half marathon PR pace from earlier this year since that is what I would need to do to achieve a 4 hour marathon. The goal being to just see how long I could continue that pace for. I was hoping to get in 19 miles as that would put me right on pace. As the race began I started off at a pretty quick pace for me, not really worrying about it as I felt fine. I apparently got sucked in too much by the faster group ahead of me because after looking back at my splits from the race my first 3 miles especially were significantly faster than I had wanted to be going. I felt good through the first half of the race. After the half way point the heat became a factor as it reached mid day. By mile 12 the wheels were stating to come off. I could feel myself getting more tired and getting slower. The heat really took its toll on me. The last several laps I ran I stopped at the aide station and loaded up the buff I was wearing with ice and ran with the ice hanging around my neck. I was getting hot. I do not run well in the heat.
At what I thought would be my last lap I stopped my watch then I looked at the timer and had about 15 minutes to go. I decided I could make at least 1 more lap even if I mostly walked. So I pushed on for one more lap. That ended up being one of my better miles for the end of the race. The race didn’t go as well as I had wanted I did not get to 19 miles, but I did get to 17.76 miles which is pretty good. It is actually the third longest distance I have run at the race. I also learned I can at least run faster for shorter distances than I would have suspected. Best of all I got to run in a beautiful place with my friends. We hung out some pre-race and then relaxed for a while after the race. That is another reason why I love running.
Last year a friend of mine suggested I run a race that sounded challenging and fun but it was the weekend after I was running another race. I didn’t think that I could run a race on back to back weekends. I ended up not running the other race and just sticking with the one race that I was already committed to. The race I didn’t run last year was the Green Monster 15k.
My friend said that since I couldn’t run the Green Monster 15k in 2016 that I should commit to running the Green Monster 25k in 2017. (Thanks Shannon) I decided that was exactly what I would do. Green Monster 25k would be my goal race for 2017. Everything I would do in 2017 would be focused on getting me ready to run the Green Monster 25k in October. The Green Monster 25k would be the longest distance I had ever run period race or not. The race would be the most challenging race I’ve run from the perspective of elevation gain and technicality of the trail as well. I wasn’t even that experienced in trail running at the end of 2016. I just knew that I enjoyed the few races that I had run and I enjoyed the occasional times I had run on trails in the past.
2017 would be a year focused on trail running for me. I only ran in two races that were road races. I spent more time than ever on trails. I ran longer and longer runs. I talked to people that were experienced in trail running, seeking advice and counsel.
This year was the most fun and interesting year of running I have had to date. I experienced all kinds of new things. Since I would be running my first ever 25k mile trail run and the longest trail run I had ever run prior to that was a 10k (I had completed multiple road half marathons by that point.) I thought it would be wise to target a 25k trail run that might be at least a little less challenging early in the year so that I could at least get some experience with running that distance. I targeted the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k. Then I forgot to register on the day the race opened and I ended up on the waiting list. I spent the whole first half of the year waiting to find out if I would even get into this race. Turns out I did get in and the race went pretty well despite the monsoon that occurred during the race. Nothing like a soggy trail run in the Fingerlakes.
Even though I didn’t know if I would be able to run the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k I spent the first part of the year training like I definitely was running it. That meant building up my trail running legs over ever increasing distances. Almost every race I ran in the first half of the year was a new first for me. I ran a 10k race. I ran my first ever 8 mile trail run on a tough loop course, in the early summer heat, in the evening where I had the option of just stopping at 4 miles and bow was that tempting in the heat. That race was a new experience for me in many ways. That race was a new experience to me in so many ways. The distance was new. Running an evening race was new. And even running in the heat was different for me. I usually try to avoid running in the heat. I’ve also never run a loop course before where you could just stop, and the mental challenge of not stopping was so tough.
After the 8 mile race I went on to run my first 20K trail run. This race also included some substantial elevation changes which would present another new challenge for me. This was my second go on a loop course. Having to pass by the finish line after completing a steep climb that was the end of the 10k race was not fun but I was committed. Despite getting off course along with a substantial number of runners and missing some mileage and some climbing I was exhausted by the end, but I got it done and it was on to the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k for the next race.
The Fingerlakes 50’s 25k was a great experience. Prior to the race I was worried about it being too hot as the forecast was for temps in the 80’s around race time. The actual race conditions were a muddy mess of a slog that for substantial portions of the race featured torrential downpours. Every trail you ran on had water running on it in some direction, towards you, with you, or across the path. There were even portions of standing water. Near the end it was a mental struggle to just fight the urge to just walk the rest of the way. I was beaten down by the distance and the rain and mud, bt I got to the finish line. This was not just a race it was an experience.
In August I ran my first every trail half marathon. It was on a relatively flat course that I actually had a little bit of experience with part of the trail from a trail relay I had run earlier in the year. Due to the lack of elevation change this race did not have a lot in common with my goal race other than getting me to close to that amount of distance. I still wanted to simulate how I would feel on my goal race during this race. I knew that long before the end of my goal race I would be exhausted, so my plan for this race was to run myself to exhaustion before the end. I ran out much harder than someone of my ability level proably should at the beginning of the race. And by not too far after the half way point I was feeling quite fatigued and slowing. But that was the plan I wanted to experience running tired and pushing myself to keep going. The plan worked well. I was exhausted and I finished.
I had run a race every month since spring to get prepared for my goal race and to help maintain my motivation to train. After my August race I didn’t have another race lined up for September. My friend Shannon once again stepped up and suggested I run the race she was going to run. An 8 mile loop course up and down a nearby ski resort mountain. Knowing I both needed to work on my climbing and have incentive to continue working on my climbing until my goal race, I was in. That was a challenging run for me. I am normally the kind of person that likes to stop for a second to get a photo of the nice scenery I am privileged to be out in. Not during this race. You were always going up or down. There were no convenient places to stop for a photo.
Finally October rolls around and my goal race, Green Monster 25k, is in sight. I am a bundle of emotions thinking about this challenge that is in front of me. Did I train hard enough. Will I be ready. Am I in over my head. I was pretty confident that I could handle the pure distance. It was the elevation gain that I was concerned about. I had run parts of the trail multiple times with friends. However, a planned preview run of the 25k course with a friend did not go so well and that had me a little down leading into the race and race day was forecast to be warm as well. Another strike against me that I’d worry about.
Ascents have been and continue to be my biggest challenge in trail running. The race starts off flat but quickly turns into the longest climb of the day. My strategy was to go out slow and try to conserve my energy for the climb. Climbs just take the wind out of my sails and I did not want to start off the race too tired already. I got through the first climb and I got to the top where it levels out tired but not too bad off. I apparently let my guard down a little too much after the climb and tripped and fell at one of the least technical (Read easy and no reason to fall) parts of the trail. But If I was going to fall there it may have been one of the best spots to fall. It was one of the least rocky areas. If I had fell a few minutes later I probably would have been pretty busted up.
After a little flat running came my favorite part of the entire race. A nice long descent. Not too steep as to be technical but steep enough that you could pick up some momentum. I even caught up to and passed some people. Descents are basically the only place that happens for me in a trail race. I spent the next portion of the race picking and choosing when to run and when to walk as distance was covered over a long gradual incline. The whole time I know a steep ascent is looming and I am trying to arrive at the ascent without being too out of breath already.
The ascent up Bark Slide Trail was steep and a considerable challenge for me. I took my time getting up it so I would have legs left for the rest of the race. At the top you loop around and go back down a more gradual descent and return to the path where you went up Bark Slide. A bit farther along was the third big climb of the race. This trail is steep and rocky and even has large trees growing in the middle of the trail. One of which I leant against and rested on during my previous attempt. This time I was tired but I did not need to stop. I slowly struggled on up the trail. These climbs were so steep it is difficult to even stop to rest if you wanted to because there is no level footing to stop on and it is pretty easy to lose your balance or simply slide on the slope.
After the three big climbs I had to endure the race was pretty tough for me. The climbs had siphoned all the energy from my legs. I just couldn’t run too much for too long after that. I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. I knew that at some point I would meet up with Jim Close trail and rejoin with the same part of the course that the 15k runners would be running. That was what I was seeking. I knew it meant that I was relatively close to the end and I knew it meant a chance to see my friends. When I saw the turn for Jim Close I saw my friends daughter and yelled to her to cheer her on. Getting on the Jim Close Trail was like a resurgence.
Eventually around mile 13 you get back to climbing and the resurgence I previously had felt had dissipated. At times it was all I coukd do to keep my feet going one in front of the other. After one of the steeper climbs I actually stopped for a few seconds and bent over to rest and that just seemed to make everything worse. So I trudged onward. One of the best things about this section though was 2 of my friends running the 15k caught up to me and I was able to say hi. That helped get me through it.
Finally I arrived at Frankenstein’s Forehead and at last I knew I was close to the end. One more serious decent and then a few miles of relatively flat running and I’d arrive at the finish line.
Frankenstein’s Forehead under race conditions was more challenging as I had to repeatedly slow down for others ahead of me taking more time on the decent. But getting to the bottom and heading out on the flatter trail was very welcome. The bottom was hotter and more humid than I expected. I stopped at every stream crossing and scooped up a hat full of water a nd poured it over my head as I put my hat back on.
As I neared the finish line it was so great to be able to hear all the people cheering. It was especially nice to hear my wife cheering me on. Every race she is able to make it to is even better. Crossing the finish line and reuniting with my wife and friends was great. It was a release it was the fulfillment of a year of hard work. Standing at the finish line cheering on more friends as they finished and then all resting and recovering together and talking about our races is what running is all about.