Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cascadia 3s Trail Tested

As the year winds down I don't have much to report on other than a new pair of trail running shoes. I've had a love/hate relationship with the Asics shoes that I used for most of the time spent on the trails during 2008. They're sturdy and proved to be successful as I avoided typical ankle injuries all year. The stiffness that helps protect can also be uncomfortable over longer runs, which I was reminded of about half way through the VT50. Was it the shoes or the miles of the ultra race that caused the discomfort? I'm sure both contributed.

A few weeks back I signed up for the StoneCat 50, a 50 mile trail race in Ipswich, MA and decided the Asics would not be joining me on the journey. After much research and probing others who run trails, I decided on Brooks 3s which received glowing independent reviews and was eager to put them to the test. Due to the unfortunate but expected passing of Amie's grandmother, my day would be spent at a memorial service, etc.. instead of beating myself up at the Stone Cat 50.
PS …Keith, Mark, and Scott all ran the race and set PRs. Great work guys!!!

I headed out this morning for an hour of running on the Nipmuck trail in Ashford wearing my new Brooks. The dirt road where I enter the trail is usually without sign of human life, so I was surprised to see someone gearing up for a trip into the woods, camouflaged from head to toe. Is this a hunting zone? I hope I'm not mistaken for deer. With my pace, no chance in that.

This run would be the perfect test for my new Cascadias. I started in the dark, my headlamp lighting the trail in front of me. Consistently directing my light up to search for the next trail blazer to keep on course left dark minefields of rocks, hidden under the recently fallen leaves, to be an unavoidable hurdle and challenge. Time and time again an unexpected foot placement on the side of a hidden rock caused many twists, turns, and close falls. The Brooks were up to the challenge as they provided just enough support to prevent the ankles from rolling and gave incredible comfort at the same time. At one point my toe caught a rock head on and I started to spread my wings getting ready to take flight. I was able to recover just in time and was grateful as the design of the shoe's toe area gave solid protection, cushioning the impact, showing that it was up to taking a solid hit. The soles gave good traction on the face of larger, smooth faced boulders. These were less than ideal conditions for a run, but perfect conditions to test the new shoes. They proved to be rigid enough to take a hit and keep ankles secure, yet flexible enough to be comfortable. I look forward to testing their comfort levels on a long run.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vermont 50

This weekend I entered into uncharted territory by competing in my first ultra-marathon, the Vermont 50, a 50 mile race in the mountains of Vermont near Mount Ascutney.

The weekend of running started by meeting Mark & Scott and their families at the Cider Mill Road Race in Tolland on Saturday morning. The event accommodates all runners with a kid’s fun run, a one mile race, followed by a 5K. This gave an opportunity for all members of our families an event to run in. The Giguere family of 5 all ran in the mile, which marks the first time we’ve all run in a race together:). The event was well attended and amazingly the rain held off until the last runner finished the 5K.

After goodbyes to our families we headed north, in the rain, with Mark’s pop-up in tow.
As we got close to our destination Mark pointed out Mt Ascutney and other peaks in it’s range where the race would take place. I never realized before how much Mt Ascutney resembled Mt Everest.

Mother nature’s timing was kind to us with a break in the rain just long enough for us to set up camp at Running Bear Campground. During set up we were glad to welcome the arrival of Keith and Jana whom I met and had the pleasure of spending the weekend with at the VT100 this past summer. Keith, Jana, and I crewed for Mark and Scott, lending assistance to them at certain locations over the first 70 miles. Keith and I then paced, ran with, etc…Scott and Mark the last 30 miles to successfully complete the 100 mile race. The group was reunited.

Mike, a friend and co-worker of Mark and Scott's joined us for the afternoon and evening, the sole mountain biker of the group.


After race preparations and registration check in we pulled together a traditional pre-race pasta dinner and shared some good laughs. Not only did the camper provide protection from the rains, it also gave us an opportunity to kick back, connect the laptop to the local wi-fi, and watch various episodes of “The Family Guy” before turning in for the night. We were camping in style. Thanks to Mark for the luxury accomodations.

Race days typically start with high energy levels and anticipation, and this race day was no different. After a 5am wake up and last minute prep we headed to the Mt Ascutney ski area, the race’s start and finish location. The 50 mile run is accompanied by a 50K run and a 50 mile mountain bike race. The mountain bikers departed in intervals from 6:15 – 6:35. Finally our time arrived and with a quick start the 50 mile runners were off and running at 6:40.

The course’s terrain is made up of single track hiking trails, snowmobile track, ATV trails, dirt carriage roads, fire roads, etc. with continuous climbs and descents. The four of us started out together at a fairly rapid pace as the first few miles were the easiest part of the course. After a few miles we headed into some good elevation climbs on the trails which slowed our pace and brought mountain bikes into the game. We ended up leap froging with the cyclists for the remainder of the race. As we were slowed by the ascents, they were slowed even more having to push their bikes and then would speed past on trails as we headed down. Surprisingly, the trails were in good shape given the amount of rain over the past couple of days.

There were aid stations (with water, Heed, fruit, pb&j, chips, soda, chicken broth, etc..) approx every 5 miles, with handler stations that contained our drop bags at the 12 mile, 30 mile, and 45 mile marks. The handler aid stations were the only locations on the course where spectators were allowed and assistance could be provided. Keith and I headed into the first handler station at mile 12 just behind Mark and Scott and were welcomed by Jana helping us restock with gels, water, etc…Mark and Scott flew out of the transition area and I realized this was the point to focus on my own pace. Keith and I enjoyed some solid running together for the next several miles.

There are a number of variables that can come into play during these ultramarathons that can have a significant impact on your results and level of discomfort. Meeting nutrition and hydration needs are important but are often impacted by how well the stomach and digestive system are handling eating and running. Before the race I set my watch to beep every 30 minutes, which was my trigger to take salt pills, a gel, and be sure I was hydrating with the help of my 2 bottle Go-Lite belt pack. Around mile 12 I forced down a Cliff bar and my stomach was not happy with me for several miles and I deviated from my plan by reducing gel intake and turning to fruit at the aid stations.

Keith and I were surprised, glad, and disappointed to run into Scott about the 22 mile mark as we knew he must have been suffering to slow his pace for us to catch up. Scott was struggling with some MAJOR stomach and digestive problems that he tried to run through but was too much as he was unable to take in any needed substance to keep him going. It was tough to see him drop. I was impressed how well he handled the scenario and kept things in perspective. Scott successfully completed the VT100 and other 50 milers and therefore knows his fueling and hydration needs and still ran into an unavoidable and uncontrollable situation. This was an eye opener to me and a reminder that proper preparation does not necessarily equate to completion and hurdles may lie ahead.

At about mile 23 I felt as though I had gone much further as the continuous climbing was taking it’s toll, my stomach was pissed off at me still, my feet were screaming at me, and fatigue started to set in. It was the perfect time to be heading into Smoke Rise aid station. As I approached I could hear Bob Marley’s “Wait In Vain” blasting which really picked me up as I came into the aid station dancing and singing and apparently a little delirious, one of the benefits of ultra running. Just the lift I needed.

I still had a long way to go and started focusing no further than the next aid station and was pleased to know the next one at mile 30, is a handler station and would likely see Jana. As I entered into this aid station there were several spectators gathered around who provided much appreciated encouragement. Jana had pulled my drop bag aside and had it ready for me so I could change socks, re-lube, change shirts, reload on fuel, she snapped pictures…(she was of great help all day, Thanks Jana) I was greeted by Scott who was a spectator at this point and appreciated his words of encouragement as I reconnected with Keith and headed out on our journey.

Keith was in great shape as he kept a good pace and engaged others runners and cyclists in witty conversation while I was still dealing with stomach pains and decided to be a hermit. Even though much of the course is on private property there were only a handful of homes along the route. I was surprised to come upon the yard of someone’s house who had their hose out for use and a cooler with a sign on it that read “cold beer”. Was this a mirage, or some sort of hoax? Keith moved quickly to look inside. “Bruce, there’s cold Long Trail Blackberry Wheat beer in here, what do you think?”. I was tempted to partake for about 2 seconds and then realized it would probably mean the end for me so I moved on as running 50 miles and drinking beer probably should not happen in conjunction with each other.. We continued… Keith moved ahead as I had to pull aside and water the trees. As things progressed I realized that I would be putting use to the TP that I’ve been carrying with me for 32 miles or so. Well, well, well, what do ya know, after dropping a couple of pounds I felt great!!! No more stomach issues, the fatigue subsided, and my feet were no longer barking at me. I had no idea that foot pain could be related to the digestive track!!

Entering aid station

With my renewed energy and strength I focused at the task at hand, and enjoyed time spent meeting and talking with other runners as I knocked off a couple of more aid stations. Even though I was dealing with some discomfort I felt relatively strong. Leaving the aid station at mile 40 brought me delight as I knew that most of the trek to the next aid station was down hill and that I would likely see Amie and the girls. I emerged from the forest and out onto dirt roads and Mt Ascutney came into sight. As I turned a corner onto a paved road I was overcome with emotion when I heard “THERE’S DADDY”, it was music to my ears. As I was greeted by my family they informed me that the aid station was right around the corner and they would run with me..very cool…it was uphill, but I turned on the jets to let them know that Dad is still king, even after 45 miles. I got some hugs and kisses, grabbed some quick fuel, some salt from my drop bag and Amie asked “Do you need anything, or want to change your shoes?” “No, I just want this to be over with, I’ll meet you at the finish.” And off I went feeling tired, strong, and delirious all at once.

At aid station, mile 45

Leaving aid station, responding to Amie's screams of excitement...

The conditions of the last stretch up Mt Ascutney were what I anticipated the whole course may have been due to the rains, thick mud. Certain areas had to be walked. As I made my way closer to the finish there were signs of encouragement hanging from the trees and the sounds of live music entertaining those at the finish line. For the first time during the race it started to rain and it felt great. The last stretch of the race was down a ski slope where the kids were waiting and ran part of the way with me to the finish. It was great to receive congratulatory cheers from and give high fives to Amie, the kids, Scott, Jana, Keith, Mark and their supportive families while running through the chute to the finish.

What a great support crew!!!

This was the most miserably enjoyable experience that I can remember. Is that possible? I finished in 10:08, 71st overall.. Keith finished in 9:57, 66th overall. Mark finished in 9:08, 35th overall…great work!!
206 runners registered for the race, 188 started, and 162 finished.

Jana and Keith
PS..Keith..thanks for picking up a Long Trail Blackberry Wheat for post race..

Mark and Keith getting necessary food, post race..

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reach the Beach 2008

Reach the Beach is a relay race that starts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and finishes about 210 miles away at Hampton Beach. This was my 3rd year running and each year I'm amazed with the great job the race directors, staff, and volunteers do as it's incredibly well organized and run. I would imagine managing the race is a logistical nightmare, but the race seems to go off without a hitch each year.

The race is broken down into 36 different legs in which runners rotate through, typically one at at time until the race is complete. Most teams have 12 runners that run 3 legs each that result in total miles of 13 to 22 miles each, depending on distances of assigned legs. The past two years I've had great experiences being on a 12 person team.

The seed for a 6 person team was planted last year during the race as we ran into "ultra teams" comprised of 6 or fewer runners and probed them for info and insights. At the time it seemed like a heck of a challenge and one that we wanted to take on in 2008. So we added a second team, of 6 runners, called "Another Round 2" and added runners to our 12 person team to fill the gaps of "Another Round 1".

Heidi, Carol, Dave, Bruce, Jason, Jerry

Meet the team
Heidi - Ironman triathlete who's well on the way of meeting her goal of completing all US Ironman distance triathlons and a marathon in each state. Her passion for endurance events is contagious.
Carol - Calm demeanor but a relentless competitor. Downplays her abilities and ends up scorching each run.
Dave - Running form is incredibly relaxed and comfortable. Looks so smooth it appears as though he's moving slowly but is consistently at 7 min/miles.
Bruce - Me
Jason - Excitement about the event is evident throughout the event with high energy and humor. Runs on unique fuel sources that include beer and Red Bull. It works as he lights it up each time. He's a running stud.
Jerry - Consistently gets the job done. Tough and discipline as they come. About half way through his goal of a marathon in each state.

Thursday afternoon all 18 of us met at a commuter lot and departed for NH in three, twelve passenger vans. Many of us were strangers to each other just 2 years ago when we first climbed into a van together for our first race. It's amazing how well you can get so know someone in a couple of days, in tight quarters, and working towards the same goal. It was great to catch up on the lives of teammates and hear of races, families and adventures. Our expanded group enjoyed dinner together at Uno's in Manchester, NH where we shared laughs as we reminisced of the past 2 races and gave insights to the eager new runners to the group.

After a good night's sleep and breakfast in Woodstock we headed up to Cannon Mountain where we prepared for the race by decorating our van (nice work Heidi), completing the safety check, attending the pre-race safety meeting, registered, and had team photos taken. The start of the race is staggered between 7:30 am and 4:00 pm determined by the expected team pace with a goal of having teams finish around the same time of day on Saturday. We started at noon and Another Round 1 started at 2:20.

Being a part of a 6 person team meant that we would each run between a total of 29 and 43 miles each, distances that were new to all of us. The past couple of years we'd see how many runners we could pass on each leg. This year we cautioned ourselves about going out "too fast" and paying the price later. Well, caution ended up going to the wind as we let our competitive instincts take over, and we paid later as the pace of the later legs slowed. Being on a 6 person team not only required more distance but it also meant being "on" almost all the time. You were either running, getting ready to run, stretching, cooling down from a run, driving, co-piloting, or trying get nourishment. We proceeded through the night where chances for some shut eye were limited to about 20 to 30 minutes as opportunities presented themselves. My total sleep time was approx 40 mintues.

Our real individual tests started as the sun rose on Saturday and we we headed into our 5th run, we already had significant miles behind us, tight legs from being in the van, lack of sleep, stomach issues, fatigue, and the temperature started warming. Everyone rose to the occaision and got the job done.

As Saturday wears on and the finishing line gets closer there are more and more runners on the course which adds to the excitement of the event. At this time of the race there are several opportunties for pasta, snacks, sandwiches, soups, drinks, churches, schools, town halls, etc...the community does a great job supporting the runners - thank you. Real food becomes very attractive after 24 hours of eating from the van's well stocked supply of fruit and powerbars. We did enjoy a treat along the way as we were provided with homemade cookies by one of our runners who had to back out ahead of time due to injury - thanks Colleen!

We ended up finishing around 4:30 on Saturday with a total time of 28:28, 107th overall out of 356 teams, 9th out of 19 men's ultra teams, with an overall pace of 8:10. Was it challenging? YES Was it hard? YES Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
The six of us just clicked together. It was great to able enjoy this journey with an easy going, fun, relaxed, and competitive driven group. Thanks to all!!!

Another Round 1 finished shortly after we did with a total time of 26:26,a pace of 7:35. It could not have worked out better as we cheered them as they finished and enjoyed post race celebrations together. They did an outstanding job finishing 37th overall and 2nd out of 32 mixed masters teams..Nice work..

After a quick dip in the ocean we headed for home. I wonder what next year will bring?

"The heat of the dog will melt the cheese"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vermont Journey Half Ironman Triathlon

Yesterday was my first experience with a half ironman distance triathlon, and it was enjoyable and memorable.

Amie, the kids, and I headed up to Salisbury, VT on Thursday afternoon and set up camp at Kampersville Campground on Lake Dunmore. We ended up with probably the nicest weather of the summer with sunny days, highs in the low 80s, and beautiful clear starlit nights with lows about 60. For some reason rain tends to follow us camping so we were pleased that it was a spectacular weekend for camping and the triathlon.

Friday afternoon I headed to Middlebury to pick up my race packet and really enjoyed time talking with other race participants about the event. From there I headed to Branbury State Park on Lake Dunmore, the location of the start, finish, and transition areas of the triathlon. I was eager to check out the race location and climb into my wetsuit and swim for about a half mile to get acclimated to the water. The water was clear, cool,comfortable, and fairly shallow, perfect for the race.

When we camp we generally take two tents, an 8 person for the family to sleep in and an old three person tent for the kids to play in. I chose to sleep in the three person tent the night before the race as not to wake the family as I'd be leaving early in the morning. The night prior I left my bike outside and it was wet from the overnight dew. Wanting to be sure I didn't have issues with my bike getting wet again I brought it in the tent with me family thinks I'm nuts. On Saturday I woke with the sun, grabbed my gear bag, and headed to the race on my bike about 2 miles down the road.

After checking in I had my number written on my arm with a Sharpie, which is typical. What happened next I had not experienced before, they wrote my age on my calf, seemed unusual at the time. I set up my bike and gear at the transition area and ran into Peter, a super nice guy whom I met at the packet pick up the day prior. As we were talking, I watched as he unwrapped 5 Powerbars and stuck them directly to the frame of his bike. Now that makes for efficient fueling while on the bike. At about 7:45 Amie, looking excited, and the girls, looking tired had arrived. Amie took some pictures, Lora helped me stretch, and we listened to the pre-race announcements where I found out I'd be in the second of three start waves.

I had some time goals for the race but was unsure how realistic they would be as I had only participated in sprint distance triathlons, which are much shorter and typically take me just over an hour. I anticipated I'd finish this event between 5 1/2 to 5 3/4 hours. Going into the race I was pleased with my fitness level and confident in my abilities. As far as I was concerned there were only 2 things that would keep me from meeting the timeline. Number 1 - drowning (I am not Michael Phelps). Number 2 - injury. I tweaked my leg last month and after logging a couple weeks of 50 plus miles of running it got worse. It became evident that this could slow me down on the run after becoming fatigued. I decided to taper my running about two weeks early instead of one to give my leg some extra rest.

The race is about to on....
My goal for the 1.2 mile swim was to focus on my technique, have a comfortable swim, and try not to waste too much energy. Once the swim began and there was separation between swimmers I was able to lock into a nice comfortable rhythm. "I'm actually swimming and not drowning, I love this wetsuit." The course was two loops, counterclockwise direction, so swimmers were swimming towards each other on either side of course buoys. At one point I was sighting to be sure I was on course when someone swimming towards me went by me on my right, he must be way off. I realized I was sighting the wrong buoy and swimming directly into oncoming traffic, took a sharp 90 degree turn and got back on course and finished the swim in 39:56.

I talked to Amie while transitioning to the bike and putting on my gear. She reminded me to apply vaseline to my most private of areas to prevent chaffing. While applying I had realized that I had pulled my tri shorts down too far and was exposed for the world to see. You should have seen the look on Amie's face, priceless. Fortunately in this environment of people, no one even cares, which is good because cold water causes shrinkage.

The bike route went right by the campground we were staying at and then out to Route 7 for about 50 of the 56 miles. The roads were typical of VT, rolling hills. My goal for the bike was to work a steady pace, and fuel regularly to keep my energy level strong, taking Perpeteum every 15 minutes, and 2 Endurolyte capsules every 30 minutes to prevent muscle cramps. My fueling plan was right on as I felt strong throughout the entire bike section of the race. At this point I had an appreciation for seeing the ages of the other triathletes on their calves as I went by them, especially the younger ones, most of whom started in the first wave of the race a couple minutes before me. I went by our campground again at mile 54 and was greeted by a roaring crowd of my family, some friends and their families who spent the weekend camping with us and being a great support. I finished the bike portion in almost exactly 3 hours with good energy and feeling pumped up.

After transitioning into my running gear my total time was 3:45. I was pumped because all I had to do was a half marathon, 13.1 miles, in 1:45 to complete the race in 5 1/2 hours, NO PROBLEM!!!! I thought. The run course was completely changed last week as flash flooding washed away the roads where the run was to take place. I was grateful as the new course went right by our campground again and I was energized by the opportunity to give high fives to Amie, the kids, and friends as I ran by hooting and hollering. The consistently strong winds that kept me fairly refreshed, even though slowing me down, on the bike were now gone and I was exposed to the mid day sun and warm temperatures. I skipped an early aid station and realized that since they were now my only source of hydration and fuel, this could not happen again. The course was an out and back, up and down some steep hills. Many runners were defeated by the hills and ended up walking them at a snails pace. I was committed to run, run, run. At the halfway point my pace was a couple of minutes behind my 1:45 goal. The pressing sun and fatigue caused me to slow my pace more than I had wished and I started to struggle. I had the great experience of witnessing Mark and Scott successfully complete the VT 100 last month on a terribly hot day. At this point in the race I was reminded of Scott being at a very low point at mile 50 and pressing on courageously to successfully finish 100 miles. I knew I'd finish but the memory helped me press on without letting myself slow the pace even more. One more trip past the campground gave me much needed energy to finish the half marathon in 1:58:25 for a total time of 5:44:20 where I was greeted by my wonderfully supportive Amie. We had a great time talking with some of the other participants and refueled with pizza, coke, water, Heed, iced tea, etc..

I really enjoyed the whole experience and was elated that my leg felt great throughout the race, particularly because I've got some high mileage races coming up and am looking forward to them as well.

My energy level was surprisingly good the remainder of the day and I experienced only minor soreness in my legs. I ended up going down to the lake and spent time with Amie, the kids and friends jumping off a floating trampoline into the water.

We ended the day around the campfire with a few celebratory adult beverages and lots of jokes. All in all, a great weekend.