Cascade Crest 100 2019

Cascade Crest 100 Race Report – 8-24-19

It feels good to be finally writing this one. The culmination of what was a three year plan from when I first jumped into the ultrarunning world – starting with a 50K in 2017 (Mt Hood), a 100K in 2018 (Zion), and then a 100 miler in 2019. The first two years of this so-called three year plan went about as well as it could – reaching new maxes in total mileage, race distances, and marathon PRs.

But that all came to a screeching halt when my left post-tib tendon blew out in Dec 2018 after a 50 mile race. I did not think it was too serious at first, but one month in a walking boot and almost three months of no running wiped out all the grand plans I had for 1H 2019, which included a renewed focus on speedwerk and a faster spring marathon to put it all together. Furthermore, as I’m sure most can relate, I succumbed to the google: the googling of injuries that makes everything seem like the end of your life (or running career). Seemed like anyone and everyone on the internet who had post-tib injuries never fully recovered, never got back to their old self. Luckily for me, I had been targeting summer races so there was still hope and time for a recovery.

Enter NY Custom Performance, arguably the best running specific PT in NY, based on the google, and based on social media. Kathleen, my PT, couldn’t believe what she was hearing when I told her that I run in Hokas, with inserts, AND ankle braces on both ankles. Not only was I running in unstable shoes with weak ankles, I was immobilizing my ankles as the fix. Rather than strengthening my ankles and feet, I was letting them get weaker over the years, until they finally blew out. Therefore, the task at hand for Kathleen was three-fold: 1) restoring flexibility in my ankles 2) building up foot and ankle strength and 3) building back up the mileage.

I received welcome news that I got into Cascade Crest 100 via lottery in mid-February, just shortly after starting PT and still unable to run. I discovered Cascade Crest thanks to the famous GingerRunner, Ethan Newberry, who makes awesome short films and videos on trail running (highly recommend checking out his stuff). Cascade Crest was his first 100 miler, and after watching his video “Amongst the Evergreens”, I knew I had it to add to the list of potential 100s. The race is a beautiful but difficult course in the Cascade mountains of Washington, with 21,000+ft of elevation gain, and 21k ft loss. Not exactly an easy course for a first timer. But I had gotten in on my first try, so of course I had to go for it. Deliberately kept it under wraps, but gave the date to Kathleen. She was confident that I would be able to train for it even though I had my doubts at that time. After all, I had planned for a 5 month training plan that started with 40 miles per week, meaning I needed to be up to 40 miles per week in a month’s time when I hadn’t run since Dec 1. After a few weeks of PT and vast improvements in flexibility and strength I finally got the green light to go for a 15-20 minute run. Wow. The feeling of running was amazing. It felt so good to be back. But I was far cry from beginning training for a 100, let alone hit up any trails.

Training

I put together a full on training plan: 4-5 runs per week, b2b long runs, hill workouts, avg 50 mpw, the whole shebang. But it became very apparent very quickly that this was not going to be a normal 100 mile training cycle. Very slow progress was made, first with 2-3 mile runs (that first run back in nearly 3 months was freakin’ amazing), then 3-4 miles, then 5-6 miles, then a setback for a couple of weeks, then finally up to ~20 mpw. All on flat ground. No trails. And in Nikes. That’s right, Nikes. Those of you who know me, know that I began my earlier running career in Nike freeruns because I wanted to look good, which eventually led to my first set of ankle problems. So I’ve always been biased against Nikes (exception: the Vaporfly 4%). But Kathleen wanted me running in something more stable than Hokas, and the Nike Pegs seemed to the trick.

Some highlights:

  • I didn’t start trail running until Memorial Day weekend, exactly 3 months before race day, while out on Santa Cruz island off the coast of Southern Cal. The feeling of finally letting loose on trails was absolutely libeIMG-0914rating – it reminded me of why I loved doing this after so many months of not being able to get outdoors.
    • Getting that first longish run in gave me the confidence to proceed forward with my training plan
    • Kathleen recommended trying the Salomon Sense Rides as a stable shoe with good tread (Salomon’s are the gold standard for trail running). I absolutely loved them and this became my new whip of choice.
  • I planned out for three big weeks of training after that Memorial Day run, with long trail runs up in Bear Mountain building up to 22-24 miles. This would be followed by a recovery week, then a big 1.5 weeks of hiking in Peru culminating with the Ultra Trail Cordillera Blanca 50K in the northern mountains of Peru. Follow with a few weeks of easier running, then the most important run of the cycle, the Palisades Ultra 50 Miler in the remote Idaho/Wyoming wilderness, which would serve as my 50 mile qualifier race for Cascade Crest. Then we would have 5 weeks to race day – recovery week, one more big training week, then three week taper.
    • Of course, the plan never goes according to plan and a number of runs were scaled back, with less total mileage than planned. It basically came down to “how is my ankle feeling this week?” and then going from there. But as I have learned in the past, being flexible with the plan is key, and as long as the key workouts were happening, it was all good.
  • I spent 12 days in Peru, treating my mom to the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and Huaraz as a small token of my appreciation for putting up my with my shenanigans for 29+ years. This trip really fast-tracked my fitness levels. Spending all that time at 10-15k of altitude helped my cardiovascular system (coming back to run at sea level was fantastic), and the amount of hiking / elevation gain we did really gave me my climbing legs back – I totaled almost 40 miles and 12ft of climbing during that trip.
    • Despite my acclimatization, the UTCB 50K destroyed me. All of the prior hiking had my legs fatigued, and the altitude really slowed me down (we were basically bouldering at 15k feet!). I ended up dropping to the 25K distance, still a 17 mile race and 4500ft of gain. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to keep fresh for the more important race ahead.
  • In order to race Cascade Crest, you had to complete a 50 mile race between Jan 1 and July 31st. Because of my injury and slower than expected recovery, I ended up pushing my qualifier to the weekend of July 24th, which would be 5 weeks before the race. An ideal scenario would be doing a 50 miler 6-10 weeks before the race, but I wasn’t going to be ready so I pushed as far back as I could. As for race choice, it came down to either A) choosing a very difficult race that would be good prep for Cascade Crest but risk not finishing or B) choosing an easy race but then not being as well prepped. I went back and forth on this but settled on option A because this 50 miler in the remote Idaho wilderness was 1000x more beautiful than the easier race in Ohio. Plus, I had to believe in myself and get it done.
    • Race was absolutely beautiful and gorgeous. But the race also was extremely difficult. I will likely put together a short report for that one so
    • IMG-1046
      Tears of joy at the finish

      won’t go crazy here. But all you need to know is that the altitude really slowed me down – I thought being in Peru just three weeks prior would offset that but evidently not the case. I did more mental math than I have ever done in my life because I knew that I was cutting it close from as early as 33-35. I was at Mile 43-44 and did not think I would make it, but I prayed to god for an extra gear a
      nd he delivered. Ran among the fastest split of the race for those last 5 miles, and finished the race with 8 minutes to spare. I broke down and had tears in my eyes post-race as I didn’t think I was going to make it. It would have been devastating to run that far and not qualify for my 100. I texted the crew “Pack your fucking bags because we are going to Seattle!” after the race.

  • I never felt like my ankle was back to 100%, and it probably won’t be for a while. It was a fairly serious injury, one that just needed to be managed on a daily basis. This meant an almost laser like focus on doing my strength exercises (I swear it works Stevie Lin try it for your plantar), foam rolling, stretching, and gua sha’ing. Kathleen was instrumental in helping me to get over the fear of aches and pains. She constantly reminded me that my ankles were finally working after years of stagnation. It was normal to be sore after a run. As long as it wasn’t hurting or getting worse during the run I would be fine. And she was right.
    • We tried to incorporate lower body strength training, but the added stress seemed to make my ankles worse so we nixed it. Just focused on the ankle and feet specific strength training. I continued to do my upper body workouts, however, because you know the vanity is still there and gotta look fly.
  • I did almost no speedwork during this cycle – Kathleen did not think my ankles were ready for any of that. I did do one round of hill repeats when I got back from Peru – the strongest set of hill repeats I had ever done (low 7s pace on the uphills). But that was all I was able to work in during this cycle.
  • Starting a new job wreaked havoc on my diet and weight, and it did not help I was injured. But once I got into a groove, was able to get back to my intermittent fasting routine. Also working in the city allowed me to run fasted in the morning, which helped burn a lot more pounds. I finally hit one of my “not so important” goals of getting under 150 lbs, the lightest I have been since high school.
  • I was admittedly a bit more lackadaisical in my nutritional planning this around – I generally have a strategy in place but also have seen over the years that my body responds better to real foods, and a variety of them. So I didn’t try to experiment too heavily this time around. Just stuck to my Maurten gels + chips + real foods (ie quesadillas during Idaho, broths, mashed potatoes which I discovered in Idaho).
  • I, somehow, was able to continue the tradition of my big bro bankrolling my lifestyle, this time tricking his wife into buying me a $200 pair of Leki trail running poles for Christmas. This is not really an important detail for this report but he and I will get a chuckle out of this.
  • You thought I was going to go one race report witIMG-2178 (1).JPGhout referring to the underground didn’t you. Nope! I had always shied away from late summer races, because I was reluctant to give up my degenerate lifestyle that typically involved raving until 5am among other things. But somehow, I got through the summer without giving up my nightlife completely – not sure it was the best idea but I did do a 22 mile trail run on a Saturday morning, then hit up the legend Oh yes! oh yes! Carl Cox at Mirage until 5am that same night. Oh well, c’est la vie.
  • And because I was able to do morning runs, I finally got to accomplish another running-related goal of mine: participating in weekly morning Back on my Feet Runs. Most of you know what BOMF is so I won’t explain here. But once I officially qualified for Cascade Crest I decided I should fundraise for them. There is no better feeling than doing what you love most, and helping others out at the same time. So once again, I thank you all for contributing to my fundraiser. IMG-1316.JPG

If there was only one thing to take away from this training cycle, it was the fact that I could run such low mileage and still be able to race at these distances. My “ideal” training plan was going to average 50 miles per week for 20 weeks – 1000 miles total. I ran 420 miles for the 20 weeks leading up to the race – less than half of that and an average of 21 miles per week. That just sounds crazy and extremely under-trained. But I felt real confident because I had gotten in the key workouts that I needed – my trip to Peru, that attempted 50k turned into 25k, and the Idaho 50 miler. My ankles and feet were feeling stronger than ever with my consistent PT and strength training – I was marveling at the fact I could run these races without any ankle braces!

The Crew

For those unfamiliar with ultrarunning, runners typically have a crew with them – people who wait for their runner at certain aid stations and help them with all of their needs: refilling flasks, changing clothes, prepping any special foods or drinks, fixing up cuts and bruises, basically anything the runner might need at that moment. Many of these races also allow pacers after a certain point. The pacer’s job is to literally pace their runner, encouraging them to continue as things get tougher. Many seasoned 100 mile runners go to races solo and are more than capable of getting it done. But as a first timer, I thought it would be awesome to have some support out there. Plus, as most of you know, I am a social butterfly that is constantly bringing together groups of people. I wanted to give some of my closest and most trusted friends a little taste of the ultrarunning world, hopeful that maybe they’ll be inspired to do something awesome in the future (not just ultras but that would be awesome). Because I had chosen a beautiful course out West where I love it and feel right at home, I wanted them to get a small taste of the trails there too.

Enter the A-squad. Starting with Rachel, my amazing girlfriend who has already made countless sacrifices crewing and pacing me in prior races. She would be crew chief, running point and directing everyone else. My three pacers would be the three guys I do most of my trail running with: Francisco aka Cisco aka Latin Spice, one of my closest friends from BC and also a diehard Mets fan. Andrew “BOK” Keem, my roommate and closest non-school related friend, a self-deprecating dude who is actually a stud Spartan racer / ultrarunner but won’t ever admit that to you. And Evan “Big EZ” Odim, who constantly asks why he is friends with the Portes brothers but is the most experienced ultrarunner here (you can ask my bro why named Big EZ). Keem would be the first pacer from Miles 54-69, Cisco would bat second for Miles 69-77, and EZ would bring it home from 77-100. To round out the crew we had Dayna from “Strong Island”, Cisco’s awesome girlfriend who would be the designated driver. Chudi “Where Da Booty”, one of my closest high school friends who is also an avid runner and someone I have been trying to trick into doing an ultra for years now, and Kate aka “Get Out”, Chudi’s better half (literally, dude owns a real travel bag and makes his own bed now) who would be running point on social media and photos/videos – BOMF wanted me to do an Instagram takeover for the weekend. These guys were making a huge sacrifice flying cross country for me, so I wanted to make sure I showed them my appreciation. I wasn’t sure what else to do, but during our pre-race meeting the night before the race I handed out a bunch of Amazon gift cards as just a small token of appreciation. All of them literally threw the cards back at me, telling me don’t jinx the race! Jeez, I was trying to make the point that no matter what happened out there I appreciated them!!

 

Miles 1-25 – “This course is tough man. Tough”

IMG-1564
The Crew from left to right: Big EZ, Cisco, Dayna, me, Rachel, Chudi, Kate, Keem

I got a full 8+ hours of sleep and slept like a baby. The only two times that has ever happened was before my two Chicago marathons; both instances I PR’d. So this was definitely a good sign. The race has a later start than most, 9am, so it felt good to wake up at a more normal hour and feel relaxed driving over to the start for check-in, pre-race briefing, final digestive system cleansings. Got my group pic with the squad, posted to IG, and went over to the start. I was so relaxed before the race I actually forgot to hand in my one drop bag! All good, the crew just needs to make sure they make it so I can grab my headlamp! Gave my final hand shakes and hugs to the crew, and went off to the start. Nice little rendition of both the Canadian and US anthems, and then we were off. Lets. Fucking. Go.

The course begins on a flat dirt road for about 2 miles before hitting the first climb of the day, a nice 3,000ft climb over 3 miles to get your day started right. I made sure to go easy on this first climb, cognizant of Every. Single. Person’s. advice to go slow and easy to start off the race. Started in the bottom/mid pack, felt pretty good, breathing was easy, and I was absolutely excited to be out there. As with most of these races, everyone is super friendly and happy to chit chat whenever around, so naturally struck up conversations with people around. One dude sounded way too legit to be in the same pack as us, talking about running Hardrock, WSER, etc and then spoke about how he wanted to try TDG next (Tor des Geants, a 205 mile race with 80+k ft of gain through the Italian alps, in case anyone was wondering). And sure enough, as soon as the single track widened up, he power climbed ahead, never to be seen again. But not before I had a chance to rattle off that I knew a dude going to Tor (shoutout to Z Man!). That first clearing after the climb was the first of many beautiful views on the course. After the close call in Idaho, I promised myself I would not be taking an photos or videos. Just soak in the moment, and focus on the task at hand. Also at this clearing was the first “aid station”, which was really just a water drop at Mile 4.5 to refill flasks if needed. As I reflect, here was where mistake number one was made. I saw the water drop, had only gone through maybe 1 flask (half and half), and decided I should be ok till the first real aid station at Mile 9. But I did keep looking back at it after passing, somewhat thinking to myself that it would be good idea to top off and drink more. But I never did, and decided that I had gone the first 9 miles in my Idaho race on two flasks and was fine, so therefore I should be fine here too. A sure sign of things to come. After the climb, we had some nice rolling hills in which to run, but I took it easy knowing that there was so much race ahead. A number of people passed me, and I did start feeling slower and a bit lethargic, but to my pleasant surprise my watch was short by a mile and I rolled into the first real aid station at Mile 9. This gave me a nice burst of energy, refilled my flasks, ate some fruit, and was on my way. It was 7 miles to the next aid station, mostly 3 miles downhill followed by 3 miles uphill on a dirt road. Plenty of easy running here to get in a groove. However, during this stretch I began to notice my vision and head was starting to lose focus, a symptom that usually hits me much later in the race. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but I generally ignored it. I also stupidly kicked a rock into my right anklebone, which hurt for a while and distracted me from the lack of clarity I was experiencing. I rolled into Blowout Mtn aid station (Mile 15) and decided to take a few extra minutes to eat, hydrate, and stock up on nutrition. Drank some ginger ale as my stomach already started feeling a bit off, but not too bad. And smoothies!! This aid station was serving up some homemade berry smoothies. Wow, that really hit the spot. I felt instantly better with the ginger ale, smoothies, and various salted and sweet items I took down (fruits and pickles w/ salt). At this point I knew I was behind my pace chart schedule, but I had also told my crew to expect that as I wanted to deliberately go slow. The next 5 mile stretch was when you turn onto the PCT and it was just beautiful – rolling hills, running along ridgelines in perfect weather with clear views for miles. I definitely continued to move slowly, a few people passing me again, but I was ok with that. There was actually an optional detour to see amazing views from Blowout Mtn lookout, but I decided to skip it as I was not there to fuck around (ended up passing a handful of people here). Even better, just past the IMG-1996optional lookout was a professional photographer taking sweet photos of us along the ridgeline. I was happy that I still got to feed my vanity despite skipping the lookout. Continuing on for a few miles to Little Bear Aid at Mile 19.5, I started feeling lethargic again. Something just continued to feel off, either in my head, or stomach, or both. But I was in somewhat high spirits because 1) the aid station captain said that I was looking pretty good, 2) we would be coming up on a nice groomed gentle downhill 5 mile stretch and 3) that nice stretch would lead to Tacoma Pass aid station Mile 25.4, the very first time I’d get to see my crew! Pounded back some ginger ale and bananas, tucked my poles away, and got started cruising into the downhill. Passed a couple of people on this stretch, but then an old man came flying right by me out of nowhere. I was very impressed until I watched him eat shit real hard 100 feet in front of me. I came over to help him up and ask if he was ok, to which he responded “I like to fly down these things, and sometimes I fall” then carried on at the high speed as if nothing had happened. Props to this dude for showing me up, but I wasn’t about to blow my load out of pride. Finally, I rolled into Tacoma Pass, heard Cisco first “Justin! Yes!”, before seeing everyone else. Came in around 7 hours and change, about an hour behind schedule but that was ok. Needed to take it easy in the beginning and that’s what I did. What no one realized at the time (myself included) was that I had “taken it easy” out of necessity, not because I was deliberately keeping the pace slow.

Miles 26-43 – “I owe it to my crew”

IMG-1994.JPG

This report will very much be just as much about my race as how awesome my crew was. Everyone sprang into action quickly – refilling my flasks, grabbing me ginger ale, checking my pain spots, Rachel leading the way with the checklist. I could hear Chudi IMG-1969saying “this is so fun” to no one in particular. Oh man, love that dude he cracks me up. I repeated a bunch of times “this course is fucking hard” to whoever would listen. Ate a bunch of fruit, a couple bites of avocado wraps, and told the crew I would need them to start cooking up broth for Mile 36, the next time I’d see them. I really didn’t want or think I’d need broth so early in the race but this was how my stomach felt. Evan showed me the course profile to Mile 36, which represented the first cutoff of the race. Told me I was good on time but wanted me to take it easy on the climb up to the next aid at Mile 32, then pick up the pace a bit on the downhill into Mile 36. That first cutoff at 36 was 830pm, a full 11.5 hours after race start. Given the slower than expected pace, decided it would be smart to grab my headlamp from the crew at this aid station, in case it got dark before 36 (when running under tree cover, the sky might still be light but basically dark on the trail). One of the things we were reminded of multiple times was that at certain points on the course, there were angry wasp nests, so make sure to move quickly through these areas. Luckily these areas were very well marked, so was able to move through quickly and did not look back for the nest. At some point during these few miles after leaving Tacoma Pass, my brain decided that Mile 39 was the cut-off, not Mile 36. So naturally I started running mental math ala Idaho to figure out how fast I needed to move with adequate cushion. It was early in the race, but I was already feeling the IMG-1974.JPGpressure. “Here we go again. Tough course. Oh well.” I muttered to myself. Just gotta get to that first tight cut-off then should be good the rest of the race as more time opens up. I started moving slow again in the miles leading up to Snowshoe Butte aid station (Mile 32), wondering where the hell it was. I saw a runner up ahead stop and yell out “Berries!” and he started helping himself to handfuls before taking off. Next, a random dude popped out of nowhere on the side of the trail, foraging tons of berries stone age style. I was tempted to grab some on my own but with the wrong distance to the cutoff in my head I didn’t think I had enough time. Luckily, my concerns about the Mile 32 aid station led me to whip out my aid station spreadsheet, and lo and behold! The damn cut-off is at Mile 36! Almost instantaneously my spirits were lifted. I had wayyyy more time than I expected. It literally felt like a weight coming off my shoulders. Little did I know that this was not going to be the last time I thought about cut-offs. In fact, this was going to be the largest cut-off cushion I had for the entire race! I finally got to Snowshoe Butte, took down more ginger ale, some fruits, tried to eat savory stuff but stomach wasn’t feeling it so tossed it. Another 4ish downhill miles into Stampede Pass at 36, where my crew would be waiting with broth. Cruised in nicely, with about an hour cushion. “Flasks. Broth. Chamois. [Something]” I repeated these four items to my crew and they sprung into action (can’t remember for the life of me what that fourth item was). Broth and ramen already made. Ginger ale in a cup for me. Someone brought a smoothie, as I had requested after seeing how good the smoothie at Mile 15 was. Was starting to feel some pains in my anterior shin tendons, so Evan got to rolling them out. Chudi had my chamois ready (no, he was not going to rub it on for me!). Told people how figuring out the real cut-off had put me in such a better mood. Went over the course profile for the next section – Evan suggested, take it easy on the climb up to Mile 39, then cruise

IMG-2013
Shortly before puking

downhill into Mile 43 (Meadow Mtn), then take it super nice and easy on the 6 mile climb to get to Ollalie Meadows (49) where I would see some of the crew next. “All you gotta do is get to Hyak man (54), get to Hyak. And then you’re cruising the rest of the way.” I felt good about this. I hit the tight first cut-off, and now had time to pick apart the rest of the course. And then, I hunched over, dry heaved. Oh no. Yakkkkkkkk. Yakkkkkkkkkkkkk. There goes all of the broth, ramen, ginger ale, and smoothie I had just taken down the last couple of minutes. I felt like absolute garbage immediately. This is not good. Once it was over, went back to drinking some more broth and ale, trying to get the stomach to calm down a bit, and to replace the calories I just lost. Took a few more extra minutes to relax myself before Evan told me it was time to get moving. Gave me some tums to use on the trail. I did feel somewhat better, but the mistake here, was not re-hydrating or putting more calories back into me. I had never yak’d before during a race, but hey, there’s always a first time for everything. And new battles against adversity to take on. But this was way too early to be dealing with this.

 

As EZ said, take it easy on the climb up to 39, then cruise it downhill into Mile 43. Turns out the climb was only to about 37, then it was most likely downhill into 43. The sun was finally gone, so it was time to bust out the headlamps. Unlike most people, I actually IMG-2009enjoy running in the dark. It reminds me of scuba diving at night, there is just something very calming and freeing about it all. And here, we had a nice fairly groomed downhill section to continue on. However, my stomach just wouldn’t cooperate. I wasn’t puking, but I wasn’t intaking anything either. I knew I had to eat and hydrate, but I just had zero appetite for anything. In Idaho, I constantly forced myself to take down my nutrition and liquids even if I didn’t feel like it. But here I just couldn’t will myself. And slowly my running pace deteriorated, until it was walking, shuffling, walking, shuffling. A handful of runners passed me in this stretch, until I was completely solo in the dark. One nice lady said “Hope your stomach starts to feel better” as she disappeared up into the night. At this point I realized how little fun I was having. “Man 90% of this race thus far has been unenjoyable. This fcking sucks.” All due to my stomach problems. The temps were starting to dip into the 50s, which did not help my case. Best part, I would periodically turn my head right to stare out into the abyss with my headlamp, and noticed that there was a huge steep drop-off into god knows where. Normally I would get excited by this, but not tonight. One thing that did make me feel somewhat better, was that I noticed I was tracking about ~13 hours to get to Mile 43, 20 minutes faster than Idaho with around a similar amount of elevation gain. I used this to build some optimism, but it just wasn’t working. As I came to within 1-2 miles of the aid station, I told myself that I would push through to Ollalie Meadows at 49, where I would see my crew next. I owed it to them to get there before dropping out, or get there and let them make the decision. Still had plenty of time to get to Hyak – almost 5 hours before the 3am cut-off to go 11 miles (27min/mile pace) – but the frustration and pain of the stomach issues was coming to a head. I strolled into the Mile 43 aid station in pretty rough shape. Sat down and started taking down broth and ginger ale immediately. Rich, the race director, happened to be there just checking things out, and I saw him chatting an older runner who looked dead and was in process of dropping out. I felt exhausted, tired, dehydrated, so thought maybe busting out some coke shots would help with an energy boost. Big mistake. Instead I proceeded to puke everything out again. Ugh. I sat there, quite frustrated and upset, unsure what to do with myself. At first no one was talking to me, so I just sat in silence staring at nothing. Another runner next to me had been puking, but she seemed to be in good spirits and was out of the aid station after 5 minutes. A new runner came into the aid station and took her place. This girl, however, immediately took her bib off and dropped. Rich came over with one of the aid station volunteers, and immediately I laid out my case to them for why I didn’t feel comfortable going back out there. The volunteer gave me two antacids, and told me I needed to catch up on my hydration after I told her how little I had taken in from 36 to 43. Tears started to come out of my eyes as I tried to explain that I owed it to my crew to get to them at Mile 49 but wasn’t sure I could do it. It didn’t help that I had overheard Rich telling someone that it gets more technical on this stretch. As I’m laying out my case for dropping, others are telling me that it’s ok to drop, that this is how it is in ultra land, that sht happens and you learn from it and come back stronger. I was coming to grips with this, but the tears were building as all I could think about was what a waste of time this was for my crew, how I didn’t get halfway through this damn race. Rich eventually left with the dropped runner, and I almost yelled out for him to wait for me because I would be dropping too. Luckily, I kept my mouth shut. I must’ve been sitting there for 25+ minutes when the sweepers arrived next. I figured my race was done. But one of them, Don, came over and said that because this wasn’t a cutoff aid station, all I had to do was stay in front of them and I would be ok. The woman who had immediately taken her bib off started texting her crew that she was dropping, so I asked her if I could do the same. I texted Rachel “Hey it’s Justin”, and as I begin to type that I am going to drop out, the sweepers tell me to get up and just get going with them. The woman blurts out “you should just go with them” to which I respond ok sure why the fck not and handed her phone back to her without texting Rachel. I get up from the aid station and grab my sticks to what sounded like thunderous applause from everyone around. People were genuinely pumped that I would be soldiering on.

Miles 44-54 – “Don’t Quit Until the Magic Happens”

I figured I would just walk with these guys until I got to 49 or 54, then get timed out because of the cut-off. I really had nothing in me. Still felt like sht, stomach still hurting, nothing appetizing. But these three sweepers were fantastic from the moment I started with them. All very positive, telling me that despite my stomach issues, I was moving very well. That if I could keep this up and get that stomach in order, I have a shot at finishing. These guys were literally just three jolly good fellows’ sweeping it up in the woods, having good banter while grabbing course markings. I told them at the beginning that I would be on the quieter side given my state, but just listening to them started to lift my spirits. The guys kept telling me that it was good to just keep moving, keep the legs moving, keep on going. “These are some of the things I had wished people told me when I first jumped into this, so hoping I could really help you out here man” said Don, who was wearing Born to Run style sandals and 3 inch inseam shorts. We started out at a very chill walking pace – ~30min/mile type pace. I was content to move at this pace. Stomach was still weird, and I figured my race was done. Let me just stick it out so I can get some more distance in and call it a day. But the sweepers kept saying that I was moving well, and making references to seeing me at Mile 69, Mile 96….”yeah ok, whatever that’s not happening” were the thoughts in my head. The guys would prod me to try to run on the downhills and flats, just to get the legs moving, which I obliged. Don gave me his extra bottle of Tailwind and told me to sip on it periodically, get some liquid calories into me, see if it works. Drink it slowly, let the body digest it, and go from there. Get those calories and hydration in. The Tailwind was holding down in my stomach, at this point, a huge win for me. One other sweeper mentioned Payday bars. Told me that it always helps his stomach when he has problems. Described the protein and salt from the nuts, and the sugar from the caramel to me. Sounded like it might work, but was completely unappetizing. So I didn’t bother with it. But he kept mentioning it to me. “It’s like throwing paint on the wall. Gotta see what sticks. Don’t quit until the magic happens.” So I took the payday bar and started out with one bite. Went down ok and I could feel myself getting better. Took another couple bites over the next 10-15 minutes and incrementally felt better each time. Payday seemed to be working. Only problem was that we were still moving at a pedestrian pace, particularly as the trail turned more technical. “Ok. We have 2 hours to go 7 miles to make the cut-off at Hyak (54), that’s about a 17 min/mile pace. We have to make a decision now on if we’re going for it or not.” Don blurted out. One of the other sweepers said something about “don’t think we’re going to make it, that last mile was a 27 min mile”. I don’t know what got into me. But that Portes competitive nature that almost instantly kicks in when someone tells me I can’t do something awoke inside of me. I immediately took off ahead into the darkness, all of a sudden running at 12 min miles (a more normal pace for these things). “I did not come here to get stopped at 54 miles” I repeated to myself over and over. The fire was lit from under me again, and I was moving. I was running through the technical paths, up slight uphills, using the poles to propel. Came racing into the Mile 49 aid station around 1:27am. Rachel, EZ, and Cisco were standing there like ghosts. Clearly they thought they were picking me up to go home, that the race was over. “No! I’m gunna make that cut-off! Get my stuff ready!” I yelled out (not sure if I yelled this out or I just yelled it in my head, who the hell knows at this point). Racheal and Cisco got my flasks refilled quickly. “Take it all. Take it all!” one volunteer yelled as I went straight for the plate of Payday bars. I swear I saw Cisco holding an unopened beer in his hand; turns out he was getting ready to drink because he thought the race was over! Turns out he was telling people that i had a chance to make the cut-off if I left before 1:30am. It was 1:27. EZ told me that I had to run the whole way to Hyak if I wanted to make it, no stopping. Everyone told me to get outta there, and I took off back into the darkness with one of the sweepers who was carrying a plate of perogies. Props to him for keeping pace with me while taking those down. For some reason he thought the cut-off was 330am not 3am, but I was sure it was 3am and had him check my spreadsheet for me since I didn’t want to stop running. I knew that we had the “ropes course” coming up (more on that later) which would slow me down significantly, but then had the flat 2 mile mining tunnel afterward to make up for it. That was where I would push the pace and make up time if I needed. Anyhow, sweeper kept telling me I just needed to be out of the aid station by 3am. “Just check in, grab a ton of food and leave the aid station. Then stop and do what you gotta do, just be out of the aid station.” We caught up to a runner who was walking very slowly, he looked like he was injured. I felt bad for him but at the same time it felt damn good to have caught up to someone for a change. The sweeper decided that he should try to help this guy out, so told me to keep up the momentum and get to that cut-off. I was mentally prepping myself for the ropes, which was basically a ½ mile of a super steep quasi off-trail downhill that had fixed ropes set up to assist you in getting down. Everyone says you have to take your time here, be smart and don’t hurt yourself. But the adrenaline was pumping and I had no time to waste. Pretty much made the right turn into the ropes and dove right in. Basically I boot skied down, using the ropes as a safety to grab onto in case I actually did slip (rather than use the ropes to actually go step by step). Not sure how fast I actually moved through this portion, but am sure I cruised through it much quicker than the average runner. I almost ate it a number of times boot skiing, but like I said, no time to waste. Finally I emerged onto a gravel road. Did not really see any course markers so whipped out my phone and checked the map just to be sure. Took an easy run along the gravel, eating some payday and hydrating. Wanted to prep myself for the tunnel, where I told myself I would move fast and make up time. I got to the entrance of the tunnel – a towering 100 ft high tunnel in the middle of the mountain in the dark (it was 2am by this point). This was straight out of a horror movie. Literally made the sign of the cross, told

other-side
The tunnel during daytime. It was not daytime.

myself “25 minutes. In and out. 25 minutes” and took off into the darkness. This is a 2.3 mile long tunnel; you literally couldn’t see anything except for the fog from your breathing, which added to the creepiness. Most people know that the one thing that scares me most are ghosts. Oddly enough I wasn’t scared of ghosts here. Just had weird thoughts of the tunnel collapsing and trapping me in the mountain. Well, gotta move faster so that doesn’t happen! My mind started playing tricks on me because I kept seeing what looked like a light out of the tunnel, but in reality was just some white reflecting marker in the tunnel. I wondered if this is what people meant by the hallucinations that happen upon 100 mile runners later in races. Eventually I came across various skeleton props, put there by the aid station volunteers. Nothing like a little extra motivation to get you to push more. I ended up passing one other guy who was walking, he seemed like he was gassed and ready to call it a night. I couldn’t rely on my gps here but was counting down those minutes from 25. Wait did I enter the tunnel at 2:07 or 2:08? Dammit! Next thing you know another light starts approaching and approaching fast. Guess who it was? It was Born to Run Don! Here to run me into Hyak. I enjoyed this last stretch with him as he prodded me to pick up the pace. The tunnel was endless, but at this point I was running low 9s pace, not bad for Mile 54!! Finally, the end of the tunnel appeared, another flat ½ mile on gravel, and boom! I had arrived into Hyak at 2:38am, 22 minutes before the cut-off. I was galvanized. I was excited. I was ready to go. I was back from the dead.

IMG-2039 (1)
2:30am and back from the dead. Getting ready with Keem for 54-69

Miles 55-69 – “You pull this off, this will be the greatest comeback ever”

Only one problem at Hyak. Where the hell was my crew and pacer?!?!?! I must’ve arrived way faster than expected that I beat them here!! Well, no time to waste so I better refill my food and liquids, and tell the aid captain to tell my pacer to catch up to me whenever they arrive. But wait, what’s that white Chevy parked over there with lights on! Ah, there they are chillin’ in the car! Went over and knocked on the window “Hey guys I’m here”. “Oh he’s already here!” everyone scampered out and got to work. God this crew was the best. Some of the stuff I wanted was still in the car, Rachel sprinting back and forth to get it for me. For the first time all race changed into a new shirt, new buff, and new hat. The tunnel was humid af so needed a clothes change particularly now that we were exposed to the cold of the night. “Umm, where is Keem guys??” upon noticing that my pacer was MISSING. Turns out he was in the car getting ready. Haha. “When’s the next cutoff?” “Mile 69 at 8am. We have 5 hours to go 15 miles. We are going to make up a ton of time on this stretch.” Keem replied. We headed out onto what is one of the fastest stretches of the course: 4 miles of flattish road followed by a 5 mile climb and 6 mile downhill, all on a gravel road. If you’re feeling strong and feeling good, this is a great stretch to make up some time. However, I had just expended a ton of energy getting to the cut-off, so I wasn’t really feeling great and needed to walk for a bit.

Keem was an excellent pacer. That self-deprecating mofo will tell you otherwise, but he truly did everything right. He prodded to me to run for bits and pieces, he periodically checked in to see if there were any pain points that needed to be addressed. Every 10-15-20 minutes he made sure I was eating and drinking, this time it was 2 peanut M&Ms. His plan was this – run the flats as best we can, climb the uphill at 20ish min/mile pace, then make up time on the downhill. We definitely went slower than he wanted on the road as it took me longer to get going again, but we gained some momentum into the uphill slog. Keem set the pace: 20-21mi/mile, and I just needed to stick with him. Whenever I fell behind he prodded me to pick it back up. “Stick with me, I need you to stick with me”. To pass the time and distract me, Keem would tell me random stories, stories I won’t repeat here as some are NSFW. He also told me Andrew Luck retired. Good thing we always push our fantasy draft to the latest possible date. We actually made decent progress here, passing a couple folks including one dude whose light was pretty much dying. Felt bad for him but I wasn’t about to wait around so he could use our light. As has become standard in my races lately, I ran a ton of math in my head, deducing that I needed at least 7.5 hours to get through the final stretch, 78-100 (I only remembered this because I had told EZ just a week before the race “hope you’re ready for 7.5 hrs of moving time”). This meant if I got to Mile 69 around 8am (the cut-off) that would leave me 4 hours for the Trail from Hell (which was the average total time it took for a runner), leaving me only 7 hours to get through the hardest stretch. This would not be enough time to complete the race. As we climbed, I progressively got tired. Not tired as in my legs were failing me. Tired as in sleep deprived. At this point I had been moving for 20-21 hours, and just felt like closing my eyes to sleep. Keem noticed I was practically falling asleep. Last time I ever did that walking I was a 3 year old wandering the mean streets of Astoria, Queens. True story ask the fam. Keem told me that I just needed to hang on until the sunrise, and I will get that burst of energy. Just wait for the sun man. Wait for the sun to rise. Impressively enough, I had not taken much caffeine or any advil yet; I was in a precarious situation with my hydration and did not want to take the risk of screwing it all up. I also told him that I was worried about trying to make up time on the downhill – my anterior tendons were in a lot of pain, exacerbated on downhills. We finally got to Keechelus Ridge aid at the top of the climb (Mile 63), where Keem told me to take a look at the food and pick something appetizing. Nothing. Nothing looked good. I was so exhausted I just leaned on one of the tables while he filled up my flasks. I was able to down some broth and ginger ale at least. We continued onto the downhill section just as the sun began to rise. Keem was right. That sunrise really does something to you, I started to feel like a new man with another burst of energy. It was beautiful up there. At first, we started out pretty slow going down, something like 18-19min/mile pace. But at this pace we would be arriving at 69 around 730am, leaving me with less than 7.5 hours for that final stretch. Not good. So I finally spoke up and told Keem that we would need to pick up the pace if I was going to make this happen, otherwise it ain’t gunna happen. And pick up the pace we did. I forgot about the pain in my shins, and we were able to speed up into 14 min miles. I can’t remember for the life of me what we talked about here, but Keem was prepping for my arrival into Kachess Lake by texting the crew what they needed to have ready. I would bark out random things to him “Chamois. Ginger ale. Gatorade. Hat. M&Ms. Chamois! Wait did I say that already?” We definitely made up good time here, and eventually got down into the 12-13min/mile range. “You pull this off, this will be the greatest comeback ever.” Another thing Keem noticed was that I had mentioned to him my pee was much less yellow than earlier in the race – a sign my hydration was back in order. So he suggested that later on prior to the final stretch maybe my hydration will be good enough to start popping Advils, which would mask the shin pain and help me get to the finish. Not a bad thought, and one that would come into play later. Finally arrived into Kachess Lake aid station around 720am, 40 minutes before the cut-off. This would leave me with 7h40min assuming 4 hrs through the Trail from Hell, good good. However, still a tight cushion. 

Miles 70-75 – “Another. Step. Forward!”

I was surprised to see Don at the aid station as he had told me he would be at Mile 96, but here he was hanging out. We did another shirt change and buff change, ditched the headlamp. Refilled my flasks with water and watered-down Gatorade (my preferred IMG-2063electrolyte mix at that moment, as I was sick of Gnarly and Nuun). Keem gave Cisco the rundown on what was working for me “M&Ms every 10-15 minutes, make sure he’s hydrating”. I announced to everyone what the strategy from here on out was going to be as follows: “If we’re gunna have a shot at this thing, I need at least 7.5 hours from the time I pick up Evan at 77. Therefore, to pick up extra time we gotta try to go through Trail from Hell as fast as possible. It is daytime now so it might be easier to do.” I was feeling confident about this section. Boy would I be dead wrong. You see, this section, actually named the “Trail from Hell”, is a hellacious, technical section with short steep ups and downs along the side of beautiful Lake Kachess. Most parts of it aren’t even really a trail. You cannot move fast through this section. Well, you could try and then risk taking one misstep and tumbling 500 feet into the lake. The legendary Gary Robbins, for those who know who he is (check out Where Dreams Go to Die on YouTube, I promise it’s worth it and you’ll beat Chudi and Kate to watching it), holds the FKT (fastest known time) for this 6 mile section. How fast? 79 minutes. A 13:10 min/mile pace. I told Cisco the average mile time for this section was 29 min / mile based on historical splits, but that we should aim for 20 min miles to bank more time for the final section with EZ. We started pretty well, running and passing a few runners who were just walking and yelled out to us to be careful. But Cisco and I were pretending to be back in Bear Mountain all over again, where the trails are rocky and rooty. This was home turf for us. Moved quickly on the downhill where we reached a big creek. Ran through it cuz no biggie. But then my shoes got waterlogged. Really weird because this never happened in Idaho, even with the 3 foot creek crossing at Mile 43. Odd, but this was the beginning of the struggles. The waterlogged shoes dragged my feet, slowing me down until we hit the actual crappy parts of the trail, which slowed us to a crawl. The trail was magnificent, don’t get me

Trail From Hell
Best representation of the Trail from Hell I could find

wrong. The lake was beautiful, the sun was shining. A number of times Cisco caught me staring at the lake instead of watching my steps. Wish he snapped some pics or vids but all good, had to focus on the task at hand. The sudden struggle and slow to a turtle’s pace was swift and violent. Steep short sections both up and down, and I was walking at tiptoe-like speed. I was beginning to feel lethargic, and my anterior tendons were just killing me. I had no idea how was I going to carry on with the rest of the race. Things are kind of blurry here, but I do remember complaining a lot to Cisco about my inability to move faster despite his prodding. A handful of people who I hadn’t even realized I had passed now caught up, moving much quicker than I was. Cisco resorted to a couple of things, including pointing out every next course marker, yelling “Another. Step. Forward!”, and blasting some Yotto and Hot Skin periodically off his phone. Most know I never use music, but not going to lie, it was real nice to hear some of that out on the trail. I definitely started hallucinating here too, seeing white cars in the trees and pointing them out to Cisco, who would look at me like I was crazy. We stopped a number of times, once to take my jacket off, once to re-apply Chamois (at this point anti-chafe was already a lost cause, won’t go into detail here but you probably know), and once because I got stung by a bee. That bee sting caused me to yell out in a ton of pain and I almost doubled over. But this was actually a blessing in disguise – it masked the pain in my shins! I also finally decided it was time to take one advil. I needed to do something for this pain if I was to have a shot at this thing, so f it, pop the damn painkiller. The trail seemed to drag on forever. The lake had ended, but hell continued. Steep ups, steep downs. Where the hell is the end of this thing! We were averaging 30 min miles here. No time was being made up. At one point I looked at my spreadsheet and saw a Mile 81.8 cut-off at 1230pm. No idea what time it was when we saw this but I thought to myself, wow, we will miss that one. I should just drop at the 75 aid station because I’ve got nothing left. But I kept wondering to myself, how the hell do I drop at Mile 75 when I have to hike up another 2 miles to Mile 77 where the crew was parked? Drop there and then go back down to 75 to tell them? In theory, I wanted to drop. But logistically and practically, I wouldn’t be able to. Guess I’ll just get timed out at the 81.6 cut-off. I never said any of this aloud, so Cisco never heard it as he continuously prodded me forward. Plus the damn aid station was taking forever to arrive. But suddenly I saw it. No hallucination this time. A real white tent and Chudi and Kate were standing there! I guess they hiked down to check where I was. As soon as I rolled in, the aid captain told us we needed to be in and out. We had a cut-off to make. No time to waste. “Push him!” he yelled towards Cisco.

 

 

Miles 76-82 – “Time for Some Goggins Shit”

Cisco turned into a drill sergeant (sort of). He set the pace for what we needed to do. And willed me to keep up with him. 17 min miles is what we needed. From 75 to 81.6. All uphill.  “I don’t care if you have to cry right now or hate me. You are going to give everything you got and keep this pace.” I leaned forward and willed myself up the mountain. I passed one runner who was casually hiking up with his pacers; clearly he was not trying to make the cut-off.  Physically, I was giving it all I had. Mentally, I figured I was pushing for a lost cause. There was no way we were going to make it up.

IMG-2118.JPG

My watch had been wrapped around my pack during this stretch since I was charging it (I am not fast enough yet to take advantage of COROS’ superior to Garmin battery life), so I never had a chance to look at how we were tracking. I had two miles to get to the rest of the crew, where we would be switching Big EZ for the final stretch. Yet again, it seemed like forever, but at least Chudi and Kate were up ahead yelling out how much further to get to the crew at 77. We made a right turn, then banked left, and Chudi yelled it was up ahead. And finally, saw Keem and Evan up in the distance, waiting for me to appear. As soon as they spotted me I saw them motion the others and everyone sprang into action again. Cisco ran up to get my flasks filled ahead of time. Dayna and Rachel grabbing other items. EZ putting the pacer bib and his pack on. These guys literally looked like a NASCAR pit crew. It truly was a sight to see, and I owe them the world for it. I didn’t stop here, no time to waste. I continued up up and up, and soon enough EZ caught up to me. “You are going to make that fucking cut-off” were the very first words that came out of EZ’s mouth when he got to me. 4.5 miles to the cut-off. The uphill death march continued but EZ had me moving very efficiently. We would hit a flat section and he would point out a starting spot for me to run, and an ending spot for me to switch back to walking. Whenever the grade turned flatter. It was run. Back to steeper uphills. Walk. “Come on brother. Stick with me brother.” Run for 2 minutes. Walk for another 5. Run for 2 minutes. The small short bursts of running were huge differences in something that was being measured by seconds. “30 more minutes Justin, that’s all I’m asking. Push for 30 minutes”. We must’ve had like 2 or less miles to go, with 30 minutes left. I did not think we were going to make it. Despite EZ directing me in a very confident manner, time was ticking. 15 minutes. Run. Walk. Run. Walk. Ugh more uphill, never-ending. 10 minutes left. Where the fck is this aid station. The climb up to the ridge was beautiful. But no time to enjoy. 5 minutes left. “Time for some Goggins shit right now brother. David Goggins shit right now.” It was all uphill, but I had to run, no choice left. I wish someone captured the look on my face as I pushed and pushed with everything I had left. Even if I did make this cut-off, I had nothing left. How could I possibly push through the hardest section of the entire course? Finally, we reached what looked like the top of the ridge, and it turned into a downhill. I ran and ran and ran, pushed and pushed. Where was this aid station??!?! 2 minutes to go. Oh, no. Uphill again. 1 minute to go. I had nothing, but EZ pushed up ahead and saw the aid station, just 500 ft higher. The aid station captain yelled out “Holy shit!” as I approached, with about 15 seconds to spare. Out of nowhere, I had made it. A 6.6 mile uphill death march, somehow I had pulled another rabbit out of the hat. I learned from EZ later that the crew had expected me at Mile 77 at 10:45am, with 11:10am being the latest I should show up to make it to the cut-off. I arrived at 11:15am. Wow. 27hr and 30min had elapsed. How in the world was I going to finish this thing?

Miles 83-Finish – “Buckle Up”

The volunteers at No Name Ridge aid were very nice, telling us that we didn’t have to be out of the aid station right away. Re-filled my flasks, ate some broth, poured some in a zip lock bag to go, ate some M&Ms. EZ wanted me to refuel and refill. I tried valiantly to take down some bacon, but after two bites I just couldn’t and immediately spit it out. Just one of those days. We moved on from the aid station, and EZ asked me for a full assessment. How am I feeling right now and what’s wrong, so that we can fix it now and get ready for the final push. I told him that I felt like I burnt what last bit of energy I had left making it to the cut-off and had no idea how I was gunna get through the last 17 miles. This final section is arguably the hardest stretch of the course, notwithstanding the fact that you are already 83 miles in. A bunch of steep rolling climbs including up to Thorpe Mountain which is the high point of the course at 85.4, then a series of super steep short climbs known as the Cardiac Needles through 89, and then a steep 7 mile downhill before 4 flat easy miles to the finish. If memory serves me right, EZ basically ignored my response. Had me drink up more broth and Gatorade. Told me we would walk for a mile or so to recuperate then we needed to take advantage and run all the flats and downhills we could. Told me about how the two other folks who were in the aid station when I arrived had been an hour-plus ahead of me. Then he suggested I take a nap. Yep, you heard that right. A short, couple minutes nap. I had read reports of people napping during ultras and waking up feeling refreshed. One girl took a nap for 2 minutes every 30-40 minutes for the last 40 miles of her race and it worked. So why the hell not. EZ helped me lay down, worked on my anterior tendon a bit, and I was knocked out. Almost IMG-0959instantaneously. I was definitely dreaming too. After exactly 6 minutes, I heard some voices approaching, and EZ started pulling me up, telling me we needed to get going. It was the sweepers showing up, this time one dude by the name of Nate and the other I have no idea. Just like the sweepers at Mile 43, these guys were cheery and positive, very encouraging. Two things I remember Nate saying “we’re gunna get you buckled up” and a joke cracking on the Mets. Goodness. Can’t I just escape the despair and ridicule of being a Mets fan for just one day!! He didn’t even know I was a Met fan. Given how exhausted I was, I barely reacted. Lots of steep rolling hills here, and the going was very slow. My anterior tendons were killing me and every time I tried to move faster it would hurt more. But Nate and EZ got me going on the downs and flats, telling me to just shuffle the legs, lean forward to pick up speed, and use the poles to deflect the pain. Also decided it was time to start popping some caffeine pills and “Vitamin I” aka more ibuprofen. Needed that boost. All of this got me going at a quicker pace, and eventually we caught up to a runner who I had not seen since Mile 6! She looked like she was taking a break with her pacer, so the sweepers had to stay with her. Nate told me to keep up the good work and that he expected not to see me again. We continued on, EZ periodically making sure I continued to hydrate and eat M&Ms. Passed a hiker who said that I was moving stronger than all the people he had seen ahead of me. And sure enough, I started catching a more runners. We hit the Thorpe Mtn aid station, where we had to make the ¼ mile climb up to the summit and back down. Flashbacks of Ginger Runner’s video came right back to me, aided by EZ filming me climbing up the steep switchbacks just like Gary filming Ethan. The photographer from Mile 19 was IMG-2005waiting, snapping some awesome pics. We hit the top, where EZ marked my bib with the sharpie placed up there to prove I had made it up and back. “Thorpe Mountain. The high point of the course. Primarily, downhill from here” I recited verbatim what Gary Robbins said in Ginger Runner’s video. On the way back down I ended up passing another 3 or 4 people, and high fived Nate at the aid station as he had arrived with the runner I had passed earlier. This time we stopped to refill my flasks, and Nate stuff a huge bag peanut M&Ms into EZ’s pack for the home stretch. Off we went, to take on the Cardiac Needles. For some reason I had thought we already hit the needles before Thorpe, but nope, I was wrong. The needles were coming, and EZ told me to mentally prepare for it. Push hard on the uphills, shuffle/run as best I could on the downs and flats. I ended up passing another 3? runners going through the needles, and each time I caught someone, Evan would call out the total number of people I had caught in this stretch. Some of these folks had been as much as 2 hours ahead of me. And here I was, passing them all. I didn’t realize it, but each time I saw someone ahead it gave me that extra little boost to keep fighting. The steady stream of M&Ms, Gatorade, and water kept the energy levels up. We got through the needles, moving in the 26-28 mile/pace, and finally hit French Cabin aid station at Mile 89. One of the IMG-2061volunteers told us we had about 2 hours to make the Mile 96 cut-off (6.8 miles), that we had time. But I saw another volunteer motion to EZ that we needed to move and move fast. After we left the station, EZ told me that I needed to run as fast as I possibly could, because if we arrived at Mile 96 right at 6:15pm, I would not have enough time to make it to the finish by 7pm unless I could do 11 minute miles. So I packed up my poles and took off as best I could into the downhill. Basically, I turned this into a 6.8 mile race that needed to be completed sub 2 hours (somehow, a ~17 min/mile again!) The first mile was frustrating because it ended up having a bunch of uphills and my watch split clocked a 22 min mile. The next mile we made up some of that, clocking a 15 min mile (so now 3 min behind the needed pace). The third and fourth miles we did in around 17 min miles. I was not moving fast enough. Still 3 min off. I was valiantly pushing through the steep downhills, running through rocks and IMG-2062technical sections trying to push it faster. I was hawking my watch, trying to see how we were progressing. But I just couldn’t go faster. I felt like I was losing energy. EZ noticed, and would implore me to pick it up. “The pain is going to hurt 100x more if you don’t finish this now”. “Come on now brother, Rachel is waiting for you. Get to Rachel.” The Maurten gels finally came into play again, as it was something easy to take down while running. These gave me a renewed boost of energy. But I just couldn’t move faster. We would hit random uphills, and I would get frustrated in my head. I also kept seeing white things that looked like aid station tents off into the distance, only for it to be a piece of dried out wood. The fifth mile hit. 17:13 / mile pace. Ugh not good enough. We aren’t going to make it. EZ was right about how much more this would hurt if I timed out at Mile 96, but I had begun to accept it. I was telling myself that I made a huge comeback after 43, and that there was nothing shameful about going 96 miles. I wanted to turn around to EZ and tell him that we should just walk it in because we aren’t going to make it. Lets just stop pushing and f it, walk it in. But he kept rattling off remaining distances much shorter than what my watch was telling me. During this stretch we passed two more people, the 10th and 11th person I had passed since 84. Then the sixth mile split hit my watch. 19:04 / mile pace. “It’s definitely over” I muttered to myself as I begrudgingly pushed on, making a right turn down the switchbacks and another slight left. And all of a sudden, the aid station was there. The white tent. People cheering. Holy shit. My watch was off by over .75 miles, and here I was arriving at Mile 96 at 6:08, 7 minutes to spare before the cut-off! I was instantly galvanized. I told EZ we weren’t stopping, but he already knew that and had texted the crew to have a flask of water ready for a quick pass. Asked for another Maurten for the final 4 mile push. We ran straight through the aid station as I yelled out “no stopping which direction!”. Rachel jumped in to lead the way with EZ behind me. And for the first time in 33 hours, I actually felt like I might have a shot at this thing. I think we were doing 11-12 min miles, but to me it felt like 7 min miles. If we ran at this pace we would get in around 6:54 EZ told me. I felt good about that cushion, but I knew I needed to hang on. Kept telling myself to just get to the airfield. Get to the airfield then it’s the road and you’re done. After 1.5 miles of flat easy groomed trail, we popped out onto the airfield. Now I could sense the finish. I could hear the cars of the highway. Just needed to get around this damn airfield, then pop out onto the road and get to the finish. EZ ran ahead and implored me to pick it up, telling me not to let the runner behind catch up. But I had no kick in me to go any faster than that 11:30 min / mile pace. We finally got to the road and I started looking at my watch thinking we were only 5-10 min away from the finish. That was a fast “4 mile” stretch. Just hang on for a bit longer Justin. Just a bit longer. But whoops I was way wrong. Still 2 more miles of running on road to go. At one point Rachel dropped back, but then caught right back up 30 seconds later. Turns out a combo of frozen pasta TV dinners, not really running for the past 4 months, and hittin’ dat Juul wasn’t the best combo before going on a run. But she rallied fine, and continued the charge along with EZ ahead of me. “Come on brother, don’t cut it close.” Rachel kept turning back to smile at me, she knew I was gunna finish. But I didn’t want to smile back as I didn’t want to jinx it. The comeback was not complete yet, had to get through this last stretch of road that was now turning into a slight incline. And then, finally, I saw the train tracks and the fire station off into the distance. One last ¼ mile stretch along a semi-rocky road then a right turn across the tracks and to the finish. That was all that was left. I saw freakin’ Don again.. “Sprint to the finish. Sprint now.” That’s all he said. I made that right turn and gave whatever kick I had left for the final 200 feet into the finish. 33:50:48, just under 10 minutes to spare. Came back from the dead, and got it done.

IMG-2024

Post-Race Reflection

I had expected to cry if I made it to the finish line, after all of the demons I faced on the trail. But when I got to the finish, I had nothing left. I was exhausted, physically, mentally, emotionally – incapable of any real feeling or thought. Everyone was so pumped for me, Rachel and EZ hugging me, Kate screaming while recording the finish, Chudi facetiming Cisco, Dayna, and Keem (who were at the airport to catch red eye back to NY), Don doing his leg kick in the air. But I just sat there staring into the distance, trying my best to muster a smile. It didn’t really hit me what I had just done, let alone the manner in which I got it done. Left for dead at Mile 43 and ready to quit. Somehow found new life and made it to the Hyak cut-off, then continued on and caught No Name Ridge with 15 seconds to spare, passed 11 people en route to the Mile 96 cut-off by 7 minutes, then getting to the finish with 10 min left of race time. How in the world did I pull this off? Easy. My crew, pacers, and the sweepers.

I can say with 100% certainty that I would not have made it without their undying support, encouragement, tough love, and sacrifice. They believed in me throughout the entire race even when I had already given up and made peace with the fact that I would miss the cut-off at various places. The sweepers’ positivity, cheerful banter (minus the IMG-2040Mets joke), and small suggestions were crucial to the comeback (payday bar, start shuffling to get those legs moving). The Payday bar singled-handedly turned my race around. “It’s like throwing paint on the wall. See what sticks.” Well, that payday bar stuck. “Don’t quit before the magic happens.” My pacers. My god damn pacers who willed me through the course. I would have called it quits and walked it in many times if it weren’t for them. Just by luck I had each pacer exactly where I needed them. Keem helping me to make up as much time as possible on a faster section of the course. Cisco pulling me through the nastiest technical parts. And Big EZ bringing me home on the most crucial parts. My brain had mostly shutdown over the last 15 miles and I was completely reliant on him for thought. My crew, who were literally a Nascar style pit crew, springing to action, getting everything for me in lightning quick times. These guys saw me at my worst, watching me puke everything up so early in the race looking defeated. Thank you for putting up with all my bullshit and orders. Rachel, my rock and the backbone of the whole operation, the best girlfriend a guy (and ultrarunner) could ask for, my crew chief who directed and organized everyone (and paced me into the finish too) and probably got less sleep than I did the entire weekend. I always make it a point to thank the aid station volunteers everytime I leave the station, but I realize I didn’t do that nearly enough for my crew. These guys were so invested in my success, I don’t know how I’ll ever repay them (Cisco even broke his no smoking habit to de-stress himself after he switched off to Evan). As I wrote on IG, I owe them my first-born son, a lifetime debt that will never be repaid. I didn’t earn the belt buckle, they did.

IMG-1977

I did finally shed a few tears writing this report. Part of it was re-living the experience thanks to Kate, who made an awesome post-race video that you should watch: Justin Portes Cascade Crest But going through every congratulatory text or family threads or the crew thread of people updating each other on my progress, I could see just how much people from all over were rooting for my success. The damn tracker even said DNF at one point, which led to my brother sending me a nice cheer up text. But 10 minutes later it said I was on Mile 63 so of course he told me “ignore that last nice text”. My aunt was texting people that she needed to go to church again to pray harder for my success, “please follow tracker and keep me updated”. EZ told me at some point in the 80s “I’ll tell you what man. Your friends love you. You’ve got a good group here.” Random people at the finish, staff, volunteers alike, came over to chat me and congratulate me after. The community of ultrarunners is very tight-knit and supportive. But it feels good to have people all over so invested in me in whatever way possible, and I hope I can repay that somehow in the future. That includes everyone who contributed to my fundraiser, so thank you again.

So a lot of people wonder: What’s next? Was it worth it? Would you do it again? It really took me awhile to comprehend what I had accomplished. This was, after all, a three year plan culminating with a 100 mile race. I have gone into great lengths in prior reports as to what ultrarunning has done for me and why I love to do it (just ask me if you want to know why). But to be completely honest, I did not enjoy the vast majority of this race. Don’t get me wrong the trails and views were beautiful and that’s huge portion of why I do this stuff. But unlike past races where there is a healthy balance of highs and lows, this one had wayyyy more lows than highs because of the stomach issues. But that’s what ultrarunning is all about. Shit will almost always hit the fan, and it’s up to you to figure out how to troubleshoot and deal with it. Plus, most people will tell you that the difference between 50 and 100 miles is all mental, and this couldn’t have been more true here. Some say that completing a 100 mile race will change you. Going through everything one does while out there on the trail, in the mountains and forest, running through the night, dealing with whatever hand is dealt to you, something does happen. I can feel the change in me, I just don’t know what it is yet. But I’m excited to find out. So to answer the question. Yes, it was well worth it. Worth going into the pain cave, hitting the lowest of lows, battling demons, digging deeper than I’ve ever gone, and emerging victorious. Coming back from the dead. And yes, I am already thinking about what 100 mile race to go for next year.

IMG-2039

PS I tried to quantify with statistics just how crazy this comeback was. The average runner historically took about 8hrs and 14 minutes to get through Miles 78-100; I completed it in 7hrs 35 min. From 89 to 100, the average runner took 3h 15 min. I did it in 2h 35min, averaging ~14min miles for that last stretch. The first 50 miles took me 16h 30min, the second half took me 17h 20min – practically an even split I would say for this distance. Granted, I had no choice but to push it hard. But still pretty fckin’ awesome after the disastrous first half of a race.

PPS Evan and I emailed the sweepers to thank them profusely for their role in getting me to the finish, here is what they had to say:

Justin!

It is very nice of you to take time to send this e-mail.  That says a lot about you.

We have all been exactly where you were.  As Tom pointed out, your legs were fine, so once you got some calories and got through the low, you had a chance.  That being said, as much as anyone does to encourage or suggest do x or do y…it all comes down to you.  At that point it was all up to you, and you did it.  It is very hard to be at the low and still continue, to want to stop, but not stop.  Tom is a great encourager, and I am sure that he helped you to push it, but being where you were and still pushing through it is motivating for all of us.

So, thank you for letting us be part of your 100 miler.

Very, very well done.

Daro

Hi Justin.

Thank you for reaching out.  Congrats on your first 100 finish.  What an epic performance!

As Daro said, it was inspiring to witness you hang in there through that really tough stretch, while you were up against the cutoff, no less.  You getting up and walking out of that first aid station with us showed a ton about what you are made of, regardless of if you made it to the finish.

I also echo Daro’s sentiments that it was you who put all the pieces together.  We were happy to provide some encouragement and a few ideas (Payday Bars… who knows why), but it was your grit, your “faith,” your problem-solving that got it done.   And, t was really cool to play a small part in your first 100-mile finish.

Welcome to the 100 mile finisher club!   Hope to see you on the trails again sometime.

Tom

“Don’t quit before the magic happens.”

Hey Evan – I totally remember you and Justin!

After we saw Justin get back to rolling, Damien and I caught that other pacer/runner and stayed with them until she dropped at French Cabin. I had a good feeling when we never saw you guys after Thorp. When I got to the fire station I saw Justin’s name and was incredibly stoked for him and impressed that he turned it around from No Name. I’m even more impressed that he put up with my jokes in his condition.

The way I see it, each runner deserves a great experience and to feel that they have the whole race’s support, because they do. If the last thing any runner encounters at Cascade Crest is the grim reaper of ultrarunning, then that reaper might as well encourage him/her to stay in motion and push until they absolutely can’t safely go anymore. Justin seemed like he wasn’t injured, just needed a change of headspace to get rolling, so I’m very happy that he got his mind right and hammered it out.

Send my congratulations to Justin for a gutsy performance and wish him a quick recovery. I’m sure he appreciates your friendship and commitment to getting him over the line

A Bunch of Pics (the last pic is the best):

IMG-0973IMG-2059IMG-0983IMG-1971IMG-0350IMG-0951IMG-0942IMG-1914IMG-1910IMG-2043IMG-2151

IMG-1893IMG-2032

IMG-2178

McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 Mile 2018

McDowell 50 Miler – 12-1-18

A note on this report – I started to write it out, but got lazy / wanted to keep it short so decided I would just keep the written out portions of training and reflection, but use my quick notes for the race recap itself. This will keep people’s attention easier too.

This was not the original planned race. As a matter of fact, this was not even the original planned distance for the Fall racing season. The Chicago Marathon was supposed to be the main race for the fall. But after running a slower than expected time at the Zion 100k (plus getting lost for 2 hours), I wanted to take another crack at the 50+ mile distance for the fall. The first race I signed up for was the Ray Miller 50 Miler in the Malibu Mountains. But both BOK and Big EZ wanted to do the North Face 50 Miler in SF, so I pivoted and signed up for that instead. However, both races ended up getting cancelled due to the California wildfires. Enter McDowell 50 Miler in Arizona, 45 min north of Phoenix. Race was two weeks after the North Face one, course looked beautiful, and race organized by Jamil Coury, a Barkleys veteran and a dude I follow on the ‘gram. Back to the desert we go. Sadly, I would not be racing with BOK or Big EZ, as BOK chose a race in San Diego the same date as the SF one (I still wanted to go to SF to visit my cousins), and the Big EZ, well he decided he wanted to become Bigger EZ (fat). My crew chief, Rachel, would be unable to make the trip either. Time for another solo adventure!

Training

Training program followed a similar structure as the Zion 100k, but I did make some modifications that I believed would be improve my overall strength and speed:

  • I cut back on the b2b long run on Sundays, topping out at 10 miles instead of 15. In place of those lost miles, I began an ultra-running strength training program that included lower body lifting – squats, lunges, deadlifts, calf raises.
  • The first half of training would focus on track speedwerk as opposed to hill repeats, to get ready for Chicago. I originally did not want to do this, but upon seeing my brother get faster during the summer, I decided this was necessary just for peace of mind that I would be faster.
  • I started drinking my Whey Protein / BCAA mix after runs, instead of going straight into intermittent fasting – I wanted to see if this improved my recovery post-runs.
  • I decided not to give up alcohol or red meat for training, but just in 1-2 weeks leading up to the race I would cut out red meat.
img-0458
Heading into the forest from Mt Beacon

Training got off to a rough start due to our bi-annual #ManTrip to Ibiza, which effectively took me out of commission for two weeks (one week on the trip, then the second week being sickly and breaking out into rashes). But I ended up getting my shit together and had a solid month of training leading up to the Chicago Marathon in early October. A few notes on this:

  • Speedwerk sessions (400 meter track repeats) got off to a rough start, particularly the second one when I had to go number 2 so badly that I cut the workout short and raced back to my apartment. But, I had another running “epiphany” during my last speed workout. Why? Because I tested out the Nike Vaporfly 4% kicks for the time and oh. my. god. What sorcery is this?? The repeats felt so much easier, and I maintained the same sub 6 min pace for each repeat through to the last repeat. Wow. I only snagged the Vaporflys because my brother had bought them earlier and had the same type of revelation. I couldn’t give him any unnecessary advantage.
  • Instead of tapering for Chicago, it was full systems go onto the trails with two heavy trail runs the two weekends leading up to Chicago (4 hour run, 5 hour run). I believe this was one of the key factors in how the race turned out, as the climbing pushed my cardio and VO2 max up right before the race. The week of, I noticed a material step up in my cardio, able to run at faster pace at a lower heart rate. Definitely was ready to rock out at Chicago.
  • You can check my quick race notes on the Chicago Marathon at the end of this report, but I broke a lot of rules for this race – new shirt, new sleeves, different running socks, new running shoes (Vaporflys) that I had only gone as far as 7 miles in. These are all big no no’s. Even our charity coordinators were looking at me like I was crazy the morning of the race. But none of that mattered because I rolled in and dropped a 3:37 AND a negative split race, for a 13 minute PR. Yet again, Chicago brought the magic. And those Vaporflys, man. My first reaction when I finished was wow. I’m not that beat up, maybe I could’ve gone harder. Ha.

img-0937

The following month post Chicago would be the biggest month of training, where we layered in higher volumes on the trails, with more climbing. I decided to audible our training plan for the final three weekends to: Bear Mountain repeats, 50K race in NJ, and Bear Mountain repeats. I decided it would be better to get a good “running” workout in rather than three straight “climbing” workouts. What I had begun to realize during this training block was that I was so fixated on climbing – getting as much elevation gain as possible, that I neglected my running, and my speed work. So, while my legs had gotten strong and able to climb, my running was slow. The 50K was very runnable, and I was very pleased with my performance. My legs felt very strong, and I felt like I could’ve easily done the 50 miler. For Keem, he felt his legs pretty shot by Mile 20, so this was the perfect wake up call for his legs to get some running in.

Unfortunately for me, that week would be my final big week of training, cut short by one week due to having my final round case study presentation the following week. I made sure to get in a massive climbing workout on the treadmill two weeks before race day – 2.5+ hours on the treadmill climbing at 30% incline. For the first time in god knows how long, I had to put on music. As you can imagine, 2.5 hours on a treadmill is boring as fck!

As was the case during Zion, I almost never hit my weekly mileage target. Not feeling it, time on feet took longer than expected, ran out of time, for whatever reason I was always short. But again, I never believed this to be a problem – a training plan is meant to be flexible. Sometimes life gets in the way,

I made noticeable gains with my strength training. That program utilized the periodization concept – endurance phase with higher reps lower weight, followed by a strength phase with lesser reps more weight, and a power phase that had even less reps and even heavier weight. Overall, I was very excited to see how the speedwerk/Chicago Marathon combined with improved strength would impact my performance for the 50 miler.

As far as nutrition was concerned – I experimented with chip sandwiches as I saw a girl in the VT100 doing this (literally two slices of white bread + chips). But the sandwiches kept getting soggy, and it was too much of a pain to have to make the sandwich fresh during a run break. But BOK discovered that Kmart sells Baked Lays (I had been looking for Baked Lays for months in the East Village), and that became the go to nutritional source. But the real breakthrough came in the form of Maurten Gels. Finally, Maurten decided to roll out their version of the gel – a clean 100 calorie 25g carb energy gel that got rid of all the other crap in normal gels that would fuck your stomach up. Normally, I can only stomach 2 maybe 3 GUs during one long run / race. But with these gels, I could just keep eating them. I ended up taking down maybe 5 gels during Chicago and needed nothing else to supplement. And they had a much better consistency, it was literally like eating a flavorless Jell-O. The one downside was the cost – literally the double the price of a GU. But I’m a Portes. Since when did that stop me from acquiring or consuming something?

Extended Taper = No Bueno

The North Face race was officially cancelled by Wednesday, the week of the race. No problem for me, I’ll just sign up for the McDowell race two weeks later, and get in one more big hill repeat workout + one more big trail run workout while I’m out in SF. Given the horrible air quality was literally engulfing most of the state, we had to drive far to find clean air. This meant an awesome day trip to Yosemite. That’s right – 5 hour drive east to Yosemite, trail run for 4 hours, then a 5 hour drive back to SF. Yosemite was beautiful, and Rachel and I were able to get some awesome trails and climbing in. Unfortunately, Rachel rolled her ankle near the top of the trail, 3 miles out from the parking lot. But she’s a trooper and toughed it all the back down even as the darkness took over (lesson learned, ALWAYS carry your torch on hikes and runs, because you never know what will happen).

img-2404

Unfortunately post the SF trip, something happened to my fitness in those last two weeks leading up to McDowell. My legs were feeling a bit tired, particularly my right IT band and left peroneal tendons. These didn’t worry me, usually something manageable so I chalked it up to taper tantrum pains. But what did worry me was my breathing. My breathing was all out of wack – unable to control my heart rate on even the easiest of 3-5 milers. Not sure if the SF air impacted me, or Yosemite wasn’t clean enough for 4-5 hours of running, but my VO2 max was declining. Eventually, the Tuesday before the race, after running a painful 2 miles on the treadmill with an elevated heartrate, I had a mini meltdown. Rachel was the one who calmed me down, giving me a nice little pep talk about how hard I’ve trained for this, that I was ready, and that even if things were not ideal, I’ll find a way to fight through it. In her words “suck it up, buttercup”.

Race Recap

Race week:

  • Banked a lot of sleeping leading into the race (8-8.5hrs per night), knowing Friday night likely to be less sleep
    • Sure enough, flight delayed 2 hours, didn’t land till 930pm, didn’t get to Airbnb till after 10pm
  • Didn’t get to bed till 1130pm, not ideal at all but was counting on having banked sleep all week
  • Carb load began Wednesday, followed usual pattern with big ass brunch Friday. Normally eat pasta Friday for dinner but because of flight no chance to do so, ate a cheese pizza in the airport after landing instead
  • How did my body feel?
    • Breathing still a mess – 2 mile run on treadmill was awful and started to get chest pains too
    • Shakeout run was much better but HR did spike towards end of run
    • Legs weren’t feeling the best – left peroneal tendon hurting, both hips / IT bands not at full strength
  • How was my mindset?
    • As a result of above, mindset was all screwed up – was worried about fitness for the race, etc.
    • Rachel gave me good pep talk on Tuesday – “suck it up, buttercup”
    • Tried to get my mindset right, but guess this was always in back of mind
    • Comedies on plane helpful for relaxing somewhat (Joe Rogan on Netflix)

Race day:

  • Woke up 450am, ate bagel w/ butter, made quesadillas.
  • Goal was to leave by 550am, started taping toes by 525am but this took longer than expected. Last poop plus brushing teeth and I didn’t leave till 558am
  • Arrived around 640am, just 20 min before start. Way too close for comfort, but everything right there so wasn’t hard to check in drop bags and wait to use bathroom one more time. All good. Would’ve preferred to arrive closer to 615/20 as originally planned. Was a bottleneck paying fee to enter the park that I did not account for.
  • Race start – first 25 miles pretty dang runnable with some rolling hills but not too steep
  • Way too many issues controlling heartrate in first 10 miles – spiking by Miles 4-6, legit thought I might have issues completing the race – started thinking about DNF captions for IG haha
  • Kim Teshima lookalike who I was also trying to keep up with – she ate shit in the first mile “im fine, just embarrassed”, wasn’t Kim
    • Slowly lost this group I had been with, was demoralizing as well
  • Forced myself to really slow down to keep HR in check, 11+ min miles
  • Felt good coming into Mile 11 aid station, texted Rach “first 10 miles disaster, but think I got it under control now, time to werk”
    • Loop around for 7 miles before coming back to Mile 11 aid station at Mile 18 – still runnable, trying to keep HR in check
  • As we were approaching Mile 18 aid station, heard some dude tell another person that we were on pace for 20 miles in 4 hours, which is solid
    • This galvanized me and I felt much better
    • First time looked at my checklist times and saw that I was over an hour ahead of 12 hour pace coming into this aid station
    • Loved the aid station captain she was hilarious, service bloody mary mix, liquor, beer, joking that she had “coke and heroin” as well
    • Packed up third flask for next stretch since it was 10 miles between aid
  • Legs wanted to run run run here as lots of runnable trail but HR and breathing said slow slow slow – was frustrating here as well but was feeling good
  • Miles 25-28 a slog of a climb on technical rock – felt fine power walking up this, wonder if I could’ve gone faster though
  • Older blonde lady blew by me on the climb then went off on the downhills, what a beast
  • Caught up to a skinny fit looking dude at the top, who needed a break cuz he was breathing so heavily – this also galvanized me to run on the downhills. “I’m here complaining about my breathing but listen to this dude! I’m perfectly fine”
  • Got to Mile 28 aid station where I ate and prepped for the monstrous climb ahead
    • I came in and was still about 20ish minutes ahead of 12 hour pace
    • Some chick was coming down from the climb in a Santa skirt – she turned out to the be the second place finisher
    • A couple of people entered after me but left before me, I need to move faster
    • Couple I was tracking was still there as wife was changing socks, but they left few min ahead
  • Climb up Thompson peak was a hell of a climb, 2.3 miles to the top, 1500ft of gain, but majority of that 1500ft gain (prolly 1000+ was in the last mile or so)
    • Had to walk diagonally up the road creating switchbacks to lessen the steepness – some parts definitely 50% inclines
    • Would’ve been great to have poles here
    • Actually made decent time here, passed one person
    • On way down counted how decent number of people who were behind me, 30 something people, plus 1 person I passed
  • Got back to Mile 33 aid station, three people came in after and left before me. Man I take too long in these stations. But this was the most important pit stop so it was ok – needed to change into long sleeve and grab headlamp. First point I started drinking coke.
    • Left this aid station at 8:18, spent 16 minutes in there. Probably still too long but I wanted to organize and keep my pack cleaned up. Figured I could still get to sub 12 or close if I pushed it.
  • Had my eye on the old man the whole way to the next aid, we both eventually passed the lady who was quick through the aid stations, passed her on slightly technical descent as she was moving slow there. I wasn’t necessarily pushing to pass this guy moreso trying to push to get to sub 12.
    • Passed the old man with ½ mile into Mile 38 aid station, but he came in and then left before me. He was ahead of me for awhile but I noticed he would go slower on the ups and the downs, so I would make up time.
  • Hit last real big climb right before heading into start/finish aid station (Mile 42)
    • Saw him look back to see where I was before the aid station, I came in about 15/20 seconds after
  • Plan was to move quickly through remaining stations – I saw old man changing and grabbing headlamps so I decided to make my move and be in and out within 45 seconds – grabbed coke grilled cheese and left
  • Last 8 miles finally needed headlamp (630pm) – BD Icon headlamp super bright didn’t need to use the handheld flash light
    • Saw 4 people hiking, so caught up to them running and passed them
  • Mile 44 aid station grabbed a coke and refilled one flask to top off – was in and out in 10 seconds cuz wanted to stay ahead of the 5 people I passed
  • Last 6 miles I was happy with the fact I was moving decently compared to Utah – able to still run the flats, though the downs were technical so bit harder and ups I just walked – 11ish m`in pace while running 15/16 min while walking
  • Also couldn’t stop thinking about the fuckin’ Annabelle or Nun movie – this made me want to go faster but also made the 6 miles a drag (cousin in SF made us watch it while out there)
  • Could see headlamps off into the distance and I thought I was making progress in catching them but alas, never did
  • Couple of people from the short night races caught me while they were running fast – at first I was like wtf! Then saw different color bib
  • Finished 12:33 and felt strong and good finishing. I was remarking to myself that my leg strength was intact it was just my cardio fitness that took a hit.
  • Old man finished 8 minutes behind me, he too had overtaken the same 4 people
  • He remarked that he was moving fast but had no idea if I was ahead or behind
    • Turns out this dude has been running ultras since the 90s, says at one point he held the record for most 100s completed in a year – encouraged me to move into 100s (which is the plan!)

Nutrition

  • Carb loading generally went well – only missed exception was having to eat a pizza at 930pm Friday for dinner since no access to pasta during flight – don’t think this was a problem but wasn’t the routine
  • Basically tried to eat every 35-40 minutes.
  • Maurten Gels – definitely a life saver – much easier to take down and to use as emergency nutrition – I think I ended up taking down about 12 in total – obviously got tired of the taste after awhile but because the Maurtens go down easily and don’t fuck the stomach up, could just force it down when needed
  • Yet again, name of the game was just adapting to what the body and taste buds wanted at a given moment – hard to predict
  • After Mile 38 aid station, stopped drinking Gnarly as I was tired of it – switched to water (which tasted more refreshing) + salt pills
  • Ended up taking 3 caffeine salt pills and 5 regular salt pills – basically took 1 caffeine salt pill to start at like Mile 18, then switched to the regulars, then used the caffeine ones later for the boost
  • Battled dehydration a little bit in the first 18-25 miles, felt arm tingles way too early in race, but largely had this under control by the time I got up to Thompson Peak on Mile 31 (took one on the way up)
  • Also snacked on pickles and salt at the aid stations which helped.
  • Did not eat nearly as many baked lays as I had anticipated – dryness of mouth (probably due to dehydration) made it harder to eat – cheese quesadillas were clutch
  • Chicken salad sandwiches at mile 33 were amazing – sad they didn’t have it at the next aid station. This threw me off a bit mentally.
  • Was eating bean burritos for awhile too starting at Mile 18 but after awhile got tired of it. Maybe had 4-5. Last one I forced at Mile 38 I started to gag a bit.
  • Didn’t start drinking coke until Mile 33 aid station, obviously gave a good boost. Had a bit of ginger ale at Mile 28 aid station, generally chased the cup of coke with ginger ale to settle stomach.
  • Carried third flask of ginger ale rest of way from Mile 33.
  • Because of lack of chicken salad at Mile 38 aid station, began relying on liquid calories more – coke and ginger ale. But Mile 42 aid station they had grilled cheeses which went down well.
  • Prolly should’ve filled the third flask with coke in lieu of ginger ale for Last 6 miles – would’ve been better caffeine / sugar boost
  • Yes I’ve come to realize body will desire whatever it feels like a given moment, but the one commonality is liquid salty calories – soups broth and noodles would’ve been perfect, that’s all I was thinking about last 6 miles for a post run meal. Second to this would be soft salty real foods – ie grilled cheeses, fresh quesadillas of different flavors, foods that can also go down easier. For next race maybe should try packing a thermos with hot water and see if it stays hot, or if I have crew have them pick some up. I bet warm pizza would work too.
  • Last 8 miles generally was relying on liquid calories – coke and ginger ale, but knew had to supplement with Solids
  • Also ate some orange slices at later aid stations – was tasty
  • Didn’t really have stomach issues at all and no pooping – this was a nice positive for the race
  • Don’t think I was clearing throat or coughing as much as I normally do during a long trail run – this is good

Gear

  • Gear was generally good
  • No blisters – taped up with trail toes all the places that blistered during zion
  • Didn’t really have hot spots either – slight one under left arch where it was taped but went away after awhile
  • Took off arcteryx jacket before the start, never actually wore it once
  • Changed into BM long sleeve at Mile 33 in anticipation of the cold – prolly a bit too early to change as it was still a bit warm but didn’t impact me
    • Gotta wear fast clothes to move fast!
  • Wish I had poles for the climb!
  • Never needed ITB brace
  • Forgot to put pre wrap on left Patellar tendon, didn’t do it till Mile 12 or so – might’ve been placebo effect but thought I could feel in my knee so decided best to put it on – turned out fine
  • Reapplied chamois Mile 33 post TP Climb (8hrs) – prolly should’ve reapplied around the 5-6 hour mark, then again at the 10 hour mark
  • Felt the chafing at like Mile 40/42 (10.5hrs) but decided I wasn’t gunna waste time reapplying  – would’ve only taken 20 seconds though so next time prolly best to just do it – paid the price after
  • Popped two Advil at Mile 33 as well, 8hrs in

Aid Station Pit Stops

  • Still think am spending too much time in the aid stations – Mile 11, 18, 28, 33 longest spent time – 18 5-7 minutes, 11 3-5 minutes, 28 10 minutes 33 15 minutes
  • Definitely needed to do everything I did at Miles 18, 28, and 33, but I think I can still move faster and with purpose
  • Did a good job of moving quicker through the last 3 aid stations though – 3-4 minutes at 38 (could’ve been quicker), 1 minute at 42, 30 seconds at 44 – told myself if I wanted to break 12 and/or beat the old guy, would need to move fast through the air
  • Speed flasks worked well as well – maybe should switch entirely to them so every flask can be filled fast
  • Checklists in the drop bags super helpful so I wouldn’t forget anything
  • Think strategy should be to be thorough at a select few stations – where drop bags are, then be quick through the others (couple minutes max to eat and refill)
  • Still lose a lot of time to people by lollygagging around the aid stations
  • 100 miler will be less relevant but still important – no time to waste!

Drop Bags

  • As usual, had more than needed but I still maintain better to be safe than sorry – only clothing item I took switched into was long sleeve and new buff. Weather cooperated though – if it doesn’t then there would be a lot more changing.
  • Plan and packing was well planned, didn’t miss anything or need anything that I didn’t have
  • Continues to be a stronger point
  • Should check beforehand on ginger ale, didn’t need to pack it here
  • Ginger beer might be an interesting new idea – this stuff tastes great

Post Race Reflection

  • If race was 2-3 weeks earlier, prolly would’ve run closer to 11 hrs – race was definitely very runnable just breathing and HR couldn’t be controlled – a shame I couldn’t take advantage of my peak fitness coming out of Chicago Marathon
    • But you learn to adjust and accept and embrace whatever gets thrown at you, and go with it – that’s ultra running
  • Finished strong and felt good and happy about that
  • Legs generally were good even post race – only real pains I had was the terrible chafing
  • Cryotherapy seemed to work real well – felt instantly better post session
  • Had a weird foot scare Tuesday – couldn’t walk and went to Urgent Care to get crutches – they think plantar fasciitis – this would indicate right calves and Achilles so let’s focus on rolling and stretching those out – pain gone two days later (similar to 2011)
  • TBD on how this goes but right now no pain so let’s start running soon
  • EDIT: Went for a 20 min spin ride 1.5 weeks post race, next day left ankle started hurting. Then got progressively worse in LA. Made mistake of wearing ankle brace on flight home. Landed and everything is super swollen and am in so much pain. Looks like super inflamed peroneal tendons, and posterior tibialis tendons. Need walking boot for a few weeks, crutch for a few weeks.
    • Looks like I will have taken almost 2 months off from running as a result (recently graduated to elliptical and started doing strengthening). But I want to be smart about this and make sure its fully healed, and make sure the source of the problem has been fixed as well (likely over pronation + hip/knee weakness)
  • Speedwerk – I’ve spent the last two years so fixated on building up volume and time on feet, and completely neglected my speedwork. I’ve come to realize the importance of improving running economy, and even at the much longer distances you stand to benefit from a good speedwork season. I wanted to spend the winter focused exclusively on speedwork, but this will have to be adjusted given the injury.
    • I am in the market for a new running club to join because this will create accountability and structure, particularly for a speedwork program.
  • I’ve got some big goals planned for 2019:
    • Complete first 100 mile race – entered the Cascade Crest 100 lottery, if I don’t get in will sign up for the Kodiak 100 (both in August)
    • Run a sub 3:30 marathon
    • Run a sub 1:38 half marathon
  • Let’s get after it!

img-2642img-3060

 

Quick Notes – Chicago Marathon 2018

  • Training:
    • not the ideal training setup at all: Ibiza in 4, got sick week after so lost two weeks. Only had two true long road runs a 15 miler 4 weeks out and a 19 miler 3 weeks.
    • But did have a 10 miler on treadmill and 50k before Ibiza
    • Also no taper, two long trail runs 2 weeks out and 1 week out
    • Less miles than planned due to body being tired
    • Started proper strength training: squats and lunges, periodization
    • Felt strong gains in core and upper body, tbd on lower body as took couple weeks off leading into race
    • But I suspect these two trail runs vastly made a difference for my cardio conditioning
    • Only got to do a 5 mile interval workout and 7 mile run in Vaporflys, but felt somewhat good and confident in them
    • Started drinking 1/2 protein shake post runs rather than let myself fast completely – suspect this helped muscle recovery
    • Didn’t give up red meat until week before race
    • stopped drunk smoking 4 weeks out
  • Race Week:
    • noticed step change energy and cardio levels – heart rate sub 160 in low 9s pace, probably due to 1) cooler temps and 2) two big trail sessions
    • Last shakeout run of 2.6 miles Friday legs were churning a bit faster – felt good and ready (though peroneals felt sore all week)
    • Had issues sleeping Sunday night through Tuesday night, resorted to melatonin to get me to bed W/Th/F (got 8,815,830hrs or sleep respectively)
    • IF’d until Thursday, started carbing in earnest Thursday night, culminating with big ass brunch Saturday
    • Last coffee was at 9am before flight – this was deliberate to ensure I could sleep at night
    • No red meat that week
    • Didn’t fly out till Saturday morning
    • Walked around a bit too much in expo (right foot was achy)
    • Also nike pace teams ran out of 3:45 and 3.50 tattoos. So I was stuck with the 3:40 tattoo. What a serious fucking blessing in disguise.
    • Spaghetti w marinara sauce for dinner
    • Also had sex with Rachel before dinner, usually a big no no but fck it
    • Got to bed around 915pm, prolly fell asleep before 10 maybe earlier, woke up at 5am. Slept through the night – always a good sign.
  • Race Day:
    • again woke up happy cuz I had gotten good sleep
    • Broke too many clothing rules: new nike shirt, new white nike sleeves, wore ITB brace for first time since May
    • Tried to order new nike shirt for Wednesday but didn’t like material and was too small so ordered new ones for 1 day shipping. Thank god it was the one that arrived cuz the material felt nice and similar to my other fav nike shirt (teal blue). Given this Was confident wouldn’t be any issues on race day.
    • As for itb Brace, given lack of stability in Vaporfly, felt that I should take preventative measures for the race.
    • Ate one everything bagel with butter + Trader Joe’s canned cold brew. Dipped in Gatorade up until race start.
    • Arrived at hilton hotel around 610am., left airbnb at 540. Was told by team I needed to get to the corral, so I rushed to get changed and roll out my legs. Coordinators looked at me like I was crazy given barely had used vaporflys.
    • Turns out waiting that long meant that the line at the very first entry (wave 1 only) was fairly short, so only took me maybe 10-15 min from leaving hotel TJ get to corral, got there with 20 min to spare so decided to wait in line for porta potty one more time. Didn’t get to toilet till 719am, tried to poop one last time but no dice. Got to back of corral.
    • Decided to put on sleeves last Minute. While warm in the corral figured it was gunna be windy in some spots so best to have them on, worst case take them off. As for ITB Grace, could feel it a bit tight so had the same thought about removing mid race if needed.
  • Race:
    • Since back of wave 1, had a lot of walking up to the start to do. Straight up saw some chick pants down squatting and pissing on the side of the road. Bravo.
    • made some signs of the cross and we were off!
    • Miles 1-3 – heart rate was quickly spiked which was weird, I attributed it to nerves so figured needed to pull back and slow down a bit to gather myself. But then the 345 pace group caught up to me. This galvanized me to move faster which i did. By miles 5-6 I was in more of a groove and breathing was normalized.
    • I missed Rachel and co at mile 3, was very annoyed cuz how could this happen. But after a minute of stewing I told myself to forget about it, focus on the race. Mile 5-6 I was supposed to see Shelina but I went To the wrong side, but this time I didn’t bother so much so that it wouldn’t affect me.
    • Ran on wrong side at Miles 10-11 for Shelina again but this time she spotted me and yelled my name out which was nice
    • Miles 6-13 I was groovin, crowds were solid moving through uptown and wrigley
    • Mile 13 finally got to see Rachel and co, gave her a nice kiss on the lips and was off to the west side
    • I had been tracking 1-2 minutes behind 340 pace (started 2 min behind and sped up to 1 min behind and then 340 pace flat by mile 13), Still grooving pretty well into mile 15 so decided why don’t I speed up a bit up until mile 20 and reassess. Perhaps I can “bank” some time for a possible sub 340 finish, then try to hang on from there.
    • Mile 17.5ish I caught up to the 340 pace group, meaning I was now tracking sub 340. At Mile 18 heard the 340 pacer yell out “its all mental from here on out!” I told myself damn straight it’s all mental – just gotta hang on. It was at this point I started running math in my head: 8+ miles left, where would I be if I ran 8 min miles from here on out? How about 9 min?
    • Got to Mile 20 and told myself again, there is no wall!! And kept it up through mile 21.
    • Miles 21-23 prolly toughest stretch as that was longest stretch between aid stations, but just kept telling myself “balls to the wall, how bad do u want that sub 340?” I was still running math in my head, and it was starting to look favorable at 9 min miles (ie would finish by 339). But I remembered last year and the slow down in the last aid station, told myself if you want this you’re gunna have to skip one of the last three aid stations 23,24,25)
    • Got to Mile 24 and was still hanging on in the low 8s pace – this is where I finally felt that I had a good shot at getting under 340. 10 min miles would keep me at 339, so barring catastrophe I should get it. But did not want to celebrate or jinx myself until I saw that final hill.
    • The mile 25.2 aid station I didn’t stop at, but did grab a quick sip of water before it ended.
    • Decent headwind in Mile 25.5 or so, this was the only time my breathing was labored. Told myself “when you have no energy left, you have 60% left” as the famous David Goggins would say. Saw the 800m sign at 3:33. Started looking at Mile 25.8 for Rachel, finally On the turn onto the hill I saw Rachel and pointed in my watch like holy shit! Pushed up that hill with arms (again first time all race breathing felt labored) then made a left onto the final 100m stretch and finished in 3:37:31. In complete disbelief and exuberance at what I had done.
  • Nutrition:
    • nutrition 100% on point.
    • Decided to go Maurten Gel 109 every 4 miles similar to the 19 miler, but given aid station layout of Mile 3.2, then 5, decided to eat earlier rather than later. So ended up something like 3.2, 7.6, 12, 16, 20.3. Was supposed to do 11,15,19 but at 11 felt too full and didn’t feel like I needed it.
    • After 7.6 pretty much stopped at every aid station to quickly sip Gatorade (at a non Maurten stop) and wash with water. Took a caffeinated salt pill at miles 10 and 18. One Advil at 18 and one at 23. Also took a small bite of bañana at Mile 21. Didn’t feel I needed it but wanted to be safe and forced myself.
    • Never felt dehydrated and never felt like bonking. Maurten is legit.
    • Was much quicker through the aid stations as well – 3-4 seconds max to drink gatorade, Run to water section, 3-4 seconds to wash mouth out with water.
    • Even the last aid stations I was moving this quick.
    • Post race I generally felt fine too.
  • Random tidbits:
    • Spent miles 10-16ish running in the Vicinity of a dude who also had vaporflys on – seemed like we were taking turns passing each other. But when I sped up I dropped him and never saw him again.
    • Handful of times people cheering saw my shoes and complimented them haha.
    • Again, minimal wasted energy ie high fiving people. No high fiving again, but this time I did throw up the peace sign a handful of times for the camera and pointed my arm at the crowd a few times to get them cheering (miles 20 and 25)
    • Went with my Distrikt vision sunglasses the 200 pair, Rachel said they looked better. Was ready to ditch at mile 3 cuz they kept slipping. But 1) I squeezed them tighter to hold, and also I realized the sunglasses slipping meant I was looking downward and not forward. This was a blessing in disguise for fixing my form and keeping my head up. (Downside of trail running is that you look down a lot to watch where ur running)
    • Also decided good idea to keep sunglasses in the event that if I was struggling and needed to dig deep within, I’d have my sunglasses on to escape into my own world.
    • Mile 18.5 shirt was completely soaked and it felt like I was running shirtless – didn’t really like the feeling but told myself what can you do about it so forget it. By mile 21 it was dried out. (Rained harder miles 16-20)

 

Zion 100K 2018

Zion 100K – 4-20-18

As I begin writing this report, I am currently in a mildly hungover state, despite only having ONE drink last night but getting less than 6 hours of sleep. How could this possibly happen to a Portes, you may be asking yourself. Well, I gave up alcohol for exactly 60 days while training, and am now making feeble attempts to reinsert myself into the NYC nightlife circuit. This should tell you enough of how committed I was to this race, and man, did I have a blast for those 16 weeks!

After a breakthrough 2017 that left me with new marathon and half marathon PRs and my first ultra in the books, the natural next step was to move up to the 50 mile distance for 2018. I wanted a race in the April/May timeframe so that I could indulge in all the temptations and vices that the NYC summer lifestyle had to offer without worrying about training. I also wanted a destination race where I could make a vacation out of it similar to last year’s race. Simple enough. But it did take me an unusually long time to find a race to commit to. I actually signed up for the Innsbruck Alpine Trailrun Festival 85k in Austria, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling it. When choosing a race (or any new trip for that matter), I generally peep some photos and videos, and if I get a “wow I need to do that” feeling immediately, then I know that that’s the race for me. The Innsbruck race, while certainly very pretty and picturesque, was missing that “wow” factor.

I originally passed on the Zion Ultra because it wasn’t actually in Zion National Park, rather just south of it. Also, the race distance was a 100K, not 50 miles. But every time I came back to the website, I would be blown away by the views from the course. Didn’t matter that it wasn’t in Zion, I could just go hiking there after the race. Plus, picking this race would increase the chances someone would want to join me out there as opposed to me flying out solo again. So after a few weeks of deliberation and running it by others, I pulled the trigger and committed to the Zion 100K. If I was planning on 50 miles, how much more difficult could it actually be to tack on 12 more miles??

Sure enough, I was right about Zion. My aunt had been dying to go there for a while and found this to be a perfect excuse to pull the trigger. Naturally, her and my uncle don’t go anywhere without my mom so she would be joining too. Later on, I would learn that my other aunt from the Philippines would be joining them as well! Forget about the “E-Twins”, it was now triple trouble! In addition to that, the lovely Rachel Ki, who had just moved out to the West Coast aka the best coast, wanted to come cheer AND crew me too. Unlike Mt Hood, I now had a full-on support system for this race. What a pleasant surprise and a much welcome change!

Training

The training plan I constructed for this race was basically my 50K plan on steroids. Similar construct, but with many more miles and much more climbing. 5x runs per week: Easy runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, alternating hilly runs and hill repeats on Wednesdays, long (trail) runs on Saturdays, and back to back (b2b) long run on Sunday. I would start at 40 miles per week, and increase by 5 mile increments for 4 weeks before resetting to the second week mileage for the next block. This would allow me to peak at 70 miles, with a four week taper. The longest b2b runs I would do is 31 miles (a 50K) up in Bear Mountain on Saturday followed by 15 road miles on Sunday. Furthermore, I planned on introducing Bear Mountain repeats into my long trail runs – starting with 2 repeats and peaking at 8 during that final big 31 mile run (each repeat was 1100ft of gain and 3.6 miles roundtrip). I also planned to trail run (Bear Mountain or Watchung Reservation in the Durrty Jerz) on at least 6 occasions, basically every other week for the 12 week period prior to the taper. Training for the 50K represented a drastic change and increase in my running, but doubling up to the 100K represented a whole new level of crazy for me. I remember the few times I told my roommate Keem about what my peak weekend runs would look like and his only response was “Wow. That sucks.” Thanks for the supportive words Keem! Last year before beginning training, I was very much terrified at the prospect of running 5x per week and drastically upping my mileage. But what a difference a year makes: this time, I was extremely confident that I could crush this training program and very excited to get going. I no longer saw it as a daunting task; rather, I had become “Dauntless” (for those who are Divergent fans).

Lots of highlights and anecdotes:

  • Before training even began, I had completely re-tooled my kit and gear. New Salomon Adv Skin 12 running pack (because all the legit runners rock it), new Hoka Challenger ATR 4s in Blue, and two new blue Arctery’x running jackets. I couldn’t decide between the two jackets so I ended up needlessly keeping both. But you know how it is, looking good is just as important as running fast or completing a race. Rach sponsored a number of these new and fancy items, and she definitely did not shy away from reminding me about her sponsorship throughout training!
  • I decided to give up red meat for the entirety of training. I liked how I felt after giving it up for lent, and wanted to put myself in the best possible state going into this race. While yes I certainly missed my Korean BBQ, Filipino food, or just bacon/pork-related products (yes, pork is a red meat), I didn’t ever get any cravings to eat it. And yes, I definitely felt a lot more energetic and less sluggish after period of giving it up. I also continued to Intermittent Fast (IF) at least 3-4x / week. I thought I’d reach a point where it wouldn’t be sustainable with the volume of training, but I never reached that point and was able to maintain it throughout the entire cycle.
  • I played around with my nutrition throughout training but generally stuck to a tried and true plan of: consuming something every 30-45 min, starting with two GUs, then shifting to handfuls of goldfish, chips or bananas, then at actual races working in some orange slices or pickles. This worked like a charm throughout training, and I even discovered a new secret weapon: V8 tomato juice!! I know some people think straight tomato juice is disgusting, but imagine how that tastes after running for 6-7 hours and in dire need of salt and calories. Fantastic. I also read that at later aid stations in Zion they would have bean or cheese quesadillas. This seemed like a stretch for consumption during a race so I paid no attention to it. But as you’ll read later, cheese quesadillas became my best friend during the race. As for liquids, I stuck to my standard water + Nuun combo – sipping as needed while running. Never had any issues related to nutrition during training, so long as I was getting in my calories every 30-45 min.
  • As par for the course for me, I pre-planned out my major partying activities so that I could adjust the training schedule accordingly. The three main events were: 1) Tampa weekend in January for Gasparilla Fest (it was nice to see my man Chudi Where Da Booty living like a King in dirt cheap Tampa), 2) Bottle service at the Circle Closing Party, the infamous Korean nightclub in which Keem is known to frequent and turn into BOK (Blackout Keem for those who don’t know), and 3) Adam Beyer at Output end of February, because I still needed to indulge in some good ol’ techno.
    • The one thing I would not realize until a month into training was just how exhausted I would be after these b2b long runs. All I really wanted to do after these runs was order seamless, throw on some Netflix, and call it a night by 10-11pm. So while I had all these aspirations to go out to casual dinners and still be social, I pretty much threw that out the window as I realized I would be too tired to venture anywhere outside of East Village. Not that there should ever be a reason to go north of 14 street or anywhere else for that matter. Plus, the trees were now my friend. Nature, became my friend. I didn’t need to socialize back in the big city!
  • As you read earlier, I went the final 60 days prior to the race without alcohol. That’s right. A Portes with no alcohol. Crazy huh?!? Must really be #2018. Mom told me giving up something food/diet related wouldn’t be good enough for lent if it was just convenient for training (Mom read me like a book, smh) so somehow I came up with this crazy idea to give up alcohol. I wasn’t actually serious about it until I ran it by brother, Mr Models and Bottles I pay off the Wynn Encore Buffet guy to let us cut the line himself, and Chudi, both who liked the idea. Chudi said he would do it too, so now I was in. Obviously because Adam Beyer was pre-planned, I had to give myself that one mulligan. When lent ended in Week 13, I decided might as well just wait until after the race.
    • I can’t say for certain what led to what as I had already been feeling healthier, lighter, and cleaner from all the training, good sleep, and no red meat, but I definitely noticed increased mental clarity after a month of no drinking
  • Keem, Big EZ (brother’s friend who mentors me with this ish), and I started off thewatchung-half.jpg training cycle with a nice trail half marathon in snow-filled Watchung Reservation…in minus 5 degree (Fahrenheit) weather. Yep. Nice little punch in the face to kick off the cycle. I was uncharacteristically disorganized at the start of the race, not having all of my gear put on and running around like a chicken without a head. As a result, I did not discover the magic that is Yaktrax until the second loop when I finally had a moment to put them on. Yaktrax are basically running spikes that enable you to run on ice and snow. These were a revelation and I ran the second half of the race much faster. The Yaktrax became my best friend throughout training as Bear Mountain would be snow covered for almost the entirety of the training cycle.
  • Prior to this training cycle, I had never gone up to Bear Mountain for a solo training run – always with EZ, Cisco, or Keem. But given what this training program entailed, it wouldn’t be possible forcing one of them to come join me on all of these runs. Despite having made great strides in learning how to channel energy from within, a small part of me was still bummed to have to start solo trekking north of the wall. But, as you will read in the following bullet, I still had plenty of “fans” on the trails!
  • Just as trail running for the very first time was a complete revelation to me, doing multiple repeats up and down Bear Mountain provided that same feeling. They were difficult, don’t get me wrong. Often times I found myself singing “Insane in the Membrane!” when beginning another repeat. But it was very satisfying completing those repeats and getting to the top over and over again. In Week 5, I completed four repeats up and down the mountain in about the same time it took an inner city Boy Scout group to hike up and down once. Every time they saw me, they would yell out “What?!? This guy again?!?! He crazy yo!!” and by the last time I ran by them they all started high fiving me and fist bumping me. It was great having some cheerleaders out there!
  • I initially decided to do all of my mid-week runs on the treadmill. Given how cold itbearmtnsnow was outside (particularly after that Watchung Half), I felt it more important to limit my exposure to the cold, especially as my long runs got longer. However, after a calf injury scare (described later) that I attributed to the monotony of treadmill running, I decided to move the runs outside.
    • It was after this move to the outside did I realize how much more fun it is to run on the East side! Yes, the West Side highway is still fantastic but it is nowhere as exciting as the changing scenery running along the East River plus the ability to run across the three bridges in and out of Brooklyn.
  • I also initially did my 600m hill repeats on a treadmill, rationale being that I could control the pace: 8:30 pace at 4-6% incline. But after a while I got bored with this and then realized I could just run to the Manhattan Bridge as a 1 mile warmup and do repeats there. This made the workouts infinitely more fun.
  • I had two brief injury scares which occurred in Weeks 5 and 6 of training:
    • The first was the Monday after our debaucherous weekend in Tampa, when I developed a cramp I had never felt before on the right side of my torso. Of course I resorted to google, and next thing you know I’m thinking I might have appendicitis because the cramp wasn’t going away. By nightfall the cramp hadn’t improved, but it also hadn’t worsened. So the next day I packed an emergency bag for work thinking that there was a chance I may have to check into the hospital. For a brief moment I was very worried, googling what the recovery times were on this thing and if it would be possible to continue training. But by the end of Tuesday the cramp had subsided and all was well. Must’ve just been a reaction to ridiculous amounts of booze and lack of sleep I endured in Tampa.
    • The second one occurred the following week when my lower right calf started hurting after the 4x repeats up Bear Mountain workout followed by a strong 10 mile run along the East River. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of the pain, and for that reason I was nervous it was a stress fracture. At first, I attributed it to the repetitive motions of striking a treadmill, so I took my mid-week running outdoors (I don’t even know why I was running on the treadmill to begin with given how boring it is). But the pain lingered all week. I then squeezed in another “shorter, easier” Bear Mountain run with Keem and EZ that Saturday, and the calf held up just fine until the last ½ mile coming back down the mountain. So the next step I took was to start wearing an ankle brace on that ankle as well, and to swap into a fresh pair of Hokas (had hit around 350 miles on the existing pair). This, combined with an increased focused on stretching and rolling the calves, seemed to do the trick and by the end of the week the pain was pretty much gone, just in time for the Febapple Frozen 50K in the Durrty Jerz.
  • I originally planned on doing the 20 miler, but in the spirit of Big EZ tricking me into running the Bear Mountain marathon when I was supposed to only do 22-23 miles last year, I decided to test my fitness and jump into the 50K with only 7 weeks of training. Crazy that the 50K was my big distance last year, and now was merely a practice race for me!
    • The plan for this race was to just take it easy and go with the flow. The 10-mile course (looped) was surprisingly technical, with a decent amount of rocks and roots and whole sections of unrunnable mud. The course was definitely tougher than Mt Hood given the technical nature of the trails. At one point I ran with a girl from California for 20-30 minutes – turns out she runs competitively and actually tries to win. Ummm, what are you doing here in the middle of the pack with me?!?! Turns out she’s stronger at longer distances (50-100 miles) and this was just a “fun” race for her. She promptly dropped me after that and finished 20 min faster. But, I did end up PR’ing by 6 minutes! A good sign that training was progressing well.
  • Because the Zion Ultra would start in the dark at 6am, I needed to get used to starting early in the morning. This meant getting up at 330-345am, leaving NY by 445am, and arriving at Bear Mountain just before 6am. I found it comical to walk outside to start my day while seeing drunk people stumble around in the East Village valiantlyOne80 lamp trying to continue their night. During one instance, my mom had texted me around 230am so naturally I responded when I woke up an hour later. My mom was still awake and was wondering why I too was still awake. Umm, I just woke up Mom! Why are YOU still awake??? Hilarious that mother and son had switched places on weekend schedules.
  • These early morning Bear Mountain runs gave me an opportunity to run in the dark and test new headlamps: enter One80 Halo Light, Z Man’s (brother’s coworker, other dude I solicit for advice and a super legit ultrarunner) suggestion for a headlamp. This bad boy looked like something straight outta Tron, a circular, blinding halo light wrapped around my forehead. I absolutely loved the headlamp, as it was very bright and gave me full peripheral vision. The one drawback that EZ pointed out to me was that while immediate peripheral vision is great, the distance of the light was not as strong. Of course this was of no concern to me on the Bear Mountain trails because I knew them all by memorization and did not need to look out into the distance. But what would happen on a new course, with unfamiliar trails, and unfamiliar terrain? (Hint, hint keep reading to find out) EZ did show me how he also uses a small handheld flashlight for additional light and peace of mind, something I decided to adopt for myself as well.
  • I decided to take a “rest” break from running during Week 10 and signed up for the Mt Washington winter summit climb with Discover Outdoors. I figured this would be a good break to rest my legs while also still getting in some hard and strong climbing (the summit climb is ~4500ft of gain over 6 miles). As some of you know, due to weather patterns Mt Washington can become one of the coldest and harshest environments in North America in the winter despite only being at 6200ft of altitude. So naturally, we were met with -20 degree temps, 90+mph winds, and 2-4 feet of snow about 1 mile out from the summit before we had to turn around. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the climb and the camaraderie, and had zero qualms not making it to the top (we did get further than any other team though). Now is probably the time I should also let everyone know how I valiantly tried to help my guide’s proposed trip (Climbing in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco) win the Discover Outdoors “March Madquest” competition. But alas, tough to beat a trip proposed by someone employed by DO who can also access the votes!! So if you get random Discover Outdoors emails nowadays…well, nevermind 😉
  • I capped off the pre-taper training cycle with two monster weeks consisting of 60 and 66 miles or 12 hours and 15 hours of time on feet, respectively
    • The first week included 8 miles of hill repeats up Manhattan Bridge, 26.2 miles of trails in Watchung Reservation with the Big EZ (who copped out on me after half of it because “never mess with wifey and her nails”) and the NYC Half Marathon less than 24 hours later (I would’ve been happy to have just broken 2 hours, but to my pleasant surprise I ended up running a 1:54 despite the harder course)
      • Funny story: I rolled up to the Watchung parking lot at 545am in the pitch black, much sketchier than the Bear Mountain parking lot which is well lit. I see an SUV with its lights on just chillin, so of course I start flashing my lights at the SUV thinking its EZ. I drive up next to it and stare deeply into the SUV, only to realize it’s a random lady who subsequently freaks out and drives off immediately. What in the hell was she doing in the park at this hour??? She probably called the cops on me too because when we passed our cars after the first loop there was a cop car just hanging out next to ours. Was probably EZ’s wife trying to send a message that he needed to be back in time for her nail appointment.
    • The final big week included my last Bear Mountain run – a monster run consisting of 8 repeats up and down Bear Mountain for 31 miles total. Thebearmtntop entire run took 9:43:57 and totaled 9200 ft of elevation gain. Some parts were tough and on a few occasions I thought about cutting it to only 6 or 7 repeats but whenever that thought would seep into my head, I would remind myself that there were some crazies more badass than me currently frolicking in the Tennessee woods attempting to complete the Barkley Marathons, including none other than Z Man himself. My 10 hour run was nothing compared to their attempted 60 hour run with 60,000ft of elevation gain. And so I soldiered on, until it was complete. I was absolutely pleased with myself after this workout, equal parts shocked and excited that I had gotten to a point where this kind of training session was possible. I followed this up with my final b2b long run, a 12 mile run along the east river and across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. I originally aimed for 15 (really wanted to get to 69 miles for the week if you get what I’m saying) but my legs and feet were pretty toast so I cut it short a few miles.
  • Over the course of training I developed three goals: a high end reach goal, a mid reach goal, and a base goal. The high end goal was sub 14 hours, which would put me in the top 25%. Crazy to think about, but I thought this was not impossible given my 50K time of 6 hours (double that and add 2 hours). My mid goal was sub 16 hours; this would qualify me for the Vermont 100 miler, a potential goal race for 2019. And last, my base goal was just to finish the race. The cut-off was 21.5 hours, so it needed to be done before then.
  • Despite what appears to be a very strong training cycle, I did consistently fail to meet my weekly mileage targets. I know, I know this sounds bad. But in reality I was only missing by a few miles here and there (with the exception of my Prague/Vienna trip in Week 2), and what really mattered most was time on feet rather than the actual mileage covered, particularly for the long Bear Mountain trail runs. So if I only hit 21 miles as opposed to 24, but had increased my time on feet from 5 hours to 6.5 hours, then I was ok with it.
  • You are probably wondering how the heck did I manage to go up to Bear Mountain five times and New Jersey three times to trail run on weekends. Answer? Zip car. And lots of it. I think I spent almost $1200 bucks on zip cars during this training cycle. Man. Funny story – they upgraded me to a Mercedes GLC for no additional charge a few weeks after Zion for the Bear Mountain 50K!

I apologize for that long, eloquent discussion of my training cycle, but you have to realize just how important the process is as much as the end result and race itself. Despite the countless sacrifices, early morning wake-ups, and physically taxing training runs, I found myself absolutely enjoying every bit of training. Sure, the mid-week runs in the dark and cold were sometimes a drag, and sure, I wondered if I did in fact still have any friends left after going MIA. But I felt cleaner, lighter, and healthier. I had a greater sense of mental clarity, and just had an overall feeling of satisfaction, joy, and excitement whenever I completed a big weekend training run on the trails. I don’t think I ever hit a low point once in my training, that point where you are suffering and asking yourself wtf are you doing and why? This was by far the most enjoyable training cycle I have ever had.

Taper / Crew Strategy / Race Week

malibu.jpgTaper went by without much incident. I’ve gotten good at minimizing the taper crazies that are known to plague runners. I was also able to minimize weight gain that typically happens during taper, thanks to IF. I did feel some slight discomfort in my left patellar tendon during taper so I started putting a small pre wrap band underneath the kneecap as a precaution. I also did get more aggressive with cutting runs short if I wasn’t feeling it, because there was no point in pushing myself this close to the race (A planned 18 mile trail run in Van Cortland was actually cut short to 10 because I had to go #2, not for any other reason).

One thing I did spend plenty of time on during taper was tweaking and optimizing my drop bag & crew strategy. For those unfamiliar with ultrarunning, in races 50 miles or longer, runners are allowed to have drop bags strategically placed at various aid stations along the course, are allowed to have designated “crew” members who assist them at crew-accessible aid stations, and are allowed to have pacers for latter portions of the race. Rachel, ever the kind, caring, cutie that she is, was extremely excited to be my crew. So of course I channeled my inner #fuhnancebro and whipped up a fancy and meticulously detailed spreadsheet for her. I’m talking sell side M&A operating model level and perfect formatting type spreadsheet. Everyone knows my infamous “Fitness Tracker” spreadsheet that has tracked every single meal and workout since Sept 23, 2013, so this should come as no surprise to you. I laid out expected arrival times at varying aid stations based on clock time and elapsed time, with sensitivities. I laid out a clear checklist of instructions for each aid station categorized by nutrition (ie refill water flask, refill Nuun flask), aid (ie check for blister hot spots, re wrap pre wrap), and gear (ie change t-shirt, grab headlamp). I also had a final checklist before exiting each aid station – wanted to make sure no stone was unturned, that everything was accounted for as I wanted to be as prepared as possible for anything. Of course, I threw in a few NSFW things into the checklist as well, and we’ll just leave it at that. Planning out your drop bags and gear adds a whole new dimension to race strategy that the average road runner never deals with, and it requires a lot of careful thought and preparation beforehand. But as I will discuss later, I very much enjoyed this aspect of the race.

IMG-3960

It was very apparent that right from the start of taper, I could not contain my excitement for this race. Easter week I spent the entire weekend watching Ginger Runner and Billy Yang videos (highly recommended for anyone who is even a casual runner) or re-watching the Gary Robbins “Where Dreams Go to Die” documentary on his two failed attempts at completing Barkley (also a must watch). But I promised myself to put away the excitement come race week, to save that energy for the race itself. The only thing I had to do, though, was watch the Boston Marathon the Monday of race week. Why? Because the other half of the DirtySaint, Andrew “BOK” Keem, was running it. I had always planned on coming up to Boston to cheer him, but I never put two and two together that my race would only be four days after his so I was very bummed I couldn’t take the day off. But that didn’t stop me from dedicating one screen at work to 1) watching the first American woman win in 37 years 2) watching an amateur Japanese dude win the men’s race and 3) seeing Keem tough it out in what had to have been the worst ever conditions for the Boston Marathon. But now, it was time to switch gears. Time to focus on the task at hand. Zero dark thirty, as Lebron calls it.

Utah / Race Day

Hilarious that my first ever flight to Vegas would be to run 62 miles rather than chug 62 red bull vodkas.  Tried to pick a reasonably priced hotel closest to the airport, to stay far away from any sin and temptation as the plan was to drive out first thing Thursday morning, one day before the race. Ended up choosing the Rio, which my brother made sure to let me know was a dump. Sure enough, we got upgraded to a suite with a view of the strip free of charge. How exciting! But upon walking into the suite, I realized immediately why my brother said it was a dump. The place looked straight out of the 80s. Pretty sure I heard Rachel yell out “This is the worst suite ever!” at one point when we were laughing at the place. Well, the sole purpose was to sleep, and the Rio served its purpose so I can’t hate.

Thursday was a bit more rushed than I had wanted. Given my late arrival on Wednesday,IMG-2567 I decided to sleep in as long as possible since that would be the most important night of sleep. I got in my solid 8.5 hours of sleep, but I mis-judged how long everything would take the following day. Driving out to Utah, customary day before race fat boy brunch with the fam (yep, crushed some eggs, biscuits, gravy and pancakes), grocery shopping (gotta get my beet juice, V8, coke, bagel, chips, Gatorades, water, amongst  other items), double and triple checking my gear and drop bags, race check in, laying out and prepping all my gear. Luckily for me and in order to save some time, I had a three star Michelin Chef with me by the name of Rachel Ki. So instead of going to a restaurant to get my pre-race pasta dinner, we (she) whipped up some good ol’ spaghetti in the AirBnb. Must’ve used some local, organic, five spice reduction in there, but that was some fantastic spaghetti. Yes, the day was a bit more rushed than I wanted, but I made sure not to get flustered, as being in a calm and relaxed state of mind was the priority. Throwing on some Ali Wong also helped as watching stand-up comedy on Netflix has become my go to move on the nights before a big race.

As to no one’s surprise, it wasn’t easy falling asleep. I estimate I got up to pee maybe four times and did not actually fall asleep until closer to 11-midnight. It was also dead silent in the room when I’m used to having white noise back home. I eventually resorted to a youtube white noise fan video clip that had 11 hours of runtime on it, which I think actually helped. But regardless, that’s why I was very intent on getting 8.5 hours of sleep the night before (and the entire week for that matter), because I knew the nerves and excitement would probably keep me awake the night before. At 3:55am the alarm went off, and it was go time. By go time, I mean taking a video of the time of the clock, because you know, gotta do it for the ‘gram!!

I got to the start area with 40 minutes to spare, plenty of time to conduct my last second gear checks and apply my sunscreen and Chamois butt’r (anti-chafe cream, highly recommended, another Rachel sponsorship item). Found my family camped underneath the sheltered area along with everyone else as a slight drizzle began to develop. The weather forecast all week had called for some rain at the start of the race, but it had now morphed into rain until noon, meaning about 6 hours of rain to start. This didn’t faze me in the slightest bit – I spent all winter training in freezing and snowy conditions, a bit of rain wasn’t going to hurt. After getting in my one last bathroom run prior to race start, we got some last minute words and Q&A from the race director, some last second photos with the fam, and it was off to the starting gate. “If you are trying to win this race, please go to the front of the line.” That was my cue to go the front. Nope, just kidding. I felt great at the start though. If you recall my Mt Hood race report, I showed up to the starting line nervous at the sight of all these legit looking runners. But this time, I actually felt like I belonged, that I was ready and could hold my own. The countdown went off, I made my customary sign of the cross, and it was time to get going. I must say, pretty cool and pretty surreal to start a race in the dark, headlamps bobbing up and down off into the darkness:

Lamps

The Zion 100k course is basically split up into four parts: 1) climb the first mesa, run around on top of the mesa, run down the mesa 2) run to second mesa, climb that one, run around up there, then climb down 3) run to the third mesa, climb that one (the hardest climb), run around up top, come back down again and 4) run on some trails below before circling around back to Virgin where the race started. This is how I will go about telling the story, as each one had its own distinct experience. You hit the first climb up Smith Mesa on Mile 3, just as the sun starts to come out. In years past they had you going up this steep single track trail that required a rope on some portions, but this always resulted in a 20 min bottleneck so they moved the climb to the small road that goes up the mesa instead. About a mile long climb but not bad at all. Usually the view with a sunrise is fantastic to see but given the weather it was just cloudy and foggy. I was generally power walking past a number of people on this climb, and was very much chomping at the bit to get running by the time I got to the top. Only problem? The top trails were entirely made up of clay, which turned into thick and sticky mud in the rain. Instantly my feet were dragging clay, almost as if I was carrying 5lb weights on my ankles. Not ideal, but there wasn’t much I can do. I attempted to kick or scrape off the clay whenever I saw rocks, and ran whenever I could, almost on tip toe given how slippery it was. At one point I caught up to my family’s other favorite runner, a #Pinoyrunner named Philip from New Jersey that I had met at the bib pickup. Philip was doing the 100 mile race, and he like many others, were simply power walking vs attempting to run. I said hi to him and continued my slow jog/skip/run, to which he replied “Slow and steady. Slow and steady is the way to go.” I definitely agreed, but I felt like I could maintain my slowish run for the time being and went ahead. Of course, a few miles later, I slipped hard on a turn, and then almost ate it again just a few minutes later. That was that for trying to run on the clay mud. Decided it would be better to just power walk. “There is so much race left. Need to be smart. Need to conserve energy. Don’t waste it here attempting to run on this crap.” I started telling myself. At one point we ran by a clearing that on a beautiful day, would have a beautiful view. This time around it was nothing but fog. But I actually got really excited when I saw this, why? Because just a few weeks ago I had been obsessively following the Barkley Marathons, and for those who know, the fog is notorious for creating zero-2ft of visibility. Not that this was anything like the Barkley, let’s be real, but Guillame Calmettes’s famous “Adventure!” phrase immediately came to mind.

After exiting the second aid station (~Mile 13ish), you make a sharp left and head down a very narrow single track – the same trail I described above that has a rope for a portionTop of Smith Mesa - Morning Rain and Fog of it. This was the very first “Wow!” moment I had of the race. The sky was beginning to clear up a bit, so we could finally see off into the horizon. The drop-off from the path was also quite intense, easily a thousand feet. This was not a trail to be messing around in as a fall would definitely result in serious injury or worse. I reached the roped portion of the trail where runners need to use a rope to climb down 10-15 feet. After waiting 15-20 seconds while those in front of me took turns roping down, I watched a dude behind me carve a path through 45 degree downward sloping gravel and go around the rope, thus passing 10 people in the process. He yelled out that it was easier than it looked, so I immediately went over and followed suit. See ya! I said to myself as I passed all the runners waiting in line to rope down. At this point the sun started to come out (3hrs into the race), and combined with the exhilarating feeling that comes with running downhill, I got my first true sense of enjoyment that I have become all too familiar with when I’m out on the trails. This didn’t last long as Mother Nature was not quite done with us.

After discovering that the lone river crossing of the race could be crossed without getting shoes soaked, I  was one small hill and less than a mile from the first very exciting moment to look forward to – the first aid station in which Rachel and my fam could see Coming into Aid Station at Mile 18me, the Dalton Aid Station at Mile 18. Unlike my first ultra, I had a full cheer squad out here for me, and I was damn very excited to see them. Of course, as soon as they spotted me, the shrieks and cheers instantly drowned out any “normal” clapping by other spectators. Sometimes embarrassing, but whatever, I was loving it and gave them a wave. Definitely shed a tear at this moment too. Rachel had my water and Nuun replacement flasks ready (what an awesome crew), and we flew through the checklist very quickly. Told her that the clay mud was pretty tough, and had her send a pic of my legs and shoes to my “text” group of cheerleaders. A number of friends expressed interest in tracking me, and the only way I could think of doing this was to have Rachel send out updates whenever I reached a crew-accessible aid station. Friends originally thought they could track me via my notorious snapchats and insta stories during trail runs, but there was no service for most of the race and I decided I wanted to take real videos in order to create an awesome recap video rather than waste time snapping during the race. I told her to let them know that “conditions were shit and I ate shit”.

The clouds, cold, and rain returned as soon as I left the aid station to make my way to the second mesa. This climb was more gradual, a wide open dirt trail with a gradual inclinewaving before a final ½ mile steeper climb to the top of the mesa. Fairly uneventful aside from me and a few others constantly trading places when alternating between walk and run. It was on this trail where for the first time I got to see the race leaders coming back down, a full 10ish miles ahead. Those guys were moving pretty fckin’ quick! One of them was cheering us as he flew down the hill, giving words of encouragement “You’re almost at the top!! Keep it up!!” a nice little gesture that goes such a long way. The Mile 22 aid station at the top of the climb is when I discovered my new best friend: cheese quesadillas!! I saw them at the previous aid station but decided not to touch, but now they smelled and looked so appetizing I just had to give it a try. And boom. It hit the spot perfectly, just what I needed. So I decided to stuff a few slices into my zip lock bag and get rid of the chips. Now it was time to get some running going on top of the mesa.

Except now it was raining harder, it was cold, and I was rudely introduced to my first taste of slick rock. Slick rock is basically like running on uneven concrete – has a good grip so you won’t really slip, but very very hard to run on without shredding your legs. The main area of slick rock isn’t until after the third and final climb, but there was still a few miles of it here before hitting a dirt trail that loops around. My energy and strength levels were still good, so I was able to get in some decent running but the weather just wouldn’t let up. It was around Miles 25-26 when I realized how soaked through my rain jacket was, and how cold I was beginning to feel. I could see glimpses of the sun in the sky trying to fight its way through the clouds to no avail. This was the first time of the race where I felt miserable. But luckily for me it would also be the last (which I of course did not know at the time). Rather than dwell on it, I readied a plan of action to change out of my clothes into a fresh long sleeve and rain jacket once I got back down to Dalton Aid Station for a second pass (Mile 33). Once I finally had some service, I texted Rachel and told her to get my other gear bag ready, the one that had all the spare clothes that I didn’t think would be needed at all (as you can see, all of the gear preparation is crucial to success in these races).

I was very excited to get in some downhill running, and very much looking forward to seeing my fam again for the second time. Definitely needed a boost after going through some low points. As I made my way back, a new mantra entered into my head: “Rise and grind. Rise and grind.” I began repeating this to myself over and over again, telling myself that this was never going to be easy, and that I needed to grind and grind and grind. And as I was “grinding”, another runner caught up to me and started chatting. He was doing the 100 miler, and was pumped to hear that this was my first 100K race. “Remember to embrace the lows, accept the lows, and push through the lows. And before you know it, you’ll be riding on a high again.” Such a nice gesture from him to give me a little wisdom on the course. Wish I had gotten his name but I definitely won’t forget that moment.

Before you know it I can see Rachel up ahead, ¼ from Dalton Aid station. She wasIMG-4518 shocked that I was already arriving into Dalton, apparently I had made up a ton of time. I repeatedly told her not to run near me, because pacers weren’t allowed yet at this point and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen in other races that people can get DQ’d for stuff like this. She told me that race organizers decided to allow pacers from this point on due to the inclement weather but she ran ahead anyway, in order to snap some sweet ‘gram worthy pictures of me. I was feeling a bit tired and dehydrated, but the loud cheers from my fam as I arrived into the aid station perked me up. And finally, the sun had also broken through! I ate some quesadillas, changed into a another short sleeve shirt, re-filled my flasks, re-packed my pack with another IT band strap (my left IT band had begun to hurt on the downhill but felt much better on the flats) and also packed my rain jacket that had dried out. I asked Rachel how far behind pace I was from a 14 hour finish; I figured I was way behind after the slow moving in the cold rain. She said 10 minutes. 10 minutes! I guess I had made up a ton of time on the downhill and was only really 10 minutes behind 14 hour pace. I was definitely in much better spirits and feeling ready to tackle the last and hardest climb. As I walked out of the aid station with Rachel, she passed on some words from my brother. Crew helping me get changed“Come back with your shield, or on it. No room for DNFs in this family. Keep fucking moving!!” I think I just laughed because yes, that’s exactly what I expect my brother to say. And he was right. Quitting was never going to be an option for me, and the thought of it never even crossed my mind. Although I did wonder wtf my brother was talking coming back with a shield. Yes, I do know the reference but at that exact moment my brain wasn’t exactly thinking about pop culture. But that changed quickly. Why? Because Rachel then asked if I wanted to hear about who died in celebrity land. I said “sure” thinking it was going to be Kim Kardashian or someone I don’t really care about. “Avicii” she said. WHAT?!?!?! Avicii?!?! Wow. I was pretty bummed to hear that one. That would be the last time I get to see my cheer squad until Mile 58, another 5-6 hours away.

The next leg of the race consisted of a ½ mile on the main road before turning back ontoBottom of Gooseberry Mesa (hardest climb of the race at Mile 35) - Zoom In to see people on the climb trail for ~3ish miles and then hitting Gooseberry Mesa. When you turn onto the trail you can see the Mesa off into the distance and just barely make out the looming climb that awaits. Of course the race directors would want you to see the climb for as long as possible before having to make the climb. The climb is 1500 feet of gain in less than a mile, or about 30-35% grade incline (most gym treadmills max at 15% incline, so double that to get an idea of how steep this thing is). But I was thoroughly excited. I spent all winter doing repeats of Bear Mountain, and climbed 9200 ft in half the distance of this race, so yes, I wanted to see what I could do on this climb. This is also the moment (around Mile 35-36) when it dawned on me that this was the furthest I had run ever in my life. It was certainly nerve-racking and exhilarating at the same time. The climb ended up being just as difficult as described. Straight up mountaineering style – one step per 1-2 seconds pace to climb up the mesa. If you zoom into the picture of the climb, you will be able to see all the tiny little dots of people who are climbing. When I began the climb, I was just in front of two other runners plus their pacer, and could overhear them talking about training in Colorado and running the Boston Marathon. And sure enough, they completely beasted up the mountain like it was no big deal. But for me, I knew the drill: slow and steady, always keep moving. I did stop a few times to take some good videos, as the view from the climb was absolutely breathtaking:

IMG-4167

All in all, I think the climb took me about 40-45 minutes to get to the aid station right at the top (Mile 38), the one aid station where I had a drop bag because crew and spectators did not have access. While it was sunny and beautiful, it was definitely much windier at the top so I decided to keep my arm sleeves on. In addition to the quesadillas, I decided now would be the time I’d bust out the coke shots. Decided to also chase with some ginger ale just to be sure my stomach was settled. And finally, I whipped out a portable charging stick to charge my watch as it only had 14 hours of GPS run time battery life. I spent the first two months of training planning to spring for the high end Garmin watch solely due to its 24 hour battery life. But it was so hard for me to do given I had just bought my beloved 735XT a year prior. Luckily, Z Man, Mister Barkley Marathon man himself, gave me the bright idea to just use a small portable charger and strap the watch to my pack while charging. This was surprisingly a very liberating feeling, not having the watch to look at on my wrist. Even after it was fully charged I decided to leave the watch on my pack for a longer period, as I was enjoying this concept of “running free”.

While the previous mesa gave a preview of what slick rock was like, this was the real deal: almost all of it slick rock. As I mentioned before, it is extremely difficult to run on this terrain, so I resorted to a lot of speed walking mixed in with running wherever there was dirt. It was much slower going than I had hoped. Definitely quite a few people passed or caught up to me during this stretch, as I really just didn’t have it in me to try to run faster or harder. Even Philip, my fellow Pinoy, caught up to me for the first time since I saw him on Mile 8ish. He was again excited to see me, but I was in awe at how a much older dude (turns out he’s 54!) was blowing right by me, speed walking at twice my pace on this slick rock. But despite the slower pace, I was still enjoying the weather and the beautiful views on top of the mesa. At Mile 44-45 you finally hit the other end of thephoto mesa, with stunning 360 degree views of the landscape. Could even see snow-capped mountains off into the distance. I took some photos and videos, and also discovered I had service for the first time so sent a quick update to Rachel and gave an estimate of my Mile 58 aid station arrival (obviously slower than what they had anticipated as 14 hours was out of the question, but 15-16 hours definitely still in play). After getting back to the nearby aid station (you get to Mile 43 aid station, go out for ½ mile to the vista, then come back to the aid station), I discovered my second best friend: instant ramen noodles!! Yes! I saw a runner scarfing down ramen noodles and broth, and I instantly knew that I needed some too. Wow. Fantastic. I swear it was like eating Ippudo or Toto ramen back in NY. Hit the spot exactly. So from then on I resorted to eating ramen at the aid stations, packing cheese quesadilla slices in my pack for eating away from the aid stations, and then drinking coke shots chased with ginger ale shots at the aid stations. Man, I was really lovin’ this gourmet, 3-course meal, fat boy style race.

IMG-5294On the way back to Gooseberry Aid (Mile 50 before going down the steep climb I came up), I finally, for the first time all race, found myself completely solo, with no other runners in sight (I had been able to always see at least one runner off in the distance in front or in back). Everyone knows how extroverted I am and love being surrounded by people, but man have I come a long way from that. I was loving this portion of the race exactly for the opposite reason. The solitude really amplified that feeling of satisfaction and contentedness that I get while being in the outdoors. It reminded me of all those long solo training runs in Bear Mountain, where it was just me and nature, and me and the grind. I remembered joking to all of my friends that trees, were now my friends. Nature, was now my friend. I knew this solitary stretch would not last forever, so I tried to soak it in as much as possible and really take in my surroundings. Running on the slick rock is a bit tricky because there isn’t a defined natural trail but rather you had to follow the course markings. As a result, I missed a few course markings here and there and would have to backtrack by 10-15 feet to see where the next one was. Eventually, a runner by the name of Heather caughtIMG-5295 up to me and told me to also look at the white dot markings on the ground as the course markings followed those. We ended up running together implicitly, taking turns leading and pushing the pace. We barely talked (didn’t even know her name at this point), but it was pretty implicit that we were pushing each other and trying to hang onto each other (mostly me just trying to hang onto her). This worked like a charm as we ended up catching and passing 8-10 people including my man Philip, who was yet again happy to see me for a third time! I was even running at a 9:30 pace heading into the Mile 50 aid station, feeling good and feeling strong.

“Barely a half marathon to go. Or is it ‘oh my god, I still have a half marathon left’?” one of the aid volunteers asked me. Of course it was the former. A half marathon was nothing but a baby distance from here on out. 50 miles complete, 12 miles to go. Couldn’t believe I had gotten this far. Big EZ likes to ask me if I could’ve done the longer distance of a given race, and here I was jumping the gun, telling myself yes, I absolutely could probably have done the 100 miler, maybe in 30 hours or so. I decided to take extra time in this aid station – I wanted to be certain I had everything I needed as the next stretch would be the longest part of the race without an aid station. Aside from my ramen + quesadilla + coke + ginger ale feast, I re-applied chamois, I put on my other IT Band strap (my left IT band would hurt only on downhills and I  was about to go down a very steep downhill), and double and triple checked my headlamp and flashlight batteries as thephilip.jpg sun would be setting soon. If I was on sub 14 pace, I wouldn’t have needed headlamps but that goal had come and gone. I switched to Gnarly, the electrolyte mix the race had been serving, because I was sick of my Nuun and this one tasted great, almost like orange juice. I also decided to take my coke bottle for extra nutrition in case I ran into trouble, and the aid volunteers were kind enough to let me pack an entire quesadilla in my pack. I also finally got Heather’s name and thanked her for pushing the pace with me. I thanked the aid volunteers (something I consciously do at every aid station as they are the most important people of the race, and I also learned it from Gary Robbins constantly thanking everyone at the Barkleys in his documentary) and I bid farewell to Philip as this was the point of the race where the 100 milers and 100k runners split up (he still had another 50 to go). He had given me a fist bump when we arrived into the aid station and told me to finish strong. Little did he know what was about to transpire next.

I didn’t see Heather anywhere in the aid station when I left so figured she had taken off already. No problem for me, I liked being solitary out there. Plus, Rachel would be waiting for me in 6 miles to pace me to the finish. I texted her to let her know I was coming down the mesa and that I was super excited to see her again. The sunset was beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. Steep and painful downhill, but offset by the beauty of the landscape. At the bottom of the climb there was a random dude camouflaged into the rocks, slow clapping for me. Kinda odd that he was just chilling there, but I guess he was waiting to pace someone who would be coming down. I then saw another dude up ahead moving pretty fast, and was very impressed with his pace until I realized he was running towards me and had a “Pacer” bib on. Guess he was going up to find his runner as well. Then a third runner caught up to me quickly but I realized he was just a guy going for a run: “Don’t pay attention to me, make a left up there and you’re almost there man! Keep it moving!” he yelled out. After making that left, it was 4 miles out from where Rachel would be waiting for me, then another 2 to the Mile 58 aid station where I’d see my family, then another 4 to the finish. I was pretty excited, and even started taking idiotic videos of myself spinning around in circles in the desert. I estimated that I could be very close to finishing under 16 hours, and get that VT100 qualifier. But after actually calculating at a relatively brisk 12 min/mile pace, I would still come in just over 16 hours, Before getting lostso I knew that was probably out of reach as well. But I wasn’t upset about it all; I was thoroughly enjoying this race. At this point I tried in vain to get running, but I just didn’t have much energy left. Instead of running for 5 min, walking for 1, it was the opposite. But all of a sudden, Heather reappeared and caught up to me from behind. Turns out she took more time in the aid station to recover, which seemed to be a good move as she was still moving pretty well. I tried to keep up but she dropped me within 30 seconds, still couldn’t get myself going. But then it was time to eat, so I stuffed a few quesadilla slices into my mouth, and instantly I regained my energy. It was like something straight out of a movie – like Goku going super sayan mode (I don’t watch Dragonball Z but as I write this that is literally the only metaphor I can think of). With the sun pretty much gone I put on my headlamp and started running, each time telling myself to go another ¼ mile before walking, then realizing I could maintain and keep it going. I passed one dude and eventually caught up to Heather, who was surprised by my newfound energy. “I’m gunna keep this going and ride it until I can’t anymore” I told her as I took off. I was in complete awe that I was able to run at a 1030-11min/mile pace all of a sudden. I strategized a final game plan to get to the finish: find Rachel in about 2 miles, get to the Mile 58 aid station, refill my liquids quickly, grab some food to go, and get outta there as fast as possible to get to the finish. Probably still come in over 16 hours, but still close and a strong finish. As I thought about this, a fleeting thought passed through my head that I had not seen a course marker for a while. I wasn’t using my hand flashlight because I could see the trail fairly clearly with the One80 headlamp and there was only one way to go – follow the trail. “Maybe they stopped marking the course for these parts because IMG-5328you just follow the trail” was what I told myself. In hindsight, this might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever told myself. Even started taking some video (see screenshot). After a while, I finally saw some reflective tape in the distance. Except, it wasn’t tape. It was a herd of wild cows just chilling on the trail. 10 of them to be exact. And right at that junction there was another trail to go left. So I went left. Ran for another ½ mile and knew something was completely wrong. I was going under canyons and I was seeing large birds fly out from them. No course markings anywhere. I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw one. This is not good. I started to yell out Heather’s name to see if she was anywhere nearby. Nope. I even stood on a 20 feet boulder to look for bobbing headlamps. Nothing but stars. Fuck. I. Am. Lost.

How the fck could I have possibly gotten lost??!?! I wondered to myself. I literally followed the trail. There were no turns to make or anything. This is not good. I started backtracking and running back, having a mini-meltdown. In all my nerves and adrenaline, I was running at an 8:30 pace all of a sudden. Whatever energy was left in the tank, it was being emptied now. No service on my phone either. I get back to the cows and start heading in their direction. Maybe this is the trail. The cows all turn to face me IMG-2842and I see that none of them have been de-horned. Yikes, this is definitely wrong too. Fuck. So I keep backtracking and backtracking, all the while trying to prevent myself from having a full on meltdown. Man, I really fucked this one up and now they’re going to have come rescue me after I don’t show up to the next aid station. “Be calm, and focus Justin.” Think hard. Think harder. What did you see? Any landmarks? Where was the last course marker? Anything to help. I started yelling out “ANYONE???!” and start blowing my safety whistle on my pack. Still nothing, and no visuals of any headlamps either. I even turn on the SOS blinker function on my flashlight. Finally, I see a small path to the right so I take that path and turn around to see if it looks familiar. Nope, not at all, I definitely did not come this way. But wait a second, I’ve got one bar of service! Immediately I text Rachel “I’m lost. I have no idea where the fuck I am”. And I text my group cheerleader thread “I’m lost. Fuck me.” Rachel immediately responds asking me to share my location, and the others in the group thread kept telling me to “hang in there” and “you got this”. Guys, I really really really appreciate all the love and support, but “you got this” and “hang in there” when you are lost in pitch black desert with dwindling fluids and food is not helpful at all!! But just knowing I had service and was in contact with others helped me to relax. Rachel responded that I am still two miles away, but at least I could see which direction I needed to go in. Worst case, I bush-wack my way there. But after backtracking some more, I finally catch a glimpse of the reflective course marking tape. Immediately I saw my error – the course marking tape cut a left onto a smaller trail, and I completely missed it. “FUCKKKKK!!!!!!” I screamed out in frustration and relief at the same time. Almost 1 hr 45 minutes had passed since I missed this point, and I had gone two miles off course and back.

IMG-7706I alternated laughing at myself and being angry with myself for getting lost. Angry because it was demoralizing and I should’ve done a better job following the course markings. Laughing because I knew that it would be a great story and a great learning experience. I wondered how many people had passed me during that time (after the race I guesstimated ~22 people based on finish times). Oh well, the base goal was to finish the race, and that was never out of the question. Finally, I saw two stationary headlamps up ahead and the headlamps yelled out “Justin?” to me. It was Rachel, who had ventured out another 1.5 miles to see if she could find me. “You have no fuckin’ idea how happy I am to see you!!” I exclaimed. Turns out my mom was worried I had gotten injured and that’s why I hadn’t shown up, but Rachel let them know I was lost and then found. By this point, consistent running was out of the question especially as I had run out of fluids and nutrition (quesadillas to be exact, still had some GU in my pack but was not about to touch that at the 16th hour of the race). So it was just a matter of grinding it out and getting to the finish. Having Rachel by my side helped immensely, just to have someone to converse with and try to push the pace with. I reached the aid station and my cheer squad was excited to finally see me after 10 hours. But I could tell they were pretty exhausted and cold as temps had now dropped to the low 40s. It was time to get my ass to the finish line.

The last four miles were definitely a drag and fairly uneventful.  I was just happy to haveIMG-4252 Rachel accompanying me on the trail. We did notice that the trail back to Virgin runs along the edge of a fairly deep canyon (50-75 feet), and in the pitch black that can be downright scary. I think it was during this time that she relayed another message from my bro: that he was super proud of me, not that my ego needed to be stroked anymore, but still very proud of me (he had told her to wait until Mile 50 or so for this message). At some points Rachel prodded me to get running, which helped us pick up the pace. But eventually I tripped and fell after hitting a rock, so we resorted back to speed walking with some running here and there. It was kind of funny because the time I fell in the clay mud much earlier in the race, I was able to quickly pop back up using my forearm. Whereas this time, once I began to fall, I simply turned to land on my pack and accepted my fate. Laid on the ground for a few seconds to groan. The last 3/4 mile of the race you spend 1/4 mile on a small dirt road followed by 1/2 mile on the main road back to the finish line. I noticed a few headlamps about 1/2 mile behind me when I was on the dirt road, so I told Rachel we can’t let them catch up to us. As soon as we got to the main road we started running, and off in the distance we saw the final right turn onto 100W road that would take us to the finish line. Rachel kept telling me how amazing of an accomplishment this was, and that I should be proud of it even if I got lost. She kept repeating “You’re almost there, you’re almost there”. And as we got closer to the turn, we saw that the street signed read “700W” instead of “100W”. Fackkkkk. The actual right turn is much further ahead, past the downhill and subsequent uphill. “Maybe we should walk some” Rachel suggested as we had a laugh at how demoralizing it was to discover it was not the correct road. We were able to catch up to two other runners, but then were passed by another dude who was easily running at a 10 min pace. Wow. Turns out he was the second place finisher of the 100 miler, running an additional 38 miles more than me in one minute less! But finally, we saw the 100W sign and made the right turn. I saw that I was cutting it close to 18 hours, so I picked up the pace. Rachel ran ahead to take some pics of me, and after 17:57:36, I successfully completed my first 100K.

Finish Line w RachelFinish Line w Fam

Finish line w mom

Post-Race Reflection

I was pretty dejected when I finished the race, but I wish I hadn’t been. Finishing your first 100K race is a massive accomplishment, and that was the ultimate goal. I knew that getting lost would serve to be a positive learning experience and a great story to tell, but at that moment it was hard to focus on that. I was also just exhausted after the race and wanted to sleep. But by the time we got back to our AirBnb, I was already telling Rachel that I needed to find another 50 miler (or 100K) in the late Fall, that I wanted another crack at this distance in 2018. I think when people accomplish a big race for the first time, be it a half marathon, marathon, or an ultra, they either say “Never again” or they immediately look for the next one to sign up for. Clearly I’ve always belonged in the latter camp.

A lot of people ask me one simple question: Why. Why do you do this, Justin? The simple funny answer I used to give is “because I’m a masochist”. While that’s probably true to some extent, it’s obviously much deeper than that. For me, I actually love to run. I also love the outdoors. And I also love to challenge myself and see what I’m capable of. Merge the three together, and you’ve got ultrarunning. Running has become very therapeutic for me, it’s almost like an escape from the daily grind of life. A lot of people also ask me what I think about on the trail for such long periods of time. The answer is “nothing”. Not completely nothing, obviously. But being out on the trails creates a sense of peace and contentment, as if there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to think about. I found a short video that perfectly captures this, called “A Three-Minute Ode to Running” on Outside Online for those interested in watching. The caption talks about the Ancient Greek word “ataraxia”: a term used to “describe a certain kind of tranquility or freedom from emotional disturbance.” Ataraxia. That is what I’m chasing, and that’s why I do this. (I also do this because if I were to stop running and get fat then I’d never hear the end of it from my brother, or Z Man, or EZ. And if I were to fail, then I’d also never hear the end of it.) As I mentioned before, this training cycle was by far the most enjoyable training cycle I’ve had, and it’s probably because of the amount of time I spent out on the trails. And as I alluded to in the report, there was never a moment in the race where I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish.

I have to spend some time thanking my family for coming out to support me. I’ve come to appreciate the challenges of going out solo, with no support system, and learning to just channel energy from within. It’s something I’m more than capable of doing nowadays. But having family that cares enough to fly across the country, wake up at 4am to see you off at the start, putz around for 18 hours periodically seeing you for 1-2 minutes at a time, and standing in the freezing cold waiting for you at the finish line, it definitely means the world to me. And I’m forever grateful for them. Also special props to my Uncle Pete, who was tasked with babysitting the three sisters all week. I walked into the brunch restaurant Thursday, and the three of them were cheering my arrival and video taping me walking to the table. And poor Pete, was just sitting there shaking his head. Well, thank you for babysitting and driving around everywhere.

I also can’t finish this report without thanking Rachel aka #ABG, my one woman crew and pacer for the last 7.5 miles. She was quick and on point at every crew-able aid station, double and triple checking everything. She provided me with much needed company and motivation on those final miles after I had gotten lost, when my energy stores were pretty much empty and it was all about getting to the finish. And she was also the ESPN Ocho sideline reporter for the race, relaying updates to my friends and fam back home who wanted to track my progress. People say running is an individual sport, but it takes a team to get it done. And I’m forever grateful for what she did for me.

Some other lessons from the race and training:

  • Course markings – I remember specifically going left in the dark while running with EZ in Watchung, and him correcting me quickly because the trail marking pointed right. I have a bad habit of not following the course markings, a by-product of knowing the Bear Mountain trails by memorization. I should’ve known this was going to come back to bite me. Some parts of the course had a big reflective “X” on turns that were wrong; it would’ve been nice to have one where I got lost. But at the end of the day, it was 100% my fault for not checking for course markings. And when the thought first popped in my head. I should’ve immediately turned around. Great story though, and great learning experience.
  • Headlamps – when I first tried the One80 Halo headlamp, I absolutely loved it. But now I understand the importance of being able to see out into the distance, particularly for course markings. EZ’s style of using a second handheld flashlight (a powerful one at that) was definitely a life saver, but I can see this becoming tiring after longer periods of time (ie a 100 miler when running through the entire night). So it’s back to the drawing board. I think I will just spring for the high end Black Diamond lamp and go from there.
  • Drop Bag Strategy – I very much enjoyed this aspect of the race. Having to think about what gear, aid, and nutrition you want/need in your drop bags and when you might need it adds an entirely new element to race planning. If there’s one thing I executed to perfection, I think this was it. Every single piece of gear and aid I needed was exactly where it needed to be right when I needed it. Preparation, preparation, and preparation, was key (attention to detail and excel spreadsheets too). Also key was Rachel, my crew who executed her duties perfectly.
  • Training – I think my training plan worked very well, and as I had mentioned before I very much think I could’ve done the 100 miler. Three things I would improve and tweak for the next round: 1) Sprinkle in some harder speed work in there. I know speed is not the game for an ultra, but I think doing some speed work would just help my overall cardio conditioning, and make me faster and more able to take advantage of areas where I can get longer consistent running in. 2) Add some stair master. I did a ton of climbing in this cycle (about 60k ft of elevation gain to be exact), but I think stair master would add another level of climbing conditioning to allow me to climb faster. 3) Try to more consistently maintain core workouts. I was able to continue some upper body lifting throughout training, because I needed to maintain my chiseled chest (when I ran my plan by Z Man he wondered wtf I needed to be bench pressing for but you know how it is) Going forward, I’d like to try to at least get some core work in 2-3x/week during a cycle.
  • Diet – cutting out red meat and alcohol completely was great, but I’m not certain that it’s absolutely necessary to succeed here. I think the key, as with everything, is moderation. I would probably look to cut out red meat for maybe the last months leading up to a race, as for alcohol maybe cut out hard liquor and sugary drinks (wine) in the month or two leading up to the race. Don’t think cold turkey is necessary. Red meat, on the other hand, I would be inclined to cut out cold turkey at least two months before the race. As for other aspects of my diet, I definitely found myself eating more and more given the increased volume, but I also dropped 11 pounds throughout this cycle. I think I’d like to make a greater effort to eat “healthier” on weekends post long runs, as opposed to crushing Halal Guys after a 31 mile training run. Obviously, it was ok and I needed to replenish calories. But I bet if I could improve this aspect of training I would see even better results, both physically and in race times.
  • 100 Miler – If there’s any one big takeaway from this race, it’s that a 100 miler is absolutely possible. I said it twice and I’ll say it again: I could’ve done the 100 miler. My 100K training plan provided a blueprint not too far off from a 100 mile plan. I think adding another month to the plan, plus a few additional 65-75+ mile weeks, plus a 50 miler or 100K race, would get me to a solid 100 miler training plan. I even stalked Philip’s Strava account and saw that his YTD run statistics were not too far off from mine! I had worries about not finding the time to train for my 100K particularly with my reverse commute to CT, but I had no issues whatsoever and don’t think I would for a 100 miler. I will be looking for a 100 miler (potentially Vermont 100) in 2019, so stay tuned!
  • Video Recap – Zion 100K video recap is about 85% finished, be on the lookout for a link to the video! Serious film directing skills run in my genes, this one will probably get featured in Tribeca Film Festival 2019!

Happy that I finished, cheezin’ cuz I got lost:

finish JP

“Recovery” hike in Zion:

Observation Point - Zion

 

Quick notes:

  • Training:
    • Most intense program I have followed to date
    • Repeatedly missed mileage goals, but was ultimately concerned with time on feet so it was ok
    • PR’d 50k
    • Climbed Mt Washington as a break from running
    • Monster weeks 11 and 12 – trail marathon + half, then 31 miles (8xBear Repeats + 12 miles)
    • Calf scare the week before the 50k, prompted the use of two ankle braces
    • No red meat for the training cycle
    • No alcohol for lent + last three weeks leading up to race – energy levels def felt great
    • Pre planned going out: Tampa + Circle + Adam Beyer
    • Was able to maintain a decent amount of lifting but wish I was able to do more, especially core
    • Gave up a lot of social life
    • Lots of $$ spent on Zip Cars
    • But, thoroughly enjoyed the training cycle – most fun ive ever had running
    • Taper:
      • Dropped off more than I wanted
      • Left knee patellar tendon a bit tender during taper
      • Not bad taper tantrums at all
      • Super excited for the start of taper
    • Drop Bag / Crew strategizing – very meticulous spreadsheet and detail, with checklists
    • Diet – still IF’d 4 nights per week, to my surprise
      • Carb loaded Thurs/Fri in prep for weekend monster runs
      • Def ate a lot of food
    • Race Week
      • Super super excited all week and all taper for that matter – exercise in restraint and staying relaxed, no reading about race any more
      • Marathon Monday did not help, with Keem running and all
      • Work was fairly chill so minimal stress on this end
      • Packed 90% of stuff and packed drop bags on Saturday/Sunday to minimize stress
      • Carb loading according to how I did in training
      • Flight had no issues
      • But got to hotel + car late with rach, didn’t get to bed till 1am
      • Woke up at 10ish
      • Day before race super rushed, not ideal – but I noticed ive gotten good at staying calm and collected, ignoring the negatives and focusing on the positives
        • Watched some Amy Wong to chill
        • In bed by 9pm
      • Took a long time to fall asleep, but was able to finally knock out at some point – not as great as Chicago sleep, but better than all my other marathons
    • Race
      • Cold and rainy to start the race. First climb on road, not too bad. Legs were roaring to go as soon as we got to the top. But was a mud slog on Miles 7-13 like carrying 5pounds of clay mud. Eventually slowed down, ate sht at one point and decided to take it easy. No need to waste energy. “A lot of race left” I kept telling myself
        • Passed Philip the pinoy man here, he told me “slow and steady” but I went ahead
      • Descent on Flying Monkey was awesome – finally got to see some cool ish coming down a decent descent with 1000+ dropoff. Not super steep decline but def sharp drop off. Bottleneck where there was a rope to use to go down slippery rock, but you could cut around it in dirty pretty easily so I did that and skipped 5 people waiting in line
      • Sun came out for the flattish run to Dalton Aid station (18), super excited to see my fans for the first time
        • Got my nutrition, refilled, and went off for Guacamole (second climb)
        • Started raining again and cold
      • Top of Guacamole some slick rock but very uneven – not the best running. Foggy, cold, jacket started to soak through – texted rach for green bag, wanted to change
        • Discovered quesadillas at this aid station – heaven sent
      • Downhill back to Dalton 2 – somehow made up a lot of time – easy running but felt my left IT band hurting so decided need to grab that too
        • “Rise and grind” is what I told myself over and over “Rise and grind” became the motto
        • Random 100 miler guy caught up to me and chatted me up – was excited that it was my first 100k told me “when you hit the lows, appreciate them and accept them, and before you know it you’re riding high
      • Shocked that I arrived at Dalton 2 10 behind 14hr pace
        • Changed into blue shirt, sunnies, dry buff, refilled, ate
          • Took ITBrace with me but didn’t need to put it on
        • Learned that avicii died, that’s devastating
        • Weather warmed up, now feeling much better and ready to tackle Gooseberry hwere ya at?!
      • Long way to gooseberry, can see the looming climb
        • But was very excited, and ready to take it on
        • Never dreaded it
        • Passed group of three, they would pass me back, and so forth
        • Some girl running in a UTMB shirt, looked legit but she was moving at my pace
        • “Leap frog!”
      • Gooseberry climb was intense – literally 2-3 seconds per step
        • Like climbing Shasta – ~30-35% grade
        • Views at the top were beautiful
        • Aid station to eat more quesadillas – forgot to take coke shots but that’s ok
      • Slick on top of gooseberry just not runnable – hard uneven sticky concrete like feeling, rough on the legs
        • Wasn’t suffering here, but was very slow going and lost a lot of time
        • Pinoy guy caught up to me! “Hey Justin!! How are you?” as he blew past me power walking super fckin fast
      • Got to mile 43 aid station, quick moves to vista point because only half mile away before turning back
        • Beautiful
      • Mile 44 station, saw one dude eating ramen noodles. FUCK. YES. GIMME A BOWL
        • Also had coke and ginger ale
        • Now ready to roll out
      • Stomach had been hurting a bit and was gassy, so decided I would attempt to poop there
        • Gave myself 3 min, but no success. Fuck it lets move out
      • Running back towards Mile 50 aid station was awesome – running alone, very peaceful and beautiful, weather was great, not as much slick rock yet, exactly how I have enjoyed trail running
        • Made a few wrong turns here and there but caught myself quickly and found the flag markings – this enabled some peeps to catch up to me
      • Girl in red jacket show me that we were following white dots in addition to pink markings, so I tagged along
        • She didn’t have sunglasses so she couldn’t see the markings as easily as I did, so we took turns leading each other, without acknowledging it
        • Also took turns pushing the pace and actually running on the slick rock – mostly her though and me just following
        • Really helped me to push the pace which was great
        • Finally took off ahead of her when we got close – shocked that I was running 930s pace into the aid station
        • Also caught up to my pinoy friend!
      • Took more time in aid station – wanted to apply more chamois, put ITB strap on before steep downhill, make sure I was refilled everywhere as the 8 mile stretch would be the longest without aid station
        • Fist bumped girl for pushing the pace, learned name was heather
        • Packed a bottle of coke too and quesadillas – tried using UD bottle but it was leaking so threw it out and packed a full actual coke bottle lol
        • Ate some ramen too
        • Watched pinoy guy leave few min in front me
        • Left aid station thinking Heather had already peaced
      • Going downhill of Gooseberry was stunning at sunset – passed one dude going down who’s form was pretty off as if they were struggling, but they were moving at a consistent pace nonetheless
        • Saw a random dude sitting at the bottom, he gave me a very feint clap and I thanked him
        • Saw another guy in pink running towards me…um wtf? But realized his bib said PACER so he mustve been running back to get to whoever he would be pacing
        • Another guy who was moving fast behind me caught up to me then yelled “Keep it going man youre almost there!” when I turned around he kept going straight and said “Don’t follow me!” so figured hes just a random runner
      • Was very excited to be on this trail to the final aid station at sunset – did some stupid twirls on the trail, at mile 56 rachel would be waiting to pace me, see my fam for the first time in like 7 hours
        • But I couldn’t really run was just tired and didn’t have it, so would try to run then walk then try again
        • Passed by a random cow with horns chillin on the trail, tried to make loud noises from a distance to scare It away but didn’t work so just walked around it
        • All of a sudden, Heather catches up to me from behind. Wow! Thought she went ahead – she keeps going, told her how were gunna be close to hiting 16 hrs and qualifying for Vermont but don’t think its happening. She took off and I was like ill try to keep up. But obviously couldn’t
      • Ate some quesadilla, regained energy
        • Started running, passed a dude then passed her she was amped
        • Then I got lost
      • Lost
      • Rachel finds me
      • Get to aid station tired, dejected but that’s life
      • Fans didn’t look to happy
      • Then took off for final trail
      • Couldn’t run much at this point so walked most of it
      • Tried running, but then tripped on a rock and ate shit – moaned in annoyance
      • Creepy sharp canyon drop-offs, kinda cool but creepy
      • Onto the road, trying to catch people in front, avoiding getting caught by people behind
      • Almost there almost there! And boom its 700 west not 100 west L
        • Lol
      • Finally get to the turn, start running, and im in at 17:58
    • Nutrition
    • Gear
    • Reflection

 

Chicago Marathon 2017

Chicago Marathon Race Report – 10-8-17

Took me long enough, but project #Breaking4 is finally complete! Dammit, I gave away the conclusion so I guess you can stop reading now. But nah, you know you’ll still enjoy it, so keep on reading. Chicago was my fourth attempt at hitting sub 4. I was too ambitious for Boston, plagued by IT band problems in Philly, and did not train hard enough for New York. But 2017 had been a breakthrough year for my running career: my training reached new levels of volume, frequency, elevation, and speed, resulting in a new half marathon PR of 1:43:20 (7 min 15 sec improvement) and the completion of my first ultramarathon (Mt Hood 50k). Now, it was time to finally hit my goal time for the marathon distance. No excuses allowed. As my brother and the Big EZ told me right before I left, “Sub 4 or don’t come home”.

Training

For this cycle I would just build off of my 50k – easy “fun runs” for four weeks to rest andGPTempDow recover, followed by 10 weeks of an actual training program. I stuck to a similar framework as the 50k: five runs per week, including back to back weekend runs that teach your body to run on tired legs (long run Saturday + shorter medium effort run Sunday). Instead of hill repeats, focus on #speedwerk and take advantage of the East River track. Plan was to peak at 45 miles three weeks before the race (previous max for a marathon cycle was only 32 miles back in 2015).

Sounds like a solid plan right? Let’s just say I had a whole host of issues following the program. Of course, it was all my own doing as I chose to party and travel more (see scuba pic above, absolutely unnecessary for this report but why not) at the expense of training, so yes, please boo hoo hoo me and tell me how just difficult my life is.

Some highlights (and struggles):

  • I experimented with no carb, fasted morning runs during the first few weeks of training. This meant waking up at 430am. Most of these runs were a struggle, though once in a while I would have a strong run. If you can teach your body to become fat adapted (where your body relies on fat for fuel rather than glyocogen which comes from carbs), then you have basically unlocked an unlimited source of fuel and can eliminate the dreaded wall. But you really have to cut out carbs to get to this level, something that proved to be extremely difficult for me, especially with the lack of tasty non carb options in CT. But I also needed to do this just to maintain my physique as a fine specimen, otherwise all of the partying would’ve taken its toll on me. Eventually I started cutting back on these runs and reverted back to my nighttime regimen. As soon as I did this I instantaneously felt stronger during runs.
  • Because of my frequent summer travels, friend visits to NY, and just general partying, I resorted to attempting to squeeze in long runs during the week instead of weekends. Everyone knows how long my days are commuting to and from CT, so the idea of a 12-14 mile run on a weekday after work wasn’t particularly exciting. Add to the fact that it was super humid, and I was even attempting these runs on the treadmill. As a result, I ended up only completing one 10 mile run, two 12 mile treadmill runs, and one 3 hour trail run in Hawaii prior to my final 20 mile run in Central Park before the taper period. Not ideal, but hey, it’s the price you pay for being a jetsetting social influencer.
    • The 18 mile NYRR marathon tune-up in Central Park (I was to run 2 miles beforehand to get to 20) took place two days after the Dirty Saint (the name of my new apartment in the East Village, for anyone who didn’t know) housewarming party. I told myself I’d be responsible that night and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Next thing you know I find myself walking to a homeless shelter at 5am because a hobo stole Keem’s phone and was demanding a ransom. Instead of sleeping, we are trying to fight a homeless dude, and in order to cool down after securing the phone, we had to take a walk to Halal Guys. Yes, exactly how I wanted to be resting prior to the most important training run. At least I got plenty of carbs in!
    • I didn’t really have a plan for the race, and just decided I would run based on IMG_5600feel. I felt pretty good the first two laps, and tried to stick with the 3:45 pacer who was actually running slightly faster. But on the third run up Harlem Hill, I completely ran out of steam and fell off pace. I resorted to 10 min run / 1 min walk strategy, but still finished at a respectable 8:58 pace overall. It was hot and humid, and I had also run 12 miles on Tuesday and did a 5 mile speed workout on Thursday. Add this to my lack of rest whilst partying, and I couldn’t be too upset with my finish. As Z man had told me during 50k training, blow yourself up in practice so you don’t blow up on race day. And that is precisely what I did after a hard week.
    • I also came away with two key lessons: 1) the realization that I could strategically walk and still run a strong overall pace and 2) I could fight the heat by pouring water on myself at every station. Both of these lessons proved vital during Chicago.
  • I was able to do five speed workouts, a few less than I had hoped for due to the scheduling of long runs mid-week. However, these speed workouts were all pretty solid, culminating with 9x400m repeats on the East Village track – most of the repeats were completed at a low 6 pace, with some even sub 6. I did almost puke halfway through – sushi was a bad choice!
  • Because training wasn’t ideal, I can’t say that I had complete confidence in my base goal time of sub 4. I had blown up on my three prior road marathons, and doubts would start to creep up on me during the taper. Back in the spring, I was absolutely strong enough to do sub 4 and probably even sub 3:50, but was I that strong this time around? I kept these doubts to myself.
    • I decided to channel my inner Fitty Cent and get sub 4 or die trying. I had more confidence in my ability to run, for example, 1:54 and 1:58 half splits, versus running a 2:00 hour first half and then negative splitting to get to sub 4. I know that banking time is a terrible strategy, but I just really wasn’t all that comfortable running that slow and then HAVING to negative split to hit my goal. Hence, there would be no conservative running for me.
  • A huge confidence booster came in two forms: 1) A 10 mile race in the Bronx in IMG_5778high 70s and humid weather in which I ran an 8:15 pace at only ~75% effort (two weeks before the marathon), and 2) the reading of my VO2 Max indicator on my Garmin watch had returned to levels unseen since the springtime. I know, the second one seems trivial (particularly because the VO2 Max tells me I can run a 3:25 marathon), but any small bit of confidence boost goes a long way.
    • It was only after this that I finally settled on my three goals – base goal would be sub 4, the “everything is going perfectly” goal would be 3:50, and the “everything has gone horribly” goal would be to PR, which is sub 4:21. But I still didn’t have the slightest clue as to what my pacing strategy would be.
  • Lastly, how could I possibly go through a discussion on training for a race without a discussion on “training” for a RAVE?!?! Just like the 50K, a big rave in which multiple friends from out of town would be coming down to visit coincidentally fell on the weekend before the race. No chance I was missing the Cityfox Closing Party, I hadn’t even been to Mirage yet this year! This time, however, I was much more well behaved and still very much enjoyed myself without compromising my fitness. A lot more of the “Patrick sway” and almost none of the “Justin shuffle” for those who know.Cityfox

Race Week / Weekend

As has become standard procedure, I try to read up on race strategy and race reports no later than the earlier part of race week. Doing this prevents me from obsessing over the race in the days leading up to it, thus allowing me to conserve my emotional energy for the race itself. If you recall Boston, I was way too fired up all weekend that by the time the race rolled around, I was mentally drained. So the aim of race week was to run easy to keep the legs loose, get plenty of sleep, and minimize unnecessary stress and negative energy. After my final run before the marathon on Thursday, a very easy 2 miler, I clapped it up and patted myself on the back. Why? Because this was officially the first time I would be going into a marathon without an injury scare. In each prior marathon, I tweaked something during the taper, leading to needless paranoia. So it finally felt good to show up to a race without any injury scares.

I also promised myself that after Wednesday night, there would be no more Federalist / National Review reading on Facebook. For those who don’t know, those are two conservative publications I follow just to get a viewpoint from “the other side”. But most of the time it’s garbage, leading to social media trolling and unnecessary but highly entertaining debates. I have no idea where CHUDI WHERE DA BOOTY finds these people, but myself and a few of my friends found ourselves debating a deplorable on his wall. But after Wednesday I stopped. Needed to clear my mind of any negativity.

I took a lot of flights over the summer, and literally all but one flight was delayed (yep, first world problems). But lucky for me, I got to Chicago Friday night just as scheduled. But unlucky for me, this meant no 2am Taco Bell drive thru like in Oregon when my flight was delayed by 3 hours. I swear those extra carbs helped! Got into bed at 11pm, and set my alarm for 7:30am, a nice 8.5 hours of sleep two nights before the race. This is the most important night of sleep, so wanted to make sure I got sufficient rest. My AirBnb hosts were super friendly and made sure I had whatever I needed, and even gave me a 6 pack of water because “you need to be hydrated!”

Saturday was expo day and big brunch day. Grabbed my bib, watched a video walk IMG_6025through of the course, and said hi to my charity table. Turns out that we had a separate waiting area within the Hilton Hotel down the block from the start entrance. Nice, an exclusive VIP option reminiscent of the models and bottles days! After swinging by, I swapped out my small marathon tee for a medium (the race volunteers had a good laugh at what looked like a crop top on me), bought a sweet Nike grey Chicago Marathon long sleeve half zip, and then almost left without the (second) most important item: the pace tattoos. I had never used pace tattoos/bracelets in a race, but I liked the idea of wearing one because it would enable me to see how I was tracking overall without having to run math in my head. It was only here, less than 24 hours before the start, that I finally decided how I would try to pace for the race. I ended up grabbing 3:50 and 3:55 pace tattoos (one per arm). Decided I’d aim to run somewhere in between the two, and then adjust accordingly based on feel. This meant running somewhere around 850, and maybe 840s and 830s if I was feeling good. I’d be running faster than sub 4 with a cushion if I started to slip. Originally I wanted to run with a pace group but the slowest group in Wave 1 was the 3:45 group. If I dropped to Wave 2 I’d have to wait an additional 20-30 min to start, which would expose me to the heat.

Speaking of weather, I judiciously watched it every single day of the week and it barely changed. Weather called for high 50s at the start (730am) rising to the high 60s by my goal finish (1130am). Any later and the weather would be high 70s and sunny. A few people I know were dismayed by the heat forecast, but honestly I wasn’t all that concerned. As long as I ran fast enough I’d be finished before it got too hot! Plus, if pouring water on myself helped in much hotter temps in the Bronx, then it would certainly keep me cool in Chicago.

Lucky for me, I had a good high school friend named Shelina who wanted to partake in my customary fat boy brunch. Plenty of good options but one problem: most of them had red meat! As many of you know, giving up red meat for lent was a huge revelation to me. Nowadays I only eat maybe once or twice a week at most, and most definitely not before long runs. I settled for the chicken and waffles, still yummy and still satisfying my inner fat kid. After brunch, it was time for some Netflix and chill. By myself, of course. I wanted to be off my feet for the remainder of the day, in chill mode stress free. Usually I throw on an action movie that requires little intellectual thought, but I’ve come to realize actions movies are a bit too stimulating so this time I went with some comedy to keep the mood light. Kevin Hart: What Now? was perfect for the occasion. Laid out my race outfit, packed my gear bag. Ate my chicken pad see ew, and before I knew it I was in bed at 830pm, alarm clock set for 330am so that I could eat pre-race meal #1: shrimp pad thai. That’s right, still haven’t changed that meal routine!

Race Day

The very first sign that it was going to be great day occurred immediately when I woke up at 330am and realized that for the first time ever, I had slept like a baby the night of a big race. No tossing and turning, no weird dreams, and no constant awakening. This all but confirmed that my nerves were at ease and I was ready to rock. Eating my shrimp pad thai was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that I was pretty sick of eating it and looking forward to taking a few months off from the dish. Went back to bed for 45min, and then was up for good at 430am. Plugged in my “EDM Dat Pop Lyfe” playlist (you know, the one that now has a bunch of Shawn Mendes songs to supplement Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen), announced on Facebook that “Today is a great fucking day!”, and went to work getting ready. All very effortless because I had packed everything and laid out all of my clothes the night before. At 520am I brewed up a coffee and toasted my butter bagel for meal #2. Usually I only drink about 1/4 cup of coffee but this time I nearly drank the entire thing. Figured it would be more of an energy boost and would really get my digestive system cleared out before the race, if ya know what I’m sayin’. By 540am, I was in an uber and on my way to the Hilton, right on schedule.

I emphasize right on schedule because there have been many instances, including Boston and New York, where I thought I had allocated enough time to get to the start but mis-judged badly and ended up stressed and having to rush through all the motions. It is infinitely better to show up “too early” rather than trying to minimize your wait time at the start and then having an unforeseen circumstance throw you off your game because you’re pressed for time. So arriving at 6am gave me a full 90 min before the start, more than enough time to foam roll, check my bag in, hang out with other charity runners, and use the bathroom multiple times. Even better, because we had the hotel as our exclusive base, with REAL bathrooms to use! This is the kind of VIP 1% treatment my brother would love, but me, as a rugged man of the people, did not find this all that necessary. Who are we kidding. Of course this is way better than gross porta-pottys.

Arriving at the start, it was just me and myself. Not literally, obviously. But as I write this IMG_6160sentence, I actually cannot remember the last road race in which I lined up at the start without any other friend also running the race. My 50K race report goes into greater detail about my attempts to learn how to tap into my introversion so I won’t completely rehash here, but let’s just say I still felt kind of odd showing up to the start without any of my crew. I did know a few others running the race but it was just too hectic to really make an effort to meet up beforehand. I’ve said in the past that I am a much stronger mental runner these days, so to me this was just another challenge. I will say that I overheard a dude talking to his friend “Unfortunately, I’m not in marathon shape right now. I’m in ultramarathon shape. Oh jeez, that is the douchiest possible thing I could’ve just said.” I wanted to high five him and be like hell nah, tell it how it is!

I tried to go backwards to the end of Wave 1 in Corral E where the 3:45 pace group was located. But for whatever odd reason the organizers forced me to go to my assigned Corral D. Couldn’t blame them as I certainly do look like a stud runner these days. I was also wearing my white Boston Marathon 2015 shirt, so dudes probably thought I was running sub 3, not sub 4! On a side note, I didn’t decide on this shirt until the days leading up to the race. I ultimately chose the BM shirt because mentally, I just felt faster whenever I was wearing it. No chance I can embarrass myself in a BM shirt, therefore I have to run faster. Whatever extra edge I could get for this race, I was gunna take it.

The start of the race went off in standard fashion – lots of excitement, energy, smiles all around, couple of signs of the cross for good measure. Because you are running through the heart of the city for the first couple miles, the GPS on watches get messed up and you have to rely on the actual mile markers themselves. My Garmin read 7:28 pace for Mile 1, which was clearly way off but having read up on the race beforehand I knew this was coming. Plus, my plan was to rely on my pace tattoos. I was off to a good start for the first few miles, settling into a decent pace tracking 3:50 to slightly faster.

But by the time I reached Mile 6.5, my left hip flexor started to ache. “This would fucking happen to me on race day” I muttered to myself. I alternated between dark thoughts and positive thoughts for the next couple of miles. Dark thoughts because I was pissed that I was already hurting at Mile 7, positive thoughts as an attempt to stay strong. Every worst case scenario ran through my head – missing the 4 hour mark yet again, or even dropping out because I was having a bad race. But eventually I told myself “Fuck It” and just go “run to run”. Little did I know that a few miles later the pain would go away and that would truly be the last of my dark thoughts for the rest of the race.

Turning towards the Wrigley area and then back south downtown provided just the catalyst I needed to snap out of those thoughts. The crowds were boisterous, and hitting the Mile 8 aid station provided me with a quick “rest” as I walked through the aid station and poured water on myself. By the time I got to the Mile 10 aid station where I took my second Gu, I was feeling fantastic. Started saying to myself “Today is the fucking day Justin! Today is the day you get that sub 4!” Cautiously optimistic, to say the least.  The crowds only got louder as I approached the halfway point. By this point I had been tracking 2-3 min faster than a 3:50 finish time and ended up speeding up and running Miles 13 and 14 in the low 8s. It was impossible not to speed up, with drummers lining the streets and music blaring at the aid stations. But I knew I had to back off, as the real race had yet to begin.

Heading westward after the halfway point is probably the only part of the race where the crowds thin out. But all this really meant for me was 1) a chance to check in on my body and form and 2) that I would be passing the United Center, my second landmark signifying ~2/3s of the race complete. In all my research on the course, I came across one report that said to break up the race into three parts – Mile 7.5 when Wrigley is visible, Mile 14.5 when you pass the United Center, and then Mile 24 when you see US Cellular Field. As a lifelong Mets, Knicks, and Giants fan accustomed to a life of misery, I was happy to use sports landmarks as something positive for a change. My body felt good when I ran by the United Center; not super fresh, but not hurting and not tired. But historically, Miles 15-17 were ALWAYS when my energy levels noticeably took a dip, so I started mentally preparing myself for the battle about to begin: “Time to fight Justin”. Except it never really came. Energy levels and body felt fine through 15 and 16, and I was able to take down a third Gu without problems. The sun was getting hotter too, but stopping at every aid station to pour water on myself was paying immense dividends. Furthermore, the crowds weren’t that thinned out at all and before I knew it, I was heading back east and south towards Little Italy and Chinatown, both known for having loud and rowdy crowds. At this point still tracking 2-3 min faster than 3:50, and I hadn’t once even looked at my right arm with the 3:55 bracelet.

IMG-6197I was still chugging along at Miles 18 and 19. What also helped was my other strategy of breaking down the race into a race to the next aid station: a mini race of 0.8 to 1.5 miles each. I had an entire system down of hitting the end of the Gatorade line, walking for 5-10 seconds to sip on it, hitting the end of the water line, walking for 5-10 seconds to sip and pour water on myself, and then taking off to the next aid station, maintaining my overall pace in the 840s. Breaking it down in this fashion made the race completely manageable and not daunting at all. At this point I was passing most people, and even recognized some who had taken off ahead of me in the first miles. This was a sign that I had run a smart race. But I did not want to jinx myself in the slightest bit, and kept telling myself that the wall was coming, to get ready to do battle.

And sure enough, at Mile 19.5, I started feeling light-headed and dizzy, and knew immediately that I was beginning to bonk. “FUCK! Need to get to Mile 20 aid station. Need to get to banana. Need to hang in there”, almost like a broken record. But by the grace of God, after maybe only 1 minute of feeling light-headed, a lady appeared out of nowhere on the side of the road holding a half banana!! Immediately moved to the side and grabbed it from her. The second the first bite hit my taste buds and it was instant relief. Light-headedness disappeared, energy levels restored. I was so ecstatic I forgot to say thank you. But she probably single-handedly saved my race right then and there.

Right before you hit Mile 20, you turn right and are greeted by the massive Chinatown gates and a roaring crowd, complete with Chinese drums. This amped me up so much and as I saw the Mile 20 marker, I screamed in my head “THERE IS NO FUCKING WALL!” and ran past. I also spotted a beer and liquor “water station” right after the Mile 20 sign, to which suffering runners happily stopped for! I was super tempted, but I wasn’t suffering, and sub 4 was a very definite possibility. I did not want to screw it up. No smiling. Stay focused. Fast feet. Light feet. Fast feet. Light feet. This was the mantra I began reciting in my head, over and over again. At this point your form isn’t perfect, and though I wasn’t bent over exhausted, I was definitely starting to fatigue. But the best thing you could with your form is to maintain high foot turnover, which minimizes energy expenditure and keeps your momentum going forward. As soon as you start to drag your feet, or take big heavy steps, your momentum starts to dip, your body starts to slow, and your legs start to ache more (particularly the IT band as heavy steps reverberate up to your hips, which is the source of ITBS). So, Fast feet. Light feet. Fast feet. Flat feet. No Justin, not fucking flat feet! Definitely said that to myself a handful of times by accident.

The next four aid stations had bananas, so I took full advantage. Ended up eating 2.5 bananas during the race. I also ended up popping 3 salt pills in these stations because I could feel a little tingle in my nose and in my arm, which were usually beginning signs of dehydration and I did not want to take a chance. I also popped one advil during this period, also as a precaution. I know, I know, you’re probably going to scold me about how bad it is to do that but I’ve gotten so used to it and I had a race to PR, so #YOLO. By the time I reached that last banana aid station, and the one after it (Mile 24.2ish), I was much more tired, and so I took longer walk breaks through the station (30-45 seconds each vs the 10-15 seconds). This ended up slowing my overall pace down, but right to down to tracking a 3:50 finish. Decided I should pop one more ½ Gu for a final boost, regardless of how un-appetizing it was. As most of you know, I’m a fat kid at heart who loves to eat, but not the biggest sugar fan so after a few Gus my body usually starts to reject them and start to dry heave. But to my pleasant surprise, I took it down just fine!

I read somewhere that in the last 6 miles, when you are fighting through the “wall” that you should dedicate each mile to someone as motivation to push through. So for Miles 21-24, I decided to employ this strategy and dedicated those four miles to my brother IMG-6218Carlo, to my nephew Ryan, to Rachel, and my mom. Pretty self-explanatory here. For Mile 25, I dedicated it to my dad who passed away in May. I didn’t realize until recently that he never got the chance to see me in a major race, so this dedication meant a lot to me. As I approached the last mile, I decided to dedicate Mile 26 to myself. Why? Because that’s when I finally knew. Knew that I was going to break 4. And only then did I allow a smile to pop up on my face. I had a choice heading into the last aid station: follow my usual pattern and have a strong, happy finish, or skip the aid station altogether and try to break 3:50. I chose the former, because I was feeling pretty fatigued, and I wanted to enjoy that last mile. And then finally, I made a right turn onto the infamous last hill (which is really just a speed bump if you trail run or have run Boston or New York), made one final left into Grant Park, and came through the finish line in 3:50:35. The fourth time’s a charm, about damn time Justin!

Post-Race Debrief

It took me four tries, but here we are, finally under 4 hours. Some thoughts and reflection:

  • More is better – I am now a firm believer that if you want to run faster and hit your goals, you need to run more. This is the first year I stepped up to 5x runs/week, with peak weekly mileage of 46 miles for the 50K and 41 miles for this marathon. In prior years, I had the speed to run raster, but my legs just didn’t have the strength and stamina to maintain it for long distances. Adding more miles, especially with the back to back weekend runs, drastically improved my stamina and taught me how to run on tired legs. The key is here is to build gradually, and to run slowly. I read an analysis on 2016 Boston Qualifiers, and the two stats that stood out to me most were 1) BQs ran significantly more miles per week than non-BQs, and 2) BQs only ran less than 20% of their total miles at or faster than marathon pace. This meant that they were training a lot more, but running at easier paces. I am nowhere near a BQ (maybe my chances have gone from 0% to 5% now), but this method still worked wonders for me. As a matter of fact, this was the best I’ve felt post marathon, and could’ve easily run 4-5 miles the next day if I wanted to.
  • Trail running has also made me a stronger runner: physically, mentally, and gastronomically. All of the climbing, downhill running, root and rock skipping, and uneven terrain has strengthened my lower body immensely. Mentally, trail running requires much more focus as you have to watch your every step, and the solitary aspect of being out in the woods or mountains alone for hours at a time teach you to dig within yourself for motivation. And gastronomically, I not only have a greater understanding of what works better for my body, but I also know that my stomach can handle larger volumes of nutrition in-race. Some people just can’t stomach 2.5 bananas and 3.5 Gus during a marathon no matter how badly they need the nutrition, but I know my body can handle it, even if it means dry heaving a bit from Gus. See my 50K report for more details on trail running.
  • Preparation & Relaxation is Key – As illustrated in the Race Week section, I was solely focused on only two things in the week leading up to the race: having everything prepared beforehand, and doing nothing that would either expend energy or create negative energy. No Facebook debates with deplorables, only watching comedy shows, being a couch potato all day, laying out everything the night before, and purposely reading up on the course and race strategy the week beforehand. One thing I did slightly differently this year was to cut back on caffeine intake in the two days before the race. Not cold turkey as that would’ve caused me to go nuts, but switching from cold brew to normal iced coffee, and only drinking one coffee at 8am the day beforehand. All of this allowed me to be as stress free as possible, and the nerves really never got to me the way it has in past races. I got into bed super relaxed and slept like a baby for the first time ever.
  • Conserve Every Ounce of Energy You Have – Building off of the above, I also tried to not to waste any energy whatsoever during the race. This meant no high fiving people, no yelling out loud, no talking to people, all a usual departure from my normal antics. This also meant having the pace tattoos on my arms, and having the locations of aid stations written on my hand. Having those for easy access meant that I did not have to mentally think as hard or calculate any numbers in my head. I know this sounds immaterial but trust me, every last bit of energy that you can conserve goes a long way for the marathon distance. I also made a conscious best effort to actually run the tangents, thus cutting out unnecessary distance. Only at Mile 25.2 did I finally let go, running off to the side and raising my arms to pump up the crowd. In addition, I only threw up the peace sign twice throughout the entire race, once at Mile 2-3 and at the finish line. Wish I could find the photographer for that first one but the pics never showed up on the website! Everyone knows that’s become my go-to move for the cameras, but I was much more focused for this race.
  • Walking is OK – I used to be deathly afraid of stopping and walking, fearful that I wouldn’t be able to start up again. But trail running taught me otherwise, and that final long run in Central Park solidified what would become an excellent race strategy. If you strategically walk (ie through the aid station, with a purpose) you can very much start up again and barely lose any time. And at later stages of the race, when others are dying, you probably have more energy left in the tank for a strong finish. Now, if you are Kipchoge or Meb trying to win the race, then nevermind. Ignore me.
  • I still hate the heat, but now I know how to fight it – I think my MA trail marathon in 80+ degree weather, attempted runs in the Philippines (110+ degrees), and the humid long runs of this training cycle have enabled me to become more “heat-adapted”. But what really worked was simply pouring water on my head at every aid station. It always refreshed and cooled me down and I had no issues whatsoever with the heat. I must’ve tapped into my #Pinoy roots as I was not among the many people who complained about the heat. Also, the decision to run in my white Boston Marathon shirt probably helped too.
  • Chicago knows how to throw marathons – Sure, Boston is the holy grail and New York has the loudest crowds. But Chicago held its own in that department easily. And most important of all, they were ALWAYS right where you needed them. Miles 20-26, when most people are suffering, had fantastic crowds the whole way. The west side of Chicago, which I was warned had much less crowds, was really not that bad at all. I have heard that race organizers have made active efforts to bring supporters to parts of the course that have historically had less crowds.
  • Big thank you to Shelina, high school friend I hadn’t seen for years – I know I IMG_6123spent all year learning how to draw energy from within, to be able to focus more on myself, and to be able to run without my crew or crowd support. But to say I wasn’t bummed that I’d be going to Chicago solo again would be an absolute lie. So I owe Shelina big time for being a gracious and welcoming host all weekend. She partook in my fat boy brunch, came to the finish line and acted as my personal photographer, and also went to Alinea with me for dinner. Oh and by the way, to take a page out of the Carlo Portes snobbery playbook, I can only eat 12 course dinners as my post-marathon meal from now on.
  • What would I do differently this race? – I’m still struggling to think of this one as everything went as well as it could. Probably would’ve liked to have a stronger training cycle. If I had a better cycle I think I could’ve ran closer to 3:45 or even less. But, sometimes you just gotta party and live life, am I right? And that’s why we create new goals for next year.
  • Speaking of 2018 goals – I’ve got my eyes firmly set on a 50 mile race for the springtime. Highly likely it will be across the pond, making my debut in the European trail racing circuit. Stay tuned on that one! As for the Fall, old man Carlo Portes is trying to pull a Floyd Mayweather (though he’s more of a Brian Sutherland) and wants to run Chicago, so I’m eyeing this one for an encore.
  • And finally, big thank you to all of my donors, who made this possible – Autism Speaks fights for a cause that is extremely personal to me, and I am very grateful for everyone’s contributions. I raised nearly 3x my fundraise goal. In true finance fashion I “under promised, and over delivered”. I also promised I’d mention all of my donors so here it is!
    • Andrew David & Fam, Andrew Keem (Dirty Saint Run Club), Andy Anderson, Anna Satzinger, Alexee Pupkin, Alex Lam aka DJ Lamchop, Beth Lennox, Benji “Circus” Cheung, Bill Techar, Bill Mauzy, Brantner Jones, Cat Morris from Down Under, Carlo Portes & Fam, Clark “CRSP” Ryan, Chudi WHERE DA BOOTY Motanya, Connor Antisdale, Dan LoPiccolo, Dave Nicassio, Dianne Gatdula my cousin aka Dirty Saint Guarantor, Diem Tran, Ed & Susanne Martin, Edwina Yevoli, Estela Portes, Eric & Landa Rosebraugh, Francisco “Latin Spice” Ceballos, James Horn, Jason & Sandra Kroll, John Withrow, Jordan Bloom, Joanne Wu Tang, Leslie Osterman, Lisa Grushkin, Marcus “SeymourButts” Weaver, Mark Villanueva (my other “Kuya”), Mark Jass, Mike Joyce my Fuhrer, Mimi Shih, Nikki Tang, Pat Connolly (Patacono), Polina Kulikova (Ukraine is Not Weak!), Rachel Ki aka Rachel JP Junior, RJ Naselli & Lauren, Rob Dorfman, Rob Lynch, Rodaan Peralta-Rabang, Sam Hwang, Sarah Berner, Tony Frascella, Vishal Ramani, Yuting Cognac Zhang, and corporate matches!

IMG_6082

IMG_6117

 

 

 

 

ChiMarathon Quick Race Notes:

Training:

  • not the best cycle: too much partying, traveling, not enough long running
  • Two treadmill 12 milers, one 3hr trail run in HI, 19.3mile nyrr tuneup
  • Some interval training – this was actually solid though wish I did more
  • VO2 max stuff was a positive sign
  • Attempted to do some no carb fasted running but these were so weak
  • Once switched back to carbs runs started getting stronger
  • That being said, I knew I was in higher level of fitness so wasn’t too worried about it
  • Strong 12 miles post 19.3 run which was strong considering circumstances (housewarming plus heat plus hills)

Race week:

  • Barely any taper tantrums, though body was feeling sluggish during runs (except 8 mile long run week before in cool weather)
  • First time ever didn’t have a random injury scare during taper
  • Anxiety / nerves never really got to me – sometimes felt it but not
  • Slept like a baby night before: 830pm – 330am, then 350-430am
  • Great night of sleep night before that – 1130pm – 8am
  • Really sick of pad see ew and pad Thai now
  • Watched some Kevin hart comedy and mauna cartoon movie night before
  • Big brunch customary
  • Taking it easy all week really helped
  • Made conscious decision to shut off any political bullshit after Wednesday, to clear my mind of negativity and stress
  • Drank a cold brew Saturday at 9am but no coffee rest of day and no nap
  • decided Saturday to wear white BM shirt, feel faster run faster plus heat
  • Everyone worrying about heat but it was 56-72 from 7-11am so wasn’t worried at all
  • Didn’t have a clear cut strategy – just wanted to run
  • Then decided 350,4,PR as goals (couple weeks before hand)
  • Expo was sweet with awesome Nike gear, pace tattoos, video of course

Pre-race:

  • 330am pad Thai
  • 520am coffee (drank full cup)
  • 530am plain bagel with butter
  • 4 poops (one pre coffee, one post coffee, one before gear check, final small one pre corral)
  • Gear check with Autism speaks was fantastic – nice to chill indoors and not deal with gear check at the race
  • Wanted to go to corral E but wouldn’t let me so just went to back of D
  • 345 slowest pace group in Wave 1 but didn’t want to drop back a wave so I could get earlier start and stay out of heat
  • Tattood 350 and 355
  • Wrote aid station locations on hand
  • Stress free and not rushed at all unlike New York and boston, everything taken care of

Race:

  • First few miles gps doesn’t work so just relied on overall time
  • Peeps taking off in front of me, I held back in high 8s
  • Mile 5 first gu
  • Mile 7 left hip flexor starts to hurt – went through dark thoughts until I got to next aid station – then felt better rest of way
  • Wrigley crowds were awesome this helped too
  • Pretty much stopped at every aid station to get Gatorade wash mouth with water and pour water on head – each time felt rejuvenated to run
  • Mile 10 second gu
  • Downtown crowds fantastic
  • Random side stitch mile 11-12 maybe?
  • Mile 15 third gu
  • Almost every aid station blasting good music – some techno too, other poppy shit that was great
  • Kept waiting for the moment my legs would falter but never came
  • Fast feet light feet
  • Fast feet light feet
  • Crowds a bit dead out west miles 14-16 but you get through it quickly
  • Crowds were perfect everywhere they needed to be
  • Mile 19.5 thought was gunna bonk, felt light headed but out of nowhere a lady appeared with a banana!
  • Took 1/2 banana at each aid station, one slice of orange
  • 1/2 gu at mile 24.5 as well – had zero issues swallowing gu, only last half banana had to force it down
  • Two 3 salt pills during those banana stations and one Advil (felt slight tingle in arm and nose, usual signs of bonk/dehydration, didn’t want to take chance)
  • Second and third to last walked through longer – this slowed overall pace
  • Crowds on miles 20-26 were perfect, everywhere you needed
  • Come miles 18-19 I had a feeling I was gunna crack 4 and maybe even 350 but refused to let my guard down – didn’t want to jinx
  • Only when we got to mile 25.2 did I let my guard down, waving my hands up to the crowd – getting emotional to myself but kept it together
  • Prior to that I didn’t high five one person or raise my arms except for a peace sign for the cameras – conserved as much energy as possible
  • 25.2 aid station choice between going for sub 3:50 or stopping for Gatorade – chose the Gatorade cuz wanted to finish strong
  • Final hill to get to grant park not great but wasn’t bad at all – used my arms
  • Fast feet light feet
  • Talked to myself the whole way – TODAY IS THE FUCKING DAY, Justin
  • Race begins now (mile 13)
  • Kept waiting for my legs to tire never happened
  • Second half of race was passing many many people, caught up to people I had seen taking off before me
  • Turning into chinatown right at mile 20 or 21 – yelled to myself “there is no fucking wall”
  • Mile dedication: 22 bro, 23 mom, 24 rachel, 25 dad, 26 me
  • A bit of shock at the finish when I got to 3:50:35 – TODAY WAS THE FUCKING DAY
  • Heat never an issue – pouring water worked like a charm
  • Had a system down for how I used the aid stations and it worked perfectly
  • Final hill wasn’t too bad, told myself to work my arms to power me up

Post race:

  • legs not too bad, can prolly run 4-5 miles today
  • Most relaxed I’ve been pre race and slept like a baby
  • Strategy was just to run and go but to be smart and back off from low 8s
  • But to use aid stations with a purpose and execute it – learned this could be done in the 19.3 miler and 12 miler
  • Mindset is different now – used to be afraid of stopping but walking through aid stations and all of them works out well
  • Mental toughness is there now
  • Would’ve been better to have big support system out there but nah the crowds were still good
  • Toes have blisters – right big right side, left pinky toe

 

Mt Hood 50K 2017

Mt Hood 50K Race Report – 7-9-17

Apologies, but tardiness has become par for the course with these reports. You must forgive me as I was too busy becoming the pinoy Jimmy Chin on Mount Shasta after my race, and I also finally achieved my goal of living south of 14th street in NYC. It’s been 6+ weeks by now, but let’s be real: you’re still going to read this report. I must say, it is still crazy to think I am writing out a race report for an ultramarathon. Sure, this was just a 50k, but anything longer than a marathon is considered “ultra” so I’ll take it.

Given my love for the outdoors, it was only natural and inevitable that I would stumble upon trail running and ultramarathons. Can’t remember when exactly it piqued my interest but I do remember seeing videos and pictures of my bro’s coworker, Z Man, running 100+ mile mountain races in Mont Blanc or out West and being in complete awe of the scenery. The final push to get serious about this, however, came from one of the countless daily Bloomberg IB convos I have with my brother:

08:50:43 JUSTIN PORTES : Z man finish?

08:56:38 CARLO PORTES : No idea

08:56:45 CARLO PORTES : But he texted me last night

08:56:48 CARLO PORTES : So i’m assuming he did

08:57:21 JUSTIN PORTES : I see

08:58:02 CARLO PORTES : More important is big ez did his first 50 miler

08:58:19 JUSTIN PORTES : yup

08:58:28 JUSTIN PORTES : Been talking to him about it

09:01:20 CARLO PORTES : I don’t really keep track of z anymore because these are so old hat for him (ha, 100 miles). But when ez texted me yday at the finish, a guy’s first ultra, that’s something else

09:01:44 JUSTIN PORTES : Yup true that

09:09:49 JUSTIN PORTES : 18 mile race in CP yesterday

09:09:51 JUSTIN PORTES : Was solid

09:14:45 CARLO PORTES : nice

09:15:07 CARLO PORTES : But I had 2 buddies do 50 and 100 this wknd so not impressed dawg!

09:15:10 CARLO PORTES : hahahhaha

09:15:13 JUSTIN PORTES : hahahahaha

09:15:18 CARLO PORTES : Fkg 50 miles alone

09:15:22 CARLO PORTES : The thought

09:15:38 CARLO PORTES : That’s some pain son

09:15:53 JUSTIN PORTES : It is long

09:16:20 CARLO PORTES : I have mixed views towards it

09:16:26 CARLO PORTES : Part of me wants to see

09:16:30 CARLO PORTES : Part of me wld rather not

09:16:42 CARLO PORTES : I know marion wld kill me with the training

09:17:08 JUSTIN PORTES : Hahaha true

09:17:13 JUSTIN PORTES : I would like to eventually do one

09:17:21 CARLO PORTES : Now is the time

09:17:22 CARLO PORTES : but

09:17:29 CARLO PORTES : I don’t think you have it in you

09:17:32 CARLO PORTES : lifestyle

09:17:35 CARLO PORTES : Not physical ability

09:17:39 CARLO PORTES : I think you can do it

09:17:49 CARLO PORTES : But yopu need to walk away from that edm sht for a decent amt of time

09:17:56 CARLO PORTES : But I am telling you, now is the time

09:18:05 CARLO PORTES : Don’t do it when you have a serious gf or wife

09:18:11 CARLO PORTES : Cannot emphasize that enough

 

Two things here: 1) The Portes gene is very stubborn, so when told it can’t be done, the Portes species goes out and gets it done. 2) Emphasizing the now, at age 27, when I don’t have serious life commitments, truly resonated with me. So once again, and I truly hate feeding his gargantuan ego, I must thank big bro for giving me that final nudge.

I wanted a race out west, so that I could make a full vacation trip out of it. I also wanted a race in the earlier part of the summer, to give me some time off from training in the winter. The Mt Hood 50K seemed like the perfect “beginner” ultra-race. Groomed trails, not too much elevation gain (2700 feet), all under the backdrop of Mt Hood.  Thank you Sani Gaydarska (who by the way has become a serious climber over the past few years) for randomly telling me about the Hood to Coast relay she did a few years ago back, as that’s how I learned about Mt Hood. Race registration would open January 3rd of the New Year.

As most people who know me can attest, I am all about the big group gatherings, including running races with other people. So of course I tried to recruit others to join me on this journey, namely Ian “Eli” Whitney and Francisco “Latin Spice” Ceballos. While Eli was planning on his first official IM (which he crushed with a time of 12 hours by the way) just a few weeks after Mt Hood was to be run, Cisco reacted with great enthusiasm. So much enthusiasm that he went and booked his plane ticket to Portland right away to lock in a cheaper price. And so much enthusiasm that he never bothered to register for the race when the registration opened. And of course, the race sold out within one day. So my man now had a plane ticket and no race. Smh.

Trail races and ultramarathons are the opposite of big city races – races are typically capped at a few hundred people (due to permitting / general environmental preservation), and you can’t just simply take someone else’s bib. Plus, people who sign up for these races actually show up and want to run them, so good luck trying to buy a bib from someone. Cisco was placed in the waitlist, at number 125ish, aka zero chance he gets into the race. Guess this would have to be a solo journey for me.

Training

I apologize in advance that the training section is quite long. However, this was the first major race for me in which the journey was just as important, exhilarating, and fulfilling as the race itself. It would be unfair to leave out important details of the training cycle.

Now that I was entering ultrarunning territory, I knew that my training regimen would drastically change. Gone were the days of running 3x/week with added emphasis on cross training – I needed to start running more. A lot more. I had zero idea of what pacing or finishing times would look like, but I knew that I could easily be running for 6-8 hours. So, the basic tenet of whatever training plan I was to cobble together needed to center around building up my body to withstand such long periods of time on my feet.

I scoured the internet for some first-time 50K training plans and constructed a plan that took elements from different plans, based on what my schedule could realistically allow for. I ran the plan by Evan “Big EZ” Odim and ZMan, two of my brother’s closest work friends who are seasoned veterans of the ultra distance, both of whom would become good mentors throughout training. Made some tweaks to the plan, resulting in something like this:

  • Five runs per week – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday
    • Saturdays were the long runs at an easy pace; Sundays at 6-7 miles medium effort
    • Wednesdays alternated between 600m hill repeats and 50-70 min “hilly runs”
    • Tuesdays and Thursdays at easy pace (4-7 mile runs)
  • Mondays were core/upper body days, and Thursday and/or Sunday post-run for deadlifts to maintain some lower body strengthening
  • Friday was my day of rest
  • Start with 25 miles in Week 1, and build up by 5 mile increments over four weeks; then, go back down to Week 2 mileage, and build up from there
    • This structure was recommended to me by ZMan, and would get me to a peak of 50 miles in Week 12 before the taper period

As you can see in the above, this was a HUGE increase from my standard 3x/week programs. The most miles per week I’ve had peaked at was 32 miles, I had never attempted a back to back run (maybe once in the last 4 years). I was definitely very intimidated going into this training cycle, but also pretty excited to see if I was capable of it. The best part about constructing my training program, however, was trying to figure out how to not completely give up my raving lifestyle. As the notes listed below show, I came up with a fantastic solution:

Pic

I was very determined to maintain my social life while still training for this race, and figured a little bit of compromise could make it work. My degenerate friends really got a kick out of the “no shuffling” rule. Some highlights from training:

  • Week 1 of training, I went out hard Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, and managed to bang out 10 miles on Saturday and 6 speedy miles on Sunday followed by a strong deadlift session. I definitely felt emboldened by this, but I knew it was unsustainable and vowed to never repeat it again.
  • Since I was running a trail ultra, I needed to be running on trails. So I trekked up to Van Cortland Park in the North Bronx and banged out 2.5 hours of trail running (12.75ish miles). What. An. Epiphany. I literally felt like a little kid exploring the world, running around with a carefree attitude. Those 2.5 hours flew by very fast and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment getting lost in the wooded trails.
  • If I wanted to be legit, I needed to train legit. So this meant also making trips up toA72BB2EA- Bear Mountain to train. The Bear Mountain trail is about 4 miles up and down, with about 1000+ feet of elevation gain. Big EZ led me and Cisco (being the standup guy that he is, still wanted to train with me) on our first trip up, and I was literally dying within 25 minutes of the run, climbing up that mountain. What the hell did I get myself into? I wondered. After the climb, we ran around the lake and did some other trails that were flatter and allowed for actual running as opposed to steep climbing. Over a 2.5 hour period, we managed to cover just under 11 miles.
    • As you can see, pacing for trail running is very, very different vs road running. With significantly higher elevation gain and technical trails (ie rock scrambling, hop skipping across rocks and roots, etc), the overall pace is much slower (unless you are a beast like Killian Jornet), and you really just have to focus getting your body accustomed to longer periods of time on feet vs running an exact number of miles
  • In addition to the pacing differences, nutrition too, is a 70D79749-completely different beast. Aid stations at these races are typically spaced 4-6 miles apart vs the typical 1-2 miles for a road race. And given the longer distances, these aid stations are fully stocked with items besides water and electrolyte mix: fruits, chips, PB&Js, vegetable broth, goldfish, pickles, boiled potatoes, coke, and mountain dew, to name a few. It is hard to solely rely on energy gels such as GU for such long distances as your body needs more sustenance (unless you’re a psychopath like ZMan who once ate 50+ GU’s for a 100 mile race). And I’m sure you’re laughing at the coke and mountain dew, but trust me a few shots of those at the latter stages of a race will give you the necessary sugar boost to fight to the finish line. As a fat kid at heart who will gladly eat anything and everything: ultra running was definitely made for me.
    • I decided my nutrition plan would be as follows: consume something every 30-45 min, starting with 1 GU, then switch to ½ PB&J sandwiches. Alternate sipping on water and Nuun energy electrolyte mix as needed. But, as described further in this report, I ended up ditching a lot of this and winging it with various saltier foods such as boiled potatoes with salt, vegetable broth, chips, and pickles. I’ve come to realize that my body prefers savory foods to sweet, and after awhile my body would just start to reject sweet foods (ie GU, Shot Bloks, even PB&J). But I had no issues consuming savory items.
  • On the topic of nutrition, Two things to note:
    • I gave up red meat for lent. I had been consuming wayyy too much red meat. I’m talking 8-10 meals per week. Even my big bro, Mister rare filet from Del Frisco’s himself, was shocked and surprised I hadn’t had a heart attack yet. After 2-3 weeks, I noticed a significant increase in my already high octane energy levels. I’ve heard people say eating red meat makes them feel sluggish, so I chalked it up to giving up red meat and decided to stick with it throughout training (only breaking it for special occasions ie. Filipino food).
    • I continued to practice intermittent fasting 3-4x/week. Basically IF’d Sunday through Thursday, then carb’d up for the big weekends of running. I thought that eventually as training volume increased I would no longer be able to keep this up, but to my pleasant surprise I never had any issues sticking with it.
    • My improved diet, combined with the increased training volume, led to ~10-12 lbs of weight loss in the first 9 weeks of training. I gained some back when I was in the Philippines crushing crispy pata (fried pork) on a daily basis and during taper when running mileage declined, but overall was down ~7-8 lbs by race day.
  • Big EZ introduced me to the North Face Endurance Series, a series of trail races across the US. By perfect coincidence, the North Face Massachusetts trail marathon fell on the same exact day I was to run 26 miles, so my plan was for that to be my final “practice” run before the 50k. However, Big EZ somehow incepted me into the North Face Bear Mountain trail marathon, which would fall on Week 8 of my training program when I was supposed to do 20-22 miles, not 26. I told him that if I could bang out 18 miles on the Bear Mountain trails two weeks before the race, I would sign up for the race. And sure enough, Cisco and I banged out 18 miles, including 12 miles on the actual race trail, one up and 287D4555-down of Bear Mountain, and a loop around the lake. I use the term “banged out” generously here – trust me, it wasn’t easy, and we managed to do it in under 4 hours. However, this gave me enough confidence to sign up for the race.
    • I was supposed to write a race report on the North Face Bear Mountain run, but never got around to it so will keep it short and succinct here. Four days before the race I had a small panic attack upon discovering that it would be stormy and rainy throughout the race. But Big EZ and ZMan both gave me some pointers (ie taping my toes and putting Vaseline on them) and both reminded me to throw pace out the window – the goal is to finish. The day before the race, I attended the pre-race workshop hosted by North Face and two ultra running superstars: Dean Karnazes and Timothy Olson. The race director mentioned at least 5 times that this race was the hardest of their entire series due to the technical nature of the trails, and Dean scared the crap out of me by telling me running the Bear Mountain marathon is equivalent to 40 miles out on the Mt Hood trails. I might be way in over my head here. The morning of the race I get to the parking spot and hop on the shuttle bus to the start. Take one look at some of the people on the bus, and EVERYONE is looking legit. I’m talking very fit guys and girls alike, with legit gear on. Now, I’m really starting to question myself. At the start line, I finally see a heavy set man also partaking in the marathon. “If this dude can do it, so can I” I muttered to myself as a small confidence boost. To be sure, I posted a Happy Birthday Instagram message to my brother right before the race just in case I disappeared in the woods.
    • All of my pre-race jitters and nerves were completely unfounded. It became very apparent within the first mile of the race thatCB32085F- I belonged there, settling into a decent easy pace in the middle of the pack. The race was very slow going – attempting to run on slippery rocks and roots in pouring rain can only end in disaster, so there was plenty of power walking uphill and downhill. However, it was truly an adventure out there and I found myself enjoying every moment of it. Never had issues bonking, and legs never really tired. I was in a slower group, but I counted maybe a handful of people who passed me throughout the race while I passed 20-30 people. In fact, as I crossed the finish line in 6h39min, I found myself saying I could’ve done the 50k! Given all the nerves leading up to the race, I was super excited with my strong finish and almost shed a few tears at the finish line. Now I felt legit.
  • The best way to prepare for a half marathon is to run a full marathon the week before. In what has become an annual birthday tradition, myself and 7 others ran the Brooklyn Half. My goal was to PR, which meant sub 1:50, and if I was having a good day, maybe closer to 1:45. Well, I dropped a 1:43:20, and absolutely crushed it. All of my training really was paying off. Two highlights of this race: 1) I paced an African dude starting around Mile 4 when I first noticed that we were the only two flying on the uphills. This dude literally looked like Meb so I figured he’d drop me after awhile but to my surprise we paced each other through to the finish. I gave him a handshake after the race, sharing a laugh about how we tried not to let each other pass (he ended up beating me by 10 seconds or so). 2) Around Mile 8 I was surprised to catch up to my man, CHUDI WHERE DA BOOTY, who was making his triumphant return to the race circuit after years of pretending his IT Band was broken. I thought he started behind me so figured I would not see him at all, but turns out he started in way too fast of a corral. I snuck up on him and spanked him so hard in DA BOOTY he yelped aloud in surprise. People all around me just stared like wtf is wrong with this dude. Chudi told me he would try to keep up with me as long as he could, which turned out to be a whopping 5 seconds before I was gone. Each one of us ended up with a PR that day, including three people who ran their first half marathon. Binge running instead of binge drinking on my birthday just seems way more fun these days.EA645BCB-
  • All the highs and funs of the first 9 weeks of training took a turn for the worst when my brother called me the morning I was to fly out to London for the second annual #ManTrip – my pops had passed away in the Philippines. I won’t go into a whole sob story here about how devastating and unexpected this was, but it meant that training would have to take a backseat while we were out in the Philippines. I made a few attempts to run in the 110 degree humid heat, attempts that proved to be futile as I would get maybe 3-4 miles before I could go no more.
  • The North Face Massachusetts Trail marathon was one week after returning from the Philippines. I banged out a strong 10 miler the week before while at college reunion; this reassured me that I had not lost any fitness while out in the Philippines. In addition, after going through the Bear Mountain race and being told repeatedly that that was the hardest one, I was super relaxed for this race. Turns out that was entirely #fakenews. This race was much much harder than Bear Mountain, with 5200 feet of elevation gain in searing 80+ degree weather. By Mile 3C777A78-14 I was having dark thoughts, probably compounded from the emotional toll I had taken from my dad passing away. Luckily I found a random lady around Mile 16 who was also struggling a bit, and we decided to keep each other company the rest of the way. We finished in 7h39min, with just 21 minutes to spare before the cutoff. Sounds slow, but I finished 61st out of 102 finishers, with another 30+ people who DNF’d. This should give you an idea of how brutal it was out there – I was super proud for suffering, fighting through it, and getting myself to the finish line. Taper time!
  • I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time I got to the taper, having travelled 4 weekends in a row (including 1.5 weeks in the Philippines) and being on 9 flights. Taper time was meant for me to recover, which led to many incomplete runs and less mileage than I had planned for. But I was not worried at all as my body needed the rest. The last two weeks of tapering are a tough time for me because I always manage to hurt myself in some stupid capacity, leading me to freak out but then turning out to be fine during the race itself. However, this time, instead of getting injured, I got sick with a bad cough. Damn, just my luck.
    • The week before the big race, was the big rave. HYTE NYC with a huge lineup that I just couldn’t resist. A fierce debate erupted amongst my friends as to how degenerate I would turn for the day. We ended up compromising, slightly leaning towards the degenerate side. Figured I’d have a full week to recover and be ready. The only problem, the rave exacerbated my cough. I didn’t get worried until Wednesday, when I went into full-on recovery mode. Began drowning myself in fluids – Gatorade, beet juice, 5 cups of tea, pedialyte, emergenC, and soups. You name it, I was chugging it. Literally recreated having an IV. Went for a 2 mile test run Thursday – legs and lungs were tight but I was feeling good. By Friday night, I was feeling much, much better. Phew. Game on.
    •  6AB5F04B-
  • There were two specific mantras that kept me going throughout training, given to me by EZ and ZMan:
    • “Always keep moving” – EZ first dropped this line on me when we were training in Bear Mountain. He told me no matter what, always keep moving. Don’t stop and sit, don’t stop and rest. Always keep moving, one step at a time. I think I recited this to myself 1000x during the Massachusetts race, and it certainly helped. This phrasing came in handy during the actual 50K, and was even more useful during the Mt Shasta summit climb the week after.
    • “Blow yourself up in practice, so you don’t blow up during the race” – probably the one piece of advice ZMan gave me before I embarked on this journey that stuck with me the most. He wanted me to train hard and push myself, to learn how to suffer, even to the point of blowing up, as long as it was during a training run. This way, come race day, I would be stronger and better prepared to deal with adversity. Obviously this did not mean training recklessly, but training was not supposed to be a cakewalk either. I repeatedly came back to this advice throughout the training cycle, and over time I began to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable, learning to push myself harder than I otherwise would have.

Race Weekend

Of course, my flight to Portland Friday night got delayed by almost 3 hours, and I did not get to my hotel until 130am. No problem, I told myself, I’ll just sleep for 8 hours to get my rest. However, I was starving by this point. And by the grace (or punishment) of God, I spotted the famed Taco Bell sign down the block! So I did what any other ultra runner would totally do and drove over to pick up some Taco Bell drive thru at 2am. Truly a fat kid at heart, I must say. But what the heck, figured my chicken quesadilla and chicken chalupa would just be some good ol’ extra carbs for Sunday.

Saturday was my day to explore Portland before making my drive to Mt Hood. As is tradition the day before races, I went to have my customary fat boy brunch at Screen 11F3490F-Door, a popular Southern brunch spot recommended by a few friends. They warned me of long wait times, but this ain’t an issue when you’re table for one! The place is known for it’s chicken and waffles, but I’m not a huge fan of waffles so I settled for the chicken gravy biscuit sandwich, and of course, a stack of pancakes. I definitely got a ton of looks from people around wondering how/why I am eating two dishes. But the meal was absolutely fantastic.

I was only in Portland for a day, but absolutely loved the chill, Brooklyn-esque vibe the city exuded. People were super friendly, the streets were well kept, and there was plenty of green space and paths suitable for running or biking. To my pleasant surprise, I could tell how diverse the food scene was based on walking around downtown. And of course, there were plenty of my favorite “hipster/dbag” coffee shops, which I like to pretend I frequent back in NY but in reality, I am but a #basicbitch confined to Starbucks in Greenwich, CT.

After picking up my chicken pad see ew pre-race dinner meal and my shrimp pad thai pre-race breakfast, it was time to make my way to Mt. Hood. Not going to lie, I was getting all sorts of amped whenever a good view of Mt Hood came into sight, and I was periodically screaming “LET’S GOOOOO!!!” and banging on the steering wheel like a madman. This is one of the beauties of solo travel – you can do whatever you want, including screaming like an idiot inside your car when you’re excited (more on this later). The Mt Hood 50 miler was in progress, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to scout out the trailhead to get a feel for what to expect. While hanging out by the finish cheering on random runners, I met a super friendly dude drinking a beer, who was waiting for his wife to finish. Turns out he was also a participant but missed the mile 28 cutoff by 3 minutes. Three minutes!! He told me how he saw the sweepers coming up and he tried everything he could to stay in front but just couldn’t do it. I felt terrible for him, until he told me about how he spent at least 5-8 minutes taking photos during the race!!! I thought I was notorious for my stupid mid-race snapchats, but my gosh this dude’s photography cost him his race! He started telling me about how he was lying down on the side of the trail to get the perfect angles for photos and I’m just like dude…come on man! I must admit, he had some pretty awesome pictures.

Mt Hood 50K

Like clockwork, I was up at 4am to eat my shrimp pad thai – part 1 of my pre race meal. Went back to bed for a 30min nap, then I was up again to actually get ready. By 6am, it was time for my bagel with cream cheese, and a ½ cup of coffee to, you know, get the juices flowing. By 630, I was off to the trailhead. Its about a 45minute drive, giving me plenty of time to blast my “Dat Pop Lyfe” playlist, featuring some Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Kygo, to name a few. And of course I had to sing along because I am 100% a #Belieber. Again – this is the beauty of travelling solo. Cisco hated this when we were driving up to Bear Mountain, but he wasn’t around this time to spread his blasphemy as non- Belieber.

While this happy pop music is standard for getting me excited, at a certain point a switch flips in my head where I need to get in the zone. After checking in and obtaining my race bib, that switch was flipped. Call Me Maybe was replaced with some burner music (Burning Man), characterized by desert house beats that put me in the zone and get me focused. Taped up and lubed my toes, made sure my running pack had everything (Nuun bottle, salt pills, lucky running credit card) and put on my race bib. The weather had been brisk in the high 50s / low 60s all morning so my plan was to wear my sleek Nike race sleeves (good thing I didn’t discard them at the NY marathon), but by the time the race start approached the sun had come out and the sleeves felt unnecessary. Got into the porta-potty for one final #2, and then was ready to go with 2 minutes to spare.

If I thought everyone at Bear Mountain looked legit, let me tell you: THESE people looked legit. Everyone super fit, looking like they had been here before. So of course, I got a bit nervous, until, yet again, I saw an Asian dude wearing all orange with no running pack. No running pack, no waist pack, no handheld. Nada. Interesting, he definitely does not look legit. Ok. I can at least probably beat him. The race host then asked “Who here is running their first ultra?!?!” to which literally 90% of hands went up. Instantly I felt more confident. And then, Eye of the Tiger started blaring through the speakers, E4559AF6-momentarily transporting me to the Philadelphia museum footsteps. Just like that, the countdown began, and the gun went off. So begins my first ultra…

I settled into the middle of the pack, trying to get a feel for how people would be pacing. The trail quickly turned into single track in the first couple miles, and I felt comfortable moving at a 10ish pace. I was especially trying to pay attention to my breathing, given my cough had only gone away a few days prior. Breathing was fine, and coughing was non-existent, so naturally I began chatting up the folks around me. Within 5 minutes the whole line of runners knew my running life history. I’m pretty sure a few folks were like “f this dude he talks too much” because they then took off ahead.

It was immediately apparent to me just how much nicer the trails were out there vs the rocky / technical terrain of Bear Mountain and Wachusetts, MA. Very well groomed, and AB9B62E1-very flat as well. This allowed for long, sustained periods of running where you could truly get into a rhythm, unlike back home where you are constantly hop skipping over roots and rocks and boulder scrambling. By Miles 4-5, I was already having a blast and I knew it was going to be a good day. I proclaimed aloud “These trails are nice!” to which others around nodded and agreed. I really felt like a kid, filled with excitement, happy to run around and explore.

I hit the first aid station (Mile 6), and discovered that the PB&Js were made with whole wheat bread, vs the white bread used in the North Face races. The white bread sandwiches for whatever reason had been easier for me to take down, whereas wheat bread would cause me to gag after awhile. Definitely not what I planned for, but what could I do at this point? Ate a half sandwich and stuffed another into my pack and took off for what really was the only major hill of the race – a one mile stretch that leads to the portion of the race that is on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2700 mile trail stretching from British Columbia all the way to Southern California. This was definitely the slowest part of the race, the only point where my heart rate and breathing really spiked as I power walked up the hill. While this was a pretty long uphill (had been averaging 9.5-12 min miles but this one took me almost 16min), it really wasn’t a match for some of the super steep inclines I had seen in my training. Those two North Face “practice” races were really paying dividends on race day for me.

After the second aid station at the top of the hill (Mile 9.5ish), I found myself along a high ridgeline with fantastic views of Mt. Hood. I couldn’t help but stop at the first viewpoint to take some photos, including some failed selfies. I ended up letting 8-9 people pass me because of this, but as a millennial, gotta do it for the ‘gram! I remembered that there was a professional photographer set up somewhere along the ridgeline as well, so I came to my senses and continued running (do not worry I caught up and passed everyone who had passed me during my model shoot). Mile 13 was the third aid station, and the turnaround point along the route. I still am not entirely sure if there is a specific etiquette, but I noticed that in out and back races the person who is running back almost always is the one who says “Great job!” to the person still running out. So now that I was on the turnaround, it felt good to be able to cheer on others still running out, giving them small words of encourage as I made my way back along the ridge. And then, when I saw the photographer maybe 15-20 yards ahead, I purposely slowed down to create distance between myself and the woman in front of me. I needed to make sure this dude got a perfect picture of me! And a perfect picture he did capture:

IMG_0059

While the ridgeline was the coolest part of the trail, now came the fun part: running back down that one mile hill I climbed up earlier. At this point I and two other runners, Jimmie and Emilie, had been passing each other back and forth, each time yelling “I’m sure you’ll catch me at the next hill!” So when we got to the start of the downhill Jimmie yelled out to me “Hey man we’ve been going back and forth might as well run together right??” to which I happily agreed. The two of them were a married couple originally from the South, and they, too, were running their first ultra. I had been going slower on the downhill to conserve my legs, but once I started chatting them up the three of us took off. I think we even hit the low 8s at one point on the downhill, and ended up with a 9-915ish mile. And because it wasn’t really technical, we could really let loose and fly, and that was just fantastic.

I made it to the Mile 21 aid station around 4h15min, well before the 5h30min cutoff. A kind lady was waiting with cold sponges to cool runners down (it was low 70s and a bit hotter so why not), and I ate some pickles, goldfish, orange slices, and watermelon. By now, I was done with the PB&Js and solely carrying one in my pack as emergency nutrition. This was also when I first considered busting out the running equivalent of NOS: coke and mountain dew shots! But, I swear I heard Dominic Toretto’s voice whisper in my ear “Too soon, junior” and decided to hold off until the next aid station at Mile 26 for the final push. Foregoing the coke shots turned out to be the only real “mistake” I made during the race.

By Mile 23 I was starting to bonk a little, and I was in the only un-shaded part of the race so the sun was definitely bearing down on me. My legs also began to fatigue, and I ended up resorting to a 5 min run, 1 min walk type rhythm. I tried to keep pace with a lady about 20-30 feet ahead of me, but this lady just kept on running, even on the uphills, at a slow and steady pace that was still faster than my 5 min run, 1 min walk. All I could think about during the next 2-3 mile stretch was “just keep moving” and to get to the damn aid station so I could refuel. This was probably the only real stretch where I struggled throughout the entire race.

The race turned onto a small paved road alongside Timothy Lake and I spotted the Mile 26 aid station about 100 yards away. Instantly, my attitude perked up. This is when it A1373A4E-really hit me that I was going to complete this thing. Rather than rush through the station, I decided to take my time and chit chat with some of the volunteers and other runners. I also wanted to really be certain I was fueled up as I did not want to bonk through the finish line. This meant chowing down on more goldfish, orange slices, watermelon and pickles. This also meant busting out the NOS: shots of coke. I took down maybe 5 shots and instantly felt an energy boost. And just to be certain, I stuffed a bunch of goldfish and half a banana in my pockets for the road. Took a quick snap video reminding everyone I was a fat kid at heart.

I can’t remember what exact time I set out for the final 5 miles, but I do remember telling myself as I left the aid station to run the damn race faster than what I had done in Bear Mountain (6h36min). It was a good thing I set out with Emilie and Jimmie again, as being with them naturally kept me motivated. At one point they thought they were going too slow for me and told me to push ahead, to which I replied “I’m just trying to hang onto you guys!” Unfortunately the final miles of the course had some rolling hills, which slowed me down while the two of them continued a steady pace and eventually surged a couple minutes ahead of me. I started running some math in my head and thought ok, let’s push for sub 6h30min. At the Mile 29 mark on my watch I was around 6h08min, so I knew it was going to be cutting it close. But to my pleasant and shocking surprise, the GPS on my watch was off by almost 2 miles! I came across a few spectators clapping and congratulating me, and then I heard the cowbells from the finish line off in the distance. As I made the final right turn and could see the finish line 50 feet in front, the cowbells went off again signifying another finisher approaching. This time, I heard “Justin Portes! From New York City!” as I crossed the finish line in 6:12:15.

FullSizeR1

Post-Race Reflection

I have so much to reflect about on this race – not just the race itself, but many takeaways from the whole process and journey:

  • All of my training really paid off for this race, despite the slight drop-off in the last month. The increase in volume and frequency really improved my physical stamina, and I never really struggled at all throughout the race. Both the Bear Mountain and Massachusetts trail marathons had more elevation gain than this race, and both were much more technical. I don’t want to say this race was easy, as no ultramarathon is ever easy. But it definitely felt much easier than those two races. When I was debriefing with Big EZ, he asked me if could’ve done the 50 miler. I said that though it might’ve sucked and been very slow, yes, I definitely could’ve completed the 50 miler. That’s how strong I had felt even after the race.
  • As seen in the training portion, I was determined not to completely give up my raving lifestyle the way I had done in prior training cycles. Given the success of this race I think I may have just created the blueprint for doing that. It’s all about balance and being smart – in this case it meant 1) choosing which events I truly had to go to vs which I could skip and 2) not “turning” up to the point of destroying my legs. I don’t want to be smug about this because I still believe I (as well as the rest of run-rave crew) am playing with fire, and the day will come when we’ll have to choose between the two. But for now, gotta live life and enjoy!
  • Speaking of raves, I must thank Kygo for his fantastic EDC 2017 set, because I was literally humming and singing songs from his set to myself all throughout the race.
  • One of the issues I had during both practice marathons were my shoe laces coming un-tied. I probably lost 5-7 minutes each race re-tying my laces. So two weeks before the race I bought some speed laces. These were everything I had hoped for and more. I literally only had to tighten the laces once, and it took me all of 4 seconds. Great $30 investment and I highly recommend to everyone.
  • My nutrition was generally on-point, aside from the slight bonking on Miles 23-26. What greatly helped was my body’s ability to absorb and digest food while running. Chips, goldfish, pickles, fruits, potatoes, coke, you name it. I know some people who have digestive issues and really need to figure out exactly what they’re going to eat but I was fine throughout. I guess being a fat kid at heart does pay off sometimes.
    • Further to this, I believe swapping out the whole wheat PB&J for everything else was what led to me not having to go #2 throughout the race at all. During my practice marathons, I spent 4-5 min each time having to poop. I can’t say for sure but not eating PB&J was really the only thing different I did during Mt Hood, so I’ll chalk it up to that.
  • One of my New Year’s resolutions was to focus more on me – and this really gave me the opportunity to do so. To say I was nervous about the change in race-style was an understatement – especially after Cisco’s failure to sign up for the race. But I decided it would be a nice challenge for myself, to see if I could actually do a race without any of my typical support system. Trail running ultra races are nothing like running a big city marathon – there are no large boisterous crowds along the path cheering you on. Sure, you’ll find someone from time to time to run with and this is always helpful. But you really are forced to learn how to channel energy from within, something that as a super-extrovert has always been a struggle for me. But after 16 weeks of training and three big trail races, I know now that though I am still all about the “squad” and the big group, I can do my own thing and tap into my introversion as well.
  • I often tell people how I find running to be very therapeutic – there is something about it that enables you to just escape into your own world for a little bit, especially when I literally find myself dialed-in and “in the zone” (cue up all the clichés here). Trail running takes this to the next level – often times, it’s just you and nature, and there’s plenty of time for self-reflection. Furthermore, if you have even the slightest remote interest in the outdoors, you will find trail running absolutely fantastic. People ask me how is it possible to be out there for so long? I always tell them “It’s just a day-long hike in the outdoors”. The pace is much more easy-going and relaxing, and it really is just like going out for a hike. Except you’re running instead of walking most of the time. I do think regular hiking has been ruined for me though.
  • Trail running really is an exercise in mental concentration. As I previously noted, the Bear Mountain trails are fairly technical. It’s very hard to go out and just run as if you were on smooth flat pavement – you really have to focus on each individual step and exhibit some element of fearlessness if you want to move at a reasonable pace. Especially during the marathon when it was pouring the entire time; one misstep and you were probably on your ass in a lot of pain. But I found myself completely locked-in, and was very much impressed with ability to stay focused throughout (and no I did not fall once). This obviously also made Mt Hood mentally easier, as the groomed trails did not require such intense concentration.
  • I have to give one more shoutout to EZ and ZMan, both of whom guided me throughout this whole thing. I probably could’ve spent hours researching training plans, but they were the ones who gave me all the small little nuggets of advice that go a long way in this sport. Plus, as would be expected with anyone acquainted with my brother, they both gave me the tough love approach when necessary, just what I needed to keep pushing through. Especially EZ who chatted me every single day to hear about my training progress. Unbelievable to say this, but there were and still are days when I log into Bloomberg and message his ass first before my brother about running-related matters.
  • My eyes are firmly set on a 50 mile race for next year. Not going to lie, my interest in road races is starting to wane. Trail running is just sooo much more fun. But for now, I’ve got to focus on Project #Breaking4 at the Chicago Marathon, as I owe it to myself to break 4 hours in a road marathon. Stay tuned!

E8BAC4B4-

 

 

 

 


 

Quick Notes

Pre Race Nutrition:

⁃             Started carb loading Thursday for Sunday race

⁃             Pasta for lunch and dinner Friday

⁃             Flight delayed left me hungry at 145am so ate Taco Bell lol

⁃             Big brunch Saturday: Screen Door

⁃             Chicken pad see ew for dinner

⁃             4am: eat 1/2 shrimp pad Thai

⁃             6am: eat plain/everything bagel with cream cheese

⁃             Sip on Gatorade up until start

⁃             Avoided red meat day before

⁃             Was sick with bad cough so Wed/Thu/Fri/Sat combo of: lots of water, Gatorade, Beet juice, emergenC, pedialyte, 4-5 cups of tea, Mucinex, DayQuil, Advil

⁃             Also had ramen cup of noodles Wed and Thu night, and Friday before heading to airport

 

Pre race prep:

⁃             Not the best prep as I got sick 1.5 weeks beforehand (bad cough) and did not help myself by going to HYTE, and smoking a bunch of cigs

⁃             In addition to drowning myself in fluids, made it a point to get 8hrs of sleep per night minimum: Wed: 930pm-6am, Thu: 11pm-8am, Fri: 215am-1030am

⁃             Started actually feeling better by Friday, told people on Thursday I was feeling better

⁃             Did not do much running the 1.5 weeks prior, just a 2 mile run on Thursday to see how I felt / loosen up the legs. Breathing and legs were tight but it felt good to just get out there

⁃             Flight delayed by 2hrs so landed late

⁃             Not too much walking around in Portland to conserve energy and rest my legs

⁃             Scouted out starting point of race the day before just to see / this was knew where exactly I was headed

 

Training:

⁃             Absolute roller coaster of a ride

⁃             First 9 weeks of training I crushed it, including Bear Mtn Marathon and BK Half

⁃             Pops died week 10, missed ~2 weeks of full training: got in some runs in the PH but tough, did 10 miles at BC

⁃             Final training run: MA trail marathon was extremely tough (week 12)

⁃             Taper period was marked by general exhaustion from all the traveling and pops dying drained me mentally, wasn’t completing my runs. But wasn’t too worried either given how hard I had trained, figured body needed rest.

⁃             First time I didn’t tweak something 1-2 weeks before race; however, I got sick and that prevented me from running. Might’ve been a blessing in disguise to keep me injury free. Because of this taper tantrums and ghost pains were practically nonexistent.

⁃             Huge believer in this methodology: more training and more miles with b2b runs, but emphasis on SLOW and EASY miles!! Only the hill intervals and the Med Effort runs post long run was where I pushed the pace. Rarely ever ran into the 7s during training but ran the BK half at 750 pace.

⁃             Climbing in Bear Mountain and those technical trails made me a stronger runner and a more skilled one. Both for uphill climbing and downhill flying.

⁃             Foam rolling + stretching post run consistently was key to keeping my IT bands loose and injury free (pigeon stretch)

⁃             Worried a lot that eventually I might get hurt but it never happened!

⁃             Somehow managed to IF 4-5 nights per week throughout the duration of training, what an unexpected surprise (minus PH trip). Definitely doable for those 4-7 mile runs but for long runs jury still out and did not bother trying.

⁃             Lost a ton of weight from increased running volume + IF, but gained some back the last weeks as volume declined but eating and partying did not.

⁃             Somehow managed to continue partying, but partied responsibly. No shuffling! Cigs still rampant

⁃             Started eating red meat after lent but very sparingly, PH was bad exception. No red meat prior to long runs. Ate a bit more red meat in the 2 weeks leading up to race than I wanted but it was 4th of July and Rachel/Sam/JP were here so fuck it, yolo. Still convinced I gained more energy following my red meat hiatus.

 

 

In Race Nutrition:

⁃             Plan was to eat every 35-45min, a GU or 1/2 Pb&j, then supplement with potatoes, oranges or chips as needed at aid stations.

⁃             Sip on water and Nuun as needed / whenever there was a free moment i.e. Walking uphill. Because I had been sick I fully expected to need to drink more water than usual to stay hydrated

⁃             Discovered pb&j made out of whole wheat bread Instead of white bread which goes down easier. Decided to audible during race to eating other stuff instead, and only relying on pb&j if necessary (ie carrying in my ziplock bag)

⁃             Mile 17,21,26 aid stations relied on a combo of: oranges, goldfish, watermelon, pickles, bananas, and one 1/4 pb&j

⁃             Mile 21 aid station had cold sponges to keep cool too.

⁃             Mile 26 aid station also took like 4-5 shots of coke for a final boost. Prolly should’ve taken at mile 21 too as I was dying miles 23-26

⁃             Running with zip lock bag half sticking out made it easier to not have to take off pack.

⁃             Fat boy in me stuffed goldfish in one pocket and half banana in other at mile 26. Classic.

⁃             Also refilled water bladder here.

⁃             Think I used 4 Nuun tablets in total, but only drank half of the last Nuun bottle

 

Race itself:

⁃             Weather was chilly 50s in the AM so planned on wearing Nike sleeves, but by 730am was warming up so decided no sleeves

⁃             Weather all throughout was pretty good with a nice breeze – maybe 60s, by second half of race was warming up a bit but the trees kept it shady, definitely hot from Miles 21-25

⁃             Trails super well groomed – felt good right from the get go and pretty much ran the first 6 miles to the first aid station

⁃             Estimate I ran at least 25-28 miles of the 31 mile race – biggest uphill was Mile 9 like one mile long

⁃             Race went by soooo fast, aid station to aid station. Also gps on watch was super behind, so always a pleasant surprise finding out I had less distance left. After mile 26 aid station, thought I was gunna be tough to finish sub 6:20, but then hit the final turns at 6:12! Watch registered only 29.8 miles or something

⁃             Flew down the hills particularly that big hill, was super nice and smooth.

⁃             Legs definitely felt tired after mile 21 aid station, post the major downhills. Also started to bonk a little so miles 23-26 were tough with like 5 min running 1 min walking

⁃             Training definitely was weaker last 4-5 weeks of training, maybe legs wouldn’t have felt as tired if that training was strong. But, nothing I couldn’t deal with, wasn’t like NY and Boston marathons.

⁃             Nice to run portions of the second half of race with Jimmie and Emilie, we kept alternating passing each other so we’re like fuck it les move together

⁃             Everyone super friendly. Aid people runners etc.

⁃             The ridge line where views of Mthood was fantastic and awesome, definitely a long fall if u fell

⁃             Yelled “these trails are nice!!!” At mile 3, that’s when I knew I was gunna have a good day cuz I started getting into a groove

⁃             Speed laces are the best. Only had to adjust maybe twice? And takes literally 2-3 seconds.

⁃             Never had to poop, peed once I think around mile 22. Prolly cuz I chilled with the pb&j.

⁃             Just a fantastic race all around, training paid off like none other.

 

Post race / recovery:

⁃             legs were pretty sore but generally ok. Went on a hike Monday. Legs Fine by Wednesday. Could’ve ran the next day

⁃             EZ asked if I could’ve done the 50 miler, I answered yes. Sure probably would’ve sucked but I think I couldve gotten through it.

 

General reflections / thoughts:

⁃             Just a fantastic race all around, training paid off like none other – the two trail marathons were harder than this, got me super well prepared

⁃             Rollercoaster training as described above

⁃             Mentally just feel like a stronger person – in a better state, improved mental toughness, improved focus and concentration

⁃             Anything is possible.

⁃             Thank you to EZ and Z Man for all the help.

⁃             Definitely learned how to channel energy from within – introversion

⁃             Training on technical terrain really helps, makes groomed trails so much easier and fun

 

Improvements:

⁃             get lighter? Try out the OD pack

⁃             Continue improving climbing skills – get faster and learn to run the uphills / walk even faster

 

NYC Marathon 2016

NYC Marathon Race Report

I apologize for how long this has taken me, as it has now been five weeks since the marathon. I’ve been very busy training…training my liver that is, with copious amounts of alcohol (and techno – Diynamic was one hell of a show and easily the party of the year). I really need to sign up for another race soon as this is getting out of hand.

The 46th running of the New York City Marathon was my third go at the distance, my third attempt at running a sub 4 marathon. However, that wasn’t really the goal of this race. The real goal of this race was to beat my older brother, the one who originally roped me into these endurance sport shenanigans to begin with. If you remember, we deferred our 2015 slots to this year because he had just moved his family to Minnesota, and did not have time to train. But let’s recall a passage from my Philadelphia marathon recap:pic

“What actually occurred is that after years of running faster than me and Chudi Where Da Booty, he [big brother] became nervous when our times started to improve and deferred his slot to 2016 so that I couldn’t run faster than him. His wife even gave him permission to run it so long as he ‘fully accepts the fact that he may not run faster than his little brother’. So naturally, I deferred as well because what good is a fast time if it’s not lower than my brother’s?”

So yes, November 5th, 2016 was a date circled on my calendar for a long time. I was only half-kidding to people when I said a 3:30 marathon but slower than my brother was worse than a 4:30 marathon but faster than him. (As an aside, this is all written with brotherly love – pure, healthy, brotherly competition so do not be alarmed by the initial tone of this report Mom)

What made this race all the more exciting is that I had many other friends and acquaintances running the race. Francisco “Latin Spice” Ceballos signed up through charity (gotta love that corporate matching policy) and Ian “Eli” Whitney made a late entry as well. My brother’s minion, Evan “EZ” Odim, would be also be joining us, along with a handful of others. We had a whole crew running, and we had home field advantage. This meant that I would be calling in all favors owed to me – I expected everyone and their mother to come out and cheer us on race day. This was going to be one hell of a race.

Training

I decided to try a new 16 week program for this cycle, an Endurance Nation program given to me by EZ. The program focused more on the quality of the miles rather than the quantity, designed for those who had less time to train. Furthermore, this program was heavier on speed work, including a 5K VDot test every 4 weeks that would then determine your training and goal paces. Given the torturous commute to CT, efficiency with time was most important so I looked forward to trying this program. Training takeaways:

  • Given that the first half of training would begin in the summer, I invested in an Osprey running pack for training runs. I was tired of wearing a belt and did not think 16 ounces of liquids would be sufficient on warm summer days. With the Osprey, I could now run with up to 1.5L of liquids and plan my water stops however I felt like. Furthermore, the feeling of running without the pack during a race after weeks of training with it was very liberating. I know one of the number one rules running is to never try anything new on race day, but the concept of taking off the pack for a race isn’t exactly “new”; I’ve run countless times without a pack before so to me this was not a concern.
  • I decided to experiment with salt pills, and it yielded positive results. Given my Osprey pack was filled with water, I needed some kind of solution to replenish electrolytes and potassium without Gatorade available. Salt pills were easy to carry, and I could feel an immediate boost from taking one every 5 miles or so.
  • The first eight weeks of the program went fairly well, and I noticed a big improvement in my speed – based on the results of my second 5K block test, my expected marathon pace was 8:42, translating to a 3:48 marathon. My base goal was to just break 4 hours, so I was cautiously optimistic about my progress.
  • However, come September, I became very busy with work-related matters, and my right knee started to act up (IT Band) – I decided to switch back to running 2x/week, with increased emphasis on swimming and cycling. I had been able to get away with this for half marathons, and was initially skeptical of being able to do so for a full marathon. I figured I’d be able to do one 6-8 mile run mid-week (easy first 2 miles, speeding up to race pace and tempo, and then finishing off at threshold or as fast as possible) and the long run on the weekend. Turned out that this would be sufficient to finish a marathon, but not necessarily to hit my goal time.
  • I ran the 18 miler NYRR Marathon tune-up in Central Park the weekend I was scheduled for a 16 miler. I was cruising at an 8:45-8:50 pace but then completely fell off the last 3 miles and willed myself along at a 9:30 pace. I attributed this to just not having been ready to run 18 miles, but I was happy with having pushed through to completion.
  • Cisco and I signed up to run the Boston Half Marathon as an excuse to visit Boston a month prior to the marathon. That Friday night, things got just a bit out of hand at everyone’s favorite nightclub, Bijou, and Cisco lost a contacimg_3093t lens in the melee. Sunday morning, Cisco asked me which side I would run on, so that he could put his one remaining contact into the opposite-side eye. I really should’ve just bought a neon yellow t-shirt that said “Guide” on it and attached him to a leash.
  • As you can probably infer from the above, this was by far the most going out I’ve done during a marathon training cycle. I still imposed my strict no Brooklyn / no Output / no techno rule (which I broke once for my girl Eau Claire at the Knitting Factory, big mistake as I will explain later but #yolo). However, I was regularly going out on Friday nights, resting on Saturday, and then banging out long runs on Sundays with no problems at all. This emboldened me throughout training. Eventually I paid the price on the 20 miler.
  • On that 20 miler, I started feeling tired by mile 12. I knew this was due to Friday night, the one time I had broken my no Brooklyn rule. The cumulative exhaustion was finally catching up to me. And then, I completely bonked at mile 18.5 and stopped by 19.3. Often times you run out of steam, your legs are hurting, but you can push yourself through albeit at a slower pace. This time, it was pure nutritional bonking to the point where I was feeling light headed and nauseous and could not go anymore. It did not help that the temperature started rising into the mid-60s (with lots of sun) towards the end of the run. I knew after that run I would need to re-visit my nutritional strategy, with only three weeks to the marathon.
    • New strategy became: Shrimp Pad Thai at 630am (yes, you read that right, freakin’ shrimp pad thai! Thanks to Cisco who ate this before the Boston half), Whole wheat bagel with cream cheese at 9am, banana at 10am, and ½ pack of Gu Chomps at 1030am just before race start.
    • In-race strategy would be: salt pills every 5 miles, Gu every 7 miles (3 in total), and a banana at Mile 16 and one at Mile 23
      • I actually experimented with salted pretzels and Cliffs Organic Energy Pizza Margherita food (pretzels were too dry and the latter was disgusting) before I settled on bananas which are soft, easy to chew, and no fiber to prevent digestive issues.
    • Some people shudder at the vast amount of food this entails before and during a marathon, but let’s be real, I am a fat kid at heart who lives to eat. Plus I got used to running at night after having eaten a full meal so it made sense for me to follow this as opposed to simply eating granola and bananas prior to race start.
    • I was able to “practice” this plan on the 12 miler the week after the 20 miler. Although the distance was not long enough to see if I would bonk or not, I was more concerned with my body’s ability to handle all that food. The fat kid in me did not disappoint.

Race Week

I will never forget the lesson learned in Boston about getting too excited before a race, so the plan for the week was to try to chill out and avoid fixating on the race. Conserve my mental energy and excitement for race day when I’d need it most. Sure, it is impossible to completely block an upcoming marathon from your head; but rather than obsessing over race reports and strategies and other online articles, it is better to just distract yourself with different activities. I was a little annoyed that the marathon would take place right in the middle of earnings season when everyone is freaking out about numbers, but this ended up becoming a blessing in disguise as it served as a timely distraction from combing the internet for marathon articles. I also made sure to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep per day, but not too much more than that. For whatever reason I notice I feel more sluggish if I get over 8 hours so I try to stay sub 8.

I remember two weeks before Boston, I tweaked my calf. And two weeks before Philly, I tweaked my outer right knee. So after my last “long run” of 8 miles one week prior to New York, I was quietly pleased that I had managed to stay healthy. Boy was I wrong. I somehow managed to tweak my inner right knee while routinely stretching on Sunday night. I must’ve hyperextended my knee ever so slightly and it definitely felt like I pulled or strained something. After two days of not being able to walk without a limp, I went into massive freakout mode. I constantly told myself that I was ok, that this was just part of the taper tantrum. But simultaneously I did whatever I could to heal it in time for the race. This meant: foam rolling like a mad man, properly stretching like a mad man, ordering a stim machine, and taping my inner knee with KT tape. This four-way combo seemed to do the trick and by the weekend the knee was feeling immensely better. I did not bother to tell anyone because I did not want people to think it was an excuse for poor performance. Only when it started to feel better did I start mentioning it to others. However, I did tell EZ about it, as I figured his perception of the “soft-millennial” generation would lead him to tell me to stop being weak. Sure enough, he told me that I was probably just fine (though he did mention to get it checked out, but of course I ignored his advice).

I decided to be a bit more scientific with my approach to carb-loading this year, particularly after the 20 mile bonking incident. While I did not exactly count calories and carbs to the exact gram, I did more research to get a better idea of what I should be doing as opposed to blindly eating pasta and breads in the days leading up to the race. I didn’t begin to shift my carb intake until Wednesday, and rather than eating more carbs AND calories to carb-load, I focused on just having a higher % of diet come in the form of carbs. This way I wasn’t over-eating, but I was getting the carbs I needed. I definitely did feel a bit fatter and heavier coming into the weekend, but I read somewhere online that this was a sign my glycogen stores were replenished. When I went for a quick easy swim Saturday morning to loosen up my legs (I hadn’t run all week because of my knee), I could feel some serious pent up energy ready to be unleashed. The quick swim certainly boosted my confidence, both from a knee injury standpoint and from a carbing standpoint.

img_3095Saturday was time for the customary “big brunch” meal, something that has become tradition amongst the running crew the day before big races. Of the 10 people at brunch, 4 of us were running the marathon, but 8 people ordered the bottomless mimosa/bloody mary brunch. Hmmmm. Wonder who decided it would be a good idea to drink before a marathon. Right, Ian and Cisco decided that. Ian was still hungover from the night before and felt the need to prove that “the best way to detox is to retox” while Cisco wanted some booze to calm the nerves. I was definitely feeling pretty anxious as well and ended up drinking one bloody mary. Aside from general excitement, I was still nervous about my knee. The morning swim gave me confidence, but because I had not run all week I did not really know what to expect on race day. Despite all this, I knew that deep down I was going to run that race and run well.  I was stuck in a glass case of emotion – a struggle among nervousness due to my knee, butterflies from general race excitement, and confidence that I was ready to run a strong race.

Race Day

I went to bed around 1030pm and set my alarm for 545am. The clocks were rolling back an hour that night so I purposely stayed up a bit later to accommodate this (remember if I sleep too much I feel groggy the next day). During Boston, I barely slept the night before due to excitement. In Philly, I slept like a baby. This time, I was somewhere in the middle. I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom around 130, and that was pretty much that for my sleeping. From then on I kept waking up every 30min or so, rolling around in bed until the alarm finally went off. Posted a photo of my clothes on Facebook and announced to the world that it was going to be a good day.

I spent the next hour getting dressed and conducting all of my last minute preparations. This included one last stim session, application of all KT tape strips (I’m basically a walking KT Tape advertisement), and showering / fixing my hair. Yup, you read that right, I showered and did my hair at 615am before the marathon. I have this weird ritual of showering before races, so that was nothing new. But I realized my hair would just flop in the wind or hit my eyes and face if it wasn’t gelled, so this was a necessary step. Plus I needed to look good out there for the millions of fans who would be cheering me on. Thank you Prejume 7! By 7am, Ian and I were ready to go, and when Cisco arrived in the lobby, I summoned my chauffeur in his Cadillac Escalade to bring us to the Staten Island ferry. Just kidding, I swear I called an Uber X but an Escalade showed up.

It took me a hot minute to locate my brother near the entrance because he was dressed like a hoodlum in his old man sweats and bonnet cap. We had decided to take the 730am ferry despite being signed up for the 7am slot because we were told 3 hours before race start should be more than enough time. They don’t your transportation selection at the ferry entrance, and it’s also technically free so no one can actually stop you from getting on. Cisco, Ian, and I also decided to drop back img_2706to Wave 3 from Wave 2 so that we wouldn’t be running with people faster than us. The idea is that running with slower people would force you to control your pace and not go out too fast. The front of Wave 3 was where the 4:00 pace group would be, so figured we
start with them and then go faster as the race progresses. This Wave would start at 1040am, so a 730am ferry gave us ample time. The ferry was a bit of a log jam to get on, but moved fairly quickly and we were able to get seats on the upper deck. This was the easiest part of the commute to the starting line, and we were treated to some spectacular morning views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan skyline.

The ferry ride was a quick 30 min ride, nice and easy. We decided to make a pit stop in the terminal bathroom, figuring it would be better to spend some time indoors before making our way to the village. Online reports said it would take 1 hour total from Manhattan to the village but boy was that wayyyy off. It took us another 45 minutes just to get on the damn bus, and then another 45 minutes to get to the start village. At first, I was ok with being on the bus for a longer period because it would be warm, and I figured I could go #2 inside the bus and not have to deal with the porta pottys later. But alas, #2 was a no go (despite eating the bagel with cream cheese on the bus), and by the time we reached the athlete’s village I had a massive headache from all the stop and go traffic. It was about 945am when we arrived, leaving us with only 30min before corral close and negative 15 min from bag check in. Whoops. Unfortunately there would be no final group picture before splitting up into our color coded corrals, as my brother took off to go wait in line for the porta-pottys and we really just didn’t have time to be mulling around.

To my surprise, we were able to check in our bags and take another crack at the porta-pottys pretty quickly. One of the better moves I made was bringing a 12 inch foam roller with me, such that I could get in a proper warm-up. As I finished rolling, it suddenly img_2486dawned on me that we needed to get to the corrals because Wave 3 was about to close. By the time we got to the entrance, it was already roped off with crowds of Wave 4 runners waiting to get in. So we pushed to the front, flashed our bibs, and squeezed our way into the corral right by the 4:05 pacer. We wanted to be with the 4:00 pacer in the front, but 4:05 was fine as well. There were more porta-pottys inside the corrals, so I decided to make one more attempt at using the bathroom. By the time I emerged, the corral had left and we were now in the back, where the 4:30 pacers would be. This meant we would have to do some side-stepping and zig-zagging given we’d be surrounded by much slower people. At least our pace would be very controlled, and I had some space to conduct my standard form drill warm-up before every run.

The start seemed like forever: waiting for the ‘America, the Beautiful’ to finish, taking snapchat selfies on Ian’s phone, chattin’ up a random older man who had run the race numerous times. Finally we started moving towards the start, I made my customary 3 signs of the cross, fist bumped Ian and Cisco, and we were off and running. That first mile up the Verrazano bridge was pretty slow, about a 9:30 pace given the uphill and the slower group we started with. Mile 2 was down the bridge, and we were able to speed up to a 9 flat pace, right on target. Right from the start of the race I was already blown away. How often do you get to run up the Verrazano Bridge on a beautiful fall day with no vehicles and see a perfect view of the NY skyline? People were even stopping to take pictures, a strong 0.5 miles into the race! There was something very peaceful about it all, a very calming effect. It was almost like the calm before a storm – enjoy these first two miles because you’re about to work for 24.2 more!!

Many people who have run both Boston and New York told me that New York’s crowds were better than Boston’s, that the ENTIRE route was littered with loud and rowdy crowds (aside from the bridges). And wow, as soon we came off the bridge and exited right, we were met with loud drums, cheering, and signs welcoming us into Brooklyn. A row of little kids were lined up right off the bridge for us to high five, and it was an immediate battle not to take off and push the pace. By this point Ian had taken off to settle into his 8:30 pace, while Cisco and I traversed the right side of the road to pass slower runners. We would periodically speed up, get stuck behind some slower runners for a bit, go around them, speed up, and then I’d check my watch and motion for him to slow down. I didn’t really think it at the time, but this was definitely a chore having to go around people, slowing and starting, and slaving to my watch. I deliberately tried to ignore some of the crowds too so I could focus on my pace because when you start high-fiving people, you tend to speed up from adrenaline and I wanted to avoid this.

579143_242097947_xlargeCisco motioned for me to run on the left side where it was less crowded, but I insisted on staying on the right-side because we would soon be running into our first set of cheerleaders: Gaby at Mile 7.5 and Kev at Mile 8.5. Only problem was that I missed Gaby at her location, but I am certain that I saw her staring at her phone. She later claimed she was trying to check the app for my location but I’ll just tell people she was too busy snapchatting herself using the flower or dog filters. Just when you thought the crowd could not be any louder, we made a left onto Lafayette Avenue and the volume was turnt up 10x. The crowd was so thick that the road narrowed, forcing us to run a slower 9:30 mile. I was ok with this, however, because I was thoroughly soaking in the energy of the boisterous crowds. At one point there was an entire block of people dancing to some classic 80s song (wish I could remember what song), I almost stopped to sing and dance with them. A block later we found Kev, who decided to run a few miles with us. It was great to see her and have her company on the course, plus I hope she got a nice mini workout in.

The crowds suddenly disappeared as we entered South Williamsburg around Mile 10. This was a surprise, but I decided to use the sudden calm as my first “body check”. How did my body feel? Particularly, how was my knee holding up? I could feel a slight discomfort in my knee, but it was not affecting my ability to run at all. Everything else felt pretty good, energy levels were strong. But then again it was only Mile 10.5, everyone knows the race doesn’t begin ‘till Mile 20. What I learned a few days after the race about South Williamsburg was that it is home to the Hasidic Jewish community. They generally shun the marathon because runners are not wearing the more conservative clothing that is a staple of Hasidic Jewish culture. As I write this report, it was certainly fascinating to see some of these people going about business as usual on the streets completely ignoring the fact that thousands of runners were streaming by on their streets. I swear I saw a woman casually pushing a stroller across the street without any regard for the runners!

After crossing Mile 11, I could finally hear the crowds coming back to life. I was entering
my adopted homeland: Williamsburg aka WillyB aka William (made this last one up no img_2704calls it William). No, I don’t actually live there. But one can argue that I’ve lived in Output for the past three years, so yes, I have frequented this neighborhood quite often. This was where I got to see Amy and Shannon, the next set of cheerleaders posted up in Williamsburg. Amy had traveled all the way from the Upper East to catch me because she wouldn’t be available by the time I got to her ‘hood, a really nice gesture from her especially since she was carrying a hot pink sign that made her easy to spot.

Reaching the Pulaski Bridge was the first true moment of slowing down. Not only was there another bottleneck of runners, but the uphill onto the bridge really slowed everyone down to a high 9s pace. There wasn’t much I could do, and I didn’t bother to fight it because I did not want to waste energy. Remember, my goal was to enjoy this race, not suffer through the finish. Furthermore, Cisco and I had hit the halfway mark at about 2:02, and I told him we were just behind pacing a 4 hour marathon.  Coming into Long Island City, I got to see my co-worker Polina (the Ukraine is not weak!) and her boyfriend Mark, also known as my brother’s long-lost twin. Won’t get into specific detail but I swear to God they basically have lived parallel lives and are secretly the same person (age, education, profession, interests, even his mother is a college professor!).

On Miles 14-15, I decided to conduct another set of body checks knowing that I was about to hit the hardest hill of the day: Queensborough Bridge. Body generally felt good, though I did notice I was feeling a bit fatigued. I would attribute this moreso to some negative thoughts about the bridge seeping into my head but I told myself if I could just get through that bridge I could ride the First Avenue crowds and my energy levels would be right back up. Then I realized, I was feeling more fatigued because someone was definitely cooking or eating fried chicken on the street right before the bridge entrance! I could smell that chicken from a mile away if I wanted to, and it was definitely making me hungry. They really need to do something about people cooking next to race routes, I think my brother also experienced something like this during his ironman. Going up the bridge I simply kept reciting “run on effort”. I did not want to worry about my pace here as the goal was to get to First Avenue intact with plenty of energy. What really kept me going, however, was seeing a cute girl about 10 feet ahead motoring up the bridge. I decided I was going to pace with her and make sure I didn’t fall too far behind. Worked like a charm! That uphill was nearly a mile long so anything to pass the time would work! Eventually she took off on the downhill but I did not follow as I wanted to cautiously speed up and save my quads from pounding.

I could feel the runner’s high coming back to me coming off the bridge as the crowds got louder. But also, because I knew I was seconds away from running into my biggest cheerleaders: my mom, my aunt (aka the “E-Twins”), and my uncle Pete. These three have been to almost every single big race I’ve run (halves and fulls), and have made countless sacrifices to see me run. In Philly they stood out in the cold from 630am until noon watching me, and in New York, my mom had posted up at Mile 16 at 7am, before the police had even finished setting up the barricades. I’m pretty sure she then started ordering them around, telling them how to set up the barricade to her liking. So naturally, coming up to them brought a small tear to my eye. Plus, I had demanded that my mom post up exactly where I told her to because she would be handing me a banana. True to form, she did not disappoint and I was able to get my nutrition. On the blocks immediately preceding where they were and the blocks immediately after, I saw my sister in-law’s cousin “Rhim John”, Sommelier Alexander Lam, Cisco’s girlfriend Dayna, and her friend Tina. Each one of them screamed out my name, each a nice little pleasant surprise that gave me more energy. Dayna even held out a second banana, but I had to refuse the hospitality as I was still trying to scarf down the one from my mom.

The heat from the sun became most noticeable along First Avenue as I made my way 579143_243226523_xlargefurther north towards Harlem and the Bronx. As most of you know, heat is my worst enemy when it comes to running so this was not a positive development. But lo and behold, New York Road Runners had just what I needed: sponges soaked in cold water. “Ahh lemme grab a couple of these!” I exclaimed as I ran by. This was exactly what I needed to cool down. I finally stripped off my running sleeves too, surprised that I didn’t need to take them off earlier (figured by Mile 10 they’d be gone). I was just about to toss them to the side when I took one more look at how nice and sleek they were, and instead quickly tucked them into my shorts. I kinda looked like a goon with them flapping about on the side, but it was just too hard to throw them away.

Despite the cool down, my pace gradually slowed down into the high 9s as I got into Harlem. I knew my body was starting to fatigue and a sub 4 marathon was probably out of the question. But I started running numbers in my head, and figured if I held a 10 min pace for the final 8 miles, I could finish in under 4:10, which would still be pretty solid. I got two quick pick-me-uppers in the form of seeing two of my close BC friends, Sam and Pat, as well as running by a DJ who was blasting some Disclosure. But that boost didn’t last much longer as I hit a short uphill onto a bridge into the Bronx at Mile 20. The dreaded Mile 20. The wall that everyone hits. Like clockwork, it was literally here where my quads started to tighten up, and then my glutes and hamstrings. The legs weren’t actually hurting, but it was at the point where they were so weak that I felt like if I tried to keep my pace, I would have pulled something. Think about when you are lifting weights for the first time and go too heavy too fast and feel that weak tightening feeling. I shortened my stride considerably to account for this, which unfortunately slowed me down into the 10s. Now, the race had really begun.

Lucky for me, I found Cisco randomly stretching on the side of the road waiting for me. I told him to just go ahead, that I’ll be fine, but he insisted on running with me as he didn’t care about his time anymore. Dude is too kind and too nice (he’s a keeper Dayna don’t fuck it up), and he basically willed me through the next 4 miles by chatting me up constantly telling me to keep the legs loose and keep them churning. We ended making one 45 second pit stop along Mile 21 to stop and stretch, which helped immensely. I almost rarely stop to stretch mid-run for fear that I won’t be able to start up again, but stretching for even just a brief period can really loosen things up which was what I needed. The plan the rest of the way was to walk through every water station for 30 seconds or so, shaking out the legs while sipping on Gatorade (I stopped taking the salt pills and switched, which worked out fine). At Mile 23, Sam and Pat were waiting with my second banana. I was too exhausted to even wave at them, just simply stuck my arm out and Pat placed the banana into my hand.

img_2712I completely forgot about the Fifth Avenue uphill between Miles 22-24. It is precisely a mile long and the incline seems never-ending when you look ahead. You literally feel like you are crawling. This is where having my shirt on my name was most clutch, and I fed off the energy of the crowds. Every 10 seconds or so someone was screaming “You got this Justin!” or “Lookin’ strong Justin!” Given how tired I was I could barely acknowledge but I was certainly listening to each and every person cheering me on. After what felt like 45 minutes (in actuality 10-12 minutes), we entered Central Park where the crowds suddenly doubled in size and got 10x louder. At this point I knew the rest of the route in the back of my head – mostly flat and downhill with a small uphill just by Summerstage. Cisco asked me one last time if I was ok, to which I nodded and then he took off. The hard part was over. I had promised myself that I would err on the side of conservative racing so that I could enjoy the final few miles, as I was not able to do that in Boston or Philly. Sure, I was running slowly and my legs were completely shot. But I knew I had enough tank in the gas to get to the finish, so now was my moment to just soak it all in. I thought I had missed my boy Sunny at the entrance to the park, but as a pleasant surprise I heard him scream my name out. Turns out he went further in and was just about ready to leave thinking he had missed me. Half a mile later I got another nice surprise when I heard my cousin Margaux screeching my name from the other side of the road. I had completely forgotten her husband was also running, but I’m so glad she spotted me. Everyone knows I love the attention so the more people the merrier!

Exiting Central Park onto 59th street gave me one last runner’s high. So much that as I sped up I nearly fell face first after tripping over a manhole. I actually tripped and fell down on Mile 13.05 of the Brooklyn Half (img_2708an awesome photo finish), but I am so glad I caught myself as I still had one last set of cheerleaders to run by. Definitely gotta look strong and fast for them. One by one I saw Ronni, then Jiji “la belle”, then Yena/Marcus/Drew/Panton. I was feeling so good and soaking in the final moments that I hadn’t noticed my pace had picked back up to 9min flat. And then, I forgot about the mini last uphill right at Mile 21.1. Dammit. I slowed down again, and came up along the grandstand to wave at my mom, aunt, and uncle who had gotten finish line passes from Cisco. As I passed, I could hear my mom telling me to come back and do it again, because the camera didn’t click. Good god, there was no way I was about to turn around and “re-run” by them, come on! And just like that, I was finished, with a 4:21. Not my goal pace, but at least a PR, and I truly got to enjoy those final miles rather than shuffle home in misery. Sure, I was disappointed again in my time, but the post-race runner’s high was so strong that I couldn’t possibly be upset at all.

Post-Race Debrief

Boston was my first marathon and an extremely tough course. Philadelphia my knee 579143_242959197_xlargelocked up due to IT Band issues as well as nutritional bonking. In New York, my nutritional strategy worked like a charm, but my legs were simply dead by Mile 20. I am not making excuses for not hitting my goal time – just listing each area that I’ve had / will need to improve upon. Running is a continuous learning process, and there are ALWAYS lessons to be learned after each marathon. In this case, I probably needed to run more. Sure, running 2x / week was enough to complete a marathon at my fitness level. But in terms of being able to hit sub-4? No chance, as evidenced by my sharp drop-off in the last 6-8 miles. Furthermore, it was very clear to me that whatever strength training I had been doing all year was not sufficient for the rigors of training for a marathon. My glutes were always achy the day after runs, and this would in turn pull on my IT Band and cause knee pain. This has been very manageable for running and working out in general. But in order to really perform to my potential, I will need to address these muscle imbalances and weaknesses in the offseason.

I’ve alluded to this countlessly throughout the report, but the atmosphere and the crowds are like none other during the New York Marathon. Literally the entire route is filled with rowdy, boisterous crowds. It is particularly amazing to run through the hundreds of neighborhoods in the five boroughs, all with distinctive cultures, but everyone has been brought together for one reason: to cheer on the runners. It really is just an all-day 26 mile long block party.

Two special mentions: 1) Is Brooklyn, in here, tonight?? Everyone talks about coming onto 1st Avenue in Manhattan to the roar of the crowds. But Brooklyn by far was the loudest and most boisterous borough. Right from the start of the Verrazano Bridge all the way through Greenpoint (minus South Williamsburg but its ok I forgive you guys), the crowds were non-stop screaming, blasting music, singing, dancing, you name it. I’ve been a Manhattanite leeching onto the Brooklyn bandwagon for a while now, and this all but confirmed it. 2) Everyone who came specifically to support me, my bro, and the rest of my crew who ran this race. Many people know how much this all means to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for everyone who made that effort to come out. A big part of the reason why I drag/force people out to come watch is because I really do believe it’s inspiring; even if you don’t want to run at the very least it may challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and try something you didn’t think you would ever do. And it was especially satisfying to finally do this on my home turf, with supporters from Mile 7 all the way to finish line. Chudi Where Da Booty, Ian, Cisco, and Kirby, have all expressed interest to do this race next year, so we will definitely be back! (And I will most likely be asking for your money again)

Last thing – New York is certainly a tough course, and I would argue not that much easier compared to Boston. That Queensborough Bridge hill and Fifth Avenue hill were no joke and my legs were toast by Mile 20-22 in a similar way to Boston. I don’t think any of the three marathons I’ve run are considered “easy” courses, and a part of me wonders about signing up for a flat and fast course such as Chicago to see what I kind of damage I can do to my PR. Since we all want to run NY again next year, Chicago will have to wait until 2018. But hey, you never know, I may just be crazy enough to run two marathons within a month of each other! (Update: since I have written this the Chicago lottery has already passed, but I’ve got my eye on the Polar Circle Half / Full in Greenland one week before New York)

Some post-finish pictures below:

579143_243287716_xlarge

img_2699

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

img_2707

img_2711

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

579143_242550934_xlarge

img_2702

579143_242550563_xlarge

img_2701

NYC Half Marathon 2016

NYC Half Marathon 2016 – 3/20/16

I lied to you all last fall, when I promised that the Philly marathon recap would be much shorter than the Boston one. This time I am serious – a shorter race commands a shorter report, but I feel compelled to share my notes and thoughts for both my own future benefit and for your entertainment, because let’s be honest, you guys all love my reports.

I ran this race with my boys Ian and Cisco from BC, and Kirby and Cat from Hotchkiss. A little change from the usual suspects, but always a welcome change. Ian had undergone a renaissance after getting fat in college (he was an all American swimmer, so he had no problems getting back into shape). Cisco got lucky because Udi Ain’t Got Da Booty signs up for all these races but never actually runs, so he gave Cisco his bib. Kirby, well his parents were track stars so he was genetically built for this and Cat, we started hanging out with her more recently because 1) by chance we ran into her in Columbus Circle while training for the Philly marathon and 2) somehow I convinced her to enter the deep dark techno hole and now she is stuck in it, like the rest of us.

Pre-Race / Training

  • I took 5 weeks off from running after the Philly Marathon, per the doc’s orders after my IT Band blew up during the race. I did not revert back to college style marathon drinking sessions, but rather, became fixated on correcting the issues that led to ITBS in the first place. This led me to a renewed focus on strength training and cross training – I bought a Theraband for hip strengthening exercises, found some runner specific strength workouts (rotate through different workouts every month to keep my body guessing), and began swimming more frequently (I hit 1.2 miles in January, proclaiming myself ready for a ½ IM).
  • Despite being an outspoken critic of Soul Cycle and it’s cult-like following, my girlfriend somehow convinced me to go to a few classes. She had a bunch of free passes, so I said why the heck not at least it’s a good workout. That first class was a killer, but luckily I was sitting in the back so no one could see my dying in my seat. Eventually we shifted to Swerve classes, where everyone is individually scored, and of course the Type A in me loved the competitive nature of the class. While I certainly appreciated a good workout, I did not realize at the time how much all that spinning would help me on the hills in Central Park.
  • My first run back was the NYRR Midnight Run on NIMG_1635ew Year’s Eve (yes, a far cry from my typical all-night benders, just ask my bro about last year when I forced his doorman to let me into the bathroom at 5am because I found myself in front of his building). I was a bit nervous and hesitant on the first mile or so, but once I loosened up everything clicked and felt good. I could actively feel how much stronger my hips and core were, and I was running faster with less effort. I didn’t time myself but I am certain I was doing low 8s and barely broke a sweat. This was the first instance where I was convinced of the importance of strength training for a runner.
  • After the Midnight Run confidence booster, I began a “2-2-2” training regimen that I still follow today: 2x running per week, 2x biking/swimming per week, and 2x strength training per week. I found this to be the most efficient way to balance my life out, and given my IT band injury, I felt it prudent to take slowly and gradually build back my mileage. The runs consisted of a long run on the weekend, and a shorter tempo run midweek. I never ran for pace or distance – instead, I ran for total time and just went on how I felt. Given all the strength training and cross training I was doing, I could feel myself running faster, and was regularly clocking in the mid 8s overall pace as I built-up from 6 mile runs to 10-11 mile runs. One other change I made related to my warmup – I began doing football / track style dynamic stretches and warm-ups before every run (ie. carioca, high knees, shuffles, walking lunges, butt kicks, etc). I really do think this has made a difference in loosening up my hips before runs and preventing injury relapses.
  • I went on a 6-week dance music bender in the 6 weekends leading up to the half, beginning with Eric Prydz in mid-February all the way to Dusky in Boston the weekend before the race. Absolutely not the way to prepare for a race, but given that it was “only a half”, I threw caution to the wind and yolo’d very hard. I was generally ok and able to complete my long runs on the weekends, except for the weekend of Loco Dice b2b Hoboken St Paddy’s. Sunday was a very rough day, so I ended up running 10 miles from 915-1030pm on Monday night. When training for a half, you can get away with this kind of shit as evidenced by my race result but for a full, definitely not.
  • I neglected to practice using GU on my training runs, but still bought an entire box of GU Roctane the week before the race. The first rule of running is to never try something new on race day, but here I was ready to break that rule. Evan Eazy E Odim suggested trying GU because it takes much less energy to consume versus Shot Bloks (which my system had begun to reject in Philly), so I wanted to give it a try.
  • I wasn’t even supposed to run this race. But because I am one badass slick motherfucker, I made my girlfriend sign up for the lottery to increase my chances of getting into the race. Of course, I did not get in but she did. Her first reaction was “Why did I get charged $120 bucks? Venmo me now”. Well, thanks babe! I asked her to put my pace on her profile, but nah, she put a much slower pace resulting in a higher bib number for me. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I’ll explain later.

Race Day

I woke up at 5:45am, expecting to have to wake up Ian and Kirby. Instead, I see Kirby already awake watching Daredevil on his Macbook, and Ian in the kitchen, pouring himself shots of Jim Beam. Yes. You read that right. My man was pouring himself shots of whiskey at 6am before the race…! What on earth was he doing?? He claims it was to make himself feel numb, and knowing him and his history, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all (feel free to ask me how I met Ian in college). We all went through our pre-race motions, eating a bagel with peanut butter, pre-race showering (don’t ask but all three of us do this), foam rolling, KT taping, blasting some tropical house / happy house music (No Ian, Gessafelstein’s Pursuit makes me to kill someone, not go run a half marathon). Ian left 20 minutes before us, as he had lied about his race pace (he put 6:30 miles) and was placed into Wave 1 whereas Kirby and I were in Wave 3 with the very slow people (9:30+ min pace, thanks Kev!).

Kirby and I met Cisco by the bag check entry, a full 70 NYH2minutes before race start. This was a far cry from 2014, when I completely misjudged how much time it takes to go through the security checkpoint and showed up as my wave was leaving. One thing I’ve learned over the past year of big races is to arrive early; better to be cold for a little longer but have ample time to do your business and get in a proper warmup than to show up and have to rush everything / half-ass your warmup. 70 minutes was plenty of time to go through all the motions. Now onto the race…

  • Plan was just to run based on feel, as I had been doing in my training runs. I’d be ecstatic with a 1:50, happy with a sub 1:55. But given I was still coming off of an injury, I really wanted to just go with how my body felt.
  • Race start went off without a hitch. Obviously had to do a bit of weaving since we were starting in a slower corral. At about Mile 0.6, Kirby’s mom texted him “You chillin’ at a Gatorade station or something?”, prompting laughs from me and Cisco. Mile 1 hit and we were at 9:20 pace. Ok, not bad, nice little warmup.
  • Somewhere between Miles 2 and 3 Cisco and Kirby went up ahead of me. I wanted to just go at my pace, and told them to just run ahead if they want. We hit the steep Harlem downhill, then eventually the long Harlem uphill. Somehow, I motored up the hill, but felt my breath / heart rate rapidly increasing. I ended up running 8:37, 8:21, 8:25 for Miles 2-4. “Way too fast, you need to slow down” I told myself. But I hit the downhill and just kept going. Felt my heart rate lowering, but my pace was not slowing. “Run based on feel” I periodically told myself. And I was feeling good. The three sisters compared to Harlem hill were a breeze, and once you hit the downhill following the last hill towards 59th street you really are cruising. Ever since running Boston, I haven’t had any issues with the three sisters.
  • Heading out of the park, I veered off to the left in anticipation of seeing my mom on 57th and 7th, right where I told her to go so she could see me. 57th street comes and goes, and my mom is nowhere in sight. Wtf mom, where the heck did you go. Now I’m thinking she’s on 42nd street, or she got stuck in the subway, or who the hell knows. Instead of focusing on the race, I’m now fixated on the crowd and trying to find my mom. After 5-6 blocks, I finally snapped out of it and told myself to forget it, get your head back in the race and enjoy the run through Times Square. Turns out she was on the other side (the side I told her 100x not to be on), and Cisco had waved to her 20 seconds before I came by. She says she saw me but I was all the way on the other side. Whoops.
  • The first time I ran this race, running down 7th avenue NYH3was absolutely surreal, a cathartic moment. The second time through, it was just as awesome. Imagine running through Times Square with no cars around you, how often do you get to that?? The adrenaline is really pumping, and you are running on a downhill. I hit 8:07 and 7:59 pace running through 7th and 42nd street, and was still feeling good. At one point on 42nd street there was a Jamaican lady running considerably slower in front of me, with an SUV on the other side blasting reggae. I kid you not this lady busted into a dance and I almost ran her over, but busted out my own ‘riddim’ to juke around her at the last second.
  • After missing my first spectator, I was looking forward to seeing my second on the west side highway: my boy, CHUDI WHERE DA BOOTY!!! You thought I could go one race report without mentioning him, but nah, he’s always involved in this running ish. Chudi is still rehabbing his IT Band (probably just acting like a sissy), so he did not run this race with us but came out to spectate. I spotted him about 75 meters up and watched him high five Cisco. As I approached, I kept yelling “sub 1:50 baby, sub 1:50!” – the first sign of true confidence. As a very superstitious human being, I try not to jinx things but I was feeling so good that I needed to belt it out. Chudi gave me a soft high five, a far cry from when he practically punched through my hand during the Philly marathon, almost sending me backwards.
  • At about Mile 8.5, I finally whipped open the GU. I could slightly feel my energy levels dipping, so thought it would be appropriate to pop some nutrition. I took down the GU in about two easy gulps – but for 1-2 seconds it was an interesting shock to my system, as I had not eaten a GU in almost 1.5 years. But immediately, I saw the difference versus Shot Bloks: “Wow, EZ was right about how effortless this is”. I washed it down with some water, and caught up to Cisco, who was too busy dancing bachata in his head to notice I had passed by him.IMG_8777
  • With 4 miles to go, I gave him a quick fist bump. We got this, man! He yelled to me. At this point sub 1:50 was clearly in the works, so I wanted to give it my all and drop the hammer. The GU was definitely working, and I was ready to go. With 3.1 miles to go, I heard some lady tell her co-runner that they only
    had a 5K left. I screamed out to them “That’s right baby! Only a 5K to go!” Every minute or so I muttered to myself: “Balls to the wall, baby, you fucking got this Portes” or “Don’t you fucking slow down now”
  • Heading into the final tunnel that dips around the island into the FDR drive on the east side, I was cruising. People either love the tunnel or hate the tunnel. My brother is afraid of the dark, so he hates it. I’m not sure where I fall. People start screaming in the tunnel, and the echo makes it sound like you are in 28 Days Later or World War Z running from zombies or something, which is pretty awesome. However, the tunnel is so deceptively long, and given that you are in the midst of maNYH1king a final push, it can feel like an eternity. Add to the fact that you have to climb out o
    f the tunnel and into a massive headwind, and it can certainly crush you. I did 7:39 on Mile 12, but slowed to 8:14 on Mile 13, largely due to the tunnel.
  • Upon seeing the 400m sign, I took off in one last final sprint, determined to get to the finish line in full throttle with a smile on my
    face. I clocked 1:48:30 on 13.1, 1:50:30 on 13.4 miles, so of course I was absolutely ecstatic at the finish, clapping loudly like I was back on the Hotchkiss football team get amped up for Taft Day. It felt good to crush the race and beat my time goals, especially after the tough marathons in 2015 that left me feeling somewhat defeated.

Post-Race Debrief

  • The NYC Half Marathon was my springboard race – I almost cried in 2014 on Mile 1, tears of joy that I was able to finally start running a real distance again after 2-3 years of ankle issues / investment banking slavery. If I had never run that race I doubt I would be where I am today with my running. IMG_6204So naturally I was super pumped to be back running the race again. And for the secon
    d time it did not disappoint. I shaved off 15 minutes from my half marathon PR (not a fair comparison because I hadn’t run an official half for two years), and the five of us all ran 1:50 and under (Ian dropped a 1:42 after taking three shots of whiskey). Proud of everyone for crushin’ it last week. For me especially, this was a huge and much needed confidence booster, after struggling in Boston and Philly last year.
  • Strength train. Cross train. Strength train. Cross train. I am now a firm believer in the importance of those two activities. I always knew they were important, but never to this extent. The spin classes built up my quads and enabled me to cruise up and down the hills. Strength training strengthened my entire body (especially my hips and hamstrings, two known weak spots) and swimming kept up my cardio fitness and further strengthened my core. All of this enabled me to run stronger and faster with less effort, and I could physically feel the difference. I will continue my 2-2-2 training regimen because I truly do believe that all the strength training and cross training is immensely beneficial to my running, despite me running less overall. Next up on the list is Hot Yoga, which hopefully will help improve my ability to run in the heat.
  • As I alluded to earlier, arriving 70 minutes early was perfect. Did not feel rushed one bit, and had more than enough time to get in a solid warm-up. Will try to make this habit from now on as I think its better to be out in the cold longer but have enough time to get everything done versus feeling rushed.
  • Starting in a slower corral was the absolute blessing in disguise. Sure, the first mile was a bit slow with lots of juking through the crowd, but passing so many people only served to build my confidence throughout the race. I counted maybe 5,6, or 7 people who passed me the entire way, whereas I probably passed over a 1000 people in the race. It is kind of awesome seeing my mental progression in running over the years. When I first started running seriously, I would just fixate on my own pace and not worry about who was running near me or within my vicinity. But over the past 6 months, I’ve noticed that I now pay much more attention to who’s running around me, and typically find myself trying to catch up to and pass people whenever I spot someone ahead of me. I have thrived on this self-imposed competition, and it has certainly pushed me both physically and mentally. Because I started in a slower corral, I had a prime opportunity to use this mental strength to my advantage, picking people off left and right from the get go.
  • On Mile 10.8 I thought I felt my left calf slightly cramping up, so I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and took a few sips for the final push. Whatever discomfort I felt went away pretty quickly. The only water stations I hit were this one and on Mile 8.75 after taking the GU. Speaking of GU, that vanilla orange GU Roctane definitely worked wonders and was much easier to consume. I will be using that going forward (thanks EZ!). I think for full marathon training the plan would be to pop a GU at Miles 8, 14, and 20 but obviously will need to experiment.
  • I packed a wad of toilet paper into my pants before heading out in case I needed to go #2 in a porta potty before the race. I ended up completely forgetting about it and ran the entire race with it in my pants. This must be a new good luck charm, so I think I will run with this in my pants going forward.
  • Honestly, there wasn’t much that went wrong here, or anything I would have done differently during the race. I definitely felt like I had another couple miles of low 8 pace in me if needed.
  • A look back at 2014 vs 2016:

2014v2016

Post-race / Brunch Photos

IMG_1586

IMG_9406

IMG_8147

 

Quick Notes for my own benefit – feel free to ignore

  • Race Prep
    • Strength training, strength training, strength training – the key to my ITB rehab, and strengthening for speed gains. Unbelievable and 100% believer now
      • Try to start squatting and deadlifting, but light or body weight now
    • Spin class – helped me to crush the hills. Maybe not squat/deadlift but keep doing this?
  • In Race
    • Starting with slower wave, helped boost my confidence as I was passing everybody. Counted maybe 6 ppl max who passed me the whole race
    • GU Roctane vanilla orange flavor Mile 8.5. Definitely less energy spent consuming this vs shot bloks, and was tasty. Gave me a legit boost.
    • Couple sips of Gatorade at Mile 11 for final push, think this helped too as felt my calf ever so slightly cramping
    • Thought I was going too fast in miles 2-5, but literally just told myself to continue going on feel, and I never slowed down!
    • Last 4 miles – “Balls to the wall”, “this is it portes”, “only a 5k left!”, “don’t you fcking slow down”
    • “Happy birthday!”
    • Roll of TP in my pants – new good luck charm

Philadelphia Marathon 2015

JP Race Report – Philadelphia Marathon 11/22/15

Before I lose your attention, let me be clear about one thing regarding this race report: I promise it will NOT be as long as the Boston Marathon report. So please, do read on. Originally, the plan was to run the NY Marathon with the big brother in early November. Long story short, he decided to move to the purified waters of Lake Minnetonka earlier this year, and decided he did not have sufficient time to train for a marathon. That’s the story he wants you to believe. What actually occurred is that after years of running faster than me and Chudi Where Da Booty, he became nervous when our times started to improve and deferred his slot to 2016 so that I couldn’t run faster than him. His wife even gave him permission to run it so long as he “fully accepts the fact that he may not run faster than his little brother”. So naturally, I deferred as well because what good is a fast time if it’s not lower than my brother’s?

The Philly Marathon became the “replacement race”, but I quickly got psyched for it. Why? Because 1) its a fast race, with a course much flatter than Boston and 2) I was able to convince Chudi to sign up. One of the biggest takeaways I received from running Boston was the importance of running with others, so having someone to do my long-runs with was an exciting prospect. And after having run Boston, Philly was certainly going to be a cake walk of a race.

Training

I cobbled together a 16-week plan with Chudi, extremely similar to the Boston one prepared by my coaches with a few small changes. With the new commute to Greenwich, time has become a precious commodity and I simply don’t have enough of it to run 6-8 miles during the week at night (try doing this at 9pm and then going to bed by 1045pm, if you are able please teach me your ways). So in order to make up for the lack of distance I decided to run harder and faster during my speed and tempo runs.

Some takeaways from training:

  • The increased intensity of the shorter runs definitely improved my speed. I even got down to 7:20s overall pace for 4mile speed runs (on a treadmill, but still solid).
  • The training program technically started the end of July. This meant doing long runs in the sweltering NY heat and humidity, something I have yet to learn how to cope with. I resorted to doing my long runs on the treadmill, and got as far as 15 miles the week after Labor Day (thank god for TVs on the treadmill otherwise I might have died of boredom). My first outdoor run was an 18 miler at the beginning of October. I wonder if this had any effect on my training? Didn’t seem like it did.
  • I was still sick of eating oatmeal from training for Boston, so I switched it up to a whole wheat bagel with one side cream cheese and one side peanut butter (eaten separately for all you folk who think I’m weird) and a clementine, with half a pack of Gu chomps about 30min before race time. I think this worked perfectly and will probably do it again.
  • Nutrition during long runs was not optimal – I was reliant on Shot Bloks and water, but it became apparent I needed at least some Gatorade for runs longer than 14 miles. At one point during the 21 miler, my body started rejecting the Shot Bloks and so I ran on empty for the last 5 miles. Very miserable, but I also wanted to get used to the pain and suffering so that come race day, it would be a cake walk.
  • I will need to give more thought to how we set up water breaks. It is not optimal to stop for longer periods of time (1-2minutes) when during the race, I would essentially speed walk through the water station for 30-45 seconds max. While I don’t think this was a huge negative, I think it’s something to improve upon for next time.
  • Given my improved speed and the fact that Philly is an easier, faster, flatter course (especially after running Boston), I was supremely confident in my ability to break 4 hours this time around. My long runs were being completed in the 9:05 – 9:15 area, which would be setting me up for a sub 4 marathon.
  • I decided to prioritize core workouts over biking/swimming/cross training. While my core definitely got stronger and I could feel the improvement during runs, I think this may have ultimately hurt my training and my IT Band, which I will discuss in more detail later. Basically I felt my knee tweak about 2 weeks before the race, but was able to stretch and the pain disappeared. But the following runs my knee would start feel a discomfort and dull pain after 3-4 miles, so I basically shut down my running and went into “heal” mode for the final week (ie. lots of stretching, rolling, icing). I certainly knew going into the race my knee could become an issue, but I did not want to use that as an excuse and was going to go ahead with my race plan.

Seven Weeks out – A surprise entrant

September was a month of debauchery. There were many “summer closing” techno events scheduled, so the plan was to indulge for the month, then cease all nightlife / day partying activity to focus on training come October. Francisco “Latin Spice” Ceballos, one of my close friends from BC and well-known for his spontaneous, borderline-absurd and impulsive decision making, decided to sign up for the marathon. While we all know Latin Spice is a natural athlete, I initially told him to just sign up for the half. Seven weeks is not enough time to start from scratch and run a marathon. Sure, it can be done, but you’re just asking for longer-term injury. Being the stubborn man that he is, Cisco insisted on the full. “Fine, go run 13 miles this weekend, and tell me how you feel” I told him. Sure enough, this dude casually drops 13 miles (in between a few drags of Camel cigs) and proclaims he is ready to train for the marathon. The more the merrier, so why the heck not. One of his training highlights was his excitement to do a 13 mile run from my apartment on the West Side to Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. All week he was pumped for the run, so much that he decided to go out the night before. And sure enough, he shoots me a text the next morning stating that he can barely even move out of bed. Next time, my friend.

Race Week / Race Weekend

In the two weeks leading up to the race, I reached out to an old friend of my brother, Evan “Eazy E Don’t Shoot” Odim to get some advice on nutrition and race prep.  EZ gave me plenty of helpful advice, especially regarding race day logistics given his prior Philly experiences. It was also great to just get some reassurances and inspiration from an experienced runner / triathlete. The best piece of advice he gave me was to drink a few sips of coffee early in the morning, to “get the system flowing”. I won’t go into detail as to what this could possibly mean, but it certainly was one of the more important pieces of advice that made things much easier pre-run.

The plan for the week prior to race week was to spend whatever free time I had looking up information on the race and reading race recaps. I purposely wanted to go through all of this two weeks beforehand to get the “pre-race excitement” out of the way at an earlier time. I literally spent all week reading about the Boston Marathon during race week, and it definitely drained me emotionally by the time the race came along.  I figured this time let myself get all pumped up two weeks beforehand, then the week of just chill and relax, and save the energy for the actual race. Therefore, the only thing I did race-related was pack my gear and follow a carb-loading / hydration plan.

I can’t remember my specific race week carb-loading plan from Boston, but what I do remember is the inordinate amounts of pasta I ate on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before the race. While I don’t think it affected me on race day, I wanted to refine my carb-loading process this time around to see if it would give me an advantage. Therefore, I stated to slowly increase my carb intake the Tuesday of race week, eating rice and potatoes with some meat and veggies. Come Thursday and Friday, I was eating pasta for lunch with a smaller curried lentil brown rice bowl at night. The big meal of race weekend was brunch on Saturday at Day by Day (one of the best brunch spots in Philly, highly recommend checking it out). I ordered: smoked salmon benedict, a short stack of pancakes, a side of bacon, and some orange juice. This was the meal to crush, and crush I did. Dinner would be a smaller meal – grilled pork and vermicelli bowl (Vietnamese food for all you non-cultured basic folk) – smaller but still with carbs.

The other part of the game plan for race weekend was to chill. Netflix and chill. Not that kind of Netflix and chill, but literal Netflix and chill.IMG_0824 As I previously mentioned, I was too hyped for the Boston Marathon that I burnt myself out before the race. I was wandering around Boston with my family, organizing pasta dinners and driving to different sights. This time, I wanted to grab my bib at the expo, eat brunch, watch Hunger Games, then watch some Netflix and go to bed. Nice and easy, minimal energy expended. This game plan was executed perfectly on Saturday. The only momentary lapse was after watching Hunger Games in the movie theater. Cisco and I started playing arcade games while waiting for Chudi to get out of Spectre, and I became obsessed with winning one of those alien dolls using a claw (everyone knows it’s a trap but I am convinced I can beat it). On the final try we got extremely close to picking up the doll but it slipped out at the last second and I jumped up and down in agony of defeat. Probably not the best idea for someone preparing to run a marathon the next day, particularly one who was taking all precautions with his knee.

The rest of the night went exactly as planned: watched a couple of episodes of Man in the High Castle, relaxed, foam rolled, and stretched. But I experienced one pleasant surprise: I slept like a baby through the entire night. This has NEVER occurred the night before an event I am super excited for (I once couldn’t sleep the night before a high school paintball trip because I was so amp’d up). My deliberate measures to tone down the excitement all week must have paid off. I might even argue that I slept more peacefully compared to the night before when I had taken melatonin, albeit less hours.

Race Day

Pre-race morning went largely according to plan. IMG_0831The logistics of Philly lent itself well to doing things closer to actual race time, unlike Boston or other races where you have to trek further to get to the start. Had my standard pre-race breakfast two hours beforehand, complete with a few sips of coffee per EZ’s orders. Arrived about 90 min before race start, which gave me sufficient time to drop off my change of clothes, wait in line for the bathroom, and warm-up without having to stand around waiting for the race to start. The only minor hiccup was that security took my Stick away at the checkpoint, prompting me to rollout my IT Band much earlier than I was hoping. The two things that did not go according to plan, which I did not realize until 30 seconds before start, was 1) I forgot to pop the three pills of ibuprofen that were in my throwaway pants and 2) I completely forgot to write down the water station locations on my wrist. With regards to the first point, I’ve read a bunch of stuff about not taking ibuprofen/Tylenol before running. But I’ve gotten used to it, and with my IT band acting up I wanted to take an extra preventative measure. As for the second point, this one bugged me more because unlike Boston, there are no water stations every mile and they are not on both sides of the road. It was not ideal to be running blind without knowing where the next water station would be because I needed time to chew up some shot bloks before arriving at the water station. But, what’s done is done (or not done) and you just gotta roll with the punches.

The race went off perfectly fine: waved at my mom, aunt, and uncle right past the start line as I ran by, got hit with the standard wave of emotion that comes with the fact that you are running a marathon, and found myself behind a fairly crowded pack which would keep me from running too fast out of the gate. The plan was to do a 9:25 pace the first 5 miles, 9:05 pace for the next 15, and then either 9:10 (goal pace of sub 4 hours) for the final 6 or go for broke if I was feeling good. My man EZ let me use his patented excel spreadsheet to come up with a race plan based on a goal of sub 4 hours, and this is what the plan called for.

The first 10 miles or so pretty much went without a hitch. Kept the pace easy and according to plan (9:20 – 9:30 pace), and tried to soak in some of the sights around Philly before heading into the tougher areas (ie Penn). I even saw a spectator holding a Phillies balloon and proceeded to scream “LETS GO METS!!!” at him. Cisco, always the cavalier, wanted to push the pace a little so he went ahead of me after miles 5-6. During this first third of the race, the only concern I had was how my knee was holding up. It was holding up just fine, but it was always a thought pre-occupying my mind. I decided that if it started to get bad, I would just turn right at mile 13 and finish the half marathon instead. But deep down I knew I was going to continue on regardless of how it felt.

Around miles 8 and 10 was where the two major hills of the race were; but these hills were nothing in relation to Boston, and basically felt like running in Central Park. The second hill more closely resembled Harlem Hill, but it was nice having a random lady standing at the bottom all by herself screaming “What hill??? I don’t see it!!! Who lied to us????” After the hill, we hit a long flat stretch that loops around before a long downhill that eventually leads back to the river and back to the Art Museum where the full and half marathoners diverge. This led to a series of comical / entertaining events. Prior to the downhill, I saw a random spectator wearing an Eagles jersey. So of course, I veered over to the side where he was and proceeded to yell “GO GIANTS!! EAGLES SUCK!!” And in all my excitement I almost ran over a lady who was running in front of me. I literally channeled my inner Barry Sanders and juked out of her way at the last possible second. Couldn’t help but laugh at myself for my stupidity and waste of energy. After the downhill, I started running on the sidewalk because the street was too crowded to keep my pace (I was now moving at 8:55-9:10 pace, right on track with my plan). All of a sudden, some random dude was running next to me at the same pace. I have no idea what his name was, but I’m just going to refer to him as “Massimo” because he was from Italy. Massimo asked me if I was going to run at that pace for awhile, to which I nodded and we began to run along the sidewalk together. As this was happening, an older man on a bicycle was pedaling in the opposite direction to our left. As he passed us he yelled “You have the entire freaking road to run, get off the sidewalk!”. All of a sudden, the 20-30 runners within our vicinity who had heard him immediately turned and started screaming all sorts of profanities at him “SHUT THE FUCK UP MAN! GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! FUCK YOU!” I only ever hear and see positive thoughts from runners during races, so this was pretty awesome to hear everyone get charged up at someone. We neared the Mile 13 marker, and my leg was feeling fine so there was no a doubt which direction I was going to turn. I could tell my knee wasn’t 100%, but it certainly was not bothering me and I was keeping pace just fine. I saw my cheerleaders as we passed the Art Museum for a second time (of course my aunt was too slow to take any action pictures of me), and was on my way for the back half of the race.

The back half of the race is very scenic: Kelly drive is along the river and is a 6 mile out and back route. One awesome part was seeing the elite runners coming back for their finish. 635851926414782925My goodness, they were flying. Meanwhile, I was just on Mile 14 with 12.2 to go. As we neared Mile 16, I began to slow down (race was going according to plan up until this point) and I could start to feel my knee tightening up. By Mile 17 I was really going slow (think mid to high 10s pace) and my knee was really locked up and exhibiting sharp pains. There was a slight but noticeable downhill around this time, and as soon as I hit the downhill that was that for my knee. I knew my race plan was shot and I would just have to battle to get to the finish. I periodically did some math in my head to see what kind of pace I would have to average to finish 4:10, 4:20, and so forth. I figured I could hit those kinds of targets, even if I had to walk for parts of the remaining 7-8 miles.

Around 19, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cisco just chillin’ with some random girl on the side of the road, looking real sketchy in the corner. Classic, didn’t even surprise me that he would be mackin’ on some chick at the expense of his race time mid-race. Turns out his knee was also shot, and he was just taking some ibuprofen from her. I gestured to him to come join me, and he pointed at his knee. This actually fired me up: two quasi-injured dudes running together, trying to tough it out. We took turns trying to motivate each other, just mumbling about fighting through and finishing. Around 20 he gave me a caffeine pill, something I had never tried before. I still need to do research on it, but that pill definitely gave me a massive boost to keep going. Periodically I would go ahead and leave him, and then he would run faster to catch up. Eventually I would leave him permanently, but he did almost catch up to finish at the same time as me.

The final 5-6 miles were extremely tough, with energy levels running on empty and barely being able to bend my knee. 635851926450095877The lack of knowledge regarding the water stations really hurt me at this stage too as I cracked open a honey stinger waffle cookie thinking there was a station nearby. Turns out the water station was another 1.5 miles, so I ended up having to run with crumbs stuck in my throat. I also probably ingested too much Gatorade and shot bloks looking for more energy such that my stomach began to hurt. At some points, I am not going to lie, I felt like this was going to be my last marathon as the pain in my knee and general exhaustion was wearing me down mentally. I didn’t have my random old guy from Boston to tell me “one step at a time and then you are home”, and I was also extremely disappointed that for the second time in a row I wasn’t going to finish anywhere near my goal pace (the 4 hour pace group had long passed, but now the 4:15 was passing me). Everything had aligned perfectly, from the weather to the weekend prep to the pre-race meal, but here I was struggling to the finish. It was certainly a humbling moment. When I finally got closer to the Art Museum, the roar of the crowds kind of awoke me and I began to pick up the pace. I think I was even able to get to the mid 9s on the last mile, despite being straight-legged on one leg. I really hope I can find a video of me finishing, because I definitely looked like a goon the way I was running.

Post Race Debrief

  • Race week and pre -race – I think everything I did (or didn’t do) pre-race worked out perfectly. Saving the energy for race day, eating the bigger meal for brunch, race day logistics, all worked out nicely. I just need to remember to write down the damn water stations on my arm. (see below for minute details)
  • Nutrition Nutrition Nutrition – My nutrition definitely needs work, and this is something I will have to focus on for next time. EZ forgot to suggest salt tablets to me (therefore I blame him entirely for this), but the nutrition will need to be improved upon. I did eat some orange slices around miles 18 and 22, and those helped immensely. I definitely drank too much Gatorade / shot bloks around miles 19-23, and that caused my stomach to hurt. The caffeine pill certainly helped but there’s no way that’s the permanent solution. Eating honey stingers was probably not the best idea without water.
  • Strength training – This is the new focus for the winter offseason, as it is clear there are some imbalances in my muscles that need to be corrected. I suspect this began when I started doing tons of hanging leg lifts but no corresponding lower back work. I think this caused a strain on my lower back which pulled on my hamstrings and IT band, leading to ITBS. My hips are also probably very weak as I rarely worked them out.
  • Chudi Where Da Booty showed up to the start later than me and Francisco (no surprise there), so we did not really see him at all during the race. Except when I was on mile 22 and he was on the other side running opposite me. I reached out to give him a high five and he slapped my hand so hard I almost went backwards. Damn dude, chill out man!
  • ITBS / Knee – I first felt this tweak a few weeks before the race, so I knew it was a real possibility that it could affect me. The week before the race I shut down my 10 mile run at mile 5 because it started to hurt. Despite all this, I was determined to hit my goal regardless of my knee. So although the knee failed me at Mile 17, I was pleasantly surprised it held up for that far and was ultimately happy that I still got to the finish line. Yes, I was pissed and disappointed with my time, but just finishing with my knee in that state was an accomplishment in itself. My knee doctor later told me that most people cannot run through ITBS and that he was surprised I was able to do it for that long.
  • Family and Friends – Once again I have to thank my mom and aunt, and my uncle Peter, for making the trek down to Philly to cheer us on. They arrived at the starting line at 6am to ensure they could get a front view. I finished the race around 11:30am, and we did not get to the restaurant until closer to 1:30pm. So they were just as much troopers as we were for standing out there for 6+ hours. It is a blessing to have family who does things like this for you, and it’s something I am learning to appreciate more. I also need to thank everyone else who supported us with words of encouragement throughout – my girlfriend, my Boston team, my other running friends, my lazy fat non-running friends, etc. EZ also gets a shout out for giving me little tidbits of advice throughout training that certainly helped me, especially when it came to pre-race planning and meals. What he does not get a shout out for is betting on my time again. Every time he makes a bet he loses, which means that I ran slower than my goal time.
  • Chudi and Cisco – Extremely proud of these guys for completing their first marathon. It certainly was tough, and neither of them heeded all of my advice (Cisco stop smoking your damn Camels and Chudi I told you two Cliff bars pre-run is not going to cut it), but they finished, and that’s all that matters for your first marathon. It’s nice to share one of my passions with other people, and I look forward to continuing this running journey with them.
  • No more marathons? –  All that disappointment and discouragement I wrote about, while real at the time, was just bullshit. As soon as I recovered some of my energy post-race I was already assessing what went wrong and how to prevent that from occurring for the next marathon. Within one day I was fired up and ready to begin training for the next one. As I am writing this I am super excited to get back out on the road in the New Year, and have the NY Half coming up in March (followed by the NY full in November).

PS I lied about how long this report was going to be. But I want to capture all the details so that I can read this in 10 years and remember it all. Sorry.

 IMG_0866

 

RANDOM SCRIBBLED NOTES (JUST FOR MYSELF REALLY, BUT FEEL FREE TO READ)

Training program

What worked well:

  • Pre-race breakfast seemed to be on point
    • Sips of espresso to get my digestive system running
    • Whole wheat bagel with half cream cheese half peanut butter (pb got gross by the end)
    • Clementine
  • Running the hills in central park made the philly hills look pretty easy

What didn’t work:

  • Water breaks must continue to walk fast, and should be no longer than 30-45 seconds as opposed to stopping and chilling
    • Will need to sort out extra water/gatorade (potentially drop some off on the route beforehand, etc)
  • In-race Nutrition wasn’t optimal – body rejection of shot bloks, need to experiment with other stuff, no Gatorade at first
  • Core Training – definitely helped and could feel the difference, BUT, neglected my lower back and glutes (hanging leg raises), which I think led to IT band/knee issues that were my ultimate downfall
    • Will need to do better core/strengthening this winter / rehabbing of knee and ankle
  • Speed work – since it’s the offseason should focus on this a bit more, get those fast twitch muscles going
    • Don’t push too hard though, need to do a 5k baseline test

Marathon weekend

What worked well:

  • Carb loading plan – started increasing carb intake the Tuesday before
    • Healthier carbs (ie pasta, rice, lentils, veggies, granola, Vietnamese food)
    • Avoided unhealthy foods (ie fatty or fried foods), except for big brunch Saturday before race
    • Lighter meal for dinner – Vietnamese food around 730pm
  • Hydration – 80-100 ounces of water/Gatorade
    • Typically one bottle of Gatorade/vitamin water per day, rest water
  • Sleep – melatonin Thursday night and Friday night
    • Only 7 and some change Thursday night (would’ve been nicer to get more but had to run and pack)
    • 8+hrs Friday night
    • Somehow got a good night’s rest Saturday night, slept like a baby
  • Relaxation – did all my research on marathon the two weeks beforehand, this way I wouldn’t be so pumped up doing it during the week. Good way to conserve energy
    • No sight seeing walking around day before – went groceries, expo, brunch, movies, home

What didn’t work:

  • Forgot to write down the water stations on my arm
  • Forgot to pop ibuprofen prior to the race

Pre race / During race

What worked well:

  • Finished eating 5:25 – 2hrs before running
    • Ate half gu chomps around 6:40am – 45min beforehand (prolly better to be closer to 30min)
  • Arrived with sufficient bathroom time and ability to warmup, etc., but not too early
    • Race started at 7:25, arrived around 6:05, through security by 6:20, at the gear check/start area 6:30
      • Arrived 1hr 20min beforehand
    • Light Rolling before runs definitely loosens up legs, need to do this more
    • Think pacing was fine – 9:25ish first five miles, 9:23 overall through 13.1
    • Caffeine filled shotbloks definitely better than non-caffeine
    • Caffeine pill boost of energy in Mile 20
    • Orange slices Mile 19, Mile 22
    • Gatorade was good, but think had too much Gatorade + honey stingers + shot bloks post Mile 20
    • Pacing with random Italian guy helped from miles 11-14
    • Hills were not bad at all

What didn’t work:

  • Mile 15 when knee started to hurt and I started to get slower
    • Mile 17 when it was done and really slowed down
    • The downhill probably made knee worse
  • Fatigue wall around Mile 19
    • Caffeine pill helped immensely
  • Ate too much in nutrition post mile 20
    • Honey stingers with no liquid = awful idea
    • Too much sugar made my stomach hurt post mile 22 (maybe too much Gatorade plus shot bloks)
  • Carrying too much items?
    • Phone,
    • Two honey stingers
    • Two shotbloks – may try switching back to Gu given its much lighter

Boston Marathon 2015

Background – How I Ended Up Running This Thing to Begin With

I always hated running. I was an impatient kid growing up (and still am to this day), so the thought of having to run for more than 15-20 minutes at a time sounded extremely boring and painful. I preferred sprinting – get your quick workout in and be done. The sports I played in high school, football and baseball, only reinforced that mindset. But once I arrived at BC, two things happened: 1) my older brother decided he had had enough of his extravagant nightlife binging and took up running/triathlons and 2) I experienced Marathon Monday.

I won’t get into how I look up to my brother and will basically jump off a bridge if he205027_10150156800743525_659058_n told me to (that’s how I started running) but I will tell you about how Marathon Monday was always my favorite day of the entire school year; better than any football game or Beanpot matchup. Marathon Monday is always held on Patriots’ Day, a state holiday enabling all of Boston to come out and support the runners throughout the day. The route runs right through BC, so you can imagine how rowdy and loud we were after 5+ hours of drinking seeing our friends and all the other runners come flying down the road. I always felt so inspired after cheering on the runners, probably intensified by my intoxication, but nevertheless inspired. Every year I declared “I am running the Boston Marathon next year!” only to find greater inspiration in how quickly I could shotgun a beer first thing in the morning to prep for cheering on the runners.

This year represented my first realistic shot of running the race after not wanting to give up any of my college years to train – but it was not my original intention to run it. I was injured from wearing Nike Free Runs when I first started running, and combined with the grind of investment banking, I rarely had time to train. But in ea1512025_10201679289799213_764903572_orly 2014, after PR’ing a short race in the park, I begged a coworker of mine to give me his NYC Half Marathon slot, to which he happily obliged (see you at the NYC Marathon Marbach!). I almost cried on Mile 1 of that race, in utter disbelief and excitement that I was running a legitimate distance again. Let’s just say I caught the running “minibug” because the phrase usually happens to people who run a marathon, and I was nowhere near that level yet. That race led me to sign up for 10 more races and volunteer for one (yes, excessive is another trait of mine but I prefer to call it “dedication” or “hard work”), so that I could earn an automatic entry into the 2015 NYC Marathon. Boston was still on my mind, but I wanted to get at least one marathon under my belt before tackling the challenge of Boston. Given my past ankle injuries, the fear of failure was always in the back of my head, and I wanted to gain comfort from another marathon beforehand. But in the fall, I realized that this year would be my last chance to run Boston with people I know still at BC. I had a 10 mile race coming up, so I knew I was in decent shape to begin training. I asked my brother what his thoughts were; he was never one to back down and gave me the thumbs up to go for it.

There are two ways into the Boston Marathon: either you qualify with a ridiculously fast time (3:05 for my age group, up until I am 35 at which point it decreases to 3:10, giving me such a better chance to qualify) or you run through a charity team. Given that the former was out of the question for me, I needed to go the charity route and start applying to charities. Yes, you read that correctly, applying to charities. So many people want to run the Boston Marathon that getting a charity spot means reliving the college application process all over again! I had spent countless hours writing up my applications to various charities that I started wondering if I needed to go to Kaplan to prepare for an entrance exam. And just like applying to college, I didn’t blindly apply to any charity – I focused on the ones that I actually liked and could relate to. Enter Hale Reservation.

You guys know all about Hale Reservation from my fundraising emails so I won’t repeat all the details as to why I love that charity and their programs, but just know that shortly after inquiring about the charity, I received an email from the director, Paula, asking to schedule an interview! It really was college admissions all over again! Turns out Paula was a BC grad, and we had a very pleasant conversation about my fundraising ambitions and running history. Somehow I was able to convince her to give me a spot (must have been BC or just my natural sweet talking abilities), and you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I received the acceptance email from her. A bit of nervousness sunk in – I had just gone from no marathons to two in one year just like that, with Boston being my first.

Training – Taking the Process to the Next Level

I’ve sent multiple training updates around to everyone so I won’t flood you with details except for the following: 1) I made 4 trips to Boston between during the 16 week training cycle to train and bond with the team; this was easily the best decision I made throughout my training as running with the team helped build my confidence and the idea that I could actually complete this thing. Running with others is highly underrated and I encourage you to try it if you are hesitant. 2) I made it my goal from Day 1 of training to give up hard liquor for the 16 week program; this included indulging myself in McDonald’s and Chicken and Rice from Halal Guys the weekend before the start of training as a “farewell” to junk food. I lasted about 7 weeks, which in itself is an impressive feat and one I can take pride in. As for my diet, the lack of alcohol led to a moratorium on 4am “take me to chicken and rice now!” demands of the cab driver and no subsequent bacon, egg, and cheese hangover sandwiches, both items that had become a staple of my weekend diet. As11020754_10203577785940430_7878326957093362182_n (1) a result, I ended up losing 10-12 lbs throughout training. I also managed to avoid going to Verboten or Output, the two places I like to indulge in my other favorite hobby: techno and house music (not EDM thank you very much) 3) The winter in Boston was hellacious with record amounts of snow and freezing temperatures; it snowed during our “spring” 21 miler. But my body is better accustomed to the cold versus the heat, and I actually didn’t mind running in that weather. I did get sick of wearing the same winter running clothes though (keep this thought in mind as it may have came back to bite me on race day). 4) When not running with the team in Boston, I was running with my man Chudi “where da booty” here in New York. Somehow I convinced him to sign up for a difficult 30k race despite his lack of preparation (Stu’s 30k in Massachusetts, which is just an 18.6 mile race consisting of uphill, downhill, uphill, down…wait, more uphill?!). When I excitedly emailed my coach that my friend would also be running, he simply replied “Let’s see if he’s still your friend after the race”. Sure enough, I thought Chudi had made a wrong turn somewhere in the woods and that we would have to go search for him. He did not look pleased as he crossed the snowy finish line, and it took him about 30 minutes and 2 bowls of chicken noodle soup to warm up and muster a smile for the above photo post-race.

Pre-Race Marathon Weekend – Soaking in the Excitement

Still unable to justify a $75-150 Amtrak ticket, I took a $20 dollar, 10am Megabus up to South Station on Saturday morning. Nothing too exciting happened except for my surprise that the entire bus was packed with runners. This only excited me even more, and served as a visual reminder to drink my 1L water bottle of Icelandic Water (no, I’m not a water snob and drink out of the tap all the time but for some reason Icelandic Water tastes, well, icelandic). Ended up having to use the bathroom 5 times throughout the course of the trip.11078264_10203839871812413_5365937837057738661_n (1)

The first order of business in Boston was to get to the Marathon Expo to grab my race bib and soak in the sights and sounds of the expo. Walking into Hynes Convention Center made me feel like a kid in the candy shop. I couldn’t help but walk around with a massive smile on my face, especially when we got to the bib pick-up section. “Is this your first marathon? I can tell by the look on your face.” There was no hiding the excitement that this was actually happening. I spent the next hour wandering the expo, checking out all of the different booths and products being offered. Coached warned us not to spend too much time at the expo, so I had one eye on my watch and consciously listened to my feet to see if they were getting tired. I had already bought my Boston Marathon finisher jacket and a long sleeve tech shirt (which were tucked away in the closet as I am extremely superstitious) but I just had to snag a dope short sleeve tech t-shirt as well. The secret adidas-2015-Offical-Boston-Marathan-Anthem-Jacket (1)reason why I signed up for this marathon was for that marathon finisher jacket. The gear for the Boston Marathon is infinitely better than the NYC gear, and everyone wears their jackets with pride after running the Boston Marathon. I wanted to join that select group of people and here I was 48 hours away from doing so. The rest of that night was spent eating some pasta and other carbs at Piattini on Newbury Street, and then watching ALC Showdown at Boston College (BC’s premier dance group competition) to get my mind off the race for a bit. I was pleased to see Fuego del Corazon finish in second (my favorite group, a testament to my “Latin” roots for those of you who know I pretend to be Argentine or fully Spanish when needed).

The f21287_10203908438606540_3521379781862314408_nollowing day was the Hale Team brunch, held at the Hale Reservation itself. This was very exciting as it would be my first time to visit the reservation, and to meet the rest of the team who I had not yet met during my training visits to Boston. We had a chance to crush some eggs, pancakes and bacon, and our two coaches, Scott and Beth, gave us some last words of advice. It was at this point, when Coach Scott told us he would be wearing his running tights, that I realized the first mistake I made: not packing ALL of my running gear. I was so convinced that I would be wearing shorts, my BC running shirt, and possibly a long sleeve shirt, that I didn’t bother packing my cold gear or my rain gear. I knew the weather was going to be colder and rainy, but I was simply too excited that it wasn’t going to be hot. I had told many people that the one wildcard would be the weather – if it was north of 60 degrees, as had been the case the last few years, then my goal time of sub 4 hours would probably have to be tempered. Little did I know that warm weather wasn’t going to be only the type of weather that would affect my performance. Fortunately for me, however, Chudi decided he was still my friend and was on his way up to Boston, to cheer me on during his birthday. I messaged him and asked him to bring up my running tights before hopping on the bus. I should’ve told him to bring my rain jacket and gloves, but at this point I wasn’t even sure if I needed to wear the tights. I just wanted optionality.

IMG_7977
The rest of the day was spent resting in the hotel, visiting the finish line to take pictures, going to Sunday Mass (my mom and aunt were with me at this point so I was definitely not going to skip mass, plus I was hoping for one more pre-marathon blessing), and going to Da Vinci restaurant for one more carbo-loading meal. For those of you who know my mom and aunt aka the “e-twins”, you already know how much of a riot they are. At one point while walking to dinner they “disappeared” into a skin-cleansing store in the mall, causing me mental anguish while searching for them. Here I was trying to get to dinner and be in a relaxed state of mind, but the two of them were too busy testing and subsequently buying skin-exfoliating products.

Eating atIMG_7963 a restaurant named“Da Vinci” was just too appropriate for my last supper before the marathon. Add to the fact that I just realized I also sat at the middle of table, surrounded by some of closest friends in Boston and family. As a matter of fact, I was definitely eating some bread as part of my meal. Ok, I’ll stop with the religious symbolism but dinner with everyone was a great way to cap off a weekend full of excitement before the marathon. It was really nice to see my friends come out and support me, knowing how much the next day meant to me. In particular, Chudi and Scott deserve special mention as they somehow snuck out of the investment banking handcuffs and made the trip north. Upon entering the restaurant, I saw Chudi sitting at the bar with a Macquarie-issued laptop open and what looked like a prop sum (don’t we love underwriting those 15.0x levered tech deals that are franchise building and fees on fees on fees??). Meanwhile, Scott was at Starbucks down the block finishing a pitch. The fact that these two came up to cheer me on despite their heavy workload meant a lot to me, and sure enough they would come in handy at Mile 25 the next day.
11156153_10203845428751333_4502360651307464383_n

I knew I would not be getting any sleep that night, as I have never been able to sleep the night before something I am truly excited about (trust me, if I was more nervous than excited I would have fallen asleep, that’s what happens when I have a job interview). So I laid out my running clothes, got in some last second foam rolling and stretching, and rolled into beIMG_7865d. I actually was able to sleep a decent amount, just in a very light state whereas normally I am a deep sleeper. I cannot remember what was going through my head that night as I tried to not think about the race, but the excitement was certainly running deep in my veins. I kept reminding myself that I just spent 4 months training for this big day, and nothing was going to stop me from finishing. I was still extremely confident I could hit my goal time or even better, and had zero doubts despite the predicted cold and rain weather. Boy, was I about to get a rude awakening.

Race Day Morning – Get to the Starting Line!

            The alarm went off at 7:05am, and instantly I was out of bed. The plan was to eat two bowls of oatmeal at 7:50, catch the hotel shuttle to Boston Commons at 8:00, check in my gear bag and be on the bus to Hopkinton by 8:45, and arrive at Athlete’s Village by 9:45, about 45 minutes before heading to the start line. This would give me enough time to eat my peanut butter sandwich, banana and clementine, and then do my last set of pre race checks (ie. putting on Vaseline because you can ask my brother what happens when you chafe, and loading up my shot bloks into 284287_191357204_XLargemy fuel belt). I took a quick walk outside to gauge the weather, and I decided to swap out my shorts for the running tights. I spent all winter training in those bad boys (real men wear tights), and have had some strong runs in them so I felt good with the switch. Everything was going according to plan, except for the fact that the bus to the start did not pull into Athlete’s Village until 10:05. While I deliberately did not want to get there early, I forgot to account for the fact that the lines to the porta-potty would be 20-30minutes, and our wave would start leaving by 10:30 (even though actual start was 11:15am, it’s a ½ mile walk to the start). This left me with exactly enough time to stand in line for the final bathroom run before having to head down to the start. Waiting in line made me a bit anxious as I still had to put on my Vaseline and conduct my other last second checks, but I’ve repeatedly shown up late to races (at the NY Half my Wave was already leaving when I showed up) so I viewed it as business as usual. I even saw my team taking a pre-race picture while waiting in line, but decided using the bathroom was more important. By the time I got out of the port-a-potty, the announcer was calling our wave and coach was motioning for me to get going. I hurriedly applied some Vaseline, packed up my shot bloks, and began making my way down the road along with 1,000s of other runners. At this point I already lost my team but figured I’d find them at the start.

            As my wave made its way to the starting line, the rain started to pick up, so I decided to hang onto my throwaway hoody until the last minute. I found my team yet again with 10 minutes to spare before the gun, giving me time to conduct my standard basic warmup. As we waited for what seemed to be an eternity, the rain continued to pick up even more. Everyone was way too excited to care though, with music blaring and people singing along to some 90s rock song but I can’t remember what it was (maybe Third Eye Blind or something). My coach even got a shout out from the PA announcer as the oldest participant in the marathon (68 years old and 10th Boston in a row, the guy is a machine!). With 1 minute to go I ditched my hoody, checked my watch to make sure it was functioning, and made a few signs of the crosses, customary for every race (in my head I was doing a Novena to make my mom proud, just kidding couldn’t even tell you what a Novena is). Then the gun shot went off and it was game time.

The 119th Boston Marathon – Can’t believe I’m Doing This

The first ½ mile or so was certainly a bit emotional – I didn’t actually cry but the sheer sense of happiness and disbelief that I was actually doing this began to overwhelm me a bit. The massive crowds at the start, screaming wildy and banging on the cowbells, only accentuated this feeling. This kind of emotion usually causes me to take off, but luckily the bottleneck at the start limited me to a 9:35 pace. A bit slower than I wanted but better than blowing my entire race running a sub 8:30 mile on the steepest downhill of the entire course. From then on, the mantra was “trust your training”, which I periodically recited to myself as a reminder to stick to the race plan: 8:55-9:10 min/mile from miles 1-21, and then drop the hammer at BC and go for broke with sub 8:30s. I would hit a water station every 3 miles starting at mile 5, and walk through the water station to properly drink the water out of the cup and eat two pieces of shot bloks. I pretty much executed this plan to perfection on many of my long runs (including the 21 miler that ran miles 5-26 of the actual route) so I was extremely confident in my abilities (this theme of confidence is really going to bite me isn’t it?).

Miles 2-10 went according to plan for the most part. The first 5 miles are pretty much downhil284287_191416673_XLargel, which required more constant pace monitoring. When passing larger crowds (which happened quite often) I would find myself creeping into the 8:45 area and would have to pull back. It usually takes me about 4-6 miles to really get into a groove where my body goes into cruise control mode. So by the time I hit the first planned water station stop at mile 5 I was feeling strong and feeling confident (and averaging a 9:06 pace, right on schedule). The one thing I did notice, however, was just how much colder my body felt with a soaking cold long sleeve inner layer. My hands were unusually cold, and the chest area of my inner shirt began to stick to my chest. I made multiple attempts to pry the shirt from my skin but to no avail (think about wearing wet suit while surfing and how it is glued to your skin but now running in the cold instead of surfing in the ocean) At the time, I pushed the discomfort aside and reiterated my confidence despite the conditions. While these minor inconveniences were noticeable, the beatdown my quads were taking on these first miles of downhills was not. I would figure it out soon enough.

Miles 10-11 was where I first felt my energy levels dip and my pace slow down a bit. I started to look forward to the Mile 11 water station, as a chance to refuel withsome shot bloks and get back in my rhythm. As I looked around at the runners surrounding me, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit at this one girl still wearing a clear garbage bag from Athlete’s Village. Hey, at least she kept dry while I’m here soaked. But then I noticed the drag effect the garbage bag was having on her, and quickly realized that we were running in a massive headwind. How the heck did I not notice this for the first 10 miles??? Oh right, I had checked the weather one last time before entering Athlete’s Village, and that freaking website showed a 20mph wind blowing EAST. EAST! I even texted Chudi “Wind blowing east today. Feeling good”. Clearly screwed that one up and jinxed myself.284287_191727253_XLarge

This headwind discovery didn’t faze me for long because Mile 12, home of Wellesley College, was quickly approaching. This stretch is known as the “Scream Tunnel” because the entire all-girls school is lined up on the street screaming their guts out and holding signs asking you to stop and kiss them (some were holding very dirty signs which I won’t repeat in this report but let’s just say they made clever use of words such as “rain” or “wet” or “tongue”). I had read reports that you could hear them from a good ½ mile away, and holy cow, I really could hear the shrieks a good 5 minutes before I even spotted the first set of girls. Add to the fact that the Scream Tunnel was located on a slight downhill, and boy my adrenaline was kicking in again. And no, I did not stop for a kiss at the scream tunnel; aside from broken momentum, my girlfriend who was waiting a mile further down would not have been pleased.

Entering Wellesley Town did nothing to slow the momentum. The entire downtown area was packed with spectators not only yelling and screaming, but also banging on the large canvass banners line11174682_10153258727113599_3427442724466840890_od on both sides of the street as if there were loud drums. For a split second, I felt like Maximus, being cheered in the streets of Rome as he marched to the Coliseum to fight the Emperor in Gladiator. I could not help but speed up the pace at this moment, and just past the city center, around Mile 13.7, I hit the Needham Bank where my first set of cheerleaders was waiting: my mom, aunt, Kev, Chudi, Scott, Coach Beth, and Paula. Of course they were all screaming loudly, with Kev, Chudi and Scott running about a tenth of a mile down the road with me. I popped two more shot bloks, drank a cup of water, and soldiered on. “Man, that was pretty awesome” I thought to myself as I headed into what would become the most desolate part of the race.

Safe to say Miles 15-16 was where the wheels began to fall off the wagon. Momentum from Wellesley quickly weaned off as we entered long patches of fields and woods where no spectators were present, and I could feel myself battling the wind again. The first sign of trouble arrived just before the next water station. My right quad began to tighten on the inside, as if it was starting to cramp. The only time I have ever felt this before in my life was when I ran my first half marathon in 2011, after having a horrible cough and cold for three weeks and then showing up to the starting line already tired and dehydrated. My first instinct was to take a cup of Gatorade to replenish my electrolytes. But as I continued on, I realized this was no cramp; this was my quads (now my left one also) beginning to alternate between a stabbing pain and tightening discomfort with every step forward. “284287_192254477_XLargeOh f**k, I haven’t even reached the Newton Hills yet”. I still had about 9 miles to go, and shifted to survival mode. My first thought was all the different bets put down on my finishing time. Doing the math, I could optimistically be right around my downside scenario of 4:14, but even that might be a stretch. Crap, Z-Man is going to be pissed at me! Was all probably EZ’s fault! Ah screw them, the ultimate goal is to just complete the damn thing, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to stop.

Just before the first Newton Hill, which is the Mass Pike overpass, there is a pretty massive downhill. I tried to use this downhill to pick up momentum and gain speed, but it only made me have to crawl up the first hill. Probably a huge mistake to pound my quads even harder, but whatever I was just focused on getting to the second hill. The second hill to me is the hardest; you literally turn right and are staring at a long hill in front of you. It can be very intimidating if unprepared but I knew it was coming. And to my surprise, right as I made the turn onto Comm Ave I was greeted by a huge crowd of spectators and what sounded like a Funktion-One sound system (the club industry standard for speakers) blaring music from the fire station on the left. Again I was blown away by the support, and this gave me some brief momentum to trudge up the hill.

After traversing the second hill (or crawling), my thoughts turned to BC. The plan was to get there in one piece and use the crowds of my alma mater as another massive push to the finish line. At this point, I was stopping at every water station and walking much longer than my originally planned 20-second water break. I figured I should conserve my energy by going up the hills real slow, so I can at least fly through BC and enjoy the moment. One guy even screamed to me “They’re waiting for you just up top, you are almost home!!”. The third hill was probably the easiest out of all of them, but getting through that only left you thinking about Heartbreak Hill, the final of the Newton Hills and the one most people think is the hardest. I personally didn’t think it was the hardest but given the state of my legs at this moment it sure felt like the hardest thing I had ever done physically in my life. Coach told me during the 21-miler to watch the stoplight and tell yourself you just gotta get to that point and you are done with the hill. That’s exactly what I did, except I swear that stoplight was running away from me. But finally, at last, I could see the top of St. Mary’s chapel and the “Heartbreak is Over” inflatable that BC puts on the top of the hill. Immediately I bee-lined it to the right side of the road, prepping myself to high five the students on the way down. And yes, I high fived the ENTIRE crowd down, at some points even putting IMG_7913both my hands out to the side to high five. I got so fired up I even started passing people on the way down and started screaming “LETS GO!!!” as I tugged at my shirt to let it be known who I was repping that day. Nevermind that I again was thrashing my already-wrecked quads, this was the moment I was waiting for the entire race (and arguably for 7 years having been on the other side of the road). There were even more BC supporters along the way to Cleveland Circle, this time on the left side. To hell with conserving my energy (which was non-existent at this point anyway), I crossed all the way over to the other side of the road so I could high five them too. I ended up seeing a decent of people I knew, so that was a pleasant surprise (Thanks Joan for snapping this pic of me!).

284287_192024305_XLargeAt Mile 25.4ish, I was basically shuffling my feet (and pretty much dying legs-wise despite the crowds cheering and encouraging me on) towards the tunnel for what would be the final uphill. I literally was about to walk for 15-20 seco284287_192158044_XLargends when off to the distance I suddenly could hear two voices yelling “Don’t f**king do it! Don’t walk!! Keep going!! You got this!!” I turn around and lo and behold, it’s Chudi and Scott running alongside me with their luggage and all! This was instantly one of the better moments of the race, although at the time all I could do was mutter to them “man I’m dead” and continued on. But that little sight gave me just enough energy to continue on without stopping to walk. And finally, the famed “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” had arrived. Making that final turn onto Boylston was an unbelievable sight. Sure, my legs were beyond exhaustion and I was dying to finish the race, but I was in complete awe of the surroundings and the atmosphere – thousands of people lined up on the streets cheering, runners raising their arms in victory, and the sight of the finish line in the background. With about 0.2 miles to go I saw a familiar figure screaming my name and pushing past the barricade to high five me. Damn, that’s where my bro had been this whole freakin time! I really wanted to do a little d284287_192097840_XLargeance as I passed him but my energy was so depleted I could only muster half of a tired man’s high five (as described by my brother in his Ironman race report). And finally, I crossed that finish line.

I was definitely more relieved than excited to cross that finish line, after battling the elements and my quads for the better of 9 miles. Sure, it was a good 30+ minutes slower than I had planned, but the ultimate goal, as every first time marathon runner’s goal should be, was to get to that finish line. I do ride myself hard and get very fixated on pace and finish times, so I no doubt had some disappointment especially after how well my training went. But I could not complain – running the Boston Marathon is an accomplishment not many people get to achieve in their lives. Plus, I finally got to put on that Boston Marathon finisher jacket, which I then wore every single day for 8 days straight (stretched in the gym with it on, ate street food with it on, went to the bathroom in my apartment with it on, you get the idea). See you all in New York for the next marathon!

Post Race

After assessing my overall performance, the following things I will do differently next time / could’ve had better luck with:

  • The weather – I prayed for cold weather, and God delivered. He just also gave me rain and a h284287_191996823_XLargeeadwind. Whoops. Next time I will just pack ALL of my running gear (cold gear, rain gear, heat gear, etc) just to be prepared. I really didn’t think the weather would affect me but man those headwinds were killer!
  • Excitement – In hindsight, I think I was way too jacked up for this race starting with a week beforehand. It was on my mind 24/7, whether it was planning logistics for my family, thinking about my race plan, or just reading about the race, over and over again. I think by the time race day showed up, my energy levels had already peaked. Yeah I still had tons of it, but I could tell it wasn’t at optimal levels. Next time around I should just hang out in the hotel and do nothing but watch Netflix.
  • Miles 1-5 – I had very strong runs throughout all of my long runs, especially during the runs on the route itself. So I was in complete shock and pretty disappointed when my quads began to fail me at Mile 15. After the race, Coach reminded that the one part I hadn’t run was Miles 1-5, which also happened to be the steepest downhill area. This probably pounded my quads way more than I anything I had felt to that point. My brother also thought I may have gone out a bit too fast. I don’t think I did, but maybe instead of trying to hold an 8:55-9:10 pace I could have gone out at 9:20-9:30 and not have my quads blow out?
  • Tardiness – I am notorious for never showing up early to events (except for job interviews), and in this case no different. I deliberately did not want to get to Athlete’s Village 2 hours early and do nothing but sit there, but then I misjudged how long the bus takes. I got there with just enough time to wait in line for the bathroom. I’m used to rushing before races, but it probably would serve me better to show up early and relax for a bit.

Finally, there are many folks that I need to thank to end this report, as none of this would be possible without their support:

  • Hoka One One (The revolutionary brand of sneaker I run in) – yes, I get made fun oIMG_7499f repeatedly for wearing “moon boots” when I run, but trust me, these bad boys feel like shock absorbers under your feet. And knock on wood, I haven’t had any real ankle or leg issues since switching to these sneakers 1 year ago.
  • Paula (Director of Hale Reservation) and Julie (Hale Coordinator) – This would all just be a pipe dream if Paula hadn’t selected me for the team. During the “interview”, Paula mentioned that she does not like to take out of state people who have never run a marathon as the team could not ensure that person would receive the proper training. In true finance-esque fashion, I gave her the hard sell as to why she wouldn’t go wrong choosing me for the team. So thank you again Paula for giving me a chance of a lifetime. Julie was Paula’s right-hard person who helped out with all of the logistics and made sure we had everything set up for fundraising and the marathon. Paula repeatedly mentioned how having Julie for the first time this year made things 100x smoother and easier for her to run the program. Plus she put up with all my non-sensical text messages about the most rudimentary things (she made the mistake of giving me her cell number).
  • Scott and Beth (Hale Team Coaches) – A lot of the charity teams have to hire coaches to train the runners. The Hale Team does not, because we are blessed and privileged to have Scott and his daughter Beth as our volunteer coaches. Scott spent an hour with me on the phone going over the training plan, and spent anIMG_8092other hour the week of the race going over spectator logistics for my family. The two them were extremely supportive and went to great lengths to take care of each runner’s needs individually.
  • The Hale Team Runners – The Hale Team was the bread and butter of the experience. I rarely, if ever, ran with other people, but coming up to run with the team completely changed my mindset. Never have long runs been as so easy and pleasant as they were running with various members of the team. The post-run beer celebrations were also quite the rage (especially due to my embarrassing decline in alcohol tolerance during training). I cannot stress how much of a game changer it is running with a team or friends, vs simply running by yourself.
  • Carlo (Older Brother) – The one I look up to the most in this world, and the one who roped me into this ish to begin with. Hopefully the boss (aka Marion his wife) gives him the ok for New York in the fall and eventually Ironman 2017?? (knock on wood)
  • Chudi (where da booty) – The very first kid I met at Hotchkiss (11 years ago), and the one I could count on to show up to races still drunk from the night before. It’s tough to stay motivated with something when you don’t have others to share it with but luckily Chudi has found passion in running as well and was willing to give up his birthday to come to Boston to support me. Hopefully he learns how to swim so we can toss him into the deep end of a pool, and so we can start doing some tri’s togetherIMG_7971
  • Kevalin – my lovely girlfriend and one of my biggest cheerleaders out there. Kevalin basically went to great lengths to ensure I could be as ready and comfortable as possible leading up to the race. Whether it was rushing to finish her assignments before the weekend, grabbing buckets of ice for me (I swear I could’ve done it myself!!), putting up with my training weekend antics (Oh babe, did you still want to go to the aquarium? I’m sorry I was just drinking with the team and forgot!), my marathon experience would not have been anywhere near as amazing or as “easy” it was. She even stood out in the cold snow to run a water station with a broken arm during our 21-miler! She knows I’m a planning freak and like to control everything, but she took over a lot of that knowing that I had to just focus on the race with as little worry as possible.
  • My family, and all those who came out to support me that day – It may not seem like that big of a deal but all the little support you get throughout race week and the race itself really adds up. My mom and aunt were out there with homemade signs being loud obnoxious cheerleaders as always (and now my mom wants to start running “marathons”?!?!), and I had a ton of friends come to dinner the night before as a nice show of support. The beautiful thing about this sport is the infinite amounts of positive energy you feel everywhere you go, no matter who you are with. Someone will be cheering you on, even when your quads are screaming No More!
  • Random Old Dude on Mile 23 – I was hurting real bad around this time on Beacon Street, and an old man clearly slower than me caught up from behind and gave me a few words of encouragement. Told me to just focus point by point and you’ll be home in no time. That’s the kind of stuff that everyone knows to do, but just hearing it from someone else goes a long way and it certainly helped me. I turned around, thanked him, and then promptly dropped him and ran forward.
  • The donors – Last, but certainly not least, you guys made this possible with your support. The Hale Reservation is a cause that I truly do believe in, and I legitimately did not think I was going to get this kind of support. I really didn’t think I was going to be able to raise the amount that I did (over $7000 excluding any corporate matches, hint hint don’t forget to submit that if you haven’t) so thank you again.

PS: In the week after the race, I ate: Shake Shack, Shorty’s, Buffalo Wings, Halal Guys, and a ton of hot dogs at a Mets Game. Just need some BonChon, McDonald’s and Taco Bell, and then I would have completed my unhealthy food binge. Don’t worry about losing all the progress I made, I signed up for a half in Philly in June so we all good here!

IMG_7944