Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Getting Trashed

On Sunday, my road racing team, Western Mass Distance Project, kicked off the 2014 Grand Prix season with the Jones 10 Miler.  It was the first test of the year to see where our fitness was and how strong the team had become.  As a new team, we were also hoping to improve upon last year's results as we continue to grow.

(Fellow WMDP athletes working the shoe collection)
But, I'll admit it, I was most excited about the used shoe collection drive that I had coordinated for WMDP at the race.  We partnered with Rerun Shoes, a local organization that takes used shoes and sends them to those in need in Africa (to help prevent the spread of malaria, among other things).  I figure that other runners are likely similar to me - they have shoes that they love that have long since worn out, or that have been replaced by shoes with less mud and stink, but that still have some life in them...and they are just waiting for an opportunity to do something good with them, because they can't bear to throw them in the trash.

(Rerun founder Michael, and I, loading up collected shoes)

Turns out, there are many folks like me - as we collected about 600 pairs of shoes from runners throughout New England.  This helped us to make a $300 donation to the Kristin S. Tetrault Scholarship Fund, which helps send local western Mass runners to college (created for my teammate Kristin Tetrault!). 

(Photo of the shoes we donated being processed before being sent to Africa)
Fortunately, an awesome company, Atayne, wanted in on the action and donated 5 running shirts for us to raffle off to anyone who donated shoes.  Atayne is a company based in Maine that makes high-end athletic apparel out of recycled materials (such as bottles, technical shirts, etc.) - "performance with a point of view", so their mission coincided perfectly with the shoe collection drive. 

The shirt raffle winners were:
Liz Cooney - Somerville Road Runners
Jon Joyce - Western Mass Distance Project
Tom Cole - Summerville, MA
Michael Olkin - Coffee Cake Club
Melanie Rothstein - Longmeadow, MA

(Rerun founder Michael, and I, loading up the collected shoes)
The founder of Rerun Shoes, Michael Aronson, told me that this was the most successful one day/single event shoe collection drive he's ever seen.  He was truly impressed with the volume of shoes that were collected - with about 650 runners and 600 pairs of shoes collected, that means we averaged almost one pair of shoes per racer!  It just goes to show what a difference the running community can make when we work together.

My team did well at the race - having our best results ever as both the open and masters team took 4th place.  Brian and I both had rough days and didn't race well, but with the shoes we collected it was a still a successful day!

Here's a bit of press we got before the shoe collection drive:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Who is Running this Country?

One of my training buddies, Steph, is planning to run across the country next summer (2015).  As with all great ideas - she and I, along with several of our running buddies were enjoying some beer and nachos post-run many months ago.  Steph was saying that she really wanted to do a 48 hour run this spring to gear up for her run across the country, but couldn't find one that fit her schedule  I was likely on my second beer when I proclaimed that if she couldn't find a suitable race that we should just organize a run specifically for her (what we would call a 'fat ass event')...and thus the idea of her 48 hour run was officially born.

So, on April 4th - 6th (5pm to 5pm), Steph will be running laps at the Amherst High School track.  Her 48 hour effort is specifically aimed at supporting the Amherst Survival Center, where she volunteers...and also hopes to raise awareness on the value of food and the food insecurity that many in our country live with.  [Update - Steph's been a bit injured, and has unfortunately had to cancel this 48 hour run attempt.  She'll be rescheduling it in the fall, so look for info then!]

You can read more about her 48 Hour Run (as well as her 2015 cross-USA run), or learn how to support her efforts here:

If you're in the area, I would encourage you to try to come out and share a few laps with Steph, or volunteer to be a lap counter or cheering squad during her 48 hour run. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Indoor Rowing World Championships

This year was my second year to attend the Indoor Rowing World Championships (called the Crash-Bs) in Boston.  This event has athletes race an erg for 2k.  It's ironic for me, an endurance enthusiast who enjoys hours and hours of 'comfortably hard' effort, to enter into a race that should ideally take me under 8 minutes to complete at maximal 'painful every second' effort.  But, it's a fun challenge to try something different, and step into a world that I'm not at all familiar with.

(The jumbo screen showing a 'virtual boat race' for the folks erging)
Last year I accidently weighed in above the cut-off for lightweight, so over the two weeks leading up to race day I was concentrating on keeping my weight down so I could row lightweight.  Luckily, come race morning I weighed in below the cut-off, so that was a small victory!

I warmed up in the bull pen, and was amazed at the international field in attendance.  On the three warm-up ergs to my left were athletes from Germany, all conversing in their native language.  I had a rower from Mexico take the erg to my other side to warmup.  It was intimidating to think that these are athletes that represent their country in international competitions - and I was a runner who uses the erg in the winter to cross train a bit.

(The set-up with 100+ ergs on the gym floor)
It's hard to describe the atmosphere at this competition - because an indoor rowing race doesn't sound like it would be such an awesome experience.  But, the event organizers took a basketball arena and turned it into an incredible venue - there are about 100 ergs lined up in two u-shaped rows facing out towards the audience (utilizing half of the arena floor).  That means that up to 100 rowers are racing simultaneously while the audience is facing them.  Also, every erg is connected to a computer that allows the timers to display a virtual race on the jumbo-tron screen - so the audience knows exactly who is leading the race, which athletes are surging and fading, and where their friends and family are in their races.  It also means that as we're racing, our monitors display how we're doing compared to other athletes.  Stepping through the curtain that divides the floor (between the warm-up area and the racing floor) is intimidating, but also gave me an adrenaline rush before my race.

I was fortunate to have Laura as my coxswain.  She was my cox last year at this race, is the instructor of my erging class, and even paced me for the last 23 miles of my best 100-mile race.  She knows exactly how to push me and when to motivate me.  (She's also an incredible rower herself, but she was racing in a later heat).

(My erg monitor just after I finished, showing me where I was during the race)

The race start came quickly, and I was off - rowing according to my plan.  In past 2k time trials I have made the mistake of going too hard at the beginning and paying the price later - so my goal was to keep even splits around my goal pace.  I felt good, battling with 3rd place and keeping a steady even pace with about controlled hard effort.  The rower to my left was from England, and I was surprised to be beating her.  I stayed steady through 500m, 1000m, and every time my pace slowed a bit I would just pick up the tempo and resettle on my goal pace.  But, as I hit the 1500m mark (3/4th done!) suddenly my quads started to burn...I was cooked.  Laura did her best to encourage me, but my splits kept going up as I slipped solidly to 4th place then to 5th place.  I tried to pick up my turnover to drop my pace but stroke after stroke the pace kept climbing.  I finished 7:51, which was only 3 seconds behind my 2013 time. I was certainly disappointed in my effort, but I also felt completely spent like I couldn't have given any more. 

(In the finish stretch - the pain on my face says it all)

I don't know quite what happened.  Perhaps I do better if I start out hard and die - knowing that a positive split is just a given?  Perhaps I was paying the price for cutting weight all week and compromised my strength and energy in the process?  Maybe I just had an off day?  Maybe all the biking I did to cross train last week (due to the snow and road conditions) fatigued my legs?  Either way, I was a bit disappointed in my race.  Laura reminded me that I was racing some of the top rowers from around the world, and that any time below 8:00 is competitive - which helps me put it in perspective.  After all, I finished 5th place at a World Championship shame in that!

(Post race - I am happy to be done, but disappointed in my time)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Hiking

My training buddy Sara broke her foot several months ago.  On Monday, she got the 'all clear' to start running and training again.  Sara's an avid mountaineer, so to celebrate, we decided to head up to the White Mountains and do a winter hike.  She knew how inexperienced I am at it, but luckily she was happy enough to have a buddy that she didn't care that she would have to loan me a ton of gear, show me how to use it, and wait patiently as I stumbled around trying to figure out how to walk on snow-covered rocks with crampons on my feet. 

(Sara, pacing me at VT50 this year)

Since Sara really wants to find a buddy to do these adventures with her, I told her the goal should be to be sure I summit something, and that I stayed warm...a tall order on a cold windy day in the Whites.  That ruled out an attempt on Mt. Washington, where we likely would have been turned around before reaching the summit. 

(Sara, covered in frost)

We decided to do the Lincoln and Lafayette loop over Franconia Ridge.  Brian decided last minute to join us, which was great.  Luckily he's experienced enough to own his own gear and all.  Actually, in our time together, Brian has once ever gotten me out for a winter hike - when we hiked Cascade and Porter in the Adirondacks on Valentines Day...and he proposed.  I was secretly hoping that if I finished another winter hike, he might again reward me with jewelry, but no such luck. 

(Brian and I on our only other winter hike - we got engaged just before this photo)
(Brian and I on the Franconia Ridge)

So after an early morning start and a long drive north (and after Sara lent me tons of gear and helped me put it on) we were heading up the trail.  I found it hard to hike in the stiff boots (which felt like they had no tread on the bottom), but the views were amazing as we looked at frozen waterfalls beside the trail and snow covered trees.  About halfway up, it was time to put on the crampons - which gave me better traction but certainly made my calves sore as I tip toed up the trail.  Towards the top of the trail, the trees suddenly got shorter, and before I knew it we were above tree line and on the first peak.  If I had realized that, I might have thrown my storm shell on earlier to block the wind - but luckily I warmed up quickly once it was on. 

(Brian and Sara, enjoying the early miles)
For the first 10 minutes of the hike across the ridge, the wind was howling.  My face was fully covered but still was freezing.  I was grateful we didn't decide to do Washington in this wind, but also wondering how I would make it about an hour across this ridge.  Luckily, after about 10 brutal minutes, we either got to the non-windy side of the mountain, or the gusts let up - either way, the rest of the hike across the ridge was fairly comfortable.  There were occasional gusts of wind but in general it was fairly calm.  The clouds rolled in halfway across the ridge, so our views went away before I got any photos of the Pemis...which was unfortunate.

(Sara and I, proudly standing on my first peak of the day!)
After the last peak, the initial hike down the mountain was rough.  There was minimal snow covering the loose rocks, and with the inflexible boots and crampon on, I found myself stumbling around a lot.  I felt like a drunk person trying to walk.  I am surprised I didn't nose-dive into a rock pile in that section.  Luckily, Brian hiked ahead here - he gets nervous for me when he sees me stumbling around, so it's best that he just doesn't watch (it's why we don't often trail run together!).  Sara hiked behind me to ensure that I didn't get injured...and was very gracious about not making me feel stupid for my inability to move gracefully.

(Sara and I, showing just how awkward it is to walk on rocks with crampons)
I was pleased when we reached tree line and were below the rocks and the wind.  We enjoyed sliding down some of the steeper sections of the trail on our butts, and I especially loved the amazing views from the trail of the ridge we just hiked as well as across to Cannon Mountain.  As we reached the cars, I happily commented that we were finishing the day with all 30 fingers and 30 toes...that's success in my book!  While I'll be sore in some random places after the hike - it was fun to try something new and enjoy the beautiful sights seen only in the winter. 

(The beauty of the winter)