Saturday, November 19, 2016

F.I.T. Challenge VII Fall 2016

“So so much fun!” If one is to judge the success of an obstacle course race based on the first text sent, F.I.T.Challenge would be deemed an epic success!

After a month of racing in sub-prime weather in October, I was thrilled to learn that the weather for this fall’s F.I.T. Challenge VII was to be sunny and in the 50s. F.I.T. Challenge is the epitome of #racelocal and time and again proves to be one  of my favorite races on the calendar.

Taking place twice annually at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, Rhode Island, F.I.T. Challenge combines a course with innovative and frequent obstacles with some solid trail running and around 1,500 feet of elevation — enough to make you feel like you’re doing some climbing but also not so much that you feel beaten down. Challenge without a beatdown is one of the best things about F.I.T. Challenge. Race director, Robb McCoy, prides himself on offering a race that is always just over the 5K mark. At 3.4 miles, this fall’s course was right on the money. After doing lots of long races, it’s nice to have a race where you can get out and push the speed a little bit. For those who prefer endurance at every event, there is a multi-lap option. This fall, Robb had around 200 multi-lappers, making this a very popular option (and one that could serve as an OCR World Championship qualifier).

For my part, after a busy October, I was ready to have a race that would take under 90 minutes, have some do-able but challenging obstacles, and be fun! With the lovely weather and the fun course, I was almost tempted to go out for round two (and you could make that adjustment on race day); the course was that much fun for me. In the end, I decided that my one super fun lap was good enough for me. I have perfect memories of a very enjoyable race day. 100% enjoyable. I arrived at Diamond Hill about half an hour before the NE Spahtens 10:45 a.m. wave start. I paid my $10 to park onsite and then headed over to the main festival area. Registration was a breeze. We were provided with timing chips to wear on our ankles. No bibs this time. Likely this is because, unlike in past years, there were no event photographers on the course. For me, as a NE Spahtens, this wasn’t really an issue since we were lucky enough to have Vince there taking pictures of the team.

 After registration, I made my way over to the Spahtens tent where I changed into my Icebugs and then stowed my gear. I spent some time socializing before heading over to the start line. The 10:45 a.m. wave was Spahtens only. Much of the team was already on course, opting for the multi-lap challenge. There were some brief announcements, and then we were off and running!

The course matched fairly closely with what we did at this spring’s F.I.T. Challenge with a few new obstacles added in. As with last spring, the course layout was to my liking. There were some stretches with a bit more running and a few fewer obstacles than I would like; however, a lot of this was to the beginning of the race and is necessary to make it so that racers don’t experience waits at obstacles. This is especially important for a race that is one of the favorite OCRWC qualifiers in the area. I was very impressed this year but the lack of wait-time at the obstacles. It was, for me, the best it has been.
The course began by taking us straight up Diamond Hill. It was quite a steep hill to start out on, but it did a good job of thinning out the field. Overall, there is a bit of up and down for F.I.T. Challenge. Robb and his team make use of every inch of elevation on Diamond Hill. The running is somewhat technical and quite rocky. There are definitely downhill segments that are gnarly, where my speed is limited by my comfort running on trails and not my fitness. I was able to get quite a bit of running in along the course though. The amount of running I’ve been doing lately is great for my endurance, and I’ve been enjoying reaping the benefits during my OCRs. I can do a lot more running without feeling tired. Other than the very steep hills and the gnarly downhills (which do count for a bit), I was able to run the entire course. The trail running was interesting, challenging, and well marked. This is a quality build.

Of course the obstacles are the star of the show. F.I.T. Challenge featured two Destroyer Walls, both the original and a new Destroyer 2.0. I was lucky to have the creator of the Destroyer be right by his obstacle when I tackled it and was so pleased with how he praised my form getting over the wall! I complemented him on his excellent obstacle. The Destroyer 2.0 has a similar design to the original but with the top wall angled away from you. I actually found the original to be a bit more of a challenge, but the new one definitely gets you higher up in the air, plus the transition at the top of the wall is harder. The Destroyer at Shale Hill takes the cake though for hardest Destroyer around, with four different difficulties, only one of which I can do (and I have never failed a Destroyer at F.I.T. Challenge).

Another great obstacle at F.I.T. Challenge is the hanging cargo net. This net is suspended above you and you have to traverse it underneath. The volunteer at the obstacle helped me reach because I was too short, but then I was off. This is definitely a challenging one. It is made more challenging by the fact that it is immediately followed by a pegboard climb and then a rope climb.

F.I.T. Challenge also features an abundance of walls. There is a ladder wall in the woods, two sets of over-under-thrus, a tall wall with rope, an inverted wall, a set of hurdle walls with unders, a set of short walls with unders (where you crawl under picnic tables), and no doubt more that I’m not remembering. A hallmark of F.I.T. Challenge is the floating walls. There were two on course, one of which was a bit thick and had a bit of a challenging transition at the top of the wall. It was wobbly and a bit alarming! There is also a fun double-up make out of logs.

F.I.T. Challenge also has a cargo climb and features two carries, the first with a log, which was not too bad, and the second with a Wreckbag, which was quite lengthy. Fortunately, they provide a few weights to choose from, anywhere from 25 lbs. to 50 lbs. Wreckbag is a F.I.T. Challenge partner so there is also a Wreckbag hoist, paired with a Wreckbag bicep exercise (because Robb loved biceps). 

The race finishes with a bang with a really great rig. There were five different lanes, all different. I attempted two of them. The first, featured monkey bars, a horizontal bar, more monkey bars, and then ropes. The ropes were tiny and very hard to grasp. There were three. I successfully swung along two of them and touched the third before coming off. Thanks goodness I made the reach so that I could say I completed the obstacle. From there, we did the ladder wall before attacking a giant slip wall to finish out the race.

 I crossed the line in 1:24:23, good enough for fifth in my age group, 21/230 for women and 99/472 overall. Most importantly, I had an absolutely blast. F.I.T. Challenge is one of my favorite 2016 races and a great one to close out the #racelocal season. I can’t wait for the April race. I will definitely be there.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bone Frog Challenge New England: Fall 2016

This year's Bone Frog Challenge could be summed up in a few sentences.

  1. It was cold.
  2. We did a lot of trail running.
  3. We got lost.
  4. We crawled under a bunch of stuff.
Suffice it to say, it was a sufferfest. Of course, four sentences is hardly the sum of the story. Let's get into it.

Bone Frog Challenge typically takes place at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts in May. The 2015 Bone Frog will likely go down as one of my favorite races of all time with over fifty obstacles stretched over a 15K course. The race was meticulously executed. This spring, I took place in the race again, and also enjoyed it. As a result, I was quite excited to see they had a fall 10K championship race planned for late October. I signed up right away.  

Fast forward a few months. Suddenly the championship was a standard 9 miler. The October race would be another Bone Frog Challenge. I had been excited for the shorter course, but this struck me as fine. They didn't have enough races, I presume, to support a championship -- it would be too challenging for people to qualify. (I had signed up for the open wave, for which you did not have to qualify.)

The weather in New England is a fickle thing. Thursday I drove home in a swarm of snow. We got around 3". Bone Frog posted pictures on Facebook of Berkshire East with obstacles covered in snow. Bone Frog's course features two water crossings. All I could do was shake my head. 

The morning of Bone Frog, I left my house at 7:00 a.m. to make it to the venue for my 9:00 a.m. wave. I live fairly close -- less than an hour away -- and it was an easy drive. Parking ($10 per car) was a breeze. The turn out was a lot less than for the May event, making both parking and registration a snap. Volunteers were plentiful down in the festival area and on the course. The weather was dreadful, and these people are real champions!

I connected with my fellow Spahten and good friend, Matt Puntin. Cool things about Matt include almost everything (i.e. He has obstacles in his backyard!); however, today's cool thing was that he'd agreed to run Bone Frog with me, despite the fact that I am quite a bit slower. I was seriously off my game during the race, and having Matt with me was key to finishing. Having a good battle buddy makes all the difference.

The weather in Charlemont was unfortunate. It was damp, at times rainy, and in the low to mid 30s. There was snow on the mountain. Everything was slippery and wet. The saving grace, was that there was no wind, but this was still going to be a rough day. 

Our 9:00 a.m. wave was pretty small. There were a lot of fellow NE Spahtens. Some others had chosen to do the Tier 1 Challenge, which involves doing the 9 mile Challenge course followed by the 3 mile Sprint course. They had taken off about 15 minutes prior. We had some brief announcements -- a good thing in the cold -- and then we were off!

The 9 mile course was almost a reversed version of the course in May with stripped down obstacles. Of the Bone Frog Challenges I've done, this will not rank as a favorite. I'll go through the course map and some of the obstacles to give a bit of a breakdown of the course with my feedback.

The course featured around three dozen obstacles; however, this included a lot of repeat obstacles:
  • Four wire crawls and one net crawl
  • Two sets of tires to hop through
  • Two sets of tires on horizontal logs to go over
  • Two water crossings
There were also a number of walls, but I consider walls an OCR staples, and these walls were all different heights so I'm good with that. The wire crawls were absolutely miserable. They were through snow. I couldn't feel my fingers at a point, and my elbows and knees got soaked through. I should also add that I elected to not enter any of the water. I was frozen enough from the crawls and would not have been able to make it through the course if I entered the water. The first water crossing was the fifth obstacle and was chest high. The second was at the top of the mountain, where it was around freezing temperatures. I acknowledge two things about my electing to skip the water: I had a slightly different race experience and that experience was less hard. I am less strong for doing this. 

I should remark that I was definitely having an "off day." The course did not engage me, I was very uncomfortable, and my performance was lackluster. I am deeply effected by the cold, and I had a challenging day.

There was a lot of trail running during the course. The trails were great. They were technical and interesting. The terrain was slippery and people were sliding all over; however, the paths were interesting. There was a lot of climbing up and down the mountain, but there was equally a lot of cutting across the mountain on single track trails. A problem though was that the trails were not as well marked as they could have been. I have never gotten lost on a course during the day. (And only once gotten ever so slightly off course -- missing less than 50 feet -- during the night.) During Bone Frog, we got lost twice. The second time, we ended up having to cut across the mountain and underneath the mountain coaster at Berkshire East. Yikes! Also, for the third time, I wished that the course had mile markers.

The low turnout, while bad for Bone Frog, meant that there were no hold-ups at the obstacles. The course moved smoothly. While there weren't any new obstacles I can name, there were a lot of fun ones from the past. I'm a fan of the Solar Walls, which are two huge walls of at least 15' with a rope to climb them. My hands were frozen from the crawl right before, so I had to use my legs around the rope to make sure I didn't slip down. I also like Slide for Life. Here, you climb through a hole in a platform and then go down a traverse rope. This is unique obstacle and fun. I have to get a boost to reach the hole in the platform, but then I'm good to go.

I should mention that many Bone Frog obstacles are not short-person friendly. I cannot reach on Slide for Life, Swingers Club, Get a Grip, Drunken Monkey, or Black Ops. I also have yet to complete Swingers Club and Get a Grip, both of which are obstacles where you swing from hanging grip to hanging grip. Drunken Monkey, peg monkey bars at varying heights, I have made. Today, I was able to climb up and grab a bar, but this left me unable to get to another. Also, they were super wet, and I kind of fell half off. Matt seemed quite alarmed, and I did not elect to try again. I have made Black Ops at my first two races but did not complete it today. I made it up the rope climb but did not attempt the monkey bars, which were dripping wet. I couldn't feel my fingers at this point, and was doing my best to just keep moving and make it to the end. Like I said, I did not have a fantastic race and did not make a number of obstacles I normally would love.

There were a few carries -- the Ammo Carry for the first obstacle and the Wreck Bag Carry. Both were very short and manageable. I even found them easy. This was a great relief! I enjoyed a number of the cargo climbs and, as always, had fun on the walls. They have a number of thru walls, which are a nice way of mixing it up.

I ended up finishing this race in just over three hours. It was my fastest Bone Frog yet, due entirely to the reduced number of obstacles and zero wait time due to low turnout. 

All and all, I would give this race a 3.5 out of five stars. (Though I would give having Matt as my battle buddy five stars for sure.) The course was less diverse than I might have hoped with lots of repetition and the obstacles were less interesting than in the past. I have never gone off course before and found the markings to be a bit lacking. That being said, the volunteers were great and we got an awesome medal and t-shirt. (Though I still miss the shirts from 2015, which were the best finisher shirts ever and even came in curvy fit!) The weather, which is no one's fault, definitely put a damper on the day and made the race a whole lot less fun. Still, no matter what, Bone Frog has some really interesting obstacles. I've seen them several times now, and might be a bit jaded, but I don't take for granted the good work that they do. 

I won't be able to make the May race since I'm running the Vermont City Marathon the following weekend. However, I look forward to doing Bone Frog again soon. It's a #racelocal favorite, and while this fall's race was not their strongest showing, I'll be back.

(Note: Thanks to Vince Rhee and Daniel T. Parker for photos!)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shale Hill Halloween Fun Run 2016

If you had only one race that you could do for the rest of our life, what would it be? For me, the answer is Shale Hill's Halloween Fun Run. Friends, my favorite obstacle course, and a post-race potluck that cannot be beat! Bonus points for amazing volunteers who jump out to scare you (and then remove their masks to encourage you as you climb over the next obstacle). More bonus points for the unique experience of running Shale Hill at night.

While driving home with Amy Lillis after this weekend's race, she hit the nail right on the head. "If I have to miss a race I really love, I'm sad. But if I have to miss a race at Shale Hill, I'm devastated!"

The Halloween Fun Run is a great way to go out and have some low-key fun at Shale Hill. The race does have a competitive division -- I placed 2nd in the women's division -- however, most people coming for the Halloween Run choose to do the non-competitive, penalty-free journeyman division. About half of the field at the Halloween Run were NE Spahtens and most of them chose to run journeyman together. By all accounts they had an absolute blast.

Saturday's 5:00 p.m. race was rainy with temperatures hovering right above 40 degrees. Not ideal conditions to say the least. The racer's meeting was held in the barn and race director, Rob, was clear to emphasize the main points of the evening -- be safe and have fun. The bucket carry and the second log carry, both in the last third of the course, were removed for the Halloween Run. The teeter totters, gut check, and balance logs (over the ravine) were closed due to the slippery conditions. Everything else, including the pond traverse, was open. The penalty for all failed obstacles was 15 spiderman push-ups, which apparently Rob thinks is an easy penalty, stating, "Only 15 spiderman push-ups. We want to have fun out there." I had the distinction of getting to demo the penalty during the meeting.

It was an intimate group so we were able to all start together at 5:00 p.m. It was still light out. I was able to make it about half of the way through the course until I needed my headlamp, which I turned on at the traverse wall. I was surprised by a number of volunteers and given a few good scares. Let me be clear, the scare factor of this race is not high. I do not like scary things. I never see horror movies and would not be caught dead in a haunted house. The scares at Shale Hill are more funny than alarming. Sure, I started a few times when a volunteer jumped out or when the creepy chainsaw guy revved the chainsaw's motor. A volunteer dressed as Thor got me pretty good twice. But really the scares were modest, and volunteers always asked, "How are you doing?" afterwards and kept an eye on you while you did your obstacle. There were over a dozen volunteers and I saw people on the course, including Rob, very frequently. This was great since it was dark and I was running alone. It made me feel safe.

Shale Hill has around 60 obstacles including some of the most original and fun obstacles you might encounter. The wet conditions definitely made for a challenge, and I did more penalties than usual. Of the 60 obstacles at Shale Hill, I'd say there are around four that I might routinely fail. Wet metal and ropes made that number skyrocket. I failed some things I can routinely make, such as the Tarzan ropes, fireman's pole, and the monkey bars. Indeed I couldn't even grab onto the pole or the bars. Yet on a scale of one to ten, my enjoyment level was a definite ten. When did I last have so much fun? Probably the last time I was at Shale Hill.

At the end of the race, I headed back into the barn to tell race director, Jill, my time. I received a medal and a wristband, in addition to the t-shirt I had gotten at registration. (Note: I should add that registration at Shale Hill is always a breeze and parking and spectators are free.) I changed in the locker room and then headed into the potluck.

The post-race party was great! I hung out with friends and enjoyed amazing food, delicious desserts, and an atmosphere that cannot be improved upon. The people who go to Shale Hill are something of a family where everyone knows everyone and we are always happy to catch up and talk about obstacle course racing. One would not say that I'm a very social person, yet I can say that the amount of fun I have socializing at Shale Hill is part of the reason I love racing there. The course is amazing, Rob and Jill are the best race directors ever, and the community that they have built is second to none.

All of this to say: Yes, if I could only do one race for the rest of my life, it would definitely be a Shale Hill race.

(Note: Photo credits Jennifer Paquette Eaton -- thank you! It was awesome seeing you on the course.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Newport Marathon 2016

26.2. The number of miles in a marathon.

A bucket list item for me has always been to run a marathon, but for years, I felt skeptical about making the effort. I love obstacle course racing and never wanted to devote the time to training for a marathon attempt. Last fall, for reasons I cannot explain, I decided that after a decade of regular running I wanted to do it. I signed up for the Newport Marathon and decided 2016 would be the year of the marathon.

And it was. I trained. For my training, I had goals -- to not hate running when I was done and to be able to complete the marathon. No time goal, just finish. It worked. I ran three days a week, with a long run on the weekends. I really loved it to. The long runs were, by and large, fun. I got to explore new areas of my community. It was an adventure. Even my 20 miler, felt fine. Sure, the last couple of miles were a bit hard, but overall everything was good. I was feeling ready for October 9th and my first marathon-length run. 

So, how was the Newport Marathon? The answer is that it was a good experience slightly overshadowed by terrible weather. The week of the marathon, the forecast came out. At first, it appeared like Hurricane Matthew might hit. After a year of preparation, the marathon might be canceled. Then mid-week the weather look promising. The storm was heading back south and it appeared the weather would be dry with a high in the mid-60s. Race day was somewhere in the middle. While there wasn't a hurricane, the weather was very wet and windy. 

Sunday's race began at 7:30 a.m. I live about two and a half hours away from Newport, Rhode Island. This meant a 3:45 a.m. wake-up call and a departure time of 4:00 a.m. The Newport Marathon recommended arriving at the parking lot to catch the shuttle by 6:00 a.m. at the latest. 

My roommate, Serah, and I headed out into the black to drive to Newport. The weather was cool and slightly rainy in Western Massachusetts. As we drive out east to Rhode Island, the weather got more and more inclement. By the time we arrived at the parking lot where we were going to take the shuttle, it was clear that this was going to be a wet run.

Parking and the shuttle were well coordinated. Parking was free. After the many times I have paid for parking and spectator fees for obstacle course races, I almost forgot how cheap running is -- I've never paid to park for a running race and spectators are always free. It was great!

The Newport Marathon sold out at 4,000 registrants; however, because of the weather, a fraction of that number were in attendance. The bus ride to the starting line was quick -- no more than five minutes. There was no waiting for the bus to or from the parking lot. This was handled very smoothly and was quite impressive.

Registration took place at the Easton Beach rotunda. It was great to have check-in take place inside. The place was packed with runners. It seemed like approximately 75% of people were registered for the half marathon and the other 25% were planning to do the full. Runner were color coded by distance -- half marathon had a pink bib and got a medal with a pink ribbon where as the marathon runners had blue bibs and ribbons. I headed upstairs to get my bib. I had to check a board to get my number, was far too short to see my name at the top of the list, and had to recruit a pair of taller gentleman to assist. From there check-in was a breeze. Zero waiting. The volunteers were awesome. I got a goody bag with snacks from the sponsors and a ladies-fit tech shirt. 

Due to the weather, Serah and I decided to hang out inside until the last possible minute, when I'd walk to the starting line. The Newport Marathon definitely has a small race feel, so it was easy to hang out and not feel stressed about needing to line-up in advance. I also wanted to take some time to collect myself. I had experienced a somewhat rough car trip to Newport, where I had felt quite car sick. I had eaten just about half of my breakfast. Being settled at the starting line and no longer in a moving vehicle, I was feeling a bit better, but I wanted to be as close to 100% as possible for the start of the race. In all honestly, I was feeling a bit nervous too, so it was helpful to have a few minutes to try and get ready for the big run. 

At around 7:20 a.m., I made my way out into the pouring rain. I had dressed for the marathon in capri running tights, a tank, a running jacket of the water resistant wind breaker type, my favorite Moving Comfort Rebound Racer sports bra, Darn Tough socks, and my Altra Intuition sneakers. This ended up being a fairly good outfit. That being said, the moment I step outside I was soaked. It was so rainy and windy that my jacket almost instantly started letting through water (and believe me I've done many runs in the rain where the jacket kept me dry the entire time). My shoes were instantly wet through. Suffice it to say, the weather was unfortunate and uncomfortable.

The Newport Marathon has planned to do three waves, separated by a few minutes. With the attrition due to the weather, only two waves were necessary. I started towards the back, anticipating a pace of just over 12:00 / mile. Despite the weather, the announcer was in good spirits. After the national anthem, the first wave was off, and then we were too. 

The Newport Marathon course is basically something of a figure eight. The marathon consists of two 13.1 mile loops, with the race coming back past the start/finish lines at the midpoint. While this race is a marathon, with the marathon field being so small, I am betting this race might be one of the ones that becomes just a half marathon soon. Honestly, it would make sense. The course is designed with the 13.1 folks in mind -- all of the attractions -- the run along the cliffs, past the mansion, and through Salve Regina University -- is all in the first half of the race. The second half, is not in Newport itself, but instead in the adjacent town of Middletown. While also lovely, the second half of the route features a number of out and back sections. There were a couple out and back elements in the first half, but way more in the second half, plus they were lengthier. These sharp turnarounds were not the most fun. All in all, I'd give the course a B+. It was, overall quite lovely, and I could see that on a day with good weather, the course would be amazing. However, the out and back elements were a bit of a bummer. 

The race coordinators had warned of rolling hills in the second half of the marathon on the race page. Honestly, to me, the first and second half seemed evenly matched with the elevation change, which was never more than 100 feet. It was rolling hills, but they were gentle. The biggest "bummer" in terms of elevation was the elevation gain between miles 22 and 25, which was a rough few miles just due to fatigue. Mile 25 through the end was mostly downhill and a great finish. 

The marathon began by taking us through downtown Newport. I had never been to Newport and the downtown was cute with the sorts of stores I associate with a beach town that caters to tourism. From there, we made our way through some nice farm land and towards Fort Adams State Park. At Fort Adams, around the four mile mark, we did a very odd little out and back through the parking lot of the park. We didn't get to see much of anything, so this was a strange decision. At this point, the rain was not as heavy as it had been at the start of the race (or as it would be later on). I took the opportunity to enjoy running with my jacket unzipped for a bit. 

That chance was brief. From Fort Adams, we headed out to Ocean Avenue, where we were running entirely exposed along the coast. It was cold. The weather was just over fifty degrees, it was windy, and rainy. The wind drove the rain sideways into me as I ran along the coast. This would have been the most beautiful part of the marathon on a good day. Even with the unpleasantness of the wind and wet, I could tell how picturesque it was. Unfortunately, this part of the marathon was probably my least favorite part of the day; due to the wind any piece of me not covered was pretty cold.

I was glad when I noticed that the course was making its way back inland. There we runners were more protected. Without the wind things felt much better.

Newport is renowned for its mansions. A lot of the Newport Marathon was a chance to do some house gazing. This activity was somewhat mitigated as I zoned out while I ran, doing my best to ignore feeling super wet. I did catch a number of great houses though, including some of the most famous mansions owned by the preservation society. 

We ran about two miles along a stretch of concrete road that ran along the mansions. Where was the private homes we had run by earlier were fenced in a manner that did not allow you to see much, these mansions were on display through gilded gates. It was great!

The other fun element of the first half of the race, was a quick running tour of Salve Regina University. What a lovely campus! The run through Salve was probably one of my favorite parts of the course. The rain was light, the wind was not bad, and the scenery was great. I do love a good institution of higher learning.

To make things even better, at this point in the course, I came across fellow NE Spahten, Peter. How excellent! We ran together for a little bit chatting all the while. It was great. The first half was almost over, and I began to feel as if the race was flying by. 

At that point, the half marathon runners were getting ready to finish their race. We turned back towards the start line, where the runners for the half would turn off to finish. Along the course, spectators kept calling, “You’re almost there.” I saw people who had already finished walking around with metal blankets and their medals on their necks. Running through the rain, it was tempting to wish that I was almost finished with my race and would be soon stopping and changing into dry clothing. Yet with a year of training, this would never seriously be a consideration for me. I ran past the starting line and back out for the second half of the race.

Over 13.1 miles into the race, and I was feeling pretty good. I was not tired. I had been good about taking in fuel (four Probar chews every 45 minutes) and had my hydration pack so I could sip at water. Things were going well. 

The second half of the course took runners through Middletown, Rhode Island. There were some rolling hills, though nothing more than in the first half. We ran through residential neighborhoods mostly. This wasn't as beautiful as the run along the Newport coast, but it was protected from the intense wind. I could see the ocean past the rows of nice homes. It was a good opportunity to check out some real estate and do some running. 

During the second half, we also got to explore some the Sachuest Point Wildlife Preserve. This was a bit of a windy area, and yet another out and back. The roads here were seriously wet. I ended up having to wade through a puddle at around mile 18. 

Mile 18 was also when my Apple Watch decided it had experienced too much excitement for the day. Even though I had charged Apple Watch to 100% that morning, over three and a half hours of running was more than the battery could handle. Because it was important for me to keep track of the time to know when to take in fuel, I switched the watch to power saver mode. Alas, my GPS log for my marathon terminates at mile 18. I was now running solo. There were markers every mile, but I would have no idea of my pace.

From the nature preserve, we headed back into suburbia. The next part of the course featured a few less interesting sections of out and back running through quiet town streets. This was definitely the least interesting part of the course. Around mile 22, I started feeling pretty tired. I had been wet for a while, running for over four hours, and was on a tedious piece of the course. As you can see from the picture below, it was beginning to be a struggle to keep a smile on my face.

I decided to keep focus. Miles 22 to 25 were slightly uphill. Nothing terrible -- I had trained on rolling hills -- but it was enough to make things a bit of a drag. That being said, I kept positive. I was running the entire time. I passed a lot of people who were walking. I had decided during training that I would maintain a pace where I would run the entire time, walking only to take in fuel. (I don't want to choke.) Plus, the weather was chilly. If I stopped running, I was going to get way to cold. The final point I kept in mind was that I had only four miles left. My standard weekday lunchtime run is just under four and a half miles. I just had a lunch time run left to go. 

I pushed on. Yes, I was tired, and yes, I didn't know my pace, but I kept moving consistently. The miles rolled by very slowly at this point. It was tiring work. I felt like I was ready to stop running. My fingers had turned red, puffy and chilly. I realized I couldn't bend them all the way. My shoulders were getting chaffed by my wet wind breaker. 

Yet I realized I had done more challenging things than this. I recalled the races I'd finished. By and large, the marathon had been enjoyable, and I'd felt good. The race was going to take just over five hours, far shorter than some of the obstacle course races I've done. I could definitely do this. 

Onward! I kept moving and finally was at mile 25. At this point I had a mile to go and it was downhill. I was going to finish my first marathon! I ran down the main road and could see the rotunda at Easton Beach which was adjacent to the finish line. I rounded the last bend. Serah cheered me on.

I crossed the finish line at 5:19:42.

A medal was put over my head and a metal blanket was draped around me. I had done it!

One of my goals with running my first marathon was to not hate running and to enjoy the race. I would say that I realized both of these objectives. Once I started running, I felt really quite good, despite the challenges I had that morning and the weather. Sure, the weather was terrible. I was consistently wet the entire race. My feet were drenched. I have chaffing in odd places from my wet jacket constricting my arms for 26 miles and my hydration pack thumping against my back. When we were out along the coast, the wind drove rain right into me. The weather was decidedly uncomfortable, and, at times, I thought, "This is terrible." Yet, by and large, my run went extremely well! I feel good the entire time. At mile 22, I became quite a bit fatigued, but at that point I only had four miles to go. It was shorter than the run I do at work twice a week. I kept moving, made it to mile 25 and felt fine. 22 miles feeling perfect, three challenging miles, and one good last mile. I cannot complain. My body did well. I had no pain -- I only got tired at the end from over five hours of exertion. This is excellent. I was able to train the way I wanted and have a good experience. 

I will also say that the endurance I've built up from obstacle course racing was a huge asset. The stories I had heard of marathons made me think that doing one would be the most challenging event I'd do, requiring the most physical and mental energy. I realize, now having completed a marathon, that in the past I had done things that are far harder: The Spartan Beast24 Hours of Shale Hell this summer (especially the second lap), and Polar Bear Challenge. These races were all harder than the marathon. With the exception of the Spartan Race, which I found not much fun, I have plans to do all these races again. 

Would I do another marathon? Absolutely. I really enjoyed the training, and I want to have the chance to run a race in beautiful weather. 

(Note: Images from Newport Marathon's Facebook page.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ragnar Trail New England 2016

Over the past three years, I have been lucky enough to be a member of one of the NE Spahtens Ragnar Cape Cod relay teams. This year, I was also fortunate enough to be invited to enjoy the NES Herd of Cats team for the 2016 Ragnar Trail race in Northfield, Massachusetts, a quick 40 minute drive from my home in Western Massachusetts.

Like with the traditional Ragnar road race, Ragnar Trail has teams doing an approximately 24-hour relay race where runners continuously run, switching off each runner after each run. Over the course of the relay, each person on the team will get to run three times. For the Ragnar Trail race, teams are comprised of eight people. Until with the road race, Ragnar Trail has participants camped out at the base of a mountain. All runners complete three loops of runs of varying lengths and elevations. For the traditional Ragnar road race, teams of 12 runners are provided with different length legs (Ragnar speak for "run"), which allows for customization -- you can assign people who prefer longer runs the longer legs and people who prefer shorter runs the shorter legs. In contrast, at Ragnar Trail, each runner is required to complete the same three runs with only the order of the legs differing. The runs are color coded according to perceived difficulty:
  • Red (hard): 7.3 miles and approximately 1,500 feet of elevation gain
  • Yellow (intermediate): 4.9 miles and approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain
  • Green (easy): 3 miles and approximately 500 feet of elevation gain

Friday morning, I got into my Beetle with my boyfriend, Ben, and a bunch of camping gear to head to Northfield. Just as the Ragnar road race used to do, the Ragnar Trail race required each team to have a volunteer, and Ben had very kindly offered to help out.

When we arrived, things were very well organized. Volunteer directed us to drop our camping stuff at the top of the hill before allowing us to park in the lower parking lot. The parking was free and, I felt, convenient. The lot was probably no more than a quarter mile from the camping area and, even without having the option to drop off things, it would have been no problem. After arriving, I texted our team captain, Jess, who told us that the team area was located in the camping area up in the second field. The second field was located closer to the main festival area, which meant a balance of better access to the going's-on but also more noise.

It was fairly easy to find the team. We dropped our stuff and began to set up the tent. Fortunately, teammate, Shaina, had brought a large pop-up tent, which allowed us to hang out as a team and enjoy some shade. In fact, shade was key. Through the duration of Ragnar Trail, temperatures for the day climbed into the upper 80s. Heat and the accompanying potential for dehydration proved to be major factors throughout the next 24 plus hours.

We had arrived at around 10:00 a.m., several hours before our expected team start of 2:00 p.m. and a couple of hours before we could check-in at noon. It was mandatory for all team members to watch a brief safety video prior to check-in, so we headed up to the main festival area where we watched a video that provided fairly common-sense but nonetheless important information. (Note: My favorite take-away from the video was the short segment where they said, "Volunteer is Latin and means a person who spends time doing something they do not want to do... for free!")

There was lots of time to be spent hanging out in the tents. This was pleasant -- good company of all involved with key -- and also very very hot. Soon it was noon. Jess, as team captain, went to check our team in. We each received some sample snacks (such as Kindbars and Half Pops) as well as our t-shirts and a ticket for a free meal. I went to pick-up my t-shirt, a poly-blend very similar to what we got for the road Ragnar with no distinction between curvy and boxy shapes, meaning basically they were all shirts designed with the more common man physique in mind. I miss the tech t-shirts New Balance provided back when they sponsored the road Ragnar.

There was plenty of time to browse the festival area. I was impressed that it was quite a bit more robust that the road Ragnar, probably due to the fact that there was no need to move for a few days.

There was a tent where one could purchase Ragnar Trail merchandise. There were sponsor tents for REI, Klean Kanteen, and Solomon, to name a few. Solomon was offering the opportunity for people to do a test run in their sneakers, which was very cool. There were stations where you could borrow a foam roller, something I took advantage of on day two of Ragnar. There was also a place where you could charge your cell phone. Along the running route, there was a set of hammock where people could relax.

There were plenty of beverage and food options. There was also a beer tent where, rumor had it, you could also attend a whisky tasting. With the heat, I had no desire to have any alcohol what with the running I had to do, so I opted out of visit that tent. Though it also had coffee and hot chocolate! (Note: I had a very decent cup of french press coffee from the REI tent on Saturday morning. From what I heard it was a good deal better than the other coffee that was offered. I'm a bit of a beverage snob and even I thought the REI french press was enjoyable.) The mess hall, with food sponsored by B. Good was also in this area. I found the food from B. Good to be mediocre. Their model of local agriculture is admirable but the food was mixed and somewhat expensive ($8 sandwich for lunch, $12 hamburger with pasta salad for dinner and $8 for a breakfast sandwich and yogurt). The dinner was probably the best of the bunch, though bread was stale all around. Lines for the food tended to be long, so this is definitely an area where their might be room for improvement. Having a free meal was great -- I wish they had offered this for volunteers too.

One of the things that really impressed me about Ragnar Trail was their focus on low impact on the environment and sustainability. To that end, they had bins for trash, recycling, and composting.

They also had a system where water bottles were required -- there were no cups either for water at the festival area or on course. Runners were mandated to have bottles with them for runs and for hydrating throughout the day, key in the warm weather. The water station provided in the festival area was excellent with nice tasting filtered water. They kept the water station well-stocked and did their best to keep up with demand.

Ragnar also kept things fun by having events in the festival area throughout the afternoon and overnight. Solomon sponsored and event where people had to do a t-arm raise and hold it with shoes in their hands. The people who held it longest got a free pair of shoes. A record was set when the men did this for an hour -- two people tied and both received shoes. There was also a lip sync contest, a dance contest, and a live singing event. Ragnar also showed a movie overnight. There was also a fire pit where one could roast marshmallow for s'mores. I wasn't really into the events, but I wish I had made it to the s'mores roasting (though at the time it was happening I was too tired to move from my tent).

The festival area also housed the transition tent where runners would switch off. The tent was where one runner would come in after running the green, yellow, or red loop, and meet their teammate going out on the next colored loop. One knew when to enter the transition tent by monitoring a board right outside. The race bib that all runner wore on course, had a chip in it. About a quarter mile out from the tent, you'd pass a sensor which would relay your team name to a display outside the transition tent. When a waiting runner saw their team name appear on the board, he or she would then know it was time to enter the tent.

The order for the legs was always green, yellow, red, so when Roger as runner 1 came into the tent the first time, he was done with his green leg and met me for my yellow run. There were three stations with carpets right in a row and the outgoing runner would stand in the area that corresponds with the run he or she was going to be embarking on. Volunteer would provide a green, yellow, or red arm band depending on which leg a runner was going to be running. This would allow volunteers on course to help provide directions. Ben volunteered in the transition tent from 2:30 - 5:30 p.m., so, when I wasn't running, I got to spend some time with him keeping him company and watching the operation.

At around quarter-to-two, the team headed up to the transition tent to see Roger off for the first run of the day. I was scheduled to run right after him, and Roger was running the shortest green loop, so I knew I had to be ready soon. After seeing Roger off with much clapping and cheering, I headed back to the tent to change and grab a water bottle. It was, at that point, probably around the hottest part of the day. I was scheduled to run 4.9 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation and wanted to make sure I brought hydration. From there, I went back to the transition tent. It wasn't long before Roger had arrived and I was off.

Immediately when I began my run, I knew it was going to be a rough one. The start of the run was steep. I had conceptually understood I would be taking on 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but I didn't really think about what that would mean for my body on a very hot day. I was hiking. All around me people were hiking. I run a 10:30 road pace (give or take depending on distance), and I think I covered the first two miles of my yellow loop at more like an 18 minute mile. I was pushing it too. I hiked up the hills as quickly as I could; I was huffing, and I am a fit person. It was hot, and over two miles straight uphill was tough. I felt terrible from the physical discomfort, but I also felt like I was letting my team down. I was only a few minutes into my Ragnar Trail experience, and already I was well behind schedule.

The yellow trail started combined with the green and red trails and eventually took a turn off. There was then a section of more technical downhill running. Most of the uphill climbing had been on ski slopes, which were wide and easy to navigate. There was a small technical component on the uphill climb, but that was it. The downhills were almost all gnarly. There were roots and rocks. The red route was stated as the most challenging, but I actually thought that the steep beginning climb matched with the amount of technical running on the yellow loops downhill segment made that the more challenging of the two. I ended up falling twice as I made my way back down. I wanted to go as fast as I could to make up for my lost time, but too much speed was not my friend, since my experience running on technical trails is not as vast as it could be.

I had been out running for almost an hour and twenty minutes when I made it back to the transition tent -- almost twenty minutes longer than expected. At least I had made it. Turns out that I need not have been so hard on myself. As it turned out, everyone was significantly off pace, both with our internal estimates and with the time Ragnar must have calculated to provide us with our 2:00 p.m. start. I was supposed to have my second run at around 9:45 p.m. Instead, I ended up running at 12:35 a.m., almost three hours behind schedule. However, our team was not unique. As I headed out to complete the 10th loop for our team, most other teams were on lap 10 or 11. With the heat and the elevation being more intense than anticipated by most, everyone was behind schedule.

After my yellow run, I was feeling a bit tired from my efforts in the heat. I took in plenty of water and spent a little bit of time with Ben, who was volunteering in the transition tent. When Ben got off his shift at 5:30 p.m., he and I, along with fellow teammates Bobby, Roger, and Josh headed over to get some dinner from B. Good. Dinner was definitely the best of the meals provided -- hamburger with pasta salad and broccoli (which I skipped since it's harder to digest and I was running). We also go a strawberry lemonade.

I thought dinner would perk me up, but I was wiped from the heat. While I feel bad for not being social and enjoying quality time with my team, I ended up lying down in my tent after dinner. Ben and I chatted on and off and mostly I napped since I was feeling a bit woozy. I got up and headed out of the tent at around 9:00 p.m. to check to see when I might be running next. It was going to be a wait with a likely go-time of 11:30 p.m. With that in mind, I headed to the tent and immediately fell back asleep.

When the alarm went off, I was feeling a bit better. I am glad I slept. My only regret is missing time with the team and the s'mores by the camp fire; however, the sleep was necessary for good performance on my next two runs. I wanted to do as well as I could for the team. Though we all knew that, at this point, we'd be running a bit slower than anticipated -- everyone had to walk up the hills -- I wanted to be able to go as quickly as possible. I was dedicated to working hard.

When I left the tent, the weather was cooler and my head felt clearer. I quickly changed into running clothing, grabbed my headlamp, and headed out. Jess and Josh were up and together we headed up to the transition tent to watch for Roger to arrive from his run along the red loop. At around 12:30 p.m., our team name flashed up on the board. I had been waiting by the fire since I was chilly. I thanks Jess and Josh for waiting with me and headed to the transition, grabbing my green wrist band.

Roger came in, and I headed out for my 3 mile green loop. The green, yellow, and red loops all begin along the same stretch of trail. In fact, there is quite a bit of overlap between all three loops. Yellow and red share much of the first couple of miles of each and, thus, have similar elevation over the first two miles. Green follows the first bit of trail as well before splitting off. Red and green join up for the last mile of each. All three trails converge for the last quarter mile or so. This means that you get to run the same stretch of trail a few times, in some cases. This has pluses and minuses. I remember thinking as I set of on my yellow run that I was dismayed that I'd have to make the climb I was dealing with more times that day. However, overall, I think that some overlap with the trails was very desirable. It was helpful to have some idea of what to expect, to know where you could go fast and where the trail was more technical, and to be able to pace yourself knowing some of what was ahead.

It was dead dark for my green run; however, it was absolutely amazing. I had a blast! Hills are physical, but they are also mental. In the dark, it was hard to see how steep things were. Plus, I knew I had a very short run planning. I jogged most of the uphill portions. It was slow, but it was faster than my hiking pace. The weather was cooler, and I felt great.

The trail marking were absolutely excellent at night. I actually think that the visibility of the trail markings for night-time running was better than during the day. The three trails were marked with arrows in colored shapes. The green directional arrows were in green circle, the yellow ones were in yellow squares, and the red ones were in red diamonds. This made night-time navigation more easy. Also, there were illuminating markers on each directional sign that fluoresced in the light of one's headlamp either green, yellow, or red depending on the trail. Marker were frequent proving not just direction but also caution signs that indicated where there might be an especially gnarly stretch of trail. I never once felt unsafe.

I moved along consistently really enjoying my night run. During one stretch, I came upon a stretch of trail that broke through the trees and continued through an open area. Above the sky stretched, punctuated with a vast numbers of stars. I continued onward through the most technical part of the green trail. This part was somewhat technical, which meant that it was also somewhat slow going in the dark.

My headlamp, which I purchased three years earlier for my first Ragnar does fine on road but is not bright enough for the rigors of trail running. I have used it a couple of times for night-time obstacle course racing and was using it now for Ragnar Trail, but I might need to purchase something with more lumens. While this slowed me down a little bit, I was able to keep moving at a decent pace. I was feeling good and have a unique experience. Yes, it was running through the woods in the dark by myself. I saw only three or four people on my run. Yes, I loved it. For me, the woods are a relaxing place. I was in my element.

I finished my green loop in something slightly under 40 minutes. Time was out the window at this point since we were behind by so many hour. I was glad I had not stressed about it. I had run my best and also enjoyed myself. I got back and met up with Jess and Ben who super kindly both got up to meet me at 1:15 a.m.

All three of us headed back to the tent, where I once again went to sleep. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to someone announcing, "Team meeting!" and wrapping on my tent door. I headed outside. The weather continued to be cool. It was also damp. The outside of the tent was wet. Anything that was uncontained was soggy to the touch.

The meeting commenced. We were significantly behind schedule and, at the rate we were going, we would not make the Saturday 4:00 p.m. cut-off. However, Jess had a plan. We were going to be doubling up for the last round of runs and reordering a bit. For the last half dozen runs, we'd consolidate into three groups that would run green, yellow, and then red in order. Josh and Jess would run green together, then Shaina and Bobby would run yellow. I would run red last with Jeff who was going to be running for Stacey. This meant, I was moving from my runner 2 slot to running last. I had never closed out a Ragnar before. While I tend to be somewhat type-A, Ragnar is a good opportunity for me to exercise flexibility. We were in a bind and this was what the team needed for success. I was happy to do it. In fact, we were lucky to have a team full of people who were able to adjust their expectations and do what needed to be done. We all quickly agreed to the new plan and got ready to implement out solution. We were going to finish this thing!

We were not unique, when I had set off for my green loop run, we were starting our 10th run. All the other groups on the sign were on run 10 or 11 too. In fact, later in the day, when I went out for my last run, I would see that pretty much all of the teams on course had doubled up. Ragnar has you submit your 10K road pace for determining start time. Trail pace is a lot different. Fr next year, I'd like to see Ragnar make a big adjustment here. We had a 2:00 p.m. start time, but a 10:00 a.m. time for starting on Friday would have been much better. This is definitely a recommendation I would have for next year. The warm weather and the elevation made for slow times -- hopefully, next year this will be taken into account. (Note: Also, the previous year Ragnar was in June, and, from what I understand, the weather was cooler. The intense heat was an unavoidable minus, though I still totally had a very stellar weekend. Moving the race back to June might be a great solution since the weather tends to be more mild then.)

Since I wasn't going to have to run again until the early afternoon, I headed back to bed and slept for a few more hours. Ben and I woke up probably some time around 7:00 a.m. and headed out to get some breakfast from B. Good. We also hung out in the festival area a bit enjoying the atmosphere and having fun. We snapped a few pictures.

Once we got into having people doubled up on their legs, things began to start moving. Soon it was around 12:30 p.m. and time for me and Jeff to consider getting ready. Jeff had just completed his red loop about an hour and a half before, so this was going to be a big run for him. Fortunately, I run quite a bit slower. It would be a perfect match considering how much running Jeff had just completed.

We were expecting the group running yellow to get into the transition tent at around 1:00 p.m. Ben and I were spending time in the mess hall tent to get some time in the shade. At around 12:40 p.m., I headed out to go and find Jeff so we could get ready for our run. I wandered around, soon finding him and some others from the team over by the hammocks. At around 12:50 p.m., I told the group I was going to check-in with Ben and let him know I was going to wait by the tent. As I headed over to the mess hall, I saw Shaina and Bobby coming into the transition. I called to Jeff who quickly joined me as I clipped on our bib. We were off!

The red loop was almost 1,500 feet of elevation and 7.3 miles, including some rugged trail, which we ran during the hottest part of a day where temperatures were in the upper 80s. It was also an amazing experience. I cannot underscore enough how much of a difference it made to have someone to cover those miles with. The first four miles were mostly uphill with a small downhill section around mile three. Mostly it was relentless climbing. Jeff and I chatted and kept each other's spirits up. It made a huge difference. The miles passed much more quickly than they would have.

The entire run, we had been focused on reaching the water station at the four mile mark. After that, the run was mostly downhill, plus it was an opportunity to get water. We had both taken handheld bottles with us, but we were pretty much out. Finally, we reached the water station. However -- disaster! -- it was empty. This was actually a real problem. The idea of running for another forty minutes without water was undesirable to say the least. Fortunately, right as we began to really worry, a truck came up the hill filled with two jugs of cold water. Inside, was one of my colleagues from Amherst who was volunteering with another team. I have rarely been so happy to see someone. Jeff and I helped get the jugs off the truck and the empty jugs on. We took our fill of water and headed back down the mountain.

The back half of the run was an effort against fatigue. We both tried to push it as much as we could, running all the downhills and hiking, as needed, any small stretched of incline. When we hit the one mile mark, we decided to really hit it and go as hard as we could. Despite some cramping that Jeff had, he really powered through and we made good time. We crossed the timing mat and knew we had only a couple of minutes of running left. As we rounded the corner, we saw the rest of the NE Spahtens Herd of Cats team waiting for us. 

I, uncharacteristically, yelled "Let's go!" as the rest of the team fell in behind and we crossed the finish line. It's hard to describe how excellent it feels to get to be part of the duo that brings in your team at the end of a 24 hour relay. It was a big effort, and amazing to get to lead the charge.

Ragnar Trail was a great experience. There were difficulties that we overcame, some hot weather, and quite a bit of time where I was concerned about my performance. Dealing with these challenges -- coming together as a group and really pulling together to get the most out of each individual -- is what makes Ragnar unique. The quality of my experience, which was amazing, is credit to the people on my team. Would I do Ragnar Trail again next year? If Herd of Cats will have me again, then without a doubt. Absolutely.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Marathon Training

I'm training for a marathon. This October, I am signed up to take part in the 2016 Newport Marathon.47 days to go.

 So I'm training and running more than I have in the past. However, while my training has been inspired by the Hal Higdon marathon training plan, I've also kind of been doing my own thing. In order to clarify, let me talk about my goals.

Marathon training goals

  • Train sufficiently so that I can finish the marathon, running most of the way. Time does not matter. Having a good experience does.
  • Enjoy training. See training runs as an adventure and opportunity to explore new areas where I live.
  • Avoid hating running when I am finished with training for the marathon.
  • While training will involve a significant amount of time, I do not want it to take over my life.
  • Allow energy for the other physical activities I enjoy:
    • Strength training and attending the strength and conditioning class at the Amherst College gym (which I love!)
    • Hiking and going for walks
    • Riding my bike to work daily
    • Obstacle course races (super super important!) 
  • Have the ability to do the long runs without problems. (i.e. Having the ability to run the distances.)
  • Don't get injured. (I'm not prone to injury, but I want to be careful. I've heard statistics that up to 70% of first-time marathoners get injured during training. Note I don't know where this statistics is cited from, so take it with a grain of salt.)
As a result, I've implemented my training in an interesting way. 

Marathon training implementation
  1. Run three days a week, strength train two days, one day of cardio/strength training of my choice or doing an obstacle course race, one rest day.
  2. Calendar out all my long runs, making sure that I work around my obstacle racing schedule.
  3. Skipping the midweek long runs for two weekday moderate runs of 4.5 miles and then the weekend (extra!) long run.
  4. Execution of plan!
My ultimate goal of having trained enough to finish the marathon running most of the way and generally enjoying myself has yet to be realized. However, I can speak to some of the other goals and how they're working.

Over the past few weeks, I have begun to tackle some of the longer runs. Recently, I did a 15 miler. This was a couple of weekends ago. It was hot -- think 80s and humid. However, for the first 13 miles, I felt totally fine. I have charted out a running route that takes me along the bike path and through parts of Belchertown before returning me to Amherst. This run has allowed me to discover a bunch of new places that are close(ish) to my house and that I never knew existed. Case in point: Arcadia Lake and the Belchertown Town Beach. These were lovely discoveries along my 15 miler. 

Mid-week, I have been doing my standard 4.3 mile loop near my work. Again, I frequent the bike path. I also enjoy doing about a mile of trail running along the Emily Dickinson Trail -- this loop is great for variety. I usually do this run on Mondays and Wednesdays at a moderate pace and leave my long runs for Saturdays.

This past weekend, I tackled a 16 mile run. Because of my strategy of adventure and exploration, I ended up running uphill for almost two miles between miles 10 and 12 -- not ideal! Still it was fun to run along the bike path in Northampton and Leeds and then explore some of the lovely farm area in Leeds, a town I have not really ever visited.

The marathon training journey is ongoing. I will admit to not wanting to go for a long run some Saturday mornings. Last Saturday it was kind of a challenge to leave the house after a rough night sleep. However, it must be said things are going well. I have been able to complete all my runs, I usually spend the bulk of the time I am running relaxing and enjoying the scenery -- generally having fun -- and I think I am able to balance my running with my other interests. Fingers crossed that all this gets me across the finish line in October.