Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Double -Up Weekend

Farnum Five.5

Saturday morning I made the trek towards west Lebanon for the first annual Farnum Five(5.5 Mile) trail run. It is part 4 of the 5 part western new Hampshire trail running series. The sun is shining down, burning off the first frost of the season. I happily sing to some country on the hour drive and start getting fired up for the challenge ahead of me.

At the start of the race I meet several familiar faces, some from the rest of the series, some from ultra’s. I talk a bit with Jay who recognized me from Pisgah the week and year prior. He’s feeling great coming off of a sub 6 hour at Pisgah and is looking forward to the VT50 next weekend. We have a little ultra chat and we part ways. I line up next to a woman I started Xterra Stoked with a month prior, her name is Mary I believe. Seems like a really kind hearted woman. This is very short lived as the race director gives the standard Set Go and down the trail we good

The race starts on the old Kings Highway trail which runs along the contour of Farnum Hill. The trail is a very washed out rocky and rooty double track trail. I fall into my comfortable pace behind two guys that appeared to be in their 30s. They were talking about races they had done and how “I used to be able to just run a 5k with no training.” All of a sudden one of the guys starts yelling. I didn’t really get it at first but apparently there were some ground wasps in one of the dips on the trail. I chuckle only because this is a very common occurrence at Pisgah, and now it had been two years where I had avoided them. I narrowly dodged them again at this event. Positive thoughts and i’m happy to have not yet been stung this season. Despite the stings these two guys continue to push a strong pace and I’m determined to keep up. I eavesdrop on their conversation some more and one guy mentions the Jay Marathon to which I thought, now’s my chance to intervene. I chime in my thoughts on the race, trail running and ultras. I find out that this guy is going to be at Vermont next weekend attempting his first 50k. Ha, everything is really turning up roses as I’m able to give him some advice on his upcoming challenge. The trail takes a sharp turn to the right and we’re faced with a ¼ mile steep steep grade. I show him the benefits of “ultra-walking” the hills as I pass him while he tries to continue his running. As much as I’m sure it’s helpful to hear it from another runner I still feel really weird giving people that are 10-20 years my senior advice on ultras. Once on the ridge trail I tell him I can’t keep matching his speedy pace and that we’ll chat more at the finish line. That was all he needed and by 2 more turns he was long gone. Poor guy I think, I hope I didn’t cost him too much time. I settle in at my normal pace and see that I’m 20’ back from the same guy that I was 20’ back at 2 miles at Stoked. We exchanged a few words over the next few miles but when he gave the “oh yeah, last hill” I was off. My thighs were screaming. Probably still tired from last weeks race but I was having a ball. We crossed over the power lines on top of Farnum hill. It was funny because I had driven past Farnum hill for 8 years now on I-89. I’d always looked at the power lines that cut the thick woods of the mountain but I never expected to be on the top looking way down onto the interstate. What an amazing view. The last ¾ of a mile was just steep single then double track. Still feeling happy from the view I gave it my all hoping that maybe I could catch anyone ahead of me. Sadly no dice on catching anyone this time, but the finishers cookies tasted just as good.

Contoocook Carry Tri

It’s 6:40 am and I’m awoken by a familiar wiener dog nose. She licks my face signifying, “hey wake up, I need to pee!” I get up feeling amazing seeing how I had a few beers and slept on a futon after a race. Normally those 3 things are a recipe for a disastrous second day. I bundle up expecting it to be another frosty night, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the sun in the early morning. You can smell the crispness in the air. God I love fall. I think about the 6th annual Contoocook Carry Triathlon that I’m doing for the second time in 3 years and wonder if I’m ready. I hadn’t sat on my bike or in a kayak since the first weekend in July when I did The Great Race Triathlon up in St Albans VT.

I’m not impressed with how the race I set up. There are so many volunteers that no one knows what’s the hell is going on. It takes me 20 minutes to get my number and my shirt. There are no maps or print out for new racers to make sure you place your boat and bike in the right spot. Somehow with my alcoholic brain I’m able to remember where things are placed and get back to the start with 15 minutes to spare.

We are treated to an amazing song by what appears to be a 6 year old girl which sooths the frustration and pre-race jitters. Her voice was just outstanding. Upon competition of her song the race director looks at her watch and says, “You can go now.” It’s laughable how laid back this whole thing has been, but I guess why not. It’s all for a good cause as the money from this race is going towards Fuel Assistance (through Human Services) for those who might need a little help this winter.

I got a kiss from Loni and tell her I’ll see her at the carry. The neatest part about this race is the fact that it’s not out on a lake, it’s on the Contoocook river. And for any of you that are familiar with Contoocook NH there is a dam in the center of town. The draw I have to this race is you actually have to pick your boat up and out of the river carry it through a couple of parking lots across Main Street and then put it in after the falls. It’s really a neat spectacle.
At any rate I manage to get through the race about middle of the pack. The entrance to the water is just a muddy beaver slide through some weeds so I get into the water probably middle-back of the pack. I’m mildly upset by the fact that people were just pushing through the line but whatever, this isn’t an ultra, I’m not worried about it and the feeling passes. Still nervous about what 5 miles is going to do to me after zero training I start pushing hard. I keep telling myself, oh it’s got to be after this turn. Damn, wrong again, ok next turn? I notice that there aren’t a lot of smiling faces. It saddens me a little. I try to give a friendly smile and hello as I pass kayak after kayak. I caught up to the “ninja” team and one of the guys go “oh look a speed demon.” To which I promptly responded. “Oh don’t you worry, I’ve got a mountain bike for the next stage, I’m just trying to give myself a chance.”

I get to the carry just a bit behind another kayaker. I’ve made up a lot of ground and I feel like I’m pushing the pace finally. I throw the kayak up onto my shoulder and run through the crowd of people waiting at the ramp. I make it half way through the carry before I’m reduced to a walk. My thighs are screaming, I assume from the lack of recovery between last weekend and yesterday to now. A photographer snaps a shot of me with the kayak on my head. I get a big grin and wonder if that one will be in the paper or next years flyer. Back in the river for another 2.5 miles and the lack of training is really starting to catch up to me. I can feel myself just getting weaker and weaker. Luckily some clouds had rolled in and it had cut the heat out of the air so being out in the river was just grand. I always forget how nice some of the homes are along the river. So between strokes I stop and wave to an older fellow that is out on his deck enjoying a glass of wine and the Sunday paper. I think about how blessed I am to be able to be out here doing this. That most of my friends and coworkers are sitting inside watching football dreaming of being an athlete while here I am, living it.

I catch a few more paddlers before I get to the take out. Loni says I’m probably in the top 15! My eyes nearly popped out of my head. Seriously?! Yeah I guess I was in the top 15 at that point, but I knew 14 miles on a bike that I hadn’t sat on since july wasn’t going to be easy. I’m not sure why I try these things on a full suspension 32+/- lb mountain bike with mud tires. I steal one more kiss for good luck and off I go. Losing about 5 spots before I get to see Loni’s smiling face back at the fire station. She tells me I’m doing great and off the long trek down to the covered bridge I go. My coworker Wanda told me she lived out this way and that I should wave as I go by. So that occupies my mind for a couple of miles. Is this the house? Nope. This one? Nope. I start to think I had missed it, but then I catch a glimpse of a giant poster board with big bold letters GO JOSH GO nailed to a tree ahead. It really warmed my heart. Life’s funny sometimes, I think people at work are just coworkers most days. But for this coworker to actually take the time to do something so simple, yet so thoughtful will puts her way ahead in my book.

More spots lost but still in good spirits as I get to go through the Hopkinton Covered Bridge where loni again greats me with a smile and a warm GREAT JOB SWEETIE! And that’s just the motivation I need to get up the next hill. I finish the race in somewhere around 2:30, just ahead of some road bikers that had been tailing me for the last 2 miles.

Big Smiles all around for me. I had no time/goal in mind, just to get out, enjoy the small town, and the laid back race. I let my preconceived notions of how races should be run fade and just enjoyed the ride. I tell loni we should pack up shop and head home. It’s been a long weekend and I need some rest.

I reflect a bit on the drive home. I think about how much 365 days can change a person. One year ago to date I had basically tried to kill myself with alcohol. The pain and the suffering that I had caused to everyone around me turned back into me and I just went to town with the booze. No killing myself wasn’t my goal, but to an outsider seeing how much I drank with what was going on in my life, it would have been assumed.

In the past year I lost a loved one, two of my best friends, an ultra buddy, my house, my life, my kitties, my bar, my stability. I’d gained love, or what one would have thought was love at the time. I had experienced highest of highs when I was running the last 5 miles of Pinelands with Loni. I’d experienced lowest of lows when Sara told me she wanted nothing to do with me at my first attempt of the VT100. I’d completed 4 (Pittsfield, Pinelands, Jay, and Pisgah) of the 5 (VT100) ultras that I’d started this year. I’d stopped drinking daily and started loving more. I’d gotten my old life back. I’d rebuilt the love I once shared with Loni. Rather than letting simple things harden my heart, I’ve opened it more. I’ve learned the difference between people that are your friends and people that just say they are to get things. I’ve rebuilt friendships with people that are strong and have always been there for me that I turned my back on.

Thank you all for laughing, drinking, crying, loving and running with me over the last year.

With that being said, I’m onward to my 8th consecutive start at the VT50 this Sunday with a light and happy heart. I’m saddened to say that it will be my first solo start at this race. My father, still nursing his injury will be there to crew and volunteer, but I will not be treated with his humor and knowledge this go around. On the flip side, Loni will attempt her first 50k! My hope is that I can catch up to her on the trail and provide her with any advice that I can in her last 13 miles (her previous furthest distance is 18). She is what my father would proclaim to the running gods, “the sacrificial virgin.”

Wish us luck!

Pigah 50k

September 14, 2008

Rain, rain and more rain. This year was shaping up very similar to last year, with the exception of a change in my company. Grant had run the 50k with me last year, this year my company would be my father. Loni would attempt her second Pisgah 23k at the same time in preparation for her first attempt at the Vermont 50k in two weeks.

It was pouring when Loni and I arrived in Chesterfield on Sunday morning. The main parking lot at the fire and police stations were full so we go over to the school parking lot. Me being hasty, just pull into a handicap spot because I just wanted to run in and grab our race packets. Some outta-stater asks us as we get out of the car, “you guys handicap?” I look at him like he’s got 2 heads, “uhhh, no, I just wanted to grab my packet, I’ll move it afterwards.” I laughed at the prospect of getting a ticket for parking in a handicap spot at a race that’s charity is NH Special Olympics.

I hear a familiar “hey” as Loni and I dash through the parking lot. My Father has found Sherpa, Steve, Mike, Dave and Dan. All of who I’ve been known to call “my ultra family,” as I see them at just about every event I participate in these days. A friendly hello to all and off to get our race packets, changed and stretch.

The rain is still falling as the RD gives his now familiar pre-race speech. He notes that the beaver damn section is now mid-calf deep due to the rain over the last couple of weeks. A murmur went through the crowd. With the two commands, “set, go” down the road we go towards the park and a full day adventure. Rik and I find a good rhythm and chat back and forth about how long it’s been since we’ve been side by side at this race (it had been 4 or 5 years). Sherpa appeared to be running next to a guy with a rather large microphone who was conducting a race interview. When the fellow asked “are we there yet,” John simply responded in his cool collected manor “oh, only another 31 miles.” I laughed in the background while my father amused himself by throwing acorns at Mike on the first hill.

We are surprisingly ahead of the pack for a bit as we descended into the park. The patter of the rain on the leaves was soothing to the soul. The soft packed pine needles felt amazing underfoot. This was a trial run for my father after his plantar nagging since the VT 100 back in July. If he felt good today, we’d get to run together again in two week at the VT50 for our 8th consecutive start. It was only 4 miles into the run but he was really pushing the pace. I’d never been in the pack with so many runners so early in a race. I surprisingly managed to match his pace and still feel great.

He darted off ahead making wise cracks with fellow runners. I see a familiar face from this race and many other trail runs. Sadly I didn’t get his name but I asked him how he’d been since the last race we ran together, he laughed because he recognized me as well and we chatted briefly about our expected finishing times.

I caught back up to Rik after ¼ of a mile or so and he had found a couple that were just out having a ball. The fellow seemed like he’d been doing these for years while the woman, I assume his wife, had a look of wild nervousness in her eyes. It’s funny how after doing these things for 8 years now, that you can tell the rookies from the pros simply by facial expressions. The 4 of us arrive at the first aid/water stop and I quickly holler at Rik, “Let’s get moving pop!” The woman gave me this look and then yelled. “No way!” Rik made the Rodney Dangerfield comment about getting no respect and off we went. It was quiet now, just our footsteps, and an occasional comment back and forth. We joked about how fast we were going and I made the comment about, how I’d never been this far ahead of any of the guys at any race. Miles are melting away and a few aid stations later, who other but Sherpa, Steve, and Dave have caught up. I wonder to myself if we’ve slowed down or if they have just gotten into their rhythm. I joking ask if he’s just warming up, as we continue down the trail. I learn that the microphone guy was from NH Public radio and had contacted John a few weeks prior to talk to him about the “ultra-scene.” I’m surprised how good Steve is doing in his first ultra. I tell him that he’ll do fine with the training he’s done. It takes me a bit to realize we had left Rik, Dave, and another young woman behind on the last hill. We talk about the mentality of the people at these races, how great it is to be out in the woods, about my history at Pisgah and John’s recent health battles. Running with John is great. The enthusiasm he brings to this sport is second to none. I find myself just splashing through the puddles following his every step and really taking in the moment for more than I normally would. The miles really do fly by at these races when you are running them with good people.

Before I know it we’ve reached the 17 mile aid station. I know from here it’s a long up to the top of Pisgah. We fill up our bottles, and talk to the volunteers. The woman we had been running with came up. I asked her how far back Rik was, she told me he said to not wait. John quipped “you don’t want to make him mad now do you? Common Josh lets go.” I politely declined and told them I would wait and run the race with my dad. I wished them the best of luck and they were off down the trail. No more than 2 minutes had passed before Rik came into the station. He was looking a little disheveled. He was saying he’d be having cramping issues a few miles back. I had been feeding him the same salt tabs that I had been taking on the hour, but I knew my father, he probably hadn’t been drinking as much as he needed.

I quickly get him threw the aid by filling up his bottles and off we went down the trail. I force fed him some pretzels and more salt tabs. He still was having cramping issues. He couldn’t run at all. So we were left to a power walk on the flats and ups and a slow mindful placement of steps on the way down. I felt amazing, almost 100% still, and it had been 18 miles. I’m in a lot better shape then I think or the stars have just aligned today. I’m snapped out of this great feeling by yelling behind me. My father locked up and fell down like a tree. His yelling really stirred my insides, it sounded like he was dying. I rushed back up the trail, grabbed his foot and helped him stretch out. Two more salt tabs and two advils later he was able to get back to his feet. Even slower progression now, I watch many of the runners that we passed early blast past us like we were standing still. I think about how long this race is going to take us now, but the selfish thoughts pass and I focus on keeping Rik upright and moving. It’s something I know he’s done for me on countless occasions, why shouldn’t I repay the debt.

It was weird, at the slower pace I let myself look around a bit more than in past years where the finish line was the first and foremost goal. I noticed the water crossings from further in the distance. I paid attention to all of the neat fungus and mushrooms that were in bloom it seemed on every turn. I enjoyed every soft pine needled step. For the past month I had been in a depressed state, this was just what my soul needed to stir things up.

½ way through Killborn loop I was able to get Rik to run a bit again. The cramping had faded and we were on the move again. We certainly weren’t making record time, but we were gaining on some people in front of us. We hadn’t seen anyone in about 7 miles when we came back in to the Killborn Aid Station. Only 5.5 miles to go! My father and I have shared so much this year. We ran Pittsfield in June where I was the leader. Everything worked out for me and I pulled him along to finish. In July it was the VT100 where he really guided me along and waited for me to keep me moving even at the cost of his own finishing. Now in early September the shoe was back on my foot as I pushed him again. Two more hills I told him. Only two more long hills and then sweet, sweet hamburgers!

Across the town lines we trot. We “ultra-trot” as my father has come to call it. Through the woods we went until we got to the excavator. I assume they were widening the trail for more ATV/Snowmobile use but boy did they really tear it up for the rest of us. Slipping and sliding I went down the hills and waiting for Rik at the bottoms as he placed his feet carefully as to not cramp up again. The mud was calf deep in spots! I kept yelling that this is almost the end! I could feel it. Out onto the road we emerge, muddy as all get out. Rik starts to tell me about the Redneck wedding he had just attended a few weeks ago. How people sat on Hay bails and the minister had to say “put down your beers.” If there is one thing my dad will never run out of, it’s crazy stories. I’m happy though, I feel like I had hardly broken a sweat. I’m about to complete my 6th Pisgah 50k in the last 7 years. And I was going to finish another race with my dad by my side.

We crossed the finish line at about 730, I’m happy. I give him a hug. The RD tells us we are the muddiest runners he’d seen yet. I replied that we must have just had the most fun! I got a congratulatory hug and a kiss from Loni who had finished her 23k battle several hours earlier.

As we made our way to the BBQ we notice that Mike and Dan are already in street clothes. They inform us that they had gotten lost and had dropped. John walked up and congratulated us, for some reason the following statement really hit home to me. Of course this is probably paraphrased

SJ - “I heard about the break down”

JR - “yeah I stuck with him, kept feeding him salt and liquids”

SJ - “So we gonna sub 10 at Vermont in a couple of weeks”

JR - “well I gotta see where loni is in the 50k, if I can catch her I’ll probably just run it in with her in”

SJ – “you’re just so god damn selfless aren’t you.” (Jokingly)

It’s very true, my father got me into ultras 8 years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten 3 of my friends who had never run anything in their life to run ultras with me. Everyone I touch I seem to get into a race of some kind. From local 5k and 10ks, sprint triathalons, to as long to the Vermont 100. I think that’s really my calling. I’m a motivator, a guide of some sort, my addictive passions are hard to NOT share with the ones I hold so close. It’s something I can say I’m really proud of.

Now, I prepare for VT