Running 1995-2005

Running in Excess

The Extraordinary Experiences of an Ordinary Runner

Part 2: 1995-2005

 by Tom Perry

Seven Years on the Erie Canal

Rochester, NY:  1995-2001

Part 1 of this narrative ended with my winning three national age group medals (one silver & two bronze), finding my best event in the 12 Hour and setting the open record in the Claremont 12 Hour.  Highlights of the next phase include:

•·         moving to Rochester and running 40 miles around Canandaigua Lake

•·         running going on the back burner for four years as I focus on family and work

•·         undiagnosed anemia leads to a personal worst marathon and a phenomenal comeback

•·         winning another road ultra, setting a trail race age group record and finishing 2nd in my RROY age group

 

800px-northridge_earthquake_10_frwy2.png1995:  Moving to Rochester.  After the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994, Anne and I decided it was time to leave Los Angeles.  The photo at the right shows the collapsed Santa Monica Freeway overpass at La Cienaga Blvd, about a mile from our house in Culver City.

After I negotiated a transfer by Xerox to Rochester, we spent the first half of 1995 getting our Culver City home ready to sell, buying a house in Pittsford and preparing for the move in early August. 

With a little over 30 miles per week average as a base, I ran the Canandaigua Mini Ultra in September.  This Charlie Sabatine directed race was pretty old school... a hand drawn map of the course and a few signs to mark the course.  The approximately 40 mile route started on West Lake Rd just outside the Canandaigua city limits and finished at Finger Lakes Community College.  Highlights of the course were Bopple Hill (600 feet climb in 0.8 miles) and a fixed rope descent of a steep gully to get from a dirt road in Sunnyside to a driveway at the dead end of South Lake Rd.  Running mostly on muscle memory, I managed to finish 5th overall in 6:03:32 and first in 50+ age group. 

Notably, the race was won by Ian Torrence, then only 22 years old.  Torrence went on to win many other ultras and is perhaps best known for his 2002 record of 78 hours 22 minutes for the Grand Slam Series of Ultrarunning (best cumulative time for the big four 100 mile trail runs in a single summer: Western States, Vermont, Leadville Trail and Wasatch Front). 

Second overall and first woman was Daniele Cherniak from Cohoes.  In 1995, she had already run on three US 100K Teams.  She went on to become a nine time member of the US 100K Team and was the 1999 USATF Ultrarunner of the Year. 

Note:  Contemporaneous accounts of this and other 20th century races around Canandaigua Lake can be found at www.canlake50.org/canlake-history.pdf.

Totals for 1995:  1 ultra (5th overall finish); 1447 miles total running. 

1996-1999: Muscle Memory Fades.  For the next four years, I took an unplanned holiday from serious training as I focused on work and family (teenagers have a knack for taking all your attention).  I still ran regularly for my mental health but did fewer long runs, no speed work or short races, and had no formal training plan or coaching.  Besides running less and less seriously, my weight ratcheted up by an extra five pound each winter.  The one goal I maintained was to run at least one marathon or longer race each year.  It's no surprise that my performances declined over this four year span.

iceagetrail50logo.jpg


In May 1996, I ran one of America's classic ultras.  The Ice Age Trail 50 is run mostly on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in southern Wisconsin.  The course is a tour of the geological features left by the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago... evergreen and deciduous forests, natural prairies, ponds, marshes and kettles.  Except for the location, the description (and the photo at the right) should seem familiar to anyone who has run in Mendon Ponds Park.  Only the scale is different... the features in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest overshadow their more diminutive cousins here in Monroe County.  Having trained exclusively on roads, I still managed to finish the 50 miles in 10:25:00 for 83rd overall (about the middle of the field). 
ice-age-trail-2cropped.jpg

Wisconsin, Not Mendon Ponds
 

 

 

I also ran the Canandaigua Mini Ultra in September.  I again finished in 5th overall and first in the 50+ age group.  However, with less training and five pounds heavier, my time was significantly slower at 6:37:25.

Totals for 1996:  2 ultras (83rd and 5th overall finishes); 1872 miles total running. 

The Strong Children's Ultra was once an important race on the regional ultra calendar.  Back in the 1980's I read reports of the race when it was a 24 Hour directed by Don McNeely and run on the University of Rochester track.  The 1997 event was only 8 hours long and held on an uncertified, maybe unmeasured loop in Genesee Valley Park.  I ran and walked 8 hours and an estimated 39.5 miles, finishing a meaningless first among a handful of solo runners.  There were no results and no awards.  All in all, it was a sad end to a formerly great race. 

I ran my third and final Canandaigua Mini Ultra in September, finishing 10th overall in 6:55:02.  Given what I could do when race fit, this was also a sad end.

Totals for 1997:  2 ultras (1st and 10th overall finishes); 1497 miles total running.

wineglass.jpgOver the summer of 1998 I trained a little more seriously.  For something different, I skipped what would turn out to be the fifth and final running of the Canandaigua Mini Ultra and instead ran the Wineglass Marathon.  On a bit over 40 miles per week average for the two months before the race, I managed to run the first half in 1:57:59 and finish in 3:55:58... how's that for even splits?

Totals for 1998:  1 marathon (218th overall finish); 1577 miles total running.
 

In 1999, Larry Zygo and Rick Worner added a 50 kilometer option to the already popular Mendon Trails Runs.  I was only averaging in the low 30 miles per week that fall but I did get some race specific training by running one or two laps of the 10 kilometer course the three weekends before the race.  I finished toward the back of the small field in 6:17:47 for 11th place.  My lap times were fairly even for a trail ultra:  1:11, 1:13, 1:17, 1:18, and 1:18.

Totals for 1999:  1 ultra (11th overall finish); 1325 miles total running.

2000:  Personal Worst and Rebirth.  I tried to get more serious about training in 2000.  I started using PC Coach (www.pccoach.com/) to track my training and using the Jeff Galloway plug-in module for a personalized marathon training plan.  The combination of PC Coach and plug-in coaching module is what I like to call a "coach in a box."   You answer a lot of questions about your running and the software generates a training schedule for you.  A "coach in a box" is no substitute for having a real coach oversee your training but it beats attempting to work from a generic plan in a book.  The software at least gives you workouts that make sense for your current fitness level and your target race.

I made good progress until early May when it took way too long to recover from the combination of a 46 mile week and a 23 mile long run.  I didn't get back on track until early July.  I had hoped to be at 60 miles for my long run weeks but only managed to work up to 40 miles a couple times.  That was all I could manage and even then I was frequently too fatigued to complete scheduled workouts.

I started the Wineglass Marathon having averaged only 28 miles per week for the two months before.  I knew it was going to be a long day when the first mile took over ten minutes.  The best I can say for my run was that despite my worst ever race fitness, I managed to run slightly negative splits and finished my annual marathon (in a personal worst 4:38:00).  At the time, I remember thinking that this aging slowdown thing was a lot worse than I expected and at the rate I was going, my running days might soon be over.

The weekend after Wineglass I went to donate blood at the Red Cross and got turned away.  My blood didn't have enough red blood cells to be acceptable.  So, it was off to see my doctor and get to the bottom of the problem.  Short story is that I wasn't getting enough iron and was chronically anemic.  The fix was simple enough... all I needed was an iron supplement.  Once I started it, the improvement was damned amazing.  In just a couple weeks I felt better and was running better than I had in at least two years.

I felt so much better that I started another training cycle and started a serious diet.  Four weeks later I was ten pounds lighter and much fitter when I started the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  I ran almost a minute a mile faster than a year before, finishing 7th overall in 5:49;00.  My lap times were 1:07, 1:07, 1:10, 1:13 and 1:13.  Needless to say, I was pleased with the remarkable improvement and excited about the potential continued improvement for the year to come.

Totals for 2000:  1 ultra (7th overall finish) and 1 marathon (personal worst); 1501 miles total running.

2001:  A Career Year.  This year I went through three training cycles:  1) November 2000 to April 1 for the BPAC 6 Hour, 2) April to June 30 for the Niagara 100K and July to November 10 for the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  I used PC Coach training plans for the first two cycles and then transitioned to e-mail coaching by Roy Benson (www.coachbenson.com/).

Training for the BPAC 6 Hour went well despite the usual problems with a Rochester winter.  About 300 miles were on the treadmill; the rest including all long runs in that period were outdoors.  I followed a general weekly pattern of Hard-Hard-Medium.  I was roughly following a plan generated by the PC Coach Galloway marathon training plan.  Speed work was 4-8 repeat miles at marathon race pace and a few short races or time trials.  And by BPAC, I was down another 20 pounds and ready to race. 
 

My 6 Hour was run conservatively except for the last 30 minutes which were raced all out as can be seen in the heart rate graph below.   The conservative effort was in anticipation of running a half marathon two weeks later and a full marathon within five weeks.  The 30 minute sprint was for second place and resulted in my having negative first half/second half splits.  I got out sprinted by Karen Westfahl, a member of the Canadian 100K national team.  I pleased finishing third overall with 42.24 miles and first American behind two fine Canadian runners. 

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Heart Rate Data from BPAC 6 Hour

 


Recovery from the 6 Hour went well.  I ended the Galloway training plan and started a PC Coach Roy Benson plan (10K option) modified to include longer long runs.  Two weeks later I ran a hilly CATS Half Marathon in 1:38:35, another conservative, negative split race with my fastest miles coming at the end.

ontario-shore-age-group-low-res.jpgThree weeks later, my goal at the Ontario Shores Marathon was to go under 3:30.  The course and day were PR caliber.  My pacing was again conservative in the early miles.  Around 22 miles I started winding up the pace for negative splits, finishing in 3:19:28, 18th overall and first in the 50-59 age group.

My recovery from the marathon was probably incomplete.  I was not able to do the long runs I would have liked to do for the June 30th Niagara 100K.  My training was also probably compromised by competing in three RROY Series races in the 8 weeks between the marathon and 100K.  The June Medved 5K was a bit of a break-through as I made my goal of going under 21 minutes.

The Niagara 100K had been on my "to do" list since 1995 when we moved to Rochester. The attraction was obvious... a major road ultra at the standard international distance along one of the scenic wonders of the world... all within easy driving distance.

The steady improvement in my race results and my prior 100K experience suggested I might expect to run about 8:45 at Niagara if things went well and the weather was favorable.  However, the last week of June in the Niagara Region started warm and got warmer and more humid as race day approached.  It was clear and already a humid 72 degrees at the 6:00 am race start.

The 100K and 50 Mile participants in the Niagara Ultras started together in Niagara-on-the-Lake and followed the same out & back course up river most of the way to Lake Erie (with the 50 milers turning around sooner).  About fifty of us set out to attempt the two longer distances. The pack quickly strung out on the narrow bike path as I settled in about fifteen people back.  Running through the 5K aid station I moved up a couple of places.  I ran too much of the climb up the Niagara Escarpment and passed several runners.  By 8 am the temperature had already climbed to 77 degrees.  At the falls a slight breeze was blowing spray onto the walk way providing a brief but welcome respite. Exiting the 25K aid station I caught up to Karen Westfahl and had a good chat about her preparations to represent Canada in the IAU 100-Kilometer World Challenge in France.  After 35K, the lead runners in the 50 mile started streaming by.  Daniele Cherniak was third or fourth after the turnaround and looked the most comfortable with the effort.  Passing the 25 mile turnaround in 3:33, there was no one in sight ahead but the sun and temperature (80 and climbing) were beginning to get my attention.  At the 45K aid station I was surprised to learn that I was the first 100K runner to come through.

Leading a race, especially early in the going, has been a rare experience for me.  Do I accelerate to open a bigger lead?  Keep pushing at the same pace?  Or, do I listen to my body and the beeping alarm on my heart rate monitor which are telling me the current pace is unsustainable in this heat?  I keep pushing through the 50K turnaround at 4:24 and begin looking for the next runner. Seven minutes later there's second place, another couple minutes and there's the next couple of runners and the first woman.  My lead is larger than I expected but I keep pushing.  The heat is awful now (86 degrees) and I try all the tricks to keep cool... ice in my hat, ice water in my bottle to wet my head and shirt between aid stations, using every bit of available shade.  Past 60K even that is not enough and I begin adding a short walking break between aid stations in addition to an eating-drinking walk out of each aid station.  70K comes and I can see the mist of the falls ahead.  Spotting some 50 mile runners up ahead and slowly catching them gives me something to focus on besides the heat and distance to go.  Then I'm into the built up area at the falls.  It's early afternoon, the path is full of tourists and the street is full of traffic.  It seems to take forever to get through and headed out of town.  I notice a tightness in my chest which I associate with high levels of ozone (felt like an LA smog alert day).  Finally I'm at the shady 80K aid station (7:13) where my wife and son finally catch up with me.  A quick refill and I head out to complete the final two hours that make a 100K so much harder than a 50 miler.  My wife and son stay at the aid station to help out while waiting for the next 100K runner to see if anyone is close to catching me.

It hasn't gotten any cooler but I've settled into sustainable routine.  Anything that hints of up is walked.  Slowly the miles roll by.  The tightness in my chest goes away now that I'm out of the congestion around the falls. The downhill of the escarpment is completed without cramping.  Soon after, my wife and son spot me on the bike path and Gary runs over to tell me they waited an hour without the second 100K runner arriving.  That news is both a surprise (as I have hit the wall and slowed to ten minute miles) and a relief.  The thought occurs to me that I could walk it in and still be first.  Eventually the 5K aid station appears, then the 1 mile sign.  I pick up the pace, probably from an irrational impulse to get the damned thing over a few seconds sooner.  Finally, under the banner in 9:15:57 and a welcome cool down walk with my wife.

How much of a factor was the heat?  While it wasn't as hot as the canyons at Western States, the combination of heat and humidity was pretty potent.  The winning times and median finisher times for all three races were the slowest in the past six years.  Despite the heat and running scared of being caught for half the race, it was a joy to get the win (my third in twenty years of ultras).

The heart rate data in the graph below shows what can happen if you don't slow down soon enough on a hot day.  Notice how my heart rate peaked a bit after 4 hours, right around the time I made it to the 50K turnaround.  After that, I had to slow down and keep slowing down to survive and get to the finish.  Heart rate data is missing for the last hour due to the watch memory filling up.  Reviewing the data, it is clear that I should have backed off the pace after 2 hours, certainly no later than the 3 hour mark.  If I had done so, I think I would have had a shot at going under 9 hours.

niagara100k-heart-rate.gif Heart Rate Data from Niagara 100K


I started a new cycle of the Benson 10K plan a week after the 100K.  One month after the 100K I ran 20:25 for my 5K PR for the year in the 10 Ugly Men 5K on the Ellison Park course.  One week later I ran a pretty good Phelps 20K and won the 55-59 age group in 1:30:21.

On August 10th I had a sparkling 25+ mile run (9:07 average).  That long run on top of all the racing seems to have been too much on too little recovery.  My next RROY 5K was a disappointment (21:30).  More was going on than just the Katie Harper course having a couple hills and it being hot.  I was slower by 20-30 seconds relative to the other guys in my age group.

After the Katie Harper 5K I did a lot of easy miles and carefully followed the heart rate limits for my faster workouts.   The result was some recovery as measured by 5K race times (20:39 on a flat & fast course Hospice 5K on October 13th and 20:43 on a slower Run Like Hell course on a cold, windy day on October 27th).   From mid-September I did most of my long runs on the race loop in Mendon Ponds Park, getting my quads in shape for the (down) hills and getting comfortable with the continual change of grade and speed.   In September and October I found myself counting off the races and weeks to go to the end of the (too long) season.  Something in that period aggravated my right plantar fascia and also caused some irritation in the left knee but not enough to compromise my training.

I did a pretty thorough taper before the Mendon Trail Runs 50K yet my resting heart rate stayed relatively high.  This left me pretty uncertain about how the race would go.  Fortunately, once the race started, I felt fresh and first 30K felt no more tiring than the same distance in training (at a slower pace).  The fourth lap took more effort and by the start of the fifth lap I had to really jack up the level of effort to avoid slowing.  Mild muscle cramping (twinges only) surprised me on the last lap as I rarely have muscle cramps.  Once the twinges started, I had to back off on the hills but could still run hard on the flats & downs.

One observation about ultras with aid stations:  Time in the aid station can be critical.  I went from 5th after lap 1 to 2nd at the finish, yet only gained one position while out on the course.  The other passes came when the other runners were stopped at the aid stations.  I spent no more than a couple seconds each lap picking up a new bottle and a banana.  My lap times were all in the 59 minute range and my finish time of 4:57:38 was good for a 50+ age group record that wasn't beaten until the 2009 race.

I ended the year with a 42:51 age group third place in the Race with Grace 10K.  Every race counted in the 2001 Series, so by scoring some points in 11 of 12 races, I managed to finish 2nd in the 55-59 Age Group behind Tom Dutton and ahead of Jim May among several other faster runners who didn't run as many races.  As Woody Allen said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Totals for 2001:  3 ultras (3rd, 1st and 2nd overall finishes) and 1 marathon (18th overall finish), 2nd in RROY 55-59 Age Group; 2735 miles total running.




Four More Years on the Erie Canal

Rochester, NY:  2002-2005

The previous section ended with an unexpected career year at age 56:  being outsprinted by an elite woman for 2nd overall at the BPAC 6 Hour, a top 20 finish in the Ontario Shore Marathon, a 100K win on a brutally hot day at the Niagara Ultras, a sub-5 hour age group record at the Mendon Trail Runs 50K and finishing 2nd in my RROY age group. Highlights of the next section include:

•·         Age-group gold and silver medals in USATF National Championship races and an Oven Door road trip to the "Boston" of ultramarathoning

•·         Joining GRTC Board of Directors and writing the first Eclectic Runner columns

•·         With Rick Cronise and Charlie Sabatine, reviving the Canandaigua Mini Ultra as a full 50 miles race around the lake

•·         Bringing together the directors of the other ultramarathons in the region to create the Western New York Ultra Series

•·         Relaying 310 miles across the state with Rick Cronise

•·         And still finding time to run a few ultras myself.

 

2002:  Too Much of a Good Thing.  At the end of 2001, I sent a note off to Coach Roy Benson closing with a list of things I might want to avoid in the next year.  Two of them turned out to be prophetic:  1) Don't race from March to November with no real recovery period, and 2) Don't run too many races.  Of course, I proceeded to do just those things.  My target races for the year would be the USATF National Championship 50K in March, the Niagara Ultras in June and the USATF National Championship 100K in October.

My training through the winter went reasonably well, averaging about 50 miles per week.  Despite being about five pounds over my 2001 weight, I was about a minute faster at the Runnin' of the Green 5 mile.  With the National Championship 50K on the next weekend, I foolishly ignored the mild pain in my right foot and did a last long run the next day.  By the end of a 19-mile loop, the foot hurt on every foot plant.  That last long run was unwise because it was too close to my big race and it was stupid because I ignored the injury.  After the run, it is obvious even to me that I'd really messed up the plantar fascia of my right foot.

I rested the foot for five days and took my chances in 50K.  The weather in Pittsburgh didn't favor a fast race; it was only 24 degrees at the 7am start with a 25-35 mph wind blowing down the out and back 5K course along the river.  My race didn't go well from the start... I ran at a heart rate and effort that felt like sub-8 but my actual pace was well over 8 minutes per mile.  After a few laps my right foot started hurting, especially on a stretch with tight 90-degree turns and a severe camber.  I kept pushing where I could as the pain got worse with each lap.  Despite my problems I still managed to catch and pass a few runners as the laps wound down.  The end came at 4:25:52 for a back of the pack finish, 30th overall in a small field but with a silver medal in the 55-59 Age Group.

What followed next was not pretty.  My right plantar was now badly injured.  I probably should have taken some time off running to let the foot heal.  But, instead I substituted a couple days of cycling and kept training.  And I continued racing the RROY Series... my times were off but I still managed to score points in the smaller races... CATS Half Marathon (1st Age Group), Tom Wahl's 5 Mile (2nd Age Group) but out of the points at 11th in Age Group at the more competitive Lilac 10K.  I kept looking for a quick fix for the foot... new orthotics (which didn't seem to make any difference), deep massage (which seems to help but really hurt!), new shoes... anything but taking time off.

When the Niagara Ultras came around in late June, I stepped down to the 50K distance and ran 4:25:30 for 8th place... a time that was almost identical to my 50K at Pittsburgh in March and my 50K split in the Niagara 100K the year before.  Disappointing but I shouldn't have been surprised.  With the lingering injury, my training mileage and quality was only about 60% of the year before.  The trend continued with the summer RROY Series races... my times were significantly slower and I was scoring fewer points.

By September, despite the continued abuse, my foot was better and I was able to train more.  I ran my fastest 5K of the year at Katie Harper in September, only 12 seconds over what I did the year before.  The last two months before the National Championship 100K I was able to average 51 miles per week, close to what I was doing in 2001. 

Since my 1989 visit to the Edmund Fitzgerald 100K, the race route was switched from the fairly busy highway along the shore of Lake Superior to an inland route passing over a low mountain range.  Race day was cold and stayed below freezing all day.  I started at a good pace and the race went well until I tried to squeeze GU out of the squeeze flasks I carried.  In the cold, the gel would not come out of the flask and I bonked between aid stations at about 20-25 miles.  I also screwed up the long climb over the mountain range.  The climb was about five miles long but was so gradual that I was lulled into not slowing enough.  The first 50K took 4:53 and after that, the race turned into a real struggle to finish, getting slower with each 5K segment.  I revived a bit after 85K as I became more confident I would finish.  With the second 50K taking an ugly 5:38, I finished 19th overall in 10:31:27 and got the gold medal for 1st in the 55-59 Age Group.  Despite the struggle, my time also beat the handful of runners in the 50-54 Age Group.

Comment:  Of all the National Championship races I've run, my worst performance was the one that brought home a gold medal... demonstrating the randomness of awards and the sad state of USATF National Championships, especially in the road ultras.

Three weeks later, to support my local ultra and perhaps seeking a little redemption, I again ran the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  On the first lap I enjoyed chatting with Greg Brooks (a much faster ultramarathoner than me back in the day).  On the rutted downhill into the meadow near the Add-En-On Kennel, Greg tripped and did a most elegant tuck and roll back onto his feet with no injury and no loss of position in the pack.

The race itself followed a familiar pattern for the undertrained, over-raced ultrarunner... a couple of pretty good laps followed by an inevitable slowdown:  1:05, 1:05, 1:07, 1:12 and 1:14.  Still, I managed to finish 4th overall and was happy enough with the 5:41:59.

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ODR on climb to the AT

Oven Door Road Trip!  Two weeks later I joined a large group of Oven Door Runners on a pilgrimage to Maryland for the 40th Annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon.  I had read every JFK race report since Ultrarunning magazine started publishing in 1981.  The JFK has always been on my short list of races to do but, living in California most of those years, I never made it east for the race.  So, when Rick Cronise proposed getting an ODR group together for JFK, I opted in even though it would be my third ultra in five weeks.

The JFK 50 is the oldest, biggest and most competitive ultra in the United States.  In 2002, over 1000 athletes from five countries, 37 states and Washington, D.C came to contest the 50.2+ miles from Boonsboro to Williamsport.  In every sense, the JFK is to American ultrarunning what Boston is to the marathon. 

The JFK course is an interesting hybrid of road and trail, mountain and flat.  The race starts gently enough on a road.  By one mile you start up a steady climb of 1.5 miles that takes you to a junction with the Appalachian Trail.  The trail is a single track that runs along the top of a mountain ridge for about 13 miles until you hit a set of steep switchbacks down to the bank of the Potomac River.  Most of the trail is runnable except for some rocky bits which are a real challenge... just getting through the rocks without falling took our complete concentration.

Once off the trail, the course turns onto the C&O Canal Path and follows the Potomac River upstream for 26.2+ miles.  I found the C&O Canal Path to be a lot more interesting than our own canal path.  The C&O Canal was constructed along the bank of the Potomac with the towpath separating the river from the canal.  Along much of the part we ran, the now-abandoned canal sits at the base of steep cliffs.  Running along, you have the lots to look at.  The early sections of the river have several rapids.  There are abandoned locks and other canal structures.  And, with 1000 runners, you are always catching someone.

After 42 miles, you exit the soft and flat canal path for a final road section.  If you have anything left, it's time to fly.  While the road is not flat, the grades are gentle and none of them are long.

My race went well.  I took it easy on the initial climb and on the trail, passed hundreds of runners on the canal path and didn't fall apart too badly on the road section.  I finished 196th overall out of 862 finishers in 9:23:08.  The real treat of the weekend was being able to share in the joy of my companions in completing their first ultras.  Training for a marathon you can do a couple 20 milers and grow confident in your ability to do the extra six miles on race day.  By comparison, a 50-mile ultra is a big step into the unknown.  The distance is probably twice your longest training run and may be farther than you typically run in a week.  In finishing your first ultra, you discover that you can do far more that you ever thought possible.

Totals for 2002:  5 ultras (30th, 8th, 19th, 4th and 196th overall finishes), 4th in RROY 55-59 Age Group; 2151 miles total running and 877 total miles cycling.

2003: Giving Back to the Sport.  Over the course of many a Saturday morning Oven Door Run in 2002, Rick Cronise and I discussed organizing a local ultramarathon with anyone who would listen.  Eventually the notion of reviving the Canandaigua Mini-Ultra got traction and we started to seriously plan for a 2003 race.  Greg Brooks suggested taking a proposal to the GRTC Board to see if the club might be willing to give some organizational backing to the race.  The proposal was turned down but subsequently I accepted an invitation to join the GRTC Board. 

Once on the Board, I needed to take on some work for the Club.  Seeing that the newsletter needed more content, I volunteered to do a monthly column.  Here's how I introduced the Eclectic Runner column in the January-February 2003 issue:

"Each month I will share something about running and racing.  The content will vary from month to month, hence the title.  Some of the topics that interest me right now and may generate future columns are age-graded performance, relay races and road trips, masters' competition and technology for runners.  I promise not to write too often about ultramarathons."

Over the winter, Rick Cronise, Charlie Sabatine and I had several planning meetings and divided up the tasks to organize the first annual Canandaigua Ultras and Relay.  In particular, I have fond memories of scouting alternative routes with Rick at the Naples end of the course.  Everyone who has struggled up Bopple Hill will be glad that Rick and I rejected going over South Hill to get from Sunnyside to Vine Valley.  The dirt road up South Hill is just as steep as Bopple and twice as long.  And the downhill to connect to South Vine Valley Rd is just as steep.

niagara-2003.png

Niagara Above the Falls

My own training went through some hiccups over the winter but finally got on track once the weather warmed up.  I went into the Niagara 50 Mile planning to run a controlled effort... faster than a training run yet easy enough to be able to resume training within a week or two after the race (in hindsight, even a 50 mile training run takes more than two weeks for full recovery).   

To make it easy to stay at a controlled effort, I monitored my average pace using my Timex GPS Speed & Distance Monitor.  After an easy start I settled into a steady 9:00 per mile pace and didn't worry about the increasing gap to the runners ahead. By 10 miles I started picking off runners who had started faster. I held that effort through the 25-mile turnaround at 3:48 (9:08 average). By halfway it had gotten hot. I backed off the pace a bit and kept my head and shirt wet.  At 12 miles to go I learned I was in 4th with the next runner about 2 minutes ahead.  In another 3 miles I caught her.  We ran together another 3 miles until she had to slow. I went on to finish 3rd in 7:49 (9:23 average).

The two runners ahead of me are worthy of mention:  The race winner in 6:59 was Daniele Cherniak from Cohoes, NY.  I first met her when she finished 2nd overall in the 1995 Canandaigua Mini-Ultra.  By 2003, she had been a nine-time member of the US 100K National Team, was the 1998 100K National Champion and was named Ultrarunner of the Year by Ultrarunning magazine in 1999.  Second place and first male was Todd Baum (7:31) from Fayetteville, NY.  This was one of Todd's first ultras.  Todd and Daniele will both figure prominently in the history of the Canandaigua Ultra and ultrarunning in Western & Central New York.

Preparing for the inaugural Canandaigua Ultras and Relay took lots of time and emotional energy over the summer, definitely compromising my training for the National Championship 100 Mile scheduled for September 13th at Olander Park.  But, while undertrained and uncertain about my fitness, my wife and I made the drive to Toledo and I started the race.  The first few hours were fine.  But toward the end of the fifth hour the wheels started coming off.  I felt increasingly fatigued, aware of aches in my left knee and tightness/soreness in my legs.  I slowed more with each mile over the next three hours.  It felt like I was gradually grinding to a halt.  I started doing the math to predict my finish time and debating whether it would be worth continuing.  At 42 miles I switched to walking and soon after promised my wife I would just go to 50 and drop out.  The race directors credited me with 50.9 miles in the companion 24 hour race but as far as I was concerned, I did not finish.

There wasn't much time to mourn over the DNF.  The following weekend I was the novice race director of the Canandaigua Ultra and Relay.  The turnout was modest... only 11 solo runners and 11 teams completed that inaugural 50 miles around the lake.  Despite the small field, that first race had an elite champion:  Daniele Cherniak won the race outright for her second overall win in 2003. Her 7:11 finish time beat 8 of the 11 relay teams and still stands eleven years later as the women's event record.

In November, in support of the other local ultra, I got my fifth consecutive finish of the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  I never really got back on track with training after the 100 mile DNF and only did a couple of runs on the course.  As expected the results weren't pretty... a couple of OK laps and then a struggle over final three laps, finishing in 6:21, my new personal worst for the course.

Totals for 2003:  3 ultras (3rd, DNF and 6th overall finishes), 1965 total miles running and 232 total miles cycling
 

2004:  More Giving Back and a Wild & Crazy Adventure.  In December 2003 I contacted the directors of the BPAC 6 Hour, Finger Lakes Fifties and the Mendon Trail Runs and kicked around the idea of including our four events in a race series.  The idea took off and in early 2004, we announced the 2004 Western New York Ultra Series.  I took on the job of coordinating the series which consisted mostly of scoring the series and maintaining the series website at http://www.wny-ultra.org/.

The first race of the new series was the BPAC 6 Hour.  On a rainy day, Todd Baum won with 41.2 miles and I finished in 5th overall with 36.6 miles.

A side effect of the series discussion was that Carl Pegels, the long-time BPAC race director, suggested organizing a multi-day ultra and relay race from Lake Erie to the Hudson.  There had been such a race 20-some years ago and Carl was interested in reviving it.  Rick Cronise and I talked it over and committed to doing a 2-man relay if the thing happened.  In the end, Carl had to back out and no one else was sufficiently interested to actually do the thing. 

So, over six days in May, Rick Cronise and I ran 310 miles in 6 days... from the banks of Niagara River at Tonawanda to Cohoes Falls at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. Two days following the Erie Canal, three days along the Historic US 20 Corridor and a final day along the Mohawk River.

Cronise and I did the run as a self-supporting relay. When I started running, he would drive the car up the road a little over 2 miles and wait. When I reached the car, he would start running and I would drive ahead. Repeat the process 12-15 times and you'll cover 50-60 miles for the day. Repeat for 5 more days and you'll be a long way from home.  There is a daily diary of the adventure, links to photographs and maps of the route on the run web site (www.wny-ultra.org/erie2hudson.htm).

The run was a wonderful experience and a great shared adventure.  Rick and I genuinely enjoyed each day. The self-supported two-person relay is a very nice way to cover ultra distances while experiencing the scenic byways of our state.  The route had lots of variety:  Erie Canal Trail, Finger Lakes, big hills, farms & orchards, historic towns & villages and bikeways through the two large cities.

rick-day2-on-canalpath.png

Rick - Day 2 on the Canal

The run was easier than it probably sounds.  While we averaged more than 25 miles per day, we rarely ran more than 3 miles at a time.  Our pace was no faster than an easy training run.  The rest breaks gave us plenty of time to drink and eat so dehydration and bonking was not an issue.  We were in 4-hour-plus marathon shape at the start so you don't have to be an elite athlete to do a similar journey run.

There were low points, usually in the first half of each day's run.  The unrelenting hills and the road camber brought out all sorts of nagging aches and pains that would have us in fear of being unable to complete the day's run, much less the whole 6 days.  And, somehow, magically, the pains would abate as the day wore on and we would become more confident of finishing as the miles accumulated.  Patience is a real virtue when running ultra distances.  Relentless forward progress eventually gets you to the finish.

One topic of conversation Rick and I revisited many times running across the state was whether the run (155 miles each in six days) was going to do us any good as training for our next race.  In hindsight, it is clear that mega-mileage on the road is not a good way to train for a trail race.

Seven weeks after Erie to Hudson, I ran the 50 mile at the Finger Lakes Fifties.  In 2004 only the 50 mile distance counted in the Ultra Series so I needed to finish.  The first half of the run went well enough... then I got tired and stopped picking up my feet.  Road racers can get away with barely lifting their feet.  Trail runners have to lift their feet to clear the little rocks and roots you don't even notice that are waiting to trip you.  After halfway, I had five spectacular falls and ended up walking the last 10 miles to finish in 11:28.   

The Canandaigua Ultra was the third race in the 2004 Ultra Series.  Todd Baum brought his "A" game to the race and won it in 6:47.  That mark stood as the event record until finally broken in 2010.

The final race of the series was the Mendon 50K.  Todd Baum led five men under the existing course record and was the outstanding runner in the augural Western New York Ultra Series with three wins, two of them in course records.  After having finished every Mendon 50K since the first one in 1999, I had a very bad race and dropped out after four laps for my second DNF of the year (and third DNF ever).

Totals for 2004:  3 ultras (5th overall, DNF, DNF), 2062 total miles running and 28 total miles cycling

2005:  Eighty Percent of Success.  Reflecting on my 2004 results, I wrote in the January-February 2005 Eclectic Runner column that I

"... decided to go back to the basics.  Pick a target race and follow an appropriate training plan for that race. ...going for a rematch with the the Finger Lakes 50 mile...  Last year I went into that race inadequately trained and paid dearly for it.  ...I've picked an ultra training plan developed by George Parrott (www.halhigdon.com/ultramarathon/ultramarathon2000.htm)."

Of course, a plan will work only if you actually follow it.  January went well. After a couple of good weeks, I ran the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon (4:12) as a "training run."  Immediately after the race I thought I had successfully kept the effort in the training range.  After a low mileage week to recover from the marathon, I was back to 40+ miles a week and a 19-mile long run only to succumb to a virus and lose the next two weeks of training. I only managed 105 miles for February.

March was better. I was able to consistently complete all workouts and had my weekly mileage up to the 45-55 miles per week called for by the plan. The plan called for a big increase in mileage in April, coinciding with warmer spring weather.  I again attempted to include a race as part of my training, using the BPAC 6 Hour as a long run. I ran a restrained effort, 35.4 miles for 10th overall and 2nd in my age group, scoring useful points in the Western New York Ultra Series.

Recovery from the Six Hour initially seemed to go well but by early May the signs were not good. I was cutting short the long runs called for in the plan and my total mileage was way down. Soon the next Ultra Series race came up and I attempted another "training race" effort at the Highland Forest 3 (a 30-mile trail race). Again, the results were good enough (6;23 for 11th overall and 3rd in age group.  But my total for May was only 185 miles, not the 250+ I wanted to run. June should have been a time of increased energy with a gradual reduction in total mileage. Instead, I was fatigued and continued to cut short my remaining long runs.

I soon ran out of time to be ready for my target race.  My plan for the race was to run just fast enough to stay comfortably ahead of the 7:30 cut-off time for 50K and then try to finish the 50 miles without falling or being reduced to walking many miles. The odds of the plan working were not good but I had little to lose in giving it a try.

The short version is that the first 15.5-mile lap went by easily enough in 3:21 (versus 3:11 last year)... it was cool, the few muddy spots on the trail could be avoided and the grassy bits had been mowed recently. The second lap started well enough but by half way around it was getting hot in the sun and my pace began slowing noticeably despite the planned easy start. It was becoming all too obvious that I was inadequately prepared for the full 50 miles and would face at least another five hours of struggle to finish the additional 19 miles of trail. Before finishing the second lap (3:45 versus 3:24 last year), I had decided to finish at 50K. The consolation was I won a "cow" trophy for being first in the 60+ age group.

The Lesson Relearned: In hindsight, it is pretty obvious to me that each "training race" set me back in my preparation.  Recovery from even a controlled effort at the three long "training races" took several weeks instead of the several days I had hoped they would. As a result, I never put in the consistent mileage (50-70 miles per week for 2-3 months) needed to comfortably complete a 50-mile trail race. On the other hand, I enjoyed the training races and wanted the points-paying finishes at the two Ultra Series races.  Life is full of choices and sometimes you can't have it all.

Having blown my target race for the year, I joined in the fun of the return of the Rochester Marathon to downtown with a 4:13 finish.  And, in November I returned for a rematch with the 50K distance at the Mendon Trail Runs.  This time I stuck it out to get my sixth finish in seven starts... my 6:56 finish was my slowest yet but it did give me the final points I needed be the top point scorer in the 50+ age group in the 2005 Western New York Ultra Series.  Paraphrasing Woody Allen, "Eighty percent of success is just showing up and finishing."

Two additional items of note:  In April I took over as President of the GRTC from Paul Kato.  I am thankful that Paul Kato set such a good example for me to follow. 

Totals for 2005: 4 ultras (10th, 11th, 27th and 20th overall), 2 marathons, 1852 total miles running and 0 miles cycling

In December 2005, after my doctor got concerned about a rapid spike in my PSA score, I had a biopsy and got a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  Fortunately the cancer was found early and had not spread beyond the prostate gland.  Since I'm writing these words over five years later, you can conclude that the cancer surgery turned out OK. 

Looking over my training log data from 1974 through 2005, I found the last time I took off more than a week without running or cycling was two weeks in 1986.  Cancer surgery in January 2006 was going to change that. 

The story continues with Part 3 1995 - Present