2015 – Summer/Fall Part 3

TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON

With Chicago’s performance in the bank I felt fairly accomplished for the season, but rather than just sitting on the couch a NYCM entry in the pockets was enough motivation to shortly rest and prepare for a decent performance after two weeks.
The goal was helping Warren Street secure a few club points in one of the events that generally we fall short on, due to lack of participation.

This year we had Sebastien and Alex lining up, plus Aaron and Fabio pacing the faster groups that NYRR organizes. This would have guaranteed us at least a 4th or 5th team finish, enough to make the Ted Corbitt 15k in December worth the trip.
I knew Seb was getting back to his running glory, since he ran two fast 1:13 half marathons leading up to the race, despite his always limited training/sleeping regiment, while Pascal told me that Alex was coming to the race really fit and trained.
My goal was to avoid blowing up like I generally did the previous years when I PRed despite slowing down considerably in the second part.

The week before the marathon brought some unexpected bad surprises after a great 8mile workout 9 days prior to the event: first a pulled hamstring that got back in working conditions only 2 days before the race after extensive treatments and application of tape, then the fact that I had to work multiple shifts day and night up to Friday before the race, and possibly also Saturday day. When could I possibly rest?

The forecast this time was not as ugly as 2014, when headwind had been our companion from start to end.

My strategy was to try and run evenly, with no particular goals, but at least avoid a death march on 5th Ave.

As usual I get angry during the race start up procedures, when dozens, actually, hundreds of people from corrals behind us try to pass us on the way to the start. The result is always the same: a mess in the first 45 seconds. I’ve always started the race in the local competitive area, reserved for those local runners who supposedly have a certain qualifying time, hence the perk of lining up at the very front. Instead, after making the left turn out of the gates, people of any ability and from every country engage in a “pre-race” race to start in front of each other and appear on TV.

This year I did not get penalized too much, since after the start I revived my elbowing skills from my early football days. Maybe 10 seconds lost at best? I’m sure some not so kind words were addressed to me in those first 300 meters.

Back to the race: I was hoping to pop out at the 5k mark together with teammate Seb and hopefully run together since he started from a different corral.

When I turned into 4th Ave in Brooklyn I did not see Seb so I believed I was probably just a little ahead of him. I continued with a conservative pace looking behind me when I could to see if I could spot him. Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Greenpoint went by relatively quickly. Here I had the chance to pick up some fluids from a private aid station set up by my helpful Michelle who had a bottle of lucky water for me.

In the process I picked up some Italians runners who started way too fast. It is pretty entertaining to observe the difference in attire between European runners and American runners: despite the standardization of the top athletes uniforms the mass is still diversified. I noticed Europeans, especially Italians, the French, and some Eastern European runners, are big into compression: socks, shorts, Tshirts, tight singlet on top of compression shirts, BANDANAs (or buffs as they are now called), possibly aerodynamic gloves and brand new shine shoes. Americans – on the other hand – don’t care too much, but they generally prefer to mix and match some pretty ugly color combinations carefully picked from a base array of neon-yellow and bright fluorescent orange or pink/fuchsia.

While crossing the Pulaski Bridge I realized I was even going a bit faster than the splits I had in Chicago; I figured that was a positive, since I would have lost precious time on the Queensboro Bridge. Clearly I knew I was not going to best my 2:35 from the Wind City, but I could have easily got a sub 2:40 that all considered was not going to be a bad deal after a marathon and a 50k just three and two weeks prior.

I was really concern about keeping myself prepared to master 1st ave, and avoid the inconvenience of a 9 min/mile with bathroom stop and intestine troubles like the previous year, so I took things a bit easy on the Queensboro and tried not to get too engaged emotionally by the crowd on 1st ave. I tried to spot the MPF crew that was along 1st ave, but did not make it to see them. Just before reaching the Warren Street cheering station I recognized the first familiar face of the pack: flying by went Hector Rivera, moving well and fast. He would go along to close in 2:36, with an impressive second half.

Everything went well till mile 19, when I had a glimpse of another runner ahead of me moving with a style that was familiar.

It was Sebastien, crossing the Willis Ave Br into the Bronx. Shortly after, on 135th St I caught up with him and I saw he was struggling a little. At that point I was still feeling good and was running strong. He encouraged me to go ahead and not spend time with him.

I felt bad for not sticking around, but we had to give it our best to get some points for the team, so I slowly pulled away from him. However, not too long after that, I sensed that I was getting depleted quickly. I tried to drink some of the water I had with me after the Madison Ave Br, but I could not make it to eat some of the bolts. That is usually a bad sign. I noticed my body was getting tenser and tenser. More than holding the water bottle in my hand I was strangling it.

5th ave for me started to become another slow march towards Central Park. I tried to dose the energy and run as solid as I could without slowing down or accelerating too much.

Despite the unfavorable course profile of the last 4 miles of the race (with quite some climbing late in the race for a marathon) my pace did not get affected dramatically and I made it to loose just a couple of minutes.

I got passed by a few runners, and I passed others and pretty much maintained the same position till Engineer Gate. From here on I envisioned to be able to run more efficiently and steadily than 5th Ave, and I tried to save some energies to at least look good for a nice picture along the final stretch of the finish line.

Everything went ok till I merged on Central Park South. Right turn, slightly uphill stretch that I have run over and over and over even with city traffic, and here I see a small group of runners ahead of me. The desire to catch them was too big and so I did try to increase the effort. I heard someone calling my name, but I could not see clearly who it was. I got close to the group and once caught the tail end my right leg decided to give up.

I ran the whole race after three sessions of treatment with Dr Stu who applied a tape on my right hamstring to reduce a little the tension generated by a small tear on the muscle 8 days before the race during a short recovery run in Norwalk.

All of a sudden I was stuck in the middle of the road limping. I stopped. I felt something got pulled. I waited about 10 seconds and realized I was actually having a cramp. I was about to start swearing left and right to unleash my disappointment, but I remained calm. I walked it off for a few feet, while Michelle popped out of the crowd on the left side of CPS.

I kept walking, then jogging and running again. I tried to catch up those 6-8 runners that had passed me while getting my leg back in working order, but the best I could do was maintain that position.

I finished crossing the line basically walking “on eggs” the last 3-4 feet with cramps ready to come out again…see a video of the finish line here at minute 19:55. Peter Ciaccia came over and shook hands and basically closed the deal for another NYC Marathon that left me fairly happy in terms of performance: squeezed out my PR on the course despite my cramps and slow final 5 miles; but fairly disappointed in terms of placing, since till half a mile to go I was comfortably navigating  on the high 80th position, and finished 90th male, and 102nd overall. Such a disappointment to give up a top 100 finish in a major race like this.

Well… then there is a reason to sign up for 2016

N.B.: After receiving hints from fellow teammates I decided to leave the photo gallery from marathon photo out of the equation this time and avoid problems of image rights bla bla bla

 

NYRR 60k

Two weeks after NYCM and with a lot going on at work with an important deadline to meet before Thanksgiving that put training a little bit on the side, the NYRR 60k represented the perfect scenario to revamp the fitness I gained before Chicago and get ready for the North Face Championship in San Francisco.

I signed up almost last minute when the race was near capacity; I asked around a few runners and inquired if they were participating. I gathered that Stephen England (former 3rd finisher) and Adolfo Munguia (former winner) were both participating. Not that I dislike a little bit of competition, but this time I was not looking forward to set my mind into competition mode. I wanted to experience a few relaxing laps of the Park with friends, maybe a little bit of chatting, and then see if we had it to put up an honest “fight” towards the end.

Well…that’s always wishful thinking, till you toe the line and, as usual for this even, there is the novice runner who decide to gun the first part of the race.

This year the course was slightly different from previous editions and we tackled the 5mile loop of CP starting from Engineer Gate and then switch for the mentally grueling 8 laps of the 4 mile loop counter clockwise.

Despite my preference for the counter clock direction, the idea of doing Cathill 9 times is not so appealing.

So, back to the race, we all started packed with a conservative pace and we exchanged a few words, while one of the usual warriors, white long sleeve t-shirt, blond long hair, gloves and fancy colorful socks, decided to have his 45 minutes of glory 10 minutes into the race and took off with an improbable pace. I learned at this point that Adolfo was not in good shape and was coming back from an injury. I was particularly intrigued by another young guy that was talking to Stephen and was moving his legs quite well (Eric).

After the end of the first lap we formed a small group of 5-6 runners chasing the lonely guy in the breakaway.

Early stages of the race: the chasing group up Cathill looking for #278

Early stages of the race: the chasing group up Cathill looking for #278

While we talked a little, I tried to focus on eating something and drinking regularly at least in this initial phase; soon the pace became more sustained and by the end of the second lap we made some ground and quickly closed the gap: once we had the sprinter in our sight, we relaxed a little, but at that point the pace became very unstable: one minute we were going at 7 min/mile and 200 yards after we were pushing low 6 min/mile. I did not need that type of stress: I can take a constant beating but I did not want to try out an erratic pace for another 3 hours or more, so towards the end of the third lap I started pushing a little the pace, and went constant around 6min/mile or under trying to create a gap. The only other runner that stayed with me was Eric, who not only followed me, but at times was pushing the pace and making me go harder than I wanted.

3rd or 4th lap, still in good company

3rd or 4th lap, still in good company

At one point on the west side of the park he asked me if I thought we were going too fast. “Of course” I told him. I knew we could not keep that up forever, but he also confessed he never ran more than 20 miles, and he did that the weekend before.

“Oh boy” – I thought – “He is going to suffer later on”. If you have not experienced running for more than 20 miles, and you are in the initial phases of a 37 mile run at this pace, only one thing is guaranteed: you will suffer and you will want to quit.

At this point I wondered if I was stepping on the gas pedal too much, but I really wanted to remain alone and run at my pace; I was expecting Adolfo to catch up at one point or another, so I tried to save some energy to keep up with him.

In little to no time I crossed EG again and I saw that Adolfo was instead, unfortunately, sidelined and getting some help from his friends. I found out that his injury came out again and he did not want to make it worse than what it was.

A little messed up by Adolfo’s injury, I kept running; I gave a glance to the watch and saw that the pace was around 6:30. I tried t do some math and see if I was still in time to close it under 4 hours, but it seemed a little hard at that point.

With a couple of laps to go I was joined by teammate Alex who gave me a needed refreshing change of mood. He was biking in the park and followed me for a few minutes talking to me, distracting me and…then he got schooled by the marshal that was following me at the front of the race.

The marshal was threatening to disqualify me since Alex tried to exchange a few words…ridiculous. She told him to disappear and not come close anymore. Now I want to understand why on earth you are trying to threaten people like that.

First, Alex was not offering any help, he was only cheering me. He was not providing support with food, water, nor was he pacing me, so….why are you so nasty? And is there a rule that allows male runners not to be paced while female runners can be paced along the course (heard the same bike marshal saying hi to some of the female runners she knew and asking how they were doing and they answered “great, such and such are pacing me, it’s great”)

Anyway…the result was that Alex stepped on the side and got separated. I finished my dreadful last lap a bit tired and while I took it easy up Cathill, I tried to sprint towards the finish line to finish in under 4:04.

Last turn into 72nd transverse. Visually tired at the idea of doing Cathill once more

Last turn into 72nd transverse. Visually tired at the idea of doing Cathill once more

Mission accomplished with 4:03:59, a slight improvement from the year before, despite the easy pace and the race course changes.

2015 RACE TO DELIVER

This is going to be one of the most enjoyable, yet disappointing races I’ve run. I’ve signed up to this race in an attempt to run more events with NYRR under the new age group (35-39) than what I did as a 30-34 (which is an incredibly competitive group).
I had little expectations, knowing that in 2014 the whole NYAC Team showed up to sweep the top 5 spots, but knowing Sebastien was coming, I wanted to at least try and run with him for as much as I could.
The morning of the race I remember warming up and doing a few strides, but I quickly realized that there was no PR for me ready to happen, and there was not a lot of joy along the course waiting for me. As Sebastien and I lined up near the front at the start we realized that actually only one NYAC guy showed up, and he did not look as harmful as others of his teammates.
Jokingly I told Seb he was going to win the race.

We started and the chasing game began.

While Seb pulled away and was quickly followed by Sebastian (the NYAC guy), I struggled to remain in their proximity the whole time. They alternated taking the lead of the race from each other, and I was hoping that the hills of the west side could help me pick up some of the deficit I had on them.
However, Just before the transverse on 102nd, we were all pretty much regrouped. But not for long: my Sebastien opened up a gap quickly. While I really could not do anything that try to hold my pace, I was hoping he could gain enough to get the win. At one point he was well ahead of me and the NYAC guy, and I got excited dreaming of Sebastien winning the race.

Along the west side hills Sebastian (NYAC) did not run particularly fast, but once the rolling terrain was over, he ran a really fast last mile and a half and despite Seb’s effort, he caught up and left both of us behind. I was the silent witness of their battle, with little to say or add to their rivalry, since I was already gassed out.

As we approached the left turn on 72nd street Seb looked back to check if I was going to be a threat, but a glimpse at my face probably gave him enough comfort.
Seb finished 9 seconds ahead of me, only 5 behind the winner, but we did an incredible run. I was a bit disappointed for not hitting a decent time on the clock, but obviously satisfied for a podium.

After the race we got treated with VIP measures, enjoyed some food at the finish line tend and then proceeded to the award ceremony where we were pictured in an image that I could only dream of three years before when joining him, Paul, Charlie, Fabio, Aaron and Pascal with Warren Street. Often we can find pride, joy and enthusiasm in sharing these moments with people that you look up to, not just obtaining a nice result or a good performance.

Second Place: Sebastien Baret and me with a big smile from one ear to the other

Second Place: Sebastien Baret and me with a big smile from one ear to the other

2015 – Summer/Fall time Part 2

OCTOBER

BOA CHICAGO MARATHON
After learning the hard way from the 2014 NYC Marathon that putting all your eggs in one basket can be risky and somewhat disappointing – especially when external factors like weather, etc. impact the event – for 2015 I planned on having a major marathon combo at my disposal to make sure I could attempt my best effort at least at one of two.
Last spring, in fact, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon an the NYC Marathon again.
The build up to Chicago was described already here, and the final 10 days leading up to the race were particularly sweet.

First I hit a great couple of workouts, a solid 8 mile tempo run in Norwalk followed by a strong endurance run the next day, and then – as usual – I tried to sabotage myself volunteering at the Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon a week before the race. I would have loved to run the Cat’s tail, first because RD Charlie got me involved when he was planning the race and he surely arranges for ultra tough courses and well rewarding finish line parties, second because it is in the Catskills, third because Mountain Peak Fitness and Red Newt were heavily supporting the event (one of the races of the RNT calendar) and I could catch up with some teammates, and lastly because I had the chance to camp with Michelle for one night after the race thanks to Elizabeth’s support providing us with the equipment to do so.

The volunteering part was not too demanding, even if done in not so perfect conditions: hiking to Slide Mt and Cornell Mt from the aid station under a persistent constant rain required me and Michelle approx. 5 1/2 hrs for a total of 13-14 miles. Next day after a good breakfast at Phoenicia Diner Michelle and I spent a little bit of time in Woodstock to get the final workout in pre Chicago: an intense 3x2miles repetition with a good amount of uphill running put me in a good place mentally for the marathon.

Fast forward a few days, and here we are: Michelle and I landed in Chicago, resting in the hotel room, hitting the local Native Food join downtown basically for every meal and trying to inspect small sections of the course near the start line.

The day before the race I had the opportunity to meet Antony Scott, another runner from the City who made the trip to attempt a PR on the fast course of the wind city. We did an easy run together with just a few strides at the end to move the legs and stimulate the appetite. Antony told me his troubled months prior to the race, the limited amount of miles he could get in due to injuries, and the surprising performances that sometimes happened with his limited training regiment. We also took a picture together, and I still remember now how I was feeling so sleepy that morning. When they say a picture is worth 1,000 words…well…no comment…

Wake up Carlo

Wake up Carlo

After lunch and a relaxing afternoon spent in the hotel bedroom sleeping and resting, in the evening Michelle and I walked across the street and hit Vapiano for some pasta. The place was crowded, but we still managed to order and eat in a reasonable amount of time.
Back in the hotel I began feeling a little nervous, as it should be the night before an event you prepare for a long time.
I managed to waste some time massaging the Achilles, then I looked at past results, how other runners in the previous years managed to cover the course and the splits they had at the 5k intermediate checkpoints.
I tried to workout a chart with my predicted splits considering I would have run conservatively the first 15-20 miles, and I would have used some extra energy especially in the last bump of the course at mile 26. (Sebastien, who set his PR in Chicago, warned me about a little uphill with just 1/4 mile to go, so I checked it out the days before the race and realized that despite the innocent easy incline, the tricky bridge on Roosevelt Rd can make you loose quite a few seconds if unprepared for it).
Then, while Michelle was shopping for some bread, water and breakfast items, I prepared my Bolts for the race, as usual neatly packed in small bags that I could easily insert inside the arm-warmers or a little fuel belt.
On TV Gran Torino was broadcasted and that movie kept us in front of the screen for a while, just in time to feel tired and ready to snooze.

The morning of the race we got up really early and walked towards Millennium Park way early, anticipating the usual big chaos you can expect for a huge event like this. Clearly I was biased by the NYCM experiences since Chicago offered me the most pleasant pre race experience I could have possibly imagined.
I was there early, checked my drop bag for the finish line in no time, walked towards the corral and did some strides before entering it, assuming I would have spent the next 90 minutes standing in a crowded pool of people pushing, elbowing, peeing around, well…you get it…again…NYCM style.

None of that: I found a porta potty that was ready to be used without issues, I took care of business, found Antony warming up, entered the corral and found it surprisingly empty, with a small grass area runners used to lay down and stretch before the start. I wish NYRR could learn some of this from BoA Chicago M.

The pros and elites were announced and ran to the area in front of us from the right side; this time I got the chance to even see these semi-gods just a few feet away. When the race was about to take off, we were no more that 3-4 feet apart. Incredible.

The race started fast and due to some GPS issues under the tunnel and around city blocks for the first few miles, I could not check well the pace on my watch. Also the pack was still full of “jumpers” (those usual suspects/hero wannabes that take off at 5 min/mile and end up the race with a 9 min/mile or more last mile) and navigating through the twisty turns of the course was not an easy feat, especially when you try to cut the tangents and negotiate a few inches of space with raised elbows around you.

At this point I realized the work I did the night before checking the 5k splits was going to pay off. Ideally I planned on hitting 18:30 at each checkpoint to keep the math simple to remember, but ideally I would have preferred to go faster.

beginning

Early miles in the pack

The first 10k went by quickly, trading spots with other runners, and keeping myself as covered as I could trailing behind others. I stayed focused on my mission and despite feeling the pace was not taking a toll on me, I did not increase the effort but rather paid attention to eating and drinking regularly. Just after the 6 mile mark I felt some pain in the belly and began to feel nervous that once again a big event was going to be compromise by stomach or intestine problems.
I relaxed a little bit and ran an 18:36 3rd 5k (from 10k to 15k) with some headwind hitting the little group we formed. A couple of runners lead our group and were laboring heavily to break through sudden gusts. It was helpful to find someone else working for you.

Just after mile mark 8, I realized my gps watch was off from the official markers and began trusting the 18:30 avg splits even more, instead of relying on the avg pace displayed on the watch. The second surprise came when fellow runner Mac Schneider showed up unexpectedly.

Mac ran with me the first 18 miles of the 2014 NYC marathon and finished that race in an incredible 2:36 despite the constant headwinds we faced. He dropped me on 1st ave when I stopped for my bathroom break, but I realized from the half point I could not keep up with him, cause he was moving too well.

Seeing Mac again brought up some bad memories and I started feeling that bad luck was going to hit me again. So instead of taking the initiative for the group, I exchanged a few words with him and then remained covered among the others, helping out with pacing duties only for short periods.

with Mac 4

When Mac comes by, you don’t want to miss his train

with Mac 5

Holding onto Mac’s lead

Mac was not particularly worried about the pace either at this point so he joined forces with the little group of 6-7 that formed along the way back down into downtown Chicago.

The good thing is that for a mile or two I got distracted from my little stomach problem and suddenly it disappeared.

While crossing the bridge to downtown at around mile 12 the group started disintegrating: maybe the support of the crowd made us increase the pace (not according to the 5k split at this point), maybe some runners just fell apart, but as we crossed the bridge Mac and I basically found ourselves a little more alone than 5 minutes earlier.

with Mac 1

Heading south back into the city and looking around for Michelle waiting for me at 20k

with Mac 2

with Mac 3

Mac is looking around, I am wondering where everyone else went

We both looked at each other when we crossed the half way point and a runner went by at incredible speed leaving us speechless. I remember he was wearing a pink singlet, and after wishing him good luck, Mac and I kept plugging along at our pace.

The half marathon time was 1:18:04. A little too slow that what I felt comfortable with, since I usually tend to gain some seconds in the first half and eventually lose them in the second part. With a sub 2:36 goal, now I was all set to race, and I had a partner in crime with me: Mac.

At this point Mac took the lead and pushed hard for the next 10k. We hit some 5:59 and 5:57 splits and despite the pace was basically the same than before, I was producing more effort. I tried to help Mac a few times leading him, but he was more brilliant than me at this point.

I kept focusing on the final 10k, the fact that I needed to make sure I had enough energy to run them well, maybe alone. In the meanwhile we were picking up runners slowing down left and right.

group fell apart - with Mac

with Mac’s lead we picked and dropped another duo

Just after mile 20 on Halsted Street I started to feel a bit crappy. The discomfort was coming out, and generally this is the moment the distance takes you down. I was planning on increasing the effort only after mile 21, even if in pain, but now I was a little skeptical.

Two runners – I remember one of them being particularly tall – came by just before mile 21 and gapped us by 15-20 meters in just a minute. I could not understand if it was me falling off the pace or them just having a great day. A quick glimpse to the watch and I saw we were at 6 min/mile even. that was not great, since I wanted to pick up that little deficit from the first half, and instead I was falling behind a little more.

Mac pushed and began closing the gap; I lost a few meters and thoughts of another bad outcome clouded instantly my head; my reaction was a small surge, that desire and willingness to suffer a bit more to hang onto someone figure floating in front of you.
It wasn’t painful to switch gears, it was actually rewarding and satisfying. I felt stronger and then, just as we turned right before the 35k mark, I found myself running alone. I picked a different trajectory than the rest of the group, stayed closer to the inside, ran alone for a quarter of a mile and found myself in my familiar conditions.

I’ve spent months and months running 20, 30, 45 and even 60 minutes repetitions solo. I have embraced the solitude and quietness of those long moments spent listening to my lungs breathing and my mind thinking, isolating myself from the world; this was my ideal scenario. With just about 7-8k to finish I found my ideal running set up.

Is it my time, yet?

Is it my time, yet?

I knew I was a bit behind, not sure how much, but all I could do was running as fast as I could towards that last hill that Sebastien warned me about.
“Was I ready to do it all alone?” I remember thinking while checking the time and distance at the 35k mark.

Approaching 35k

Approaching 35k

The final part: solo from here on

The final part: solo from here on

going alone 4

just after 35k, my mind was made up

 

going alone 3

And still alone, after mile 22. more relaxed and ready

After mile 23 I headed north on Michigan Ave shooting straight to mile 26. No turns, no obstacles just a flat road. The headwind now became tail wind. The split from 35 to 40k became faster with a 5:56 average and now my head was too clouded to do the math and figure out if I was ahead or behind the 2:36 projection.
I kept doing what I was doing, suffering internally, but picking up runners around me.

Final 5k effort

Final 5k effort

going alone 5

It wasn’t that easy, I promise

going alone 6

going alone 7

going alone 8

Lonely Effort 2

Lonely Effort

Funny thing with about 1.5k to go I saw the runner with the pink shirt that blasted through the half marathon mark. He was now barely jogging; this gave me some selfish satisfaction and pushed me even further to go faster. As I approached the right turn for the final hill I saw Michelle encouraging me with all her voice just behind the fence.
I laid out everything I could in that uphill, I sprinted towards the finish line, ready to dive, because I did not know how many more times I have the chance to break 2:36.

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Sprinting to the Finish Line

Crossing the Line...and it's over

Crossing the Line…and it’s over

Caught off guard

Caught off guard

Cooling Down

Cooling Down

Happy after finishing

Happy after finishing

Finish Line Satisfied 2

Satisfied face

Satisfied face

 

WATERGAP 50k

With a week of recovery post Chicago, and not really felling too springy with my legs I took on the challenge or running my third Red Newt Race with MPF-RNR Team: the Watergap 50k.

I was not super happy of getting into a race so quickly, but for once the course was not that challenging with just a hill at the beginning and a couple of little inclines at the end. It was also a good chance to catch up with Elizabeth and Ian Golden who have relentlessly worked hard for the team all year long.

The goal was to finish on the podium possibly running under 4hrs. The first few miles – like the rest of the day – were very enjoyable. I got to spend some time with Silas and Justin chatting and enjoying finally being able to run fairly smoothly after a week of tired legs.

As the miles went by the effort increased and Silas and I hit several miles on the 6:30 opening a gap on Justin who happened to have started just a little too fast than his ideal pace.

While I had no intention to race Silas, we pushed each other to keep the race honest till the finish line, when we just went on to complete the race as teammates.

Jason Friedman completed a masterpiece race, starting with a easy effort and coming back strong for the second part of the race. I had the chance to talk to him at the end, and his energy level was still high. A clear sign that he had margin to even do better.

Overall this was a very enjoyable day spent in the company of many people like Elizabeth, Jason, Silas, Ian, etc. that I would love to share more adventures, races, and parties with.

Read more about the race from Jason and Silas reports and enjoy a few photos of the race below. Big Thank You to Mountain Peak Fitness and Joe Azze for covering extensively the course

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Ready to go Start Line

Next one is November…another busy month of running non stop

 

2015 – Summer Time

After a fairly long time away from the blog (and an incredible long time spent on the LUT 2015 post…see here:LUT) I want to write down a few thoughts and memories of the past summer

A few years from now I can take a look at these few paragraphs and smile at how the recent past shaped me into the person I will be in the future.

JULY

The month of July started with high hopes to participate in a classic race up in the Catskills: the Escarpment Trail Run. After securing one of the very few last available spots in the entry list, I figured it was a good idea to check if my body end legs were recovered from the adventures in the Dolomites. The race shares part of the course with the Manitou’s Revenge Ultra except that the pace of the event is very different mainly because of the all out effort that is required to compete with some of the best trail fans that generally come to the event.
Hoping that a few days of recovery and a couple of decent workouts during the week got me back in training and racing mode, I drove up to Maplecrest and planned on running some intervals on the course, extended the run to the North-South Lake and hoped catch a ride back to the car.
The run was fine, despite the little altercation I got with a tourist that stopped me while coming down from North Point (how you pretend to stop someone’s hike or run because your desegregated group of 2 dozens kids hiking in flip flops through the Escarpment trail has to make it through a tricky spot, still blows my mind), and with 3 hours and 38 minutes spent on the course I drove home hopeful that I could tackle more trails during the next few weeks. That’s until I discovered my feet were ripped apart from wearing new shoes I just bought a few weeks prior.
With the Achilles giving me some troubles and the feet bleeding, I decided to take a step back and focus on training and treating my feet a little better, so I gave up the idea of running the Escarpment and decided to focus more on helping Warren Street targeting the NYRR Team Championship at the beginning of August.

AUGUST

I did not change anything in the summer training plans starting from the middle of July: everything was going to be geared towards two fall marathons, and my hopes were to use other “minor” local races as good check points to assess fitness, speed and endurance.
The first milestone was Team Champs. WS had put up some decent performances in this race in recent years; however, due to a series of reasons, we were not going to have our A game when towing the start line.
We could count on Sam – who had been running incredibly well – but we were not going to have Paul, Rob and Travis joining us. I was able to talk to Seb and even if he was superbusy with work, family and totally not into any type of training mode, he generously signed up to help the cause. Fabio was able to join us as well, fitting in some training in his busy work schedule.
We racked together the necessary 10 runners to be able to score – and that was huge given the circumstances – and despite the odds, we ended up fifth overall securing some precious points for the overall standings.
What I remember of the race was the incredible work that Seb did, giving me proof of perseverance and commitment when he ran past me at the south end of the park around mile 3. His breathing was intense, he was laboring, but he was not going to easy up his effort and his speed.
WS did ok, but as often happens, we could have done much much better, possibly taking that podium position as we are capable of.
August continued with heavy training loads focused on steady state runs of 45 minutes, and long 3-4 hr runs sometimes back to back. Fresh into a new age group I entered the Percy Sutton 5k with…not so fresh legs…I still managed to bring home a PR, ending an head to head last mile against UA representative Javier and 9 seconds behind Paul. Having Paul in sight during a race is always a great feeling but the 13 seconds from the Retro 4M and these 9 secs in a 5k were reverting the trend of slowly catching up and getting closer to him. Still a 3rd place AG was something to treasure after getting beat up for months in the 30-34 category.

Final strides before the bent

Final strides before the bent

Fortunately this changed during last race in August, the France Run 8k.
I signed up to this race only to support Sebastien who was one of the masterminds and supporters behind the event. Little I knew that one of the two best races of my 2015 was awaiting for me in Central Park that cool Saturday morning.
After exchanging positions the whole race with Paul and youngster Nicholas Synan who kept passing me in the downhill only to be edged in the uphill sections, I tried my luck with a long “sprint” about 300mt from the finish line. While Paul slightly lost contact with me, Nicholas could count on the springy legs of a kid fresh out of college, almost, and with 100 meters to go he passed me like a Ferrari does with a FIAT, when properly driven by a capable driver. I enjoyed the race, it was one of the highlight of the year, not because I edged Paul, but because I ran with him the whole race. Edging someone is generally a great feeling; in this case, I felt thrilled for having spent 26 minutes with him. Something I was never capable of in the past. I don’t know how many times I can still repeat that kind of performance and stay close to Paul in the future, but I will forever value the experience. (and the second place AG)

Still celebrating...obviously Javier did not race, but was sweating just looking at us :)

Still celebrating…obviously Javier did not race, but was sweating just looking at us 🙂

Smiley faces post race with Paul and Javier

Smiley faces post race with Paul and Javier

SEPTEMBER
The month of September was my tune up period for Chicago, while giving it a try at something unprecedented: the 5th Ave Mile.
After the usual heavy week of training (I recall a 25 mile ride and 3x3miles on Monday, a 3×12 min on Thursday and a 3×3 miles on Saturday) Sunday morning I showed up feeling quite fit for a marathon, not for a mile.
I liked the fact that I was competing against people of my age group only, it was a different set up from the usual “open” race. Also it was quite interesting to notice the different crowd that showed up: many unknown faces with team jerseys were present, but I did not recognize them. I had to believe these were the fast specialists of the track and indoor environment. Probably those runners that I generally envy during the winter months when I stick to the outdoor while they comfortably open their strides in warm indoor track facilities.
Of course there were several dislikes about the race, especially when you have to put in an effort just to line up at the start, trying to pass people that probably won’t even be able to finish the whole distance.
I do not want to sound “elitarian”, but losing a second or two just overtaking people that are not there to compete is a challenging factor and a heavy handicap to overcome in a race that is generally only 4 to 5 minutes long.
Not having run the mile, or even a single all out effort 1 mile long before, I did not know what my target could be, but I was hoping to finish under 5 minutes.
While warming up I remember noticing fellow runner Stefan Lingmerth – whom I share some miles with during the 2013 NYC Marathon – warming up in front of the museum. We exchange a few words knowing he just came back from the Lyon, France where he made it to the finals World Masters Athletics (WMAC) Championships 800 mt.
Knowing he could run 800 in under 2 minutes put him as a top 3 guaranteed. Who else was there to place in the podium?
When the gun went off and we all sprinted ahead I followed Stefan tucked in behind his frame, and letting him go after 250 meters when he started to increase the speed chasing Ethiopian runner Million Wolde.
At that point I knew I could not compete with them and decided to run my own race with those who were around me trying to make it to the podium. I trailed behind another NBR runner Stephen Tranter for the middle part of the race and I realized we were getting closer to Million. With just about more than 1/4 of a mile to go we almost closed the gap and at that point I realized that I was running more composed than the other two competitors in front of me (Stefan instead was just a yellow dot way ahead), so I tried my own luck and surged for the first time. All of a sudden I passed Stephen, caught Million and almost with a smile I was headed to the finish line.
Problem was that the smile lasted only a few mere seconds when I realized that Edvard Major was coming up strongly drafting behind me.
From 2nd to 4th in just a few meters, since Million did not want to give up his position, now I felt kind of silly for thinking that I could aim at the podium.
While Stefen kept pushing ahead strongly, I did my part and slowly separated from Million. Now I was sure I was going to pass the finish line in third position, but still I did not know if NYRR was considering chip or gun time, so I tried to squeeze every drop of energy I had in me.
4:42 was the final time, which might not sound great for serious runners that focus on short distances; however, I would consider it a solid achievement for a slow (getting) old(er) endurance wannabe runner like me that just showed up at the race after running his arse off for an entire week. Funny fact that the top 3 of the AG were all European, and only one American made it into the Top 6.

Last effort before the finish

Last effort before the finish

Feeling confident after the mile I entered the Bronx 10M as a tune up race before Chicago two weeks after the mile. I was searching for answers to confirm the fitness for a marathon was there, but something was off that day. Number one the right foot was in bad shape and bothered me since the warm up, and then I got all confused because I thought I missed the start of the race, while instead those people running on the course towards me during my warm up were competing in the Bronx 5k, not the 10M.
The race for me revealed an unusual pattern. While I generally end stronger than the way I start, this time the opposite happened. I ran with Paul for about two miles, and then backed off the effort, cause the pace he was keeping was going to be suicidal for me. Especially in not so great conditions. In fact, while Paul had a spectacular performance, I suffered for the remaining 7 miles finishing in just under 55 minutes and once again top 3 AG.
It was painful to see one by one 4 other runners going by and leaving me in the dust. Especially because they all edged me in the final 2-3 miles.
I still clearly remember Hector Rivera and Alejandro Ariza passing me, as well as Greg Cass.

Ok...still looking fresh here

Ok…still looking fresh here

Huff....did not expect this suffering today

Huff….did not expect this suffering today

 

and grinding

Grinding

 

Grinding

Grinding

 

and Griding

and Griding

 

Bronx 4

 

Bronx 3

 

Worried face

Worried face

 

Finally it's over

Finally it’s over

The race dragged my spirit down a little, after a great month in August and the beginning of September. However, that is what I needed to stay focused on concentrate on the final two weeks pre Chicago.

Next….BOA 2015 CHICAGO Marathon. stay tuned!!

Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2015 – The race

… see previous post [here]…

After a few brief introductions of the elites international athletes lining up at the very front of the field, the music of Ecstasy of Gold escorted us at the beginning of this adventure.
I was worried about my body reaction starting a race at 11pm, since it was a first for me, but I have to say everything was going well at the beginning. I pushed a little in the first few kilometers going out of the town to make sure I was not getting caught behind a big pack of slower runner when entering the single track trail.
I did not struggle to find my rhythm at all. I hiked when I felt that the effort was increasing and ran when the terrain allowed. I knew the race was long and I needed to be prepared with fresh legs for the last 20k.
The first climb went by quickly and already runners were dropping back after an initial effort that was too intense. I looked at my intermediate time at the top and found myself a little ahead of schedule.
This allowed me to run more relaxed the next downhill section made of several switchbacks and a few tricky spots with roots and rocks.

Despite my attempt to slow down the pace, I actually gained more time on my plan. Still, people were flying all over, passing each other like crazy as soon as the trail was les technical but still downhill (including a Spanish dude that ended up face down on a left turn after tripping on some rocks).

I figured I should have been more conservative so for the next section leading to Ospitale I slowed down even further. Here we passed the first point where my family was waiting for. I felt very proud of holding a good position, considering my conservative approach, and running with my family witnessing me.
They do not get to see me much during the year, and when they do, I like to share with them my running passion, so it is very rewarding to show them how much progress I have done in this field in recent years.

Just about a mile and a half was left to get into the first aid station at Ospitale; the wide dirt road gave me the chance to focus and review on my eating and drinking plan, to make sure I was not falling behind on this aspect. My plan had me there 1hr and 55 minutes after the start, but I made it a little earlier, around 1:45. At that point I was in good shape with fuel and liquids, so I quickly refilled one flask, grabbed a piece of chocolate from the aid station and took off right away to attack Val Padeon towards the Tre Croci Pass.

Getting the flask ready

Getting the flask ready

how long does it take to pour 0.5 liters of water??

how long does it take to pour 0.5 liters of water??

I felt very well, maybe too well, during this section and the pace along the 4 mile climb was steady and strong. Having memories from two years prior that were not too pleasant, I was glad to replace them with a more encouraging experience. At the top of the climb I still maintained a 5 minutes lead on my plan and now the tricky downhill to the Tre Croci Pass was going to be the first test.
In 2013 I probably blew my legs in this steep stony trail and this time I was not going to trash myself the same way. Maintaining the usual 5 minutes lead on my projections I cleared the Pass and now I was heading to Federavecchia where I knew I could see Gigi again.

Quick Flask Refill

Quick Flask Refill

Just before getting to the aid station I was passed by a couple of folks anxious to show off their downhill abilities. I gladly gave them the right of way while I opened up the cap of the flask I needed to refill and refueled with the leftovers of what I had in the pockets trying to minimize the stand-by time at the station.
The feelings were good, the time was slightly faster than my original plan and – while I was supposed to be there after 3hrs and 45 minutes – the 19 minutes lead I opened at Federavecchia did not worried me too much as I knew I would have used more time later during the day to easy the effort in the most challenging spots.

The section from Albergo Cristallo to Misurina Lake proved to be challenging: the climb along the muddy trail marked 1120 and the never ending asphalt road brought me to the switchback of “I Ciampete” a little out of breath. Here the more runnable part was ahead, but instead of switching gears immediately as I was able to do the week before during the recon, this time my legs needed about 10 minutes of fast hiking to get going and be ready for a different pace. My vision was also a bit confused since the woods were retaining some humidity trapped among the trees and the light from my headlamp was getting reflected blinding me partially.

I went on rest mode till the lake, knowing that the climb to Tre Cime was going to require a good effort no matter what pace I was going to maintain. In my mind I began thinking about the possible need for more fluids along the next climb so I figured it was a good idea to pick up the water bottle from Gigi who was waiting for me in Misurina, rather than waiting for Cimabanche later on in the morning.
Right after Misurina I joined a little group of three runners, obviously overexerted from the effort they maintained that far. One of them was Italians, two were French and they all had low bibs. Together we ran the first half mile and ran through a herd of cows at the bottom of the incline.
These poor animals were so scared from our headlamps that they were running around confused making almost a concert with their bells. One of them also charged us, but more than aiming at us she was just trying to run away from us except she kept getting closer and closer.

Slowly I made it to Rifugio Auronzo and my body started to feel a bit tired. I ran into the Rifugio that served as Aid Station at km 48 still a few minutes ahead of the plan, so I decided to spend a few more minutes refueling properly and resting a bit more before taking off again. Here I noticed how having a crew, like most of the elites had, that was allowed to prepare a customized little aid station could save several minutes.
Fernanda Maciel, in fact, checked into the rifugio a few minutes after I did but she had 3-4 people ready to swap her gears, change the bottles she had gone through with new ones already full, had food items just for her laid out on a small table and a spare Tshirt and a small jacket ready for her to put on.
Basically a 5 star service ready at her convenience.

Bottom line she got in and got out leaving me behind.

I wonder if it is even fair to provide this advantage to elites only…but that is a different topic to deal with.

I had a small additional effort to make before enjoying the downhill to Cimabanche; after leaving the aid station I just needed to clear the flat mile to the Alpini Chapel and then the short incline to the Lavaredo Pass by the Tre Cime.
The flat part was not as pleasant as I was expecting and I was not able to move effortlessly as I hoped. A cold strong wind was blowing sideways and my sweat-drenched singlet was not the perfect attire for the occasion. While running I was able to pull out the long sleeve shirt I had with me and put it on as I was reaching the top of the climb. Here the first few rays of sunlight started to hit the mountains and I was pleased not only with astonishing views but also with the fact that I was getting into the downhill capable of seeing where I was placing my feet.

The long 8k trail down to Cimabanche (for approx a 3,400ft drop) is mainly non-technical and not too steep to run comfortably at a good relaxed pace. However, if one pushes the pace at this point, I believe he will realize soon after that he made a big mistake: this trail is just a link between the first climbs of the race to the second hilly part of the race.

From my point of view I had a nice descent, picked up one or two runners and got passed by two or three that were going to regret it later on.
While going around the Landro Lake, I realized the course here was different than what I anticipated. It did not bother me too much, but journey to the aid station at 66k was really longer than expected and a bit boring. Long stretches of dirt road, slightly uphill along the Rienz River on trail 102, surrounded by tall pines made the journey a bit painful and I started noticing my body was running a little low on energy. I checked the fluid consumption up to that point and at least on that department I was doing well.
I threw down a few bolts getting close to the aid station knowing that Gigi was going to be there and could restock my supply to make sure that I kept processing food on a regular basis.

As soon as I arrived to the aid station I realized I needed to eat more, but I was not able to ingest anything at that point; I took my time, I spoke with Gigi and told him I was going to rest a couple of minutes while resting hoping to be able to eat some of the items they had in display.
I found very appealing the toasted slices of bread with nutella or jam, so I had one each and then asked for a bit of hot coffee since I wanted to wake up from the “night running” mode that I was stuck to.
I must say the coffee was terrible and I’ll explain why in a bit.
I sat on the bench for a few minutes, finally regained some confidence and took off while looking at some other runners getting in and out of the station much more quickly than I did.

I was going to enter one of the few sections that I was not able to explore a week prior so I did not want to approach the climb too vigorously.

When the trail crosses Route 51 the incline up to Lerosa Fork started immediately. I caught up with a three/four runners that took off a few seconds before me from Cimabanche; we started the climb together and worked together going up. After half a mile we passed one dude that was having a very bad time and was refilling his bottles from a stream of water coming down from the rocks by the trail, while our group started to stretch out. I was hanging second to last at the tail of the train, and started to feel not as strong as I was a couple of hours before, despite my legs kept moving well and had no signs of cramps or other problems.
I started regretting having that small espresso at the aid station poured into my flask: despite cleaning it, the sour taste of coffee contaminated my OSMO powder dissolved in water and literally every time I tried to sip it, I felt it was putting warm puke in my mouth. Disgusting.
Having plenty of fluids in other containers allowed me to continue with no particular issues, just a bit ticked off, but soon I realized that my energy levels were going down, and I assumed it was because my body was still digesting what I got from the aid station.

Wrong.

The climb to Lerosa went overall ok, got caught by another runner and passed one, so the overall standing did not change; but I spent more than what I put in and the balance of my left over probably started to get into reserve. The next few miles down to Malga Ra Stua proved to be rough only in some spots with hard edgy rocks that were beating up one’s feet; the trail was fairly comfortable and runnable in most point.

At Malga Ra Stua I started having the first signals that something was not working too well. The legs were fine, they brought me up and down till that point and they were not burning; the initial cramps I felt on the first climb were not there anymore, a sign that I was not pushing the pace and the feeling of my feet been a little beat up was just the norm.
It was just my overall concentration level and my energy that were low.

I refueled with some solid food at Ra Stua giving up a spot to another runner that was quicker than me to get his nutrition and water in; I took a relaxing couple of minutes sitting on the bench and stretching my legs, knowing that after a few miles of downhill the real show was going to start.

I knew in my mind that I was going to attach an invisible target the back of those runners in front of me and one by one pick them up. I knew I had in me the determination of persevering and push myself, because I wanted to see the happiness pictured in my brother’s face, my parents’ faces and Gigi’s face once I crossed the finish line.

After a mile or so of unexpected painful technical downhill where I moved fairly well, the trail opened up becoming more of a stone road and I felt somewhat better mentally; I thought the first low point was overcome and now I could expect a bit of fun. Here I shared a few words with fellow runner Edward Melbourne from the UK. He was having some troubles on the downhill due to the technicality, but I could witness just minutes before how strong he was on the climbs, so instead of forcing the pace, I rather locked into his. I am not generally a talkative person on the trail. I prefer to listen. Listen to my breath, listen to my mind, listen to the noises of the mountains. I do not like talking during a race: you lose energy, concentration, and focus on what I am doing. However, the cool accent of this guy and his unique style were so peculiar that I did not mind chatting for a bit, knowing he was going to ditch me for sure in Val Travenanzes.

While the road started to change profile switching from downs to ups, I saw on my watch that I was about half a mile from completing 50 miles. Feeling good I mentally challenged myself to run from that moment until the 50.01 mark regardless of the terrain I had to face.
This is one of my usual tricks I generally adopt to try and break the hiking momentum that inevitably gets dialed in when going up long inclines during a race. Forcing myself into this bet to prove myself I can “run” or “jog” for a little section generally helps getting some motivation back, make some progress along the course and overall feel better about getting to the end quickly.

As often happens, the trick worked as I entered trail 401 opening up the climb for Val Travenanzes.

As I was making the right turn into 401 and crossing a little stream of water (same spot where I miss read the 407 trail a week prior and ended up completely off course) I noticed two crazy runners coming down toward us down like rockets from trail 408. It took me a few seconds to realize their speed was way off from my pace and after seeing the different Bibs they were wearing, I realized those were the leaders of the 47km race.

In no time the trail got flooded with runners from this race and I must admit that it was quite painful to constantly having to pull on the side of the trail to let go these people that were just at the 10km mark, therefore still very fresh and energetic. Maybe this would be one thing the organizers can look into for next year race and avoid this huge congestion along Val Travenanzes.

Feeling a little better than what I experienced an hour before, and knowing that I made some ground passing two runners in the first kilometer of the climb, I felt pumped and hooked into some slower Cortina Trail runners that had a pace similar to mine at that point.
Now I was in hiking mode again and I was glad that I was slowly but constantly closing on the guy that passed me at Malga Ra Stua and wearing a tight spandex red Salomon shirt. I named it “the Salomon guy” and for the next half hour or so I kept repeating myself “Catch the Salomon guy, catch the Salomon guy”.

When I finally closed the gap I followed some of the Cortina Trail runners along the trail picking up their pace to gain quickly some distance on him. After this short lived effort I began feeling tired and empty; my breathing went off the chart even when hiking slowly and the only way to bring it back to normal was to rest for a few moments by the side of the trail.

This is when my race mode was wiped out and the positive momentum I had built up to that point started to spiral down.

After a few hundred meters I was passed again by the Salomon guy. We switch position another couple of times while my breathing kept getting unsustainably unnatural. I tried to eat something again, and while the hydration was still very good, I kept chewing and chewing my bolts without being able to swallow them.
The realization that I was doomed came pretty quickly. Upset because physically I felt still pretty good, I tried a few things before calling it a day: I sat for another couple of minutes by the side of the trail, I dipped my legs into the river cold water twice, I tried again to eat other things I was carrying with me.
Nothing worked.
Stubbornly I kept hiking making some short frequent stops to keep the breathing in control, hoping to make it quickly to the top of the valley and then, maybe, turn around the day in the next downhill section.
All of a sudden I was not even able to walk straight along the trail and threw myself to the side, laying belly up on the grass surrounded by bushes. There I laid down for what seemed a long period of time, probably 15 to 20 minutes.

Several runners passed me, probably 3-400, at least, but only two of them were competing in the LUT. The others were all Cortina Trail runners.
They all asked me if I was ok, just one of them was really concerned and encouraged me to make it to the water station that was just 400 meters ahead.
I got up and hiked behind him following his footsteps. I stopped once and he waited for me. Then when I stopped a second time, he told me he was going to proceed and inform the personnel at the station.
After a few minutes two volunteers came to my rescue but instead of giving up totally, I simply walked with them to the little hat they were manning. This process took another 30 minutes, for approximately 45-60 minutes to cover 1/4 of a mile.

Since 2015 for me has been a year of PRs, this will be included in my Hall of Fame: 60 min quarter mile dash. (I’ll submit to an anti-doping test to make sure it gets officially recognized)

At the aid station I totally recognized I had to drop out from the race. I laid down on the couch that was prepared for me, I took off my shoes and my socks to dry them out, I tried to eat a cookie, and had some hot Italian tea.
I tried to rest, sleep and recharge. I stayed inside for approximately two hours and asked the volunteer that was checking on me what options I had.

His answer was clear:
Option 1 – Call the helicopter and get transported to the finish line in Cortina
Option 2 – Hike another 3k up to the pass, jump into the Carabinieri Jeep and get hauled to Col Gallina Aid Station where I could get with my parents and drop out of the event.

I thought that getting helicoptered out was going to be a bit dramatic, however, I realized I could not fool myself and my conditions: doing 3kms in the Alps is not going for a brisk job in Central Park and given how my last 3 hours were spent, I decided to try and rest more before making up my mind.

Once I gained a bit of confidence, I got dressed again and took off towards the pass. A little sad I continued my march uphill, knowing the goal for the race was blown and that it was going to be even difficult to reach the location where I could drop out.
Little by little I climbed to the pass and finally saw the Carabinieri Jeep; I got close to it and…big surprise…nobody there!
Maybe they were taking a break or maybe they were assisting someone else. Bottom line at this point I could only proceed towards Col Gallina and reach my family.

This was not an easy task since the downhill was a torture for my body and pretty soon I noticed that another steep climb was ahead just before the Rifugio.
My energy was completely depleted to the point that even walking slowly required me to stop for a few seconds every minute since I was feeling dizzy and even my eyes were not able to focus on the road ahead.
The final short descent with a few technical spots was challenging me like never before. I reached the parking lot with some relief and began looking around for my parents, my brother and Serena or possibly Gigi and just drop out of the race; I think I might have been smiling at this point, cause somehow I felt I accomplished something pushing through those 4 miles from Val Travenanzes to Col Gallina.

I jogged through the parking lot, and reached the aid station set up on the other side of the road bringing to Falzarego Pass; the bad news were not finished.

No sight of any familiar face in the area. I had no idea where everyone else was, so I just got some food and liquids from the aid station. I stopped again for 10-15 minutes and tried to regain some sort of energy because the maintain atmosphere was getting more chilly.
After a few sips of the magical Italian hot tea I spotted a woman with a cell phone and I asked if I could make a phone call to my parents.
She kindly agreed, seeing desperation pictured on my face and that allowed me to get in touch with my mother. We spoke briefly and learned she was down in Cortina waiting for news about me since nobody knew what could have happened to me.
I explained I was not doing too well and she agreed to pick me up immediately; just a 45 minutes drive up to Passo Falzarego.

This gave me the time to rest and think more about the decision of dropping out.
Mentally I could rationally explain myself that there was not a safe way to continue the race (what I originally called a race, because at this point it was just a fun hike in the mountains). I had many reasons to stop, first and foremost because wondering around alpine territory in non ideal physical conditions is risky and irresponsible and stupid (the risk of getting a rescue team looking for you in the Alps is not a pleasurable option to consider).
Second, it was kind of stinky to continue the event, exert myself walking for another 5, 6, 7 or 10 hrs, and get no satisfaction with my performance.
I started off with the goal of finishing in the first 25-30 spots so finishing so far back into the field was a testament of failure.
Third, stopping at that point would have allowed for a quick physical recovery and be ready to target a new goal race relatively soon.

However, not finishing also sucks. This was my last DNF two years prior, and having a repeat was going to be mentally terrible. Almost like an obstacle you can’t overtake.
While contemplating all scenarios I realized that by the time my parents could pick me up from the aid station, I would have been freezing, or maybe I could have turned things around.
Feeling a little more alive after having a cup of hot soup, I called back my mother and asked her to drive to the next aid station so I could enjoy a little more the course without leaving with a sour taste of defeat in my mouth, while covering a longer distance. She agreed, so I figured that another 8-9k through the Averau peak and the not so steep but rocky and “bitchy” trail to Giau Pass was going to be my next mission.

The hike was hard, especially the climbing: every few steps my heart beat was increasing with no control and I began feeling dizzy again. I took my time resting and catching my breath every time I needed. It was still horrendous and clearly I was not recovered, but the idea of persevering well outside the initial competitive approach was somehow appealing.

Somehow I believed that there was something there for me to learn, had I continued the hike.

I arrived at Passo Giau jogging down a short descent with another couple of runners. My parents were there waiting for me with Gigi; their faces appeared worried, despite my attempt to show some sort of smile to give them some relief and reassurance I was doing fine overall; but it did not work. I really looked spent and deprived. I got some hot tea and a couple of cookies. I rested on a bench for a good 15-20 minutes with their company.

My morale improved, even though there were other participants constantly taking off from the aid station and leaving me behind; at least I could exchange some decent conversation with my parents. I tried to get some more food with me, in the event that my body could accept it later on and then took off again.

I knew at this point there were only two obstacles to get to the end: the first was the extremely steep but short incline to Forcella Giau, and the second was the technical descent along trail 431 that bothered me a lot  during the last training run on the course a week prior. At a minimum I was going to enjoy a great easy runnable part from Forcella Giau to Forcella Ambrizzola, where the trailed was “paved” with a soft layer of smooth dirt and plenty of grass that was going to give my feet a little break.

The ascent to Forcella Giau proved to be challenging, and I really had to labor through it: once again even an “easy” walk up the climb was the perfect occasion to throw my heart rate off the roof. The need to stop, rest and breath became frequent and very frustrating mentally. To aggravate the psychological status, the easy runnable section between Forcella Giau and Forcella Ambrizzola was another painful hiking exercise. Once I reached Croda da Lago I literally threw myself on top of one of the dining tables outside the Rifugio.

I laid there for a while to the point that I was getting cold, due to dark clouds gathering on the peaks and covering the sun. The intestine had not improved, yet, and I waited a little bit more to use the bathroom facilities of the rifugio. With the weather quickly changing I proceeded towards the trail head and began the last 10k of the course.

The first drops of rain and the roaring overwhelming thunders approaching gave me an incentive to get moving a bit faster. The trees with their leaves and branches were shielding us from the rain, but as soon as the storm picked up its intensity I quickly got drenched. The only way to remain warm was running.

Yes, I finally re-started running.

While other participants around me were getting their waterproof gears out, I did not bother. I was drenched and wanted to run, now that I finally gained some inertia.

The positive thing is that the rocky steep and slippery downhill that bothered me and Michelle so much the week before became almost easy. I was surprised on how my legs regained their springy movements and allowed me to “dance” around the trail and off trail as well. Never did I run so well in the last 8 hours. Probably I never ran so well on a downhill full of wet slippery rocks and muddy trails, ever.

I was not averaging great speed, but mostly because of the difficulty of the terrain. My energy was still not good, I was running on fumes of fumes. I knew that it was not going to be pretty, but the idea of finishing as early as possible pushed me through the last few miles.

As the trail became more runnable and turned into a gravel road and finally the asphalt streets of the town of Cortina, I picked up a few positions but it was irrelevant at that point.

I finished with a time of 19 hours, 3 minutes and a few seconds. A personal worst in terms of performances, but also a personal best if I look at how much time I spent out in the elements.
Longest run and longest time spent on my feet of my entire life. There is something positive about this experience. Despite the feeling of partial failure for not achieving the performance I aimed at – especially in the motherland – I was left with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
In this race I struggled, true, but even a bit stupidly in certain moments, I continued the fight to complete my experience.
There is a saying stating that there is no improvement without bad moments or failures, and that is partially true.

I’ve had a good year to date, and I have to put my head down and go back to work, harder and with the usual dedication. There are other six months in 2015 and many events filling up the calendar. Shorter distances, probably, but still training for the next mountain adventure.

Singlet: Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team by Patagonia – M’s Air Flow Singlet
Shorts: Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team by Patagonia – M’s Striders Short/5″ (wonderful for trail running)
Socks: Feetures Ultra Light
Shoes: Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 – New pair
Hydration: Salomon Men S-Lab Hybrid Jacket MD Blk/Red and Amphipod Hydraform 20oz bottle
Watch/GPS: Garmin 910XT
Mandatory Gears:
Waterproof Jacket: Salomon S-LAB Hybrid Jacket
Waterproof Pants: Salomon S-LAB Hybrid WP Pants

Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2015 – Race Preparation

My main goal for the first half of 2015 was the Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

When I began my journey in the ultra world, I chose to run the LUT in 2013 even before I had the qualifying standards to enter. Eventually I earned a spot for the 2013 edition by running the North Face EC – Bear Mountain just two months prior.

When I participated to the 2013 edition I left the race with a very sour taste. I was hoping to run well and enjoy the all the climbing that the course offered along the Dolomites. Unfortunately, due to a snowstorm that occurred the night prior to the start, the course was changed, the race postponed by 8 hours and the total length was reduced from 120 km to barely 85k.
I was not too happy about the change, but I was also glad to run “only” 50 miles, since that was a distance I already covered before with some sort of mediocre success.
Something that day went wrong, and even if I was initially running ok, when I reached the aid station at Misurina Lake (about 26 miles into the race) I dropped out, pale and unable to digest any food I was eating.
It was a tough lesson that left scars to this day: the fear of dropping out and the sense of failure that goes with it are always present when I line up to start a race. Especially because that day I did not really realize what went wrong and what I should have changed to make it a great race instead of a failure.
For sure I have learned that I was not prepared to run the full race. In 2013 I was not in any type of decent physical shape to attempt running 120km in the Dolomites, especially with the type of vertical profile the LUT offers. Maybe hiking, but running was not an option.

With this said, one would understand that getting into the 2015 LUT was for me a big responsibility: it meant going against the demons of dropping out again, it meant testing my running on terrains I can’t train on, it meant challenging all aspects of my training to something very new and as such, unknown.
Sometimes the unknown rewards you, sometimes it knocks you down and gives you a sense of failure. But from these negative moments one can learn more about him or herself. I’m not referring about “how strong we are” for enduring pain, or suffering, or persevering during a race.
When the unknown conditions of a race make it a death march, one can really think about what went wrong, what can be improved and how. That is the beauty of making mistakes and having a bad time: learning from them.

Also committing to the LUT many months prior to the race meant giving up beautiful and competitive races in the north East: the classic Manitou’s Revenge and the newly inspiring VK and Skyrace set up by Jan Wellford and Ian Golden in the Whiteface.

The 2015 LUT was epic, in terms of hopes, in terms of positive feelings during it, and in terms of frustration and negativity during it.

The week before the race Michelle and I were able to spend a couple of days running through some sections of the course to get some sort of education of what we were going to expect.
Day 1 included Val Travenanzes from Pian de Loa to Passo Falzarego; or at least that was the plan, because my poor vision made me take a left turn onto the 407 trail, instead of continuing along with 401. The result was an incredible massacre. After a gentle downhill escorted by cows hanging out around the trails we started the uphill section. We were supposed to go for about 6-7 miles before reconnecting with my parents that drove to pick us up at the Falzarego pass.

Those cows making Michelle's day much better

Those cows making Michelle’s day much better

When I made the wrong turn we climbed for about 2 miles along a trail that did not exist, basically scrambling on loose scree. Every step up was 3/4 of a step back. We kept sliding back. I wanted to get a decent work out while Michelle was more conservative, so I went on ahead alone.
For about 45 minutes I kept pushing and pushing, feeling somewhat miserable. Along the path I was greeted by a mountain goat that ran across the valley looking at me a little perplexed.

A confused mountain goat asking himself what the heck were humans doing in his neck of the "woods"

A confused mountain goat asking himself what the heck were humans doing in his neck of the “woods”

Once I made it to the top I thought something was wrong and questioned myself about the race course. I ran back to pick up Michelle, so we could make it to the top together, and she kindly informed we took the wrong turn. Given my pride for always having a good sense of orienting myself, I thought she was wrong, but slowly understood I messed up.

The field of scree...I should have realized that the race was not going through this

The field of scree…I should have realized that the race was not going through this

Once at the very top together, I realized it was not going to be feasible to continue to the other side of the Pass, since a storm just started to hit us and in front of us we were facing a couple of “vie ferrate” through Le Tofane, meaning technical trails requiring skills, equipment and decent weather to go through.
With some complains from Michelle we headed back to where we came from, disappointed for the lost opportunity and the terrible conditions we faced. At least the race could not be that hard. Bottom line, we explored the Valon de Ra Oia, instead of Val Travenanzes.

Drenched by the pouring rain we made it back to the parking lot where my parents were waiting for us.

Day 2 instead brought us to the middle part of the race from Federavecchia to Lago di Landro.
This was a much more pleasant experience than the day before. The weather was great and the fact that we kept following a marked trail kept our spirits high for the whole day. At the start we spotted French female ultrarunner Natalie Mauclaire checking out the course. After the initial steep climbs alternating muddy and rocky terrain to sections of asphalt roads, we hit Lago di Misurina.

Arriving at Misurina Lake

Arriving at Misurina Lake

After leaving Misurina the course kept going up to hit rifugio Auronzo, where we stopped for a quick lunch. A small sandwich seemed to be ideal to fuel before the last part of the climb to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the long downhill to Landro Lake.

Lunch Break at Rifugio Auronzo, just minutes from the Tre Cime

Lunch Break at Rifugio Auronzo, just minutes from the Tre Cime

Too bad the sandwich was so big that it took me a long time before I could move a decent pace on the trail.

Lunch: a massive slice of cheese

Lunch: a massive slice of cheese

We hiked to the Tre Cime, slowly, with heavy legs and heavier bellies.

Finally the top and our first time ever to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Finally the top and our first time ever to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Eventually we got down to Landro Lake where Gigi was in charge of the rescue crew and brought us back to the start where we left our car.

Day 3 was pretty good in terms of weather, but demoralizing in terms of feelings. The plan was to go from Falzarego Pass to almost the end of the race, going through Averau, Passo Giau, Giau Fork, Ambrizzola Fork and the final downhill to Croda da Lago and Cortina.
Michelle’s foot conditions worsened and the fact that the last few miles of downhill were very technical and fool of roots, rocks and slippery mud did not help; despite our effort to move at a fair pace, we were making little to no progress.

Steepest part of the last part of the race are the final 400 meters up to Giau Fork

Steepest part of the last part of the race are the final 400 meters up to Giau Fork

An easy initial section downhill made us believe we were almost done

An easy initial section downhill made us believe we were almost done

We decided to shorten the effort and jump out on the road asking Gigi to pick us up along the road going up to Passo Falzarego. Very kindly he did so, and that helped us get back home in time while waiting for our friend Rua coming for a quick visit from Ireland.

Unfortunately the evening of his arrival went differently than what we planned: due to an accident he missed the flight and he did not make it to join us in God’s country (which is Italy, despite what he believes).

We spent the next few days relaxing, learning a few things about cooking and making home made pasta, and enjoying a few good meals, as well as getting upset for some immigration issues that came up after I visited the US Consulate in Milan.

Trying to make some home made ravioli

Trying to make some home made ravioli

In the meantime Pedro joined us as part of his European summer trip.

Pedrito in Jesolo

Pedrito in Jesolo

Fast forward about a week and we found ourselves driving to Cortina to pick up our bibs for the race. In an effort to remain relaxed and rested prior to the race, we booked a room in advance hoping to take a nap before the 11pm start. The race prep, food planning and sleeping plan were all under control. We just needed to execute them.

The first to fall apart was the sleeping. The day before the race not only did I get just 5 hours of sleep, but I had to drive back and forth to Milan to pick up my passport without the Visa I had been waiting for. The morning of the race I woke up at 5:30 am, for a total of 6 more hours of sleep because I was a little preoccupied for my parents who went to Milan that morning to deliver my passport to the US consulate, again, and get the Visa finally stamped.
Therefore, at this point, the room we booked just outside Cortina became vital te be 100% ready for the race. Instead a group of Chinese tourists checked into the hotel together with us and for hours could not stop yelling from room to room, knocking doors, talking loudly, even after our repeated requests to keep it quiet. I have never seen a group of people more rude than these tourists.

A little nervous and feeling the pressure building up we asked my parents to pick us up and bring us to the start line. In fact, Rodi, Claudia, Pedro and Gigi in the meantime came up to Cortina to follow our race and support us along the way.
If we were entering an endurance race, they already started their personal challenge 15 hours earlier running errands for us (me in particular) and they were about to spend all night and next day driving from one point of the course to the next just to assist us.
Gigi and Pedro were in one car following me. Rodi and Claudia were following Michelle.

When we arrived in Cortina we spent a little time with Cristiana, who was been running extremely well in these last few years and has earned a great reputation in the community of endurance athletes.
We headed to the start at about 10:15pm and – sure enough – everyone and their mother was already lined up. I tried to make my way to the front but there were just too many people. That is one aspect I do not like about races in Italy (since I experienced the same at the Dolomites Sky Race), but I must admit this is true for every race everywhere: people love to step to the very start line to appear in pictures, to show off and just sprint the first few hundred feet. How many times have I seen this in NYRR events, as well? How many times have I had to deal with that dude from Queens with a yellow singlet elbowing everybody seconds before the gun went off and then finishing 3 minutes behind in a 5k? or 9 minutes behind in a half marathon? Runners should know their place…but that’s another topic.

…see next post…

Breakneck Point Trail Marathon

The trail season coincidentally began with the first real day of spring in the area.

Since Warren Street’s friend Sebastien introduced me to the Breakneck Ridge Trail last summer, I’ve visited the trail a half dozen times, enjoyed it with dry, humid and icy/snowy conditions. I even loved to initiate a wonderful chase (I only started it, then the big dogs came to claim the territory) for the Breakneck/Beacon FKT because there are sections of trail here that are not the common runnable Central Park Bridal Path.
Sections of the ridge involve plenty of hand and arm work, as well as some ass action to slide on some rocks while going down.

When I heard that Ian Golden was putting up a race in the woods between Cold Spring and Beacon, I felt excited right away. After joining the Mountain Peak Fitnes Red Newt Team, this was the first opportunity to meet the whole crew after our initial get together in February on the same trail, just covered with an extra 2 feet of snow.

My little health issues during the first part of the year kept me doubtful about my preparation for the race. I did not know if I wanted to run the 25k or the full marathon. Looking at it in perspective, I thought the marathon distance would have been a great training tool for Cayuga, which would serve as a great training run for the LUT in Italy.
Then I saw on ultrasignup the list of Running Gods that was signing up and I had second thoughts: “maybe I should avoid the marathon”, “I don’t have endurance to run the whole thing”, etc. Eventually I decided it was time to get a nice bath into the pool of humbleness and face reality: sign up for the marathon and try to learn from Ben, Iain, Ryan, Glen, Jim, Steve, and whomever signed up; get my ass kicked brutally and find more motivation to train more and better.

Having had the chance to check the course twice the two weeks prior to the event, I was glad that the snow and ice were all gone. The only two unknown variables were the amount of mud along some sections near the creeks and whether or not the rocks paving the trails were going to be slippery or dry after the forecasted rain the day prior.

I was very nervous for the race, mostly because I feared I was going to have a bad day and my subpar preparation was going to show. I tried to rationally convince myself that pretty much everyone had a less than idea preparation, given the winter we had, but – as usual – it is not that easy to trick our own mind…especially because when thinking that nobody was running mountains with the snow, I immediately thought about Ben Nephew’s video at Mt Tammany, running like an unstoppable wild cat.

A huge improvement in the self esteem levels came a week before the race when – while exploring the second part of the race – I met Steve H. and he told me his bet for the race. I told him my goal was to sneak under 6 hours, and he thought Ben could go under 5. Well, if Ben can get under 5, he will be long gone, so I can just focus on my race.

The adrenaline started building up again when I received from Elizabeth the Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team uniform. I tired it and it looked really cool. My only doubt, being just a bit superstitious, was whether or not the uniform had good or bad luck. Ahahaha…I am so dumb sometimes.
More importantly, I generally do not wear things that are not tested a few times before, so I was not sure about using or not the shorts that came with the singlets.
They were a bit longer than what I am generally used to, but they had the wonderful perk of having 4 nice open pockets around the waist and one zipped pocket on the back. These features were certainly appealing and perfect to keep my car keys safe and extra bolts for energy without making the handheld too heavy.

I exchanged a few messages with Ben the days leading up to the race, and he told me to keep an eye on the registration list because more names could pop out last minute.
Sure enough he was right and out of nowhere the list grew longer and the field a bit deeper, especially with the Russian Fruitarian joining the massacre.

I’ve heard a lot about this guy, many people talk about him, and I really never had a chance to run against him. At the Febapple two years ago he was running the 50 mile, and dropped to the 50k (which I was racing) and finished virtually behind me, even if he was doing another race basically. In Cayuga 2013 he got lost after tasting Sage and Matt’s dust and I found him wondering around the woods going the opposite direction. I dropped too, at the 25 mile, to preserve a bad ankle, and after that we never crossed paths again.

I did run against the other main contenders – Ben N., Ryan W., Iain R,. Cole (who did not race Breakneck) – in Cayuga 2014 and/or Manitou’s Revenge. Running against is a strong word. Let’s say I was just using the same trails way about an hour or more behind them.
I knew there was no competition with them, I knew they are on a different scale, but still it is nice to admire somebody and try to do your best aiming at their performances.

Going back to registration – and I shared this thought with a few folks after the race – I was hoping to see more people participating and supporting Ian for putting up this incredible race.
I heard for the longest time people in NYC complaining that there are no races around the area, except Bear Mountain, that if you want to line up for a challenging race you need to go out west, or travel far. And now? Now they have one just outside their door and…they prefer to go to DC and run The North Face DC. I wonder why. I thought they wanted to demonstrate some toughness, I thought they wanted to take on real challenges, I was hoping…that’s all. Not judging here. Just hoping that we all support better those people that are helping our “sport”.

Race day came and Michelle and I drove to Beacon early in the morning.
Enough time to park, pick up our bibs, get dressed, meet the new trail adept Fabio, and then get a couple of strides to break the first sweat and line up for the start. Of course, after taking a group photo with the team to bless the new adventure together.

 Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team at the Start

Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team at the Start

As soon as we started Iain, Ben, Ryan and the Russian lined up in the front and tackled the trailhead with great momentum. The good thing is that here nobody tried to do anything stupid and we all ran together for a mile or two. Then something weird happen. Another runner that was in the group with us tried to push the pace and missed a turn on the trail, losing about 50 feet. The guy started swearing and sprinted back pretty upset reconnecting with us. Then he faded back, and we saw him only hours later at the finish.
Knowing Denis’ fame I was expecting his infamous early race fast pace, but even he was controlling his effort. I think that only going up sugarloaf he pushed a little the pace and forced the effort going down towards Route9. I think that Ben tried to close the gap with him immediately, and the two of them took a little lead from me Iain and Ryan, probably 10-15 seconds.
Here I also dropped my bottle while trying to eat, drink and run all at the same time. No big deal Iain passed me, then a couple of hundred meters after he missed a right turn and I called him back immediately. At this point we all got together at the base of Breakneck.

Denis and Ben ran straight to the trail after a very quick pit stop at the aid station, while I decided to avoid stopping, knowing that AS 2 was not that far.
Iain and Ryan were close by and reconnected immediately. We hiked Breakneck Ridge together, and I sensed that Ben was not pushing as much as he could have, after seeing him running up with the snow in February.

Knowing a little more the routes, I could pick the easier way up sometimes

Knowing a little more the routes, I could pick the easier way up sometimes

Up Breakneck Ridge Trail.

Up Breakneck Ridge Trail.


After taking the right turn on yellow we headed down towards Cold Springs and here Ian Golden joined us for the run. The pace was not super fast, and I was enjoying the moment because I finally found people that run in a smart way and are aware of the overall difficulty of the race. Once we hit AS 2 Ryan had a little incident tripping on a rock, but got up immediately and ran it off immediately. Those four started clicking a couple of mile at 6 minute per mile. I was not too happy about that. It was still too early to push and destroy my legs, so I let them go, and while keeping a good pace, I maintained a more balanced effort. I followed probably 20-30 seconds behind and made up the gap at the beginning of the Washburn after the abandoned mining area.

I tried to stay back, letting the veterans dictate the pace, falling back a few seconds whenever they were pushing a little more. We basically all continued in a group, but the lead kept changing randomly.
After the stretch on the yellow Undercliff trail we got to AS 3 (same as AS2) and got my perks from Amy who was volunteering and kindly kept some extra things for me. Here I think someone tried to pull a fast one and take off. I did not realize if it was Denis or someone else, but the group got a little stretched out on the flat section going up to the ruins.

At the ruins we all got reconnected because…only Ben and I knew where we were headed and the others did not know exactly how to interpreter the directions of a sign. From that moment on we kept going together till the 25k mark at Settlement Camp. During the descent to the camp I briefly talked to Ben and I saw he was slowing down just a bit compared to the others. I asked him what his impression was about Denis, the only one of the group that was not part of the team. He told me he had no idea, so we approached quickly the aid station. Here I did not need to get too many things. Refilled the bottle, got some cold water on my face and neck to cool down (the sun now started cooking us well with temps going up to the mind 70s) and took off.

A quick sip of water to cool down at Settlement Camp.

A quick sip of water to cool down at Settlement Camp.

I feared that someone was going to run the hill like a maniac, so I wanted to get a little advantage at the beginning and basically do an easier effort climbing up.

Taking a quick look back to check on Denis after the 25k mark. Photo Credit MPF

Taking a quick look back to check on Denis after the 25k mark. Photo Credit MPF

I saw that Denis quickly lined up behind me, but it did not bother me. He was about 1-200 ft behind, and I checked the gap when making turns. Sometimes it was getting bigger, sometimes smaller.
I had a few minutes to think about the race and tactics. I thought it was very cool to be there with the big dogs of the north east. How could I have imagined this scenario, when only less than 3 years ago I lined up for my first trail race, a half marathon in Bear Mountain? And only 2 years ago I did my second trail race? I was experiencing joy that was propelling my run. However, I realized quickly that it was still too early in the race; I began thinking that I could have pushed and gain a little lead to be wasted in the Fishkill section of the race (which I knew was going to be long and boring for me).

Not sure where this photo was taken, but it must be early on, cause I am still smiling

Not sure where this photo was taken, but it must be early on, cause I am still smiling

Then, after a couple of miles from Settlement Camp, I heard some quick steps and someone breathing heavily coming up fast on my left. It was like a train locomotive coming up. I thought it was the Russian Fruitarian – at first – but when I got passed I realized it was Iain.

Glimpsing back I noticed that Ben and Ryan were close, while Denis started losing some ground.
I did lose my advantage on the climb, true, but my effort was not as intense as the one they were producing. When we took the left turn on the white trail heading to Beacon Fire Tower, Iain had just a couple of seconds on me and Ben was not far behind.
We kept pretty much the same gap from there through the Casino Trail and the yellow Wilkinson trail, till almost the Fishkill trail, where I started feeling tired of all those little ups and downs. The sun also started to hit us more directly in those sections where trees gave room to short bushes.

Ben gained on me and passed me decisively. I tried to follow for a couple of minutes, but I needed to stay focused on my effort, not his or Iain’s.

When I hit the section near the Bulldozer (I think it is called Dozer Junction), I realized the two of them were gone. Behind me I had no idea what was going on and in my mind there was the vivid fear of seeing Denis popping up. I also knew that sooner or later Ryan would make his appearance and claim his territory. He was going to be a main character on Beacon hill, that was a fact.

The steep downhill section was tricky and I started feeling a bit exhausted. My next goal was to make it to the bottom of the trail where the week before I found a good size creek with plenty of cold fresh water. Hot and steaming I dragged myself for another 5-10 minutes and when I got to the creek I threw to the side my handheld and dipped my legs, arms and face onto the creek.

I think I almost looked like a bear coming out from the cold waters of an Alaskan river after hunting for fish, and even if it costed me valuable time, the minute I spent there was very much needed to cool off and put myself together again.

The remaining smooth portion downhill was very runnable, and even if I was not hitting impressive splits, it gave me the chance to recover the legs moving steadily, without breaking the pace. Almost at the intersection with the red Casino trail I ran into Scotie who was following Joe A. taking photos and footage of the race. He told me I was only three minutes behind Ben and Iain.

It was not a bad gap, overall. Given I lost about a minute on the creek, that means they probably gained just about a minute a mile since I last saw them. That was quite an incentive to keep up the effort without falling off the pace in “lazy territory”.

Just moments later I ran into Joe A. and he confirmed that Ben and Iain were just ahead at the Aid Station.

Last few steps up before hitting AS 5 at Beacon base

Last few steps up before hitting AS 5 at Beacon base

While running down trying to miss the mass of hikers that was coming up and down the trail making it almost an obstacle course, I decided to avoid the trail for the last section and use the metal stairs. Definitely this was a slower route, but at least I could save just a bit more my legs.

No sign of the leading duo, yet, so I thought they were already making their way up to South Beacon Mountain. Then, all of a sudden after the stairs, they appeared.

They were so close. Immediately I thought I could have made the effort to try and catch up with them. I knew the hill, and I knew I could run it even with tired legs. At the aid station I got a lot of help refilling the bottle, getting ice, and washing my face with ice cold water. I remember in particular Ian G being very helpful.

I headed back up where I came from and Ryan came out from the trail, in the same spot I saw Ben and Iain before. He was hot on my heels. I told him to hurry up and catch me, knowing his proverbial climbing strengths. Having a companion would have helped in those last 4 miles, even if knowing he was catching me put me down a little bit. Still, we were probably both tempted to reconnect with the lead.
I entered the stairs again and as soon as the trail opened up I gave my best climbing effort for about 10 seconds. For 10 seconds I believed I could get to the front. Then I had my first cramp.

From there on I just shuffled up, a bit disappointed, but still glad of how the race was coming out. At this point the race became a journey to the finish line, there was no victory waiting for me, and there never was one. I knew it from the beginning, I was just reminded of my limits by those powerful and painful cramps that stopped me in a couple of spots.

Beacon Hill, a gentle endless torture that reminds us we compete against the terrain and ourselves

Beacon Hill, a gentle endless torture that reminds us we compete against the terrain and ourselves

After the first mile up (and 1,000ft up) I got a better momentum going towards the fire tower. I could not see Ryan behind me, yet, so I felt refreshed that I was not a total loser. Also, no sign of Denis. Worst case I could have finished fourth at that point. That was remarkable for me.

Before the fire tower I got totally confused with the course. I did not bring the directions with me so I was not sure where I had to go. I could not see flags anywhere (till this point the course was marked perfectly and I had no issue navigating through), so I started climbing up the white trail, the same way Steve did when I saw him the week before practicing on the course.
I couldn’t see flags so I thought something was a bit off and I ran off trail about 100 ft towards the section we used on the outback course. I saw a flag and reconnected with the trail, disappointed for losing some valuable time and climbing some extra ground that was really not accounted for in the plan.

Well, at least at this point the hard part was over, at least I thought. With left and right hamstrings cramping it was going to be a smooth transition to the finish line where a sunny afternoon would have comforted my rest and the wait for Michelle.

Instead I forgot that there was another couple of little hurdles to go by: the rocky and technical section on the white trail, and hikers making it a tough going the trail.

Sure enough to make it even funnier my left hip flexor started cramping while trying to slide down a rock with an elder asian woman right down below me.
She did not even realize I was on top of her, did not see me going by rolling down the rocks on my butt (a huge hat covered her face), and probably realized that something must have happened cause she must have heard me swearing in Italian.

While trying to survive the easier final descent moving my legs very gently to avoid further cramps I ran into Michelle at about 5 hours and change, which was a very good time and well ahead of the plan she made.

Solid run for Michelle who enjoyed a nice day as well

Solid run for Michelle who enjoyed a nice day as well

Proof that we can have a good time in Cortina, maybe?

My face transpire some hurting, but I felt very happy at this point, almost at the finish line. Photo Credit Katherine

My face transpire some hurting, but I felt very happy at this point, almost at the finish line. Photo Credit Katherine

Feeling content that the day was going well for both, I dragged myself to the finish, incredibly satisfied for a day in which the race taught me a lot, the other runners taught me a lot and I even got to spend a bunch of time with several people at the finish line

Finish Line 42k (or more) celebration

Finish Line 42k (or more) celebration

Excellent footage of the race: check out these links by Joe Azze and Mountain Peak Fitness

and if you want to know who won the race, see the video of the incredible finish between Ben and Iain here:

and here

A huge thank you to Ian Golden for this incredible race and event. A huge thank you to Mountain Peak Fitness and Red Newt Racing Team for welcoming me in a team of talented, fast, and tough athletes who are exquisite persons to talk to and a great enjoyable company before, during and after the race.

A honorable mention to Michelle for finishing her adventure light years ahead of schedule, which means San Francisco was not an accident, and also for putting up with my stupid training plans.

Thumbs up again to MPT for providing the team with wonderful, useful and very helpful apparel for the race. Thank you also to Ryan, Kristina, Eric and Steve for sharing your race stories with me at the end of race, as well as your life adventures.

Gears:

Singlet: Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team by Patagonia – M’s Air Flow Singlet
Shorts: Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team by Patagonia – M’s Striders Short/5″ (wonderful for trail running)
Socks: Feetures Ultra Light
Shoes: Salomon S-Lab Sense 4
Hydration: Amphipod Hydraform 20oz bottle
Watch/GPS: Garmin 910XT
Fuel Belt:

NYC Marathon

Running the NYCM overflows me with feelings and emotions that I have complex difficulty to express.

I am going to leave images speak for my race clearly remembering, 4 months after this race, how badly I had to stop on a porta potty along 1st ave leaving behind the dreams of a sub 2:37, which was already an adjustment from the 2:34 I had originally envisioned, before I was hit with head wind for the whole race.

As someone more famous than me once said about his WS third place: it is from the tough races and from failures that you learn the most.
I would not consider this race as a failure, because it still generated a 4 min PR, but a great experience to try new things for the next attempt

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