Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reach the Beach 2010!!!

We did it!!!  After 209.06 miles, 25 hours 9 minutes and 27 seconds, team Front Runners NY Ultragays ran from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach, covering countless miles of misery, sleeplessness, terror, darkness, cold, and agony.  Along the way, there were many unforgettable moments of jubilation, excitement, and just plain fun that made Reach the Beach 2010 one of my favorite running events of all time.

In a first for FRNY, we sent SIX teams of runners to RTB this year: a regular 12-person men's team ("The Real Front Runners of New York"), four men's ultra teams ("The Ultra Mission Men," "Fast Not Furious," "The Clowns Will Get Me," and "The Ultragays") and one mixed team ("The Ladies Tea Society")--in total about 50 runners and support people.  And from what I can tell, everyone had a ton of fun and put in some really impressive racing.

We started the morning with FRNY's traditional pre-RTB breakfast at Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, NH.  These are seriously the best pancakes anywhere!  You get to choose your own batter and mix-in for each pancake.... I got buckwheat/blueberry, oatmeal buttermilk/chocolate chip, and cornmeal/coconut...  yummm!!

After breakfast, team Ultragays got to Cannon Mountain for our 3pm start.  This year, our start time was the same as three of the four other FRNY men's teams.  This was both good and bad.  Good because, at least at the beginning, we would be seeing the other teams along the course.  Bad because the fact that we would be "competing" against each other could make things a bit more stressful.  The other two ultra teams (the Mission Men and Fast Not Furious) were quite a bit faster than us, so I expected them to take off pretty quickly and probably lose us not long after the start.  But I figured we were pretty evenly matched up against the Real Front Runners team (even though they were 12 and we were just 6), so I was a little nervous that it could become an intense fight for the finish the whole way.  Actually, the thought of a competition made me feel super anxious...during the pre-race orientation, Mike Terry had to calm me down because I was pretty much hyperventilating.  I tried to convince myself that we weren't really competing against the other FRNY teams--we were just running the relay to have fun.

There are indeed many opportunities to focus on having fun at RTB in a way that does not involve the stresses of racing.  One is our wardrobe.  The Ultragays of course were wearing cute little custom singlets.  We got navy Asics singlets this year, very similar to the official FRNY racing singlets, but with "ULTRAGAYS" emblazoned on the front with our team motto, "Live FAB or Die!"  People definitely noticed us, and we got a bunch of compliments.  We also decorated our van proudly proclaiming that we were the Ultragays.  I think we were able to bring a lot of good attention to both our team and FRNY.  Probably in part due to our van and singlets, and partly due to our fabulousness, we found out there was another gay running team in the race, a non-FRNY team, "GURL Boston."  I think GURL stands for Gay Urban Running League.  We met some of their runners and they seemed very nice.  If any of you GURLs are reading this, feel free to come to an FRNY Fun Run the next time you're in New York!

At 3:00, our teams were off.  Kyle was the first to run.  His first leg was a moderate-hard 7.97 miles, leading out of Cannon Mountain onto the the roads of Franconia, NH.  We had planned to meet him halfway to give him Gatorade.  As we entered the van and drove off, this was when our first (and, thankfully, only real) stressful incident came.  The time was ticking, we had to meet Kyle about 30 minutes after he started, and I realized that I lost my cell phone.  I was torn between just letting go and hoping the phone made its way to the  lost and found, and having my whole team turn around to look for my phone.  We ended up turning around the van, getting a little lost on the highway, running back to the start, where the race official had found my phone and was holding it for safekeeping.  Apparently, as I was jumping up and down cheering on Kyle and the other Front Runners, my phone fell out of my pocket.  Anyway, crisis averted.

I was the sixth leg in my team, so the last one to go.  The order was Kyle, Evan, Peter, Onesimo, Mike Terry and me.  Paul was our driver.  Here's our list of legs:
My hope for the relay was to keep all of my legs to a 7:00-7:30 pace.  I started my first leg at 6:10 pm, so I had to don a reflective vest with flashing lights and a headlamp even though it wasn't dark yet. For my first leg, which was also my longest at 8.62 miles and a net downhill of 373 feet, my concern was to not go too fast.  I knew that the downhill pounding would be killer on my quads, which I would definitely regret by leg five or six, so I tried my best not to let myself get carried away.  RTB is the one time of year when I break out my Garmin, since the miles aren't marked and I would go crazy not knowing how fast I'm going or how much I have left.  I set the watch to beep every half mile so I could adjust my running accordingly.  My pacing was a little inconsistent on this first leg, with half-mile laps between 3:23 (6:46 pace) and 3:39 (7:18 pace).  But I finished leg 1 pretty much right on target in 60:52 (7:03 pace).

My second leg was at 10:36 pm.  It was short, just 3.87 miles, but there was a bit of a vertical climb.  This was my first leg in the dark.  To make matters worse, the first half mile was in the woods.  It was pitch black, not even any moonlight could get in through the trees.  And while the first quarter mile was on a paved bike path, it soon turned into a dirt trail.  OMG, are you kidding me?!?!  There was no light, and twigs and rocks were all over the place.  I could just imagine myself twisting an ankle and taking a spill.  I was going slowly in this area, and I got passed by two runners, but I thought that it would be better to be safe than sorry.  This leg was more consistent, though, with half-mile splits between 3:32 (7:04 pace) and 3:43 (7:26 pace).  My final time was 27:41 (7:09 pace).  

Right after my second leg, we drove to Transition Area 13, which is always my favorite TA.  Here, some local townspeople set up a veritable smörgåsbord of hot, tasty, home-cooked food.  I filled up, and it really hit the spot.

I was definitely concerned about my third leg, which I started at 3:10 am.  It was 4.89 miles and, although it was mostly downhill, the last mile had a 250' rise.  I took my first half mile out at 3:18 (6:36 pace), which I soon realized was way too fast.  I slowed down a bit and my next three miles were all around 7:30 pace.  But then the hill came.  It was pretty brutal, although I did pass three people.  My Garmin beeped but I refused to look at it because I didn't want to know how slow I was going.  About a third of a mile from the finish, a runner passed me, and I mustered up all the energy I could to try to stay with him.  But I couldn't really hang on, and he finished quite a bit before me.  So the splits for the last 2 miles were:
              Mile 3.0 - 3.5    3:56 (7:52 pace)
              Mile 3.5 - 4.0    4:04 (8:08 pace)
              Mile 4.0 - 4.5    4:16 (8:32 pace....yikes!)
              Mile 4.5 - 4.89  3:10 (8:08 pace) 
This was my slowest leg, which I finished in 38:22 (7:50 pace).  Ugh.

After leg 3, I pretty much passed out.  I felt like crap.  As you can see, I looked like crap too:

I ended up sleeping through the next several transitions.  I just didn't have the energy to cheer on everyone or help give out Gatorade.  Apparently, at one point I abruptly woke up from my slumber and yelled out mean/funny things about certain other people...I don't really remember, I was pretty delirious at that point.

I was really nervous about leg 4.  It wasn't particularly difficult, except for a half-mile, 90 foot hill at mile 5.5 (pretty similar in size and distance to Harlem Hill), but it was my second longest run at 6.87 miles.  I felt like my legs had nothing more to give.  I popped an Aleve beforehand and hoped for the best.  I don't remember very much about this leg, but it began at 7:45 am, so I didn't have to wear the stupid vest anymore.  (You can see from the picture above that I had to put medical tape on my neck because the vest was chafing it so much.)  The van stopped about halfway through to give me Gatorade.  A woman passed me, going really fast and I couldn't keep up with her; that annoyed me.  But I did manage to pass about a dozen other people.  I finished in 51:42, for an average 7:31 pace on this leg.  The half-mile that included the big hill was at 4:07 (8:14 pace).

Somewhere between my 4th and 5th legs, the "Real Front Runners" team passed us.  I felt completely defeated.  Of course, it wasn't really a competition, especially since they had twelve runners compared to our six.  But we had been ahead up until now, and it was so disappointing that with their much fresher legs, they had caught up and then overtaken us.  At this point, I started to get stressed out.  Our teams were pretty much neck and neck.  I was running against Manja from the Real Front Runners.  Leg five was a short one, only 3.15 miles.  It was 12:47 pm, and I felt like it was a new day.  As I stood at the transition area with Manja, I saw that Mike, from my team, was the next runner to come in.  He had taken the lead back for the Ultragays!  I couldn't see where the next Real Front Runner was, so I knew I had a comfortable lead.  I grabbed the baton/wristband from Mike and proceeded to BOOK IT out of there.  My emotions were all over the place. But I knew I couldn't let myself get passed by Manja.  I ran so friggin fast.  My first half mile was 3:18 (6:36 pace).  I knew there was no way I could sustain that speed, after already running over 24 miles.  But I couldn't help it -- I was terrified at the prospect of being passed by another Front Runner.  My first two miles were well under 7 minute pace.  It was so hard.  I looked over my shoulder after a left turn to see if he was behind me.  I didn't see him, and let out a huge sigh of relief.  I slowed down a tiny bit for the last mile, and made it to the transition at 21:38...a 6:52 pace, my fastest pace of the day!  Manja must have been flying for that last mile too, though, because he came in right after me.

By the time I was up for the final leg of the race, the Real Front Runners had passed us again and were well ahead of us.  I actually felt this was a bit of a relief.  I couldn't bear another intensely stressful, fast leg.  My last leg was 4.09 miles.  It was also the very last leg of the relay, so I got to actually "Reach the Beach."  The leg started at 3:40 in the afternoon, and I was so exhausted by this point after 24 hours of racing.  The first two miles headed straight towards the beach, and the last two miles ran along the coastline.  About a mile in, I could smell the sea air and I knew I was getting close.  I had passed several people along the way.  But one guy who I passed at mile 1 decided to stick with me.  He proceeded to follow me, about 3 steps behind me, for the entire rest of the run.  I couldn't shake him off.  And he was pushing me to go faster and faster.  All I wanted was for him to pass me so I could finish my last couple of miles without killing myself.  But he just stuck on, three feet behind me.  As we were at the last half mile or so, spectators were cheering for us.  They loved the fact that we were almost neck-and-neck.  I heard someone shout out that there was a fight to the finish.  Around this time, I also heard, coming from above, people shouting "DAAAVE LIIIIINNN!"  I didn't know who it was or where it came from, but it just pushed me to go harder and faster.

Then, with about a quarter mile left, I made a turn, and I had reached the beach!  But... I had to run on....  SAND?!?!   Not even packed beach sand but loose sand, that almost stopped me dead in my tracks.  But I knew that the other guy was just a few feet behind me, so I kept pushing, trying to wade through the ankle-deep sand.  And finally, FINALLY, I saw the finishing chute.  I looked for my team but they were nowhere in sight.  I heard other Front Runners though, cheering for me, and I just ran as hard as I could possibly go through that finish line.

It was exhilarating.  It was such of rush of emotions.  I had no idea I could push myself that hard.  I was so relieved it was over.  I was so happy to see other Front Runners at the end to cheer me through.  But I was so heartbroken that the rest of the Ultragays weren't there to share the moment with me (their van had apparently gotten stuck in traffic and couldn't make it to the finish in time).

That last leg, miles 27-31, was one of my faster ones, which I ran at a 7:04 pace.  I was elated.  This past year has been a tough one for me and my running.  I knew I was undertrained.  I've had to deal with my butt injury for almost a year now.  Through x-rays, MRIs, loads of physical therapy, and even a steroid injection, my running (and my sanity) have taken quite a toll.  I truly, really had doubts about whether I would be able to finish this race.

But in the end, both my team and I (and my Club) did great.  I finished my 31.49 miles at a 7:16 pace.  A little bit slower than last year's 7:03 pace, but a solid time nonetheless.  I felt great at the finish and proud that I could push myself so hard.  My team, the Ultragays, was the fifth FRNY team, but I was so happy of our achievement.  We finished the 209.06 miles at an astonishing 7:13 pace, enough to place us 25th out of 429 finishers (most of whom were 12-person teams).  And even more important than our clock time, was the fact that we had just a great time together.  Due to several dropouts, the Jewish holiday, injury and last minute conflicts, our team was not assembled until two days before we left for New Hampshire.  At times, I had doubts about whether there would actually be an Ultragays team.  But in the end, we all raced remarkably well, and we had a time that none of us will ever forget.  Thanks Mike, Kyle, Peter, Onesimo, Evan and Paul for making Reach the Beach 2010 such a great, exciting, crazy, memorable and fun experience!

Congratulations to all of the Front Runners New York teams, and to everyone who ran Reach the Beach!!!

Team Name     
Overall   Category   Cat/Plc.  Pace   Finish Time
--------  --------   --------  ----   ----------

FRNY Ultra Mission Men          
10   1-Men Ultra     1/19      6:27   22:31:00

Front Runners Fast not Furious  
13   1-Men Ultra     2/19      6:38   23:07:43

FRNY - The Clowns Will Get Me   
19   1-Men Ultra     5/19      7:08   24:52:26

Real Front Runners of New York  
24   2-Men Open      6/118     7:11   25:04:29

Front Runners NY Ultragays      
25   1-Men Ultra     6/19      7:13   25:09:27

FRNY Ladies Tea Society         
330  14-Mixed Open   104/148   8:53   30:58:53

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oh My God, What Did I Get Myself Into?

I am truly, truly, truly, truly terrified.  In 24 hours, I will be riding in a van full of Front Runners to run in the Reach the Beach Relay, a 200-mile relay race that starts in New Hampshire's White Mountains and ends at the Atlantic coast.  This will be my fourth time running Reach the Beach.  But I've never been so scared to do it.

The first two times I ran RTB, I was in a "regular" 12-person team.  200 miles divided by 12 people isn't too bad...  about 16 miles total, spread out over three legs in around 24 hours.  Last year, I was in an "Ultra" team, so there were only six of us splitting up the 200 miles in six legs each.  I ran about 31 miles last year, and it was so brutal.  I hated every second of it.  I hated running up hills in the pitch black darkness, having no idea how much farther the hill would go on, or even if my next step would be up or downhill.  I hated running completely sleep-deprived, to the point where I was imagining other runners creeping up behind me when there was no one, absolutely no one, within half a mile of me.  I hated running 20 miles of the steepest hills I had ever experienced only to realize that I still had 11 more miserable miles to go.  I even hated finishing each leg, because I knew that I had less than three hours before I had to do the whole thing all over again.

And most of all, I hated the fact that there was another Front Runner team, perfectly matched up against us in their pace, who ran almost side-by-side with us throughout the whole race.  It was so intense.  So stressful.  I just wanted it to be over as soon as it started.  I had never been so exhausted, scared, miserable, almost delirious in my life.

And as soon as it was over, I couldn't wait to do it again.  It was the most amazing experience ever.  I have never felt myself pushed to the absolute limits quite like that, both mentally and physically.  I was in a great van with people who were among my very best friends in the world, whose support, encouragement, camaraderie and general craziness helped pull us through those 209 excruciating miles.  It was an experience I will never forget.

But this year, things are different.  My running has been crap.  I still have this damn butt issue that I think is just never going to go away.  And after last year's experience, I'm just plain scared.  And to top it off, I'm just getting over a cold now, which kept me from running over the past few days.  And my ankle is still sore from when I, in a state of semi-drunkeness combined with lack of adequate lighting, fell off the boardwalk in Fire Island several weeks ago.

When I realized that RTB was fast approaching about a month ago, I tried to ramp up my running a bit.  I've met this with some very limited success.  Last week, I joined the Front Runners on the Saturday long run.  It was supposed to be an 18-miler, from W. 73rd Street around the northern tip of Manhattan.  I started off the run kind of following my running buddies Mikey and Matt.  But after about 4-5 miles I realized that there was just no way I could keep up with them for 18 miles.  So I fell back a little, and I started running with Jim.

Jim promptly got us lost.  Ugh, I was so annoyed.  Not because of where we ended up, though.  He had led us into Inwood Hill Park, at the very northernmost tip of Manhattan.  It was my first time in the park and it was actually quite nice, with some pretty dramatic views.  Its valleys, boulders and ridges were apparently formed by glaciers thousands of years ago and seem virtually untouched since then.  I was happy to have discovered this new part of New York City that I had never known of.

I was annoyed, though, that our 18-miler was going to turn into a 20-miler.  However, we ended up accidentally taking a shortcut, which cut about a mile and a half off from our run, so we were back on course without that much added mileage.  I was so relieved.  At ten miles into our run, though, I began to feel like I had had enough.  I was thinking of places to turn off and just take the subway back.  The last 5 miles of the planned route had us going along the last five miles of the New York City Marathon, and I couldn't imagine going up that endless 5th Avenue hill.  In the back of my mind, I thought maybe I would run to Marcus Garvey Park (around mile 13.5) and just call it a day.

About 12.5 miles in, Jim clipped his foot on the uneven sidewalk and fell, scraping himself up a bit.  He was fine, but that was the end of his run.  (One mildly amusing sidenote: several people witnessed the incident and told Jim to call a lawyer.  Jim and I are both lawyers!)  I did not trip.  But I was handed the perfect excuse to cut my own run short.  I decided to hitch a ride back to the start with Jim, ostensibly to make sure he was OK, but in reality, I just had enough.  I went back to the church, somewhat disappointed and ashamed that I couldn't finish the long run.

That afternoon, though, I forced myself to go outside and finish the last six miles.  It was slow.  And instead of the gentle incline of 5th Avenue and the rolling hills of Central Park, I did my six miles with Dane on the pancake-flat boardwalk in the Jersey Shore.  I wasn't proud of my running that day, but at least I got in my miles.  I viewed it as a small victory in getting back, slowly, into shape.

The Tuesday afterwards I made myself go to the outdoor Central Park workout.  It was my first workout since May or June, and it was a tough one:  two times 25 minutes of nonstop hill running.  Just up and down and up and down Harlem Hill, continuously for 25 minutes.  The first time I did ok, but the second one, I pretty much fell apart.  The awful thing about this workout was that since it was just going back and forth a bunch of times up and down the hill, everyone who was running downhill could see the pain and agony on my face as I struggled to trudge uphill.  Many people offered words of encouragement--"Keep it up, Dave!"--but I just wanted to hide in a hole somewhere.  The only thing that kept me going was my fear of being lapped by Josh and Rich.  Each time I reached the bottom, I contemplated stopping and cutting the run short, but I felt that would be even more embarrassing.  So I just kept going, slowly, through the 25 minutes of agony.

With last week's disappointments, though, came some runs that I thought were pretty successful.  On Wednesday's fun run, I ran the full six-mile loop with Matt.  When I got to Harlem Hill this time, I charged up it like a speed demon, doing whatever I could to redeem myself after the prior day's disappointing workout.  It felt so great, so exhilarating, to be able to climb with such power.  And then, when we hit the last mile or so, Matt and I kicked it up even more.  It felt like an all-out race, but I didn't let myself fall back.  WOW!  I had almost forgotten how it felt to run fast.  It was so much fun!  Matt's Garmin said we finished that last mile in 5:53...amazing!  I haven't run a mile that fast in a very, very, very long time.  It made me feel like I'm back, back to running!

And on Saturday, I ran the Fitness Magazine 4-Miler.  It wasn't one of my faster 4-milers, but I think I did respectably well.  It was the first race in a long time where I pushed myself.  My final time was 27:02, or a 6:45 pace (splits were 6:46, 6:41, :59, 6:36).  I'm encouraged, though, because I know I've been getting faster, and I know I can do even better.

I just don't think I can do much better by Friday, when I have to run 31 miles.  :-/

*                                  *                                       *

The evening after Dane and I ran our six miles on the boardwalk in Jersey, we went to Jimmy's Italian Restaurant in Asbury Park with Josh and Chris.  Jimmy's is one of those old school, old world New Jersey Italian restaurants where you would maybe expect to see Tony Soprano sitting at the next table.  They serve classic Italian dishes in hearty portions.  I got the linguine with broccoli rabe and sausage and Chris got the lasagne, pictured below.  The food was among the best Italian that I've had in a very long time.  Josh got the veal marsala, which was soooo good.  I never order veal because, you know, the whole animal cruelty thing.  But every time I taste a little bit, I feel like I've been missing out on a little bit of heaven.