Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Race Report: Prospect Mountain Road Race

I've been trying to get to Lake George for the Prospect Mountain hill climb for the past few years.  I like hill races, even those on pavement, and this one, less than two hours from my house, has been on my radar for some time.  The race has a long tradition; this year marked the twenty-sixth running, and several top-flight competitors have taken on the climb, most notably New England mountain running legend Tim Van Orden.  I didn't know who would be in the field this year, though I wasn't sure it would matter.  The race fell at the end of week of five of my final six-week push before Cayuga Trails; with 550 miles run in the previous 5 weeks, I doubted I'd be able to put up much of a placing if anyone of note showed up.  I was looking forward to racing, though; with only a pizza race to my name since Mount Mitchell, I was getting a little antsy.  And I've been feeling good, running some decent-to-solid workouts on both the track and the roads to go along with my 110-mile weeks.  I wasn't fresh, but I was fit; maybe I could sneak out some kind of result if the day went well.

This seemed unlikely as I finished my warmup and saw Mike Slinskey getting out of his car.  Mike is a bit of a local legend in our parts.  A three-time Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon, Mike holds many of the course records for local races in the Hudson Valley, and is an accomplished (if less prolific) mountain racer as well, having placed highly at Whiteface and Mount Washington in the past.  At 45, he's not quite the indomitable force he once was, but he remains a tough competitor, still one I've never beaten in a race.  His presence alone meant I was probably not in the mix for the win.  Oh well.

I felt a bit sluggish overall on the warmup--likely the result of my 5am alarm--and my stomach didn't feel great, but as far as I could tell my legs felt strong enough.  No tightness in my Achilles, which has been bothering me to varying degrees for several months, and no real residual soreness from the hard track workout two days previously, or the 119 miles of the previous seven days.  Not raring to go, exactly, but as best as I could hope for as we stood on the line.  There were a few other fit-looking folks lined up near the front, so we'd have to see how everything played out. 

The Veterans' Memorial Highway that runs from Lake George to the summit of Prospect Mountain is just under 5.7 miles, climbing 1600 feet in elevation.  If everything went well, I thought I might be able to run near seven-minute pace, close to the 40-minute mark which, based on previous years, would put me in the mix for the top two or three.  The first mile is mostly flat, and I started fairly aggressively, following a fit-looking runner about my height to the lead immediately after the gun.  I checked my watch after a couple minutes of hard work and saw that my GPS had me running 5:55 pace--probably not sustainable.  I backed off a tad to a slightly more relaxed tempo and allowed a small gap to open; I came through the first mile in 6:05, five seconds back of the lead, not sensing anyone from behind.

The climbing started in earnest immediately after the mile mark, and the pace slowed considerably as we started uphill at a 6-8% grade.  My cadence seemed a little quicker than the leader's, and I caught him within about half a mile, moving in front and opening a small gap.  I couldn't completely put him away, but it was still early; I resolved to keep the pressure on as best I could.

After a steady mile and a half of climbing, the road leveled off near the 2.5-mile mark, and he came back up on my shoulder.  I picked up the pace in response, and we dipped down under 6-minute pace as I started to open the gap again.  I was feeling strong, though I knew I was probably going too hard.  I passed three miles in 20:17, about five seconds in front, as the climbing started again.

From that point on there would be no respite from the climb, but we were already past halfway and there was no looking back now.  I started to pay the price a bit for my aggressive start.  My legs got heavy and my cadence slowed a bit.  I could feel the rubber band stretching between me and my rival behind me, but I couldn't get it to break; I could still sense and hear him back there from time to time, and at four miles (27:53) the gap was still only around five seconds.  Keep pushing, keep pushing.

The fifth mile became a slog.  The tempo dropped drastically, and I fought to keep my pace under 8:00/mile.  Slowly I could hear him coming back on me, and inevitably the negative self-talk crept in.  You can't do it, you can't shake him.  You'll be lucky to hold on to second.  I could hear him drawing closer, very slowly, with each step.

Stop it, I told myself.  If you can get to the five-mile mark with the lead you've got a chance.  I had very little left in the legs, but we were only about a mile from the finish.  Make him work for it.  See what he's got left.  With about two hundred meters until the five-mile marker, I could feel him right behind, and I knew I was going to get caught; I eased off the pace the tiniest bit, regrouping, gathering myself for one more move in the final half-mile.  Just relax.  Recover a little bit.  Maybe he's through, maybe you can come back on him at the end.

Sure enough, as he caught me, I felt him relax a tiny bit, content to latch onto my shoulder and not pass me and force the pace.  An opening, maybe.  I took a deep breath and kicked the pace down a notch, getting immediate separation.  Two strides, three, four.  Past the five mile mark, a three second gap.  Two hundred meters later I could feel the gap getting even bigger.  I was locking up, but there was less than half a mile to go, and it felt like I had finally put him away.  Around a big sweeping left turn with two hundred meters to go, I felt and heard nothing.  I chanced the tiniest glance over my shoulder and saw nobody.  Don't let up, I told myself.  You can't have more than a few seconds' lead.  Keep pushing.  Finish line in sight now.  The bored, tepid applause of scattered spectators.  Keep pushing, come on.  A hundred yards.  Fifty.  OK, nobody's there.  Nobody's cheering.  I eased up five yards from the line and, of course, out of nowhere, got blasted from behind by a tall gangly runner in an orange singlet whom I hadn't seen since the start.  No!  Too late, no time to react.  Half a second and it was over.

I slumped to the curb at the end of the finish chute, kicking myself. After leading from the nine-minute mark on I lost the race in the final stride.  I was angry with the spectators and the finish line officials--no heads-up?  No warning?  Not a single "hey, he's closing on you" or even a blip of excitement at the prospect of a sprint finish?--but of course I was mostly angry with myself.  Even three days later I'm still kicking myself.  Sure, it was a good effort, a good training stimulus, a solid run at the end of a huge mileage block, a nice result for a race I hadn't been aiming toward at all.  But still.  Two more hard strides would have done it.

The disappointment does not wash away easily, even for an otherwise well-executed "C" race.  I guess when I stop being disappointed about being pipped on the the line, I'll know it's time to hang up the racing flats; the fact that it still rankles me so much is probably a good sign.  And again, I'll take mostly positives away from the rest of the race.  For one thing, I beat Mike Slinskey for the first time in my life, so that's something.  In terms of my overall fitness level and my response to the heavy training, I feel like I'm right on track for Cayuga in three weeks' time.  And it's silly to pretend that anything's wrong or that I'm not race ready when, if I had run one second faster, I'd feel completely confident and pleased.  But it's hard not to let the teeniest bit of self-doubt creep in.  It feels like I bought a new car which I love but a week after I bought it it's got a big ding in the side panel.  The car runs great and maybe nobody even notices there's a dent and the paint's a little scratched.  But I still know it's there.

Of note, this was the first race I've run in the Salming Race flat, so check back in a few days for my review of the shoes.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Race Report: Spring Dual Against CF Kid's Race

The Spring Dual Against CF is the unofficial opener of the local multisport season, and this year both Lexi and Dylan decided they were going to take part in the kids' race. (The fact that I offered them pizza, ice cream, and chocolate-chip pancakes may have had something to do with it.)  The kids' race is a 0.5-mile run, a 2-mile bike, and a 0.3-mile run.  It's open from ages 7-17, and I was very proud of them for competing against a field of kids who were generally much older.  They both tried incredibly hard and really made themselves suffer, which is both awesome and horrible to watch as a parent.  But again, very proud.  Both managed to medal in the 7-10 year-old age group, so despite the suffering, the story had a happy ending.  Take it away, girls!


This is the story of the duathlon:

This was my first big race. It was my second big race, but still big. It was so awesome! They handed out timers to put on our ankles. I liked the beginning, but at the end I was out of breath. I liked the biking better than the running. So did I. At the end, my legs felt like rubber and I was breathing funny. I am pretty sure that I was literally the youngest person there, so I thought that I was going to be nowhere near 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. But to my surprise, I got 2nd place! I never would have guessed that I came in 3rd place! That race was awesome! I was pretty relieved when the race was over. Me too. :) ****:) :)*****:) :)*****:)

--Lexi & Dylan

First Annual New Paltz Pizza Challenge

Logo courtesy of Vinny Sickles

"This is the first time I'd rather be running than eating pizza."
--Chris Regan, co-founder of Team Pizza Racers, while eating slice #6

As most running/eating stories begin, this one starts in college.  At Cornell, we had six "all-you-can-eat", buffet-style dining halls, spread out across the 750-acre campus.  Our meal plan would allow you to visit as many of these dining halls, as many times as you wanted, within each specified meal period (generally a 2-3 hour window).  Naturally, it didn't take long for the cross-country team to decide that a race between the six dining halls, consuming a meal at each, was a great idea.  The 2.5-mile Dining Hall Classic started in 1991 (predating the famous Krispy Kreme Challenge by over a dozen years) and was won by this idiot.  The race was held every December, following the end of XC season, until 2002, when one of the greatest ultra runners in the world ended his three-year winning streak--and the race itself--by reportedly running through a glass door.
Gathering at the start.
Photo: Jodi Friedman
I ran the DHC one time, my senior year, placing an unimpressive 11th, and I have no particular affinity or aptitude for such events (as anyone who has followed my beer mile career well knows).  But upon moving to New Paltz in 2004, I was struck by the density of pizza shops in our small town.  Our quiet little hamlet, barely a mile in length, with a population of less than 7000 people, housed no less than eight pizzerias (no doubt supported mostly by the 6000 or so full time students at SUNY New Paltz). My love for pizza knows no bounds.  Slowly an idea began to percolate--a brilliant, stupid idea.  A one-mile race through town incorporating a slice at each pizza shop.

Mike Selig, food-racing visionary.
Photo: Tara Siudy
This brilliant idea lay dormant for several years.  I envisioned an official race, necessitating closure of Main Street, a near-impossible task, and so the event did not seem possible.  But in 2013 I mentioned it to Mike Selig, a former college teammate who had just moved to the area.  Aside from being a top-flight mountain runner, Mike has some experience organizing food races.  He had hosted a fast-food challenge in Boulder and was the originator of the Mighty Mile in Buffalo (think beer mile, but with tacos), which in its sixth year was drawing 40-60 runners annually.  He encouraged me to follow my "dream" in a, shall we say, less conspicuous capacity.  And so the New Paltz Pizza Challenge was born.

For our first event, I wanted to keep it small.  I didn't want any issues with holding up traffic, upsetting the NIMBY-leaning element of our town; I also didn't want to make any of the pizzerias feel as though we would harm their business on a busy spring Friday evening.  I reasoned, we'd put it on once, small-scale, and show everyone that it was not only possible, but low-impact and fun.  Not wanting to call undue attention--or have someone give me a flat-out "no"--I notified only the pizza places where I knew the owners.  I did no publicity.  The field was invitation-only and capped at 16 people.  (For ease of ordering.  Two pies, get it?)

Dylan and her first-grade teacher, Matt Elkin
Photo: Jodi Friedman
Unfortunately about a month before the race, one of the longtime pizza shops in town closed their doors, so we were down to seven slices, but that was OK.  I assembled the field and stationed volunteers at each "aid station," whose job it was to order the pizza, make sure it was ready for the runners, and serve as the referees, enforcing the rules at each stop (no running indoors, no vomiting indoors, must finish each slice completely before leaving, etc.).  I came up with a 5K+ loop to emphasize the running aspect a bit more, and established a menu.  And on Friday evening, May 1st, we gathered behind the Water Street Market and took off.

I started off fast, leading Selig and Brian Oestrike by just a couple of seconds through the first half mile down the rail trail to Village Pizza, where we settled in for a cheese slice.  I'm not much for eating fast, but did I mention I really, really like pizza?  Plus, since I've become a bit wedded to the LCHF thing, my pizza consumption has dropped precipitously.  I scarfed down my first slice in over a month like a ravenous hyena, leaving in second place, about 30 seconds behind Brian.
The leaders at AS1: Oestrike, Selig, yours truly
Photo: Tara Siudy

The stretch from AS1 to AS2 is the longest uninterrupted running segment on the course, about 1.25 miles of mostly steady uphill running.  It took me about a mile, but I caught up with Brian about two minutes before we reached Rocco's Pizzeria, where we attacked a cheese-less slice of Grandma's pizza.  I was feeling good, both running and eating well.  I left in second again, only about 5-10 seconds back this time, with Selig, Mike Halstead, Brian Hickey, and Mike Siudy all eating vigorously, less than a minute behind.

Chris Regan, founder of Team Pizza
Racers, ran the whole race in costume.
Photo: Tara Siudy
The next two stops--Pasquale's and Rino's--are just across the street from Rocco's, making for three slices in less than 200 meters.  I started to find my rhythm.  Pasquale's was a half-slice, pepperoni for me, jalapeƱos for the vegetarians; Brian maintained a slight lead, but we dashed across the parking lot into Rino's and sat down basically together for slice #4: a Caprese slice, stacked with chunks of tomatoes and mozzarella.  The eating was starting to get a little slower now, but Rino's Caprese is one of my favorite slices in town, and I was simply loving life.  I crammed the last of the tomato in my mouth and left AS4 a few seconds in the lead.

Brian caught up on the half-mile stretch to La Bella, where we entered together for slice #5; a half-slice of cheese for me and eggplant for Brian.  (I felt the need to handicap the vegetarians a little bit, given, what was coming on the last two slices.) Once again, we left within seconds of each other and ran the next downhill half-mile together.  Two slices remained, only half a block apart.

Hickey struggling at Gourmet.
Photo: Courtney McDermott
Gourmet Pizza was where the wheels started to come off, fortunately not just for me but for everyone else.  To this point we had run about 2.9 of the 3.3 miles, and just about everyone reported reaching this point feeling good, but the menu was about to take a turn for the disgusting.  I ordered up a cheeseburger pizza for the carnivores--ground beef, mozzarella, cheddar, mayo--and a broccoli-wheat pizza for the veggies. The slices were enormous, and with four full slices already on board, it was getting hard to choke down more.  For the first time, I was worried I might vomit.  But we had slowed the eating pace enough that I was able to recover a bit and got out in first place while Brian still had several bites left--my first real gap.  Only Halstead and Hickey had arrived by the time I left, so I knew my lead on the rest of the field was widening as I jogged the few feet down to Jordan's, the final stop.

Jodi and the girls were part of the volunteer team at Jordan's, and the girls surrounded me giddily as I settled into my chair with slice #7.  "Did you puke?  Who puked?  Did anyone puke?"  After about three minutes of listening to this, I finally blurted out, "Nobody say the word puke again!," which mercifully shut them up.

At Jordan's.  Nobody is happy.
Photo: Jodi Friedman
The final slice is one of my all-time favorites--Jordan's "CBR," shorthand for "chicken, bacon, and ranch."  I knew it would be murder at this point though, and it was.  I tried to be as methodical as possible.  I felt as though my lead was slipping away, but a couple of minutes passed before anyone else made their way in; by the time Oestrike and Halstead arrived together, I was halfway through the gigantic slice, and knew that neither of them would be making up too much time on this monster.  (Brian, one of the vegetarians, had no real advantage with his assigned pesto-peppers-onions combination.)  I staggered out the door several minutes later, as Hickey and Selig both arrived, but everyone looked about as bad as I felt.

I had spent the majority of the race running very well, despite having run a solid track workout the night before, but the final few hundred meters to the finish was a death march designed to move me forward at the fastest rate I could tolerate without vomiting.  My legs still felt fine, though, and I had enough of a lead to relax through the finish in 33:39, the inaugural NPPC champion.

Yay, I guess.
Photo: Tara Siudy
Sprint finish for second.
Photo: Tara Siudy
The race seemed to be a success.  The volunteers were awesome and logistically everything went off without a hitch.  Everyone complained incessantly about the final two slices, which is how I know I got the menu right.  And several of the pizzerias were enthusiastic about the idea once they saw it in action.  There's already talk of an Ithaca Pizza Challenge possibly on tap for later this year.  We'll tweak things a bit for 2016, and hopefully open the race up to the general public.  In five years we'll be Krispy Kreme big.  (Probably not.  But a guy can dream.  About pizza.)

In the pain cave.
Photo: Tara Siudy
1. Jason Friedman 33:39
2. Brian Oestrike 38:40
3. Michael Halstead 38:42
4. Mike Siudy 43:40
5. Mike Selig 43:53
6. Myron Baker 45:50
7. Mike Bakker 47:19
8. Phil Vondra 48:17
9. Vinny Sickles 49:32
10. Christopher Regan 54:30
Brian Hickey 43:09 (did not finish slice #7)
Natalie Thompson 48:16 (skipped a few slices)
Scott Field 1:04:01 (did not finish slice #7)
Greg Cecere 1:16:21 (did not finish slice #7)
Matt Elkin 1:16:21 (did not finish slice #7)