Sunday, August 24, 2014

USA Trail 10km National Championships

Megan and I are married!

I'm still floating, and probably will be for the next 70 years.

Her name is now Megan Roche. Mrs. Roche won the USATF Trail 10km National Championships on our honeymoon, less than a week after we said "I do" in a Colorado mountain meadow.

All wedding photos by the amazing Lindsay Hiatt. Contact her (website here) for the best photographer in the world for all occasions.

So I had the biggest win of my life this week, 6 days before I toed the start line at the Continental Divide Trail Race, this year's US Championship. In the end, the Roches brought home matching National Championships trophies. But the trophy that I can't stop smiling about, and will never stop smiling about, is the one on my left ring finger.

Pre-Race:

Hey, want to see a beautiful bride?



Oh my god I am lucky. And yes, Megan asked if we could go off-trail through dirt and grime to take pre-ceremony wedding photos. This was after a 15 mile, 4000 foot elevation gain run up Independence Pass on wedding morning, plus a 2500 foot mountain bike climb. I am so excited for a life of trying to keep up with Mrs. Roche, playing the role of sherpa and domestique from now until forever.


During an amazing wedding weekend in the mountains of Colorado (wedding blog to come!), we did 15,000 feet of elevation gain over 3 days. Then we flew to North Carolina to visit where we fell in love. The flight to NC was the first direct flight I've ever purchased. Coming from me, that is probably the most meaningful manifestation of true love.

COOTIES!

Long before that most romantic of Southwest flights, we were having a whirlwind month. On July 17, I moved to California with our pup Addie, and we set up our new home. We are 0.3 miles from a Trader Joe's, 0.5 miles from a dog park, and 1 mile from the trails of Rancho San Antonio. So it is basically heaven for Megan and I, and for Addie those three things mean: (1) Stuff to eat; (2) and (3) places to poop. Which I guess makes it heaven for Addie too.

On July 19, we raced the Table Rock 25k in Stinson Beach, the penultimate race in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup. We both won in course records and were profiled in Trail Runner Magazine! Then on August 2, we raced the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase in Park City, Utah, winning in course records again (mine eclipsed a mark set by Rob Krar in 2012), also bringing home $2000 in prize money apiece (profile with awkward picture here). To translate that into David and Megan money, that means 150 trips to the local ice cream shop. In Addie money, that means 20 citations for having a dog off-leash in a California county park.

Mom and Addie do core work.

On August 17, we got married at 10,000 feet elevation outside Aspen, Colorado. Did I mention we are married? I feel like the more times I say it, the less chance there is that it's all just a dream. At this point, I have contusions all over my body from pinching myself.

Then we flew (DIRECT!) to NC. We fell in love on these trails and in these ice cream shops. But, dear lord, did we need to recover from our wedding adventures. After running and biking with Megan in Colorado, I felt like I was hit by a tractor trailer loaded with 33 tons of frozen yogurt. So I was euphoric about the yogurt shower, but still really freaking sore from getting hit by the truck. 

With just 1 day to recover before the National Championships, we got extra at the local ice cream shop. True story: 1.5 years later, they do not only remember our name, but also our frequent customer number.

We also played mini-golf. An angel got its wings and Megan earned a free game.

We also had our typical pre-race dinner, Subway chopped salads. The Subway looked a little sketchy, and it was at Wal-Mart, but it's all the same, right? I got turkey, like always. Megan did something different, and got chicken. That ended up being a bad decision.

In the words of the band Cake, Megan's meal caused bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse. I'm not sure if it was the chicken, or the dingy Wal-Mart Subway (but I know it wasn't the yogurt. DON'T YOU DARE EVEN HINT IT WAS THE YOGURT. I'LL CUT YOU), but it was a tough night. At 4:30 AM, I woke up to a wife who slept about 10 minutes total, who was so pale she looked blue. I made a quick run to the grocery store to grab some pink Pepto for my blue Smurfette, delivering the magical elixir with a "Sorry, this sucks. Don't race today, we'll chase a National Championship next year." "Let's just go and see what happens during the warm-up," she responded through hazy eyes, a pallid complexion, and a well-exercised digestive tract.

We arrived at the race site in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains to a beautiful morning. Now, I usually always think Megan looks as beautiful as a mountain morning. But pre-race, she looked like death warmed over on a shitty microwave, kind of like downtown Detroit. We jogged the last 2 miles of the extremely technical course, and Megan made a decision: she decided to go for it. Her reasoning was that the course was so technical and treacherous that it was barely running anyway, and she could always jump over logs and bound over bogs.

From the epic wedding morning run. And yes, the bib numbers are our wedding date.

So we toed the line together, alongside a stacked field including Mario Mendoza (amazing guy and 2013 USA Trail Runner of the Year), Ryan Woods (2014 La Sportiva Mountain Cup Champion), and a host of fast road peeps. As the gun was about to sound, the field was a silent storm of nervous anticipation. Suddenly, a delicate yet authoritative sound ripped through the front pack. Megan burped. She belched. And she looked at me. Then laughed.

Everything's going to be okay. Then the gun sounded.

Race:

Important clarification: the gun sounding is not a euphemism for a fart. 

We took off on a slight descent to begin the race. My plan was to ruin everyone's race right off the bat. For the first 0.75 miles, I averaged 4:15 pace on the off-camber grass/roots. It hurt a bit, but I was hoping it hurt everyone else more. After a final 100 meter, 20% plunge down a steep embankment, the trail turned up for the first of four climbs. I was already a bit fatigued, and started worrying about my strategy for just a second. Then I stopped myself. You don't win a National Championship by being conservative. Pain is good when it is on your own terms. 

But, damn, it still hurts. I crested the first climb knowing Mario and Ryan were probably right there, but I used all my will-power to avoid looking back and letting them know I was already exploring nooks and crannies of the hurt locker. After rolling for a half mile, the course nose-dived down a tree-filled game trail. In a trail race this short, you have one good move to make, and I had already used it in the first half-mile. Commit, commit, commit blared through my head.

Wedding photo intermission.

That mantra was briefly interrupted when I took a turn too hastily and flew off into the woods, tumbling in the underbrush. I brushed the dirt off my shoulders and got back on my feet, only to almost immediately twist my left ankle. Then my right. Fuck, it's 2 miles in, 2 of the best trail runners of the last 5 years are on my heels, and I am the most uncoordinated person in the world.

But screw it, I thought. Remember what Megan said: we can always jump over logs and bound over bogs. Every step was technical, but every technical step also meant that fatigue was less important than committing to the task at hand. I grabbed trees for leverage, flailed my arms wildly, and attempted to channel the Mountain Goat Gods for inspiration. Somewhere behind me, they were chasing. But they were going to have to earn it in blood and bruises.

At the halfway point, the course pointed toward the sky and went up a 20% grade for a half-mile. With the World Mountain Running Championships in just 3 weeks, I felt at home on the steep grade, hand-over-fisting my way to the mountain meadow at the top. Just then, halfway into the race, I had a realization: I am married to Megan. That sounds corny, but it is true. This race was a celebration of that fact, and no matter what we were going to share a big sweaty, bloody, and possibly poopy hug afterward.

Our love story made the cover of this month's Endurance Magazine!

At 4 miles, there was a short, steep climb called the Grass Wall, after which the course bombed down an impossibly steep grade on the way to the penultimate climb. Newly energized, I scaled the wall and bounded down the hill. I must not have prayed hard enough to the Goat Gods, because my right ankle gave out again, at a shitty time, and sent me spiraling into the weeds. After the impromptu barrel roll, I picked myself up and forced weight onto the throbbing ankle. Inspired by Megan, I channeled her pre-race comment: on the ankle and tired legs, for the last 2 miles, I was just going to go, give myself a chance, and see what happens.

And I felt good. Maybe the ankle woke me up, maybe it was the Megspiration (Megan inspiration as opposed to Megan perspiration), but I suddenly had energy again. Cranking up the 2nd-to-last climb and back onto insanely technical game trails, I was just so happy to be in the moment, with my bride somewhere on the trails behind me. Up the Rock Wall at mile 6 and over the final climb---it is all a blur really. Suddenly, I was at the top and saw the red, white, and blue flag sitting perfectly still in the NC humidity. And on the loudspeaker: "Your 2014 National Champion, David Roche!"

I crossed the line with my arms up, then the fatigue hit. Shit that was tough. With my arms still up, I went down. The ankle gave out. I didn't think about it once after the twists, but it was already the size of a softball and growing by the second. Megan was somewhere on the trails though, she was sick and vulnerable, and all I could think about was my wife. So I crawled and hobbled to the top of the final climb, desperately asking for news about her race. 

"Did you see the first woman come through earlier?" I asked a small girl spectating with an American flag cheek sticker.

"Yes, she was wearing purple." Her mom said.

"She looked like Superwoman!" the girl shouted.

That's my Megan! It had to be. Sure enough, the girl who was vulnerable and sick just a few minutes before crested the hill, flying over the grass trail and transforming into a super-hero in a sports bra. Seeing her break the tape with the American flag in the background is something I will always remember. Then, just like I had a few minutes before, she crumpled to the ground. I joined her there in sweaty matrimony, and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. But hands clasped and wedding rings touching, I realized what made it truly special.

It wasn't even close to the happiest moment of the last week.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

Thanks so much for everything. Megan and I love you guys, even if we don't talk to you in person. Your support means everything to us. A humongous thanks to Integrity Sports, an amazing company whose support allowed us to travel to race on our honeymoon. You all are amazing!

/we run off into sunset, "Just Married" painted on the backs of our singlets

Monday, July 7, 2014

United States Mountain Running Team...Honeymoon in Italy :)

Megan and I are both GOING TO ITALY! At the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain, NH, Team USA was going to be the top 6 men and the top 4 women. Against an astonishingly stacked field, Megan finished 4th and I finished 6th. The World Championships are just after our wedding, and now we can be assured that at least one of the Roches will look amazing in red, white, and blue. Hint: it will be the newest one.


Most of all, it is so humbling and awe-inspiring to represent our country at an international championship. To be able to travel with some of the best athletes in the USA (my first trip outside the US!), supported by USA Track & Field and the American Trail Running Association, is one of the coolest things ever. And to have it double as a honeymoon with my best friend is almost too much for words. Fortunately, Megan and I have been conducting intensive pizza and gelato research/acclimation for the last four years.

Thanks first to Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbs, Team USA Leaders and incredible people. New Balance Silicon Valley and Integrity Sports have made it possible for Megan and I to travel and race around the country, and we could not have done any of it without their awesome support. Thanks to the Environmental Law Institute, especially Co-Directors of the Ocean Program Kathryn and Jordan, who have made it possible for an attorney to love work and play. And most of all, thanks so much to Mom and Dad. You guys are the best parents in the universe, who I love this much:

Backstory: This was about a kilometer into the race, and Megan was cheering right next to the photographer. I got very excited to see her, and wanted her to know I was feeling good despite the blistering opening pace. This was followed by a child-like sprint that almost ruined my race. Running joyfully and running crazily are sometimes similar approaches.   Credit: USA Mountain Running Team.

Pre-Race:

For a few months, my dad had been trying to get us to race the Mountain Running Championships. I think we were both hesitant though, because it was an "Up" year. What that means is SQUIRREL! /sprints off into bushes like the dog from "Up"

Wait, it actually does not mean that we watch the movie "Up," and whoever does not cry in the first 5 minutes qualifies. Instead, every year, mountain running alternates between "up" and "up/down," where up years have massive net elevation gain up a freaking mountain. Both of us thought that the VO2-max and suffering contest of pure uphill racing would be difficult for us because we have never done it before. But dad did not agree with our assessment, and after a bunch of calls, his unwavering faith and support convinced us as well.


The amazing race directors at Loon, Paul Kirsch and Chris Dunn, helped us with entries and introduced us to the race motto: "No Safe Word." Oh dear lord what did we get ourselves into?

On July 4, Megan, my parents, me, and Addie drove up from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, a big happy family that all smelled like a strange mixture of salmon and asparagus by the end of the 8 hour drive. Notably, none of us had eaten any of those foods in the last few weeks. My recommendation is that you do not travel in a small sports car with a smelly puppy if you value the olfactory impression you make.

On July 5, the day before the race, we arrived at the race site and randomly met Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbes in the parking lot of the Loon Mountain ski resort. They are the brains and braun behind USA Mountain Ultra Trail and the Mountain Team, and we were insanely fortunate to do a course preview jog with them. Among other things, Richard gave me a lesson in power hiking. Little did I know how important that lesson would be in less than 24 hours.

Course preview. The forecast calls for pain. Credit: USA Mountain Running Team.

After a dinner of fudge and ice cream, Megan and I fell into a deep sleep. It was the dinner of people who run up mountains and/or 800 pound people that use a forklift to commute to the 2nd floor.

The morning of the race, we woke up, plopped Addie puppy in the car, and drove to the race site. The women's race went off at 8 AM (the men's at 9:30), and I warmed up with my girl so I'd be there for any last second requests of water or anything else. After a few sips of water, a last glance up the awe-inspiring ski slope we were about to ascend, and one last awe-inspired bathroom break, the gun sounded and the women's race began.

Race:

And begin they did. Holy crap the women went out hard. I was taking pictures at 0.5 miles, which went up a gradual climb of about 100 feet, and the women rolled through at 5:30 pace. Megan was pushing the pace and the field of elite runners was strung out beside and behind her.

Megan and Allie Mclaughlin making them suffer a half-mile into the race.

As they scurried up the mountain, I furiously refreshed Twitter to get updates from the course. Four qualify. At 2 miles, Megan was in 5th place.

At 4 miles, with just a mile to go, she was in 5th place.

Allie Mclaughlin (who has the 2nd highest finish ever for a freshman at NCAA XC Nationals behind only Shalane Flanagan) won.

Then Twitter went dormant for 10 minutes.

I knew they had finished long before, and I was a nervous wreck. What happened? Did she make it? I truly just wanted her to be happy. Incredible ultra-runner/amazing guy Zach Miller and I kept hitting refresh, waiting to see what happened. My heart rate got to 160, and I would have given anything for a top-4 finish. Then, a new tweet notification.

Top women at Allison McLaughlin, Morgan Arritola, @KasieEnman @MDeaks33 @MeganLizotte @usatf @acidoticRACING @loonmtn

She did it! Megan finished 4th. 1st was Allie, 2nd Morgan Arritola, an Olympian and World Championships medalist. Third was Kasie Enman, former World Champion. Then Megan. First mountain running race, first uphill race, first National Championship race. And first time on Team USA :)
Digging deep up a 25% grade, chased by Olympians. Megan is TOUGH. Credit: SNAPacidotic.

3000 feet below, I jumped up and down and hugged everyone who was around. Dad = hug. Addie = hug. Mom = hug. Zach = hug. I have never been happier, seriously. I was so proud, so so shocked that I almost started crying 20 minutes before my race started. To qualify, Megan beat the amazing Megan Lund-Lizotte (Worlds member and Sierre-Zinal winner), Juliane Masciana (sub-10 3k steepler!), Nuta Olaru (Olympian!), Magda Lewy-Boulet (incredible person and 15:15 5k'er), Kerri Lyons (former US Trail Marathon Champ), Maria Dalzot (Worlds team member), Shannon Payne (one of the best runners in the country and Mt. Washington winner), CA friend/amazing runner Yiou Wang, and countless other awesome women.

But shit, it was 15 minutes before my race and I had to get ready to go. With no time for another warm-up jog, I did a few sprints and found myself at the start line as the National Anthem played, surrounded by some of the best runners in the country. 3 minutes before the start, at 9:27, I did one last stride, turned around, and saw her. Megan sprinted to me and jumped in my arms. She gave me a kiss and said she had taken the gondola down as soon as the race finished. She wanted to see me and make sure I had everything I needed.

So when the gun sounded 2 minutes later, I was powered by love and endorphins. Which was a good thing, because a huge pack of us went out at 4:30 pace. It was physical and intense, with so many elbows thrown on the opening switchbacks that I was sure everyone was listening to Ludacris as pre-race pump-up music. After throwin them 'bows for the first uphill kilometer, the course angled down for a few hundred yards and the pack sorted out at 4:10 pace. After seeing Megan and spreading my arms, I moved into third as the next climb began. After another uphill kilometer, the race turned into the men's only section, a swampy bog with rocks, some rolling trail, and lots of mud. In other words, my happy place.

Fighting for the summit later in the race. Credit: US Mountain Running Team.

The race round through the woods for the next mile and a half, with gaps growing as the leaders were running sub-6 minute pace up the gradual climb. Patrick Smyth (XTERRA World Champion, 1:02 half marathoner) and Joe Gray (too many accomplishments to count--one of the best trail and cross country runners in US history) began to pull away, followed by me (generally lame dude, cool puppy though), Josh Eberly (2:14 marathon, nearly undefeated on trails), Zach Miller (Lake Sonoma 50 and JFK 50 winner), and a slew of incredible runners who would make their presence known shortly.

Emerging from the woods at mile 4 (back onto the same course ran by the women), speckled with mud, the real climbing was about to begin. Josh and I worked together over rutted-out Jeep roads to maintain a little gap before the biggest climb of the day. At mile 4.2, it began on a 30% ski-slope, and it would end 1.3 miles and 1300 vertical feet later.

And to put it bluntly, I sucked. The climb was tough, sure, and the competition stiff, but I relaxed and became complacent. First Josh pulled away, then Zach came by, then Eric Blake (amazing international runner, too many accomplishments to list), Ryan Bak (2:14 marathoner and trail beast), and finally Andrew Benford (top steepler with a crazy, too-fast-to-comprehend PR). I was in 8th with less than a mile to run, and coming up on my tail was an elite chase pack including Nate Jenkins (13:something 5k'er and 2:14 marathoner), Tommy Manning (trail legend and Worlds member), Josh Ferenc (top international runner), Ryan Woods (multiple time La Sportiva Cup winner), Zachary Ornelas (the future of mountain running), Tim Parr (multiple time Leadville and Pikes Peak Ascent winner), and countless others.

On the half-mile descent to the last climb, I was just happy to not be going straight up. Fueled by that happiness mixed with contempt for my performance on the nasty climb, I went. All out. Fuck it, time to go.

I ran the next kilometer at 4:15/mile pace, catching and passing Ryan Bak and coming up on Andrew. Turning the corner to the next climb, we were only a half mile from the finish. That half mile would average 37%. The race for the US Mountain Running Team would be decided on a trail-less black diamond ski slope...the infamous Upper Walking Boss.

Improvising switchbacks on UWB the day before during the course preview. Credit: US Mountain Running Team

At that grade, there really is no way to prepare or strategize. Just push and fight, hand-over-fist if necessary. Almost immediately, I slowed to the power-hike that Richard taught me, hands on knees or even grasping at the dirt. Then, every 10 meters or so, I would do a short sprint. Then power hike. Then sprint. At 40%, my hikes were about as fast as Andrew's run, and my sprints ate into his lead. Moving up the hill, I passed him and moved into 6th place, and I would be joining Megan on Team USA if I could just get a few hundred more yards to the finish. Just then, I heard a siren song from the top of the mountain:

"THIS IS FOR AN ITALIAN HONEYMOON! DIG DEEP DAVID!"

It was US Team Leader Nancy Hobbes, the amazing woman who showed us the course and who has spearheaded trail and mountain running worldwide. Gosh, with that motivation I can push a few hundred more yards.

A minute later, fifty some odd minutes after Megan gave me a kiss 3000 feet below, I finished to the booming announcement: "David Roche will be wearing red, white, and blue in Italy!" My ears were popping from the elevation gain, but that was still a sound I will always remember.

With superwoman Nancy after the finish.

I rushed down the mountain on the gondola to see Megan, and she sprinted up to me.

"How did it go???" she asked. Apparently she had been furiously refreshing Twitter, and it hadn't updated yet. The symmetry of it made me smile bigger than I ever had.

"Honeymoon in Italy?" I asked.

And we kissed.

The All Americans! Worlds Team members are mostly on the right.


Thanks to everyone, especially Sam, Caitlin, Magda, Joe, Kerri, Megan, Kyle, and all the other racers. And thanks to you guys. I seriously owe you everything--you have supported me since I was an ex-football player who couldn't break 20 in a 5k, let alone beat 13 minute 5k'ers to qualify for the World Championships. You all are amazing :)

Check out the GPS and follow me on Strava here: http://www.strava.com/athletes/1733803
Check out my coaching (and send me an email if interested!) here: http://someworkallplay.blogspot.com/ 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rothrock Challenge 30k Race Report

Executive Summary:
1st overall (my first La Sportiva Mountain Cup win!) in 2:32:49, a 7 min course record and 18 minute lead over 2nd place (Jason Bryant, an awesome guy and Mountain Cup/international stalwart). Probably the best way to describe this race is through my internal monologue from the start line forward:

this is nice ... pretty ... yipeeuphill ... country music lyrics ... she thinks my tractor's sexy ... it really turns her on ... oh wait that's a lot of rocks ... even more rocks ... where's the trail? ... THAT'S the trail ... No, THAT is a cliff ... ahhhhhhhCRAPcrapCRAPcrapCRAPcrapOUCHcrapCRAPcrapCRAPcrapPOOP (continues for 19 miles)

This is a typical section of trail.

Basicallly, it was rocky. Oh so rocky. I should have known because it is right there in the race name. RothROCK. My guess is that Roth also means rock in German or something. After yesterday, I am no longer a huge fan of Dwayne Johnson. I think the Rolling Stones should play more soft jazz. If I have to go to Radio City Music Hall around Christmas, my ankles will have a Pavlovian swelling response.

*If anyone under 25 gets that last reference, kudos! Also, if anyone under 25 is reading, Hunger Games Justin Bieber #vampireabstinence

Pre-Race:
In very exciting/humbling news, Megan and I were profiled in Running Times! The awesome author, Justin Mock, wrote a great article, and our puppy Addie made an appearance as well. Being pictured next to 2 beautiful girls probably does not help how I look by comparison. However, if Running Times had smell-o-vision, it might be slightly more even because one of those girls smells perpetually like pee, and the other has her post-run moments.

Addie: THAT IS A COMPLIMENT THANK YOU

Anyway, 4 weeks ago, Megan and I traveled to Montana for another La Sportiva Mountain Cup race called the Don't Fence Me in 30k. On a downhill at mile 12, I decided to get intimate with a few boulders, and they loved me back like Lennie in Of Mice and Men. I came away with 2 broken ribs, a possibly cracked sternum, a pathological fear of sneezing, and a convenient excuse for not having the strength to open some pickle jars.

Megan, however, DOMINATED. My girl is incredible--she won by 7.5 minutes over two top international trail runners (the great Maria Dalzot and Megan Kimmel) during the middle of medical school. Seeing her finish, fresh as a daisy with a big smile, is something I will never forget.

A couple weeks later, we did the China Camp Trail Half Marathon, where Megan again beat a world-champion trail runner (the incredible Megan Lund-Lizotte), this time by 7 minutes. I only beat my fiance by 1:45. We are getting married in August after a run up a mountain to the altar, and I just hope the wedding officiant (my dad! another kindred spirit in that he also smells perpetually like pee) waits for the groom to get started. Fortunately, after that day in August, even when she beats me in races, a Roche will still win.

Weak piggy-back form to protect the ribs.

I also formally launched my coaching service, Some Work, All Play (website with all info here). We have 13 amazing athletes (from recreational runners to Oly Trials qualifiers), and I'd love to work with a few more awesome people if anyone is interested. The service is all about daily dialogue, plans that are responsive to your life, and a goal to have some fun (and fast!) adventures. Contact me anytime at dfr2104@gmail.com if you might be interested :)


Finally, this week I was on a career panel put on by the D.C. Bar called "Introduction to a Career in Environmental Law & Policy." It was so surreal to be up there with 5 amazing, accomplished individuals. I really love my job. Primarily because no one says anything when I smell like pee. After all, it runs in the family.

Race:
The night before, Addie and I saddled up the Suzuki and made the 3 hour drive from DC to State College, PA. My dinner consisted of an entire jar of pickles and a shockingly large amount of chunky peanut butter. Did I have a little bit of Addie's dog treats when we were playing fetch? Perhaps. But they are from Trader Joes, so the ingredients are way better than anything I eat. Don't hate my nutrition game.


The morning dawned beautifully. Addie and I did are typical race warm-up, consisting of sprinting after squirrels and other forest critters. Then resting to smell things. Then doing yoga contortions to rub our backs in animal poop (only one of us did that last thing). After parking the car in the shade 1/2 mile up the course, and telling Addie I loved her, I ran down to the start.

Rothrock is known as one of the toughest courses in the U.S., and my plan was to go at the gun to make up as much time as possible before the first nasty downhills. Before the 1 mile, 1,100 foot climb began about 0.5 miles in, I ran by the car and Addie let out a few barks of encouragement. I am so excited about one day in the somewhat distant future when my human daughter comes to races and does the same thing, yelling at me from her crate in the backseat.

Wait...that's not what I meant. No time for edits though because the course was about to turn up. Straight the crap up. I love these types of inclines, and I tried to move my weight forward and bounce up the climb. Next was the dreaded, infamous Kettle Descent. It drops 600 feet in 0.3 miles down a boulder field. I had Megan's pre-race advice coursing through my head: "David, I don't care if you win or lose. Just don't fall off a cliff and die."

Another section of trail!

I gingerly descended, walking when I had to, butt sliding at other times. As the trail ran along the valley for the next few miles, I reached a bit of a mental low-point as I realized that the rest of the race was going to be all rocks. Then, I had a caffeinated gel (my first time taking in fuel of any type at a running race). Everything changed.

Oh my gosh if I were a psychologist, I would encourage my patients to have a caffeinated gel whenever they were feeling down. They make everything a million times better:
The Health Care roll-out didn't go as planned? /takes gel/ OBAMA IS CREATING I.T. JOBS YES WE CAN.
Russia is being a jerk? /takes gel/ WOOHOO MORE OPTIONS FOR JAMES BOND MOVIE VILLAINS.
Rain on your wedding day? A free ride when you've already paid? /takes gel/ I NOW KNOW THE DEFINITION OF IRONY DOES NOT INCLUDE THINGS THAT JUST HAPPEN TO SUCK HOORAY VOCABULARY.

Supercharged by legal drugs, the rocks suddenly became fun opportunities to run joyfully, completely in the moment. The course was awesomely challenging--rocks everywhere, straight up and down, full of twists and turns, with informal trails across boulder fields marked by blazes. It was like being a kid, sprinting through the woods, eluding imaginary foes and coming back home with a few scrapes. Speaking of kids and Google hits, #vampireabstinence

Our Easter celebration!

3 gels later, I reached the most infamous section of all...Shingletown Gap. It goes straight down and up, over 350 feet in 0.13 miles. They anchor ropes to the rock, and I grabbed the first one as hard as I could and scurried down. Unfortunately, I treated the rope like a firehouse pole, and I paid for the rookie mistake with deep red burns in my palms. Fortunately, on 3 caffeine gels, I couldn't feel a thing until hours later. I LOVE PAIN IT MAKES ME FEEL ALIVE /caffeine twitch.

The rest of the race, I was running scared, trying to escape pursuing apparitions who might bound by me on any downhill. Running my fastest few miles in the final section, motivated by ghosts, I crossed the line in 2:32:49, a course record in a hotly contested Mountain Cup race. After a journey like that, Addie's licks meant so much. And a beer or two helped counteract the caffeine buzz.

Strategic porta-potty placement.

Thanks so much to the PA running community (especially PA's Integrity Sports) for being the best, La Sportiva for putting these races on the national stage, and all of you for being awesome and supportive. I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH LET ME LICK YOU. That was Addie. Or David on an extreme caffeine high.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hyner 25k Race Report

1st overall (out of 1200!) in 2:10:54, 16 min over 2nd and a 9 min CR. Hyner was called the largest trail race east of the Mississippi (I imagine to get around all of those massive trail races in South Dakota), and a "crazy bone-crusher" in this Outside Mag profile. Let's evaluate those claims in order, because lists are fun:

1. I can verify that it was indeed a large trail race, with an awesome contingent of runners from central PA and beyond (who must have formed the largest conga line east of the Mississippi once the race hit a single-track bottleneck).

2. I can also verify it was crazy, at one point ascending a 40% climb called S.O.B., that indeed made me both sob and curse the climb's bitchy parents. (Strava race summary here: http://www.strava.com/activities/134537808/overview)

3. The verdict is out, however, on "bone-crusher." Addie was my warm-up buddy, and she would both sob and curse SOBs if a perfectly good bone went to waste.

She beats me in strides. And ties me in pre-race bathroom breaks.

A gigantic thanks to all of the folks at Hyner. Your down-home niceness, badassness, and joy gave me the comfort to use the word "folks," which is saying something, considering I have lived in a city for 9 years and I'm not a cartoon pig. Also, a humongous thanks to Integrity Sports, an amazing company that made it possible for me to race away from home. We have a bunch more exciting race plans coming up--you'll be hearing a lot more from them :)

Pre-Race:

The last few months have been really amazing, with some exciting developments. Most importantly, in less than 2 months, I am going to be moving, for good, to Palo Alto, California. Holy poop, there are enough commas in that last sentence to make an all-comma basketball team. They would handily beat the New York Knicks.

So Addie and her mom are both going to be California girls! Megan is the classy, Beach Boys-version, while Addie will probably be the trashy, Katy Perry-version. Sun-kissed fur, so hot, she'll melt your popsicle? Only time will tell.

From a farm in NC advertising free pups to sunny CA. The American Dream, puppy version, prominently features poo.

In other exciting news, I am incredibly fortunate to be a member of Megan's team now, New Balance Silicon Valley! We did 2 races together in NB gear--the Mount Tam Wild Boar Half Marathon and the Mile Run Trail Challenge, and both went really well (Mile Run was recapped by Running Times' awesome Justin Mock). Also, we are officially getting married on top of a Colorado mountain in August. Holy crap I am lucky to have her. Also, lots of sacred poo references in these last few paragraphs.

We match!

At Mile Run, we met Jeff and Bob from Integrity Sports, the race directors of that race and luminaries of the PA running scene. Afterward, we told them that they were the best RDs ever, and the race was amazing, which started a conversation. One thing led to another, and now we have an extremely cool partnership forming. Megan and I will have our first race as New Balance Silicon Valley/Integrity Sports runners at the Don't Fence Me In 30k in Helena, Montana on May 10! My general plan is to chase the La Sportiva Mountain Cup this summer, and to ride Megan's coattails at some other national races :)

At Mile Run, the race followed a creek into a pool. We're going swimming!

Work is also going amazingly. I am so fortunate to work with some of the best, most inspiring people in the world. Perhaps most importantly, though, they do not judge when, everyday after my lunch break, I smell vaguely of pee.

Side story: one day, I returned from my lunch run covered in sweat and looking like a zombie, when I saw my supervisor. He is a great runner, and is always excited to talk about training. As we are shooting the shit about the day's run, we get to the office side door, which is locked. I reach into my jacket to grab my keys, which are in a breast pocket that runs parallel with the zipper. Of course, I totally whiff on the pocket and grab the main zipper, so when I unzip to get the keys, I inadvertently rip my jacket off, immediately sprinting around the corner to correct my mistake out of sight.

From his perspective: normal conversation with employee. Employee suddenly reaches up and disrobes, exposing his nipples and belly button. Employee runs to bathroom covering self.

His response: "Sometimes you've gotta let it breathe."

Like I said, I work with incredible people.

Puppy ears on Easter.

Anyway, Integrity Sports brought me up to Hyner, a race with a rich history of epicness and a cast of characters that would also not bat an eyelash at spontaneous disrobing. Mom, dad, Addie, and I traveled to the race site, where I warmed up with the pup and tried to avoid looking up at the first climb, which looked to be in the stratosphere.

Best starting line sign: "It goes up 5,000 feet, and down 5,010 feet. It's a downhill race. Like Boston."

Race:

With the prestige of Hyner, a bunch of fast guys and gals showed up ready to run. The first mile was on roads, and myself and 2 others went through in 5:10. The 2nd mile was rolling cliff-side single-track, and I tried to put in a few accelerations to open up a small gap before the first climb. At mile 2, a sign said "Humble Hill" with the caption "Abandon all pride ye who enter here." Dante's Inferno reference = shit was about to get real.

It went up. Straight the heck up. After 600 feet elevation in 0.4 miles, it leveled out for a tenth or two before hitting the iconic Hyner View climb. The next section was out of the trees, 0.55 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain. I felt surprisingly nimble, and emerged to the overlook (called the best view in PA!) with a few minute gap. About 100 spectators lined the course, and it felt like a Tour de France summit, just without the spectator in a Devil costume and the competitors with bacne.

The race started on that road down there.

Then it went down. Straight the heck down. 1.4 miles and 1300 feet later, my ears had popped a few times from the elevation change and my legs were officially mush from the descent. Holy poop I might not be able to walk until Thursday after that downhill.

With such quality runners chasing (a couple 14:30 5k'ers and a Solomon sponsored athlete), I was running scared over the next few miles, which traversed a rocky creek bed. The first creek crossing, I daintily scurried over a log to avoid getting wet. The second creek crossing, I did the same. The 10th creek crossing, I used rocks and did a two-step across. Then, a volunteer/mountain man brought me to my senses:

"If you're going to cross like that, you might as well curtsy afterward."

Touche, bearded person. Touche.

So on the 11th through 60th stream crossing (it seriously crossed the stream that many times), I clomped through the water like an angry hippopotamus. DAVID SPLASH.

I'm a few pounds from race weight.

After climbing for 500 feet in the rocky stream-bed, it turned up for 800 feet over the next mile. When I hit the next aid station, my feet were soaked and I probably smelled like a YMCA locker-room. I proceeded to accidentally dump Gatorade on my head instead of water. So at that point, it was mile 9 and I was a smelly mess with mushy legs. Less bacne than the Tour de France though. Little victories.

After a 1.4 mile, 1200 foot descent, the final big climb began. I didn't eat or drink during the race (other than the mix of Gatorade and sweat that trickled into my mouth from my forehead), and I felt surprisingly limber on the uphill. The next 0.8 miles climbed 1000 feet, with the final 200 yards up the infamous SOB. I have never seen anything like that climb in a race, and I slowly ascended hand over foot.

I flopped onto the summit like a beached whale, gasping for breath. The screaming volunteers motivated me to wiggle my flippers and get back to my feet. "You're amazing!" the boy scout troop screamed as they dumped water on my back. "Scraddlepopaghaghaahagd I love you," I responded, before continuing on down the rocky road ahead.

At this point, going down a rocky road was as good as the ice cream. Which is in the top 5 things in the entire world. 

The rest of the race was full of downhills that were beautiful and rugged. They were the Bradley Cooper of downhills. A volunteer with a walkie talkie told me the gap to the next runner was 15 minutes, and I kissed them passionately. Or maybe I just dreamed I did that. Either way, I wanted to, even if I spared them the beached whale looking, gatorade/pee smelling tongue.

I crossed the finish to lots of cameras flashing, and one extremely happy puppy. Addie sprinted to me, jumped on my chest, and started licking my face, just as my calf started cramping. Those finish line pictures will probably be the best representation of our relationship.

Afterward, I hung around with the amazing racers, volunteers, and community of the area. The Hyner 25k earned its reputation as an incredible race, and I am so lucky to have been able to race it representing Integrity Sports and New Balance Silicon Valley.

You guys are awesome! Thanks so much for reading, and for everything over the years. I owe you all a ton, for everything :)

------------------------------

P.S. More details to come, but if you got this far, I wanted you to know about my next running-related endeavor! Over the coming months, I am going to start Some Work, All Play (SWAP!) coaching. SWAP! will aim to train a small group of athletes/adventurers to be the best they can be, exercising joyously and recognizing that while most everyone has bigger things in life (like work and family), it is still amazing and life-affirming to accomplish your goals, whatever those goals are. SWAP! will provide training plans and support for life's adventures, at almost no cost (because who am I to charge for this stuff). If you are even a little bit interested, contact me at dfr2104@gmail.com! Thanks for being amazing everyone :)





Friday, February 7, 2014

Going Up: Skyline-to-the-Sea Ultramarathon Ascent and Bike


“Wow, she’s different.”

The first time I had that thought, Megan was flashing a mischievous grin in between bites of frozen yogurt. We were talking about our philosophy on life, the universe, and everything—typical get-to-know-you stuff. She was a field hockey player back then, and a damn good one at that. That’s why I was especially surprised by her answer to my question, “What are your favorite athletic things to do?” (what can I say, I’m a smooth talker). Megan responded to that question with 5 words that would shape our first few dates, our first few years, and hopefully however many sets of a few decades we get together.

 “I like to go up.”
 
Mountain biking up 14,200 foot Mount Evans in 2012 (this day had 55 mph sustained winds).

No one said we are smart.

The Plan:

1. Run the Skyline to the Sea Trail ascent, 29.5 miles with 6000 feet of climbing
2. Bike back, 43 miles with 2200 feet of climbing.

The problem with going up is that it is limited by the requirement to go down. More hikers die on the way down Everest than on the way up. A one-way trip to the moon would be a whole hell of a lot easier than a round-trip ticket. Did going down somehow cause the Beatles to break up? I’m not making any guesses. But yes, it probably did.

Well then why not just go up?
 
Climbing 13,400 foot South Arapaho Peak with a 6-month old puppy this year.

That was our goal. Over mischievous grins and frozen yogurt, three-and-a-half years after our first date, we hatched a plan:

  1. Park our car at Waddell Creek Beach, 15 miles north of Santa Cruz, where the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail empties out into the Pacific Ocean.
  2. Run 29.5 miles one-way from Waddell Creek Beach, up and over and up and over and up and over (6000 feet total) the redwood-studded Santa Cruz Mountains to the beginning of the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail.
  3. Hop on mountain bikes, which we would stash in the woods early in the morning at the top of the mountain.
  4. Ride back on a 43-mile route, down and around, finishing with 20 miles on Route 1 as the sun sets.

Also of note, neither Megan nor I had ever run over 21 miles on roads or trails, and the Skyline to the Sea trail is characterized by technical single-track and limited access to water. Also, we don’t own bikes. Luckily, we do own a car, along with youthful stupidity.
 
The rare down picture.

On Friday night, we rented bikes.

(“The cheapest, least-likely to-be-stolen bike you have please?” “Why?” “Well we definitely aren't planning on dropping them in the woods and then leaving them for half the day on a busy Saturday. I’LL TELL YOU THAT MUCH RIGHT NOW.”)

On Saturday morning, we consumed lots of food and stashed the too-ugly-to-steal 35-pound bikes at the Skyline, and drove 1.5 hours to the Sea. With that weakly-thought-out plan, two 32-ounce bottles of water, and 4 Gu’s, at 8 AM, we were off to make good on that first date promise.


The Sea to Skyline Uphill

As we took off from the beach, a jeep road turned into rocky single-track, with a 300-foot climb as an appetizer for the entrée awaiting up the trail. The waves crashed at our back as we climbed just enough to see the salt spray for miles up and down the coast. Or the salt spray could have been sweat. Either way . . . SALT.

Through mile 5, the trail was comfortable, with the occasional through-hiker coming from where we were heading. One guy had a beard down to his belly-button and a hiking-stick that looked like Rafiki’s from the Lion King. When a guy like that is on a trail that you plan to do in a few hours, it can really make you doubt your planning abilities. Fortunately, while he raised my fears that we were over-ambitious, he lowered the bar for body odor expectations.
 
Up into the redwoods.
At mile 6.3, we passed the renowned Berry Creek Falls, not seeing them until we were 100 feet up the next climb. “Megan, look at that!” I said with wonder. “Let’s go have a look!” Megan turned to me, smiled, and affectionately said…

“No.”

We had started the first big climb, and she sure as heck was not turning around for a dehydrated waterfall. Up the 20% grade we went, bonded by the trail and our echoing footsteps. Or we could have been bonded by lactic acid. Lactic acid seems sticky.

After a 10-minute detour down the wrong path at mile 12, we hopped back on the trail. We were in a rhythm now—Megan’s footsteps were a metronome for mine, 5 feet behind her on the trail. Occasionally, the beat would pause and I knew it was time to jump over a fallen redwood branch. Then there would be a double beat, and I knew it was time to stutter-step through a rocky section.

A brief slick-rock section after a long climb.

By mile 20, the redwoods had given way to higher-altitude scrub, with stunning vistas as far as the eye could see. Megan got stronger and stronger as she realized that the bikes were getting closer. I got stronger and stronger as I realized that we wouldn't turn into yellow prunes from dehydration-induced kidney failure.

Nope, as a 1,000 foot climb came and went at mile 24, we stayed our normal colors—Megan a delightful Northern California tan, me a pasty Washington DC white. We were on our last drops of water, cresting a ridge at mile 25.5, when suddenly we saw a clearing up ahead. I have never been so happy to see a parking lot. I’m not sure if the GPS got screwed up on the single-track or if the trail is actually 4 miles shorter than advertised—either way, I was thrilled to lie down in the shade. Megan, meanwhile, ran loops around the trailhead to bring the day to 26.2 miles, with 5900 feet of climbing, in under 4 hours (click the link for Megan's GPS file). Looking back 3.5 years to that first date . . .

We got what we asked for.
 
We were engaged at the top of a long climb in the Marin Headlands in August. The Ring Pop is necessary for recovery.

Bike from Skyline to Waddell Creek Beach:

Megan finished her parking lot loops, and we embraced. There was good news and bad news.

Good news: our rusty mountain bikes were still buried in the leaves, and had not been stolen by a hiker with bad taste or an enterprising deer with surprising dexterity.

Bad news: At least one of us was bonked out (me), and at least one of us was cold (Megan). Very few things in the world are less pleasant than a hungry David or a shivering Megan. Luckily, the adventure gods were smiling that day . . .

. . . Because there was a hot dog stand and an awesome Samaritan at the trailhead. I scarfed down two hot dogs (which I hadn’t had since I was a 9-year old), and an amazing mountain biker named Anthony gave us two fleece-lined jackets for the ride back. It was one of those moments that gives you faith in both humanity and the industrial meat-packing industry.

Is this heaven?


We extricated our bikes from hibernation, smacked on a pair of commuter helmets, and began the ride. If we could have gone straight back the way we came, we would never have had to pedal. But we had to go the long way around, which turned out to be a blessing because Megan was turning purple from cold and the first uphill on Skyline Road kept her from becoming the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka.

Megan led every step of the run; I took the lead on the bike. We gripped our brakes on the descents and pounded the climbs to stay warm, reaching the beach after an hour-and-a-half. The particular beach we reached, however, was 20 miles away from the one where we started. So we began the long grind into the wind down Route 1.

Like a turtle retreating into its shell, I put my head down and went silent, attempting to move the hefty mountain bike forward as quickly as possible while tuning out the fact that we had over an hour to go. Meanwhile, I could almost hear Megan’s smile behind me, along with the occasional woohoo emanating from my slipstream. I am convinced that she is Superwoman.

With a few miles back to the car, we finally realized the adventure was possible. Megan pulled around, silhouetted by the sunset, and injected some life into the pace. Suddenly, we were cruising at 20 mph into a headwind on massive mountain bikes. Seeing the car, my Supergirl finished with a big sprint, a bigger smile, and the biggest hug.

Back at the beach, in desperate need of adventure beers.

3.5 years ago, I didn’t think love existed. Nope, it was a fake idea people made up because the alternative was kind of sad. Now I realize how wrong I was. Love is finding someone that is different in the same ways you are.

Wow, she is different. Wow, so am I.


Let’s go up.

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Day Diary Entry

Did you see the diary introduced as evidence by the Hoboken mayor to take down Chris Christie?

This is actually the diary she gave to MSNBC. Gosh I love politics sometimes.

She should have used blogspot instead. It might be a knock on credibility when your diary is less organized than the Son of Sam.

Son of Sam's dog was telling him to commit the murders. If I do a horrible thing to a squirrel, make sure they put Addie behind puppy bars.

Anyway, had a great run today, 15.3 miles of single-track with 2,000 feet of climbing. The hip is holding up. It is going to snow tomorrow, so my severe lack of running coordination might render that statement false in 24 hours.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bike Day

Continuing my 2 days running, 1 day beach body routine, I biked hard in the gym and did a bunch of strength and rehab today. At this rate, I imagine my body will be 2/3 ripped and 1/3 scrawny. But it'll be the right one-third. Biceps and strong arms and a strong chest and general ability to lift things = overrated. The muscle directly over the knee = truly irresistible.

What? That's not the way it works? I blame unrealistic societal expectations. Not everyone can look like Jim Belushi in the hit TV comedy According to Jim, okay? THINGS ARE SO HARD FOR MEN.

Wait, that is also the opposite of the truth? I'll stop talking now.

Anyway, workout:

-10 min warm-up 110 rpm
-70 min hardish on gym bike, 248 watt average (who knows how it's calibrated! The mystery is part of the allure)
-10 min cool-down 110 rpm

-Funny looking strength things, including an exercise called clam shells. Basically, every hip exercise looks like I am trying to use my scent and plumage to seduce a peacock that is hiding in the corner of the gym.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Timeline

Yesterday, it was abstract. Today, things gets real.

I'll start with the new millennium to spare you of any weirdness I had in the cradle.
 
Weird little dude who needs a tan says what?

DISCLAIMER: While true, all of this is tongue-in-cheek. I had an awesome time despite (or because of) being a crazy person. 

2000--In sixth grade at age 11, I weighed as much as I do now at under 5 feet tall. I was a cherub that could run, an apple-shaped kid with an oversized lid. So I decided that the most efficient way to lose weight would be to run and not eat after breakfast. I lost 40 pounds over a couple months. I also lost a good chunk of hair. SO IT BEGINS.

2001--I decided endurance running would be fun. I read Runner's World articles that said it would be bad to run over 15 miles a week, so I ran exactly 15 miles every week. In a year, I went from being on of the bigger kids in school to 17th overall at AAU XC nationals. (that race is a who's who of All Americans and burnouts)

2003--You know what's fun? Real sports! So I played football during my freshman year of high school. I put on 20 pounds by eating 200 grams of protein a day, and became the Defensive Player of the Year for the high school JV team and all-conference for varsity baseball. I also may have worn Axe body spray. I am not proud.

2004--Ugh, I feel fat. So I lost 10 pounds and decided I wanted to run again. But football is where all the cool kids are! I compromised by doing a 2-hour nightly (as in, started at 7:30 at night) sprint routine, focusing on explosive drills. On Varsity now, I was all-conference. In the last game of the season, my collarbone decided that skin was a tool of the system, used to oppress osteocytes, and it fought the power by compound fracturing its way out. While my collarbone was broken, I stationary biked for 1:30 a day.

2005--Junior year! Did I mention I liked baseball? Because boy did I! After being all-state my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to be the best. I'll spare you the details. Needless to say, my junior year ended up being disappointing. But our football team went to the state semis after being winless the year before I joined! My newfound 4.4 40-yard dash speed helped.
 
Yes, that is a Pope John Paul shirt. Into popes before it was cool.

2006--I decided I didn't like baseball anymore and wanted to play football in college. So it was time to gain weight. I ate protein and lifted like a madman, getting up to 195 pounds,running a 4.38 40, and benching 225 12 times. I also started to smell a bit like fish. High protein diets are stupid.


Tomorrow, we pick up with college, where I went to Columbia to play football. How did I get to the point where I was the Duathlon National Champion U-25? Haha, trust me, it gets funnier. 


Running: 18.64 miles on Rock Creek Park single-track. It was an adventure, so it was okay :) You all are amazing!