Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No Sympathy from the Swamp Devil Run


2002 marks the year I consider my first running season. At 33 years old, 2002 remains my most successful season in terms of establishing personal records (PRs). In my devil may care attitude, in August I ran a 75 minute ten mile, September a 25K in two hours flat, and in October my only sub 4 hour marathon, in Baltimore in 3:36. On a post marathon high I glided into November and the Madison, NJ Giralda Farms 10K, sub 43 minutes, folllowed by the flat, fast, Basking Ridge Great Swamp Devil Run 15K in a PR 62:45.

My 2003 bulletproof run at a 3:20 marathon and Boston Qualifying at the May 2003 Pittsburgh Marathon were bedeviled on March 29th, 2003 as I lay in a Green Mountain, VT ravine with my snowmachine nose down in the snow and femur bones sticking out of my ski pants front and rear. My life was now in the balance of first responders. The 2002 Great Swamp Devil could be my last race ever.

So, in 2010 with the ING New York marathon in two weeks, the timing was finally right to return to the Great Swamp Devil Run and unleash my inner wildebeest. While I harbored no fantasies about besting my PR of 2002, I did hope to improve on my recent half marathon 7:45 pace. As a bonus, my good friends Ellen and Mike “Coondawg”, came to run as well. Ellen is also tuning up for NYC, having run a solid Newport, and Staten Island half marathons. Coondawg of R2C relay fame, had never run more than a 10K in a race. So October 24th became a special day for all of us!


Sunday October 25th is one of those Indian summer days you want to be able to stash away and parade out in mid February. The race’s sponser is the Lord Stirling Special Needs School located on the fringe of the Great Swamp of New Jersey. The “Great Swamp Devil” is a fictional beast, but legend has it, the “Devil” patrols the Great Swamp ensuring safe haven for the many water birds that migrate to and thru the area.

We drive the ten minutes from Chatham to the Lord Stirling School to register and score Halloween orange colored long sleeve Swamp Devil T-shirts. The pre-race sun is warming and as we prepare to calm Coon’s nerves, we bump into Jackie Timmerman. She is a Lifetime PT, and Spin coach as well as triathlete extroadinaire with several Eaglemans and IM Coere’d Alene’s on her resume. She had a near Kona qualifying miss at Eagleman in 2008,and since I am a three time Eagle finisher we swap race stories. We also talk of her recent relays Ragner and Reach the Beach, in NH.

Soon enough it is time to hit the “let”one final time before toeing the starting line. With fewer than 300 racers, the startline is muy tranquilo. However, as I jockey toward the front line, I recognize many of the regular speed merchants of NJ road racing, Sergio Cano, Rick Pingatore and Bill Bosmann to name a few.


At the gun, I am off with the leaders, down the one hill at a insanely unsustainable pace. For the next three minutes (1st half mile) I am jamming at the front of the pack, my heart rate and breathing elevating to the uncomfortable. Little by little my pace slows to a more sustainable effort. The fitter leaders separate themselves and by mile one I am left alone in my own Swamp hell, 25 yards ahead of the 8 minute milers, but well behind the 6:30 milers.

My breath is raspy, my legs turning over, on the edge of blowing up. I do not have a watch, but I pass mile 1 and hear a 6:35. I slow a tad more on mile 2 to regulate my breathing back within lactate threshold, but surprisingly no one is passing me. I pick it back up right to the edge of lactate. My legs are churning, my arms are pumping, and air is hard to come by. My body and brain are in sensory overload and cannot process all the feelings. My heart is working 100%, my muscles are firing, I am elated, I am miserably, I am flying, I am looking for a hole to crawl into. The pavement and scenery is flying by. This is the best I can describe running right on the edge. Nirvana is so close, but the Swamp Devil also lurks behind each tree, ready to crash me out of the race with his long webbed wings.

At the mile 3 turnaround I am in severe oxygen debt but not slowing down. I spot Cooner and shout arcane NY Giants pep talk at him. Right behind him is Ellen, and she is breezing along making it look so effortless. I pass two, and three pass me, but generally we are “paced up”. Approaching the mile 5 turnaround at the Meyersville Circle, the leaders are 40 yards apart and motor by running 5:30s. There strides gobble up the ground. I am in awe but am maxed out running slightly over 7 minute pace. Well tim it is way faster than the 7:45s at your half marathons this year at Superhero and Newport Liberty.

But the devil will make sure this effort is going to hurt. I shout out again as I spot Mike and Ellen, staying on their pace and looking solid. At mile 6 I come up on the 3rd and 4th females. I am redlined and tuck in behind for a minute to collect myself and not look like an ass passing the girls only to gget repassed in a minute or two.

At the water station I slam a gel looking for a turbo boost. Gels provide ready burnable energy, like a sparkler, but they also soak up water, leaving your body seeking hydration from other sources such as leeching from your gi track causing cramps or worse from your already water starved and hard working muscles. The Swamp Devil’s ears perk up as his glare pierces out of the foliage.

Within a minute I feel the energy boost coming. Just as in a 5K, everyone is suffering, so you only pass with authority, bluffing strength for 20 seconds even if you are maxed out. I pull out to pass the girls, and jam it for a 20 second split. My heart rate spikes to max, and the bog stirs as the devil readies himself for his prey.

After each pass I slow down a hair to a still borderline redline pace to recovery just enough to allow my heart not to explode out of my chest. My next passs is big John, fresh off a 3:19 marathon at Steamtown. Again I power by for 20 seconds, taunting the Devil again. It is a long flat straight road home. Mile 7 flies by. Then mile 8. Only 1.3 miles to go now. A system warning light illuminates. My breath is ragged, I am running on hot coals, and I still have ten minutes of hell to endure. The light starts blinking in my brain. Damn it! The left hamstring twinges, then it tightens. My elephant uses the warning light to tell my rider to slow down. What to do? Elephant or rider? The elephant logic wins. Despite my effort, my PR is out of reach, so what if I lose 45-90 seconds going in. The worst thing would be for the Devil to tear up my hamstring and prevent a NYC Marathon appearance!

I slow and come to a full stop for a quick hammy stretch on a rail fence post. The 4th and 5th place girls steam back by, and after a ten second stop I chase. But dialing it down and shuffle running to save the hammy does not permit me to gain. The sixth place girl a fit 40s tri girl come up on me. I tell her that she can catch those girls ahead. She hits the gas. I go with her and pass back one of the girls but am holding back now and cautious. Tri girl takes 10 then 20 yards on me.

I cross the nine mile sign right at 65:30. So close. Don’t blow up now! I am going to make it. 100 yards from the finish Big John motors alongside. I accelerate and stay with him for 5 seconds. He shifts to a higher gear, that I am too scared to hit right now. He moves ahead as the tape is in sight. I hear panting behind me. I don’t dare look, but dial it up a notch. I hear the breathing again and as the tape nears I speed up a little more. I hold on and cross in 67:45, 7:15 mile pace, 54th out of 278 finishers. I am on my limit, done-ski, but at a pace 30 seconds a mile faster than the half marathon a month ago. Though not tip top, a solid effort given I ran a 20 miler a week ago too. I look around but the devil has hidden himself back in the shadows.


Ellen passes Cooner at mile 7 and they finish within 30 seconds of each other at sub 8:45s. Great efforts all around! My celebration with them is cut short as Heather and the boys are waiting for me to share this glorious afternoon. Josh and Quinn decide on a 4 mile Great Swamp Hike to search for the elusive Devil Monster. I do not have the heart or the heart beats left to confide in them that I have already stared down the Devil today and emerged, soul intact. As darkness falls, we are still a half mile from the car. “Let’s go” I yell, “the Swamp Devil may get us!”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lions and Wildebeests

Newport Liberty Half Marathon - September 25, 2010

When in need of a tough training run, scheduling a “training” race serves as a powerful training tool. Many non - runner friends wonder why even race? Meaning why the effort to get up early, drive to a race, and pay to pin on a bib number to go for a run with strangers? Is your ego that lioness that you need to prove yourself versus 2400 people you don’t know of varying abilities? Why not just get up go out your front door, run, and go on with your day?

My short answer is always “motivation”. That is to run your best you need to train hard. To max your training and put out your best effort you need to be motivated. Or simply put, wildebeests runs their fastest with lions tailing their asses!

With two weeks of recovery from the SSH, I am ready to resume my mileage and cardio buildup for the Nov. 7th ING New York Marathon seven weeks out. My training plan calls for a long hard 14-16 miler this weekend. So, the need to get up at 4:30am on Saturday and run from 6am to 8:15 before kiddie soccer, a dreadful proposition. Not a formula for success to run your best by venturing out into the dark chilly air to run a long two hour solo run under streetlights an hour before the dawn light.

Many opportunities for the elephant to better the rider; 1. Will I even get out of bed? 2, maybe sleep in an hour and then just cut the distance in half, or 3 put forth the full mileage but at less than a maximum hard effort that I need. Advantages elephant, that is until my R2C14 relay buddies Jim C. and Ellen D. convince me to run the half marathon with them the next morning on Sunday with a promise to be home by noon, rider up!!


At 6am Sunday, the cool dawn air foreshadowes an optimal running day for an 8:30am morning race along the Hudson River. I walk down the hill to meet Jim at his house and we pick up Ellen for an easy 30 minute drive to Pavonia/Newport, NJ. Race registration is a breeze, but the 25 port-o-let to 3000 runner ratio mandates alternative olfactory arrangements be made. I lead my crew into the nearby Newport Mall and we locate his and her Newport Odeon Cinema restrooms that are in pristine condition at 7am, but less so by 7:04am upon my departure!

Race Start

The start and lineup on Washington Avenue is as breezy as the waterfront. The gun goes off, and I quickly settle into sub 8 minute mile pace. A minor complaint by the GPS runners is that the course mileage markers are not accurate. Mile one is actually 1.15 miles, so my 8:21 pace is not actually that bad. (In total, the course actually measures more like 13.35, than 13.1 miles.) However, after the GEER 100K that measured 105K or 1.5 miles too long, this slight over distance is no big deal to me!

We finger up Washington Avenue toward Hoboken, and then return to turn right up Grand Street to cross mile three on slightly sub 8 minute pace at 23:45. A system check indicates tingling in my legs and arms, a preliminary indicator of dehydration. In full disclosure, my diet and alcohol intake has not been ideal through September! Jim catches me here and we run together at a taxing but sustainable race effort.

The course navigates the Port Liberty Harbor, shoots behind the Science Center and traverses Ellis Island through the Liberty State Park. The route affords majestic early morning views of the Hudon River, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan. I cut the most efficient lines through corners and continued motoring on my hard training pace mile after mile, the younger, faster (lion) runners on my beest tail.

Jim maintains contact, but unfortunately I never see him after mile 4 once on the asphalt trail. He says he did not want to “mess with my vibe”, however, I also think he likes being a hunter lion as opposed to the hunted beest!

So, at juat over an hour in at mile 8 my pace is right on redline, or 7:45s similar to my race effort at the Superhero last may. I like to think that the brisk winds, and dehydration impact my pace a bit, but the sun and 70s weather are close to perfect and are probably as much a pace enhancer as the breeze is an inhibiter. With water and skyline views, running the medal is a positive mental process versus a pre-dawn solo training run slogging through miles to “fit them in". I am gassed but glorious as I approach the mile ten aid station at one hour 16 minutes.

5K to Go!

I pause and injest a gel with water for the final 5K push. Ten miles into a solo training run the focus would be to “get home”. But in a race, your focus for the last 5K is “to not slow down and get passed at the end as well as a sub 24 minute 5K”. My inner wildebeest bears down, hits the hammer and maxes it out. As I regain redline, just ahead a cop is preparing to hold up the pace line for the light rail street car to cross. No way Jose, this beest is coming through!

I barrel across the tracks, then careen through the turn down Grand Street to the waterfront. The slight downhill allows me to increase speed and overtake runners. At mile twelve along the water the winds flare as does the left hamstring. Tim, focus!! I know I am close and resort to my mental “hot coals” trick. That is as soon as my foot lands, jerk it up off the firey coals or risk getting burnt. I stay on pace and pass slowing runners through to the finish. The beest has given so much more than in any kind of solo training run.


My 1:41:30 time, same as Superhero, or 7:45 mile pace finishes 365th out of the nearly 2400 finishers. Good strong tempo run for the ING New York in seven weeks! Room for improvement but a solid effort and I am happy. A scan of the results indicates the strength of the runners in the field evidenced by the 152 runners that finish sub 1:33, or seven minute mile pace. Jim comes in on my heels, evidence to his improved training, and Ellen is not long behind us. The wildebeests survives for another day, and we motor home for hearty well earned lunches with our perspective herds!