Catch-up

Holy crap I haven’t posted to my blog in a while.  I should probably catch you all up.  Let’s see, since we started HB2 in school I had a couple of weekends free to travel up to Boston.  One weekend I went up just for fun, and the following weekend I went up for Head of the Charles (HOCR).  I got to see my buddy CH, and honestly after spending so much time indoors studying for the HB1 exam it was nice to just be in Boston and walk around outside.  I met up with my old roommate ER for a drink (turned into pitcher after pitcher) and then grabbed some much-needed delicious brunch the following day at Grafton Street with SR.  So good.  Then during HOCR weekend I got to see my old crew buddies and watch on as some of them raced in the Alumni 8+ event in the HOCR before watching some more races and hitting up Border Cafe with the Westwood crew.  Plus I got to catch up with ER again and see JJ and ML.  All in all, it was good to see everyone.  And it was great to get out of Farmington for a couple of weekends.

And can we talk about this October snow storm?  What the hell?  Even after strategically parking my car for the night of the storm I still woke up the following morning to find a branch resting on it (but thankfully no damage).  But falling asleep that night was eerie because you could hear distant (and nearby) branches snapping off trees and crashing below.  Branches and trees are down all over the place, and the whole northeast half of Connecticut is pretty much entirely without power and heat.  There are only a handful of people in my class that have power.  Let me be the first to tell you that it’s pretty chilly sleeping at night.  Last night I had to dawn sweats, a hat, and socks to stay warm underneath my blanket and comforter.  But it wasn’t too, too bad.  I mean, we’ll survive.  Right now for electricity and internet (and heat) we all hang out at the health center (not like that’s anything new).  But hey, it’s the whole half of the state, so we’ll just have to be patient and wait for the CL&P crew to get us all back up and running.

And to think we probably got the worst storm of the season in October.

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Dawn

So this week I’ve decided to embrace (rather than curse) the early morning sunlight that pours into my room at 5:00am and hit the gym for a little cardio.  I have to say that it’s amazing how productive I am (and feel) for the rest of the day after doing just 20-30 minutes of some light jogging, cycling, or (get this) erging.  It’s just like back when I was on the crew team and we’d go out for morning rows and then get to a 9:00am class with the rest of the students yawning and complaining about how early it was.  My teammates and I would laugh and look at each other as if to say, “They have no idea what early is.”  And it was true, they had no idea.  They also had no idea what it was like to row ten miles in freezing temperatures with splashed water freezing to ice on your clothes (literally), but that’s another story entirely.

Anyway, when you get up early to do something (anything) you already feel up on the day and like there’s nothing that can stop you.  If you’ve never done it, you’ve got to try it.  I find myself more alert, energetic, and feeling like I’m three steps ahead of everyone else for the day.  Sure, I know I probably sound a little arrogant and like I’m gloating, but that’s not my intention.  It’s just that shifting your schedule a little bit means getting to work a little earlier, being able to leave work a little earlier (a great feeling), and getting on with your day a little earlier.  You feel ahead of the game, and that’s because you actually are ahead of the game.

I’m sure this is just a phase, but for now I’m setting my alarm for 5:30am (but only on weekdays for sure).

GMR – Sunday

After a quick celebration of SW’s birthday, we jumped into our van and drove off to the next exchange.  I tried to sleep before my next leg, but that was a huge fail.  Prednisone gives me insomnia anyway, so taking a little bit extra Saturday night wasn’t helping with the whole sleep situation.  At least I could lay down in the horizontal to give my legs a break and rest my eyes for a few minutes.  Laying down in the van, I could feel the rush of cool night air come in anytime the door was opened (which was often with all our transitions).  The temperatures had dropped from the low- to mid-80s all the way down to the low-50s.  It was chilly.  It was almost hard to believe that only several hours before we were running shirtless and begging for water halfway through our legs, and now we were shivering prior the start of our legs, sporting hoodies, and cranking the heat in the van.

Next thing I knew it was 2:11am, and JP had taken off on his fourth leg.  The volunteer working at the exchange informed us that he may have gone the wrong way, so we bolted out and went after him.  We found him, running back in the correct direction, but he was flipping out (typical for JP, but expected for being so exhausted).  We calmed him down, told him to breathe easy, and sent him off in the right direction.  Even with all things considered, he crushed that leg.  As I prepped for my own fourth leg, I seriously started question what I had gotten myself into.  My teammates had already completed their hard legs and were moving on to easy and moderate legs, and mine were only getting harder.  I was legitimately scared and worried my body was going to break down preventing me (and my team) from completing the race.  But I refused, sucked it up, and decked myself out in my reflective vest and headlamp ready to take on the night road.

I set off on my fourth leg, and it was just as dark and cold as before.  I went uphill for 0.5-miles, down for (a very, very steep) 2.0, around the corner and off for another 1.8.  It was dark, very dark.  I was exhausted and hadn’t slept a wink.  I chugged along, knees screaming in pain, and in my peripheral vision spotted two eyes of a large animal staring at me through the trees.  It wasn’t a bear or a deer, but something bigger than a house cat.  My guess would be a mountain lion or coyote.  Being all alone with no one around, my thoughts for the next five minutes consisted of how I would fight off such a large mammal.  Fun thoughts to ponder around 3:30am alone in the wilderness of Vermont.

I finished my leg, and we had covered 140.8 miles.  I was nervous, as I still had to complete two more legs with both being over 5.0 miles each, and both containing a 2.0-mile section of incline.  I pounded a couple of Tylenol to the face to help me (and my knees) get through the rest of the race, but I wasn’t sure it was going to help.  I just wanted sleep so bad.  That’s all I wanted to do.  I felt fine while resting between legs, but running just made my knees scream for mercy.  I needed to try to rest up, although I only had about two hours or so before I started my fifth leg.

I remember somewhere around this time as the sky started to lighten up a bit, that I (being rather cranky) was becoming seriously annoyed with people who were racing on teams of twelve runners.  It was nothing against the runners themselves, but it was because I was seriously exhausted (did I mention I was cranky?).  They were running fast, smiling, and catching some z’s, something I was craving and yet unable to accomplish.  I could remember thinking to myself, “Shut up, this is NOT fun.”  I was also having some digestive issues from the stress of all of the running, so I popped an Imodium and two more Tylenol for my knees.  Yes, I know this isn’t a great idea but I needed it to get through my next two legs.  I also broke out my Zensa calf sleeves and CW-X shorts again (which were finally dry again from the previous morning’s monsoon) because I literally needed any help I could get.

The fifth leg.  JP tapped me in, and off I went on zero sleep and having already covered about twenty miles.  I was exhausted in every sense of the word.  I had long hills of about 2.0 miles in length at 6:00am.  I thought to myself yet again, “How is this fun?”  But regardless I headed off.  I had to do this for the team.  It was insanely challenging, physically and mentally, but I chugged along at sub-9:00 miles and finished our fifth set of legs.  Now I just had one more set.  That was it.  One and done.

I guzzled down a cereal bar, a roll with peanut butter, my morning meds, a Java Monster energy drink, a Gatorade, another Imodium, and one more Tylenol.  I was scrounging for anything that could help me get through my next (and final) 5.2 miles, especially with the first 2.0 miles being straight uphill.  I knew I had to just get to the top of that hill and then I could cruise down the next 3.2 to the finish line.  I tried to sleep (yet again) but failed (yet again).  So I pounded a Jet Blackberry GU (2x the normal caffeine) and next thing I knew it was my turn to run, and it was my job to finish the race.

After seeing all the guys beast through their last legs and finish strong, I decided to do the same.  A team of twelve was about a minute ahead of us, but I was hungry to catch them.  As I climbed the hill, I spotted the runner in the distance, and I knew after a few minutes that I was gaining on them.  Up and up I climbed, checking my Garmin Forerunner 405 (great running tool) and cringing at the 9:15 pace at which I was crawling along.  But at the same time, I was racking up the mileage and I knew that in just one more mile that I was going to be at the top of that hill and closer to the finish (and sleep).  My teammates greeted me right over the top of the hill with blasting music, cheers, and a Gatorade, and they told me that the runner ahead of us was just 45 seconds up and totally within our reach.  It was hunting season, and I was going to track them down.  2.0 miles down, 3.2 to go.  Game on.

After crossing that final hill I knew I was going to finish the GMR with the rest of my teammates.  That wasn’t even a question.  I would have crawled across that finish line if I had to because I would never let them down.  But I was moving, and moving fast.  My pace was dropping from 9:15 going up the hill, to 8:45, then 8:30 and dropping.  I was hauling, and quickly approaching the runner ahead of us.  A 45-second lead soon became a 20-second lead, and on a small hill I finally passed them.  My team was just up ahead of me and they all cheered.  My 8:30 pace soon became 8:15, and next thing I knew I was down to sub-8:00.  I was just over a mile away from the finish, and a side stitch had set in.  I pushed through the pain and finally I passed into the school parking lot where I had only 0.2 miles to the finish.  My teammates were all there cheering as I crossed the finish line.  Our Hearts Will Go On finished the Green Mountain Relay 1st in our division of 6×6 Men’s Ultra Team (6 runners instead of 12), 2nd Ultra Team, and 5th overall at 25:10:16. Not too shabby.

I made sure to cheer on the runner I had passed on that final leg and congratulated him on a great run (which it really was) after he had finished.  We grabbed a bite to eat and picked up our finisher’s medals.  Then we cleaned out our van and packed it up again before heading back to Boston.  The ride back was quiet and I (finally) caught some much-welcomed and much-needed sleep.  We were proud of what we had accomplished.  Not too many people will ever do what we just did.  The experience was amazing, and I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  Of course I’d like to thank to all the GMR organizers and volunteers (especially the ones at the exchanges at the early hours of the morning), and congratulate all the GMR finishers.

But most of all, I’d like to congratulate (and thank) SW, SM, WW, SK, and JP (and CR for being sucked into driving our asses around everywhere) for dominating out there.  Job well done, boys.

Running

Some of us don’t run at all, and that’s just fine.  Some of us run a 2-mile loop around the neighborhood once a week on Saturday morning to earn permission to binge on a large dose of pancakes, bacon, and mimosas at brunch.  Some of us run to stay in shape and go out quite regularly to burn some calories in preparation of beach season.  And then there’s nut-jobs like myself who think it’s fun to complete long runs upwards of eighteen or twenty miles on Sundays under the title of “training.”  I’m talking of course about training for marathons, where one’s physical and mental boundaries are seriously pushed to the limit.

I’ll always remember the wee and dark hours the morning of my very first marathon when my elite running buddy JP told me, “There’s nothing you can do to prepare yourself for the last six miles.  Nothing.  You just have to do it.”  He was right.  I hit mile eighteen and my body started to break down.  The pain in my knees and shins had dissipated because, well, I couldn’t feel anything in my legs anymore.  They had gone numb.  I was moving purely through the will power of my brain sending electronic impulses to my legs to signal simple steps forward, one at a time.  I crept along at a slow pace, mile after mile, with each one seemingly longer than the last.  And it was during those last few miles as I mentally started to black out that I really started to question life itself and my existence as a human being.  (Why does that always happen?)

During the two marathons that I’ve completed I’ve always ended up crying a bit as the finish line was approaching with just a handful of miles to go.  Why?  I can’t really tell you.  I think it’s from the summation of the pain, the fact that I’m ignoring the pain, all the emotions from the struggles of living with and battling my Crohn’s (last year was particularly rough), pushing myself to finish a marathon despite relapsing several times during training, and knowing that completing those next few miles was something so small yet so meaningful to me.  Plus I had already been running for well over three solid hours.  But finishing earned me more than just a new medal to hang on my wall and a new t-shirt.  It proved to myself once again that I really could accomplish anything I set my mind to and really push my physical and mental boundaries to their very limit.

So, you’re wondering what’s next?  Well, this weekend I’ll be running the Green Mountain Relay with some former crew teammates of mine at BC (JP, SK, SM, SW, and WW with CR who got sucked in to be our driver).  The GMR is a ~200-mile relay race through the state of Vermont and takes somewhere around twenty-four hours to complete.  That’s right folks, twenty-four hours.  A full day of running between the team.  And the best part?  Instead of doing a team of twelve we decided to enter as an ultra team of just six runners.  (Yeah, because that made sense.)  That means we’ll all be running about thirty miles a pop (with JP taking on 40 miles) over the course of six separate legs.  While I don’t expect this race to necessarily push my mental limits so much (due to the distance being broken up into several legs), I know for a fact it’ll push my physical limits.  It’s going to be intense to say the least.  Expect plenty of GMR-related posts right here, and follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the race to stay in touch with how things are going.

All I have to say is the t-shirt better be worth it.