Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ghost Train Race Report

I don't even remember the last time I used the phrase "Race Report" in a subject line.  My last marathon was 5 years ago, and my last ultra was a DNF (timed out midway) in a 50K - 6 years ago.

Last winter, during chemo, I floated the idea of an ultra to my wife.  There was (and still is) so much uncertainty related to my liposarcoma, and I needed to plan something.  Mentally, I needed to know that I could still plan ahead in my life, prepare for something, and have it happen.  It might not make sense to most people, but I'm sure every cancer patient would understand.

My first thought was to do the 50K at the Maine Track Club 50K/50M.  This has been a favorite race of mine in the past, but I found out that it's now been discontinued.  My thought was that I could do 50K in the 50 mile time limit, so I could finish.  With that race gone, my options seemed more limited.

I briefly considered A Race For The Ages, but that was more than I wanted to do.  I did not want a race that would allow me to accumulate miles for 54 hours.

Finally, a friend mentioned Ghost Train in Brookline, NH.  The format is similar to most 100 milers, and many of the people are there to run 100 miles.  But, it's on a 7.5 mile stretch of rail trail, and you do out-and-backs on the trail.  For this race, you can choose to do 30 miles, 45, 60, 75, 90 or 100.  It might even be possible to shoot for 105 or 120 or more, but I didn't really look into that option.

I told my wife about it and said that I thought 30 miles would be a good goal.  I believe that it was my wife who suggested that with a 30 hour time limit, 45 miles should be possible.  And, she offered to do it with me.  My wife has done 3 marathons - 2 on trail and 1 on the road.  She has paced 30 miles at the VT100.  But, she had never done an ultra.  At the time, I felt like she was simply trying to encourage me, and I honestly never expected her to do the race.

So, last February, I contacted the RD so we could reserve one of the camping spaces at the start/finish area.  He said he was surprised by my early request, because registration wasn't even open.  I explained the cancer story behind my request, and he responded quickly that we had a camping spot.

And then, I screwed up.  I didn't sign up for the race right away.  And, it filled up before I tried to enter.  Luckily, there is a waiting list and we were told it was very likely we would get in if we signed up immediately for the waiting list.  In August, we got confirmation that we were in the race.

So, after 6 years away from ultras, and not being much of a runner any more, how does one train for an ultra.  In one respect, I could say we didn't.  That would be sort of true.  My longest day was a 5 mile walk/run followed by a 3 mile dog walk.  My wife's longest day was a hike of Mt. Hunger that took us a few hours for just over 4 hilly miles.  I did that hike as well.

But, we did CrossFit all the time, we were doing a weekly aerobic capacity class at CF, and we did get out walking as much as possible.  We just never really did any long walks.

Through the summer, we both saw our aerobic capacity improve through the one weekly class at CF, plus running in regular CF classes, and our weekend walks.  And suddenly, it was almost race time and we lamented that we'd not even done a 10 mile walk all summer.  How would this work out?

We left work early last Friday, trying to get to the race starting area in a lull during a rainy day.  We got our tent set up quickly in some light rain, and things stayed mostly dry.  We went to the pre-race dinner with friends.  After dinner, it was absolutely pouring.  We drove back to our tent.  For 20 minutes, we sat in the car, looking at the rain and the frequent lightning, wondering what to do.  I told my wife that I just wanted to drive home, leaving the tent and everything behind.  That wasn't realistic, but I wanted nothing to do with the rain.

Finally, I suggested finding a hotel for the night to avoid the worst of the weather.  I hated to spend the money when I had a free tent spot, but it allowed us to keep everything dry, we could shower in the morning, we would have access to coffee, and we would get a real night of sleep in a warm dry bed.  My wife even enjoyed a couple beers in the hotel bar before we went to bed.

We got up at 6:30 on Saturday morning, got some coffee, showered, got dressed, and had some more coffee.  By 7:30, we were parked beside our tent, and ready to go.  We got our race numbers, socialized with friends, and got ready for a long, long walk.

Just after 9:00, we were off.  We had started near the back, but we still got passed by a few people early on.  By 9:30, we were sure we were dead last, but one runner was late for the start and passed us a bit later.  After she passed us, we were all alone.

At this point, it became like any other ultra.  Keep moving.  Pay attention to your feet.  Eat.  Drink.  Repeat.  We finished the first 15 miles at about 2:45.  We grabbed our headlamps and flashlights and headed out for a second lap.  This one started out faster than the first had, but we definitely slowed down in the darkness during the last 7.5 miles.  We were 10 minutes slower on lap #2 than we had been on the first.  We finished a the second loop at about 8:40.  From there, we changed clothes and headed to Nashua for some dinner.  My stomach was off a bit and I struggled to eat a bowl of clam chowder.  My wife had no such problems (she did say her stomach felt a bit queasy, but I'm not sure I'm buying it), as she ate a burger and fries and drank a beer.

We got back to the tent later than I'd hoped, and we went straight to sleep.  We set our alarm for a bit before 7:00.  The goal was coffee and breakfast at 7:00 and we would start hiking at 8:00.  But, we were both tired.  Sore.  Blistered.  Sleep-deprived.  We talked around the issue of not going out again.  In the end, I think we both wanted to bail, but neither of us would say it first.  So, a little bit after 8:00, we started our final lap.

We were moving OK to start, but by mile 5, I was slowing down.  The turnaround boosted our spirits a bit, but we still had 7.5 miles to go.  But again, like every ultra, you just keep moving and you will eventually get there.  I did have the additional worry of making sure we would finish by the 30 hour cut-off, but we had plenty of cushion and we made it easily.

Our total elapsed time for 45 miles was 29:25.  Our "time on feet" was under 18 hours, but not by a lot.

I have a couple nasty blisters.  So does my wife.  We went to CrossFit on Tuesday and rowed a 5K time trial, but I had nothing.  I should have been able to do this in close to 21 flat, but it took me 22:22.2.  My wife worked hard to get under 30 minutes.  Being short is a huge disadvantage on the rower for my wife.

We rested again on Wednesday, and I think we are going to try CrossFit at an easy level tonight.

Killington opened the east coast ski season this week.  I have new skis and I will start work at Sugarbush in a few weeks.  In the interim, maybe I'll get out to fly fish for a bit, or maybe not.  Right now, I just want to recover from the race and get ready to ski.

After the race was over, my wife did suggest that we come back and try 60 miles next year.  I'm willing to give it a shot, I think.  Maybe.  Probably?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Another long absence, but it's due to a lack of anything interesting to say

Things are going pretty well these days.  I mean, life isn't without challenges, and after a cancer diagnosis like I got at this time last year, things will never be exactly the same.  But, right this minute, I can't complain.

I was doing some PT to help with swelling and pain after my last surgery.  Early on, I seemed to find some benefit, but as time wore on, the sessions seemed to hurt more and provide less benefit.  The therapist was doing lots of dry needling in scar tissue, and I was finding myself taking pain medication just to get through PT.  In my last session, she hit something with a needle that had me almost jump off the table.  So, we weren't really making much progress, and my primary reason for being there was to fix the muscle imbalance caused by the removal of most of my right psoas major muscle in March.  My sprinting, deadlifts and back squats are all going well right now, and all 3 require hip extension that activates the psoas.  So, I'm going to call it a success and move on.

Another reason that I'm stopping the PT is that I need time for some other medical help.  After 2 cancers for me (3 surgeries, 4 inpatient chemo sessions) and 1 cancer for my wife (2 surgeries, a 3rd unrelated surgery, and a month of radiation), I am a mess at times, at least from an emotional perspective.  I'm mad at times.  I'm sad at times.  I'm dealing with pain on a daily basis that will likely never go away.  The local teaching hospital has therapists within their cancer center.  These are people who only work with cancer patients and their families.  So, after thinking this over for a while, and talking with my wife, we decided it might be a good idea for me to talk to a professional about all of what I've been through, and what may still lie ahead.  Unlike a certain orange presidential candidate, I'm willing to admit that I need help, and I refuse to consider myself weak for needing that help.  So, I'm taking the step.  My first session this week was challenging.  A lot came to head - a lot that I didn't even realize I was simply holding in and holding onto, and just one hour had me feeling better.  I go back next week.

I still have another CT scan before ski season starts, but unless the cancer is back next month, I'm planning to teach skiing all winter this year.  The timing was a bit tough from an equipment perspective, but I took the risk and bought new skis and bindings this week.  The skis I wanted, the Nordica Enforcer 93s, have gotten such great press that I knew if I waited until after my scan, they would be sold out at the professional pricing level.  So, I bought them now.  Even in a worst case scenario, I should be able to sell them unused to a fellow ski instructor here in VT.

Unlike last year at this time, when I was recovering from a big time abdominal surgery, I am in a much better place this year and I was able to take my annual September fly fishing trip.  If anyone cares about that, the link to my fishing blog is in the sidebar.

Work is busy, but our company continues to just hold on.  I'm not a business development person, but the closest we are to a new contract right now is work that I've been doing with a company in Philadelphia.  This all started when they wanted to sell me some development tools, but over time, their company goals changed, and we are really better suited to collaborate on projects.  So, we are trying to introduce each other to our current customers and find ways to work together.  If we don't have a new contract or two pretty soon, it's easy to imagine us not making it more than 6 more months, at best.  Hopefully, it won't come to that, but we will see.

And, training continues to go OK.  I have pretty much officially regained the weight I lost last year while sick, even the part I didn't want to come back.  But, as I mentioned before, my workouts are going well, so I'm OK with things as they are.

I have gotten back to 375 pounds for the deadlift, vs. a best of 440 before I got sick.  My back squat is up to 295 (for a double) and I'm sure I'll do a single at 315 this coming Monday.  My Tuesday night aerobic capacity class is going well, and I'm really enjoying the days we do sprint work rather than baseline cardio work.

If I pull off my goal of 45 miles at the Ghost Train ultra in 2 weeks, this class will have been a major reason why.  My longest training day is only 8.5 miles or so, and I'm planning to walk 45 miles over a 30 hour period.  I even bought new running shoes - Altra Provisions.  I had never used Altra shoes before, but I know they are very popular in the ultra world right now, and so far, I love them.

See - not much of note.  I'm working, working out, fishing, thinking about skiing, dealing with the side effects of cancer, and just trying to get by.  If I was a praying man, I would also be praying that we don't end up with an orange jackass for President, but I'm going to have to trust the voters to do the right thing there.  I have to admit, and this is somewhat maudlin, that I've been wondering if this will be my last time voting for POTUS.  I will be in NYC on election day (second time in a row), so I need to vote early.  We have too many important state and local races to even consider sitting this one out.