Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rebel Run at the 2017 Boston Marathon

The 2017 Boston Marathon was my 13th consecutive running of this iconic event, and once again, the experience exceeded all expectations. There’s nothing quite like this quintessential American road race that consistently conjures a unique recipe of new and familiar, struggle and breakthrough, and story-building experiences that are nothing short of magical. It wasn’t my fastest Boston by a long shot, but has already become one of my favorites.

(Feeling fast!)
(My Mom enjoys playing tourist at the Boston Tea Party Museum)
My co-pilot for this trip was my Mom, Dr. Diane Dunlap, who has somehow gone nearly 75 years without experiencing the rush of a big city marathon or Patriot’s Day weekend in Boston. What? Who’s Mom is she anyway?!? (ha, ha) But as we all know, bringing fresh eyes to a favorite city has a way of presenting a whole new perspective. Mom definitely did not disappoint on that front.

Within hours of her arrival, we were at an April 15th protest at Harvard Square demanding that President Trump release his taxes. The protest wasn’t on my original agenda, but as soon as she asked, it did feel like Boston was a perfect place to yalp the voice of freedom (Huzzah! As they would have said in the 1770’s). My Mom has spent much of her career as a college professor helping students find their voice, and in our hometown of Eugene, OR, campus rallies are so common the protest signs are made of dry erase white boards. Yet in all this time, I’ve never seen her fire burn as bright as that stoked by the kerosene-soaked tinder of Trump. She even posted to Facebook live during the demonstration to unite with her sisters in New York, Maryland, and more…yeah, Gramma D! It was fascinating to exercise our right to demonstrate on the very grounds that birthed our nation from similar passion centuries ago.

(Who you calling chicken?)
(At Haavahd Yahd)
(Sam Adams, my man!)
A few hours later, we were dressed to the nines at the movie premier for Boston - The Documentary at the plush Boch Center Wang Theatre (with a live performance of the original soundtrack by the Boston Pops, no less). Pre-event dinner and drinks at the Local Crossing provoked so much deep conversation, it was 1950 by the time we found our seats. The documentary was amazing (highly recommended!), giving my Mom a perfect intro to the history and personality of a race that has survived 121 years. She was eager to experience marathon Monday, especially with Katherine Switzer back 50 years after she broke the gender barrier by entering herself in the race as “K.V. Switzer”, and now once again donning her original number, #261.

(At the premier for "Boston - The Documentary", with live orchestra!)

(E. Bunny makes an appearance)
Sunday found us playing tourist, grabbing coffee and green tea roasts at Ogawa Coffee (so good, we went there every morning), throwing tea crates into the Boston Harbor at the Boston Tea Party Museum, spending a whopping $12 on Old Navy sweats for me to wear to the start (and donate), and grabbing a Sam Adams at the local pub. It was flip flop weather (~86 degrees), and we could see the nervous faces of runners throughout the town. This was definitely going to be a hot one!

(This guy will likely go deaf from the cheering)
(Hanging with the Alaskans in Corral #1)
Race morning cooled a bit (~65 degrees), but heat and humidity would clearly be a big factor. This wasn’t an “A" race for me, but instead was the last long run before the Avenue of the Giants Marathon in a few weeks. On the way to the race start, I made the decision to take it easy today and try not to overheat.

(And we are off!)
(OMG, so funny)
Corral #1 had different ideas, and as we headed from Hopkinton to Boston at 10am, Strava was already pinging me with Top 3 personal performances in the first 5 miles. Whoops! I crossed through the first 5k in 19:45, and in the first 10k in 39:30, well ahead of a casual pace (casual for me is 3:05-3:10+ marathon pace, and this was closer to a 2:45 marathon). But as we approached Natick and Wellesley (mile 10), I was dumping water on my head and grabbed every Otter Pop I could find (thanks, kids!). The heat beast was ready to rumble.

(Matching floral outfit was the wise choice today)
(Santa was there once again, and we got our 13th consecutive photo!)
(Check your form!)
As the Scream Tunnel of Wellesley approached (mile 12), some ladies holding up a sign quoting the movie Magic Mike (“the law says you can’t kiss…but I see a lot of lawbreakers out there”) made me a rebel in every sense of the word. If my face wasn’t hot red already, it certainly was now! I downshifted my pace to 7:30 min/miles to try and get my testosterone-infused core temp back into a reasonable range.

(Scream tunnel! The sign quotes Magic Mike - "the law says you cannot kiss...but I see a lot of lawbreakers out there")
(Boston College means beer time)
We had a slight tailwind, but that just meant the air was hot and stagnant until we crested a hill or changed directions in the Newton hills (mile 16). There was a collective sigh with each breeze, and from chains of runners hitting the firehoses and haz-mat tents along the way. Heartbreak Hill had its fair share of walkers this year, but the crowds got everyone moving with their encouragement.

(Locals more than happy to beer me!)
I grabbed a beer from some good folks at Boston College (mile 21), which put a huge smile on my face to brave the final slog. I held out my hand and counted 261 hand slaps (go K.V. Switzer!), just enough to bring the Citgo sign into range (mile 24).

(Citgo sign, there you are!)

(Ben Beach completes his 50th consecutive Boston, a new record)
Boylston lifted my spirits with its deafening roar, and I slowed to embrace every breath, every step, and the angelic hum of thousands of people screaming their lungs out. Soon enough I crossed the finish line in 3:07:47 (2,419th place), feeling good, but glad to be done. Boston #13 was in the books! I fell into the arms of a volunteer massage therapist, who pushed twitching dehydrated cramps out of my calves and sent me on my way with a smile.

(2:27 marathoners Michael Wardian and Matt Flaherty celebrate at the finish)
(With Jean Pommier at the finish)
(70-year-old Katherine Switzer with an impressive 4:44)
Although I thought the conditions were tough, I ran into a lot of runners who defied the heat to clock spectacular performances. Jean Pommier (2:44) finished 2nd in his age group, while Michael Wardian (2:27), Jorge Maravilla (2:24 for 30th!), Matt Flaherty (2:27), and Jon Kuehler (2:39) all crushed it. Alex Varner (2:34), Mario Fraoli (2:47), Erin Beck (4:34), Paige Alam and Kristin Armstrong (4:34) also did well in adverse conditions. At the professional level, the Kenyans swept with Geoffrey Kirui (2:09:37) and Edna Kiplagat (2:21:52) taking the wins, and American runners turning in incredible results with Galen Rupp (2:09:58) taking second and Jordan Hasay (2:23:00) taking third in her first marathon, and the men taking 6 of the top 10 spots.

My Mom braved the crowds of Boylston to see the pros finish, citing it as one of the grandest experiences she has ever witnessed (and sacrificing a toenail from all the walking, which seems a perfect marathon spectating result). We joined up at the Beantown Pub for dinner where she actively engaged with marathon finishers about stories of the finish and the history she knew. I was so proud! We all cheered as Katherine Switzer crossed the finish on the TV, looking as fresh as she did 50 years ago. Last stop was the Carrie Nation speakeasy for a nightcap before going facedown on our hotel beds a few hours later, exhausted and fulfilled from a truly American experience.

My thanks to the directors and volunteers of BAA for yet another great race, and a big congrats to all the runners who got through the heat to find that finish line. If you haven’t done this race, you should…and we will see you there! To my Mom, a huge hug and thanks for a perfect weekend, and making this annual pilgrimage more iconic than ever!

 See you on the trails… Scott

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book Review - The Trail Runner’s Companion, A Step-By-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing

I recently had the chance to read a sneak preview copy of Sarah Lavender Smith’s new book, The Trail Runner’s Companion – A Step-By-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing from 5k's To Ultras, which will be released on June 1st, 2017 (and is now available for pre-order). I really enjoyed it. Sarah eloquently weaves sage advice, coaching tips, and her personal experiences from racing around the globe into 250 pages full of great pictures and how-to’s. This book is ideal for those just getting started in the sport, but I think trail runners of all levels will enjoy it the storytelling and thoughtful tips.

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s writing for years (both on her blog and more recently as a regular contributor to Trail Runner Magazine), and always look forward to her cheery voice when she co-hosts the Ultrarunnerpodcast. As a trail runner, coach, Mom to teenagers, and elite runner (although she would claim she’s not…I’ll just point to that 2016 Western States silver buckle), Sarah enjoys everything from 10k road races to multi-stage 150-mile adventures. She is also brutally honest in person and her writing, sharing first hand insight into burnout, injury, marital stress from training, and other topics many of us ponder secretly. So I was excited to hear about her book, but also curious why she took this on.

“I actually didn’t intend to write a book, at least at first. I had the kind of hang ups a lot of women have (as described so well in Lean In) about feeling the need to have full-fledged credentials and top-notch experience before being “legit” enough to put myself out there as an authority worthy of a book,” explained Sarah, “Then, as fate would have it, I got an email out of the blue in late 2015 from the publisher, Falcon Guides, which publishes a lot of books on hiking and the outdoors (such as The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running by Adam Chase and Nancy Hobbs back in 2010). They recognized the growing popularity of trail running, and wanted to publish a fresh trail-running book, and someone recommended me as a writer/runner. So the question to me was ‘could I do something fresh’?”

“My favorite books in the genre are memoirs—Dean Karnazes Ultramarathon Man, Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, Cory Reese’s Nowhere Near First. I love teaching through storytelling. The publisher had in mind a prescriptive, practical how-to book, but I felt that had already been done well by Jason Koop, Krissy Moehl, Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell, Hal Koerner, and others. I definitely didn’t want to write a book that would read like a manual and feel like homework for the reader. Could I combine memoir AND have a practical how-to book that distilled all my coaching knowledge for training and racing? I warmed up to the idea of the challenge to write a book that is extremely practical, step-by-step and well researched, but also a good read, told in my voice and drawing on real-life stories.”

Sarah’s journey from road running into trail running came in 2004, right about the time I was also discovering this crazy niche sport where characters like “Rocket”, “Karno”, and “Tropical John” would run mountains all day just to do it. Her book opens up by perfectly capturing her first trail race up Mt. Diablo, running into legend Scott Jurek in the starting corral, and meeting people who would later become lifelong friends. Throughout the book, this same awe and respect for the sport come through in tips and suggestions like “be more humble than arrogant” and “take what the trail gives you”, and that trail running is as much a mindset as a change of terrain. There’s also a hilarious vocabulary section that will ensure you can keep up on those long trail run conversations.

The Trail Runner’s Companion is packed full of guidelines too, including safety, hydration, packing, fueling, menstruation (I had no idea), pacing, packing dropbags, base building and race planning, avoiding burnout, running technique, what to do when you run into a wild animal, and more. Sarah shares her own experiences, those of her coaching clients, and adds plenty of advice from her favorite runners. Although not as regimented as some coaching books, the guidelines are more than enough to get started in the sport.

All in all, The Trail Runner’s Companion is a wonderful book. At ~$18, it’s a total steal (pre-order now!). I have ordered mine, and look forward to it complimenting the trail running tomes that fill my shelf. If you are in the Bay Area, you can also attend her book signing at in Oakland on Wednesday, May 31, 7pm, at A Great Good Place for Books.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

John Kelly and Gary Robbins Make Barkley Marathons History

The Barkley Marathons, notorious for being one of the most challenging ultramarathons in the world (and beautifully chronicled in the documentary, The Barkley Marathons - The Race That Eats Its Young), had two epic finishes this weekend for 2017. John Kelly became the only the 15th all-time finisher of all five 20-mile laps under the 60 hour cutoff, completing the 100 miles in 59:30:53. Gary Robbins finished in a heartbreaking 60:00:06, after taking a wrong turn in the fog with just two miles to go, resulting in him finishing the race in the wrong direction and just six seconds after the cut off. It was most certainly the closest finish in the history of the race.

Jamil Coury (who also competed in the Barkley this year), chronicled the finishes in this great video. An incredible nine minutes of film, capturing the shock and exhaustion from two extraordinary athletes. Truly amazing!

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