Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New River Trail 50K and Always Brothers 100 2015

 Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends we've had in quite some time. I'm always trying to figure out how to do ALL of the things that are important to me and not miss anything. I'd say this weekend was  pretty big success in that regard.

I have been wanting to get back to the New River Trail 50K for a couple of years. Ginger and Chris have both been keen to toe the line at this race this year, and Sean was game to run farther than he ever had before, so we all committed to heading down to Fries on Saturday. In that sense, I would be able to do one of the most important things to me: enjoy a fun day with my awesome wife and friends at a race. The rub was this: It was the same weekend as the Always Brothers 100 this year.  The Always Brothers event is one of the most important things I do each year, and I didn't want to miss that. I knew it would take some doing, but I figured there was a way to do it all. So this is the story of trying to get it all done.

First Things First: New River 50K
The New River 50K is a great trail race in Fries, NC that gives you the opportunity to run a flat, fast 50K. They even give a certified Boston Qualifier split at the marathon point. This made the race particularly attractive to me because I've always thought it would be cool to qualify for Boston even though I am not really a marathoner. I always prefer to run longer because I'm not fast. I'm more of a grinder. I've been focusing on speed more lately to try to get faster at Ultras. I felt like I had the speed to have a good 50K and still be at least close to a BQ time. I've never actually tried to run a fast marathon before. I figured this time was as good as any to try.

We all showed up Saturday morning cold but ready to roll. Ginger has been running strong, so  I was excited to see how she could do. Chris is crazy fast and I was just hoping to keep him in sight all day. Jim Trixler (one of our new BBurg buddies) was ready to test out his legs on his second 50K. Sean was fit and ready to crush the 25K.

This was a great collection of folks to have a fun day with.

Here's Ginger and me ready for the big day.

The 50K Start to the Turnaround. 
Chris and I started off at the head of the pack and we were both hoping to ease into the race-- being careful to not go out too hard. Pawel has been coaching me on actually racing with a plan, and I intended to stick to it. I figured I would ease into a 7:28 average pace for the first half, which would leave enough in the tank to push it in the last miles before the marathon split if needed. From the gun, Vladimir Bannas went out hard, and Chris and I just let him go. I knew he had run 16 hours and change at Umstead in the past, so I figured if he wanted the win he would have it. There was no reason to chase him down and blow up. Chris and I kept him within a minute for the first 10 miles, but he put 3 minutes into us by the 16.5 mile point. No worries. We were solidly in 2nd and 3rd place so we just ran a pace we were comfortable with. It was great to see Ginger and Jim on the out and back sections. They both looked happy and comfortable. After seeing Julia at the turn around and swapping water bottles, Chris and I headed towards the marathon split and the finish line. Right in line with my race plan, the average pace at this point was 7:28. Nearly perfect.

The Turnaround to the Marathon Split
Chris didn't feel like he had the legs to go hard and run sub 3:10 for the marathon, so he stayed with me as I was hoping to still snag a 3:15 at the 26.2 mark. We tried to ramp up the pace and we were doing well until mile 22. Then, I just couldn't get the legs moving fast enough to get under the 7:28 pace without burning matches that I didn't have. I knew, at this point, I still had 9 miles of racing left and I didn't want to risk losing 2nd place in the 50K. I had been running there all day, and a podium spot in an ultra was too big a carrot to give up for a fast marathon time. Still, I did what I could and figured I'd just go as fast as I could without blowing up until 3:15 passed. Miles 25 and 26 proved to be my undoing for the BQ split. I passed 26.2 at 3:17:26. Good for a 10 minute PR, but not good enough for Boston. I wasn't worried though. The A goal was a podium spot in the 50K and I knew that was possible if I saved enough energy to hold off any last minute challenges. Running at the head of a race was something I've never experienced before. I LOVED IT!

26.2 to the Finish Line
Once I crossed 26.2 split, I waited up for Chris who had fallen a minute behind. I knew I would do much better in the last 5 miles if we were together. We had run together all day, and I wanted to finish with my buddy. Chris and I encouraged each other to keep going until we finally had the finish in our sights. I was flagging a bit at mile 30, but 2nd place was in the bag and I was pushing to get as close to 4 hours as possible at this point.

Here's me learning into the finish. Photo: Sean Raines

I finished in 2nd place at 4 hours and 40 seconds. Chris was right behind me in 3rd at 4 hours and 50 seconds. I'm so grateful to him for running with me all day. He's such a talented runner and a good friend. I also owe a big thanks to Jordan, Brett, Royce, Andy, and Pawel for training with me these last few months. Pawel's advice on pacing and planning have been crucial. Thanks to these guys and to Ginger for all of the love and support. My first ever ultra podium spot is due to all of you. THANK YOU!

Chris and I had a good time catching our breath at the finish.

Soon after, Ginger came flying across the finish line. 3rd female! 14th OVERALL at 4:49:08

She is running so strong lately, and I'm so proud of her. She is beyond a doubt the best wife in the world and my best friend!

 I also want to throw a shout out to Sean Raines. Sean has joined our crew of bad idea lovers lately, and he crushed the 25K race. He won his age group, and will be running ultras before you know it. Jim Trixler had a great day with a 5:24 finish.

Sean and me chilling at the finish.

New River Trail 50K Final Thoughts
I am very pleased with how the day went. For the first time ever, I went into a race with a really solid plan for racing. Not just finishing or finishing inside a time goal. I paid attention to my splits and ran smart. When the BQ was slipping away, I told myself to just race the race I was racing. Or as my friend Jeff Goodman would say, "Just do what you are doing." It worked. Here is a link to my Strava data for the race. I'll be looking for the BQ at the Richmond Marathon in November, and I'm confident that I can pull it off. I'll be leaning on Pawel for good advice on how to pace it out. 

Always Brothers 100: The 2nd Thing but Really the Main Thing
Those of you who know me know that I really got into Ultras as a way to honor my fallen brothers. Captain Tyler B. Swisher was the guy who inspired it all. I served with him at Camp David longer ago than I really care to admit. He died 10 years ago today in Iraq. Tyler lives on with us each day because he inspired a community. I will always be grateful to him for this among many other things.

In 2011, my buddies and I ran from Thurmont, Maryland to his grave in Arlington. Here's a link to a documentary about that run. The boys from Always Brothers and I have done 100 mile event each year to honor Tyler, the boys from Lima Co 3/25, MSGT Aaron C. Torian from my old unit (2nd Recon, later MARSOC, and now once again the Marine Raiders). These runs mean more to me than any race I could ever run because they are an attempt to show the families of these men that we love them and value their sacrifices. Our event this year was a run from Columbus Ohio (home of Lima Co.) to Mariemont, Ohio (Tyler's home). So, once I finished New River and went home to shower, I got back in the car and drove to Ohio to join my brothers for the last portion of our 100 mile event. The Always Brothers crew, especially Dan, Paul, Ky, Ivan, Brian, and Gary did some amazing work to make this year's event happen. Reggie O'Hara and GYSGT Gene Bryant ran like men possessed. 

I arrived around 11 pm in time to join the boys and pace Reggie O'hara (a beast of a man) through the final legs of the event. I got there in time to lace up my shoes and join Reggie around mile 77.

I ran about 15 miles with him though the night, and then took a break to finish the last 3 miles with the Reggie, the boys, and some of the family members. At the finish, we celebrated the lives of our friends and honored them with our normal ceremonial whisky. Only this year, we had some special whisky that Bob Derga had arranged for from the good folks at Makers Mark. Bob is an inspiration. He lost his son Dustin and has been a steadying hand in our organization for over four years now. I love Bob, and we would not have had a successful run in any of the last 4 years without his support. He has driven a chase vehicle behind us every step of the way in each of the last 4 years. He has provided us with invaluable guidance and support in so many ways. We love you Bob!

The drive to and from Ohio was worth every minute. Getting to spend time with my Brothers, honor my friends, and spend time with their friends and families is a gift that I am lucky to receive. When I think about what running means to me, at the top of the list is that it makes all of those things possible. I know we can never really ease the burdens these families are carrying, but we try. Semper Fidelis and Semper Fratres.
Wrapping It Up

I am so grateful that I can do the things I love to do and share running with Ginger and all of my friends. I'm lucky to have a supporting wife who encourages me to be me and do the things that make me happy. I'm grateful that my friends and family support the cause that I love and push me to explore what I am capable of. I'm looking forward to the next adventure, but I'm always treasuring the adventure I'm presently pursuing. Thanks to everyone who makes that possible.