Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon---Where did that Performance Come From???

The story begins with myself at 80 miles for the week. I have been preparing for the rigors of the Whiteface Skymarathon that is coming up June 28th and decided for two weeks out to shoot for a 90-mile training week. What I did not have planned was to make my last 13.1 miles a half marathon with hills.  Well, that is what happens when you get persuaded to give it a go!  And you know, I ran much better than I could have expected on a well-rested day let alone with 80 miles and roughly 6-7k of hill training around Binghamton under my legs.

It all started with Ian, the RD and Owner of Finger Lakes Running, who asked me on a Thursday evening if  I wanted to run the race.  He gave me 15 minutes to think it over. When he came back to check on my decision, a smirk his way was enough to solidify the decision.  I was running a Half Marathon.

As many of you might already know about me, I feel that Ultra-Marathons are my forte. I love the idea of running a consistent pace and effort forever which I feel is one of my strong suits for ultras. I now run many of the shorter road races as mini-workouts to test my fitness though have never really tapered for an event and made it my prime focus. With the Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon being a Red Newt Racing Event, I was excited to represent the RN-MPF Trail Running Team as well as my other amazing sponsors: Mammut North America, Boom Nutrition, Fits Socks, Redfeather Snowshoes, Karhu/Craft Sports North America with pride. I prepped as best as I could for the race, hoping to run the event hard and see what happens. If I end up exploding from a fast pace, then so be it. This was some uncharted territory for myself and on race day,  the test would be whether my body could hold up to the abuse this tough course would bring.

Also little did I know, this course boasts about 900ft of ascent. Ya, that is quite a bunch of uphill! On a solid training run, I shoot for a value such as that. So for a race with that amount of ascent, my legs were going to feel it especially on top of 80 miles. The Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon is truly a solid, beautiful, and challenging course. Running the course opened my eyes to how this race had its fair share of uphill all in the middle miles 4-9 but with 2 sections of flat or downhill which helped break-up the quad-crushing ups.

Race-day came and with a 9am start, I had plenty of time to drive up from Endicott, NY to Ithaca without having to wake -up at extra early!

The race atmosphere was fantastic!

With different vendors, a beer tent, and a band, the race was set-up really nice.  I did my mile warm-up as people began to fill in the street. It was almost race time.

As we lined up for the race, I was thinking about running strong and curious to see how the body would handle the hills and all of the other miles I had on my legs.

**** I took a classic Boom gel to give me the even flow of energy needed to off-set any fatigue early-on in the race. This has been a strategy I have been doing since signing on with Boom in late 2013 and this has been a very effective technique for reducing any residual energy lows from taking hold early on in a race.

*Note that I am disclosing my secret to success. Please use at your own discretion. It is known to boost  performance!

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

The Start of the Race- Miles 1-4- "Starts Off Easy then Ouch": Starting off, I followed the lead bike as we headed out to Stewart Park. I went into the lead with another gentleman as I continued to run my pace. He soon dropped back and then it was just me and the lead bike. We whizzed through the downtown of Ithaca and then headed by Ithaca High School on our way to Stewart Park.  I split the first mile in 5:25 a perfect pace. My next mile along the park was 5:18 and then as I headed out of the park after doing a nice loop in there I split a 5:11 next mile. The fourth mile would then have us leave the flats of the downtown of Ithaca and the flats of Stewart Park along Lake Cayuga, to then head up the infamous Remington Hill, known for a full uphill road race during the year. I was getting a little warm already but I figured that would be the case with temps that could finish the race near 80. I made sure at each aid station to dump water on my head. My first mistake was that I ended up taking a gatorade bath the first aid station. This got my barely sweating body soaked in sticky lemon-lime goodness. Yeah, bad idea Cole!  I kept going. 
Heading up Remington Hill, the long mile plus climb was already zapping my legs which I felt some sting in them with going out too fast the first 5k. What was I thinking? Am I going to blow-up? Is my race done already at mile 4?  I continued to work with the lead bike and run the hill as comfortable as possible. I was working very had at this point and was struggling a little bit. I kept thinking this race was going to kill me.  I kept pushing along.  Once past the top of Remington, the road had us flatten out then up ahead would lead into a series of winding hills and switchbacks of the roads occasionally followed by a short flat section.  We then approached the Cornell Campus.

Photo Credits Rebecca Lee.

Miles 5-9-"The Hard Part":  It was great to see so many fabulous volunteers out along the course and I totally appreciated hearing the "GO Cole" chants which helped me power through. These next miles I was tiring and putting on my suffer-fest face on. I was feeling pretty tired running up these hills and was just counting down until the downhills would come. The bridge into the Cornell Campus had a magnificent view that showed really how much hard work all that uphill running had done for us. I admired the view and began to surge into the Campus loop. We turned onto another road and guess what?  There was another hill. I was getting hot at this point and looked for every cup of water I could get my hands on.  I hit the 10k point in 33:23 which I felt was moving quick!  No wonder I was so tired. Past the 10k, I was given the chance of having some nice downhills. I decided to run them hard but fairly relaxed not to destroy my quads for the last few flat miles. I then came along some of the other runners. People were cheering as I came by and with myself in the hurt locker pretty bad, the most I could muster was an occasion GRUNT in recognition. I wanted to smile to give thanks to their support but my concentration was on suffering and trying to get through that suffering. Also, I kept seeing these signs mentioning about "Smile Ahead" but I was hurting so bad that I felt like I did not have enough energy to smile. As we drew nearer to the 9 mile mark, I was getting excited to enter the nice downhill down Remington. I was ready. With the last small gradual climb, I began to surge and pick up my pace. I was ready to be done but knew I had to be patient. I knew that I lost my pace from 10k-mile 9 significantly but I was just hopeful to finish.  I could feel the week's worth of hill running (7k of vertical and 80 miles) catching up with me. My legs began to cramp, twinge, just feel weak overall. 

Miles 10-Finish-"Sweet Victory!": As the Remington downhill section came, I aligned with my lead biker who I had been talking with during the run and had been keeping my pace honest. We both worked very hard to put on a solid day. We reminisced about how those hills both beat us up pretty well and were happy the hardest part was finished. I used my downhill running technique I mastered while training at Greek Peak Mountain Resort, the home of the Virgil Crest Ultras by employing a light flat grounded foot landing while momentarily floating down on the hill like a leaping mountain goat. It worked great as I flew down the hill running another 5:24 mile and then came in for the Stewart Park lap. It felt great to be on the flats again. My legs were shot, but I still had some more energy left in the tank. I just paced out the first mile in the park and then surged the second mile as a gulp of Gatorade helped give me some boost. Coming through the park, I knew I had the win but did not know what my lead was. As I surged that second mile, I now could muster some smiles as I knew all that hard work was almost completed. I hit the last 1.1 miles ready to take a nap but kept up a solid pace.

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

The Finish--"Success": I crossed the last straightway looking at my watch and just cruised in. I knew I had a great time coming about and with about half a mile to go and my watch reading 69 minutes, I was amazed the time I would run.  If I needed to I felt I could have picked up my pace the last straightaway, but man I was just happy my body did not fail.  Those miles were tough and well-earned. I came across the line in 1:12:45  which was only 30 some odd seconds off of my time at the Binghamton Bridge Run.      It felt so great to be done. I was so pleased with how I ran. with 93 miles for the week and a half marathon that had almost 900 feet of uphill, I felt that the race was a huge success and solid training for Whiteface.  It was great to see the other runners come into the finish shoot as the warmth of the morning began to creep forward. It was getting hot and I was ready for  some chocolate milk, a bath, and a nap. 

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds


I had a great time spending time with people, chatting about the race.  I was very pleased with how I ran. For such a tough course, to be able to run the time I did with so much mileage and uphill vertical training in one week, I never thought my body could respond the way it did. I hope that this is a great sign for Whiteface Skymarathon. In the next two weeks,  I am going to take it easier. The mileage and volume is done. Now I can just sharpen my body for the race and enjoy the experience. 

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

Photo Credits: Megan Reynolds

Overall,  it was an incredible day.  Ian Golden did a fantastic job as well as my lead bike, the volunteers, and all of the sponsors. It was a wonderful day.  I was super pleased with my run as I have had many struggles with running a solid race in quite some time as I place a ton of pressure on myself. This race by far surpassed my expectations. It validates for me that I have been putting in quality training and work and it is just a matter of time before I start reaping the benefits.

Thank you to my sponsors: Mammut North America: Though no photos show the gear here, I had them on as warm-ups and at the running store as I worked right after the race; MPF/RNR for the great gear and support of such a great group of people; Boom Nutrition for constant energy fueling all the way; Fits Socks for the best blister-free socks and best fitting socks around; Redfeather Snowshoes for keeping me fit in the winter; Karhu North America for the sweet trusty Karhu Flow Trainer; Craft North America for the fantastic performance track shorts which kept me nice and cool. Thanks to Ian Golden for the amazing race and Chris Dunn for always supporting my running endeavors.

This race is a must race event.  Yes, it is hard but so rewarding.  Most half marathons are not scenic and provide a balanced course.  This course with its hills, views, lake parks, flat sections, and downhills, the course suits someone that can run the uphills well then make up the time on the flats and the downhills. The race t-shirts, growlers, and whole event atmosphere is something you should really check out.    It is one Gorges race and you better check it out and see what all the hype is about next year.

Some other Photos from Finger Lakes Running Company of the Ithaca Gorges Half Marathon:

Miles 7-10
Nice Roads of Ithaca!

Miles 7-10

Mile 4.5

Old Trusty Karhu Flow Trainers

Turning the Corner (Mile 7)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

This Summer: A Tale of an ultra DNF, a Road Race, and The Journey for Perfection

The summer has began to take shape. I have finished with Graduate school and so now I am a free man to spend my time working on my career, running to my hearts content, and spending time with friends and family.  Making the transition from school to the "real world" has been hectic but I can finally write to you noting that I have made some strides in my transition.

To begin the summer season, I decided to run the Binghamton Bridge Run for a fun tune-up half marathon effort before Cayuga Trails.  I felt that as I have never run this race, it was a great idea to finally take the plunge and compete at the event.  I was still a little banged up from the 50k Provisional World Record Indoor Track Attempt but was training at close to full-strength so I thought, why not jump into a road race. 

CHAPTER 1: The Binghamton Bridge Run---A Grand Ole' Time!

While still living in Cortland, NY at the time, the early morning drive saw me rise at 5 am and then head the 40-50 minutes to Binghamton.  I stopped and loaded up on Dunkin Doughnuts as there is nothing better than a small iced coffee and a glazed doughnut before running hard. I had no idea what expectations I had coming into the race except to contest for the win and run a smooth first 5k then pick up the pace based on how I felt. I never had the intention to shoot for a personal best but if the race dictated that type of effort, then I would do what I could.

I showed up to the race site just in the nick of time as I had 15 minutes before the start. I collected my bib and did a few strides and then I lined up for the race.  I also took a Boom Grape/Pomegranate gel right before the race start which is a strategy of mine to give me a consistent flow of energy so that I do not have to worry about low calories during the race.Talking with people I heard I had some competition for the win with a Ben Snodgrass, who just graduated from Binghamton University and has been tearing up the local road racing scene with some solid times. I saw him at the line and he mentioned that he was doubling both the Half Marathon and 5k and I thought he might try to run this race more conservative. 

The gun shot off and we were off to begin 13.1 miles of sheer fun. I went to the lead with a small pack of about 4 of us with Ben Snodgrass running stride by stride with myself.   We immediately started talking and decided to get rolling after the first 5k as we were running 5:45-5:50+ miles and I wanted to separate early from the chase group.  With the next two miles in 5:18 and 5:21 that separation was created and then became ultimately a 2-man race. 

Thank you Cassandra Hamilton for these photos:
As you can see the chase pack and one other runner right behind us only 2 miles into the race.

Miles 3-5 saw us form quite a solid gap.

From 10k-Mile 10:
We kept pace and chatted the whole way clicking off miles in the 5:20 range as the weather was perfect and it was nice to have some solid company.  I slowly tried testing Ben's willingness to change tempo as we would surge for one mile then ease up the next followed by another surge. Once I hit 10k around 35:26 (5:42 mile pace), I knew I had to start trying to go more uptempo.  From 10k to mile 10, I through in some strong surges seeing if I could drop Ben.   

Clicking off 4 miles at around 5:05-5:13

We ran those 4 miles from 10k to mile 10 in 20:35 with a 5k split of 16:13! 

As you can see, Ben kept stride with me the whole time. We stopped chatting a little during this point but then recollected coming into the final 5k of the race. He was ready to run and ran really strong as the moves I made only dropped him a mere second at points during those 4 miles yet he always managed to surge back.

Photo Credits: Harry J. Back

Last 5k: We hit the 5k easing up from our last miles and then picked up the pace the last mile and we decided it would come down to a sprint finish. We hit the final finish shoot and his track speed gave him the edge as he pulled away by about 2 seconds. I began to close quick the last meters to almost nip him at the line finishing the race a mere .8 seconds behind. 

I placed 2nd and really enjoyed the whole experience! I had never run a road race able to chat it up running a solid 32:13. I also had the chance to rock the new MPF/Red Newt Jersey and man was it fun to represent a great team! The rest of the day was spent talking to people about my ultra running, Mammut, and the new Red Newt/MPF trail running team!  Thank to my family to Mammut North America, Fits Socks, Red Newt/MPF, Karhu North America/ Craft Sports North America, Redfeather Snowshoes, Boom Nutrition for all of your support.

CHAPTER 2: Cayuga Trails 50: DNF Stands for Delirious, Nervous, Faint

I was all primed for Cayuga. I had done my fair share of hilly runs, solid mileage, fast training runs and lots of steps.  The week of the race, I caught some sinus problems from moving into a new house in Binghamton, NY and had my fair share of workouts moving belongings from our third floor apartment into our cars and moving vans. It was a long week of moving and very hard to find the time to do nothing and rest up to totally eliminate my sinus troubles. Unfortunately for race day, I still had some sinus issues but felt as ready as I could be for the event. We woke up early from our new home in Endicott, NY and made the 55 minute drive to Ithaca. I was very tired both physically and mentally from a long week of moving but it is where the sport of ultra running shows you that it is in those moments of fatigue that you can find your strength.

I made it to the race site with about 20 minutes to spare. That was just enough time to check-in and use the bathroom and pose for a few photos:

Photo Credits: Mountain Peak Fitness

**I had all of my new MPF/Red Newt Mammut gear screen printed and it looked great for the race. I linked up with some of the members of the team and began to get ready for a big race. I had aspirations of running near the top 5 and if it was in the cards, maybe surpass my own expectations with a podium spot.  The race this year went out like it does every year though the pace felt a little more controlled than the previous two years. As the field began to push through the various steps and ravines of this grueling course, I started to scan the competition for some tough runners that I knew would be there in the end. I kept my eyes on Andrew Benford, who has some USA Mountain Running experience and though his first 50 miler I believe, his ability to combine fast marathons with mountain running experience would make him a strong podium contender. I kept him in eye sight to help gauge my effort.  I linked up close to Ben Nephew as I have always run with him at times during this race the past two years and have not been able to close at the end so I knew keying my race off of him would give me the chance for a solid finish. 

The pace through the first few miles felt solid as I ran within myself. I could see Ben in the slight distance with other runners right in contact. As we went up and down the gorges of Ithaca, my Gps watch kept hitting my other watch and messing up my passing and mileage. I kept playing around with it and then gave up and kept running by feel. My sinus pressure felt okay though I tried not to let some stuffiness get my mental game. I remained tough and kept along the pace. The field strung out as we crossed the deep creek and headed to Lick Brook. Chad Trumbo and myself with Ben Nephew linked up pretty well in Lick Brook and we ran together nice and solid. The pace felt 7:30's on downhills and 8-8:20 a mile as we recovered from a 10 minute mile uphill section from miles 6-15. Myself and Chad worked together pretty solidly while Ben was with us and at times would relax a little only to find him right with us a few minutes later if that. It was a pack of three!

I took the lead at the big Lick Brook Climb and gained a little separation as out of my race, that power hike up the incline was my crowning achievement for the race. I felt pretty relaxed hiking up the trail.  
Photo Credits: Mountain Peak Fitness
*The photo here shows at the section at Buttermilk Falls, Chad had been in and out of the aid station and we both on the downhill to the Buttermilk Aid station put up a little bit of time (seconds) on Ben. The photo shows justice. I felt good here as well strategically running and power hiking sections incredibly well and had much more left even with us running about pace for sub 7:20 for 50 miles. That would be a 20 minute or so PR on this course for me though my last two runs at this race I have not been at full-strength so my potential on this course I have yet to experience. I felt like this day would be the day.  I kept fueling with my Boom gels and was on tap with gels every 45 minutes and my energy levels felt solid. I put in a surge and linked up with Chad.

We ran strong together and I think picked it up some as we were approaching the turn around. At the river crossing (Underpass) aid station we both caught Fred Joslyn and another gentlemen and that was a big boost for us as we were closing well. If we could keep our pace, we would run a spectacular time.  

It was at the dreaded Lucifer steps, 4 miles from the turn around where something odd happened. I was running powerhiking this section with the group feeling still strong but ready for some more gels when my heart rate skyrocketed and my vision went dark for a few seconds. While almost at the top, i braced the wall of the steps to hold myself upright. My vision returned and a ringing noise popped up in my ears. My head felt cloudy and highly pressurized like some soda cans that were shaken up. I suddenly felt extremely weak. I lost the group of guys as I felt like I was going nowhere. I looked back and saw Ben ascending up the steps. I could not go up the steps as I wavered on each step trying to retain balance. From Ben's perspective, I must have looked like some drunk fool dancing around the steps almost 1,150 feet high. I regained a little focus once at the top, took a gel, and drank the last of the GU brew in my bottle. I was bummed I lost contact after running so smart and strong the first 20+ miles. I descended into the next aid station and took my time fueling up thinking maybe it was low blood sugar.  I then headed to the turn around. 

Photo Credits: SportTracks!

I did not feel good at all. I felt dizzy, delirious and faint.  I felt my race would now be a long suffer fest for another 25 miles. This is not how I wanted my race to go. I felt dejected as I was passed by maybe 4-6 people in those last 4 miles. I would have to run really strong to improve upon my 7th place finish from 2014 (last year). I had trained very well this year and felt my progress was to lead to a high-caliber finish for this race. That was not in the cards for the day.  I told my family that if I would improve how I felt by the Buttermilk Aid station mile 37 or 38 , I would continue to the finish. I spent quite some time fueling up and off I went. I ran and power hiked the sections but my energy even with all the calories felt rock bottom. It was great to see Carlo and Silas, both Red Newt/MPF teammates run so well. I felt bad I had nothing to keep pace. The next 12 miles I was pretty much to myself. I kept running but my pace dramatically slowed. Everything felt heavy and my vision turned to tunnel vision where I could only make out the trail and a pink flag as the course marker. At the turn around (Mile 25) I noticed this tunnel vision and lack of specificity in my vision. At times I almost missed turns on the course and I tired to be optimistic but as I left Lick Brook and entered Buttermilk, nothing seemed to change as I kept up with my 45 minute gel strategy. I was thinking, it cannot be blood sugar. I caught both Sam Jurek and Fred Joslyn as they were struggling from the early pace. I was passed by Brian Rusiecki, a east coast ultra stud who I have been blessed to race with at Cayuga Trails and Manitous Revenge. I told him I was having a rough day and it was maybe low blood sugar. Like the gentleman he is offered gels and I kindly declined. I kept going to the aid station. 

I then descended into Buttermilk. Physically, I felt better as my legs could offer my last two miles in 7:10 and 6:52.  As far as the way my vision was, I was exactly the same. As an oath to myself, as I came to the aid station greeted with the cheers of my name from the Trails Roc crew, I said my number and that I was seriously dropping. I will forever remember their shouts of "NO, NO, NO, Don't Do IT". I felt done. I laid in a nice chair and took in calories of every goody out there. I consumed oreos, broth, watermelon, gels, M&Ms etc. The color in my face soon started to return but I still felt like I was KO'd at a boxing match with little birdies flying around my head like a cartoon.

MY Race was OVER.  I called it quits at Mile 37/38. I was in 11th place at the time of the drop which was not too bad but I felt off of what I could do.  Trails Roc worked hard to convince me to keep going but there was no such luck getting me to change my mind. I met my father and Ashlee at the aid station, spent 15-20 minutes there then headed into the van to return to the finish line. 

I had the chance to see the first few finishers who ran solid races. Amazing performances  across the board. The collection of times were much faster than the previous two years.

Here is where I thank everyone who made this day a huge success.
Thank you Ian Golden for putting on such a well-run event. The race seems to get better and better each year. 
Thank you to all of the volunteers and runners out on the course that gave some encouragement out there. It is always a great boost to hear my name out on the course.  The aid stations were perfect with great help from some stand-up people. Thank you to the Trails Roc crew for all of their help and support. You are one fabulous band of people.

Thank you to my sponsors:

Mammut North America: The MTR line continues to improve and our MTR 201 Tech Low performed as a super competitive shoe for trail racing and ultra marathons. The cushioning of the shoe blew me away and the upper feels luxurious for swelling feet and the outsole felt good on every surface Cayuga Trails had to offer. The MTR 201 Tech Low is a must-buy Mammut shoe! The new apparel keeps me dry, fits perfect, and chaffing...that word is not in my vocabulary.

Boom Nutrition: The tattoos were great. I had them on my legs but washed away in the big creek crossing. Of course your gels keep me going with a boom of real fruit energy and flavor with the most calories of any energy gel. 

Fits socks: Best fitting socks around. No blisters as my Light Runner Low socks have just enough padding for the ultras but keep my feet dry in the moist, dank, and wet conditions of Cayuga like a real champion does.

Mountain Peak Fitness/Red Newt Racing Team: Thank you Elizabeth and Joe, Ian too for all the support, and for having such a great team of people that love the outdoors. 

Redfeather Snowshoes: Thank you for keeping me fit in the winter as the hard training is paying off this summer!

Finger Lakes Running/Confluence/Run On Hudson: For a great job helping to help shape our running community. And great tattoos!

Karhu/Craft Sports: For amazing gear and footwear I train in and race in while on the roads. 

USATF Niagara: For being a great governing body for our sport here in Upstate New York.

Thank you to my friends, family and everyone who reads this. Your support and enthusiasm keeps me running!

Chapter 3: The Journey From Here:
The Nervous side of this race comes with the NOW. 

Amazing MTR 201 Tech Low shoes that have been a major player in solid training and racing! Amazing job Mammut!

So where does my racing take me now?  I am currently training for the Whiteface Skymarathon which I hope to run a race where I can redeem myself from the DNF at Cayuga Trails. I have been getting in some solid hill training in to hopefully improve my overall fitness and prepare my muscle-memory for the rigors of a sky race.  I have been talked into running both the Gorges Ithaca Half Marathon and the Vestal 20k both as road races to provide some uptempo training for myself which is always a good thing.

Here is a photo from JFK 50 last Fall. I came into that race, still not fully-recovered from some bad bronchitis but rallied to a 5th place finish. 

After a summer where I had a severe ankle injury, I was recovered well and raced to a course record at the Virgil Crest 50k.