New Year, Same Goals, Some Changes

So, I haven’t been very consistent with this whole blog thing.  Seems that life always gets in the way of allowing enough time to write.  Well, hopefully I can get back on track for 2017 and be a bit more consistent with my posts.  As you may recall, I had written a post about goals for 2016.  Unfortunately, I failed to accomplish a majority of those.  My health wasn’t the best in 2016 with the worst UC flare that I’ve ever had at the beginning of the year.  This delayed things a bit for me and caused me to have what I would call an “off year” for running (I finished with just over 1000 miles).  I don’t like to make excuses, but that was the reality of the year for me.  Therefore, a lot of the 2016 goals are carry forward to 2017.  I still want to run a sub-19 minute 5K, run my first official 50K, and hit 1500 miles for the year.  The work-related goals are being toned down a bit, as there have been other things I’ve decided to accomplish first.

This year has begun fairly decently with 114 miles run in January.  There will be challenges as I recently went back into a flare of my UC.  The special diet that I follow had me in remission for about 9 months.  Fortunately, the symptoms this time around don’t seem to be as bad as the last flare, and I am vowing not to let it set me back.  I may need to make some decisions in terms of medication to get things under control, but I’m trying a few other things first.  A few weeks ago I ran the Chilly Cheeks 11K as my first race of the year.  It didn’t go quite as well as last year, but I kind of figured that would be the case since I haven’t been working on speed much lately and was probably in a little bit better shape at this time last year.  I will be going back to Hyner View for the 25K again in April.  Hopefully this time around I will be able to get some training done.  Last year I was too ill to really train at all for the race.  I hope to complete at least one race per month this year.  Currently I am registered for a 10K trail race in February and the Boulder Field 5oK in September.  This will be my first official 50K, which is taking place 5 days after my 40th birthday.  Aside from that, there are a few races being organized by my LRS at one of my favorite parks, and I plan on adding some others along the way.

Last year I represented Pearl Izumi as a brand Ambassador.  Well, in the middle of the year they announced that they would no longer be producing any run products and would be discontinuing their Ambassador program at the end of the year.  This was a shock to a lot of us that loved their products.  Not being the type of person to delay the inevitable, I began a search for a new shoe.  After doing some extensive research, I decided to give a fairly new company, Topo Athletic, a try.  I was drawn to them by their moto of “Move Better Naturally”.  I’ve had my fair share of injuries and felt that a shoe that promoted a more natural running style would be a good solution.  I first ordered a pair of their low- drop, wide toe box road running shoes and quickly fell in love with them.  Of course, I then needed to get a couple pair of trail running shoes as well, and they were also great.  I ran in the shoes for most of the second half of last year.  When I saw that they were accepting applications for their Ambassador program, I figured I would give it a shot since I quickly became very passionate about the brand.  The great news is that I was accepted into the program and will be representing Topo Athletic for 2017 (and hopefully beyond).  If you’re looking for an extremely comfortable shoe that promotes natural movement, then check them out at http://www.topoathletic.com.  You can even save 20% by using discount code TOPOROBERTS20 at checkout.  As of this moment, there aren’t any local stores carrying the brand, but there will be some good news that I will share about that soon.

Overall, I am very excited to see what 2017 brings.  There will be some challenges along with some firsts.  I will also be moving into a new age group in September when I turn 40.  I am looking forward to making it a great year and hope that you have a great year as well!

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World’s End Fall Classic

It’s been quite some time since my last post.  The beginning of the year started out a bit rough with probably my worst UC flare up that I’ve experienced.  I was prescribed the dreaded steroid’s that I’ve been successfully avoiding since I was diagnosed with the disease.  I took them for one day and then decided to try a diet called the “Cellular Healing Diet”.  This is a low carb, high fat diet that had me feeling so weak for the month that I was on it, that there were days that I could hardly get out of bed.  I am happy to say that I am now on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which stopped my flare up and has me feeling healthier than I have in a while.  I plan to write another post with more detail on this experience in the near future, but for now I’d like to recap the one and only race that I actually felt healthy for so far this year.

The Hyner Challenge 25k was my biggest race of the year leading up to this point.  The lack of being able to train due to my health eliminated any goals of being competitive for that race.  So, now that I was feeling better, I wanted to find a race that I could actually train hard for and push myself.  I was really excited when I learned that there was going to be an inaugural trail half marathon in one of my favorite state parks, World’s End.  I quickly registered and reserved a campsite at the park.  Earlier this year, we bought a travel trailer and had a blast on several camping trips.  I figured it would be a nice family getaway for the weekend.

I sought the help of my coworker Zach Miller in putting together a training plan.  This isn’t the Zach Miller that you trail runners are familiar with, but he is a stud runner as well with a sub 15 minute 5k PR and 68 minute half marathon PR.  I also reached out to my Chiropractor, Ryan (Vermeesch Genesis Performance Chiropractic), and scheduled biweekly appointments to help with injury prevention.  With the help of these two, I had the best training block since I started running three and a half years ago.

Leading up to the race, it appeared that we were going to be in for some very wet weather.  I started having some second thoughts as to what shoes I would wear.  All of my training had been in Pearl Izumis, but I was not really confident in their ability to handle wet rocks which this course would have everywhere.  I decided to bring along a pair of Salomons, but ultimately went with the PI’s when Zach texted me that I was overthinking things.

Since my boys had an early dismissal the day before the race, I decided to take off work so that we could get an early start on the road.  We arrived at the campground around 4 p.m.  It was raining a bit and appeared that the rain had been going on for a few days based on how saturated things were.  I quickly got the camper set up and spoke to a neighbor who was racing as well.  It turns out that he lives a few miles up the road from me, so it was nice to meet someone new that is local.  I then drove to the race start to check things out.  I took a walk on the trails to see what the terrain would be like, and quickly realized that it was going to be dicey.  I headed back to the camper and we had dinner.  After that we decided to head over to the campground where my parents have a permanent site to visit.  This would be the first time that they would see me race.  We spent a little time there then headed back to go to bed.

On the morning of the race, I woke up and was glad to see that it wasn’t raining.  It was very cloudy and gloomy, but the rain managed to hold off until after I finished.  I got ready and planned to drive to registration and then come back so that I could run to the start as a warm up.  It was slightly over a mile from the campground.  Heading into the race, I wanted to set a goal, but it was difficult since there were no past results to look at.  I knew it wouldn’t be a fast race with over 3000 feet of climbing and super technical terrain, so I decided I would shoot for 2:30 or less and a top ten finish.

As I waited at the start line, I ran into Matt Lipsey.  Matt is a super nice guy and outstanding runner.  I knew that he would most likely win with ease, which ended up being the case with 22 minutes separating him from second place.  After a briefing and course instructions, we were on our way.  The race started out on a short section of road and then took a sharp left onto the first trail and first major climb.  I tried to stay up front as much as possible to hopefully avoid a conga line on that first climb.  It wasn’t too long into the climb that it became a power hike up some significant boulders.  Luckily my legs felt strong, and I was able to make some passes on this section without overexerting myself.  Once we got to the top of the climb, the trail looped back to where we entered and was all downhill.  The descent was quite slick and technical.  At this point I was running with a guy named Dylan from NY and the eventual women’s winner, Deserae.  Dylan and I passed her as she seemed to be quite timid on the descent.  Based on the size of her quads, I think climbing was probably her strength.  As we came out of the trailhead back on the road, another young guy joined us.  It was another short road section until we headed back onto a trail that ran along the river.  This was a tough section as there were large flat rocks that were wet.  A wrong foot placement could have easily landed you in the drink.  From here we crossed over the main park road and headed up another trail towards the campground where the first aid station was located around mile 5.  Shortly into the woods, a spectator announced that we were 5th through 8th.  All three of us passed another runner, and I heard him ask if we realized we still had 8 miles to go.  I am pretty sure he is a strong runner, but it turned out he had a rough day and ended up walking a bunch of miles.  The comment was probably due to a little frustration which I could understand.  When we hit the aid station, my wife was there to cheer me on.  My parents couldn’t get there since it required some hiking.  She informed me that I was in 6th place, which wasn’t accurate since I was 7th, and I filled up my handheld.  My fuel for this race was water and honey.  With my diet, I am completely sans sugar, so it makes most fuels off limits.  It wouldn’t be much longer until I learned that I’ve gotta come up with a better fueling plan.  I left the aid station and took off on the next less forgiving climb.  About a half mile into the climb, my right calf started cramping ever so slightly.  I continued to run and power hike until I got near the top.  I then started having cramping in both calves and had to stop and try to stretch them out.  At this point I was passed by a guy, and he offered me some tart cherry juice and mustard.  I passed on the offering, and he continued on.  I walked for a little and then was passed by Deserae.  I tried running a bit and taking in a bunch of honey.  I was able to stick with her and the cramping seemed to subside as we made our way through a rock garden and hit a descent.  On the descent, I ended up getting passed again which put me in 10th place, right at the cusp of my goal.  At the bottom of the descent, we hit the road which would lead us on a climb to a beautiful overlook and the final aid station at about mile 10.  I was feeling pretty good on this climb and was gaining on the last two that passed me.  At the aid station I saw my wife, boys, and parents.  They informed me that I was in 10th like I thought.  I quickly got some more water and headed out leaving before 9th place and picking up that spot.  We were now left with a significant downhill stretch.  I was right on the tail of Deserae.  We came to a stream and momentarily were a little confused as to which direction to go since there were yellows flags leading one way.  Luckily she ran a 50k there not long ago and figured it out for us.  Not long after that, the calf cramps came back again and it slowed me down significantly.  I got passed by 10th place, and he and Deserae were shortly out of sight.  With about a mile left, I looked back and noticed that someone else was gaining on me.  At this point, it appeared that 2:30 would not be possible, but there was no way I was going to lose the top ten finish.  I found another gear and battled through the pain to the finish.  I ended up 1oth overall with a 2:34:34.37.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the results.  There was some frustration with the calf issues and the thought that I would have met both of my goals had they not occurred.  It was a good learning experience, and I know now that I need to work some electrolytes into my nutrition.  Despite some of the issues and the rough terrain, this was a very fun race.  I can definitely see myself going back next year.

As for the rest of the year, I plan to take it a bit easy and enjoy running and mtb riding.  I may do another trail race at the end of November, but most of our weekends are booked with my son’s MTB races, and Ice Hockey.

 

 

February 7, 2016 Chilly Cheeks 6.6 Mile Trail Race

The first time I ran this race was back in 2014, less than a year from when I started running.  At that time, it was probably the hardest thing physically that I have ever done. I remember at the end feeling like I was going to die.  So, of course I’ve had to come back every year since.

Leading up to the race, I wasn’t too sure how things were going to go.  I continue to deal with a moderate flare up of my UC, and I am still trying to avoid steroids.  Over the past few weeks, I got into a rut and started feeling a bit sorry for myself.  However, a few things occurred recently to help me overcome those feelings.  First, while out on a lunch run with my friend Zach, I started feeling very weak and thought I might have to stop and walk back to the office.  At that point, Zach said something very simple but it made a huge difference.  He simply said, “you need to put things into perspective, it can always be worse”.  Zach is always very positive, and in the short time I have known him he’s made a major impact on the way I think.  Second, I saw a Facebook post from my friend Chad who has a similar disease to mine called Crohn’s.  This post was a picture of a hospital bed where he would be spending the next few days getting help with a bad flare up.  Zach was right, things certainly could be worse.  It was time to end the nonsense of feeling sorry for myself right then and there.

I decided I needed to set some sort of a goal for the race.  The first year I ran it, I finished in 1:16:23 in some very poor conditions.  Last year was 1:04:24.  So this year, I thought I would push for under an hour, not really knowing if that would be possible. This is a very tough course with over 1500 of elevation gain.  That’s an average of 227 feet of climbing per mile.  No wonder my calves are so sore as I sit here typing!

Race morning came and the weather was beautiful.  It was going to be sunny with temps around 40 degrees at the start.  Since my nutritionist was no longer letting me eat my Special K protein bars for breakfast, I had to try something new.  I ended up having a banana along with some Honey Stinger organic energy chews.  Of course the morning included my 4-5 trips to the bathroom before leaving the house.  I headed out the door knowing that I’d make my typical stop at the Turkey Hill mini market on the way to use their bathroom as well.  I arrived at the race, located at the Reading Liederkranz (look it up, it’s a pretty neat place), and went inside to get my bib.  I took my bib to my car and decided to use the restroom again before I did a warm up run.  I headed out for a mile warm up and ran into an older gentleman named Nick.  We ran together and chatted a bit. He seemed very nice and he was wearing a Pearl Izumi tech shirt :).  I got back to the car, pinned my bib on, and hit an old porta john that looked like it may not be in service any longer. This thing was pretty scary and was filled with cobwebs.  I then headed to the start line which is about a .2 mile walk from where you park.

At the start, the race director gave the typical instructions and then everyone sang Happy Birthday to him.  That whole process took several minutes and I was anxious to get things going.  Finally, the race began.  I knew that about .4 miles in, there was a hill that requires you to bush wack and if you get stuck behind a lot of people it can really slow you down, so I wanted to start out fast.  I looked down a few times at my watch during that first .4 miles, which is downhill, and my pace was around 5:37.  I wanted to start out fast, not kill myself!  I slowed it down a bit and got passed by a handful of people, but I was still it good shape for the first climb.  I got to the hill and started to clamber up grabbing trees along the way to help.  One guy in front of me grabbed a small tree and totally uprooted the thing.  When we got to the top, there was an additional surprise.  A twelve foot pile of plowed snow to go up and over.  Once that was accomplished, there was about a .2 mile section of downhill on the road until heading into the woods for another climb.  This climb wasn’t too bad.  Maybe 100 feet over the next .5 mile until we reached a steep downhill which dropped about 200 feet in .2 miles.  In the past years, I didn’t realize how technical these trails were since they were always covered in snow.  I much preferred the downhills with the snow.  Over the next mile and a half, there would be about four climbs all followed by a fairly rapid descent.  It’s about the 3.2 mile mark where the climbing really becomes fun.  There you reach a climb that covers about 237 feet in .2 miles.  This is followed by a short descent and another steep climb until you hit the 4 mile mark.  It’s at this point where you can actually make up some time since the next mile is fairly flat.  I knew that I needed to be around a 9 minute per mile pace to break an hour and saw that I was now a little off of that.  I felt good, so I was able to kick it into gear.  I spent most of the race just racing against the clock versus caring about the people around me.  I ran that mile section in a 7:38 pace which got me back down to where I needed to be, but I also knew what lied ahead.  As I got to the bottom of the steepest climb on the course, I saw my friend Dave and his daughter watching and gave him a high five.  That gave me a little boost of energy.  I don’t typically see people I know out in the middle of the woods at a race.  I knew this was the final climb and it was all downhill from here.  I ran probably another 50 feet and then knew I had to power hike. This climb covers over 200 feet in just over .1 miles and includes some boulders.  Once at the top, it’s a short run on the road until the next trail head and 480 feet down over the next mile.  Some sections were a bit too steep and technical to really open it up, but I ran as hard as I could.  A short time into this last stretch, I started to feel like my left calf was going to cramp up.  Luckily I was able to get to the end without that happening. Once you hit the bottom of the descent, you are back to where the race started.  You go on the road and the same trail as the start, but then cut up a hill over the guardrail and across the road to one final steep incline to the finish.  At this point, I really wasn’t sure where I stood time wise since I really hadn’t been paying attention to my watch much over the last mile.  I reached the top of the climb and saw the finish clock reading 58 minutes and 30 some seconds.  I felt really good at this point and didn’t really run hard through the finish like I usually do.  I’m not sure why, but it just felt like the thing to do at that point.  I ended up finishing in 58:47, over a minute below my goal.  This put me in 14th place overall and 7th in my age group.  No hardware, but it was a competitive field.  They gave awards for the top 5 in each age group and all 5 in my group finished in the top 10.

I was very pleased with my result.  It was an exciting race for me, especially since it was the first race wearing my team jersey representing Pearl Izumi.  Each time I run, I fall more in love with their products.  My trail N2 verson 2’s were awesome on the technical terrain.  These are the only trail shoes I’ve owned that just disappear on my feet when I run.  I’m very excited to see what the rest of the year brings.  The Hyner View 25k is my next big race in April.  I’m not sure if I will run any other races between now and then or just focus on training.

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Nutrition Response Testing

So, I mentioned in my previous post that one of my goals was to eat healthier this year and that I was going to see a nutritionist to get help.  The last few weeks have been pretty rough with my UC flare, so I decided to make an appointment right away.  I am pretty close to needing to go on more aggressive meds to get the flare under control, so not only was I hoping to get help with eating better but also help to avoid those meds if at all possible.

The nutritionist I saw practices nutrition response testing.  This stuff is pretty funky!  She would basically touch different organs on my body while pushing down on my arm to see how my muscles reacted.  This apparently determines where there are deficiencies.  Once the deficiencies were identified, she would place vials of supplements on my body to determine what I needed.  I know, it sounds crazy right?   Well, at this point I was willing to give it a shot versus having to take a steroid with a bunch of nasty side effects.

As a result of the testing, I have a few supplements to take along with aloe.  Apparently, aloe is supposed to help heal the gut.  I was also told to stop eating Special K protein bars for breakfast and instead drink something called metabo-shake.  This will provide me with the nutrients that I am not currently getting with my diet.  The last thing I was told was to remove bread from my diet. This will be hard since I typically eat sandwiches everyday for lunch. I am giving it a shot, and I’ll see what kind of results I get.  I’m scheduled for a follow up appointment next Tuesday. 

Has anyone ever experienced nutrition response testing?  What were your results and did you see any improvements?

Goals, goals, goals

As I sit here thinking about my goals for 2016, I can’t get the Motley Crue song, “Girls Girls Girls”, out of my head.  My mind tends to wander a bit sometimes….So, I wanted to get my goals for the year in writing.  I definitely believe it’s easier to be accountable when others know what you are trying to accomplish. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Be a better husband and father
  2. Have more Faith
  3. Obtain my CPCU (Certified Property & Casualty Underwriter) designation
  4. Eat healthier
  5. Run at least 1500 miles
  6. Run a sub 19 minute 5k
  7. Complete my first Trail 50k

Some of these goals may be easier to complete than others, but I want to make sure that I challenge myself this year.  If I were to choose one that I think will be the most challenging, it would be to eat healthier. Unfortunately, with having UC, a lot of foods that are considered healthy don’t sit well with me.  For example, I would love to eat salad every day for lunch, but it makes me sick.  I have taken the initial step to reaching this goal by contacting a nutrition specialist for an appointment.  I will let everyone know how that goes.

In the meantime, how many of you write down your goals?  Feel free to share and we can hold each other accountable.

January 1, 2016 Hangover Classic 5k

A few weeks ago, I decided to start the New Year off with a 5k race that I had done 2 years ago.  The main reason was that I knew my wife and two kids would be away in Pittsburgh visiting my in-laws and I wanted something to do.  On a side note, I usually go with them, but since I started a new job this past July, I couldn’t get time off this year.  I don’t typically get too excited about a short race like a 5k, but finding out a little over a week ago that I was chosen to represent my favorite brand, Pearl Izumi, for 2016 made it a little more exciting.

I have been running a lot lately at lunch with a good friend that I made at work, Zach Miller.  Zach is a running stud!  His 5k PR is somwhere under 15 minutes.  He’s been helping me a lot to work on increasing my speed and it’s been paying off.  Because of the work I’ve been putting in and because I figured the course would be pretty flat (it’s by an airport), I wanted to go for a PR at this race (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t very flat).  I thought it would be a good way to start the year.  I’ve only broken 20 minutes twice and my fastest time was 19:50.

Having UC, I tend to be very careful with what I eat the night before a race.  Putting the wrong thing in my body could be devastating to my race.  So, I decided to stop at Wawa and get a turkey and cheese hoagie.  Hoagie’s are usually a safe bet for me.  Unfortunately, I have been battling a bit of a flare since October.  I seem to have come to the conclusion that the flu shot is causing this since I have had a flare every October for the last three years and that’s always when I get the shot.  Because of the flare, I have had to use some additional medication which is a lovely suppository.  Well, I woke up this morning and my stomach was not feeling so great.  I ended up using the bathroom five times before leaving the house, and also stopped at Walmart on the way.  When I got to the race, I remembered that the bathroom inside the brewery where it was located was small with only one stall.  I went ahead and utilized it to make for my seventh trip of the day and I hoped that would be the last before the race since I knew the line would get long.  I went for a one mile warm up run and luckily my stomach held out.  It was time to head to the start line.

The start of the race was downhill, so it was a pretty fast start.  There was a guy running with a Siberian Husky and had the leash tied to his waste.  He took off and opened up a pretty good lead on everyone.  However, his race would later be derailed when the Husky stopped to go to the bathroom on someone’s yard and he struggled to clean it up.  Maybe that dog ate the same thing I did….I looked at my watch a few times and my pace was at about 5:45 which I knew I probably couldn’t maintain.  This was an out and back course and it was quite chilly and windy.  The entire first half was a slight downhill.  I spent most of the first half running with a guy named David, who I knew was in my age group and pretty fast, and a woman named Lorraine.  Lorraine works at the local running store and is in her 50’s.  She’s an excellent track runner and told me she is training for the Master’s Track World Championships in Australia in October.  At the turnaround, I realized that most of the first half was downhill which meant the second half was going to be uphill.  In almost every 5k that I have run, around the two mile mark I start to get a burning feeling in my stomach that slows me down a bit.  Like clockwork, it happened again.  I was also starting to struggle with my breathing.  I think it was a combination of the cold weather, wind, and being slightly congested.  David must have been starting to feel it as well, since Lorraine and I started to pull away from him a bit.  I didn’t look at my watch too much, but knew I was going to be close to pulling off the PR.  At around the three mile mark, the road took a slight turn and then there was a downhill to the finish line.  At some point, I was able to see the clock and it read 19:35.  I knew I would need to push it to get under 19:50.  I typically have a pretty good kick at the end of races.  It must be from all those years playing soccer and sprinting after the ball.  I was able to run the last .1 mile at a 5:09 pace and crossed the finish line in 19:49.  Just one second under my previous best time, but hey I’ll take it.  I ended up finishing tenth overall and third in my age group.

Overall, I was very pleased with how everything went.  Despite my pre-race issues, I was still able to accomplish my goal.  I’m hoping that at some point I can figure out the whole burning issue with my stomach.

So far, I just have two races on my calendar.  The Chilly Cheeks 11k Trail Race on January 24th and The Hyner View Challenge 25k in April.  I will need to get the rest of my year planned out soon.  I’m looking forward to a 10 mile trail run with my friend Dan in the Wissahickon tomorrow morning.

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