Review – Breath Thermo by Mizuno Running

New England really is a great place to live – I absolutely love it here. The history, the scenery, the charm…as cheesy as all that is to say…there really is something to it.

What’s positively obnoxious, however, is the weather. Roasting-hot, humid summer days, absolutely frigid winter nights…and everything in-between. If you’re really lucky you can experience all four seasons within one week. Awesome.

In order to survive the ever-changing New England weather, it’s important to have the right gear & apparel. I got out of my comfort zone and tried some new stuff…and…wow.

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Flavor Round-Up – Puroast Coffee

Puroast On The Shelf

I am genuinely impressed.

When I first tried Puroast Coffee I think there were only three flavors. Now they have quite the variety…and I have to say – it was pretty exciting, as coffee goes, to try the new flavors as they came out. Every coffee roaster out there has their own array of flavors, some boasting a veritable arsenal of them. Many are passable, most need sugar to unlock the actual “flavor” of it…and some are downright awful, leaving a nasty aftertaste from the syrups used to create flavor.

Puroast’s flavors, however, are different.

As I’ve made clear before: if you’re not drinking Puroast, you’re doing yourself a disservice. As trivial as it may sound to the casual coffee drinker… not all coffee is created equally, ESPECIALLY flavored coffee. How-so, you ask? Oh let me count the ways…

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Pineland 50 – The Come-Down

It still hasn’t sunk in.

I ran a 50 mile ultramarathon…

Wow. Honestly I’m still in disbelief. Of…like…the whole thing.
I learned a lot during Pineland 50…both about myself and about life in general. I know, that sounds corny, cheesy, and painfully cliche…but it is what it is.
I’ve been pretty lazy for the last two weeks (yikes)…it’s about time I get back on it, get back into “training mode”, and finally put together this race report.

And gee willy, what a race report it is…

OK, so I embellished a little…

It’s a race report like any other. Except… it’s for an Ultramarathon…so that makes it…special? I don’t know, just grasping at straws here trying to continue feeling like a unicorn.

Know what, screw that, of course I still feel special, and rightly so. One more time… 
50 miles.

*ahem* Sorry guys…my “entitled millenial” was showing. I’m done now. really…
According to my buddy Dave (an avid marathoner), at the end of the day it was actually a pretty challenging course. So let’s talk about THAT… since I’m sure that’s what most of you are really here for. (That and my charming wit, obviously)
Pineland – A lovely weekend on the farm

The Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms (Pineland for short) takes place at (you guessed it) Pineland Farms and has 7 races over 2 days. Saturday features a 5K, Barefoot 5K, Canicross 5K (5k with your dog), and 10K. Sunday features the distance runs – 25K, 50K, and 50 Mile.

I have no real experience with the Saturday course – rather than run it, I was working as one of the event timers with RaceWire that day. What I CAN tell you is the weather was positively OPPRESSIVE that day.  It was SUPER hot, SUPER humid, the sun was beating down, and apparently there was some sort of “ozone warning”? I don’t even know what that is. Conditions were so bad that the 10K course was almost cut in half and some health officials would’ve probably been just as happy if the Saturday events just…got called off. I’m glad they didn’t – if I were a runner I would’ve been PISSED at that…leave the choice to ME (which they did…downgrades were encouraged).

For the most part it seemed like everyone had a pretty good time on Saturday, and it was kinda fun to see people running a race with their dogs.

And then came Sunday…

Started my day off strong…with a freaking 2:30 am wake-up. While I might not have been working as a timer Sunday…my wife still was. So at 2:30 am up she was, and so was I. By 3:15 we (and the other timers) had left the hotel and were on-site by 3:30. I took some time to wake up, acclimate, and blog some final pre-race thoughts.

It was surreal…just like it always is before a new distance. Mom and Dad (my crew) showed up at 5 AM just as instructed, and we went over the packet, aid station plan, and pace chart one more time. Then 6 AM came…and off I went.

A Course So Nice You’ll Do It Thrice!

I spared the aid station volunteers (and my support crew) from that OBVIOUS joke on race day, don’t worry.

One of the things I liked about this course was how it was easy to mentally (and visually) break it up. I kind of split the course into “The Grove Side” and “The Far Side” (or “The Yurt Side”).

The way the course was laid out, you hit aid stations multiple times – a total of 8 aid station stops on the 25K course. This was another (much appreciated) way to mentally break down the course into bite-size chunks.

So that’s a 25K course – 50K runners did that twice and 50 Milers (me) did that 3 times plus a 3ish mile loop beforehand.

Ultra-long distance breeds…new challenges…

The course didn’t look too bad on paper…but man…those rolling hills will get you. 

Yeah…didn’t think it’d add up like that beforehand. Had this only been a marathon (I can’t believe I just said that) it might’ve been more manageable… but when you’re talking such a long distance EVERYTHING adds up. Including GPS watch fluctuations/issues.

THAT was more than a little obnoxious. I know I covered 50 miles, but between typical GPS watch “non-exactness” and my not running down the exact middle of the course the whole time…over the course of 50 miles I lost about .7 on my gps log. boo. Let’s be clear here (mostly for myself)…I ran THE WHOLE 50 GOD DAMNED MILES. Stupid gps…

The course itself certainly did have its challenges – in addition to those rolling hills there were some sections of the course I absolutely DESPISED – not because they weren’t good…because they were freaking hard to run on (especially 40 miles in).

For the life of me, I can’t remember where it was beyond just “halfway through The Yurt Side” of the loop…but there were parts of the course that went on the edges of farm fields, and the trail was sloped down and to the left. It sucked to run on. And with distance…comes compounded suck (the third lap of that was brutal).

It was also kind of tough running through the thick field grass for some stretches…like running through an unmowed-lawn-on-steroids. Every time I was getting a little “ugh” about the course and the challenge, though, there would be an aid station or the festival area…and I’d perk up a bit.

Course support was pretty stellar

Honestly, if push came to shove… you COULD totally run this race without crew or probably even a freaking waistpack/vest. I don’t recommend it…but the point remains… The aid stations were practically a runner’s buffet, and you basically never went more than 3 miles without hitting one. I’m talking boiled potatoes, chips, pretzels, chocolate, nuts, candy, water/gatorate/soda, pickles, pickle juice, pb & j…sweet lord they had it all! Except bacon. Slackers.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention MY course support.

First off Cape Cod Nutrition Corner. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this in the first place. They sponsored me into the races and all the supplements/hydration I used during training and on race day came from them. They’re the reason I can do Ghost Train 100, too! I’m proud to run as a Team CCNC Sponsored Athlete…their only runner, and CERTAINLY their only ULTRArunner 🙂

Then there’s Jason from Grin Hola – he didn’t sponsor me…but he DID hand-deliver his amazing granola (review coming) direct to my doorstep 2 days prior to the race to ensure I had the appropriate fuel for race day. WOW. So thank you! It was one of few “real foods” I could deal with after mile 30. (stuff is MAGICAL)

And…last but not least…the most important one of all…

That’s right, dear old Mom ‘n’ Dad holdin’ down the fort on race day! Dad posted up in The Grove and Mom at Final Mile Aid Station. We kinda whiffed on my first pass, we got me on 2, 3 and 4, and for 5 and 6 (sorry Mom) I basically told them to pound sand because “I just need to FINISH”. So…thanks for dealing with that.

And they knew…they KNEW…I went out too fast on loop 1. They knew because they paid attention to the pace chart I meticulously crafted (here it is for those who were asking). I was LITERALLY “off the chart” on my first loop. Too fast. Did I listen? No. Of course not. Mistake #2. #1 was going faster than I knew I should in the first place. Don’t worry, it TOTALLY caught up to me on loop 2…and that’s where I learned something vaulable…that I think I already knew…

The people make the event.

Despite the in-the-moment suck, I DID have an enjoyable time…and it was largely due to the people. The aid station volunteers were either cheerful & pleasant or downright bursting with excitement. The festival area (“The Grove”) was awesome too – the energy was great to lift you up. On my 2nd loop through The Grove a woman from Team Six03 was borderline lunatic with her “WOO” screams (hah).

Attitude is everything.

I know how BS that sounds…but it’s true. When you’re fighting such a huge mental battle, positivity, self-confidence, and a “can-do attitude” are literally the only things keeping one foot landing in front of the other. That’s why the aid stations, The Grove, my crew, and my wife at the RaceWire timing table were all so important. Having those boosts helped make my staying positive possible. In my efforts to stay upbeat and “yes I can”…a realization dawned on me:

Everything they say about Ultras is true.

It’s all the same after mile 30. Yes, really. The pain was the same from mile 30 to mile 50. My nutrition struggles were the same. My feet felt the same. Everything really was the same. It got no better, but it got no worse. Same. It became mental. The last 15 miles were tough. The last 10 were harder. The final 5 were the worst…

and that’s when I found “the dark place”. 

They say that mentally you’ll go to “a dark place” late in the race…and I almost got out without hitting it… but I found it. It wasn’t what I expected, though. It wasn’t gloom and doom about succeeding in the 50 miler I was running. It wasn’t “Oh God, what the hell am I doing.” “I can’t do this.” etc

It was about Ghost Train 100.

The exact thought was “What the actual f**k did I get myself INTO?! I can barely finish THIS…how in the HELL am I going to do 100 miles 5 months from now?! I can’t do 100 miles! I’m fighting just to get to HALF OF THAT!”. I was stressing. I was bargaining with myself. 5 months away I was telling myself it was OK to accept anything over 50. Just make it to 60 that day. that’ll be a win. And then I got a grip…

and in that dark place, I found myself

It was almost a moment of awakening. Like the fog cleared and I saw behind the curtain. I saw the struggle for what it really was – mental. I resolved that right now, with less than 5 miles left, it’s time to focus on TODAY, not tomorrow.

And today…I knew I could do it. I knew the whole time. The giveaway was that my doubt in the darkness wasn’t about the 50. EVEN IN THE DARKNESS I knew I could finish this race. I remembered…this is how I felt in the final 3 miles of my first half-marathon. This is the same loathing and self-doubt I felt at mile 20 of my first marathon. I was ready to swear off running altogether then, too.

And I finished both of those only to move on to either a faster finish next time…or the next longest race. And today would be no different.

So I picked it up. I tried to move with purpose again. I demanded speed – had to go as fast as possible, I could still break 12 hours! Just GO.

And as I fought my way back through the final miles I knew. As I came through the clearing to the Final Mile Aid Station for the last time…to Mile 49.1…I knew. As I approached the fork…left for 2nd and 3rd lap, right for finish…I knew.

And when I finally took that right…and turned the corner… and saw my wife on the other side of the finish arch with my green cowbell in her hands…I knew…

I had overcome the final obstacle: myself.  

Back In The Saddle – F.I.T. Challenge IV Recap

It was a long road from the 2014 Killington Beast back to OCR for me. The 6 months prior to this event had been a constant battle to regain strength, speed, and motivation. This race reminded me why I love running races, why I put myself through these things, and why I bother with “health & fitness” at all.

On Saturday, 4/11/15, I ran F.I.T. Challenge IV – Epic F.I.T. and I have to say…it was exactly what I needed. It challenged me, it tested me, it pushed me, and it renewed my drive for all things health & fitness!
So what was so great about Epic F.I.T.? How does it rank? Why was I so sore the next day…and so happy about it? 

This event was just done right. Robb McCoy, the man behind F.I.T. Challenge, knows how to put on a top notch event, and he has struck again with the 4th installment of his series. 
The Score:

Pre-Race: 8
Race Day: 9
The Course: 10

Support / Swag: 9 
Post-Race: 8

Just an all-around well-executed event. Things promised were followed-through on, the course was outstanding, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Would I run this race again? Heck yes I would.

Pre-Race – 8

There were a fair number of promotional emails/Facebook posts and I certainly didn’t forget the race was coming. The “pre-race email” came out the week before the race – I was impressed that it came to me as I wasn’t actually officially registered for the race…I was signed on as a volunteer! Good on ya, F.I.T. Challenge! I DID check with some friends who pre-registered well in advance, and there were PLENTY of emails sent to participants.

Race Day – 9

I must say, I had a pretty good race day experience. Checking in as a volunteer was super-easy – this can normally be a pretty tedious or confusing process. I watched a number of regularly registered runners checking in as well, and it looked to be a pretty quick and painless process. Near registration there was a small festival area with some vendors and a rep from OCR World Championships (yes, this is an OCRWC Qualifier…wow!). There was also ample room to hang out, stretch, and prepare.

Our Team – Photo Credit: Mary Donohue

As part of the New England Spahtens, I was a member of the day’s largest team, which meant I got to hang out pre/post race at our largest team tent. Took a minute to figure out where it was – and once I did I discovered the restroom situation was INDOORS! Huzzah!

Already ran your race? Want to run another lap? Go for it! $15 gets you a new timing chip and you’re off to the races (again). Manage 5 laps and you get a special plaque for doing 25K of OCR.

All in all…everything leading up to crossing the starting mat was pretty darn smooth.

The Course – 10

Photo Credit: Mary Donohue

The course was excellent. There’s no two ways about it. F.I.T. Challenge really nailed it all – use-of-venue, variety, quality, and quantity of obstacles…it was just really well-done. Top-freaking-notch. I’m genuinely impressed here, in case you couldn’t tell. The course was also INCREDIBLY well-marked – trust me…while volunteering post-race I pulled hundreds of flags, a ton of caution tape, and MANY arrow signs…so I can personally attest to that.

I want to point out that part of what helped this race have such an excellent course was the #OCRUnited element – they played well with others. ABF Mud Run, ORTC at Shale Hill, Grit ‘n’ Wit, Blizzard Blast and more – Robb McCoy and his crew aren’t afraid to work with others to put on a successful event. This is something that helped him in planning, execution, race-day experience, the course itself…all areas got a boost. Other, bigger races could learn something from F.I.T. Challenge in this regard. Take notes, big 3.

Support/Swag – 9

Swag and Support was good – above average, even! Swag included a cotton t-shirt, a logo’d headband (similar to what you get at a Spartan Race, but no bib number), and finisher’s medal. I love the medal – shaped like a Wreck Bag (added to the #OCRUnited feel – lots of local races are embracing Wreck Bag). NE Spahtens also got some “cheap sunglasses” (you know, the plastic Wayfarer knock-offs?) with Spahten F.I.T. printed on them. I’m a sucker for “cheap sunglasses”, and I think everyone else is too, let’s be honest. Thanks F.I.T.!

Age group awards were provided (nice), and as an added bonus (I mentioned this before) for those who managed 5 (timed) laps there was a special plaque involved. Nice touch. Not to mention that whole “OCRWC Qualifier” thing.

Support was good – especially when you got to the #OCRUnited parts of the course, especially the big cluster with “rigs” by the big Shale Hill truck. There was a volunteer at every obstacle, as there should be, (some more engaged than others) and I was aware of medical support that was available.

Post-Race – 8

Post-race was pretty good too. Once you cross the finish there was water, Hint Water (review coming) and though I didn’t stop to look, I think there was food of some sort (bananas maybe?). The little festival area was there, so First Aid Shot Therapy was there with their “shots” (think 5 hour energy…but aspirin) in case you were hurtin’. There was a cool little podium/backdrop area for photo ops and awards, but aside from that…if you’re not running another lap (which you could for $10 or $15)…when you finish the race that’s kinda it. Pack it up and go home. You could certainly hang out, though…it IS a state park (and very pretty, I thought).

I personally would’ve gone back over to the NE Spahtens tent to hang out if I hadn’t immediately gone over to volunteer (he was grossly under-supported for PM volunteers. Shame on people for bailing). That’s how I wrapped MY day up, and it was kinda fun to break it all down 🙂

Overall, I had a great time and would certainly go back.

At the end of the day – this was a great race. What you’ve got in F.I.T. Challenge is a great, very well-constructed, very well-thought-out, and very well-executed Obstacle Course Race. You can tell the owner/race director and the team that works with him (i.e. family and friends) really cares about the event and making it great. That’s why I love local OCR’s and why I will always seek them out. The big-name races are really turning me off lately, and “the little guy” keeps impressing.

F.I.T. Challenge V is this fall on 11/14/15, and you can register via this link. If you’re not already committed to something…I heartily recommend you register. Whether you’re a rookie or a rockstar, you’ll have fun at this event.