2016 HITS Hudson Valley, NY Triathlon – Race recap

 

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I am thrilled to be writing this race recap.

On July 9th I completed my first half iron distance triathlon at Williams Lake, NY up in the Hudson Valley put on by the HITS Triathlon Series. This is a 70.3 mile event made up of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.

Since I started running back in the late summer of 2010 I have achieved many things I didn’t think possible. Just getting off the couch and training for a 5K was a big accomplishment for me. Slowly I built up my running endurance and 15 months after my first run I finished my first marathon, the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Since then I have achieved some big milestones for myself. In May this year I completed my 15th marathon and I have completed a number of the runDisney Challenge races and even an ultra distance run.

However, I never even considered a triathlon. I don’t know what made me finally decide but in late 2014 I signed up for my first triathlon, the New Jersey State Triathlon for the Olympic distance in July 2015. My problem was that I hadn’t been swimming in years and I needed a lot of work. I ended up freaking out a few weeks before the race and stepping back my distance to the sprint triathlon as I was really nervous for the swim. I did conquer the swim in my first triathlon but unfortunately the race did not turn out as planned. It was cancelled due to a lightning storm mid race. I quickly rebounded by signing up for another sprint distance a couple of weeks later and finally completed a triathlon. I followed up that after some encouragement (peer pressure) by a number of work colleagues to sign up for another local sprint triathlon which I successfully completed. Okay, my triathlons were over. Done. Complete…Or so I thought.

Competing in the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon last August.

Competing in the Medford Lakes Colony Sprint Triathlon last August.

Some of my friends were talking about doing longer distance triathlons and a few were actively talking about half iron and full iron distance races. Around the same time they announced a new 70.3 distance race down in Atlantic City, NJ and I was considering that, however, it was a little costly and the timing didn’t work out. I also lacked the ability to swim far enough at the time (or so I thought) and I only owned a hybrid bike which I knew wouldn’t get me through a longer distance race. Speaking to my friend Bob, he mentioned that he had signed up for a smaller sized 70.3 race up in the Hudson Valley. It was also held on a Saturday so it wouldn’t take up a full weekend away and it was a good value (about the same price of a runDisney half marathon). I looked into it and thought maybe…I just had to convince my Wife. Challenge accepted!

Somewhere somehow my Wife was informed (probably by my Sister-in-law) that triathlons involved swimming in shark infested waters. I had to convince her that there were no sharks. All my previous sprint tri’s were in ponds or man-made lakes but she was still convinced there would be sharks. I explained that (at the time I signed up) the swim was held in a bend in the Hudson River and that there were no news reports of sharks in Upstate New York (bears maybe but not sharks). She then asked if I had enough life insurance and whether it was fully paid up. Seeing as my Father-in-law is our insurance agent I said we were covered and paid up. Finally she said I could do it as she knows there was no talking me out of it. So, in early November last year I signed up for my first 70.3 race, the HITS Kingston, NY Triathlon.

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Now that I was signed up I found a half iron distance training plan that seemed to fit into my schedule from Endurance Works, I joined LA Fitness so I could go swimming regularly (the plan called for at least 3 swims per week, I subscribed to a swim training plan (Tri Swim Coach) and purchased a road bike (with all my saved up gift cards and a some birthday money) from my local bike store (Guy’s Bicycles). The training plan fit in perfectly between the New Jersey Marathon and the actual race. I steadily built up my swim distance and endurance in the pool and got used to sitting on that bike saddle for a few hours. By the time the race approached I felt that I was ready, nervous…but ready.

One final thing I needed to take care of was a wetsuit. I hadn’t used a wetsuit for any of the sprint distance tri’s I had done last year but based upon the distance it was recommended that I take advantage of the extra buoyancy a suit would provide me and so not wanting to jump into a big expense straight away I decided to rent a wetsuit. I ended up renting from a company based in Florida called Tri Wetsuit Rentals. The owner, Mike, was very helpful in answering my questions about sizing and suggested a couple of suits and even said that in the (unlikely) event that I lose some weight before, all I had to do was call before the suit was shipped in late June and let him know.

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I had my first minor freak out when the wetsuit shipped but got lost by the US Postal service for about a week. I could see from the tracking information that it was close but it had gone via multiple post offices including my local post office more than once before it was finally delivered exactly one week before I was due to leave for the race. Mike was very helpful throughout and we had a ‘Plan B’ to send a replacement but thankfully it wasn’t required. Unfortunately I missed my last opportunity to try out the suit in an open water swim with the Bucks County Tri Club as the suit arrived too late. I wouldn’t get a chance to try the suit in the water before race day. I did watch a few YouTube videos in advance of receiving the wetsuit (some more helpful than others) on how to get into and out of a wetsuit, none of which helped prepare me for the full body workout that was putting one on without any help!!! It was a struggle the first time but after a couple of attempts I found a method that worked best for me.

For someone who has been overweight most of their life, having Orca emblazzoned across your chest isn't exactly flattering.

For someone who has been overweight most of their life, having Orca emblazoned across your chest isn’t exactly flattering.

When my Wife saw this she had a field day with orca related jokes…

Thanks honey for all your support…

Race Weekend:

Race weekend finally arrived. I had been in touch with my friend Bob over the weeks leading up to the race and we had planned to meet at the staging area (Williams Lake) and get a quick open water swim and then grab lunch before the mandatory athletes’ meeting that afternoon.

Having taken a vacation day from work I packed up my car and headed (via a quick stop at my chiropractor for a last-minute alignment check) on my way to Kingston, NY.

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On my way. 70.3 or bust!

Thankfully it was a smooth and easy ride up. About 30 minutes out from my destination I pulled over at services to grab a drink and a snack before the last leg of the journey and happened to bump into Bob who was also on his way up to meet me. I followed him the rest of the way to the race area and we quickly set about getting ready for a swim. Bob gave me a couple of tips on putting on the wet suit and we headed down to the water. It was a hot and sunny day and the water temperature was really nice. It was time for my first wet suit swim…I let Bob go first.

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Arriving at the race site. This confirmed we were in the right place.


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The finish line just a day away.


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Williams Lake. The buoys were being set up as we arrived.


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Bob went first. We planned to swim out and back to the first buoy.


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Not nervous at all…


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Okay…ready…set…

I ventured out. Bob advised me to go a little slower than I would in the pool to keep my heart rate down as you can quickly overheat in a wetsuit. Once I started swimming it did feel a little weird and there were a couple of anxious moments early on but I followed his advice and I set out to the buoy, circled around it and came back. One thing that was very evident from my swim is that my sighting in the water needs a heck of a lot of improvement…that would be evident the following day as well. As you can see from the GPS map below, this was supposed to be a simple out and back, i.e. pretty much a straight line. Not quite.

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Not the best sense of direction


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I did it. A little out of breath but I got it done.

Even though it was a short swim I felt comfortable in the wetsuit, the water temperature was warm but not too warm and the spring fed lake was clear (you could see your hands in front of your face!).

After we both completed the swim we stayed to talk to a few of the people setting up and looked around the staging area. This was a small race to be sure. There were 5 events going on the next day – full distance, half distance, Olympic distance, sprint distance and an open distance.

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Hanging the suit up to dry


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The packet pickup tent


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Swim course map – Two loops around the lake


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Bike route around the Ashokan Reservoir


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The updated run course


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A small merchandise tent who made custom shirts on request (more on that later)

When I had signed up for the race originally it was a two-day event. The swim was supposed to be in a bend in the Hudson River in Kingston, NY with the full and half distance being held on the Saturday and all other races being held on Sunday. Back in February it was announced that the location was moving to Williams Lake in Rosendale and that it would be a one day event with the races staged at 4 different times during the day (the full and half would start together).

After the swim we went to pick up our race packets. I have to say that the staff were all very friendly. The staff took time to ask if we were okay and were happy to chat and answer questions.

Bob and I headed into Rosendale and had lunch at a small cafe with lots of vegetarian options (perfect for me) and chatted over lunch. Bob showed me how to use my Garmin 910 in multisport mode which I hadn’t really tried before. We then headed back a few minutes before the Race Director started the athletes meeting.

Tom Struzzieri, the founder and CEO of HITS, was there to talk us through each leg of the event, the how to’s of the transition area and the weather outlook for the next day. He shared the plans for the aid stations and explained what would be provided even down to how many scoops of Heed would be in the pre-made water bottles on the bike rides (so that we had an idea how much nutrition to carry and could take in on the route).

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The race director giving the pre-race athletes meeting

The weather overnight was forecast with a storm and lots of rain. As the race wasn’t too big most people decided not to check in their bikes the night before so we could keep all our equipment dry and bring it the next day.

After the meeting Bob and I took a walk through the transition areas and walked the start of the run course. As the course had changed from the original location I hadn’t seen the new map. The course was described as an initial run out, a loop through a cave (a bat cave…) and then a double out and back along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail across the Rosendale Trestle Bridge.

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Everyone was provided with their own individual transition box. It was spacious compared to other events I have taken part in and the stool they provided was a nice touch.


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The exit from the swim to transition


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The exit from transition to the bike course.


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And back to transition. You can see from the debris on the side of the transition that this whole area is currently under development. This should make the site much more attractive and with added features in the coming years.


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The view back into the transition at the start of the run

I hadn’t realized before now but as soon as we started walking the course we saw it was a proper trail, i.e. not paved…mud, rocks, sticks and roots…and a bat cave.

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Yes…that’s a trail.


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I will point out that this is ‘before’ the heavy rain that fell overnight.


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Yup, that’s a cave.


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They said there were bats in side.


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I just looked straight ahead to the exit and didn’t look deep into the cave. No need to cause a kerfuffle with the locals…


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I’m ready for the next day. I may have to change my outfit though.

Bob and I decided around 4pm to head back to our respective lodgings (I was about 15 minutes away in a hotel in Kingston and he was staying with family about 30 minutes south) and so we wished each other a relaxing evening and said we would see each other bright and early the next day.

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By the way, you may notice from the above picture that I am wearing a ‘Team Up! Autism Speaks’ shirt. Since 2013 I have run a number of events for this charity and this was the first year I had missed running the Walt Disney World Marathon (or Challenge) with them. Over the last three years I have raised close to $13,000 for the cause. As this was to be a special event for me I decided to dedicate my race to continue to raise funds for them and I signed up through their Team Up! Your Way with the goal of raising $1,000. I’m pleased to say that in addition to completing my event (spoiler alert) I was able to meet my goal. As of the date of posting this recap I have raised a total of $1,092.

I headed to my hotel in Kingston and moved all my gear (not packing light) into my room on the second floor.

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My two-wheeled roommate for the night.

I quickly looked through my race packet to make sure I had everything and decided to find somewhere local for an early dinner. As I was traveling on my own I asked the front desk at the hotel for places to eat and was recommended the Olympia Diner across the street. Well, I love a good diner so I was happy to head over and see what they had. Although the diner was just across the street there was a huge downpour and I ended up driving over. Glad I didn’t leave my bike outdoors overnight.

After a meal of gazpacho and spaghetti marinara, I followed my usual pre-race routine…a cookie (unfortunately not oatmeal raisin)…and headed back to the hotel and started getting ready for the next morning with a goal of getting some sleep.

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My pre-race ritual. Stick with what works, right?

I unpacked all my gear for transition and laid it all out for one final check. As you will notice from the pictures below I used flash cards in my shoes to remind me of the steps I would need to remember in transition if I was not thinking too clearly in real-time the next day.

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I think that’s everything.


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Cut me some slack…I’m 44 with two kids. Sometimes I cannot even remember their names.


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At least I didn’t have to tell myself which wrist to put it on.

With all my gear repacked I took a hot shower and put myself to bed around 8pm hoping to get as much sleep as I could.

Race Day:

My Fitbit shows that I got just under 7 hours of sleep, waking up just before my 4AM alarm (one of three that I had set just in case). I made myself a cup of coffee and tried to remain as relaxed as possible. I grabbed my pre-race Powerbar for breakfast and checked my emails, other messages and the weather before getting all my gear ready. As expected, my Wife sent me a message wishing me all the best in her own way.

Thanks again honey…

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My training plan sent me this message to my inbox.

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I headed out around 5:15AM to the race site. There had been plenty of rain overnight and you could the result of the storm as there was quite a bit of debris on the road. I was a little nervous about riding in the rain on my road bike tires. I already had concerns about the elevation of the course and making the cut off time (I hadn’t trained too much on hills). I had never ridden on wet roads before.

When I got to the race site the course had been impacted by the rain too. Although the temperature had cooled considerably the parts of the parking areas were under water. I arrived as cars and trucks were being towed out after getting stuck in the mud. I moved my car further away on some higher ground and started to unpack.

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Cars being towed out.


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The aftermath. I hadn’t considered what it would do to the running trail yet.


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I’m here, the bike was pumped up and so was I.

On Thursday night before I left I decided at the last-minute to grab a few kitchen trash bags to pack up any wet and dirty gear after the race. I’m glad I did as there was more rain scheduled for later in the day. I’m so glad I had them with me as when I got to transition it was very wet underfoot (and squishy) and so I used one of the bags as a waterproof barrier between the ground and my transition set up. With the extra bags I wrapped up my bike and running gear to protect them from the rain that was predicted. That was a good move.

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My home base for the next few hours.

I ate my Honey Stinger waffle for a last-minute fuel top up and after a couple of bathroom breaks I got my swim gear ready and my wetsuit on and made my way through the transition to the edge of the lake.

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Everyone getting ready in transition.


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Ready to suit up. See you in a few hours.

As we got to the beach for the final race announcements before the start the race director asked that due to the road conditions that we are extra vigilant on the bikes and announced that they had people out on the course doing clean up where ever needed so that conditions would be as best as they could get them for us for the bike.

The race was scheduled to start at 7AM. The full and half distance athletes were due to go off at the same time. The full distance athletes would swim four times around the buoys and the half distance athletes twice. My plan was to stay steady and smooth and try to keep my heart rate down. As the race started I stayed at the back of the pack and waited until almost everyone was in the water. I didn’t plan on getting into a mess right out of the gate.

The temperature was great, a couple of degrees cooler than yesterday, and my plan was to keep a steady rhythm. My sighting wasn’t perfect…I did veer of course a couple of times but it got better as I started to get into a groove. I actually found myself passing a few people. I could feel the difference that a wetsuit provides. It was a definite help. My confidence was building as I rounded the first loop and I was able to maintain the same rhythm on my second loop.  I still had a couple of sighting issues but if you look at my map below I didn’t do too bad. Ultimately my distance swam was 1.4 miles not 1.2. Not sure if it was my bad sighting or the GPS trying to grab a signal which led to the difference but I was pretty happy.

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The official results had me at 54:32 for the swim. I was pleased with that. Anything under an hour for that distance was a win for me. I actually got out the water and wasn’t too out of breath. As I got out the water the race had ‘strippers’, volunteers to help you get out the wetsuit. On a side note I mentioned that in the car the next day when I was talking to my wife. She was quite taken aback…however, two little voices from the back of the car then asked “Daddy, what’s a stripper?” Oops. I explained in triathlon terms. Move along. Nothing to see here.

As I got out the water there was a little light rain. I’m glad I had my gear wrapped up. I was even more glad for the stool. I was a more tired from the swim than I thought I would be. I dried off my legs and my feet, covered them in talc and popped on my Injinji socks (not the best at helping me rush through transition). 8:02 in transition. Not good but I had a 56 mile ride ahead of me and I wanted to make sure I was ready (my longest ride previous to this was 52 miles on a bike trainer). I quickly ate an energy gel and grabbed my bike and headed out.

Once out of transition and on the bike I started slowly. I started out on the small chain ring so that I wasn’t beating up my legs early into the ride. I didn’t get out of the small chain ring for the first 8 miles.

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The bike route


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Bike elevation chart

The first big hill (big for me) was around mile 6. Thankfully I was able to get up the hill and knew that somewhere on the back of the course I would probably make up some time coming down the same hill. My cadence and speed were not very fast for the first hour. It was really a matter of me getting up the hills for the ride around the reservoir. My goal was to maintain an average speed over 14mph so that I would make the four hour cut off. After the first hour it wasn’t looking good…13mph. I settled into a rhythm on the bike and as the course flattened out in areas I was able to make up some time. There was light rain at the time and I had to stop a couple of times to wipe clear my glasses as they were getting wetter and wetter.

Around mile 20 the heavens opened. This was rain. The real stuff. Not the wet misty type that had been going on from the start. It was a slog for the next 20 or so miles as the rain continued. For someone who was nervous about riding in the rain and worried about the bike cut off this was not a good combination.

What I can commend the race organizers for is that despite the conditions out there, each turn on the course was clearly marked out or was manned by police or volunteers who stood out in the rain the whole time. For a race with such a small field it must have seemed a very arduous task and I fully appreciate all the volunteers that day.

There were two aid stations, one of which we passed twice, for a total of three stops. The first was around mile 12 just after we had climbed a big hill. I made a quick porta potty stop there (obviously I had been hydrating to this point) and grabbed some more fluids. The aid stations provided Hammer gels, Heed and water. The second stop was around mile 30 I think. When I got there the rain was heavy. The table was set up for a bottle exchange. I stopped and poured a bottle of Heed mix in with my existing bottle of Heed and moved on as there was no point in hanging around too long with the rain.

One thing that I will take away from the ride is that I am weakest on the bike. I have definitely become more comfortable in the seat but I did most of my riding either on the bike trainer or outside in an enclosed park loop with little elevation. It showed. I need to do more hill riding and get my cadence up. It’s all too easy to ride for three hours watching movies but I really need to know how to maintain a high cadence with my legs and how and when to push. I also need to learn how to properly fuel while riding. I kept to my plan on taking in an energy gel every 45 minutes but I had to pull over each time for fear of falling off the bike. I was able to maintain my drinking every 15-20 minutes just slowing down while I used a bottle.

The route along the reservoir itself was beautiful…well at least what I could make out through the rain and clouds was beautiful. There seemed to be a lot of ‘S bend’ curves as the road travelled around the reservoir and by this point we were sharing the road with cars. We had travelled down a major road (Route 213) earlier, however, there was a wide shoulder and although cars and trucks were zipping by, there was plenty of space for riding.

I played leapfrog along the bike course with a couple of other riders almost the whole way. I didn’t catch up with many people nor was I passed too often other than by participants in the full distance race on their much more expensive and faster tri bikes.

Finally, with about 15 miles to go the rain ceased and the skies cleared a little or maybe just the clouds got thinner. Either way the last 15 miles were more comfortable weather wise. My socks inside my shoes were soaked through by the rain and so I had to endure the sound of squelching for the last hour but I figured it was a small price to pay. My average speed was now over 14.5mph so I knew I would make it under the time limit and I still had a couple of large downhill rides.

The roads were still damp on the reverse trip down to the transition area but I flew down them (white knuckled). At one point I hit over 36mph. I’m not one for riding roller coasters…and this to me felt almost as freaky. I guess that’s another thing I have to get used to in training.

I finally made it back into transition with a time of 3:48:19 (official split was 3:48:58). Not great by any means but a) not last, and b) under the cut off. I now have a baseline for a 1.2 mile open water swim and a 56 mile bike ride (although my actual GPS distance was just over 55 miles).

On returning to transition after the rain I was glad to have kept my gear wrapped up in those trash liners and was extremely pleased that I had packed a second pair of socks. My feet were soaked through and I pretty much had to repeat almost the same transition that I had after the swim (minus the wetsuit). Dry off, talc on feet and the struggle back into the Injinji socks!!! Time in second transition was 6:01. Slow but typically it would just be changing shoes and swapping my helmet for a visor. I took the opportunity to take another  energy gel before heading out on the run.

I’ve done many brick work outs in training (bike to run transition) but never after a 56 mile ride nor anything longer than a 30 minute run. This was going to be interesting.

As I headed out to start the run the ground was more soaked than before. As I ran up the hill to the first aid station I was told that the ‘bat cave’ was wet and to be careful. That was an understatement. I hadn’t even reached the cave yet and I was already having to be careful with my footing. The trail was soggy and puddle filled. In fact there were a couple of places early on where I had to walk for fear of slipping in the mud. I didn’t expect to run my normal pace for the half marathon (my PR is 1:51) but I also didn’t expect my first mile split to be 11.36min/mile.

When I had walked the course the previous day I wasn’t wearing sunglasses so when I got to the cave I could kind of see my way through with the little daylight that was streaming through the entrance and exit. I was also walking. Today I was running and wearing sunglasses. BIG difference. Once I hit the cave I could barely see. I decided to take the higher ground on the left of the cave on the assumption that it might be drier as the water would flow down to the lower side. What I didn’t know about or see was that there were rocks on that side. I tripped…twice. While I didn’t wipe out I was a little shaken and pretty much ended up walking through the cave rather than run (hence the slow 1st mile).

Once out the cave I was back in the daylight and it was then just the double out and back to run. The ground was still soaked, soft, slippy and puddled in many places. My nice clean shoes didn’t stay that way for very long. I stepped in a few places where I went down into muddy water to the tops of my shoes. I had been glad I had some dry socks on to start with but they were soon beginning to get damp from the ground below.

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The run was a double out and back.

I passed the first aid station again (I would see it two more times) and the folks manning the table were very cheery and supportive. Each aid station stocked water, Heed, flat Coke, chips, orange slices, candy and cookies. At first I drank only water and Heed at each station (there were another two out on the course) but as it was getting hotter and I was beginning to feel more tired so I started to dunk a cup of cold water over my head at each station too.

I passed Bob on my way out the first time. He had a much stronger ride than me and was at least 30 minutes ahead of me. Just before the third aid station we ran across the Rosendale Trestle Bridge. If you are scared of heights you may want to rethink this race. The bridge was wide, sturdy and safe but quite a way up.

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Rosendale Trestle Bridge (picture from the HITS Facebook page)


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An aerial shot of the bridge on a much sunnier day

It was a spectacular setting and the benefit of running mostly in the shade kept temperatures down. It wasn’t the sunniest of afternoons as there was still a lot of cloud cover but it did feel cooler in the shade.

The turnaround was about a mile past the bridge and at that point I was taking my time negotiating points on the trail that were like mud rivers. Nevertheless it was a keep moving forward mentality. By this stage I had been on the go for over 5 hours and counting.

On my way back to the first aid station (and turnaround for the second leg) I took another energy gel to give myself a boost. I needed something at that point. At the aid station one of the volunteers suggested I take in some flat Coke. I had heard that ultra runners used this as a quick sugar energy boost and as I had just taken a gel I decided to pass this time around but as I progressed on my second out and back I decided to try something new (yeah…during a race…smart!). Luckily I had no bad reaction to ingesting the flat Coke. I haven’t had any soda since quitting last August so this was a bit weird. I had sworn off soda and now I couldn’t get enough… I was still pouring water over my head at each aid station but I was now substituting the Coke for the Heed just to keep me going.

It was at this point that I started playing the math game. I had no goal time other than to finish somewhere between 7-7.5 hours and I knew that my bike leg would eat up a great deal of that time. I was now looking at my Garmin every few minutes to see how much distance and time was left. I had seen Bob on the second out and back as I was going out and he was coming back. I figured he would be done before I reached the turnaround for the second time.

As I rounded the turnaround for the last time I began to realize that I had just under 5 miles to go. I could do this. I was going to do this. Having once run 39.3 miles in 7 hours I knew I had the endurance, but that was straight running and now I was beginning to feel a soreness in my left quad and hamstring from the bike. Everything else felt good other than tired and achy shoulders. I just put one foot in front of the other, walked around the muddy parts and powered on until I saw the first aid station for the final time.

Once I hit the aid station it was just a small up and down hill to the finish line.  This was not a fast half marathon for me by any means but I was going to be under 2:20 and that meant I would be under 7:20 total time. I just had to make it another half mile to the finish.

Rounding the corner to the finish I could see Bob standing by the finish line and he had his camera out taking photos of me coming in. I ran up and gave him a fist bump and turned towards the finish line where to my surprise my Wife’s Aunt had driven down with her family from Albany (about an hour north) to meet me at the finish line. What a wonderful gesture. Totally unexpected. I got so excited I jumped high in the air as I crossed the finish line. Having family and friends meet me at the finish really lifted my spirits and took away any tiredness I was feeling.

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Bob took this photo of me running into the finish


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Woohoo….70.3 DONE!!! (Thanks for the photo Francine)


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Hey, I know you!


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Let me stop my Garmin so I can give you a High Five

I arrived during the awards ceremony so, as had been my luck all through the event, I missed having a photo taken by the official photographer. Luckily, between Bob and his wife Francine and my family I was able to get some photos at the finish line. A volunteer handed me my medal and a bottle of water and I stopped to catch my breath and take some finish line photos with everyone.

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Nice to have a family meet me at the finish (Thank you Nadine, Steve and Benjamin)


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Bob and I. He looks a little more rested than me.


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Bob making sure I saved my multisport event file.


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YES!!!

My official finish time was 7 hours 15 minutes. Not great…but not last. I did my first half iron distance triathlon and finished smiling. That’s enough for me. Will I do another 70.3? Probably, but I’m going to enjoy this one for a long time.

I said goodbye to Bob who had been waiting to see me finish and went over to transition to pack up my gear. My family wanted to take me to lunch (a late lunch) before I had to drive home. There wasn’t much food left by the time I had finished. I was told they were going to order more food (pizza) within the hour for the final finishers and for the full distance finishers. I decided that I would be better off having a full meal to refuel.

So much for my fancy shoes...

So much for my fancy shoes…


...and fancy socks. Just a little muddy

…and fancy socks. Just a little muddy

In transition I used the changing tents to put on some dry clothes. Those trash bags came in handy as I threw all my wet gear and towels into them to carry to the car. Before I left transition I sat down and took it all in. I had just finished my first 70.3. It was a different feeling than finishing my first marathon. That was a runners high which lasted days. This was more a mix of joy and relief. I tried to explain to someone a couple of days later that sometimes when I run I can zone out and just get into a rhythm until I am near the finish line. With the triathlon it’s a matter of focus, concentration and technique. You cannot really zone out doing a triathlon. You’ll drown or crash!!! I’m pleased to say I did neither.

I quickly called my parents in the UK to let them know I was done. I’m 44 and I still call my mother to let her know I’m okay 🙂

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Once I was dressed, the car packed and the bike racked we headed to Kingston where we had a late lunch/early dinner at an Irish pub. Those were the best fish and chips I’d had all day! I drank lots of water to rehydrate and a few cups of coffee to keep me awake before I said goodbye to the family and headed for my three-hour drive home…with a HUGE smile on my face.

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The guy on the left in 2010 has just finished a half iron distance traithlon in 2016

I really enjoyed the event. HITS put on a professional, supportive and friendly event. For anyone dipping their toes into longer distance triathlons I would recommend one of their events. Their communication was responsive in the weeks leading up to the event, the staff were friendly the whole weekend and it was just a relaxed informal atmosphere the whole weekend. They took care of the athletes and it was good value for money compared to some of the other big race organizations out there. Check out their events list.

Oh, by the time I got to the finish line the merchandise tent was being taken down. I wasn’t able to get a finisher shirt that I had spoken to the supplier about the day before. I was waiting until after so not to jinx myself.  The owner gave me his card and told me to call him the following week and he would customize any shirts that I wanted and ship them to me. Pricing was very reasonable so I followed up and ordered a customized long sleeve and short sleeve ‘70.3 Finisher’ shirt. Nice.

That night I had a pretty good long deep sleep.

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Something like this. Even my kids let me sleep in.

In my inbox the next day was this message from my training plan. I didn’t need telling twice 🙂

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Thank you for sticking with me for this (longer than normal) race recap. At least this took you less than 7 hours to read.

2015 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon – Race recap

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It has been a very long winter and as a result I haven’t been able to get outside to run too much over the last few months. So with that in mind I was looking for a spring race to get me ready for the upcoming season and as a tune up for the Pittsburgh Marathon next month (May 3rd). I had a choice of running the Bucks County Half Marathon in Tyler Park which I have run 3 times already or try for something new. As I listen to my friend John’s ‘The Runner Of A Certain Age‘ podcast (as well as being a guest now and again) I decided based upon his review from the prior year to sign up for the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon.

2015 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon Course

2015 Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon Course

The Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon is put on by the CGI Racing team and they are responsible for other races such as the LOVE Run Half Marathon which I ran last year and also the New Jersey State Triathlon which I signed up for this year (my first triathlon) and I’ve had a good experience with this organization in the past.

So, before we start, I have to confess that I messed up a little with the planning. I know that locally Rutgers has a campus in Camden, NJ which is not too far away and is an area where I have run races before (Benjamin Franklin Bridge 10K) and we live not to far away from Rider University. For some reason in my mind I thought I would be running locally. Not so much. The main Rutgers University Campus is up in Piscataway, NJ which is over 45 miles away and a good hours drive. Hmmm….

Once I figured out that I realized my mistake in not signing up for race day packet pickup. I had to travel up to Piscataway the day before and on the day of the race. I probably spent more on gas and tolls than the cost of the race day packet pickup. Now before you think I’m completely crazy my experience of race day packet pick up is fine if I was to run a 5K or 10K but I don’t want to feel rushed before a half or a full marathon. In fact, based upon my experience with the LOVE Run marathon from CGI the year before it was a big race and I didn’t fancy the idea of fighting the crowds. Also, the race guide talked about parking at the starting area or the finish area and shuttling to and from. I didn’t want to deal with that on top of this all.

On the day before the race I got up early to be at the race expo as it opened so I could get back home and not be too disruptive to our planned family activities. I didn’t know at the time that it was Rutgers Open House weekend. The weather was beautiful and it was an easy drive for the most part. It took me under an hour to get to the campus but once upon arriving it took me almost 20 minutes to get into the parking area for packet pickup.

Finally made it to the expo

Finally made it to the expo

The packet pickup was at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center. It was a busy morning there. There were swim meets going on, there were other sports being played so there was a quite the foot traffic inside. The expo however was well signed and separate from all the general hubbub outside.

The expo itself was held inside a large gymnasium. It wasn’t huge but it was set up clearly. As you entered there was a small area for a speaker series and next to that a desk to look up your race number if you didn’t already have it with you. Then at the far end of the hall was the bib pick up and next to that the shirt pick up.

Expo set up

Expo set up

Bib and t-shirt pick up

Bib and t-shirt pick up

Race mugs

Race mugs

There weren’t too many vendors displaying. The National Running Center was there for any last-minute purchases as well as a local therapy provider giving back massages. Also, one of the sponsors (Agua Enerviva) and a local fitness equipment dealer. They also had a table to pick up your souvenir mug. This is quite a nice perk and something I also received when I ran the LOVE Run last year.

I got what I came for

I got what I came for

Ready for the next day's activities

Ready for the next day’s activities

In hindsight this would have been an ideal race for same day packet pick up. I would highly recommend this option if you are going to sign up for this event. The race itself isn’t small but it isn’t a huge field and there is ample parking at the start line area which is right next to the start line. Also, I met up with John at packet pickup and it was calm and orderly and well run.

Race day arrival

Race day arrival

Race day arrival

Race day arrival

Race day arrival was very easy. The drive, the parking on campus and the whole traffic flow was a breeze. I arrived with plenty of time before the start of the race to stretch, use the port-a-potties and loosen up. I headed down to the packet pick up area to meet John before the start of the race. I always like to meet up with people I know before a race as just chatting with and hanging out with people helps calm the nerves and just generally lifts my spirits before a race.

Meeting up with John (host of 'The Runner Of A Certain Age' podcast)

Meeting up with John (host of ‘The Runner Of A Certain Age’ podcast)

It was a little chilly at the start but I knew it was going to warm up based on the forecast. The sky was clear and the sun was out. I pulled a mylar blanket out of my check bag to wear while waiting in the corral with a plan to throw it out just before crossing the start line (TIP – if you have mylar blankets handed to you at a race keep them for future races so you can stay warm in the corral of another race).

I walked to the corrals with John and we noted that the corrals were set up by pace per mile not any designated letter. I left John at his prefered pace and I moved up towards the 8:00-9:00 pace area. I didn’t notice any side entrances for the corrals so I had to move slowly through the crowd (politely I may add) to get to where I was going. Once there I settled in and waited for the National Anthem and the starting signal. The start was about 5 minutes delayed but the crowd seemed to be cheery enough. After all, this was some of the best weather we had experienced here in a long time!!!

Foiled up and ready to run

Foiled up and ready to run

My goal for this race was to see what I had in me after a long winter of running indoors. I recently have been struggling with injury. I tweaked my back and pelvis shovelling snow during the last couple of snow storms we had. As a result of the injury I had taken a full week off from running. If you know me that is a big deal. I was also on antibiotics for chest infection and back on Ventolin for my asthma (for the first time in three years). Also, with the upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon I wanted to try out some gear in race conditions. I have recently been experimenting with Injinji running socks and although I had already run some longer distances in them I was playing around with the thickness options they have (original weight vs medium weight). My goal therefore was to see if I could comfortably be under 2 hours. With a time goal in mind I didn’t get a chance to take too many pictures on route.

The course itself takes you around the Livingston Campus and Busch Campus for the first 9 miles before you cross over the bridge to Johnson Park and then finally through to the finish along College Avenue. It is not flat and fast as was advertised as there were a number of turns involved on the course and some gently rolling hills but nothing that would lend me to say this was a hilly course.

There were plenty of water stations on the course but very sparse spectators, although it should be remarked that this was very early on a Sunday morning on a college campus so I cannot imagine how many students would really be up early. The weather was fantastic and really made for a relaxing run. It actually felt like I was out for a simple weekend long run. The race wasn’t too large so as a runner you had plenty of space to move around and although the streets were a little narrow in places you never felt jammed in.

The first few miles ticked away and everyone just set into their own pace. I had started out with the 9:00 minute pace group but soon passed their leader and headed out for my own race.

Having never been to college here it was nice to see the campus. I was impressed by the amount of space that there was and that the campus looked pretty well looked after. The roads were a little cut up but I think that was a result of the harsh winter we had and the toll it took on the roadways. You had to be a little careful with footing in some places.

Around mile 7-8 we started heading back towards the start line area and in fact headed back up the starting chute for the second part of the race. It was around here that we started experiencing the first of many of the turn arounds. I hadn’t really studied the course map too much and you can never really tell the detail from a picture but from mile 9 onwards there were four hairpin turnarounds. I’m not usually a big fan of turnarounds but based upon the need to squeeze 13 miles into their campus I understand what needs to be done.

I settled into a pretty good rhythm and was really enjoying the scenery of the campus and also the park when we crossed over the bridge. Once we entered into the park we stayed along the pathway and ran from one hairpin turnaround to the other. That was probably the least enjoyable part (but still enjoyable race) and we saw a few more spectators on that side of the course as other people were getting along with their own activities in the park at that time of the morning.

Heading towards mile 12 all I could see ahead of me was a hill. Uh oh I thought. I was just beginning to feel a little tired at that point. Before the hill however we had to turn right into Buccleuch Park for what turned out to be the final turnaround of the race. At least this wasn’t a hairpin as we got to run around a little gazebo.

Buccleuch Park Gazebo

Buccleuch Park Gazebo

Once out of the park we had to tackle that hill I had seen confronting us as we entered. To my surprise it had just been a trick of the eye. Yes, there was a an uphill to run but it was short and not as steep as it looked and once you hit the crown you could see pretty much all the way down College Avenue to the finish line.

The run down College Avenue was so nice. It is a natural chute funneling you to the finish. Crowds were lined on both sides of the street and they were cheering you along. The downhill wasn’t to steep and allowed you to just glide through the finish. I felt great at that point. I was running around 8:33 pace which was the best I had achieved in a while and I felt comfortable doing it. I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:53:49. Well under two hours and within a couple of minutes of my half marathon PR. I was very pleased with the result.

I crossed the finish line and received my medal and also was handed a bottle of water. It had warmed up quite a bit at this point. Not too hot but was just a beautiful day.

Feeling great at the finish

Feeling great at the finish

By the way, my choice of outfit was my new INKnBURN Flow shirt. I think it was a perfect choice and very comfortable for the conditions. This has become my favorite shirt recently. I had been trying to decide between this shirt and my Mickey Milers shirt (as I was meeting up with fellow Miler John) but went with this combo. The socks worked out great too. I would recommend trying a pair if you get the chance. A little weird to look at and to put on but if you are prone to blisters these offer great protection.

After coming through the finish line chute we turned left to the post race area. The campus was ideal for a post race area as the streets were wide, the crowds were separated to the family reunion area and there was a lot of green space to stretch out and relax.

Post race area

Post race area – nice and open space

Post race area

Post race area – a great place to chill

The food tent was labeled clearly for runners only and they checked your bib to go through. I was very grateful for the soft pretzel. What I didn’t see was any sports drink to replenish any lost electrolytes. That was probably my only complaint.

Food station marked for runners

Food station marked for runners

Very ordered food hand out

Very ordered food hand out

One of the best post race treats

One of the best post race treats

The medal was a decent size but a little ‘lightweight’ and a little plain. Also, on the medal and on the ribbon it said ‘Half Marathon and 8K’. I wasn’t sure if this was the same medal handed to people who ran the 8K also. That seemed a little strange that these wouldn’t be unique to the race.

With my medal

With my medal

Front of the medal

Front of the medal

Back of the medal

Back of the medal

Note the ribbon says Half Marathon and 8K

Note the ribbon says Half Marathon and 8K

Overall though I would totally recommend this race. Timing was perfect, we lucked out with the weather, the course was enjoyable and the size of the field made it feel like a big race without being a big race (i.e. plenty of room to move about). I would recommend that if you register for this race (and you should if you are nearby) you opt for race day packet pick up as the expo wasn’t a compelling reason to go twice in two days.

John and I spoke about this race on his podcast. Here is the link to the episode (Episode 35 – It’s A Beautiful Morning Edition’).

Thanks for reading.

March 2015 – Month in review

March 2015 – Nike+ Summary

March 2015 – Nike+ Summary

So as you can see from the Nike+ summary I managed to get in 140 miles this month but if you look at the tail end of the month you will see that I actually had a week break. I’m nursing a sore back/pelvis as a result of all the snow shoveling over the winter. I managed to tweak my pelvis out of alignment. Ouch. Time to get my 8 and 4 year olds out to shovel the snow…or move to Florida. I think the move may be easier.

The weather did not deter my training for the upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon however it did take my running indoors for some of the long runs.

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My run from Sunday March 8th.

My run from March 14th.

My run from Sunday March 14th.

The gym can be a lonely place on a Sunday morning in winter.

The gym can be a lonely place on a Sunday morning in winter.

However, shortly after my indoor 20 miler I was lucky enough (well required) to take a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona for work. I went from running in sub 20 degree weather (sub zero with wind chill) to running in the low to mid 60s for a week. It was beautiful and flat. I wore shorts again!!! Yes, my legs saw the sunshine albeit at the end of the run as these were still early morning hours. What amazed me about running in Scottsdale was how clear the air was. As I was running I could smell the flowers, bushes and other landscape smells (nice smells) as I ran. I don’t think I’ve had much of a chance for that recently. Also it was flat. That helps alot. I’d been on a treadmill for more than a month so it was great to be out there.

Beautiful place to run

Beautiful place to run

Citrus trees and the smells in the air were incredible

Citrus trees and the smells in the air were incredible

Yes....yes it was

Yes….yes it was

Desert running is pretty cool

Desert running is pretty cool

I discovered where Iron Man keeps his horses

I discovered where Iron Man keeps his horses

Lots to investigate

Lots to investigate

Mind you, I got a rude awakening when I flew back to Philly. I arrived back to 4 inches of snow…ON THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING!!!! Ugh. My back still hasn’t recovered. Nothing like having to dig your way into your house around midnight. Luckily though that was the end of the snow. It warmed up a bit after that and I was able to run outdoors locally again.

Woo hoo!!!

Woo hoo!!!

During this month as I have been preparing for Pittsburgh I have been trying out some new gear. Last year at the Philadelphia Rock n Roll Half Marathon Expo I was recommended to try Injinji toe socks. They look a little weird and are a little tricky to put on but I have always had an issue with my toes rubbing together and usually use some vaseline to prevent blisters. Anyway I thought I’d give these a try and see if they were as good as they were presented.

Actually, they are pretty good. I’ve since bought a couple of pairs in various thicknesses to see how they differ but so far so good. I am using them almost exclusively right now. I cannot comment on the longetivity of the product but from a comfort perspective they seem good and from a blister prevention perspective they absolutely hit the spot. I’ve been using the Run 2.0 sock.

Injinji Run 2.0

Injinji Run 2.0

Finally this month I’m happy to share that both my wife and I were successful in the lottery for the 40th Marine Corps Marathon later this year. We are so excited to be able to run this event and especially excited because of the special anniversary year. It is sure to be a great event and memorable to all who run.

We're in!!!

We’re in!!!

In the coming weeks I have the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon in Piscataway, NJ. This will be my first event since running the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend races. It will be fun to get back into race mode. Also, I’ll complete the training and start my taper for the Pittburgh Marathon. We are looking forward to the marathon weekend and hope we have enough time to take some sights in with our boys.

Don’t forget that I’m doing other crazy stuff for a change. I’m running the ‘Goofy In A Day’ for Give Kids The World a couple of weeks after that. If you feel like you can make a donation that would be really appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

February 2015 – Month in review

February 2015 – Nike+ Summary

February 2015 – Nike+ Summary

What can I say about February which doesn’t involve a treadmill? Of the 163 miles run during the month only 14 of them were outdoors and one was even during a snow storm…I was that desparate to go out. I did get to go out on my birthday though and also once in 5 degree temperatures (that was fun!!!). I had to try out the new earphones that I got for my birthday (BOSE SoundSport). Truly excellent sound and they stay firmly in place when I run.

My birthday run

My birthday run

5 degrees of pure fun (brrr)

5 degrees of pure fun (brrr)

On the bright side the days are getting a little longer and we are closer to Spring.

I also took a spin in a pair of Hoka Constant. I do this once a year and try a new shoe. As the old adage says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yes, I’m still with my Brooks shoes as a consequence.

Well, worth a try, but not for me.

Worth a try, but not for me.

The organizers finally decided upon a race date for the postponed Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this Fall. It is usually mid-September but the Pope is visiting Philadelphia that weekend. This is a race my wife and I usually run together. The date was announced as October 31, 2015. Well, what do you know? A race on Halloween. I am sensing some costume ideas coming together. We signed up as soon as they announced that registration was open. I already have a costume in my shopping cart on Amazon.com (those birthday vouchers come in handy).

So here’s to goodbye to snowy February and anciticipation of March and the welcome return to Spring weather and the great outdoors!!!

Thanks for reading.

Bucks County Duathlon – race recap

Bucks County Duathlon

Bucks County Duathlon

This weekend I participated in the 5th annual Bucks County Duathlon. This is a combined 2 mile run, 10 mile ride and 2 mile run which starts and finishes at Washington Crossing Park on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River alongside the Delaware Canal (the same location of my recent marathon).

I had participated in this event in 2011 (on a borrowed bicycle) and in 2012 (on my own bicycle) and had to miss it in 2013 for a family wedding. It’s a small event, less than 200 people, but some of these folks are serious triathletes and their clubs were represented by team tents at the staging area. It is used as a fundraiser to support Missy Flynn, a local triathlete who suffered a brain aneurysm back in 2010 and needs help and support for ongoing medical costs.

Race packet pickup was held at the Newtown Bike Store in the week leading up to the event. Race swag was a technical t-shirt with a silhouette of the famous ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ painting.

I set up my gear the night before and planned to wear my INKnBURN ‘Rock and Roll’ shirt with my tri-shorts. Ever so stylish, although the British theme for a race at Washington Crossing Park may have seemed like an odd choice 😉

'Flat Ian' the night before

‘Flat Ian’ the night before

The race started at 8am on Sunday morning but you needed to leave enough time to set up your bicycle and related gear in the transition area. I arrived with enough time to check my tires, pick a spot near the end of a row and set out my cycling shoes (my bicycle uses clip pedals), helmet, gloves, etc. I also brought out my old Garmin 305 multisport watch. Having run with the Garmin Forerunner 220 since earlier this year it seemed huge but does what I needed. I only switched to the 220 because the 305 took forever to locate my position. I had plenty of time for the GPS to find me on race day.

It's big but it does the trick

It’s big but it does the trick

I set up my gear and waited for the start of the race.

My wheels

My wheels

Ready to go

All set up

The race consisted of a 2 mile loop starting in the park, out along the canal and back to the transition area. There was a timing mat at the entrance and exit of the transition area where you had to walk (run) your bike out and back in. The ride consisted of an out and back 2.5 mile ride which we did twice for a total of 10 miles before the returning our bicycles and running the second loop which was the same as the first.

Ready to start

Ready to start

Start and finish was in the same location

Start and finish was in the same location

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Transition area

Trnasition area

Transition area

The race director gave pre-race instructions around 7:45am and we all lined up according to our waves. It was elites first then age groups male and female every minute after. One of the athletes played the National Anthem on their trumpet and then the horn sounded and the waves all went off as directed.

I ran the first loop pretty steadily. As each running leg was short I decided to not use my usual run/walk/run method and just go for it. I didn’t go all out as I knew I still had a ride and a second run to do but I did push a little harder than my regular pace. This paid off with a first leg of the duathlon running splits less than 8 minutes/mile.

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First leg of the race – 2 mile run

First leg of the race - 2 mile run

First leg of the race – 2 mile run

Even though I was passed by many runners soon after the start, along the course of the 2 miles I managed to keep a steady pace and reel a few of the runners back and pass then in the last half mile or so. Based upon the results I was placed 68/141 for the first run.

From there it was on to the transition area. This seemed to go fine although I did struggle to put on one of my running gloves in the humidity and rush of the morning. Then I ran my bicycle out of the transition area to where we were allowed to mount the bicycle and headed off on the road for the ride leg of the event.

Leaving the transition area

Leaving the transition area

This is where I was separated from the real triathletes in the race. I own a hybrid bicycle (Trek FX 7.2) not a road or tri bicycle that it seemed the majority of folks out there were riding. Now as fast as my legs could pedal I was being passed constantly on the second half of the ride. Those with the right gear (lightweight/aerodynamic) just flew past me on the road.

Being followed by a local police cruiser...not for speeding obviously!!!

Being followed by a local police cruiser…not for speeding obviously!!!

I averaged about 16 miles per hour on the road (it was fairly flat) but the speedier folks were pushing well beyond 20 miles per hour and it showed as I saw all the folks I had run past were now ahead of me. I was placed 114/141 for the bicycle portion. Ouch!!!

Second leg of the race - 10 mile ride

Second leg of the race – 10 mile ride

Second leg of the race - 10 mile ride

Second leg of the race – 10 mile ride

Then back to the transition area. This is the point in the race that I always joke that the difference between the first and last runs are you start out like Forrest Gump and come back like Lieutenant Dan. I started to run on the third and final part of the race and my legs were like jelly. I could just about feel my feet and it just felt weird for at least the first half mile. I just made constant motion and moved forward as best I could.

I was a little slower for the third part of the race, but then so was everyone else. Like before I didn’t use the run/walk/run method and just went for it as best I could. Not flat-out as my legs probably would not have taken that effort, but just fast enough to maintain a sub 8 minute mile. I noticeably passed more people on this second run and this showed as I finished this final leg 44/141, better than the first run even though the time was 2 seconds slower. I pushed hard for this last leg.

Final leg of the race - 2 mile run

Final leg of the race – 2 mile run

Final leg of the race - 2 mile run

Final leg of the race – 2 mile run

Overall I came in with a combined time (including the two transitions) of 1:11:37, a PR of 5:01 over my 2012 efforts placing 84/141. Next to all those serious tri-guys I was happy with this result. 🙂

Final Results

Final Results

Boom!!! A new PR

Boom!!! A new PR

In the post race area there were places to check your final times as well as post race refreshments (bagels with cream cheese, bananas and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches). I took to a picnic table to cool down and stretch and enjoy my bagel as I watched the other competitors run in. It was a beautiful but warm morning. I worked pretty hard on the day but was very happy with the result.

With all the runners in I decided to grab my gear and head home (my wife had an 18 mile run planned and it was getting warmer and later in the day). The volunteers in the transition area made sure that everyone’s bib number matched the bicycle tag number (for security reasons) and I headed home. This was the end of my bicycle riding for the season and so I put my Trek back into storage with my bike rack. Now back to focusing on my upcoming running events. Perhaps next year is the year I turn the ‘Duathlon’ into a ‘Triathlon’…

A good day for a PR as I headed home.

A good day for a PR as I headed home.

Thanks for reading.

Upcoming races:

September 21 – Rock and Rock Philadelphia Half Marathon

October 18 – Baltimore Marathon

November – Thanksgiving race in Florida – TBD (anything from a 5K to a Half Marathon)

January 10-11 – Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge

If you are interested in any of the INKnBURN gear, please feel free to use my Ambassador code (INBians14) on their site for a 15% discount on any of their merchandise. Take a look at their site and hope you find something you might like to try.

‘Chasing the Unicorn’ Marathon race recap

Unicorn

Last Sunday I completed the ‘Chasing the Unicorn‘ Marathon along the Delaware Canal at Washington Crossing in PA. The good is that I completed the race, the bad, well let’s just get it out of the way, I missed my goal…by a lot. However, I’m not going to dwell too much on what turned out to be a great weekend anyway. In summary, it was one of my worst races but one of my best finishes. I’ll explain below.

I had signed up for this race based upon the fact that I PR’d earlier this year at the New Jersey Marathon and this included running the last 9 miles into what felt like a wind tunnel. I felt that I could do better. This race was created in 2013 by the Race Director of runBucks (Pat McCloskey) as a late summer chance for folks trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2014. The unicorn is the symbol of the Boston Athletic Assocation.

Boston Athletic Assocation

Boston Athletic Assocation

You can read about my reasons for signing up in my previous post (‘Chasing The Unicorn…or at least trying‘). So with sights set on improving my PR I followed Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan. This was a bit of a step up from the Intermediate 1 plan that I typically use and had higher mileage and an extra 20 mile run in the program. Luckily it was a pretty mild summer in comparison to recent years so all those extra early morning miles were actually quite enjoyable.

Anyway, back to the weekend itself.

On the Saturday evening before the marathon runBucks hosted the Washington Crossing 15K which started at finished in the same place as the marathon on Sunday. My wife had run this race last year and she had registered for it again this year. My wife and I run a lot of races, some together and some separately. Mostly we run separately as one of us is always staying with the boys as these races are typically early mornings. This race started at 5pm on Saturday which meant that we could all attend the race as a family and my wife would have her own (very loud) cheering section.

So after a breakfast of Mickey Mouse waffles (the best way of carb loading) and a full day at Sesame Place with the family we headed to Washington Crossing to cheer my wife on as a family.

Sharing our signs with our favorite runner

Sharing our signs with our favorite runner

Asher's sign

Asher’s sign

Micah's sign

Micah’s sign

My sign

My sign

Ready to go

Ready to go

After the race had begun and everyone was off on their way the race director opened up the bib pick up for the marathon the next day so I headed over and grabbed my bib and race shirt. Then we sat around and waited for the first runners to come back in before taking our place along the finish line chute to cheer on Shari.

Waiting and watching the other runners

Waiting for Mommy and watching the other runners

Here she comes...

Here she comes…

Sprinting to the finish

Sprinting to the finish

...there she goes

…there she goes

My wife beat her time from last year, running a nice pace and pushing hard at the end.

Finish time. Good pace.

Finish time. Good pace.

Of course she was then mobbed by the boys who had been without her for over and hour and were probably tired of me and the waiting around!!!

Her best cheerleaders

Her best cheerleaders

Sharing her bling

Sharing her bling

There was a pavilion at the park where the race director had set up a pasta dinner buffet for post-race and also as a pre-race dinner for tomorrow so we headed over to eat. You would think my boys had were prepping for an ultra-marathon the next day…but they do have good appetites for sure. We even had to make a dessert stop on the way home (although I may have partaken in that too).

Once home we got the kids to bed and now it was my turn to prepare for the marathon the next morning. Based upon the forecast and my wife’s feedback from her race I began to wonder if I should carry water for the race. It was August and I have never run a marathon at this time of the year. The course itself being a double out and back on a narrow footpath meant that water stations were somewhat limited and my wife told me that crossing the two way traffic for water stops might be tricky. With that said, better to carry water and not use it than to run and need water. I decided to race wearing my Nathan Speed 2 hydration belt.

I set out my gear the night before as usual. I planned to wear my new Buddha shirt that I received from my recent INKnBURN grab bag. The grab bag is a selection of shirts that are either no longer made, one off samples or some of their current selection. You don’t know what you are going to get until the package arrives. I was very happy with my selection and opted for a nice bright color. Who says running gear has to be boring. It wasn’t as if I was going to win this race but perhaps I could make the ‘best dressed’ list 😉

'Flat Ian' the night before

‘Flat Ian’ the night before

It’s strange and nice to have a race local and be longer than a 5K. I got up around my usual time when I go out for a long run in the morning and got ready, grabbed my Powerbar and headed out to Washington Crossing. I had stated that I was shooting for a goal time of 3:50 or better. I wasn’t going to qualify for Boston but I knew this was perhaps a stretch goal having only just run 3:54 a few months earlier, but I had trained hard and felt good going into the race.

When I arrived I saw all these elite looking runners and was feeling a little intimidated at first. The night before they had announced that about 30% of the field planned to run 3:25 or better. Eek!!! What was I doing here??? But as I made my way from the parking lot to the starting area I saw other runners who were ’50 State’ runners and ‘Marathon Maniacs’ that looked like they were there for the ‘taking part’ and not just for the ‘BQ’. I also saw a few other runners wearing hydration belts and packs so I felt comfortable with my decision.

Ready to get started. Wearing my INKnBURN Buddha shirt.

Ready to get started. Wearing my INKnBURN Buddha shirt.

It was a cool morning and as we got into the corrals it actually started to rain lightly which was a little unexpected given the forecast. There were about 300 entrants into the race. They had a small early group start around 6:15am and this consisted of some walkers as well as those that may not meet the planned cut off time. The full race was to start at 7:15am. Each wave included about 50 runners. The waves would set off 30 seconds apart so being in wave 3 was just 90 seconds behind the leaders (at the start line).

The course itself was a double out-and-back loop along the Delaware Canal Towpath from Washington Crossing, PA to the turnaround point in New Hope, PA. The path itself is a soft easy trail of mostly crushed stone. It is narrow in places, almost single file, but mostly you could have two-way traffic so we got to see the leaders 2 to 3 times depending upon your pace. The elevation is minimal and for the most part the course is in the shade.

Here is the ‘Map My Run’ version of the course from the runBUCKS website.

Waiting in the corral for my wave.

Waiting in the corral for my wave.

Okay, to the race itself, and also the reason it has taken me over a week to actually post the write up to my blog.

With all the confidence in the world I knew in the back of my mind going in that this was a stretch goal for me. I had reduced my PR already this year by over 4 and a half minutes and I was looking to do the same. I don’t have a coach so I follow a plan and to all intents and purposes I am the one who manages my day to day training. With that in mind all I can say is that I learn a lot from experience. This was going to be one of those learning experiences but I didn’t know that when I started out…

As we started out I quickly went to the front of my wave so I could get ahead of folks early on and make sure that I could maintain my run/walk Galloway intervals (4:00/0:45) without interfering with a big pack of runners. I knew that the canal was narrow and this may be a difficult task (in fact I did have to walk through some messy places to get out the way of folks during the walking intervals) but I seemed to be maintaining my pace with the same folks for the first few miles. I used the same intervals that led to my PR back in late April.

During the first 6-7 miles it rained steadily. This was actually quite cooling and not heavy like the rain I had to run in during The Love Run earlier this year (although it was about 20 degrees warmer which helped). As you can see from my initial splits below I was on pace (actually a little faster) for the first 8 or so miles. To hit 3:50 according to my pace band I should be pacing at 8:47 per mile. I was feeling confident although I noticed that my heart rate was elevated in the normal range but not returning back as normal during the walk breaks. I tend to reach 160-170 bpm’s during the run and it usually hits 120-130 bpm’s at the end of the 45 second walk. This time I was still around 150 bpm’s after the end of each walk break. At this point I hadn’t taken any caffeine or a caffeine infused gels so I wasn’t sure why.

The first part of the race. So far so good.

The first part of the race. So far so good.

It wasn’t until around miles 9 to 10 when I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I developed a pain in my side, not so much a stitch but an ache. It was a little strange but I couldn’t get rid of it even with a walk break and some water. Thankfully I had my water belt on as the water stations were a little sparse due to the course constraints around the turn around. By mile 11 I had an ache in my stomach which seemed to be more of a hunger pain than anything but I hadn’t done anything different in preparing for this marathon than in any of the other marathons I had run.

I reached the half way point at 1:55 so I was still only a minute or two back from my goal time but I knew I was slowing. The 13.1 mile turnaround was being managed by Tammy, a fellow ‘Mickey Miler’ who I had met with at the race the day before and was volunteering today. It helped to see a smiling face to cheer me at the halfway point. I was hurting at this point. I knew that my goal was probably not going to be met and pretty much made peace with that. It was a stretch goal after all but I figured if I could maintain a decent pace for the second half I might still PR for the day.

The hard part about an out and back, especially a double out and back, is that you know exactly how far you are in to the race and how far you have left to go. I wasn’t tempted to quit at the halfway point even though I could have. That was never on the cards for me. I knew whatever happened I still had to finish whether I made my goal, PR or was struggling.

I struggled for pretty much the second half of the race. It wasn’t a case of the wheels on the bus go round and round…they fell off. Here are my splits for the remainder of the race. You can see the decline in pace. It is quite a drop from 8:30s to 11:30s.

My second set of splits

My second set of splits – the wheels are coming loose 😦

My third set of splits - the wheels are completely off!!!

My third set of splits – the wheels are completely off!!!

I will be honest with you here. I never considered quitting, that’s just not what I want to do or set as an example to my boys. I did consider walking it in. I felt dreadful, empty inside, not in pain but not great. I just made sure I kept shuffling on. It wasn’t my best performance by any means. I set myself little goals in a hope to get to the finish. My heart rate was still high so I started to adjust my intervals to 3:45/1:00 and ultimately I ended up running 2:00/1:00 just to make sure I could keep going as the day got longer and the temperatures got warmer. My goals moved a little but I tried to make them attainable, for example, maintain the pace and break 4 hours. Once that goal was missed I set myself a goal of getting home in less than 4:10 and so on.

It was a little demoralizing but as I struggled in I noticed that no one was passing me. The faster runners had long finished (the winner ran 2:38) but I was still out there going forward. I knew I would eventually finish and as I had spoken with my wife the night before I expected to see my family at the finish line. I had told them that I hoped to be crossing the line around 11am (that would have been a 3:45 goal). My wife and kids were very patient as I missed that time by 30 minutes.

Finally, with about less than 2 miles to go I pushed as best I could. I could see the finish area across the park and buckled down to finish. As I was heading towards the finish line I saw that it was blocked by an ambulance. I younger runner had gone down less than half a mile before the finish line. My wife later told me that she was very worried it was me as she had expected me earlier and there was no news at the finish line other than a male runner had gone down. The EMS crew waved me around the ambulance and then I saw the finish line…and my family.

As I ran towards the finish line I heard my kids yelling out for me and jumping up and down with excitement. They had no clue as to how I was feeling at that point and there was not reason that they needed to know. As I ran up towards them they just beamed their big smiles at me. There was no one else coming in to finish at that time so I went over to the boys and told them to run in with me. I may have been feeling low over the last few miles but their being there for me totally lifted my spirits. We crossed the line as a family and I’ve never been happier to have finished a marathon. Goal or no goal, this finish is the best so far.

My best ever finish.

My best ever finish.

You cannot be that feeling. I may not have made my goal, I may not have PR’d, heck this was my slowest marathon (I ran 4:15), but at that moment it felt like my best. I totally got over any disappointment as this is a memory I will cherish. Having my boys run alongside me was absolutely awesome.

I made it through the finish line and got my medal and we headed over to grab the gear they had left when they joined me to run to the finish. I was beat. I think it shows.

I was cooked.

I was cooked. This is what a tough marathon feels like. Better to have experienced it and come out feeling positive.

So, I have two young boys who hadn’t seen me since the night before. I had no time to feel sorry for myself. They were all over me like a bee is to honey. They needed my attention more than I needed theirs so this was a very quick healing for any blues I may have been feeling at the time. No point in setting a bad example of being a misery in front of the kids. Get up, brush yourself down and know there are things more important than just PR’s. There will certainly be other races and many where my kids are not able to see me at the finish line. I aimed to savor my time with them. It really cheered me up. As you can see from the photo below I don’t look too disappointed. After all, I had still finished another marathon. That’s still something of an achievement.

Kids didn't even mind sweaty hugs. They were excited to see me after all.

Kids didn’t even mind sweaty hugs. They were excited to see me after all.

We headed over to the pavilion where there was food for the runners (and apparently for my offspring who again ate like they had run an ultra-marathon). The race director had catered well for runners both the night before and after the race today. In fact, I’ve never eaten French toast sticks as post race food before but they weren’t too bad. A little carbs with a little sugar. I was happy.

Post race food was provided. We ate well.

Post race food was provided. We ate well.

After a little food and some time to relax we started to head back to our cars so we could get home. After all it was still early enough in the day to have a full afternoon of activities with the family. By the time we headed out I had really forgotten how bad I had felt during the race and was pretty much over the fact that I had missed my goal. It was as simple as that. Over and done. Move on.

Happy to be with my family at the finish. The best cure for a bad race.

Happy to be with my family at the finish. The best cure for a bad race.

Still smiling. I still finished a marathon.

Still smiling. I still finished a marathon.

Okay...so not my best time.

Okay…so not my best time.

At the end of this all I can look back knowing that yes, this was a stretch goal, but I still finished another full marathon. I am not disappointed. In fact I may remember this as one of my favorites just because I got to share it with my family. I remember back in January when I finished the Dopey Challenge. As happy as I was to finish that event I remember feeling a little sad at the finish line area as I had no one to share it with at that very moment. The support makes all the difference between highs and lows.

Hard to be sad with support like this.

Hard to be sad with support like this.

I’m not sure I would rush back for this event again (unless I feel like redemption). This is not a negative on the race at all. I had a goal in mind and I didn’t meet it. I used this race for a specific purpose and as I train here a lot (for free) I’m not sure I would return unless I felt like it was the right opportunity. This race is designed as a BQ race specifically so it doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles of other big races. The race director did an outstanding job both days. I may return for the 15K next year as that will be fun to race.

The rest of the this year and into next I am running races with my wife. I’m not looking to PR in any of these but looking to have fun and enjoy the experiences together. I didn’t know what to say about my experience in this blog post (again, that is why it took me over a week), but now a week out from the race and reading what I have written above it really does have a silver lining. I may never catch that Unicorn but for me that is not the most important thing. I came late to running and every marathon finish line is a victory, fast or slow.

Thank you for reading.

June 2014 – Month in review

Lots of fun times in addition to running this month including a couple of nice surprises.

June 2014 - Nike+ Summary

June 2014 – Nike+ Summary

I reached a new milestone this month. This was the first month since I started running that I ran more than 200 miles in a month (202 per my stats). No wonder I’m tired. This is mostly due to me using Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan which has more mileage midweek and an extra 20 miler in the plan (1 down and 2 to go as of June 30th). So far all is going well even as the heat and humidity makes the runs more of a workout than normal. I guess training for an August marathon will test your endurance.

The month started with me continuing on the training plan for the marathon but now the distances are becoming greater every week. The good thing is that it is lighter in the morning and with the exception of when I had to travel out of town for work (more on that below) I have been able to run in the daylight and on a few occasions see the sun rise. It’s been fun. I am seeing a lot of familiar faces and a few new faces as I run my usual laps of the park. Good to see some folks out there making their first strides. I encourage with a smile and a wave as I run past as it seems everyone is plugged in but it is paying off now and I get the smiles back. Runners etiquette. Love it.

We finally said goodbye to our BOB Ironman double stroller. Our boys are just too big for this now and I was really struggling to run and push them and keep up with my wife when running. They really had exceeded the weight limit and my eldest son’s knees were pretty much touching his ears. We had lots of fun with that stroller over the last couple of years and we put on a good number of miles together. It was great while it lasted but when casual observers commented that my son was big enough to push me we knew it was time.

Our first stroller run - Memorial Day 2012

Our first stroller run – Memorial Day 2012

Our last stroller run - Memorial Day 2014

Our last stroller run – Memorial Day 2014

On Father’s Day I ran the Gary Papa 5K for Prostate Cancer and met up with my fellow Mickey Miler, Joe. It was nice to meet him and it was a fun day. I travelled down with my father in law and it was good to see him back running races. He is signed up for a few more this year including the Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in September. Together with my wife, my sister in law and future brother in law we have a full caravan of cars heading down and it should be a fun day.

At the start with my Father in law

At the start with my Father in law

At the finish line with Joe.

At the finish line with Joe.

On Father’s Day we also go to celebrate my son’s team winning the Flag Football Superbowl. They were unbeaten all season. Now I have to start building my son’s trophy shelf. He was very happy and we are very proud of him and how he played with the team.

My little champion

My little champion

This month also included the Cycle Bucks County event. This was the third year I have taken part in this event and it was a really beautiful sunny day. I opted for the 25 mile route (actually 27 miles) and there were also 10, 50 and 60 mile routes to ride. It was very hilly but a good workout. I did walk a couple of hills (as did many others) as I didn’t want to fry my quads and also as I had a 19 mile run on the training plan the day after.

I earned my ice cream on this ride.

I earned my ice cream on this ride.

With a net elevation of almost 1,900 feet it was a very good workout. You can see the route here.

We had a pleasant surprise when my in laws offered to take our two boys up to Albany, NY for the weekend to visit family. My wife and I had free time which we had not planned that weekend and we took advantage of having some personal time on Saturday to get some stuff done which we wouldn’t have had a chance with the boys around, go out for a nice relaxing dinner and catch a movie. The next day we could sleep a little later and both get our long runs in. I had 19 to run as I said earlier and my wife joined me at mile 8 and we ran my last 11 miles together. She took me to some places in Tyler Park that I had never visited and some hills I had never run before (probably not planning to run those again either). We then had a nice quiet brunch and then headed out to an evening concert (The Steve Miller Band and Journey). A great weekend.

Running the 'Covered Bridge Trail' in Tyler Park. A first for me.

Running the ‘Covered Bridge Trail’ in Tyler Park. A first for me.

Work took me to Atlanta, Georgia this month (and I will be heading there a few times this year). My hotel was nearer Piedmont Park this time around and the office I needed to visit was next to my hotel. With the exception of my first travel day when I headed straight to the office I was able to run every morning. With my short commute (next door) I was able to get my longer training runs in without getting up so early. I usually commute about 55 miles each way so I have to get up early to get my running in. This was also the first of my big weeks on the training plan and it called for runs of 5, 10, 5, 10 and 20. The sun does rise later as we are further west so I had my headlamp for both of the midweek long runs but was able to finish in the day light. It was warm and humid but good training for the heat I will expect in August.

While in Atlanta I got the chance to catch up with ‘Fast Eddie’ McCoy. He is a big part of the Mickey Milers running team and is a big inspiration to many as well as lots of fun. He met me on Wednesday evening while I was there and took me out for a group run from one of the local breweries (Red Brick Brewing Co.). It was about 90 degrees when we ran and it we hit some pretty big climbs. Eddie is fast and his slow is my fast. I was keeping up but it was a hard and fun workout, especially considering the heat. We shared a couple of beers and then had a really nice dinner at Tin Lizzy’s Cantina in Midtown Atlanta. I will definitely be heading back there when I next visit. The last couple of trips to Atlanta I have participated in group runs. I will be looking into doing another one evening on my next trip as I will be travelling solo next time.

Post 5K run with Eddie.

Post 5K run with Eddie.

I finished off the month with a 20 mile long run when I got back from Atlanta. It went well and I felt good even the day after when my boys and I had a crazy busy day together using our membership at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey.

Enjoy time at the Adventure Aquarium

Enjoying time at the Adventure Aquarium

Great times at the Adventure Aquarium

Great times at the Adventure Aquarium

Enjoying a 'Cake Batter Shake'. I claim only 1/3rd of the calories :-)

Enjoying a ‘Cake Batter Shake’ with my boys

Also new this month, for me anyway, were my new shirts from ‘INKnBURN‘. I took advantage of some discount codes online and purchased a few items. I’m really happy with them. I think the shirts are great and they work well as technical running shirts. Very comfortable.

The 'Healing Mandala' tech shirt

The ‘Healing Mandala’ tech shirt

The 'Ganesha' tech shirt

The ‘Ganesha’ tech shirt

The 'Rock and Roll Run or Die' tank top

The ‘Rock’n Roll Run or Die’ tank top

It was a busy month and I had lots of time on my feet outdoors both training, running with friends, running with my wife and playing with my boys. I’d say June was a success. Looking forward to the rest of summer.

While I have your attention (if you have stuck with me this far I guess I have) I’d like to remind and ask you if you would be willing to support me in my fundraising efforts for Autism Speaks. As you may know from this blog I will be running the 2015 Walt Disney World ‘Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge’ with Team Up / Autism Speaks. This will be my third year running for this team and I hope to take my total raised over the years to over $10,000. I cannot do this without everyone’s support. If you feel you can contribute I would very much appreciate this. I thank you in advance. You can donate by using this link.

Thank you for reading and have a great summer.