Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Towpath "Train"ing Run 2011

I ran one of the greatest running events in NJ, this past Saturday.  No, it is possibly one of the greatest running events on the east coast!  No lie!  Everything is relative, so I am allowed to be subjective about this, no?

The event is called The Towpath "Train"ing Run.  I believe it was the 13th annual of this event.  It is put on by my running club, The Raritan Valley Road Runners.  The prime mover for this event is Mr. Ray Petit.  Ray is a past president of the club (as am I), and still is the leader of our weekly Saturday morning runs year round on the Delaware-Raritan Towpath.  Ray is also back on the board of directors of the club.  He is a regular voice on all club issues both online and off.  Not many people put as much of their time and their life into the club as Ray does.

Last year I ran the full event, which starts in Trenton and goes to the Landing Lane bridge on the border of Piscataway and New Brunswick, NJ.  It is 34+ miles of running.  It is an amazing event because it is fully supported and it is non-competitive.  It is more of an event of cooperation rather than competition.  The theory is that as the event progresses, more runners "board the train" at different "stations".  The train is the continually snowballing group of runners, and the stops are the various road crossings of the towpath.  Due to this cooperative nature of this run, people can run a lot farther than they would normally.  Additionally, the pace is controlled.  Runners decide to run on a 10:30, 9:30, 8:30, or 7:30 per mile paced "train".  The train "departures" are timed to converge at the end of the event.  Running a selected pace at or slower than one's normal training pace is much easier on the body than trying to run a marathon at a fast goal pace, for example.  You might know how painful the last few miles of a marathon can be at a fast goal pace, and how the your legs can hurt for the next week.  This does not happen with long mileage on the Towpath Train!

This year I knew I was not in the shape I was last year.  Plus I am daily dealing with this phantom pain in my right ankle.  But I wanted to start in Trenton, because I run that part of the towpath less frequently than the portions north of Princeton.  I figured I would go as far as I felt like going, then catch a ride to the last "station" to finish the last couple of miles with everybody on the converging "trains".

I went to bed much too late the night before.  It was about midnight.  (Yes, I am weak and stupid: I was watching the 2nd showing of the season premiere of one of my favorite TV shows, Whale Wars.)  I had 4 hours of sleep for the 4 AM wake up required to get to the 5 AM departure from Grove 5 in Johnson Park.  I rode in Ray's car with Vince to the 6 AM start in Trenton.  (The D-R Towpath used to really "start" at Mulberry Street in Trenton.  It is now fully connected via a rail-trail paved path that parallels US-1 to the section that runs northwesterly along the Delaware River.  The connection was completed during the summer of 2010.)

I had some stomach problems the entire day.  I think I was being lactose intolerant from the Rita's Custard twist cone I had the night before.  Let me just say, I had to use the weeds on the edge of the towpath for a "dewdrop" before the beginning of the run, and again later on just south of South Bound Brook; not to mention the Porta-John at Weston Causeway... 'nuff said.  But it was, none-the-less a factor in the final distance I was able to cover comfortably.

The biggest factor in the distance I was able to cover was the pace.  I really had no business starting at the 8:30/mile pace.  If I had gotten up earlier, I could have been on the 9:30/mile train.  That is where I should have been, given the training pace I have been running this year!  It was definitely a relatively fast run for me; I was feeling uncomfortable for the first few miles, and again from miles 11-16, when I decided to take a ride.

The biggest factor in me being uncomfortable from miles 11-16 was the result of wearing VFF's.  Much of the towpath has been nicely resurfaced with cinder-like surface.  However, the section from a little south of Princeton through Blackwells Mills Road has more gravel, much of it random.  This began to hurt the bottom of my feet, even with the VFF's on.  I had an especially tender spot right behind one of my toes on my left foot.  It was like every random rock hit a nerve there.

So I called it quits at Griggstown Causeway.  Helped out with the water stop there.  Annette drove me to South Bound Brook, a major refueling stop.  We set up the water stop there.  I felt very recovered, and that section of the towpath is in great shape, so I joined the 9:30 train.  The second portion of my run felt much easier at this pace.  Yes, again I was wishing that I started at that pace.  It was so nice to be running with so many people I know.  So by the end of the day I did 22.5 miles of running.  At the end of the day, 15 people ran the full 34 miles.  Something like an event record, in this, it's 13th running.  Total mileage was the most ever also.

I was happy to have to milestones, of sorts.  This was a record distance in VFF's for me.  And the last time I went this far in one day was this event last year.  I had not been over 10 miles in 2011!

At the post-run picnic, much fun and beer was had.  Plus, the actual "Miracle on the Hudson" airplane parked at Johnson Park.  It was on its way to the Carolinas Aviation Museum.

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