Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Race Recap: The Unite Rutgers Half Marathon

Brace yourselves. This is an entry about running.

Yeah, I’m still doing it on a fairly regular and serious basis. A co-worker asked me yesterday if I just drank beer now which was simultaneously flattering and concerning. I've actually been training for the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington (May 24th) since February, but have spared everyone the (boring) details of speed workouts and long runs. To sum it up as briefly as possible: Things are going frighteningly well. Workouts, sleep, overall health: A+ for all three. Ok, maybe B+ for sleep, but that’s as good as it gets for me. I’m choosing not to over-analyze that and just keep on keeping on as they say.

Sunday was my first chance to see how all the miles and tough efforts translated to a race setting. My best bud/training partner Josh and I signed up for the Unite Rutgers Half Marathon for a couple of reasons:

1. It’s 6 weeks out from the marathon which leaves maximum time for recovery and to               work on any weak spots.
2. It’s a fairly big race (6,000) with a top three finishers historically somewhere in                         the 1:10-1:12 range.                             
3. The course has a lot of turns, but looks flat.
4.  It’s free (if you have run 1:11 or faster)
5.  Finisher’s medal that has a spinny-thing in the middle. 

The original goal was to run together, PR and possibly go 1-2. But the best laid plans...well, you know the rest. Josh got sick the week of the race and couldn't run although he did still drive me to New Brunswick and provide invaluable moral and logistical support before, during and after the race. I adjusted my goals accordingly. I ran my half-marathon PR (1:11:19) under perfect conditions in the 2012 NYC Half Marathon. I had one of the best runners I know pacing me. The weather was ideal and the course was fast. Not to mention I was in really good shape. The stars will probably never align like that again. That’s not defeatist. It’s realistic. I’m cool with that PR. Regardless, a much smaller race that would likely be a solo effort was not exactly the best setting to even attempt breaking it.
On the starting line. Photo Credit: Josh Lerch

Based on workouts, I toed the line hoping to run somewhere in the 1:12s and finish in the top 3. The night before the race I came up with a simple race plan.

1. Go out at 5:30 pace – no faster. Don’t freak out         about 5:35. If 5:25s feel possible in the latter                 half of the race, go with it.
2. Run perfect tangents. The course has many             turns, some of them very sharp.
3. Do what it takes not to end up no-man’s land.

As soon as the race started, I took the lead which would have been a mistake if I weren't right on pace. By the end of the first mile, I was in a pack with three guys. This lasted until mile three when one of the guys picked up the pace and another fell off. Going with the guy in first would have been a suicide mission. I thought about it briefly, picking up the pace to 5:20 for mile 3. Then, I made a decision that goal number one trumps goal number three and there I was in no man’s land. The next six miles were near perfect. In fact, miles 1-9 were right on pace ranging from 5:28-5:34 with the exception of the 5:20. I was 34:00 at 10k and 36:02 at the halfway point. The course was not nearly as flat as I expected. There were no major hills, just several small climbs that added up. I was running perfect tangents with my GPS watch beeping at each mile marker. The course was a bit unorthodox. It was mostly within the Rutgers campus and utilized service roads and even a greenway. There were three spots where you had to turn around at a cone. I also found it odd there was not a single clock on the course.

Thumbs up still at mile 6
After passing mile 9 in 5:28 I was pretty confident my average pace wouldn't drop too dramatically over the last four miles and 1:12:xx was in the bag. I was feeling tired and lonely, but I was mentally still in the game. My watched clicked over to mile 10 before I saw the mile marker, but I figured I’d see it soon. Another minute went by before I got to the official marker. Had I really just run a 6:42 mile? While Garmins are certainly not 100% accurate, I was certain I hadn't and things would sort themselves out. At this point, I could see the guy in third was closing the gap on me. I must not have been thinking straight because my reaction was one of relief. I figured when he caught me I could just stay with him. We hit mile 11 (still way off) and he was right on my shoulder. We stayed stride for stride for the next 1.75 miles, our pace at a steady 5:40 with both a new headwind and exhaustion contribute to the slowdown.

With just over a quarter mile to go (on my watch – I was still hoping the course would even out), I made a move and pulled away by two strides. It was all I had left and in my head, I knew if he came back, I’d be a sitting duck. I couldn't see the finish line, but imagined it was right around the next turn. I made the turn and was staring up at a hill. The finish line was at least 400 yards away. I had gambled and lost. I held on to 5:30 pace for the next quarter mile even as I got passed and fell to third place. I crossed the line in 1:13:55 well short of any primary, secondary or even tertiary goals I had set for myself.

1, 2 & 3 
I hate when runners complain a course is long or short. When I ran the Runners World Half Marathon in October, I didn't get a perfect 13.1 on my watch either, but it was within what I would call the normal range. In fact, I don’t think I've ever run a race of any distance that measures perfectly on the GPS. That’s a given. But .20-.25 is pretty significant. In the 24 hours after the race it was hard not to think about it. I needed some sort of validation. I emailed the race director who confirmed that Rutgers campus security made them change the course just one hour before the race. They had to move mile 10 at 7:05am. She said it had been hastily re-marked and re-measured, but obviously not re-certified.

Despite how it might sound, I really enjoyed this race. It was well-organized and well-attended. The parking situation was convenient. There were ample porta-potties. The water stations were well-staffed and evenly-placed. The t-shirts were dri-fit and decent quality. And get this: The awards were early! The trophies were big enough to pour a beer in which is also a plus. The long course appears to have been because of circumstances outside the race director’s control and they responded to my inquiry almost immediately. In a time where road races have been turned into big-corporate money makers where runners pay absurd amounts of money to literally be a faceless number, it’s nice to run a race with 6,000 runners that has all the amenities of a big event but still feels like the people in charge are approachable.

The time on the clock may not have said what I had hoped, but I can walk away from this one feeling like I’m still on track. On to Burlington!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Week 7 & A Recap: 40 Beers 40 Nights

When I decided to drink 40 beers over the course of the 40 nights of lent, I sort of poked fun at the idea of sacrificing something. "I'm giving up not drinking a delicious beer every night." I said. For the first 36 days it was hardly a sacrifice. It was a joy. At some points I worried I might not be able to return to NOT drinking a beer after work. Then I got the worst cold of my life.

I've had a lot of colds. I come down with one roughly twice a year. I'm always a big baby about it.  I'm not exaggerating when I say this thing was a monster. It was concentrated evil. It came on quickly, lasted for three horrible days and then suddenly as it came it disappeared. At its apex I couldn't get out of bed or even open my eyes because of the pressure. Beer was out of the question. Joke was on me. I could have been a trooper and drank right through the cold, but I crumbled. It was just one night. Still, it took me off course and perhaps proved I'm not as tough as I set out to be.

It became 40 Beers 41 Nights which certainly doesn't have the same ring to it. Here are the final four.

Wednesday - Hotter than Helles - Cigar City Brewing (Helles Lager 5%) - I picked this beer because I could feel the cold coming on and I didn't want to waste something hoppy and flavorful on weakened taste buds. The guy who writes Drunkspin recently described Helles Lager as the kind of beer you would serve to your buddy who prefers a Bud to a craft beer. It's a very malty, generic tasting style. It's neither offensive or remarkable. I don't particularly like it, but if I am going to drink a Helles Lager, it's going to be from Tampa's excellent Cigar City Brewing.

Thursday - Nyquil - Proctor and Gamble (Cough Syrup 10%) - As a person with a life long aversion to liquid medicine, I had never cracked a bottle of a Nyquil. That's how bad this cold was. Nyquil pours a dark, creamy green. It has aromas of melted down Vicks Vapor Rub and unrecognizable chemicals. The initial taste is mint and nail polish remover with hints of tears. It finishes with the taste of regurgitation. Seriously. How did kids drink this stuff to get wasted? I tried to do more than one shot one night and spit it right back out. I do not recommend this drink,

Friday - Trou Ble Some - Off Color Brewing (Gose 4.3%) -        
I wasn't quite ready to start drinking serious beer yet. When I saw this at Whole Foods on a cough drop and Kleenex run, I remembered Lauren buying a bottle at one of our favorite beer bars and thought it would be light enough to drink while ill. It's a Gose which means it's unfiltered with a low ABV and devoid of any hop taste. This particular beer contains coriander. I didn't look it up myself, but I am sure if you Google "is coriander good for a cold?" someone on the internet will tell you it is. This beer reminds me a lot of Dogfish Head's Namaste. It's very light, but full of spice and citrus flavors. It's not something I gravitate toward, but a great representation of its style.

Saturday - Wookey Jack - Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Black Ale 8.3%) - I couldn't finish his list without something from California's stellar Firestone Walker. Wookey Jack is a heavier, darker version of its signature Union Jack IPA. Wookey is hard to nail down. While technically a black ale, it has characteristics of a stout/porter and a double IPA the latter of which I think it most resembles. This is a very hoppy beer with a lot of different tastes classically found in darker IPAs. There's some chocolate and coffee and at the end there is a nice bitterness. This beer isn't available year round, so I am glad I got my hands on a bottle.

Sunday - Flower Power - Ithaca Beer Company (IPA 7.5%) - I wanted to end with a beer that had some sentimental meaning behind it. As I mentioned earlier, my go-to beers used to be Sam Adams Boston Lager and Guinness. These are still beers I will happily drink today. But, when I was drinking them on a regular basis, the concept of a hoppy beer was foreign and something I had little appetite for. I grew up in the Finger Lakes and Flower Power was the beer that changed my mind. It was widely available and at first it didn't taste good to me at all. After I tried it a few times, I developed a real taste for it. This beer has still got it. It's a consistently good IPA with a bit of a sweet malty taste and an incredibly refreshing finish. This is what an IPA should be.

Alright, here's the hard part. Ranking the beers. If I made this list tomorrow everything from 6 on would probably be a in a different order. I would enthusiastically drink beers 1-33 on this list any day. I love the breweries from 34-39, but those beers are ranked low because of the style. I would rather not drink beer than drink number 40 again.

1. Lawson's Finest Liquids - Sip of Sunshine
2. Russian River Brewing - Pliny the Elder
3. Bear Republic - Big Bear Black Stout
4. Ballast Point - Grapefruit Sculpin
5. Fiddlehead - Second Fiddle
6. The Alchemist - Heady Topper
7. Gun Hill Brewery - Void of Light
8. Founders Brewing Company - Breakfast Stout
9. Singlecut Beersmiths - Bon Bon 2x TNT
10. Lagunitas Brewing Company - Cappuccino Stout
11. Green Flash Brewing Company - West Coast IPA
12. Maine Beer Company - Weez
13. Ithaca Beer Company - Flower Power
14. Schlafly Beer - Tasmanian Style IPA
15. NoDa Brewing - Hop Drop & Roll
16. Sam Adams Beer Company - Rebel IPA
17. Brooklyn Brewery - Blast!
18. Oskar Blues Brewery - Ten Fidy
19. Firestone Walker Brewing Company - Wookey Jack
20. Andean Brewing Company - Kuka Coffee & Cream Stout
21. Sixpoint Brewery - Sweet Action
22. Stone Brewing Company - Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean
23. Triple C Brewing - Baby Maker
24. Alphabet City Brewing Company - Alpha Male
25. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Big Foot Ale
26. Troegs Brewery - Nugget Nectar
27. Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Also - Palo Santo Marron
28. Otter Creek Brewing Company - Citra Mantra
29. Green Flash Brewing Company - Palate Wrecker
30. New Glarus Brewing Company - Spotted Cow
31. Flying Dog Beer - Gonzo
32. Great Lakes Brewing Company - Commodore Perry IPA
33. Southern Tier Brewing Company - 2x Stour
34. Off Color Brewery - Trou Ble Some
35. Boulevard Brewing Company - Tank 7
36. Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project - Jack D'Or
37. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales - Calabaza Blanca
38. Evil Twin Brewing - Low Life
39. Cigar City Brewing - Hotter Than Helles
40. Cricket Hill Brewery - East Coast Lager 

Let's break it down.
Breweries: 39 (I regret drinking 2 Green Flash beers. Even though they were both delicious)
Number of states represented on list:  17
New York - 9 
California - 9
Vermont - 4
Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina - 2
Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Wisconsin - 1

Boroughs of New York City: 4. Get it together Staten Island!

Styles of Beer
Double IPA - 10
IPA - 7
Stout - 7
Cream Ale, Saison, Black Ale, Porter, Helles/Pale Lager - 2
Amber Ale, Pilsner, Brown Ale, Barleywine, Witbier, Gose - 1


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Week 6: 40 Beers 40 Nights

The more hoppy beer you drink, the harder it is to enjoy the lighter stuff. It’s not that all lighter stuff is bad. It’s just that it stops tasting like beer and therefore doesn't satisfy that beer fix I find myself jonesing for at the end of a long night. Then again, maybe it’s just that it hasn't been warm yet this year and once the temperature spikes, witbiers and session lagers will be refreshing.

36 beers into this thing, I’m realizing something else. I’m running out of beers to try. There are way more than 36 beers out there, but I’m trying not to do the same brewery twice and I've nearly exhausted the beer stores most convenient to my home and office. I might have to get on a bus or a train to make the final week work.
Wednesday – Ten Fidy – Oskar Blues Brewery – (Russian Imperial Stout 10.5%) – I've always avoided purchasing this despite my curiosity because a 4-pack sells for $19. And this is not the kind of beer you are going to drink more than one of in a single sitting. I finally caved this week figuring what I didn't drink would age gracefully. Perhaps it costs so much because it looks and feels like crude oil. Ten Fidy pours a deep black and comes out of the can (stouts are best in a can) thick. You can smell the alcohol. Its taste is very creamy with a hint of chocolate and it’s not as boozy as a beer with such a high ABV could be. This is a great beer to sit and sip and I don’t think I’ll have a problem finishing off the other three.

ThursdayCalabaza Blanca – Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Witbier 4.8%) – See preamble. This is the polar opposite of the beer I drank last night. I've really enjoyed this beer in the past. This time, it went down like a cold glass of apple juice. I love a cold glass of apple juice, but not as a substitute for beer. This is a very citrusy, lightly carbonated beer that you could easily drink multiple bottles of on a hot day. I’ll come back to it when it’s 90 degrees.
That's Lauren's belly in the background

Friday – Alpha Male – Alphabet City Beer Company (IPA 7.2%) – After two nights of going to the extremes, it’s time to go back to the basic IPA. This one is from a small and relatively new brewery in Lower Manhattan, but it appears to have been contract brewed up in Clifton, NY (near Albany). I had heard good things, so I was happy to see it on the shelf at the Whole Foods on Columbus Avenue. This beer sets out to be hoppy, but is not meant to dominate your taste buds. It goes for subtle and it achieves that. Nothing about this beer was overly exciting, but it tasted nice and went down easy. At its current price, I’d buy it again.

Saturday – East Coast Lager Cricket Hill Brewing Company (American Pale Lager 4.0%) – I don’t know what possessed me to buy a beer with a 4% ABV and then to drink it on a Saturday night. I think I just saw that it was local and put it in my mix and match six pack. Listen, I don’t want to sound cruel, but I also don’t want to mince words. This beer is awful. It tasted like Miller Lite. Miller Lite is a fine taste if you bought a bunch of Miller Lites to pound during the NCAA Tournament. It’s not a fine taste when you aren't expecting it. I was drinking this with a buddy who’s reaction was “What is that taste?” That’s not a good first impression. Fortunately, I also drank a Stone Enjoy By 4.20.15 and a Boulevard Brewing The Calling on this night, both of which were delicious.
Monday – T IPA – The Schalfly Taproom (IPA 7.2%) – Today I started to come down with a cold. When your throat is scratchy and you have just a little bit of post-nasal drip, beer just doesn't sound as appealing. It doesn't taste as good either. I guess that’s where this really becomes a Lenten sacrifice. Saturday’s beer would have worked better today. Fortunately, my judgment wasn't too skewed to recognize that this Schlafly (which I had never heard of) selection is another excellent, drinkable IPA. It was very crisp and drinkable with no bitterness. When I think of beer from St. Louis, Missouri, I think of Budweiser. Now, I’ll think of this instead.

Tuesday – Kuka Coffee & Cream Stout – Andean Brewing Company (Sweet Stout       5.5%) – Before I cracked this beer, I googled “do coffee stouts contain caffeine?” Still not feeling well, I didn't want to lose precious sleep. I got distracted before I found a definitive answer and poured it anyways. It looked perfectly delicious in a coffee mug which I thought was appropriate. This beer is very new. I can’t find a whole lot about it on the beer internets. It’s local (Rockland County, NY) and is probably just now getting distributed. I’m always excited when I really enjoy a local beer. Of course, coffee stouts are my sweet spot, so unless you put battery acid in it, I’ll probably lap it up like a dog. This one features more of a coffee taste than a sweet taste. It’s smooth and low carbonation and would taste great with a slice of cake. 

Next Week: The Final Four Brews