Justin Freeman Blog Banner

Five years ago I ran a PR at the Lone Gull 10 km in Gloucester. I matched this time (31:36) three years ago at the James Joyce 10 km. Seventeen years ago, on the Tufts University track, I ran my fastest 10,000 m, in a time of 31:21.
Last year, despite a lackluster season, I went into Lone Gull hoping to set a PR, but missed by about 17 seconds. I knew I was running better this year, but signs were not good. I was on duty in the dorm, so I had to stay up past midnight the night before and then get up at 5:45 AM. Then I was tired and sluggish getting ready, so I didn’t arrive with as much time to warm up as I hoped. And then it was noticeably windy (yes, again – other people commented on it too). And while I didn’t know this at the start, I had failed to properly tie my shoes so that one would come unlaced with a mile to go in the race.
Even the start of the race was inauspicious. There was some confusion and delay, and then the start was with a police siren, and everyone took an extra second to start because no one realized that we were supposed to go.
For the first mile the substantial wind was at our back. I let the top five go and settled into the front of the chase pack, hitting the first mile in 4:50. I settled in behind a couple other runners for the second mile, as we contended with cross winds, taking the lead only on a very minor uphill. We hit two miles in 10 flat, and I thought about leading again, but the pace picked up and we had a nice group of five (places 7 through 11) go through three miles in 15:02.
At this point there was still a tight pack of five in front, with one runner in no man’s land, and then a group of five chasers. I made a decision that I would sit tight as long as I could and then move about a minute before the five mile mark. We cruised through four miles in 20:10. On a slight rolling section someone pushed the pace, I moved toward the front, and then we were four. I settled back in behind, out of the wind.
At 24:00 into the race I went to the left side of the group and attacked. Almost simultaneously – I don’t think it was a response – one of the other racers attacked as well. I had more in me, and by the time I passed five miles in 25:09 I was all alone. Around this time I realized that one of my shoes was coming untied. I could not – and cannot – believe I made such an amateur mistake. Still, the shoe was on tightly enough and while I made very slight adjustments to my stride to avoid stepping on my laces and tripping, I mostly just continued.
Ahead of me a couple runners had fallen off the front group and were coming back a little, but I had no hope to catch them. I just focused on running a fast, even pace, and went through six miles in 30:11 and cruised in to finish in seventh place at 31:18. This smashed my PR from age 20 and proved that I still have some very fast races left in me. Suddenly, this whole season seems a lot more successful, and I am excited to take down my five mile PR next summer, and maybe even find a track meet where I can better my 800 m and mile marks which both date from high school.

Comments are off for this post

I almost called this post Racing in Vermont, but I think what my last two races really have in common is racing for position rather than time. This tends to be hard for me – patience has never been my strong suit, but with practice maybe it can be.

My plan at Race to the Top of Vermont was to hope that Eric Blake was too tired/happy after his solid race to want to race, and then to draft Josh Ferenc for three and a half miles before attacking near the top. The first part worked, but those that clicked on the link above will know that Josh has been prepping for a 59 km race in Columbia and so was unavailable to race up Mt Mansfield. This left me thinking it could be an easy day. Still, I tried to run contained. I sat up the steep first pitch, then made a small move by accelerating on the nearly flat section right afterwards. Only two runners went with me. I didn’t make them lead, but I consciously ran hard but controlled on the steeper parts and fast on the flats. By a mile and a half I was all by myself. It was tempting to go after Ferenc’s time from two years ago (the second fastest running time, I believe) or at least to try to better my own time from last year. But I was focused on staying consistent and having something to give just in case one of the runners behind me was stronger than I thought.
Thus I arrived at the top four seconds slower than last year, but first by a minute and a half. It was a beautiful day and I jogged on to the actual summit before heading down.

That was over a week ago. Yesterday I raced the GMAA Labor Day 15 km in Burlington. With two sub-2:20 marathoners in the field, I had no aspirations of victory, so I again started conservatively. Five runners were off the front (Ruben Sanca and Nate Jenkins, the aforementioned runners, two Kenyans from my running club, and Ryan Place – though I only learned who he was after seeing the results). It was very windy (I know, I keep writing about the wind, but it is true, very windy this year) and so I had to make a choice between chasing the leaders who took it out in 4:55 and sitting in the chase group at 5:25. I sat in the chase group.
The group swelled to maybe a dozen runners after the first mile, and was still large at two miles (10:46). We went though the 5 km in 16:40 with still a fair number of runners. I am proud to say that at this point I had never shown my face at the front, just letting others do the work. I did lead a bit in the second 5 km, but not a lot and only when running with the wind. By 10 km (33:20) we were a pack of three, and bearing down on my teammate Peter Omae. I started to push the pace here, and we passed and dropped Peter and then it was just me and one other runner. I traded leads with him all the way until 9 miles, when I attacked. I had quite a lot left; I put nine seconds into him in a third of a mile, and he was nearly caught by the two runners behind. I finished in 49:30, meaning that my final 5 km was 16:10, half a minute faster than the previous two. I like to think I could have run maybe 30 seconds faster in different circumstances, but I earned a solid fifth place finish, and I don’t think I was strong enough to take the guy in fourth no matter what, so I am calling it a good day of racing.

Comments are off for this post

On Thursday I raced the Cigna Elliot 5 km road race in Manchester NH again. I’m not sure how many times I have raced it, but I have been going since at least 1995, though I missed most of 1998-2005…
Anyway, the race is usually dominated by a literal busload of Ethiopian, Kenyan, and occasionally Moroccan runners based out of New York, but there is still a chance of prize money because they pay $250 to every runner under 14:50. I have done this twice, once by six seconds, once by about half a second. Given my season so far, my early goal of a PR (14:43 or better) seemed like a stretch but I thought I could make some money. There is also a $100 bonus to the fastest NH runner, an honor I have achieved three times.
At the start line it seemed this goal would be easier. There were only four Africans there, two men and two women. Making money by being in the top five seemed possible.
At the gun Abiyot Worku took the early lead, with Brian Harvey (a grad student I have been racing for at least four years) in his draft. And with the strong headwind the draft meant something. Within a few hundred yards I was starting to drift behind them and ended up drafting Abu Kebede. We were losing time on the two leaders but gaining time on the field, as the wind seemed to keep back the usual pack of fast starters.
After leading me for about 500 meters, Kebede suddenly pulled aside and made me lead. At fifty pounds more than Kebede, I imagine I offered him a far better draft that he gave me. I only lasted about 400 meters before asking him to lead again, and I drafted about another 400 meters…just before the mile mark (4:52) he as starting to fade again and I retook the lead.
In retrospect this might have been a mistake, but Harvey had been dropped and as we continued into the wind I thought I was catching him a bit. At about a mile and a quarter there is a sharp left turn out of the wind, and I continued to lead Kebede through this corner, not really gaining on Harvey but not losing anything either.
With the wind no longer an issue there seemed to reason to ask Kebede to lead, and he was content to draft me. We went through two miles in 9:32, and I kept ahead of him down the minor hill at this point.
Over the last mile Kebede seemed to slow a couple times, and I made three separate surges to try to gain a permanent advantage. On the second surge I think I had a very small gap, but he rallied to catch back up and I was unable to shake him.
As we rounded the final turn and approached three miles, I tried very hard to find some sprint in my legs. I wasn’t very successful, and with 150 meters to go Kebede easily kicked past me, opening up a gap of two seconds. I finished in 14:57, not quite the time I was hoping for, but solid nonetheless, and I believe 4th place plus first NH finisher is worth four hundred dollars, so it is hard not to be satisfied with the day.

Comments are off for this post

I guess I have been too busy spending time with my family and sneaking out for the occasional race to keep the blog updated, so I will have to do four race reports in one. A week after Mount Washington I raced the Tilton-Northfield 5 km, winning easily in about 15:40. This is a solid time, but not quite as fast as my best, which has been a theme this summer.
Next up was the Woodstock VT 7.2 miler on the Fourth of July. Again I won comfortably, and again I ran a solid time, 39:26, but well off my best (which is probably in the archives of the blog somewhere, maybe 40 seconds faster).
I didn’t race for much of July, with fun obligations on the weekends, but my training was solid: over 80 miles and at least two solid intensity sessions each week. I went into the Yankee Homecoming race in Newburyport thinking I had an outside chance of setting a PR. I ran solid for six or seven miles, battling it out with Brandon Newbould. Around seven miles we caught up with the runner in 3rd place, who had gone out way too fast. We started to gap him, but he rallied and then he and Brandon pulled away from me. They both ran times near my best, and I stumble across the line 30 seconds later in 52:53. Not bad for 10 miles, but not quite what I hoped for.
I had a fourth race in the same vein this weekend. I raced the Bridge of Flowers 10 km for sixth or seventh time. My best time on the course (32:06 – which is quite fast given the huge hill) would have won last year, and I thought I had the fitness to achieve that time. I executed well for the first four miles; I was five seconds behind the two Kenyans who were leading at two miles, I let them open up to about 15 seconds on the first half of the hill, and then I ran hard on the last stretches of the hill and over the top to be within seven seconds at three miles. On the screaming-fast fourth mile I ran around 4:45 to maintain my position, but on mile five I fell apart, running about 5:08 and giving up 20 seconds. I rallied in the last mile, going under five minutes and losing negligible time, but the damage was done and I finished in 32:28, a little over 30 seconds out.
Overall, this seems to be the second-best running season of my life, which is no small feat at age 37. But given how well training has gone, and given how fast I was coming into the season, I am starting to fear that I may never match the running prowess I had three years ago, and that my age is actually becoming a limiting factor in my fitness. In four days I have a 5 km race. We’ll see what happens there.

Comments are off for this post

Yesterday I ran the Mount Washington race for the fifth year in a row. I went in feeling strong; I thought I had a good chance to run my best time ever, possible taking my record from 66:28 to sub-65:00. I also, based on results sheets, thought that I should have the Crossan Cup for the fastest New Hampshire pretty well wrapped up, so that there was no reason not to be bold in going for that record.

The race started well enough. At the start line, the started told us that the race would start with the cannon. Then he paused for a beat, as if he were about to give more instructions–and then the cannon went off. There was an extra jolt of adrenaline as people tried to react, and I found myself leading the race 50 meters in. As we came to the actual climb 100 meters later, I allowed a pack of nine to form ahead of me, and was running at the front of a small chase pack.

I have never been the kind of runner who hits his watch mid-race to collect splits. In most races I can remember them, and in others it doesn’t seem to matter, but at Mount Washington I am often curious about my splits but never can keep them straight. But I think my first two miles were a little slower than they should have been. By the one mile mark a few runners had fallen off of the lead pack and I was running in a group of three (fighting for eighth place) and watching 6th and 7th place not so far ahead of me. Not much changed for the next two and a half miles. I went through the halfway point in around 31 minutes, possibly on pace of 65:00 but suddenly feeling very tired. I let the two runners I was with go and suffered for the next mile. At five miles Zach Caldwell gave me a feed. He was helpful and supportive, and the calories definitely helped, because I started running a little better.
Somewhere in there I realized that Brandon Newbould had closed to only about 20 second back from me. My first reaction was despair–I didn’t think I had much left. Then I thought I should go hard for a few minutes to bluff. Then I figured he wouldn’t even notice, that he just had his head down and was trying to run up the hill, and I did the same.
Around a mile to go–as I often do–I got an extra surge of energy. I was still mostly running away from Brandon but I started catching up to Dan Princic as well. Will less than I minute to go I surged past him. He said “Well played,” but didn’t otherwise respond. I had to sprint up the final climb (a bit of a contradiction, but extremely painful nonetheless) to make sure I stayed ahead of him. I almost caught the 8th place finisher in the process, but settled for 9th place, in 66:29, one second slower than three years ago.
After the race, with a winter hat, pants, gloves, and three layers on top I started down with Kris (15th, three minutes behind me) to look for our father, who was running his first Mount Washington in 20 years. It was so cold that we ended up huddled out of the wind on some warm rocks. Fortunately he had a good day, finishing in 1:43:00 and first of 33 runners in his age group. As soon as he was past we went back and took shelter in the car.

Comments are off for this post

I have been busy with my daughters over the past couple of weeks, and that doesn’t seem likely to change, but I thought I would write a quick update on my racing, at least. Last Sunday, Fathers’ Day, I ran the Ribfest 5 Miler in Merrimack, NH. I was hoping to set a PR…which basically means breaking 25 flat (why this is “basically” true is a story for another time). With a very strong field lined up at the start (this was a USATF-NE Grand Prix event) it seemed I was set up to be pulled to a good time.
Unfortunately, the weather had different ideas. After a potentially frantic but remarkably calm 180 degree turn 150 meters into the race, followed by a short climb, we started north on route 3. There was a headwind of at least 10 miles per hour, with stronger gusts. Route 3 is many lanes wide so we were getting the full force of the wind with no trees to mitigate it. The lead group of about 10 runners bunched together, and the first two miles felt remarkably like a bike race, with the stronger runners taking turns pulling at the front. We went through 2 miles in a tight bunch at 10:07. At this point there was a stretch of minor road with little wind and the racing really began. Jeff Viega, Brian Harvey, and Nate Jenkins were quickly off the front and gained 20 seconds on me by mile 3, which I hit in 15:09 in 8th place. Through the fourth mile I passed two runners and gained on 4th and 5th place (while also gapping the rest of the field), but even though it was downhill with the wind I hit 4 miles in 20:14 (perhaps the markers were not perfectly accurate?) I pushed hard to finish in 6th place at 25:09, a very solid effort for me given the conditions and competition.

Since I am blogging, I should mention that I ran the Wachusett Mountain race a couple weeks ago. This was a 5 km up Mt Wachusett followed immediately by a 5 km back down. I went in thinking that based on the names on the result sheet from last year and their times that I had a good chance to win. That was my primary goal, and I figured to achieve this I would need a gap at the top of the course and to run faster than last year’s winning time. I managed both secondary goals, holding a 10+ second lead at the top of the climb and then running a series of miles in well under 5 minute pace to finish in 35:43, 7 seconds under last year’s winning time. Unfortunately about 500 meters into the downhill Eric MacKnight came flying by me and put 50 seconds on me by the time we were done.

Anyway, two solid races, and I feel good heading into Mount Washington this Saturday. Sometime in the next three weeks I will write the report on that race :-)

Comments are off for this post

Yes, this is the kind of blog post title that is just begging to be mocked on the next nordic ski humor/satire/news site, but since being mocked on such sites seems to be my niche, I might as well go with it. Anyway, I ran my favorite 4 times 2 miles in level 3-ish workout today. I can never remember my times year to year, and fast times suggest just as much that I was out of level than that I am fit, so it doesn’t matter. I do know that I have rarely managed to go faster on the second two intervals than on the first two, no matter how slow I start or fast I finish, so this felt good: 11:45 (up) – 10:55 (down) – 11:27 (up) – 10:45 (down). I was working the downhills a bit more than usual as I will be running the Wachusett Mountain 10 km this weekend: 5 km of 7.5% climb followed by 5 km of 7.5% descent. We’ll see how that goes.

Oh–if you’ve read this far you might want to note that I added a second recipe to that portion of the web page.

Comments are off for this post

Have to pause and actually make a blog post after reading this article about myself. What I like this the links to five year old blog posts. Somebody has done their homework.
And I must admit, when I am digging deep in level four intervals, I am sometimes in the midst of a comeback and then some that has me contending for the win in a World Cup (though even in these fantasies there are extenuating circumstances like reduced field size and tricky waxing…). And I certainly did enjoy finding my name ahead of Patrick Caldwell’s on the results sheet one time this winter. It is not unreasonable to argue that getting beat more than once in a fair race by an 8-years-retired father-of-two schoolteacher should be grounds for getting cut from just about any team…but by that standard there wouldn’t be a lot of aspiring skiers left in the East.
Not sure when I next race (definitely have three races coming in June, but May schedule is crazy). This week had two good days on the track: 4 by (2 times 200 (200 rec) at 33, 1 times 800 (400 rec) at 2:20) and three days later five times a mile at 5:15 (actually the last one at 5:12) with one minute recovery between miles. Historically those are solid workouts for me in May. Some level three on the roads is coming soon.

Comments are off for this post

I never reported on the last day of the Craftsbury Spring Tour–I had the fourth fastest split (or fifth if you count Russell Currier, who did not race the tour but jumped in the pursuit and skied to a convincing second). I actually had a good look at second place overall (maybe 20-25 seconds ahead) around 10 km in, and at about that time I briefly held sixth place, but I faded in the first lap and was not able to finish better than seventh. Which still isn’t bad for a full-time teacher and father.

I had lower ambitions and expectations for my race this weekend. I have run about 150 miles since January, and the only fast thing I had done since November was five times 150 meter speeds on Saturday, the day before my first race. But my team needed me, so I was on the start line for the An Ras Mor 5 km yesterday morning. I thought that 15:50 was a reasonable, if ambitious goal, and as such I really didn’t want to go out faster than 5:05. But at one miles I was 4:59. I thought I was fading a bit in the second mile, but I hit that in 9:58. I couldn’t explain why I could still run that fast, but there I was. I was nervous about attacking, even though I was a few seconds from the top 10, but I pushed a little harder than I thought was wise in order to stay in contact. Over the last 500 meters I tried to make a move, but I was swiftly reminded that I might be able to hold an impressive pace, but that developing a kick requires some actual time on the track, and so I coasted across the line in 13th place, 15:28. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come this running season!

Comments are off for this post

I am finishing my season once again with the 3 day mini-tour at Craftsbury. It is a nice way to end the season, since it is a race I try really hard in but that many skiers don’t seem to care as much about (although I did overhear one Darmouth skier who cares enough to say “I can’t believe I got beat by Justin Freeman!”). I was seventh on the first day, in the classic prologue. I followed that up today with 15th in the sprint qualifier (I had a good pair of zero skis–haven’t touched them since I put travel wax on 13 months ago) and ended up 17th on the day. I was 1.26 seconds from making it into the semifinals as a lucky loser. I think I could have done it, too, if I had been smarter tactically…
Anyway, unless I miscalculated I will start tomorrow’s pursuit in bib 11 and I will be aiming to duplicate last year’s top five finish–something I think I can do. We’ll see…

Comments are off for this post