Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TARC 100

The Trail Animals Running Club from Boston decided that there needed to be a 100 mile race in Massachusetts. So Josh Katzman and Bob Crowley created one. They also held a 50 miler at the same time. 25 mile loops repeated four times (twice for the 50 mile, duh) with very minimal elevation change; start it at night so the heat isn't much of an issue until the end of the race; add in a few aid stations, a drop bag at the start/finish and mile 4.5 and go run 100 miles. Simple enough. Better yet, slap on a cheap price tag and you've got a really great thing going!

Photo Ron Heerkens

After my Massanutten fiasco, I needed some redemption and this seemed like as good of a time as any: I still had a high level of fitness, I wasn't sick, and seriously, why not just get a redemption race over-with rather than string it out.

I signed up the week before, figured out a carpool with David and headed up there on Thursday night amid tornadoes,  pouring rain and generally unpleasant weather. Boston also got rain...which is relevant to the story. David and I slept a decent amount on Friday but just lounged for the most part (I'm still unsure of the connection between David and the guy who lived there) before heading out to the park in Weston, Mass where the race was held.

The VHTRC had a decent presence with 6 or 7 runners coming for the inaugural event. Skipping menial details of what kind of bagel I ate with "blank" amount of minutes before the start time...the pre-race meeting started at 6:30 where the race director told us about a little mud out on the course. A little mud. He also told us that volunteers were out on the course all night in the pouring rain marking the course. This course's map looked like a nightmare with more turns than anyone would care to count. Though, out of all the races I've run, this one was marked the most effectively. There was no way anyone could have gotten lost. They did an awesome job at that. 

At 6:57 we all lined up on the starting line awaiting the start. There were A LOT of starters. Especially for a first year race. I was very impressed. I think there were about 280 starters between the 50 and 100. At 7:00 pm on the dot, we all took off....some of us much faster than others. Seriously. People bolted. The majority of us made our way around the initial 4.5 mile loop in a very loose pack before getting back to the start/finish and starting the bigger loop; though, not before getting our feet nice and wet in several spots on the mini-loop. I felt very relaxed, and a little bit distant. I just made sure that I ate when I needed to, drank when I needed to and took care of myself nice and early.

The turn-filled course. 
After reaching the start/finish I grabbed my head-lamps and headed out very relaxed. I ran with Glen Redpath, Jack Pilla and Eric Ahearn (fast marathoner, first 100) and several others who I knew to be reasonably fast guys. Amid the normal banter we slopped around in the mud that was about shin deep in some spots, the creeks that were waist deep in some spots, and the sweet sweet single track. Somewhere in there, we switched on our headlamps and the crowd thinned. Glen and a handful of others went ahead, some fell behind, and some spent a few more minutes at the aid stations than others.

Towards the middle of the first loop I needed to relieve my bladder so I pulled off the side of the trail to pee. I knew Jack was behind me about a minute but it was dark and I figured he'd just pass - no questions asked (this is not at all uncommon BTW). I heard him coming up behind me but just as he passed me he tripped on a root and narrowly missed landing in my stream. We each had a chuckle and moved on.

I finished the first loop having no idea where I was in the pecking order. It was 25 miles in, and I didn't care. I switched out my gel flask, added the Heed powder to my bottle and moved on. So far, the mud was "noticeable." Even "very inconvenient" in spots, but the magnitude of the toll the shoe-sucking mud was taking on the field of runners was unbeknownst to me. After the first loop, roughly 60 runners dropped out between the two races.

The second loop was run entirely in the dark. I ran every step I could, nice and easy, just being patient. One of the coolest parts of the course were all the times you cross paths with other runners. No one had any idea where the other runner was in the course or where exactly they were, but all night you could see headlamps to your left, right, above and sometimes below you. You never felt completely alone in the woods. 

Around the 35 mile aid station I came upon Jack and Glen running together. I stayed with them for a bit and left to run my own race. Jack stayed with me for a bit but as we were fording one of the deeper streams he jammed his leg on a stump. The scream he let out was undeniably one of agony. He said he was fine so we moved on. I didn't get a good look at it but I know he wrapped it in a big bandage and later dropped because of it. I finished the second loop in the lead. The top two 50 milers had finished and my shoes were filled to the brim with grit, grime, mud and pebbles. At the start finish I took off my shoes and rinsed them out, took out the insoles to rinse those off and made sure my socks were clear of rocks. It only took about a minute per shoe, but it was well worth the time.

While I was doing that, Glen came into the aid station and we left together. We did the 4.5 mile section together and I could gauge how he was doing. When we got back to the start/finish I ditched my headlamps and left quickly. I knew Glen was a very strong runner, and would surely finish very strong. So when I left I didn't look backwards, I didn't ask aid station workers how far back he was (until mile 90), I just kept running. 

The mud was becoming really difficult and made me realize that it turned this very easy course into one that was actually pretty difficult. Aside from the mud it was VERY runnable and I made sure to keep running everything in the third loop. On some sections there were large fields we had to cross. They really were very peaceful. High grass with a heavily traveled trail across them made for a good spot to glance over my shoulder to see a minute or two behind me. I always expected to see Glen's red hat and jersey bobbing towards me, but I didn't.

I started lapping a few of the runners while I was on the third lap. We exchanged pleasantries but I didn't feel  much like talking. To be honest, the third lap was lonely. I didn't spend any more than a few seconds at any aid station and I just wanted to be done running.

Arriving back at the start/finish completing 75 miles, Josh the RD was there and he helped me with rinsing out my shoes and insoles. I wanted to make sure I could run the last 25 without any issues (at least to start). Josh was a brave man even coming within 20 yards of my shoes at that point. They'd been wet for many many hours and I can't imagine how they must have smelled.

I ran the 4.5 mile loop and passed a few more people, always exchanging "hellos" and "good jobs." Despite the circumstances of the race with the mud and difficulty, I had an immense amount of admiration for the people who were just starting their third loop. They were in for a looooong 2nd 50 miles but they were smiling and laughing and talking with the people they ran with and looked like they were just having a grand old time...all while their feet were in the process of rotting.
Josh the RD

Shortly after I left the start/finish for the last 20 miles my left knee stopped bending. It was really painful, but I just figured it was because I'd twisted my right ankle on the second loop and unknowingly favored my left leg. I realized that as long as I was running, it was manageable, but walking made me want to puke, so I didn't really have a choice. When I arrived at Ripley #1 (I think about mile 85ish) I stopped moving my leg to fill my bottles and eat a banana. It was probably the worst decision I made all day; my knee froze.
I limped out of the aid station seeing stars and I instantly felt the pain all the way into my stomach. I knew if I could just get momentum for running again, I'd be fine, but the momentum just wasn't there. I came up on a group of 3 guys just as we came up on a fairly deep stream (upper thigh depth) with a sign that warned "unstable rock wall." Two guys opted for the rocks, a guy with a pony tail and green shirt opted for straight through the water and so did I. Green shirt made it across before I did but as I got to the deepest part of the stream my foot slipped beneath a rock and twisted my left hurt knee. I must have let out quite the yelp because the pony-tailed man didn't miss a beat. He immediately turned around and offered a hand. I took his hand and he yanked me straight out of the water. It all happened so quickly and my vision started blurring the pain was so striking. I think (and hope) I muttered a "thank you" before leaving. I knew that I had to start running before I had too much time to think about my knee. So if you're reading this, green-shirted-pony-tail man, thank you.

I continued on and left the Ripley #2 (mile 90) aid station after finding out I had about 20 minutes on Glen. I left just after a couple guys. I reached them just after a stroll across a big field that gave way to some really deep mud. On one of the big spots, I fell into a mid-thigh deep hole under the mud and it tripped me enough to cause me to belly flop and plunge my hand-bottle deep into the muck. The two guys behind me made sure I was okay, I thanked them and ran on. If it's a secret so far, I appreciated all the help from the people on the course.

The rest of the section until I reached 97 I was looking over my shoulder. 20 minutes would be a lot to make up but it would be doable if Glen decided to burn it, and I knew it was not beyond him to do that. From the last time I left the Gun Club aid station (97) I knew as long as I kept running I could win. It was a very relaxing feeling, even though I wasn't relaxed. I reached the last mile, and the insane amount of mud that it held. I didn't waste time dancing around the sides. I was now covered from shoulders to the soles of my feet in black mud. I had nothing to lose, nothing to hold back, and no reason not to swim in the stuff.

I crossed the finish line in first in a time of 19:35:46. Not a PR but given the day, I'll take it.
Photo by Topham Photography

To add to the dramatics of the race, Padraig Mullens caught Glen and took 2nd in the last 3 miles finishing in 20:09:05; Glen Redpath rounded out top 3 with 20:15:46. On the women's side, Donna Utakis 1st in 22:37:27, Sara Walsh 2nd in 25:26:37, and Katya O'Hagan was 3rd in 26:40:17.

There were about 135 finishers between the 50 and the 100 with an attrition rate of 60%. AND 100% finishing rate for VHTRC. What's up!

The TARC 100 was a first year event, but ran very smoothly and professionally. Thank you to the RDs, the volunteers and especially Josh, who cleaned my shoes and socks and dumped water on me at the end. Way above and beyond RD duty. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Races as motivation

We all have motivation issues. Even the people that you only see (or forcibly read about on Facebook posts) waking up at 3 and 4 in the morning to get their 20 miles per day would rather sleep in. After working all day, of course it is more appealing to take a nap, or make a bag of pop corn and clock into your couch and waste away; only turning or moving to avoid getting bed sores. Instead of eating healthy foods, I think everyone would rather eat pizza for every meal followed by cake. Everyone is human. Even the serial Facebook informer.

Motivation is a funny thing. Dogs are motivated by food or by praise. Not surprisingly, people are motivated by the same things. Some people run or workout for the extra piece of cake. And some people run and workout to post their pictures and workouts to social media sites and receive "likes."

I've been listening to Ultrarunner Podcast quite a bit lately and I listened to a great one featuring Max King and then another one featuring Michael Wardian. Both are phenomenal runners. And both are extremely versatile. They win races both at the ultramarathon distance and also shorter distances of 5k, 10k and marathons. Aside from the fact that they are both versatile, and both speedy Olympic marathon trials qualifiers, they actually don't have much in common. King is built like a powerhouse who won the World Mountain Running Championships as well as the Olympic trials for steeplechase - Wardian is built closer to the Kenyans yet places 3rd at the Badwater 135 one week and wins an indoor marathon the next.

Whenever I listen to or read interviews, I try to apply something to my own running. Even though these guys are extremely out of my league in terms of being competitive they are perhaps the most relateable. They run. A lot. They race. A lot. But they don't just race one race. They race short and long and all types of terrain - road, trail, and track.

What do either of these guys have to do with motivation aside from the fact that they have enough to solve the obesity problem in this country?

With a looming race and a desire to perform, that could be all the motivation anyone needs. Any time someone comes into the running store telling us they have some problems staying motivated, we suggest they sign up for a race, it doesn't have to be long. But knowing that you have a race coming up, might give you a reason to lace up the shoes in the summer's humidity and go an extra mile or 5.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

MMT 100

Saturday I ran the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. Well, to be more specific, I started the race. But dropped out. I'm just now reaching a mindset that I'm able to look at the race from some sort of objective standpoint and dissect it to a point that makes any sense; without feeling like I "failed" or just came up with "excuses." That being said, the past couple days have largely been spent moping, being generally down, and genuinely sad about the way the race played out.

This was a race I had been looking forward to since December when I found out that I had gotten into the race. It had been a long time since I was truly looking forward to a race with happy anticipation. I've run races recently, but every race this year has been considered a "training run" for Massanutten. I had trained harder, and put in more miles, more long runs, I actually did some speed work, and purposely destroyed my feet every chance I got in giddy anticipation of the sheer amount of rocks on the Massanutten course. It's a home town course and I got out on it every chance I could. I even did the first 63 miles solo on a training run carrying my supplies the whole way. I trained to win this thing. I wanted a Virginia Happy Trail Runner's Club member to win it out-right. The women's side has been won by a VHTRC member for the past couple years, which is awesome, but I thought it'd be cool to bring it home for the men.

For some reason, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this race. There were several fast guys there who could possibly win and I knew who they were. If they beat me, I wanted it to be because they were faster, older, or more experienced. But I wanted to be sure I trained harder than them.

All of that being said, I guess it's time I explain what happened. Even now, the reasoning still sounds a little like excuses but it is what it is.

Katie and I got married on April 27th and it was awesome. The wedding and everything was such a blast. Afterward we went to Costa Rica on our honeymoon, which was also amazing. It is such a beautiful country and the people are very nice as well. The week before the wedding, I had my last really long runs. From there, it would be two weeks of just running to maintain fitness and a one week taper until the race. Everything went as planned. While in Costa Rica I didn't run much, but enough just to keep the legs moving. But as soon as Katie and I got back from CR, we both got pretty sick with some sort of intestinal thing. It wasn't pretty but we assumed it was something we ate since we didn't drink any local water because we'd been warned about that.

Fast forward to the Monday before the race, 10 days after we got back, and I was finally starting to feel better. Tuesday, I felt fine, so I thought it was a good ol' "game on" for the race. The whole rest of the week I felt fine, and when Friday afternoon rolled around, I found myself setting up my camping stuff with my dad for the night and listening to the pre-race brief.

Saturday morning, I woke at 2:44 buzzed. I was so ready, I woke up a minute before my alarm. I slept well, and even though I only slept about 4 and a half hours, it felt like enough. Besides, I was sure it was more than most people got. My dad and I got the crew gear ready, and I went over the specifics of what I needed where. He'd been to so many of my races, I think he knew all of it already but he listened anyway.

Fast forward to the start of the race, we all moved away from the safety of the start/finish line tent at 4:00 on the dot and into the darkness with headlamps bobbing. I wanted to make sure that I was never running any faster than was comfortable. After mile 70, if I felt like I could go harder, I would. But before then, I wanted to just cruise, no hard breathing. Even though I didn't feel like I was working hard, it didn't take long to get quite sweaty because of the humidity and lack of air flow.

We all made our way up Short Mountain in the dark, got to the ridge and ran along rather comfortably. No one took off at a sprint and that was fine. I wouldn't have followed if they did. It got light while we were just about to descend into the Edinburgh Gap (mile 12 ish) and a group of 5 or 6 of us got there a minute or two under two hours. I tossed my dad my headlamps and he was ready with replacement bottles. I grabbed a couple bananas and left for the next climb. Again, no hard work.
photo by Bobby Gill
On the next climb, I ran alone for the most part with Jason Lantz and Denis just ahead about a minute. On long straight stretches, I'd see them up ahead but I wasn't chasing them by any stretch of the imagination. Through Woodstock Tower, and Powell's Fort we all stayed within a minute or two. I imagined I wasn't the only one just cruising. No one looked to be working very hard.

The climb after Powell's Fort, I found myself in the lead and didn't see anyone behind me, but figured they weren't far behind. I got into Elizabeth's Furnace (33 ish) first, got new bottles from my dad and started up the Shawl Gap climb. On my way up I saw a black bear and as soon as it saw me, it turned around and fled. I thought it might have been a cub because it was pretty small which meant that mama bear was around somewhere, but I didn't see any others...though I stayed alert for awhile after that just in case.

Running down the backside of Shawl, I expected to see Jason because he tends to run more of the climbs earlier in the races. I saw my dad at the Shawl Gap aid station (38) and grabbed my pack since there would be a longer section coming up.
The race felt easy so far. I hadn't been working hard at all. I started imagining myself floating down the trail at mile 80 and 90 effortlessly. Jason came into the AS a minute or so later and we left about the same time. We ran the road section to Veach Gap (42) together and Jim Blandford (who would later win the race) joined us for the climb out of the aid station. Climbing out of there, Jason and Jim went on ahead during the long section. Right near the top of the climb, my calves and fore-arms started to cramp. It almost never happens to me, especially when I stay on top of my nutrition like I was doing that day. I took an extra Enduralyte and the issue dissipated pretty quickly. I thought it was nothing more than needing to bump up my salt intake for the day since it was so humid. I still felt fine, my legs still had a spring in their step, and everything else felt great.

Just before the Indian Grave AS (50) it happened again. At the aid station, Jim had already left. I ate salty foods and started the 4 mile road section to Habron Gap. Jason went ahead, and still, this early in the race, I didn't try to keep up. Though, about a mile before Habron, everything seized. My forearms cramped, as did my calves, and one quad. I, all of a sudden, didn't feel well. I got to the Habron Gap AS and told my dad I was cramping a lot and my pacer, Jeremy Ramsey, was there as well. He asked what I'd been taking and I told him. Everyone around us had a strange look on their face like, it sounds like you're doing everything right... Jeremy suggested maybe taking the next long section especially easy and seeing what I felt like at Camp Roosevelt.

The climb up Habron was slow to say the least. I didn't want to run it and made myself go even slower and tried to catch up on my nutrition. That was the only thing that I could imagine it could be. Once I reached the ridge, I ran easily what I could, but never pushed it. I felt like I was going so slowly, it was frustrating. While I was on the ridge, I realized something was wrong. I couldn't pin-point what it was. My head was foggy, my sight started getting blurry and I started seeing multiples of things. I slowed down and was drinking both electrolyte drink and water, and taking electrolyte tablets and eating gels and real food more frequently than I ever have in the past, and my condition seemed to be declining still.

Upon reaching Camp Roosevelt I sat down. I wasn't hungry because I'd been eating, but I ate anyway. I promptly threw it up. I felt like I was going to pass out so I lied on the cot they had set up and things got even foggier. Something was definitely wrong. I'd never experienced anything like that. After 10 minutes and talking to my dad and Jeremy we didn't know what to do. I couldn't imagine what could be happening and quite honestly, that scared me more than anything. Any time I'd had an issue in the past, I knew what could fix it. It was always fixed by a reset. Slow down, eat more, drink more, get on top of your salt and electrolytes and go through a "system restart" if you will. The only problem is that I'd been resetting since the top of the Veach Climb and I'd only declined.

Somebody asked if I'd been sick lately and suddenly it all made a little bit of sense. Except for Tuesday-Friday of last week, I'd been sick with whatever-it-was for the previous 10 days. That dehydrated me and trust me...I wasn't absorbing a whole lot of vitamins and minerals from my food during that time... My big question was whether or not it could be fixed in the course of the next 38 miles. So Jeremy and I left the aid station planning to just walk and see if I could feel better.

With my head still spinning and my vision still doubled, we started up the trail. As the climb turned steeper, I think I realized that I wasn't going to get better if I continued. I think I was in such a deficit, nothing would improve unless I stopped. My body was sending me a message, a rather strong one at that, to stop. And when I got to the Gap Creek Aid Station at mile 69.8, I listened to that message before it involved me passing out on the side of a mountain. I'd like to think that I made a smart decision to stop because I'm not sure what would've happened. Maybe I would have been able to death march it to the finish line. But maybe not. That's also not what I went to do. I wanted to run a race, win or lose, I wanted to at the very least lose the race while pushing myself and finishing.

I'm not sure how much more disappointed I could have been about it. But that's just the way things go sometimes.

I really appreciate my dad coming out and supporting me for the duration of the time I was out there. Also, Jeremy definitely kept me entertained out there on our stroll through the woods on the last section.
Thank you to both of you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

City Slicker

Saturday I moved from the suburbs to the big city. No, not in DC, but close, Rosslyn (just over the Key Bridge from DC). Katie and I are getting married at the end of the month (WIN) and so we found an apartment we could live in after the wedding. While she isn't moving in until after the wedding, I moved in on Saturday. It's a small apartment with nothing extra. Main room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom and plenty of windows. It's quaint and perfect for us.

I'm not going to lie, I kind of dreaded moving into the city. I think I was more nervous about moving into a city than I am about getting married (I'm just plain excited for that!). The last real city I lived in was Richmond, but Richmond has a sweet trail system and the James river to escape the skyscrapers and business people. Rosslyn has the Custis Trail, which leads to the W.O.&D. trail....but all 40 some miles of that are paved, and are FLOODED with high-speed bike commuters. It's pretty much like running on the road, except running the road is probably safer with some of the sound-barrier-breaking speeds these bikers are riding. I thought I was going to have to succumb to all roads until the weekends, when I could head out to the mountains.

Then I remembered a couple years ago I ran the Potomac Heritage 50k put on by the VHTRC. I didn't actually run the whole thing - a strange sharp pain in my foot scared me into dropping after 14 miles or so since I was leaving for my cross country trip two months later. But from what I did remember it was largely on a trail, so I looked up the route and saw that it crossed the Key Bridge (.9 miles from my new crib) and got on the Potomac Heritage Trail and stayed on it for 10 miles in one direction. Saturday was spent organizing stuff in the new place (and realizing I have way more crap than I thought I did). But Sunday, I decided I'd go out and explore this trail.

I ran down the .9 miles to the trail and have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The beginning, and parts of the trail are pancake flat and smooth as butter, all while cruising right along the Potomac River. These parts are aesthetically pleasing, and mentally rejuvenating, but about as physically demanding as watching TV. Though other parts of it beg for slightly more attention while picking your way through large rocks and roots, at times seeming a lot like the Massanutten course in terms of the amount of rocks. There are even some pretty steep hills. I decided to run the whole trail end to end and back to my new place while adding in some of the little side trails and it made for a good day exploring. It put my mind at ease in terms of living in the city knowing this little gem is close by.

Monday, April 1, 2013

More pics than words.

What a week. All last week I was battling a serious cold and so I didn't get much running done. I had initially planned on running the first 30 or so miles of the Massanutten course on Saturday because I'd never been on that part of the course before. Dave said he wanted to come out and leapfrog so he could get some miles in and provide a bit of aid. I don't really feel like writing about it. I had no energy since I was still a little sick (which I didn't really realize until I started running), but I did it, and took some pictures and by the end, I wasn't sick anymore. Here they are. 
Western Ridge of the Massanuttens 
The trail and leaning trees coming down from Short Mountain into Edinburg Gap

Vista in front of Woodstock Tower

Looking back toward the climb up Blue  

Feeling like a champ...or not. 

Top of some mountain. Maybe Signal Knob but I doubt it. 

The water was clear 
The End.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50k

You win some and you lose some, and sometimes you take a wrong turn less than a mile from the end go an extra 1.5 miles out figure out this can't be right and turn around to add an extra 3 and really lose some.

I had never run Terrapin before, but always wanted to. This year, I was able to. I drove down on Friday afternoon and picked up my friend, Matt from JMU on the way. We were planning on going by Clark Zealand's (race director) running store, The Aid Station, then going to the start line where they had packet pickup. The Aid Station was very impressive. It's all the trail shoes and stuff for ultra and trail running you see on-line but no one carries in stores because there's not a "big enough demand for it." Well, the Aid Station is where it all is.

Matt and I arrived at the starting line around 6 o'clock to the smell of fresh pizza from a Domino's truck. That truck rules and if I ever win the lottery, I'm buying one complete with a staff to just live in the back and bake me hot fresh pizza at all hours of the day. Anyway, we spent the evening visiting with friends, eating pizza, and enjoying the cool mountain air. Oh, and Matt didn't bring a jacket or coat to camp in March. Lucky for him, I brought an extra couple layers. He probably would've died of exposure if I hadn't. I probably saved his life, no big deal.

Terrapin Mt evening before race
 The temperature probably only dipped down to the low 20s that night, I doubt much lower but it was chilly. We awoke the next morning to Clark's voice over the loud-speaker. "Good morning everyone, please check in....we have coffee for you." The man was luring us all out of our toasty sleeping bags with the promise of caffeine and warmth. The problem was, there was a bridge of chilly air between the starting and ending stages of warmth.

Fast forward, to the race: we started with the sound of a gong. A real one, made by the cymbal company Zildjian. I didn't stick around to ask them who's gong is was. We were off. The group off the front was sizable containing both the 50k race and the 1/2 marathon race. Down the road we made a left, then we made a SHARP LEFT and a SHARP RIGHT. These directions would be important later...but then again, opening my eyes would've been more helpful.

I had a goal to finish under 4:30 just based on what people I knew had done. After a mile we started to climb a little more gradually people spaced out a bit and I ran in a group with Jordan Whitlock, Neal Gorman, and a guy named Ryan Welts who was from New Hampshire. Frank, Sam, and a guy everyone just referred to as "the 2:30 marathoner" took the first climb to Camping Gap #1 a little more ambitiously than we did. The four of us traded spots a couple times up the first almost 2,000' climb but were all within about 2 minutes of each going through the top of the climb. Immediately following the aid station at the top, we descended the other side of the mountain. Neal blew us away and seemed to be making a break for the leaders as expected. Jordan, Ryan and I ran pretty conservatively down the other side blowing through the second aid station.

Toward the bottom, I pressed on and went through the third aid station without stopping. I saw Neal up ahead during the next climb and figured I was staying about a minute behind him consistently. I caught him after we entered the steeper single track on our way back to Camping Gap #2 and Ryan caught up with me again. Neal said something about not feeling great, which would explain why we caught him. Ryan and I ran all the way back through the fourth aid station and up to Camping Gap #2 together. We were running pretty conservatively I think but still not going too slowly either. On some of the switchbacks we could look behind us to see if there was anyone coming for us, and we didn't see anyone. When we reached the aid station at the top, Horton yelled to us that we were 4 minutes behind Sam and Frank who were running together. Ryan and I started the White Oak Ridge loop together but I lost him on the first part.

That loop was really my only down spot of the race. The grassy double track made it look less steep than it was and became discouraging because it was difficult to run. I knew I'd feel guilty walking it, so I just kept running and tried to keep my heart rate under control.

After close to 3,400 ft of somewhat continuous climbing, the summit is rather uneventful since it's all wooded but soon enough, I started running down. I let gravity do the work and I just focused on staying upright. Rolling back into Camping Gap #3 for the last time, Horton yelled that Frank and Sam were still 3 or 4 minutes ahead. I couldn't believe I hadn't made up any significant time after the downhill I'd just come off. From Camping Gap #3, it's largely downhill to the finish with a few short but steep climbs. The first being the steepest up Terrapin Mountain. I knew the chances of catching them on an uphill would be highly unlikely and we still had 8 or 9 miles left, so I took the climb hard but not too hard.

As soon as I punched my bib number at the top of the climb proving I was there, I charged down the mountain. The trail gets very technical in a few spots with loose rocks, loose dirt, little to no footing and the pair of rocks that make up "Fat Man's Misery." Fat Man's really is rough. It's a steep downhill alley of slanted rocks that I initially went to jump down and quickly realized that was a bad idea because I slid the whole way down it just pushing off one wall to keep my face from being scraped off. I continued to careen down the mountain now passing 1/2 marathoners but keeping an eye out for Sam and Frank.

The last aid station is at the end of a little 1/8 mile spur as I was going down to the spur, I saw the two of them coming up the trail. I looked at my watch and noted the time so I could see how long it took me to get to that same spot. Upon reaching the aid station, I snagged one gel and yelled out my number. I didn't even stop running. I reached the spot where I crossed them with a gap of 2 minutes. I was closing.

The last section I had heard was all very run-able but was also 5.5 miles long. If I pushed really hard too early they might out surge me at the very end so I made sure to never be comfortable but not go too hard. It was very exciting! I felt like I was hunting. The trail meanders in and out of the ridges of the mountain and every time I came around a corner I looked for them. I stayed calm...until I saw them. We were still too high on the mountain to give it all I had. I knew we still must have had about 2.5-3 miles left. I increased a little bit but not too much. They had a 1:15 lead on me. I saw them on the next ridge just disappear beyond sight as I came into the ridge. 1:10 lead.

Finally, came the creek crossing. As I descended to the creek, I saw one of their heads disappear around the corner. This is normally a somewhat calmer crossing from what I've heard, but this year it was flowing pretty heavily, I jumped in and crossed not even thinking of any way to keep my feet dry. I got to the same point where I saw them within 1 minute.

I turned down the wide trail and stood on the gas pedal. I knew it was just a rough gravel trail, that gave way to a smooth gravel road, which turned right onto a paved road, and then I'd be home. I saw the "1 mile to go" sign at 4 hours and 10 minutes thought, sweet, I'll probably finish by 4:16 and turned off my brain. I told myself not to think and just run as hard as I could...but I didn't realize I actually stopped thinking. I reached the road and took the right but didn't see them. I knew they had to be close, I surged harder and harder but still couldn't see them. 4:15 came and went...4:16....4:17...4:20....? Someone had to be messing with us with that one mile sign. At 4:25 I decided I had made a wrong turn. I ran back to the last intersection with streamers and sure enough, I was supposed to go LEFT and THEN RIGHT. I didn't know how many people had passed me but I went the right way and found the finish line. I crossed in 4:35 in 8th place.

Things I learned from this race:
-Run hard but not so hard you can't see a thousand streamers and chalk arrows in front of your face.
-It's probably best to just not tell Horton you got lost - even if you admit you're an idiot for it. He will make relentless fun of you.
-Don't turn your brain off.
-I actually can turn my brain off....which I think is more scary than anything.

Matt enjoying some veggie burgers after his 5:10, first mountain 50k finish

Jordan Whitlock went on to drive far away to his Spartan Race (obstacles) and win it on Sunday...pretty sick. 

Matt after his first mountain 50k

The mountain. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


This was probably the weirdest 35 miles I've ever run. Short version goes like this: Cold, friends,stomach hurt, stomach felt better, snow drift knee to thigh high, rocks, no rocks, more snow, snowman, snowballs, cliffs, hot, no shirt, strong sun, more snow, McAfee's Knob, sloppy mud, everyone and their mom, unseasonable snake, hanging at aid station, run, walk, run, slippery snow, field, finish in 1st (but it wasn't a race). Drive.

The course was hard, and actually that's a bit of an understatement, but it was made harder by the strange snow conditions and the warm temps...and even those are two things that don't normally go together.

Most people use the run as an excuse to get to the mountains and see trails they don't normally run on, at least that's the way I was treating it. That being said, it is an awesome event that hits some pretty defining parts of the Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail.

I drove down on Friday night after traffic had subsided so I got down to the area around midnight. I slept in my car in the parking lot of the hotel where most everyone was staying mainly because I was too cheap to get myself a hotel room. I woke up early after a few hours of shut eye and went to the B and B where the start and finish is located. The people that own it are incredibly kind and have let Keith put this event on for years.

The start area was full of people gathering last minute supplies and we were all glad that daylight savings time was Sunday instead of Saturday so no one had to run with a headlamp to start. Gary was running around the parking area semi-forcing people to eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts courtesy of Quatro before they started running. In a brief lapse of judgement I succumbed to the temptation of a greasy/slimy doughnut and by the time I realized my mistake, the doughnut was already down the old gullet.

A few words were spoken, and we were off. This year the circuit was run in the opposite (clockwise) direction so we'd be heading up to Dragon's Tooth first. A couple miles into the run I was running with Sean Andrish, Drew Krueger, and Jeremy Ramsey. We ran most of the climb but then the doughnut was wreaking some havoc. I made a brief trip to the woods quite a ways off trail and was fine after but was now several minutes behind the other 3 guys. I ran by myself up to the top of Dragon's Tooth enjoying watching the sun rise higher in the sky and finding my way through the mess that is the rock scramble before reaching the intersection at the top.

Dragons Tooth
I crossed paths with Sean, Drew and Jeremy while they were on their way back from the Tooth. I saw the towering rocks, snapped a couple pics and turned around. I caught up with them just before the intersection and ran the rest of the way down to the first aid station with them. As we reached the aid station, nature called and luckily there was a bathroom in the parking lot the aid station was in. When I came out, they were already gone. I wasn't too worried about it as I had a map in my pack, but it did mean that I'd have to run by myself on trails I hadn't been on before and were not marked.

The next section is notorious for its PUDs after the initial climb. The ridge is just piles of Pointless Ups and Downs. It's like running on an amplified boring part of a roller coaster. They are rarely dangerously steep, but they still drive you nuts. People who had done this event several times said there were 36 of them over 9 miles or so. Adding to the slight annoyance was a new obstacle: deep, windblown snow drifts. Some were deep enough to stop you in your tracks making progress very slow and exhausting. THOUGH, subtracting greatly from the misery that these things caused were the views. They were incredible. The temperature was warming drastically and having no leaves on the trees meant you could see on either side of the ridge. Beautiful.

After about an hour or so I caught up to the group just as Jeremy was emptying sticks from his shoe and stating he had some stomach pains. We all figured that he'd catch back up, but we didn't see him for the rest of the day. Drew, Sean and I rolled through the hills and snow and finally made it to the intersection that took us down to the second aid station at mile 17 ish. The three of us hung out there eating and drinking for far longer than I think any of us would in a race. Brian Schmit joined us for the next section as he planned to run with whoever was in front so he could get to his car (the third aid station) with whoever got there first. That next climb was a good little kick in the teeth. Very steep. Somewhere along this climb we lost Sean and Drew and came upon a couple of people who didn't really know what this trail had in store for them. If I had to guess, they didn't get all the way to the cliffs at the top.

Brian and Sean Tinker Cliffs
 Brian and I decided to make a snowman on our way up. We wanted it to say, "Hey Sean" or "Hey Drew," but both had too many letters in their name to spell out in sticks so we settled for, "HI, Run." On the switchbacks toward the end, we could see Sean way down below and slowed down as we got close to Tinker Cliffs so we could run with him.

Tinker Cliffs
He joined us in fighting the still snowy but now, warm conditions. We descended the saddle and started the long climb up to McAfee's Knob, the very distinctive rock formation that also appears on the AT Virginia license plates. After a long long time climbing and sliding around because of the slushy snow, Brian and I arrived at the Knob but had lost Sean in the mix. There are actually two vistas. We went to the first one but missed the turn off for the second (and more popular) one. The view was still amazing.

From McAfee's, we sloshed our way down the 4 miles or so to the parking lot splashing in the mud puddles, slipping on the snow and passing huge groups of day-hikers headed up to the Knob. Everyone and their mom was out on the trail. I figured I'd wait for Sean when we reached the parking lot because I wanted to run with someone and Drew showed up next. After learning that Drew didn't pass Sean we figured somewhere along the way, Sean must have taken a wrong turn. I must have spent 20-25 minutes in that aid station but Drew and I finally left and decided to take it easy for the last section. The problem was, I kind of just wanted to be done by that point. The moving had been so slow because of the snow and slush and my feet were soaked, so I ran ahead. The last section is very pretty ridge running but again was very sloppy and hard to get into any kind of rhythm.
Not sure why he was pointing in almost every pic I took...
McAfee's Knob
Finally I came off the mountain, dashed across the field and up the road. I wrote down my finishing time which was 2:20 pm. Yep. That's 7:50 for 35 miles. That's almost 13:30 per mile! It wasn't until I did the math that I realized how slow I was going. A few minutes later, Drew came in and then Joe Dudak, then a couple of Virginia Tech guys. The snow was really an equalizer. Eh, at least it was fun.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Buckhollow, Mary's Rock, and the past

A couple of weekends ago I went for a run around the Buckhollow loop with the addition of adding Mary's Rock with my friend, Matt. The day itself was unseasonably warm as within a mile up the first climb both of us decided it was warm enough to go shirtless. It was the first time in 2013 and it was still February! The loop itself is pretty much 3 miles up and then 3 miles down, and add in an extra mile to each direction if you do Mary's Rock as well. For the first loop we opted to go all the way up. As we started the trail up to the top, I realized that I hadn't been on that trail since middle school.

For middle school and high school, I wasn't very athletic, and unless it involved being on a bike or playing baseball, I wasn't too keen on being active in general. During elementary and middle school, my parents would drag us out to Mary's Rock listening to John Denver or Bob Seger the entire way. The Bob Seger will haunt me forever (even though, somehow the John Denver has grown on me a little bit, but don't tell my parents). I didn't appreciate the woods, and hiking up hill for a mile was work, and my legs always hurt. I hated the way up.

But my parents did know how to entice their four kids to climb a mountain - food. My dad would pack up a big backpack with a Coleman stove, the gas for it, eggs, bacon, rolls, condiments, apple juice and orange juice mixed together (if you haven't tried it, you must), water, plates, napkins, wet wipes and utensils. He would lug all of this up there and then cook for us on the overlook. It was great eating, but inevitably the eggs would burn, the bacon may or may not be on fire right before you eat it, and of course someone would end up in tears because they were sticky from the juice. But being up there and scrambling around the rocks and then eating like that was definitely worth the struggle to get up there. The way down was great, we'd all pretend we were running with deer or escaping the bad guys or something along those lines. Running down felt effortless, jumping from rock to root, back to rock, was a feeling I don't often forget. Of course we couldn't run the whole way down because someone would need a piggy back ride.

While Matt and I were out there, I was able to remember every step of that mile. How, soon after the initial steep part leaving the parking lot it smooths out for a few yards. And how you pass an old chimney and then it gets technical. Also, after you reach the saddle section, you make a right on the AT and then a left soon after that and then it gets really rocky. It was only a mile, though, it felt a lot longer when we used to do it. It was just as rocky as I remember and the top was just as awe-inspiring.

Running up, the cloud cover was thick. I was worried we wouldn't be able to see anything at the top. Sure enough, we walked across the 10 ft of sandy flat portion at the top and continued onto the uneven rocks looking at nothing. I couldn't have been more disappointed. It had been years since I'd been up there and I wanted it to look the same and all it looked like was a sea of white/gray emptiness. I had brought my camera but didn't even bother to take it out. I explained to Matt what we were supposed to be seeing: The Massanuttens, Luray, Rt 211 and Skyline Drive. I told him that the cars on it are supposed to look like tiny Lego vehicles. Part of me wondered how much of what I remembered was actually part of it, and maybe the sights weren't as grand as I remembered.    

 Matt just as the clouds were parting

 Rt 211, there is a car in the picture

Some random dude behind me losing his balance...

Just when we were going to start going back down to complete the loop, I saw a faint mountain in the distance. The clouds were dissipating right in front of us! Within a minute we could see the tops of the mountains next to us and a few across. Before too long we could see down the cliffs. Everything was just as I remembered.

Last week was MMT training run #3, the last 40 miles of the course. It was surprisingly cold and snowy, even though the couple days before it had been pretty warm. The run itself was largely uneventful, I came, I ran and I left. The run itself just sort of seemed like a blur. I didn't think much, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. I didn't feel very invested in it, I just wanted to see that part of the course again without markings. Overall though, it was a good day to run in the mountains.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


This weekend I had the pleasure of running in the snow-capped mountains of the Massanutten course. It was the 2nd “training weekend” that the race organizers put on in order to show the entrants the course ahead of time. This run was nothing short of magical. As weird and some-what hippy as that sounds, the flawless symphony of the crisp, cold, and humid Virginia air, the smooth transitions between damp lower part of the mountains to snow-blanketed upper portions and the company of other runners out there humbled me far more than I could do on my own.

Humility is an interesting trait; especially for this day in age when the entire world seems to be in a constant cycle of proving themselves better for no reason in particular. All it takes is one look around the streets: people flaunting wealth with expensive cars and jewelry. The majority of reality shows have people just bragging how awesome they are, (most) sports stars' interviews are chock full of self-praising anecdotes. It’s quite saddening to say the least.   

The beauty of the ultra running community, aside from being a great group of like-minded-people who enjoy the mountains, is the fact that everyone’s humility is overwhelming. Standing around before the run in the Short Mountain/Elizabeth Furnace parking lot there was chatter about various people who had just completed some incredible running feats in preparation for other great running feats. I won’t name names mainly because I think they wouldn’t want me to. One guy just finished The White Oak Trail 100 (TWOT) last weekend. Solo. They actually changed the course so it turned out to be roughly 108 miles with 28,000 feet of elevation gain. There were rumors of the winds over-night gusting to 70 mph along the ridges. The organizer pointed this out. His response as he aimed his gaze downward while fiddling with his heart-rate monitor? “It wasn’t a record, but thank you.” He did, however, come within 15 minutes of it on an 8-mile-longer course. Impressive to say the least. He did this in preparation for the Barkley Marathons next month. If you don’t know about Barkley, look it up.

I ran with a friend for the whole 30 miles on Saturday. He is an accomplished ultra-runner, though of course, he’d never admit to it. Part of what makes his success remarkable is the fact that he has a rare condition that causes seizures multiple times per month. Once, he was in the middle of a 100k race where there was a 50k going on at the same time. The 50 and 100k were on the same course for the first half and on the way to the 50k turnaround he had a seizure. He decided to switch to the 50k vs. the 100 and still won the race. Of course, I didn’t get this from him. His comment? “I was lucky the race directors were nice enough to let me switch mid-race.” He considers himself lucky because though he may have some trouble sometimes and is not able to drive, he can still run. His mom and dad have difficulty at times as well, who have MS and rather severe scoliosis respectively and ran a 50 miler together recently.

At the finish line parking lot, a group of us hung out while people trickled in. There was a guy getting ready to run the Iditarod 350 mile foot race. (Yes, that is the race the sled dogs run.) He has already run the Arrowhead 135 (all in snow) and one other long snow race (that I forgot). He answered questions very matter-of-factly about the sled he has to pull with all of his gear but never once did he seem egotistical about his answers.

Of course, pretty much everyone there has a rather impressive background. There was the woman who finished Western States 100 and then 2 weeks later finished Badwater...more than once. There was the rather accomplished old ultra runner who rode his bike 30 miles that day (one way) just to bring his friend apple-sauce. And there was a guy who has finished Massanutten twice, both within 5 minutes of the cut off.

Normally, the beauty of the mountains humbles me enough. But I left on Saturday feeling extra refreshed and with a new sense of respect for our whole mountain-running culture. Maybe it was the 30 beautiful mountain miles, but I think it was the refreshing personalities that this sport tends to attract. I think the rest of the world could learn a few things from the ultra running community. 

picture by Tom (VHTRC)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How to make mistakes and lose a race

Saturday I ran the ICY-8 Hour race put on by Alex and Scott. The race consists of an 8 mile loop or a 4.7 mile loop. And racers run any combination of the loops to try to maximize your mileage in the 8 hour time limit. Every time you come to the aid station you shout out whether you did a long loop or a short one and then at the end they tally it all up. Really, the only rule is you have to finish the last loop before the end. No partial laps will count.

In the few days before the race I had dissected the past results, records and the course to see what it would take to win it and what it would take to beat the course record of 54.1. I thought the course record was well within my potential and that I’d give it a try. If I ran 7 large loops, I’d do that no problem. Simple enough.

The weather lived up to the name of the race, and I had icicles in my beard throughout the entire race. Alex sent us off at exactly 7:30 am and a group of 6 or 7 of us ran pretty much the entire first loop together. Everyone opted for the 8 mile. We had to run the first loop clockwise but after that it was a free for all. Any loop, any direction. Also in the lead group was a kid named Brian Q who is friends with my little sister and wanted to get into ultrarunning. He’s 18 and a senior at Brooke Point. He’d never run further than 20 miles before and thought he’d come out and see what he could do.

When we got back to the aid station I grabbed some gels and left within about 10 seconds. I ran alone the rest of the day never knowing what loop anyone what doing, who was leading, where I was in the standings, etc. I’d pass people throughout the day, sometimes going the same direction, sometime crossing paths, but the entire day was a mystery. All I could do was run hard for the allotted time, stick to my plan and hope it worked.

I finished 4 long loops adding up to 32 miles in about 4:17 and came into the aid station feeling good. I shoved my face with a bit of pb and j so I didn’t get hungry and bolted back to the trail. About a half a mile from the aid station I realized I hadn’t grabbed any gels. It was a stupid mistake and I shouldn’t have made it, but I wasn’t about to run back to the aid station and sacrifice that time. I had to decide whether I would still run the 8 mile loop and risk getting behind on my nutrition or if I should just run a short loop and then get back to the aid station sooner. I opted for the short loop.

The whole time I was running that loop I was doing math, trying to figure out in my head if I stayed on the current pace, what I’d have to do to still run the mileage I wanted. I figured that upon finishing the short loop I was on, it would be about 12:30, meaning I’d have 3 more hours on the nose until the end. If I could run two more long loops and one more short loop, I’d snag the mileage I needed.  

Everything seemed to be falling into place. I wasn’t fatiguing, I was running steady, the weather was cold, but not bitter.

The last long loop took a few minutes longer than expected but at that point I had run 52.7 miles and had 35 minutes to cover the last 4.7 mile loop. I reached the aid station and bolted without grabbing any more water or gels. I wanted to go as light as possible for a final push.

After running pretty hard all day, the mid-section of the loop was difficult for me, and as I started to calculate what I’d need to do, I knew it was going to be close. At the “one mile to go” sign, I had 4 minutes before 3:30. I’ve never run a 4 minute mile and quite frankly, I’m not sure I ever will…especially after running (at that point) 56.4 miles. At 3:30 on the dot, I realized that lap wouldn’t count so I stopped sprinting and even walked a bit, finishing the last lap 4 minute over the cut off.

I had a fun day out there and cannot say that I didn’t try hard for it. 57.4 miles in 8:04. 52.7 of those miles counted landing me in second to a guy who’d done mostly short loops and ran 53.6 miles. Should’ve stuck to the plan. It’s bitter-sweet but in all it was a good day and a good training run for Massanutten…even though it was pretty flat comparatively and not technical. Alex and Scott put on great events and I’ll definitely be back for more.
Plus! My friend, Brian Q, ran 38 miles for his first ultra-distance event! He seemed to have fun too, which is even better. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Any day where I can be outside during the majority of the hours of the day is a good day. And any weekend I can get to the mountains is a good weekend. And any weekend that is a three day weekend is bound to be good. This weekend ruled.

Saturday Katie and I took off to meet my parents at Massanutten to do a little skiing where my dad is part of their volunteer ski patrol. The temperature started off cold so the mountain was a bit icy but as the day warmed up...as it always does in Virginia, the icy stuff got pretty soft, and made for some decent conditions. Katie and I took a picture at the top of the mountain and realized we had a picture like that when we were young before we were dating.

This is us now. 

This was us then. I've known her for a long time. 

Sunday I went out to the VHTRC's Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 training run. 85 people started! I love that so many people come out and run in the mountains just for fun. I got there with about 30 seconds to spare so as the group left the parking lot, I was still putting on my pack. I ran with a mountain-biker named Kyle, AJW and a girl named Emily. AJW is an incredibly accomplished ultrarunner completing Western States in the top ten 7 times. But, as he is returning from a knee injury, we continued up the first climb without him. When we got to the top Emily told us about how she is also training for Western States and after asking her about her qualifier, turns out she came in 2nd at the JFK 50 last year. She too, was under the old course record. Yikes. 

This "fun run" attracted two pretty big named people. It was a bit intimidating but they were both very nice and Emily and I ended up running the whole thing together because neither of us were 100% sure on where to go at certain spots and Kyle bolted off as soon as we got to the top of Kearns mountain because he runs up there all the time and said he knew the trail really well. We didn't see him the rest of the day. 
The view off of Bird Knob
Emily and I meandered through the woods the rest of the day and ended back at the same parking lot we started in just as they were lighting the fire. Everyone who had cut the run a bit short was hanging out, there was food, beverage, fire and dogs. Good times. 

Crocs are a thing....

Monday I met up with my friend Scott and his dog, Henry, at the Buck Hollow trail to get some miles in on MLK Day. I had never done that trail before, but it turned out to be a great day as well. 

The highest little bump of rocks up there is Mary's Rock. My mom and dad used to take us up there for hikes. My dad would pack this giant red backpack full of food and a camp stove and cook us eggs and bacon up there.

Scott and Henry leading the way. 

When we got back to the car, after 17 or 18 miles Henry promptly fell asleep on the ground. Scott had to wake him up and coax him into the car with treats. 

All in all, solid weekend.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Willis River 50k

First race of 2013 I thought I'd have some fun at a race I'd done before. In fact, Willis River is the changed name of Swinging Bridge 50k with slight course modifications. Swinging Bridge was my first ultra, so this race has some sentimental value to me. That being said, I felt terrible during the race.

A lot of my friends were there and when I showed up, we started visiting and I may have forgotten to pack even close to enough gels for the run. We started off down the trail in about 50 something degree humid weather and quickly realized that it was going to be hard to stay on course. Myself and three other guys led the race and as we came around one corner about 3 miles in, we saw all these runners up ahead entering the trail from a side trail! So we went from top 4 to 15th or so. They didn't realize they were off course. That time we realized that we were right, and everyone else was off course, but that's just the way it goes sometimes. So we all sped up a bit and caught back up, and then the same thing happened in another spot where we were 99% positive we were all going the right way only to have people scooting in from a side trail and us having to catch back up. We got lost or off track, or stayed on track while everyone else wasn't on 3 more times on our way to the 10 mile turn-around. It was a little bit frustrating and we may have burned up a little bit more energy than we should have trying to catch back up to everyone who had passed us.

BUT! As we were running along after leaving the first aid station the four of us heard a jingling behind us. A husky that we figured belonged to one of the aid station workers had followed us. Then a few minutes later another dog, this time a white pit bull mix caught up to us and joined our pack. At one point he was following me so closely I accidentally caught him in the jaw with my foot. I just heard this little clap and when I looked back he was licking his lips and smiling at me while wagging his tail. 

At the turn around we were down to three in the little front pack and we retraced our steps back to the beginning only getting off trail once. At least that was an improvement. On our way back, one of the guys dropped off the back shortly after passing the 5 mile aid station and the other guy dropped off about 2 miles from the 35k mark. I got back to the beginning first ahead of the 35k runners and started the last out and back section. 5 miles out, 5 miles back - roughly. I wish the dogs would have stayed with us, or just me.

I was feeling pretty crummy at the start of this section and just tried to relax and run everything. I was pretty close to being out of Hammer gel in my little flask so I just tried to ration that out in smaller increments. The trail was undulating so it was a little hard for me to get into any kind of rhythm during the short little kickers and descents. Though, just before you get to the turn around, the trail gets beautiful. It was dull gray and hazy all day - just stomping around the leaves, not really on any sort of trail, just blindly following streamers and markings - and then out of nowhere it was like running on a trail in the Pacific Northwest. I haven't been there but I've seen pictures and there were lots of ferns and moss. It was very strange but not entirely unwelcome. I hit the turnaround and filled my hand bottle and looked at my watch to see how long I had on the 2nd place guy. I passed him after running for 5 minutes, so I had 10 minutes on him. I figured as long as I didn't take any naps or pull the old tortoise and the hare, I could grab first.

The way back, I didn't really feel like running anymore so I just kept running so that I could be done sooner. I was chilly and wet with sweat and just not in a great place mentally. But I crossed the finish line in 4:25:03 in first. Not my fasted 50k, but definitely my fastest on the course by about 35 minutes. Last time I ran it I was first in 5:11 in -2 Fahrenheit. I'm proud to say that it was the slowest winning time in course history.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Horton Ultra - for the first-timer

I know quite a few people currently training for the Holiday Lake 50k so I figured I'd toss this out there so you know (a little bit) of what to expect. As anyone who has run one of the legendary Dr. David Horton's races can attest, it is not your standard ultramarathon. Ultras are different from marathon's for several reasons, most of them not relating to the actual  distance at all. The sense of community and belonging for one is overwhelming at times as everyone, I mean everyone, is very welcoming and genuinely happy at the event. People may be out there for different reasons, some to simply finish, some to race hard, and some to overcome other obstacles in life, yet everyone respects whatever your reasons for being out there.

Even between ultras, races are very different. Some have a very hyped feel to them with huge banners and inflatable sponsors signs, camera interviews with the "elites" of the sport, and prize money. But the vast majority of them have a down-home feel. There might be a banner, or just a spray-painted start/finish line where at the end there is a barbecue or family cooking for the racers.

Horton's races are closer to the latter but with an incredible feeling of fun professionalism about them. They have killer finishing awards, great volunteers, amazing locations and guaranteed fun courses. They always start with the national anthem and a prayer and finish with a hearty smile and a firm handshake or hug.

Holiday Lake is no different.

Step one, getting to the race: Driving there is not unlike most ultras as it starts at a camp ground where cell service may or may not be present, so don't rely on your phone's GPS. There are several miles of gravel road where it looks like you're driving to the middle of nowhere where you may or may not run into a young boy playing a banjo. Just follow the directions, you'll get there. Don't eat before you go to the pre-race meal unless you hate good food.

Step two, the actual race: The race consists of two loops, one clock-wise, one counter clock-wise. The race starts in the dark, so I'd recommend bringing a small headlamp that will fit in a pocket because you won't need it for very long and probably won't want it squeezing your head for the first 16.ish miles until you get back to the start/halfway point. It is possible to get through without a headlamp but you'll have to rely and latch onto someone else's light and they might be going faster/slower than you want to go. Plus, as I learned last year, if you do rely on someone else's light, depth perception is compromised and tripping is more likely. Aid stations are only about 4-5 miles apart so it is doable without a handbottle, but if you want to get through the aid stations a bit quicker and only stop at every other one, you can use one bottle. Two is over kill. The aid stations are stocked with the usual ultra food. Sandwiches, candy, chips, cookies, potatoes etc.

The following main race description was largely copied from the website. But before you read the course description, know that there may be a lot of turns but Horton's races are marked the best out of any race I've ever done. If you run for more than 3 minutes (less if you're running fast) without seeing a streamer or chalk, or some other blatantly obvious marking, you're going the wrong way. He marks turns for the directionally-impaired. If you get lost, you will get made fun of. Letting you know now.

For only about .6 miles you run up a hill on the road. This little kicker will make you wonder whether the friend who told you that "it is a course for fast times and road running marathoners" was lying through their teeth. They weren't chill out. Then you turn right on the Lakeside Trail ( LT ).  This trail is not very technical and is just rolling hills. Not "Horton hills" they really are just hills. Follow the LT to a small bridge at the end of Holiday Lake at 1.78 miles. Turn right and follow the trail next to the edge of the lake and cutting across the park next to the sandy beach and picnic tables picking back up the LT after crossing the road at 2.05 miles. Just before the trail, there is a little bathroom, last year it was open for emergencies. Continue on the LT next to the lake. This is a great rolling hills trail that you can have a lot of fun on. Really scenic. At 2.44 miles you will pass a wooden lookout on the right side of the trail. Last year, this is where it started to get light enough for people to stash their lights. At 3.36 miles the LT cuts right across a stream.  The course takes a left turn at this point onto the CTT. The CTT goes uphill at this point on to Aid Station ( AS ) 1 at 4.04 miles. The hill may be steep, but it's not long. This AS is at a wooden gate in a small pull out adjacent to Highway  ( HWY ) 692.

Continue on the CTT which runs adjacent to HWY 692 until mile 5.71 where it crosses HWY 640. At 6.03 miles the trail turns right. This part is flat. Remember it for the way back as a part you can really get rolling on it if you're feeling good. At 6.52 miles the course turns right on Rinehart Road.  At 7.07 miles the course crosses Holiday Creek, the big creek crossing that we have had in previous years. You will get your feet wet. Fact of life. Continue on this road to the intersection of Rinehart Road and Richmond Road and AS 2 at 8.23 miles. There is no crew access at this aid station.  

Turn right on Richmond Road going gradually downhill. At the bottom on the long gradual downhill, you cross a small bridge.   After crossing the bridge, you turn right on the CTT at 8.78 miles. At 9.37 miles you cross HWY 636.   The course runs parallel to 636 crossing 636 again at 10.53 miles. At 10.72 miles the course takes a right on Walker Road  as you continue to follow the CTT. After going  down a small hill you reach AS 3 on HWY 614 at 12.14 miles.

Take a left on 614 for about 30 yards and then turn right back onto the CTT.   At 12.96 the CTT makes a very sharp right hand turn.  At 13.71 miles, the course makes a sharp right hand turn still staying on the CTT (this is in a group of large old oak trees). The course then goes through the woods  for a short distance then down a very steep little hill. It really is very steep, and feels steeper going back up on the way back. At 14.14 miles, there is a bridge on your right side that goes across the small stream.   At this point you rejoin the LT staying on the LEFT side of the lake. Continue around the lake on the left side. At 15.97 miles you will cross the dam. It can be very slick in spots. At 16.43 miles you cross a small footbridge.   Turn right and follow the trail on the right side of the tennis courts back to the start/finish line at 16.63 miles and the end of loop one. For loop two, reverse directions and go back the way you came and run the loop in reverse order ending loop two for a total distance of 33.26 miles.   

I will warn you, it's easy to get to the turn around and feel like you can smell the barn but...of course you can! You just left the barn! You still have a whole loop to do, if you feel good, by all means, pick up the pace, but don't turn on the burners. The reverse loop can get a little bit hairy because everyone is doubling back on the rest of the field. But this can also be a good thing because you can see how far or close the people just in front and just behind you they are. The trail along the lake can get narrow so just be polite about passing everyone.

(I'm not in the picture and I stole it from Rachel Corrigan's blog even though I don't know her but it epitomizes Horton and Holiday Lake...Rachel, I'm sorry, I'll buy you an ice cream cone.)

This race is not like his others mainly because the distances on the website actually are true. A lot of people choose Holiday Lake as their first ultra. It's understandable, the distance is manageable, the terrain is tame, and because of the loop and reverse loop, it's like you only run 16 or so miles and you know what's coming up in the second half. But a little hint for ultras in general, the second half always feels a little longer, and there are spots that you totally forgot about. The biggest mistake you can possibly make in any ultra, or any race for that matter, is getting discouraged. Stay in the present and look ahead only as far as you can see. There really isn't any point in worrying about mile 28 if you are on mile 6. Besides, Horton gives the same hug to the first place person as he does to the last place.