Monday, December 16, 2013

Recap and looking forward.

I wrote what is after the page break a couple weeks ago but didn't want to publish anything until after Hellgate.  I finished my season exactly how I wanted to crewing my ridiculously talented best bud and training partner Rudy to the crazy race at Hellgate I knew he had in him.  I think Rudy and I have shared something like 100 hours or more of trail time together since July.  I was so pumped to see him have the race he deserved.  I've been struggling with motivation to get back into more routing running, but that race gave me enough inspiration for the next six months!

I am also excited to be working with a coach for the first time since high school.  I'll be working with the master Andy Jones-Wilkins to make sure I am ready for the track meet in June.  I raced 10 Ultras in 2013 plus a myriad of fatasses and short races.  Cutting that out for 2014--it's time to get focused.

Oh yeah, I was in a magazine? Jess Daddio is a pretty stellar writer and it's great to see a semi-local magazine doing so well.

2013 was pretty awesome.  I ran in lots of places and just ran a lot in general.  PRs for every distance from half-marathon to 50 miles and I learned I can move for 40 hours if I need to.  I don't really feel like writing a lot, so here are the dirty details...

The numbers:
500,000 feet of climb reached on November 23th
I'll finish the year just over 3000 miles.

2014 Plans:

February: Holiday Lake 50k
April:  Georgia Loop FKT attempt and/or Promise Land 50k
May: train like a madman
July/August: Hang out in Colorado, climb a bunch of mountains, drink some bourbon, attempt Nolan's 14 depending on WS100 recovery
December: Hellgate 100k

Sometime: Figure out a damn 2015 Hardrock qualifier

I'm at a crossroads in life in general.  There's a good chance I'll be living in Denver come August, so I can't think about races for the fall until I figure that out.  If I'm on the east coast, you can bet you'll see me at Mountain Masochist and Hellgate.  If not, then who knows what I'll be up to. Edit: Barring exams on Friday or Saturday that weekend, I will do EVERYTHING I can to get to Hellgate 2014... We have to go back

Wyatt Earp turned me back onto this guy over the weekend.  Serious talent.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mountain Masochist: Consistency

I was waiting until more photos from MMTR made their way online before I posted this, but that still hasn't happened.  Please send me any you have!

3 year and 21 ultras later and I know what kind of runner I am. I like to hunt, to chase. I like to follow from behind and then pick people off as I go. It's a boost every time you pass someone. I'm not used to being "fast." My first ultra, a flat 50 mile, took me almost 12 hours. I've learned to suffer well the past 3 years.

MMTR is an interesting race.  The course rewards preparation and planning and punishes you if you don't.  To race the course, you have to hit the climb from miles 22-29 hard, survive the loop, and then finish strong.  Trying to hammer on a long sustained climb like that, that early in 50-mile still seems very risky to me, but that is the advice Eric gave me so I did it anyway.  That climb comes after 22 VERY fast and rolling but runnable miles.  You can't start too slow or you'll lose time on the "easy" half of the course.  Start too fast and you won't have anything left for the "hard" half coming after the climb.  So running MMTR goes like this: start hard-ish, then run hard, then run harder until you finish.

Hour 1: 7.12 miles
Hour 2: 14.25 miles
Hour 3: 21.75 miles
Hour 4: 28 miles
Hour 5: 34.5 miles
Hour 6: 39.8 miles (the loop)
Hour 7: 45 miles (the hellacious last single track)
39 minutes: last 5 miles

I did not realize just how consistent those first few hours were until looking back as my splits on Movescount.  I can't start ultras much faster than I do, but apparently I don't slow down too much.  Looking at the file, I faltered on the loop.  My pace coming down Mount Pleasant in that leafy mess was 13'59" per mile.

I definitely cannot complain; only analyze. I had a 17 minute 50-mile PR on a slower course than my last PR from two months ago, which itself was already a 62-minute PR.  Breakthroughs on breakthroughs.  I hope I keep it rolling into the Crooked Road 24-hour on November 23-24, my last race this year.

The narrative:
I'll say this: my foot hurt quite a bit on every downhill from about mile 7 onward. Two days later and I'm still not sure what was/is wrong with it.  Now that aside...I cruised pretty easy all the way to the reservoir, thought to myself, "time for the fun," took my first of many caffeinated gels and motored to the top of Buck Mountain.  I passed Sam Dangc, Frank the tank, and Jordan Whitlock running together in the 3 miles between the Long Mountain aid station and the top of Buck Mountain.  Talking to Jordan Whitlock after the race, he told me he thought I was just out for a run when I passed them here because I looked so fresh.  When I paused to fill my water at the aid station at the top of Buck Mountain, mile 29, the very familiar worker told me that 6th place was just a minute ahead. I blurted out "Oh shit." I was actually a little shocked.  This was the first time someone had told me my place all day long and I never expected to be in 7th place at MMTR, let alone this early into the race. I caught up to 6th not long after Buck Mountain and kept rolling up down and up to the loop, making use of the climbs to take some of the force off my foot.

Time to survive the loop. I was becoming a bit of a bumbling idiot at this point, mainly from having trouble getting down gels.  A quick bottle swap with my flawless crew of Rudy and Wyatt, and I was off. I did pretty well until the Mt. Pleasant turnaround,  then had to fight all the rest of the way around the loop.  I got lucky and slowing so much through here let me actually get two full gels down, providing the sugar to get me through the next hour at least.  I came out of the loop in a stupor.  I was out of it and walked straight into the gate leading to the aid station I left over an hour ago.
A cup of rocket fuel (or maybe it was mountain dew) sent me on my way. Liquid calories are liquid gold late in a race. I hoped I could still force down a gel or two in the remaining twelve miles. 

My crew drove past me along this stretch which was a nice boost and got me moving a little quicker to mile 42 where I would see them again.  I was actually saddened when I heard I wouldn't see them again after that to the finish, knowing how slow the next 4 trail miles would be.  I grunted a long, pleased to hike some on the short but steep uber leafy climbs, which allowed me to get down my last calories of the race.  I hit the top after the sketchy camper ( if you've run MMTR you know what I'm referring to).  With a deep sigh of relief I leaned forward to start the descent to the finish, hoping for the best with my foot and lack of calories.

Things worked out that I had enough ground on 7th to coast that last descent without any worry.  I was thrilled to cross the finish line and even more excited for a quesadilla on the couches.  Mountain Masochist is a very special race.  Lots of aid to encourage traveling light is coupled with a course that either rewards proper preparation or beats you into the ground for not respecting it.  I hope I can keep coming back to this one for years to come.

The Virginia Tech Ultrarunning Team got 4 guys in the top-16, two of whom were running their first 50 Miler.  These guys are going to do big things the next few years; I look forward to following their progress after I'm gone.

Quaker Cherry Pistachio Oatmeal for breakfast.
~14 gels and some Mountain Dew during

our awesome Patagonia jersey tops
PI Ultra shorts (great pockets)
Drymax hyper-thin socks
Nike Lunaracers  (honestly the best ultra shoe I've worn)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Iron Mountain...better late than never

I wrote this after the race and apparently never posted it so it might need some editing...
After that four week block of great training, I was really stoked for Iron Mountain.  I wasn't planning to race, especially with the one week taper I did, but I wanted to run harder than what I thought was a 50 mile pace.  I wanted to test out my fitness.  That's what 50 milers are for in a 100 mile build-up right?  Well, I definitely proved to myself how hard I can run.

I took the sage wisdom of Eric Grossman, the man who knows that course better than anyone, and started easy.  A few people noted surprise that I was "only" running 8:20 miles on the 4 Creeper Trail introduction to the race. It felt right though. Turning up the climb from to the ridgeline and the Iron Mountain Trail, I turned on some Avett Brothers to mellow myself and talked with people as I passed them.  I kept myself reeled in all the way through Hurricane Gap 1 (Mile 22), passing people but hiking even a few easier grades just to keep the effort low.  In and out of Hurricane gap, downing two ibuprofen, I started rolling.  The course from her nets downhill, with some rolling along the way, for the next seven miles.  I carried the leg turnover I got on the first three mile descent across the single track Bartram Trail and all the way around to mile 29, the bottom of Rowland Falls, the biggest climb of the day.  At that aid station I did a cup of coke and a cup of mountain dew and was on my way.  Looking back, doing two cups of fluid and then immediately continuing to nip on my bottle should have been a clue to drink more.  I caught up to Jordan Chang, my friend, boss, physiotherapist, and all-around badass, along with Brian Pickett who was having a rough day.  Jordan joked that he'd been rabbiting me all day.  Apparently I was always 30 seconds to a minute back of him, though I never noticed until that climb.  I left them after I'd sucked down a gel and started running up the doubletrack into Hurricane Gap 2 (mile 33).   Brian followed my all the way up and left immediately before me.  However, a bad stomach held him back and i ran up the service road all the way to the high point of the course and started the long descent back to Damascus and the finish.  As soon as I hit the single track into Skulls Gap 2, I started flying.  I thought to myself several times "Is this seriously a 50 mile pace?"  I knew it was fast, but my system didn't feel taxed.  Skulls Gap 2 is a long aid station stop for me, grabbing gels from my drop bag and drinking a couple cups of water at the aid station.  Ann, the RD's wife, was working this aid station and told me Frank "The Tank" Gonzalez was only five minutes up.  13 miles of rolling descent to go.  Time to get going! 

I took off HARD.  And then I cramped.  My recorded pace for the last 13 was fast, but my running pace was even faster.  I likely lost 3-4 minutes into the final aid station and another 3-4 minutes from there to the finish from stopping to stretch and work out my cramps in my hamstrings.  Anytime the trail was flat I cramped.  Uphills and I could shift the work into my quads or glutes.  Downhill and my quads took the abuse.  But on those long flat sections, I cramped.  That should have been a bigger warning sign.  At the last aid station, Tammy, trail mom extraordinaire, told me I had four minutes to Frank, who was having a rough day.  Hm, maybe if he blows up.  This last stretch of trail is gnarly by any definition, and I knew Frank had never run it. I hung out enough to drink some water and get in some salty watermelon.  As soon as I climbed out of that gap though, the lightning storms came.  The trail turned into a flowing stream, through which I could not see rocks beneath my feet.  For a few sections of trail, I might as well have been running at night for how dark the sky became.  For a couple lightning strikes, I had a one second count to the thunderclap.  Exciting way to finish right? I blasted down 'mock holler'--the trail that isn't really a trail anymore and cruised into the finish for a Horton handshake. 7:56.
Horton handshake
Now for the slightly more graphic part.  Interestingly,  I did not feel spent at the finish.  I was glad to be done, but I really only felt slightly more worked than I normally do after these things.  I attributed it to the increased pace and wrote it off.  A delicious hamburger, a bottle of recovery drink, and a couple bottles of water later I felt that familiar sensation of my body coming down from the effort.  I headed to the toilets near the finish and after I few minutes of forcing it, I manage to pee a little bit what looked to be straight blood.  It wasn't that dehydrated dark-brown--it was dark red.  TIME TO GO GUYS.  I left, muttered something to the rest of the team about going to the hospital, and got in my mom's car for an evening at urgent care.  I was diagnosed (I actually think falsely) with Rhabdomyolysis. Maybe I got rhabdo with the lowest CPK value (964) I've been able to find, maybe the mere 800 mg of ibuprofen I took during the race seriously compromised my kidneys, or maybe it was something else.  Either way, a bag of saline and 5 bottles of water got things churning again, barely enough to be discharged Saturday night.  It is now the Thursday after the race, and I've run twice; and easy 4 and an easy 7.5 the past couple days.   Right now, I feel like I should feel that Tuesday after a race.  Skipping out on protein for a full day after a race is not a good muscular recovery plan, even if it was what my kidneys needed.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I haven't posted on here in quite a while, so this will be a pretty comprehensive post.  Recovery from Cruel Jewel back in May was definitely the hardest I've had.  I didn't run a step until 12 days after I finished (2 full weeks after the start), and after that EASY eight miles, I went on to sleep about 18 of the next 24 hours.  From there, it took me another month to get back to running a normal schedule, 5-6 days per week and about 70 mile weeks.  But after those first few weeks of stumbling over my own feet, I felt good again.  I got invited to crew and pace Eric Grossman and Troy Shellhamer on their Colorado Trail FKT attempt, so I bumped up the miles in preparation for lots of running and little sleep.  Their attempt did not work out--these endeavors are logistical nightmares--but the trip was still a blast; I got to see the dark side of ultrarunning and be immersed in nothing but mountains, running, and friends for nine days.  We hit four 14ers in four days.  The vistas from 14,000 feet inspire like nothing I've seen on a run in the east.  Beyond that, the sheer simplicity of climbing to the highest point and back down is so aesthetic, I will be back.  Soon.  That week was definitely the best way to recharge my batteries before my Grindstone 100 peak.

I returned from Colorado 5 weeks from Iron Mountain and 10 weeks from Grindstone.  Perfect timing to buckle down for some real training.

Here are the four weeks I had leading up to Iron Mountain, each was Tuesday-Sunday:

July 30-August 4: 104.5 miles, 34/17 weekend, 17,100 feet of gain
August 6-11: 110.25 miles, 40/13.5 weekend including a 30 mile long run and 10k race Saturday, and a 3.7 mile hill climb Sunday, 14,900 feet of gain
August 13-18: 109.5 miles, 30/21.5 weekend, 15,500 feet of gain
August 20-25: 100.5 miles, 13,800 feet of gain

August totals: 80.5 hours, 468 miles, 67,600 feet of climb

Iron Mountain report coming soon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cruel Jewel 100--A report long enough to do the race justice

It was all for this.

Warning: This report, like the race is gratuitously long.  Go grab a beer, and maybe even a meal.  You'll be here a little while.

Friday started after a surprisingly uneventful night's sleep and a 5:45 alarm to meet up with Eric for the drive down to Blue Ridge, GA in time to do drop bags and rest a little before out 2 pm start.  There we met Willy, the RD for this fine event, who told me he had gotten elevation gain for the course ranging anywhere from 29,000 feet to 37,000 feet.  That's when I got really excited.  After, I'm going with ~31,000 climb total, but I am not sure.  I do know the race is ~110 miles long, just for added fun.

The plan was (for as long as possible) stick together--Eric as his well-practiced 4.1 mph trek and me doing my best not to go too fast.  Well, the first 35 miles of the course is easy, all things considered.  We settled into the planned theme--hiking all the climbs and trotting the descents--all the while focusing on saving energy.  Our average pace those first 35 miles was something like 13:00/mile pace.  This stretch was uneventful, albeit rather flat compared to the overall elevation change. There were 6-9 miles of road, and the trails were reasonably groomed.  The only real difficulty was managing the climbs in the Georgian spring humidity--this caused all sorts of problems.  Then the walls came. 

The Duncan Ridge Trail, that makes up (listed) miles 35-75 is nothing but a series of 300-600 foot walls.  Grind up, and then lean back, doing your best to stay upright going downhill.  As we came into mile 42.5, I was starting to feel weary, but wrote it off to not having hit the caffeine yet.  In reality, the slow pace was catching up to me.  We got hit with rain leaving this aid station that followed us for the next four hours. On the ridge line. Exposed to wind. Right as we're about to climb to the high point, a bald at 4300 feet.

The aid station volunteers at "mile 47.65" were the first introduction to a huge bonus of this race.  The workers were AMAZING.  The best I've ever seen.  These two guys, up on the mountain not really moving around all night and into the following afternoon, gave us their jackets so we wouldn't freeze climbing up and over Coosa Bald in the rain.  They actually suggested the idea and I couldn't think of what to say at first because I was simply not expecting such generosity.  Going up and especially down the other side of Coosa to the turn-around was death march slow.  We were in intermittent cold rain, descenting 3000 feet over 7 miles, with 1100 feet of climb thrown in their for good measure.  On extremely technical rocky, rooty single track.  We were moving slow.  Motivation at this point wasn't just deflated, it was downright gone.  We hit Vogel in ~15.5 hours.  This is listed as 55 miles into the race.  Eric's gps (and others) clocked this at 58+ miles.   I was a wreck.  I was soaked through. Hungry, sleepy, pain creeping in.  I actually knew I couldn't finish as I was.  But, there is a 48 hour cut-off for the race.  So, I ate two amazing cups of homemade chicken noodle soup and passed out on the bed for 20 uncomfortable minutes.  When I got up, I (still not planning to actually continue) started my drop bag routine.  Eric told me he was pretty ambivalent to continue before we laid down, but afterward he mentioned he was going to continue so I thought I should at least try.  I loaded my pack with little debbies, snickers bars, shot bloks and gels.  I applied A&D to all the right places (damn the rain).  And I changed into a clean shirt.  Another cup of soup and a grilled cheese and I decided I'd keep going.  Here, I made a huge incorrect judgment call and did not change socks, assuming the new ones would just get wet in a couple miles anyway.

The back up Coosa Bald was actually rather nice.  The sun had just risen, we were passing 50 mile and 100 mile runners on their way down the mountain, and I felt reasonably regenerated by out 90 minute stop at Vogel.  Eric pulled away about halfway up (he can hike just so well), and I didn't really expect to see him again. Then leaving the aid station on the other side (same one as the jackets before), everything went wrong.  This section is 7.5 miles long, all on the Duncan Ridge Trail.  I planned for this to take 2.5-3 hours based on what the climb up Coosa, another 7.5 mile stretch too.  2 minutes out of the aid station I lost the peanut butter sandwich I had just wolfed down.  Then I started moving again, but couldn't hold it together.  I ran out of water in 2 hours, about halfway through the section.  This 7.5 miles took me 6.5 hours.  No typo there folks--6.5 hours.  After I ran of water, I didn't eat any more since eating without water would cause my stomach to turn. I kept hiking, using every bit of will I had to move forward.  I stopped several times just to scream from how much my body hurt. I moved forward though, as slowly as is possible, until I collapsed in a chair, shivering even though it was close to 70 degrees, at the "Mile 70) aid station.  Here, the only reasons I did not immediately turn in my bib were 1. It would be a couple hours at least until someone could come get me and 2. the 48-hour cutoff.

This aid station was my second instance of amazing volunteers.  The girl working helped me peel of my shoes and socks, tried lancing a (currently) non-existant blister on my trench-foot begotten feet, made me wolf down THREE PB&J's, wrapped me up like a burrito in a blanket followed by a sleeping bag, and made me hold hot water against my core to stabilize.  I had definitely been tapping into my fat stores before the aid station.  She then took my wet socks and shoes and stuck them under the heater in her car to dry out.  Honestly, I would not have finished the race if she hadn't done that.   35+ more miles when I was already developing trench foot would have been mentally (and possibly physically)  impossible for me. After I saw a few friends come through and realized I was actually joking with them, I decided that even though my body had quit on me already, my mind was in too good of shape to stop here.  So with a lot of help from that kind volunteer, I pulled on my socks and shoes an hour after they came off and started moving again.  The next several climbs were even more miserable than the ones into the aid station, but I was moving with a little determination.  The descent down Coosa bald was the first time I got to open up my stride in over 40 miles, and it felt great.  I clocked some really good miles (at the time) into the drop bag aid station at "mile 80".

I hit a wall out of that aid station though.  My joints finally quit on me, and I could nothing but shuffle forward.  The 80 miles of technical single track I had completed thus far, along with a pace much slower than I was used to in training caught up to me.  My ankles had filled with fluid and stopped long ago, then my knees joined them, and now my hips were stiffened up too.  My muscled were fine still, even my quads, but my joints were gone so the muscles were useless.  However, a mile out of the aid station, a female runner Carin and her pacer Mollie caught up to me and I resolved myself to stick with them.  The company was much needed, and I would not have finished without them.  I forced my body to shuffle along, and we talked a great deal.  I hadn't had a real, lengthy conversation since I left mile 70 and it was much appreciated.  Carin was miraculously doing this race as her first 100 miler, and she crushed it.  Mollie was a good pacer, constantly reminding Carin to eat and drink (which caused me to follow suit).  Somewhere in these miles, my joints started getting more painful, causing me to groan pretty regularly and stumble some.  Mollie did a good job talking me up and keeping me moving when I wasn't even her ward.  She had us both laughing off our hallucinations, joking about her watching my butt, and talking about almost anything but running.  Some pizza and grilled cheese at "Mile 87" hit the spot and we 'speedily' hiked the "3.3 mile" road section into the next aid station.  Walking along that road, I actually swayed and dozed off a couple times while still walking.

At the aid station, I finally realized I should have started hitting the caffeine hard much earlier, so I drank two cups of Mountain Dew, did 50/50 of water and Mountain Dew in my pack, took some ibuprofen, and we were off.  I left about 30 seconds after Carin and Mollie, so had to play catch-up.  Having to speed up to catch them, I realized I felt okay for once so I leaned forward and ran up the mountain away from them.  Running again felt amazing mentally, and not horribly physically.  I was using muscles that hadn't been touched in a long time.  Then, when I hit the top and had to go down the other side, my ankles gave me a cringe-worthy reminder of how torn up I really was.  I actually had to sit down for a minute and collect myself because I was breathing so heavily fighting of the discomfort in my joints.  Then I heard the ladies' voices coming up the trail.  I knew they would catch back up soon, and I thought I should keep moving forward at least, and let them catch me when they will.  That didn't take very long, and I was thrilled to have the company again.  These descents were very technical, with lots of loose rock, and I could barely trot down in my current condition.  Mollie took the lead and told me to follow.  I was in no place to argue, so I held on and just kept wincing as we moved downhill into the second-to-last aid station.

From there, the next 5.8 miles are a loop followed by 3 (or so) road miles to the finish line.  I stopped to use the bathroom and lost about a minute on Carin and Mollie early into the loop.  I think I really like playing catch-up, because I was able to start running again to catch them, even some downhills (even though they were excruciating).  I hung out with them a minute before we hit a nice, comfortably graded climb so I ran off ahead again. I was actually running very well for a couple miles in here and was dumbfounded by that being possible.  Then, I got worried.  My headlamp was close to dead and had switched into it's very dim power-saving mode.  After that, things along the trail began to feel very familiar and I worried I had missed out turn back toward the aid station, even though it is such an obvious turn.  I turned around and ran backward until I saw the ladies again, confirmed we were going the right way, and took off back toward the aid station.  I was racing my headlamp, so I was actually running hard here, and loving everything except the downhills.  

Then, the world turned against me in probably the most fitting end to this gratuitous adventure.  About 2 miles before the end of the loop, rain started coming down--hard--in a real torrential downpour.  It was likely past 4am at the time, and the temperature must have dropped to close to 50 degrees in that cold, pouring rain.  I knew the only way I could keep warm in my tiny little Patagonia jersey and arm panties (that I only had thanks to Mollie--seriously I could not have finished with those two) was to keep moving with a lot of effort.  HOWEVER, my headlamp finally died at what turned out to be about half a mile from the end of the loop when I could have made my way to the aid station without it, and finished without it on the roads back to camp.  That didn't happen though; it did die.  And in the black of night, in the pouring rain without a star peaking through the clouds, I could not see a damn thing.  I couldn't see my hand inches from my face. I've never experienced that kind of darkness in a situation where I couldn't just turn on the lights.  I got scared about how cold I could get here.  There was no way I was going to keep going, I the trail had a sharp drop on one side that I would most definitely fall down if I overshot that way, and I had no way of gauging where to go.  So, to conserve what little heat I could, I sat down on the trail and curled up into a ball, breathing into my shirt until Carin and Mollie came up on me about 5 minutes later, shivering like mad as soon as we started moving. I stuck just off Mollie's shoulder, moving from her headlamp, shivering all the way.  We didn't even stop at the final aid station.  I grabbed a gel for the road and we took off.  I told Mollie I needed to go to get there as quickly as possible, fearing I would end up hypothermic if I took too long.  I ran down the road descent, but Mollie and Carin followed and we turned onto the road into camp together.  Here I finally smelled the barn and decided to go for it, so I left the two of them and ran all the way into camp, cringing all the way as my mangled feet slapped the asphalt.  

With no headlamp and the sun not quite up, no one at camp even realized there was a finisher coming in until I was already up on the parking area.  A quick exchange with Eric and Will Jorgensen and I moved inside to change clothes as quickly as possible.  I was done, and I couldn't actually fully appreciate that fact because my body was in such bad shape.  I forced down some Gu Recovery Brew and a Clif Builder's Bar, and tried to compose myself enough to leave. 

To put my experience and my misery/pain along the return trip into an understandable setting, here's some comparison.  Eric left me at "mile 60" and finished over 9 hours earlier than me.  Derek Dowell, another run I met on the trail, moved ahead of me at about "mile 77" and finished 3 hours earlier.  The return trip (about 52 miles), including my hour stay at the "mile 70" aid station, took 24 hours.  The entire Grindstone 100 last October, which I ran conservatively, took 24:51.  I have never suffered so much for anything, especially a belt buckle.

Finished: 40:02.  Finishing is all.

Looking back, I will cherish this race.  This is the hardest thing (running or not) I have ever done, and so now the future will seem much easier by comparison.  And I know I can duck down my head and grind for literally an entire day, which is a useful skill right? Maybe that should go on my resumé.  At the finish line, a discussion broke out regarding just how hard this race is.  We came to the conclusion that this is the hardest 100 miler in America--even harder than big boy Hardrock.  The race has ~98 miles of TECHNICAL single track, about as much elevation change (though much of this is sandwiched into the middle 40-45 miles), and involves a great deal of humidity, which causes all kinds of foot problems.  However, the RD knows exactly how hard the race is and truly did everything possible to get people to the finish line.  He lined of a slew of knowledgable, enthusiastic volunteers, and was extremely well organized.  All aid stations and the finish line knew where all runners were at all times.  The aid stations all had at least the standard fare, which more than half having hot food ready for runners and they were never close to running out of anything. I don't expect this race to ever get big, it's too difficult for that.  But give it some thought, the organization was flawless.  The RD was out on the course driving from aid to aid all the way through the second night, and right before we left, I heard he was actually working an aid station himself.  That is dedication. My hat is off to you Willy.

A couple take home points: People may think I was simply undertrained for the race.  That is not the case.  I am the most fit I have ever been. However, I was incorrectly trained for racing the way I did--slow with so much hiking.  My training mileage was adequate, and my weekly elevation change was great, but it was much too fast, funnily enough.  I probably could have run the 50 miler here very well, but for the 100 mile, I needed to be hiking instead of running.  I also need to worry less about taking caffeine too early.  I worried here and did not take nearly enough for the 49 hours I ended up being awake.

I'm writing this on Monday night, and I still can't walk without a cane.   Will I go back? I feel  I have some unfinished business, but I really don't know.  This race brutalized me. It stripped way everything by the bare essentials needed for survival, and even those were dented.

Sunday night, for whatever reason, I decided to see the new Star Trek movie with a good friend.  She asked me why I do this to myself, and did so in an honest way, not the standard incredulous question all ultrarunners face regularly.  And for the first time, I really had no idea.  This race put a lot of doubt in my mind.  However, today I know that I at least do these because I love that I can will myself to do something so difficult.  Nothing matters beyond that.  That skill is infinitely useful.

People reading this preparing for an ultra of your own, take this one thing from it: you can finish if you want it enough.  What your body tells you does not matter, your body is a tool for your mind.  You can fight it for much longer than you think.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spring Catch-Up: Pre-Cruel Jewel

VT Ultra team
Promise Land Recap: Started with cramping calves, ran up Apple Orchard. Made it from Sunset Fields to the finish in 32 minutes.  Felt like I could keep going for a while at the finish; good tune-up for Cruel Jewel. I also squeaked into the top 10 for the first time at a Horton race, pretty excited about that. I passed 9 people in the last 5 miles.
We had 5 in the top 15!!
I peaked with a 92 mile training week, 104 miles on a 7-day span. Nearly what I did for Grindstone, but I did this one earlier.  Everything this Spring has been MUCH faster than I was running last autumn though, so I know I'm fit right now.   Also in March, I did 3 ultras in 15 days as a training experiment that ended really well, and gave me a lot of confidence in slogging.

One new thing this year is, thanks to my Suunto Ambit, I'm tracking my climb.  January through April, I climbed 35,050 feet, 42,950 feet, 45,000 feet, and 60,100 feet.  Pretty awesome progression, and plenty of gain I think for Cruel Jewel's (likely padded) 30,000 feet of climb.  Max week was ~25,000 feet of climb as well, back in February just for fun.

This past weekend, I headed up to Ohio with Rudy and Wyatt of VT Ultra. They were running 50s For Yo Momma, a 50 mile (Rudy) and 50k (Wyatt) done on a 5.2 mile loop course.  Rain for days prior caused it to be a sloppy mess after only a couple laps.  Rudy still pulled out a WIN in a solid time and Wyatt pulled off 3rd place on a less than stellar day.  I paced Rudy is last two laps, got covered in mud, and realized a little bit of information.  The week before Grindstone I paced Rudy to his first win at the Uber Rock 50k. A week later I ran a great Grindstone for my first 100.  Great confidence boost for Cruel Jewel!

Lots of mud for 10 miles

Fun gang
Virginia Tech Graduation is this weekend. I'll be down in Georgia racing the Cruel Jewel 100 with my friend and mentor Eric Grossman rather than walking.  During the ceremony, I'll have been traipsing through the woods for 70-80 miles already, likely hallucinating, falling apart at the seems, and loving every minute of it.  That will be my graduation; the woods are my school.

.Cruel Jewel Profile
I've worked my ass off; now it's time to play.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50k.

4:55, 22 minute PR. 65 miles last Saturday, 35 the Saturday before.

This race was nothing but caffeine, ibuprofen, and willpower.

I felt bad until mile 18, and then I felt good.

At Mile 21, Rudy said I was going to be first Hokie, so I ran hard to do that.

Best race report ever.  50ks feel short.

2 Down, 6 to go.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Georgia Death Race

Where to begin...

I'm not exactly sure why, but this is the hardest race I've finished.  Hardest course? Not really. if it had been 30-out and 30-back, then definitely, but I think the 38ish miles of road balance out how difficult the first marathon is.  Something about the race was tough.  The heat, the exposure, having to stretch out your stride after grunting up and downhill for 7 hours--they all contribute.  Honestly, the difficulty of this race is synergistic, that's all I can come up with.

I got the idea to run the Georgia Death Race in the fall, after Grindstone, while looking for a new challenge away from the Virginia mountains I've already gotten to know very well.  Plus, I planned to throw my name in the hat for Hardrock, and 60 miles with 15,000 feet of climb seemed to be a pretty good tune-up.

Over the past couple months, my goals for this race shifted around quite a bit.  I went from plans to race it hard to do it as a training run to just trying to make it to the finish line in one piece.  Humorously, I think I failed to actually accomplish any of those goals, but I'm still content with the day.  Not thrilled, not frustrated--content.

The Saturday before GDR held a super fun, arduous 35 mile 'event' to which I could not turn down an invitation.  35 miles one week out--great way to force a taper.  I had been dealing with achilles problems off and on since before Holiday Lake, so when I had a week of cooperation, I had to date it and ended up with 74 miles on that week.

Onward,  my good friend Rudy and I headed down to Hilton Head to relax hard before the Georgia Death Race.  We had both done the event the weekend before and knew we needed serious rest--like sleeping 10+ hours every night.  We spent most of the week laying around reading and dealing with allergies, and I ran a total of 4 miles the 5 days prior to the GDR.

Race day:
Everybody woke up at about 2:45 (awesome), had breakfast, and made our way over to Vogel State Park to get settled before the start.  The course climbs 3000 feet in the first 7 miles, so we just settled in and hiked (rather vigorously) up and up to Coosa Bald, the high point of the course.  All downhill from here!  Rudy and I started together and resolved to stick together for most of the day, as we seem to normally do these days.  It is always nice to have company when you are running most of the day.

The first 20 or so miles of the course fall on the Duncan Ridge Trail, which is known for it's last of switchbacks and general painful nature.  We spent the first 26 miles of the day grunting up super steep climbs and trotting down the backsides of each mountain--the descents were too steep to trust with a full stride.  When we hit the mile 25 (that was mile 27) aid station, and our first drop bags.  I felt like I had just put in 50 miles or more, not 27.  My body was already weary; last week was catching up to me I thought. I checked my watch--8700 ft of gain. Yikes.  At least that made me feel a little better about the state of my legs. Two ibuprofen, a bottle of coke, a gel restock, and I'm good to go.  A few miles later I had forgotten about how bad I felt there, enjoying the caffeine and company of Shaun Pope and Rudy (when he felt up to talking--rough days all around).  From here through mile 40 or so, the miles ticked off the way they usually do in an ultra, except no one felt good.  This is the one stretch aside from the first 15 or so miles where I did not feel bad. I did not feel good, but I wasn't miserable for a little while.

Then, after a quick left at an open field and another aid station, we hit some very long, dusty service roads right in the heat of the day.  Living in Blacksburg, I am used to cold, and not much else until summer.  We had 10 days last month with the wind chill below 20 degrees.  Being exposed in 80 degree heat is not much fun. Rudy and I actually sat down in a creek at one point just to cool down.  That rejuvenated us for a little while, and we made decent progress to the next aid station.  I should note that with how bad we felt, no one actually passed us through all of this, and we actually passed a couple people too.  Rough days all around.

Mile 40 (that is actually Mile 44) holds the second drop bags.  More food, more water (lots of water) and I was out of the aid station quickly, leaving Rudy to change his shoes and socks (something I seriously should have planned to do).  Soon after, I realized we were on the 6 mile descent that is distinct on the elevation profile. I leaned forward, stretched out my legs, and hoped that if I forced some more actual running, I would feel better.  Well, that was a bad idea. About two miles down, Rudy came flying by, seeming completely revived.  I tried to match him, and did not hold on for very long.  Then, everything came crumbling down and so began the true grind. For the next 18 miles.  I resolved to jogging downhill, walking (not hiking) the (pretty small) uphills, and forcing as many calories down as I could.

I came into the mile 51 aid station thoroughly worked, and took a little time to stock up on calories before walking out. Back at mile 27, I tried emptying debris from my left shoe to no luck--I thought it must have been in my sock.  Oh well, I never get blisters.  Oh how things change.  My left foot was starting to hurt more now, and I took a couple more ibuprofen that did absolutely nothing--or if they did, I worry about how I would have felt otherwise. Here to the finish line, everything became about grunting forward.  I managed to force a run for the next 3 miles or so, although it probably wasn't much better than walking. Then I hit the final climb.  Thankfully, Jon Barker, a local and former British adventure racer extraordinaire, caught back up to me.  We had spent some early miles together, and were both very glad for the company these last 10 miles.  I'm not sure how much worse my race would have ended without him sticking by me.  We ran for a bit, walked for a bit, and made good progress up the climb.   The mountains in Georgia are distinct enough that we could spot the gap where the aid station was located from several miles away, giving us a landmark to check ourselves with.  He stopped to call his wife at the aid station, and I waited, wanting company more than much anything else. 6 miles (actually 7 miles) to go.  We made reasonable progress the next several miles, and I could actually "run" downhill so long as my left foot never stepped on a rock--which is pretty hard to do on jeep road.  Jon lives near the finish line, and knows the area very well, so we always had a good idea of how close we were from coming into Amicalola Falls, the finish area.  The course was rerouted "due to traffic" the last couple miles, sending use down some gnarly single track as opposed to the paved road. Another nail in the coffin.  I did my best do just maintain a running cadence, and even that was difficult.  When the buildings at the bottom of the falls came into view, I lost it.  I basically hiked the rest of the way down, about a mile, swinging my arms as furiously as I could trying to build some momentum.  I trotted across the finish line and collapsed in a chair, as spent as I've ever been.

No race has ever hurt so much, or felt so rewarding to me.  Grindstone in 2012, maybe, but that was a different kind of reward--one of months of preparation and perfect execution.  March 16 in Georgia, however, I learned how much I can really suffer, and apparently I can suffer quite a bit.  Being able to force 40 miles and grind for 6+ hours is reassuring with more than one 100 miler on the calendar this year.  When I collapsed into that chair at the finish line, I knew I had worked my ass off for the finish.  A few days later, my legs are feeling normal again, the heat rash is gone, trench foot fully dried, blisters treated, and I can walk normally for the first time in days.  You'd think this would have fried me more than it did, but I am actually excited for Terrapin Mountain, now only three days away!

VT Ultra had a perfect finish rate for our 5 entrants, which is awesome.  From everyone I've talked to, people suffered throughout the whole field; it is nice to know I wasn't alone.

The numbers:
65 miles
13,800' gain
14,800' descent
14 hours 37 minutes
9th place!
lots of suffering

Post-run Feet--much nicer in the photo

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Holiday Lake, aka the 32 mile tempo run

The evening before Holiday Lake this year,  I hoped with people that my race strategy was going to be a 1:50 first lap followed by a 3 hour second lap. My real goal (decided on Saturday morning) was to keep the chase pack in sight as long as possible.  Well after a 7:57 first mile they were already 20 seconds up and never to be seen again except for on their way back on their second loop.

From here I settled into a comfortably uncomfortable pace with Kristeb Chang and Kaylyn Peck, who were hovering near each other in 2nd female position.  After several miles we all began to wonder why everyone was young so fast.  From the first aid station, I was consistently picking up my pace mile by mile while still getting passed.  Kristen was curious about the pace so I checked my was (that I had programmed a 50k time estimator onto). 4:12 pace. Shit.  The absurdity made me chuckle, in the days before the race while I dealt with a cold, little sleep, little appetite, and a nagging left achilles/calf strain, I figured I should aim to break 4:30. We were running along in close to 30th place at 4:12 pace.  I shrugged it off since I wasn't breathing too laboriously and kept trucking along.   When fellow VT ultrarunner Wyatt L. caught up to me toward the end of the flat/fast 10 miles leading into the single track on the backside of the lake I did my best to keep with him, he's much better at turning over on the smooth terrain than me.  I love LOVE single track, the more technical the better, so when we left the mile 12ish aid station, I starting to push the effort a little.  This next 1/3rd of the course (4 miles in and 4 miles out of the turnaround) is mostly winding singletrack and I really enjoyed it.  I was able to shorten my stride a little bit, closer to the much more comfortable "ultrarunner trot" which help mixed things up, and every downhill was a nice reprieve for my hamstrings.  Somewhere in here I caught up to local speedster Jordan Whitlock, someone I didn't think I had any business being near in a race, and half-jokingly asked why everyone was running so fast.  The pace still didn't feel right for an ultra.

I came into the turnaround and fumbled for a minute trying to get gels into my shorts pocket. I hadn't had any dexterity in my hands since I took off my l/s shirt at AS1, so after a frustrating minute or so, I just got Rudy to do it for me--great crew! I glanced at my watch to see my split--2:09:51--and it was the fasted I had EVER run 16 miles before. OK.  On the next several miles of singletrack I made my first surge.  Wyatt had gotten into the turnaround about 30 seconds after me, and I knew he would catch me on the flat stretch if I didn't gap him here.  I ignored my breathing for the next 4ish miles into the next aid station and hammered all the way except for one climb where I had to hike in order to force down a gel.  Some brief conversation with Holly Bugin who went onto a new female course record and I started to focus on keeping my stride long. By mile 20, my hamstrings started to scream.  Another gel and I was able to grind to the mile 24ish aid station--15th place, much higher than I thought I was. I guess that surge on the singletrack worked.   Leading up to this aid station, I saw 3 people ahead of me fairly spread out so I figured I'd try to catch them.  It gave me motivation, and I sorely needed that.  I hit the marathon at 3:32, a 20 minute PR on the distance (though I've only done one very STUPID marathon), and kept trucking along.  I came into 11th place just before the final aid station, dumbfounded to be in that position.  It was the highest position I had ever been in at a Horton race, and Holiday Lake doesn't play to my strengths. From a glance at my watch, I hoped to force a sub 4:20 finish.From that aid station, I was very excited to get to the final hills and finally use some different muscles.

After the final "climb" I "sprinted" (as much as an ultrarunner can sprint) the last mile, windmilling my arms on the downhill road, to finish in 4:19:22, a 20-second negligible negative split, and after handshake from Dr. Horton and his remarks on my big PR (which are very meaningful coming from him!) I collapsed on the ground and stuck my feet up in a chair, laying there for about 10 minutes with a big, exhausted grin on my face.

Beast race #1 is done.  Next up is the back-to-back insanity of the Georgia Death Race 60-mile and Terrapin Mountain 50k, so back into the mountains I go.

Some info:
<5 Huckleberry Hammer Gels (I didn't actually finish a couple of them)
~50oz water
2 cups mountain dew
Basically, very little calories.  With my regular nutrition pretty dialed, I don't think I crave carb as much during my runs, but part of this was that the fast pace being new and uncomfortable to eat through.

Shoes: Nike Streak LTs--5.3oz road flat.  GREAT shoe, who know Nike could do it?  Never had any issue during the race, and my feet weren't sore at all the next day.  A lot of underfoot protection for the weight.

This was also the first team race for our newly formed VT Ultrarunning Club, and I'm really happy for  how well everyone did.  We had several first 50ks and first ultras.  Everyone did very well, and more important, I think almost everyone finished with a smile.  I'm really happy we've developed this community to help each other push our limits.