Monday, March 31, 2014

See you in Squaw

With a poor Terrapin Mountain performance now a week past and my legs feeling springy again, this feels as good a time as any to write this.  This post is mostly a reminder to myself, but enjoy.

1.  Do what AJW says.  I got a coach, and in particular AJW because I trust him to know what is best.  Do not question.
2.  Hit workouts HARD and easy days EASY.  Generally I am happy to trot along easy on my easy days, but as training picks up, I want to emphasize it.  Easy days are for recovery, there's no reason to work on them. I'll be doing three workouts and a long run each week--I will need the easy days.
3.  Get my core routine up to 25 minutes.  I'm at 15 right now, slacking a little after taking a week off from it.
4.  Get to the mountains regularly.  In February it was far too easy to lace up my shoes and head straight out the door.  We're lucky in Blacksburg to have a myriad of wonderful trails and different styles of mountains nearby--take advantage.
5.  Believe I am capable of performing.  All spring various people have been telling me to go for top 10.  Regardless of whether or not that is a viable goal, it's time I start believing it is.
11. Recover. I'm lucky that I can get by (right now) working part time, living pretty simply.  I have a plum job too, and I do stretch in my cubicle sometimes.  I have a lot of time to dedicate to real recovery; I should make use of it.
12. Eat. Nonstop. All. Day.
13.  Make it to Colorado in May--and more so to the start line in Squaw Valley--in one piece and healthy.  I was teetering on the overtraining line last Fall leading into the Grindstone that never was. I was ripping a month later after a month shifted into short, faster running and away from mileage.  I should be better off this time around; with all the workouts the time on my feet should be lower but I am still going to monitor well.
14. Remember the main goal. I am signed up for only one more ultra prior to Western States because I have trouble doing races as training runs.  I love Promise Land--so there is no way I could not run again this year--but I have to make sure I keep it in its place and not overdo it there.
15.  Enjoy every minute.  I'm lucky that I get to do this and that my friends are going to be supporting me there.  I want to make sure I enjoy and relish every minute.
16.  Lastly, I will see you in squaw ;)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Synchroblog: ultraVT

Here we go!

How do you describe ultraVT to a stranger?
We are a group of students (and alumni), based in Blacksburg, who get together to enjoy the trails, kick each other's asses in workouts, and just have fun together. We enjoy easy runs, hard workouts, and racing each other every so often. 

When did you get involved with ultraVT?
From the beginning! Several students through the past 15 years or so complete ultras while at the school. I got into them separately, thanks to Eric Grossman, and after my first Holiday Lake 50k in 2012, I notices some guys around campus wearing the same race shirt. I started running regularly with the triathlon club, of which they were a part, and after some time we decided that there was enough interest at the school to branch off and establish our own team/club. Rudy and I put in the grunt work then, getting sponsors, doing promotion, etc. to get a good membership base and we just keep growing!

How do you see yourself within ultraVT?
Organizationally, I handle sponsors, orders, work on marketing/publicity like interviews, and usually manage trip logistics. I try to be the person with an answer to any question though. I've been at this for nearly 4 years now, and I love helping out the people just getting started since I've likely been through whatever they are working through right now. Jumping into ultrarunning definitely has a learning curve from high school cross country!

What's your favorite aspect of ultraVT?
Definitely the friendships.  We can push each other through a rough training run, and then get back to town and relax over a beer. We've all spent enough time together that our friendships are not simply running anymore.

What's your favorite trail run in the blacksburg vicinity?
Now that is a tricky question; everything has different merits.  Most likely either Dragon's Tooth or Butt Mountain.  I love Dragon's tooth because you push hard, go hand over foot briefly, take some risks, and you're done in <55 minutes.  Butt Mountain is really a classic Western-style run.  It is simple, uphill 5.5 miles to the top, check out the view, then turn around and run back down.  With brief tangents you go past both the Cascades falls and Barney's Wall.  

Any secrets you'd like to share?
London Underground has the best day-after-race breakfast in town.

Favorite post-race meal?
Curry! Or if I'm feeling lazy, steak & guac burrito (quesarito)

What do you want for ultraVT five years from now?
In five years, everyone currently involved should be graduated.  That time is when we will know if the team is established and here to stay.  I hope it has grown from its current state, and spread out even.  We are in an exciting time for mountain running and young people.  Sterling College followed us with their own ultrarunning team (that is fully endorsed by the school) two years after we established ultraVT, and with the newly established Collegiate Mountain Running Championship, I would not be surprised to see ultrarunning follow suit in the near future. I would love for Virginia Tech to be driving force in that level of competition.

New jams

Monday, March 17, 2014


I've become entirely too lax with this whole blog thing.  This post and the one to follow it should suffice to cover everything of note the past few months, and I plan in posting more regularly now that Western States training will be coming on full steam.

First, I got picked up for the Gu Crew for 2014 which is great.  I plan on going back to school in the fall without working, so any help to keep running is endlessly appreciated. Plus, getting a little support from a company definitely makes me feel as though I'm starting to do something right.

The year started with a truly epic road trip.  Epic is a tremendously overused word, but it fits the trip perfectly.  4500 miles in a car in two with two friends, plus another 600 on my own getting to and from Cincinati.  We hit a lot of mountains, a few canyons, and 15 different states.  Most of the trip was spent in Colorado, where we did a lot of vertical in a lot of snow.

I've spent nearly 5 months in Colorado now over the past few years.  Compared to natives, that is not much time but it is enough to provide a certain degree of confidence whenever I decide to go high.  However, no matter how much time one spends in the mountains, the mountains will always provide some new tribulation if you get cocky.

Patrick McGlade had a few days off work surrounding the new year holiday, so he served as our stellar guide for hitting new front range mountains [Rudy had never been to Colorado and Wyatt had only seen one 14er].  After turning down Grays Peak after losing too much of the morning to get down safely, we decided to hit Quandary a couple days later.  We shrugged off a snow forecast for Breckenridge, figuring the storm would hit in the afternoon as they so often do in Colorado.  Starting up the mountain was jovial and pleasant.  We played around and trotted up above treeline. But with about 1500 feet left to the summit, we entered another world.  Where below we enjoyed the sun with jackets unzipped and gloves off, we met an almost immediate shift in conditions that only got worse as we kept climbing.
Enjoying the climb before we reached the storm
Photo by Rudy Rutemiller
The path up Quandary from just above treeline is relatively simple, follow a ridgeline 2 miles until you top out.  With strong gusts of piercing wind and stinging snow, though.  Keeping to the path and avoiding the left edge was an interesting game.  Patrick and Rudy went off ahead as I struggled to keep upright, with Wyatt further behind me. I grunted my way up the mountain however, deeper into hell. Above ~13,500', the conditions were white-out.  The steady wind coming over from the right was enough to keep me braced for support, and the occasional gust was more than enough to blow me back a couple steps.  Step, step, pause, step, step, fall back two feet. Repeat.  At 13,800' I passed a man who knew what he was doing, dressed in a down jumpsuit with poles and mountaineering boots to keep himself upright.  Sometimes, I meet situations in the mountains that warrant laughing at the absurdity of it all--it was too cold for that here.  I kept a buff over my fast as long as I could, but before long that caused my breath to freeze both lenses of my sunglasses.  Pulling down the buff caused it to quickly freeze solid, rendered useless.  After this experience, I believe I know true cold.
Suffering on top of Quandary.  Note that I did not crop this--that white was up there.
Photo by Patrick McGlade
From here, there was only reason I kept pushing upward--Rudy and Patrick were up top and I had no way of saying "Fuck this, I'm turning back," which is all I had been thinking for the past several minutes as I continued grunting upward.  At 14,000 feet Rudy and Patrick came back down, and I thought, "Finally I can quit," but Patrick turned upward toward the summit again with only a few words of exchange and no time to argue.  I followed him.  I am glad I did, since it was only another 2 minutes to the top.  A couple quick photos and we turned downward.  The summit featured about 40 feet of flat, and the wind was so strong that I got blown off my feet mid-stride only a dozen steps from the summit post.  Terrified of worsening conditions, we bolted down the mountain.  Now came a new balancing act: avoid the drop-off to the right and the loose rock below foot. While trying to get blown over by the 60 mph gusts. While you can only see 5-6 feet down the trail.  I lost Patrick within a minute.  I saw him again 400' down the mountain, and I believe he was never more than 15 feet in front of me going down that stretch.  Not long after, we caught Rudy standing with Wyatt still on his way up.  Wyatt made the right call and turn back.

Rolling down the mountain near Wyatt
Not long after, I thought I was comfortable enough on terrain to open up my stride and hopefully get below treeline faster.  Almost immediately, I took what I felt like my worst fall every.  I landed square on on my front, with my forearm between my body and the rocks below.  I started screaming.  It took me nearly a minute to stop just screaming and try to do something.  I broke my wrist in middle school, this felt worse.  I rolled onto my back, hoisted myself to a seated position and tried to assess the damage.  The rock had at the least torn through my shell, which worried me about what lay underneath.  Standing up, I began walking downhill--running was too painful.  By the time we dropped out of the storm, I was able to run; my arm was not broken and I now attribute that pain mostly to the cold.  Again on the descent, we were met with a second world.  We descended out of the white-out storm into clear, sunny snowfields a few hundred feet above treeline.  We advised a few parties to turn back from their summit attempts--one of which did not even have crampons--and feeling safe again, took to playing in the snow.  We glissaded and postholed around on our way back down into the trees before trotting the rest of the way down to the cars.
Snow blowing off the mountain well below the storm.

Fighting the weather up high was the most harrowing experience I have ever had, and I plan to channel that suffering into every new adventure I have for quite some time. I have a new respect for the mountains--a respect that I think can only come with the outcome of underestimation and lucky success.