Saturday, September 3, 2016

9/2/16: Mt Rundle Summit

Ever since arriving in Banff I had been eyeing the tallest mountain in the area.  It looked imposing with steep, jagged peaks that towered 5,500 feet above the valley floor.  It was also impressive on paper with an 8.4 mile round trip trail boasting 23% grade and topping out at over 9,750.  Clearly I had to try it.

Our condo was about 2.5 miles away so the plan was to run there, summit the mountain, run back.  Pretty simple, right?  I started around 7:45 and was treated to local wildlife, waterfalls, and a lower layer of clouds down in the valley before I even got started.  Got to love Banff!

After wandering around the golf course for a bit, I found the correct fire road and soon was on the Mount Rundle summit trail.  With 23% average grade, I was expecting super steep forest trails similar to what I’ve run in the Alps.  It was still a stout climb but was much mellower than I had expected.  I power hiked and ran up, enjoying the views through the trees of the surrounding mountains and valley cloud layer. 

I was bouncing along having a great time and finally decided to check the Suunto watch.  I had gone 3 miles with 2,300 feet of climb.  Not bad under most circumstances, but I did some mental math and promptly got very confused.  So there must be more than 3,000 feet of climbing left but there simply wasn’t enough distance left for the rest of the climbing.  Clearly this must be a much longer out and back than advertised.  No matter. I was making good time and would get it done anyway.

And then – WHAM!!!  I crossed a rockslide and was greeted with a sheer wall in front of my face.  It was a mass of roots and impossible steep forest trail climbing up.  Game on!  The grade was absurd, so I figured it would have to let up soon.  Well it did not.

The trail relentlessly pounded straight up the mountain.  No switchbacks and no mercy.  After forever I checked my watch to discover I had gone only 0.5 miles.  What?!  I looked again and saw I had climbed over 1,200 feet, meaning it was a 47% grade through the trees. 

I trudged up through the tree line and was greeted with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.  I was also greeted with a clear view of the rest of the “trail.”  It looked like a sheer rock face straight to the summit with scree fields, rock and talus everywhere, and not a trail to be found.

I figured I had seen worse in the Alps and trudged on.  In truth I have descended down similar terrain but had never climbed anything this tough. I kept pushing up, wondering if I had lost my mind, and was pleased to see two people above me.  It turned out they were a couple from Germany and Australia, and I pushed past them after chatting but was glad to know I had company on the mountain.  It was also getting very cold and windy, so I finally relented and put on my pullover.

The vertical insanity continued, and I eventually found myself in view of the summit.  The last push was the toughest and steepest.  I struggled to move forwards and avoid falling back with the loose rocks and talus.  Finally, I hit an apex and saw the summit was a short traverse over on the knife edge. I checked the watch and was floored to see that I had covered over 3,000 feet in 1.2 miles for a 46% grade.  The trail was 4.2 miles one way as advertised; my mind was blown.

The view was other-worldly from the top.  I took some pictures and videos, enjoyed an overly well earned PB&J, and tried my best not to freeze to death.

It was a cool perch, but I had to get warm and back to the family.  The first part of the descent was tricky at best.  But in the next stretch I think I finally got the hang of descending down scree.  I basically skied down the rocks and was having a blast.  The stretch after the scree field was actually the toughest.  It was still super steep and all rocks, but there wasn’t much to get a grip on or stop a fall.  I fell here and banged up my leg and elbow a bit but nothing major.

I hit the super steep forest trail and powered down as fast as I could.  My legs were definitely feeling it after descending so much so quickly.  I finally hit the bottom of the steep section and the 3,000 foot 1.2 mile descent.  My legs were shaking, but I knew they’d come around on the less crazy trail.  I motored down the last 3.1 miles in less than 30 minutes and popped out on the golf course.

I ran a few miles to meet up with the family in town.  It was a wild ride, and I am still glowing from the adventure.  Aside from being crazy fun, I also feel like I am slowly improving on the extreme terrain and can do ok on tough courses.

And a huge thanks to Jen for giving me the morning off!  Super happy to have had the chance for this big adventure.    

Leaving the condo.  The summit of Mt Rundle was shrouded in clouds. 

Cascade Mountain in early morning light 

Ran through Banff and crossed the Bow River.  The highest point here is the beast I'll be climbing. 

Bow River Rapids.  Didn't know these were here, so it was a nice bonus! 

The famous Fairmont Hotel. 

Came around the corner and saw a huge elk! 

Since this elk was hanging out around a golf course, I figured it was tame and took a long distance elk selfie. 

Climbing up through the trees and looking out at the low cloud layer in the valley. 

Cloud layer over the town of Banff. 

"The Wall."  After the mellow forest trail this was the real deal.  Hard to get scale, but this was 45%+ grade straight up the forest. 

Starting to break above treeline

Looking down at the town of Banff 

Working the climb hard but loving it! 

The "trail" up the rock / scree field to the summit. 

Looking down the rock field I climbed up and starting to get bigger views 

The route to the top.  I was very happy to see two other souls out here.  It was a nice couple from Australia and Germany. 

Looking down the route up.  You can see the two small dots of the people in the previous pic that I had now passed. 

Looking over at the route up the smaller summit of Rundle, which was less steep than the one I was on. 

Still on the way up and looking over at the spine of the smaller Mt Rundle summit. 

Another view down the route.  I had come up from the bottom and then turned over to where I was now.  It was getting really cold and windy up here! 

View from just short of the summit 

At the top now! 

Looking off the back side of Rundle.  Basically a vertical wall! 

Traversing over to the official summit.  You can see the route I climbed going from bottom left to middle right. 

A bunch of glorious views from the top!  I was very cold but stopped to enjoy a PB&J and revel in the spectacular 360 degree panorama. 

A few views down the backside to the river 5,500+ feet below. 

You could see some big peaks and big glaciers in the far distance that were tough to capture in the picture 

On the way back down.  Good view of the crazy steep descent from the summit.  Basically had to ski down the rocks and brace with the trekking poles. 

Way too happy.  Digging the adventure! 

Looking up the route I descended.  We came down the ridge on the left from the peak in the top right.  I later found out that one should not descend into the gully at any cost.  Glad I didn't!

Navigating down to the tree line.  Took a nice spill on this section. 

Past "the wall" now and moving fast down the last 2,300 feet.  Loving this forest trail. 

Some sweet single track in the sub alpine. 

Back to the valley!  Looking across the golf course to the Fairmont. 

Running back into down and looking up a the summit of Rundle with new perspective / respect. 

 Later in the week we got a great view of the mountain.

You could clearly see the route to the summit for the last 1.25 miles that climbed 3,100 feet.  I outlined it here, which gives you a bit of perspective.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

6/14/16: OSS CIA 50 Miler Race Report

I narrowly squeezed in the George Washington Birthday Marathon the day before Connor was born.  A newborn is not exactly conducive to running ultras, but I stumbled across the OSS CIA 50.  It was local and only 40 minutes away in Prince William Forest.  With a 7pm start it wouldn’t exactly cut into much family time.   I wasn’t particularly well trained and figured it might kill me, but why not give it a shot?

There were about 100 people signed up with some opting for the 6pm early start and some starting at 7pm.  Despite the cool spring a massive heat wave rolled through just in time, and it was over 90 degrees at the start.  It never cooled down very much and was hot and humid with temps above 80 most of the night.  With a night start and the crazy weather, it was a monster of a race.  This was definitely another one to chalk up in the character building category.

We set off into the heat and made our way down to the South Valley Trail.  I settled into fourth or fifth place and fought the urge to join the lead pack.  I kept the effort well in check and just cruised along.  The first 10-11 were beautiful single track rolling trail along the stream.  The sun was still shining, and I was having a good time on a beautiful run through the forest.

I blew through the mile 7.4 water drop stopping only to say hi to the one and only Gary Knipling.  He was out volunteering on course, and it was awesome to see him.  I was in third at this point and briefly caught up with Erin, who was running in second place.  He took off before the next aid station and was out of sight from there and held on for a strong second place finish. 

I moved fast (probably too fast) through Oak Ridge aid station for the Farm to Forest loop.  This was allegedly 1.8 miles, but was at least half a mile longer than that.  Unfortunately, I was already starting to show some wear and tear here.  Uh-oh.  My headlamp also stopped working almost as soon as I had turned it on despite having fresh batteries.  Fortunately I also had my trusty, badass flashlight.  Then I spent some time changing out the headlamp batteries back at the aid station, which was time well spent.

I hopped on a few more miles of single track trail, and from there we had about 5 miles of fire road.  I was really starting to feel it on this section.  My stomach wasn’t so hot, and I realized I was really overheating.  The temps just weren’t going down and I couldn’t get my body temp under control.  After a few more miles of hilly single track, I was falling apart.  I was coming up to mile 23 and felt wrecked.  I’d been running in 3rd for a while with a good lead but saw 4th and 5th coming up fast beyond me as my pace slowed.

I knew this was the make or break point of the race.  In 3+ miles I would come back through the Start / Finish at 26 miles (it was a two loop course).  I could limp in from here, pull the plug, and get some sleep.  Or I could suck it up, fix my problems, and get this thing done.  I’m apparently not very smart, so I opted for the latter.

I doused myself in cold water at the mile 23 water drop.  I needed to spend way more time for the rest of race cooling myself down.  You think about this a lot when it is daytime and sunny, but throwing cold water over your head in the middle of the night seems more like hazing than a good idea for self-preservation!  I upped the S-cap intake as I was definitely behind on electrolytes.  I got down some solid food.  I threw all of my time goals out of the window.  I had figured mid 8 hours should be doable with a really good race and mid 9 hours if things didn’t go well.  Clearly neither were happening.  Mostly important I vowed that when I got to mile 26 I would take whatever time I needed there but would get the hell out of that aid station no matter what.  Coming into the race I knew the crux would be getting out of mile 26 and the finish area.  If I could do that, I’d have a good shot at finishing.

I was still holding on to 3rd when I got to the Start / Finish.  I doused myself in more cold water, ate food, restocked my pack, got my iPhone for podcasts / tunes to entertain me, and stuffed my hat full of ice.  I spent almost 10 minutes in the aid station (unheard of for me in a 50), but it was time very well spent.  3-4 more people came into the aid station while I was there.  It was game on though, and soon I was off into the hot night. 

I started off conservative but made good time.  I kept on fueling and continued to gradually feel better and better.  The podcasts were a good distraction (thanks This American Life!), and I was having fun again.  The crescent moon was beautiful in the night sky.  This whole 11 mile stretch was a chorus of frogs from the stream.  In fact they were all over the trail so avoiding stepping on them was a good way to stay awake! Fortunately I succeeded.

I came to mile 36 and the Oak Ridge aid station.  They said I looked good, and I felt good. On the farm to forest loop I switched from podcast to music.  From here on out it was trashy pop and 80s music.  I took off and was hauling ass on this loop.  After dropping a few fast miles it was back to reality, but I came back to Oak Ridge moving really well.

But as I passed 40 miles the going got tough.  I was still running smart but was just getting to the edge of my fitness.  I cooled down at each water stop and kept focusing on food and hydration.  My legs were shot and I was paying a price for running in the Salomon S-Labs, which weren’t enough shoe for me.  But the miles ticked off, and I knew I was going to finish. 

I really wanted to hold on to third place, and we came up to a .75 mile out and back that was 7 miles from the finish.  When I didn’t see anyone on the out and back, I knew 3rd place was in the bag.  I was wrecked and hurting, but I kept on pushing.  I was getting blisters on my feet (unusual for me), my legs were shot, and I was ready to be done.

Dawn was just coming as I finished the last few miles.  It was cool to finish right as the sun was coming up.  In previous overnight runs I’ve always felt super tired at least once and like I was going to fall asleep on my feet, but that never happened this time.  In the last mile I turned it up a few notches and ran hard to the finish.  It was quiet at the finish area but I had some good cheers as I came up to the finish line. 

I finished in 3rd place in 10h33min.  29 people finished out of the roughly 100 starters.  It was an incredibly tough run but I was thrilled and very glad I did it.  Athletic Equation really put on a fantastic race, and I look forward to doing more of their races in the future.  The breakfast spread was awesome, the aid stations / volunteers were stellar, and I took home a sweet beer stein for my efforts.  

After cleaning up I napped for maybe 30 minutes in the car and then cheered in some of the other finishers.  I drove home, quickly showered, and then went with the boys to a birthday party at the fire station.  Totally exhausting but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I will strongly consider doing this race again in the future and would encourage others to do the same.  But I will caution that it was much harder than I expected and should be given some serious respect.  A few takeaways:

  •  Fixing problems early is key. If you wait too long, it is really hard to come back.
  • Time goals in ultras are pretty meaningless.  Getting your heart set on a certain time is a recipe for a DNF.
  • Go into the race knowing what the hardest part will be and mentally prepare yourself for it.  I knew that getting out of the 26 mile start / finish area was make or break.  For Trail Verbier I studied the course in detail and knew getting past the first 20 miles was crucial given that stretch was much harder than the rest of the course.  This is essential for the mental game.
  • Running at night is difficult and slows you down (wow, big shocker there, Will)
  • Navigation was a huge part of this course.  Many struggle with it and get lost.  I brought a map with me and spent a lot of time studying the course.  It also helps that I have run quite a bit in Prince William Forest.  I’d recommend anyone doing this race to do their homework beforehand.  Course markings are sparse but are sufficient if you know what you are doing.

Now I am trying to get fully recovered, but I look forward to the next adventure!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

11/24/15: The Real Kick Ultramarathon Race Report

My success in ultramarathons seems to be inversely related with my preparation and sanity.  Run on my own in the Swiss Alps for 29 hours through murderous terrain?  No problem.  Sign up for a tough mountain 100 2 weeks before?  No problem.  Train for a race for 6 months and plan everything meticulously?  Probably a DNF.

The Real Kick Ultramarathon was perhaps the pinnacle in my lack of preparation and sanity.  Here is what that meant for this race:
  • 75+ miles with 14,000+ feet of climbing
  •  In the five days leading up to the race I would be in five countries
  • I was on a 1.5 week business trip with carry-on luggage, seriously limiting what gear I could bring
  • I had no knowledge of the terrain, venue, logistics, etc.
  • I’d be very tired and jet lagged
  • Right after the race I’d have to hop on a flight to Turkey and then on to Paris, on to London, and back to the US
Clearly a recipe for success, I arrived in the Frankfurt airport on Friday evening with low hopes and plenty of self-doubt. 

Pre-Race Comedy

The race briefing and dinner started at 6pm.  I flew in from Stockholm and drove about 1.5 hours towards the race start.  I had lots of trouble finding the place, finally found what I thought was the right spot, found the door locked, got out google maps and drove around for 30 minutes, finally came back to the same spot, and broke in through a side door around 7:30pm. 

I came to a room with a long banquet table filled with ultrarunners having a bit of beer and going through the pre-race briefing.  I walked in with my rolling suitcase wearing a suit and you could hear a pin drop.  “Hello, I’m the American.  Sorry I am late.  Please carry on with your race briefing in German.  Oh, I missed almost all of it?  No worries, I couldn’t understand it anyway.”

Since I missed dinner I headed out to McDonald’s, also hoping for some Wifi so I could download the course GPS onto my watch since there were no course markings (more on this later).  I brought along my new best friend who also arrived late and was from China working in Germany.  I finally managed to get my act together, get the GPS course, let Jen know I was ok, and get my gear (meager as it was) sorted out.

We all turned in and woke up early for breakfast before the start.  Then we gathered with our drop bags, which were important since there was minimal support on the course.  Most racers had drop bags that  looked as if they would suffice for an expedition to Everest or possibly a mission to the moon.  I literally had a plastic baggie with a couple of things stuffed in it.  They all saw this and instantly burst out laughing.  I was also told that my shorts were “not running shorts”, I should have brought trekking poles, and I would probably freeze on the course at night.  Truthfully though everyone was incredibly nice and very accommodating with speaking English.  I really enjoyed talking to folks from different countries and hearing about awesome races they had run like the Tor Des Geants.

We got in the shuttle bus and drove to the start (it was point to point).  Smart money was with the American not surviving the race, and if I would have made that bet too.

Start to Checkpoint 2

It was a marathon to checkpoint 2 with just a water / soda drop station inbetween.   

The race started near a nice lake and climbed in quickly in the hills.  I found the course much more scenic than I had expected and was having a most excellent time.  I was with a pack of runners and rolling along very easily.  Before too long we came upon a huge castle in the middle of nowhere. I love a country where a castle is just in the middle of the woods with virtually no one around.  It is like a scene out of Disney movie.

Soon enough I took my first of many wrong turns.  There were two trails that just barely diverged, and it was pretty much impossible to tell which one was right on the GPS until you had gone too far.  Then down the trail we came to a road that did not look right and had no clear indication of where to go.  As near as we could tell the track was telling us to go straight up an impossibly steep overgrown side of a hill that had very clearly never in the history of earth had a trail on it.  After much wasted time we bushwhacked and scrambled our way up, eventually finding what in fact seemed to be the right trail.  Good times.

A bit later we hit our second amazing castle that was even bigger than the first one.  I took a wrong turn again and racked up more bonus miles, but soon enough we were back on trail and rolling along some nice single track through the forest.  Shortly before the unmanned aid station there was a bottle with a sign in sheet to mark we had been through.  Trouble was that it was supposed to be “a bit off the main path.”

The GPS track again took us up a steep hillside.  We made our way up and eventually it pointed us towards the world’s thickest briar patch.  Sigh.  I eventually crawled on my knees and elbows through it until finally popping out on a real trail (and with visible disappointment seeing that an actual trail would have taken us to the same place with a detour of all of 100 feet).  Well I signed that damn sheet and bolted down to the first aid. 

I was a bit fired up about the bottle incident and moved through aid quickly and then started to run a bit faster on the next stretch.  We had a very nice long section here that meandered through the woods but on generally good trail, and I was having a very good time.

We hit another “bushwhacking turnoff”, but I navigated this one quite smoothly.  Next up was a series of switchbacks which caused my GPS to complete freak out.  I lost track of where I was and took another few long detours.  The bright side was that I ended up running into one person ahead of me and one person behind caught up.  The German guy I caught up with was thrilled to see us and exclaimed “I’m so lost and lonely!”  So our merry pack of three proceeded along.  This section varied between traversing the woods on barely existing trails and running along fields through farms, but with our powers combined we navigated decently well.

Finally we got to the village and ran through on our way to aid station # 2.  We hit the marathon mark in about 5:20, which I thought was quite good given the tricky navigating, tough terrain, and significant diversions.  I loaded up on a bunch of food at the aid station, grabbed some food to go, and got back on the trail.  We had about a 9 miles loop before heading back to the same aid station.

Aid station 2-3 (Miles 27-36)

I took off fast and got lost instantly.  The main trail went up a hill but apparently we were supposed to take some non-existent side route that stayed flat for a bit.  A few miles down the trail I caught my two buddies who had left after me at the last aid station but managed to avoid my navigational challenges.  We ran the rest of this loop together, which was much fun.   The navigating wasn’t easy, but we again had three of us which helped tremendously. 

I realized that most everyone else had full GPS devices that were much more helpful in navigating this terrain than my watch.  Good to know for the future, but not much I could do about it at the time!
The miles passed quickly, and soon enough we were back to the next aid station.  I fueled up again and quickly was ready to go.  We’d have a 12 mile loop before coming back to the same aid station.  I took off down the trail and figured my new friends would catch me once I inevitably got lost.

Aid station 3-4  (Miles 37-47.5)

Well I inevitably got lost.  Twice.  Very quickly.  The guys caught up to me and we started the steep climb on this section.

I was feeling way too good and quickly put a big gap on them.  Fortunately navigation got a bit easier for a while, and I kept rolling along.  Night was falling, but it was a beautiful and serene evening.   I came across a cow pasture and the cows playfully started running alongside me.  It was a cool scene and with all the cows I have run by, I have never seen any running alongside me.  Did you know cows are very fast?

Things were going smoothly and I hit the third and final castle.  It was dark at this point, but the ancient castle was even cooler in the dark night with the lights of the city down below.  Unfortunately at this point it started raining and my flashlight batteries died.   Seriously?  The batteries were fresh and are supposed to last for 20+ hours; they had been on for about 20 minutes.  This was a major problem as I do not like running at night without two light sources.  And with the rain and fog the flashlight is especially helpful and headlamp especially useless.  Suddenly this dark castle became very ominous and seemed more like a scene out of a Roger Moore Bond Movie with Jaws about to pop out.

But what can you do?  I navigated on and slowly adjusted to only having the headlamp.  It was tough on the technical & overgrown trails but not so bad on the clearer, wider trails.

I was also starting to get cold with the rain, wind, and low temperatures.  Fortunately the rain started to let up, and I arrived back at the aid station soaked but in pretty good spirits.  The next stretch was supposed to be 50km with no aid other than an unmarked water drop.  That is fearsome stuff at the end of an ultra and requires some serious self-sufficiency, especially when you are navigating on your own!  My aid stations stops had so far been extremely short, but I decided to take some time to make sure I was ready for the rest of this beast.

I got out of my wet shorts and put on tights and pulled on an extra top layer.  I ate tons of food here and stocked my bag with lots more to carry me through 30+ miles of running.  The race director couldn’t impress upon me enough that I had a very long way to go that would probably require 8+ hours on my own.  He kept asking whether I was sure I wanted to continue and gave me the “please don’t die on our trails look” that I know very well from my European racing.  Clearly I had yet to shed my “American likely to perish” status.  But no matter I was off into the night to finish this adventure.

Aid station 4 to finish (miles 47.5-79)

A little over 15 minutes out of the aid station I came across my two friends, meaning I was up by 30 minutes or a bit more.  They asked me if I was sure I knew what I was doing given my earlier navigation challenges.  They said farewell and I think assumed they would never see me again.

The next bit is a bit of a blur, but I was feeling good and moving very well.  When there was something resembling a trail, I was running quite fast and dropping my average pace for the race.  I was slowly getting better at navigating with my watch and at least minimized my off route adventures.  There were still plenty of tricky sections though as we hopped over cow fences, ducked onto off-route trails, bushwhacked through random sections of the woods, and took meandering routes through farm fields.  There were also a few good, stout climbs along this stretch.  But the climbing legs were good, so this wasn’t a problem at all.

We came down to a road and past a beautiful old inn along the side of a river.  After a nice, big climb the GPS track again dove straight into the unnavigable briar patch up a steep hillside.  After wasting a bunch of time here I figured it just couldn’t be the right way and continued on the main path.  Fortunately this was the correct route and merged back soon with the GPS track, but it was a scary moment of being off course.

We passed the last unmanned water / soda drop, and I pushed on quickly.  I was feeling WAY too good at this point given I was over 60 miles in.  I was continuing to speed up at this point and running very quickly whenever navigation allowed for it.  I had high hopes of beating the 8 hour expected finish split for the last 50km.

I kept powering through and soon enough was on the long circumnavigation around the lake.  This section was just brutally difficult to navigate.  There were tons of trails to take, and half the time we weren’t even on a trail and cut through the woods.  I was also starting to have serious concerns about my GPS watch battery.  I was extremely worried it would cut out leaving me in a very difficult position.  I had my phone and a good general sense of where I was so I felt I could still make my way to the finish, but I would not have been happy at not finishing the actual course.

I ran along and click off a few very fast miles.  The race was supposed to be 74.3 miles, but I figured for me it would be 76 given my detours.  I got to 75 and thought I was on the home stretch.  Then we hit a hilariously steep 40 degree plus hill that cut straight upwards.  But the bigger problem was that after the hill I couldn’t find the track.  I spent probably 20 minutes wandering around hopelessly and finally found the right course.  I was 76.5 miles in at this point.

The good news is that I came upon the race director who was hiking back to meet up with the runners (god bless his soul).  The bad news was that I had another 2.5 miles to go and another “tricky navigation section.”  But I was close to being done and soldiered on.  My headlamp batteries died about a mile later, so I wasted more time changing them out.  I wanted this thing done. 

After a bit more bushwhacking it was on to the finish.  I ran strong at the end and crossed the finish line in 16:53 for 79+ miles, 14K of climbing, and lots of navigational challenges.  Despite the dire warnings and getting lost multiple times, I ran the last section well under 7 hours.  It would also turn out that I won by over 2.5 hours.

I really couldn’t believe how well the race went.  I was negative splitting in the last 50K and felt like I could run forever.  It was just one of those days where “I had it.”  I never felt bad, my legs were great through the end, I was able to eat tons throughout the race, and I just had tons of energy.  Strange considering the circumstances leading up to the race. 

I got to bed and slept uncomfortably and fitfully for maybe a few hours.  It was fun seeing everyone the next morning and swapping our war stories.  Everyone really didn’t know what to make of me at this point but offered hearty congratulations and many kind words.  They were a very gracious and hospitable lot.

Thanks to all my German, Belgian, and Chinese friends.  The race director was also the man.  The highest compliment I can give is that his race had the feel of a VHTRC event with a European flair.   Lesson learned here is to not plan too much, take chances, and do things out of the ordinary.  I could have done a bit of sightseeing in some city over the weekend and played the tourist, but instead I got an amazing and unforgettable experience along with a nice sense of accomplishment.  Here’s to the next adventure!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

10/4/15: Grindstone 100 Here I Come!

Whew, the last couple days have been a rollercoaster.  The forest service cancelled the Grindstone 100 with the impending hurricane (which never hit us, by the way).  But miraculously the race director worked some serious magic and got the race rescheduled for next weekend.  Woohoo!

I was super tapered for the race and couldn't taper for another full week, so I had to quickly untaper myself (pretty sure that isn't actually a thing, but whatever).  Thursday night I did 5 miles at 6:40 pace, Friday morning I did 10 miles with 2,500 feet of climbing over 3.5 miles, and today I did a pretty quick 16.  I have successfully untapered and now am back to full taper.  My body is probably very confused, but hopefully it all works out.

I'm feeling good about the race.  My training volume this year was pretty similar to last year.  I averaged 67 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing per week.  I had some weeks over 90 miles and some solid long runs in the mountains.  I think the quality of my training was a bit higher this year with more speed work and a focus on quick downhill running.  Nonetheless it will be tough to overcome last year's advantage of the sabbatical leading into the race.  Sadly Dylan also won't be able to pace me, which would have been tons of fun.

Overall I'm feeling good about next week and working hard to get my head back in the right place. Hopefully it will be a fun day in the mountains, and I'm excited to get back on the course.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

9/8/2015: The Ring Race Report

Last Saturday I headed out to the Ring for a last big training effort before Grindstone.  Many years ago some overly ambitious person connected the 71 mile orange trail that circumnavigates the Massanuttens.  Then some recklessly foolish people in the VHTRC decided it would be a good idea to run around it in one go.  The trail is inconceivably rocky for 71 miles and offers some relentless punishment.  Naturally I decided this was a brilliant idea for a casual training run.

But the camaraderie and love that VHTRC pours into this epic folly is what makes it what it is.  The starting line is like a family reunion.  The aid stations are amazingly well stocked at this free race and several of them are manned at all hours of the night.  At each aid station you are greeted by friends who laugh at your sorrow but then put you back together and send you on your way.  It is a one of a kind experience, and I was glad to be there.

Here is how it went:

Start to Camp Roosevelt: 0-25 miles (Start to 5:48)

It all started well as it always does.  I ran with some friends for about 6 miles before deciding their pace was too hot and taking a step back.  I powered up the first climb and then began the dance with the rocks. Temperatures were only around 70 but it was insanely humid, and I was soaked through within a few miles.  I rolled into Milford Gap in 2:41 in 3rd place, right on schedule and feeling good.

Around four miles down the trail I started feeling bad.  Things were going downhill, and I needed an aid station to fix it.  Unfortunately I had a lot of miles left to cover, and it went from bad to worse.  I had to start walking even the easy parts, and soon I had to actually sit down for a few minutes to collect myself.  It was pitiful.  It was all I could do not to get passed by families out were their small children on a day hike.  I hadn't felt this bad in a long time.

I staggered into the aid station 5:44 into the race desperately wanting to drop.  Instead I laid down on a bench for a bit and then went to work on piecing myself back together.  After some Coke, ginger ale, ice, an ice pop, fruit, and almost 20 minutes I almost felt like a human being again.  I was ready to get back out there.

It turned out that virtually everyone had problems in this stretch.  The high humidity combined with 25 miles without aid (aside from the water hiked up to Milford, which don't get me wrong was much appreciated) threw a lot people out of wack.  I was glad I was able to pick up the pieces and return to the living.

Camp Roosevelt to Edinburgh Gap: 25 - 49 miles (6:07 to 12:12)

I took an ice pop and some solid food for the road and started down the trail.  There was a lot of false uphill and gentle grade climb that you could make quick work of on fresh legs but less so after 25+ tough miles.  Nonetheless I moved decently well and actually continued to feel a bit better.

I put in the headphones and started cranking out a good pace and passing people.  I was back!  I flew through the downhill right before the monster climb up to the mile 35 aid station.  This climb is feared and people say that if you get past this and through the next aid station, you'll finish the race (not true for me, but oh well ...).  You climb 900 feet in .6 miles for a hefty 28% grade.  But recently in Switzerland I had done about the same grade for over 4,000 feet of climbing at altitude, so I wasn't too worried.  I rocked this climb and got to catch up a bit with a few people who dusted me during my sad stretch coming into Camp Roos.  

I rolled into Crisman Hollow aid station at 8:16, which was a decent split.  This aid station was much snappier than last time, and I was refueled and out of there in a few minutes.  The next stretch was "only" 6.3 miles up and over Kearns, but people tend not to like this section.  It was rocky with lots of rollers up on the ridgeline, and I will say that it was slow going.  But I still felt decent, had the nutrition back under control, and was feeling like I could finish this thing.  I also had a nice chat with Jen and Liam from the trail which really boosted my spirits.  Thanks, family!

I hit Moreland Gap at 9:56, caught up with some friends there, and moved on quickly to Short Mountain.  This would be a long stretch at over 8 miles and was also rocky, technical, and hilly.  Somewhere along the way I realized that I just wasn't feeling into finishing this.  I was moving very slowly at this point and was tired of the rocks.  This was more of a "fun run" (I know, weird definition of fun) and not a focus race for me.  If finishing this was the goal, I am absolutely confident I could have and would have done it.  

However, Grindstone was the focus.  It was a long day in the mountains, my feet were beat up, I was chafed, the legs were tired, and I really didn't feel like doing the damage of another 22 tough miles and running until 1am in the morning.  While I would love to have finished and want to go back to do so again another day, I am good with this decision.  I was a wee bit beat up on Sunday but was able to jump right back into training on Monday and felt fine.  I've been able to get some good speed and climbing workouts done this week, and I think I definitely made the right call for Grindstone.

This left me wanting more, and I know that I will get all I can handle three weeks from tomorrow!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

8/16/15: Raising Money for Wounded Warriors

I'm excited to be raising money for Wounded Warriors at this year's Marine Corp Marathon.  Having run MCM five times now, I've had the honor of seeing many wounded warriors on the course and have been amazed and humbled by them.

The beauty of the out and back sections of MCM is that it allows you to see much of the field regardless of your pace.  Whether seeing the wheelchair racers flying ahead of me or an amputee making my job out there seem so easy by comparison, it is hard to not get emotional when faced with such courage and knowing what others have been through on that day but more importantly over the course of their service to our country.

I'm proud to run for Wounded Warriors this year and gratefully appreciate any contributions anyone can make.  Here is my charity site and thanks!

8/16/15: Trail Verbier Pictures

My darling wife was kind enough to buy me the Trail Verbier race photos for my birthday.  I think letting me do the race was way more than enough, but she is ever the overachiever. 

I'm not usually one much for race photos, but the first two pictures they got were epic.  They had a photographer well placed at the top of Le Catogne at 8,500 feet.  The morning light was perfect, and the 360 degree views were a highlight from the course.  We'd just climbed 6,500 feet straight to this point, so I'd say we earned the view.  This is also where they had helicopters buzzing overhead, making this stretch of the course even cooler.

The next set of pictures didn't quite do this part of the courses justice.  This was after the descent off Catogne and 2/3 of the way up the climb to Orny Hut.  I was wrecked at this point so was not at my most photogenic, and it was difficult to capture the scale of the scenery in these shots.  Still very cool, though.

And here I am chugging ever so slowly to the finish line.  

Finally done and super happy.

Thanks so much for the great present, Jen!  The first picture is now on display in my office in case anyone at work still doubts my sanity.