Sunday, June 26, 2011

7/1/11: Epic Run in the Shenandoahs

Last Saturday I had an epic 40 mile run out the Shenandoahs. It had a good 10,000 feet or more of vertical climbing, so it was definitely one tough run!
I started out at Buck Hollow and did the same 4.5 mile, 3K foot climb up to Mary's Rock that Jen and I did a little while back. Just one mile in the run, I had FAR too exciting of an encounter with 2 bear cubs and a mama bear. Mama bear was not pleased, and I just about peed myself.
The picture below is from after I some distance between me and the bears, but you can see mama bear defending the tree her cubs climbed up. She wouldn't let me by, so I had to bushwhack way around the trail and got pretty cut up by thorns. Thanks a lot, bears. Another mile along I saw ANOTHER bear, but this one mercifully just ran away.
The climb up to Mary's Rock is long and steep, but I felt great and made it in just over an hour. The views from up top were outstanding as usual.

From there I cut south on the Appalachian Trail and followed it quite a ways. This was some beautiful single track trail. Most of it is up on the ridge with great views, and the trail is very runnable.

(It pretty much doesn't get better than this. Some beautiful AT single track).

(The AT wove around Skyline Drive, and I would occasionally pop out on it).

(Awesome view looking back from where I came after a pretty sizable climb on the AT. You can see Skyline Drive winding over the mountains. The AT basically wove to the left of Skyline Drive and the ascended up to where I'm standing.)

After 10 or so miles on the Appalachian trail, I hit the top of White Oak canyon. I had heard amazing things about White Oak Canyon and was excited to explore it.
Basically it is a canyon that cuts down the mountain about 3,000 feet with some beautiful waterfalls along the way. This was some of the most beautiful stuff I've seen in the Shenandoahs (or most anywhere for that matter).
(Some glorious trail at the top of White Oak Canyon).

(White Oak Canyon is divided into Upper Falls and Lower Falls. This is the first of the Upper Falls. Pictures don't quite do it justice.)

I ran all the way through Upper and Lower falls, went about a mile beyond Lower Falls, and then hiked back up. I was cranking hard on the long climb up and made incredible time. The run down was 1h (though I stopped to take a lot of pictures), and I made it back up in 1h2min.
This marks the highest part of the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoahs. It was another mile or so of climbing after the top of White Oak Canyon.
I ran back along the AT to Buck Hollow and was treated to more amazing views.

The run took about 8 hours and was insanely fun. I felt really strong the whole way. My stomach held up well, and I was able to get a ton of calories and liquids down (over 2,000 calories and over 200 ounces of water). The weather was absolutely perfect, too. I'm glad that I was able to take advantage of this glorious day.
This run was definitely a confidence booster, and I can't wait to get back out to the mountains for the next run!

6/26/11: Training Update

I've had a few great weeks of training. Here is the quick summary:

Week of 6/11

  • Saturday: 25 miles with stairmaster and strength training
  • Sunday: 30 mile trail run
  • Monday: Off for work travel
  • Tuesday: 9 miles
  • Wednesday: 7 miles
  • Thursday: 5 miles
  • Friday: 9 miles
  • Total: 85 miles

Week of 6/18

  • Saturday: 20 miles (12 with Dad when the parents were in town)
  • Sunday: 22 mile trail run
  • Monday: 12 + strength training
  • Tuesday: 11 miles easy
  • Wednesday: 11 miles with speed/hill workout (2mi @ 6:00 and 2mi @ 10:00 w/ 10% grade)
  • Thursday: 9 miles with 3 miles at 7% grade
  • Friday: 10 miles
  • Total: 95 miles

So two solid weeks of training! I felt good throughout and am looking forward to keeping the mileage high for several more weeks.

Monday, June 20, 2011

6/20/11: North Face 50 Race Report

This is a tough one to write. I’ve DNFed more races than I would like. The reasons have all varied, and I’ve been more ok with some than others, but I’ve always been able to look back without much regret. While there is no regret with my DNF at the North Face 50, it is certainly the one that hurts the most.

Training went exceptionally well leading up to the North Face 50. My mileage was high with lots of 85-100 mile weeks. I had done numerous quality long runs, back to back long runs, speed workouts, hill workouts, you name it. I hit the taper just right and went into the race in top physical shape.

There was just one problem. I got really sick the week before and unfortunately couldn’t shake what I had in time for the race. By Friday night I was feeling a bit better than I had earlier in the week, but I was far from 100%. I still had ear infections and some sort of cold / sinus infection plaguing my nose and throat.

I was sufficiently foolish and stubborn to decide that I would still give the thing a shot. I knew it wouldn’t be possible to finish well and was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to finish at all, but I thought there was an outside shot at surviving to the end and figured I’d take that shot. Another brilliant move in a long list of my brilliant moves.

Jen and I woke up at 3:30, filled our thermoses with as much coffee as they could possible hold, grabbed the race gear, and threw a confused and startled Eve into the car. Before I knew it, the race started at 5am in the pre-dawn darkness.

My energy was low, but on the bright side my legs felt great. I was effortlessly running somewhere between 7:30s and 8:00s and feeling good. Before I knew it, I blew through the 4.8 mile aid station.

Around mile 6, I took an unfortunate 10-15 minute detour. An official race sign pointed to turn right towards a country club. I figured it was strange to be leaving the trail, but I looked behind me and four guys were following in the same direction. I figured we couldn’t all be wrong.

We were. It became apparent we were straying off course, and we turned around. As we got back towards the trail, there were at least 50 people also heading off course. I definitely have never seen this may people go off course at the same time in an ultra.

We got back on the trail, but now I was in the middle of a conga line that was moving more slowly than I liked on a really narrow trail. It took a good three or four miles to finally break free and start making up some ground.

I met Jen at the 14.8 mile aid station still feeling pretty good all considering. Aside from the detour, my pace was still pretty solid, too. The course then had us run three 6.9 mile loops before heading back the same 14 miles we started with.

Loop 1 was also went very well. I was really enjoying the course, the scenery, and the weather. The temperature was perfect with highs in the 70s and no humidity. The course had some really nice single track trail and was hilly but very runnable. We also had great views of the Potomac River and Great Falls, which was pretty awesome to see with all the recent rain.

My stomach was also feeling great. I’ve switched over to fueling primarily with Hammer products (more on that in future posts), and it was working well. I ran that first 6.9 loop in 8:40 pace and refueled from Jen for Loop 2 still feeling good.

But alas it couldn’t last forever. My body started failing on me pretty quickly during that loop. I just had no energy and was completely wiped out. Being sick had finally caught up with me. There was only so far I could push my body, and I had reached that point.

I definitely slowed down during Loop 2 and finished it 4h30min and 29 miles into the race. While my pace had been pretty solid up to that point, I knew I was done. I could probably have very slowly dragged myself through the third loop, but it was daunting given how bad I felt, and I didn’t really see the point.

So this DNF really hurt. I was in great shape, I finally pulled my stomach together, and I know I could have had a great race. Unfortunately I just had really bad luck and got sick.

I had been planning to transition to training for the Chicago marathon after this race, but I think I will have to postpone that now. I have trained really hard all year and feel that I’m in my best shape ever, but I just haven’t been able to get it all together in a race. I really feel that I need to run a good ultra to take advantage of this hard work and get some closure.

I’m looking to figure out what race to tackle. I’m definitely running the Catoctin 50K in Maryland as more of a training run on July 30th, and hopefully I can find a 50+ mile race shortly after that to gun for. Stay tuned!