Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12/31/13: Boyer's Furnace 40 Race Report

For a variety of reasons I had to skip out the MGM 50K this year.  I was a bit bummed since I had run this 4 years in a row and really like it, so I made a last minute decision to jump into the Boyer’s Furnace 40 miler to make up for it.

Boyer’s Furnace is a low key 41-42 mile run out in the Massanuttens with an easy bail point at mile 21 where many people wisely call it for the day.  I figured I would likely take this option given my lack of trail running and coming off an 80 mile week for the first time in forever.

I had a most entertaining drive out there listening to the audio book “Dad is Fat” by Jim Gaffigan that my mother-in-law got me for Christmas.  It is pure gold, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The race went off at 7am, and it was a nice and brisk 18 degrees.  It was supposed to be in the mid 50s later in the day, and with a 40 degree temperature swing I had literally no idea what to wear.  I went for the initially stupid and with some luck subsequently smart option of shorts and a light pullover.  This meant I ran a bit faster than I might have otherwise planned up the 4 mile climb to keep myself from freezing to death.  Fortunately I did not die, and sunrise on top of the mountain was beautiful and started warming things up quickly.

 Sunrise after some climbing

The next 8 miles were on some nice single track trail on the northern ridge of the Massanuttens.  I was running in good company, and the miles flew by.  We bombed down some really nice trail to the 11.7 mile aid station and then rolled along roads for the next 9 miles, which also went by fast.

I rolled into mile 21 at Camp Roosevelt in 3:22.  That was way faster than I expected, and I was feeling good.  I decided I was feeling foolish enough to run the whole thing.  The weather was also as good as it gets at this point, and I was running in shorts and a t-shirt the rest of the way.

The next 17 mile stretch was all up on the southern Massanutten ridge, and I knew it would be tough.  It was 12 miles to the next aid, and it would all be very rocky with lots of short, steep climbs.  But for the most part I felt good and enjoyed this long stretch.  There were some fantastic views along the way across the valley to the Shenandoahs.  I felt pretty rough for a few miles, but an S-cap, a Hammer gel, and some Coke snapped me most of the way out of it.  The guys who hiked an aid station up to Milford gap were also amazing, and some refueling there was hugely helpful.

Looking over the ridge of the Massanuttens

 Looking out over the valley  and the river towards the Shenandoahs

I came off the ridge with 5 miles left and was definitely ready to be done.  My legs were beat, and I was undertrained for this length of run.  I pounded down the mountain as best I could.  As one last kick in the teeth, the trail literally ran through a stream for a few hundred yards, getting my feet nice and icy cold. 

Believe it or not this is actually the trail! 

There were 3.5 miles of rolling roads left, and I made pretty good time.  Although it was only 2:30pm, the sun was already well on the way down to the mountains, and it was a beautiful end to the day.  I wrapped up in about 7:40, first one back for the day.

I very much look forward to getting back out to the mountains a bit more often again.  Hopefully the MLK and President’s Day long weekends will provide good opportunities.

Sun already going down on the last road section

Sunday, November 3, 2013

11/3/13: Dylan's Awesome MCM Story

After the weekend in DC, I am happy to report to Born to Run readers everywhere that Baby Liam is truly born to run!  Tall and lanky – just like his father – Liam has an ultrarunner’s body and the endurance to persist at basic activities (sleeping, feeding, and eventually running) for most of the day.  Keep an eye on this kid’s career!  “Baby Li-am’s born to ru-huuunnnnn!” 

He’s also extremely cute. 

And the run was also extremely fun.  We didn’t have much of a plan going in to the race, with Brome’s status as a runner or support unclear (at least we chose to maintain hope that he would run without training!), Will training through this race, and myself lacking both mental and physical fortitude.  The basic plan was to run the race in around 3:20

Despite that plan, running with Will is just too much fun!  So we went out a bit faster than planned and were having too much fun to slow down.  It was a beautiful day and we raced past excellent music (“Everybody get up!”) and had intense debates with the crowd about questions such as “what does the fox say?”  - which in fact is something like “Chacha-chacha-chacha-chow!” 

Brome provided most excellent support.  He woke up around 2 am San Francisco time, walked to the start with us, carried our clothes back to the car, picked up essential power donuts, and hurried over to watch us. 

I was lucky enough to run with Will for the first 18 miles, although I am sure that I was becoming significantly less fun with each passing mile.  After coming through the half in 1:32, I was starting to slow down while Will was just warming up. 

As a result of the increasing deviation of blood from my brain to my legs, I became more and more paranoid with thoughts that people were following us.  I couldn’t quite pin the reasons down, but I had a suspicious feeling that about 30,000 people were tracing our every move.  Despite our efforts to lose the tail (we looped around several major landmarks), it appeared that we were still being followed. 

We decided to split up for safety, with Will racing on ahead while I stayed behind to fight for our safety.  I pulled off to the side to drink some water and Will took off like a Mako shark.  It was amazing!  One second I was talking to Will and a second later all I saw was a blurry bullet of an image fading rapidly into the distance.  Well, either that or he was too skinny to see from more than 10 feet away. 

The last 8 miles got pretty difficult and, while not feeling great, I realized that I needed to make a sacrifice to the running gods.  With Marines lining the roads, I decided not to make an actual sacrifice and instead sacrificed some of my own nipple blood to the gods.  They were pleased with this gesture and helped me to the finish.

Also, god appeared in the form of Daniel S. Zwrome, who ran with me for most of the last 7 miles.  His presence was most joyful and his ability to run while carrying donuts, a sweatshirt, jeans, and several other items was truly an inspiration.  Brome is a true Birkie! Warrior! 

The weekend and race were most enjoyable.  I’m sorry to report that Will failed to achieve the 3:20 goal, finishing in an effortless 3:03 while I finished in an effortful 3:21.  Since I was slightly slower than the goal, Will would technically have won under Price Is Right rules, but I won the race by all other objective measures. 

While I accept this (self-provided) recognition, it is a bittersweet victory as I know that it will only be a few years before the next generation of the Born to Run dynasty flies by me in the middle of a marathon, again like I’m driving an Amish buggy on the Autobahn.  If Liam teams up with Jermichael Haakon Zwrome, then I clearly am in big trouble. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

11/1/13: Marine Corp Marathon Race Report

So I guess BTR has kind of died, huh?  You might be thinking that having a son recently has meant there has not been time for running.  Apparently there is still time to run, but both running and blogging is out of the question.

After a brief hiatus, I started training again in a sleep deprived stupor.  But thanks to my wife being so amazing, I soon found a rhythm again and was back to doing some pretty decent running.  The biggest casualty has been our dog.  Our little dachshund is very lazy, and Jen was getting up with her later in the morning.  Now I drag her out in the darkness before I go for a run, and she is rather displeased. 

My mileage hasn’t been what it was before, but it is back up to 50-60 per week.  The upshot is that my speedwork has actually been pretty decent.  When the day’s schedule gives you about 40 minutes to run, you cover ground as fast as you can!  

Three and a half weeks ago I ran the Navy Federal 5K.  You might say: “Why run only 5K?”  Well fear not intrepid reader.  I ran there and back, and since it was a cool 8+ miles each way, I put in over 20 miles that morning.  My time was nothing to write home about (18:36), but I took third on a really hot day with many miles on the legs.

Two and a half weeks ago I ran one of the Backyard Burn Series 10 Mile runs.  They host a bunch of races every spring and fall on trails that are right in DC’s backyard (get it?).  It poured rain in the days leading up to the race, so it was a sloppy mess.  I ended up having a fantastic time at the race and again took third.  This is the first trail race I have done that is less than a marathon, and I think I need to do more of these.  The only downside was a rough fall at 4 miles, and next time I will seriously consider wearing spikes. 

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of Danny and Dylan coming to town.  Dylan and I ran the Marine Corp Marathon, which was so much fun it probably wasn’t legal.  With the Richmond Marathon coming up in 2.5 weeks, this was a last opportunity to cram in some training.  I upped my 60ish miles a week to 75 right before MCM with 22 miles the prior weekend and 7 miles the day before.

Running with Dylan is insanely fun, and we rocked out to Robin Thicke (“Everybody get up …”) and in general just crushed it.  I felt way better than expected and ran 3:03.  Once again starting out more conservatively was the key to success.  I am optimistic for Richmond and hoping to at least go sub 3.  I will keep you all posted on how it goes.  Dylan is going to write a guest blog post on this year's MCM, so look out for that soon.  He is way funnier than I am.

I have also booked flights out to the Alps with Jen and Liam in late August next year.  I am very much hoping to be able to run the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 100K, and I will keep you all posted on whether I get through the lottery.

Monday, July 29, 2013

7/29/13: Catoctin 50K Race Report

I decided to celebrate my birthday a bit early bit by running 34ish miles on tough trails at the end of July.  I sure know how to spoil myself! 

2 years ago I DNFed this race around mile 19 a few weeks after getting Lyme disease.  I was looking forward to getting this one done and checking it off.  I wasn’t in the best of shape going into this race, and my training was a bit light, but I figured it would be good enough for a halfway decent finish.   I ended up having a rough day out there, and pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong.  I had to dig way too deep, but I managed to get ’er done and check this one off.

Race day was cooler than average with temps in the 70s and low 80s, but it was incredibly humid.  All in all, not too bad.  After catching up with a few friends, we were off.  I rolled along enjoying the early miles and kept the pace fairly conservative.  I had two handhelds with me and blew through the first 2 aid stations at miles 6 and 9.

Pretty soon though I started to feel terrible.  It was that sinking feeling that has led me to so many DNFs in the past.  My stomach was turning, I had no energy, I felt woozy, and my legs were dead.  Not good.  About 2 hours in I figured I was likely dehydrated, though I had drinking as much as I usually do.  I also started cramping in my side, which might have been I was also low on electrolytes.  I started gulping down HEED, took an S-cap for electrolytes, and hoped with all my might that I wouldn’t throw up.

My buddy Greg runs and unofficial aid station 2 miles before the turnaround point.  I felt like crap at this point, but it was great to see him.  I wanted nothing more than to hang with him for a bit, but pushed on and planned on stopping for a bit on the way back.  I felt terrible on the long downhill to the turnaround, and I was on the verge of throwing up.   I barely got myself across the river cross to the aid station and had no idea how I was going to finish this mother.  I was only halfway through and had to find a way to run another 17 miles, starting with a 2 mile climb. I was also fighting mental demons with my prior DNF and felt like I had a mental block on going past that mile 19 aid station.  In my mind all I wanted to do was get there so I could stop.

So it all seemed impossible, but what can you do?  The aid station volunteer asked me what was wrong, which I assume meant that I was not looking so hot.  I gulped some ginger ale and filled one bottle with Coke and one with water.  I had drained the better part of two 20 oz bottles over the last 4 miles, and I nearly emptied them again on the 2 mile climb.  This was highly unusual for me and way more than I typically drink.  The side cramps started again, so I took another S-cap.

I was trudging up the mountain at a pretty pitiful pace and getting passed left and right.  I was still exhausted and my legs were shot, but hey … at least I hadn’t thrown up!  I took that to mean I was probably dehydrated and kept on drinking.  I somehow managed to switch mental gears on the way up.  I stopped thinking about how I would physically cover the remaining miles and went into a mode of just moving forward.  I ran out in 2:50, so I had all the time in the world to cover the back half.  I just had to do one thing first.  My wife and I have a baby boy due in 4 weeks, and I was not so thrilled at the idea of slowly walking down a trail for hours on end while she was in labor.  I borrowed Greg’s phone and confirmed there was not a baby popping out.  Game on!

I decided to spend a bit of time at Greg’s Catoctin Oasis because I certainly needed some help and who better to hang out with?!  I put a bunch of ice in my hat and drank some water.  I ate some tasty grapes.  And most importantly, I drank some Red Stripe.  Now we’re talking!  Greg really brings alive the race’s motto of “have fun”, and now I was ready for action.

I got back on the trail and started a slow jog.  I felt …. not terrible.  I’ll take it!  I can’t say I ever felt much better than “not terrible” for the rest of the race (and felt worse in spots), but it was definitely a turning point.  The ice in my hat was working for me, I took another S-cap, and I was drinking a ton.  For the first 30 minutes out of the aid station I felt pretty solid, and then I pushed through another 30 minutes to get to the mile 25 aid station.

I didn’t feel great on the next stretch, but it was only 3 miles.  My side cramps never went away, which was strange.  I was also drinking about 40 ounces an hour, which is unheard for me and way more than I can even process normally.  I still am not sure what happened during this race, but I was managing to keep it together.  On this stretch I had a new fun challenge, as my left calf started seizing and cramping when I pushed too hard.  Well it was a good thing I didn’t have another 6 mile stretch with big monster climbs!  Oh wait …

I stocked up at the last aid station at mile 28 and pushed on to get this thing down.  I actually passed a few people over the last stretch and was starting to pick up some carnage.  I was a hurting turkey, but I was resolved to finish this race.  A long downhill caused my side to hurt even more, and my calf would cramp up on the rockier sections.  I was actually relieved to hit the uphill section so that I could start hiking.  That was fine for a while, but it was a looong uphill.   Whenever I tried to jog on the flatter stretches, I had to be careful or I would cramp up.

I crested the top saw a runner up ahead on the way down when we were about 2 miles from the end.  I ended up passing about 4 runners in this last stretch, which gave me something to focus on and motivate me.  My legs were just shot at this point, and both legs were cramping now.  Finally the end was near, but there is one last cruel uphill that swing wide around the finish and comes back up from the other side of the mountain.

I was for some reason determined not to give up the four places I just picked up, but I was also red-lining.  It made for a pretty hilarious sight.  I would push hard for a few strides, and then my calf would cramp and I would lurch to a halt.  People can see you from the finish line up top and cheer you on as you approach the finish.  I don’t think they knew what to make of me.  I looked like those zombies in 28 days later!

Finally I crested the ridge and approached the paved homestretch for the last few dozen yards to the finish line.  I tried to run it in but kept cramping every few strides and continued my hilarious gait.  I finished in 6:32, which was much better than I would have expected when I was at my low point in the middle of the race.

I was happy to finish this race and very happy to bring it back from the brink of despair for a decently good run.  The post race BBQ was awesome, and Greg provided some more excellent beer and good company.  The race ended up being way too hard, but I am glad I did it.  Now we will have to see if I go back next year!

Monday, June 17, 2013

6/17/13: The North Woods

“Don’t get cocky.  It’s going to get rocky.”  These are lyrics from an old school rap video game Dylan used to play.  I think it is a pretty good summary of our trip up to the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota.

With Dr. Fitz leaving Madison, WI soon now that he has his PhD (congrats, Dylan!) and a baby on the way for me in August, this seemed like the perfect time for a long hiking adventure.  I was going to be in Chicago for business on Thursday, so I was able to pop up to Duluth after my meeting and a nice visit with Mom and Dad Lewellen.  Mom made me a huge batch of amazing Chex Mix for the trip, and Dad took me out to a great Italian dinner, so I was fueled up and feeling ready for our leisurely hike up north.

Now Dylan and I like to think of ourselves as pretty fit individuals.  We have hiked many trails and run our share of marathons.  We are ultramarathoners.  We were quite confident in our abilities to cover lots of ground over two full days of hiking.  60 to 70 miles would be no problem, right? 

Thursday night I landed in Duluth close to 11pm, and we hit the trailhead a little after midnight.  It was a beautiful, clear night with countless stars and the Milky Way clearly visible.  We quickly got settled in and threw the tent up in the parking lot (before the trip I bought a 2 lb 9 oz lightweight Slater 2+ tent – it was awesome!).  It was close to 1am when we got settled in with wake-up call coming soon at 5:30am.   Dylan and I are men of luxury, so we were starting our trip out well rested in luxurious conditions.

We hit the trail at 6:30am, and man we were pumped!  Right away we hit the ridge line and were treated to stunning views of Lake Superior and the surrounding forest.  The Superior Hiking Trail was unlike anywhere I have ever been.  It seems obvious, but it was just so far north!  The hike felt very remote and like you were truly out in the wilderness. 

We felt great and soon hit Gooseberry State Park, the first of 3 State Parks we would hit. There are few places in the US where you can hit 3 state parks in a weekend of hiking.  Gooseberry had some most excellent waterfalls, the first of many we would see on the hike.  The trail generally alternated between being close to the shore with lake views from the ridgleline to moving further inland to hike along rivers and near backcountry lakes.  It made for fantastic variety.

13 miles in we hit Split Rock State Park.  Here we hiked 2.5 miles up the river away from the lake, crossed over the river and then back down the river on the other side.  We were treated to rapids and waterfalls all along this 5 mile stretch.  We finished up this stretch around 1:15 and took our first break of any kind with a quick 10 minute lunch up on the ridge with nice lake views.  Ahhh, life is good.

Somewhere during the interminable 12 mile next stretch we began to realize that we are but mortal men and that this hike was in fact very difficult.  Our packs were heavier than we expected, the terrain was tough, the miles seemed long, and we were not all that well trained going into this.  Hard to believe, but it actually is not that easy to cover 40 miles in one day in the back country with heavy packs.  Who knew?

We wrapped up this stretch around 5:30pm and had some light showers.  We did our first major water refill from a stream and kept pushing on.  Towards the end of this next part we had some tough, steep climbs and descents.  But we also had more great views as the sun was setting and shining off the trees and the lake. 
We were wrapping up this section a little after 8pm with the sun going down and had ~ 2.5 miles to go until our campsite.  The race was on to see if we could get to camp in daylight.  We did make it, but it certainly was not because of our pace.  Hooray for long northern summer days! 

We hit camp around 9:15 after 37 miles and almost 15 hours of basically nonstop hiking.  Dylan and I were very excited but had some difficult decisions to make.  We had so many basic needs to take care of that we didn’t know where to start.  Should we go to the bathroom first?  Eat first?  Just fall asleep?  Fall asleep while going to the bathroom?  We were overwhelmed.

We got camp quickly set up while we had a bit of light still left.  Dylan opted for bathroom, a bit of eating, and then sleep.  I waged an internal struggle between eating and sleeping and tried to stuff as much food in as I could before passing out and faceplanting in the campsite.  We were in bed around 10:15.

That night we had some major thunderstorms, and it was drizzling when we woke up at 5:30am.  We managed to pack up camp just before it started to really pour again.  We started day 2 of hiking at about 6:30am in the rain. 

Luckily it cleared up quickly.  Dylan and I both felt pretty beat up but better than we expected.  Call it a win!  This morning was one of our favorite stretches of trail.  We were up on a ridge for a while with incredible views of Bear Lake and Bond Lake, two very large backcountry lakes surrounded by sheer cliffs on each side. 

We spent some time going through a nice birch tree grove and then descended down “the drainpipe”, several hundred feet of sheer rock to get off the ridge.  Pretty soon we came to Tettegouche, our third and final state park.

There were two major falls in the park, High Falls and Two Step Falls.  We hit High Falls first and then thought the trail went on to Two Step Falls.  As it happens we were lost and off the Superior Trail.  Lucky for us, we got to see Two Step Falls, get a second view of High Falls once we were back on track, and get in almost 2 extra miles.  Win. Win. Win?

Dylan and I were rapidly getting wrecked.  Problems were becoming numerous and included beat up feet, sore back, exhausted legs, blisters, sore shoulders, and so on.  We had planned to cover two more stages of 6.8 and 8 miles.  The 6.8 stage was looooong and tough.  By the end we figured that we could make the whole thing but it would be extremely difficult, we would not finish by the anticipated 6:30pm time, and we would be risking injury and damage.

Luckily we had a flexible cab driver and were able to call him at the end of 6.8 stage.  We happily called it.  That put us at close to 20 for the day and 57ish for the total.  We made our way back to Duluth to hang out for the evening and recover. It was great to get some hot food and some beer, though it was not easy to get it down with our bodies still in a bit of shock.  We walked along the shoreline for a bit on what happened to also be part of the Superior Hiking trail.  We didn’t cover enough ground and needed a bit of extra distance! 
It was great to hang out with Dylan and spending time together out in the North Woods.  We saw a lot of great trail, and I had tons of fun exploring a completely new place.  We certainly got our money’s worth and really beat ourselves up, but I guess you only live once.

Thanks for the good time, Fitz!

 The start of the madness

Dylan was pumped! 

 In the first 15 minutes we were treated to this amazing early morning view of the Lake Superior and the forest

Lots of lush green trail

Coming into Gooseberry State Park with some nice waterfalls

After leaving Gooseberry.  Dylan surveying his property. 

Heading into Split Rock State Park

Lots more waterfalls in Split Rock 

After following the river away from the lake for 2.5 miles we crossed the bridge to head back down 

Heading down the other side of Split Rock 

 We saw many beaver dams but sadly no beavers
 View of Beaver Pond from above
Looking away from the Lake Superior out into the endless forest 

Up on the ridge line and starting to get dark 

The sun was just setting.  We had been hiking for about 14 hours at this point with another hour of hiking left. 

The next morning the rain stopped quickly.  We ascended the ridge and saw low lying clouds down in the valley. 

Dylan approved 

I was waterlogged and sad 

 Nah, just kidding.  This was too much fun!

Amazing view of Bear Lake from up on the ridge 

We couldn't get enough of Bear Lake and tried to soak it in for a while 

 Coming up to Bond Lake

Looking north towards the rocky section we were about to hike 

This was the "drainpipe", a 150 foot sheer rock descent 

High Falls in our third and final state park, Tettegouche (yes you read that correctly) 

Two Step Falls in Tettegouche 

This is the rickety bridge we were about to cross

 Close up of High Falls

 High Falls from the other side

 We went through lots of birch groves

Toward the middle of the picture is the road we were hiking towards to get picked up.  It looks close but took a lot of meandering to get there.