Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Massanutten 2009 - I am in!

Well, the Massanutten lottery was held yesterday and I was lucky to get chosen for the 2009 field. Actually, the lottery the VHTRC employs is pretty interesting. All applicants sign up online between December 1 and 8 where they are assigned a random number between 0 and 999. This number is the key to getting selected. The lottery was based on yesterday's closing value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The final three digits of the Dow close (including decimal places) are the "starting point" of the lottery and the direction of the market (up or down) determines which "direction" the lottery moves in selecting entrants. My random number was 914 and the final three digits of yesterday's close was 133. Once the selection reaches 0, it starts with 999 and continues to move down. No preference is given to anyone for the selection but there is preference given on the wait list. Regardless, I am in.

Personally, I think all past champions should get automatic entry along with folks going for a 10th finish. It is ludicrous to me that past champions Todd Walker, Ian Torrence and Marti Kovener are on a waiting list, although they do have the highest priority. But then again, I think first come first served is just as fair. Last year, there was a ridiculous amount of whining from folks who did not get in when all you had to do was get in front of a computer that morning. Heck, I was literally at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet above sea level on an airplane and I made arrangements for someone to sign me up. I find it pretty funny that several of the folks that complained didn't even sign up this year. Maybe the lottery is fairer. No matter what process is used, everyone is not going to be satisfied.

I am really excited to run MMT again in 2009 and several fellow Goats are in as well including Brennen, Steve and Amy with Deb and Mike Mason high up on the waiting list. In addition, my buddies John and DC from Charlotte are also in. The original plan back in 2007 was for the three of us to run MMT together as our first 100. However, DC injured his knee so John and I ran the entire race together. Glad these guys are giving it a go again. Look forward to kicking some rocks again come mid-May!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Turkey Running

Whoa, two posts in one day...

On Saturday, Mike Mason and I met in Black Mountain and drove to Bent Creek for Adam Hill's Bent Creek Gobbler run. The run consists of two loops that make a figure eight. Both loops are about 16 mile and Mason and I opted for just one loop. He is running a 40 mile race this week and I just wanted a nice solid run. I got to see several old running friends including Rick Gray, Nick Whited and Annette Bednosky. I also met several new folks, many of which I felt like I already knew including Matt Kirk, Ed Marsh and Doug Blackford. In short the run was a blast! Temperatures were in the upper 30s and with overcast skies, rain was a bit of a concern but it stayed at bay. The loop started with a fire road that climbed and descended for about 7 miles. I ran most of this alone until Rick and Annette caught up to me. I ran with them for about two miles and then stopped to take a gel and water the plants. I caught back up as they were turning on to the Shut-In trail. The Shut-In trail is amazing as it undulates sharply up and down (mostly up!) but the trail is a joy to run. Annette finally left Rick and I as she got her legs back and we never saw her again until the finish. We had a good time chatting as we meandered through the woods on the trail. Jason caught Rick and I and as he passed, I followed (Rick stopped to take a pit stop). I didn't know the course very well and he was moving at a bout the pace I wanted to.

We were treated to some great trail with some wonderful rolling sections that were a joy to push hard on the ups and then blast the downs. We were on the Shut-In for about 7 miles and I hated for it to end. The final 2 miles were all downhill on a gentle dirt road. It was fun to open up the legs and hammer in to the finish. the temperature was dropping pretty quickly as we socialized afterwards and soon Mike and I headed back to Black Mountain. After a good lunch with some yummy broccoli soup, I rolled back to Charlotte. What a great run and a wonderful way to burn off some Thanksgiving calories.

2008 Year in Review

Hard to believe that another year is pretty much in the books. I always enjoy to reflect back on the years events and "remember" the lessons learned and celebrate the successes one last time before shutting the door on the year. My focus this year was simple - to improve my general trail running ability and run better at Massanutten. I am still relatively new to trail ultrarunning having started back in August 2006 but I still feel like I should be improving, and I am.

My first race of the year was a road marathon in February. I trained hard through January focusing on speed and tempo workouts. I have never run a fast marathon (and with a PR of 3:33 most would argue I still haven't) and wanted to see how much I could improve over my PR (was 3:48). I was pleased but the biggest win for me was finding how the speed/tempo workouts really helped augment my training. I now include some form of speed/tempo work in my training every week except for during recovery/rest weeks.

I ran a less than stellar 50 mile race at the Bel Monte Endurance Run in March. I tweaked my ankle pretty bad in the run but even without that, I just didn't have it. The course was rugged and I chalked up the death march to a 12:20 finish as mental training for Massanutten. Fortunately, the ankle healed completely within a couple of weeks.

Massanutten loomed large in May and I went in to the race physically and mentally ready. The course conditions were sloppy and wet but I battled through it and ended up improving my time by 3.5 hours, clocking a 31:34! I kind of imploded a little bit at the end due to some IT band issues but was thrilled with the result. I definitely can run the course faster, I just need to keep coming back and applying the previous years lessons.

I next ran the Laurel Valley Run in August. Laurel Valley is a run of about 35 miles with about 8,000 feet of gain on the very scenic Foothills Trail. LV is tough because it is unsupported and in South Carolina in August! You carry all of your calories and drink from the many streams on the course. The temperature and humidity can be brutal but we were treated to highs in the mid-80s this year so the event was much more enjoyable. I ran a solid race in 8:06, which was a significant improvement over the prior year. The temps helped but mostly it was I was able to run every downhill and had a solid climbing pace on the uphills - an area that has plagued me before.

My last race was the GEER 100K up in Virginia. I should have only run the 50K but was too stubborn to drop down. The course was very wet and I was definitely under prepared. My quads were shot at 25 miles. I lumbered on a finished about an hour slower than usual. It was a lot of fun nonetheless. I had a heel injury for all of October and most of November but have managed to heal up and have clocked in a couple of 30 to 40 mile weeks. I will close out the year as a pace group leader for the Thunder Road marathon in Charlotte. I am running the 4 hour group and am using it as a nice medium long training run.

I am excited for what 2009 brings for my running. I am psyched to be part of the Wasatch Speedgoat Mountain Racing Team for next year. My schedule is still taking shape with definite plans for the Mount Mitchell Challenge 40 Miler and the Umstead 100. I also entered the Massanutten 100 lottery this morning and will know about that in a couple of weeks. I hope to do a western race next year and have my sights set on Tahoe Rim, Leadville or Cascade Crest. Although, the "Hundred in the Hood" out in Oregon looks pretty appealing also. Any readers who have a suggestion are free to add them in the comments section. I also hope to volunteer at Hardrock. This is a race I want to do someday and it is about time I got out that way and check things out.

Overall 2008 has been a good year for me running wise. Other than the heel injury, I had no big problems and I finished every race I started. I am having tons of fun with trail ultras and hope to continue with this sport well into "old" age. I am excited for 2009 and hope that everyoine has a good December.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bedrock is a Speedgoat!!!

Today I got the official word that I am part of the Wasatch Speedgoat Mountain Racing Team (WSGMRT) for the 2009 season. Needless to say, I am really psyched with the news. This team was started up earlier this year by Scott Mason and Tim Barnes. The initial team included a very diverse group of trail runners from around the U.S. I knew a few of the folks such as Bryon Powell, Brennen Wysong, Steve Pero and Tim Long and they have raved about the team so far. Scott mentioned they were expanding the team in 2009 and asked if I wanted in. The team remains very diverse and I feel very honored to have been included. As I have written recently, I have had a rough couple of months running wise with the heel injury. This is just the kind of news I need to get my butt back in gear. Not only am I close to 100% injury free, I am also mentally pumped for 2009. I will post more details as they become available and will update the sidebar as sponsors are finalized. Lots and lots of scrapes for this news!!

Monday, November 17, 2008

This past weekend I had to attend a client board retreat up at the Biltmore in Asheville so I took the opportunity to hit the trails in the area. I emailed with Adam Hill who gave me several good options to consider on Saturday and we planned to meet up on Sunday morning to run on the trails at Warren Wilson College. This was literally on my way home Sunday so how could I pass it up. Last Tuesday, was my first run of any consequence since the GEER 100K in late September. My left heel has been giving me fits with some sort of injury but has been on the mend the last couple of weeks. I have definitely lost some fitness and put on a few pounds but was psyched to run in the mountains again.

On Saturday afternoon I logged a very solid two hour run on the Mountains to Sea trail. I accessed the trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and had a blast running the trail. Adam later informed me that where I started was about mile 25 or so of the Pitchell Challenge - one of the excellent fun runs that he puts on each year. The weather was near perfect with temps in the upper 40s/low 50s and a slight constant breeze. I was amazed at how much dexterity I had lost on the trails, then again they were ankle deep with leaves. Despits a couple of minor falls, I managed a prety good pace and really worked hard on the hills. As twilight ensued, I had to really hoof it to get back before darkness fell. I then got back to the Inn and got cleaned up for a dinner with the board.

My heel was a little tender on Sunday morning but nothing a little stretching couldn't fix (I iced it on Saturday evening as well). I met up with Adam at the trailhead and the temps were just above freezing with light snow falling. My legs definitely felt the run from the day before but I was psyched once again to enjoy the trails. Adam is a much faster runner than I am and even though we moved at a snails pace at times, he never complained and just enjoyed the day. We talked the whole time about our kids, great runs and boneheaded mistakes (like running 30 miles on 1 gel a 20 oz. of water - something we have both done). We both remarked how we enjoy running in inclement weather. Especially on trails. I absolutely loved this run. We saw several folks on the trail out hiking with their dogs and enjoying the beautiful day. Despite the cooler temps, we were comfortable in shorts and short sleeve shirts. Man, I have really missed running in the woods.

After the run, we chatted briefly and then headed our separate ways. He had to get home to the family and I had a Denny's Grand Slam with my name on it! I am excited for Adam's next fun run - the Bent Creek Gobbler 50K, which is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I am not in ideal shape but I am sure it will be a fun time. Hopefully, we will have a bit of winter weather to enjoy.

These runs were a blast despite "hurting" more than normal. The bright side of the hurting is that it serves as a great motivator to get my butt out the door. I hope the heel stays cooperative because I am really glad to back out there shuffling, hopefully some real running will come once I get back in decent shape.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I am still here just haven't had a alot to update lately. Since GEER, I have been nursing a nagging heel injury that resulted in 0 miles in October. In fact, my first run of any substance since GEER was earlier this week! Good news is that it felt great. The heel is still a little tender but 10X better than it was a month ago. I have a work conference this weekend in Asheville and am psyched to hit the trails while I am up there. I am planning on running in a low key 50K on the weekend after Thanksgiving if all is well. I am getting really excited for 2009 and am putting the finishing touches on my schedule. I plan to do several races that are new to me and also plan to do some races that don't involve gnarly mountain trails. While I love the mountain single track, I want to challenge myself to run faster on some easier terrain. I will several newsworthy items that are "in process" that I hope to share in the coming weeks. Look for an update post on my mountain trip early next week.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I ran the GEER 100K on September 27th. This was my third time running in this fabulous event in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Charlottesville. On the way, I picked up Kevin in Staunton who was coming out to help out as well. Kevin is a very fast runner (2:20 marathon) and is a freelance writer, contributing often to Running Times. Needless to say, we had a lot in common. I also met Jay Perry, who is a client of Gill's from Mississippi. He, his wife and three boys drove 13 hours for the 50K - now that is dedication! I met up with Sniper and after the briefing, we all headed back to Waynesboro to grab some dinner and make final preparations. I was only using one drop bag (I would see it three times), so my preparations were fairly quick and easy. The rain was coming down in monsoon-like sheets all night and we knew the trail would likely be very slick for the race. Slept okay but 3:30 came much quicker than I hoped. Still pouring in the morning and thunder and lightning was thrown in as a bonus!

At 6:00 AM, we were off and on our adventure. Sniper had Grindstone looming so he was running as the sweep so I wouldn't see much of him today. I made good time on the first mile climb that literally goes straight up the mountain. It was very foggy and misty so a headlamp was a necessity. Once on the ridge, Jay and I ran together. He was running the 50K so I tried to set a good pace for him to follow. We had a good time chatting and cruising the trail. Unfortunately, there were no views due to the fog. Jay moved on ahead and I ran solo for most of this until I caught up with Ragan Petrie. I met hear at Laurel Valley this year and it was good to visit with her again. The visit was short as she soon blasted down the trail on the way to a top-3 women's finish in the 50K. Soon I was headed on the long road portion all the way down to the Priest Mountain Vista aid station (@ 15 miles). Once at the bottom, I said hello to Jeff Wilbur and then headed back up. Things were pretty uneventful and soon I got to the next trail section and made my way back to Camp Marty (mile 23).

I felt pretty good but my stomach was a little irritated. I made my way up the long climb up to the Bald Mountain Jeep Road and finally got to the aid station (mile 25.4). I was pretty wiped out so I rested for a bit. I ate a couple of grilled cheese and some soup and my stomach started to feel better. My only concern was my legs were pretty tired and the real "fun" had yet to begin. I ran very well down the Kennedy Ridge Trail and was soon at the aid station (mile 31.2). Half way home mileage wise but probably about 70% of the work remained. I ran most of the rolling gravel road the next 3 miles and checked into Stony Run (mile 34.2). One of the hardest climbs of the race follows so I sat and rested a bit and chatted with Gill. My stomach was unhappy again and I ate a few crackers and drank some ginger ale. I found some motivation and got going to get the climb over with. Soon I caught up with Erika from Florida who was running her first 100K. She had a very solid hiking pace going so I tagged along and let her pull me up the climb.

We got separated when I started running when the trail leveled out and soon I arrived back at Bald Mountain aid station (mile 40.7). I was pretty spent so I again rested a few minutes and filled up on the calories. From this point on, my stomach felt great. The next section is 100% runnable so I soon took off and made my way down to the valley floor. I was making really good time until I twisted my knee when going under a blow down. It really hurt and I walked/hobbled for about 15 minutes. After stretching and walking some, it started to feel better and I was able to resume running. At this point, I knew that I would likely run slower than last year and that was a little discouraging but I kept forging on. I passed a runner about 1 mile from the aid station and that motivated me to go into the Turkey Pen aid station (mile 47.7) with high spirits. I filled my bottles, ate some potatoes and headed off on another 3+ mile road section. I ran most of it but wanted to save energy for another tough climb that loomed ahead. I got to Kennedy Ridge (mile 50) and headed up the climb. I pushed pretty hard and made it to the top in about 52 minutes (a PR for me on the climb). I then ran the jeep road as best I could. It was really foggy and the light reflected back at me which was a major pain. I actually made better time power walking so that is what I did.

Finally, I was at Bald Mountain aid station for the final time (mile 56.5). I learned that the last runner was about 30 minutes ahead so I knew I wasn't catching them. I headed off and picked my way down the very technical Torrey Ridge trail. We climbed it earlier in the day and I swear the descent at night is harder. I got to Camp Marty (mile 58) around 9:20 or so. I knew I was about an hour from the finish so I headed off immediately. I didn't see or hear a single person the whole way. I did take a nice face plant as I was coming off the trail. It was pretty funny actually and I got a nice mouth full of dirt. I crossed the finish in 16:29, about an hour slower than last year. However, it was good for 16th place overall. Of the 71 starters in the 100K, only 29 finished! Just finishing appears to have been an accomplishment this year.

Although I ran a much slower time, I had a good race overall. I was definitely under trained for this race as my longest run since Laurel Valley (early August) was only 21 miles. In hindsight, I should have run the 50K since I was better trained for that distance. It took about 5 days for the soreness to fully subside (compared to only 3 after Massanutten). This validated my thought about being under trained. Oh well, I still had a great time. I plan to take a little break from running now and will not do another ultra until 2009. I will start my training back up again in November and am actually looking forward to the down time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

GEER Preview

This weekend I will running the Great Eastern Endurance Run 100K for the third straight year. GEER was my first trail ultra two years ago and I am really looking forward to enjoying the course once again. Gill, Frannie and Marty do a great job with this race (and all the races they direct) including awesome aid stations, great volunteers and just a fun all around experience. I am feeling pretty fit even though my training has been somewhat minimal. I have had a couple of nagging "mini-injuries" the last couple of weeks but feel pretty good going into the race. The course has a good bit of climb and descent with some pretty technical sections. There is also some road and jeep trail so one gets good diversity of running surfaces throughout the race. The weather looks to be great temperature wise (high in 70s and lower on the ridges) but it is likely we will have some rain during the race.

I plan to go pretty minimal here with only one drop bag and relying largely on aid station fare for calories (especially during the first half of the race). Plan to wear the Streaks again since they worked so well at Massanutten and Laurel Valley. I am really looking forward to sharing some of my favorite trails with some of my favorite people. Most of the CRC/Bad to the Bone team will be there so it will be cool to see all of them. I am not really worried about my time, okay that is a lie. While I would like to run faster than last year, we will see how the day goes. I have learned that I perform better when I just run and let the cards fall where they may. Hopefully, they will fall on the good side of 15 hours ;-).

There are several good races this weekend including the Bear 100 in Utah/Idaho and the Vermont 50 in, well, Vermont. Both of these are races I want to do someday. I have running friends doing both so it will be good to hear first hand how they both go. Good luck to everyone who is racing this weekend. If you are not running this weekend, check back next week for a GEER report to vicariously through.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, it has been a few weeks since I posted. Amazing how fast time goes by sometimes. I have been running a good bit focusing mostly on medium distance (2 to 3 hours) runs at a quicker pace. On my long runs I have been mixing in much more tempo pace segments to break the monotony and have really enjoyed it. The last few days I have been nursing a sore foot. Not sure what is wrong but I think it stems from stepping on a rock last week. No big deal. I am really excited for the GEER 100K in three weeks. While my training has been a bit unconventional, it will be interesting to see how things go. Hopefully, I can imporve over last years time.

My buddy Mike Mason finished Ultra Trail Tour de Mount Blanc last weekend in 31:19 to grab 106th place out of over 2,000 starters. He said the race is purely epic and extremely rewarding. Mike is writing a report and I will post it to the blog once he completes it.

It never ceases to amaze me how popular ultrarunning has become. You will recall how quickly this year's Massanutten filled - less than 2 hours. The registration for the Umstead 100 opened up today at 12:00 PM (ET) and filled 200 spots in 19 minutes! They reserve 50 or so spots for mail-in entries and do maintain a wait list. But, most folks that weren't at a computer during lunch today are out of luck. I was fortunate enough to get in at 12:09. This brings up the controversial question of what is a fair way of selecting entrants for a race. I argue that first come, first serve is just as fair as a lottery system. I knew I was going to be flying at 30,000 feet when Massanutten entry opened last year so I had someone sign up for me. For Umstead this year, I made sure I was ready to go right when entry opened. An interesting debate but many think lotteries are a fairer way to go. I just don't see the logic behind how "chance" is any fairer than someone making entry a priority and taking the steps necessary to get in.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lovin' Laurel Valley

The Laurel Valley Whitewater Run was as close to ideal as it likely gets for me. The weather featured relatively low humidity and high temperatures in the 80s. My hope was that these factors combined with some course knowledge gained last year would allow for a good improvement in my time. The wild card was my running fitness. While I felt good, I had not been training very hard. However, I had been fairly consistent with tempo workouts so perhaps that would be enough. Plan was to go very light this year, taking just enough gel and shot blocks to get me through the day. I hoped to improve my time by 30 minutes to an hour.

Upon arriving in the Traveler's Rest area on Friday afternoon, John, Mo and I went to Walmart to pick up some last minute supplies. We then caught up with several folks at the Pizza Inn for our pre race dinner. Those in attendance including us were Byron Backer (who was putting us all up), Christian Griffith, Jim Musselman, Larry Lyda and Mike O'Melia. I knew of Larry and Mike from the ultralist so it was great to finally meet them in person. After dinner we headed to Byron's house to make our last minute preparations and then turn in for the night. We had less people at the house this year so I was able to sleep in a bed, which was great. We had to get up at 3:30 to drop cars and shuttle to the finish. Byron arranged to rides for us all - talk about a full service host.

We cut it close on time but made the start by about 5 minutes. One problem immediately surfaced - it was really dark and I didn't have a light! Oh well, that meant I would have to latch on to someone with a light for 30 minutes until dawn and hold back a bit. Actually, not a bad plan. I got separated from John and Mo early but we soon caught up with each other and made our way towards the first water spot. We were making great progress and I relayed my goals to John. Last year I ran a miserable 10:26 here and hoped to break 10 hours this year and maybe have an outside shot at going under 9. My plan was to be at the Horsepasture River by 12:00 so that I would have four hours to get in under 10 hours. I did not have more aggressive goals because I was unsure how my fitness was. I had only run over 15 miles once since Massanutten in May and most of my training had been on roads. John has battled Achilles problems all summer so we agreed to just run by feel and see how it goes.

We continued to make great progress and were really having fun pushing the pace on the downhills. The weather really helped us make good time as did the clearing of many blowdowns along the trail. I can only think of a few spots where we had to deal with blowdowns this year. We got to the Toxaway River bridge in great time and spirits and John remarked that we would hit Horsepasture way before 12:00. I still wasn't convinced but continued to move along. I was eating gels and shot blocks and drinking Nuun (adding it once the water purified). I did feel like I was a little behind on water some so I drank an extra bottle at Toxaway. I also noticed that I likely did not have enough gels (only had nine). I bought some pretzels at Walmart but mistakenly forgot to put them in my waist pack. Oh well, too late to worry about it now.

I lost John and Mo for a bit when I stepped off the trail to take a pit stop. The next section was awesome - all rolling hills and I ran every step trying to catch them. This was where I got three yellow jacket stings. I finally caught up only because John had fallen and was walking it off. Eventually we arrived at the Horsepasture River at 10:50! I was over an hour ahead of plan and feeling great. From here it was between 3 and 4 hours to the finish - closer to 4 for me. We planned to get in the water here but the levels were pretty low so we just filled up. John urged me to push ahead and go for a great time but I was reluctant. I figured sub-10 was in the bag so there was no hurry. I decided to start walking up the trail and said I would meet him at Thompson's where I planned to get in the water if the levels were better. Thompson's is about 4 miles from the finish but I didn't realize this at this point - I thought it was closer to 7.

I caught up to Jim Musselman, Andrew Hacket and Jason Barringer. I moved past them on one of the downhill sections but soon Andrew and Jason caught up and we ran together for a while. In fact, Jim would also catch up and pass me to finish about 5 minutes ahead. Jason commented that we had a great chance of breaking 8 hours. What!!!! I said how is that possible and he told me the finish was only 4 miles from Thompson's. He would know as this was his sixth time here. We battled the yellow jackets off and on (I got stung two more times) and soon were at Thompson's. He said he was just going to top off his bottles a push to the end and go for sub-8. I decided I would go with him and see if I could do it too. We got to Thompson's around 12:40 so to break 8 hours I needed to cover 4 miles in 1:20. Seemed doable. Only problem was I only had 1 gel left for food and I was starving. So, I ate it and took off.

Jason and Jim had left before me (and Andrew before them). Tom Gabell also passed by as we arrived into Thompson's. I continued to move forward and played leapfrog with Jason and Andrew for a bit until they finally pulled away for good. I started to really bonk and was hitting a low point big time. I decided to get in the water for a bit to see if this would help revive me some and stayed for about 10 minutes. It helped some but the bonk was still there. I just decided to keep pushing as best I could. Soon Mo and Jim caught up and passed me. I soon realized that sub-8 was not going to happen but I could probably get in under 8:15 if I could make good progress up the last beast of a climb.

I pushed and I pushed and was surprised to be at the top quicker than expected. As I came down the paved bike path I could see another runner about 50 yards ahead. I kicked up the pace to a full sprint and was getting very close when the "crowd" told him to hurry up. He picked it up as well and we ended up crossing together in 8:06. I ended up covering the stretch from Horsepasture in 3:16, which is much better than I expected. I was tired after that last hard effort but it was a good kind of tired. I drank several cups of sports drink and water and then relaxed at the finish and cheered in the other finishers for a couple of hours. Mo ran an 8:01 and John did 8:28 basically off the couch. If fully trained he would have been a good hour faster.

This race went very well for me despite two dumb mistakes - no light and not enough food. I thought about putting a small flashlight in my waist pack but decided against it. Probably didn't impact my time much but who knows. Going too light on nutrition was really dumb as the late stage bonk definitely hurt my time. Perhaps the soak in the water was unnecessary and a waste of time. I am splitting hairs here but I always try to garner some lessons from every race. I blew away even my most aggressive goal and felt terrific at the end. I used Desitin on my feet and again had no blisters or any foot problems. The Nuun worked very well and I plan to use it in all races going forward.

Thanks to Claude for putting on such a great race and to Byron for his hospitality. Also, congratulations to John Teague for getting his tenth finish at Laurel Valley. Man, what a race!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Laurel Valley Preview

Never say never. After my suffer fest at Laurel Valley last year I uttered those infamous post race lines of "I will never do that again". Ha! How many of us have done that before? After my blisters healed and I recovered, I realized how much I enjoyed the trails and the overall low-key nature of the event. The RD has done a lot to promote running throughout the Carolina's for a long time and puts on great events. So here I sit, a mere 90 minutes from heading down towards Greenville, SC for the Laurel Valley Whitewater Run.

I am traveling down there with running buds John and Mo and we will meet up with several other folks for a pre-race meal. Byron Backer is letting us all crash on his floor tonight and tomorrow we are up early to drop cars and then start promptly at 6:00 AM. The good news is the temperatures look to be much lower than last year with highs expected in the upper-80s. Much better than the triple digits we endured last year. Even the humidity looks to be relatively mundane between 50% and 60%. I feel pretty fit but will not treat this as a race but rather a leisurely training run. Definitely part of the race plan this year is several cool dips in mountain streams. I neglected to do this last year and paid the price.

I will post a full race report early next week. By the way, Karl continues to make progress south on the AT. he is off to a great start on his quest to traverse the trail in 47 days. You can follow along here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

K. Skaggs Rips Hardrock!

This past weekend there was a little race out in Silverton, CO. Kyle Skaggs set a new course record at Hardrock by running 23:23! Diana Finkel won the women's race in 31:09. Both Kyle and Diana led from the start and never looked back. This is the first time in 15 runnings that anyone has broken 24 hours. When you consider the previous record for the clockwise direction was held by Karl Meltzer, who pretty much dominates mountain 100-mile races, this is a remarkable task. Kyle's time was more than 3 hours faster than Meltzer's previous record of 27:06 and over 6 hours ahead of the next finisher. Meltzer is still the man in my book, but Kyle went a long way towards making his mark. There already is discussion about this being performance of the year.

Absolutely!! I don't know Kyle, heck I have never even met him, but hear is a great all around guy who doesn't flaunt his ego around. This is also a very Meltzer-esque quality. At Massanutten last year, he talked with front to back of the packers alike. I have heard the same about Kyle at Wasatch last year. To me, it is great when we have displays of talent such as this and even better when it comes from "real" folks who don't talk themselves up constantly.
It always amazes me how many mid and even back of the packers push how great their accomplishments are. Just trying to throw their own log on the fire I suppose. They look really silly when someone like Kyle throws a freaking forest of logs on the fire with a performance like this. Anyway, congratulations to Kyle and all the finishers.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

JFK is Dead!

Okay, I admit that is not a very politically correct title for a post. The JFK 50 opened up for registration yesterday. So, I headed to the website to register only to find the entry fee is $135! I thought it was a joke but then no matter how many times I hit the refresh button, the numbers stayed the same. This is a a ludicrous entry fee for a 50 mile race. Massanutten is only $5 more an 55.8 miles longer. I have not run JFK before but from what I have heard, the aid stations are decent at best. Through chatter with some VHTRC folks, it appears the entry fee has doubled over the last five years. I am not sure why the race costs so much more this year, maybe it is a way of stemming demand. I also noticed that entry is limited to only 1,000. The last two years have seen JFK record over 1,000 finishers so I am not sure where the new limit comes in either. Regardless, I am out as there is no way I am paying that much for a 50 miler. So, now I am looking at a replacement 50 for the fall. Maybe Stone Cat in November or Vermont in September? I am open to any suggestions.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Finishers at Western States

In fact, no starters. The race has been cancelled this year due to the forest fires in the surrounding area. There are over 800 forest fires in California with more than 300 in northern CA alone. A couple of fires have the potential of reaching key location on the race course by the weekend - in particular, the Westville Fire has the potential of reaching the Foresthill Divide Road and the Peavine Fire could reach Last Chance and Mosquito Ridge Road. This would put runners, crews, volunteers and spectators at risk. In addition, given all the smoke and pollutants in the air, the air quality has deteriorated significantly. This prompted Placer County Pollution Control District officials to issue a warning advising individuals to reduce exposure to unhealthy air and avoid vigorous outdoor activities. I'd say a 100 mile trail run qualifies as vigorous outdoor activity.

The cancellation of Western States is unfortunate given the competitive field that was slated to participate this year. In addition, it negates any Grand Slam or Last Great Race efforts. However, this is definitely the right call by the Race Committee. The safety and well being of folks has to be the #1 priority. I am sure the Committee agonized with this decision but in the end had to go with a no risk option. You can read the full text of the official announcement here. Both Karl Meltzer and Andy Jones-Wilkins have written on their blogs about the decision. Bottom line is the Committee made the right call and we should all move on. One thing I am curious about is the entry fees are non-refundable and at $300 a pop, that is a decent amount of cash (about $120,000). The race no doubt has incurred expenses that cannot be recouped but it seems like they could donate at least a portion of the money to help with efforts to battle the fires or to assist in rejuvenating burned areas after the fire. Just a thought.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Change of Plans and Western States Preview

In looking at my race plans for the remainder of 2008, I have decided to forgo another 100 mile race this year. Instead, I have decided to run the JFK 50 and go for a 50 mile PR. To date, most of the ultras I have completed have been on very rocky trails with significant elevation change. While I love this sort of technical terrain, I am curious to see how I fare at some races with more gentler terrain. My physical fitness and mental toughness are at all time highs and I want to really try and race an ultra to see what I can do. Plus, my plans for 2009 include a 100 mile race on gentler terrain so JFK seems like a logical choice. JFK is the oldest (correct me if I am wrong) ultramarathon and will be celebrating its 46th year in 2008. It is definitely a race that I want to do at some point so I figure why not now. I still plan to do Annette's New River 50K in October and may do some other 50Ks in the fall as well. I am still kicking around Hellgate but may defer that to another year.

Western States is this weekend and as many have written, looks to be one of the most competitive fields ever. Karl Meltzer has done a great preview on his blog so I won't bore you with a detailed prediction. I agree with most on the men's side and see the podium as follows:

1. Tony Krupicka
2. Hal Koerner
3. Brian Morrison

Tony has shown he can dominate the 100 mile distance and while I don't think he will "dominate" per se, he does get the top spot. I think Koerner runs another great race and likely leads midway, but ultimately grabs the bridesmaid spot. Morrison had States won two years ago but collapsed on the track and was DQ'd when his crew helped him across the line so that he could get medical attention. last year he DNFd so if anyone has "unfinished business" it is him. Maybe I am sentimental but I think he grabs a podium spot. I also like Andy Jones-Wilkins for another top-10 finish and the masters course record. He will have a battle with the likes of Meltzer and Jorge Pacheco. Again, maybe I am too sentimental but I see AJW's experience ruling the day.

The women's race is equally as stacked with speedsters. It is hard to bet against Nikki Kimball with her repeated success in Auburn. I think Meltzer nailed the order on this one.

1. Nikki Kimball
2. Kami Semick
3. Jenn Shelton

Actually, I hope I am wrong on both the men's and women's picks (sorry Tony and Nikki) because all of these picks are fairly obvious. With such deep fields in both races, it would be cool to see some surprises. You can follow along on the webcast here. Regardless of the outcome, it is surely to be a heck of a race.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer is Here

WOW, IS IT HOT!!!!!! The mercury has really risen this week as we have had three consecutive days of 95+ degree temperatures. There is no respite for at least another five days as the first big heat wave of 2008 settles over the southeast. Folks running Old Dominion this weekend are in for a treat as they will no doubt face high in the upper 90s with humidity near 80%! Great heat training for those running Western States or Badwater. I am running neither so it just plain sucks right now. I have managed to get in three quality runs the last two days after being sidelined with a head cold Monday through Wednesday. I am planning on a couple of longish runs over the weekend. On Sunday, I plan to get out in the heat and do 1 to 2 hours in the afternoon. Once I get used to running in the heat, I really don't mind it. Hopefully, I will "get used to it" soon. For now, I will back of the pace 10% or so and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Back on Track

Well, the post-MMT happies have finally worn off and it is now time to resume a regular running routine. I took some time off to recover well and really give my IT band time to get in a better mood. Good news is all seems to be okay at this point. I have been running some and managed about 15 miles the week after MMT with another 10 or so walking and biking. I got in about 30 miles last week mostly recovery runs with nothing longer than 7 miles. However, I did do a 4.5 mile quasi-tempo run on Thursday night and managed to run it in about 33:10 (7:28 pace). Not rocket speed but was able to get good leg turnover early and motored pretty well up the many short hills. It was a great "test run" on the IT band as I expected any lingering issues would definitely surface during the effort. Nope, got nothing and credit the fast healing to heat, massage and frequent stretching. I am pretty excited about recovering so quickly from MMT - all leg and foot soreness was gone by the Wednesday following the race with only some tightness in the IT band remaining until early last week.

Although I have some races tentatively scheduled for the remainder of 2008, my schedule is pretty open with only Laurel Valley as a definite at this point. I plan to do Hellgate in December and want to do another 100 miler in the fall. Grindstone is a possibility but I have a big conflict that may make that race a no go. I am also looking at the Bear 100, Superior Sawtooth 100 and the Pinhoti 100. Bear would be great but with escalating airfares and near $4.00 gas, may be a stretch on the running budget. Superior looks really interesting and is often compared to MMT. Pinhoti is a new race this year but looks to be run on some pretty amazing trails. I am open to any suggestions from readers for both 100 mile and other distances.

I really get excited this time of year as the "peak" of ultra season comes upon us. Western States, Hardrock, Badwater and Leadville (to name a few) are all upon us in the next couple of months. Plus Vermont and Wasatch round out the Grand Slam and of course Mount Blanc over in France in August. Will be fun to watch. Post your race suggestions to the comments field.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Massanutten 2008

Massanutten, THE race for me in the first half of 2008. I had been anxiously awaiting a return to Front Royal since the day after the race last year. Much of my training and other races were used as "experience" for this years race. After entering in December, I was ready to begin focusing on training hard for the big day. I will spare you the details but the training was as much mental as it was physical. Much of my issues last year were created in my head so that I was already defeated when the physical issues surfaced late in the race. Last year, I felt as if I "grew up" at Massanutten, at least a bit. With the augmented training and another year of running ultras, I had grown even more. This year was all about a new experience for me. After all, I had more course knowledge, was in better shape and was so excited for the race that I felt I could improve significantly over last year.

We rented a great house in Front Royal with Mike Mason and his family and Todd Walker. We also had crews, pacers and other friends staying with us so we had a great group at the house. I arrived Thursday afternoon and fell in love with the Gooney Lodge the moment we arrived. On Friday, Mike and I hiked up to Buzzard Rock to check out the course and noticed how wet it was. No surprise as it pured rain on Thursday evening. We also stopped by Kerry Owen's house and talked with her, Mike Bur and Rich Limacher. Although I am a member of the VHTRC, living in Charlotte, NC does not afford a lot of opportunity to hang out with other members, so I enjoyed this immensely. We had a great dinner at the house Friday night and the rest of the crew arrived that afternoon. Before I knew it, the alarm was going off signaling 3:45 AM - time to ROCK!

The weather seemed almost perfect - cool with a light breeze. With the shout of "Get out of here", we headed down the road and I settled in to a good pace with Joe Clapper. I had no business running at his pace but I felt okay and figured I would hang while I could. I started with an empty water bottle (advice given by another VHTRC member) so I stopped briefly at AS 1 to fill up. Before long I caught back up to Joe and talked with him a bit while we ran. I really enjoyed the conversation and before long, Brennen Wysong and CJ Blagg joined in. I was definitely moving faster than expected to be running with this group, but I felt good and figured there is plenty of time to slow down in the next section. I shared about one mile with Amy Sproston, chatting about her recent trip to Bolivia. She went on to win the women's race.

I arrived at Shawl Gap about 25 minutes ahead of schedule, filled up and headed out. Joe, CJ and company left me in the dust on the way into Shawl Gap and I didn't see them again until Bird Knob (them descending, me ascending). I cranked up the tunes and just ran, arriving at Veach Gap. I declined the pancakes but did say hi to Bur, whom I had met the day before. The next sections were uneventful and I just kept plodding along and leapfrogged a bit with a group of three other guys. Stopped briefly at Milford to fuel up good and clean my sunglasses and then it was off to Habron. The leapfrog game continued all the way into Habron Gap. I felt terrific and was well ahead of my 2007 split. The first ( and most difficult in my opinion) climb loomed on the way to Camp Roosevelt. I ate a lot at Habron and took it really easy on the climb up to let the calories process. Soon, I was headed down again and was amazed how great I was feeling. It was still early but I was very syked. At Camp Roosevelt, I sat down for a couple of minutes and drank a couple of extra cups of Gatorade and ate some banana then headed to Gap I.

The climb on the way to Gap I wore on me a bit but I had a ton of fun running the downhill despite the trail being sloppy. All of sudden I heard the infamous rattlesnake of MMT 2008 and saw him off to the left of the trail. He didn't seem to feel like talking so I headed off and made my way to Gap I. There were several muddy and wet spots on the course up to this point and my shoes (Montrail Streaks) were draining great. I hoped this would continue. I got to Gap I around 1:45, ahead of schedule and way ahead of 2007. I didn't stay long because I wanted Kern's Mountain to be over. After climbing Jawbone, I made the left onto Kern's and picked my way through the boulders and started running the ridge line. I slowed down a bit here so I was passed by some folks but soon got re energized and caught back up. Eventually, I latched on to a train with Sniper, Mark and Rande and followed them all the way to the water drop at Crisman Hollow Road. I filled up, jumped into the big mud puddle (fun fun fun!) and started the final 5K to 211 East.

Descended Waterfall and passed the turnoff to go to Gap II and climbed up and over to the jeep road. Sniper and Co. (sans Rande who passed me before Waterfall) caught up on the jeep road and we ran into 211 East together. I said hello to Dr. Horton and Bryon Powell who both offered encouraging words. My family arrived about 5 minutes after I left but I am glad Rich got me out of there. I felt great going up to Bird Knob but took it easy on the climbs. Several runners passed me as they descended including Joe, CJ, Brennen and Amy from the early morning section of the race. One I got to the top I started running and ran most of the "ant hill road" in to the aid station. It was pretty windy so I downed some soup, filled my bottles and headed off. I wanted to run this section well and that is what I did, ran and ran and ran. It felt so much better to stretch the legs out after the climb. I passed several folks on their way up including Sherpa John, Jeff McGonnell, John Straub, Ed C., Gary Knipling and many others. Gary remarked how much better I looked compared to last year. I thanked him and made my way down and in to 211 East II.

Rich was ready to roll so we headed off. I didn't need to turn my headlamp on until the final 45 minutes of this section. The moonlight was magnificent. We moved a bit slow but managed good progress and arrived at Gap II (no snake this time) where I planned to fuel up really well. After a full quesadilla and a grilled cheese we headed off to tackle Jawbone the second time. I labored pretty hard on the climb but was able to move on the descent in to Moreland pretty well. I decided to eat some soup and drink some Coke here to prepare for the long section over Short Mountain that was upon us. I filled up my hydration bladder and pulled up my arm sleeves and started off. It was raining off and on and the wind was gusting but it wasn't too bad. Mark was still with us and we climbed up and were soon on the ridge. The Short Mountain section is just hard. It is over 8 miles long and you are out there for a long time. We made decent progress but I was stumbling and Mark was having trouble staying awake. We stopped for a bit to get our heads straight and then started up again. Sniper and his pacer soon passed us around the halfway point. I was anxious to get to the switchbacks to run and stretch the legs. Before long we were there and I ran as hard as a I could and was soon at the Edinburgh aid station right at 2:00 AM. By comparison, last year I arrived just before 6:00 AM. I ate some more soup and drank some ginger ale. Also, I brushed my teeth and bid goodbye to Rich. I thanked him for all of his help and me and my new pacer (Rebecca Phalen) headed off to Woodstock Tower.

This is another 8+ mile section that just goes on and on. I knew (from Sniper last year) that there were three signs and that the mileage on the first two was inaccurate but the third was pretty close. I was struggling big time and not eating for some reason. I couldn't figure out what the issue was but I had no energy and could not make any decent progress (how about not eating you moron...). Rebecca was great at motivating me to keep moving. I felt sick and she urged me to start eating clif blocks, which went down okay. I also wasn't drinking enough. This is also where my IT band started bothering me a good bit. I noticed some tightness while on Short Mountain but it went away when I ran. This time, running was excruciating, particularly downhill. Not a good sign. I could power walk though, so that is what I did. We got passed a lot but there was nothing I could do about it. In the 3:40 or so (I know, pathetic) it took me for this section I only drank 20 ounces of Gatorade and ate 2 gels and a pack of clif blocks. No wonder I had no energy. Kind of a boneheaded mistake for me to make. We limped in to Woodstock Tower just before 6:00 AM. I was still way ahead of last year but wanted to keep moving. If this turned into a death march, I wanted something in the bank. I ate some grilled cheese, crackers and Doritos and we headed off.

We ran in decent spurts on this next section but still got passed by one runner. Not that it mattered. Although I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted, I WAS giving it all I had. Soon we got to Powell's Fort and we decided to work on my leg some. I ate some sausage and pancakes and drank some Coke and water. Rebecca is a physical therapist so she massaged my leg and rubbed some mineral ice into it to loosen it up. Afterwards, we got up and headed off. We ran a good bit of the road as the rain started coming down and soon were at the trail. She did a terrific job of motivating me to "run to the next streamer" or "run to the bend in the road". The trail was wet and sloppy and we climbed over several blow downs. My IT band was still bothering me but I could still power walk. The biggest issue was the loss of mobility in the right leg. I could push through the pain but could not physically lift my leg enough to run the downhills. We tried fashioning an IT band strap out of my bandanna but I couldn't get it to provide any relief. Oh well. Soon we were at the last aid station. I still had a full bottle so I said "16 in, 16 out" to the cheers of all the aid station workers. Only 5 miles to go but at my pace it would probably take 2 hours.

We motored on and climbed up and up and up to the top. I had lost a good bit of dexterity and almost fell back several times. I lost focus here some and was so frustrated I was almost in tears. Rebecca kept up the positive talk and got me back on track. Soon we headed down and I power walked/ran as best as I could. We got to the gravel road and then the paved road and then, at last, the bridal trail to the finish. Finally, I went across in 31:34 - a 3:30 improvement over last year!

I was elated that I was done. I thought I would have run a better time, particularly as well as I was moving earlier. But, these things are not easy and there is always an unexpected twist. A 3:30 improvement to me is a great accomplishment. I gave it everything I had and didn't waste time in the aid stations this time, so I consider it a resounding success. After some pictures, high fives, hugs and a tasty cheeseburger (thanks Quatro and Tom Corris), it was time to get cleaned up and climb in the car for the ride back to Charlotte. MMT 2008 was over - hard to believe.

This race is in my blood for some reason. I just love everything about it. The VHTRC does a great job and my wife commented how friendly everyone was. Thank you to RD Stan, all the volunteers, aid station workers and everyone who made the run possible. I can't thank my pacers Rich and Rebecca enough for keeping me focused and moving forward.
Massanutten, I just love it and for me...MASSANUTTEN ROCKS!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rocks Await!

Well, IT is here!!! A week from now (literally) I will be out on the Massanutten course somewhere, hopefully feeling strong:-). Massanutten (or simply MMT) has been at the center of my training (and life according to my family) since January. It was my first 100 mile race last year and I got a huge boost in mental confidence through "debuting" on such a rugged course. Although I was successful (click here for the 2007 report), I made a lot of mistakes that cost me hours of additional time on the course. So, in a sense, I have some "unfinished business" this year. I have made tremendous improvements in my running and whole approach to races over the last 12 months. I will spare you all the details but one area that has vastly improved is aid station efficiency. The Bedrock that lolly gags in and out of aid stations and "holds court" for a spell is a thing of the past. This is one area that cost me dearly last year. I do give myself a bit of a break since I have only been at this ultra thing for not even two years. However, I HAVE made tremendous improvement here and hope that it transcends to a better MMT in 2008. Since MMT last year, I have completed three tough trail races (2 were significantly harder than the other one) and was much more efficient in the aid stations by getting what I needed and then hitting the road. I have the capability, just have to put it to use.

My fitness (both physically and mentally) are significantly better. Some of that likely comes from the experience of another year but a significant piece is from some alterations to my training since January. There is absolutely no doubt - MMT is my focus race this year. MMT is to Bedrock what Western States is to guys like AJW and LB. For those that know me well, I am a bit of a research freak. However, I have not obsessed about the details as much this year. While educating yourself about the course and getting some advice from past participants is no doubt important, agonizing over multiple year split times and a host of other "things" is totally unproductive. I feel much more relaxed as the "rock concert" looms.

A good friend of mine that is also running MMT joked with me the other day, that the race is "all he seems to think about". I remarked that it is okay because in 10 days there is no reason to "think" about MMT any longer as it will be a memory (hopefully a "pleasant" one). I know it will be a ton of fun and the VHTRC does such a great job with this race that all you really have to worry about is the running (and walking). It is amazing how "easy" things look on paper or as you verbalize them. In the end, the experience is what matters. I will no doubt get an experience this year. With my training, mental resolve and better attitude going in, the experience should be an epic one at that. Stay tuned for a link to where you can track my progress next weekend. Peace.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hooky Run

Back in March this training run was put on the calendar as a great final "push" before tapering for Massanutten. The last couple of months I have been running in the afternoons but wanted to dedicate a full day to this run so I decided to take a Friday off - hence the "hooky run". A running buddy of mine had to bail out at the last minute so I went up knowing that I would be running most of the day solo. I run alone in many races so this was no big deal.

I had been corresponding with Adam Hill who lives in the area I was running and puts on several tough organized training runs throughout the year. Basically I told Adam what I wanted to do in terms of distance, elevation gain and time on my feet and he "designed" an appropriate route for me. I have emailed with him several times over the last year but had never actually met him before. So, off I went to the Kitsuma trail head (about 1:45 from Charlotte) on Friday morning to meet up with Adam and his friend Paul. They both would run some of the early portions of the run with me. We met up around 7:00 AM and after discussing the map/route a bit, we were off. The planned route went on the Kitsuma Trail over Kitsuma peak and down to the picnic area. It then followed asphalt for about 3 miles past Andrews Geyser and up across the train tracks to the Heartbreak Ridge trail (name much deserved). Heartbreak Ridge spilled onto the Toll Road that you take out of Montreat up towards Mt. Mitchell. At that point, you could go right and head towards to Blue Ridge Parkway ("BRP") on the way to the Mitchell summit or go left and head down the Toll Road into Ridgecrest or Montreat and back to Kitsuma. If I followed the route I could get between 30 and 40 miles in. I hoped to get at least 5,500 feet of climb and about 7 to 8 hours on my feet. I planned to take a fairly easy pace hopefully simulating the late stages of a 100 mile race.

The Kitsuma trail is a great stretch of trail that very quickly climbs up over the Kitsuma peak and then blasts its way down into the valley. We ran along and Adam pointed out several wildflowers. We all remarked how "early" they seemed to be out this year. Adam and Paul are much faster runners than I am and I explained that I was purposefully taking it slow and they were fine with that. We had a great time talking and just enjoying the trail. About 3 miles in, Adam had to bid us farewell and after thanking him for all of his help, Paul and I continued on. In the event of any difficulty, Adam gave me his cell phone number (remember this for later). Paul and I made our way to the picnic area where I used the restroom and we headed up the asphalt road. Although it was road, this section was very peaceful as several folks said hello to us and we did not come upon a single car inn the 3 mile jaunt. Paul pointed out a cabin he and his family have rented during trout fishing trips. The cabin had a pretty cool history as it was built by a "train baron" who placed it such that he could see the trains traversing the mountains and ridge lines around him. Before long, we made our way up the steep trail and got on Heartbreak Ridge.

We climbed several (I think eight or nine) switchbacks up the trail taking notice of many fallen trees. We both remarked how it would be an amazing sight to see and hear such large trees come crashing down. I could tell I was holding Paul back so I eventually advised him to go on and enjoy his run as I was going to be taking it easy for a good while. With that, he was off but I would see him again. I absolutely loved the Heartbreak Ridge section as the trail was challenging and the views were absolutely spectacular. There were many occasions where I was unable to pass up stopping and taking in the unadulterated beauty around me. I placed a call to my buddy who was at the office to "rub it in" a bit but kept on moving. I felt great and was eating about 2 gels and 3 shot blocks every hour. I had plenty of water but knew it would be a little tight getting to the first water source. I noticed lots of dogwoods and mountain laurel along the trail and it was gorgeous! I was careful to follow the yellow blazes and took note of the landmarks Adam advised me of in his excellent directions. Before long, I arrived at the Toll Road and noticed the campers and bear cabin on my right as I intersected with the road. I decided to turn right and do an out and back up to the BRP but would not go to the Mitchell summit. I figured I would have an opportunity to "add on" mileage if I wanted to down lower on the Toll Road (boy was I right). I was amazed how peaceful it was as the silence was broken by the occasional car as I approached the BRP. I made my way back down the Toll Road and before long was right back at the Heartbreak Ridge intersection. I reviewed the map once more and then headed on my way.

For those that have not run on the Toll Road, it is a very rocky and technical stretch of "road". Actually, it is very MMT-esque in certain spots (especially higher up). It is all runnable but you really have to watch your footing in several stretches. Fortunately, it was fairly dry so the rocks were not slick. I can imagine how difficult it would be during the Mitchell Challenge in February when it is coated in ice. Eventually I came to a fork - on the left, a white gate and on the right the road appeared to circle around. I took the left and went around the gate. Now the real "fun" would begin as I was about to get 6 or 7 bonus miles and about 2,200 feet of bonus elevation gain. Not to mention a nice lesson in rationing water...

This section was very steep and mostly downhill. It was great technical running and I was having a lot of fun. The trail was totally exposed but offered incredible panoramic views to the east and south. I continued my way down but did find it curious that some of the landmarks weren't showing up. I rationalized that I unknowingly missed them since I had not run this section before. After about an hour or so, the trail leveled out and presented me with another fork. To the left it went steeply up through private land while to the right, the trail went down into the woods (although I did see old ribbons on the trail). Straight ahead was a rolling "double track" section. I went straight but after about a mile, the trail ended at a waterfall. I was certain Adam would have mentioned a waterfall so I headed back to the fork and took the "right" fork and followed the old ribbons. Eventually the trail turned into a deer path and soon I was in knee deep leaves when the trail just stopped. Uh oh! I called Adam and left a message and then called Mason at work since I knew he has run this route several times before. Mason's immediate reply was: "I have always wondered where the trail behind that white gate went"... My mistake was all the way back at the white gate on the Toll Road. Ugggh! I passed the gate about an hour ago and had about 5 ounces of water left...

I got right to work and climbed and climbed and climbed and then, climbed some more. The sun was beating down on the exposed trail and I noticed a dark cloud forming. Fortunately, the cloud didn't materialize but my cell phone did start acting weird. I couldn't get the screen to work and it would only answer on speakerphone. Oh well, onward and upward - literally. I admit I was a little scared due to the water situation. I have never been "off course" or gotten lost before so I suppose I was due. I started thinking of contingencies but soon I saw the white gate. Wow, I made pretty good time on the arduous climb back up. Might as well have been the pearly gates to heaven because I was psyched to see it. Now I know where I was and this gave me some unexpected rejuvenation. Another call to Mason and I learned that water was not far away. Adam returned my call and made sure I was back on track. I told him that given the bonus miles, I might bail out at Montreat but would decide later. Soon I was at "Earl's Cabin" and filled up my bottle, hydration pack and doused my head in the cold clear mountain water. It felt great.

I started running and really cranking out a good pace. I looked at my watch and it said I had already been 29 miles and climbed 7,300 feet! Wow! Soon I saw the green bear cabin and decided to call Adam and get directions on how to bail early. At Sourwallow Gap I headed into Montreat and met Adam and Paul. My watch showed a final distance of about 33 miles and I had been going for about 7 hours. I still had tons of energy but it was smart to cut it short.

Adam and Paul had all kinds of snacks for me including a Clif bar, cookies, trail mix, sports drink and even a beer. I devoured the Clif bar, cookies and most of the trail mix. I also drank most of the sports drink but passed on the brew. I had only met these guys this morning but they treated me like a lifelong friend. We talked about my run some and then headed to Paul's house so he could take me to get my car. He offered me more food and a shower if I wanted to clean up. I decide to just go to the car and head home but was very appreciative of his hospitality. Before Adam left he told me I had a "gift" at my car. When Paul and I arrived, Adam had left me a really cool pint glass on my hood. What a great gesture. After thanking Paul, I made my way back to Charlotte.

This was a fantastic training run and an incredible set of trails I got to run on (even the bonus section which I have dubbed the "Bedrock Spur"). I got a huge boost of confidence going into MMT with this run (and the Crowders Run the weekend before). I got another rugged run in the Streaks (they worked great), got to test out some more race day gear and discovered some wonderful trails to train on. I even got a "finisher's award" - the pint glass :-) Most importantly though, I made two new good friends in Adam and Paul. These guys are two of the most genuine and "real" people I have met who just love being out in the woods pushing the limits. After all, isn't that what the "it" in trail running is all about? Running with friends in the woods and enjoying the nature around us.

Now I am officially tapering for Massanutten and feel really great going into the race. Stay tuned for a few more posts about my preparation and of course a race preview in a couple of weeks. Peace to all.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Crowders Mountain Training Run

I had one of my best training runs ever today at Crowders Mountain State Park. With Massanutten looming in just four weeks, I only have a few opportunities to get good quality long efforts in before my taper. Mason and I have a great day planned for next week up in and around the Black Mountain/Mount Mitchell area. Our friend Adam Hill is planning a route for us that I am sure will be phenomenal. I wanted to get a really solid workout on some technical trails with some good elevation change. My plan was to use today's run and next weeks run as "test runs" for MMT. Today I tested out the Montrail Streaks, which are what I plan to use at MMT. I will give a full review in a separate post but suffice it to say, I really like these shoes. I also tested out a new waist belt from Nathan that worked like a charm. All in all, today's run was fantastic. Over the course of about 5 hours, I got 28ish miles in and close to 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Crowders has several options for loops and I combined several sections to create the hilliest run I could. Some keys about this run:

  • Nutrition worked great, ate a GU every 45 minutes and some shot blocks on the hour (I also ate two peanut butter sandwiches and drank a 20oz. Gatorade on the way).
  • Hydration - drank GU2O for the first 2 hours and then switched over to water
  • Had no ankle or foot issues throughout the entire run
  • Finally think I have managed to get 100% comfortable "picking lines" to run on technical terrain rather than trying to "hop" from rock to rock in a timid fashion. I am certain that running with confidence and committing 100% to the "line" played a big role in my not only not rolling the ankle but also staying upright all day.
  • The weather was a hodge podge, warm at first and then windy and cool as the showers moved in during the last 2 hours of the run.
  • I had a ton of FUN today working the hills and running in the rain. What a blast!
I have really noticed that my climbing has gotten A LOT better. There is a ~2 mile climb that used to take me about 40 minutes (when training for GEER back in the fall) that I did today in 30 minutes! I also came back down about 3 or 4 minutes faster for a round trip improvement of almost 15 minutes. This is a big boost for me going into MMT. I was so jacked after the run that I started calling folks to tell them about it, which is something I rarely do. Hopefully next week will go as well as today did. I will write more about the Streaks in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alexander Supertramp

I saw the movie Into The Wild this past weekend and thought it was a great story. I started reading the book a couple of years ago but got sidetracked and never finished it. Alexander Supertramp is the name moniker adopted by Chris McCandless during his journey across America and to the Alaskan wilderness. The story certainly has adventure at its heart but it also unmasks many of the pitfalls in our society today including the obsession of most folks with materialism, status and bank account balances. One of the best lines in the movie is when Alex notes how amazed he is at just how bad people generally treat each other every day. Think about it. How often do you get angry over such minuscule details such as someone driving too slow, talking too loud or looking too different? I now I do far too often.

My rant does have some running content. As I watched the movie I was reminded of several parallels with ultra running and trail running in particular. See, I admittedly used to be obsessed with materialism and even owned a Rolex at one point (I know, ludicrous). Discovering trail running (through ultras) in 2006 introduced me to a purer form of myself. Over the last two years, I have developed much more appreciation for the "simpler" things in life such as my family and frolics through the woods testing my endurance. Tony Krupicka is often noted for his "minimalist" approach to life and how running through the woods exposes his own "primal existence". I can certainly identify with that, at least on some level.

Anyway, my training is going very well as I have about two more solid weeks before tapering for Massanutten. I feel very good both physically and mentally and am starting to get details such as crew and pacers all worked out. A couple of epic training runs await including a beast of a day next week with Mason. Details/report to follow afterwards. Definitely check out Into The Wild either in print or on the screen and see if you can unleash your own Alexander Supertramp from within.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I drove up to the Umstead 100 this weekend to volunteer as a pacer. This is the first time I have done pacing duty and ended up running with my friend John Straub. I really liked the whole pacing thing - helping someone finish their race, previewing a race course, etc. What I found I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie with the runner and learning things that will help my own race efforts.

John ran a great race. When I arrived, I soon found that he was on loop 6 (75 miles) rather than loop 5 (62.5 miles) as expected. We got right to work once he was ready and I would run with him for both of his final two loops. He said he felt okay but that his stomach was not cooperating - gels were intolerable so he was relying on Boost, PBJ and shot blocks. As this was a loop course he had several landmarks that he was using to mix up the run/walk combination. A very good idea and one that can be applied in point-to-point races as well. We kept the pace up and I did my best to push him as much as I could and it seemed like we were passing someone every 10 minutes or so. We checked into the aid station and after a quick stop headed out to the "sawtooth" section of undulating ups and downs. We power walked the uphills and bombed the downhills. Soon we were at the turnoff and a bit later back at the start/finish. John took some Tylenol and I grabbed some more gel and changed out of my long sleeve shirt.

We walked the first mile to let John recover some and then began to pick up the pace. John did not know it, but when we left on loop 7 he was in 20th place and we passed a lot of people on the last loop. Many of these were folks a lap or two behind us but I was sure he had picked up several spots. More importantly, he wanted to break 23 hours and it was only 12:00AM so I knew his goal would be met. I did not share any of this with him until much later and focused on pushing him to keep going. Even when we walked, it was at a good clip and when running, I could tell he was really giving it his all. Before long, we were back at the aid station and I decided to carry his drop bag with me so he wouldn't have to worry about waiting around for it.

Shortly after leaving, John "lost" all the calories he had just ingested but with less than 5 miles to go we were not worried. I adopted a "nobody gets by" approach at this point, John just didn't know it yet. I would really push the walk up the hills and John was right there. I would hammer the downhills and he was right there. We topped off at the last water stop and about 1.5 miles from the finish my watch read 2:22 AM so I spilled the beans:

Me: "John, what was your time goal again?
John: "Sub-23 hours.:
Me: "Do you think you can run 1.5 miles in 38 minutes?"
John: "Um, yeah, why do you ask?"
Me: "Cool, because that is what you need to break 21 hours!"

John was siked and I was glad I didn't say anything until now. We declared that the new goal was 20:45 and took off. We passed Jaret and got to the turnoff an my watch read 2:32, so the goal was again changed. I told John to GO! and he did in an effort to get in at 20:40. His final time was 20:40:56. Upon finishing, I strolled over to the leader board.

Me: "Um, John you are top 10 overall."
John: "No way."

It WAS true, John was 8th male and 10th overall. What a great race for him and a great experience for me. While I take no credit for John's result, I do think my presence helped keep him focused and made time go by more quickly. I think there are some key things every pacer should do when jumping in to run.

-Asses the "status" of your runner - hydration, stomach, fatigue, etc.
-Be assertive but remember "who" is boss - the runner.
-Subtly find ways to push them and keep them motivated and encouraged.
-Ask often about electrolytes, pain, feet, etc. as they are likely to forget things late in the race.
-During rough patches, let them recover but keep them focused on hydration/calories.
-Be prepared to run in silence or to talk your head off - whatever the runner prefers.
-Have fun and stay in good spirits yourself.

Not exhaustive but this also would serve anyone well to do this in your own races. I look forward to hopefully pacing more in the future.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

LaSportiva Raceblades Review

There has been a good bit of press recently on LaSportiva. They have really stepped up with sponsorship for a number of well known ultra veterans including Karl Meltzer, Mark Tanaka and Emily Baer. They have sponosored a mountian running team for several years and have had several notable athletes excel at many distances on trails. Their shoes have gotten a lot of press over the last couple of years as the "minimalist" approach to shoes has caught on. I tried some Inov-8 shoes last year and really liked the flexibility but the shoes were just a bit too narrow for me. I also am a big guy at 6'2" and 183 lbs so I have to be a little careful not to use "too little" shoe. With all of that qualification, here are my thoughts on the Raceblade.

I really like the whole set-up of this shoe. It has a very flexible sole and a real "grippy" outsole. I also like the extra protection around the toebox and the general lower profile of the shoe. Even the "Ferrari-esque" color scheme is tolerable. Perhaps my favorite feature is the connected tongue of the shoe. The shoe goes on kind of like a wetsuit booty and fits nice and snug around your foot. Although I haven't run on dusty trails with them, I expect that this will help to keep small rocks and dust out. I tested the shoes a couple of weeks ago while down in Georgia with my family during my kids spring break. I ran some fun trails in and around the Okefenokee Swamp Recreation area. They were flat as a pancake but with a lot of rain in the days before, they were muddy and slick in several spots. I managed to put about 40 miles on the shoes over 4 days and had no issues with them at all. I even ran about 4 miles on asphalt with them and they worked great. The shoes drained very well and did not give me any blisters. The question remaining was how will they work on technical trails and should I use them in a 100 miler?

I ran the Bel Monte 50 Mile in these shoes and the course was a beast (as my previous post says). Lots of rocky trails and a good number of water crossings. I had no issues whatsoever in the shoes including no blister or toenail problems. I did turn my ankle several times but blame my lack of recent rocky trail running for that and not the shoes. Again, the shoes drained very well after several ankle deep water crossings. In short, I really like these shoes a lot and think they are an excellent choice for me. However, I only expect to wear them during the first half of Massanutten. These shoes would be great for someone who is very good at picking lines through very technical terrain, which I am not. I tend to just hop from rock to rock in the really gnarly sections and think a more substantive shoes (i.e., Montrail Vitesse or Vasque Mercury) is more appropriate for this. Particularly in the later stages of Massanuteen when I am fatigued and the rocks grow in size. For me, this shoe is ideal for up to 50 miles or perhaps a 100K distance or a 100 on gentler terrain than MMT. I have not tried the Fireblade but Karl Meltzer seemed to really dig it during the Coyote Two Moon.

I may try the Fireblade later in the season and if so, will post a review. With MMT only a month and a half away, I am hesitant to try something new at this point. LaSportiva shoes are definitely worth checking out.

Friday, March 28, 2008

%@#*&% - A Bel Monte 50M Report

One word sums it all up - TOUGH!! This was the 4th annual Bel Monte Endurance Run and the inaugural year of the 50 mile distance. I ran the 50K last year which I appropriately dubbed the "Bel Monster". Well, this year the Bel Monster returned in all her glory and did not disappoint. This is probably the worst race I have ever had in terms of finish time yet one of the most rewarding efforts I have managed since getting into ultra running.

A group of us from Charlotte drove up early on Friday and helped out some with the pre race set-up activities. We all remarked how wonderful the weather was and how great it was to not be in a corporate office on such a fabulous day. The starting temp was expected to be in the low 30s but if it was below 40 I would be surprised. The sky was dark but clear and we started what would be a beautiful day of running in the mountains. I started out hard, probably too hard but I wanted to try and cover the first couple of sections in a quick time, which I did. Unfortunately, I did twist my ankle pretty badly on the descent down Kennedy Ridge but I still managed to get there ahead of schedule. The temps warmed up pretty quickly as I headed down the road towards the next aid station but I was still making good time and the level surface helped to stretch out my ankle a bit.

I felt great as I left to go down toward the Torrey Furnace. This was my favorite section of the course as it was entirely single track and had a fun downhill to the furnace. Unfortunately again, I rolled my ankle severely as I neared the bottom. It really hurt but I took it easy and got to the climb back up. The laws of gravity are unfortunate sometimes in that what goes down must eventually go up:-). My ankle was throbbing but I got some Advil and that really helped. I felt very good otherwise. The next section was a long out and back along the Mill Creek trail with several ankle deep water crossings. The cool water felt good and I continued to make decent time. At this point I knew running a good time was out the window so I just focused on moving forward and figured this would be an excellent training run for Massanutten (after all that was why I entered this in the first place). At the end of the trail there is a lovely series of switchbacks that just suck the life out of you. I was pretty pleased with my effort here and with the plunge back down as I managed to make it without rolling the ankle.

After finishing the Mill Creek section again we spilled out onto the road section from earlier in the day and I decided to try and push as hard as I could manage. I knew I had a beast of a climb next and the most technical section of the race in the final 13 miles so if I was to make up some time, this was my chance. I passed about 11 people in this 3 mile section. Although 4 or 5 would later re-pass me on a downhill, running the road section fast was definitely a good idea. Next up was the climb back up Kennedy Ridge. I hoped to make good time here and wanted to get to the jeep road up top it in less than an hour and I did, 56 minutes to be exact. I then ran most of the way to the final aid station guessed it, rolled my ankle yet again about 50 yards from the station.

I filled up and headed out hoping to make decent time on the last section. Very soon you face a very technical ridgeline section that rolls up and down. I just did not have the confidence to run the downhills on it so I ran the flats and tried to run some of the uphills. I know this is kind of weak and whiney but I figured better safe than sorry. This kept me moving and before too long I was at the one mile plunge down to the road to the finish. I power walked/stumbled down and then ran the final road/trail section into the finish to cross the line in 12:20. I had hoped to break 11 hours but most folks ran about 60 to 90 minutes slower than expected. Considering Mike Mason, the overall winner ran close to 9 hours and fast guys like Greg Loomis barely broke 10 hours, this was definitely a beast of a course. In fact, very early on they extended the final cutoff to 12:30 from 12 hours. As slow as I was, I was pretty much mid-pack. Of the 100 or so that started, only 60 finished!

I was pretty dejected after the race and even into this week but I am over it know. My focus is Massanutten and getting prepared for it and this race went a long way to do that. In fact, I would argue that this 50 miles is harder than either half of Massanutten. Also, not to make excuses but I have not run much on technical trails yet this year so that is a likely reason for the lack of confidence and the ankle rolls.

What a beautiful day in the mountains and I had a blast seeing folks on the course. I also ran in the LaSportiva Raceblades, which worked great. I will post a brief review of the shoes shortly.

Thanks to Gill, Francesca, Marty, Sniper and all the other volunteers who put together such a fantastic race. The aid stations were well stocked and the course was very tough but also very scenic and enjoyable. Definitely a race I will return to.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bel Monte Preview

Well it's finally here - the first ultra of the season. The Bel Monte Endurance Run 50 Miler. After an extended break at the end of 2007, I focused my training on setting a marathon PR which I successfully did at Myrtle Beach in February. My fitness level and mental confidence are both in a good place for this point in my season. Despite some difficult work and general life issues, I have been able to channel much of my energy into training and Bel Monte will be an excellent opportunity for me to assess where I stand. The course will be a beast as the 50 mile option is new and features about 12,000 feet of climb and an abundance of rocky trails. The 50K option is no walk in the park with over 7,000 feet of climb. Both attributes are key for my training for Massanutten, which is my focus race for the first half of 2008.

Last year, I ran the 50K at Bel Monte and the race was dubbed the "Bel Monster" due to the multitude of difficulty I faced, most of which was self inflicted. I have learned a lot since then and hopefully will not make the same sophomoric mistakes. But, should I do so, hopefully I can overcome them much more effectively. I will also be wearing the LaSportiva Raceblades that I have been running in lately. I love the feel of these shoes and am curious how they will feel after running a technical course for an extended period of time. I will include a report on the shoes after the race along with my usual report.

Goal time? I don't really have one (at least that I will admit to). I hope to run well and think that I can post a pretty nice time if all goes to plan. As for predictions, I think Mason is the obvious choice for the win. He is in shape and will be on fresh legs. He grabbed third at GEER 100K only 3 weeks after taking top 5 at Wasatch and we will cover much of the same course. The weather looks to be ideal as long as the wet stuff stays away. Stay tuned for the report.

Also, the Coyote Two Moon is cranking up this Friday. This is a new race that "replaced" the Coyote Four Play run put on by Chris Scott of C4P fame. Coyote Two Moon looks to be a heck of a course with a 100K and 100 mile option. Interestingly, it features a staggered start so that everyone finishes within a four hour window. The faster you are, the later you start. Some notable names are running including Meltzer, AJW, Koerner and Ishikawa. On the ladies side, not a lot of household names but Betsy Nye looks to have a good shot. That is who Meltzer is picking so who am I to disagree. The men's race will be interesting. Meltzer is definitely fresh and is a mountain specialist and I don't expect Koerner or AJW to run hard after Cool and with States beckoning. The wild cards are Ishikawa or Justin Angle. At the end, I think Meltzer grabs it. Will be fun to watch.