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.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Catching Up

Things have been pretty hectic the last several weeks but training continues to go very well. Since Myrtle Beach I have gotten in two long runs (one 22 miler and one 34 miler) and a good bit of up tempo/speedy stuff. My next race is the Bel Monte 50 miler on March 22 and I feel pretty strong coming into it. Interestingly, I have run almost 100 miles more in 2008 than I did at the same time last year. Plus the majority of these "extra" miles are at a much quicker pace. I expect this added base building will serve me well at Massanutten. My left knee is a little achey (perhaps too much last week) so I am taking a bit more time off this week than planned. I am not really planning on tapering for Bel Monte since it is primarily a training run for Massanutten. Also, I have not written much about the vegetarian thing much but that is going very well. I still eat meat about once a month but am limiting that to seafood. I have not eaten any red meat since Thanksgiving with the exception of a cheeseburger after Myrtle Beach. I will write a preview of Bel Monte next week.

There have been a lot of great ultra performances the last few weeks. Anne Lundblad ran a very fast 5:38 at the Mt. Mitchell Challenge breaking Annette's course record (5:50). Annette herself ran an impressive 3:54 at the Black Mountain Marathon to take the women's top spot. By the way, both of these women are 41 years young! Who says speed goes away with age?! Annette followed up the marathon win with a 4:36 at the Way Too Cool 50K last weekend for 13th woman. Pretty impressive considering she is coming off injury. These two women should be an inspiration to us all.

There have been many impressive male performances as well including Michael Wardian's 2:55 at the Camusett 50K in New York setting a US 50K Road Championship record. Andy Jones-Wilkins also ran a 3:31 at Camusett and 6 days later cranked out a 4:04 at Way Too Cool. And, he is running the Coyote Two Moon 100 next weekend. With these strong performances look for a strong race at Western States by AJW, perhaps the masters course record. Speaking of Way Too Cool, the Oregonians dominated taking 10 of the top 25 spots including the male and women's winners. Sussanah Beck of Eugene broke Anne Trason's record by 4 minutes running a 3:55 en route to the women's title and 25th overall. Other strong OR performances were turned in by Todd Braje (overall winner in 3:32) Hal Koerner, Jeff Browning and Ian Torrence to name a few. In fact, Browning and Torrence had quite a battle down the last stretch.

This year is showing signs of being a tremendous year of performances and Meltzer, K. Skaggs, Tony K. and Jurek haven't even really raced yet. Although Tony K. and K. Skaggs did tie for the win at the Moab Red Hot 50K. As a humble mid pack runner, I am tremendously inspired to see these top athletes run so strong. Seeing performances like Anne and Annette at the Mount Mitchell races and the success of Jeff Browning (a self-proclaimed former mid-pack runner), gives credence to the "best performances are yet to come" argument.