Monday, September 5, 2011

Leadville Trail 100 Run
So far in 2011, I had run 430 race miles and all were in preparation for August 20th. My plan was to use races throughout the year as my long runs, which made training a lot more fun than just going out and running ungodly amounts of miles on my own. Unfortunately, I was unable to get in any runs over 4,000 feet of elevation but ran a lot in the heat and humidity of the Southeast. I felt prepared and since I was able to run the second half of the race last year, I knew exactly what to expect. My goal was to finish, but I really wanted to finish under 25 hours.

After a few hiccups on our way, we arrived in Leadville late afternoon on the Thursday before the race. After Dee Dee, Heidi, Tallie and I checked into our rental house, we drove to the aid stations to make sure the crew knew where to go during the race. It was a bit intimidating to see the mountains we would be climbing in a few days. We ate dinner at a place called Tennessee Pass Cafe, which was very good especially the $1 PBRs. After dinner, we went to the “Kum and Go” to pick up some beer and other supplies. Yes, that was the “Kum and Go”. The girls had a lot of fun with that and had to pick up some souvenirs.

The medical check in was the next morning where I was weighed and received my race number. We also had the Pre-Race Briefing that morning and then hooked up with Kevin and Karen at the Golden Burro for lunch. That afternoon, I arranged my drop bags and rested as much as I could. Laura drove in from Boulder after work and arrived just before dinner. We decided to eat Mexican, which may not have been the best idea. I got about 4 hours of sleep that night before the 4am start of the race. It had rained hard for most of the night, but luckily it had cleared up and was just a little cold out. Once everyone was ready to go, we walked down to the start line.

The starting corral was packed and I wanted to get close to the front so I could get off to a quick start. I gave Tallie a kiss and she told me, “Good luck.” I made my way up to the front of the corral just in time for the National Anthem. There was a giant clock counting down to the start and I kept looking up at it every 5 seconds. I couldn’t wait to get started. When it hit 10 seconds, the announcer started the countdown and then we were off.

The first mile or so is on a paved road through town. At one of the houses, there was a huge party in the front yard with people in robes swinging around glow sticks with the “Eye of the Tiger” blaring. I then hit what is called the Boulevard, which is a dirt/sand road that had a nice decent over the next few miles. I wanted to run this first 13.5 miles as fast as I could without getting hurt or causing a melt down later on. After about 5 miles, we finally hit the trail that circles Turquoise Lake. I got behind a girl that was maintaining a great pace. The trail had nice little climbs and drops, but there were a lot of rocks and roots. I’m guessing at about mile 10, my left shoe got hooked on a root and I had the hardest fall since I started trail running. I landed hard on my right knee and left thigh. I popped up quickly because there were so many people right behind and started running again. My knee was killing me, but I kept running. I could feel the blood running down my shin and I just knew my race was over in the first 10 miles. I kept running and trying to bend my knee as much as possible to help work it out and after about a mile, it started feeling much better. As I ran into May Queen aid station, I quickly found the crew and I think my knee freaked them out a bit. It looked much worse than it actually was. I switched out my handheld bottle for a full one and started off for Fish Hatchery.

After leaving May Queen, I started running on the Colorado Trail for about a mile and then hit a gravel road that took me up to Sugarloaf Pass at 11,071 feet. The next couple of miles were down hill along power lines. This was a fun run, but I knew it wasn’t going to be fun coming back up. As I was running down towards the bottom, there was fog and it looked like runners were disappearing into the fog. It was an awesome sight. At the bottom, I turned right on a paved road heading to the next aid station. I noticed I was having a hard time seeing out of my right eye. The bottom part of my right eye was fogged over. This happened to me last year with both eyes towards the end of the race. I thought it was my contacts last year and that’s one of the main reasons I had Lasik. I was kind of freaking out thinking that I may not be able to see very well soon. As I came into the Fish Hatchery aid station at 24 miles, this was a real low point for me in the race. I was still great on my time, but I had fallen, half my right eye was fogged over and my stomach was starting to feel upset (remember Mexican for dinner). I checked in at the aid station and then sat down with the crew. I cleaned out my shoes as Tallie rubbed some of Dee Dee’s magic lotion on my legs. I spent a little too much time in the porta potty, but felt much better afterwards. I told the guys about my eyes and luckily Dee Dee and Laura had eye drops I could use and they also suggested running with sun glasses. I was very negative coming into this aid station, but thanks to my crew I came out with a great attitude.

The next few miles were on a paved road and then a dirt road. I was able to pick up my speed a bit in this section. I went through the Half Pipe aid station very quickly as well as a water stop at the base on Mount Elbert. Soon after the water stop, I could see Twin Lakes and I took off down the trail. It was almost all down hill into Twin Lakes. I was about 40 miles into the race and feeling great. I sat down with the crew and cleaned out my shoes again as Tallie rubbed on more magic lotion. I knew Hope Pass was up next after some water crossings so I put on a waistpack and decided to carry one handheld.

Right out of Twin Lakes, there was a huge field with a bunch of muddy spots on the trail leading to the water crossings. Most of the crossings were just big mud puddles, but there was a river crossing with a rope. The water was lower than knee level, but was moving fast and was very cold. It was nice to be able to wash the blood off my shin and knee. Not far after the river crossing, I was back in the woods heading up to Hope Pass. I was about to climb from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet over the next 4 miles. I was speed hiking up to the pass and actually passing some people, but it seemed to take forever to get to the tree line. Just above the tree line was the Hopeless Aid Station. The aid station workers have to bring the supplies up with Llamas and they are everywhere. From the aid station, it’s still about ½ mile up to Hope Pass. At the top, at 12,600 ft I stopped to catch my breath and take a look around. The views were beautiful. As I started down from Hope Pass, the race leader was coming back up to the top. I made my way down the mountain to a gravel road which took me to Winfield. I came into the aid station with a great time (10:44), but knew I had to rest for awhile. I was weighed at the aid station and found out I had lost 3 pounds, which they said was good. I changed my socks and tried to eat something other than fruit and gels. I knew I wasn’t getting enough protein. If I ate meat, there were plenty of things to eat at the aid stations for protein. I tried to eat a PB&J sandwich, but it was just too dry. As I was resting, some lady sitting next to us got wet paper towels and cleaned off my legs. Nice, but a little strange. After resting and visiting the porta potty again, I was ready to head out with Heidi. I switched out my bottles for a backpack. Up until this point, I had run a majority of the race but I knew there was going to be a lot of speed walking going forward. As we walked out of the aid station, I turned back around to thank the lady who cleaned off my legs.

 Heidi and I walked/ran down the gravel road leading to the trail up Hope Pass. Just before we reached the trail, Kevin passed us heading the other way. Going up this side of Hope Pass is shorter, but steeper. We had to take several breaks to catch our breath, but we were still making good time. As we reached the top of the pass, it looked like some rain was moving in behind us. Heidi took a picture with her phone and then we took off down the other side.

We stopped for a few minutes at the Hopeless Aid Station and then continued down the mountain. After the water crossings, we had to cross the field to Twin Lakes. Heidi was keeping us moving by picking objects up ahead for us to run to. When we ran into Twin Lakes, we found the crew and sat down to change our socks and shoes. I switched out my sunglass lenses for clear lenses and I drank an Ensure before we took off to try and get some more protein.

As we left the Twin Lakes aid station, we had to climb this short steep hill to a gravel road. We followed the gravel road up until we reached the trail. My stomach was starting to feel bad again and I think it was the Ensure. I knew I had to eat some solid food, so I decided to eat a Balance bar. It took me about 30 minutes to eat that bar. I was not feeling good at all, but Heidi kept us moving. At the Half Pipe aid station, we stopped to grab some food/drinks and use the porta potty again. The next 6 miles were on dirt road and then a paved road. We walked most of it with a little running because Heidi kept pushing me to run, which I needed. As we got to the Fish Hatchery, you could tell the race was really thinning out because there weren’t that many people at the aid station. We sat down with the crew for a few minutes and then packed up and headed out. I knew this next section was going to be tough because we had to climb the power lines section up to Sugarloaf Pass. As we climbed the power lines, there were at least four false summits where we thought we were at the top, only to find out that we had more to climb. We had to take several breaks to catch our breath before we reached the top. Once at the top, a jeep road took us to a gravel road and then back on the Colorado Trail. Running at this point was almost non-existent, but Heidi kept trying.

We arrived at May Queen at about 2:30am and the crew was ready to help. They had been up as long as I had and I’m sure they were bored to death, but they were there for us. I don’t really remember much about this stop except telling Heidi as we left that I was walking the rest of the race. There was no way I was going to complete the last 13.5 miles in 2 ½ hours for an under 25 hour finish and I didn’t want to do anything that would prevent me from finishing such as getting hurt or sick. The truth is I just didn’t want to run anymore. The trail around the lake seemed to take forever, but we kept a good pace going. Every once in a while Heidi would start running to try and get me going, but it never worked. Finally, we got to the end of the trail and were back on roads with about 5 miles to go. We really picked up our walking speed and as we were going up the Boulevard, we started passing people and it seemed like a lot of people. This road section was long, but finally we could hear the finish line. Heidi called the crew to let them know we were close and that I would turn on the red light on my head lamp to let them know it was us. Next we were on the paved road and I knew we were less than a mile away. There was one last hill until we could actually see the finish line.

At the top of the hill, we decided we were going to run the rest of the race. Heidi pulled out her I-phone and started playing “The Eye of the Tiger” at almost exactly the same place I had heard it the morning before. We ran down to the bottom of the hill, where Dee Dee started running with us. Dee Dee was ringing a cow bell and was very excited. There was a slight hill leading to the finish line and I so wanted to stop running, but couldn’t.

We finished in 26:13. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was handed my metal and given a hug. I had to find the closest patch of grass to lie down to catch my breath. Tallie found me and gave me a hug and a kiss and said she was very proud of me. Heidi sat down next to me and it felt so good to be finished. Laura and Dee Dee were there as well and unfortunately, we didn’t get a group photo. After sitting there for awhile, I went to the medical tent to get weighed and they said I lost 9 pounds, which seemed hard to believe. The girls had gone to the “Kum and Go” for ice so we could do some leg saving ice baths. After getting cleaned up, I tried to get some sleep before the awards ceremony, but just couldn’t stay asleep. I was following Kevin on the internet to see if he was able to finish by the 30 hour cutoff. He was cutting it close at May Queen, but was able to finish in 29:53. Great job Kevin!

At the awards ceremony, they announced 625 runners started the race and 347 finished. So, about 44% of the runners that started did not finish and I admire every single person that crossed that start line. This was a very tough race and I worked my butt off preparing for it just like the runners who were not able to finish. I didn’t meet my goal of under 25 hours and I could have blamed it on falling, not feeling good or just not taking the race that serious. The truth is it was a hard ass race and I put everything I had out there. For someone to suggest that they can come out to Leadville and finish this race with little effort or preparation is condescending and disrespectful to the 278 runners not able to finish the race.

As I sat there waiting to get my buckle, I was thinking about the race and all my favorite moments:
-       The energy and excitement at the start of the race
-       Being able to recover from my fall
-       Running down the power lines into the fog
-       The way I felt coming out of the Fish Hatchery aid station
-       Summiting Hope Pass for the first time
-       Completing the first 50 miles in 10:44
-       Summiting Hope Pass for the second time with Heidi
-       Talking with other runners and laughing at Heidi for offering everyone potato chips and pretzels and toilet paper
-       Summiting Sugarloaf Pass the second time and knowing that I had the finish in the bag
-       Passing people in the last few miles of the race
-       Hearing “Eye of the Tiger” at the start and finish of the race
-       Running across the finish line
-       Getting a hug and kiss from Tallie at the finish
But my favorite moment of the race was when I was lying on the grass with Team Bobcat (Tallie, Heidi, Dee Dee and Laura) knowing we had finished this incredible race. They all made big sacrifices in order to obtain this finish and I couldn’t have done it without any of them. Thank you so much Team Bobcat!

Now, I’m ready to focus on directing the Duncan Ridge Trail 50K/30K and running some local 50K’s and 50 Miler’s.

Race Video below:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Long Cane 55M - DNF and Long Cane 50K - 3rd Place

I definitely had a bitter-sweet day at Long Cane 55M/50K. Tallie and I drove up to Greenwood, SC the day before the race. This time we decided to stay in a hotel, actually motel, instead of camping. The start/finish was at Parson's Mountain Recreation Area in Sumter National Forest. According to the website, the race was supposed to start at 7am, but it didn’t actually start until 7:30am. We arrived around 6:30am so we got to chat with the other WRR runners including Don (55M), Heidi (55M), Christy (50K), Margaret (50K) and Karen (volunteer).

Terri Hayes, the Race Director, gathered everyone together and explained the course. I knew it was going to be a confusing course since the first loop was a figure eight. I was going to pay close attention at every turn and road crossing. I didn’t want a repeat of what happened at the Enoree Passage a few weeks ago. Terri also mentioned that it had rained a few days before and horses had been on the trails so it would be muddy. Images from the GRR popped into my head, but it turned out not to be that muddy at all. Terri had us line up and then she started the race.

The first few miles of the trail had a lot of fallen trees to jump over and we had to cross this old rickety metal bridge that had standing water on it so my shoes were wet early in the race. For the first 10 miles, I was averaging 8:30-9:00 minute miles and I was in 3rd place overall. The trails were very runnable with small climbs and descents. By mile 15, I was starting to slow down and really feeling the effects of the heat and humidity. It was in the 90’s with high humidity. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much as I did during this race. I was passed by a few guys and one guy flew by me at about mile 21. I could not understand how he was moving so fast at this point in the race. I had no energy at all and I felt like I could throw up at any moment. I wasn’t cramping and was still sweating so I was not dehydrated. I was now running 11:00-12:00 minute miles and actually hoping for hills so I wouldn’t feel bad about walking. I did pass 2 guys that were obviously not feeling good either. I remember looking at my watch at mile 23 and making the decision to stop at the 50K mark. I actually picked up my pace a little on the next 2 miles, but that was short lived.

After the last aid station, I had about 5 miles to go and that was one of the hardest stretches I have ever done. Not because of the terrain or trail conditions, but because my energy level was at ZERO! I was even walking some of the flat sections and my last mile was my slowest of the race at 13:47. The guy who flew by me at mile 21 passed me going back out on the 55 mile route. I told him that he was either awesome or crazy and I was leaning towards crazy. I actually caught up with a guy during the last mile and we ran together into the sixth aid station. Karen was working this station and this is the point where you decide to go back out for the 55 miles or run less than a ½ mile to finish the 50K. I was expecting her to push me to go back out, but she didn’t after I told her I was done. I was so weak that I walked part of the last section to the finish line. I finished in 5:44 and 3rd place. That was not expected.

The great part about this finish was the lake at the end. I got to soak in the water, pick a few ticks off and talk with other runners about how awful we felt. Heidi finished the 50K soon after me as the 2nd place female and then Margaret was the 3rd place female. We didn’t get to see Christy finish or Don come in before heading out on the 55 mile route because Tallie and I had to get back to pick up Annie. I was glad to hear that Christy had a good finish and Don stuck it out and finished the 55 miles in 16:36. He was one of only 13 finishers. I can’t tell you how impressed I am that he was able to push himself to the finish in that heat.

Thanks to Terri and all the volunteers for putting on such a great race.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Twisted Ankle Marathon

This was only my second trail marathon and the first one I didn’t exactly love, because it was too runnable. That was not going to be the case with this one. Tallie and I drove up to Sloppy Floyd State Park the morning of the race. The park is in Summerville, GA and named after James “Sloppy” Floyd, who was a State Representative. I couldn’t find anything about why his nickname was “Sloppy”. The race was scheduled to start at 9am, but was postponed until 9:15 because of a road block that was keeping runners from arriving on time. Before the race we talked with Jenn Coker, the Co-Race Director, and she shared some of the details of the race route. I hadn’t studied the map or elevation charts very closely, but knew there was going to be some major climbs. Jenn explained what to expect at Becky’s Bluff, which you will hear about later. We also talked with Lara, Samantha and Candy (Windward Roadrunners) before the race as well as Jason and Pablo from GUTS. Lara gave me a good goal for the race, which I was pretty sure I was not going to be able to achieve.

Becky, the Race Director and namesake of Becky’s Bluff I assumed, and a few others made some comments before the start about how the proceeds had helped the park with new restrooms and a playground. Becky also explained the courses for the full and half marathon. During the first 3½ miles or so, we would all run the same route until we reached the top of the ridge. Then, the half marathoners would turn left and we would turn right. I walked over to give Tallie a quick kiss and then got back into the group. After explaining the course, Becky had us line up at the start and a Park Ranger started the race.

We ran around 2 small lakes before getting to a trail. There were 10 runners in front of me at that point. Once we hit the trail, there was a short climb leading to a campground. We followed the road through the campground and then back onto a jeep trail. This was a great section to pick up my speed until we reached the ridge climb. At that point, I started power walking the inclines because I knew it was going to be a long climb. At first it wasn’t too bad with a gradual incline leading to a nice waterfall. After the waterfall, I was on a single track trail and it started getting a little steeper and then it got really steep. Holy crap, this was Becky’s Bluff. It’s not the steepest hill I’ve climbed in a race, but it was longer than most steep climbs. I was able to get to the top of the ridge without stopping to catch my breath, which was hard. At the top, I turned right on the Pinhoti Trail and started down a short hill to the first aid station. The aid station was “manned” by a group of cheerleaders so I had to act a little cooler than normal. I refilled my bottle, grabbed a GU and then headed off down a gravel road.

This was a pretty fast section of the race with rolling hills and the gravel wasn’t too bad. I really dislike gravel roads if the size of the rocks is large. They cause my ankles to twist and hurt the bottom of my feet. At the end of the ridge, there was a single track trail back into the woods and I knew this was going to lead me back down to the bottom. This was a fun section and I ran it as fast as I safely could. I love running fast descents through the woods like this. I knew there would be a turn around at the bottom of the ridge so I was anticipating the leaders passing me soon heading the other direction. Three guys with black shorts and no shirts were leading the race. I looked at my watch so I could figure out how far ahead of me they were and I also counted the other runners as they passed me. When I got to the second aid station and turnaround, I figured I was 6 minutes behind the leaders and in 11th place. Not to bad for the first 8 miles. Now I needed to hold onto my place by keeping my pace up.

As I was running back up the ridge, I noticed there were quite a few people not far behind me so I picked up my pace a little more as I was climbing. I soon passed one guy that was struggling on the climbs. Near the top, I ran into Candy and soon after, Samantha and Jason. It’s always good to see people you know on the trail. Once I was back on the gravel road running back towards the cheerleaders, I started to get concerned that I missed a turn. I hadn’t seen anyone for a while and after my last race, I was second guessing myself. Luckily, I ran into the last place guy walking the other direction. I asked him if there were people in front of me and he smirked a bit and said “yeah”.  I guess he was thinking I thought I was in the lead. I was just glad to know I wasn’t lost again.

Soon, I was back at the cheerleader aid station filling up my bottle. I grabbed another GU and headed North on the Pinhoti Trail. This was a nice single track section with mainly rolling hills, but also some longer climbs and descents. Two guys passed me on this section as my knees started to hurt a little. This was the first time I could remember my knees hurting during a race. I stopped for a second to stretch, which helped a lot. The one thing I didn’t like about this section was all the half-marathon runners heading the opposite direction on the trail. Many of them were not good about giving me room to get by. I didn’t expect them to jump off the trail for me, but at least move over to the right a little. And that’s all I have to say about that. Before the next aid station, I ran into Lara and had to tell her I was not achieving the goal she had set for me, but I was still trying. The next aid station was the turnaround point for the half-marathon, but we kept going straight down the trail.

About a mile after the aid station, the trail opened up on a gravel road which immediately dropped down the ridge to another gravel road. The route turned right and followed the road for about 1½ miles to the next aid station and final turnaround. It was getting very hot and there was little protection from the sun while running on this road. I knew I was getting close to the aid station, but I hadn’t seen the leaders yet. Finally, the lead pack passed me heading the other direction and the 3 shirtless guys were not in the pack. In fact, they were not in front of me at all. I was in 11th place as I arrived at the aid station. There were 2 other runners standing around at the aid station eating watermelon. I grabbed a piece and we talked about how hot it was. I had watermelon all over my face and hands, but it was good. One guy took off running and the other was walking. I filled up my bottle and headed back to the finish line. Soon, I passed the guy walking and then the other runners behind me started passing me in the other direction on their way to the aid station. They were not far behind me at all and I didn’t want to get passed so I picked up my pace a little.

As I was running along the top of the ridge, I passed another runner just before the last aid station. There were about 3 miles left until the finish, but I still had to go down the ridge. The route did not go down Becky’s Bluff, which kind of surprised me. I passed another guy as I was running down the ridge and one more as I ran around the lake. I was getting close to the finish and knew I had moved into the top ten. At the finish of the race, you run across a bridge over a lake leading to the finish line. As soon as I hit that bridge, I started running as fast as I could for a 4:20 finish and 7th place.

Tallie and Lara (finished the half in 3:07) were at the finish with some chairs set up. It had turned into a beautiful day and I was very happy with my run. I found out that the 3 shirtless guys were told to keep running past the last turnaround, with the watermelon, by the aid station volunteers and ended up back at the cheerleader aid station. There were other runners that were told to keep going, but were turned around before the cheerleaders and able to finish the race. Lara, maybe not the way I would have liked to have done it, but mission accomplished! Candy came in next at 5:18 and then Samantha at 6:10. This is a great race on fun trails! Thanks Becky, Jenn and all the volunteers!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Enoree Passage 40M (or 45M)

Tallie, Annie and I drove up the day before and camped at the Brickhouse Campground, which also happened to be the location of the start and finish of the race. The race took place on the Enoree Passage section of the Palmetto Trail in South Carolina. Terri Haynes, the Race Director, has hosted the South Carolina Ultra Trail Series for 4 years and the series consists of 5 ultra trail races. Terri actually does not charge an entry fee for her races and only asks for donations. The course is an out and back race on a very runnable trail. With no major climbs or descents and no technical sections, this is not my favorite type of course. But, I thought it would be a good training run and should be a fast finish for me. Boy, did I underestimate this race.

 We climbed out of the tent about 6:45am and I started getting ready for the 7:30am start. This was my first time camping the night before a race. I got cleaned up as well as possible and got suited up. It was easy to find the Start line with the Hammer Nutrition banner hung up at Terri’s campsite. The three of us headed over to the start and of course I gave them both a kiss. It was a very low key start. Terri started her stop watch and then said, “Go”.

The race started on a very short single track section and then opened up on a gravel road. Another guy and I took off at the start to lead the pack. After about ½ mile, we hit the single track trail again. He told me it was his first trail run and asked me how to know if he was on the trail. I told him to follow the surveyor tape and the yellow blazes, but he may have asked the wrong guy. He took off ahead of me and over the next 4 miles I would catch quick glimpses of him in the woods. I got to the first aid station at 5 miles in 38 minutes, which was a little fast for me, topped off my bottle and then headed out on a road section that lasted about a mile. Along the road, there was surveyor tape on the power poles which I thought was marking the route. I was still in second place at that point as the trail reentered the woods. At about the 6½ mile mark there was a road crossing. Instead of crossing the road, I turned right and headed down the road. I was listening to my iPod and not paying attention at all. I knew there were other road sections during the race and didn’t think anything about where I was going. Unfortunately, the power poles along the road had surveyor tape on them and I just kept on going. I did turn around and ran back a little bit until I saw another person running at me which confirmed I was heading the right way. So, I turned around and kept on going. I ran at least another mile and then turned around again and didn’t see anyone. I knew I was off route, but wanted to make sure before running all the way back. I even knocked on a fire station door to see if I was on the trail, but it was a volunteer fire station and no one was there. I started running back and noticed another runner heading back as well. As I got close to the road crossing, I noticed the red flags on the other side of the road leading into the woods. What a screw up! I had run an extra 4 to 5 miles and wasted 45 minutes figuring it out.

When I got back to the trail, I decided to go on to the next aid station at 10 miles and then head back to the finish. That way I would be able to complete at least a 20 mile training run. I knew I had to be in last place since it was so early in the race and I had just wasted so much time. I hit the trail fast and soon caught up with the other guy that made the wrong turn. I scared him a bit because he wasn’t expecting anyone behind him. It took a while for me to start catching up with other runners, because I was so far behind. Then, it was one after another which is atypical for me since I’m usually the one getting passed. I have to admit, it felt pretty good passing so many people and slowly moving up in the race order. I was no longer listening to my iPod and started thinking about why I was going to quit at the next aid station. I’m embarrassed to say the only reason I was considering quitting was that I was so far back from the front pack. I wasn’t hurt, sick or even tired at that point. I couldn’t believe I was thinking about settling on my first DNF because I wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped. By the time I reached the next aid station, I decided there was no way I was quitting and I kept on going.

Over the next 10 miles, the trail crossed the Enoree River, a swamp area and also by a few small lakes. About halfway between the 3rd and 4th (turnaround point) aid stations, the leader passed me heading back to the finish line. That would mean he was 5 or 6 miles ahead of me. As people passed by me, I tried to keep up with how many were in front of me. The 4th aid station, which was also the turnaround point, was set up on a pier at a small lake. It was really hot and sunny, so I made sure to drink a lot of fluids and started eating more knowing the heat was going to zap my energy. Using a cup, I poured lake water on the back of my neck and also washed off the salt deposits on my face and arms. Before heading back out, I grabbed a gel and planned to consume one every 30 minutes to keep my energy level up. There must have been about 35 people in front of me at that point. Shortly after leaving the aid station, I caught up to a girl that I would run behind the rest of the race. She was maintaining a steady pace and forced me to speed up. Knowing that Tallie would be worried, I asked a volunteer at the next aid station to text her since my finish time was going to be much later than expected. I know you’re not going to read this Mr. Volunteer, but thank you anyway.

Over the next 15 miles, people were dropping like flies because of the heat. 77 people started the race and only 61 finished, which is a high DNF rate for this kind of trail and when there are no cut-off times. My legs were actually feeling good and strong, but my energy level was extremely low and the aid stations were running out of gels so I had to start eating more solid foods. I just tried to stay close to the girl in front of me as we continued to pass runners. With about 2 miles to go, I ran up on a young girl running behind her Dad. She had to be no more than 12 years old and she was pacing her Dad the last 5 miles of the race. They were moving at a good pace as I passed them. I passed one more runner and asked him how he was doing and he said, “I’ll be doing much better in about 8/10th of a mile.” I picked up my pace since I knew I didn’t have much further to go and wanted to finish strong. Soon, the trail exited the woods and I was back on the gravel road that led to the finish line. I could see the girl I trailed for the last 20 miles ahead of me about 50 yards. There was no way I was going to catch her, but I was going to try anyway. I looked back to see if the guy I had just passed was behind me and he wasn’t, but the Dad and his young pacer were coming out of the woods. I picked up my speed a little bit and ran to the finish line in 8:16 (21st overall). Tallie and Annie were waiting at the finish with a chair ready for me to collapse into. The heat had done me in and I didn’t feel well at all. The heat had kicked my butt big time. Thank you Terri and all the volunteers for putting together a great race. I didn’t have the race I hoped for, but I finished!

A week before this race, I was at a birthday party and was asked 2 questions that completely stumped me.
- What drives you to run these long races?
- What has completing a 100 mile race done for me?
I honestly had no good answer to either question. I thought a lot about the questions during this race and I think I have answers to both.

What drives me to run is exactly what drove me to finish this race. When I run a race like this, I’m in complete control of the outcome. There will be contributing factors such as weather, trail conditions or aid issues, but ultimately the way I finish or not finish a race is completely up to me. When I went the wrong way on the road, I could have easily quit and I had every intention of doing so until I started thinking about why I run these races. It’s not that I expect to win or even place that high, but to finish each race as strong as I possibly can.

What has completing the GRR 100 mile race done for me? I don’t view it as a life changing event, but it did prove to me that even under the worst possible conditions, I will not quit as long as I’m safely able to go on. During the GRR 100, we had awful weather and trail conditions but I was going to finish that race come hell or high water. At some point, I’m sure I will have an injury or illness or will not be able to make a cut-off that will keep me from finishing a race but as long as I’m able to crawl to the finish, I will do so even if I’m in last place!  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SweetH2O 50K

50K runner finishing

It had been six weeks since the GRR 100 and during that six-week period I ran fewer miles than I typically would during a normal week of training. The GRR had done a number on my legs to a point that I could not have imagined. I had some “Mad as Hell” tendons behind my knees and they did not want to run anymore. Finally, about a week before the race my legs were feeling much better, but my tendons would still get tight if I sat down too long.

SweetH2O 50k was my first ultra back in 2009 and in fact, it was my first trail race and my first race over 10 kilometers. That year I finished the race in 5:54 and the next year was 6:21. With Johnny Buice, the Race Director, you don’t know what to expect except the unexpected. In 2009, I think the route was a little short, but Johnny made up for it with the famous bushwhack straight up a steep hill at mile 28 that left some runners weeping in the woods. In 2010, the 50k was more like a 54k. Of course, it wouldn’t be SweetH2O without the added adversities. That’s one of the things I love about trail races, you never know what’s going to be thrown your way during the race; weather conditions, illness, route changes, or even equipment malfunction. This year it was the weather the night before the race.

There were huge storm systems moving through the Southeast the night before the race with heavy rain, thunder storms and tornadoes. Luckily, the storms weakened by the time they reached the Atlanta area during the middle of the night but still dropped a lot of rain. When Tallie and I got to Sweetwater Park, we found out that Johnny had to take the Sweetwater Creek crossings out of the race because the guide ropes were under water. No Sweetwater Creek crossings meant we would not run the 1.5 mile yellow trail section on the other side of the creek so Johnny decided to have us do two identical loops to make up for the mileage. The Windward Road Runners huddled up at the start line including Heidi, Lara, Alan, Don, Samantha, Candy, Christy and Jason. Everyone had run this race before except Christy and boy did she have a surprise waiting for her at the Top of the World.

With just a few minutes left before the start, Johnny explained the course changes and then had everyone line up at the start. I gave Tallie a kiss and made my way to the front of the group and then off we went.

The first mile or so was on a road so it’s a great place to start off fast and get some separation from the rest of the runners before we hit the woods. As we ran around the lake on the road, there were 10 runners ahead of me and they were flying. Soon we were on the single track trail and the first thing I hit was a big mud puddle bringing back nightmares of the GRR, but mud wouldn’t play a big part in this race at all. After a ½ mile run through the woods, I got to the concrete spillway crossing which was about 100 feet wide and around a foot deep of water. After pulling myself out of the spillway with the installed ropes, I was off running again through the woods. The trail went up to the lake and then I turned left and jumped over a few fallen trees. I ran along the side of the lake and then the trail dropped off to the left down a rocky hill to a small, but deep and muddy creek crossing. 

The next section was a nice trail along Sweetwater Creek with a few quick drops but not any big climbs. At the 2.5 mile mark, I came to the location of the canceled creek crossing and sure enough one of the ropes was completely submerged. I ran along the yellow trail until it hit the red trail, which is the most used trail in the park and is a great trail for fast running. Next was the blue trail, which has some small climbs but not too bad. At the end of the blue trial is a long set of stairs leading down to the creek and the white trail. Since the water was so far up in the creek, it was actually crossing some small sections of the trail. There were a few technical sections on the white trail before it opened up into a nice runnable trail. I picked up my speed a little until I reached the edge of the park at a small creek. There used to be a bridge here, but it was washed away last year during some flooding and now there’s just a plank to cross the creek. There was a volunteer standing at the creek directing traffic and he was very enthusiastic about his job, which was great. This is the entrance to the Top of the World.

Leaving the park, the trail is pretty flat and sandy crossing over an area with many fallen trees from the flooding mentioned before. The first short climb brought me to the power lines and a volunteer telling me to keep going straight. After crossing the power lines, there was a short downhill to another small creek crossing with 2 planks that looked a bit unsteady. After the crossing, I took a sharp left and right around the corner was the first good hill climb. I had run the entire way so far and I decided to keep running as long as I could even on the hills. The climb really got my heart pumping before I reached the top and took off down the other side to a small bridge. The next mile or so was on a nice trail with rolling hills, small creek crossings and a few mud puddles. This section was actually easy, but it seemed to take forever. At the end of the trail, I climbed a small hill to reach the aid station at the edge of a neighborhood. At the aid station, they refilled my bottle for me as I grabbed a few slices of oranges and replacement GU for the one I had just finished off. The guys at the aid station pointed me in the right direction and I took off down a makeshift trail along a wall and then back up to the side of a road for a very short distance until I reached the trailhead. At the start of the trail there was a sign reading “Nature Trail”, which made me laugh a little because that made it sound so nice. I was on the trail for just a few minutes and then the route split off to the left to a nice flat open area where I was able to really pick up my speed. Soon, I reached a utility building and a gravel road that turned to the left and up a hill. I was still running and feeling great. Next up was the gas lines and I ran the first two hills. After the second hill, the trail veered off to the left and down a steep hill into a ravine with a lot of rocks. At the bottom of the hill was another creek crossing.

I was still running up to this point, but up next was “The WALL”.


The trail goes straight up the hill at what feels like a 90° pitch. Of course, I was walking at this point and not moving very fast at all. Once I reached the top, I turned to the left and was able to see the roller coaster hills ahead of me.


I said the F-word a few times and then started running again. I was able to run down the hills, but had to walk up the hills because they are so steep. I think there are 4 hills until you reach the Top of the World. After the TOTW, there was a nice dirt road leading to the next aid station at a school. This was a mile long out and back section so I got to see the leaders running back at me. After the aid station, I turned around and ran right back to the TOTW which let me see who was behind me. As I was running down from the TOTW, I saw Heidi and she was only about 2 miles behind me. Next up were the power lines, which cut off to the left of the gas lines. The power lines had one really steep, quad killing downhill and two steep hill climbs. At the bottom of the power lines I reached the trail with the volunteer directing me to the right. I ran back towards the park and the small creek crossing with the enthusiastic volunteer yelling at me to keep on keeping. Next was Jack’s Hill, which is a long gradual hill that gets a little steep at the very top where the last aid station is located. I got my bottle refilled and grabbed some food and headed out to the start/finish area.

Once I got close to the Start Line, I knew I had to retrace the first loop or at least I was hoping to. I kept thinking that Johnny would throw in some big surprise to make up for the big creek crossing. During the first half of the second loop I was feeling pretty good. I did take a little more time at each creek crossing to let my calf muscles soak a bit in the cold water. Right before I reached the gas lines, I noticed Sally Brooking catching up with me. She was the first place female. She has passed me the last 2 years in this race. This year she was passing me much later in the race, which was a great sign for me. We hit “The Wall” at the same time and moaned and groaned our way up together. I asked her how this race ranked with the other races we had both ran and we agreed it was harder than Stump Jump but not close to the Up Chuck. Once we reached the TOTW, she took off and left me in her dust. Sally was leaving the aid station at the school as I was arriving. I refueled and headed on my way. Soon after I left the aid station the second place female was running in. Before I reached the TOTW, she passed me heading out for Sally. I couldn’t wait to find out if Sally was able to hold on to the lead. At the start of the power lines, a park ranger told me I had 4 miles left to the finish. I turned to ask him if that is really all I had left and he said yes. I was so happy that I turned back around and almost ran into a tree. On the power lines, I could see Sally cresting the second hill as the second place female was starting the first hill.  

As I was running back towards the park, I ran into Lara and Samantha heading out to the TOTW. They looked like they were feeling good and having fun. I was able to run the rest of the race fairly strong and never ran into any other runners. I finished 22 overall in 5:48. Since I was shooting for a 6 hour finish, I was very happy with my results. But, I was even happier with being able to finish the race strong. My legs felt better after this race than they have after any ultra before. Tallie was there at the finish like she always is and I appreciate everything she does for me. Christy was also at the finish line, deciding to stop after the first loop. Finishing one loop of this rough course is quite an accomplishment especially after running a marathon two weeks before and a 100-mile bike ride in between. One of my favorite parts of trail races is staying around to watch everyone else finish. I love seeing how excited people get when they finish a tough race like this. Heidi finished next at 6:30 and took a lot of time off her previous two SweetH2O finishes. Don and Candy came in at about the same time at 7:30. Next up was Lara and Samantha (8:00) who took 47 minutes off their time from last year and Alan finished up about 10 minutes behind them. I was very excited to see Jason Rodgers finish at 8:43, which was more than a full hour faster than last year. Oh yeah, Sally was able to finish 3 minutes before the second place female.

Congratulations to all the runners and thank you Johnny and all the volunteers for putting on such a great race. I’ll see you next year.

Up next is Enoree Passage 40 Miler.

Monday, March 28, 2011

GRR 100 Miler

My alarm went off at 4:30am and I immediately went to check the weather outside. Damn, it was raining and looked like it had been raining for awhile. I knew this was going to be one hell of a hard race. We arrived at the race start about 5:45am and I was so very glad I had driven up the day before to set up our canopy in dry weather. We set up the base camp and had everything laid out for easy access. Our canopy was set up right next to another member of my running club, The Windward Roadrunners (WRR), so all of our members running the race were hanging around waiting for the start. I was zoned out and not paying much attention to others talking around me. All I could think about was the 100 miles ahead and all the mud I knew there was going to be out there. I had done a couple of training runs out at Dawson Forest and the trails were muddy on dry days. Tallie, my wife, even commented that I had not been this nervous before a race for a couple of years of running ultras, but this was my first 100 miler and it was still raining. We took some last minute pictures of the group and I made sure I had everything I needed.

I saw the Race Director, Tony, with a bullhorn so I knew the start was close. I gave Tallie a kiss just like I have done at the beginning of every race I have run, except for one because she had to work. There were a lot of runners because of the three races, 50K, 50 Miler, and 100 Miler. The course was a double loop almost a figure 8 but not quite. The first loop was 13 miles and the second was 7 miles. We would run these loops 5 times each. Tony lined us up at the start line and said a few things over the bullhorn, which I had no idea what he was saying because all I was thinking about was the race ahead and my strategy. My strategy for this race was the same for all my races. Run out hard at the start and build up some cushion in my time and then slow to a steady, hard pace and hope I have enough to finish strong at the end.

At the start line, I was standing next to Heidi (WRR) and would not see her for another 80 miles. Tony started the race and we were off into the rainy darkness. The trails were not too bad at this point. I was in second place overall until the first major hill climb around mile 4 or 5 and then started to get passed by some 50K and 50 Mile runners as I climbed the hill. I hit the green trail and knew my favorite part of the race was coming up. It is a series of switch backs that were banked like a race track. I flew down the trail to a small creek crossing, which would later be close to knee level. As I left the single track trail, I took a right turn on a jeep trail that was completely muddy all the way up to the next aid station. This section would end up being one of the worst after hours and hours of rain. Once I reached the aid station, I noticed Margaret (WRR) who was volunteering and said hello. I refilled my bottle and then turned left on to the orange trail. There were a few big mud puddles, but this was a pretty good section of the race. Next up was the blue trail which was again very muddy with a slick down hill leading to a gravel road on the pink trail. After running about a mile on the gravel road, the single track trail shot up to the right up a hill back up to the blue trail. Now, I was heading back to the start/finish line at 13 miles. I stopped for a few minutes to talk to Tallie and grabbed a few GU’s and then was off for the 7 mile loop. I checked in at the timing station and then headed out. The first mile or so was mainly on a gravel road and then a single track. I knew there were two big climbs, one right after the single track started and the biggest one leading up to the power lines. After the power lines was another one of my most hated sections which was actually a slight downhill but the deepest red clay mud I have ever ran or walked in. After collecting a few pounds of mud on my shoes, there was a gravel road leading to the next aid station. When I about ¼ mile from the aid station, I starting hearing cheering and clapping and figured out it was Jason Rogers who was volunteering. I had met Jason a few weeks before at a 12-Hour event and have never seen him without a big smile on his face. I would see Jason several times throughout the race and he always lifted my spirits. After the aid station, it was back into the woods on a single track trail that took me back to the gravel road that lead to the start/finish. The gravel road was a great place to pick up some speed and pocket a little more time, which I would need later on. I was moving along at a good pace, at least until I hit the short power lines section that was very muddy. Power lines suck! After the power lines, I had a short but steep mud climb to the start/finish. I checked in at the timing station and had finished the first 20 miles in about 3:15. I stopped at the base camp and asked how everyone was doing. Tallie helped me get resupplied; I then gave Tallie a quick kiss and headed out for the second 20 miles. Before I reached the first aid station, I noticed a red truck heading my way on the gravel road and knew it was Chris (WRR) who was volunteering at the aid station. I think I asked for a ride and to ask Tallie to bring another rainproof jacket and then continued on. The next 20 miles were pretty uneventful, just more mud since it was still raining. I finished the second 20 miles a little slower than the first.

During the third 20 mile lap I reached the half way point (actually 53 miles) at the start/finish in just a little over 10 hours. This confirmed that there was no way in hell I was going to get a sub-20 finish with the trail and weather conditions continuing to worsen and of course I was getting tired and moving much slower. At base camp, I changed my socks and shoes for the first time and grabbed my headlamp knowing it would be dark soon and headed out on the 7 mile loop. The forth lap is where it started to get really hard. It was dark now and getting colder; and yes it was still raining. During the 13 mile loop, I missed the turn onto the green trail and went for about ¼ mile until I realized what I had done. I turned around and found the green trail and then noticed 2 lights heading my way. These 2 runners had done the same thing, but didn’t realize it until a mile or two down the gravel road. Remember, this is one of my favorite parts of the race with the banked switchbacks, but it was so muddy at this point I couldn’t even run down this section. When I got to the creek crossing, the logs that had been used earlier to avoid getting wet were floating in the knee high water. When I got back to the base camp I was feeling OK, but during the next 7 miles I would reach my breaking point. When I had changed shoes earlier, I had put on an old pair with worn out tread. I was having a very hard time getting traction on the steep climbs and burned out my calf muscles. I could barely run at this point.

I was at a new all time low when I reached the 80 mile point at the start/finish. When I got back to the base camp I noticed Heidi was sitting under her canopy. Heidi and her pacer, Candy (WRR), had just finished the 13 mile loop to reach the 73 mile mark. Heidi was talking about how hard it was, but there was no way she wasn’t finishing. I really needed to hear that because I was seriously thinking about quitting. Samantha (WRR) who was volunteering at the aid station grabbed me some Ramen noodles. They were the best noodles I have ever eaten, at least at that moment they were. I decided to rest in the canopy for a while and maybe even lay down for a bit. I changed into some dry cloths and new socks and shoes. After about 20 minutes of sitting (lying down would have been a really bad idea), I looked at my watch and knew I had plenty of time to walk the last 20 miles. My plan was to not run at all in hopes of not injuring myself so I could continue to walk to the finish. When I came out of the canopy, Heidi and Candy had already left out on the 7 mile loop. Samantha asked if I wanted a pacer because there was someone looking for a runner to pace. I probably should have taken her up on the offer, but didn’t want the guy to be bored out of his mind with me walking the whole 20 miles. So, I headed back out into the darkness for a long power walk. The temperature was dropping and it was getting foggy; and yes it was still raining. Since I was walking, I wasn’t producing as much body heat and I was still wearing shorts so I was starting to get cold. During the 13 mile loop, I got passed by a guy wearing a rainbow colored umbrella hat which looked very funny in the dark with his headlamp on. I really needed a laugh and now think that was a pretty good idea. When I got back to base camp, Tallie and Candy were in the canopy. I was confused to find that Heidi’s canopy was gone. Unfortunately, she had decided to drop at 80 miles which left Kevin and me representing the WRR’s. Kevin had picked up Margaret as his pacer for the last 20 miles. I sat around at the base camp for a while talking with Tallie and Candy. Candy was drinking wine and offered me some. It’s a good thing she didn’t have beer because I would have taken one or two for sure, maybe more. Now was the time for pants but we had no idea on how to put them on over my muddy as hell shoes without getting mud all up the inside of the legs. Candy, I think with the help of the wine, came up with a brilliant idea to put my feet with shoes on in a plastic bag and then pull each leg of the pants over them. I was now in warm and dry cloths ready to finish this damn race. I had over six hours to complete the last 7 miles. I walked over to the timing station to check in and told them my race number. The lady didn’t even look up and said “He’s been out there for a long time.” I explained that I was number 143 and ready to finish this thing. As I walked the 4.5 miles to the aid station, the rain finally stopped and the sun was actually coming out. The guys at the aid station had already packed a lot of their stuff up. I’m sure they were ready to go home just like I was. During the last 2.5 miles to the finish, I kept hearing people talking which made me think someone was catching up with me. No one ever did so I’m not sure what was going on there. On the last mile, I passed a guy heading out on his final loop and told him he had plenty of time to finish and was looking good. As I was wading through to muddy power line section, the only female left in the race passed me heading out on her final loop. I gave her some encouragement and then pushed on to the finish. I did look back to see if anyone was coming up behind me and it was clear as far as I could see. I was really dreading the last steep, muddy climb but just pulled myself up with some of the bushes on the side of the trail and then there it was, the FINISH LINE. I only had 100 yards or so and really wanted to run it out, but my legs were finished. I could hear some yelling and then saw Chris running out. Chris and I walked in together. I went to the timing station and checked in at 27:00 (8th place). Thank God it was over! Tallie was waiting at the finish line and we took some pictures. I got my buckle and finisher shirt and I was very happy. Thank you Tallie, Candy and Lurene for packing up the base camp. I could barely walk anymore and could not imagine having to do that.

I’m sure most everyone who started this race left with some level of disappointment. I didn’t finish nearly as fast as I wanted to and I wish I could have finished stronger at the end, but I think everyone who started the 100 miler should be very proud. It took a lot of courage to toe that starting line. I think these are the correct stats for the 100 miler: 71 signed up, 54 started and 17 finished. 24% didn’t even show up for the start and only 31% finished. Those are crazy stats!

Thanks to Tallie, the WRR’s, race volunteers and Tony the Race Director.